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Archive for February, 2014

The oldest parental joke in the world has many variations. Here’s mine:

Question: “What is the one thing your child wants?”

Answer: “Whatever his or her sibling has.”

I heard a rumor that Adam and Eve wrote that crack, but I’m ashamed to admit that as a sibling, father and grandfather, I understand the punch line all too well. Going back to my childhood, I remember well my mother’s oft-repeated admonition: “Don’t look at what the other guy has!”

You don’t even get a vacation from this scenario when on vacation. During a stop on our recent Caribbean cruise, my grandson and granddaughter were each digging a hole in the sand at a Costa Maya beach. They were overjoyed when they individually struck water in their respective holes. Three year-old “Sis” got a head start resulting in a deeper hole. Her four year-old brother took note of this horrid inequity. He promptly took advantage whilst she was on her coffee break. He quickly looked around to see if anyone was looking and slyly filled in some of her hole. A few minutes later, Sis was wailing (that’s crying, not looking for the largest mammal).

If this was restricted to the under-five crowd, I might not be too surprised. But no more than a few minutes later, an irritated beach café owner began scolding his neighboring café owner that he had crossed the invisible line on the beach and was stealing his customers. He repeatedly pointed to the sand, muttered something in Spanish, stuck out his foot and drew a line in the sand with his toe for dramatic effect and promptly left in what was literally a Mexican stand-off. Thankfully, no shots were fired. More thankfully, my grandkids didn’t witness it or they would be justifying their behavior.

Meanwhile, the television was covering a more serious conflict in the Middle East and I got to thinking that they are probably squabbling over some sand as well. Later on this very same vacation, I went to see The National World War II Museum and I couldn’t help thinking about the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima and a thousand others beside.

Ever since Cain kicked sand in Abel’s face, the world has been drawing lines because of jealousy or as an effort to dominate or one-up another person or people group. Solomon nailed it in Ecclesiastes 4:4: “Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind.” Just ask Hitler.

I began to wonder how many times I’ve drawn lines in the sand over “my” territory. After all, I am the one who created the sand, aren’t I?

I make no argument here against the individual ownership of private property or the sovereignty of nations. Two of the Ten Commandments deal with stealing and coveting and therefore the obvious inference is that possessing something is a right that others shouldn’t infringe on or even secretly envy (covet).

In Matthew 20: 13-15, Jesus touches on those who assign favoritism to God because He treats people differently: ““He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’”

“Comparisons are odious” and “Jealousy is crueler than the grave” or so they say. All of us could learn a lesson from my grandchildren. If envy and comparisons have landed on your beach, why bury your head in the sand?

BELOW: BACK ON BOARD, I GUESS THEY “BURIED” THEIR DIFFERENCES 

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ABOVE: NICK PROUDLY SERVING, WEDDING PHOTO, FAMED CAVALERI’S RESTAURANT (NOTE FLAG), HONORED TO BE ‘THE ASSIMILATED MAN’

Nicholas Cavaleri courageously left Locri, Italy in 1952. He was just eighteen years of age. Like most immigrants, it was difficult to leave the security and familiarity of land and culture.

When he first arrived, he received a letter from the President of the United States. He was flattered until he found out it was a draft notice. Nick honorably served in Korea and learned the English language while there. His humorous Army story is one that he recalled even after his stroke. He related that when his Sargeant asked him his birth date, he truthfully replied, “1-2-34.” Thinking that Nick was being a wise guy, the Sargeant repeatedly asked him with Nick volleying the same answer until his superior realized that the private was actually born on January 2, 1934!

Humor, drama and Nick-lore seemed to follow him. For example, he won his sweetheart, Theresa, by telling a competitor, “This sidewalk isn’t big enough for the two of us.” The other suitor quickly exited the scene. We never found out if that tactic was learned at Boot Camp, but 1956 was the year that the “war” over the beautiful Theresa ended; at the altar, that is. To the victor go the spoils.

That union led to six children, eleven grandchildren and three great grandchildren and counting.

In 1976, Nick led his entire family into a business that would make history in Albany, New York. Although his new eatery’s tagline was “Welcome To Our Place,” Cavaleri’s Restaurant truly became “everybody’s place.” Known for generous portions and an atmosphere where everyone felt like family, the South End establishment became the most comfortable place in town. Whether you were a hotshot lobbyist, a famous politician or the family next door, friendly smiles and long tales by some of the smirking Cavaleri clan only made your delicious food tastier (if that was possible) and their reputation all the more entrancing. Whoever heard of an owner-chef reading his original poetry at tableside?

As an immigrant, he was so proud of America and the opportunity it afforded him that he literally saluted the greatness of his adopted country by erecting an impressive flagpole – appropriately placed outside the kitchen.

This is the stuff of legend. This is the work and pride of a man who knew the honor and success of true assimilation.

This was Nicholas Cavaleri.  

Born in Italy. Proud to be an American.

 

(A plaque in Nicholas Cavaleri’s honor now hangs in The American Italian Heritage Musuem in Albany, NY.)

 

 

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Metaphorically, New Orleans accurately represents the flesh and the spirit. Whether football fans or not, we are the New Orleans Saints. Whether Mardi Gras marchers or not, we are also the sinners of “The Big Easy.”

What do we do with such contradiction? How do we reconcile the beauty of the architecture, food and southern hospitality with the vulnerability and propensities of the Mardi Gras?

Throughout scripture and particularly in the Book of Romans, Saint Paul addresses this struggle of the human-vs.-God persona that piggybacks our lives. It’s almost impossible not to feel the theological weight Paul was carrying because this  great “saint” also considered himself the worst of all sinners:

“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” 1 Timothy 1:15

How is it possible that we who inhabit the seediest sections of New Orleans’ French Quarter can also choose to be inhabited by The Holy Spirit?

While waiting in line outside Preservation Hall near the famous/infamous Bourbon Street, a self-proclaimed homeless “sinner” holding a creative cardboard sign with a twisted message butted in line and literally stood in my face. His placard read: “I am not working. I need alcohol.” An honest sinner he was. A tactful one, he was not. I told him he needed Jesus. He shook his head defiantly. No. I told him we’re sinners. Surprisingly, he slurred out the words, “I am a sinner.” Here was a man who knew his condition. Like I said, he was honest. But he could not bring himself to accept Christ’s forgiveness for his sins. I marveled.

Isn’t he a picture of so many? I once stood in his place. I thought I could bum my way into heaven without grace. Sure, I knew I wasn’t perfect. But I didn’t like the idea of Christ buying my way in. As Paul worked his way through this exact spiritual equation, God gave him some revelations that are not to be ignored by us sinners.

“Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.” Romans 8:5-8

Jesus addressed this same thing when He said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you- -they are full of the Spirit and life.” John 6:63

So, with the Apostle Paul, I revel in the grace that Jesus offers: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8:1,2

Based on the advice of the “chiefest of sinners,” the only way that saints go marchin’ is by following in the steps of “THE Big Easy.”

BELOW: LIFE & DEATH SPELLED OUT IN NEW ORLEANS

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Super Bowls can be decided by a penalty flag. Most athletes, staff and fans gulp when one is thrown and for good reason. It could signal more than an infraction. It could portend the end of a drive, momentum, or worse yet, the game.

Some penalties are more or less slaps on the hand. Illegal motion might not set you back five yards. But a a long pass interference call could be crushing.

Recently, I’ve had some flags thrown on me in the personal realm. I thought they were indeed nixing some momentum and were interfering with my game plan. I thought my “opponent” was getting away with some things. I thought the Man In Stripes upstairs had missed the calls. As I reviewed the game’s video, I realized that He had a better pair of eyeballs than I had credited him with especially after I noticed that He winked at me for reviewing His call.

He’s the kind of ref that pats your pads, whispers something in your ears that no one in the stadium can hear and ends the admonition with a sincere, “Son.”

You walk away from the play feeling bad until you realize he slowed you down just enough to get your attention so as to stop you from repeating that error.

I used to dread spiritual conviction and contrition growing up in the Roman Catholic faith. For those who are not familiar with the utter nakedness of the confessional, it went something like this. Once a week or so, I would timidly walk up to a doorknob, twist it slowly and twist it back even more cautiously to make sure no one could see in or overhear my darkest sins. It’s similar to going to the bathroom. You kind of deadbolt yourself in.

As an emerging pubescent, I once confessed some “dirty thoughts” to the priest knowing for sure that sexual thoughts all carried a “10” on the wickedness scale. I imagined the gallows outside of St. Joseph’s Parish. 

But the priest, whom I’m sure knew who he was listening to, didn’t exactly slam the flag to the ground. My gulp was replaced by the biggest sigh of relief that a dirty adolescent sinner could exhale when I heard his verdict: “Son, think of something like the New York Mets baseball team.” As an ardent fan of the club, I knew it was only a five-yarder because it could have been an admonition to think on my arch-rival Yankees! 

When Jesus throws a penalty flag, it could cost us a game-winning drive or an angry stare from our coach. But our infractions cost Him everything, and with a little game-changing repentance and a pat on the pads, we can move on to the next game. That’s super news.

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