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1. Never sneeze with half-chewed nuts in your mouth. I’m still picking bits out of my hair.

2. If your wife makes something for the potluck, remember to actually bring it. (Owen, that’s you I’m talking to.)

3. Folks can say in one breath that they voted for Trump because he is pro-life, yet in the next breath fully countenance the forcible removal of immigrants, the yanking of health care to thousands — making pregnancy a “pre-existing condition,” while simultaneously denying prenatal care, and failing to understand why Black Lives Matter.

4. When one only has herself to cook for, one tends to eat sporadically and strangely. Creamed kale for supper, anyone?

5. God makes God’s-self known in loud trumpeting…and barely perceivable whispers. Both. I am much better at hearing the trumpeting. Although it is jolting.

6. As a brilliant artist friend reminded me with his painting of Jeremiah being lifted from the cistern (the biblical prophet’s enemies throw him into a dry cistern; a court official rescues him, not just with rope, but — thoughtfully — with pieces of cloth to place under his arms while he is being lifted, so the ropes don’t chafe him), you can lift a person up by throwing them a line and expecting them to be grateful for it, OR you can lift someone up with special attention to their individual needs — i.e., gently. How do you lift people up?

7. There is always a third option: To not lift people up at all. This is becoming less and less acceptable to me, yet more and more common in the world.

8. I need to speak less and listen more. This will render me pretty much selectively mute. That’s okay; the world has enough noise in it. It will, however, make phone calls awkward.

9. I need a nap. A year or two ought to do it. Now, if you’ll excuse me….

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Pope Francis spoke out this week in support of Dreamers and in opposition to climate change deniers. (And before you say, “Who asked him, anyway?” let me tell you — journalists.) I am proud of my Church’s Papa, proud that he puts love and justice and mercy above other considerations. He is walking with Christ on these issues, welcoming the stranger and being a caretaker of God’s bountiful gifts to us.

In other news, Steve Bannon railed at the Catholic Church for its support of illegal immigrants, saying the Church needs them to “fill the pews.”

Oh really?

Immigrants to this country bring with them their faith. My own great-grandfather helped build the first Catholic church in South Dakota, knowing full well there weren’t any priests in the area, but believing nonetheless that one would come. Mr. Bannon’s ancestors, who arrived with the tide of Irish fleeing the potato famine (and who, by the way, never had official papers of any sort, who were reviled by so-called “natives” and blamed for lack of employment, among other things) brought theirs. Somewhere along the way, Bannon lost the thread of the narrative, which has always been love. A Christian who is without love is no Christian at all. The fact that his own predecessors were the Latin Americans of their day seems to evade him entirely. If you are glad that this great country embraced your own ancestors, how can you deny that embrace to someone — anyone — else? Who are you to say “too many”?

But back to Dreamers. And walls. Specifically, walls that the Mexican government will never, ever pay for, not now, not ever, never. The recipients of DACA are not criminals. They never have been. And they contribute significantly to our GNP. If we lose them, we lose money — lots of it. Surely, that’s an argument even the most hard-hearted can understand? How does America become “great again” by cutting off its nose to spite its face? And then building a wall around it to point out its stupidity in the most glaring of ways?

Love, mercy, justice. Anyone who claims ownership to faith in Christ must claim ownership to these qualities in their everyday, working lives. Day in, day out. Even politicians. And, yes, even “street fighters.”

Warning: What follows may not be acceptable to sensitive readers. But that’s life.

When you are the caretaker of more than one cat, you remain in a constant state of new motherhood — that is, you have to deal with certain “outputs” on a regular basis. To put it bluntly, there’s a lot of crap involved. And urine. And vomit. Today has been one of those days. Our three elderly felines have left behind them a rash of “land mines” that I am obliged to clean up. Honestly, they were less trouble when they were kittens.

But that’s the way life goes. Unless you are so wealthy as to be insulated entirely from humanity, you probably deal with chores that you don’t care much for. There is a beautiful little children’s book in which a school janitor explains to a child why she cleans toilets by hand: It is to force herself to become used to saying small “yeses” in preparation for the “big yes” that will come at the end of her life. I often think about this character as I scoop and sanitize. By forcing myself to deal with what my cats can’t control, I get experience in dealing with what I can’t control. And that’s humbling.

We’ve had a front row seat this week to the devastation of things we can’t control, like wildfires on the west coast and hurricanes down south. It’s brutal and ugly and heartbreaking. Thousands of people are being forced to say “yes” to things they aren’t ready for. Will it make them better people? Maybe not.

But it is a reminder that we are not the authors of our own lives. We don’t get to write our own endings. Every day we must deal with a certain level of…crap. Some days more than others.

How do we get through it? For me, it all comes down to a higher power. I can’t imagine how people face catastrophes without faith. I’m not sure I could get up in the morning without it. The “faith tape” in my head goes like this: You may not understand it, you may not be happy about it, you may be struck low, but there is always someone with you who longs to make it better. And that is enough to keep me going.

The best part of my faith life? Sharing it with others. Maybe you can’t quite get to the “yes” just yet. That’s okay. I can help. Lots of people can. We are, after all, God’s hands and feet on earth. You are allowed to let someone else help with your problems once in a while. You have only to ask.

Got too much crap in your life? Take a deep breath and remember Jesus’ “big yes” on our behalf. Or give me a call. I’ve got experience with crap.

I love words. The textures, the shapes, popping p’s and sharp t’s, languorous l’s and sighing h’s. I reckon most writers love words. But we also know that words are powerful. You remember the old schoolyard chant: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? Flagrant lie. And secretly, we all know it.

There ought to be a retirement home for words that no longer serve us, words that have changed meaning over time, or worn out their old meanings. “Meet,” for instance. Sure, we still use “meet” quite a bit — “I will meet you for lunch,” “Tommy has a swim meet” — but we no longer use it to mean “proper” or “appropriate,” as in “it is right and meet that we should join this couple in matrimony.” That’s okay. “Meet” still has a lot of life left in it. But words that no longer make sense in society — words we’ve learned are hurtful — those are another story. Like statues that serve only to remind an oppressed people of their oppression, words that hurt should be dropped for something more relevant.

Words should also be used with equality. I saw two photos of people braving the horrors of Hurricane Harvey recently. One showed a white couple, wading through chest-deep water, and the caption said something along the lines of “Bob and Judy So-and-So are seen leaving a grocery store after finding bread and water.” Hold that sentence in your mind. The other photo showed a person of color doing the exact same thing as Bob and Judy So-and-So, only this caption reported her action as “looting.” Either taking bread and water is looting or it is surviving. It cannot depend on the color of one’s skin. Words aren’t inherently judgmental; the people using them frequently are. That’s not okay.

I’m not suggesting the implementation of “word police” (although if that ever becomes a real job, sign me up!). I’m not talking about “political correctness.” I’m talking about using words thoughtfully. We’ve become a nation of blurters, led by a Blurter-in-Chief, who frequently does not seem to have the slightest idea what is coming out of his mouth. I’m all for speaking one’s mind, but surely the state of my mind — of anyone’s mind — isn’t worthy of being expressed every minute of every day. Surely we’re all aware enough to recognize that just as you wouldn’t put any old thing into your mouth, you shouldn’t let any old thing come out of it.

We are currently in the wake of a tragedy, and there is no better time for self-examination. So let’s talk about words, how we use them and whether or not we ought to. Just like the woman in Houston who finally lost her temper after having microphones shoved into her face and repeatedly being asked “how she felt” about being uprooted, we must reserve the right to be sensitive about words. Because words will hurt us, just as surely as any force of nature.

That’s Shakespeare, by the way, opining on the unbearable heaviness of being. As per usual, I’m with Sweet William. I always thought that if I could choose a super-power, I’d choose incorporality — the ability to lose my physical body, pass through walls, fly (or at least float) and be incapable of being touched or hurt by human hands. (My husband tells me Rogue from X-Men is like this, but my nerd credentials can neither confirm nor deny.) In other words, I want to be body-less. Why? Because I hate my body.

I was too thin growing up, and now I’m much too fat. (When was I “just right”? I don’t remember that ever happening.) I am too tall, my features are insignificant, I’m graying, and just now I have a rash on my face — stress dermatitis — which makes me want to stick my head in the ground like an ostrich.

My gorgeous redheaded sister-in-law tells me to try body positivity (or at least body neutrality). My friends tell me not to engage in negativity. They’re right. I know this. I also know that it is shallow and wrong that society puts so much emphasis on a woman’s looks; that when male professionals are described, words like “leader” and “strong” are used, but when women professionals are described, words like “hot” or “cute” prevail. It’s ugly. It’s unfair. It’s the way things are.

It is also unfair to God, who made me as I am: tall, yes, but also smart. Unremarkable, but in better health than many. Temporarily red-faced, but a good listener.

I suspect that we all struggle with ourselves to an extent. I’d hate to meet someone who was totally self-satisfied, who honestly felt there was no work to be done on their innards (or out-ards). We can all do better. But honoring God means honoring ourselves, too.

I suggest a compromise. Let’s each try to think of one thing (per day) about ourselves that we like or value. I value that I can reach the top shelf at the grocery store. I will never have to ask a man to get something for me that I can’t reach. I like that my eyes show everything I am feeling. I like that my hands look like my mom’s.

That’s three things. So, how about you? What do you struggle with? What can you celebrate? How can we move past focusing on the physical to focusing on the spiritual?

I bet our souls are absolute knockouts.

Surely, I’m going to write about Charlottesville. How could I not write about Charlottesville? How could anyone remain silent as evil surges through the streets; as so-called “Christians” claim not to hate anyone, while in the next breath asserting that they would never break bread with a person of color; as a woman is killed by Nazis on American soil?

I need to take a breath. I feel sick.

I feel sick when I reckon that 34% of this country stands with a guy who sees no difference between White Supremacists and those brave enough to stand up to them. I feel sick when I think of the lie of history behind those “beautiful statues” (mostly dedicated in the early 1900s, when Jim Crow laws started being enacted, and the rest in the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement was burgeoning). I feel sick when I think of the hate burning in the hearts of all of those polo-shirted white guys marching with their tiki torches, as if they were waylaid en route to a suburban barbecue.

I am heart-sore. Weary. Nauseated. And yet, I know how privileged I am — what must our black friends, our Jewish friends, be thinking and feeling? It makes me want to swoon into despair.

SueBe and Ruth, my co-bloggers, have been my lights this week, reminding me not to give into the darkness. To keep my candle lit so that others can add their own little lights to it, so maybe we can make a path through the darkness and into a better place. What would I do — what would any of us do — without the support of those who “get it,” who feel as we feel and recognize that what’s on the line isn’t about politics; it’s about good versus evil?

So, for everyone out there too sick and sad and sore to grab onto the life preserver of hope, let me be an outstretched hand. Good people still exist. They’re out there. Maybe they need to make a little more noise, but they’re out there.

And I love you, and I stand with you, and I will hold out my candle defiantly, no matter what occurs. We will not let hatred win. Because no matter which biblical excerpts some people mutilate in order to justify their racism, there is one that trumps (ha!) them all: “7 My dear friends, let us love one another, since love is from God and everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.8 Whoever fails to love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4: 7-8)

Let love mend us. Amen!

It isn’t just me, is it? I mean, don’t you sometimes feel if only I could get there (wherever that is — health, peace, happiness) everything would be all right? It’s a longing for a place that doesn’t really exist except in flickers, in brief glimpses — a moment of unbridled joy, a deep second of contentment. We experience it from time to time, and spend most of the rest of our lives trying to get back there. We’ve devised numerous vehicles over the years in order to propel ourselves to this place of peace, from the useful and healthy (yoga) to the destructive (drugs). It’s not just me; I know it isn’t. You do it, too, right?

For me, the there in getting there is union with God. It first happened when I was seven or eight, preparing for one of the early sacraments (probably Reconciliation). I was in church, kneeling, when I was overcome by a sudden sense of God’s love and mercy. It nearly knocked me down. I can truthfully say that every moment of the rest of my life has been filled with a longing to go back there. And I’ve done it, a handful of times. It has more to do with me than with God — God is always there; it is I who is deficient.

But the best way for me to come close is poetry.

I want to hum like a struck
fork, change my pulse to tick
in time with God’s own metronome.
I want to sync a rhythm with the divine
so sweet it can’t be silenced;
felt like a shock, every atom alive,
aligned, allied, pure as spilled light
on white pavement, ice in a glass,
drumbeat, bell peal, reverberating gong.

Lord, I long. I long.

Crack me open, pour yourself inside.
Let the shell be lost, a husk.
And me, a chord that fades but does not die,
the last note of a hymn, floating in the rafters
of a great cathedral, persistent, available
to the tuned ears of saints.

My, my, my. The Church Lady must be having a field day. I refer of course to the old Saturday Night Live sketches featuring Dana Carvey’s judgmental and oh-so pious authority on all that is good and evil. She was always quick to call out hypocrisy in the “whited sepulchers” who frequented her show. Such insight has never been as necessary as it is now.

America likes to think of itself as a Christian country, though religiously speaking, we’re actually mutts — a mix of everything, from Mormons to Sikhs. Yet those who project — and protect — this “Christian America” image most fiercely seem most in need of a reminder of what Christianity actually is.

There is no Christianity without Christ. And to know what Christianity is about, one only has to access the words and deeds of Christ. This is not a case of “what would Jesus do?” but “what did Jesus do?” He embraced the outcasts and told us to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, a radical reversal of the current state of immigration. Jesus, tellingly, put no codas, no provisos, on his commands — no clauses like “only if they speak English” or “only if they have a good job.” Indeed, he seemed most concerned about those most on the outside, most in need of lifting up.

Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty (written, I hate to tell you, Mr. Miller, expressly for the Statue of Liberty) comes down hard on the side of the outsiders — and, consequently, the side of Christ. To stand in defiance of the huddled masses longing to breathe free is to stand in defiance of God.

Oh, I know. It’s hard to welcome the stranger. Strangers are scary precisely because they are strange to us. Is every immigrant a good person? No, but neither is every homegrown American. It is simpler to draw ourselves inward, to turn our backs on the “other” and “take care of our own.” Except who decides who is “our own” and who is not? Who was the “neighbor” in the parable of the Good Samaritan?

I am not saying that everyone opposed to the welcoming of immigrants is a bad person. But neither is he or she following the precepts of Christ.

What I’m asking for is very simple: a little truth-telling. It’s time for a good scrub, America. Let’s wash out our mouths with soap and water and get down to brass tacks. Either we welcome strangers or we do not. Either we are Christian or we are not.

But we don’t get to have it both ways.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? The difference between the two is often defined by the old “is the glass half full or half empty?” conundrum. Guess what? Turns out it doesn’t matter what you think about the glass. We are all, deep down, optimists, or we wouldn’t be here.

Reading the news can get you down. It does me, anyway. Just scanning the headlines convinces me that the world is a dark, ugly, little place full of small-minded, uneducated people who just want to watch the world burn and toast marshmallows on the flames. But the news doesn’t tell the whole truth. Not that the news is in any way “fake” — a phrase I detest — but simply that it cannot cover the complex entirety of the modern human condition. Even I can spot the better headline: “Man Kills Dozens” will always triumph over “Man Happily Distributes Free Lemonade and Hugs.”

But you turned up this morning for all of this news — bad and good (mostly bad) — didn’t you? You got out of bed. You put on your socks (or omitted them; it’s kind of too hot for socks). You gave your body fuel and opened your front door. Congratulations! You are officially an optimist. And pretty darned brave, to boot.

Do you think it takes more than just showing up to show courage? Maybe. But for any thinking person it’s more than enough. To watch bad things happen and still say, “You know what? I’m going out there anyway” is a testament to human resilience. After being ejected from the Garden of Eden, did Adam and Eve just pack it in and give up? Nope. Even though they’d lost access to unbridled happiness, they went on anyway. This kind of steel is precisely what God knew we would need to function in the world.

So if you’re here today, reading this, and just trying to bumble through life, I salute you. Thank you for continuing to take a chance on the world. Thank you for not giving up or giving in. The world needs you. I need you. Don’t give up. Despite what it says in the news or anywhere else, most of us are just like you. We’re trying. It is the stuff of superheroes, of saints. It is brave.

I rewatched the Hitchcock classic “Rope” last night. In it, two college friends kill an acquaintance just for jollies — or, more specifically, because they believe that intellectually superior people have the right to kill those who are inferior…that they are above morality and notions of right and wrong, which are conventions meant only for “common” people. James Stewart, as their former prep school headmaster, is aghast that they have made this decision: “Who made you God?” he asks them.

Who indeed? And yet, in smaller ways, we are all guilty of this type of judgmental thinking. Exhibit A: You are sitting in front of your computer reading about the latest political scandal. You are inwardly raging: How can this kind of malfeasance go unpunished? Or, alternately, why is this such a scandal when so-and-so (who I did not support) did the same/worse and went unpunished? Someone is getting away with something! Someone must be punished!

Who made us God? Before you demand perfect justice, examine yourself: Have you never broken the law, even in the tiniest way? Have you never jaywalked? Never ignored a traffic signal at three in the morning? Never taken something that wasn’t yours to take? Would you really want the full, scrupulous eye of the law to come down on you?

This is not to say that we should not seek justice, or that we should leave such things entirely to God. My caution is against fanaticism in all its forms. It is a reminder not to put ourselves above other people or allow ourselves to decide who is worthy and who is inferior. It is a call to humility and a reminder that we are all sinners, all of us steeped in sin. We must not point out the splinter in our brother’s eye while remaining indifferent to the plank in our own.

We’ve become so divided, culturally and politically speaking, that we actively call for violence against our “enemies” (I recently read a blog post comment that called for liberals to be “lined up and shot”) while seeking immunity for those we espouse, even going so far as gloating about our side being above the law somehow. No. This cannot be tolerated.

Instead, when you become angry at those you seek to judge, why not utter a prayer? “Heaven help us all,” has become my new mantra, and I mean it. Heaven help us not to succumb to the kind of overweening pride that allows us to pick and choose justice, that allows us to point fingers at others while hypocritically excusing the same sin in ourselves.

In an episode of “The Twilight Zone” a man obsessed with outing those he perceives as “guilty” keeps files on his neighbors, examining them for the slightest flaws. His mania becomes so great, he predicts that all of the guilty will suddenly shrink to three feet tall — and thus become instantly recognizable to the rest of humanity — at four o’clock that afternoon. What happens next? Not much, except that he himself shrinks to about three inches…and is instantly seized as prey by his own parrot.

Don’t be that guy. Because if we start sorting the populace into “them” and “us,” we are in for a world of hurt. In that case, heaven truly help us all.

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