• Father Jacques Hamel, 85, was celebrating Mass when two men entered his church and murdered him in the name of ISIS. A servant of God, a man who could have retired long ago and not continued the active shepherding of his flock, was killed in cold blood doing sacred work for the people of God. This priest died because of his faith. That makes him a martyr. You know what doesn’t make someone a martyr? Dying in a hail of bullets after cutting the throat of a priest. That’s not dying for your faith. That’s committing a criminal act and getting the reaction a criminal act receives.
  • In happier news, Pope Francis is in Krakow today celebrating the 31st World Youth Day. His message? “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). It is one of the Beatitudes, the great and golden rules taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is a particularly timely message. In this period of political divisiveness, mercy is hard to come by. Pope Francis reminds us again: If you want to get it, you have to give it. Even when it’s hard.
  • The Vatican sent out an Apostolic Constitution on women in contemplative life — i.e. cloistered nuns. These are nuns whose life consists of prayer for others. While the Pope praised the nuns, insisting that “The Church needs you!”, he also warned against “listlessness” and suggested ways to run a tighter ship. I find myself saddened by this. First, with all the problems in the world today (and within the Catholic church), listless nuns do not figure prominently, if at all. That these women, who have devoted their lives to God, need to be chided like children strikes me as the height of patriarchal nonsense. Come on, Francis. You’re better than this. (See above.)
  •  The Nuns on the Bus continue their journey apace. Their message? “Mend the Gap” — that is, the economic and social gaps that keep people in positions of inequality. The sisters’ focus is on seven areas: tax justice, living wages, family-friendly workplaces, healthcare, housing, citizenship and democracy. I am rooting hard for these women and their message of inclusiveness and fairness. We seem to have forgotten, as Americans, that “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” (That’s Ben Franklin I’m quoting.) In other words, please try not to listen to people who want to divide us, to cause rifts instead of understanding. As the 2016 election process careens into Fall, it is the best advice I can give.

20160206_142034-1It’s a lazy Sunday, and I didn’t go anywhere at all today. Kept my pajamas on. Kept my hair in its Bedhead-Blowout configuration. Even kept my “sleep socks” on – the ones so soft and plush that they don’t even fit into shoes. I can only wear them when “lounging.”

Walked into the kitchen because I felt like a sweet snack + a warm cuppa, and – for no reason at all – said to myself, “I am so blessed.” Opened the refrigerator and had to look past all the food to find the specific treat I wanted, and – for no reason at all – said to myself, “I am so blessed.”

Walked into the sunroom, saw the light streaming through the bamboo blinds onto the comfy couch, gazed upon the upside-down, snoozing cat, and – for no reason at all – said to myself, “I am so blessed.”

Walked into the living room, felt the cool air coming from the ducts, looked out at the sweltering summer day, and – for no reason at all – said to myself, “I am so blessed.”

Maybe I did go somewhere, after all – to the place where my heart resides. Luckily, the commute is only a stone’s throw. I just puttered around, watching old movies, knitting, noshing, and feeling blessed.

Had time to gaze at my navel, and didn’t even give myself a hard time about my muffin top!

Had time to wax philosophical, and didn’t even chide myself that the floor needs waxing!

I thought about nothing and everything, like the idea of kin. The people who just get you in life. For me, it’s writing people. Praying people. Knitting people. Kitten people. Kind-hearted folks with a sense of humor and a sense of purpose.

There was nothing happening at all at my house today, but – for some reason – there was nowhere on Earth I would rather have been. I accomplished nothing at all, except a trail of snack wrappers on the counter, a low-level of energy and a high level of contentment.

No, I didn’t go out at all today, and I didn’t miss a thing. Yep, I stayed in today.

Stayed in grace today.

Stayed in faith today.

Stayed in a positive place today.

It’s true what they say, don’t you think? There really is no place like home.

Dove, Flying, Peace, Olive, Branch, Symbol, PigeonLast week, I spoke at a writer’s guild conference in Rush Limbaugh’s home town. You don’t hear as much about ol’ Rush as you used to but for those of you who are unfamiliar with him, he was a conservative radio host who was always saying something nasty about someone.

Me? I’m just a nonfiction writer with a book about Black Lives Matter. Yeah, I was nervous.

During my talk a woman raised her hand. She lived in LA when Rodney King was beaten.  She detailed what a wretched human being he was and how many weapons he had in the trunk of his car when the police beat him. I don’t have a clue what was or wasn’t in his trunk, which I admitted, but I also pointed out that even a person who has broken the law has rights and they shouldn’t be used to criminalize an entire race.

But the story doesn’t end there. When this woman approached me later in the day, I braced myself.  I expected to get chewed up one side and down the other. Instead, she thanked me for encouraging her to think about how taking sides isn’t the answer.  Instead, we should be focusing on treating each other with respect.

I have to admit that I wasn’t mentally present for large portions of the next session. I was too busy thanking God for sending this woman into my life. After all, she was the one who had had the nerve to extend the olive branch and start a true “after the disagreement” dialogue. Without her, I’d still be angry and mentally replaying the encounter. But thanks to her courage we reached across the divide. Before it was over, we were thanking God as we hugged each other good-bye.

God sends people into our lives to help us grow. I’m convinced that this woman was one of these people. I only hope that I can show similar grace in the weeks to come and take advantage of any opportunities I might have to extend an olive branch and create an opportunity for true dialogue. How else can we hope to work for God on Earth?

–SueBE

I once gave a report in high school that turned into a disaster of Hindenburg-ian dimensions. I was rolling along, using words I knew and loved, words I’d read a thousand times or more, unaware that my audience — my friends — were moving from impatience to anger. Why was I using the words I was using — ten dollar, multisyllabic words? Did I think I was better than they were? I was dumbstruck, blindsided by their wrath. I thought everyone knew the words I knew. I didn’t realize that words — pure, beautiful words — the obsession of my life even then, could cause such emotion.

Later in life, I worked for a toy company. Who would’ve thought that something as innocent and delightful as toys could cause so much unreasonable anger? But they did. The letters I got (as editor-in-chief) bore this out: letters complaining about everything and anything. Why did we use the headline “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” to describe a glittery collection of costume jewels? “How dare you!” the letter ran. “My niece’s best friend is a soccer ball!” It was an object lesson in the power of words.

I find as a writer that it is the words we think about the least — the ones that flow from us as simply as breath, as unconsciously as air — that can wound people the most. Why is that? Is it because they represent the things we take for granted — things that most blatantly show our deepest beliefs in the world?

Many of us who are not persons of color don’t understand the concept of White Privilege. Why? Because it is so ingrained, so normal to us that it ceases to be wondered at or even noticed. Like the words we use without thinking, privilege comes so naturally, we fail to notice that we are part of the problem. That what we take for granted can be hurtful to others.

In one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, Hamlet (who never met a long soliloquy he didn’t like) delivers the quintessential angry teen response to Polonius’ endless windbaggery: “Words, words, words.” The words we do not consider, that we hand out as easily as we might a smile or a nod, can be the most dangerous. The actions we do not consider can be symptomatic of collusion with a system that is not fair or equitable.

Words can be insidious. They can attract or repel. Weighing them like stones before we cast them into the world seems to be a practice worth pursuing. Even if we can’t always predict where they will land — as anyone who’s ever read the “comments” section of any Internet post knows — we can try. Consider what you take for granted, in word and in deed. Are you standing where you want to stand? Are you standing with compassion and mercy?

Or are you throwing rocks?

Over the weekend, we all awoke to news of yet another police-involved shooting.

In most of the cases in the news recently, those involved have been men, so allow me to tell a story from a mother’s perspective, looking at the loss of lives from the male population.

We love our sons. Our brothers. Our fathers, grandfathers, cousins. Our neighbors. It would be devastating for any man that we love to be cut down in the prime of life.

Watching the press conference held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the mayor, the sheriff and the governor spoke of the horrific events of the day. Behind them, police officers stood in silent solidarity.

I watched, riveted, as these normally stoic officers showed the world their obvious pain. Some even wiped away tears. On the way out of the press conference, two of the officials hugged. 

It was such an unusual thing to see, since, as a society, we expect men to keep a stiff upper lip.

One of the officers killed, Montrell Jackson, had posted on Facebook the prior week, “In uniform, I get some nasty, hateful looks, and out of uniform, some consider me a threat.” As an African-American police officer, he felt the pain from both directions.

To me, it summed up everything about the volatile situation in America regarding police and communities of color.

All any of us are looking for is respect, and it’s the one thing missing from all of the encounters we hear of in the news lately.

We can’t afford to keep losing our men in this way. The three officers involved will be mourned by wives, mothers, daughters, sons, colleagues and the community. I have to believe that the shooter himself will be mourned by his own family as well.

The Sheriff of Baton Rouge was moved, and spoke from the heart. He said, “This is about what’s in men’s hearts. Until we come together as a nation, to heal as a people, this madness will continue, and we will surely perish as a people. I ask for your prayers for this parish, this state and this nation.”

Or, put another way, we really just want our sons to come home to us.

Dove, Peace, Bird, Pigeon, Hope, Symbol, Love, PurityEarlier this week, I read a news story that didn’t make it past Facebook.  It just wasn’t sensational enough.  It didn’t bleed so it didn’t lead, but I thought of it again when I read Lori’s post about mercy.

Early in the morning, a woman in my community heard a boom as the sky lit up. We get a lot of thunderstorms this time of year but the sky was clear.  She hurried to the front of the house and saw a car had hit a tree and an electrical box.

The driver was sitting on the ground and she hurried over to see if he was okay. He was very drunk.  It would have been so easy for this woman to go inside and call the police. Who wants to mess with someone whose drunk first thing in the day?  But she introduced herself and asked for his car keys. He handed them over and told her his name.

A crowd was gathering and someone yelled that the police were on their way. Again, this woman could have chosen not to get involved. But the young man was scared and she stayed by his side.  She told him that she knew that a lot of bad things had happened lately between the police and the black community but he just needed to cooperate.  She explained that she was worried that because he was so drunk he would make bad choices.

As the police arrived, people called out that they were about to see some police brutality. The woman didn’t argue with them. When the police arrived, she introduced him to the officers and handed over his keys.  She told him that the police were there to help.

He showed them respect.  They showed him respect.

And I have to wonder how much of this should be credited to one woman who stepped out of the crowd. She didn’t see a criminal.  She saw someone’s son who had made a mistake. She didn’t see the opportunity to make a video and gain fame on YouTube or Facebook. Instead, she acted in mercy as the hands of Christ.

Blessed are the peacemakers.  For they shall be called the children of God.

–SueBE

Pope Francis, in his great wisdom, has named 2016 the Year of Mercy. Yet a number of us seem confused by what exactly “mercy” means. It’s like forgiveness, but not quite. Like empathy, but not quite. Like forbearance…but not quite.

The world is greatly in need of mercy right now. Mercy takes us out of ourselves and causes us to look with compassion at those around us. If we all did that — and then acted on what we saw — in what grand and spectacular ways might we change the world? It is a thought worthy of poetry.

What is mercy?
Nothing much. An eye
turned outward. A seeing.
One heart bursting
its home of bone
to say, “I see you.”
To say, “I’m sorry.”
To say, “You matter.”

What is mercy?
It is a choice of roads:
one narrow, one broad.
It is leaving home
for a foreign place,
learning the language,
feeling it on the tongue.
Grasping the verbs, the adjectives.

What is mercy?
It is a bearing of burdens,
balm, bread, blood.
It is entering the wider door,
apprehending the aerial view.
It is naming each stone,
tenderly, but letting it lie,
in the manner of itself.

 

photo-1444116877118-6da0ed3c879aCross my mind, Lord,
when all I see
is a hard road and a heavy load.

Cross the bridge with me, Lord, 
so I can leave the past behind and clear my mind.

Cross my heart, Lord,
I’ll hold fast to the last.

I wrote this prayer a while ago, but didn’t post it, because I thought it seemed hokey or old-fashioned. Today, when I came across it, I had a different perspective and thought it had a simplicity to it and now I appreciated it more.

It’s amazing how your view can change over time, and how words can be spun in many directions.

One of my favorite t.v. programs is “House Hunters,” a series that follows the process of buying a home. On a recent episode, a realtor pointed out that the “vintage” house’s “original molding” kept it “true to the era.” She said that there were some “restored” features, but updates were done sparingly, so as to “keep its character.”

And it made me wonder…why has no one has come up with a way to spin aging in our youth-obsessed culture? We could market our later years with direct mailings, touting the joys of “moving more slowly in a fast-paced world.”

The things normally considered negatives could be re-jiggered with clever copywriting. You, too, can embrace your “Mirth Markings” (formerly laugh lines) and highlight your “Silver Crown” (formerly grey hair.)

For me, the best part of growing older is that you eventually come to realize how important peace is in your life. In younger days, it may have been about the late-night hang-outs and life in the fast line, but now? A quiet night in with a good book and a warm cuppa makes it all worthwhile. Maybe these really are our “golden years!”

Black Lives Matter, African American, GraffitiEarly in the day that 12 police officers were shot in Dallas, my son and I had a surreal conversation.

Him:  Mom, did you see the video on Facebook?  I can’t believe they would show that where little kids might see it.  The police shot that guy.

Me:  The guy that died on the parking lot or the guy that died in the car?

Him: The guy in Baton Rouge.

How bizarre that we had to clarify – which video showing which shooting?

My Facebook feed is awash with people ranting. “Black Lives Matter!” “All Lives Matter!” They type, they hate and they fume. What they don’t do is truly dialogue.

My co-author, Duchess Harris, and I do this on a regular basis. We ask each other questions, we listen to how the other person feels about changing events, and we discuss the past.  What was the reality that we each knew growing up?

Have you ever had this kind of conversation about race?  Very few of us have.

One Saturday, I happened to be at a rummage sale where a woman learned that a family friend had been shot the night before by police. We spent a long time talking about what it’s like to be black in the US. As I helped her to her car, she said, “No white woman has ever talked with me about race.”

And that, my friends, needs to change, but changing it won’t be easy.

First, we need to listen because a dialogue cannot take place until the person whose voice is most often heard is quiet and listens. I’m sorry, I know this is going to upset some people but if you get freaked out by “Black Lives Matter,” you need to listen. Even if you don’t get freaked out, you still need to listen. It’s a good habit.

The people who protest carrying Black Lives Matter signs don’t feel like they are heard.  We can only change that by listening. And how do we show that we are listening? One way to do this is to ask questions. “Black Lives Matter” begs the question “What does it mean to matter?” You might not like the answer, but that’s okay.  Being made to feel like you don’t matter really isn’t particularly pleasant. Listening is step one in making them feel like they do matter.

What does this have to do with prayer and being a Christian? Christ said it in the Sermon on the Mount.  Blessed are the peacemakers. As peacemakers, we need to go out and look and listen.  We need to find those who are not being heard.

Once we find them, we need to listen. And as we listen, we need to lift them up into His Light.

–SueBE

This week I’m taking a page from Lady Calen’s journal (so to speak) and responding to a writing prompt she shared: Whom do you look down upon?

The very first thing you’d notice about me is my height. I’m six feet tall in bare feet, and have been (within an inch or two) since I was 14. While I was away at college, my brother brought home his new girlfriend (now wife of 25 years) to meet the rest of the family. “She’s so tall!” Jennifer exclaimed of my five foot-five inch sister. My brother just rolled his eyes. “Wait till you meet my other sister,” he said.

This has caused me no shortage of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I can see over people’s heads in a crowded space. On the other, every counter in every kitchen and bathroom in every house I’ve ever lived in is too low for me. I’ve always believed — especially as I proceed into my “sturdy” middle-aged years (“sturdy” being a euphemism my father used for me in my toddler days, before I grew into my protracted “lanky” stage) that my height serves as a deterrent to male wrongdoers. On the other hand — again — I knew at 14 that I would never be cradled like a delicate, cherished object in the arms of a man…unless he was a basketball player or circus freak, that is.

I had an Epley maneuver done yesterday (for the vertigo that periodically plagues me — insert tall joke here) and had to keep my head steady — no looking down — for 24 hours. It made me achingly aware that practically everything is beneath me, physically speaking. All those vendors who temptingly place their items in the grocery store at “eye level,” surprise — my eyes are on the top shelf, thank you. It makes it all too easy for me to miss what’s going on “down there” where everyone else lives.

I realize that this is not what this writing prompt is all about, but I use my height as a metaphor for my interior life: I sometimes don’t see or value the things that a majority of folks find important or valuable. I’m a TV snob, preferring British programming since junior high. I don’t watch sports often. I haven’t listened to “popular” music since high school. I’m a proto-alterna-gal, marching to my own, non-syncopated beat.

It’s a situation ripe for loneliness. Though I look down physically on others, I’ve always felt looked down upon as the “weird girl.” The up-side of this condition is that I try mightily never to look down (metaphorically) on anyone. Of course, I don’t always succeed. Of course, I sometimes judge people on their politics, their seeming ignorance, their small-minded exclusion of others they deem “less” than themselves. On the other hand (there it is again!), I’ve never been socially savvy (“You’re book-smart,” my sister used to tell me, “I’m people-smart.”), and the drubbing I took from that (especially back in high school) has made me, I hope, a better person.

All of this up and down, above and beneath, is really beside the question. The fact of the matter is that God is above us all, and chooses never to look down (in its negative connotation) on anyone. God calls us instead to look toward others — neither up nor down — especially those on the fringes. We need to see people squarely, without judgment, before we can love them. And loving people, tall or short, sturdy or lanky, is what life is all about.

Let’s all vow to meet people where they are. Even if we have to stand on a stepladder to do it.

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