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Recently, a student brought a loaded gun to the high school my son attended. Cole’s in college now, so we weren’t directly affected; still, it was unsettling to hear of such a thing so close to home.

The next day, I received word that a threat had been made to a teacher, so all township schools would be closed. A follow-up text said the incident had not happened in our town of Franklin, which is in central Jersey, but in the other Franklin in our state, which is in north Jersey. Oh. Okay! No problem then. Why didn’t I feel any less tense about it?

Everything is in your neighborhood now, isn’t it? You’re not directly affected, yet somehow, you still feel directly affected.

As I look at the student coalition advocating for gun control after the attack on their high school, I’m experiencing something I’ve never felt before: I’m both encouraged and discouraged at the same time.

The student movement’s leaders are capable young people with convictions and confidence, ready to take on the world. What about the kids who aren’t being heard? The ones who show up for class in worn-out sneakers, who eat lunch alone and get picked on in gym class? These are the young souls who end up folding in or lashing out.

Gun control, yes. Mental health background checks for gun purchases, okay – provided you define your terms. Does that include people with depression? Anxiety? On medication of any kind? How about Asperger’s? Who decides?

But also, a call to arms of a different kind: working together to remind each other that words and actions have impact. To encourage each other to honor the humanity in every person they meet.

How we get there as a nation is anybody’s guess.  Until then, we pray.


To communicate requires communion.  To commune requires recognition of connection.

The other day our yoga instructor commented on our broken world.  Her thought was that so many problems are exacerbated by our self isolation.  I.  Me. Mine. But she noted that as much as we have to center in yoga, we are generally very aware of those around us.

The thing is that you can’t really do yoga unless you turn inward to a certain extent.  You have to be aware of your balance and your body.  You have to know what you are capable of, where you can push yourself, and where you have to adapt a motion to avoid injury.  Every now and again one of us doesn’t quite manage this and we topple over in the middle of a pose.  Or we can’t quite figure out what we are supposed to be doing.  Or someone new wanders in and is entirely clueless.

Someone always steps forward with a word of advice, a demonstration, or a helpful prop.  Sometimes a steadying hand is all it takes to help someone.

Inward focus paired with outward connection.  Isolation and communion.  It is a balancing act.

And balance is the important key.  Sometimes the world, the noise and the anger are simply overwhelming.  Lori wishes for her hermitage.  I long for a mesa.  Time to regroup and recenter.  Time to pray and breathe and listen.  Life is a lot like yoga.  You have to know what you are capable of, where you can push yourself and when to avoid injury to the heart and soul.


Sometimes I think: Wouldn’t it be nice to squirrel myself away in some comfy little hole and turn exclusively to prayer? Then I remember: As much as the hermit lifestyle appeals, it is not practical. Not only are comfy little holes hard to come by, they are seldom free of charge. And there’s the niggling problem of needing to eat. But that’s not the biggest problem.

The biggest problem is this: You can’t pray for the world if you’re hiding from it. You have to know what’s going on. You have to be a part of things. Otherwise, you’re just praying for yourself, and doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

It can be very painful to make yourself aware of the world’s troubles. There will always be too many of them to tackle, too many tragedies pulling at your limited heartstrings. You have to choose, but in choosing, you have to deal with the repercussion of guilt. It is a difficult place to live. A comfy hole is so much more congenial, don’t you agree? But it’s no place to linger, not if you have a heart.

Nowadays it’s an insult to be considered sensitive. It connotes a certain weakness, a lack of backbone, a pitiful inability to cope in today’s eat-or-be-eaten world. I don’t much care about that. If it takes not caring to get by in life, then I guess I won’t get by. Wherever that destination is, it doesn’t feel like a place worth going to. If feeling keenly about people and things makes me a snowflake, then — fine. I’m still here. And as long as the world stays cold with injustice and hatred and inequality, I will persist.

And if the milk of human kindness ever warms us all adequately, I will happily melt.


There’s just so much not to talk about today! Take the latest school shooting, for example. Oh, it’s being talked about now. But just give it a few days. Things will settle back to ordinary. And then there will be yet another shooting. It’s cool. We’re okay with this course of events. America has elected a new god and it is guns — singular and plural — and we are perfectly willing to sacrifice our children on our new god’s altar. Eighteen times in 30 days! No one can say we are not devout.

Let’s also not talk about Father James Martin, dubbed the most dangerous man in the Catholic Church for implying, hinting, suggesting that we ought to treat LGBTQ Catholics with dignity and kindness. For this, Father Martin receives all manner of hate mail. It’s good to know that I needn’t turn to another faith practice in order to find the most small-minded one on earth. I can remain a Catholic!

What else should we not discuss? Golly, there’s so much. But no one listens when I get angry. Let me turn instead to my old friend poetry.

Stitch my eyes shut:
I will still see. Numb my mouth
with platitudes and prayer:
I will rouse my tongue.
Tell me I cannot change
people, places, things:
I will wave you away
like a phantasm.
Heaven dropped fire
into my soul. I will scald,
blacken, raise flame.
Even in silence, I smolder.

Let me dazzle you with
incendiary verbiage;
fireworks of thought —
wonder! Delight! Gape
as sparks fly
into upturned mouths.
I need only enflame
one tongue. Then,
and only then,
can I rest in ashes.


Yesterday I was interviewed by Henry Stone, the managing editor of the PC USA’s Unbound which focuses on social justice and social ministry.  First he asked me how I came to write Black Lives Matter and What Are Race and Racism.  I told him about being approached by the editor to write about the modern civil rights movement and police shootings.  We discussed how surreal it all feels to write about race and racism and to be told by teachers that you are having an impact and still . . .

You wake up the next morning and racism is still here.  The world is still broken.  People remain deeply flawed.

“Do you think racism will ever be fixed?  If not, why do you do what you do?”

As flawed as we are, the world does change.  Sometimes it changes for the better.  Slavery is illegal.  Families are no longer torn apart on the auction block.

Does that mean everything is well and good?  Of course not.  We see the legacy of slavery every day in racist policies and stereotypes and how we try to pigeon-hole people.  We can enact change but it is slow and it will take time for the ripples of the evil that went before to stop spreading.

This is the reality whether we are working to solve problems of race or rage or gun violence.  Change can come but legislation is not a fix-all.  We will have to look deep into our hearts and at what we value vs who we do not.




Why do I expect that the goals God sends my way will be easy?  You would think that by now I would have gotten past that silly thought.

Putting off doing the laundry is easy.

Dropping paperwork onto a pile on my desk?  Also easy.

Talking to someone I don’t know about social justice?  Not so easy.

Why is it so hard to talk about race and racism?  In part, it was how I was brought up.  You don’t talk about things that make people uncomfortable.  When I was a kid, it was easy enough to avoid discussing racism.  We lived on the more or less white side of the highway.  We still live in the same area but it is now much more diverse. Racism doesn’t go away just because you are now in a mixed race environment.

But that doesn’t mean we have the tools to deal with it.  Remember?  We were raised not to discuss uncomfortable things.  We have to learn to see.  We have to learn to speak.  After all, racism won’t be reduced until it is not just a black topic but also a white topic.   I have to admit.  It is much easier for me to write about than it is for me to talk about.

Maybe one day God will set me on an easy path but apparently not today.



With all of the allegations against men in power in the headlines, I’ve come to realize that the malignant negativity targeted by the MeToo movement is everywhere. It’s not just perpetrated by men, and it’s not just in the workplace.

It just puts on different hats. In school, it would be labelled bullying. In the workplace, it’s harassment. On the highway, it’s road rage.

It comes, in every case, from a deficit. Something essential that is lacking, so some other, darker energy shows up instead.

There are so many people in pain who inflict pain that they can’t all be summarily dismissed. At some point, some brave soul is going to have to talk about – for lack of a better term – Monster Management.

What do we do with all of the people who have committed acts so monstrous, even their names evoke revulsion? If we put them all together on an island in quarantine, don’t you think they’ll all just get more monstrous? Wouldn’t they, in their deviousness, find a way to secretly infiltrate society again, only this time, in deeper disguise?

It seems to me that they shouldn’t be exiled or executed, but studied. How did this pathology set in? Could it be anyone was born with such depraved impulses, or was trauma or abuse a factor? As hard as it is to sympathize with such individuals, they do exist, and some are in your shared cubicle, the house next door, or even the church pew right next to you.

If we pretend this problem doesn’t pervade every stratum of society, we’ll never find a way to resolve it. Now the task is to find research scientists willing to gird their own souls and look into the minds of monsters, for the sake of humanity.


Photo by Jiyeon Park on Unsplash

Journalist Ann Curry appeared on a news program to promote her new project, which focuses on feel-good stories of people re-connecting with those who have had a positive impact on their lives.

But first the anchors wanted her to talk about a dark day from her past. They kept asking her about being let go from NBC’s Today Show. It was reported that Matt Lauer, now accused of sexual impropriety, had had Curry fired.

Even though she was clearly uncomfortable, Curry spoke in generalities about her experience, hoping to get back to her current project. It occurred to me. Isn’t this also the creation of a hostile environment? If she keeps stating she wants to look forward and not talk about a painful event and that boundary isn’t being respected, isn’t this a form of abuse as well?

And I wondered if #MeToo is not just about men in power, sexually harassing or abusing women. It’s also women, in a conversation, not hearing another woman saying, This is something that makes me uncomfortable. I’d prefer not to talk about it.

There’s an orthodoxy forming that could become just as exclusive as the boys’ club has been. I noticed that the women who started Time’s Up didn’t include the earliest voices of #MeToo, such as Rose McGowan, who was vocal in her criticism of Meryl Streep.

There’s a danger that a genuine groundswell may become another party that only a few are invited to attend.

I’d like to propose another hashtag: #YourTime, which is to say, tell your story in your time. When you’re ready to speak, we’ll all listen. If you don’t feel like talking, or even offering an opinion on these issues, that’s your prerogative, as well.

Advocacy is a lot like faith. There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all.


According to the Pew Charitable Trust, my family is solidly middle class.  But it can be hard to feel that way when you are the poor ones within an extended family.  We’ve never had a home built.  We don’t jet off overseas.  And we live on the wrong side of the river and we actually like it here.

In spite of this, I’m amazed at how few materials wants I have.  One of my editors gave each of her writers an Amazon gift card.  I would put something in my cart and then take it out again.  “Nah, I don’t really need this.”  Or I’d try to pick out a new pair of earrings . . . but no.  They’re pretty enough but I don’t feel a drive to own them.  It is amazing how many things I can talk myself out of buying.

Poor or wealthy?  In spite of the opinions of those who scoff at my non-designer purse, my heavily used car, and yes that is a hole in the toe of my slipper, I feel wealthy enough. I’m above the flood line and live someplace that has reliable electricity.  I have a home and heat.

But I still find myself longing for a few things.  I hate injustice.  And it drives me nuts when people abuse the environment which means that I want social justice and environmental awareness.

Wealthy enough to want for others?  Maybe I can make that a thing.




Last month, Pope Francis made headlines by suggesting that it may be time to change the words of the Lord’s Prayer from “Lead us not into temptation” to “Do not let us fall into temptation.” The reason for this proposed change is to negate the notion that God would ever lead us into sin.

I started to write this post last month, but held off, as I kept finding the post coming back to #MeToo and things we’ve been hearing from the president. Hoping to steer away from topical, highly-charged issues and back to the prayer itself, I realized that this prayer is timeless as well as timely. Maybe the reason I can’t stop finding its resonance in the news and in the world at large is that it’s not only relevant – still – but it may contain solutions to these problems.

It’s more important than ever for anyone in a position of authority to seek God’s counsel to avoid the temptation of abusing their power. And the need to forgive seems just about continuous of late.

I looked at the wording of various translations of the line about forgiveness.

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (New International Version)

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (Roman Catholic version)

Forgive us for doing wrong as we forgive others (Contemporary English Version)

I’d like to add my own version, if you’d indulge me:

Hold my hand as I walk the path so I don’t lose touch with my own humanity.

Make me mindful that, at my worst, I’ve been unkind.

So when another child of God aims their pain at me, it’s best for my soul to let it go.

If only we had a universal translator to sort through what people are really saying, maybe we’d see that the world is a neighborhood. Everyone we meet is extended family. Somewhere between intention and interpretation, healing awaits.


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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