You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2016.

Being the last rat off the sinking ship
because it will give the other rats a chance to swim,
or because the ship, to its last gasp, is dear to you.
Not following the crowd, especially when the crowd
is wandering aimlessly and without a working compass,
moral or otherwise. Being a good Samaritan
when Samaritans are in short supply.
Choosing the careful answer when the witty one
is easier and could earn you a seat with the cool kids.
Praying not for things but for things to be as God wills them,
especially when you want something very bad or badly.
To listen without speaking, to accept without
exception, to create when others destroy.
Blessing the last word when it is not yours
and blessing the mouth you wish had not spoken
in language you wish you could unhear.
Appreciating puce, the ugliest of colors,
simply for being different.
Singing, loudly and often.
Hugging for no reason.
Saying yes, of course,
and no as needed.
Flying in dreams.
God-finding.

Anyone out there remember Pet Rocks? Cabbage Patch Dolls? Tamagotchi?

These are examples of things that seem to serve no purpose, yet became wildly popular.

On Black Friday, the makers of the game “Cards Against Humanity” announced that they were taking donations. They raised over $100,000. Just enough to… dig a big hole in the ground. Nothing more than that. They live-streamed the massive tractor scooping out dirt with the concise update, “Hole Got Dug.”

I’m torn between finding this hilarious and thinking, “If only these people could channel their energy into something worthwhile!”

That’s such a “Mom” thing to say, isn’t it?

But then again, something that seems worth doing to one person may seem pointless to someone else. Does an action need to produce something in order to seem meaningful?

Some things may just be entertaining or relaxing, like my classic movies, or my knitting. I can work on my round loom for hours with no hat or scarf in sight, and yet, I find the process itself to be the point. It’s calming. It’s creative. I do eventually end up with some knitted final product, but, just like that, I start on the next project.

There are plenty of things people enjoy that seem to have no purpose at all. Karaoke, the “Mannequin Challenge,” Pokemon Go. Lest we forget, we’re just about to enter the season of the ugly Christmas sweater.

Maybe the category for all of these things should be “Pick-me-ups.” Light, airy, fluff that doesn’t solve problems or change your life.

When I first heard of the concept of a “Flash Dance Mob,” I thought, that’s a lot of effort for no real reward, but now I see that it’s enough that it made somebody smile. This one, held at the Denver Airport, a “Swing Dance Flash Mob,” is a sweet diversion.

There’s been a feeling of heavy-ness in the world lately, with so many things creating an uproar. That can be hard for a soul to take in. It could be that a touch of fluff is just what we need to counteract the negative.  

church-1335474_1920Thanksgiving weekend.  We’ve all sated ourselves with turkey and potatoes or maybe your preference is stuffing.  There’re cranberries and green beans cooked several dozen different ways.  And pies.  Don’t forget the pies.  Frankly it’s all a little overwhelming.

Sounds a lot like life these days doesn’t it?  I hope you all managed a drama free turkey day.  Unfortunately, my son tried to create a sense of levity and . . . let’s just say my sister is tense and leave it at that.  But a lot of people are tense these days, worried about the next four years, worried about how their neighbors will handle the next four years, and worries about what tomorrow will bring. It can be tough to be grateful when the least little thing you say can make someone’s head spin around 360 degrees.

Things like this sure can make it hard to feel grateful even if it is Thanksgiving weekend. Fortunately, if we keep our eyes and ears open we will find the tools we need close at hand. God is, after all, paying attention to us even when we aren’t paying attention to him. He makes sure what we need is there.  We just need to look and listen.

In the Presbyterian church, we begin the service with a Call or responsive reading.  There are hymns, prayers, more readings, scripture and the sermon.  I am always amazed at how something in the service fulfills a need.

Last Sunday, the Call was based on Psalm 46.  Here are verses 1 – 3.

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah 

The liturgist read and we responded.  God is our refuge.  No fear.  Though mountains shake.  God is here.

If that Psalm had been written today, I imagine it would be somewhat different.  “God is our refuge and strength, our help now in our time of trouble.  Though politicians and their supporters scream and peck and tear, shout and insult, lie and fabricate. No matter how deeply we fear for tomorrow, God is stronger than all of this.”

Selah.

No matter what is going on, God is here.  Things may be in turmoil, but God is here. And he is mighty.

I read this and I took a deep breath.  That’s right. Me and my deep breathing.  What can I say?  Yoga has had an impact.  But this reading really calmed me.  In my mind’s eye, I had a sense of God’s power and presence, a deep rumble of might tempered with mercy.

God is here.  This doesn’t mean that the days ahead will be easy, but he is here.  This doesn’t mean we have no work ahead of us, but he is here.  It doesn’t even mean things will be easy, but he is here.  And if God is beside us, who can be against us?  (Romans 8:31)

Take comfort.  Give thanks.  We may be in the midst of turmoil, but God is here.  Give thanks!

–SueBE

Watching the news today, the anchor said, “This is the West Coast edition,” and it made the conspiracy-theorist in me take note.

What are they NOT telling us on the East Coast edition of the news?

Things they keep quiet?

Backroom deals? Unholy alliances?

Then I donned a disguise, contacted a secret source, and discovered the truth.

Now, I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you. 🙂

I jest, of course, kind people!

All of my usual absurdity is just to lead into a significant subject in the (hidden) news lately.

The importance of a free press.

President-elect Donald Trump made minor waves the other day when he ditched the press corps and quietly slipped out to a fancy restaurant for some red meat and private time.

This may not seem like a big deal. He’s just been through an epic battle to win the presidency. The man should be able to eat in peace. I get that.

Here’s the thing. The press is one of the checks and balances we count on as a democratic society. We need to be informed of the things the leader of the free world is doing, so it does matter that we know where he is.

CNN Reporter Brian Stelter summed it up neatly: “In an emergency, the journalists quickly relay information, helping the president and his aides inform and reassure Americans. This was vital on 9/11, for example.”

Now, the way it’s done in England is a vastly different approach.

The Prime Minister holds press conferences, but in addition, every Wednesday, Theresa May shows up in person and answers questions from members of Parliament during “Prime Minister’s Question Time.”  It’s not always substantive – each representative has their own agenda and often it becomes an ideological tug-of-war, but it’s so unusual to see a country’s leader speaking on the issues every week.

Maybe it’s time for an American version of this – “President’s Question Time?”

Just an idea. In the meantime, we’ll have to make do with checking random strangers’ Twitter feeds to find out what the new Prez is up to these days.

jesus-christ-904146_640Don’t get me wrong – I love Facebook memes.  My son and I send them to each other, post them on each other’s walls and laugh hysterically. Sometimes my husband reads over my shoulder and just gives me that look.  “Really?”

But today I saw a meme that set my teeth on edge. “Like if you want to put Jesus back in the White House.”  Judgy much?  Or, as Lori would say, I sense a sieve personality at work.  Okay.  Lori wouldn’t really say that.  She’s a lot nicer than I am.  But, really?  What short-sighted goof cake thinks they want Jesus in the White House?  He wasn’t even popular in the temple.

Presbyterian women worldwide are studying the various ways that people “see” Jesus.  How do they think of Him?  What do they call Him?  At my church, we take turns teaching.  I chose lesson 3, based on Luke because Luke was a historian.  He set the story of Jesus up in history, telling us who was the Roman emperor, who preceded Him (John the Baptist) and more.

When you say history, people think tradition, longevity, status quo.  But the Jesus that Luke told us about worked to topple that status quo.

Luke recounts Christ’s first sermon, delivered in the temple.  He read from Isaiah about God sending prophets to the downtrodden.  Then Christ said, “Today I am here to fulfill the prophecy.” Everyone was super-duper happy because they were under Roman occupation. They saw themselves as the downtrodden.  Christ must be here for them.  Woo-hoo!

But then Christ pointed out that God and His prophets had a history. Many prophets were rejected in their own communities. God sent them to outsiders – non-Jews. The crowd in the temple was much less happy with this part of Christ’s sermon. In fact, they marched Jesus to the top of a hill, ready to throw him off.

They thought that they wanted to hear what the Messiah had to say.  But they didn’t.  Not really.

I’m not sure we’d be a whole lot happier to hear what President Jesus would say. And I don’t mean the Republicans.  But I’m not talking about the Democrats either.  I mean all of us.

Please, God.  Keep Jesus out of the White House.  I just don’t think we’re ready for what He’d have to say.

–SueBE

There are two kinds of people. Wait, that’s not true! There are millions of kinds of people. But I’m going to talk today about two of them: bowls and sieves. “Sieve” people, like their kitchen counterparts, like to force others through their net of acceptance, straining out their faults and foibles, whereas “bowl” people tend to accept others exactly as they are, warts, pips, lumps and all.

My BFF since fifth grade is a “bowl” person. She adopts stray people (like me), accepting them wholeheartedly, despite their flaws. She is outgoing. I am introverted. I didn’t know until the seventh grade that you’re supposed to look people in the eyes when you talk to them — she taught me that. I just figured people knew when I was talking to them. She loves everyone — well, with one exception (in grade school): In her nightly prayers, she would ask God to bless “everybody in the whole, wide world…except Sister Judith” — though to be fair, Sister Judith had it coming. My friend is an open book, a walking hug.

I, on the other hand, tend to be a “sieve” person. I pick people apart. I strain against the bits of them that make me uncomfortable. I judge. It’s not that I want to be this way — quite the opposite — yet I find myself analyzing others, shying away when I notice an area of prickliness or strangeness or radical difference from myself. Which is wholly unfair — I’m no paragon. Far from it. I wouldn’t want to be friends with me. Yet I find myself thinking, “She would be so great if she weren’t so conservative.” Or, “How can I be friends with a cat-hater?”

I know other “sieves.” They reject potential life partners based on lack of a common religious background, though spirituality is fluid and can radically change over time. They swoop down in judgment against random comments on Facebook. They want people without pits, without tough outer rinds, without seeds. And that can make them very lonely.

I’m not sure whether “sieves” can become “bowls.” It may be inborn, or perhaps tied to certain types of learned behavior. But they can — with prayer and patience — learn how to loosen up. They can learn to let go of petty differences. They can widen their nets.

It requires taking a page out of Jesus’ book. Jesus is the ultimate “bowl,” loving sinner and saint equally, tax collector and apostle, leper and scholar. It doesn’t come easily. It takes constant presence and awareness and willingness to be a part of someone else’s journey, no matter where it takes you. Do it enough, and it can so radicalize a person as to make them prefer the folks with the most pits and pips, lumps and seeds.

I’m far from this lofty goal. Though my current best friend is a cat-hater. And I’m okay with that. So is she. There are bigger things to love about one another. We just had to find them.

This may seem apropos of nothing, but I’ve been spending time this week thinking about, well…. zombies.

I’ve got a theory. I think zombies are really just misunderstood. Don’t you? I mean, nobody asks to be undead. Do they? They always look like they’re in a bad mood, but maybe they’re just lactose intolerant. You may assume they’re coming to nosh on your neck, but who knows? Maybe they just ate some bad cheese.

It had to be this one: Gorgonzola. That has to be the official cheese of the apocalypse. It just sounds like the end of the world to me. Try it. Say it in a spooky voice: Gor-gon-ZOH-laaaa. Mwahaha.

Why, you may ask, am I writing about zombies on this, a blog about prayer? Well, it’s the only way I know to take my mind off things that I just can’t get my head around.

Things in life, generally.

Things in the news, specifically.

How about you? Heard any interesting news stories lately?

Anything grab your eye with that recent, oh, I don’t know, presidential election?

Hard as it is to imagine, zombies seem more light-hearted to me right now than what’s been going on in politics lately, so please indulge me.

I’m sure I’ll be back to my old self, soon, but in the meantime, do you know where most zombies live these days? Somewhere in New York between Hell’s Kitchen and Great Kills.

How disappointed were the zombies that got off a tour bus at the town of Braintree, anyway? Certainly false advertising. They may have grounds to sue!

There’s a town in Tennessee that zombies love that sums up everything going on lately. It’s name? Bitter End.

Despite the zombies and gorgonzola, it’s not the end of the world. We’ll wake up with the sun again tomorrow. We’ll find a way to work through what seems too much to bear right now. In the meantime, put your mind on something else – anything else, even zombies – till we find a way to make things better, together.

there-is-lightI’m not going to lie to you. I’m rising to Lori’s challenge to write about the Election but I’m not thrilled about it.  How can I be?  I wasn’t thrilled with the results.  That said, I wasn’t surprised either although I was disappointed. My husband could easily tell you that Tuesday night I was more than a little bratty. But I more-or-less got it out of my system.

I’ve taken a deep breath and looked around me. As I write this, the sun has come up yet again.  The sky is blue.  The air has a glorious chill to it.  Fall is my favorite time of year. I take a deep breath and as I exhale I ask God to use me as He wills.

There are difficult times ahead. I won’t deny that I truly believe that.  But I also don’t think that they will all result from this election. I’m a historian and a Calvinist.  There are always difficult times ahead.

But do you want to know something funny? I mean ironic more than I mean laugh out loud but I have to admit that I laughed at the irony. This morning I read about a study that said that 85% of the horrible things we imagine never come to pass.  Eighty-five percent.  That’s a lot.  In an election 85% is a landslide.

What this means is that whether you’re elated at the results of the election or appalled, you need to take a deep breath.  Then take another. Now for the challenge.

Turn it into a meditation.  Inhale for a count of five.  Hold it for five.  Exhale for ten.  As you breathe, exhale the negative and the dark.  Then breathe in God’s Light.  Breathe in His Love.  Imagine it suffusing your body from fingertip to fingertip.  Feel it flowing from the top of your head to the soles of your feet.

Take that light with you into your day. Look for those who are scared and those who are angry. Don’t overlook the self-righteous. They’re hurting and scared too and are showing it through their actions.  As you find what is negative, exhale God’s Love and Light.  Let it spill out and wash over the darkness.

I’m not saying it will be easy. I’m not saying that solutions will be quick.  But it all starts when you take a moment and breathe.  Breathe in His Light.  Breathe in His Love.  Take it out into your day.  There is light even in darkness.

–SueBE

I don’t yet have the strength to write about the election in a prayerful way…I’ll leave that to greater minds than mine. (That’s your cue, SueBE and Ruthie!) I can, however, write about this.

My dear friend Alice once told me that she’d spoken to her spiritual advisor about forgiveness. Alice couldn’t bring herself to forgive someone. Her advisor told her to pray for the desire to forgive. That advice seems wonderfully cogent right now.

I can’t be happy yet. I can’t say that everything’s okay, and let’s just hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” (which we actually used to sing at our parish in Buena Park in the ‘70s). But I want it to be. I want to feel peaceful and prayerful and hopeful again. But right now, the best I can do is to pray for the desire to move on. I don’t feel it yet. But maybe if I pray hard enough, I’ll want to feel it. And wanting to feel it is the first step toward feeling it.

This is not to say that I will not allow myself to be angry. Jesus was angry when he threw the money-changers out of the temple. If it’s okay for Jesus to be angry, then it’s okay for me to be angry. But there’s a time and a place for anger, and a time and a place for hope. (“Turn, turn, turn,” sing the Byrds.) I’m not ready to stand in that place yet — and that is my own problem and my own sin — but I’m going to pray that tomorrow I will want to. And maybe, just maybe, the day after that — I will stand there again.

To everyone out there who is hurting, for any reason whatsoever, I understand. God understands. God is, after all, the God of those on the margins, the God of all of us who struggle. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need God. Today I need God desperately.

So desperately, that I am willing to open the door, just a crack, to hope. Or, at least, to the desire for it. In this case, maybe wishing will make it so.

no-sign

Luckily, I heard the words in my head before they made it out of my mouth, blocking them at the very last moment – like a “No-You-Don’t!” Ninja.

This is what I almost said to an acquaintance: “‘Course it’s her own fault. Can’t drink like a fish and smoke like a chimney and think you’ll dodge the bullet forever!”

A dear friend was sick in the hospital and I was concerned about her, so of course, I tore her down in my own mind and nearly engaged in a form of germ warfare. Because, truthfully, such words are toxic, even infectious.

It may well be that we judge others to deflect the spotlight from our own unchecked boxes.

◘ Never finished that college degree
◘ Never got that promotion
◘ Never found that soul mate

Perhaps we feel so small in a vast universe that we subconsciously seek to squash others – like bugs on the sidewalk in our way, when we could easily step around them – that we steamroller over their humanity, their beauty, their divinity, and focus solely on the things they failed to do.

We do the math in our heads and assume that we can subtract from others while adding to ourselves. It really doesn’t work that way. It detracts from us both. From us all.

If I were to say anything, it should be something like this.

You’ve been through so much in your life, and I’ve long admired your determination. You’ve watched out for me like family from the minute I moved into the neighborhood. If there’s anything I can do to encourage you to take steps to improve your health so I can have you around as a friend for many years to come, I’ll be here for you.  

There’s only one surefire way to safeguard your soul and clear the air pollution of thoughtless comments: put a spiritual Ad-Blocker on your words.

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