As I was roaming around the Bible today, I found a passage in the Old Testament that spoke to me.  It had nothing to do with rites or rituals, rules or regulations. It seemed so simple yet oddly profound.  If I had to sum it up, it would be a recipe for clean living.

Here is your part: Tell the truth. Be fair. Live at peace with everyone. Zechariah 8:16 (TLB)

Of course, if we all lived by this passage, it would put politicians, police and publicists out of business!

In some ways, we know the difference between right and wrong from an early age. It seems that over time, we rationalize misdeeds or justify inaction, since “everyone else is doing it.”

But sometimes, it’s the little ones that lead the way. In the news lately, I’ve noticed stories about children stepping up and doing the right thing, and it gives me hope for the future.

Like this young boy who saved his teacher’s life after she had an asthma attack and passed out, or these kids, who saved their baby brother from a kidnapper, or this young man who intercepted a baseball racing directly for his sister’s head.

It’s encouraging to think that they just know in their bones that this is the right thing to do, and now is the time to do it. Options seem clear to them: this is right. That is wrong. It’s like an automatic response, a reflex.

I know that if adults had been tested in this social experiment, the outcome might have been different, but these very young kids knew what to do when strangers dropped their wallets.

These two boys were playing video games when they realized the house next door was on fire. They ran into the house to help save the young kids inside.

If only we could keep that reflex of rightness intact over the years. If these kids are any indication, it could be time to give them the right to vote. YouTube personality “Kid President” has a mission: to treat everyone like it’s their birthday, every day of the year. Wisdom really does come out of the mouths of babes!

In that day the wolf and the lamb will lie down together, and the leopard and goats will be at peace. Calves and fat cattle will be safe among lions, and a little child shall lead them all.  Isaiah 11:6 (TLB)

Holy Father,

It is written on one of our greatest monuments –

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.*

While not your words, help me remember
These words of Your Spirit.
May we be your beacon of hope
when hope is hard to find.
May we be a helping hand
even as fists are raised in anger.
May we be the voice of your love
calling but not condemning.

For if we can be these things,
Through us, they may see You.

Amen

 

*This is the poem of Emma Lazarus that is on the Statue of Liberty

I confess; I wanted to open with a joke about how anyone who would burn down a church probably can’t read this. Admittedly, it was a cheap shot. But I can’t get past my dismay at the continuing tide of violence and bigotry in this country. I’d love to be able to dismiss church-burners as idiots, thugs and losers. Wouldn’t it be easier if they were? But some of them — and I include here those who don’t actually light the matches but think about it in their heart of hearts — are almost certainly our neighbors, people we see every day and think of as reasonable folks.

I imagine what church-burners are trying to destroy, ultimately, is hope. That, I can tell you, is impossible. Hope is made of impermeable material, tougher than Kevlar, bulletproof, flameproof. Furthermore, the people whose hope the church-burner wishes to extinguish have been living on hope for hundreds of years; hope is bread and butter, manna and sustenance to their communities. It has been, in all too many dark times, all they had.

I have never seen a church burn. But I have seen hate. When I was a kid, someone defaced the statue of Mary in our church’s courtyard. They cut off her hands and wrote words on the statue that my mother would not allow me to see. My mom also tells stories of how the Klan burned a cross on her parents’ lawn, how she herself was mocked, called “Cat-licker” and other unoriginal epithets by fellow schoolchildren. The aged nuns at my college alma mater still sit sentry, day and night, in case someone decides to burn down their church, as has been attempted in the past. The point is, those people, from the vandals to the name-callers, did nothing to our faith but strengthen it. Faith cannot be killed, not by the hottest hate or most scorching disdain.

Anyone who calls him or herself a Christian — or, indeed, a human being — owes it to the world to stand up against anyone who attacks a spiritual home or any of the people who hold the place dear. In the wake of this most recent spate of bigotry and racism, we need to make a louder noise. Taking down the Confederate flag is not enough. We need to make clear that this will not stand. Nobody who lives in this country must be treated as “other.”

Church-burners, and potential church-burners, if you are reading this, please knock it off. I know I’ve said a lot of harsh things, but you must feel very unloved to do what you are doing. Return to God’s loving and forgiving arms. All of us who stand with love are waiting for you.

When Caitlyn Jenner revealed herself as a transgender woman, I was as surprised as everyone else. But one thought really nagged at me: Why would anyone willingly subject themselves to high heels, eyelash curlers, and leg waxing? Bandage dresses, girlfriend? C’mon now. Are you revealing yourself as a woman or as a masochist?

Of course, I jest, but this is a serious subject for people that believe they were assigned the wrong gender at birth.

For years, I have to admit, I couldn’t get my head around someone deciding to change genders. I subscribed to the notion that God doesn’t make mistakes, and thought it was too extreme an act. But over time, I’ve come to realize that there are many things I don’t understand in life, but it’s never given me license to judge or vilify.

For someone to live as another gender and endure ostracism and injustice, I have to believe this must be deeply felt. This must have been there all along. I can’t grasp it all, as I’m from a small town in my own head most of the time (population: me), but I know this must always have existed in them.

I went to high school with a girl who began dressing as a boy from an early age. The only time you knew she was a girl was when you saw her sitting next to her identical twin sister, who had long hair and wore dresses. If she was willing to put herself through the gauntlet of high school in New Jersey, this must have been deeply felt for her. (Let me re-phrase that, please.) If he was willing to put himself through the gauntlet of high school in New Jersey, this must have been deeply felt for him.

And even though I’m saying these nice, progressive words, I still don’t truly get it. I’m not sure why God would create anyone with another gender embedded inside them. It seems like a lot to put a person through in a lifetime. But maybe I don’t need to get it. Maybe I just need to walk the talk and treat everybody with respect. Maybe then they’ll be free to fully be themselves. Maybe those of us who believe can agree to soften our hearts, open our minds and let God take care of the rest.

Compassion isn’t a passing fad. Like so many things, it must be deeply felt.

I am writing this on Friday, June 26, 2015 – the day the Supreme Court legitimized gay marriage throughout the United States. Not surprisingly, Facebook and the blogosphere have been abuzz.

People are equating the rainbow flag with the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (the flag wrongly IDed as the confederate flag).

I’ve heard people talk about the end of marriage.

And of course many people are quoting the Bible.  Strangely enough, they’re ignoring the verse of the day from Bible Gateway — “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:18 NIV

I’d love to say that those supporting gay marriage are behaving better, but they are not. My favorite was someone who posted against white Christians.  Excuse me?  “Well, I didn’t mean you.”

In the coming weeks, there will be many heated discussions.  Can I ask a big favor from my Christian brothers and sisters?  Before you speak up – give yourself a wee little time out.  Honestly, the time out chair is a marvelous thing.  It gives you time to cool off and contemplate what you might do differently.

My suggestions?  Halt the threats that you have no intention of carrying out.  Do you really plan to move to Canada? Divorce?  If not . . . hush. Halt the name calling and the declarations on who is and is not going to hell.  Remember, God alone knows who is called and who is not.  We do not get to vote.

My own take?  I’m all for equal rights.  I have a serious issue with using the Bible to beat people down whether the beating is over race, gender or love interest.  Whether or not you agree with me, I ask that you be civil. Be kind. Be loving. In this, no matter what your opinion, you can shine His Light on the world.

–SueBE

You gotta say this about Pope Francis: He gets people talking. His latest encyclical, Laudato si’ (“Praise Be to You”) has garnered both raves and rants for its take on the environment and the necessity of a human response to its care. Of course it’s impossible to make everyone happy, even if you are the Pope. Two leading disparagements of the encyclical can be summed up thusly: climate change denial and fear of socialism.

Whatever you feel about climate change, one cannot deny that:

  1. We only have one world.
  2. We must do everything in our power to conserve and care for it.
    These are non-negotiable. It is time to move past arguments over science and accept responsibility for human impact on the earth and her resources. What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong?

There used to be a kids’ show wherein one of the characters had a show called “Yay Me!” “Yay Me” could be the human rallying cry — we sure do like to feel good about ourselves. Laudato si’ calls for introspection and recognition of sin, for that is what Pope Francis calls our mistreatment of the Earth — sin. And that is the challenge of the encyclical: No one wants to be called a sinner. It is far easier to argue over science or call Francis’ championing of the poor and criticism of first-world economics that most ill-regarded of words, socialism. Guess what? These arguments do not absolve anyone.

We do have a responsibility to good stewardship of the Earth. We do need to care for the poor and dismantle structures that benefit the few while marginalizing the many. Pope Francis isn’t the first person to say so, either. Jesus said it. St. Francis of Assisi said it. Lots of people of God have said these things over centuries of time. Inconvenient as these truths are, whatever your political leanings, they are, indeed, truths.

Human beings are not masters of the Earth. Yes, God gave the Earth to us as a gift. But God also gave us God’s son to show us what being a leader means. It’s not about exploitation; it’s about washing feet. Our mission and responsibility is to care for the Earth and her resources from a place of humility and service, not power and arrogance. Only by making ourselves servants, tenders of God’s garden, can we hope to preserve our planet for future generations.

Laudato si’ is all about humility and service. It is a timely and important reminder of God’s desires for us and for the world God made. Instead of arguing over its finer points, we ought to listen to it and heed it.

Mother Emanuel Church

On the day before, he’d felt that his life wasn’t going the way he’d hoped. He might have thought of getting his GED or enrolling in trade school.

On the day before, he was just another kid with an ill-advised haircut. Most of his free time was spent surfing the net, looking for something he couldn’t quite name.

In another version of this day, he might have found a supportive mentor. A teacher from his youth who suggested a project to help the community, or a friend who offered him a job.

But on this day, his life took a terribly wrong turn. Dylann Roof brought a gun into a church and killed nine cherished children of God at a prayer meeting. The whole world cried out in pain upon hearing of this senseless tragedy.

What happened next was astounding. On the very next day, victims’ family members addressed him directly and said they’d forgiven him and were praying for him.

Now he’s entered into the public consciousness as a perpetrator instead of a person. It’s possible that with education and encouragement, he might have gone down a different path, using his own sense of disenfranchisement to help others in similar situations.

If only he had felt that his life had meaning on the day before. If only he’d known that no one else stands in the way of the life he’d hoped to achieve. If only he’d known that God’s grace extends into the hardest of hearts on the darkest of days.

Now, on this day, may we take comfort in the words of this wise sage, and come together to heal as a nation.

“We ask questions, Lord, we ask why… But even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death….we can look through the windows of our faith and see hope and light, and we can hear your voice Lord, saying, I’m with you.”

Rev. John H. Gillison, Emanuel AME Church

The Old Courthouse, St. Louis, MO. Site of the Dred Scott Trials.

We were at the pool when the news came out about the Charleston shootings. I don’t bring a smart phone, a tablet or anything with a battery to the pool. It’s a tough call on whether the water or the pool deck has destroyed the larger number of devices. Because of this, social media was awash in opinions by the time I saw anything at all.

Ironically, my son missed two days of swim practice at a Pen or Pencil, a leadership in race symposium put on for high school students by the National Parks service. I showed him the various posts and asked for his reflections based on what he had learned.

Dialogue.  Actually listen and talk, but mostly listen.  You have to hear what the other person is saying to respond with any meaning.

Ask Questions.  A lot of the dialogue came about as the students would give their opinion and then one or more of the leaders would ask a question, challenging both the originally speaker and the other students to think about what various statements mean.  Protest don’t riot begs the question when does a protest become a riot?

Everyone deserves a voice.  You know how it goes with most discussions. One or two people are heard but they don’t let anyone else talk.  At Pen or Pencil, all of the students had a say.

Be constructive.  If you don’t like the way the world is, take your anger and channel it into something that will allow you to be heard and will make a difference.

All in all, he came out of the experience feeling a lot better about our community and his place in it. He had been heard.  He had heard the voices of others and knew that in truth they wanted the same things.  They all wanted the opportunity to improve their community and make something of themselves while helping others to do the same thing.

What does this have to do with being a Christian? Blessed are the peacemakers, my friends. It is time for us to quit talking about how picked on Christians are in this country and go out there and make some peace through thoughtful dialogue.

–SueBE

You stand in good company
with Addie and Cynthia,
Carol and Carole;
with Thomas á Beckett,
centuries away from Birmingham
and from your own hometown.

You saw death in the house of God
and you yielded, hands open.
Did you forgive him, even in that
moment? The shock of the bullet?
The letting of blood?
I believe you did.

The trip to Heaven
could not have been quicker,
from the sight of Christ’s cross
to the sight of His flesh
in the blink of a moment,
faster yet than bullets leave barrels.

Pray for us, new saints
to the pantheon of those
struck down by evil
in a place of God.
The God of the lowly, those shoved to the margins,
hears you most keenly.

 

The Third Gate,jpg

“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out.” Music programmer Keith Hill’s claim that listeners tend to tune out when female artists’ songs are played on the radio created controversy. “Biggest bunch of bull I ever heard,” tweeted Miranda Lambert. Hill portrayed himself as the ultimate media expert and insisted that he was simply stating the facts according to metrics. What a blustery blowhard! I thought. He oughta go jump in a lake!

On the news this morning, there was a story about a civil rights leader and professor who identifies herself as African American, but as it turns out, she’s actually white. She’s no longer in contact with her family, so I found it telling that it was her parents who called the media to share this information. Well! She’s got issues! I said to myself, shaking my head.

But God caught me, right in between two “tsks” and set my heart right. These are people who don’t feel as if they are enough as who they actually are, so they’ve tried to re-invent themselves. Perhaps in this persona, they’ll be listened to and afforded respect.

Over the years, I’ve compared myself to others and wished I could be a better:

□ Mother   □ Sister   □ Writer   □ Friend   □ Citizen   □ Believer

But time and again, I was reminded of this universal truth:

I’m me. God made me. That’s enough.

Of course, if you look around, it becomes clear that not everyone knows this.

Veterans fume at instances of “Stolen Valor” – people who have never served in the military, walking around in uniform so that others will respect them for their “service.” Some believe that filming these imposters and posting it on YouTube is justified, but mistakes happen, as in this case of a senior citizen – an actual veteran, wrongly accused of stolen valor.

Many feel that it’s right to publicly shame those doing the wrong thing. But, what happens if you’re wrong and now it’s you doing the wrong thing? And even if you’re right, what if this person has mental health issues? What if they’ve never felt good about themselves their whole life and just wanted to be someone else, anyone else. What do you win if you shame them on camera?

There are three gates, like filters to put your words through before they ever leave your mouth, according to the great poet, Rumi.

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?

The third gate is the one that holds the key. If a person in pain is pretending to be someone else, maybe they’re trying to leave that struggle behind. Mistakes and missteps shouldn’t mean a life sentence. The kindest thing we can do for a hurting world is to get on a hotline to heaven and pray for its healing, and leave the gavel where it belongs: in God’s hands.

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