heart shaped flower arrangementFor some reason, a small, sweet moment crossed my mind this morning. When my son was younger, he had friends over to play video games, and, as I put away the laundry, I realized they were talking about me.

You wouldn’t believe what those kids said about me! Never in my life! Well, it’s not what you think. As it turns out, they weren’t kvetching at all.

One of his friends had asked Cole, “Why is your mom always so nice to us?”

My son called me into his room, amused. “Why ARE you so nice to my friends, Mom?”

The other boy said, “Yeah. Moms aren’t usually like that. What’s up with that?”

“Well, I love my son, and I want him to be happy,” I said. “When he has his friends over, he’s happy. I think it’s good to extend hospitality so you guys feel at home too. It’s nice to show people you care.”

There really is a secret to being in a positive frame of mind all the time, and it’s saying what I actually mean. It keeps me emotionally in balance. 

My motto is: Be truthful but tactful. If it’s not important enough to mention, it’s surely not worth holding a grudge over. Say it, so it doesn’t go on lay-away. Don’t put it into storage so that you can make an appointment in your mind to be mad at someone again later. Speak at the moment an infraction occurs. 

You did this thing. It was inappropriate. Or, You said something that hurt my feelings. Get it off your chest so you don’t harbor it in your heart.

Love your loved ones, starting with yourself. Don’t hurt your heart with hate. Speak your mind. Clear the air. Get past the past and let new blessings in.

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The Episcopal diocese of Washington DC moved this week to refer to God using inclusive language. Good for them. Yes, I know: God is referred to as male thousands of times in the bible. But Jesus himself says God is spirit (John 4:24), and spirit has no gender. Male pronouns have been standard usage for centuries, even when referring to groups with women in them. It’s a default, not a revelation.

Other pet peeves: Why was I never taught that Mary Magdalene is a composite of three different women and was amalgamated by one man — Pope Gregory the Great? And that there’s no biblical evidence that she ever earned a living as a prostitute? Why are Catholic children taught how important — how telling — it is that Jesus picked only male apostles, but the fact that he chose to reveal the Good News —and gave official sanction to spread that news — to women first, not men, is brushed past as though it doesn’t matter?

Why are we not told that all that “he-man, woman-hater” language in Paul’s epistles was likely inserted by monks inscribing them in the Middle Ages?

Why all the lies, both active and of omission? Why has my church kept my God from me?

God is not a rope to be tugged, a prize that falls to those who pull the hardest. God pours down on those in the margins. God comes to the poor, the disenfranchised, the weak. God stands with the powerless.

If you claim to represent God, but stand where God does not stand, what are you, really?

God our mother our father our life-giving hope,
Come to us, blind us with light that does not fail
to catch the corners, the alleys, the hidden places
your most needy children dwell. Burst boundaries.
Be bigger, loom larger, than words will warrant.
As you have before us, as you will long after.

Amen

As usual, we were waiting for one last person to show up for Bible study.  After all, someone is always going to be the last one there.  One of the women was running late but we had unlocked the door for her.  Then another woman’s phone rang.  She answered, said a few words and hung up.

“She’s in the parking lot but there is another car there.”  Apparently, someone had parked beside the condos next door.  He was standing outside his car, changing his shirt.  “That’s suspicious.”

Unfortunately, everyone looked at me.  I say unfortunately because I was sincerely underwhelmed.  The condos are right next door.  People park on one side of our lot and then walk the 20 or so feet to someone’s patio door.  It happens all the time.  Changing his shirt didn’t even phase me.  What if he was going to his Mom’s for dinner but had just gotten off work.  He wanted to wear a clean shirt.

Or he could have been meeting a condo owner to give them an estimate for a new kitchen.  He didn’t want to go in wearing a coffee stained shirt.

To quote Captain American, I can do this all day.  There are so many innocent explanations.

Until someone gives me a rock solid reason to question their motivations, I try not to be suspicious.  Instead, when I look at them, I try to see a Child of God, a mother’s son, a daughter’s father, a bearer of God’s light.

And I also try to remember the several dozen times in the past week that I’ve done something that could look “off” if someone was determined to see it that way.

–SueBE

person holding camera lensMy son knows when I happen across a spider in the house by the karate-sounding “ke-yai!” noise I emit. The spider is startled by me, too, but I’m sure its perspective is different.

Growing up, Mama Spider taught her son about humans: “Don’t stare honey. I know that’s a face only a mother could love, but God has a purpose for all creatures. Now let’s get out of here before that monstrosity squashes us!”

That seems to be how some religious groups see each other: If you’re not just like us, you’re a threat. The other day, my Lyft driver asked me if I was a Christian. When he went on to say something pejorative about Muslims, I knew we didn’t share the same perspective.

In photography, “perspective” is a term for a visual effect that causes objects to appear smaller as their distance from the viewer increases. In life, if you haven’t gone through a particular experience, it may seem far away and foreign to you.

Your perspective can change based on your status in society and net worth as well. Asked about how young comedians can get their big break, Jerry Seinfeld said, “The good thing about comedy is that anyone who’s talented usually makes it.” It must be spirit-crushing for struggling comics out there to hear their comedy idol make such a statement when they haven’t found success yet. 

The only way to keep your own karma clean is to assume there’s validity in the experience of others. So before you squash that spider — or another human being’s spirit — take a moment to adjust your lens. It might just broaden your perspective.

A good friend revealed to me that she no longer believes. “In what?” a mutual friend asked. “Any of it,” our friend replied. “Prayer. The Holy Spirit. The afterlife.” I hope we were supportive of her; what she is going through is hard. But the road she’s on is one that even saints have trod. Why believe? I can only say that I believe because I need to, because I want to, and because I can. How? It is, as Aziraphale of “Good Omens” would say, “ineffable.”

Faith is fragile.
Prone to breakage,
chimeric and illusory.
Yet just when I think
I can turn my back,
There it is:
A breath on my shoulder,
an arrow, indicating,
a suggestion, a whisper,
a hint of something coming
swiftly. Surely.
I cannot name it,
identify the make and model,
even as it runs me down.
To name it is to contain it,
and that I cannot do.
It springs back, cautious, and
my doubter’s mouth is stopped
by something.
Something?
Something.

 

When I posted the above image on my Facebook page, it launched quite a discussion with my aunt.  She pointed out that questions about jobs and houses and college are how we try to connect.  Which is true.

But it may not be the best way.

In diversity training, we learn that there are questions that carry cultural and economic baggage.  If you are middle class, you may not immediately realize this. These questions include:

Where do you work?  Which assumes that not only do you have a job but that it is vitally important.  People who work in service jobs may be okay discussing work with similarly employed people, but management?  Um, no.

Do you own your house?  Another money question.  What’s our hang up?  Oh, right.  We really value money.  But not everyone can or wants to own a house.  Launching into a lecture about “good investments” isn’t going to change their minds.

Where are you going to college?  College is not the ideal choice for everyone.  Some people just aren’t suited to this particular path.  Other people can’t afford it.  Or they can only afford local and non-residential.  Launching into a passionate speech about dorm life or sorority as a vital part of the college/growing-up experience?  Sigh.  Millions of people have grown into functional, thriving adults without this particular experience.  Really.  You’re talking to one of them.

When we launch into these topics, we often are not connecting with people.  We are putting up barriers as we try to direct the conversation toward what matters to us.  What then do you discuss?

With my friend’s youngest son, I ask him what he’s reading.  He is always reading something and it is never what anyone would guess.

One of the teens always has on a t-shirt with a saying.  We talk about her shirts.

Another teen is into all thing super hero so that’s what I bring up.  Or we argue, I mean discuss, the plausibility or implausibility of various movies.  The Meg, for example, would not have been able to survive in the deep ocean without equally huge prey.  He would have also lost his eyes and his countershading since he wasn’t swimming within sight of sunlight.

In the story of the Tower of Babel, multiple languages were created to divide mankind.  Me?  I’ve always assumed we do enough of this ourselves when we assume that everyone values the same things that we do.

–SueBE

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24 NIV

“Mouthwash Cancels Out Benefits of Exercise.” Even before reading the article, it was clear the headline was misleading. Sure enough, hours later, it was revised to: “Mouthwash Cancels Out Key Benefits of Exercise, One Study Finds.

These old newspaper headlines show the importance of word choice:

Amphibious pitcher makes debute funniest newspaper headlines

funniest newspaper headlines

funniest newspaper headlines

Of course, sometimes, the editor is just having fun with wordplay, as in the case of the psychic who couldn’t predict her own arrest.

Choosing just the right word is an editor’s job, but it’s just as important for you and I to give consideration to the impact of the things we say to one another.

With all the negativity in the news lately, it’s more important than ever to choose your words carefully. You never know what someone’s going through as you encounter them in the course of a day.

So if the cashier should have said, “Thank you, have a good day,” but didn’t, maybe she just can’t wish you what she doesn’t have herself. Maybe her baby wouldn’t sleep last night and the dog wouldn’t stop barking. Perhaps when she got to work two minutes late, the boss read her the riot act. It’s possible she can’t find the energy to have a bad day, and at the same time, wish someone else a good day.

If you’ve been there yourself, try to find it in your heart to forgive these minor infractions. Your kindness could be the catalyst that enables her to have a good day, and in turn, wish a good day to others.

Book club.  Women’s Bible Study.  Adult Sunday School. Choir.  Green Committee.   Craft Fair.

Involved in as much as I am, it is so easy for church to become something of a check list.  Readling list out?  Check.  Upcoming meetings posted on Facebook.  Not yet.  Need to get that done.  Rehearsed first track of cantata?  Need to do that too.  Where I am going to find the time and the energy?

Then I have to remind myself that if I’m asking this question, my focus is in the wrong place.  It is time to walk the labyrinth, or sit in prayer in the sanctuary, or light a candle and pull out the Book of Common Prayer.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Shift my focus.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Spend some quiet time with God.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Take this serenity back out into an all too busy world.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.

–SueBE

 

Time, Scholarship“Gravity” would be a great name for a girl, like “Charity” or “Felicity.” And you know, Gravity used to be my friend. We could hang, she and I. But lately, she has not been kind to me. Just like Time used to be on my side. Now, he just keeps rushing past, like he doesn’t even recognize me!

To tell you the truth, my old pal Gravity has just been bringing me down. As you get older, you realize that “the tincture of time” only applies to broken hearts. Not faces, hands, and…other assets. 

But Gravity’s just doing her job, and Time is on the clock, too.⏰ They all work for Providence. Nobody can play a role for which they’re not designed. The same is true of humans; we were made to live the full spectrum of experiences, including aging. 

At least it rolls out slowly, like a grey carpet of sorts. At first, you think, “Grey? Where’s the red carpet treatment?” On second thought, you realize that grey is a great choice for a carpet. Hides the dirt. Goes with every kind of decor. It’s soothing.

So, eventually, you’re going to look older as you age. I know that’s no great newsflash, but until you experience it, you may not realize it can affect how you feel about life. 

But you’re still the same person you always were. Gravity and Time may be contractually obligated to do their jobs (as an older person, I’ve realized they must be Teamsters), but Providence is ageless, and there’s no expiration date on Grace.

No two people see the same thing.  But we are often so sure that what we see is so obvious that we forget this.

Way back before we were parents, my husband and I were hiking Boca Negra canyon in New Mexico.  I pointed out a petroglyph for him to photograph.  “Bird? What bird?”  I pointed and pointed and got testy and snatched off my sunglasses.  What the heck?  Where did the petroglyph go.

With my polarized glasses on, I could see it.  Looking through the camera lens he saw nothing of the kind. Then he added a polarized filter.  “I think we need to head back so I can get what I missed.”  Now he could see it all.

More often than not, the problem is now when I don’t see things.  At 5’8″ I am the short person in the family.  They can see over things that I can’t.  You’d be amazed how often that’s a problem.  “What do you mean you couldn’t see me waving at you?  I’ve been doing it for five minutes.”

But we’ve also learned that by comparing notes, we get a much more complete view of various things and this isn’t just because of the differnce of six inches.  My background is social sciences and humanities.  My husband is a business major with a passion for astronomy.  Our son is an engineering student.

And the best thing about that kid?  He’s perfectly willing to quiz a farmer or a logger about something.  “Oh, now I see.  Thank you, man.  Have a good day.”

Me?  I’ve always suspected that we built the Tower of Babel with our own two hands and our unwillingness to see what others see and to listen to their perspectives.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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