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Why did Jesus have to be born during the holidays?

That’s a joke, of course. But it hints at a concern that becomes more and more clear to me with each passing year: At a time when we should be contemplating the great mysteries of our faith, we become too busy with holiday planning to do anything of the sort.

Well, the holidays are over now. Things have settled down for the most part. And I am left wondering: What happened to the Christ in Christmas?

Oh, he was there on Christmas Eve, during Mass. I remember feeling the physical presence of him keenly on our shared birthday. And then I got busy. And who got shoved aside in favor of planning and baking and socializing? You guessed it.

This is entirely my fault. I am certain there are people who are able to mix the social with the personal, who can see God clearly in everything they do, in the people they are with and the festivities set before them. I’m not one of them.

I require contemplation, quiet and serenity to access my spiritual side. The holidays aren’t exactly conducive to those requirements, at least not for me. So God gets set aside.

I’ve decided that my theme for the coming year will be “assent.” Assenting to God’s plans for me no matter what they are or how frightening the prospect. Fully letting go of my own plans for my life and placing myself entirely into God’s hands. Like Mary’s own fiat: I want to say “thy will be done” and mean it.

But that means letting God in at all times, not just selectively, when the time is right. (Okay, it involves more than that, but one problem at a time.) How is an introvert like me going to deal with living in the world while also removing myself from it? I can’t, after all, have it both ways.

How do you keep God present in your life, even when things are at their busiest? How do you live in a state of tension between being present to living and present to God?

I really want to know, readers. Clearly, if I’m going to give God the “yes” I want to give, I’ve got to have a plan. So tell me — how does one live a spiritual life and a temporal life simultaneously?

Because becoming a hermit is looking really good to me right now.

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This one’s gonna be different. Don’t we tell ourselves that every year? Don’t we start out with enthusiasm, with actual, resolute resolutions that by gum we are going to follow through on? Aren’t we certain that we can cast off the shadow of the previous 365 days simply because the date on the calendar now has a new number attached to it?

Well, don’t we?

I submit that the new year is a fraud, a sham, a flim-flam, a bamboozlement. A year can’t change things. Only we can. And it’s harder to do than a simple resolution might convey. To change one’s self fundamentally requires radical thinking and aggressive discarding of old thoughts, habits, and relationships. Most of us won’t ever do it. We’re too comfortable as we are. Only the most terrible and unexpected events — natural disaster, death, fatal illness — are enough to shock us out of complacency. And then, perhaps, only temporarily.

So…what to do with 2018 and its bright, shiny promises of change and renewal? Start small. Change one way of thinking. Give yourself a mantra — “first impressions are always wrong” for instance — to nip a habit of snap judgment in the bud. Or start each morning by doing one new thing: making your bed, trying a new stretch or simply saying, “I will be open to new possibilities today.” Repeated actions have a tendency to work their ways into our lives in ways we cannot foresee.

Or take up reading a new blog regularly. Work your way one chapter at a time through the bible. Smile at people you don’t know and won’t see again. Anything that might trigger a new, green sprout of thinking, a tiny revelation, an awkward step in a new direction.

And if it all falls apart, don’t berate yourself. January first isn’t the only day for changes. You can do that on February third, April 17th, or November 30th. You can do it anytime. Let yourself be open to nudges and signs and questions. Sometimes that’s the most essential part of change.

If we each turn ourselves one degree, together we can make a revolution — literally and figuratively.

This quote brought to mind Matthew 18:20 – “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

We don’t need vast numbers to come to a green committee or diversity meeting for it to be a success.  Especially if it is a first meeting.  Pull together two or three people.  Work for Christ and he will be with you.  You will also be able to draw on each others energy.

Little by little.  Step by step.  We can make a difference.

–SueBE

Advent is a season of anticipation. We await the coming of Christ, pure God and pure human, in the person of a newborn babe. But we know that, don’t we? We’ve heard the Christmas story a hundred times — probably more. Maybe it’s time to try something new.

In her Advent booklet, “Daybreaks,” author Paula D’Arcy challenges us to approach God in a startlingly innovative way: Without demands, without preconceptions, without an agenda. All we need do is walk forward. Or simply wait in silence. Sound easy? Ay, but there’s the rub.

I can’t remember a time when I came to God without a laundry list of desires, hopes, fears, plans and petitions. I expect things from God. I expect a response. I expect that I know what I want and need, both for myself and those I love.

But do I? As a good friend of mine likes to say, “How’s that working for you?” To which I can only reply, “So-so.” To come before God prepared with an agenda provides a false sense of control over my life. It helps me feel organized, prepared, on track. I’ve never been comfortable traveling my life’s journey without a map or even a compass, but now I see that the moments where I’ve allowed myself to jump off a proverbial cliff without a parachute have been the most satisfying and spiritually rewarding times in my life. That’s a big pill for a control freak to swallow.

What if we approach Advent, which is after all, the start of a new canonical year in the Catholic Church and directly prefaces our calendar New Year, without a list? What if, instead of knowing what we’re waiting for, we forget all that and see what happens instead? What if we abolish resolutions and admit that we just don’t know?

And, most importantly, what if we commit to walking toward Jesus without our usual burden of expectations? Maybe we’ll find him in the manger, just as we thought. Or maybe we’ll find him in the last place we think to look: in the face of a stranger, in the words of those we disagree with.

It takes strength to take a journey without knowing its end. But if the magi can do it, why can’t we?

Since the beginning of this humble blog, there has been one post that is always the most popular in Google searches. It was written by our SueBE a few years ago, yet every single week, it’s a topic that new visitors seek out. It’s called, “Which Word is Right in the Lord’s Prayer – Trespasses or Debts?”

So I thought it might be time for us to re-visit the subject. It also relates to the wave of men accused of sexual impropriety in the news lately. Most of the offenders seem to be using a template to (sort of) admit wrongdoings, and it goes something like this:

Offender Template

𐄂 It was ___ years ago

𐄂 I don’t remember it

𐄂 But if it did happen, it was probably:

  • All in good fun
  • Crossed signals
  • Semi-consensual
  • Inadvertent

Caveat:

✅Some of the accuser’s facts are not accurate

Part of the problem with these statements is the fact that the offender never really owns up to the offense. It negates the apology, if you want to call it that. In fact, not one of the men in these situations has said, I was completely wrong. I’m so ashamed. I hope you can somehow find it in your heart to forgive me.

And that’s the thing that always gives me pause when I reach this line in the Lord’s prayer, “…And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

What if the person who wronged us hasn’t asked our forgiveness?

What if they don’t think they did anything wrong?

Or worse, what if they don’t care that they’ve caused pain?

So that’s been on my mind as we deal with these unsettling revelations in the news.

Can you forgive if the offender doesn’t even acknowledge the offense?

What do you think?

Turns out the Texas shooter abused his wife, his child and various animals. Then there’s the guy who snapped a woman’s neck and gouged out her eyes for daring to reject his marriage proposal. And the ongoing accusations of exploitation and rape by Hollywood power brokers against women and children. Seems like hurting someone smaller and weaker than yourself is so endemic, it’s become part and parcel of ordinary life.

It probably always was, of course. Landowners abused serfs. Queens abused ladies-in-waiting. Children attack smaller children. It’s a jungle out there, folks, in the truest sense of the metaphor: Unless you’re an apex predator, watch out.

If you want to know where God is in all of this, look down, to the smallest and weakest of us. God always stands with the abused, the poor, the people on the fringes. That’s where God lives. Don’t believe me? Read the Sermon on the Mount again. Count the number of times and ways Jesus says that the last will be first, and the first, last. Picture poor Lazarus in paradise while Mr. Dives smolders away for all of eternity. And (at least from what we know), Dives never actively abused Lazarus; he just ignored him. How much greater will the punishment be for those who do mete out abuse?

So what can be done? Must we patiently wait for the next life for justice? Me, I’m going to pray The Litany of Nonviolence, written by the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN. Feel free to add your voice.

Provident God,
aware of our own brokenness,
we ask the gift of courage
to identify how and where we are in need of conversion
in order to live in solidarity with Earth and all creation.

Deliver us from the violence of superiority and disdain.
Grant us the desire, and the humility,
to listen with special care to those
whose experiences and attitudes are different from our own.

Deliver us from the violence of greed and privilege.
Grant us the desire, and the will, to live simply
so others may have their just share of Earth’s resources.

Deliver us from the silence
that gives consent to abuse, war and evil.
Grant us the desire, and the courage,
to risk speaking and acting for the common good.

Deliver us from the violence
of irreverence, exploitation and control.
Grant us the desire, and the strength,
to act responsibly within the cycle of creation.

God of love, mercy and justice,
acknowledging our complicity
in those attitudes, action and words which perpetuate violence,
we beg the grace of a non-violent heart.
Amen.

Human beings are fallible.  We prove that on a daily, or sometimes on hourly, basis.  Yet, we so often choose another human being as our touch stone.  When that person fails us, we feel lost.  We get angry.  We pitch a fit.

I truly think that’s half the reason we feel so shocked when our idols stray.  How dare they mess up when we are looking to them for guidance?

But people stray.  Check out the book of Judges and see how often “the people sinned in the eyes of the Lord.”  I’m always a little surprised that the author didn’t add “again.”  The people sinned in the eyes of the Lord AGAIN.

So why do we keep looking to each other to guidance when we have God?  God who stuck by Israel?  God who hears our prayers?  God who shows us the way if only we will remember to listen?

–SueBE

 

 

 

Recently, we’ve been working as a congregation to discern God’s plan for us.  Discernment is tricky.

We want our marching orders to involve the things that we consider our strengths.  Studying Judges has brought home for me that that is not how God works.  The people God picks are often too unsure to be military leaders (Gideon), to tangle-tongued to speak publicly (Moses), and just too self-centered to be religious leaders (Mathew the tax collector).

And yet, these are the people God chooses.  From day-to-day they may not have known what the big picture was.  They just knew what God wanted them to do.  Now.  Tomorrow? That wasn’t always entirely clear.

But that’s okay.  Step by step, we can build something grand.  We just have to hear the instructions.

–SueBE

When my friend Lill and I started working on Inaugurate Light together, we had a goal.  We wanted to add something consistently positive to social media.  We were tired of watching our friends and family snipe at each other about politics and all the baggage that entails.  Why couldn’t people just be nice?

And we’ve done it.  Since January 1, we have posted a different image and quote almost every day.

But I have to admit.  I’m not always positive.  Sarcasm is my native tongue and sarcasm, as we all know, is rarely kind.

When I saw this verse from Ephesians, it really hit home.  I may pop if I can’t speak my mind, but I’m going to try and try hard.

Since y’all are the praying kind, I’d appreciate whatever back up you can give me.  I know when I remember to look God’s way, I’ll have His help as well.  But I can use all the help I can get.  As one of my son’s favorite TV characters would say “Please and thank you.”

–SueBE

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Mark 8:36 NIV

There have been a lot of scoundrels in the news lately. I’ve seen a lot of people say this: “It’s a sickness.” But that’s not true.

People who use power to demean are not addicts. They live in fear and hate themselves. The world is very big, so they put on the trappings of power so they don’t appear so small.

While it is certainly a pathology, it’s not a condition that can’t be controlled.

When a young (at the time) actor inappropriately touched a VJ on MTV as a way of saying “hello,” what he was really doing was trying to gain leverage. He seemed to be unsure of himself and felt a pressure to be larger-than-life, so he did something to discombobulate her.

Emma Thompson described the scandal surrounding a predatory Hollywood producer as a manifestation of “extreme masculinity,” but I would suggest that the opposite is true.

I think such men don’t feel strong and powerful at all. They more likely feel utterly bereft. On paper, they’ve got everything that should lead to fulfillment, confidence, and peace. But somehow, they still feel as insignificant as they did before they achieved “success.”

I don’t know if there’s a “rehab” for this kind of situation. Some would say the answer is church. Getting right with God. That would be true, of course, but it wouldn’t be genuine for such an individual to find faith if it’s forced.

Going forward, maybe it’ll be easier for victims and bystanders to speak at the moment of impact. To say, This isn’t right. Cut it out. Speaking truth to power isn’t easy, but if we all stood up together, it could make a world of difference.

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