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Every time a mass shooting occurs, The Onion runs the same headline: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” And every time a mass shooting occurs, Facebook explodes with opinions from both sides of the gun control debate. Because apparently some people are perfectly content living in a country where they and their children are 20 times more likely to die by gun violence than in any other civilized country on the map.

There are no arguments. Not anymore. Don’t tell me “guns don’t kill people; people do.” Yes. People with guns. Do you not get that? Don’t explain patiently that the killers on 9/11 didn’t use guns. I know that. And we immediately did something about it — we changed the way we fly; we put people on lists; we went to war (with the wrong country, but whatever). But there’s nothing we can do about guns? Fine then. What’s the other near-constant in gun violence? White guys. Shall we legislate against them? Oh wait. They’re the ones in charge of absolutely everything.

Well, I’m done arguing. Your right to own an object does not supersede my right to live.

In better, calmer times, I wrote the following (as Ruth recently reminded me). I’ve decided that it will be my version of The Onion article. Get used to seeing it, folks. Because we may worship God here in America, but guns — ah! Those are our real deity.

It was a week
to shake the faith
right out of our bones.

But faith cannot fall
to such a small god:
a god of bombs, bullets, ripped limbs.

Seek God elsewhere.
He is there in the helpers.
In solace, yes, and mourning, too.
In healing hands, in hope.

Look to those who know the truth:
What is not love
cannot be God.

Hate destroys.
Love restores.
There is your answer.

 

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.

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!

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.

Righting wrongs is never easy.  You have to change the old ways.  You have to establish new ways.  And you have to keep at it until the new ways become common place.

But social justice is so worth the effort.

Start with a small goal.  Take the love of God into the situation.  Rinse and repeat at needed.

–SueBE

 

 

“Happy birthday!” I said to my teen-age son, and walked over to give him a hug. Huh. How about that. My son was so much taller than me that his shoulder was over my head. I had to turn to the side to breathe. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I suffocated in the armpit of the son I gave life to? 🙂

On an awards show, the singer, Pink, wearing a sparkly leotard, spinning on a trapeze high above the audience, was singing, “I’m not here for your entertainment!” I scratched my head. Surely this isn’t educational?

Flipping to another channel, there was a half-hour infomercial called “Identity Theft News” posing as a live news broadcast.

As we all tend to do, I surfed the web while watching t.v., and found some other puzzling things. Like the use of trendy, made-up phrases in news articles, i.e., Obama White House Photographer Throws Shade at Trump, Rep. Maxine Waters Claps Back at Bill O’Reilly After Hair Insult.

Even more confusing, sometimes a word can be used in opposite directions: Almost 75 Years After Death Beatrix Potter Drops New Book, and Simon & Schuster Drops Milo Yiannopoulous Book Following Release of Controversial Video.

Over the years, I’ve learned:

  • Things aren’t always what they appear to be.
  • Social media is here to stay, along with selfies and skinny jeans.
  • Times change.
  • We’ll be okay.

I don’t have to always “get it” as I look around at the world today, because I know some of the most important things never change. Faith, family, friends, and the perpetual power of prayer.

As the Yiddish proverb says, “Prayers go up, and blessings come down.” Let’s let Anne Lamott have the last word today: “Anything you say from your heart to God is a prayer.”

How I love our Pope! Did anyone expect such a firebrand? He stands with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. He stands with our Mother Earth. And this week, he made a pronouncement that’s sure to send conservatives into a lather: He said, essentially, that it is better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Catholic.

What’s a hypocritical Catholic? Let’s speculate. Perhaps it is a person who claims to follow Christ but does not welcome him in the form of immigrants. Perhaps it is a person who vows to respect all life, but doesn’t believe in providing help to those in need or protecting our planet from those who seek to plunder it for profit. Heck, maybe it’s me — I’m far from perfect. Whoever or whatever the hypocritical Catholic is, the Pope’s words are a challenge to us: Put your money where your mouth is. If you talk the talk, you better walk the walk. If you want to truly follow Christ, you better leave your ivory tower or diamond-encrusted cage and get down in the dirt with the least of God’s children.

I know several atheists. They are good people. They do good not because they believe in a theological or religious system, but because doing good makes sense to them. Because they want the world to be a better place. Even the most embittered atheists have to make moral choices. That they would make positive ones, without any spiritual model to back them up, is nothing short of wonderful.

And yet, supposedly Christian and Catholic people make bad choices all the time. I can think of several Catholics in government positions who think cutting health care, Medicare and assistance to the poor is a sound fiscal and moral idea. Sure, our country was founded on the separation of church and state. But if being a Christian Catholic is who you are at your core, it ought to drive everything you do, right?

Jesus was known for calling people out on uncomfortable realities. It seems Pope Francis is walking in his footsteps. That’s a very good thing.

Have you ever wanted to take a permanent vow of silence? You know, the kind preceded by a pursing of the lips, a twist of the wrist and the throwing away of an invisible key? I feel that way a lot. For all of my so-called proficiency with words on paper, I’m not a good speaker. Or even a good writer, a lot of the time. Sometimes my brain and my mouth aren’t exactly in sync. And other times I feel as if there is some secret code that everyone else knows but that has been withheld from me. In other words, for social, verbal creatures, we humans sure are good at offending one another. Often, we do not even mean to. There is simply no way to gauge how our words will affect another human being.

We can guess, of course. We know that certain words are hurtful or offensive. But what about the ones that seem to operate in secret — poisonous words that we thought were as bland as unbuttered popcorn, and just as lethal? And sometimes words aren’t even necessary. People have hated other people on sight since the beginning of time. There was a girl I knew in high school who confessed that she loathed me because the first time I opened my mouth in class, I used a polysyllabic word that raised her hackles. I was “a know-it-all.” A prig. Later, we became friends, but I never lost the sense that somehow this was against her better judgment — that I’d failed in some primal way, but had been forgiven for it. Only I still don’t know how I failed.

Haters gonna hate. Isn’t that what the kids are saying these days? Or maybe they used to say it and now it’s as dated as “groovy” and “right on, man.” How would I know? Clearly, words I see as peaceful doves can land like bombs without my consent or knowledge. No one can control how they are perceived by others. Even if they try really, really hard.

So I guess what I’m saying is: be kind. Remember that the person in front of you is as fragile and hurting as you are. We’re all just shivering piles of dust, flimsy and susceptible to blowing away in the lightest of gales. No one wants to be alone. No one wants to be hated. For better or worse, we’re stuck with one another. That’s going to necessitate a heap of compassion, a mound of forgiveness, a great mountain of understanding. It is the job of every one of us to add to the pile. If we claim to be good people, moral people, it is the job of a lifetime.

In the meantime, if I offend you, I’m sorry. I wish I could take that vow of silence and mean it, but I’m afraid I’m just not capable of it. It would mean hiding my light under a bushel basket for one thing, and I’m pretty sure God doesn’t support that kind of thing.

“The rest is silence,” says Hamlet as he breathes his last. Now there’s a guy I can relate to.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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