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The woman looked like she was seeing a ghost. “Joan?” she asked. She shook her head. “No, you can’t be. You must be her daughter.”

We were meeting up with my mother’s best friend outside a local theme park. The two hadn’t seen each other in thirty years, so my mother sent me over to see whether the woman in question really was Rita. That’s when she confirmed, as so many others had and have (before and since) my “remarkable” resemblance to my mother.

Only I have never seen it. I don’t have my mother’s large, deep-set eyes, with brow bones to die for. I don’t have her chiseled cheekbones. I’m a full eight inches taller than she is. She has auburn hair and eyes like polished cherry wood; I have dark brown hair and plain brown eyes. And yet those who have known my mother have always commented on our alikeness.

On our last visit to California, Mom showed me an old photo album: pictures of her mother, her uncles who served in World War One, and finally, her own graduation photo. And there it was. Bam! I saw myself in her at last.

In the last year, there have been a number of people I’ve not wanted to see myself in. I imagine this is true for everyone. It is especially true in recent weeks, with all the press about Roy Moore’s run for Senate. How could anyone support such a person? What was wrong with them? They seemed to me some new species of life form, so divorced from humanity as to be something that ought to be studied under a microscope.

And yet. I’m willing to bet that if I spoke to one of these people — maybe for minutes, maybe for days or weeks or years — I would find our point of commonality. I would see myself in them. Because, at some level, we are all the same. We are human.

I want you to think of a person or group of persons that you feel no kinship with. (Don’t kid yourself; we all have one. Or more.) Think about someone whose values, ideas and life has no intersection with your own, whose thoughts and feelings are as foreign to you as a place on a map so remote, you’ve never heard of it. Ho-Ho-Kus. Penetanguishene. Zwolfaxing.

Now think about this: You are more like this person or persons than you are unlike them. How can we bear ill will toward — essentially — ourselves? How can we refuse to see the similarities between ourselves and others? And, having seen them, how can we reject anyone, anywhere, anywhen?

I think that’s what makes hatred: fear. Fear of seeing ourselves as we look into the eyes of others. Fear of seeing that God made all of us, and we are one. Fear that we’re really not that different.

When my mother first saw me after my birth, she said it was “like looking into a mirror.” This Advent season, let’s challenge ourselves to turn the mirrors in the most unlikeliest of directions. Let’s try to see the junctures, the coinciding points, the commonalities. And if we still don’t like what we see, let’s ask the hard question — what is it in me that I don’t want to see?

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So there I was, watching “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” yet again — as I have nearly every Christmas season except for that of its premiere (I wasn’t born yet), when it occurred to me (as it always does) that there are some serious flaws in the storytelling…most glaringly, with the subplot about the Island of Misfit Toys. (Whew! That was a long sentence. Take a breather, readers.)

The “misfits” on this island range from the slightly offbeat — a train with square wheels, by no means unfixable — to the ludicrous — a polka-dotted stuffed elephant (so what? I had a purple plaid stuffed dog). But what always got me, doll-lover that I was as a child, was the little ragdoll. Seriously, what was so wrong about her? She was adorable! She could say, “How do you do?” Why in the heck was she stuck on this island?

Okay, I realize I’m taking a children’s animated show a bit too much to heart. But isn’t that what children do? On the plus side, maybe it was repeat showings of this Rankin/Bass classic that caused me to side with the underdogs, the folks on the outside margins, to begin with. I still do, perhaps because it’s where I see myself.

Only here’s the thing: God doesn’t make misfits. In God’s great plan, there is a “fit” for everyone. It may take awhile to find it, of course. But it’s out there. I doubt my first grade classmates knew what to do with a girl who was already reading at a fourth grade level (at least — the test only went up that high), who made up rhymes instead of playing tag, who had (I kid you not) an invisible “thinking cap” that she mimed putting on before spelling bees.

It took a long while to find “my people.” But find them I did. Some of us are odd ducks (or geese or elephants), while some of us are simply extraordinary. I know some pretty terrific folks — SueBe and Ruthie, for two. My friend Susan is the most thoughtful person on earth. My friend Maria lives a life of quiet but radical spirituality. Caroline — who I have known since first grade — combines brash good humor with erudition…and has never, ever treated me like a misfit.

So for all you “misfits” out there, take heart. There is a slot out there for your distinctly shaped peg. And there are other people, too, who will embrace your particular brand of different. Because, like the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys, you are not wrong…only wonderful, in a way all your own.

This is a tough one for me. I think it comes from being a fairly confident person.  My way is so inherintly reasonable and right.  Why wouldn’t everyone see that and just fall into place?  

Reality is often a far different situation.  I am not the boss of the entire world.  Even if I was, my standards and abilities are not necessarilly everyone’s standards and abilities.

It is a lesson that I have to learn anew pretty much each and every day.

Fortunately, God is much more patient with me than I am with other people.  That said, I still imagine him shaking his head. “Why can’t she just do it my way?  It is reasonable and right.  Why can’t she see that?”

–SueBE

There are two kinds of people. Wait, that’s not true! There are millions of kinds of people. But I’m going to talk today about two of them: bowls and sieves. “Sieve” people, like their kitchen counterparts, like to force others through their net of acceptance, straining out their faults and foibles, whereas “bowl” people tend to accept others exactly as they are, warts, pips, lumps and all.

My BFF since fifth grade is a “bowl” person. She adopts stray people (like me), accepting them wholeheartedly, despite their flaws. She is outgoing. I am introverted. I didn’t know until the seventh grade that you’re supposed to look people in the eyes when you talk to them — she taught me that. I just figured people knew when I was talking to them. She loves everyone — well, with one exception (in grade school): In her nightly prayers, she would ask God to bless “everybody in the whole, wide world…except Sister Judith” — though to be fair, Sister Judith had it coming. My friend is an open book, a walking hug.

I, on the other hand, tend to be a “sieve” person. I pick people apart. I strain against the bits of them that make me uncomfortable. I judge. It’s not that I want to be this way — quite the opposite — yet I find myself analyzing others, shying away when I notice an area of prickliness or strangeness or radical difference from myself. Which is wholly unfair — I’m no paragon. Far from it. I wouldn’t want to be friends with me. Yet I find myself thinking, “She would be so great if she weren’t so conservative.” Or, “How can I be friends with a cat-hater?”

I know other “sieves.” They reject potential life partners based on lack of a common religious background, though spirituality is fluid and can radically change over time. They swoop down in judgment against random comments on Facebook. They want people without pits, without tough outer rinds, without seeds. And that can make them very lonely.

I’m not sure whether “sieves” can become “bowls.” It may be inborn, or perhaps tied to certain types of learned behavior. But they can — with prayer and patience — learn how to loosen up. They can learn to let go of petty differences. They can widen their nets.

It requires taking a page out of Jesus’ book. Jesus is the ultimate “bowl,” loving sinner and saint equally, tax collector and apostle, leper and scholar. It doesn’t come easily. It takes constant presence and awareness and willingness to be a part of someone else’s journey, no matter where it takes you. Do it enough, and it can so radicalize a person as to make them prefer the folks with the most pits and pips, lumps and seeds.

I’m far from this lofty goal. Though my current best friend is a cat-hater. And I’m okay with that. So is she. There are bigger things to love about one another. We just had to find them.

I don’t yet have the strength to write about the election in a prayerful way…I’ll leave that to greater minds than mine. (That’s your cue, SueBE and Ruthie!) I can, however, write about this.

My dear friend Alice once told me that she’d spoken to her spiritual advisor about forgiveness. Alice couldn’t bring herself to forgive someone. Her advisor told her to pray for the desire to forgive. That advice seems wonderfully cogent right now.

I can’t be happy yet. I can’t say that everything’s okay, and let’s just hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” (which we actually used to sing at our parish in Buena Park in the ‘70s). But I want it to be. I want to feel peaceful and prayerful and hopeful again. But right now, the best I can do is to pray for the desire to move on. I don’t feel it yet. But maybe if I pray hard enough, I’ll want to feel it. And wanting to feel it is the first step toward feeling it.

This is not to say that I will not allow myself to be angry. Jesus was angry when he threw the money-changers out of the temple. If it’s okay for Jesus to be angry, then it’s okay for me to be angry. But there’s a time and a place for anger, and a time and a place for hope. (“Turn, turn, turn,” sing the Byrds.) I’m not ready to stand in that place yet — and that is my own problem and my own sin — but I’m going to pray that tomorrow I will want to. And maybe, just maybe, the day after that — I will stand there again.

To everyone out there who is hurting, for any reason whatsoever, I understand. God understands. God is, after all, the God of those on the margins, the God of all of us who struggle. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need God. Today I need God desperately.

So desperately, that I am willing to open the door, just a crack, to hope. Or, at least, to the desire for it. In this case, maybe wishing will make it so.

This week, a comment on one of my past posts really grabbed me by the throat. It was from a nouveau ami français, Michel Fauquet, who explained that the French word for “mercy,” misericord, derives from the Latin for “heart dare.” Well, knock me flat.

Mercy is often considered something for soft-hearted folks. Wasn’t “no mercy” part of the evil Cobra Kai bylaws? (That’s a “Karate Kid” reference, by the way.) To show mercy is to show humanity, and, ultimately, humanity is pretty soft and squishy. Right? Nope.

Mercy takes strength. It is a dare of the heart, and not an easy one, either. It may be the greatest dare we ever receive. Do you dare have mercy for those on the margins, for immigrants, for Muslims, for those who make different choices than you might? Do you dare to open your heart and listen to views that oppose your own? Do you dare to be potentially changed by what you hear?

The following reflection is a part of my own constant struggle with mercy:

Let my heart rule my hand.
Let mercy pervade, seeping
as water onto paper,
blearing lines, bleeding letters,
softening words into
mounds and crosses,
untended graves for
faint, forgotten faults.
Smoothed like creases on linen;
a note written in a foreign hand,
indecipherable, and, in any case,
unread.

In Carson McCullers’ play, “A Member of the Wedding,” young Frankie searches for the “we of me” — the people to whom she belongs, who will lift her up and help her soar to her highest heights. Maybe that’s what we’re all looking for. And maybe that’s what makes us break ourselves down into groups by ethnicity, skin color, religion, political affiliation and the like. We all want to find the we of us.

Often in pursuing this goal, we end up hurting others — the key word here being “others.” We reject those who are not the “we of us,” sometimes violently. It is what ISIS seems keen on doing. They do not seem to understand where this will lead them. Even if every “infidel” were wiped from the face of the earth, they would not stop killing; they would merely turn on their own. ISIS, if given what it claims it wants, would eat itself alive.

They are not the only ones. We base our exclusivity, our hatred, on the most random and outward of appearances. I find it worrying that in a season that celebrates the birth of a savior born to a Middle Eastern couple in search of a place to stay, many people are using the actions of a minority to support a decision not to welcome Middle Eastern refugees.

But don’t they see? Origin of birth, differences in faith, variations in skin color — none of these things should exclude belonging. In fact, if you believe that we all originated from a single pair of ancestors — a common Adam and Eve — then we are all related to one another in a very real way. They are we, and we are they. We are the we of us.

The best thing we can do in an often weary and wicked world is to hold out a hand, extend an open palm. Perhaps no one will take it. But maybe he will. And maybe that person will extend her own hand to another. And another, and another and another.

Small lights in the darkness don’t do much. But bring enough of them together and maybe, just maybe, we’ll all see clearly. We belong together. We belong to one another. Nothing — no one — can make that untrue.

 

 

I don’t know what it is about me.  Introvert though I may be, I seem to invite intrusive questions and comments from strangers.  I’m amazed at how many of them are about my son. When I was pregnant, people would ask me what he was going to be. “I don’t know. I haven’t met him yet.” I know it sounds rude but I was mystified. And it’s probably just as well that I didn’t try to guess because it is clear that God is the one that chose his talents. Me?  I’d have done a few things differently.

In many ways, we’re a lot alike.  We’re both introverts who genuinely like people to a point.  When we’ve had enough, we’ve had enough.  We both love movies and books and super heroes and gaming and animals and science and history.  That’s a lot of common ground, but God also gave him interests and talents that are entirely his own.

One of his all-time favorite Scouting experiences was Pack and Paddle, a leadership training course that required him to spend a week backpacking and canoeing.  Me? I have a house. Why would I sleep outside? After the zombie apocalypse fine, but for fun?  No, thank you.

Then there’s swimming. He adores swim team and the sense of camaraderie. Water is his element and he’s actively swimming from early June until mid-November. Although parents are required to work only one swim meet, I usually work more like 6.  I’d rather be on deck and close to the action in spite of everything.

This summer, someone told my son that he’s lucky I love the water.  “She’s always here.”

These assumptions may confuse me, but my son laughs. “You’re kidding right?  She hates water.”

The thing is God created us as two very different people.  My son loves things I don’t — swimming, camping, and rock climbing. But that’s okay. You will never find him knitting, crocheting or writing. We each have our God given talents.

We just need to remember that God knit him together to be one person and He knit me together to be another. The key is remembering that our Creator loves us in our diversity and we need to do the same.

–SueBE

No matter how great your sadness or how deep your sorrow, there’s one person to whom you can always turn: Mary. Oh, I know. I can hear you: “You Catholics and your Mary…it’s Mary this and Mary that! Why, it’s practically heretical.” Marian devotion may be peculiarly Catholic, but there’s nothing peculiar in recognizing Mary as a particularly appealing and deeply understanding role model.

First of all, she knows heartbreak better than a country music ballad. The terror of losing a child in a big city? Been there. The profound grief of watching your own flesh and blood, your beloved son, be tortured and murdered? Done that. I don’t mean to sound blasé. Mary knows the darkest and most painful parts of motherhood like no one else. I can’t think of a better resource for parents or those who mourn. However heavy your heart, her heart knows your sorrow. No one who ever lived has experienced more vividly than Mary the destruction of innocent life.

But Mary is more than just a grief counselor. She is a model of acceptance. Some find Mary’s humility and serenity mildly annoying or even mealy-mouthed. (I know; I’ve been guilty of it myself.) “Thy will be done.” Honestly, you have no more passion than that for captaining the ship of your life? But Mary’s “yes” turns out to be stronger than any “no” could ever be. She doesn’t just accept. She puts herself into God’s hands totally. That takes guts. Anyone who’s ever tripped over the words “thy will be done” in The Lord’s Prayer knows what I mean.

What’s more, acceptance can be a powerful thing. Like poor old Hamlet, we can try to bend the world to our own ends, only to find that “the rest is silence.” Only in acceptance can we find peace. Only in acceptance can we find the ability to go on after life’s greatest trials.

Though Mary’s role in the New Testament is underwritten at best, the fact is that she was present. Present for Jesus’ life and ministry, present for his death, present for the Pentecost and subsequent spread of Christianity. She might not have said much (that we know of), but she was there as witness and active participant. She went where the work took her — the work of God, that is — whether that was far from home (Egypt) or in her own neighborhood. We would do well to do as Mary did.

So think of Mary as a resource, in pain as well as in joy. (No one has ever described the keeping of happy memories better than in that little sentence: “She kept all of these things in her heart.”) Whatever you’re going through, Mary understands. Let her stand with you.

Human diversity makes tolerance more than a virtue; it makes it a requirement for survival.Gift from God 2
— Rene Dubois

When I saw this quote, I smiled because it reminded me of the sacrament of Holy Communion.  If it sounds like a logical jump, that’s because you haven’t heard our communion liturgy.

As long as I can remember, my church has celebrated open communion.  This means that you don’t have to be a member of Florissant Presbyterian Church, our Presbytery, or the Presbyterian Church USA to partake.  You only have to be a Christian to approach the Communion Table.

Many other Christian denominations put limits on who can take Communion.  You have to be from their denomination, their synod or perhaps even their congregation. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s always some church leader putting another limiter on who can celebrate.  Support gay marriage?  Do you use birth control?  How do you feel about genetic engineering?  Give the wrong answer and there’s no communion for you.

At our church, we only ask one thing — that you be Christian.  It’s been that way for years.

Recently, our communion liturgy has changed and it now includes something that I love.  Seriously.  Love it.

As she welcomes everyone to the Communion Table, Pastor Carol reminds us that this is not Florissant Presbyterian Church’s Communion Table.  It is not a Presbyterian Communion Table.  It is Christ’s Table.

Wow.  Think about how powerful that is?  It isn’t up to our Pastor, our Session or even the General Assembly to say if you as an individual are welcome.

Christ is the one that calls you. It is up to God and only God.

Do you belong to Him?

Then come forward.  You will find acceptance in Him.

–SueBE

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