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Monday, August 29, 2016

Hoping to Avoid Lola with my Family in NOLA...

The Crying Game...
"Well, I'm not dumb but I can't understand why she walk like a woman and talk like a man, Oh my Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola..."

Believe it or not, when the Kinks released their hit song, Lola, in 1970, it was quite controversial.

For those unfamiliar, it's about a guy who gets drunk at a bar, spends all night dancing with a woman, who turns out to be a man; kind of like of like the Danny Bunaduce experience in lyrics! (Or The Crying Game, sans the conspiracy plot, kidnapping, someone dying, falling in love or being sent to prison.)

In any case, despite the song's release in the backdrop of the sexual revolution, where "free love," "make love not war" and, "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" became emblematic, some radio stations would fade out Lola before the big reveal.

Apparently, they felt it was too strong for kids in the audience, regardless of being a time, as the song lyrics stated, "Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls.  It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world..." 

Well, the song and its subsequent controversy hit home for me recently, after my family booked a 4-day Labor Day weekend trip to New Orleans to celebrate our middle child's twelfth birthday, as we had done with our oldest daughter to New York for her twelfth several years ago.

After reading a book about a New Orleans ghost tour, our second girl picked the destination on her own and, having been there twice, including one time with my wife, five weeks after our first daughter was born, I thought it would be a great trip for the entire family (albeit different than the first two); Breakfast at Brennan's, the French Quarter, Cafe du Monde, the Garden District, Camellia Grill, street cars, the Mississippi River, cemetery and ghost tours, the plantations, maybe even passing by Preservation Hall.  Even without the boozing, there's still a lot to do.  

Yes, I know that the town is known for partying, bachelor and bachelorette parties, colorful and shady characters alike and occasional unruliness, but it's also a great place to teach kids about U.S. history (the National World War II Museum is there) and the wrath of Hurricane Katrina that destroyed The Big Easy in 2005.  I got excited.

As always, the first thing I do when we go on trips, aside from looking up the nearest Catholic Church to attend Mass, is getting a Frommer's or Fodor's Guide to plan the excursion.  In this case, I handed the Frommer's to the birthday girl to study and prioritize what she wanted to do.

A couple of days later, as she was compiling a list of things to do and my wife had booked the airfare and accommodations, I'm going through a New Orleans web site and see a tab that said "festivals."  Out of curiosity, I click it and find; Southern Decadence, August 31st to September 5th (the time we will be there!), which stated, "Dubbed the 'Gay Mardi Gras,' this celebration of LGBT culture features elaborate costumes and high fashion" and "now draws over 160,000 participants from all over the world."

It's going to be a madhouse...
Now, you have to understand, we're not much for crowds.  We avoid the Calle Ocho Festival, which is called Mardi Gras South, in Miami like the plague.  I think that the last time I went was 25 years ago! We've never taken the kids to Santa's Enchanted Forest, which can get a bit shady, or the county fair and we certainly wouldn't expose them to the over-the-top insanity at Mardi Gras at this point in their lives!  (Heck, I have never been to Mardi Gras myself or the Columbus Day Regatta in Miami for that matter, which may be worse!) The most we do is take them to their school fair and to Disney!

So talk about culture shock, instead, we're going to be faced with Lola in NOLA; a hundred and sixty thousand strong! Oh, noooo! (I felt like Mr. Bill getting rolled over by a bulldozer or, maybe, like my mom felt when, as a teenager, I told her after watching the Richard Gere film, that I wanted to grow up to be a gigolo!)

We already booked the flight.  We already booked the hotel.  We made reservations at Brennan's and Emeril's!  Why didn't anybody tell us?  (I guess, in retrospect, the airline and hotel are not going to say, "Are you sure you want to go?  It's going to be chaos, man, absolute chaos!")

And, worse, whether I want to or not, whether I'm ready for it or not, I will be forced to explain to my kids about this "mixed up, muddled up, shook up world" we live in.  I can't wait!  Parenting is definitely not easy! Hopefully, this can serve as an invaluable life lesson (if I do it right!).

In the Gospel, St. John writes that "We are in this world but not of it."  That will never be more evident for my family than the Southern Decadence Festival next weekend.

I may not be able to fade to black, like the DJ's did before the big reveal in 1970 but, for the most part, I'm hoping to avoid the craziness on Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.  Although, I'm sure we can't avoid it all.

May the Lord give me the wisdom and perspective to guide my family through it.

At the end of the day, it's like the song says, "Well I'm not the world's most masculine man, but I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man, and so is Lola... Lo lo lo lo Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola..."

Or, as my wife may sing, "Layla, la la la la Layla, la la la la Layla...." 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Going for Gold for the Glory of God...

Rio's Christ the Redeemer...
After winning the gold medal, becoming the first African-American woman ever to win a medal in an individual swimming event, an emotional and visibly shaken Simone Manuel was asked what was going through her mind. As a national television audience watched, she responded with tears pouring down her cheeks, "All I can say is all the glory to God. It's definitely been a long journey these past four years," she paused briefly, as her voice cracked, "I'm just so blessed to have a gold medal... I'm so blessed."

For the past week, aside from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the headlines have been dominated by Manuel, Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles, among others.  They have become household names and share several things in common; they are young, they are world class athletes, who achieved Olympic gold, and they are devoted to their Christian faith.

In fact, it is interesting that, at a time when the American culture is becoming more and more secularized, and religion, especially Christianity, is being marginalized at schools, in the military, at sporting events and in most public domains, it seems that every other post-medal interview of an American athlete has some reference to God.

Steele Johnson and David Boudia...
Synchronized diving silver medalist Steele Johnson, who nearly died on a platform dive at the age of 12, is a great example.

In an interview after winning his medal, he said, "Now, I've kind of realized that God had his hand over all of it to help me... He gave me this ability to dive.  God kept me alive and he is still giving me the ability to do what I do... but this is not what my identity will be for the rest of my life. Yeah, I'm Steele Johnson the Olympian, but at the same time I'm here to love and serve Christ.  My identity is rooted in Christ, not in the flips we're doing."

His diving partner three-time Olympian, David Boudia, who wrote a recently-published book on his faith, Greater Than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption, added, "We can't take credit for this.  To God be the glory."

Expressions of faith are widespread throughout the Olympic Games in Rio from Jamaica's Usain Bolt (a faithful Catholic, who wears a Miraculous Medal of the Virgin Mary, when he's not wearing gold), making the sign of the cross before his races and praying on one knee after he wins, to Ibitijah Muhammad, becoming the first American to wear a hijab while competing.

Actually, it's only fitting that religious beliefs be on display freely in a city, whose skyline is dominated by a 125-foot sculpture of Christ the Redeemer.

While, there's no doubt there are many atheists and agnostics among the competitors, it appears a healthy share are believers (and proud of it).  And, it shouldn't be a surprise, considering the close relationship between body and soul, since humanity is comprised of body, mind and spirit.

Michael Phelps...
For Michael Phelps, finding faith was what he credits for saving his life.  The most decorated Olympian of all time, with 28 Olympic medals, including 23 gold, says he was on a downward spiral and depressed to the point of considering suicide two years ago.

Apparently, stardom left him empty inside; the pressure of having to perform and live up to his image, the spotlight and constant scrutiny, the pain of an unresolved relationship with his father, who divorced his mother when Phelps was nine.

He tried to fill the void with drugs and alcohol.

His decline began with a suspension from swimming when a photo of him smoking a marijuana bong surfaced. He was later arrested twice for DUI.  His life hit rock bottom.  It was then that his family and former Baltimore Raven and University of Miami great Ray Lewis talked him into going to rehab, where he read a book that changed his life.

It was Rick Warren's A Purpose Driven Life, which was given to him by Lewis before he checked into rehab.  After reading the book, he started sharing his faith openly with others, reconciled with his estranged father and asked his long-time girlfriend to marry him.  He has been trying to live his faith devoutly ever since.  

Katie Ledecky...
For 19-year-old fellow U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky, the five-time Olympic gold medalist and nine-time world champion, it was a totally different experience. Faith was always part of her life.  She attended Catholic school from time she was in Pre-K and continued all the way through high school, at Little Flower School in Bethesda, Maryland and at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. She was raised in a faithful Catholic family, to the extent that her godfather is a Jesuit priest, Fr. Jim Shea.  She says she is grounded by her religion.

"My Catholic faith is very important to me," Ledecky said in a recent magazine interview, "It always has been and it always will be.  It is part of who I am and I feel comfortable practicing my faith."

Ledecky says prayer is a big part of her preparation for competitions, "I do say a prayer, or two, before any race. The Hail Mary is a beautiful prayer and I find it calms me."

Simone Biles...
Then there's four-time gold medalist, Simone Biles, the 2016 Olympic individual all-around gold medal winner in women's gymnastics, women's vault, floor exercise and women's team all-around, four-time national champion and three-time world champion.

Biles is known for her fun-loving and energetic attitude, gravity-defying jumps and discipline and precision.  Yet, the only constant in her young life has been her faith.

Her mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol and lost custody of her kids when Simone was three.  The gymnast has been living with her grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles, who adopted her and her younger sister and they call "mom and dad," ever since.

The 19-year-old attends Mass with her family every Sunday at St. James the Apostle, where she was Confirmed, and says part of her routine includes lighting a candle and praying to St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, before every meet.  She also says prayer is a big part of her life and she carries a rosary, that her mom Nellie got her at church, at all times.

In the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, the saint writes, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way as to take the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline.  They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable."  (1 Cor 9:24-25)

It appears all these athletes are training and competing for the prize that will have eternal reward...

[photo credit: Getty images]

Friday, August 12, 2016

Words of Wisdom on Trusting God Through Suffering...

"The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day.
Either he will shield you from suffering or give you unfailing strength to bear it.  Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings."

-- St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622),  17th Century Bishop of Geneva, and Doctor of the Church, who as a priest was known for his patience and gentle approach to quell religious division after the Protestant Reformation.  He was a lawyer by trade and, after convincing his father to allow him to enter the priesthood, he was just as successful in sharing the Catholic faith and converting Calvinists in Geneva.  He would preach to them and hand out pamphlets that he would write himself.  St. Francis is said to have returned tens of thousands back into the Catholic fold.  The "brilliant apologist," as some have described, was known for practicing his axiom, "A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar."  Well recognized for his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, which is hailed by Catholics and many Prostestants alike, he also wrote, A Treatise on the Love of God, and hundreds of pamphlets, which were later assembled as, The Catholic Controversy, and letters addressed to the laity.  Along with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.  He was canonized in 1665 by Pope Pius IX just 43 years after his death.  His feast day is celebrated by the Church on January 24th...  

For more on St. Francis de Sales, check out Word on Fire article by clicking here...