Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the human mind. When we are presented with a scenario that lacks details, we often supply them from our expectations, our experiences, or our belief systems. In the face of a reported "drug deal gone bad", a carjacking, or other newsworthy matter, if important details are lacking we tend to supply them to complete the picture. There are hints of this when someone voices, "It/he/she/ probably…". This is the natural tendency born of an inquisitive species. It drives our explorations, it drives our scientific inquiry, and it even drives our theologies.
Creation stories, such as presented in the Old Testament, are not only a story about Creation, but examples of the creation of a story. Imagine if the transcribers had known the structure of the solar system, galaxy, universe. Imagine if they had known the relationship between mass and gravity, time and light. Those "knowns" would have been interwoven into a story that still included created aspects to explain the important "unknowns".
As a child in parochial elementary school I was never satisfied with answers like, "Well Mr. Schloss, it's a mystery". I was once sent to the Principal's office because I persisted to question how a loving God could allow non-Christians in China to be condemned to eternal damnation when there was no opportunity for them to know Christianity. I sensed then, as I have come to believe in adulthood, that there is a point where fair inquiry becomes offensive to those who have abandoned fair inquiry.
Declaring tragedies that are natural or human in origin to be "punishments from God", or that the results of an election, a war, or a horserace are evidence of "the will of God", are not only an abrogation of our humanity as inquiring beings, but they are the abandonment of our free will to be agents of change.
Many are familiar with the following, "Grant me Peace to Accept the Things I Cannot Change… Courage to Change the Things That I Can… and Wisdom to Know the Difference. Perhaps one of the greatest moral failings is pretending to be human in all but mind and deed.
Peace Everyone. Pete Schloss
Vaccines and Short-Term Memory
The "good old days" were not so good.
In the United States, life expectancy around 1888 was less than 50 years, and infant mortality approached 200 per 1000 births. That's 1 in 5 children being buried by Mom and Dad before the age of 5! Death among children came primarily due to various infectious diseases such as diarrhea, diphtheria, scarlet fever and tuberculosis. (statistics from the Journal of Pediatric Research)
The impact of vaccinations and modern medicine (aka Science) has been significant. by 1990 the life expectancy in the United States had increased 50% to 75 years. Infant mortality fell an astounding 97% to less than 7 children per 1000 births.
Some folks do not develop immunity as well as others when vaccinated. However, there is a "herd effect" that confers protection because those who are unvaccinated or who have less immunity from a vaccine are surrounded by those who have vaccine acquired immunity. As more members of the "herd" lack immunity (or forego vaccines) the herd protection declines and threatens everyone. Infectious processes have a fertile population to again run rampant within.
The human tendency is to examine one's current circumstances and surroundings and fail to understand that it has not always been the way it is now. Look at your children's classrooms, soccer teams, gymnastics classes and imagine that 1 in 5 of those bright faces were suddenly dead. It is science that has saved us (so far) from the face of that horror. To paraphrase one of my favorite childhood TV shows, the anti-vaccine, anti-science folks are extending an invitation to: "Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear… Hi-Ho Silver, Away!!!
Gratitude: The New High School Mascot.
Camping in the embrace of technicolor trees, the slight cloud of each breath hints of the coming night chill. A pinewood fueled fire closes the day but opens the mind to reflection. This is Fall in Minnesota. This is living as Nature prepares to sleep.
I am a member of the Crete-Monee Illinois High School Class of 1970. Since our formal reunion of 2000 an expanding group of classmates has periodically joined for informal reunions. We are perhaps 70, plus significant others, who have reconnected either in person or "virtually". We have attracted some folks from earlier and later classes. We have long abandoned any effort to impress each other. The only status that matters is the joy of friendship.
47 years ago, some of us were friends, some just acquaintances... others virtual strangers. Our "cliques" were defined by such things as activities, standardized tests, neighborhoods, and whether we walked, bicycled, or bussed to school. What we now seem to hold in common is a fondness for having survived our journey through adolescence.
I sense that none of us escaped youth unscathed, but whatever trauma was experienced, it just serves as something we now embrace and hold in common. We invent reasons to gather. A classmate moves back to town... another is visiting for the weekend... we turn 60... we celebrate our Medicare eligibility. Most of all, we are grateful. It is not a gratitude that is focused on something, rather it is the diffused gratitude of being.
In our youth, hope and optimism predominated. They were lenses focused on the unlimited future. Today we see that the future has a looming horizon. We now spend as much time peering into the rear-view mirror of where we have been as we do in the windshield of where we are going. Gratitude is the present looking at the past. So is regret. Without a past there can be neither gratitude or regret.
These special friends with whom I join have chosen gratitude over regret. We have lost classmates and teachers to the lottery of mortality but even in this we count our blessings for having known them, and for being here to raise the toast.
Please consider this as an invitation to reach out to old friends and be grateful...
Peace Everyone. Pete
Bias and Prejudice.
To remedy a bias, one must first develop awareness of the bias. This is an active process. I encourage all of you to this examination both within and without. A few examples that I have become aware of in my own life are:
Relating an encounter or experience about another person rarely include an identification that the subject was Caucasian. However, if it was about a person of color, invariably the description includes, "He/she was black". Why are we unconsciously compelled to include that detail when it adds nothing to the discussion?
I recently had a conversation with a person about the challenge a public school had in securing substitute teachers for the significant percentage of the faculty who as Muslims were off work for the holy day of Eid al-Adha. The person's response was to ask, "Do they wear their Hijabs when they teach?" What does that reflexive question indicate? (I'm really wondering.)
When a news story mentions a crime, how many of us look to the picture of the suspect to identify their race? I confess that I found this failing in my own quest of self-awareness. Do we make the same inquiry if the news story is about an act of valor or sacrifice?
A friend that I know to be a model of morality, fair mindedness, intelligence, and an exemplary work ethic, once shared with me that he was an atheist. He was unapologetic and matter-of-fact. I felt an internal reaction that I know would not have been present if the revelation had been that he was Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, or Muslim. My opinion of the person has not changed, if anything it is heightened because of his willingness to share his nonbelief. I was forced to confront my own reaction and reevaluate my own thoughts about the non-connection of faith and the qualities that my friend exemplifies.
I am searching for more examples of overt and covert bias in and around me. I invite each of you to join the hunt!
Peace Everyone. Pete Schloss
The Good Lawyers
Many years ago, an attorney friend, Jim Fluker, began referring to me as "The Good Lawyer". I don't recall exactly how that happened but I have reciprocated to Jim in kind ever since because Jim is a "Good Lawyer".
There are many of us out there. I daresay that most lawyers are "good", as in ethical, caring, and competent. There are exceptions. Most 20 pound bags of potatoes have at least one spud gone bad. The sight of one bad potato in the bunch often results in the customer rejecting that entire bag as "bad" or at least suspect.
I know what attorneys go through in their professional lives. I know the price that we pay. Folks don't usually seek an attorney because life is a bed of roses. Most often they hire lawyers because something has gone very wrong. The problems are often of the client's own creation, and who wants to admit they made a mistake? Even when the problem originates with a third person, the client often resents having to pay for the assistance required to seek a remedy from something that wasn't their fault.
At this point, many of you may reflect upon a favorite lawyer joke. There are few (none?) that I find funny, and over the years I have practiced the art of adopting a dead-pan expression when a lawyer joke is told in my presence. Maybe it's because I recall the countless tragedies that I have helped folks navigate. Death… of a love one, of a marriage, of a childhood… pain and loss that many of us will never experience. Most "Good Lawyers" put their family time and happiness second to the needs of their clients. The last paragraph of our Oath of Admission to the Missouri Bar reads:
"That I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay any man's cause for lucre or malice. So help me God."
Good Lawyers live that creed.
Today I visited a "Very Good Lawyer" in the hospital. His wife at his side. He has been a friend for many years, and often a professional adversary. I am again reminded not to put off until tomorrow the things that one may find they are then unable to do.
Peace. Pete Schloss
Of Frogs and Teachers
Years ago, I read that if a frog is cast into a pan of boiling water it will immediately react to save itself and jump out of the pan. However, if the frog is placed in a pan of cool water and the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will remain in place oblivious to the fact that it is being cooked.
I have accepted this account on faith but I have continued to wonder if it has ever been experimentally proven. I would never consider torturing some poor frog to satisfy my curiosity, however recent events have brought me to the realization that the sacrifice of a frog is unnecessary since I have the example of a teacher, my father.
My dad began teaching in 1949, which was the year that he and my mother married. By 1959 they had brought 4 sons into the world, of which I am the oldest. My mother was also a teacher, but she chose to stay home to raise the children until I started high school. Dad's teacher's salary, supplemented by summer work and the small stipends he received for coaching football, basketball, and track, were the family's sole source of support. From his income, my parents provided our family with the following:
A custom-built brick home in south suburban Chicago
Parochial grade school educations
One newer car and a second older car
A camping trailer that we used for annual summer vacations, traveling throughout the United States and Canada
Excellent health and dental care
Undergraduate state college educations for the children that included our tuition, books, room and board
My dad was not a financial wizard, he was a teacher. Teachers in the 1960's, along with firefighters, police officers, factory workers, truck drivers, and a myriad of other professions, were the pillars of middle class America. The real strength of the "American Dream" was not in the strength of our military or the wealth of the "top 1%", but in what average workers could accomplish for themselves and their families.
Had something suddenly occurred in our society to deprive these workers of their ability to provide for their families in the manner that I have described then there would have been a declaration of a national emergency to address the crisis. In other words, the frog would have immediately reacted and leapt from the pan of boiling water. Unfortunately, the America of my youth once bathing in a pan of cool water. The temperature of the water has gradually risen over the last 50 years to the point that the middle class of America it is being cooked out of existence.
As for that experiment, frogs need not apply. We have enough teachers, firefighters, police officers, factory workers, truck drivers…
Peace. Pete Schloss
Words That Matter.
I am back from having spent a long pre-Christmas weekend at my Mother's in my hometown of Crete, Illinois. The weekend was graced by time with Mom and a beautiful 5" snowfall. It also coincided with an informal Holiday reunion of my 1970 high school classmates hosted by a classmate.
In the course of the evening reunion I had the opportunity to discuss with a former classmate the special contribution that one of our teachers had made in her life. In her senior year, my classmate found her life suddenly disrupted by a family crisis that I will only describe as catastrophic. None of us can imagine the strength that it must have taken for a 17-year-old to have endured, let alone flourished, as she did. If ever there is a tale of the "resilient child", hers is that hero's tale. Whatever challenges I faced at that time in my life paled in comparison. However, what she and I held in common was the unique contribution of the same teacher.
Evelyn Evans taught English and more importantly she taught life. She took the time to give some of us a glimpse into the potential that she saw within us. One of my high school teachers once took me aside and expressed his opinion that I might be better served in pursuing a "technical education" … college was probably not a prudent option for me. Mrs. Evans looked beyond my struggles with spelling, penmanship, and adolescence to express a different opinion. There are only two assignment artifacts that I have retained from those days, not because of the content of my classwork but because of the content of Mrs. Evans' comments. Her words mattered and it is not hyperbole for me to express that they may have changed the course of my life.
Each of us has the potential to give the gift of "words that matter" to either encourage or discourage. Be mindful in the exercise of such an awesome responsibility. Peace, Pete
PS: There was also Mr. Robert Dreher. He was a successful attorney in Carbondale Illinois who taught a "Survey of the Law" general education course at Southern Illinois University. On the first day of class he confidently strode to the front of the auditorium assembly of over 100 students and announced, "I'm Robert Dreher, I'm a LAWYER… you may call me Mr. Dreher or Professor Dreher. You may NOT call me Doctor Dreher… because I'm a LAWYER." Mr. Dreher, though short and portly, wore his three-piece suit with the strength and dignity of a medieval knight in armor. The large cigars that protruded from his vest pocket were like a coat of arms. At mid-term we submitted a required essay to him. The day that the papers were to be returned to us Mr. Dreher began his lecture by first asking, "Is Peter Schloss here?" (we had never spoken) I raised my hand and he then asked me to see him after class. My heart was in my throat for the next 50 minutes. After class I walked up to him and asked, "Professor, you wanted to see me?" He looked me in the eye for a moment longer than was comfortable and asked, "Have you ever thought about becoming a lawyer?" "No sir." I replied. To which he responded, "You should". That was the extent of the "conversation"...
Words that matter.
Sacramental Confession, Then and Now
Last week 6 of our grandchildren completed their preparations for the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation. In my childhood, this was known as the Sacrament of "Confession" or "Penance". Christine and I were privileged to attend a few of the preparation classes with "the little people" and thus I witnessed the stark contrast of the terror filled ritual that I endured and the pleasant embrace of community love that these children experienced.
Before I proceed to complete that story, I will take a brief detour into my past: My grandmother Labibi (Arabic for Mary) was as incredible in her spiritual devotion as she was in her ample physical presence. She was love personified, attending daily Mass, volunteering her time to the Church, and like a gunslinger she performed a "quick-draw" of her rosary from her purse whenever we drove past a cemetery… adding yet more unknown souls to her never-ending litany of prayer. Although I was only 6 or 7 years old I was troubled by the paradox of her every Friday visit to the confessional. What could this saintly woman possibly do each week that warranted a ritual cleansing of the soul?
Perhaps it was the not-so-secret animas between her and my great uncle Solomon (aka "Simon") who lived across the street. Simon was my grandfather's cousin and business partner. He was also the focus of my grandmother's distrust. For Simon, the feeling was mutual. They lived in West Virginia, their mid-nineteenth century homes facing across a pre-Civil War cobble stone street. From their large raised porches they would hail greetings to one with the fixed rictus of feigned affection. On one such occasion I was with Simon when we both observed Labibi step out onto her porch. Simon slowly extended a parade-style wave and loudly called out in his thick Middle Eastern accent, "Hey Labibi…". While she reciprocated the greeting he continued under his breath,"…you beeeech!".
My own "First Confession" also began with preparation classes. I had not yet learned the prudence of being seen but not heard, and when I asked the Sister what to do if I didn't have anything to confess she immediately replied to the amusement of the other children, "Mr. Schloss, are YOU saying that YOU have NEVER fought with your brothers, that you ALWAYS obey your parents?!?" Thus, without intending to do so the Nun indelibly scripted my monthly confessions for the remainder of my parochial school years… "Bless me Father for I have sinned… I fought with my brothers 3 times and disobeyed my parents 4 times…" I would usually switch the numbers around, finding that 3 and 4 times was kind of a "sweet spot" for confession, not so infrequent as to seem insincere, and not so often as to earn a big penance.
I ceased regular participation in Confession once I reached high school. However, there have been four occasions that I sought penitential guidance in Confession as an adult. Each of those occasions were spiritually rewarding and provided me with a personal affirmation of my self-worth. Perhaps I will share them some day.
Back to the "little people": The six grandchildren were actually eager for their First Reconciliation (as it is now referred to)! There was no fear, no hesitation, and no memorizing a prescribed litany. "Kids, you can read from the card but honestly the priest likes you to just talk to him", said the instructor. There was no "dark closet", no shadowy silhouette of a man through a small framed opening, no rock-hard kneelers… I was born about 60 years too soon.
The kids were appropriately reverent as they waited in line, displaying only hints of pent-up energy. Each one's visit lasted about 10 minutes and upon returning from the priest each child detoured to an empty pew for a few minutes private contemplation before proceeding on their mother and grandparents. There was one exception… one of the children having concluded his meditation immediately proceeded back to the line for Confession. His mother called out, "Where are you going?", to which he replied, "It's ok mom, I just forgot to tell him something!"
…and so, one of my grandchildren celebrated both his first and second Confession on the same day. "Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been 3 minutes since my last confession…"
Sorry Labibi, your weekly confessions seem a bit ordinary now.
Peace. Pete Schloss
"A Visit from Bill"
We have become accustom to visits from random strangers interested in our home, our Casita, or both. This morning was no exception as two such visits occurred while I was engaged in the task of removing 7 plus weeks of road grime from "Rigel", our home away from home. It is the second of these visits that has given me pause to share with you.
As a liberal application of "elbow grease" was slowly turning a grey wheelwell once more white I became aware of the presence in my driveway of an older Buick that had seen a better day. A wizened man, on the north side of 80 years old, exited the Buick and approached me with hand outstretched. He introduced himself as Bill, and turned his eyes to Rigel. "She sure is a nice trailer… looks like you have done some traveling." I thanked Bill and acknowledge that the map on the back of the trailer accurately displayed the 42 States that we had visited in the last 17 months. "Wow", Bill remarked, "Mind if I look inside?" I ushered Bill to the door and became a bit concerned as he reached for the handle and displayed a large purple bruise that extended the width of his arthritic hand. His step up into the trailer was tentative and uncertain, but to my relief successful. He stood in the entry and with a wistful, almost vacant gaze he scanned the interior. "When my wife finally passes from her Alzheimer's, this is what I want to do." We both stood silent, Bill continuing his imagined travels and me allowing his words to sink in.
Without further comment Bill sighed, smiled, and began the difficult task of stepping back down from trailer to driveway. He once again extended his hand and thanked me. He looked tired, but at the same time grateful. I expressed to Bill my wish that matters resolve kindly for him and his wife. With tears in his eyes Bill nodded and again thanked me. He returned to his car and left me to ponder what had just occurred.
Bill and his wife are traveling a difficult journey. For a few minutes he borrowed our trailer and found peace in an imaginary detour to a different destination. He also reminded me that his path is one that we may all share one day. Oh, one more thing… as Bill left I became aware that my stereo was playing the sad strains of Jeff Buckley's rendition of "Hallelujah".
God, Gott, Dieu, Yhwh… and Allah.
God by any other name is still Creator. To borrow further from Shakespeare, "Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself,…"
According to Genesis mythology God created the heavens and the earth, light and dark, the plants and animals, and then humanity in God's image and likeness. God toiled for 6 days and then "rested" the 7th day. Perhaps a more accurate description is that God either retired or took a sabbatical because from that point forward humanity took up the task of creating. We created nations, language, and religions… religions that define god in our image and likeness. In my country most call the Creator "God". My German paternal grandparents named the Creator Gott, and my Lebanese/Syrian maternal grandparents (who were Christians) prayed to Allah. "Allah" is not a word unique to a theology, it is merely the Arabic word for God and the Arabic language predates Islam by centuries.
Humanity created all that divides us and in our division we imagine that the Creator takes sides in wars, politics, and sporting events. We created rituals that we imagine are necessary to communicate and entreat with the gods that we created. If God is universal, all powerful and all-knowing then I doubt that God is confused by the names that we choose or the manner by which we address or invoke God. I doubt that God favors one archaic ritual over another, one nation over another, one political party over another, or one baseball team over another.
If there is a Universal Creator (a topic for another time), then I pray that God comes out of retirement and begins work on the 8th day to create peace, love, understanding and respect among those created on the 6th.