April 4th, 2005

Long road home

Ah, the weekend...

...my weekend that is. I'm so happy to be starting my two days off, it's just silly. This has been one long week, to say the least.

Well, if you've been paying attention to the news then you must have a rather negative attitude toward Michigan. First the Pat Buchanan salad dressing incident, then the "riots" in East Lansing, after the Spartan mens' basketball team failed to beat UNC to play Illinois Monday night.

Pat Buchanan paid a visit to the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo either Thursday or Friday (I think it was Friday; it's all a blur). This happened to coincide with Cesar Chavez Day, and that didn't agree with one young man, the now infamous red-mohawk-wearing gentleman who splashed Mr. Buchanan with Caesar salad dressing. "No one got hurt; there might be a dry cleaning bill," said Sam, the guy who threw the salad dressing. Mr. Buchanan decided not to press felony charges, and actually took the whole thing in stride. As for WMU officials, they plan to review what happened and will most likely institute more stepped-up security for just such occasions.

As for the "riots" in East Lansing ... I put that in quotes because the reporter we sent to cover the story, Jam Sardar, also happened to cover the more newsworthy riots of 1999, and he said that Saturday night's activities were nowhere near what he witnessed in '99. It seemed that the police got a little overzealous, and took their instructions a little too far. Their instructions were to break up any potentially hazardous situations, and specifically if the crowds got to sizes that law enforcement officials were uncomfortable with handling.

For those of you who didn't see the story, I think the pictures told the real story: you saw what I would describe as sparse crowds, kind of what you'd expect to see at the mall on a Thursday afternoon maybe, and police in riot gear throwing tear gas bombs into fairly docile groups of people. There were no fires, no trees uprooted, no broken windows. Just a typical college crowd, looking letdown if anything, after their hometeam lost on the stage of national television. One student said it was the police who ruined the peace, not them.

We showed pictures from the riots of '99 in East Lansing up against last night's antics ... stark contrast, if you ask me.

As for Michigan State University's President, she says she doesn't want the actions of a few people to tarnish the University's reputation. Don'tcha love an institution that has priorities???


Last night, as I watched Dateline's hour-long report on the Pope's death, it hit me. There was something about John Hockenberry's report that stirred up some vague, latent emotion in me, and next thing I knew I collapsed into my chair sobbing uncontrollably. And I was at work, no less, but I happened to be alone, and pulled myself together before anyone saw me, not that that's anything to be ashamed of.

The Hockenberry story started with, "In order to understand who Pope John Paul II was as Pope, you have to go back to when he was a young man..." or words to that effect. As you should know by now, John Paul II was born in Poland. What I didn't know was that by the time he turned 20 he'd lost his whole entire family, and had worked in the limestone quarries during the Nazis' occupation of Poland during World War II. His mother died when he was 8, his brother a few years later. His father died before Karol (John Paul's christened name) turned 20, but before he died he taught his son that being tough and being prayerful weren't mutually exclusive.

Karol was completely alone at the age of 20. He was a consummate athlete and military man before joining the priesthood. And it was his experiences in loss and oppression that made him compassionate, which is a veritable anomaly in today's society. I was glad this story was being told, especially here in America where we seem to be steeped in a culture of hate nowadays -- everywhere you turn, we are taught that if life deals you an unfair hand, the way to react is with hatred, and it is a reaction that I struggle and fight against in my own life as much as possible. While I can't deny that I succumb to the hatred myself sometimes, most of the time I recognize this as being dead wrong, and I rail against it. I refuse to be sucked in; I won't do it.

So seeing this story of how the man we know as Pope John Paul II went through a rather similar period of time in his own life (the Nazis being the culture of hatred he had to deal with), and seeing the old Solidarnosc signs ("solidarity" in Polish) from the 80's, and oh, just everything ... it struck a chord deep within me, and I daresay it has given me renewed hope in my own personal fight against this wayward society I live in.

The rally cry against hate and meanness isn't the only thing I have in common with the Pope; although I am not of Polish descent, I may as well be, because I was raised in the Polish village in my hometown. I was raised Polish Catholic; the Pope was especially loved in the parish I grew up in. I even learned a little bit of the Polish language in 8th grade (a little-known secret about me, though you could hardly call me "fluent"!). The songs we sang in church on Sunday morning were a mix of traditional, contemporary, and Polish traditional hymns. Serdeczna Matko and Dzisiaj Betlejem are still favorites of mine.

But it's not just that; the Pope was only one year younger than my dad (may he rest in peace), so I have firsthand experience with being raised by someone of John Paul's generation. And there's other things we see eye-to-eye on, and here is where I'm sure to lose some 'viewers': it's been said that while Pope John Paul II was just as comfortable on the internet as he was in the church, and certainly he welcomed camera crews, not because he wanted the face time, but because he appreciated that such a medium can reach a huge, huge audience, meaning that many more people can hear the Good News about Jesus Christ ... despite his 20th-century savvy, he was deeply traditional about many other things about Church rule, things that made him (and soon to be me) rather unpopular with many in the Church. Like him, I too am anti-abortion (although I much prefer the term "pro-life"), anti-capital punishment, and anti-contraception. Why? For the same reason the Pope stood for those things -- because of a deeply-rooted respect for life.

So while I am very critical of things the Catholic church does, I want it to be known that I *did* and do support the Pope himself and his stand and his view on the world. I think he did a lot of good as Pope; it's just too bad the leaders directly beneath him on the feeding chain are such bumbling idiots. That's what made me mourn; Pope John Paul II was not just a leader, he was a humanitarian. He was someone I looked up to, admittedly, and now he is gone.

Two entries ago I'd made the statement that the Catholic church does a very bad job of being the example of humility that Jesus Christ was. Not that anyone would disagree with me on that, but I'd like to be more specific as to why I have such a problem with it: Jesus taught, "Your reward is in heaven, not in this life," but yet the richness and vastness of the Vatican empire would seem to say just the opposite. Almost like they are congratulating themselves on having been around for so long. The Church preaches the Gospel on Sunday mornings, like it's done for the past 2000+ years, but yet there continues to be starving children in this world. Jesus said, "Give up your worldly possessions, pick up your Cross and follow Me." To the contrary, the Catholic church seems to collect more and more and more worldly possessions! No wonder so many people either believe in God but don't like going to church, or just don't believe in God at all. Jesus taught the Truth; his followers, the most visible leaders anyway, just breed confusion in their teachings. The problem is *NOT* that women aren't allowed to be priests -- the problem is that the Chruch just isn't teaching the Truth!!!

And to all of you skeptics, to those of you who have no time for Christianity, I don't blame you one bit!!! I was lucky enough to have been raised by my mother, a woman who truly leads a humble, Jesus-like life that flies right in the face of American society, and my father, who also embraced humility, not just in word but in action. I was raised differently than a *LOT* of "Christians" I know. Some people who call themselves "Christian" also seem to have enough money, wear nice clothes, send their kids to expensive private schools, never have want or need for anything. Somehow, somewhere along the way, Christianity got confused with living comfortably. And this is WRONG!! Most Christian churches teach that if you follow the Ten Commandments, go to church on Sunday, don't lead a life of crime and don't cheat on your spouse, that God will reward you with earthly riches.

That couldn't be farther from the Truth.

No, dear readers, to get close to God means giving up a life of comfort and ease, of really truly getting up each and every day and letting God provide for you. Jesus used to admonish his followers back in the day: "You see how the birds of the sky are taken care of; surely you can't believe that God won't care for you too, and the birds mean so much less to God than you do!"

But how, how in the world do you "give everything up", especially in this day and age?? I said it in an earlier entry but I think it bears repeating: I have far less than a lot of people do, and *I* have difficulty imagining giving up what little I have. And I too fall into the trap of convincing myself that if I am making lots of money, driving a new car, living in a big house, wearing brand new clothes and always have a full fridge and cupboards, that somehow I'll be better able to take care of those who have less than I do ...

... but it's a trap, and it's not the Truth. The Truth is, we are all going to suffer hardship and disappointment and setbacks, whether we give everything up or not. And having it "all" doesn't make you more generous; it makes you more greedy!!! Not to mention selfish.

But in the words of one of the great Swamis, "But why should anyone listen to me? Or should I speak? Since I know nothing!!"

I could go on and on. But I think I've said enough, at least for tonight. I am grateful for my fortitude, I am grateful for my faith, and most of all, I am grateful to have lived during Pope John Paul II's time, and that's all I really wanted to say.
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