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“I can’t believe you (fill in the blank), not when you claim to be a Christian.”

landscape-nature-hills-churchThere are so many things I am that one person or another has told me are inconsistent with Christianity.  I am liberal and tend to vote Democrat.  I am a yoga student.  I read fantasy and science fiction.  I allow my son to play role playing games.  I am a scientist.  I believe in evolution.  The list goes on and on and on.

And yet, I believe.  I believe that God exists and that He is so much greater than anything I can truly understand.  As St. Anselm said, “God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”

I believe that I am His.  I am his child, his daughter and a part of his creation.  He made me the way that I am – introverted and sassy and curious.

I believe that I am His Hands and His Feet.  When I do what he would have me do – helping those who need help, whether that help be food or hope – I carry Him into the world.  Through my actions, people glimpse Him in a way that helps make Him personal for them.

I believe that in spite of so much that is evil and wrong and bad, that there is also much that is good and honorable and God-like.  There is good and there will be good even when we have troubles perceiving it.  As Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

I believe that He is God.  I believe that I am His. And that is what really matters.

–SueBE

I loved Halloween when I was a kid. Dressing up, canvassing the neighborhood for candy…. Best of all, if Halloween fell on a weekday, there was never school the next day — because it was a holy day of obligation, All Saint’s Day. What a great holiday! Only Christmas could trump it.

Nowadays, I pay little attention to Halloween. Our street does not get trick-or-treaters. And, being a grown-up, I am aware of far too many real-life terrors to be enchanted by grinning jack-o’-lanterns and costumed monsters. But I retain affection for All Saint’s Day.

There are many saints who have provided me with support over the years. For instance, Saint Jude, patron saint of hopeless cases, has more than once been my prayer-partner. I’ve also leaned on Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost things, for help in finding everything from homework to misplaced keys. And what good Catholic hasn’t muttered, “Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini, find a space for my machine-y” in a crowded parking lot? (Really? Just me?)

Certain saints, however, hold a more indelible place in my heart. Take St. Lawrence, my patron saint. Asked to present the Romans with the riches of the city, he brought in a crowd of poor people, an offense that bought him the death penalty: roasting alive on a giant barbeque. During his death, he was heard to quip, “Turn me over; I’m done on this side.” I love him for his sense of humor, his bravado, his commitment to the poor. I see a lot of St. Lawrence in Pope Francis.

St. Theodora, also known as Mother Theodore Guerin, was the founder of the college I attended, St. Mary-of-the-Woods. Known for her commitment to educating women in a time when college was considered dangerous to a female’s health, Mother Theodore was a force to be reckoned with. She simultaneously embraced humility and obedience while refusing to back down from her commitment to her mission, even when the local bishop effectively kidnapped her, locked her up, and told her she was excommunicated from the Church. A woman who once gently directed her order to love children first, then instruct them, St. Theodora is a model of patience, kindness and strength.

And then there’s Thomas Merton, who is not a saint yet, but who ought to be. Brilliant from the get-go, the son of an artist, Merton was a long-time atheist who found God in the most surprising of ways. (I urge anyone who is unsettled on the question of God to read Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain.) He became a Trappist monk and a prolific poet and writer, covering a wide variety of topics, such as social justice and Eastern religions. He died too young, and with him the world lost one of the 20th century’s great spiritual thinkers.

We are used to thinking of saints in the past tense. It seems incredible that saints might walk among us today, but they do. What do they do that the rest of us don’t? Not much, really. Sainthood is less a way of doing than a way of being. As Mother Theodore said, “Let us never forget that if we wish to die like the Saints we must live like them. Let us force ourselves to imitate their virtues, in particular humility and charity.” In a world where humility and charity are in short supply (just look at our politicians), let us not forget the example of the saints.

My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.  2 Corinthians 12:9 (MSG)

Chris Christie, currently on the stump to be the Republican nominee for president, got ejected from a section on an Amtrak train designated a peaceful area.

A politician in a quiet car. Now I’ve heard everything!

Some things really don’t make sense, no matter how you slice them.

Here are some things you just can’t find, try as you might:

  • the right partner in the wrong place
  • a good job in a bad environment
  • a home in a hostile land

The other day, as I looked back over my life, I got mad at God for allowing me to make bad choices at pivotal points.  

I looked at that sentence: “…allowing me to make bad choices.”

You caught it, too, right? Choices are just that. My decisions.

We often think of circumstances as being beyond our control, but how often is that really true?

What if this is what we came here for? The experiences, all of them – the pain and the joy. The tedium and the tension. The drunk uncles and the tiny toddler toes.

What if we used to be angels on clouds, playing harps/dodging pigeons all the day long and decided we needed an adventure? 🙂  Well, I doubt that was the case, but I do know that since we’re here, we may as well jump in with both feet and live to the fullest.

There’s no need to get comfortable in the mud. If something doesn’t work for you, don’t bend into contortions trying to fit into an unfit environment.

Don’t see it as a mistake if you’ve learned from it. Remind yourself: That wasn’t right for me. Now I know what I really want. 

The thing about grace is, God shows up, on the darkest night of the longest day. And tomorrow is a chance to start again.

hands-water-poor-povertyI love those moments when someone answers a question that I’ve had for years and they don’t even know they’ve done it.  This year, Presbyterian women are working through a study called Come to the Water. The most recent lesson was on baptism.

Symbolically, baptism is a beautiful thing.  A sign of community, it signifies that we are all reborn in Christ.  Amazing!

But, as is true with so many things, it can also become a stumbling block.  What’s the right way to baptize?  Sprinkling, pouring, or emersion?  Infant, at confirmation or adult?  In private or in public? And then there’s the biggie – is it necessary for salvation?

In one Presbyterian word, no.  I know other denominations believe baptism is essential but in the Presbyterian Church USA we are reborn through Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. Not baptism.

And that is something that I’ve wondered about for years. What if someone accepts Christ into their heart but isn’t baptized?  Are they truly saved?  I’ve always wanted to believe that they are.  After all, to say that they aren’t saved is to say that being sprinkled, doused or dunked is more important that accepting Christ.  It says that the human element (baptism) is more important than Christ.

That’s an awful lot of power for beings as fragile and fickle as we.  I’m relieved to know we don’t actually wield it. I’d much rather depend on our loving Father and the Grace of Christ.

–SueBE

It’s one of those weeks. My brain has not got a single, complete, coherent thought in it. I am beset on all sides by questions spiritual and temporal, moments of joy and phases of confusion. There is nothing for it but to let it all out. Excuse, in advance, my rambling.

  • I just got back from a trip to St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN, my alma mater and home to the Sisters of Providence, of which I am an Associate. The visit, for a board meeting, was equal parts mentally invigorating and exhausting, but overall, filled with joy. I got to see many of the faces I love, my friends Maria, Sheila and Martha, Jen, Monica, Diann, Li-Chih and Kathleen — among others — as well as many of my most beloved Sisters of Providence. How I wish I scoot Missouri out of the way, like one of those puzzles where you rearrange the squares to form an image, so as to make Indiana closer to Kansas. (Sorry, SueBE! I did think of you with great fondness while whizzing past your hometown on the interstate.)
  • The Synod on the Family has ended in something of a jumble. Some bishops have shown base disrespect for the Pope by dissenting, before crucial subjects could even be discussed, what they perceive as the “hidden agenda” of the synod: namely, to allow divorced, remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, and to accept into the fold those who support homosexual marriage. All poor Pope Francis has to say is, “let us have understanding and be accepting,” and all the scared chickens start shouting that the sky is falling. They’ve issued a petition, which (to date) 182 bishops and 600,000 people have signed, begging the Pope not to alter, in the least, Church teachings or doctrine on these matters. That’s right. Let’s just slam the door in the faces of people, deny them the forgiveness Christ extends with open arms, and put a boot on their necks so they don’t forget they are sinners. Also, let’s deny that times change as human understanding changes. (Maybe the earth is the center of the universe!) I wonder if special technology will be developed so that I can be identified at the church door as a liberal and thereby banned from the pews.
  • Her name is Salome. She recently turned five, and she lives in Colombia. In her photo, she stands, arms akimbo, head tilted, a wry smile on her face. I loved her at first sight. (Although, yes, as my husband guessed at the time, I was looking for a child from Costa Rica so I would have another excuse to visit my friend Tina, who lives there, growing chocolate and making the world a better place.) I am sponsoring Salome through the group Unbound (unbound.org). She has a “complicated” family life, and a home that makes mine look like the Taj Mahal. And I am doing the absolute least a compassionate human being could do to improve her life. There is so much need out there, at times I feel at a loss. And then I remember that even a single, small gesture of kindness can kindle a flame that might, in turn, spark another, and another, into life. It is hard to hope for a conflagration, and yet, at times, hope is all we have.

And so, with happiness and heartache, sadness and celebration, we come to the end of my news. So many things bubbling away on the stove! Who knows what will be added to the pot next week? We can only face it with prayer. (And maybe some lunch. Who’s hungry?)

Isn’t it obnoxious when people talk about their kids and pets all the time?

As if theirs are the cutest. When my son is obviously the most wonderful young man ever to walk the planet and my cat is nothing short of a furry phenom! ☺

Okay, I realize I’m always mentioning KitKat in my blog posts, and the things I’ve learned while raising my son, Cole. But I suppose one could say, at least I’m aware of it.

How about all the things people do that they don’t realize are off-putting? For example, I really have a problem with vocal-fry – that thing some do where their words trail off and it sounds like they’re creaking.

The other issue I have is with “up-talk.” That’s when every sentence being spoken goes up at the end? So everything sounds like a question?

Generally speaking, adolescents are the ones engaging in these habits. Maybe that’s why it bothers me. It could be that, with younger people, some trigger in me switches on, and I feel the need to “mother” them – if, by “mother,” I mean “badger” and “bother.”

After all, the older generation engages in plenty of our own bad habits. I used to work with a woman who would finish your sentences for you, and it was exasperating. It would go something like this:

Me: So I need to get this work done by-

IC: Next week?

Me: No. I was going to say by the end of the day. But I also need to-

IC: Go to the meeting?

Me: No. I was going to say make some phone calls.

By the way, IC stands for “Interrupting Co-worker.” Or maybe “Intensely Crazy-making.”

When you think about it, these problems really aren’t such a big deal, in the scheme of things. We live in a world with other people and sometimes we overlap. You might say that it’s just the cost of living. So any time I’m bothered by other peoples’ ways, I crack my knuckles, clink the spoon in my coffee cup repeatedly, and remember that we’re all only human. 

When this appears, I’m going to be on a much needed retreat in the forests of Missouri.  It’s a working retreat with four other writers.  Two of us even have books due soon (mine is due Tuesday!).

While I’m typing and laughing with my friends —

I wish you the sheltering Grace of God.  May you feel His Love, His Forgiveness and the Wholeness that comes from Him in your life today and everyday.

Amen

–SueBE

After his visit, my father-in-law doesn’t say goodbye. “Be here when I get back,” he tells each of us. This thought encompasses so much more than “farewell.” It says, “take care of yourself,” “I want to see you again,” “I intend to return because I will miss you”…so much more than “goodbye” ever could.

I like to think that Jesus, in his death and resurrection, said much of the same thing, but on a different level — bigger pool, bigger rock, bigger ripples. Christ wants us to be here for him when he gets back in a human way, but also on a spiritual level.

First of all, he wants us to literally be here. He wants the earth to exist, for people to exist, for the world and her occupants to flourish. This intention serves up a silent command to care for earth’s resources, as well as to care for one another. Killing and war are not ways to keep ourselves around. Wastefulness will not extend our lifetimes. Economic disparity, while good for a small percentage, will not cause the other 99% to endure.

Next, Jesus wants us to show up for him. That is, he wants us to do what he asked us to do: to forgive one another, to help the poor and sick, to love not just as we wish to be loved, but as God loves. (I’m reminded of the show “Square Pegs” — yes, I’m dating myself — wherein the New Wave character distinguishes himself from punkers by pointing to his hair-do: “Totally different head. Totally.” To love as we want to be loved is all well and good; to love as God loves…that’s a totally different head.)

Lastly, Jesus want us to be in a state of grace when he returns at the end of the world. No, we don’t know when that will be (some fringe group predicted it would be the day I wrote this). But whenever it is, for one of us or all of us, we need to be ready. That necessitates working on ourselves constantly, striving to know ourselves better, to understand our motivations and emotions better and improve the ways we represent God in the world. Because hopefully, we do. Or, rather, we do — whether we realize it or not. God is a God of love. That’s how God wants to be known and shown. If we are believers, it is our responsibility to portray that love in all we do. If we are not believers…well, why not do good anyway? Those who do evil are remembered for a while. But those who do great good are remembered for far, far longer. And isn’t immortality — in some way, shape or form — what we all want?

I am certain of few things, but I know God loves us. Let us respond in kind. Let us care for the gifts we’ve been given, which includes one another, show compassion in our day-to-day living, and stand strong in the face of evil for the right of love to persevere. Let’s be here when God gets back. Okay?

I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of his glories and grace. 

Psalm 34:1 (The Living Bible)

Glories and Grace

Breaking Now: Rain Possible on Sunday.

This is an actual headline on my local news website.

Guess that’s news, or something.

I’d like to add my own contribution to the headlines.

This just in: Dinner, possible. Around 6-ish.

Another newsflash: Breathing, likely, throughout most of the day. Your life, even.

Molehills are morphing into mountains everywhere you look.

If not for this phenomenon, there’d be no such thing as reality t.v. shows – or adolescence for that matter!

The thing is, there’s really no reason to focus on molehills when there are real mountains’ majesty to behold. God’s glories and grace are constantly flowing. All you have to do is look around you to see it.

There’s a very tiny elderly lady on my block who walks around with the smallest, fluffiest dog I’ve ever seen. She doesn’t need that leash she’s carrying, as she treats him like a little prince, not even letting his little paws touch the ground. Their devotion to each other is a sweet human interest story in life’s newspaper. A reminder that love comes in all packages, ages, even species. They are each other’s minute miracle.

Think of the glories that comprise our lives. We walk on a planet suspended in outer space and the reason we don’t fall off is gravity (AKA God).

We have within us this powerful contraption that keeps life pumping through our bodies from the minute we’re born until the day we draw our last breath.

Miracles surround us and even infuse our very being.

The real newsflash is this: God’s grace is a deep reservoir – you can draw from it endlessly and it never runs dry.

diving boardEarly this week, someone asked if I thought American’s had too little empathy. I didn’t have to think very long.  Yes, I think we lack empathy. Of course, I meant other people, not my friend or I.

As so often happens, something happened later in the week that would bring this conversation to mind.

During a swim meet, I was chatting with one of the other moms.  She said something about “just wait ‘til these boys get a taste of the real world.”

I’m not sure how much more reality most teens can take. As I looked down at the deck, I saw the boy whose father was killed 18 months ago in a traffic accident. There were the twins whose mother died of breast cancer and the brothers whose parents are divorcing but can’t afford to live apart so they’ve divided the house.

“High school isn’t easy.” I didn’t want to air other people’s issues but I had to say something.

“Look, they don’t have mortgages or have to work all day,” she said.

“No, but they have shelter in place and school shootings. And bullying and gay bashing. Do you know how many gay teens a year attempt suicide?”

“Anyone who takes that way out is defective.”

Defective.  That was the word that pushed me over the edge. I would like to say I took a deep breath and said a little prayer. But I didn’t.  In my mother’s words, I got on my high horse.

I will never ever agree with what she said, but I do get the irony. She has no empathy with high schoolers and I have no empathy with her.

And I’ve been beating myself up about it for days. But that’s pretty ironic too.

I made a mistake. I’m kind of defective that way. That’s why I need grace. And those boys need grace. And so do all the moms, dads and coaches.  Because we all mess up and, far too often, we completely fail to empathize with each other.

Fortunately, even then we can turn to God. We can pour out our hearts and bemoan our failings.  We can rant and rave and fuss.  And, in the end, in spite of our defects, His Grace will be there for us all. Thank God.

–SueBE

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