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

CJ Craig: “Mr. President, I hate to ask you this…”

President Bartlet: “Not too late to stop yourself.”

Dialogue from TV series, The West Wing

It’s always a red flag when someone says, “I hate to say this,” or “To be brutally frank,” before they give an opinion.

A friend noticed I’d gotten new glasses. He cocked his head and said, “You really want to know my honest opinion?” That didn’t bode well, so I said, “No.” He told me anyway. “I don’t think they’re the right shape for your face.”

Fie!

I had to un-follow a blog about faith that I really enjoyed when the blogger wrote, “I hate to say this, but let a gay kid in high school get beaten up a few times and maybe he’ll see the error of his ways.”

Well.

I hate to say this, but to be brutally frank, that’s not inspirational. That’s hateful.

Imagine someone saying, “Let a Christian kid in high school get beaten up a few times, and maybe he’ll see the error of his ways.” Or a Jewish kid. Or a Muslim kid. Or any kid, especially one of your own children.

Why is it some people think that others need to hear a negative opinion that nobody asked for? Do they just like to rain on parades? I wonder what they get out of being a chronic bubble-burster.

I love the way this passage from Ephesians is phrased: “…Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”

Speak to one another with psalms. At the same time, sing to the Lord. Is it possible to do both? It is, when we remember that when we speak to anyone, we’re talking to a beloved child of God – a prince or princess, if you will. That should make it easy to speak with tact and grace. Kindness and compassion.

Sweet as honeycomb.

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It’s been a real struggle this week to pick a single subject to write about.  The Bundy group were acquitted of seizing, holding and damaging federal property on the same day over 100 Dakota Access Pipeline protectors were arrested.  Hate crimes are up in the UK since Brexit.  Teachers are seeing more hate every day as students shout others down, using the behavior of a certain presidential candidate as an excuse.

So much hate.  So much rage.  And you know that means so much fear.

But then I saw this amazing news story about a boy named Campbell.

Campbell is one of nine so when he asked his mom if they could buy presents for children in the hospital, she told him that they couldn’t afford to do it.  She did agree to him making presents, thinking that he would paint pictures.  Campbell decided to sew teddy bears instead. Step #1? He had to learn to read a pattern and sew.

Mom hasn’t kept track of how many he’s made but estimates 700 bears.  700 bears given to sick, scared children in the hospital.

Thank you for being His hands and feet, Campbell.  You are a true inspiration.

–SueBE

Looking at some of my old yearbooks, I’m struck by something — the number of times someone has written, “Thank you for listening.” One of my eighth grade friends called me her psychiatrist. Several high school friends note with embarrassment some of the topics they’ve obsessed over, but say they feel better having been heard. I guess that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To be heard? To be thought of as special and worthy and listenable?

Pope Francis, in an interview about The Year of Mercy in the Catholic church, talks about “the apostolate of the ear,” the ministry of listening to others and giving them needed reassurance that they have been heard. This is a ministry that anyone can be a part of; it is not limited to clergy. When we give people space to pour out their feelings — even if we don’t agree with them, even if we think they are wrong — we help them. We might even help others, too, by helping to obviate anger and frustration that might boil over in ways that are destructive to the community.

This practice benefits the listener, too. In opening our ears, we are opening our hearts (even if it’s only a crack), and allowing ourselves to be changed by what we hear. It is the start of compassion, which feeds into the infinitely powerful grace of mercy. Maybe what the world needs now is “love, sweet love,” but what people seem to need most is empathy.

So I’m putting the call out to all of you introverts out there: Join me in the apostolate of the ear. Let’s face it, we don’t much like talking anyway, so why not provide a service that costs us nothing and might save someone’s life? Unheard frustrations, anger and sadness can roil up into a hurricane — they can even lead to war. But once heard, those wounds — like the words that describe them — are exposed to air and can finally heal.

It’s easy to get started. Just open your ears.

“The Pope took a tumble at an event today, and we have video.” This was a report on the news a few weeks ago.

Okay. Do we really need video of that? That sentence is the story, if it’s a story at all.

The newsreader said, “It’s known that he suffers from sciatica.”

Comments online said, “He’s getting on in years.”

Oy.

I’m not sure when it happened, but there really has been a shift over the years. We’ve gone from reading the headlines to needing video for a news story to matter.

It’s too easy to draw conclusions about a person based on that one moment in which they were captured on film (often not their finest moment) instead of getting to know them.

Now, I love fun videos and memes as much as anybody, like the double rainbow guy, or this hairless hamster in a specially-knitted sweater – they can be light-hearted diversions on a hectic day.

For all of this non-stop coverage, it can often seem like we don’t even know each other.

But when I go back to basics to soak in Psalms and pore over Proverbs, I’m reminded that some things are certain and sure. I am known. I am loved. I can be myself, whether on-camera or off.

“You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power. Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding.” Psalm 139:5-6 GNT

I suppose that if camera-phones were available during Biblical times, all of those momentous events would’ve been recorded as well. Technology is here to stay; perhaps the key is to keep our lenses focused in the right direction: upward.

eugene_ferdinand_victor_delacroix_061-jacob-wrestling-with-the-angelPastor Sean’s sermons always give the congregation something to contemplate and last week’s offering which covered prayer was no different. First he discussed how we most often seem to think of prayer – the Holy Vending Machine. You put in a prayer and out comes healing.  You insert another prayer about that promotion and out comes not only the new and improved position but also more money.  Prayers go in and blessings come out.

Not surprisingly, this isn’t how Sean thinks of prayer.  Instead, he envisions wrestling with God as did Jacob in Genesis 32.

24 And Jacob was left alone, and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

25 And when the man saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint as he wrestled with him.

26 And the man said, ‘Let me go, for the day breaketh.’ And he said, ‘I will not let thee go, unless thou bless me.’

27 And he said unto him, ‘What is thy name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’

28 And he said, ‘Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.’

29 And Jacob asked him, and said, ‘Tell me, I pray thee, thy name.’ And he said, ‘Why is it that thou dost ask after my name?’ And he blessed him there.”

The problem isn’t that we are must wrestle God to receive his blessing.  He loves us and Blesses us daily. The problem is how we view prayer – prayer in, blessing out. We want to tell God what to give us and then hold out our hands to catch the blessings as God gives us what we’ve requested.

The struggle that we face is to become aware of God’s will for us. This means struggling against our own desires and egos. And this can make for a very long struggle indeed.  Like the wrestling match Jacob had with God, it may seem to go on all night. But if we keep at it, praying without ceasing, we will eventually become aware of His will for us.

That is when we will receive His Blessing.

–SueBE

Remember Madge the manicurist? She was a character in a commercial (I’m dating myself here) wherein her poor client confessed to having “dish-pan hands.” Well, Madge knew just the cure for that — soap so mild, her client was (gasp!) already soaking in it! It was an ad that incited many questions, not the least of which is what manicurist in her right mind soaks her client’s hand in dish soap? Still, that key line —“you’re soaking in it” — still serves as a trenchant reminder of that which we take for granted.

For instance, gratitude. As Ruth so sagely pointed out, our blessings are all around us. Yet how often do we take the time to say “thank you”? With all the goodness surrounding us in this country of great bounty, we forget how rich we really are. We become “blessing-blind,” convinced that our own virtue and hard work have earned us all that we have. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Nothing we do can earn God’s love. That’s freely given. And our material fortunes can be a combination of many things — some of them unsavory, like greed and manipulation. A group called the Calvinists believed that a person’s material wealth pointed to their favor with God: Lucky on earth, lucky in heaven. But as the parable of Lazarus the beggar reminds us, this isn’t always so. In fact, heaven seems set aside for those who might be best described as “losers”: the poor in spirit, the mourners, those who struggle in vain for peace and justice. “Dish-pan hands”? No problem!

I’ve compiled a brief poetic list of blessings. Take some time to note them when you see them, or add your own to the list. And remember to say a word of thanks. God’s no Madge the manicurist — God made an entire universe to dazzle and amaze us. We’re soaking in it.

The cure for blessing blindness:
one perfect fall leaf,
the smell of a loved one’s sweater,
the blue of the sky,
bread baking, soup bubbling.
Humble human touch.
But bigger, beyond —
the thought that though
our planet hurtles through space
turning, turning,
our feet stick fast to the floor.
Simple gravity. Simple gratitude.

Did you ever find yourself in a snit about little things that seem to accumulate?

I had medical appointments and procedures over the last couple of weeks (everything’s fine) but got behind on reading blog updates, emails, etc. My schedule was thrown off and getting out of my usual routine really got under my skin.

You look at the salt shaker on the counter and think, Why is this here? It belongs in the cabinet! Stupid, small things become monumental.

Why is it overcast today? Just to annoy me? You start to think that everyone is doing things just to get on your nerves.

It becomes an almost tangible roadblock that can lead to a kind of spiritual gridlock.

You start to think everything’s out of whack, when really, it’s just a matter of pruning. Taking stock of what’s most pressing, and tending to the roots.

This is what matters most in life: faith, family, friends. Praying, staying in a peaceful state of mind, taking care of yourself. The rest is really just logistics. 

We spend so much time making sure all our ducks are in a row that we forget to feed the ducks! Don’t neglect to do the very things that would smoothe out those edges:

  • Pat your pets
  • Look at the sunset
  • Re-read a favorite book
  • Listen to music
  • Relax in a comfy chair
  • Read uplifting passages from Psalms
  • Wear a comfy sweater, even if it has a hole in it

Don’t throw out the sweater because it’s got a little imperfection. Sew it up, if you know how, or just toss on a scarf. Who’s going to know? Keep the comforts close at hand, so when it feels like life is getting out of control, you remember: there’s always tomorrow.

Count your blessings. Life is good.

Yeah, I realize that this post has more clichés per capita than a basket full of fortune cookies, 😊 but this is the gospel truth: God’s got your back.

Ride it out, and next thing you know, the sun is back up again. And lo and behold! All is well.

holding-hands-858005_1920As I typed my response to Lori’s post, I typed and I typed and then I typed some more.  I went back and rewrote and it got even longer.  I realized that I was actually writing my post for today.  I wasn’t going to write about the Terrifying Cheeto (aka he who shall not be named) since Lori had already written about him in her post. After all, this isn’t a blog about politics. It is a blog about prayer and faith and God’s love.

But Faith and Love have a lot to do with politics. What we are seeing in politics now is a backlash.  It isn’t just a backlash against women who speak out against assault.  Yes, that’s been the loudest portion of the backlash this week thanks to the Cheeto and his talk about forcing himself on women.

This political season we are seeing a backlash against the modern civil rights movement.  Such a backlash happens whenever progress has been made.

The slaves were freed.  Then we had the KKK and Jim Crow laws.

The Civil Rights movement helped minorities and women.  Then we had redlining, white flight and Phyllis Schlafly.

Black Lives Matter and progress by women in society and we have the current backlash which includes none other than the Terrifying Cheeto. But it isn’t just him.  This all took root when Nixon told Southern voters that if they supported him (vs the Democratic Party), he wouldn’t push civil rights. It has grown from there but that was to be expected.

Every time there is progress, the ripples disturb something dark and rotten.  It has floated to the surface.  Ugly as it is, it isn’t new.  It is the response that follows a shift in power when one side loses this power to the other.

So, as Christians, what do we do? We hope and we act as Christ’s hands on this Earth.  We hold up those who are hurting and worried because they’ve already been impacted by the kind of hate that is screaming down the air waves.  We look for other helpers, people in office and out, running and not, who are working for civil rights and for empowerment.  We catch stones.  We hold people up.  And we look to God the source of power and Love and all that is truly Good.

Amen.

–SueBE

Dear Scott Baio,

This is not the letter I thought I’d be writing you when I was 15 and my girlfriends were betting their first-born children over the color of the shirt you’d worn on the previous night’s “Happy Days” episode. Funny how things turn out, huh?

I saw you recently on television defending your friend’s observations about women. (Move over, Voldemort — there’s a new “He Who Must Not Be Named”!) What you said essentially (and verbatim) is that this is simply the way men talk, and that we women should “grow up” and get over it.

Hey! Isn’t this like the time Jesus told the grieving widow of Nain, “Your son’s dead. Grow up and deal with it”? Or the famous Sermon on the Mount, when he told the peacemakers, “You’re never going to achieve world peace. Grow up”? Wait a second. That never happened! That’s because Jesus couldn’t stay quiet in the face of injustice. He stands for the marginalized and abused. And that’s why I can’t take your advice either, I’m afraid.

My faith compels me to speak out — and act out — against injustice, just as Jesus did. When women are treated as things, as commodities for the use of men — that is unjust. You say that all men talk this way. You also believe that women talk about men this way, maybe over a glass of white wine. Maybe some do. I’ve just never met them. Oh sure, my friends and I kept a “Sexy Men” list in college. But with entries as varied as John Taylor from Duran Duran and Shaggy from Scooby Doo (my friend Kathy was so besotted, she claimed she’d never make him shave his peach fuzz or change his green T-shirt), it was largely played for laughs. And we never, ever spoke about violating anyone’s space, let alone assaulting them. Maybe I’ve always hung out with prudes. But I don’t think so.

Your buddy’s comments got women talking, though…mostly about their first sexual assaults. One of my friends was six years old the first time a man put his hands on her. Is that normal? I’m asking. Because I guess I don’t know what “normal” people do “all the time.”

I was tempted to talk about my own experiences here. But I saw the backlash in the Twitterverse toward women who came forward. Some people said they should just “grow up and get over it.” That talking about it doesn’t help. That it should be kept quiet. I’m pretty sure every woman has heard that before, from male police officers, deans of students, campus security guards, even family members. So I’ll keep my example “light.” Those lewd phone calls didn’t hurt me, after all. It’s just that…how did he know my name? And which dorm I lived in and on what floor? Didn’t he have to be someone I knew? Why did he make it a point to call every Valentine’s Day? Why did he stop when I told him I had a boyfriend who would find him? Again, I’m asking.

If “growing up” means accepting that it’s okay for one person to assault, intimidate, humiliate or hurt someone else, I guess I’ll never grow up. But you know, I think that’s okay. I can name a great number of people, saints and otherwise, who take after Peter Pan in this regard. They won’t grow up and accept racism, bigotry, poverty, unequal opportunity, war, violence…any number of things. I look up to them for this.

Because the other thing my faith gives me is hope. It’s a rare and beautiful thing, hope. It’s hope that keeps a person from “growing up” and growing accustomed to things that are not right. And it’s hope that makes me believe — wrongly or not — that the way your friend talks is not the way all men (or all women) talk. That the world is a better place than that.

I guess that makes me a wide-eyed kid, huh? Maybe I haven’t changed that much since I was 15.

I’m cool with that.

misty-rose

“That, plus a token…”

You don’t even need to finish the phrase. It’s clear: whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying, pal.

Now, with tokens phased out, the saying just isn’t quite as catchy.

“That, plus a metro card…” Oof. Kinda clunky.

Old sayings change.

Old ways sometimes need updating.

At the bank, I overheard a man say, “This is my funeral suit. Told my wife this is the outfit I want to be buried in!” Everyone laughed, but I wondered why he’d even be on that wavelength.

Never say this: ”If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all!”

In truth, you actually have good luck. I call it Providence, but (I’ll update a few old sayings) – you say sweet potato, I say yam.

Just like watching the nightly news – if you judge the world by the headlines, you’d think it’s all going to Hades in a shopping cart! Those acts you hear about on the news are not the norm. That’s why they’re news!

Most people are doing the right thing. We all want harmony in the neighborhood and peace in the world. But…

It only takes one Granny Smith to sour the entire assortment! (Meh. That one needs work.)

It’s the bad apples that get the coverage. God’s still in charge. Not the gangs or the cartels or the syndicates. It really is a family of man. We are all related.

So I say this to you: Befriend your blessings. Don’t just count them. Marinate in them. Meditate on them. It’s the story you tell as you live your own life that seeps into your psyche. It either shores you up or drags you down. Just as you’d encourage a child with praise, it’s important to nurture your own soul by focusing on your blessings.

Forget the school of hard knocks. Matriculate in the University of the Universe’s Favor.

Grace is gentle, like a soft rain misting a rose. Let it fall on you like, well, Babka from Paradise! 🙂 Okay, you’re right, bubbe – the original is still the best choice. Like Manna from Heaven!

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