Thanks to a Catholic priest

I spent several years at a newspaper dealing with reports of priests abusing young people. I want to try to balance that by talking about a priest who, in my experience, was nothing but a friend to young men.

LECLERCQ-FR-DUANE-e1418716268200Father Duane Leclercq, now retired, was an assistant pastor at St. Mark’s Parish in the 1960s and ’70s when I was an altar boy and student there. He would engage the older boys by having us come over to the school on Saturday mornings for workouts. Those would involve running laps through the school (those stairs were rough, but we got to run through the halls without getting in trouble!), tumbling, lifting weights, doing calisthenics, and even being able to shoot the occasional hoop. Father also organized a boys schola, with after-school rehearsals in the rectory basement and performances not only at daily Masses but on the local “Mass for Shut-ins” broadcast as well, taped at the old WMBD-TV studios. He would treat the altar boys by taking us to the occasional movie (I first saw Disney’s Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea at the Palace Theater that way) and then out for ice cream afterward.

Then there was golf, which seemed to be Father’s passion in those days. I caddied (poorly) for him once at Newman Golf Course. If he needed someone to shag golf balls behind Immaculate Conception convent in West Peoria, just down the street from where I lived, he’d simply knock on our front door and I’d head there with him. He tried to coach me on a proper golf swing, too, but that was a lost cause.

I lost touch with him after he was transferred to another parish, but I’ve always appreciated his effort to be a role model in a Catholic boy’s life.


Editorial cartoon combines fallacies


Scott Shepler’s editorial cartoon in a recent Community Word is an interesting example of a combination of the straw man fallacy and an ad hominem argument.

The art was run in conjunction with an editorial by Clare Howard about the Feb. 11 Defund Planned Parenthood rallies, so it appears to be referencing that event.

I realize editorial cartoons involve exaggerations, but this one was too extreme, irrational and ironic to pass up, especially considering that its depiction of the event was the opposite of what actually transpired on that day in the 2700 block of Knoxville Avenue in Peoria.

Scott’s cartoon was an ad hominem attack in one sense because it tried to make the side he disagreed with look ridiculous. It was a straw man argument because it misrepresents arguments made by the pro-life side.

The person on the left, wanting Planned Parenthood to be defunded, is portrayed as practically ejaculating his opinion, nearly apoplectic. The person on the right, defending PP, is calm and cool and rational in her responses.

For the two hours that I was at the actual competing rallies, however, the pro-lifers exhibited self-control and respect, while some—not all, but some—PP supporters didn’t. Here are a few observations that conflict with Scott’s cartoon:

  • The main organizers and most of those appearing on the pro-life side were women, not men.
  • Profanity and vulgarity were used among the pro-PP group, both on signs (“This is my bitch face”) and in speech. Not true with the pro-lifers.
  • As pro-lifers gathered at the northern end of the block, several Planned Parenthood supporters, not content with superior numbers, decided to move down the street and stand in front of the pro-lifers to block passing drivers’ view of them (see photo below). One of those blocked from view was a pro-life woman in a wheelchair. To accomplish this, the PP supporters had to stand in the street. Police came by to tell them to get back onto the sidewalk, which they did for a minute. Then they stepped back into the street.
  • Pro-lifers extended kindness to those supporting Planned Parenthood, going through the crowds of the latter and offering hot chocolate (it was a chilly morning), granola bars, and bottles of water. Again, portraying pro-lifers as belligerent contradicts what actually went on.
  • As food and drink were being offered, some Planned Parenthood supporters either tried to block the path of the person offering the treats or told others “Don’t take it.” 
  • One PP supporter entered the ranks of the pro-lifers yelling insults.

As for the arguments being made in the cartoon, real life is, of course, more complex. Here is one organization’s “Top 12 Reasons to Defund Planned Parenthood Now.” They’re not quite as simplistic as Scott  would have us believe.


Religion has a bad rep among Christians

You hear it often: Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.

I kind of wonder how often that’s expressed in other languages, since there’s an alliteration thing going on in English that makes the slogan punchy. It may be, like so many evangelical things, more of an American concept, but I could be way off.

The concept is frequently heard from evangelical pulpits. Christians are told to avoid “religion” so they don’t become entangled or dependent on ritual and credal forms.

It’s not the only slap at “religion,” of course. The concept routinely comes under attack from humanists, who believe it’s the root of most if not all evil, and new-agers, who say they’re “spiritual but not religious.”

I’ve always understood what evangelicals were getting at when they protest ritualistic forms of religion: They are trying to say that we shouldn’t rely on religious practices for our salvation, but rather what our relationship with Jesus is. But I think they go too far with their religion-bashing, and I think it actually reveals something about their relationship with Christ.

I like to look at the meaning of words when someone defines themselves against certain words. “Religion” apparently comes from the Latin “religare,” which means “to bind.” So when an evangelical says they don’t want to engage in religion, even if they are (which we’ll address in a minute), they’re saying they don’t want to be bound to something, whether it be a ritual or requirement.

There are a few reasons that I think that approach is off-base.

For one thing, as you can see in the first five books of the Bible, the people of God were involved in religious activities—by the command of God. They sacrificed animals, they fasted, they blew trumpets, they wore special clothing, they prayed specific prayers, they burned incense, they lit lamps, they ate special food in a special way at special times. And what they did was not much different from what surrounding cultures did. The difference, of course, was that they did it (or were supposed to do it) specifically as God had commanded it.

And yet, those ancient Israelites definitely had a relationship with God. A very passionate one, in fact, and a rocky one most of the time. But it’s what the Old Testament is all about. God said, in essence, if you’re going to be My people, you’ve got to do certain things.


The epistle of James doesn’t back away from religion, either. It actually defines what “pure religion” is: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27, ESV).

It doesn’t sound from this like James is against “religion.” Like the Jewish prophets, he is explaining to his readers what the best kind of religion is. But note he doesn’t say, “A relationship with Jesus Christ that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this …”

Or does he? Maybe to James, like the ancient Israelites and God, his religion and his relationship with Jesus were one and the same. James is big on writing about how we work out our relationship with Jesus, and I think this is one good example of it.

Can religion overwhelm or detract from one’s relationship with Jesus? Yes, of course. Become more concerned with the rituals and less with their meaning and you’d incur disapproval no less than the ancient Israelites did when they either carried out their religion with no meaning or in the wrong way.

I think the “relationship-not-religion” angst is more fueled by a few factors that have been buried under a few layers of time silt.

  1. Anti-Catholicism. Even if an evangelical is not aware of being hostile toward Catholicism, this is a result of it. Catholics are only rivaled among Christians in their ritualism by Eastern Orthodox. The anti-religious instinct is an anti-Catholicism that started with the Reformation and has continued to this day. Like most other things evangelical, it’s birthed in rebellion.
  2. An effort at “purity” that the Bible doesn’t legislate and that becomes an idol, not to mention bad church design. Anybody walking into a typical evangelical church today would think that to be in a true relationship with Christ, one has to worship in as ordinary and boring a building as possible.
  3. The problem of “tolerance.” Admittedly, talking about religion means putting Christianity on an equal plane with other systems of belief. As a Christian, I disagree with that, obviously, since Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father except through Him. So talking about Christianity as a relationship with Christ at least sets us apart from false belief systems. 

And then we have the fact that no matter how non-ritual an evangelical thinks he is, he and his church have rituals, too. It can be found in the order of worship used every week, the food and drinks that are put out every week, and even in a simplified communion service. 

So religion, with its rituals, is not a bad thing unless, as it did with the Pharisees, it gets in the way of loving God and neighbor. 


Teachers ‘in charge of our nation’s children’?

Chicago Teachers Union members picket Monday m...

Yesterday, a CNN anchorette interviewing Chicago Teachers Union head Karen Lewis about the teachers strike there said the following:

You are in charge of our nation’s children.

The statement was in the context of trying to express the importance of teachers staying in the classroom, I think. All I can remember for sure is my shock at her statement.

I didn’t hear Lewis’ response, but I doubt that even she would agree with the CNN anchorette, although perhaps she did. To be fair, I don’t know of many government education bureaucrats or teachers who would agree with such a statement, at least not publicly. But it does illustrate the conclusion to which at least one person outside of that bureaucracy has come thanks to decades of propaganda.

As I noted on Facebook, it’s the tagline for a new movie: “In Loco Parentis Gone Wild!”

No, neither teachers nor bureaucrats nor government are in charge of our nation’s children. Parents should be in charge of our nation’s children, but many of them have given up that responsibility to government. Many, however, retain that authority, especially among homeschool families like ours.

Dazbog: Good-lookin’ logo, good-tastin’ coffee

While in Loveland, Colorado, recently, I needed to get some quality coffee before heading into the Big Thompson Canyon and happened upon a place called Dazbog. It’s a Denver-based chain with some great coffee and superior graphics. It took all my willpower to resist buying this mug to add to my already overflowing collection. I did, however, buy some coffee to bring home. Their Ethiopian is killer. But I think the best thing about Dazbog is their logo.

Northminster Presbyterian in Peoria holds to Scripture

This is terrifically encouraging.

Rev. Doug Hucke and the other leaders of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Peoria have always taken principled stands in the past when their denomination, Presbyterian Church USA, has taken unprincipled stands. One example is PCUSA’s effort to divest itself of Caterpillar Inc. stock because Cat sells equipment to Israel, equipment which the denomination accused Israel of using illegally against Palestinians. Representatives of Northminster, which includes many Cat employees among its members, questioned why the denomination would take action that would financially harm some of its own members and why it would single out Israel for such action but take such a light approach toward Palestinians who attacked Israel.

Recently, PCUSA voted to drop requirements that its ministers “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and woman, or chastity in singleness.” In other words, opening the door for ordination of anybody engaged in a sexual relationship outside of marriage.

Northminster’s session made this statement:

This is a very troubling development and one that Northminster Presbyterian does NOT endorse. Our standards for church officers will remain unchanged. Northminster will not knowingly ordain people engaging in sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage between a man and woman. The change that took place this week does not alter our position on this issue. Nor will the change be forced upon us in any way.

Way to go, Northminster. Hang in there.

Sign that man up for a comparative religions class

It’s not like we haven’t argued before over whether God hears the prayers of a non-Christian. Jerry Falwell got us involved in that discussion in 1980. But, in the wake of a new Pew poll showing 18 percent of Americans think the Ø is a Muslim, the White House has implied that prayer is a Christian practice by definition.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said most Americans care more about the economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and “they are not reading a lot of news about what religion the president is.” He commented on Air Force One as Obama headed for a vacation in Massachusetts on Martha’s Vineyard.

Burton added, “The president is obviously a Christian. He prays everyday.”

Christians who have a good spiritual discipline do pray every day. But so do Muslims, 5 times daily. And observant Jews, 3/day. And Baha’is. And pagans. And Hindus.

I’m not sure why this is such an issue, other than we’re all so used to hearing Obama lie that it wouldn’t be unusual to find out he was lying about his faith or that the conspiracy mill is juiced about where his loyalties lie (besides in himself).

As a messianic believer in Yeshua, I’d just as soon the Ø turn out to be something other than a Christian or Jew until such time as he changes his ways. For right now, he wouldn’t be doing either tradition proud.

No longer a danger? I beg to differ

From the “Wish I had had a camera” dept:

I stop at Thornton’s at Illinois Routes 26 and 116 Monday night to gas up, and as I’m putting the pump handle up, I look a couple lanes over to see a young man smoking a cigarette while filling up.

Before I hastily got my receipt and jumped into the car to get out of the area, I noticed his T-shirt, which said:

“No longer a danger to society.”

Talk about false advertising …

NY Times’ story on Blumenthal flawed

I’d never heard of Richard Blumenthal, a Senate candidate in Connecticut, until today, when the New York Times ran a story that he had lied about serving in Vietnam.

I say that to point out that I have nothing for or against Blumenthal.

But the NYT story by Raymond Hernandez that raised the accusations had some classic biased journalism. In this case, biased against a Democrat, for a change.

What it is, though, is sloppy journalism.

Many politicians have faced questions over their decisions during the Vietnam War, and Mr. Blumenthal, who is seeking the seat being vacated by Senator Christopher J. Dodd, is not alone in staying out of the war.

But what is striking about Mr. Blumenthal’s record is the contrast between the many steps he took that allowed him to avoid Vietnam, and the misleading way he often speaks about that period of his life now, especially when he is speaking at veterans’ ceremonies or other patriotic events.

Sometimes his remarks have been plainly untrue, as in his speech to the group in Norwalk. At other times, he has used more ambiguous language, but the impression left on audiences can be similar.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the Times is a bastion biased reporting and all of that. I’ve read Bernard Goldberg’s books, I’ve read the Times for years. But this is simply over the top. In the middle of an alleged news story, Hernandez, without the slightest hesitation, decides to characterize Blumenthal’s actions.

He goes on to cite instances of Blumenthal having claimed to serve in Vietnam, but apparently didn’t want to let the reader come to the conclusion on his own about whether Blumenthal had been misleading. He is in essence quoting himself on whether Blumenthal’s language was untrue, and decided on his own whether “the impression left on audiences can be similar.”

This is another example of how horribly unprofessional the Times can be. Do reporters have opinions? Of course they do, they’re human. Should they or their editors allow them to put them in their news stories? Of course not. Not, that is, if they’re trying to claim some type of objectivity. If they’re the National Review Online or the Daily Kos, they’re not going to worry about creating a sheen of objectivity.

But that reporters can unblushingly write such garbage is pathetic.