Not Cease from Exploration

Monday, January 30, 2017

Tough Guy Jesus (Gospel of Matthew, 21:12)

I love many of the stories in the Bible, especially those contained in the gospels.  Now I'm not trained in theology, I do like to ponder such things.  One of the stories that I find the most intriguing...and I think misused...is in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 21, verse 12.  It goes like this (from the King James version of the Bible):

"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves."

I've heard many religiously knowledgeable folks (okay, I confess, mainly television preachers) talk about how this made Jesus a kind of tough guy.  I've even heard it used to justify violence, along the lines of "Jesus did it, so therefore...", "It's okay to be angry because Jesus was...", and the like, as if God were somehow capable of being as upset as we get when the neighbor's dog leaves a present in our front sidewalk (which actually happens...quite a bit...in West Pittston, Pennsylvania).

Me?  In my theologically novice kind of way, well, I think the whole "tough guy Jesus" thing is a load of crap.  

In fact, the truth behind this whole story is actually the opposite of the whole "tough guy Jesus" narrative.  I don't think it's telling us to be violent.  I think, instead, it's telling us that in order to be more "Christ-like" we are obligated to not be apathetic, especially in the face of something that's clearly wrong.  We need to act.  Sitting on the sidelines in the face of perceived evil doesn't seem to be what's expected of us.  That's the example Jesus was setting, at least in this layperson's opinion.

All of this comes to my mind, in a very timely sort of way, as I think about the actions of the Trump administration.  It's time to not sit on the sidelines.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Just An Observation (about President Trump's supporters)

Just an observation:
During the last election, the typical response from supporters of Donald Trump was, when faced with something controversial coming from their candidate, "...but Hillary..."; now it's "...but Obama...". At what point is the President wholly responsible for his own actions in the eyes of his supporters?
I get it, some of this is typical political theater (namely blaming a predecessor), but no former President has taken actions even similar to that of President Trump. No former President has, for example, tried to stop people from entering this country based solely on their religion and national origin. No former President, including George W. Bush, tagged terrorists with a religious branding ("radical Islamic terrorists"...as opposed to, for example, the "radical Catholic terrorists" of the Irish Republican Army). No former President has insisted that political staff be solely responsible for vetting communications related to science from government agencies.
By all means, be vocally supportive of Donald Trump, as that's your right. But an argument based mostly on deflection isn't much of an argument.

(With apologies for the extra spacing, as HTML isn't being my friend today)

Friday, January 27, 2017

Books Everyone Should (not) Read

Business Insider published a list of 11 books that former President Obama thinks everyone should read.  You can find that list HERE.

If you had a similar listing, what would be on it?  Well, I already covered that, probably a few times, over the years.  Besides, what fun would that be?  So instead, here's a list of books that I simply can't stand.  These are, by the way, books that I actually read, or honestly tried to read.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I truly despise this book.  Growing up it represented just about everything I hated, namely shallow rich people living in a world full of shallow problems.  The Great American Novel?  I think not.  This book is good for leveling a table, and not much else.  I would buy this book simply to burn it.  Even the name "Gatsby" is annoying.  Do yourself a favor, watch the Family Guy episode instead.

The Outsiders, by S.E.  Hinton
I actually got in trouble as a kid during a summer enrichment program for simply refusing to read more than the first few pages of this book.  It's like a crappy version of West Side Story, without the funny characters and the good music.

Return to Order, by John Horvat II
I think I've actually written a review of this book, to be found somewhere in the archives.  Unlike other books on this list, I actually read every single word of this "work".  Here's the premise:  Things were better in the Middle Ages, you know, back when the Roman Catholic Church was in charge and everyone bowed down to royalty.  Poor people need to know their place.  Yes, you read that right.

Every Mystery Novel Ever Written, by many different authors
Ever have a conversation with someone and you know that they have something to tell you, but for whatever reason, they just can't seem to spit it out?  Well, that's how I feel about mysteries.  I don't find the whole "whodunnit" thing even mildly entertaining.

Dune, by Frank Herbert
I so wanted to like this book, and I gave it a good 70 or so page try, but man, I just couldn't go any further.  So many characters with so much back-story that was unexplained.  I have seen the movie (the original, with Sting and Captain Picard) and found it mildly entertaining.

The Compensation Handbook, by Lance A. Berger and Dorthey R. Berger
It is as dull as the title makes it out to be.  Granted, books like this aren't intended to be "fun" reads, but this one goes above and beyond in terms of being dry.  It also happens to be 682 pages long.  I still managed to do well in my graduate Compensation class, though.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Women's March

If you are a man and you're scratching your head struggling to understand why all these women were marching yesterday, well let me help.

Let's transport into an alternative universe, one where a woman has been elected president, a woman vice-president and there is a virtually all-female congress.

That new president and congress have publicly stated that men shouldn't have the right to decide what happens in their bodies related to reproduction, that they...the women running the federal government...know best.  In fact, some of these women have also publicly stated that, even in cases where a man was raped or assaulted by a family member, that they still should be the ones who decide what healthcare options would be available to men.

They've also threatened to cut off funding to a national organization that provides significant healthcare services to economically poor men...all because these women running the federal government have a religious objection* to 3%** of the services that the organization in question provides.  Oh, in many of the locations where this organization exists, there simply are no alternative providers of these services, especially in rural areas of the country (example).

These new women leaders are also hostile to marriage equality.  In fact, the new vice-president once said that being gay was a choice and that "societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family" (source:  Businesinsider.com).  The new president has committed to appointing justices to the United States Supreme Court who will overturn marriage equality (source:  HRC), apparently because state governments (in our alternative universe also filled with mostly women) should be able to decide whether two consenting adults who love each other should be allowed to marry.  Why?  Because they believe that government...run by women...knows what's best, especially for men.

Frightening, isn't it?  If you're a man...living in our real universe...what I'm suggesting is that you engage in some basic empathy.  Many women are genuinely fearful, and in my opinion, rightfully so (hence this posting).

In the end, I have no doubt that my wife and I will be okay during the Trump years.  Heck, we may even get a tax cut.  But I worry about my daughters living in a world where a federal or state government can reach into their bodies to make reproductive choices for them or decide whether or not they can marry the person they love.  I simply don't want any government to have that much power.

* * * * * *

(*) Count me firmly in the court of fully respecting the religious choices of every American.  But I also ask that other Americans not insist on making their religious choices policy for everyone else.   Put another way, if your religion teaches you that abortion is murder and that homosexuality is a sin, well, then you better not be gay and you sure as heck better not have an abortion...but you shouldn't have the power to make those choices for those who have sincerely held but different convictions.

(**) http://www.factcheck.org/2011/04/planned-parenthood/ 



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Transition

Since I am in currently in a graduate finance class, I don't feel bad about conducting some basic accounting.  Here we go.

In the last four months...

...I was retired from an employer where I worked for nearly 28 years

...My 51 year old younger brother passed away

I've also read a potentially life-changing book (that I'm starting share with others), and I've had far more time to think than which is probably good for me.

Oh, and I'm finishing up my graduate degree (hopefully by mid-year).  A lot of stuff.  The word "unpack" comes to mind when I think about all of it.  In fact, all I think I need to do is add "heart attack" to the list and I get some kind of prize from the government.  Just kidding, about the heart attack (my heart is in good shape) and the prize.  

Now none of this is intended to illicit anything even remotely resembling sympathy (which, as we all know, sits squarely between "sh*t" and "syphilis" in the dictionary*), as I'm busy enough without it, and truth be told, I just don't like the attention.  Pretty odd from a guy writing a blog, huh?  Life is never without its contradictions. 

Anyway, I had planned to write about government funding for the arts, which has become something of an issue in northeastern Pennsylvania.  I even have the posting titled, but I just can't seem to start it.  It's as if I need some kind of transition space within my own head, something to take me away from the above list, back into more of a normal way of thinking.  Not that there has ever been anything normal about how I think...about anything.  My head is, at any given moment, not a place that anyone else would ever want to visit, filled with tons on random thoughts swirling around, mostly all at the same time.  I'm just lucky whatever voices I hear are my own.  Scratch that; I sometimes can hear my Mom's voice...but it's always yelling for some odd reason.

Thinking again about the idea of transitions, I think we all have this odd relationship with change.  We hate it when we feel bombarded by it, but yet we'd probably die of boredom without it.  I know that's true for me.  Now granted that I do wish some of the change in my life didn't actually involve other people dying, but hey, I didn't get a vote in the matter.  Whomever does make those decisions is a bit higher up on the celestial organization chart than your's truly.  Along those same lines, I'll share that there hasn't been a lot of action of the career front for me, but more than one person has said to me that this is because there is a plan...a larger reason...if you want to call it that...for me to have been unencumbered over these past few weeks, so that I could attend to other things.  I'll confess that I don't know if I believe that to be true, in part because I just don't see some kind of larger power in the universe actually caring all that much about this kind of detail.  However, I may be falling into the trap of trying to explain, in human terms, something that is infinitely impossible to understand in human terms.

In any event, I've burned through several paragraphs now without saying an awful lot.  This posting has been the Captain Crunch, if you will, of Internet content.

By the way, I love Captain Crunch, even if my wife says that it taste "like cardboard".

Which makes me believe that I need to end things on a somewhat more weighty tone.  So how about this:

5 Things I Have Learned Since October, by Steve Albert

1)  Friends.  Nothing exposes the fallacy of social media "friendship" quite like a personal crisis.  I am deeply thankful for the condolences (both on-line and off-line) offered by so many; I am bewildered by the fact that I didn't hear from others.

2)  Routine.  Even in the midst of seeming chaos, I'm always trying to create a new routine.  We humans seem to be wired for wanting the predictable.

3)  Being Present.  Being fully present in the moment actually does help when things get tense and tough.  Oh, and I'm the last person in the world to advocate anything new-agey or tragically hip.  Study this stuff, as it's worth it.

4)  Job Search.  Looking for a career opportunity in 2017 is a heck of a lot different than it was the last time I checked.  Then again that was 1988.

5)  Your Kids Get Older.  It's great to be proud of your son or daughter when they do well in school (for example).  As they get older and become concerned about your well being and offering you sound advice?  Well, that's pride elevated to a whole new level.  It almost makes getting older worth it.


* * * * * *

(*) Dictionary:  A book that defines words, PG (pre-Google). Used in a sentence:  (Steve) Mom, how do you spell cataract?  (My Mom, Yelling) Look it up in the dictionary!


Friday, January 13, 2017

In Gratitude...

...for all of the thoughts and prayers expressed to me and to my family over the past week.  For anyone interested, my brother's obituary can be found directly below.


During the viewing and the funeral Mass, some folks said to me that I was "strong" and "taking this so well".  Let me dispel both ideas:  I wasn't.  What helped my spirits though (and as I explained during the eulogy on Thursday) was the fact that I knew, very personally, just how much pain my brother Chris was in, particularly over this past year.  Knowing that he had now found the peace that escaped him in this world, well that made the difference.

I want to also say thanks to a few others who were of tremendous help during this ordeal.

Reverend Patrick Albert, who is my/Chris' cousin, for coming right over to the house after Chris was found and for all of his support for the family and our spiritual needs during these difficult past few days.  Pat is a credit to his collar.

Lackawanna County Deputy Coroner Louis C. Stefanelli, who went above and beyond during the initial hours after I found my brother.  The county is lucky to have such a dedicated professional in its employ.

The Scranton Police Department - For their professionalism and concern on January 5th.  You would be hard-pressed to find a better police force anywhere in the country.

Neil Regan Funeral Home, for the wonderful arrangements and the magic that they performed for my brother's viewing.

My Wife, for her unfailing support over the past year as I struggled to help my brother.

My Daughter Rebecca, for her professional advice and assistance over this past year.  How wonderful is it when you can rely on your son/daughter for advice?

* * * * * *

It's always difficult when you lose a family member.  I suspect that it's especially difficult though when you believe that the loss could have been avoided, which is how I feel about my brother Chris.  Many of us will probably always wonder if we could or should have done more.  Regardless, if you or a family member struggle with an addiction, just know that where there is help, there is hope...and there is a lot of help available.  Don't give up.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Help Resources for Veterans

Addiction.Org:  Help for the Family





Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My Brother Chris



My brother passed away some time early to mid-last week.  Sadly, we don't know the exact date of his passing.  I am thankful that I was the one to find him, as that spared others, including his wife or my brother Rich, from that terrible visual.

Christopher Paul Albert lived a full life, and was many things, including a very proud father, husband, son, friend, veteran of the United States Navy (Naval Med Corpsman, stationed with the Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina), altar server, former postal carrier in Lodi (New Jersey), amateur boxer, a graduate of Montclair State University, fan of the manual transmission, cook, Republican, lover of cats, talk radio consumer, music aficionado (especially the Rolling Stones and the Doors), runner, voracious reader of biographies, a genuinely funny person, federal government IT guy, gifted with gab, and tireless rebel without a cause.  He also knew precisely how to infuriate his older brothers (especially me) with a level of efficiency that would make a Japanese automobile manufacturer nod in approval.

One of my oldest memories of Chris was, as at a very young age, his repeated habit of running arms first into glass storm doors, cutting himself up like someone working at an OSHA-fined meat-packing plant.  I kid you not.  This was then...
In his early teens he was, as noted above, an amateur boxer, having had several bouts under his belt at the Scranton Catholic Youth Center.


It was a perfect way for a teenager with pent-up feelings to deal with the world.  Back then Rich and I would taunt him by saying things like "Sure Chris, you'll be a boxer...you'll be boxing apples, pears, and pineapples at the local Acme supermarket".  Brothers can be such jerks.

Recently, he held the world's record for most number of overnight calls to Steve Albert, set at 13, between 8 pm and the following 10 am.  It's a record that's not likely to be broken, if ever.

As he grew older, he was someone who increasingly struggled to make it in a world that seemed to offer fewer and fewer easy choices as time quickly past him by.  I repeatedly told him that he held on to amounts of unexpressed emotion that were, at best, unhealthy.  So much anger and pain boiling so deep under the surface, which some may view as odd, given his easy smile and ability to tell you what he thought about anything and everything...except of course for, I suspect, the very things that troubled him the most.  But I knew things that most other's didn't; we were, after all, two part of a band of (real) brothers, with a shared set of experiences.  I don't claim to know his pain, but I know where part of it came from.

Now if there's to be a moral to his passing, it would be something like this:  In life and in the end, we can't ever really deny how we feel, our inner demons if you want to call them that; we either choose to face the demons honestly, or we allow those same demons to destroy us from the inside out through passive, or even active, neglect.  For the record, we all have our own inner demons and we all have to make this choice, whether we want to or not.  Life has a way of always settling accounts.

So now what's left are a lifetime of memories to be held close by all who knew Chris.

(About 1970 - Band of Brothers, Dressed in Easter Best:  Chris, Rich, Steve &Joe)

(April, 2010 - Chris, wearing a shirt I bought him that perfectly matched his sense of humor)

(July 3, 2015 - My Wedding:  Chris, Joe, Steve & Rich)

(Meeting of the Round Glasses Club, Somewhere in the 90's - Mom, Steve & Chris)

Finally, I'd like to believe that Chris is now in another place, a better place, with our Mom, once and for all reconciled in a way that escaped both of them in this life.  No more anger.  No more rebellion against things he probably never fully understood.  No more denial and the demons have been vanquished forever.  Chris and Mom are both now fully absolved and cleansed, resting in peace together.  Then again, they could also be arguing about the last presidential election.

* * * * * *


In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving"
But the fighter still remains
(Paul Simon, The Boxer)




Monday, January 2, 2017

2017

I am a firm believer in new year's resolutions, also known in some circles as simply "goals".  Setting goals for yourself is always good; so what if you put a new year's banner on them?  I honestly don't get the bad rap that new year's resolutions get.  Anyway, here are a few things I'd like to accomplish in 2017.

Physical Health - I need to keep my weight stable (well, ideally slowly tracking down).  I would also love to eliminate one prescription medication in 2017.  I don't take that many medications now, but one less would be great.  I'm also going to continue with five days a week of cardio exercise, supplemented with the remaining two days of being very active.  News Flash:  I'm getting older!  But then again so are all of us.  Being healthy now is more of an investment for the future than anything else.

By the way, if you want actual, real advice about fitness (and related resolutions), you can check out THIS BLOG by my friend Sean Gowden.

My Emotional Health - I am going to continue to work on staying focused and present in the moment, especially as it relates to maintaining a positive attitude.

"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but thought about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is." 
- Eckhart Tolle

Some may shake their heads and mutter "Oh boy, more pop psychology", but I truly believe that every situation we find ourselves in, no matter how seemingly dire, is itself neutral, and furthermore it has the opportunity to teach us an important life skill. This isn't some fly-by-night observation, but rather something I've learned...and obviously continue to learn...throughout my life. And it's difficult at times, but one of the things you learn in life is that the difficult things are almost always worth it.

Spiritual Health - I'd like to say something like "go to church regularly", but that would just be blog filler.  In reality, I'm probably not going to be going to church any more frequently than a few times a year.  What would be nice?  Probably finding something like a "spiritual adviser", someone I could dialogue with about weighty matters of faith.  Nothing formal, just conversation.  I'm open to suggestions.

Odd-n-Ends - A few other miscellaneous things...

  • Education - I'm going to finish my graduate degree some time this year.  That will be a load-o-stress off my shoulders, that's for sure, but it will be well worth it.  My (late) mother would be very proud.
  • The Blog - I've often thought about pulling out some of the better postings from this blog and finding some way to use them.  Maybe a self-published book?  I know, that screams vanity, but in almost eight years I am sure there is at least some good stuff worthy of paper.
  • Volunteer - I want to volunteer more regularly to help some of the causes that matter most to me.  
  • Current Events - I'm going to make a conscious effort to stay away from national news in 2017.  There's just too much negativity out there, and quite frankly, it sickens me to no end.  I'll continue to follow local news, and I won't claim that my self-imposed blackout will be absolute, but I will say that I've been doing it since the election and it has made me feel a bit less stressed.  


Here's to a 2017 that's full of ceaseless exploration for all of us.