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If I’ve learned anything during my years on this planet, it’s this: People just want to be heard. It’s a need more pressing than money or fame, though it has its hand in both. Money and fame grant the stature that accords recognition. But no matter what the means to an end, the end is the same: Here I am! Hear me!

Maybe I have a kind face; I don’t know, but people tend to talk to me: in checkout lines, parking lots, and public spaces. They tell me their stories. They don’t always need me to reciprocate, or even to validate…simply to listen.

I think many horrible tragedies might have been averted if only someone had listened to someone else. School shootings, for instance. Clearly, the shooters in these instances are trying to get people to listen to them, to understand something about them. Had someone encouraged them to bare their souls in advance, might things have gone differently? Maybe. Maybe not. No one can make someone else talk. And some people are in such pain (or delusion) that words no longer suffice. But you never know.

What I do know is that from online comment sections to newspaper opinion pages, people want their thoughts, feelings and experiences to be witnessed. Some just like the sound of their own voices (I’m looking at you, Internet trolls), others are angry about a particular issue. Some are crying out for understanding. And some (like the Westboro Baptist Church) still believe, toddler-like, that negative attention is better than no attention at all. But everybody wants to be heard.

We are quick to dismiss people whose opinions are not our own. Just write a blog post, and you’ll see what I mean. For every reasoned argument, there is an equal and opposite argument. Finding two people who agree on everything is less likely than finding a ruby in your Cracker Jacks box. But that doesn’t stop us from arguing, emoting, pontificating or just reaching out for a friendly ear.

I wish there were a place where anyone who wanted to be heard could say whatever he or she pleased and know that he (or she) had been well and truly heard. It might make the world a more peaceable place. Luckily, I know the very best listener there has ever been — God. You can ramble all you want, talk up a storm, and He will listen with patience and care. Only two problems present themselves: You can’t see God, and you can’t hear His response to you, at least not aurally.

This is where faith comes in. You just have to KNOW that He is listening. And you have to believe that if a response is needed, one will come. It may not be the response you want. Its arrival may not adhere to your desired timeframe. But it will come.

Unfortunately, this is also where the system breaks down. We are not a patient people. We want everything now. So, if you can’t wait, if you need an ear (albeit a fallible, human one) then find someone, anyone. There is, I promise, someone out there who will listen to you. Or just look for me in a parking lot or checkout line. I’ll be the one with the listening eyes. I promise I will do my best to hear you.

Just how much impact can one good deed have? If you speak your mind about an injustice, will anyone notice?

Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry probably wondered much the same thing when he put up his first poster. He started with a photo of himself and his daughter and a small Israeli flag. The text on the poster was simple. “Iranians, We will never bomb your country. We love you.”

At the time, many Israeli policy analysts were pushing to bomb Iran before Iran could bomb Israel. The message was clear. “We need to move first before its too late.”

But Edry, a former paratrooper had been hearing this rhetoric for 10 years. All that seemed to change was the alleged number of bombs possessed by Iran. In the minds of Israeli citizens, this number was vast.

What could one simple poster do against this much fear and hatred? Watch the video and find out. No, it isn’t short but you will be truly amazed. Who would have thought that the work of one graphic artist could become the top hit when googling Israel or Iran? Not a site pushing war. Not a site feeding fear.

We Love You is a very powerful message indeed and I can’t help but believe that Ronny Edry is what Pastor Carol meant when she discussed being a thin place.

–SueBE

As I’ve discussed before, the Prayer of St. Francis may be my all time favorite prayer.  It pretty much says it all.  Imagine my joy when we got to sing it as an anthem in choir.  This isn’t quite the version that we did but I think you’ll love it as much as I do.

–SueBE

Years ago, when my son was an infant, I’d put him on the couch in the living room, secure behind bundled up blankets and pillows. Humming, I’d go into the kitchen to do the dishes and start dinner, and, every so often, I’d turn around to look at him as I worked. He was always sleeping soundly.

Once, I looked over and I didn’t see my son – my dog had put herself right in front of him and stared at me balefully as if to say, “Hey Ma, I’m here too, y’know!” I’d go over and pat her head as I checked on my boy.

So even if I’m not always in the same room, and I may not be actively attending to my loved ones at any given moment, they are always on my mind and in my heart.  If I don’t seem to be “there” for them, at least they know, I’m “thereabouts.” I’m always thinking of them and am constantly concerned for their well-being.

Sometimes when things are not going as we’d expected, we question God.  I’ve been known to ask quite frankly in my New Jersey way, “Lord, I’m not asking, ‘Are you there?’ Oh, I know You’re there.  I’m asking, ‘Are you there for me?'”

If I look at my own little world, my son might well occasionally say the same thing of me.  After he comes home from school, he usually finds me in the sunroom working on my weekly copywriting gigs. “Grab a snack, honey, I’m busy,” I’ll say. It might seem like I’m not there for him.  But does he realize that a chill rolled in last night and I got up at 2 AM to put an extra blanket on him as he slept?

Does God work the same way?  Hmm.

Last week my neighbor cleared my driveway of a heavy snowfall before I even woke up. I offered to pay him, but he waved away my money, hoisted the snow blower and went across the street to clear another neighbor’s driveway.

A month or so ago, I left my wallet at a restaurant.  When I went back in a panic, the server was standing by the door waiting for me, both hands clutching my wallet protectively.  He looked as worried as I did!

I think the slow drip of doubt that I let corrode my relationship with God tends to rust over the things that He does for me through other people, and the things He does through me for other people. I’ve focused so specifically on what God hasn’t done for me lately that I almost need an interpreter to remind me that He works in mysterious ways, but make no mistake:  He works.

Faith works.

Just because we want everything to be perfect – and it isn’t – that doesn’t negate the good things that are always happening.  Somewhere.  And if something good isn’t happening to you at that moment, it doesn’t stop you from doing good for somebody else.

This dovetails with what Lori asked us to do this week:  forgive someone. When you forgive, you extend healing and hospitality where there was once only pain.  It also takes a weight off of your own soul and leaves that space open for genuine joy.

Doing a favor for someone else is a nice deposit in the bank of goodwill. Maybe we’re designed to do what we can do and leave the rest up to Him.  But if we wait for Him to do it all, He’s not the one who isn’t “there” – we are.  Maybe after all our praying and waiting, God shows up when we do.

Remember that scene in “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie looks out the window on Christmas morning? He’s greeted with a snow-cloaked, icicled fairyland. Indiana winter has transformed his oft-seen backyard into something new and magical. That’s what it looks like outside my window right now. I wouldn’t recommend going out in it, but there it is. The streets, where you can see them, are empty, silent. We have retreated to our 21st century igloos, there to sip soup and watch our day planners empty courtesy of snow day cancellations.

There’s something so beautiful, so pristine about new-fallen snow. It makes me wish my soul looked that way — peaceful, pure, undisturbed by my moral journey. Wishing won’t make it so, however. Just as the snow will eventually become trampled, muddy, slushy, plowed into dirty piles and shoveled into ugly lumps, so do our souls wear ever thinner with use. There’s no way around it. Just as there’s no way to preserve the pristine snow other than staying indoors, looking but not touching, there is no way to preserve the innocence of our souls other than by not engaging in life at all. You go out of the house and into the world, you’re gonna get grimy. It’s the human condition.

Which brings us to the much-beloved sacrament of Reconciliation. Some call it Penance or Confession. Same rose, different name. I confess; I love this sacrament. There is nothing so fortifying, so soothing to heart and soul than forgiveness. To be forgiven of one’s sins may not restore one’s soul to a newborn’s tabula rasa, but it does, absolutely, make everything better. When Pope (the poet, not the pontiff) said, “to err is human, to forgive divine,” he wasn’t kidding. That washed-clean feeling is as near to heaven as I’ve ever felt on Earth.

Unfortunately, our church’s Lenten Penance Service was cancelled due to the current Snowpocalypse. I miss it. I miss that feeling of coming clean, of becoming, for a moment, like new snow. I can hardly wait for it to be rescheduled. My well-trammeled soul will be renewed. I expect a new car scent to waft off me like cologne.

Do me a favor: Forgive someone today. Maybe it will be that snarky girl in high school who made fun of your figure. Maybe it will be a more recent hurt — a snub from a friend or a rude driver. Just do it. They may never know it, but you will have given them the greatest gift that you can give. And if I’ve ever wronged you, please forgive me. Today, envying the snow, I need it.

On Sunday, Pastor Carol spoke about what the Celts call thin places, spots where the wall between our world and the spiritual world is thin, and sometimes, if conditions are just right, you get a glimpse of that other world. Then she gave us a challenge.

Be thin places between God and the people around you.

How can a person be a place? Read on.

In the Bible, we read about Moses speaking to God and, afterwards, glowing with the Holy Spirit. Moses was a thin place bringing a touch of the Spirit to his followers.

Where and when are you most likely to encounter the Spirit? Often, when I gain a sense of the Holy, it is through some piece of music. Whether I am singing in the choir or simply listening, sometimes I feel a shiver and goose bumps run up my arms. Something rare and amazing has happened and I have been touched.

When this happens, I’m never inclined to do is turn my back on the Spirit and head out into the world and all its problems. But what if that is what I’m meant to do?

Musing over Pastor Carol’s words, I wonder. Maybe I am meant to take this electrifying moment out into the world. Maybe these is the times I am most able to act as a thin place and allow those around me a glimpse at the Holy Spirit.

–SueBE

No, I’m not going to go all Chris Crocker on you. It’s just that there’s been a fair amount of flak kicked up around The Pope’s recent announcement that he’s decided to retire. “Retire?” Some query, “I thought the job was for life!” I’ve even heard someone accuse Benedict XVI of betraying St. Peter. Seriously?

At 85, Pope Benedict is no spring chicken. He’s had heart surgery and walks with a cane. He no longer feels that his health is strong enough for him to effectively lead The Church. I think it’s admirable of him to call it quits. The Church needs a strong hand at the wheel, and if he no longer feels up to it, why make him wait out the clock, sick and feeble, unable to be more than a figurehead?

As to St. Peter, yes, he set the precedent of serving as Pope for life. However, our best guess is that he was about 65 when he was martyred, and that’s a long way from 85. He could not have guessed how lifespans would be stretched out in our time, or how much the role of Pope would change.

What’s more, Jesus said nothing about how long The Pope must serve. Our basis for this tradition comes from the idea of apostolic succession. A little flexibility is in order here, as traditions can and do change. When in doubt, the Bible tells us, go with what the Bible says. And since it says nothing about this particular instance, the Pope seems well within his rights.

I, of course, hope that our new pontiff will bring with him a wind of change to reinvigorate and reenergize our Church. It is unlikely. Cardinals tend to be old, conservative and resistant to change, and they vote based on these attributes. I’ve not much to say about any of the names being bandied about by the press; it is too early to judge. But I will say this about America’s “great white hope,” Cardinal Dolan. I hope he is not considered. I find him gleefully dismissive of women, the poor and gays at a time when The Church can no longer afford to alienate these groups. I’ll go further: I don’t think he is a kind person, or a humble one. And if the Catholic Church is to be a beacon of hope to the world, we need the kindest, most humble person we can find at the helm. Our credibility has slipped far enough, thank you very much.

The month to come will reveal much. I find it ironic — or perhaps providential — that this time coincides with Lent. What better time than now, this period of reflection and repentance, to consider what we need in a new head of the Catholic Church? I can only hope the College of Cardinals take their responsibility seriously.

I also hope that we can come together to thank Pope Benedict for his service and wish him well in retirement. I may disagree with some of his beliefs, but I honestly think he did the best job he could do. We cannot ask for more.

Years ago, I worked in the communications department at a pharma company, and it was time for my performance review.  “You’re doing a great job,” my manager said. “You’re a quick learner, you’ve got great energy… overall, I have to say, I think you’re terrific.”

“So do I,” I said in return. I realized that it sounded like I was saying that I agreed; I AM terrific!

She laughed and said, “Self-esteem isn’t an issue for you either, I see!”

“Oh!  You know what I mean.  I think you’re terrific too.”  She said she knew what I meant and we went off to have lunch.

I suppose on the scale of self-esteem, it’s better to have too much of it, as opposed to not having enough.  But what is about the display of healthy self-esteem that sometimes makes us pause?

On Twitter, I was going to follow Reba McEntire but stopped short – on her own profile, she described herself as a “Country Superstar.” Capital letters and all.

Hmph!  I sniffed.  There’s one gal who really thinks highly of herself!  Miss Thing really toots her own horn there, doesn’t she?

The thing is, though…. when you think about it…. she actually is a country superstar.

Would I prefer the false modesty of someone with powerful pipes like that saying, “aw shucks, I can sing a little”?

A link on Twitter took me to an article quoting Beyonce on her recent performances.  “I felt very proud because this is my legacy,” she announced.

Well!  I never.  Maybe Princess would like a tiara with that “Halo?” The thing is… she did sing at the President’s inauguration, and then was the featured performer at the Superbowl, so I guess…even though it is a bit over-the-top for her to say it… maybe it is her legacy.

I like the way Tom Hanks describes himself on his Twitter profile:  “I’m that actor in some of the movies you liked and some you didn’t.  Sometimes I’m in pretty good shape, other times I’m not. Hey, you gotta  live, you know?”  He doesn’t mention his Oscar or his bazillion dollars.  He seems humble. That’s how a celebrity should be, I said to myself.

I finally got my head out of the Twitterverse and administered the only known cure for grumpy grumbling: a Bible verse.

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

Lesson for today: be gracious toward everyone, and think of it as a good thing when people think highly of themselves.  Be glad that they’re blooming wherever they’re planted, and leave the pruning up to God.  Live and let live.  Love and let go.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Most of us think about Lent as a period of self denial. Deprive yourself of something you love. Somehow mirror the sacrifice that Christ made for us all.

Just a few years ago, my friend Becky told me about a new Lenten practice started by her priest. He encourages his congregation to focus on developing a good habit instead.

Think about it.

What if everyone who gave up chocolate or coffee or pizza, did something good in the name of Christ? Times are hard and you probably don’t have the money it would take to make a daily donation but consider the possibilities.

Pray for someone.
Each day of Lent, pick someone you know who is going through difficult times. Pray for them. Whether or not you let them know is up to you but imagine how many days you would brighten with a quick e-mail. “Today, I am celebrating Lent and honoring Christ by praying for you. May God Bless you this day.”

Look someone in the eye, actually see them and speak to them.
That’s what Ruth did the other day when she had to have her car inspected. She could have driven off in a huff but she paid enough attention to the staffer to see his side of things and she acknowledged him. Really acknowledged him. Call a checker by name when you thank them for helping you. Use the waiter’s name when you hand him your credit card. Let someone who is often publicly invisible while doing their job know that you SEE them.

Pass on good news.
So often, the news we watch and read is bad. When someone says, “Did you hear about Jane?” you can be fairly certain that the scoop is not going to be positive. Instead of joining the negative throng, make a point of passing on one good news story every day. It can be something you read online or simply pointing out the good job that someone else has done.

Any one of these actions done on a daily basis throughout Lent would add up. No, you wouldn’t be breaking a bad habit and none of these things need be a great sacrifice.

But Christ told us to do good to the least among us. This often includes the sick, the overlooked, and those other people speak badly about. Do something good in His Name.

What better way to celebrate the sacrifice of Christ?

–SueBE

My husband and I went to a flea market last weekend, not realizing that it was automobile-centric until we got there. (I think my husband was secretly thrilled; like all males, he responds to any sort of thing that goes vroom!) We passed a vendor selling slogans to put on one’s vehicle, many of them religious: “Jesus is my savior,” “God is my co-pilot”, etc. Right next to this display was another display, only these slogans took a more aggressive tone: “I’ll give up my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” “My guns, my rights” and that sort of thing. It seemed an odd juxtaposition. On the one hand, it seemed to shout, “I am Christian.” On the other, it proclaimed, “Owning guns is quite possibly the most important thing to me.”

I get it. Guns are useful objects, if one is a hunter or needs to protect oneself. What I don’t understand is how they became the object of an almost cult-like worship by so many Americans. You don’t see this in other parts of the world. Of course, other parts of the world don’t have our murder-by-gun rate, either.

This quandary takes center stage at the moment, as our government discusses new gun control laws. You don’t have to listen very hard to hear the bays of outrage against this possibility. And I get it. It’s in the Constitution; we have the right to bear arms. On the other hand, I have a hard time believing our forefathers visualized assault weapons, armor-piercing bullets, and stockpiles of weaponry that could arm a small nation, all in the hands of a single person.

There are those who would say (and do) that a hammer can be used to kill someone, and ought we to outlaw hammers? All I can say is that I’d rather be attacked with a hammer than a gun. A hammer can’t take out dozens of people in the span of a few minutes. A hammer can’t be deployed from across the room.

But all this rhetoric is not the point. The point is the curious attachment we Americans have to our firearms. We claim to be a Christian people. How do guns fit with that notion? Jesus, Prince of Peace, would never touch a weapon of any sort. The Bible exhorts us to love one another. The Ten Commandments not only direct us not to kill, they tell us up-front what is most important: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.” No other gods. I submit that if you are willing to give up your guns only when someone plucks them from your “cold, dead hands,” you may need to rethink the First Commandment. Your love of guns is veering awfully close to idolatry.

I’m not asking for all guns to be done away with. I’m not pretending that people (sick, angry people) are not the real problem — a gun is just an object; only a person can be a murderer. I’m just asking, “Can we try to be consistent?” Guns and God do not go together. In the words of Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the other.” What if — and I’m just suggesting — we put God first and then discern where guns belong? I suspect they would fall rather farther down on our list of priorities.

God is love. Love doesn’t need an arsenal. That’s all I’m saying.

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