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The world is spiraling out of control. We are not evolving, but de-evolving. Every day things become more vicious, more divisive, more hopeless.

Here’s where you’re expecting me to say, “Have hope! God is with us!” I am not going to say that.

I’m growing increasingly tired of hearing, “hope and pray that things will improve.” I’m not sure that’s enough. It feels to me as if God is pushing our buttons lately, with a very intentional agenda in mind: What will it take?

What will it take for you to call your senator? What will it take for us to understand that we are all human beings and need to take care of one another? What will it take to stop blaming and start working on solutions? What will it take for us to wake up?

It is all very well and good to hope and pray. In fact, prayer can be powerful action. But there is more to be done, and it starts with making our actions congruent with our beliefs. Do you claim to be a Christian yet don’t care about (or actively work against) the welfare of the poor, the immigrant, those standing on the margins (like the LGBTQ community)? You might want to re-evaluate. Do you hate liberals? Conservatives? Hating is not a Christian value. Spewing that hatred, whether online or at a “rally” is not a Christian activity.

Which is not to say that Christians have a corner on morality; we don’t. And part of God’s wake-up call to us is recognizing that we, in our diversity of faith traditions, are more alike than different, that Sharia law doesn’t hurt me any more than someone keeping kosher does — just follow your own beliefs and be considerate of others’ beliefs. Religion isn’t the enemy; it’s people who misconstrue and misinterpret religion, who forget that God is love — above all else.

I firmly believe that Jesus was a radical. He didn’t come to soothe anybody’s spirits; he came to shake things up. And that’s what God is doing now. God is shaking and shaking us, trying to make us declare exactly who and what we are and what we believe is right and just.

So…are you ready to stand up? If not, what will it take?

In the documentary, “Pidgin: The Voice of Hawaii”,  two pastors sat down to pray before translating the Bible into Hawaiian Pidgin.

Much mahalo for puttin your word to da people.” And they ended the prayer in this way: “Cuz we yo guys. Das it.”

They began to translate a passage from the Old Testament into Pidgin: “Yahweh stay huhu as why all kinds stuff happen inside Judea and Jerusalem.” In this text, “huhu” means angry.

Hearing the Bible translated into an idiom that sounds so casual, it took me a moment to digest it all. Then again, when the New International Version of the Bible came out, some people were appalled by its more modern language. Maybe we’re all just naturally resistant to change. A Catholic acquaintance once told me that she missed the days when mass was spoken in Latin.

There’s a version of the Bible in Hawaiian Pidgin on Bible Gateway, so I looked up John 3:16. The King James version reads: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

The Hawaiian Pidgin version reads: God wen get so plenny love an aloha fo da peopo inside da world, dat he wen send me, his one an ony Boy, so dat everybody dat trus me no get cut off from God, but get da real kine life dat stay to da max foeva.

No matter how you say it, prayer always gets through.

Sometimes I don’t even know what to ask for when I pray. I just know I need help, right now.

That’s when I whip out my secret weapon. My one-word, all-encompassing prayer that says it all when I really don’t know what to say.

Grace.

It covers everything, it’s free to one and all, and it meets you right where you are.

By the way, the Hawaiian word “aloha” has many meanings: hello, good-bye, alas, farewell, compassion, mercy, charity and also… grace.

There used to be men (and women, I assume) called holy fools, perfectly ordinary (and often brilliant) people who faked idiocy so as to be daily humbled by the world. It was good for their spiritual lives, they felt. I am coming to grips with the place of foolishness in my own life — it’s not something I’ve chosen, but rather a facet of my being: I am a social idiot.

I was forced to confront this aspect of myself last weekend at a party. Surrounded by outgoing, extroverted folks, I grappled with a tongue roughly the size, shape and weight of a cast iron skillet. “Amazing!” I heard myself saying. “Wonderful!” I’m a writer. I ought to have facility with words. And I do, to some extent. That extent lying within the power of my mind and my fingers…not in the vast rolling pastures of speech. Add in a dash of shyness, and you’ve got a wallflower extraordinaire. Move over, Emily Dickinson. There’s a new weird, silent poetess in town.

All of this — coupled with a fascination for the sound and substance of words, which once caused me to mispronounce the word “full” in prayer — brings us to this: a sort of love poem, penned by a fool who may or may not be holy, but who certainly hopes for its salvific grace.

Pixilated,
besotted with love,
love coursing through blind alleys,
traffic circles, cul-de-sacs,
languishing in corners, deaf to
directionality, wholly lost in translation. I fish,
pull up old shoes, tin cans, frank inadequacies.
Brooks babble better.
Helpless, hopeless heart!
Could I crack you open and let
the depth of you spill! And yet.
There is a solace in silence, dim wisdom
in the fractured code, the blank flags,
the broken nibs and worn erasers.
I send up smoke signals,
too random to be cumulus,
received by God like an armful of roses.
Wordless. But heard.
I am a fool of grace
and God is with me.

I like to think that one of my gifts — my ministries, really — is prayer. I’ve always prayed vigorously for others, and I believe that prayer is powerful. That’s why I was so affected by a recent situation, one that dramatically revealed the limits of my charity.

“Pray for them,” my friend asked me. But I couldn’t do it; not the way she wanted me to. She was speaking of her employers, oil investors who grew used to a lifestyle that includes three mansions, dozens of vintage automobiles and a lifetime of lavish spending. And why not? They were making in the mid-five figures every month. Then the oil market took a downturn.

Suddenly, they find themselves having to contemplate selling one of their homes, liquidating a coin collection, borrowing from family. They’ve hinted that they might have to cut my friend’s hours. (My friend is 76 years old, supporting her grown children, with no retirement date on the horizon.)

I don’t mean to disparage these people. They may very well be much better people than I can ever hope to be. My friend certainly idolizes them. So what was my problem? Why did I say, “Yes,” even as my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth?

Praying for the oil market to return to its former profitability wouldn’t just help my friend’s employers. There are lots of good people who work hard for oil companies, who deserve raises and steady employment. It would be good for the economy of certain states whose coffers could use a nudge. But I still can’t mouth the words that would potentially help them.

I don’t think reliance on oil is good for the environment. But that’s not my real reason for not praying. It’s this: I simply cannot pray for the rich to get richer. And that says more about me than them.

Am I jealous? Maybe. It would be nice to have that kind of money. Am I too busy judging them to pray? Yes, certainly. That they did not save money, that they frittered it away, bothers me. But who am I to judge someone else’s spending habits? My own savings are ludicrously small.

In the end, it comes down to this: I am at ease praying for those on the margins, the struggling, the poor. White, wealthy and powerful? Not so much. God doesn’t judge, but apparently, I do. And that’s a problem.

Like my post of two weeks ago, I didn’t write this for assurances that I’ve done the right thing; it’s a genuine wonderment: When someone asks you to pray for something you don’t like/condone/care for, what do you do? If you do pray, do you worry that it is inauthentic? How do you keep judgment out of it?

I’ve settled for praying that my friends’ employers will find a way to live within their means without causing deprivation for my friend. It’s not what she asked for. It may even be sinful of me. But it did provide me with a moment of self-revelation.

I’m not altogether comfortable with the results. Maybe I need my own miracle, of the heart-softening variety. Maybe someone should pray for me.

Boy oh boy, are we in trouble. A 22-year-old Russian man is on trial for playing Pokemon Go in church. A politician in Indonesia is being charged with blasphemy against Islam. Stephen Fry, noted British comedian, is being investigated in Ireland for scathing remarks he made on a talk show, about God — if He exists — being something of a sadist.

I could make more or less well-constructed arguments in each of these cases. No, you shouldn’t play games in church, but if we sentenced every kid who didn’t pay attention during Mass, we’d have very few children left to fill the pews. God is infinitely compassionate, but the British tend to be a bit suspect on such matters, what with having endured hundreds of years of religious-based harassment and executions. And though I don’t always understand Islam, maybe some people just need to settle down a bit. In fact, maybe we all should.

I’m no fan of blasphemy. It riles me up when people make suppositions about God based on limited human experience. But then again, I do this, too. We all do. The thing we so often forget is that God can take it. God’s no hothouse flower, withering away at the scald of an unkind Tweet. God is bigger than we are. We take offense at slights against ourselves and against God. God does not.

In fact, God loves us even at our worst. Especially at our worst. God loves dopey people who do dopey things when they ought to be praying. God loves Islam, even when those who practice its tenets make God into a tyrant. And God loves anyone who makes others laugh — laughter being one of God’s most wondrous inventions.

So lay off, folks. The one thing you can say without a doubt about our species is that we make mistakes. We are error-ridden, clumsy, maladroit, blabber-mouthed idiots on a near-constant basis. And that’s okay, because God made us that way. Out of a pile of dirt and hubris, male and female, we were formed. We make mistakes, but hopefully, we learn from them. We see God only in glimpses, but if we make an effort, those glimpses can be glorious. And we constantly discount God’s capacity — for goodness, for miracles, for compassion and love. We really shouldn’t do that.

But it’s okay. God’s got tough skin. We’d do well to remember that.

Yesterday was a crummy day. Fortunately, Tuesday was wonderful — chock-full of blessings and outright miracles. That’s the way life is sometimes. Pondering Tuesday’s beneficence, I keep thinking, “I didn’t deserve all that.” But isn’t that the point? Grace is unearned. God bestows it freely, even lavishly. All this generosity got me thinking about God’s love for each of us. It’s a little overwhelming. And there is no “why” or “because” about it. It just is. Here are some loose, unrefined thoughts on the matter:

Someone has a crush on you and it’s God.
Someone gave you a candy heart that said
LOVE YOU and meant it and it was God.
Someone sends ridiculous declarations,
love songs on the radio,
twenty dozen long-stemmed roses,
chocolates hand-dipped by blind monks,
a stuffed plush bear the size of a Volkswagen.
And it’s God.
God says you get a car and you and you and you
and they’re all dream cars even if yours is a Mercedes
and mine is a Porsche.
Someone swoons over you, knees knocking, heart
ticking quick as a metronome at full speed,
chest so tight breath barely breaks,
and it’s God.
To God, you are marvelous. Amazing. A wonder.
A sonnet with legs and arms and a face.
God will never get over you.
You might as well sign for the package;
take it in your hands. Guess its worth.
You will always come up short.

Was there ever a time when “poet” was a legitimate job description? Maybe, centuries ago, you could get a gig as a court poet, or have a de Medici support you as a contribution to the arts. Sadly, today, the de Medicis among us have very little use for poetry. It is a gift, but not a commodity. And spiritual poetry, alas, with its propensity to probe and question, comfort yet cause unease, is relegated to the bottom of the artistic heap. This can disheartening, yet I can’t stop an intense desire to live within the world of words (however imperfectly I receive them) that God supplies so temptingly and freely.

I ask for tongues of fire:
ashes appear.
Underneath there is heat,
seething, sufficient
to melt me to the bone.
If I could bury myself in poetry,
I might burn righteously,
pure as glass, pious as
a Lutheran steeple.
But poetry is no place to live,
even for church mice.
No one subsists on words,
even if they roll off the tongue
like buttered toffee.
I must be content
to live in the world of man.
Secretly, however, I burn.

 

 

“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.”

There is a very real phenomenon called “Jerusalem Syndrome”: Someone visits the Holy Land and experiences a psychotic break, fraught with religious obsession. Obviously, this isn’t something one would wish on anyone, but it illustrates rather vividly how some places can overwhelm us with their deep spiritual “footprints.” Some places simply seem more touched by God than others. I was in one of these places last weekend, and it provoked a poetic response:

There are places God has glanced
with lightest touch of hand, some swept,
palm to earth, and some in which God’s hand
sinks into soil like a sculptor’s hand in clay, that shout,
“Here I’ve sent saints; look the proof is all around you.”
And the heart stills, stops, halts — no, you are not
on the moon; the ground grasses green, sky pulses blue,
the smell of the place is ancient but known. And yet.
The silence is deeper, divine, the air crowded with
exemplary souls, and you want to join them —
shrug off your body like an old coat and disappear
into ether. Pierced to the root, overcome by a sun
that seems more heavenward than most, you
fill your lungs with quavering promise and slide
between worlds as easy as a body entering water.
If you could only stay, you would be saved.

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