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The other day, I watched a church service live-stream on Facebook. It occurred to me that I was seeing the exact moment of the lie taking place – yet no one was lying on purpose. The pastor asked if anyone wanted to accept Christ, and many came forward to pray. At the end, he said, “Congratulations! Now you’re born again! All things are made new!”

The lie is in the mood music they’re playing. The warm, welcoming church workers guiding people into their religion. The parishioners nodding as if you’re doing a great thing, this is a big step, your life is about to completely transform!

But that’s the lie of it. That’s the production. The musical number of it.

We expect all vestiges of our former life to just fall away. For all of our insecurities and problems to disappear. Poof! For this encouraging crowd of fellow believers to be there for us always, patting us on the back and giving us a high-five.

Not that anybody’s lying about what faith can do for you. It truly can change your life completely. But that’s the heart-work. That’s work you and God do together, and it happens over time, like a scroll unfurling. No one else can do it for you, and there is no magic prayer to make it happen instantly.

When I took the altar call years ago, in my mind it was more like the “alter call,” as if it would completely change my life instantly. What I came to conclude is that you walk the path with God and maybe alchemizes into of course. Is that you, God? solidifies into a firm foundation of faith.

It’s like that “Just Say No to Drugs” commercial from years ago, that showed an egg frying in a pan, with the voiceover, “this is your brain on drugs.”

In our version, we’ll show the sun rising, flowers blooming, and the earth turning. Massive, mystical, magical happenings – the only common denominator is the One holding it all together.

Good people, This is your soul on God.

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1. Never sneeze with half-chewed nuts in your mouth. I’m still picking bits out of my hair.

2. If your wife makes something for the potluck, remember to actually bring it. (Owen, that’s you I’m talking to.)

3. Folks can say in one breath that they voted for Trump because he is pro-life, yet in the next breath fully countenance the forcible removal of immigrants, the yanking of health care to thousands — making pregnancy a “pre-existing condition,” while simultaneously denying prenatal care, and failing to understand why Black Lives Matter.

4. When one only has herself to cook for, one tends to eat sporadically and strangely. Creamed kale for supper, anyone?

5. God makes God’s-self known in loud trumpeting…and barely perceivable whispers. Both. I am much better at hearing the trumpeting. Although it is jolting.

6. As a brilliant artist friend reminded me with his painting of Jeremiah being lifted from the cistern (the biblical prophet’s enemies throw him into a dry cistern; a court official rescues him, not just with rope, but — thoughtfully — with pieces of cloth to place under his arms while he is being lifted, so the ropes don’t chafe him), you can lift a person up by throwing them a line and expecting them to be grateful for it, OR you can lift someone up with special attention to their individual needs — i.e., gently. How do you lift people up?

7. There is always a third option: To not lift people up at all. This is becoming less and less acceptable to me, yet more and more common in the world.

8. I need to speak less and listen more. This will render me pretty much selectively mute. That’s okay; the world has enough noise in it. It will, however, make phone calls awkward.

9. I need a nap. A year or two ought to do it. Now, if you’ll excuse me….

Pope Francis spoke out this week in support of Dreamers and in opposition to climate change deniers. (And before you say, “Who asked him, anyway?” let me tell you — journalists.) I am proud of my Church’s Papa, proud that he puts love and justice and mercy above other considerations. He is walking with Christ on these issues, welcoming the stranger and being a caretaker of God’s bountiful gifts to us.

In other news, Steve Bannon railed at the Catholic Church for its support of illegal immigrants, saying the Church needs them to “fill the pews.”

Oh really?

Immigrants to this country bring with them their faith. My own great-grandfather helped build the first Catholic church in South Dakota, knowing full well there weren’t any priests in the area, but believing nonetheless that one would come. Mr. Bannon’s ancestors, who arrived with the tide of Irish fleeing the potato famine (and who, by the way, never had official papers of any sort, who were reviled by so-called “natives” and blamed for lack of employment, among other things) brought theirs. Somewhere along the way, Bannon lost the thread of the narrative, which has always been love. A Christian who is without love is no Christian at all. The fact that his own predecessors were the Latin Americans of their day seems to evade him entirely. If you are glad that this great country embraced your own ancestors, how can you deny that embrace to someone — anyone — else? Who are you to say “too many”?

But back to Dreamers. And walls. Specifically, walls that the Mexican government will never, ever pay for, not now, not ever, never. The recipients of DACA are not criminals. They never have been. And they contribute significantly to our GNP. If we lose them, we lose money — lots of it. Surely, that’s an argument even the most hard-hearted can understand? How does America become “great again” by cutting off its nose to spite its face? And then building a wall around it to point out its stupidity in the most glaring of ways?

Love, mercy, justice. Anyone who claims ownership to faith in Christ must claim ownership to these qualities in their everyday, working lives. Day in, day out. Even politicians. And, yes, even “street fighters.”

I love words. The textures, the shapes, popping p’s and sharp t’s, languorous l’s and sighing h’s. I reckon most writers love words. But we also know that words are powerful. You remember the old schoolyard chant: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? Flagrant lie. And secretly, we all know it.

There ought to be a retirement home for words that no longer serve us, words that have changed meaning over time, or worn out their old meanings. “Meet,” for instance. Sure, we still use “meet” quite a bit — “I will meet you for lunch,” “Tommy has a swim meet” — but we no longer use it to mean “proper” or “appropriate,” as in “it is right and meet that we should join this couple in matrimony.” That’s okay. “Meet” still has a lot of life left in it. But words that no longer make sense in society — words we’ve learned are hurtful — those are another story. Like statues that serve only to remind an oppressed people of their oppression, words that hurt should be dropped for something more relevant.

Words should also be used with equality. I saw two photos of people braving the horrors of Hurricane Harvey recently. One showed a white couple, wading through chest-deep water, and the caption said something along the lines of “Bob and Judy So-and-So are seen leaving a grocery store after finding bread and water.” Hold that sentence in your mind. The other photo showed a person of color doing the exact same thing as Bob and Judy So-and-So, only this caption reported her action as “looting.” Either taking bread and water is looting or it is surviving. It cannot depend on the color of one’s skin. Words aren’t inherently judgmental; the people using them frequently are. That’s not okay.

I’m not suggesting the implementation of “word police” (although if that ever becomes a real job, sign me up!). I’m not talking about “political correctness.” I’m talking about using words thoughtfully. We’ve become a nation of blurters, led by a Blurter-in-Chief, who frequently does not seem to have the slightest idea what is coming out of his mouth. I’m all for speaking one’s mind, but surely the state of my mind — of anyone’s mind — isn’t worthy of being expressed every minute of every day. Surely we’re all aware enough to recognize that just as you wouldn’t put any old thing into your mouth, you shouldn’t let any old thing come out of it.

We are currently in the wake of a tragedy, and there is no better time for self-examination. So let’s talk about words, how we use them and whether or not we ought to. Just like the woman in Houston who finally lost her temper after having microphones shoved into her face and repeatedly being asked “how she felt” about being uprooted, we must reserve the right to be sensitive about words. Because words will hurt us, just as surely as any force of nature.

That’s Shakespeare, by the way, opining on the unbearable heaviness of being. As per usual, I’m with Sweet William. I always thought that if I could choose a super-power, I’d choose incorporality — the ability to lose my physical body, pass through walls, fly (or at least float) and be incapable of being touched or hurt by human hands. (My husband tells me Rogue from X-Men is like this, but my nerd credentials can neither confirm nor deny.) In other words, I want to be body-less. Why? Because I hate my body.

I was too thin growing up, and now I’m much too fat. (When was I “just right”? I don’t remember that ever happening.) I am too tall, my features are insignificant, I’m graying, and just now I have a rash on my face — stress dermatitis — which makes me want to stick my head in the ground like an ostrich.

My gorgeous redheaded sister-in-law tells me to try body positivity (or at least body neutrality). My friends tell me not to engage in negativity. They’re right. I know this. I also know that it is shallow and wrong that society puts so much emphasis on a woman’s looks; that when male professionals are described, words like “leader” and “strong” are used, but when women professionals are described, words like “hot” or “cute” prevail. It’s ugly. It’s unfair. It’s the way things are.

It is also unfair to God, who made me as I am: tall, yes, but also smart. Unremarkable, but in better health than many. Temporarily red-faced, but a good listener.

I suspect that we all struggle with ourselves to an extent. I’d hate to meet someone who was totally self-satisfied, who honestly felt there was no work to be done on their innards (or out-ards). We can all do better. But honoring God means honoring ourselves, too.

I suggest a compromise. Let’s each try to think of one thing (per day) about ourselves that we like or value. I value that I can reach the top shelf at the grocery store. I will never have to ask a man to get something for me that I can’t reach. I like that my eyes show everything I am feeling. I like that my hands look like my mom’s.

That’s three things. So, how about you? What do you struggle with? What can you celebrate? How can we move past focusing on the physical to focusing on the spiritual?

I bet our souls are absolute knockouts.

Surely, I’m going to write about Charlottesville. How could I not write about Charlottesville? How could anyone remain silent as evil surges through the streets; as so-called “Christians” claim not to hate anyone, while in the next breath asserting that they would never break bread with a person of color; as a woman is killed by Nazis on American soil?

I need to take a breath. I feel sick.

I feel sick when I reckon that 34% of this country stands with a guy who sees no difference between White Supremacists and those brave enough to stand up to them. I feel sick when I think of the lie of history behind those “beautiful statues” (mostly dedicated in the early 1900s, when Jim Crow laws started being enacted, and the rest in the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement was burgeoning). I feel sick when I think of the hate burning in the hearts of all of those polo-shirted white guys marching with their tiki torches, as if they were waylaid en route to a suburban barbecue.

I am heart-sore. Weary. Nauseated. And yet, I know how privileged I am — what must our black friends, our Jewish friends, be thinking and feeling? It makes me want to swoon into despair.

SueBe and Ruth, my co-bloggers, have been my lights this week, reminding me not to give into the darkness. To keep my candle lit so that others can add their own little lights to it, so maybe we can make a path through the darkness and into a better place. What would I do — what would any of us do — without the support of those who “get it,” who feel as we feel and recognize that what’s on the line isn’t about politics; it’s about good versus evil?

So, for everyone out there too sick and sad and sore to grab onto the life preserver of hope, let me be an outstretched hand. Good people still exist. They’re out there. Maybe they need to make a little more noise, but they’re out there.

And I love you, and I stand with you, and I will hold out my candle defiantly, no matter what occurs. We will not let hatred win. Because no matter which biblical excerpts some people mutilate in order to justify their racism, there is one that trumps (ha!) them all: “7 My dear friends, let us love one another, since love is from God and everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.8 Whoever fails to love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4: 7-8)

Let love mend us. Amen!

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Despite my beloved mother’s best efforts (God rest) and the hours she put in playing Bach on the piano, I’m still nowhere near as cultured and refined as she was. She’d quote Chaucer for me, in middle English. She’d school me on the origin of words.

Still, I’m just an easily-distracted, uncultured, good-natured gal from New Jersey.

Doesn’t matter if I’m looking right at you as you tell me your long-winded spiel. In my mind, I’ve gone to Carolina.

Watching this video of Hilary Hahn, I was reminded of my mother playing Bach on the piano.

I’m amazed at how beautiful even one note can sound in the right hands. At the same time, I’m also utterly distracted by the fact that her producer looks like a combination of Fred Mertz (of I Love Lucy) and Cheech Marin (of Cheech and Chong).

Then I realized that her conductor looks like Art Garfunkel (of Simon and Garfunkel). 😎

So whilst (little faux fanciness for ya) I try to be good at culcha, alls I can really do is appreciate it in my own New Jersey way. I’ll never have tea with the queen, p’raps, but I like to spin a yarn and have a good laugh.

I noticed that when Hahn plays, her whole body moves in a particular choreography. It’s as if she knows that she can’t reach the notes with her hands unless her feet move in a certain way at the same time.

Her whole body is her instrument.

In the same way, your whole life is your testament.

Most of the people you meet would never stand still and let you convert them to your beliefs.

All of the people you meet are seeing, hearing and feeling your beliefs every time you speak.

With all that’s going on in the world, all I can do is offer you this cozy corner where you’ll always be welcomed like a friend and we can share our stories. I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, kind people. You’re okay with me.

It isn’t just me, is it? I mean, don’t you sometimes feel if only I could get there (wherever that is — health, peace, happiness) everything would be all right? It’s a longing for a place that doesn’t really exist except in flickers, in brief glimpses — a moment of unbridled joy, a deep second of contentment. We experience it from time to time, and spend most of the rest of our lives trying to get back there. We’ve devised numerous vehicles over the years in order to propel ourselves to this place of peace, from the useful and healthy (yoga) to the destructive (drugs). It’s not just me; I know it isn’t. You do it, too, right?

For me, the there in getting there is union with God. It first happened when I was seven or eight, preparing for one of the early sacraments (probably Reconciliation). I was in church, kneeling, when I was overcome by a sudden sense of God’s love and mercy. It nearly knocked me down. I can truthfully say that every moment of the rest of my life has been filled with a longing to go back there. And I’ve done it, a handful of times. It has more to do with me than with God — God is always there; it is I who is deficient.

But the best way for me to come close is poetry.

I want to hum like a struck
fork, change my pulse to tick
in time with God’s own metronome.
I want to sync a rhythm with the divine
so sweet it can’t be silenced;
felt like a shock, every atom alive,
aligned, allied, pure as spilled light
on white pavement, ice in a glass,
drumbeat, bell peal, reverberating gong.

Lord, I long. I long.

Crack me open, pour yourself inside.
Let the shell be lost, a husk.
And me, a chord that fades but does not die,
the last note of a hymn, floating in the rafters
of a great cathedral, persistent, available
to the tuned ears of saints.

My, my, my. The Church Lady must be having a field day. I refer of course to the old Saturday Night Live sketches featuring Dana Carvey’s judgmental and oh-so pious authority on all that is good and evil. She was always quick to call out hypocrisy in the “whited sepulchers” who frequented her show. Such insight has never been as necessary as it is now.

America likes to think of itself as a Christian country, though religiously speaking, we’re actually mutts — a mix of everything, from Mormons to Sikhs. Yet those who project — and protect — this “Christian America” image most fiercely seem most in need of a reminder of what Christianity actually is.

There is no Christianity without Christ. And to know what Christianity is about, one only has to access the words and deeds of Christ. This is not a case of “what would Jesus do?” but “what did Jesus do?” He embraced the outcasts and told us to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, a radical reversal of the current state of immigration. Jesus, tellingly, put no codas, no provisos, on his commands — no clauses like “only if they speak English” or “only if they have a good job.” Indeed, he seemed most concerned about those most on the outside, most in need of lifting up.

Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty (written, I hate to tell you, Mr. Miller, expressly for the Statue of Liberty) comes down hard on the side of the outsiders — and, consequently, the side of Christ. To stand in defiance of the huddled masses longing to breathe free is to stand in defiance of God.

Oh, I know. It’s hard to welcome the stranger. Strangers are scary precisely because they are strange to us. Is every immigrant a good person? No, but neither is every homegrown American. It is simpler to draw ourselves inward, to turn our backs on the “other” and “take care of our own.” Except who decides who is “our own” and who is not? Who was the “neighbor” in the parable of the Good Samaritan?

I am not saying that everyone opposed to the welcoming of immigrants is a bad person. But neither is he or she following the precepts of Christ.

What I’m asking for is very simple: a little truth-telling. It’s time for a good scrub, America. Let’s wash out our mouths with soap and water and get down to brass tacks. Either we welcome strangers or we do not. Either we are Christian or we are not.

But we don’t get to have it both ways.

I rewatched the Hitchcock classic “Rope” last night. In it, two college friends kill an acquaintance just for jollies — or, more specifically, because they believe that intellectually superior people have the right to kill those who are inferior…that they are above morality and notions of right and wrong, which are conventions meant only for “common” people. James Stewart, as their former prep school headmaster, is aghast that they have made this decision: “Who made you God?” he asks them.

Who indeed? And yet, in smaller ways, we are all guilty of this type of judgmental thinking. Exhibit A: You are sitting in front of your computer reading about the latest political scandal. You are inwardly raging: How can this kind of malfeasance go unpunished? Or, alternately, why is this such a scandal when so-and-so (who I did not support) did the same/worse and went unpunished? Someone is getting away with something! Someone must be punished!

Who made us God? Before you demand perfect justice, examine yourself: Have you never broken the law, even in the tiniest way? Have you never jaywalked? Never ignored a traffic signal at three in the morning? Never taken something that wasn’t yours to take? Would you really want the full, scrupulous eye of the law to come down on you?

This is not to say that we should not seek justice, or that we should leave such things entirely to God. My caution is against fanaticism in all its forms. It is a reminder not to put ourselves above other people or allow ourselves to decide who is worthy and who is inferior. It is a call to humility and a reminder that we are all sinners, all of us steeped in sin. We must not point out the splinter in our brother’s eye while remaining indifferent to the plank in our own.

We’ve become so divided, culturally and politically speaking, that we actively call for violence against our “enemies” (I recently read a blog post comment that called for liberals to be “lined up and shot”) while seeking immunity for those we espouse, even going so far as gloating about our side being above the law somehow. No. This cannot be tolerated.

Instead, when you become angry at those you seek to judge, why not utter a prayer? “Heaven help us all,” has become my new mantra, and I mean it. Heaven help us not to succumb to the kind of overweening pride that allows us to pick and choose justice, that allows us to point fingers at others while hypocritically excusing the same sin in ourselves.

In an episode of “The Twilight Zone” a man obsessed with outing those he perceives as “guilty” keeps files on his neighbors, examining them for the slightest flaws. His mania becomes so great, he predicts that all of the guilty will suddenly shrink to three feet tall — and thus become instantly recognizable to the rest of humanity — at four o’clock that afternoon. What happens next? Not much, except that he himself shrinks to about three inches…and is instantly seized as prey by his own parrot.

Don’t be that guy. Because if we start sorting the populace into “them” and “us,” we are in for a world of hurt. In that case, heaven truly help us all.

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