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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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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.

The other day, a friend asked me a question, which I answered using the phrase “our neck of the woods.” But I didn’t mean Kansas. I was referring to my childhood home in California. I’d reverted from Midwesterner to a more primitive self — the self who still thinks of herself as a So Cal girl.

And yet Southern California is no more my true home than Kansas. The Orange County I remember is long gone. The orange groves became high schools and office buildings. The ranchos were leveled for homes. Even the Disneyland of my youth bears little resemblance to its current incarnation. (Does anyone else remember when the parking lot was lettered by Disney character? “Hey Dad! We’re parked in Thumper!”)

Maybe our longing for home is really a longing for something else — a sense of belonging, of being understood. We can try to recreate it, but we’ll never really find it here.

I like to think that we’re born with a dim memory of heaven, and we spend our lives trying to get back there, to that place we really knew as home. It would make death a sweet return…assuming, of course, that we have lived a life that grants us passage to heaven.

All our reminiscing, all our auld lang syne, is nothing more than a deeper craving for our true home with God. In which case Thomas Wolfe is completely wrong: You can go home again.

It just won’t be Kansas. Or California. Or anywhere, really, you can find on a map.

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.

I have to admit that I sometimes let the negative voices in my own mind drive me forward.  What if . . . If only . . . Worries, fears, and concerns can push me along.

Fortunately, my husband doesn’t function like that.  He’s my sounding board and has no issues when it comes to telling me I need to get out of my head.

The funny thing is that we are so different in many ways my girl friend’s in college tried to warn me away.  I was a super studious scholarship student.  My grades were my ticket to school.  A long-haired drummer who just happened to also be a business student.  “You don’t know what drummers are like,” warned my friends.

But I’d been praying to meet someone who would love me the way my dad loved my mom.  We had grown up miles apart.  I went to high school with his church friends.  He went to high school with my church friends but we didn’t meet until college.  I’m just glad I managed to ignore the fearful commentary.

Today is our 30th anniversary.  My friends saw a wild, partier.  I found someone whose faith is stronger than my own, who stays calm when I’m in panic mode and who knows when it is time to pull me out of my head.  God answers prayers. We just need to listen.

–SueBE

 

This morning, a young mother posted a note of thanks on a community forum. Grocery shopping had been going awfully – something about having to have 3 under-6 girls who were tired and cranky along for the trip.  She was almost in tears when up walked another mom who loaded this lady’s groceries in the car and had her son take the cart back to the corral. This was the bit of help she needed to shift her day from dreadful to blessed.

Seeing and acting.  We need to do both.  When we do, even in a case as minor as helping a mom at the grocery store, we have a huge impact.

–SueBE

“We seek what we are.” – Richard Rohr

I find myself surrounded by soulful souls. I guess it’s true that you find what you’re looking for — I’ve always been a spiritual seeker. That the people I hold most dear to me are deeply spiritual people should come as no surprise. Yet I’ve always been surprised at the quality of my friends and family. They are good people: Loving, smart, strong, gracious, talented. Could it be that somewhere in me these same qualities exist? Does like always attract like?

Maybe, but what I think Rohr is saying is that we seek the God we find in ourselves. I suppose that’s why some people’s gods are so small. I prefer to imagine a big God who loves extravagantly to a little god who quibbles over minutiae and hates people who don’t fit into his own teeny, tiny mold. We are all limited in our view of God (who is too big for any of us to really apprehend), but our own limitations (to love, to forgive, to accept) appear to narrow our perceptions even further. And that’s just sad.

In truth, we are all small. We’re a bunch of shrieking atoms on a blue dot hurtling through the vastness of space. What mark we make on this earth will almost surely be washed away by the tides of time. Why on earth would any of want to make ourselves smaller?

God challenges us to be big. Not by any of the markers of society, of course — not in wealth, social status, physicality. God wants us to grow our hearts. And the bigger we grow them, the more we’ll find ourselves surrounded by big-hearted people. Love begets love.

Of course, if you find yourself surrounded by bigots and haters, finger-pointers and middle finger-lifters, you just might want to take a good long look at yourself. Is that kind of smallness really what you’re seeking? And if so, why?

About a month ago, I had to spend a couple of days with one of those people.  Patient though I try to be, she will eventually set me free. This time it revolved around a recognition plaque given to my dad.  “Help me hang it and we can take a photo for him.”  Dad couldn’t go so she was given the plaque for him.  The part that really stung?  We would have been there if she had told us but this ‘help me hang it’ was the first I had heard of it.

As soon as we left, I started griping.  How self-centered can a single human being be?

Finally my husband spoke up.  “I don’t think she did this to spite you.  I think you were right.  She’s just that self-centered.  She never thought of us at all.  So why are we spending so much time focused on her?”

What?  Whoa.

But he was right.  I can’t make other people be thoughtful or kind.  And while I can’t change anyone’s behavior, no matter how lovely that would be, I have some control over who occupies my thoughts.  It isn’t like I can keep them out completely, but I can take a deep breath and, as I exhale, let them drift away.

As Christians, we don’t often discuss mindfulness.  But if I focus on someone who is unfair and selfish, it makes me angry.  If instead I focus on someone inspirational that God has put in my path?  I am more inclined to look for ways to be kind and loving to others.  If I want to share God’s love with others, I can’t give too much head space to certain people.

–SueBE

Writing time for me is only official when I listen to the songs my mother used to play on the piano. That audible cue says to my brain, it’s time to create. As I said in a previous post, she gave me an abiding love for Bach. When I was a child, I’d ask her to play what we called the “clockwork” song (BWV 847a – C Minor – Prelude at 5:19 in this YouTube video.)

She’d oblige me, sitting in front of the piano, stretching her hands and squaring her shoulders before tackling the song. It was so densely packed with notes, my eyes got tired trying to follow her fingers as she played. How did she do that? And how did Bach create all of these majestic movements? I noticed that this masterful song is called a “prelude.” Interesting. It’s not even considered a “fugue,” yet so much energy and effort has gone into it.

At the end of this prelude, there are three notes that foreshadow what the fugue that follows it will sound like. I remember her nodding as she played, saying to me, “there it is,” to remind me to listen for those notes that told you what was coming up in the fugue (BWV 847b – C Minor – Fugue at 7:05.)

Instead of trying to overhaul your life all at once, why not try a “pre-vamp” instead?

Whatever it is that you feel you don’t have and are hoping to achieve or acquire that would lead to a “re-vamp,” there are already grace notes of your future’s fugue in your present’s prelude.

So if your blessing arrived tomorrow, wouldn’t you like to be prepared to receive it? Make space in your heart for it. Listen: the music’s already playing. It’s just a matter of the whole orchestra joining in. Later, you’ll look back and realize the preludes of life are often just as lovely as the fugues.

I would love to have a debate with Thoreau.  Scratch that. I’m almost certain we are equally opinionated and I would end up dumping him out of his little row-boat into Walden Pond.  Truth is vital, but it needs to be tempered with love.

A friend believes that more than anything we need to hear the unvarnished truth.  She’s been known to give someone a bucket full of reality in the middle of a dinner party and then announce to any and all, “You hadn’t straightened her out but I took care of it.”  I’m still having trouble looking my sister-in-law in the eye.

The crazy part of the whole situation is that I’m all for truth.  I loathe being lied to but I also acknowledge that truth without love is often more of a weapon than a gift.  No, you don’t really want to know what I think about your hair cut and please oh please do not ask me if those pants make your butt look big.

Yesterday Lori wrote about Christ’s light.  How about holding that truth into the light before you share it with everyone?  Do you see a glimmer of love or is that a stain of malicious intent?  Love and truth together can do remarkable good so share them far and wide.  The other?  I’m not sure what you should do with it but sharing it is probably a really bad idea.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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