Thursday, February 23, 2023



So much of TV, even the news, is depressingly violent and showcases the poorest of human behavior. I find myself flipping through the channels to find something different. These days, I find myself looking for one of the several TV shows about "homesteaders" in Alaska, even if it is a re-run of something I have already seen. My very favorite shows of all of them are LIFE BELOW ZERO and PORT PROTECTION.

The series LIFE BELOW ZERO (photo above) is a documentary television series which illustrates the daily and seasonal activities of subsistence hunters and their families as they make their living in remote areas of Alaska. The show airs on National Geographic.

The series PORT PROTECTION (photo below) features a small community located on the northern end of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, in Wooden Wheel Cove. It is set on the shore of Sumner Strait, almost hidden among the trees. As you approach, you’ll see a handful of homes, with Calder Mountain in the background. The few dozen residents who survive there year-round offer insight into the independent lifestyle responsible for developing much of Alaska. The show airs on National Geographic.


I have often asked myself that very question. I have never been a hunter nor a serious fisherman. So why am I attracted to such programs? I came up with three reasons.

First of all, being an introvert myself, I can resonate with people who can spend long hours by themselves without going stark raving mad! Like me, they seem to enjoy living alone, looking for imaginative solutions to problems, thinking of ways to stay busy and entertaining themselves with the work they love.

Secondly, as a child I loved to play in the woods and streams of my little country town of Rhodelia. I always felt most free and imaginative when I was "in the woods" or creating "private personal spaces" for myself. I had no problem "being alone" for long hours. Life only became a problem when I could not "get away."

Thirdly, the characters in these programs teach some very important wisdom, values and life lessons that seem to be melting away under the harsh sun of the noisy and rushed culture that most of us have to live in today, especially in large urban areas. Their situations strip away a lot of the excess, waste and triviality that consume so much of our energy and attention and leave what is truly important: survival, self-reliance and gratitude. They give me a refreshing break from what politicians, movie stars, criminals, sports figures, musicians and beauty queens are doing and worried about. As Charles Kuralt famously said, “It does no harm just once in a while to acknowledge that the whole country isn't in flames, that there are people in the country besides politicians, entertainers, and criminals."

I realize that these shows are "produced" and "edited" to "show their best sides," but there are a few things I have noticed, admired and learned from their subsistence living styles. They could rightly be called "values." They have a lot to teach us in that department!

1. They are very, very aware of "climate change." It is not a political situation for them. It is literally a matter of life, death and starvation. They are almost like "canaries in a coal mine." They are alerting us as to what is coming toward all of us and they are the first to feel it so intensely.

2. They love the land and the animals. They make sure that watchers know that they do not kill animals for sport. It is a matter of the availability of food and they have to work hard to secure it. They love the natural world's beauty: from its mountains, to its rivers, to its animals. They almost grieve having to kill some of those animals. They never take more than they need at any one time. They try to eliminate any suffering on the animal's part. They always make sure to tell the audience that they use the whole animal and waste nothing. After a killing, they always seem to pat the dead animal and thank it (and sometimes its Creator) for giving their lives that they might live and have something warm to wear. That always reminds me of what we always did when I was growing up. We all said "the blessing" together before meals or on our own if circumstances warranted it. With so little, they are still intensely grateful.

3. They are very conscious of, and proud of, their cultures. They are acutely concerned with "passing on their traditions." Children are told details about what things were like back in the day of their grandparents. They are taught to be responsible for "the elders" of their community. Every young hunter is taught to be aware of, and responsible for, their needs if they, themselves, are successful at hunting or fishing. Children are "brought along" on many hunting and fishing trips from a very early age. They are taught to hunt and fish starting as children. Hunting and fishing is first a school in how to be observant to everything around you. Second, hunting and fishing are schools in the skilled use of a gun, a trap and a boat or sled.

4. They constantly show humility in face of the powerful natural forces all around them. I especially admire the fact that they deal with "what is" with courage as it happens rather than whining about things not being the way they "should" be. Even when bitterly disappointed with set-backs, they seem to remain joyful and grateful, trusting in Providence, as they try to cleverly figure out "alternatives."

5. Yes, they brag a lot about their personal freedom and worry some about the day when they have to give it up and can no longer enjoy that personal freedom.

6. Last of all, I believe I like these shows because I see in those people the things I value personally: freedom, curiosity, resourcefulness, ingenuity, independence, creativity, determination, amazement, solitude and gratitude.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023


 When you go get your ashes this year, you might want to consider in advance which style of cross you prefer. However, good luck getting your preference these day! 

Remember! We are experiencing a priest shortage these days, so don't just ramble on and on! State the facts and move on and give the next person a chance!

If you can't get to confession right away, you might want to consider purchasing a few of these handy towelettes. They will hold you over until you can get a complete head-to-toe "bath" in the confessional. 



Sunday, February 19, 2023



You have heard it said...but I am saying something different to you...
Matthew 5:38-48

Few passages of the New Testament have more of the essential teaching of Jesus on how we ought to behave in the world than the one I just read.  In short, Jesus raised the bar on how people ought to treat each other to a much higher level than what is generally accepted.

In essence, to be Christian is to be different, to stand out, to swim against the stream, to hold oneself to a higher standard, to be "the light of the world and salt of the earth" - otherwise we are no better than "pagans," we are no better than unbelievers. Sadly, most who call themselves "Christian" don't even know that Jesus raised the bar on human behavior and therefore they do not even attempt to measure up to his higher standard!  Some even think the Church ought to lower these high standards to better match the level of our behaviors or be ignored altogether!

You have heard it said...but I am saying something different to you...

Jesus begins his teaching today by citing the world's oldest law---"an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." That law is known as the Lex Talionis, which can best be described as the law of “tit for tat.” This law is found in the Code of Hammurabi, who reigned in Babylon from 2285 BC to 2242 BC. The principle is clear and apparently simple----if anyone inflicts an injury on anyone else, and equivalent injury shall be inflicted back on him. Even though it is not universal, that law was absorbed into the teaching we find in the Old Testament.

As savage as it may sound, this law was, in fact the beginning of mercy. It, at least, limited vengeance. Before that law, unlimited vengeance could be taken not only on the perpetrator, but anyone in his family, including death for a minor slight. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" deliberately limited vengeance.  The law lays it down that only the man who committed the injury must be punished, not his family members, and that punishment must be no more than the equivalent of the injury inflicted and the damage done.

Another thing is worth noting here. This law never gave a private individual the right to extract vengeance. It was always a law that was laid down to guide a judge in a court of law in assessing punishments and penalties for violent and unjust deeds.

Still further, this law was never, at least in semi-civilized society, carried out literally. Very soon after the law was written and accepted, the injury done was assessed at a money value and the injury was assessed on five counts - for injury, for pain, for healing, for loss of time and for indignity suffered. Sounds remarkably modern, doesn't it?

As advanced as it was for its time, Jesus comes along and obliterates the very principle of that law, because retaliation, however controlled and restricted, has no place in the Christian life. Jesus abolishes the old law of limited and controlled vengeance and introduces the new spirit of non-resentment and non-retaliation.

You have heard it said... but I am saying something different to you...

To take the words of Jesus today in a crude literalism is to miss the point, as is the example I am very familiar with down in Russell County several years back. A man took a chain saw and cut off his right hand because, he said, "the Bible said that if your right hand is an occasion of sin, cut it off!" Jesus was, of course, using a middle eastern exaggeration of speech to make the point that we must get serious about rooting out evil from our lives.

To take these words of Jesus in a crude literalism is to miss the point, as in the case of "turning the other cheek and offering no resistance to injury." He is certainly not advocating physical and emotional abuse! If a car runs over you, don't just stand there and let it happen again and again! The first thing to do is to get the hell out of the road and don't let them do it again!  The next thing, after recovery, is to resist trying to "get even" or "carry a grudge." The ability to resist getting even will strangely enough help you, not the perpetrator! For a serious Christian, taking offense can be just as bad as giving offense. We are supposedly called to a higher standard than the rest of the herd!  One cannot have a full life under the shadow of bitterness!

To opposite of crude literalism is to dismiss what Jesus is saying here.  Jesus is teaching his followers that they must live at a higher level than what is generally accepted. In the case of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" if we lived that way, we would all be blind and toothless in no time! What he is saying is to stop taking any revenge at all! Find out where the hurt that would drive them to do such things is coming from and try to help them heal it, if possible!  Both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. showed us that nonviolent resistance can bring down oppressive governments and change the hearts of nations, while violence only begets more violence.

I am not a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, Jr. but I have my own way of living this gospel. In my work as a priest, I come across some amazingly wonderful people, but once in a while I come across some pretty nasty people.  I have figured out a long time ago that the best tactic to take is not to punish them back, in the sense of giving back to them the treatment they give you, but to "kill them with kindness." It doesn't always work, but it works more times than not! Their meanness usually has nothing to do with me or what I have done or failed to do, but what I represent and what has been done to them by others that I remind them of! "Killing them with kindness" is my version of turning the other cheek, offering no resistance to injury and loving my enemies.

In my work at the seminary, I teach a class called "Transition Out of the Seminary and Into Ministry" to those about to be ordained.  One of the things I teach them is "how to leave the seminary." I teach them how to thank the kitchen workers and cleaning staff who cooked for them, washed their dishes and cleaned their toilets.  I teach them to forgive the monks, professors and each other for not being perfect, instead of carrying grudges for the rest of their lives.  The last class is dedicated to the "spiritual practice of blessing people," the habit of looking for good things to affirm in others, rather than always looking for things to condemn. It is my version of trying to love all people, not just those who love me.        

And, you, what about you? How do you try to live the challenging words of Jesus in today's gospel?  Jesus is our model! He loved us without condition. It is not easy for any of us, but Jesus offers his own Body and Blood to strengthen us to do for each other what he always does for us - love each other without condition!