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A piping plover photographed at another beach (National Park Service photo)

National Park Service photo

Here in New Jersey, we never say we’re going to the beach. We say we’re going “down the shore.” Not down to the shore, mind you. Just “down the shore.”

An endangered bird was found on a beach in our state recently, so officials canceled a free summer concert series. The bird in question, the Piping Plover,  is a beach-cleaner, controlling the population of insects and small crustaceans down the shore. Apparently, they don’t like noise, especially during nesting season. I can relate to that!

I was impressed that the National Park Service took steps to protect this endangered bird. Some may complain that the concert series was canceled, but the silver lining is that we’re doing something positive for the planet. 

Wouldn’t it be great if we took care of each other in the same way? Let’s form a Silver Lining Committee to focus on the positive in unpleasant situations.

There’s a neighbor who has taken to riding a very loud motorcycle at 3 AM lately. The Silver Lining Committee reminds us that his sudden revving, which extricates us from REM sleep, is actually an opportunity to take a bathroom break. Very considerate! 

A few blocks over, a family has a pet rooster. I assumed that roosters only crow at the crack of dawn, but apparently, they crow at any time, day or night. So, one might say, I learned something. The Silver Lining Committee reminds us that one is never too old to learn.

It’s encouraging that someone remembered that we have a moral obligation to protect endangered species. That must mean we still have the capacity to extend compassion to one another. The Silver Lining Committee reminds us that that’s reason enough to have hope for the future. 

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We designed this blog as a sunny, positive place to reflect and pray. That does not mean that we turn a blind eye to the darker things of this world. Take the situation at the border: Children are being torn from their parents’ arms, placed in overcrowded “shelters,” sleeping on concrete, not being provided with even the most basic care. They are getting sick. They are dying. Have no doubt — we will be judged on our response to this crisis. And that judgment will come sooner than we think.

Be warned:
We are writing on the most fragile of pages
in ink that breaches the veins, burning
blood, leaching poison. They will remember us
as the stuff of childhood nightmares,
as the monsters their mamas swore
did not exist. (Sometimes parents are wrong,
and monsters wear a human mask.)
We are imprinting a world on their skins,
a world of screaming terror, filth and misery.
We may forget, but they will not. Not ever.
The dark thing we’ve unleashed will come
to roost in our own pretty homes,
soon, soon. It will swoop and smother.
No nation can stand with a millstone
round its neck. Judgment is coming.
Do not look away.

A thank you letter from the residents who escaped without injury because of the local MuslimsImagine that you haven’t eaten much for days. It’s the end of long night, and you’re exhausted. You look up and realize there’s a building on fire! By the time you call for help, it might be too late. What would you do?

A group of young Muslim men who had just left their mosque for Ramadan service ran into a burning building, risking their lives to knock on every door until all the residents were safely outside.

One of the residents told the press, They made sure everyone got out. They knocked on each door until someone opened. If it wasn’t for them we would never have got out.”

I saw this news story on Reddit, and was puzzled as to why I couldn’t find it anywhere else online. It’s a feel-good story with heroes and a happily ever after. People of different generations and faiths coming together in the midst of a crisis.

The conspiracy-theorist in me is wondering: Why isn’t this in the headlines? Is it because it’s a story about Muslims that doesn’t feed into the negative, erroneous view some may hold?

Most people are peaceful and want to do the right thing. If only we’d see each other as relatives in the human family, labels and misconceptions would be a thing of the past.

On Twitter, I only ever followed positive accounts, and one was a website known for heartwarming pet videos. One day, I was shocked when they posted a video of a baby seal being clubbed to death, with the narrator saying sadly, “He never stood a chance.” They’re trying to raise awareness to put an end to the gruesome practice, but seeing it can do psychological damage to viewers. It’s as if they were clubbing us over the head as well. I unfollowed them and eventually left Twitter altogether. Social media can be used for good and for not-so-good.

The whole concept of viral videos is ethically murky at times. If you share footage of someone else’s bad day, aren’t you just making that person’s day even worse?

Last month, a man attacked actor Arnold Schwarzenegger at an event in Africa, and his reaction was laid-back. He said he was fine; in fact, he didn’t even realize he’d been kicked. He thought he’d just been jostled by the crowd. “And if you have to share the video (I get it), pick a blurry one without whatever he was yelling so he doesn’t get the spotlight.”

He went on to suggest that they post video of athletes from his event instead. Good advice for life, really. Give your attention to what’s good in life. And don’t put a spotlight on the negative.  

Rainforest, Palm Trees, Moss, Amazon Indians, Tree

What if you woke up one day and realized your life had been brought to you by Comcast? Little did you know, you could’ve switched providers and had a better life. Wouldn’t that be a shock to the system!

I’ve never been able to understand how anyone can claim ownership of the internet. Why are we paying companies to provide us with what really should belong to everyone for free?

An indigenous tribe in Ecuador won a landmark case against oil companies last week, preventing them from drilling in the Amazon rainforest. It took me a moment to wrap my head around that. This native tribe had to navigate the country’s legal system when they have their own internal system of government. Then they had to ask permission to prevent interlopers from coming into their home and taking whatever they wanted.

Who owns the Amazon rainforest? Please don’t tell me Jeff Bezos. Cuz I’ll punch ya. And nobody would believe you if you reported me to the police. That Kindly Auntie? She would never! 🙂

We seem to find many inventive ways to do the wrong thing at the expense of other people, or of the planet. Let’s designate a day where we do the right thing no matter what other people might get away with doing. We’ll come up with a catchy name for it, let’s see… we’ll call it: Today. And let’s extend it indefinitely and do it every day for the rest of our lives.

On the news last month, teachers were interviewed about the walk-out in Los Angeles. “We’re striking!” one woman said. And I said back to the screen, “Wow. Conceited much?” 🙂 I jest, of course, and don’t mean to make light of this real problem. Teachers shouldn’t have to go without a raise for ten years. Or teach to a classroom of fifty students. Teachers should be treated like gold. And paid the same way! Still, levity always finds its way into our lives, and I’d like to propose that comic relief should be taught in schools as well.

There’s so much pressure on kids today. They’re mandated by law to go to a particular public school. All day long, at home and at school, every adult they see is their boss. And of course, as the law of the jungle says, every student in a higher grade is, too.

I think that comedy, in the right doses — and with only modest levels of snark — can be a form of communication, as well as a form of therapy. Maybe it should actually be part of the curriculum.

“I saw this sign posted once; it said, ‘Blasting Zone Ahead.’ Wow. Shouldn’t that read, ‘Road Closed’?” This joke is from one of my favorite comedians, Brian Regan.  

Telling a joke — and having it land — is both an art and a science. Maybe it can be quantified. Or maybe it can’t. Then it would also be philosophy. Comedy could also help with public speaking and socialization. And it’s the kind of homework students wouldn’t mind doing. In closing, here’s an oldie but a goodie: What did the Zen Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything. Ba-dum-bum. Good night! We’re here all week!

When I read Lori’s absolutely spot-on post, I was right there with her, saying “Amen!” out loud. It seemed promising to hold a summit in the Vatican to address sexual abuse in the church. What was accomplished? Nothing in particular. The Pope is still noncommittal about making substantive changes and no action plan was made. In a way, he’s become a trope. A symbol of The Oblivious Guy in Charge. Of the One Percent, living opulently as others struggle. Of the patriarchy.

Every so often, I feel I’m slightly psychic. My late mother did, as well. When I’d visit her, she’d talk at length about Nostradamus’ and Edgar Cayce’s predictions. Recently, I found something interesting from twenty years ago in a folder of her effects. It’s a list she wrote, describing the specific sequence of events that portend the end times!

One of the things she wrote was this: “The news media declares The Pope dead.”

Notice it doesn’t say that he died, but was declared dead by the media. So many people are so fed up with his lack of leadership during this crisis, it’s as if he doesn’t even exist for us anymore.

In normal times (remember those?) I would never throw a stone at a respected religious leader. But these times are decidedly abnormal. And respect has to be earned. I pray for the Pope’s safety and would never wish ill to befall him.  Now if only he’d make safety in the sanctuary his highest priority as well.

They’re meeting at the Vatican right now. They’re calling it the Protection of Minors Summit. And they’re addressing the elephant in the room — or, more fittingly, the sacristy — sexual abuse by priests. So far, the Catholic Church has addressed this scandal in fits and starts. There has been some transparency, as various dioceses publish lists of “credible accusations.” Nuns, too, are finally having their #MeToo moment. There have also been some bitter disappointments, like cardinals who blame homosexuality for the crisis, or the leaked regulations governing priests who break their vows and father children.

Will this summit do anything to really address the grotesqueries that have occurred in the Church? Maybe. But only if true root causes are examined. Chief among them? Clericalism. You know, the whole attitude of “only I can make bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ; only I am special; therefore, whatever I do cannot possibly be wrong.” It’s a poison that too many “men of God” have swallowed whole.

I am waiting to hear the results of the summit, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m also not leaving the Church. My faith isn’t in people. It is in God. The community I choose to practice my faith with is, by and large, a good group of people. Bad priests don’t represent my faith any more than Hitler represented patriotism. But I want to see my Church do right.

Jesus set the table at the Last Supper, and I know Him to be inclusive. It’s time to add a leaf to the table. Let clerics eat humble pie, and allow new voices to be heard. Invite married folks, women, LGBTQ. Let them speak. If not, the Church is sunk. And no summit on earth will bring it back.

 

 

What if we find out Darth Vader was really just a nice guy, if a bit misunderstood? A man in Tennessee whose father was a Star Wars fan was saddled with the name of the dark lord and seems to have a sense of humor about it.

In other off-beat news, it won’t come as a big surprise that Kafka was a terrible boyfriend, would it? Reading his letters to his fiancée, it seemed he saw everything – even love – in a, well, Kafkaesque light.

I love light-hearted stories like these. But I really love reading stories that start out on the dark side and end up reaffirming my faith in humanity.

A distressed man on the autism spectrum who had attacked his elderly parents was admitted to a Chicago hospital. Instead of sedating or subduing him, the security officers sang to him, calming him down and defusing the situation.

When a teacher saw her 7-year-old student riding his bike on a busy highway, she found out his diabetic father had collapsed at home. When he couldn’t unlock his father’s phone to call 911, he got on his bike to ride five miles to his grandmother’s house. The teacher called for help, and the boy’s father recovered.

Every bad news story starts from a place of pain, doesn’t it? The person involved may be called by different names: gunman, perpetrator, criminal. But it all starts with a “dis.” Disrespect. Feeling disenfranchised. Dismissed. Pain is like a chain letter. Someone feels slighted. They take that pain with them and slight someone else and it spreads like a virus.

The antidote to the “dis” is to not react in kind, but to unpack the pain behind the anger. Will compassion put an end to the cycle of pain? We can only live in hope.

The psychology behind selfies is fascinating to me.  A woman took a picture of herself grinning widely, almost maniacally, and in the background was noted primatologist, Jane Goodall, looking at her curiously.

I wonder what Goodall would say about this primate’s behavior, posturing as if to say, Look! I discovered Jane Goodall. I hereby claim her accomplishments as my own.

Then there’s the phenomenon of photobombs, illustrated by the Fiji Water Girl, the model paid to promote the product by inserting herself into pictures of celebrities at the Golden Globe Awards. Younger commenters think what she did was cute, but older ones (like me) see it as crass.

Normally, I enjoy a funny meme, but I see this as being in poor taste.  There’s no denying we live in different worlds based on how we look at the world.

Why do people do what they do? Most aren’t doing these things to annoy anyone else, but to enjoy life in their own way. It does seem that everyone is looking into a camera instead of living in the moment. Is it more important to prove to others that you had fun than to actually have fun? What’s wrong with this picture?

Maybe it’s not up to me to figure out what’s wrong with this picture. All I can do is to find what’s right with the picture that I hold of the world. In the meantime, if I see a photobomb or Fiji girl coming at me, I’ll look the other way and keep going.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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