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.

It’s official. With our first day that topped 90 degrees, summer is here.  I am once again a driver – to the pool, to the weight room, home to feed, back to the pool, home to do laundry.  It can be a hectic, stressful time of the year.

But there is also a great deal of time when I am sitting around waiting.  I wait in the bleachers for swim practice to be over.  I wait in the parking lot for him to see if the weight room is open.  I wait in line at the grocery store.

One of the best ways to relax in the midst of all this hustle and bustle is to spend some time with God.  Here are 5 ways to relax into prayer time when you are waiting to rush off to the next event.

  1. Don’t focus on what annoys you. It is so easy for me to stare at the door to the locker room and wonder when he will finally get out.  Or I can glare at him not doing laps and wonder why he’s chatting with someone instead.  I’m not saying ignore things that need to be dealt with but make note of them and then stop.  Move your focus.    Turn. Your. Back. Sometimes it is the only way not to focus on what is bugging you.
  2. Don’t focus on what annoys someone else. Very often as I wait, I will chat with someone. I’ve discovered it is a great way to learn about the new principle (his old school wants him back!) and the new superintendent (who stepped in to deal with a problem as he toured the high school on his first day). But I’m also amazed at how many people want to share their annoyance with that kid over there or how the coach is doing his job. While I’d recommend stepping in if the kiddo is in danger remember that you don’t have to actually share in what bugs someone else. Listen for a bit and then excuse yourself to . . .
  3. Take a walk. Sitting and fussing and tapping your foot will only ramp up your anxiety.  If you know you have a ten minute wait, get off the bleachers or out of the car and walk for ten minutes.  While you walk, breathe deeply.
  4. Breathe deeply. When you are hurrying around and tense, you forget to breathe.  Take deep breaths. If possible, inhale to a count of 5 or 10 and exhale to a count of 10 or 20.  Take it slow and steady.
  5. Guided meditation. If you can’t get your mind to slow down, it can help to focus on someone telling you to relax. I know – it sounds counterintuitive but it really does work.  There are meditation apps as well as YouTube videos.  This one is specifically meant to help relieve worry or anxiety but I’ve found it good for simply helping me chill out.  I’ll insert it below so you can sample it.

Especially when you are busy and a bit stressed, take the time to relax into time with God. He wants to hear from you and, especially during stressful time, you need to hear from him.

–SueBE

No matter how great your sadness or how deep your sorrow, there’s one person to whom you can always turn: Mary. Oh, I know. I can hear you: “You Catholics and your Mary…it’s Mary this and Mary that! Why, it’s practically heretical.” Marian devotion may be peculiarly Catholic, but there’s nothing peculiar in recognizing Mary as a particularly appealing and deeply understanding role model.

First of all, she knows heartbreak better than a country music ballad. The terror of losing a child in a big city? Been there. The profound grief of watching your own flesh and blood, your beloved son, be tortured and murdered? Done that. I don’t mean to sound blasé. Mary knows the darkest and most painful parts of motherhood like no one else. I can’t think of a better resource for parents or those who mourn. However heavy your heart, her heart knows your sorrow. No one who ever lived has experienced more vividly than Mary the destruction of innocent life.

But Mary is more than just a grief counselor. She is a model of acceptance. Some find Mary’s humility and serenity mildly annoying or even mealy-mouthed. (I know; I’ve been guilty of it myself.) “Thy will be done.” Honestly, you have no more passion than that for captaining the ship of your life? But Mary’s “yes” turns out to be stronger than any “no” could ever be. She doesn’t just accept. She puts herself into God’s hands totally. That takes guts. Anyone who’s ever tripped over the words “thy will be done” in The Lord’s Prayer knows what I mean.

What’s more, acceptance can be a powerful thing. Like poor old Hamlet, we can try to bend the world to our own ends, only to find that “the rest is silence.” Only in acceptance can we find peace. Only in acceptance can we find the ability to go on after life’s greatest trials.

Though Mary’s role in the New Testament is underwritten at best, the fact is that she was present. Present for Jesus’ life and ministry, present for his death, present for the Pentecost and subsequent spread of Christianity. She might not have said much (that we know of), but she was there as witness and active participant. She went where the work took her — the work of God, that is — whether that was far from home (Egypt) or in her own neighborhood. We would do well to do as Mary did.

So think of Mary as a resource, in pain as well as in joy. (No one has ever described the keeping of happy memories better than in that little sentence: “She kept all of these things in her heart.”) Whatever you’re going through, Mary understands. Let her stand with you.

2007-07-06 16.27.44

Suddenly in the middle of the kitchen, there was a speedbump. I hadn’t put it there, mind you; it was in the shape of a perfectly life-like feline, sitting serenely as I prepared my coffee. It was my cat, looking at me, waiting for some scrap of sustenance in a dog-eat-dog world!

I hadn’t expected KitKat to be there, and was really startled.

“Oh!” I said. KitKat’s mouth formed an “O” as well.

My eyes got wide. KitKat’s eyes opened to maximum capacity. Like two big moon pies.

I pulled my head back in reflex. KitKat’s ears went all flat. Like Napoleon’s hat.

Then it occurred to me. He was reacting to my energy.

“Oh, it’s only you,” I said, nodding reassuringly, and went back to preparing my coffee. KitKat went back to his normal, Trying to Give a Heck facial setting, and moseyed over to his bowl to scout the offerings. Later, he’d stretch across the couch by the window, scoping out upstart squirrels and tracking the flight patterns of rogue birds. You know, his day job.

So much of life is about energy, isn’t it?

Last month, I tried to put a bell on KitKat so I wouldn’t be surprised by his sudden cameo appearances, but the ringing drove him crazy. Not just his ears, but his whole energy flattened. He ran around the house low to the ground, tail tucked, trying to escape the infernal noise.

You can see – and feel – energy interactions everywhere you go.

Once at a drug store, the pharmacist had apparently gotten into a heated argument with a customer. My son and I were joking around as we walked down the aisle, into this moment of friction. The customer turned his head abruptly and glared, thinking that we were laughing at him. He realized that we were just talking to each other and turned back to shoot daggers with his eyes at the pharmacist.

Energy is also malleable. At times, even fluid.

Last week, I got a package in the mail. KitKat sat nearby, on his default setting: bored/nothing-to-see-here-keep-it-moving. I tossed the box aside and in a flash, KitKat had climbed in and curled up contentedly, forming a furry ball. This is the life! his energy said, as he settled in, purring, for a nice afternoon nap. To some, it might seem like a standard-issue box. But if you read the energy meter right, you’ll see it’s really a cat-condo filled with creature comforts. Not bad for a former street-cat!

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