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A collection of crows is called a murder. A clutch of kittens is called a kindle. So what do you call a group of human beings?

The answer, at least of late, and (gratefully) in a minority of instances, is to call them animals. Those gang members are animals. That person is an animal.

This is all very easy and very satisfying. It makes sense to separate these people from our own species, to make them less like us. It creates a comfortable distance and encourages us to not bother treating them as we would other human beings. It gives us license to dismiss them. Or worse.

But it is also very dangerous. For one thing, animals aren’t like people; in many ways they are better. They don’t rape and kill for power and position…or just for the heck of it. There were no muskrats or springboks eating from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Even if you only accept that story as metaphor, animals are clearly exonerated. When they kill, they do so from instinct — to eat, to protect their young. You won’t see any real wolves on Wall Street — or bulls or bears, either. Just humans doing human things, which are often greedy, self-motivated or based on the basest of emotions: fear or anger.

The truth is: Only human beings willingly choose evil. That is a frightening thing. But it is also a fact that we must look at, clear-eyed and without flinching. Only when we understand our complicity in evil can we start to correct it. But that understanding has to start in our own souls, because that is where evil hides out. None of us is immune to it. If we can call a person an animal, we can commit evil against that person. It’s a slippery slope, folks, lined with Slip ‘n’ Slides and plummeting down to the depths of human depravity. They may be on that slope, but so are we.

Every human being, no matter how unlike us they might be, is a human being. God made them. God made us. God made Liberals. God made Conservatives. God made gang members. There is never — ever — justification for treating someone as less than human, even if that person is choosing to treat me as less than human.

Let’s remember that the next time we feel the urge to other someone. And let’s respond in a truly human way — with hugs, not name-calling.

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Two weeks ago I got to go on retreat for four days.  It was amazing.  It was a writing retreat at a Benedictine Abbey.  I can’t say that I got a lot of writing done because I took advantage of the retreat aspect.  I read. I walked.  I thought.  I contemplated.

I expected that at home I would be oh so relaxed and productive.  Instead my first week back was a big bummer.

I can’t say that anything huge went wrong.  Sure there were lots of little stressful things but that’s life.  Might as well learn to deal with it.

But isn’t that true both for seeking “retreat” and beauty as well as dealing with the stressors?  That is life and you might as well learn to deal with it.

So spend some time seeking out the beauty in the world around you.  Look at the colors.  Listen to the birds songs.  Stop and really taste that cup of coffee that you so enjoy.

Seek the beauty in the world around you.  And while you are at it. Thank God.  It will help you to better see the beauty in every day actions.  Here is an example from Lord, Teach Us to Pray.  It is “An Everyday Blessing” by Kris Haig.

Bless to me my potted plants, O God.
Bless to me their green leaves
Bless to me their sturdy stems
Bless to me their ghostly roots
that stretch deep
into the secret loam.

Bless the pots that encircle them
Bless the water I pour on them
Bless the rivers and reservoirs
the pipes and spigots
and the sea-green glass pitcher
that catches and carries
your water of life.

Bless the sun
that draws my plants to itself
and bless you, O Christ,
who draws me to yourself.

–SueBE

If you’ve looked at the headlines today, you’ve probably seen news about young children being taken from immigrant parents, complaints about President Trump, and his daughter Ivanka.  You have already spent some time thinking about other turmoils in this world – environmental problems, those seeking asylum and more.

Frankly, it’s overwhelming.

Take a deep breath.  Now raise up your eyes.  Above the turmoil and the crisis are a group of men and women who have heard a calling from God. They have signed on to serve their country.  You may not agree with where they serve or the actions they take, but these men and women are the bridge that carries many of us across danger.  

They fight our wars and offer assistance in natural disasters.  Their leaders have even petitioned the Federal Government regarding climate change. Memorial Day belongs to them.

–SueBE

Try as you might, you can’t be in the present and in the past at the same time. Well, not unless you dive into quantum theory. But that’s neither here nor there. Get it? It’s a pun!

Two quantum physicists won the Nobel Prize for proving “the correctness of the bizarre properties of quantum mechanics, i.e., that electrons can be two places at the same time.”

I like to read about quantum theory, although I can honestly say that I don’t quite understand it. It’s so murky that even Einstein refused to accept it, saying, “God does not play dice.” Niels Bohr responded, “Einstein, stop telling God what to do.”

I’m with Richard Feynmann, who said, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”

That being said, you’re not an electron. You may have an electric wit, even flashes of brilliance, (not to mention hot flashes😉) but you’re still only human.

You can’t hold onto the past – whether it was your heyday or a Nightmare on Elm Street – and reach forward to the future at the same time. You may be in your cubicle at work, but once your psyche time-travels back to your first heartbreak, you’re not really anywhere, anymore.

Not to worry; there’s a map to mental health in Philippians, with two keys.

“…One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.”  

Forget what lies behind.

Reach forward to what lies ahead.

Forget and reach. I think it’s interesting that “forget” is used here. It’s something separate from “forgive.” Not just forgiving a slight, but forgetting it to make way for better things. To put it more simply, let go, let God, and let new blessings in.

This may be one of my all time favorite Bible verses and it has only become more so after a God moment I experienced this week.

My friend and I are once again preparing to teach adult Sunday school.  Our class uses two sets of material.  One consists of pamphlets put out by a religious press.  They cover a wide range of topics from the Lord’s Prayer to the Kings.  While I try to tell myself that I’m okay with them, 90% of the time they feel like an educational snack.  There’s just enough there to make me want more.

The other set of books are the ones produced by the Presbyterian Church USA for women’s Bible study. My friend and I chose the 2007/2008 study that taught Jonah and Ruth.  We tend to like these books so we didn’t really look at it.  We already knew there would be almost more information than we could use.

Thursday I flipped it open and read lesson 1.  Some scholars believe that both Ruth and Jonah were written after the Babylonian captivity.  That is why both books are strongly anti-foreign, an issue that God addresses with Ruth and Jonah and the author addresses in the study.

This study may be 10 years old but it is still needed today.  Thank you, Lord, for leading us to it.

–SueBE

I wouldn’t say that it is shame that keeps me from doing right.  It would be more accurate to call it aggravation.

It seems like so often when I feel the need to step up and step in someone is going to be irritated.  “We’re a green church.  We shouldn’t use styrofoam plates.” “There’s no need to try to intimidate her just because she’s Muslim.  You need to step back.”

Clearly, I get why someone is irritated when I step in.  When my husband and I saw the intimidated woman in the grocery, it was obvious that stepping in was sending a message that the other people were bullies and racist.  Even when one of us reminds people that we are supposed to be going green, I get it.  It can be really embarrassing to have another adult call you out on something.

And that’s something that I’m going to remember the next time someone says something to me.  We all make mistakes, myself included.  No one but God is perfect.  And it may well have taken a lot of nerve to say something to me.  After all, I’m not known for keeping my big mouth shut.  Keeping true and doing right.  It’s never easy.

–SueBE

 

When Jeannie says it, she means saints, a concept new to her; in her Protestant experience, prayer is “you and Jesus, no one else.” But a brush with Catholicism brought with it the idea of saints as intercessors, friends who sit on your shoulder and pray alongside you. Now Jeannie asks for a few good words every now and again from her new friend, St. Mother Theodore Guerin. But the way she expressed her good fortune (see title above) provoked, yes, a poem.

How do you acquire them
and where do they perch?
Do you feel them as a brush of wings
against your shoulder, or as a rush of wind,
hot, like breath, and intimate? Have they
set up shop (prayers, five cents each, like
a comic strip psychiatry stand) or —
are your insistent wishes just a blip in their routine,
something to do on the way to the fishing hole,
the café, the clean white shops of heaven?
Whatever. The machinery of it is unimportant.
What counts is the concern, unfathomable,
laughable, even, of a child, a nun, a martyr,
of those who burned or hung, lay with lepers
or led armies into battle, who died in perfect faith,
reaching across immeasurable time, to chime in
a single good word: Amen. I thank them for their
affirmation; I hope to join the chorus one day.

As  much as I love this quote, I realize it can make you look like a push over.  I think we simply have to acknowledge that there are things you pardon and things you do not.

This weekend I was at a writer’s retreat and the editor told a story about someone including her in an e-mailing they sent their agent.  Ooops!   The editor then went on to make it clear that people make mistakes.  That just isn’t the sort of thing that phases her.

Not a bad lesson.  Save the condemnation for the big stuff.  But those little slips we are all commit?  You may as well forgive it because the next person to commit one might be you.

–SueBE

Photo by Adam Cao on Unsplash

So this morning, I started to go downstairs and got as far as the first step. Forgot the laundry! Turned around, got the bag and went to the basement to get the wash started.

Have you ever started a diet, got fed up (!) with melba toast, and cheated by having some chips? At that point, you said to yourself, Well, I already cheated on my diet. Might as well go all in!, and ordered a pizza?

Mercy. I’ve been there! You figure that the day is already shot since you took that first bite of a Ruffle, so you give up on the diet.

But life isn’t all or nothing. You can turn around and get the laundry. You can stop over-doing it at any point in the day.

The same thing is true of faith. You don’t have to give up on God because religion has let you down. Or you thought it would change everything and you’d lead a charmed life once you found faith.

Deciding hope is better than fear is the first step. Believing in something rather than thinking life has no purpose is another. And the good news is that even if you don’t believe in God, he believes in you.

There’s no set of steps you need to take to make God a part of your life. Some religions require a laundry list of requirements, but I believe He meets you where you are. There are many ways that believers choose to honor their beliefs, including baptism and rituals, but those traditions are symbolic. Just another way to say to the world, I’m going to believe life is good, God is love, and this journey is worth it. All you’ve got to do to make that leap of faith is take that first step.

Done in by the heat of setting up for the parish’s Cinqo de Mayo dinner, we sank gratefully into folding chairs. We talked about work — at 64, she figured she’d work “three more years. No, maybe five.” Then she laughed. “I like my job.” On the following Thursday, she showed up for the year-end banquet of the altar society (the same altar society she’d confessed to me she’d avoided joining for years because she felt she “wasn’t old enough!”), posing in a photo with all the other ladies. On Sunday, Mother’s Day, she was dead.

I tell this story not to cause panic, but to induce thought. None of us knows the day or hour of our death. So live big. Love hard. Don’t let things ride. Deal with your inner demons. Choose joy. Phone a friend.

We haven’t got time to dilly-dally, so let’s concentrate on loving one another. Okay?

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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