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This quote from the poet Rumi reminded me a lot of conversations Miss Ruth, Lori and I have had in the past.  Lori discusses limiting God.  My phrase is don’t try to put him in a box.

We are just as likely to put ourselves in a box especially when it comes to doing what God wants us to do.  Sure, some things sound easy.  Don’t steal.  But then again once you get all the details, even that one doesn’t seem so easy.  Covet your neighbors’ new deck?  Yep.  That counts as stealing.

Even the things that seem small are difficult.  What about the things that seem huge?  Noah was tasked with building an ark and gathering the animals.  Moses had to lead an entire people, enslaved people, out of Egypt and across the desert.

What tasks has he called you to do that just seem heart-stoppingly immense?  Our church has answered a calling to feed the needy.  A monthly dinner hasn’t gained the traction we’d hoped for.  Planting the community garden with vegetables for the local food pantry went a lot better.  So far we’ve delivered 3 pounds of carrots, 5 pounds of onions, 7 pounds of loose leaf lettuce, and over 200 lbs of cucumbers. We also made 4 dozen jars of pickles to deliver.  If people could survive on cucumbers alone, we’d have nailed it.  Seriously.

Feeding the poor is a huge task and I’m not going to claim we’ve figured it out.  But working together we made strides.  We are thinking big and planting fruit trees and making new plans for next year’s garden. Fewer cucumbers most likely and someone suggested zucchini.

–SueBE

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Journalist Sarah Jeong was recently named to the New York Times Editorial Board, and since that announcement, her past provocative tweets (for example: “#CancelWhitePeople”) have made the news. She said she’d been attacked online repeatedly by racists and misogynists and had used obnoxious tweets as a way of “counter-trolling” the trolls.

This reminds me of the time I overheard one of my son’s friends using a racial epithet. I barged into the room and reiterated my house rules. “Listen. I don’t care if you guys use expletives when you’re in the heat of a video game. But here in this house, there are three words I never want to hear. The ‘F’ word (pejorative for a gay person). The ‘R’ word (pejorative for an intellectually disabled person). The ‘N’ word (pejorative for an African American.) Those words are only ever used to hurt. They’re weapons. If I hear you use them once, twice, I’ll warn you. Three times, you’re out of here. That’s your first warning, son.”

The boy was instantly remorseful and told me that he was just kidding. He’d meant no harm. My son said, “It’s okay Ma, he was just trolling. Everybody knew he didn’t mean it.”

That was my first exposure to Troll Culture. A kind of over-the-top, so-outrageous-it-should-be-obvious-I’m-joking way of interacting. The Columbia Journalism Review explores the trend through the lens of “the largest fault line within journalism today: the one between journalists who have grown up on the internet, and the media organizations who haven’t.” (Please note: the article contains offensive language.)

At the end of the day, when you troll people – even if somebody trolled you first – you’re still a troll. Using the tactics of those who want to disparage or even destroy you makes you no better than they are.

Fashions come and go, so maybe it will become fashionable again to take the high road. Instead of rolling around in the mud with our detractors, we’ll decide clean living is much better for the soul – and for the world at large.

“We seek what we are.” – Richard Rohr

I find myself surrounded by soulful souls. I guess it’s true that you find what you’re looking for — I’ve always been a spiritual seeker. That the people I hold most dear to me are deeply spiritual people should come as no surprise. Yet I’ve always been surprised at the quality of my friends and family. They are good people: Loving, smart, strong, gracious, talented. Could it be that somewhere in me these same qualities exist? Does like always attract like?

Maybe, but what I think Rohr is saying is that we seek the God we find in ourselves. I suppose that’s why some people’s gods are so small. I prefer to imagine a big God who loves extravagantly to a little god who quibbles over minutiae and hates people who don’t fit into his own teeny, tiny mold. We are all limited in our view of God (who is too big for any of us to really apprehend), but our own limitations (to love, to forgive, to accept) appear to narrow our perceptions even further. And that’s just sad.

In truth, we are all small. We’re a bunch of shrieking atoms on a blue dot hurtling through the vastness of space. What mark we make on this earth will almost surely be washed away by the tides of time. Why on earth would any of want to make ourselves smaller?

God challenges us to be big. Not by any of the markers of society, of course — not in wealth, social status, physicality. God wants us to grow our hearts. And the bigger we grow them, the more we’ll find ourselves surrounded by big-hearted people. Love begets love.

Of course, if you find yourself surrounded by bigots and haters, finger-pointers and middle finger-lifters, you just might want to take a good long look at yourself. Is that kind of smallness really what you’re seeking? And if so, why?

I watched last night (by way of television) an Ethiopian couple scale a sheer cliff side in order to reach an ancient church hewn into the mountain. There they would baptize their son. The churches in the village were not good enough. In order for God to really bless their child, they had to seek tiny handholds in the worn rock, teeter across the thinnest of ridges — without the aid of ropes or harnesses. With a tiny baby strapped to their backs.

Then I watched an indigenous rain forest people dance for eight hours straight in order to appease one of their many gods. The vigor of their dance would determine how blessed they would be in the upcoming year. The dancers included small children. Imagine: Eight long hours, no rest.

My God does not require much of me — certainly no long, prolonged dance sessions or life-endangering climbs. But what if s/he did? I fear I would fail. Even life as a Puritan, as one of the settlers of this country in its first 100 years, would have been beyond me. Imagine sitting in church for hours on end, being shrieked at (mostly) for being a sinning worm of a human being, breaking for lunch, then going right back for more. Every Sabbath. Puritan life was joyless and gray, and that’s the way they liked it.

Where along the line did we humans lose the simple thread of God’s love and concern for us? At what point did we take the good news of the New Testament and turn it into an episode of “Survivor”? When did we turn God into one of us — demanding, hard-hearted, aloof? Maybe from the very start.

I like to think that God is easier than that. God simply wants us to love — to love God and to love each other. The rest of it is window dressing.

Or maybe not. What if God calls on me to do something terribly risky — what would my answer be? That Ethiopian couple and those jungle warriors must have faith the size of a whale to do what they do for God. My faith seems like a shrunken, withered bean in comparison.

Do we climb the mountain? Or do we convince ourselves that God wouldn’t ask us to and proceed to huddle under the nearest bed? When faith and fear collide, who wins?

I pray I never have to answer that question.

It’s all over the news. Social media, too. People screaming at one another, slapping, beating, threatening, harassing…and for what? For wearing the “wrong” T-shirt. For trying to go swimming at the local pool. For wearing a hijab. For being brown-skinned.

When all we can do is lash out at one another for being “different,” we are in the deepest of deep trouble. If interculturalism teaches us anything, it’s that no two of us are exactly the same. Unless we can deal with that, we are in for one heck of a free-for-all. And nobody is safe.

Forget about beating
swords into ploughshares;
let’s focus on the lightest
of legerdemain, on simple
manipulation of the bones.
Let us turn fists into flattened hands.
Let us bring to each other our brokenness,
our humility. Let us be weak. Mild. Silent.
Let us bow to the God in one another.
And if we cannot, we must lie down at once:
We are already dead.

Scrolling through one of my favorite sites, Katzenworld, I found an interesting article about feeding cats raw food. There was a picture of the recommended brand, along with the words, “Made with Human Meat.”

What the heck?

Nearly fell off the chair. Had to scroll back up quickly.

“Made with Human Grade Meat.”

Oh. That’s a relief!

For a minute I thought I’d taken a turn into the Twilight Zone, and stumbled into the Little Shop of Horrors!

One word can make all the difference sometimes.

In today’s political climate, you don’t have to agree with everybody you meet. Online, you don’t have to dignify mean-spirited comments about what you believe, or where you come from, or how you live. But sometimes, one word of kindness can change the conversation.

And if it doesn’t, you may come to the conclusion that this isn’t a conversation anyway, but a monologue. You can always – respectfully – unfollow people who bring drama into your feed. This is true in real life as well. There comes a time when you realize that people who were once your friends bring nothing but negatives into your world. It’s okay to let them go.

In many cases, this will happen by attrition as you refuse to get sucked into the vortex of either/or online. You’re one of us, or you’re one of them. Someday, the zeitgeist will change, and we’ll see each other as people again. Until that time, unplugging from the constant barrage of angst and anger will do your soul good. Here’s one word that will hold your heart together: peace.

Devotion doesn’t mean that you have to go along with anything and everything.  Have you seen the video from South Carolina where a white pool patron called the police on a black pool patron, challenging her right to be there.  You have to have a magnetic key card to enter the pool.  She had one but that wasn’t good enough.  When she wouldn’t divulge her address as proof that she lived in the development, he called the police.

Personally, I felt for the police officers.  They had to deal politely with both parties.  They asked to see her key card so that they could show the disgruntled white guy that her card worked on the lock.  But they also apologized to her.

Once at our pool, someone complained to the management because a muslim family was swimming in yoga pants and long-sleeved shirts.  At least that’s what the garments looked like.  Our pool rules state that you will wear swim attire and not street clothes.  This woman was sure she had won and would get this family thrown out.

But the pool manager wasn’t having it.  He pointed out that this was an exception to the rules because of their religion.  “Oh, then I can wear whatever I want and call it religion?”  “No, ma’am.  But you are free to leave.”

Bigots don’t have to get their way.  And people don’t have to be rude as can be.  Devotion and honor.  They can go hand in hand with standing up for someone.  If only I was calm enough to do it when I’m upset.  This is probably why I admire this ability so much in others.

–SueBE

In my heart and mind, I know Langston Hughes said it right.  I just wish that I had memorized his words.  Not long ago, a friend asked us why our church has a green committee.  What on earth does environmentalism have to do with

Heart beat.

Cricket.

Mute confusion.

Finally after far too long I pulled together a coherent answer.  Caring for the environment is part of God’s call to mankind to be stewards of the earth.  Not exploiters.  Stewards.  That involves care and awareness.

But environmentalism also has to do with social justice.  The poor and exploited are the ones at risk of not having clean water, healthy food and an environment that isn’t actively killing them.  Do unto others.  Love your brother.  Take care of the earth.

For me, they are all strands of faith.  But, like I said, too bad I didn’t have this poem memorized.

–SueBE

Consider the following: A woman decided that whenever she saw a man walking towards her, she would not deliberately get out of his way. She ran into 28 men in short order.

Consider also: During a prayer ceremony, a box full of beautiful, hand-forged glass beads was passed from person to person. Each bead was unique and connected to a prayer; the bead you chose indicated which prayer you would read aloud. Out of dozens of beads, I chose the bead for “silence.” Oh, the irony! I have always been a quiet person — a good baby, an obedient child, never prone to expressions of emotion or even strong opinion (except in my writing). Loquacious friends know they can call me, and I’ll listen for hours. So what was my reaction to choosing that particular bead? “Fifty-three years of being quiet, Lord. When do I get to speak?”

Clearly, the questions need to be asked: Who always gets out of the way? Who gets to speak and who remains silent? And why do we simply accept these answers?

When it comes to politics, the loudest voice wins. The voice doesn’t necessarily represent the majority; it doesn’t have to. If it makes its point loudly enough and with enough aggression, the others will back down. We are seeing this on a daily basis with our current government. Who is allowed to speak when it comes to immigrants and immigration? Not the immigrants themselves. Why? The story is about them. So why are their voices largely unheard?

Who drives policy and who is expected to step aside, even when the policy has nothing to do with the drivers and everything to do with the conceders? Why? Because the drivers have the power. Is that fair? Is that even logical? And if it isn’t, what will it take for the conceders to stand their ground?

I want you to think about this. Are you the person who steps aside or the one who expects others to get out of the way? Are you a loud voice or a silent one? And most importantly, how does God expect us to treat the other? Is God a walk all over people God or a considerate God? Whom did Jesus side with — the powerful people or the silent people (women, the downtrodden, the poor)? And when the silent are enjoined to be “civil,” to not make a fuss, is that what Jesus would do?

What we do with the answers to these questions will say a lot about who we are. It may even determine what happens to us in the next life. I have a feeling that Heaven is where the silent finally speak.

Helping others.  I’m all for it.

But I have to admit that I prefer social justice to charity.  What’s the difference?  I can feed someone today or they can feed themselves for a lifetime.

That said, it can still be tricky because the solution has to work for them, not for me.  Telling them to do things my way may not work.  That means that I have to trust them to know what they need.

We live in a land settled by a variety of people.  They weren’t all farmers or fisherman.  Life has never been one-size-fits-all.  God created us in spectacular diversity.

Just a little food for thought as you wave the Red, White and Blue.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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