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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.

We try to tackle the big topics on this humble little blog: life, death, spirituality, peace, love, justice, mercy. So, in comparison, my topic today seems ludicrously flimsy and terribly vain: I am going to write about my recent decision to let my hair go gray, as it has been wanting to do, lo these many years.

I started going gray — white, really, if I’m honest — in my thirties. I’ve been dying my locks ever since. I consider being brunette part of my identity. I could never wear colored contacts, for instance. My brown eyes are also part and parcel of who I am. A good deal of this identity is wrapped up in pop culture: Brunettes are serious. They’re smart. My earliest role models were Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas on “That Girl” and Catwoman — all brunettes, all “making it after all,” on their own terms. That was my tribe!

So why change now? Why not go to my grave with my roots intact? Well, for one, my husband recently encouraged me to go natural. And if he doesn’t care, why should I care what the rest of the world thinks? Secondly, it’s a drain of time and money to continue to color my hair, and the chemicals involved are not as healthful and innocuous as one might think while watching a Clairol commercial. Third, why lie, even to myself, about what I look like? I like to think I embrace truth-telling. My white hair is a truth about myself.

But here’s the big one: I truly believe the purpose of life is in embracing the little “yesses.” After all, at the end of our lives, there is going to be a huge “yes” that we will have to embrace, like it or not. By accepting and welcoming each little “yes,” I prepare myself daily for the big “yes.”

And this is, despite being firmly entrenched in female vanity, a tough yes. I look at other women who are letting their hair go natural and I judge. It looks slovenly. Like a lack of self-care. And yes, I know that’s a horrible thing to think. I’m appalled at myself. But there it is. And this is what I will have to see in myself as my “skunk stripe” covers the crown of my head and extends, inexorably, downward. I will have to confront the worst in myself. I will have to deal with my own feelings about aging and about how women are judged and valued on their beauty and youth. I will have to see myself lacking.

And I will have to find God in all of this. I will have to grapple with a God who loves everything about me, but who created humans to love what is aesthetically pleasing. I will have to align myself with a God who expects my power to come from something bigger than a bottle of dye. I will have to say “yes,” not just once, but over and over again, every time my fingers itch to solve the problem with a box from the drugstore.

I am hoping all of this will be good for my soul. Because that’s the part of me I care about most. And it doesn’t need anything artificial in order to be beautiful, does it?

Some people talk to God as easily and readily as picking up a phone — they have God on speed dial. Through meditation, prayer or other means, they’ve perfected the art of hearing what God is telling them; their ears perk up at sounds outside the spectrum of human hearing. I admire them. I envy them.

My ears stretch and crane for the slightest peep. I hear only the silence of my own selfish heart. Would I believe the voice of God if it came to me? Or would I dismiss it as a figment of my own imagination? What does it take to hear God? Well, for one, it requires being attuned to your own inner self. This is difficult to do when one is not essentially interested in one’s inner self. Call it dint of long acquaintance, but I am thoroughly sick of my inner self. I’d like it replaced, please, with something better, holier, more interesting. I am tired of slogging through its sludgy waters.

Then I remember: St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta last heard the voice of God as a young woman traveling on a train. She never heard the voice again, not through the long years of her service to the poor, holding the hands of the dying, through her own illness and death. Not once. Her “dark night of the soul” lasted decades. And it would be difficult to argue that she wasn’t trying to do what God asked of her all those years ago on that train. She was. With a resounding silence as her reward.

So maybe God doesn’t speak to us with an eye as to what we deserve or even ask for. Maybe God figures once is enough for the right folks. Only when was my once? Was it deciding to go away to a college I’d never even visited before but which ended up creating lasting ties and thoroughly overhauling my spirituality? It was a decision that could certainly be described as providential. But I’d hate to think that the first, last and only time I heard or heeded God was at the raw age of 18. That’s a lot of wasted years.

Or is that I don’t know how to listen? That would be strange indeed, as I count listening as one of my greatest ministries. I’m the woman that strangers pour their hearts out to while standing in line at Walmart. I hear about other people’s crises of faith. So maybe I’m not supposed to hear but to be a conduit to the One Who Does Hear?

I wish I knew, but I suppose that would require a rather loud message that I, for whatever reason, lack the skill to interpret. It doesn’t mean that I am going to toss out my inner telephone. No, I’ll keep it on, hoping as I have through all these long years, that someone will give me a call. I’m waiting.

I know a woman named Holly Champagne. It would be hard not to be ebullient with a name like that. Of course, my mother thought “Lori” was an ebullient name, and I am anything but. On the other hand, I once watched one of those “true-life” court shows that featured a boy named Nefarious — nefarious! — who was doing his level best to live up — or is that down? — to his name. Maybe labels are slipperier than we think.

Back in high school, one of my classmates gave quick, one-word descriptors of a group of us girls to a group of boys. My descriptor was “smart,” and even in that moment, I saw my chances with any of those boys fade into nothingness. Words do hurt, do bind and do restrain. But no word can possibly encapsulate the totality of who we are.

Labeling yourself, whether in a positive, negative or even neutral way, sets up certain expectations, certain limits. I am not just a woman, a Catholic, a brunette (a fact that grows more apparent even as my hair grows), a feminist, a liberal. Because what you expect and conjure up on the basis of those words may be as far from true as slapping the word “petite” on me. (Or, as I said to my husband after a recent outing to the movies, “I’m six feet tall and I just saw ‘Wonder Woman.’ I’d get out of my way.”)

God, the author of words (for which I am eternally grateful) does not care much for labels, I think. Labels can be traps. But we humans sure seem to love them, if only for quickly and summarily lumping together and dismissing others as unlike ourselves. We have a deep need to belong to a tribe. And part of finding your tribe seems to include excluding those who do not fit the parameters.

You see a lot of this is the comments section of any social media posting. “Those people” are idiots, losers, corrupt or foolish. “My people” are not. What if, for just one day, we stopped believing in “mine” and “yours,” “them” and “us”? What if we ignored all the labels — rich, poor, dumb, smart, fat, thin — and just got to know one another without expectation or judgment, without filing each person we meet into neat little folders — “like me” or “not like me”?

I suspect something radical would happen. I also suspect that it cannot be done. We like our labels too much. So, instead, let me suggest a new label — “human.” Think about that word. Let the connotations that swirl around it emerge. Hopefully, these thoughts contain such sentiments as “fragile,” “prone to error” and even “lovable.”

Now try applying that label to everyone you meet. It is, after all, how God sees us.

Roxane Gay recently released her memoir, “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” and it’s interesting to see how such an accomplished author can be defined – by some – solely by the number on the scale. I came across a quote of hers once that stayed with me: “When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.” The same can be said of politics and religion.

As the world seems to be more and more a constant headline of Us vs. Them, I found the author’s insights to be timely and true. There’s always a story, isn’t there? Something led a person to this place. Sometimes that place is one of accolades and applause. Sometimes it’s to impulsive actions based on flawed perceptions.

After the Manchester attacks, mosques in my home state of New Jersey opened their doors to the public. “We want to tell them we are against extremism, we are against terrorism, we are against violence, and we are against discrimination of any type against anyone,” said Imam Mohammad Moutaz Charaf, spiritual leader of the El-Zahra Islamic Center in Midland Park.

The fact that the we need reminders that not every Muslim is a terrorist is astounding. It always amazes me that people online feel they have some kind of birthright to make evil comments about people they don’t even know. Sometimes whole groups. You may not agree with a person’s ideology, or faith, or even their hairstyle, but how does it really affect your life, anyway?

Someday your story will be told. It can be a tale of compassion and courage, or of blame and bigotry. How that story unfolds is really up to you.

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.

He was sitting on the curb in front of the barbecue restaurant. White haired, simply dressed but clean. Alone. Was he trying to catch my eye? It was hard to tell. His glance was quick, pleading, afraid. “Do you need some help?” I asked him, seeing that he was shivering. (It was cool, but not cold — was it Parkinson’s? Delirium tremens?)

“I have nowhere to go,” he said. “I’ve been living under that bridge [gesturing]. I don’t have any money. I can’t even catch a bus.”

As my husband trotted off to the car to get one of the bags we carry with us to give to those less fortunate than ourselves (we haven’t got the right ingredients down just yet; the ones we’re carrying now hold money, a first aid kit, a hands-free flashlight, wet wipes, breath mints, a meal replacement bar and an emergency camping blanket), I listened.

“I’m scared,” he said. “I don’t know what to do.”

“We’re going to give you some things you might need.”

“I’ve been trying to get someone to buy me something to eat.”

“Oh! What would you like?”

“Anything! A sandwich. Anything.”

I gave him a “blessing bag” and went inside, where we ordered him a large sandwich with slaw and a bottle of water. When I went out to give it to him, he seemed startled. He kept saying, “Thank you.” I kept saying, “I’ll pray for you.” By the time we finished eating, he was gone.

This is not about doing a good deed for someone. In fact, it’s rather the opposite. In this man, I saw the face of God. What would you do for God? What wouldn’t you do? And yet I know what I did was not enough. Could I have taken him to a shelter? Where is our local shelter? Would they have had a bed for him? How would that have helped him tomorrow or the next day or the next?

I realize, of course, that most of the people we’ve given bags to are panhandlers rather than actual homeless people. They probably throw away everything but the money. But I have a feeling the man we met last night was the real McCoy. And I failed him.

Yes, I believe prayer is powerful. And I am keeping my promise to him by praying for him. But I could see in his eyes, even as I said the words, “How is that going to help me right now?”

I saw the face of God and was unprepared. But isn’t that the way of things? Won’t we always be surprised by where and how we see God? Won’t we always be unready?

As we drove home, I noticed a garbage bag tucked into the corner of the underpass he’d earlier indicated. Were those his belongings? Maybe. If I go back there, will I find him? What do I have to offer him? Am I willing to open my home to him? (And if I’m not, aren’t I saying, “You are the face of God except maybe not”?)

I wish I had answers. Instead I can only tell you: Look for him — not the man I described, but for God. And try to do what you can. May you fare better than I.

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