BE NOT AFRAID

This is the official theme for Respect Life Sunday1, which is always celebrated on the first Sunday in October.  In fact, October is Respect Life Month. If your church isn’t celebrating life this month…find another church.

I never thought here in the United States of America that any citizen would be afraid to take a stand for life.  It’s the first inalienable right mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and we, as Americans and Christians, have the right and the obligation to defend it. If we do not, it could be taken from us.  We are living in a time where the 1st Amendment2 is under attack along with common sense, civility, morality, basic science, and possessing a spine. Why are we so quiet when we should be up-in-arms?

Abortion is murder.  There is no way around it.  It brings about death—period.  A fetus in the womb is a little human. What would happen if someone had the audacity to destroy a field of cocoons before the mature butterflies could emerge?  We all know what would happen.  Social media would light up, celebrities would be outraged, and news outlets would interview lepidopterists to tell you how butterflies impact the planet.  Death threats on the fiends and their families would ensue, and Jimmy Kimmel would be crying on his talk show.  I just used the example of butterflies but I could have substituted any animal3.

The most vocal among us are the hundreds of thousands of mainly young people who march through the streets of Washington, DC each January, braving the cold, snowy, or rainy conditions, to participate in the March For Life, the largest pro-life event in the world.  Although huge, it’s rarely if ever covered by any mainstream media outlet in the 40+ years of its existence.  Why?  Because they don’t want you to see it, hear it, or even know about it. And thinking about what abortion is and does makes everyone uncomfortable.  Well it should.  Murdering babies for the sake of convenience is the real inconvenient truth.  These pro-life advocates are fervently trying to shine a light on the millions of murdered innocents who can’t speak for themselves.

Remember the parable of the lamp in Mark 4:21-25? “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.  Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear! Take notice of what you are hearing. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you.” How do you think Jesus delivered this story?  Did he sit with his head down, muttering quietly about truth, light, and a visible Church?  I doubt that.  I’m positive he stood, raised his voice, and was physically expressive.  He wanted his message to be heard, understood, and spread. There were no microphones, TV, radio, or the internet. Jesus was not timid and quiet.  Jesus was a revolutionary.  He upset the olive cart.  He rocked the boat. Get that image of the get-along, go-along, hippie Jesus out of your head. He had to be a mesmerizing and energetic speaker.

Yet, here we sit silent, except for a few, while Planned Parenthood profits off the murder of and selling of babies and their body parts.  Those self-taught investigative journalists who exposed PP are facing jail time and God bless them—they don’t care. And we should be just as fearless.  Nothing changes unless we demand and enact the change.  We’ve all heard the excuses: “I don’t want to upset so-in-so. She’ll start a war with me on Facebook.” “Nobody is going to listen to me, I’m just one person.” “You say it for me.” Stop it.  The time has come for every person to stand up and speak out. The more we remain docile lambs, the easier it is for them to keep chipping away at our rights.

It’s already happening.  Can someone give me the definition of “hate” speech?  The First Amendment protects all speech, not some, all and especially speech which makes you uncomfortable. Do you think speaking out against abortion isn’t provocative?  Go to any college campus and just walk around with pro-life literature. I won’t even suggest that you engage in debate because you’ll never get that far. There is a good chance you will be assaulted, physically and definitely verbally, and tossed off the campus. If you’re a student, you’ll be sent to the Dean of Students and be given a lecture on misogyny, and when and if you can go to a “free speech zone”, along with being publicly shamed and shunned. Ask your kids if you don’t believe me.

Think of all those Christians—men, women, and children—who have been and still are being martyred for their faith.  We, in the United States, are not subject to anything remotely like this.  However, many of our brothers and sisters are being denied a seat at the table because they practice their faith, which is in violation of the 1st Amendment. One needs look no further than Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame. Professor Barrett, who is a nominee to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, was drilled on her faith and how it would impede her judgement should she serve on the bench.  Senator Diane Feinstein (D) California stated, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.” Big issue=abortion. Senator Dick Durbin (D) Illinois was blunt and asked, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?”4  I guess the good senators never heard about the unconstitutionality of religious tests as spelled out in Article 6 Section 3.

The science against abortion is staggering. Fetuses, by 8 weeks after fertilization react to touch and by 20 weeks can feel pain5, yet the abortions continue and in some states, babies can be aborted just before delivery.  Will “abortion” after birth be next? Iceland aborts 100% of babies born with Down syndrome6.  Here in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  report a decrease in children born with Down, even though survival rates are up from 10 years old to about 47 in 20077.  Sympathetic judges are sentencing parents who murder their disabled children to ridiculously low sentences. Where do we draw the line?

Oh, that the dogma should live loudly in us all.

 

1 For more information and resources visit: http://www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/respect-life-program/2017/respect-life-digital-resources.cfm

2 https://www.billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/

3 The Lion Sleeps Tonight https://lifelinesbylucie.wordpress.com/2015/07/29/the-lion-sleeps-tonight/

4 Chicago Tribune Editorial: Durbin, Feinstein and Catholic judges September 11, 2017

5 Doctors on Fetal Pain www.doctorsonfetalpain.com/fetal-pain-the-evidence/

6 CBS News on Assignment “What kind of society to you want to live in?”: Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing. Julian Quinones, Arijeta Lajka August 14, 2017

7 https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/downsyndrome/data.html

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The Holy Spirit—The Parachute

Not a song title, and yes I know it’s the Paraclete.  I remember one of my daughters coming home from school one day, telling me she learned about the Holy Spirit in religion class.  I asked her who is the Holy Spirit and what does He do?  She answered immediately and enthusiastically. “He’s a parachute!”  Each Sunday when our priest recites The Divine Praises before Mass, I chuckle to myself when he says and I repeat, blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.  I think of my daughter’s parachute.  I don’t remember if I corrected her or not but maybe in her youthful innocence she was right.

The world was amazed and awed by former President George H.W. Bush’s parachute jump last year in honor of his 90th birthday.  I must admit, for a man who can no longer walk because of Parkinson’s disease, it was inspiring.  However, he was tethered to a member of the All Veteran Parachute Team.  I’m not taking anything away from our former president because tether or no tether, it’s scary.

I didn’t think much of it until today.  Today is the Feast of the Ascension and that means Pentecost is just around the corner.   With that realization, the Holy Spirit decided to pay me a visit and that small still voice whispered in my ear, “being a Christian is like jumping out of an airplane”.

So I thought about it and as usual the Spirit is right.  Nowadays, when we step out of our comfort zone and dare express our opinions, isn’t it a lot like jumping out of a plane?  Especially if, ONE: you talk about your faith, and TWO: you actually live it.  Free speech and freedom of religion are not what they used to be.  The Founders had a reason for placing those two protections in the first amendment.  They were the very bedrock of our country’s founding and the Constitution.  It’s sad and dangerous that Americans do not know their own history and those in power prefer to keep it that way.

A couple of weeks ago, while commenting on an acquaintance’s Facebook post, ironically about past presidents, the topic came up about presidents who were born poor.   I commented that the poorest presidents in my lifetime were either Nixon or Bill Clinton.  However, two other people disagreed.  Within seconds I was labeled a racist, homophobic and a member of a hate group.  I don’t know these people so I asked them how they could come to such a hateful conclusion of me.  They both responded because of the pictures I posted and some of my likes.  The argument between these two strangers and others on the page became more heated so I exited the conversation.

Later, I went back and looked at what strangers could see of me on Facebook.  Practically all of my posts and pictures can be viewed by friends only, but there are a few that I don’t mind sharing with the public.  So what classified me to be included in those detestable camps?  I found a few pictures of Jesus, my church, and two “likes” for a pro-life group and the Catholic Church.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been attacked on Facebook.  It happens all too frequently by faceless cowards, shrouded with the cloak of anonymity.  However, I was once threatened by someone I knew, someone who I classified as a friend.  Why?  She was on Facebook spewing hate against Jews, Christians who are not Catholic, and a well-known pastor from another Christian denomination who I personally admire.  I told her I did not agree with anything she said and I had friends from those Christian denominations who live their faith.  She then emailed me.  She was furious with me, threatening me with personal harm and calling me every name under the sun.  And to make matters worse, she is a Catholic!  I stood by what I believed and I told her I’d pray for her.  To those of you who are Facebook savvy, she then promptly “unfriended” me.

Yes, being a Christian is exactly like jumping out of a plane.  I mentioned President Bush was tethered to a veteran jumper.  Like Bush, we too are tethered to a veteran, except ours is even more reliable.  Our parachute is the Holy Spirit.  Remember that when navigating the not too friendly skies of living Christian in today’s society.  And if your child comes home from school or from their religious education class and tells you all about The Holy Spirit, the Parachute, don’t correct him or her.

My Sacrifice

One of Creed’s best known songs shares the title to my article. Many people say this is a prayer song, not surprising since lead singer and songwriter, Scott Stapp, a troubled man, is a Christian.  The lyricist is actually talking to his younger self, reflecting on life experiences that form his person, and how all those bad times helped him persevere.

I chose the title because we are approaching the season of Lent.  As children in Catholic school during the 1960’s we were basically taught that during Lent you had to sacrifice something you loved.  In children’s terms that meant candy, cookies, or a favorite toy.  While we are still encouraged to abstain, emphasis should also be placed on taking on more, such as penance and prayer.  We should be preparing ourselves for Easter by attending Stations of the Cross, Mass, a weekly holy hour, personal prayer, and of course making a good confession.

Lenten practices have been with us since the earliest of times, becoming more regular around the time that Christianity was legalized in 313 AD.  What does Lent mean?  It means “Springtide” and is also the word for “March” the month in which most of Lent falls.  We leave the darkness of winter for the renewal of life that spring brings.  Trees, flowers, and plants that once lie dormant burst with life once again. Jesus died on the Cross and rose from the dead.

Do you remember as a child attending Stations of the Cross with your class or with your family?  Or visiting neighborhood churches on Holy Thursday?  Do you recall how mysterious the dark churches were and the statues covered up in purple cloth?  Good Friday, always a day off school, was spent in silence from Noon to 3PM before heading over to church.  Holy Saturday meant lots of baking and cooking and of course bringing the baskets of food to church to be blessed.  All we would think about was receiving our Easter baskets and indulging the next day!  Of course all this led up to Easter Sunday, which entailed dressing in your new clothes, going to church, which was once again filled with light, and then an early dinner at Grandma’s.

Most if not all of these church activities survive today.  However, there are less and less faithful attending.  If you ask any child today what Easter is all about they will tell you the Easter bunny, candy, and toys.  In fact, Easter has turned into a mini-Christmas.  The same way the culture has secularized Christmas it’s doing the same to Easter.

So why should we perform all these sacrifices?  Why fast, pray, and do penance?  Ask anyone who is getting ready for a big event in their life.  What do they do before the big day?  Prepare.  Ask any child what they do before a big test—study, eat well, and get plenty of sleep.  Or an athlete who is participating in a big game—practice, exercise, pray/meditate, eat well, and condition themselves.  The preparation can be grueling on the body but it’s needed for the soul.  You get the idea.  We need to get ready.  We need to put gas back in the tank for God.  And yes, the process can be quite draining but the reward is great.  Just think if the child or the athlete does not prepare.  What happens?  They fail.  We don’t want to fail.

If you’ve ever lived or vacationed in the southern states you’re acquainted with the Passion Play.  I attended an outdoor version in Arkansas.  Several Hispanic parishes take part in the Passion of Christ Via Crucis.  There are still a few in the Chicago area who walk the way of the Cross through busy Chicago streets.  The most well-known is in the Pilsen neighborhood.  All are amazing and if you’ve never seen one you should.  During each walk, even though hundreds of people are participating down busy city streets—you can hear a pin drop—except for the orders yelled out by the actors portraying the Roman soldiers.  For that moment, buses, cars, and all foot traffic stop and stare.

Before the movie, The Passion of the Christ, most people, including Christians, never realized the true torture and horror Jesus experienced leading up to and including the crucifixion.  Isaiah’s prophesy (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) of the suffering servant was fulfilled.  He endured it for us—for our sins.  Jesus was the Lamb of God.  It was the ultimate sacrifice.  Yet, we are not even willing to spend an hour with Him on a Sunday morning or give up a hamburger or a cookie for a few days.  A Stations of the Cross service lasts about 20 minutes—are you too busy or too tired?

A popular commercial for cold medicine shows either a woman or man popping their heads in what appears to be an office door and telling someone they need to take a sick day.  When they show who is in the room, you expect it to be their boss but it’s a very young child.  The announcer states moms or dads don’t take sick days.  Well neither does God.  We call out to Him in prayer or just expect Him to be with us in times of trouble.  What if He were too busy or too tired?

Almost all of us will partake in some festivities on Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Paczki Day, or Carnivale, whichever name you call it by, but know why we celebrate it.  It’s the last hurrah before Lent begins and it ends abruptly at midnight. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  A day when we recognize our inevitable death coupled with repentance.  Do you remember in the Old Testament when someone sinned they would dress in sackcloth and cover themselves in ashes?  It’s the same thing.  We are telling God we’re sorry for sinning against Him and promise to repent and never do it again.

The best thing about God is He’s our father.  Like all good parents we get a second chance.  In many cases, we get several chances.  You can always turn back to Him at any time and all will be forgiven.  In fact, Jesus states in Luke 15:7, “There will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who have no need to repent.”  How cool is that?

Angels Among Us

This is the title to one of my favorite songs by Alabama.  It tells the story of a young boy who got lost coming from school one cold, winter day.  An older “man” guided him back home.  The only problem was his mother couldn’t see the man—only the boy could see him.  We’ve all had instances of complete strangers providing comfort during an hour of need.  They seem to come out of nowhere and know exactly what to say and do.  We could very easily blow it off as a goodwill gesture, but if you are in tune with God you recognize it to be so much more than that.

Most people are used to images of angels as beautiful, feminine, flowing, graceful creatures that invoke calm and tranquility and they always have wings and a halo.  There are few descriptions of angels in the Bible and none of them resemble that.  We do know angels were around when God created the world and they cannot die.  Many times they were sent as guides and they usually disguised themselves to look like a local.  They are fast and appear to fly or appear out of nowhere, but there is no mention of wings, halos, or flowing garments.  Others were messengers who ushered in a time of great change.  Still others were fierce warriors.  When you have a minute take a look at the likeness of St. Michael.  He’s always depicted in battle against Satan.  In Daniel 10:13, Daniel is told by an angel that he (the angel) was detained from visiting Daniel 21 days because he was doing battle with the prince of the Persian kingdom.  He had to call in Michael for assistance.  In the Bible, Michael is described as an archangel and “one of the chief princes.”  In fact, archangel comes from the Greek “archangelos” meaning chief angel.  So in the army of God, Michael is probably a five-star general, ranked highest and in charge of other angels.  Hardly feminine and wearing flowing garments.

However, there is no question in times of trouble angels are sent to minister to us or keep us safe.  There have been several films and television shows based on this premise.  My favorite, The Bishop’s Wife, portrays Cary Grant as the perfect angel, Dudley, who answers the prayer of a bishop.  Other favorites are Highway to Heaven and Touched By An Angel.  I admit I faithfully watched both shows.  Roma Downey and Michael Landon both looked exactly like the angels from my childhood imagination.  Both had sidekicks.  Della Reese was an “older” and wiser, rough around the edges, seen it all, angel supervisor to Roma Downey, while Michael Landon had a human partner in Victor French.  Landon took his orders from “the Boss”.  Even the Angel of Death was depicted as a kind, comical, young man.  However, in the NBC series, Constantine, we find a more rugged angel in Manny.  However, no matter how dark Manny seems, he still has wings!  But enough of Hollywood angels.

What about real-life encounters?  We’ve all heard accounts of people in a near death situation who were saved by a strange being—and in a few cases even by an “angelic” animal.  One of which was witnessed by several people in a busy hospital emergency room.  A man, who was being treated for a heart attack, had a mysterious canine visitor in the ER.  Patients, nurses, and doctors all saw the dog enter the ER and go straight to the man’s room.  Once the man was stabilized the dog calmly walked out of the hospital.  After hearing the description of the dog a family member recognized it as the man’s deceased pet.  The odd angle is when hospital staff played back the tape of the ER that evening, there were no images of the dog.  Google real life angel experiences and you’ll find a plethora of books, blogs, and angel stories from around the world.

When my Dad passed away in the hospital after a long illness my sister and I were inconsolable.  A young African-American woman approached us out of nowhere, hugged us, and led us in prayer.  She stayed with us, holding our hands and consoling us like a best friend until my husband arrived.  We were convinced she was a hospital chaplain.  I told my husband about her but when we turned around she was gone.  The nurses didn’t know who we were talking about.  We never saw her again.  A friendly stranger or an angel sent down to help us?

One of the most profound experiences happened to my youngest daughter and her friend.  Both girls had attended Mass with us one Saturday evening a couple of years ago.  The prayer to St. Michael was recited after Mass.  My daughter’s friend, a Muslim, had never been in a Catholic Church so she had several questions for our pastor.  They then left us and drove off.  Later that night, my daughter phoned us that she and her friend had been in a car accident.  The car was totaled but they were both OK.  My husband went to the scene and reported back to me that he was amazed that both girls had survived the crash let alone escape unscathed.  We felt very blessed.

The next day our insurance company called.  I heard my husband arguing on the phone.  The insurance agent was asking for the information on the young man who was a backseat passenger in my daughter’s car.  My husband stated there was no man in the car, only her girlfriend who was in the front passenger seat.  The insurance man stated that the policewoman on the scene stated clearly in her report that she spoke to a man who was in the backseat of my daughter’s car, and he gave her his name, Michael.

I’m convinced St. Michael was with my daughter that night.  How else could she have steered a 3-wheeled car into ongoing traffic after hitting a concrete wall with an airbag in her face obstructing her view to the safety of a side street?  How did she and her friend escape injury?  My atheist or skeptical friends would call that lucky.  The policewoman was merely mistaken.

I’ve had few acquaintances look at me sideways when I tell that story, but most people gasp and confess to having goose bumps.  There is no question in their eyes.  All they ask for is more information.  What did Michael look like? Is the most common question.  Unfortunately I have no additional information to share.  I never met the policewoman to ask her what Michael looked like.  I’m sure he didn’t possess wings or a halo or the entire CPD would know.  As true believers we don’t need to see an angel or have them reveal themselves to us.  We just know when we’ve encountered one.

As the song says, they wear diverse faces, show up in odd places and grace us with mercy in our time of need to guide us with love.  Yes, I believe there are angels among us and even if nobody else can see them we know they are there.

When I’m Sixty-Four

Will you still need me when I’m Sixty-four? All Beatles fans recognize those lyrics. Will you still love me when I’m no longer young, trendy, or attractive? With that in mind, I often wonder what Sunday Mass will look like when I’m sixty-four. Look around any church and see the age demographics. Middle age adults are sometimes the youngest in the group.

This is a far cry from when I was a child. You either went to Sunday Mass or you were sick—very sick. My entire family lived in the same neighborhood. We lived, worked, ate, played, and worshipped together. Mass was a family event and your life revolved around it. If something weighed heavy on your heart—you consulted Father—he always had a solution. After Mass you visited with friends, clambered to shake Father’s hand, grabbed a cookie at the church bake sale, and headed off to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner.

Family is the key. In the 50’s and 60’s children went to Catholic school. In the 70’s, with the migration to the suburbs, many parents opted to send their kids to secular public schools and sign up for Religious Education at the closest church. Once their children were out of school, they stopped attending Mass because there was no connection to the parish. Grandma, the glue that held the family together, was gone. The 80’s gave birth to the “me” generation. The 90’s brought the internet. With each passing decade the more stuff we acquired: TV, video games, computers, cell phones, iPads, etc. Suddenly there was no room for God. Yet young and old alike, who seem to have everything, realize there is a great void in their lives. They search high and low, work out at the gym, drink alcohol, take drugs, meditate, or whatever they can to try and fill that undefinable “something” that is missing. That something—is God.

It’s sad but many Catholics either have none of my earlier memories or have forgotten them. So what happened? The excuses vary: Vatican II, churches are full of hypocrites, I work all week and I’m tired, God loves me so I don’t have to go to church, it’s boring. Some changes from Vatican II did upset some Catholics, but Church doctrine can never be altered. If you are worried about hypocrites then you’d never partake in any pastime. Everyone is tired, but if someone offered you tickets to an entertainment event you’d find energy to attend. Yes, God does love you, but He was the One who gave us the Fourth Commandment in the first place. Mass is boring? Are you aware of what is happening on the altar? I don’t pretend to know all the symbolism, but the more I find out the more intrigued and caught up in the Mass I become. It leaves me wanting to learn more, and the more I learn the more exciting it becomes.

Last Sunday our pastor spoke about the Catholics Come Home ad1 that is proving to be very effective, not only for Catholics but for those of all faiths or those with no faith at all. He spoke about how powerful the images were and read the wording aloud. It was witnessing similar images portrayed in the ad from my memories that lead me back to my Catholic faith.

So, what will Mass or being Catholic look like when I’m sixty-four? How will parish churches flourish if nobody is supporting them? How do we get young people interested and excited about the faith? Some say it’s a lost cause. We can’t compete with Hollywood and academia expounding the fun of immorality and degradation. But I’m full of hope—we can turn it around. There is no greater role model for a child (no matter the age) than his or her parents. Leave your bedroom door open when you’re on your knees and let them see you pray. Let them see you practice your faith in and outside church. Let them see you making a difference in peoples’ lives. Let them see you serve others. Don’t just talk to your children about values and morals—live them. Grandma may be gone but we need to connect as families again—have Sunday dinner together for starters. We must openly discuss our faith, our church, our Mass, and our love for God. We need to learn how to think again—not take the word of a professor or media outlet.

I read an article recently about Lawrence M. Krauss, cosmologist, theoretical physicist, and professor at Arizona State University. During a speech at the Victorian Skeptics Café in Australia he said, “Change is always one generation away. So if we can plant the seeds of doubt in our children, religion will go away in a generation or at least largely go away—and that’s what I think we have an obligation to do.” 2 Professor Krauss caused a large stir earlier this year when he said teaching creationism to kids is akin to child abuse. This professor and others like him are who our children admire. Remember when role models were people of integrity and honor? We looked up to them and wanted to be like them. Our children look up to sports thugs, radical professors, and celebrities and they are becoming just like them. We need to reverse this.

Our once sacred 1st Amendment Right of freedom of religion is under attack by a small group of extreme atheists, who seem to be supported by our government. It’s no coincidence that the Revolutionary War was aided by the “Black Robe Regiment”. These were not soldiers who wore black uniforms—they were the influential preachers who supported the Patriots cause. They were enemy number 1 to the British because from their pulpits they reassured their audiences that the revolution was justified in the eyes of God.3 We cannot be oblivious to this.

There is a viral YouTube out right now showing a girl, approximately eight years-old, screaming at a young preacher on the street. The child is incredibly rude and vile. A child that age is not on the streets alone. Her parents must be nearby—undoubtedly cheering her on. I saw on Facebook a couple of days ago, a Texas mother walked into her child’s grammar school and saw pictures of Indians, but no Pilgrims. When she asked the teacher she was told that Pilgrims were the first American terrorists. The Pilgrims, through insurmountable odds, left England and crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the sole purpose of practicing their religion without persecution and now our government is branding them terrorists? And they lived harmoniously with the Indians—hence the first Thanksgiving!

Back in 1967 when the Beatles launched Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, radicals were the counter culture. Now those same radicals are in power and teaching our children. Our world has flipped. We are now the counter culture. What was good is now evil, and what was evil is now good. Many adults can’t tell the difference so how can our children? Especially when it’s taught in schools and entrenched in television, movies and pop music/rap? If we don’t stand up now, radical atheists like Professor Krauss and government promoters of nationalized Common Core education will be dancing in the streets, and our churches and Judeo/Christian religions will be asking us, “Will you still need me when you’re 64?”