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Heavenly Father,
Every day, a face a wide range of decisions.
Please help me make the choices
that will do no harm to another and
that will take nothing that someone else has earned.
Help me to make the decisions
that assure others that You do exist
even as you help me avoid the decision
that make people sure You aren’t there.
In Your name,
I pray for wisdom and insight,
Amen

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God puts beauty into the world.  Its up to us to help it thrive.

God puts beauty into the world. Its up to us to help it thrive.

Last week, I made this comment on Lori’s post. “I think a lot of people fail to make the connection that a good, benevolent God doesn’t mean that you will always have peace, joy and ever blessed thing you want. You are, after all, living among flawed humans.”

Lori responded, “You need to write more about what you just said. People really don’t get it!”

The fact of the matter is that this is a really tricky topic because it comes back to free will. Free will, the ability to make our own decisions, is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s easy enough to see why it’s a blessing, because it means we get to make our own decisions. We have choices. We aren’t just puppets in a cosmic play. We are free.

But with freedom comes responsibility and it is the responsibility we would often happily do without. We want the freedom (fries or onion rings) but we don’t want the responsibility (high cholesterol, obesity, and heart disease). As if that wasn’t enough, we don’t just make decisions that harm us. We make decisions that harm other people. We go astray.

Recently, I lead the lesson for our women’s circle at Florissant Presbyterian Church. This year we are studying from Dispatches to God’s Household: The General Epistles by Nancy Benson-Nicol. In the lesson that I taught on elders, she refers to people as God’s sheep, his flock.

Most of us, myself included, resent being compared to sheep. After all, sheep are not exactly known for their intelligence or their ability to keep themselves out of trouble.

Hmm. Maybe when you put it like that it isn’t such a bad comparison. We constantly put ourselves in harms way. Time and time again, we put others in harms way. We know what God wants; he has told us to love each other time and time again.

God tells us what He wants but he also gave us free will. The choices that we make are ours. Its about time we learned to accept the responsibility, and the blame, that comes with the freedom.

–SueBE

A Facebook friend of mine posted the following: “Conservative Christians oppose abortion even in cases of rape because Jesus was a rape baby.” Please understand: She is a self-proclaimed atheist. To have countered (as I immediately wanted to), “What part of ‘Be it done unto me according to thy will’ do you not understand?” would have done no good. Understand also: She is a good person. She’s a terrific mother, a kind and funny friend. But she has a blind spot when it comes to God, as many atheists do. It rubs me the wrong way. It’s meant to.

Some people have a problem with religion. I get that; it’s easier to doubt than to believe. Belief requires a leap of faith into territory that can be illogical and frightening. It is far simpler to hunker down in rationalism and not make the leap. What I don’t understand is the amount of venom directed at religion. Mind you, I understand legitimate criticism — when the Catholic Church misbehaves I am usually among the first to take them to task. That’s not the kind of venom I’m talking about. I refer to a more undefined, all-encompassing anger — buckshot, not bullets — aimed at any and all religious or spiritual beliefs.

A favorite author of mine (Lewis? Merton?) once wrote (and I paraphrase), “I didn’t believe that God existed. And I was very angry at Him for not existing.” The paradox ought to punch any right-thinking person in the face: You can’t be angry at something that you say doesn’t exist. You shouldn’t have any feelings about it. You certainly shouldn’t be throwing rocks at those who believe. Why should you care what they think?

Thomas Merton (I’m certain this time) had a theory about atheists: They don’t believe not because they hate God, but because what they read about Him fails to encompass a good enough, complete enough notion of Him. What they want from God isn’t contained in humankind’s feeble attempts to reduce Him to words, commandments, and stories. They want God to be bigger than that. And guess what? He is. It is humans that fail, not God. Just because we cannot apprehend Him in all His goodness and relate that information without fault, without shadowing it with our own human traits of selfishness, greed, political interest and xenophobia doesn’t make God any less than what He is. Place the blame where it is due: On humans, not on God.

I won’t try to convert my friend. I too am impossibly flawed; I can’t effectively counter her arguments against a just and loving Deity. I just know what I know. God is as good as you can imagine — better, in fact. He is “that than which nothing greater can be thought.” There are proofs galore to His existence, but what matters most is this: God loves us. He will wait for us, believers and nonbelievers alike. Anger might slow Him down, but it will never stop Him.

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

 

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

At the clothing store the other day, I approached a cashier who was ringing up some items.  Since there was no customer in sight, I asked her if she was buying those clothes for herself.  She laughed and said, “I wish!  No, these are for a customer.  She was just here… I’m not sure where she went.” She shrugged apologetically and looked around.

After several minutes, a lady speaking loudly on the phone sauntered back over and plopped a pair of shoes on the counter to add to her order.  While she was still on the phone, the cashier asked if she had any coupons.  “No,” she said. “Do you have one for me?” The cashier did have a store coupon and deducted 15%, which mildly annoyed me.  The customer didn’t thank her, and I thought that would have been the least she could have done, considering that she had kept the cashier and the other customers waiting all that time.

She finally did get off her phone, but wanted an additional discount, so she decided to open a store charge card, which would get her an additional 10% off.  “I know I won’t be approved; I just want the discount.”  This was going to be a long wait.

At that point, another cashier opened and said, “Next customer in line, please.” As I picked up my clothing to schlep over to the other cashier’s counter, the woman behind me started toward the newly opened cashier.  I walked past her and put my clothes on the counter.  “Next customer.  That would be me,” I said firmly.

“Oh, I didn’t realize!” she said.  Right, I thought.

It’s so easy to be cynical and focus on these small infractions, but actually, I must have encountered a couple of dozen people I didn’t know that day and each and every one of them was perfectly pleasant.  Some went out of their way to help me.

So even though I was mildly annoyed by two people who really should know better, it’s quite possible that they really didn’t.  That is to say, maybe they really didn’t think they’d done anything wrong. I decided it would make more sense to pray for them than to continue to seethe and stew, thus ruining the rest of an otherwise wonderful day.

God has been merciful to me as I’ve struggled with doubt through the years, and many times I’ve done things that He might have shaken His head at, saying, “she should really know better.”

My son is 14 and even though he doesn’t share my faith, he does have a good sense of right and wrong.  He also knows the difference between a mountain and a molehill… something I don’t always seem to know.  Like that time we went to the store to get some groceries.

“Well!  How about that!” I said as we walked to the car. “Can you believe this jamoch? He parked his car so close to mine that I can’t get to the trunk.”

But it was a tight parking lot with a limited number of spaces, and his car was an SUV, so they tend to really fill up a space.

“Do you think he did it on purpose, Ma?” my son asked innocently.  “Did he do it to annoy you?”

“Well, no, but….”

“Then why don’t you forgive him?”

Whoa.  That stopped me, mid-rant.  I was the one always going on about giving people a second chance and here he was, pointing out something I should have already known.

Just as we’ve seen on the evening news, we tend to focus on the people who are doing things they shouldn’t be doing, and saying a collective, “Well!  How dare they do that!”  But most of the people we encounter really want the same things we want out of life:  to take care of ourselves and our families, to do our jobs, to worship (or not) as we see fit, and to move freely in the world without interference.

Life is so much better when we focus on positive things, and expect that everyone we meet is trying their best.  It may not be what we would do, but for all we know, it’s all they can give.  After all, if we’ve been forgiven, it’s really not too much to ask that we forgive others now and again. Prayer is really a panacea, and grace is always there – to give and to receive – even on a hectic day in a crowded world.

Lord,
Lend me Your ears
so that I may hear,
those whose voices are quiet,
those who have long been silenced,
those that seldom have the opportunity to speak out.

Lend me Your eyes
so that I may see these people,
where I worship,
where I shop,
in my own family and home.

Lend my Your heart
so that I may find the generosity of spirit
to invite them to the feast
You have prepared for us all,
including the unheard.
Amen

Mutual Invitation. This may be an unfamiliar phrase but it clicked when I read Lori’s post last Thursday about hearing other people and also when I read this quote about the nature of love on Ruth’s blog.

Have you ever taken a class or taken part in a committee meeting that is dominated by one person? Mutual Invitation is a discussion style that allows each person in the room to be heard. Yes, that means it works best with smaller groups, but it does work.

In Mutual Invitation, each person gets a chance to have their say on a set topic. The facilitator starts it off by inviting one person in the group to share their concerns, opinion, and/or ideas. That person can pass, but he or she is still invited to speak. At the end of their turn, that person invites the next person to speak.

At first, it sounds a little hokey, but think about it. Each person in the group gets a chance to be heard. It doesn’t matter if they are the pastor, a senator or out of work trucker, each person has the same opportunity to speak. There isn’t one person speaking over another. No one has to wave their hand around to try to get someone else’s attention. And each person passes this opportunity on to someone else.

The message is clear. You matter. I want to hear what you have to say.

Wow.

The quiet or the overlooked. The very young and the very old. Everyone has a chance to be heard. Now all we have to do is listen.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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