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Mother’s Day is this weekend, so I thought I’d perform a public service and offer this sage advice: Ask your mother what she wants for a gift. You might think she’d love a box of chocolates, but she may be watching her weight. She might actually get mad at you, thinking you’re trying to sabotage her diet!

To me, the best gift is cash or a gift card. Some may find that impersonal, but I don’t. Here’s why: You’ll never be able to get me exactly what I want as a gift. Let me explain.

I want a nice cardigan sweater. Sounds simple, right? Anybody can find a sweater at the mall. Think again!

My ideal cardigan sweater is one that’s light enough to wear in warmer weather but, paradoxically, heavy enough to keep me toasty in winter.

No zippers, buttons or snaps. No belt or ties of any kind. No itchy tag on the back of the neck. In fact, I’d prefer tagless. Machine washable and dryable. Is dryable a word? If not, I just invented it. If you plan to use it in a conversation, please send a dollar. 💰 It’ll go toward my next seriously-specific sweater.

It should be made of luxe, soft material, but not so soft that you become a lightning rod for static cling in the winter.

The most important feature would be that it have pockets deep and strong enough to hold a cell phone. I need my phone next to me at all times, but often put it down and can’t remember where I left it.

All told, I’m not sure such a magical sweater even exists! In lieu of this perfect, if imaginary cardigan, I’ll accept — you guessed it — cash or a gift card. Remember this: If mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy!

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I’m in an abusive relationship…with a church. I was reminded of this during Holy Week, when our pastor made a point of choosing twelve men for the ritual of the washing of feet, because only men can represent the apostles. Except that’s not true. Women have their feet washed by the clergy all the time — the Pope himself does it.

Then, on Good Friday, I went to another parish (ours didn’t have a Mass scheduled at a time my husband could fit into his schedule) only to find an even more antiquated service. There were seven people around the altar. All were male.

Growing up, I was always top of my class. So when someone said something silly like, “Only boys are good at math,” I could laugh it off. I was proof that they were wrong. I was fortunate to receive sixteen years of Catholic education, being taught by great thinkers and being told that I, too, was capable of great thought. I planned my first mass at nine. I narrated The Passion Play at 13. I’ve spent a lifetime as a faithful Catholic. And somehow, I’m still not good enough. I can’t be good enough. I haven’t got a Y chromosome.

“How many times,” I asked my husband after Friday’s ordeal, “do I have to be slapped in the face by my own church?” “All of them,” he replied sadly.

I know, I know. I really ought to leave. Except that I have nowhere else to go. The church that honed my soul and sharpened my thinking is still my home — my bigoted, outdated home. Why should I have to leave?

On the other hand, why bother baptizing girls if we can never, ever have full participation in the church? Why bother with Confirmation, unless to make sure we understand that we’ll never be fully wanted? Why let us in the door if we can’t be trusted to make policy or even determine what happens to our own bodies? Why not just be honest and come right out and say it: “The Catholic Church: We’re not big on chicks”? At least we’d know what we were getting into.

I brought my husband into this church. At some level, I must think it capable of change (just like every other woman in an abusive relationship am I right?). But what I won’t let it do is hold me back.

Today is Easter Sunday, a day on which Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb on the third day after his crucifixion.

The Cross is the universal emblem of the Christian faith, and its poignant significance resonates around the world. But another symbol I hold dear is the rock. The stone that was rolled away after the resurrection always reminds me: you don’t have to stay in bondage. If you think you can’t get out of an abusive or untenable situation, remember the stone that was rolled away. You can and you will. Pray about it, then get up and go.

There’s also something solid and unchanging about the symbol of a rock in a changing and challenging world.

When I think of Psalms, this is the one I always return to:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:2 NIV

In that passage, there’s so much “strength” mentioned that I feel encouraged every time I read it. Like I’m getting stronger just sitting here. Now that would be an exercise plan I’d sign onto: sit and strengthen. That could be a thing!

The core principles we learned as children are like bedrock. Treat people well. Take care of your body like a temple. Do the work in front of you with all your heart. Be forgiving of yourself and of others.

I may not belong to a particular denomination, and my pew may be this chair I’m sitting in right now, but between the rock and the cross, my faith has a firm foundation. Easter blessings to you and yours!

Today, Holy Thursday, begins the Triduum, the three days that recollect and celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Most of us know this story well. We’ve pondered that journey. But how often do we think about the people who walked the path with Jesus?

Simon of Cyrene was picked out of the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross. How and why was he chosen? Well, we know he was from Africa. He might have been a person of color. Or the Roman guards simply noticed he wasn’t Jewish — he was “other.” Or he might have expressed sympathy for Christ. Whatever the reason, he is an outsider, someone from the fringes — the type of person Jesus favored in life.

The women of Jerusalem wept for Jesus and were comforted by him. Women weren’t exactly valued commodities in Jesus’ day. They were mostly seen as possessions, with no voice or agency of their own. Yet Jesus turns to women again and again in his life and along the road to his death — he listens to them. He values them. He speaks to them. Again, Jesus chooses the outsider.

Veronica wipes Jesus’ face. Again, a woman does the unthinkable, and Jesus rewards her with kindness.

The penitent thief (sometimes called Dismas) is crucified next to Jesus. What do we know about him? People were crucified for all sorts of crimes in Jesus’ day, but to be crucified for mere petty theft would have been a long shot, unless the thief was from the lower classes, or worse, a slave. Or the theft was far from petty — it was violent and extreme. There is some conjecture that the “thieves” were more like terrorists. Once again, it someone from the fringes, someone most unlikely, who responds to Christ’s call. In radically changing his heart, Dismas is promised paradise.

Women. Foreigners. Criminals. These are the people who walked the way of the cross with Jesus. Not his apostles. Not religious leaders. It was the most unlikely of people who shared the journey.

People are always amazed when I tell them that SueBE, Ruth and I have never met in person. Yet in my dark nights of the soul, they consistently walk with me. This Easter, take some time to ponder who walks with you. You just might be surprised.

Funny that this should pop up as we head into Easter.  This year, women throughout the Presbyterian Church, USA are studying God’s promise to us all.  I am with you.  Again and again throughout the Old Testament, that is what he tells his followers.  When Haggai, the prophet, comes to God’s people, he comes with a message.  “I am with you.”  When King Ahaz asks for help, Isaiah brings the message, “I am with You.”

Christ is that promise in the flesh.  I am with you here and now.  You can hear me if you will listen.  You can see me if you will look.

Imagine how hopeless all must have seemed on Good Friday for Christ’s followers.  He was crucified, dead and buried.  He had been among them. He has spoken to them, broken bread with them, and walked beside them on the road.  What now?

I know that I often feel like that.  What now?

As Christians, we celebrate the risen Christ.  I am with you here and now.  You can hear me if you will listen.  You can see me if you will look.

–SueBE

 

When we enter Lent, we tear our hearts wide open and invite Christ inside.  Last night was Ash Wednesday.  Part of our annual service is tearing cloth as we contemplate how to celebrate this liturgical season.

Will we give something up?  It doesn’t have to be chocolate or coffee.  It could be harsh words, uncharitable thoughts or judgment.

Or will we add something to our Christian practice?  A friend plans to read scripture whenever someone gets under her skin.  I’m going to try to see the Child of God in those around me.  That spark of His Light.

So far so good but I’m working from home today.  So far I’ve encountered a total of two people.  And, in truth, I think this will be my day-long total.

Fingers crossed that tomorrow I can remember to take a deep breath and look closer for the spark of His Light and Love.

–SueBE

I think 2019 is in cahoots with 2018. Dare I use the word “collusion”? It’s largely my fault, I guess. Every year, I give my life over to God, and every year I end up trying to run things myself. It is an easy trap to fall into, especially since sitting around like a lump waiting for God to pick me up and move me remains a nonstarter. What does allowing God to direct one’s life look like? And what is a soul to do when she cannot see the signs pointing the way? Write poetry, I guess.

For too long I’ve been onstage
listening for whispered cues —
“Never?” “Whether?” “Wetter?”
Can’t the prompter’s voice better carry,
especially as I’ve had no script to study?
Oh, my improv’s improved over the years;
I’ve studied every school from Method to
Methodist. Faith informs my performance
but gives no stage directions. The audience is restive.
I see them thumbing rotten fruit. I don’t want my end
to be ignominious hook, though I’ll not ask for ovation.
Might the director step in? His lack of notes befuddles.
What I have is old, a blurred third-hand translation
of transcendent art, the only visible word, love.
This will not get the audience seated, let alone
feed the cast. Yet the play goes ever onward.
Scenes change, scenery shifts, the crowd holds its breath.
Line, please.

Since I’m writing a week of New Year reflections, I feel like I should make a confession.  I’m not big on resolutions. They just seem trendy and too easy to let slide.

My birthday is toward the end of the month.  By the time it comes around, I tend to have a better idea what I want to address.  I’m ready to decide what to leave behind as my annual gift to me. Not that these annual gifts are always super popular.

One year, I quit agreeing to do things I didn’t want to do.  Not everything but the things that someone else could do but “you just do it so much better.” Um, no.  I don’t actually accept that as an explanation anymore.

The next, I quit apologizing for not doing things I didn’t want to do. “I can’t make it” became a perfectly acceptable, to me, answer.  It might mean I was busy.  It might also mean I just don’t want to put on shoes and leave the house.  But it also meant that I have to accept the same responses from my introvert friends.

What are you bringing into the New Year that you might put aside?  Perhaps you need to shrug off the childhood admonition that you have no artistic talent and take that painting class you’ve been wanting to try.  Or you could pick up a set of calligraphy pens and go through some online tutorials.

God gives us opportunities.  To take them up, we may need to put something else down.

–SueBE

Back when my sister was a kid, she loved choose your own adventure books.  Exploration, travel, daring do!  These books but the reader in the driver’s seat.  Every few pages you’d have a decision to make. Do you do choose the door on the left of the door on the right?  Each choice would lead to a completely different adventure.

In reality, life is a lot like those books but I have to admit that this is a reality I sometimes forget.  If I do the same thing, I can’t expect a new result.

What opportunities is God sending your way in 2019?  The reality is that you can only spot them if you are open to something new, something different, something miraculous.  What story are you supposed to write in 2019?  Spend some time in prayer and listen for the answer.

–SueBE

When editors give new writers advice, one of the things they say most often is “don’t write to the trends but instead write what you are passionate for.”  The thinking is this, writing a book is hard work.  If you have any hope of finishing it, you have to be passionate.  Ho hum?  Only doing it because you think you will make money?  Then you probably won’t succeed.

Yesterday, our pastor lectured on finding your passion in the church.  Some people have a passion for feeding others.  Others are passionate to teach.  Still others garden, growing the food we all need.  He challenged each of us to think about how to use our passions to serve.  (I’ll paste the sermon in below.  It was really good.)

This makes sense to me.  The harder something is to do, the more passionate you have to be to pull it off.  We have one member who is a nutritionist.  Would she be the person to put on the committee to source new seating for the choir?  Maybe.  But a group of us have been talking about cooking classes. This would be a better use of her talents.

Someone else was supposed to redo the church Facebook page.  It is part of her job.  For two years it didn’t get done.  My son and I did it in 3 days.  What can I say?  We’re into social media.  He helped me over a few hurdles and I was able to get it done.

Carpentry.  Music.  Teaching.  Think about your passions as you head into the New Year.  How can you use them to improve 2019?

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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