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A noisy blue jay is claiming my yard as his own. I could go out and tell him otherwise — or, better yet, my cat could — but I’m going to let the bird have his little triumph, just for a moment. We all need some light in our lives, even if it is short-lived.

I guess the trick to faith (and hope) is noting light where you see it, even if it’s reflected, or dim, or possibly artificial. At least it gives you a moment to see things more clearly, to assess where you are. At best, it reminds you that life is worth living.

What are your most reliable light sources? Mine are my husband and family, my friends, my faith. Nothing shores me up like the words “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen.” It reminds me of God’s constancy, which will endure long past the moments of darkness.

Choose your light carefully: Don’t look exclusively to people or places to buoy you up. Make sure the light is grounded in something more permanent — like love. People fail you; love doesn’t. Places change; love is eternal. Anything you depend on for light that is not fundamentally anchored in love will not sustain you.

When you find light, turn to it like a plant seeking sun. Bask. Store up sense memory for those times when you doubt the presence of light again.

Also, share the light with others. Please. This may be our greatest charge as humans and our biggest source of failure. I don’t know you, but I love you. I think you are a good person. Come stand in the light with me; our togetherness will make it grow.

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My birthday is coming up next month, so I’m hoping to encounter some German Chocolate Cake and a new pair of sneakers (if my son is reading, hint-hint!) While I’m all for presents and cake, I don’t like surprises. I agree with Angie Dickinson, who told friends she’d never appear on the show, “This is Your Life,” and when they conspired to surprise her anyway and got her to the set, she walked out!

Now, I do love a surprise ending in a movie. A good play on words. A clever juxtaposition. I was tickled by this observation in an article about hidden writing that was recently found in ancient manuscripts in a desert monastery: “For a monk who lives in the Sinai desert in Egypt, in the world’s oldest working monastery, Father Justin replies to emails very speedily.” Researchers who visited had to “follow the monastic spirit of the place and Father Justin’s schedule, breaking for lunch and Vespers.” He didn’t put his faith on hold, despite the fact that this was an important scientific find.

I also like this unexpected revelation about Lauren Ridloff, a deaf actress who stars in the Broadway play, Children of a Lesser God. When she went to a deaf camp as a teen, the kids spoke exclusively in sign language. Not having to focus on what her words sounded like to others meant she could put all of her energy into signing to express herself. She never spoke again, changing her life for the better as a result.  

All of this to say, it’s okay to show up in life as yourself. Some may drift away if you do, but the ones who just “get you” will stick around. After all, this is your life. You might as well live it your way.

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.

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.

The magnetic poles have disappeared. Compasses are spinning wildly, madly. There is no true north. Or at least there isn’t in America.

We are losing our grasp on the difference between right and wrong. Worse yet, we can’t even agree on what is right or wrong. For instance: It is either always wrong to deny service to someone in a public place or it is not. Case in point (and without naming names), a Virginia restaurant that recently turned away a public official. Some people are fine with this decision. Others are irate to the point of flinging human waste. Several years ago, a bakery refused service to a former Democratic Vice President. Its owner was lauded as a hero and champion of first amendment rights and invited to speak at a rally for the current Speaker of the House. So which is it? Is it right (in which case apologies are due to the Virginia restaurant) or not (in which case apologies are due to the offended patrons)?

Because here’s the thing: It can’t be both. So often I read (usually in the comments section of a news article, which I should never, ever read) “well, it was okay when so-and-so did it.” Or “you didn’t get mad when [your guy] did it.” Morality is not built on “buts” and “yets.” Either a thing is wrong, and we all treat it that way, or it is right — and we accept it.

The problem is, we’ve lost all ability to suss out what we collectively believe to be right or wrong. Is it wrong to take children from their parents if they commit a misdemeanor (like shoplifting or illegally crossing the border) or no crime at all (seeking asylum, just walking down the street)? If so, it is always wrong, no matter what the skin tone of the child or parent. If it is always right, God help us.

I strongly believe in the separation of church and state. However, I think a country should have a moral backbone; we should stand for something. So what does America stand for? If it is civility and decency, those things must come from the top down. If it is making money and closing our ears to the plights of the less fortunate, it is time to own that position. Because if we don’t — if we don’t come together to decide what is acceptable moral behavior and what is not — not only do we become the biggest hypocrites on earth, we fail one another. We also fail God.

We are picking our teams
(red team, blue team)
with alacrity (rushing to
curry favor with the captain
of choice) in louder and louder
voices (playground voices;
no one listens to inside voices anymore)
touting superiority of size, of mind, of soul,
of strength and riches and greed and hatred.
We are choosing sides for a most important game.

The only trouble is
Jesus keeps getting picked last.

My friend Alice is collecting answers to the above question. Feel free to chime in. As for me, I always speak most clearly in poetry.

Providence is the hand of God in the world.
It is like the wind: You cannot see it,
you can only see what it does
(stir a sailboat, rustle a leaf
loosed from a tree),
and even this is best glimpsed
in your memory’s rear view mirror.
It is a confetti storm of pieces of paper,
a single word printed on each,
that somehow settles into a book.
You could have read it weeks ago,
but your eyes were not ready.
It is the tiniest movement of a fly
on a leaf that sends a drop of water
skittering to the ground below where
a seed has been mislaid, unlikely to ever
make anything of itself. Instead it flowers.
Perhaps it will be a rose, perhaps a cactus.
But even that will make sense when you are
lost in the desert, and in falling over, parched,
you break open the limb of a saguaro and there is water
cool and reviving, inside.*

 

 

* Just a metaphor. Do not do this in real life.

 

 

Clue: “Kid with X-Box changes left for right and makes an appeal.” Answer: Prayer, of course! As anyone who loves cryptic (or British) crosswords knows, the solution is right there in front of you. In cryptics, part of the clue provides the answer; the rest consists of the mechanics to get there. In this case, a kid with an X-Box is a “player”; you then exchange the “l” (“left”) for “r” (“right”) to get “an appeal,” which is “prayer.”

But why am I bothering to explain this? Either you already love cryptics (and found the answer annoyingly easy) or you have developed an antipathy merely from reading the opening paragraph of this post. I am obsessed with them, often creating my own clues (see above) just for the fun of playing with language. But I wonder, why do I so adore these puzzles? They are frustrating, hilarious, stupid, wickedly difficult, unfair and deeply satisfying. They are like my mind.

They are also a link to my family. When I was very young, I’d hear, from my bedroom at night, my mother and my Aunt Beverly working cryptics in the living room. They’d shriek with laughter. I wanted in. So I taught myself how to do them (there are a finite number of ways to solve the clues, such as hidden words, anagrams, charades, double meanings, etc.). I have spent many a happy hour since then unraveling these puzzles with my mom (with my father often playing straight man and voice of reason) or alone.

Maybe that’s why I’m so comfortable with the many mysteries of faith. Jesus is both God and man? Sure, why not? The Eucharist contains the real presence of Jesus? Stranger things have happened. Cryptic crosswords have opened my mind to the possibilities and seeming impossibilities of creation. I get why God made aardvarks and platypuses. I’ve never struggled with the lack of reason sometimes involved in spirituality. Because I believe the reason is there; it’s just hidden — cryptic, but present.

When I run into a problem with my faith, it does me good to remember my puzzles. I’ve often stared at a clue for hours before the answer clicks into place (“murder victim sounds qualified” had me stumped until I remembered our biblical friend Abel). Maybe faith is like that. Maybe our frustrations come not from a God who is inconsistent, but from our own inability to decipher his clues.

Because you gotta know that God is far more complicated than a crossword puzzle. But the joy of understanding God? A million times more rewarding than any puzzle could be.

 

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.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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