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I recently saw a bit from a late night talk show: An interviewer asked children why it was that women make less money than men for doing the same work. The boys’ answers were varied, but often supportive of women (especially their moms), but the girls — almost every one — went negative. Women were dumb or lazy. They hadn’t been taught things that men had been taught. They didn’t take their work seriously. They liked to shop too much.
Couple that with this figure: 91% of women don’t like their bodies and want to change them. What is wrong with us? Why don’t girls and women think themselves capable, beautiful or strong? Why are we convinced — apparently from an early age — that we are failures?
It is not Godly, this lack of self-esteem. We all start off the same way, as happy, little embryos. More male fetuses than female fail to make it to birth. More male infants die within the first year than do female babies. Women live longer, have higher tolerances to pain than men do. And yet we spend our lives thinking, by and large, that we are not good enough.
Why? Tradition? Culture? Law? All of these? Yes, and the Bible doesn’t help much either, written as it was for men by men, with its dearth of female heroines. It is the male bloodline that counts in the Bible. And yet, the most important figure in all of biblical literature — Jesus Christ — has a human mother…and no human father. Joseph, while mentioned, doesn’t have much dialogue in the New Testament. Neither does Mary, but at least she has some. And not one line of it is, “Do I look fat in this?”
Remember, too, that Mary is the only non-divine human being to be born without sin.
Remember, too, the women who remain at the foot of the cross. Only one man, in all of the gospels (his own) does the same.
Remember, too, that Jesus was often seen “in the company of women.” This, in a time when women were basically chattel. It is akin to being seen in the company of cows. But Jesus does it, time and again. He speaks to non-Jewish women, divorced women, prostitutes — acts so radical for their time, they make equal pay for equal work seem elementary.
Any faith practice that puts women down or places them as mere secondaries to men should be reexamined, as I hope Pope Francis will reexamine the Catholic Church, providing more opportunities for women to lead and be heard.
God created all of us. God stands with all of us. God loves us equally. Isn’t it time we did too?
“What’s that smell? Bacon… is that.. Maple bacon?”
“Good guess. We had it with breakfast this morning.”
“Eh. I really don’t like maple bacon. Too sweet.”
A distant relative had come by, and as was his custom, he was spreading his own brand of “joy.”
I wanted to say, I wasn’t offering you any maple bacon, pal. Here’s your hat; what’s your hurry?
Making the most minute small talk the world had ever known, I offered this original bon mot:
“Nice weather today.”
“Not really; too cold for me,” he countered.
You see, I was visiting with a Genuine, Bona-fide, Dyed-in-the-Wool Contrarian.
No matter what you might say, his modus operandi is this: to disagree. To show you these two indisputable facts of life: he’s right. You’re wrong.
Seeing my copy of Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” on the table, he said “Oh, you’re reading that? Why didn’t you ask me? You could’ve borrowed my copy.”
Yes. That’s what I’ll do. Anytime I want to buy a book, find a recipe, or look in the dictionary, I’ll put Mr. Know-it-All/Dr. No (perhaps Dr. No-it-All?) on speed dial. “Do you have this book? Do you know how to knead dough? Is there an “h” in maharaja(h)?!?” I’ll ask, in a frenzy.
All sorts of things run through my mind when faced with someone who wants to tell me what I ought to know (but obviously don’t). Over time, I’ve learned to keep a lid on those uncivilized thoughts.
What I usually say is, “Drop us a line now and then. We’d like to know how you’re faring.” What I don’t add is, “Because we’d like to know it from afar!”
In days past, I would suffer through such obligations on a regular basis, but now it’s very rare. Think of this: what if they dread the visit as much as you do? What if we’re all doing what’s expected and not a one of us gets anything positive out of it?
I’ve learned two things that I’d like to leave you with:
- Life is short, unless you’re sitting with Dr. No-it-All and he’s brought pictures of his Sales Conference in Vegas.
- Discretion is the better part of valor.
Holy Week. At the risk of sending a few people off the deep end, I’m going to publically admit that I am not terrifically fond of Holy Week. Yes, it is the time we observe and, dare I say, celebrate the sacrifice that was made for us. It is a time of reflection.
But it is also a time that is insanely busy. First you have Maundy Thursday service. Then Good Friday vigil. Then all the hoopla that is Easter (both church and family). For us that’s brunch with my dad, dinner at my sister-in-law’s, church Sunday morning, and then dinner at my sister’s. We’re missing another dinner because . . . . seriously? Did you see our schedule?
This year, my family let some of it slide and because we scheduled a trip out of town without realizing that Spring Break and Holy Week coincided. We got back just in time for brunch.
This means that while everyone else was at church and dying eggs, I was at the lake. The boys were doing boy things and I was following a feed plot road. In this part of Missouri, spring is making an appearance. The land is still a little grim looking, all grey and brown, but there are also signs of growth, signs of hope.
One of the places that I connect most deeply with God outdoors. It’s easier when I’m alone and the past few days gave me some time to both wander and wonder.
I know, I know. It means I missed time that could have been spent in group worship. And we missed a dinner. But I also got to connect with God and having done that I can say it was truly worth it. His message?
Breathe. Just take a moment, stand still, and breathe.
It isn’t a message I would have received in worship or with family but it was definitely a message that I needed to hear.
What if, I wondered, we were never promised answers, only an endless spiral of questions: From the “What is that?” of our newly ignited infant minds to the “What happens next?” of the deathbed? What if every answer is just a front for a dozen new inquiries? What if there are no answers? What then?
Human beings are seldom at home with unresolved questions. Oh sure, it’s great fun to watch a mystery unfold on TV or in books, but what we’re really waiting for — what makes it all worthwhile — is the moment when the mystery is solved, the wrongdoer is apprehended, the culprit is unmasked, and we finally get our why. It is the reason that “senseless” crimes bother us so much: Where is the why? There isn’t one, and that is the whole problem.
Why, for instance, would anyone kill in the name of God? God, who is all-loving, all-forgiving, all-present, would never condone such a thing. So human beings, to justify their own ignorance, look for loopholes. They read into scripture things that are not there. They decide that only one way is the right way to God and all other routes must be annihilated in order to justify their theory. They bomb airports in Belgium and restaurants in Paris and fly planes into buildings in New York. They spew hatred and fear.
I may not have any of the answers to the big questions in life, but I know one thing: If hatred is part of your faith, you have no faith. You are worshiping human violence, which is tantamount to worshiping yourself, because God has no place in hatred. Humans demand a sure thing. God gently presents the next question. Why? Because human beings are not equipped to understand the fullness of the mystery of God. We never will be in this life.
In fact, consider this a litmus test: If you are dead certain that your faith path is the only true and correct one, you are almost certainly wrong. If you think you have God fenced in, defined, honed and dwindled to the slimmest and most precise boundaries, you are mistaken. You have failed the test because the test has no answers.
As we hold one another in prayer, let us remember to keep our hearts open to possibility, to new avenues of thinking. The surest way to be wrong is to be sure of anything. Especially when it comes to God.
As I walked into the furniture store, the salesman waved me over, smiling.
“Did you get your free gift?!?”
I asked him what the gift was, and he said, “Oh, it’s a secret! But I’m sure you’ll love it! Just fill out this quick survey.”
I completed the survey and he handed me my free gift.
An amazing, fantastic, one-of-a-kind….welcome mat.
“This is my free gift?” I asked, disappointed.
“Yeah!” he said. “Isn’t it something?”
“Oh, it’s something, all right,” I said, and wafted off to look at futons.
Not everything lives up to its hype.
People may let us down, but perhaps the most persistent critic in our lives is the voice in our own heads. You know the voice I mean – the Negative Naysayer.
Not so much a voice-over as a voice-under of sorts.
That voice just under the surface that gets under your skin. On your case. On your nerves.
Perhaps somewhere in the ether, there’s a Negative Naysayer Voice-Under Artists’ Union. I imagine them all getting together, glowering, to give each other a hard time.
The things they say inside your head never add anything positive to your life:
- Took you long enough!
- That’s not how it’s supposed to be done.
- Sure wasn’t your finest hour, was it?
There are times when things don’t go as planned, but there’s no Litmus Test of Life. I’ll have to check the law books, but I do believe that you still get to be in the human race, even if your socks don’t match.
As far as I know, you’re allowed to walk the earth despite the spinach stuck in your teeth.
Perfect people are boring to be around, anyway, don’t you think?
Babe Ruth said it best: “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”
You may have noticed that for the past week I haven’t been posting the daily Lenten photo. Finding God in the everyday is a good thing, but adding it daily to my lengthy to-do list wasn’t a good thing. Instead of a spiritual undertaking, it felt like a daily a chore. When connecting with God becomes a burden, I can be 98% certain that I’m doing it wrong.
I didn’t announce that I was letting the challenge slide because I didn’t want to make a Big Deal out of it. We humans are pretty good at that (see above).
We all face Big Deal choices but I think they are fewer and farther between than we believe. I need to convince myself and my son that this is true because he’s currently trying to pick a college and a major. At the moment, he feels the weight of the world on his shoulders and I can see why. He’s grown up in the era of standardized testing. Fill in one wrong bubble, and the consequences are dire. You’ll ruin your teacher, your school and your district.
Now the counselors are telling them about student debt and people graduating with degrees that won’t get them job. Or they get jobs but still can’t pay off their loans. Sure, it’s important to know that these risks are out there but why do we so often believe that there is 1 good choice and 99 disasters?
Yesterday, I was at the funeral for a friend’s wife. As the minister talked about Shelly, he mentioned that she had considered becoming a minister. Instead, she became a speech therapist. That must have felt like a huge choice. Ministry or therapy. Saving souls or helping stroke patients regain their speech. I can’t even imagine how Shelly made the choice.
But the funny thing is that for Shelly it wasn’t an either/or decision. She may not have studied ministry, but even when she was sick, the Love of Christ shone in her face. She always had an uplifting word or a funny story to share. She may have been a therapist but she ministered to everyone who knew her.
This is what I want my son to keep in mind. God gives you choices, various ways to use his gifts. Very seldom is it a choice between 1 good decision and 99 ways to fail. Therapy vs ministry. Orange vs yellow. You have His gifts in hand.
“It’s no big deal,” my sister says on the phone of her recent hysterectomy. “Of all my surgeries, it was the easiest.” Of course, this is a woman who has had surgery on her eyeball. And endured a double mastectomy. It is not surprising to me that she is stoic. She knows the way of pain.
The way of pain is also Jesus’ way. Imagine, if you will, being tortured for hours by Roman guards, kept up all night, having a crown of thorns digging inexorably into your head…then being loaded up with a wooden crucifix you can barely lift and having to drag it to your own execution site. All this before getting nailed to said cross and dying of exsanguination or collapsed lungs or shock or all three. And yet the gospel-writers never include anything about Jesus hollering curses or demanding morphine or even venting slightly with a few cross words (pun intended). Jesus takes on the worst physical pain — and the pain of all the sins of the world — and still finds time to take care of his mother, forgive a thief and absolve his murderers. Now that is something.
Pain is lonely. It cuts a person off from others. There is no “sharing” pain; each person’s pain is unique. When I broke my ankle many years ago, I felt pretty bad. Then a friend of mine related the story of how she broke her ankle. Just hearing the story made me know that what I was experiencing was, frankly, laughable.
Pain is dehumanizing, reducing most of us to our worst selves. When an animal is in pain, it may hide. If confronted, it will bite. We humans do this too, in our own way. Neither strategy lessens the pain, but the kind of thinking that goes along with pain is seldom rational.
Pain has become something of a dirty word in this country. We will go to great lengths to extinguish it with pills, shots and other tinctures, both of the legal and illegal variety. No one wants to walk through pain. But pain is also salvific: It is perhaps our only means of intersecting our life experience with that of Christ. I will never be able to multiply loaves and fishes, but I can certainly understand how it feels to hurt.
Holy Week is coming up next week, a week wherein we remember Jesus’ suffering and his triumph over death. It seems an opportune time to reflect on the pain in our lives. We all experience pain, physical, mental or spiritual. But what we do with that pain matters. Non-Catholics tease Catholics over the use of the phrase, “Give it up to God.” We use it a lot, for everything from small deprivations to devastating losses. But what that phrase means is this: With this experience, I am touching, in the tiniest way, the way of the cross and the way of Christ. This provides an opportunity for something special — to choose Jesus’ response of understanding, acceptance and sanctification or to allow myself to be diminished.
The way of pain is not the easy way. It is not something to strive for. But when it is thrust upon us, as it inevitably is, it is a place of possibility. And in this place, we are at one with God.
To be a writer, you need skin thick enough to withstand the rejection of publishers, agents, potential clients – none of whom know you, but all of whom are making assumptions about you.
Comparing you to the best-selling authors they are truly seeking. Extrapolating – based on the length of your resumé – that you might be a tad long in the tooth – one might say – and perhaps aren’t current in terms of topical trends and social media.
But you also – simultaneously – need skin thin enough to feel life as it flows through you so you’ll have something to write about. To be sensitive and sentient. To be a risk-taker. An open-hearted soul-explorer.
The same paradox holds true for those of us who profess faith.
Sometimes I think my own ideology is somewhat – let’s say – idealized. I want to believe in the goodness of humanity. I want to believe that it will all make sense one day. But I believe that faith is a muscle, and it must be stretched – and that’s just what happens when we experience loss, feel doubt or go through hardships.
It seems sometimes that the hardest part isn’t the pain, but the struggle to stay human.
Spoiler alert: God’s still in charge.
I believe with all my hopeful heart that it will work out for you in the end.
People may try to pigeon-hole you, stereo-type you, or call you a “work-in-progress.”
They may passive-aggressively say they’ll “keep you in their prayers.”
But you know who you are. And you know whose you are. You won’t be constrained by hyphens. You can’t be contained by pain. You are God’s own. You’re not alone.
You write the story as you go – published by Providence and ghost-written by Grace.
Here’s to a hope-filled happy ending!
The Lent word for today is Sorrow. I immediately thought of my sage. From mid-winter through early spring, not much looks more sorrowful than my sage. Silvery leaves droop and shiver in the breeze although only two feet away daffodils are in bloom.
I feel much the same way right now. My father seems to be going down hill. Eight years ago, he had two mild strokes. He has COPD. Oxygen deprivation to the brain does strange things and he’s recently started having hallucinations again.
Yes, I tell the doctor. I’m sure he’s hallucinating. Yes. I know I’m a writer not a doctor, but I’m also 98% certain that small black-legged deer are not running through the wheels on his wheelchair.
God and I talk a lot during these times. Well, mostly I talk and he listens. I pray for healing although I’m not sure who I’m praying for — me or my father. I pray for patience as I look for his missing shoe and find it wedged in his jacket sleeve along with a piece of cardboard and a urinal. I also pray for acceptance. This might be the beginning of a downward trend but it might not be. I’ve seen him go downhill before only to have him come back stronger in another day or another week.
But mostly, I’m thankful. Dad may be confused, although he won’t admit it. And he’s suspicious which he admits. But he is not sorrowful and, for that, Lord, I thank You.