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The other night in a dream, someone told me, “You can either have a project …or be the project.”

In other words, always be doing something constructive with your life or somebody will come along, make you their project and try to “fix” you.

In the news today, a New Jersey public school principal was transferred after a misspelled sign in front of the school went viral. A custodian had changed the sign at an entrance not used by staff, so no one noticed it for a week.

It was startling to see such a sign in front of a school, but the venomous reaction to it really surprised me. Ironically, people making comments on the article seemed unaware of their own spelling errors. One man wrote that he was “dumfounded” by the mistake.

Another pointed out that she had seen such errors as well on the “bulleting board” at her son’s school. She said this was “indicitive” of the crisis in the educational system in general. More than one commenter said it really wasn’t the “principle’s” fault, but the “parens.”

Seems like we always want to make the other person our project.

Instead of throwing stones, maybe someone could offer to help the custodian with reading comprehension. Everyone wants to assign blame but nobody has anything helpful to say. Isn’t it possible to reach out with compassion instead? That would be a great project for the commenters to take on.

My goal for the new year is to always have a productive, constructive project. That way, nobody will take it upon themselves to make me their project. Here’s wishing you all a happy, healthy, joyful new year with positive projects and prayers aplenty!

nativityI admit it.  When it comes to Bible translations, I tend to pick up one of my old favorites.  I love my great-grandmother’s King James Bible and also the Revised Standard that I was given in 3rd grade Sunday school.

But on Christmas Eve, Pastor Sean introduced us to a new-to-me translation, The Message.  Where the King James Bible says “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth,” the Message tells us that “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out,  true from start to finish.” (John 1:14)

Somehow the idea that Jesus moved into the neighborhood is so much more real than the idea that he “dwelt among us.”

A neighborhood is so personal.  It is where you live, where you shop and where the kids go to school.  It is homes and yards and streets and sidewalks. This isn’t just Jesus dwelling among us where we heard these words.  This Jesus walking and talking where we walk and talk.  This is Jesus working where we work, in our schools and shops, in our hospitals and city halls.

This isn’t a far off, distant Jesus in a land of Jews and Romans. This isn’t a Christ of by-gone times or of only distant relevance.

This is a Jesus of today, a Christ of here and now.  This Jesus I should expect to find around the next corner, down the next aisle, in the pew beside me as I turn the next corner into 2015.

–SueBE

holidays 2011 017

Have you ever started to talk to a friend, gone off on a tangent, and forgotten the point you were trying to make?

I have a phrase for that.

“I went for a walk in my mind.”

Or I’ll invoke the lyrics from an old James Taylor song and say, “In my mind, I went to Carolina.”

Maybe the mind does this because it really just needs a break from all of the action in life.

I’ve found that some part of my brain checks out during the holiday season. Oh, don’t get me wrong; the music and the decorations, catching up with family and friends, and of course, the spirit and story of Christmas…all of this is joyous to me.

But what I need to divest from is the hustle and bustle. The people at stores staring at the cashier, tapping their feet as if they would really like to move it along, here. Cars in traffic jams, filled with people who left a half hour late, so they have to speed down the highway to get home in time for the turkey. The last-minute chaos and the crass commercialism.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could infuse the true spirit of Christmas into our lives all year long? Goodwill toward man, peace on Earth. Then we wouldn’t need to take that soul-stroll to get away from it all. And lest we forget the most important part: for unto us a child is born. May we all honor this beautiful blessing in our lives, and with our words, all year round.

Merry Christmas, dear readers!

DSCF4874

The 2014 mixed choir cantata at the Old Shrine of St. Ferdinand, Florissant, Mo.

Last Sunday, we sang our Christmas cantata with several other church choirs at a local historic landmark, the first church west of the Mississippi.  Before we started, I decided to avail myself of the facilities. Just as I walked past the soundboard, two little boys asked where the bathroom is. The guy working sound had things to get done but seemed reluctant to let the pair go back alone so I volunteered to escort them, all the while wondering — Why me?

Since there was a line, I got to spend several minutes answering questions about all things Catholic. I know Lori is laughing at this because I’m 100% Presbyterian.  I’ve picked up a wee bit of Catholic knowledge from her over the years but a wee bit isn’t all that much if the questions get too deep.  Fortunately, these were pretty basic if a bit rapid fire.

Them:  What’s this thing on a chain?

Me:     That’s for incense.

Them: Look at that little door way over there.  Why can’t we open it?

Me:  There’s a lock.  See?

Them:  What’s in there anyway?

Me:  The priest puts . . . .

Them:  “You’re sure we can’t open it? Cause I could crawl under that and get to it.”

We decided to let them cut in line so that we could return them to Grandma. After they scampered off to squeeze past the sound board and to the sanctuary, I turned around.  Hey!  What’s through that open door? Ooo, dozens of labeled drawers in front of a spiral staircase going up above the sanctuary.

I turned around to see one of the men from the Baptist choir laughing. Maybe I wasn’t there to keep the kids out of trouble as much as they were there to keep me out of trouble? I was definitely too focused to get nosey. It may not have been entirely voluntary, but with some help, I was on my best Christmas behavior.

Stay out of trouble, and may you all have a Blessed Christmas celebrating the coming of Christ!

–SueBE

He will come again perhaps in snow
or baked earth like the first time,
no one knows.
And if today,
what would he make
of sleighs and bells,
garlands, garish green
and red everywhere?
Perhaps he would shake his head
and chuckle at the foibles of his siblings.
Or point out, with rather more force,
“That’s a lot of hoopla
for a baby born in a manger.”
I myself would turn it all away,
all the tinsel and trimmings,
for a single moment of pure love.
That is what he came for,
and that is what he died for.
And so I say:
To beings everywhere —
You are greatly loved.
Believe it.
(That sharp uptick in your heart —
that right there is Christmas.)

 

A friend of my son’s was hit by a car earlier this year and was seriously injured. He survived, but had to have surgery, physical therapy and doctor visits. His aunt said to him, “God must have a plan for your life, since you survived something like this.”

I understand this way of thinking. It’s one thing if it’s a car crash or something else that’s beyond your control. But it gets tricky when people start to invoke God’s imprimatur on their own issues.

I saw an article quoting Kim Kardashian that God made her gain a lot of weight while she was pregnant. “He was saying, ‘Kim, you think you’re so hot, but look what I can do to you.’”  Forget the drum roll. May I have an eye-roll, please?

In an interview about the infamous Ray Rice video, his wife, Janay, is quoted as saying, “God chose me and Ray for a reason.” I had to put my coffee cup down, as I was sure I would drop it.

Okay. She’s saying that it was in God’s plan for her then-boyfriend to punch her in the face, knock her unconscious, drag her out of the elevator and drop her on the floor. And then, you see, they would get the chance to educate the world about domestic violence!

I know we’re all supposed to be adults, so I’ll try to put this as tactfully as possible. If you eat BLTs and milkshakes (full disclosure: these were my own go-to vices while expecting) for nine months straight? If someone you’re dating beats you unconscious and you still marry him? If you know what you’re doing is immoral, illegal, irresponsible…pick one… and you still want to blame God for your actions?

I know I’m from Jersey and tend to get sassy, saucy and occasionally salty. But let me say this simply, with no drama in my delivery.

Ahem.

Sorry; no. That’s on you.

Christmas hopeAs I write this, Christmas is just over one week away. The new outdoor lights are still in their boxes in a chair in the living room. Christmas cards, also still in their boxes, are either in my office or in the dining room. I just finished a crocheted gift this morning but still need to work the tails into it and two others. Another handmade gift is in the molds, setting and hardening.

Christmas perfection? Not even close.

I know a lot of women who would be yanking out their hair right about now, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas is not about perfection. At least it isn’t about human perfection and that’s a good thing because we are far from perfect.

Christmas is our time to celebrate God sending Christ into our lives. It is a reminder that even when things are deep and dark, there is a sliver of hope.

What does this have to do with prayer?  No, I’m not going to tell you to pray so that you can better focus on what this season is truly about.  I’m going to ask you to think about the things that you pray about.  Think especially hard on your unanswered prayers.

Are you sure they’re unanswered?  When God sent the world what it needed most of all, he sent a tiny baby. A baby isn’t a warrior messiah.  A baby isn’t a preacher, a teacher or a healer. A baby is a small, vulnerable hope for tomorrow.

Now think again about those prayers.  Are you absolutely certain that they are unanswered? Perhaps your answer is there, small and vulnerable, a hope for tomorrow.

–SueBE

Someone once said that at age 50, you have the face you deserve. Now, who that someone was is up to debate: Some say Coco Chanel, others George Orwell. Some give the nod to Lincoln (and change the “expiration date” to 40 instead of 50). One website even credits Joan Collins with the witticism. Me, I tend to be Team Coco. It sounds like the sort of thing she would have said, perhaps between designing chic little black dresses and scolding people about their accessory choices.

I’ve had cause to consider this quotation as I stare down the barrel at the rapidly approaching bullet that is my 50th birthday. Do people really have the faces they deserve? One could argue that money, as usual, effects exceptions to the rule — if one has a clever plastic surgeon, that is. It would also be appropriate to note that life isn’t fair, and the results of this unfairness often show up on the kindest and best of visages. When my brother was just barely out of toddler-hood, he cracked his head open after tripping on a jump rope (to be fair, my sister and I were chasing him). He has the scar to this day. I have a similar scar on my lower lip, the product of a childhood incident with a sharpened pencil and prolonged spinning. (What was I thinking? Knowing me, I was thinking the pencil was a magic wand, and I was a twirling fairy, and, well, splat…an unhappy ending.)

Truly bad things happen to good people, with surprising regularity. Still, one could argue (and I intend to) that none of get what we really deserve. Because someone took the weight for us.

Whether or not you believe in the Adam and Eve story, you must admit that we humans have been both blessed and cursed by Free Will. Given the choice, we often do awful things. Whether those things fall into the category of unlawful fruit-eating or violence against one another, it does not matter. The black mark on our souls is there from the start. Most of us do little to mitigate it.

And that could have been all she wrote. (Not me, silly. I mean “that might have been the last word on the matter.”) Except for three exceptional blessings: Baptism (to wash away Original Sin), Reconciliation (the process of confessing and being forgiven one’s sins) and — most crucially — Christ’s death and resurrection, which guaranteed for all of us the possibility of the most stunningly unearned outcome of all: An eternity with God in heaven.

No matter how unfair life is, to our faces or our fortunes, we have a miraculous reprieve available to us. Jesus suffered and died for us so we, all of us sinners, throughout the ages, could have the very best of presents: More time, the best time, time free from all the petty concerns of this earth.

So maybe I do have the face I deserve. Or not. But I certainly have so much more — the hope of heaven. And that’s a pretty good comfort to cling to, no matter what life throws my way.

“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” the police officer said, hiking up his pants and pacing slowly. “I just want to make sure I understand the situation.” It seemed as if he was talking to a jury, not a family that had just lost a loved one, minutes ago.

He was training a new officer, and it became clear that he was trying to impress the rookie with his “command” of the scene.

As he spoke, I realized that I knew this man.

“I don’t know if you remember me,” I said, and told him my name. “We went to high school together.”

He shrugged slightly, smirked and widened his eyes dramatically. “Geez. You got so big!” he said to me. He laughed as if to say, I’m so bad to say that, but it’s true!

Silently seething, I almost reflexively responded that I’d just had a child, but I realized you should never justify yourself. Bad behavior is just that. It’s unacceptable.

Outwardly calm, I did the math in my head. He could make this process even more painful if I got up in his grill, as we say in Jersey. Which I so wanted to do.

“You’re not one to talk, bud,” I said, pointing to the burgeoning buttons on his uniform, which might have fit a few years ago. But at this point, he looked like a sausage in a casing.

We semi-smiled and chuckled mirthlessly, knowing we’d both just insulted the heck out of each other, but tacitly agreeing to call it a draw.

Society had decided this guy was in charge right now. There in my parents’ home, with my dad lying cold in the other room. There in the house where I grew up. How can someone “pull rank” on you in your own home?

He went back to interrogating my mother about how my father – all of 90 pounds after being ravaged by cancer – had died. I guess the hospital bed, commode, wheelchair and medications would have been puzzling to anyone but Columbo, perhaps. This truly seemed to be a great mystery.

The thing that struck me the most about this ordeal was the fact that he was not a stunod (more colorful Jerseyisms) in high school. He wasn’t a friend of mine; we had a few classes in common, but from what I could surmise, he was an okay sort.

What happened?

Does the badge always change you? Does power corrupt people?

This may be oversimplifying the recent spate of police-civilian incidents, but I don’t see it as black vs. white. It’s not even the authority establishment against everyone else. It’s light and darkness. Compassion vs. callousness. Both are inside each of us, and it’s what we choose to tap into at any given time. I’m praying that somehow, some way…we could all turn the light on at the same time. And keep it on. Now that would be a shining sight to see.

Again, not my church choir but this is the anthem that we sang today. A medieval anthem sound.

–SueBE

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