The Cross and Conformity

I often do things backward. In my spiritual life, I was a Protestant first and a Catholic last. I was my own personal Counter-Reformation.

One April morning, Palm Sunday in 1976, my wife and I raised our hands in response to a pastor’s challenge to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. That was how they did it in the church I’d attended for the first time that day. The pastor preached a sermon on some Biblical topic he deemed pertinent, offered up the opportunity to become a christian, and invited you to come forward. Yes, that’s right. On our first day in that church, Liz and I walked to the front, stood before the congregation, and repeated a prayer that was promised to change our lives.

Now, having embraced Catholicism, I see the “altar call” event differently. But, truth be told, that simple prayer did it’s job. From that day forward the two of us have walked a path that has immersed us deeply into the love of God. It changed our lives immediately and continues to do so daily.

That Tuesday, the pastor surprised us with a knock on our door. He wanted to follow up with us about our decision. He wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing and he wanted to give us a framework for our new lives as Christians. He told us about tithing! and he told us that Jesus had called each of us to take up our cross and follow him.

The carrying of our own cross was a topic this pastor, as well as other pastors in my life, revisited often. Mostly, it was an explanation for why Christians still suffered. You have cancer? That’s your cross to bear. Unemployed? Your cross to bear. Cranky mother-in-law? It was that cross again.

Somehow, it seemed to me to be too tidy an explanation. First, My life was pretty good. We always had enough money, no one had cancer, none of our children were in jail. My mother-in-law passed away before we met. All in all, our lives were perfect. I had no cross to bear. It took me years of Christianity to really bring the cross to bear issue into focus for my life. When I did, I wondered how those explanations could be true. Why would we carry our own crosses if Jesus had told us to cast all our burdens upon Him? seemed to me that carrying our cross must mean something else.

After going through RCIA and being received into the Church, I settled into a Jesuit serviced parish. And, not long after that, the carrying of my cross took on a clearer meaning.

I began to see that Jesus, through the Incarnation, placed Himself into total conformity with the Father. Everywhere He went, to everyone he spoke, he spoke the will and the words of the Father. He continued this conformity to the Father’s will right up until His death. His death on the cross. Jesus’ cross to bear, pictured by the wooden one, was His willingness to be conformed to the will of the Father. Ours, the, is to be conformed into the will of Jesus Christ.

That’s why the decisions we make are so important in our daily lives. They are our cross to bear. Can we look on immigrants with disdain? We cannot. To do so would put us in nonconformity with Jesus. Can we walk past the beggar? Can we call political candidates vile names? Can we hate someone based on the color of their skin? Their gender? Their sexual preference?  Can we label an entire religious group terrorists? Can we look the other way when we see someone being bullied?

Of course we can’t. We must respond in a way that conforms us into the will of Jesus. We must do it in a way that reflects the love of our Lord. We do that because we are the salt of the earth, the light upon a hill. We do it because it is our cross to bear.

Refugees, Regulations and Righteousness

Franklin Graham

“It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue.We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.”

 

The world’s a little bit crazy right now. I’m really concerned by the level of hate and vitriol demonstrated by the Anti-Trump people. Theirs is a movement that was once identified by the #LoveTrumpsHate hashtag and now is known by #notmypresident. During the march in Washington we heard the marchers and spokespeople saying vile things about the President and wearing genitalia inspired hats and costumes while demanding respect. It’s a crowd that has come a long way from espousing love.

Meanwhile, the Trump people flood Facebook and Twitter with mean-spirited gloating about winning the election. There seems to be much more than political motivation for their gleefully nasty position. There seems to be much of it fueled by hate and anger, That side has felt held down by media and public opinion for so long that the unexpected Trump victory has them acting in ways that in no way are acceptable.

A quick scan of my blog will show that I, in no way, support Trump. I withhold that support on the basis of my understanding of Catholic teaching. At my parish I don’t recall hearing the name of any candidate mentioned during this election cycle. The priests were just very consistent in presenting Catholic social teaching from the Ambo each day and trusted the laypeople to an make enlightened choice. My parish is a Jesuit serviced parish and I  hear quite a bit about the Preferential Option for the Poor. It’s an easy position for me to accept.

We have some serious issues in this country, indeed, in the world. Watching the campaigns, it seemed to me that the Clinton people were totally fine with the way the world was going and felt no need to change anything. Trump  was the only candidate addressing the hot button issues of immigration and terrorism. Not in a way I could reconcile with my religious beliefs though. His solutions seem harsh and uncaring. Yet, the voting block that put him over the top was comprised of Christians. I’ve yet to be able to understand that.

Unlike Franklin Graham, I cannot separate these issues from my religious thinking. Graham said that the refugee problem wasn’t a Bible issue. But, I contend that every issue is a Bible issue. The Bible isn’t a compilation of lovely thoughts bound in a book on a shelf in our homes. It’s a comprehensive overview that compels us in a way that imitates the actions of Jesus Christ. Simply put, there is no secular world. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therein. Everything belongs to God and he leaves His mark upon all creation. Every person is God’s, made in His image, and he marks each one with dignity.

So, let’s find a way to protect our borders. Let’s come up with a stern, sure response to terrorism. Government has both a right and duty to keep it’s citizens safe. But we must do it in a way that respects the God-given dignity of our neighbors. With either issue, we must find a way to achieve our goals without demonizing entire populations of people.

If we don’t do that, if we pass by our brethren without helping them, our religious convictions are like that of the Levite who left the traveller suffering by the side of the road. God didn’t call us to that kind of faith. He called us to a daily walk where we are kind to strangers, love our neighbor, help the poor and marginalized. We are called to an active faith where we work to realize a more equal distribution of God’s earthly gifts. And this must be the parameters within which we walk, because every issue is a Bible issue.

More than merely granting assent to our responsibility to share, we need to respond. Like Jesuits, we need to become contemplatives in action. Of our great Catholic faith, St. Basil the Great once said, “When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”

Asking the wrong question

Recently, at the Staten Island FuXion Leadership Academy, I was recruited to speak about success. It’s strange in a way, because I certainly was not the richest person in that room.

But, I didn’t shrink from speaking about it because I legitimately feel I know a thing or two about the topic. And one of those two things I know is that success is not measured by your bank account.

I planned to start by stealing a line from our friend Randy Gage. Randy is Direct Sales royalty. He’s in the Speaker’s Hall of Fame as well as the MLM hall of fame. And yet, as a FuXion leader, he’s eminently accessible to each FuXion entrepreneur. Success to Randy seems to be getting others to fully realize their personal potential. It’s helping others and leading this team that seems to genuinely float his boat.

The line I’m stealing is this: “If you ask the wrong question, the answer is irrelevant.” It’s a line that makes all the sense in the world. Think of it this way…if you buy the best car and head off in the wrong direction you will never get where you are headed. If you don’t fill the tank, you won’t get there. If you close your eyes really really tight and hope for the best, you’re still not getting to your destination because you are not headed the right way. If you ask the wrong question, the answer is irrelevant.

If Randy is right, the first part of success, the very first step in your achievement, is to ask the right questions. Ask the right questions about success. And ask the right questions about you. You have to define success. And you must define it in a way that means something special to you.

I used to work in the car business. I was a salesman, a “closer”, a finance manager and a desk guy. It’s a pretty stressful, competitive business. So competitive that the store I worked at was the dominant store on this island, selling more Fords than the total domestic sales output of all the other dealerships combined and it no longer exists! When they went out of business it was like the Yankees had stopped playing baseball. Shocking.

The car business is based upon 12 monthly campaigns a year. The first of each month started a new battle and the last day of the month brought it to a close. And the salesperson who did the best job got the recognition of a plaque. A plaque and a big paycheck. And, it was that way every month. Recognition and money, recognition and money.  But, embedded in the very design of the business was failure. Because next month, if you didn’t do it again, someone else got the plaque. Someone else got the recognition and money.

I learned something about myself there. And, along with that, I learned the definition of success. I learned to ask myself the right question. I learned, in that environment, that recognition and money didn’t do it for me. I needed something else. Not something more, just something different. I learned that I got my success from something else. I felt successful when I was able to make something out of nothing. My friend, my mentor in the business took the time to work it through with me. He could see that it was no big deal for me to get another plaque. He could see that it didn’t matter to me that I was given the best demo to drive. He knew I didn’t get worked up over the money. And he sat with me and talked about it until we both saw that it was making something out of nothing that made me successful. One minute I would be with a customer and there seemed to be no possibility of selling him a car. Then, magically, I’d say the right thing and suddenly we had a deal. I’d made something from nothing. I was a success.

So, what about you? Do you work in a job where success is measured by recognition and praise? Does someone have to notice you in order for you to move up? Do they need to see something special in you? Do they have to like you?  Ask yourself the right question about that. Are you okay with that? If you are, that’s okay. If you aren’t, that’s okay too.

Just be sure you’re asking the right questions and defining success for yourself.

If you want to be recognized, if success for you is someone saying you’re doing a good job, we have that here at FuXion. There’s an entire rank advancement system in place. It doesn’t involve approval from anyone else, though. You rank advance on merit. And more pay avenues open to you as you rank advance. You’ll get to walk across the stage and receive a special pin that tells everyone in the company what you’ve achieved. You may well be pinned by Randy himself.You will have gotten the recognition and the money.

If you get a different answer when you ask yourself to define success, we have something for you, too. You can work your own hours, be your own boss and make something from nothing.You can define your own parameters for what success is.  We have mentors and leaders but we don’t have bosses. I’m certainly not the one to boss my team around. But I’m there for whatever they need. If I don’t know it, I know someone who does.

And, that’s a beautiful thing about FuXion. We know someone who knows what we don’t know. For all of us, that’s Randy Gage, Erick Gamio Luca Melloni or Lily Rosales. They’re our core four. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when we have these four. They’ve been through it all. They’ve heard every objection and, more importantly, they’ve heard every excuse. You needn’t be a super smart direct marketing whiz to succeed in this business. You have people who are. All you need to do is model the behavior that we already know works You do what Randy does. You do what  Lily does. Modeling means success in this business.

A phrase I often hear from my son is “you still have to do the work”. He’s right of course. In FuXion, we have a great product. It’s ahead of the health trend. It has a ready made market. IT WORKS. And it’s pretty much cheaper than any so-called competitions. But, “you still have to do the work.”

What is the work? Not a lot! You have to buy enough personal product to have enough for sample giving. You need to drink the product in public. And, friends, you have to drink it from a bottle that says FuXion on it!  Please! No GNC shaker bottles! You need to be on the XTribe website and the XTribe weekly call. You need to share the videos every chance you get. “You still have to do the work.”

So, how about it? Are you ready to ask yourself the right question about what success means to you? Because, if you ask the wrong question, the answer is irrelevant.

Meryl, The Mountain and the Madness

Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all these, if you fall at my feet and do me homage.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Away with you, Satan! For scripture says: The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve.’

At the recent Golden Globes, Meryl Streep spoke to a very receptive audience about the need for kindness and civility in those who hold high, visible office. While she never named him, she was obviously referring to President-Elect Donald Trump.

What an uproar that caused among the evangelical Christians who, to the tune of 80%, voted for Mr. Trump, identifying him as God’s choice for President. Nevermind that many other candidates laid claim to Christianity while Trump never did, the evangelical horde insisted he was the Christian candidate. They actually turned away from every Christian candidate to support one who never claimed to be a Christian.

Mr. Trump took the entire evangelical movement, a demographic which mirrors the more conservative part of the Republican party, up to the highest pinnacle of the country. He promised them respect. He offered them an illusion of power. He promised to fight their enemies for them. He offered them the kingdoms of the world if only they would jettison their principles, morals and core beliefs to follow him.

The catch here is, of course, that Christians are not to seek power of their own. Scripture tells us that in our weakness we are made strong. We are, as Christians, to be ready to be mocked and ridiculed for following our Lord.  Jesus, Himself was mocked, scorned and ridiculed by the Roman soldiers before His crucifixion. If He didn’t insist on respect, how do we? And our enemies?  Is there any more well known Bible principle than love for our enemies?

The Christian isn’t called to shut off help to the needy. The Christian is called to help the marginalized. The Christian is not called to build walls. He is called to open welcoming doors. The Christian doesn’t subject families to terrifying deportation raids. She is called to welcome the stranger in her land.

While I don’t agree with everything Ms. Streep has done (the Polanski standing ovation comes quickly to mind), I do agree with what she said at the Globes. She said, in part, “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

All people are made in the image of God. That’s a basic tenet of the faith. Anytime you disrespect someone, anytime you are dismissive of another person, anytime you step on the marginalized or look the other way, you are wrong. You are wrong. You are wrong.

I’m grateful to Meryl Streep for saying it so beautifully.

 

 

 

Springsteen, Morello, and Dorothy Day

I recently had the chance to see Bruce Springsteen perform in his natural habitat, at MetLife Stadium in the famous swamps of New Jersey. It was the middle of the string of concerts where he broke his own record for longest American performance on each night. I was there for the middle one.

I’ve been a fan of Springsteen’s for awhile. Because it was the radio heyday of WNEW FM and they hyped him relentlessly, I bought his first album the week it was released. His songs spoke to me, resonated with me. They still do. I like that his music tells stories. And that those stories all pretty much echo the same theme. There’s a guy. The odds are stacked against him. He realizes it but he doesn’t let it get him down. He keeps going, bathed in the good of his life, a good which usually manifests itself as a girl, a car, or a guitar. He knows he can’t win, but he carves out a meaningful life as best as he can.

The night I was there Springsteen was joined onstage by Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine. It would be hard to imagine a better coupling. They launched into a set of songs that called attention to the oppressed little guy. They took the side of the little guy. They spoke for the poor. It occurred to me, sitting high in the upper deck, that I was hearing onstage the same message I heard every day at mass. They were preaching the Catholic Church’s Preferential Option for the Poor and setting it to music.

The Catholic emphasis on kindness and service to the poor really struck me. It went from a topic I rarely thought about to one that was constantly before me. A friend of mine, who works with the poor and marginalized in North Carolina, once told me that he’d seriously considered a conversion to the Catholic Church because of their care for the poor. It wasn’t, he said, a trendy thing. They’d been doing it forever. It was St. Lawrence of Rome who identified the poor and marginalized as the greatest treasure the Church possessed. Now I watched as Morello played his guitar and sang, his head rolling back, alternating between a state of musical euphoria and social anger pouring out empathy for the downtrodden, asking that the playing field be leveled.

I am reminded of the great Catholic social activist, Dorothy Day. She was a Staten Islander, like me, both of us living on the south shore beachfront. After her conversion, she devoted her life to the poor. She started the Catholic Worker Movement. She spent nearly every spare penny on the hungry and homeless. She was the advocate for the downtrodden every day of her life. She used her writing skills to start The Catholic Worker, a newspaper that aimed to give hope to the one who thought there was no hope for the future.

I googled Morello after the show, wondering what instilled this attitude in him. I wasn’t surprised to see that his background was Catholicism. He isn’t what anyone would call “devout.” He considers himself an agnostic. He does two day events in cities where one day is a rock show and the other is a day of social service. He wrestles with his faith, to be sure, but wrestling with one’s faith is something the Church makes provision for.

Springsteen also is a non-practicing Catholic. But, Catholic teaching has a way of influencing you and never setting you free again. He didn’t close his show without encouraging us to put some cash into the buckets manned by a South Jersey community center. Though Springsteen and Morello have distanced themselves from the Church intellectually, both still see the poor as the Church sees them. Both know that the poor are treasures. And both acknowledge their responsibility to help. Springsteen likes to proclaim at concerts that “I’m a prisoner…of rock and roll!” That may be. But he and Morello, like Dorothy Day, seem to be prisoners to the Church teachings of social justice.

 

 

 

About Time, A Good Confession, A Lofty Goal

I recently watched the Richard Curtis film, About Time. I love the movie and I’ve seen it many times but it never fails to inspire me.The movie always makes me want to be a better man. And, at least for a short time after seeing it, convinces me that I can be.

The film has been out for some time so I’m not going to worry about plot spoilers. Anyway, because the film holds up even after multiple viewings, I don’t think plot spoilers spoil it.

Curtis tells the story of a young man, Tim, who learns that all the males in his family have the ability to travel back in time. They can’t go to the future and they can’t go to a time they’ve not lived through. They can visit the past, but only their own past. And, by inserting themselves once again into the events of their own past, they can change their personal history.

This strikes me as something that might be an underlying goal of our time in the confessional. As a fairly new Catholic, I am awed by what happens in that little booth. I walk into the church with the weight of a current sin riding on my shoulders. I prepare myself to enter the confessional and generally, just before I go into the confessional,that weight becomes greater. I wonder how I can continue if that burden isn’t lifted. And , of course, I can’t. It needs to be confessed. I enter the booth opposite the parish priest. “Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” I begin. And then comes the confession. The marvelous confession. The beautiful confession followed by the life giving forgiveness. I want to be a better man. And walking from the confessional I believe I can be.

Confession is like the time travel in About Time. You can go back in time and revisit a sinful attitude, change it by repentance, and go forward as though it never happened. You have changed the past, and you can now walk forward into a different future.

But, the real point of our lives is not to wait for that time in the booth to unburden ourselves. I think it’s the living of our lives within the realization that life is fleeting. Time is short. We should live our lives in a state of constant post-confessional renewal. We need to appreciate the tiny things in our live that are really great gifts from our God. Let’s not muddy them with anger, conceit, greed, bitterness or envy. Each time I come from confession and each time I see About Time, I think I can do that. I think I can recognize that each day, every situation, each person I meet is an opportunity to enhance the daily bits of joy God has placed into my life.

And, of course, that’s the point made in the movie. The lead alters his time travel in that he begins going back in time solely to respond to events as he should have done in the first place. He corrects himself. He repents. He, in effect, goes to confession and exits a better man. But then, he stops travelling back in time altogether.  He doesn’t feel the need. Instead he purposes to concentrate on the present as he enjoys each tiny success and embraces each bit of pain.

The movie closes with Tim revealing his discovery. And it’s one we can all benefit from. He says, “And in the end I think I’ve learned the final lesson from my travels in time; and I’ve even gone one step further than my father did: The truth is I now don’t travel back at all, not even for the day, I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.”

 

 

Car Sales, Broken Legs and FuXion

I have a background in car sales. I did it for years. I was a salesman, a “closer”, a desk guy, a finance manager. I worked in big Highway stores and I worked for small, family owned dealerships. I was reasonably successful. I loved every aspect of it.

My first job in the business came when I answered an ad in the paper for a mysterious class which would graduate its students to a high paying career in the automotive industry. The idea of selling cars actually was fascinating to me although I was concerned that I exhibited none of the personality traits I’d seen in the guys I’d bought cars from.

I went on the interview, determined to present myself as I really was, wanting the interviewer to decide if I really was salesman material. I felt pretty good that, without faking a car salesman persona, I got the job. They apparently saw something in me that made them want to hire me. What the saw, it turned out, was the number 6. The training company had contracted with the dealership to hire six candidates and train them to sell cars. I was to be the 7th. I was not going to be hired. But one of the other six guys broke his leg falling down the stairs on the last day of class so they were forced to hire me in his spot.

When our sales careers launched I immediately was the one who had difficulty. I couldn’t sell a car. No matter what. I know now that I had no idea where I was in any deal I was working. I was lost. The dealership was frustrated. I got called into the General Sales Manager’s office and, after closing the doors for privacy, he begged me to quit. I wouldn’t. I’d left a steady but unfulfilling job to try this and I wasn’t going down without a fight.

When I wouldn’t quit, he looked for a seventh guy so he could replace me. He found the new guy he wanted and sat him at the desk in front of me. To intimidate me, the manager told me the plan. I was to be fired at week’s end.

It never happened, of course. That day, the guy behind me went home and, during a dinnertime argument with his father, stood up and drove a huge carving knife into his father’s heart. While it didn’t end well for the son or the dad, my job was safe. They still needed six.

The guy they hired to replace me became a good friend. I listened to how he handled selling situations and modelled his strategy. I became a good salesman. Together, he and I waged friendly competitions for Salesman of the Month. We often accounted for 60% of the dealership sales in a given month. Over the next decade, we worked together at quite a few dealerships. We always got each other jobs at our new dealership because that’s what car guys do. We looked out for each other.

Now, I always liked that business, even the hours. It was a good chapter in my life. I just kept at it because I wanted to succeed. I’m proud that I hung in there and that I didn’t give up. Because I soldiered on, I was there when the breaks came my way. I lean upon that now, as I launch my new home based business. I’m doing it because I like it. And, I’m pretty curious to see what’s going to happen to pave my way.

Break a leg.