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“Minimum wage doesn’t need to be raised.  She should just get an education and a better job.”

“Insurance?  It’s something you have to work to have.”

“No one gave me a thing.  They should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.”

We’ve all heard things like these.  Who knows?  Maybe we’ve said them too and probably believed they were True with a capital T.

That’s the funny thing about privilege.  Most of us who are fail to recognize it.  Whether your privilege is racial, economic or something else altogether, when you have it I don’t think you tend to notice it.  After all, you had to work to get through college, to hold down a job, to own a house.  You worked.  They weren’t just given to you.

Good for you.

But an awful lot in life depends on your footing.  Stable footing makes for a good beginning.  From a stable place you can reach out for something better.

And, who knows, you might also decide to have true compassion, to pull someone who is struggling over to also stand on firm ground.  Now that you know that it’s there why not share God’s blessings with someone else?

–SueBE

 

 

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So, I’ve written before about my health issues, and while I don’t want to bring anyone down, I do like to share what I’ve learned from having MS.

Like the time I took my son, Cole, and his friends, Luke and Nick, to the movies a few years back. On the way out, I asked if they’d seen another movie that was out at the time. “So did you guys see Thor?” Without batting an eye, Luke replied, “Yes, we saw it last week. You took us. Remember?”

But he knew I didn’t. The upside is that these kids are like family, and they’re used to my sieve-like memory. It didn’t phase them. When people are understanding of your limitations, it makes you feel supported.

That’s why I was so thrilled to come across this article about a cafe that employs dementia patients, called “The Restaurant of Order Mistakes.” So you ordered a hamburger? Well, how about some dumplings instead! This shows that if people are aware of your story, they give you more latitude.

It goes back to my theory that there’s always a story, and everyone is dealing with something, often something that’s not visible to the naked eye.

People have taken the challenges of their own pasts and turned them into positive action.

These men took the pain of coming to another country penniless and hungry, and turned it into a kind deed, offering people a free meal if they have no money.

Sometimes a small act of compassion can restore one’s faith in humanity. This hairdresser with a posh client list reaches out to people on the street with his “Do Something for Nothing” campaign, offering haircuts to the homeless. It’s amazing to see what this simple kindness can do for a person who often feels invisible. One gentlemen looked at himself after his haircut and asked, “Why did you do that for me? It’s not an everyday thing.” The hairdresser’s answer was, “I loved hearing your story.”

It’s nice to know we can write the story as we go, and we’re all in it together.

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.

I knew not being in charge was going to be profoundly difficult.  But then again, so would being in charge.  You see we just spent a week cleaning out my Dad’s house.

Put me in charge, and I’d have a plan. And boy would it be a Plan with a Capital P.   Yep.  I’m just a bit type-A.  I’m not sure if everyone who is type-A is like me but I have a lot of type-A friends.  “This is how you should deal with it. Rent a dumpster. Put your foot down.  If you want it just show up and take it.”

Take a deep breath.  Let it out.

Four days we showed up to work.  Four days we watched sneaking and sniping and arguing.  “I made an appointment . . . there’s no other time I can do this . . .”

Take a deep breath.  Let it out.

For four days we sorted and packed and pitched.  We recycled and wondered what the heck is this?  And we shared stories.

We talked about the memories stirred by various objects.  We discussed our goof ball find of the day.  And we sat in the yard and shared lunch.  We sat in the sunshine and breathed deep.

I’m not going to lie.  It wasn’t all sunshine and happiness.  Some people live to create drama.  So we let them create it. Take a deep breath. Let it out.

Sure there were times I was tempted to speak my mind.  And I did occasionally tell people what to do when I needed help.

I still wouldn’t call myself patient, not by a long shot, but sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is let the person who needs that sense of control be in charge.  No, they may not do it your way but be patient.  Breath in.  Let it out.

Walk gently.  Breathe deeply.

–SueBE

 

There’s an old children’s rhyme (quoted famously in “Singing in the Rain”) that goes like this: “Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously.” It’s a bit of doggerel that keeps popping into my mind as I reflect further on the subject of forgiveness. For aren’t we all a little like Moses in this way?

We are quick to excuse, expunge, understand and let slide our own sins because they are ours. We know our own motivation. We think ourselves to be, at heart, good people. We cut ourselves slack. We suppose our toes — or our sins, in this case — are roses. But we suppose erroneously. All sins stink.

Imagine extending the kind of compassion we show ourselves to others! Instead of mentally berating the mother who is shrieking at her children at Walmart, perhaps we could recall the last time our own tone was harsh — understandably so, because of the day we were having! What has that mother’s day been like? Or among our own families: Do we not sometimes take for granted that our families will love us no matter what? And does this assumption sometimes carry with it the further assumption that we need not try as hard with our own kin as we do, say, with outsiders? Again, we suppose erroneously. Our families deserve our first fruits, not our leftover scraps.

I’m not advocating beating yourself up for every error you make. Rather, loosen the purse strings on your bag of mercy in the same way you would for yourself. You remember that you are only human. You know you get tired, frustrated, out of sorts. But you forget that other people do, too. You want your own opinions to be accepted and understood, but you’d rather others not express opinions counter to your own. If your own toeses need a little compassion, so do everybody else’s — whether or not they smell much like roses.

I am feeling my way around the subject of forgiveness because it seems to be a prominent need in my life. But it’s prominent for all of us. Forgiveness is not only a gift we give others, it is a gift for ourselves, a letting go of pain and anger that can drag us down and make us stink just as bad as the person who sinned against us. For the health of our own toeses — as well as the toeses of others — maybe we should remember: We are all sinners, and we all smell. Mercy, grace and compassion are just what we need to cover up the stench.

When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

earyikg21d4-maja-petricIn the news lately, we’ve been hearing about people committing awful acts of terror, and this term seems to come up more often than not: “self-radicalized.”

It might be more accurate to call it “metastasized.” Something incompatible to life taking root at the cellular level.

I’ve noticed that this word isn’t applied to everyone equally.

We don’t call these two grandmas in a shoot-out at Wal-Mart “radicalized.”

In most cases, the term is used when speaking of Muslims involved in violent acts, but I think it could be applied to people of any race, gender or religion who feel disenfranchised.

That being said, I still believe that most of the world’s population is comprised of peaceful, law-abiding people. Of course, there are some exceptions, but there are still many reasons to be hopeful about life.

God’s grace is still the oxygen of the universe.

Here’s what buoys my spirits.

To know that there are people like this four-year-old who read a thousand books and was made Librarian for a Day at the Library of Congress is like a vitamin for the soul.

To know that this elderly lady in distress dialed a wrong number and it turned out to be a police detective who stayed on the line to help her is evidence of Providence at work.

To know that these stray dogs in Turkey were given shelter at a mall by kind-hearted locals during a snowstorm warmed my heart.

To know that young and old can connect, as this 82 year old man found out when a 4 year old said, “hi, old person, can I have a hug?” brought a tear to my eye.

What if we took back ownership of the word, “radicalized,” and used it in the spirit spoken of by Dr. King?

We might self-radicalize toward full-scale compassion. Mobilize in the direction of brazen kindness. Maybe if we open our hearts and reach out our arms, we’d find we could embrace the whole world.

Looking at some of my old yearbooks, I’m struck by something — the number of times someone has written, “Thank you for listening.” One of my eighth grade friends called me her psychiatrist. Several high school friends note with embarrassment some of the topics they’ve obsessed over, but say they feel better having been heard. I guess that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To be heard? To be thought of as special and worthy and listenable?

Pope Francis, in an interview about The Year of Mercy in the Catholic church, talks about “the apostolate of the ear,” the ministry of listening to others and giving them needed reassurance that they have been heard. This is a ministry that anyone can be a part of; it is not limited to clergy. When we give people space to pour out their feelings — even if we don’t agree with them, even if we think they are wrong — we help them. We might even help others, too, by helping to obviate anger and frustration that might boil over in ways that are destructive to the community.

This practice benefits the listener, too. In opening our ears, we are opening our hearts (even if it’s only a crack), and allowing ourselves to be changed by what we hear. It is the start of compassion, which feeds into the infinitely powerful grace of mercy. Maybe what the world needs now is “love, sweet love,” but what people seem to need most is empathy.

So I’m putting the call out to all of you introverts out there: Join me in the apostolate of the ear. Let’s face it, we don’t much like talking anyway, so why not provide a service that costs us nothing and might save someone’s life? Unheard frustrations, anger and sadness can roil up into a hurricane — they can even lead to war. But once heard, those wounds — like the words that describe them — are exposed to air and can finally heal.

It’s easy to get started. Just open your ears.

tattoo manJust this week, I led a Bible study class on hospitality and compassion.  When we finished, one of the ladies was almost in tears.  Her granddaughter and great-grandchildren just moved back to the state.  Her grandson-in-law looks like a biker – tall, inked, long-hair, bandana. But he’s the best father she’s ever seen.  They want to come to church with her but she’s put off setting up a date. “Some people will look down their noses at him.”

“Well, they better get the heck over it. He’s family and we all adore you. Tell them to come.”

“But not everyone is like you.”

Thank God. I’m far from perfect. I’ve got a temper that one Grandmother claimed was Irish while the other insisted was German. Wherever it came from, I’ve got plenty of it. I spend a surprising amount of time wishing I’d kept my mouth shut. And there is virtually no one that I won’t boss around.

What I don’t tend to do is get caught up on how a Christian should look.  If you want to wear K-mart polyester or a snazzy suit, I’m okay with it.  A man with long hair isn’t going to faze me but neither is a buzz cut. I’m not going to slut shame or comment on your conservative pants suit, but I might ask you to sing in the choir, hand out bulletins or help me move a table. It’s that bossy gene. That said, I’ll also welcome you in and there’s always a pot of coffee on.

My friend was right. Everyone isn’t like me. Lori has her ever hopeful nature. Ruth is the best at helping us remember to laugh.  Me? It’s God’s house and I’m going to welcome you in with a bit of hospitality.

And, while you’re here, I may ask you to lend a hand. After all, God’s given each of us a gift to share.

–SueBE

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An acquaintance had heard I’d taught ESL (English as a Second Language) and asked if I could help him to reduce his accent. I had to decline, as it’s been years since I’d done it, and didn’t have my workbook materials anymore.

As he left, I overheard him talking to a friend on the phone, saying the football game the other night had been “unfreakinbelievable” (expletive adjusted, shall we say).

“Viktor,” I said to him, “if you know the word unfreakinbelievable, you don’t need my help with English. You’re already an American.”

“I am?” he said, lighting up. “Do you really think so?”

“Not only that, son. You may have been born in Poland, but you’re now officially from Jersey!”

Besides, I told him, my job was never to eliminate accents. It was to help immigrants learn how to communicate in English. As long as you can make yourself understood, you’re good. No need to erase any trace of where you come from.

We’re all from somewhere. It’s okay if your homeland and heritage season the way you speak. That’s how it should be. It’s part of who you are. You were there. Now you’re here. Welcome!

If you really want to know a secret, my own accent is obvious to everyone BUT me. Not for nuttin, but I’m from Jersey, youse guys. I do notice a deep Joizey accent in others, though.

Like the ticket-taker in a local parking deck. A few years back, I worked in an office nearby, so he came to recognize me and we’d exchange pleasantries. One day, he asked what I did for a living.

“So what are ya. A sucka-tevvy?”

I said, “No, I work in an office. I’m an Executive Assistant.”

Also known as a secretary. Or, as he termed it, a sucka-tevvy.

I was miles down the road before I realized that he had asked me if I was a secretary. And English is our first language! Imagine how hard it must be to get the hang of a new language and new customs in a new country.

We’ve all been the new kid on the block many times before. Now, just imagine that the world is the neighborhood. You don’t have to put out a welcome mat if you’re not so inclined; just don’t ask the rest of us to lock everyone else out.  No matter what you might read in the papers, there’s still a lamp beside the golden door, shining in the night for all those that yearn to breathe free.

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