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Archive for September, 2010

The Catholic Church in Minnesota recently mailed out 400,000 DVDs to its parishioners in the state, asking them to accept the church’s belief that gay marriage is wrong for human beings. In fact, gay marriage is so bad for the rest of the world, the Catholic leadership wants lawmakers to pass a new law forbidding it. It’s about six weeks before an election, see, and the church would really like its people to vote for candidates who oppose gay marriage.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune published this piece last week (Sept. 20).

Then, an art curator at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis decided to produce a sculpture using DVDs provided to her by other Catholics who are opposed to its content. It’s her way of taking a stand against the church’s teaching on gay marriage. She was summarily terminated from her job, of course, and the Star Tribune published this article about the debacle.

As I read the story and readers’ comments, this one struck me as the most relevant…so I wanted to share it here. Naturally, not all good Catholics are anti-marriage. Some actually think with a reasonable and “modern” process about the issue. Here’s the reader’s comment from the newspaper:

Where did the $400,000 for the DVD come from?

First, I’m a parishioner at St. Mary’s, and like many fellow parishioners, my wife and I are planning to donate the archbishop’s DVD to Ms. Naylor’s art work. We feel this work of art is the perfect response to the archbishop’s actions, and it’s the Holy Spirit at work. Second, the archbishop has clearly crossed a line of political lobbying that is totally inappropriate. The church lobbies on behalf of the poor, children and others who need the protection of the church. The church builds schools, hospitals and shelters to serve, according to Christ’s command. That’s not what this DVD is about. This is the archbishop telling Catholics how to vote to change the constitution of the secular state of Minnesota. Minnesota and the United States are secular institutions which have laws and constitutions to protect the rights of all–regardless of religious belief. Instead of fighting for the poor, Archbishop Nienstedt is fighting to get Catholic theology into the constitution of the state of Minnesota where it would govern anyone, Catholic or not. We’re not a theocracy–like Iran or Saudi Arabia. We’re America, a secular society, and one of our core beliefs is freedom of religion. That includes freedom *from* religion. I don’t want my church dictating to people outside the church. It used to be illegal to buy contraceptives in many states, because archbishops demanded laws against it. They misused the authority of the church then, just as Archbishop Nienstedt has misused his authority now. Finally, I have to ask: where did this $400,000 come from? Was it a donor? Who was the donor? What else has the donor given money to? And if it wasn’t from a donor, how can the Archbishop order $400,000 be taken from the church’s budget and spent on this theocratic attempt to deprive some non-catholics of their civil rights? That money could run a daycare center in north Minneapolis for 250 kids for a year. Or a homeless shelter. Or it could have been spent lobbying the legislature to stop cutting funding for education. The number one subject Christ talks about in the New Testament is about the poor–not fighting to take away rights that are due to others. The appropriate place for the archbishop to plead his case for the church’s view of the institution of marriage is from the pulpit. Instead he wasted desperately needed $400,000 of funds on an arrogant attempt to decree Catholic law should be secular law. Each year there is a special collection at St. Mary’s, as in all diocese churches, for the Archbishops Fund. Each year as the scandals have grown in the church, the amount of donations has shrunk. So long as Archbishop Nienstedt leads the bishops of Minnesota in this kind of arrogant theocratic campaigns, ours is one parish household that will give our money elsewhere to help the poor and the forgotten. Rohn Jay Miller, parishioner at the Basilica of St. Mary.

Amen Brother!

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Ode to The En Dash

Oh en dash! What would my writing life be without you?

Sprinkled in and throughout my paragraphs – separating key thoughts from inane flotsam and jetsam – the concept of not having you at the whim of my fingertips saddens me. Your absence in my day worse than lack of caffeine or the inability to enjoy a vigorous bike ride.

How I truly wish – on this day of National Punctuation – that you, en dash, receive the laudatory credit you deserve for making every professional writer’s life a more enjoyable life. Indeed, it is you, my friend, who I credit for giving my writing meaning. And texture. And purpose.

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Ninety-one years. I’m sorry you didn’t get to celebrate today with those who love you most.

You are terribly missed and frequently thought of. The love you shared with me and all of your beloved family members will never be replaced, but I’ll always remember you for your kind words, thoughtfulness, huge heart and ability to make me forget about my troubles.

Because of you, I better appreciate the little things in life. A tasty meal that I cooked and shared…the smell of fresh-cut grass in the spring…a first snowfall. You taught me to pay attention to the things right in front of me and for that I’m eternally grateful. I’m a better man because of you.

So Happy Birthday, Mom. Know that you’re loved more than ever.

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Today, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Minnesota’s Roman Catholic bishops will launch a new effort against same-sex marriage. Their plan? To mail out a DVD to parishioners across the state, which explains the church’s teaching on marriage and describes the possible effects of allowing same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

Good luck with that.

As Catholic priests prepare to preach to their choirs, I find myself once again overwhelmingly happy that I left the Catholic church five years ago. The church and its leaders continue to fall on their interpretations of the Bible that have long since expired. I simply couldn’t stomach it when I was practicing the faith and I certainly abhor the intentions now.

With the issues facing our world, can the Catholic church honestly feel good about itself by perpetuating ancient thinking related to marriage? Gold star for trying, I suppose, but a big “Does Not Play Well With Others” goes in the comments section of their report card on this topic.

Two women or men who are in love and want to marry does not an apocalypse make. So please, bishops of the Catholic church, grow up and turn the other cheek once and for all.

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It took the 11 years and four treks, but I’ve made friends with the North Shore of Minnesota – a stretch of Lake Superior shoreline, highway, infamous landmarks, and seasonal resorts.

Up until now, my travels that direction epitomized the word miserable. Few other places in the country boast about bad weather to attract tourists, but for those in Duluth and points north along the treacherous northwest shore of Lake Superior, bad weather is a piece of nearly every historical moment worth noting. For me, one late summer trip several years ago featured horizontal rain and high winds for two straight days. A second venture resulted in a foot of snow and high winds. The third trip, a late April getaway, included some sun, but the wind blew so fierce it might as well have been the Antarctic. This pattern seems to be the norm.

The vistas and opportunities to hike, bike and relax in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota are too numerous to ignore…and so away we went on Saturday to kick off Labor Day weekend 2010.

And brother, we hit the weather jackpot.

Two full days of “sunny and mid- to upper-60s farenheit” ruled our short getaway. On Day One, the lofty cotton-ball-esque dotted skies served as a personal tour guide as we hiked miles and miles of the Superior Hiking Trail – enough steps to make our feet, calves, knees and thighs tell us “enough.” If you haven’t stepped onto a piece of the 270-plus miles of this trail, add it to your bucket list. And while you’re at it, make sure to take the Lookout Mountain trail section for a scene unlike any other you’ll find in Minnesota.

That evening we ate and slept in Grand Marais. Our dinner bell rang at The Crooked Spoon, a crowded cafe on Wisconsin Street where the chef served up a wicked lamb tenderloin and the most beautiful leafy green salad I’ve ever seen. And while very much a tourist town, for a Saturday night, Grand Marais seemed very quaint and quiet overlooking a calm Lake Superior.

On a cloudless Day Two, Cheri and I biked the Pincushion Mountain trail, just a couple miles from Grand Marais off the Gunflint Trail highway. Leaving the town, this highway rises over 1,000 feet in just 2.5 miles or so. After completely wasting our legs peddling the mountain bike trail, I coasted back in to Grand Marais – nearing 40 mph on two wheels and barely turning the crank.

Another hike on the Superior Hiking Trail to take in Devil’s Kettle gave new meaning to late summer in Northern Minnesota. As we sat on the rocks of the Brule River watching the falls the color was unbelievable. From the rocks to the sharp dark walls of the river’s gorge to the green chlorophyl-laden shrubs and trees to a clear blue sky. Now that’s what being outdoors is suppose to be about.

Lesson learned. The North Shore may be unforgiving at times with its wind, driving rain and lake effect snows, but pick your moment and place and you can be pleasantly surprised by the gift of such a place. And you may, like me, make friends with a piece of America that you had for awhile given up on.

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It’s an upward spiral that seemingly will not end any time soon.

I’m talking about the cost of health insurance and specifically the cost that you and I – Joe and Jane consumer – get to bear to have adequate health plans that take care of our families.

In this Wall Street Journal story, reporter Avery Johnson notes that the costs employees are expected to kick in to get health insurance through their employers continues to increase – at an alarming rate.

Knock on wood, I’ve generally been a healthy individual throughout my entire life. No broken bones. No chronic conditions. No major hospitalizations, save for a three-day stint of pneumonia that put me in a hospital bed in 2005. I didn’t like it. I’ve not gone back.

My two teenage kids and beautiful wife are also healthy people. So when we open-enroll for health insurance each October/November, it’s usually a fairly quick discussion and selection of the health care plan that includes a higher than average deductible and lower monthly premiums.

Pretty easy until now, that is.

Seems crossing the 45-year-old threshold has me thinking more about health costs as well as retirement planning (which needs to include saving for health care expenses needed after I end my career as a wage earner).

For the past several years I’ve worked in the health care industry. First for the world’s largest medical device manufacturer and now for the world’s largest health plan insurer. My eyes are open to the ways of health plan coverage and the costs associated with them. I’ve developed strong opinions on the use of medical technology to prolong life.

And as health care reform goes into the implementation stage during the next several years, I hope the very industry I work in gets smart at finding ways to help individuals manage their own care intelligently.

  • A focus on health and wellness early in life.
  • Assistance with the obesity epidemic in a way that makes sense (personal health coaches are already being offered through many work plans, but at a cost to everyone not just those who are affected).
  • Common sense approaches (and cost savings) for families and individuals who are above average on the health front and take the necessary measures to stay healthy.

By putting the onus on individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles, stay healthy and make smart health care decisions, Americans should be able to get the care they need when they need it at a cost that is affordable. Sounds so simple, but my gut tells me we remain a long, long, long way away from making that a reality in our country.

As with any major change, it happens in small steps. We first must get everyone pointed in the same direction before the big flywheel will start to turn (aka Jim Collins, “Good to Great).  This happens through various agents including our own federal government launching new laws and programs. But people, we can’t rely on the government to make the change for us.

In the end, our health and well being is up to each of us. Truly. We own it. And if we expect to have access to the best health care in the world, then we better start taking care of ourselves.

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Is your company safe from angsty former employees or the militant nut job who has a bone to pick with your products or services?

The recent hostage-taking-SWAT-team-shooting of James J. Lee at Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring, Md. (see this article in the Washington Post), made me ask myself: How safe is any company from someone who really wants to cause harm.

At each of my most recent three employers, security appeared sound. Employees had to “badge in” and security officers sat at the guest and employee entrances. Signs proclaimed to everyone entering the building that “Guns Are Banned On The Premises.” Any person with sound mind gets the message loud and clear.

And that’s the problem. Not everyone is of sound mind. Clearly. People who have been laid off, fired or otherwise wronged by an employer don’t always process the events and move on in life. They harbor ill will against their boss. They find reason to admonish the company. They seek revenge. Some actually take revenge.

When my kids were young and in elementary school, when each school year started I reminded them to stay alert in the classroom. I’d talk to them about the importance of following instructions and if there was danger to use their instincts. When I was a kid back in the ’70s, we learned safety measures for when an atomic bomb was on its way to tiny-town Iowa. I don’t think schools teach kids what to do when Johnny walks in with his dad’s hand gun.

And I don’t think the average employee thinks about what he or she should do when fired former co-worker Bob returns to the office complex looking for his boss (and anyone else who happens to be in the cubical) to exact revenge with his 12-gauge.

Fortunately, in Silver Spring at Discovery Channel HQ, no innocent people were killed. Something went “right” in a terrible case of wrongness. A police sharpshooter’s skill was necessary and, to at least three people and their families, very appreciated.

Let’s hope other James J. Lees out there think twice before taking similar actions at corporations around the world. And for the rest of us in cubicles, let’s think of our own plans to get low and stay alive.

Don’t let the job kill you.

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