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I can make myself believe
that voting still matters
that good will win out
that women will be heard
and people of color respected

I can make myself believe
that redemption is possible
that no one (even me) is useless
that justice is a-comin’
and blue waves can save

I can make myself believe
all manner of fairy tales:
Father knows best
blind obedience is my duty
and we can pray away the pedophiles

But I cannot believe in America
(not really)
or in my Church
(not absolutely)
until men believe in change.

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We name them prettily,
these storms, placate them
with soft sounds: Sandy,
Katrina, Maria, Florence.
On they come, regardless,
knocking down houses with fists
of wind, sweeping the skies
with furious rain. Let us pray
for gentle weather, for gusty
diversions that lure a storm
back out to sea. And when
prayers cannot keep chaos
at bay, let us pray for one another.
Let us be gentle weather to
our neighbor, blowing balmy breezes
that cauterize wounds, taking up,
with many hands, the work of
starting over.
Amen.

Last year, something momentous happened to our country. For the first time in history, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), an agency who reviews and rates countries based on their democratic values, dropped our ranking from “full democracy” to “flawed democracy.” For those who need a translation, that takes America from its rarified position alongside Norway and Canada and plunges it down into the ilk of countries like Chile, Italy and Botswana. This year, the EIU confirmed its earlier analysis: Americans don’t live in a genuine democracy anymore. If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

It has been suggested of late that people who complain about our government — or, worse, protest against it — are somehow “un-American.” They don’t respect our flag! They don’t respect our military! That’s a load of hooey. Protest is as American as apple pie. It’s our origin story: Rebels leaving their homes to come to the New World so they could rebel against England, against each other, against religious tyranny, government control, racism, sexism — you name it. We’re the agitated, red jacket-wearing James Dean of countries.

Rebels are patriots. They understand that the only way to keep the system honest is to challenge it, constantly. They love their country not despite its flaws, but including them — but they know their country can do better. They should be commended for that.

So should people who speak up about the flaws in other institutions, like the Catholic Church. If the Church can’t fix itself (and God knows it needs fixing), it becomes irrelevant. And it dies. Think of protesters as people who care enough to demand not just what is but what could be — if we were all at our best.

A person who loves blindly doesn’t really love at all. It’s the person who sees all the blemishes and scars and ugliness of something and still chooses to love it who really understands what love is.

It’s the way God loves us: Warts and all. And our loving response should be to fix our warts as we are able. Otherwise, love is just a one-way street, and God deserves better. So do we.

Like many of you out there, I’ve always had questions about the parable of the Prodigal Son. For instance, why was it such a big deal that he asked for his inheritance early? My pastor put an end to my wonderings: to the Jewish people of the time, asking for your inheritance was tantamount to wishing your father dead. It was a breach in relationship that could not be mended. Except that the father in the story does mend it — just as God mends the breaks we make with God, over and over, on a daily basis.

Does God make it too easy for us to return home? Maybe. But if God made it harder, we’d never come. Imagine the waiting God does for us! Perhaps a modern perspective will help:

Waiting became habit;
habit became a life.
Day after day,
your father longed for you.
His world became one chair,
one single pane of glass.
Through the window,
he could track the hour
of every package delivery,
chart the bladder capacity
of every dog on the block.
He missed nothing.
When you came,
he was out of his seat in a shot,
prepared to embrace
even your apparition.
Your real flesh,
on the welcome mat,
made him weep.
Yet all the time
you embrace him,
your eye is on the door.

The Lyft driver drove me to my doctor’s appointment, and as we pulled into the parking lot, he told me he was a pastor, and asked, “Do you mind if I pray for you? Because I believe Jesus heals.”

“So do I,” I said. “I’ll take all the prayers I can get.”

He came around to help me out and held the car door open. I said, “‘Preciate that, son. And thanks for your prayers.” I went into the building. As I got onto the elevator, I realized he was still standing by the open car door. He finally – reluctantly – went back to the driver’s seat.

Oh. Did he intend to stand there next to the car and hold hands to pray with me? Right there? That would have been different. In that case, I would have declined. It wasn’t just the issue of praying in public, but also of its being done in that location. Blocking the doorway where ambulances drop off sick patients for their medical appointments.

In some ways, his prayer would have been a performance. Publicity for his church. He could just as easily have prayed for me as he drove away. It reminded me of the time an acquaintance zeroed in on me at a gathering. Said she really wanted to talk to me. She’d heard about my health issues. That I’d gotten separated. She said, “I really think you could benefit from my support group.” It turned out to be Transcendental Meditation. So she’d sought me out, thinking I was a mess. Huh. I literally said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and left.

You can help people in a way that really benefits them, or you can meet the quota of your clique. Souls saved. Public prayers accomplished. Check.

The best way to represent your beliefs is to be a human being. Offer an ear to listen. A word of kindness. If you keep pushing your product despite resistance, you’re just another door-to-door salesperson.

I thought my dear friend (and pet-sitter of 19 years) had disappeared. I couldn’t reach her by phone. My messages went unanswered. The number I found in the white pages had been disconnected. I was so miserable, I wept.

Turns out it was all a product of a faulty telephone and some bad timing. I am understandably relieved, but in those moments of panic, I realized just how delicate life can be….

The world is a fragile place,
held together by gravity and spit,
like a spider’s web or soap bubble,
ever poised to fly into fragments
at the least puff of wind.
We can build a shell of sorts
by holding hands — prayer will
brace the dam more firmly
than cement. If someone is standing
alone, we must pull them in
like a wandering balloon.
Be gentle with your hands
and with your words:
You never know who
might be crumbling.

A number of my friends are librarians and one of them recently told a story on herself.  No surprise, dealing with difficult library patrons is annoying.  She can’t just give them to another librarian.  She can’t find something to do in the back.  And she has to keep them from impacting how she deals with the next person.

While they are griping, she takes a deep breath and says to herself, “This is a child of God.  Remember that – child of God.”  It may not change how this person behaves, but it does change how she views them.  She says that she has actually felt the tension draining from her shoulders.

So many of us seem to embrace the aggravation and the anger that people bring into our lives.  We post about it online.  We retell the story again and again.  How different might our outlook, and our days, become if instead we said this small, high-impact prayer?

“This is a child of God.  Remember that – child of God.”

–SueBE

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.

When I read about missionaries overseas, I’m of two minds. Appreciative of anyone lending a hand to those in need, but ambivalent about the fact that it comes with a price tag. Listen to a sermon. Follow this religion. Do things our way.

To me, the essence of the gospel is outreach that makes a positive impact for someone in a negative circumstance and expects nothing in return. This church initiative in England that asks congregants to use an app to report slavery at car washes is a good example.

The phrase, “of two minds,” came to me again as I read about the cancellation of Roseanne Barr’s sitcom re-boot in the wake of her racist tweet. Several years ago, I wrote an article about the Secret, a new-age philosophy and film. I contacted celebrities who’d commented about it, one of whom was Roseanne.

“The Secret is based on Abrahamic meditations, and should be used only to bring peace and blessings to the mind, and NOT for material gain, which will make it backfire,” she said in an email. It wasn’t her agent or assistant, but Roseanne, responding to me directly. I noticed two things: she doesn’t have a handler and she has strong opinions. She’s of two minds. Seeker of spiritual truth. Spewer of hate speech.

I’m of two minds in terms of what to do with notable figures who go off the rails in this way. On the one hand, what they’ve done is inexcusable. On the other, isolating them in perpetuity won’t rehabilitate them, or make the issues go away. I really wish there were an app for that.

Two weeks ago I got to go on retreat for four days.  It was amazing.  It was a writing retreat at a Benedictine Abbey.  I can’t say that I got a lot of writing done because I took advantage of the retreat aspect.  I read. I walked.  I thought.  I contemplated.

I expected that at home I would be oh so relaxed and productive.  Instead my first week back was a big bummer.

I can’t say that anything huge went wrong.  Sure there were lots of little stressful things but that’s life.  Might as well learn to deal with it.

But isn’t that true both for seeking “retreat” and beauty as well as dealing with the stressors?  That is life and you might as well learn to deal with it.

So spend some time seeking out the beauty in the world around you.  Look at the colors.  Listen to the birds songs.  Stop and really taste that cup of coffee that you so enjoy.

Seek the beauty in the world around you.  And while you are at it. Thank God.  It will help you to better see the beauty in every day actions.  Here is an example from Lord, Teach Us to Pray.  It is “An Everyday Blessing” by Kris Haig.

Bless to me my potted plants, O God.
Bless to me their green leaves
Bless to me their sturdy stems
Bless to me their ghostly roots
that stretch deep
into the secret loam.

Bless the pots that encircle them
Bless the water I pour on them
Bless the rivers and reservoirs
the pipes and spigots
and the sea-green glass pitcher
that catches and carries
your water of life.

Bless the sun
that draws my plants to itself
and bless you, O Christ,
who draws me to yourself.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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