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Working at the pool in the summer can be a little crazy.  The outdoor pool is awash in kids off school for the summer and mom’s looking to get them in the outdoors.  The indoor pools host classes and camp kids.

My son is a lifeguard at two indoor pools.  Recently, a new group of campers asked him about the rules.  “Walk, don’t run.  And don’t argue with me if I tell you to stop something.”

Most of the kids were satisfied with this but one little worrier needed a bit more.  “What will you tell us to stop?”

“My job is to keep you safe.  Okay?”

“Yes, but. . .”

“And don’t be a butt to anyone else.  Okay?”

Even the worrier was satisfied with this. Walk, don’t run.  Stay safe. Don’t be a butt.

With the addition of rule #3, he could cut loose and have fun.  But fun that involved being mean to other people was not allowed.  That seems like a pretty good way to reword the Golden Rule.

–SueBE

 

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Even though I’m a bit psychic myself (skeptical? I predicted that!) I wasn’t planning to get a psychic reading that day, but went along with my friend as she got hers. When she was done, she declared the psychic to be 100% accurate.

“100%? Come on,” I said.

“Try it!” she said.

So I did.

We were visiting the town of New Hope, Pennsylvania, for all its wonderful little shops. Antique tchotchkes, lovely little cafes. It was a haven for motorcyclists and mind readers. Big, bulky tough guys with tattoos right beside psychics who were giving readings for $10 a pop. I haven’t been there for over twenty years, but still remember our visit.

The psychic had predicted I’d have one son and I did.  Also, that my son would have a soul similar to my father’s. Well, both were Libras. I can’t remember anything else she said that was earth-shattering, but my friend had been promised she’d be rich beyond her wildest dreams, marry Mr. Right and live happily ever after. How did that work out? Well, not as planned. In fact, quite the opposite. She wondered: is it possible to sue a psychic for malpractice?

Maybe all we really want to hear about the future is that it will be better than today. That sounds entirely possible, and with some effort and a prayer for good measure, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I predict clear skies (sometimes), green lights on the road (here and there) and free will (all the time.)

My friend Alice doesn’t. I do, but…it’s complicated. Case in point: Charles Manson, who shuffled off this mortal coil this week. I was only four when the Manson murders were perpetrated, but old enough by the time of the trials to be afraid of him and his followers. And not just because they were hippies. (My parents, born at the tail end of The Greatest Generation, frequently opined on the dangers of hippies and their “pot parties,” which, in my childish naiveté, I thought involved actual pots and pans — to what end, I had no idea.)

Let’s face it, Charlie Manson was a thoroughly awful human being. Yes, he had a bad childhood, but not every person who has a bad childhood grows up to direct some of the most brutal murders ever committed. But he was no genius, either. The murders were messy, uncoordinated, bungled. The intended targets (Dennis Melcher, for one) were never killed — in both cases, the killers got the addresses wrong. They couldn’t even spell “Helter Skelter” correctly.

But that’s beside the point. The point is: Could Charles Manson be saved? Could he go to heaven? If you believe in an all-loving, all-forgiving God, this seems like a real possibility. Except for one thing: I don’t think he would choose heaven. Time after time, throughout his life, Charlie chose prison. He was admittedly more comfortable there. Could our eternal salvation depend on whether or not we choose redemption? I think it could.

It sounds like a no-brainer: Choose an eternity of happiness or an eternity of torture. But when it comes to the human equation, I don’t think it’s that easy. I think a person has to love him or herself enough to allow for the possibility of happiness, whether in this life or the next one. I’m not sure everyone is capable of that.

You could argue that Mr. Manson had no shortage of self-love, what with surrounding himself with adoring acolytes and even claiming to be the Son of God. Still, he also chose for himself repeated incarceration, when he could have had a normal life on the outside. He chose to murder his detractors. Someone with healthy self-esteem doesn’t do that. He chose to wallow in his bad beginnings. He’s just the type to spit in God’s eye when offered divine mercy.

So what does this all boil down to? Yes, I believe in hell. But I also believe in human participation in one’s own damnation. In the end, you get the eternity you ask for. That’s free will, folks. It is also an object lesson: Choose love. Always choose love. Your “forever” might just depend on it.

I’m learning a lot from PBS natural specials. Last night, I watched a troop of chimpanzees launch a concerted attack on a group of gibbons — surround them, roust them, attack them, tear them apart and eat them. It was very disturbing. I mean, isn’t that a little like cannibalizing a cousin?

And did you know that a full 20% of squirrels — that’s one in five — doesn’t collect food for the winter? No. He (or she) steals them from other squirrels. In fact, lives a life of crime. How does that happen? Are some squirrels born bad? Is it nature or nurture?

I guess what upsets me so much about these acts is that they are so very human. And aren’t animals supposed to be better than that? I realize how backwards that sounds. So often, humans are lauded as the highest of God’s creatures — the only ones who think, who have the ability to plan, who are moral, who are civilized. Except maybe we aren’t. Maybe we’re just less-furry mammals. Because we steal. We kill. Even human flesh isn’t off the menu (so to speak) for a depraved few. So what distinguishes us from so-called lower forms of life? Maybe less than we think.

Yet animals are also capable of extraordinary acts of goodness. A dog will nurse kittens; a cat will nurse a puppy or a rabbit. Strange animal friendships abound: a dog and a cheetah, a gorilla and a kitten, a bear and a tiger. In many ways, animals seem more capable than humans of reaching across lines of perceived differences and striking an accord. Yet we’re the ones with free will. And, at least according to some faith practices, the only ones with souls.

Maybe it’s time to take a good long look in the mirror. In what ways are we no better than animals? In what ways are we perhaps worse? In what ways might we learn from animals how to treat one another and the planet we live on?

I think God gave us a wide range of examples to follow — or to eschew. That’s why our world is so vibrantly alive with so many species of living things. Our job is to observe. Not to judge — we have no real moral authority for that — but to look, examine, and see how we want our lives to differ or mirror theirs. And to protect them, because we aren’t any better than they are. We’re just different. And we all have something to give.

Except for mosquitoes. Those little monsters are pure menace. Am I right?

Someone once said that at age 50, you have the face you deserve. Now, who that someone was is up to debate: Some say Coco Chanel, others George Orwell. Some give the nod to Lincoln (and change the “expiration date” to 40 instead of 50). One website even credits Joan Collins with the witticism. Me, I tend to be Team Coco. It sounds like the sort of thing she would have said, perhaps between designing chic little black dresses and scolding people about their accessory choices.

I’ve had cause to consider this quotation as I stare down the barrel at the rapidly approaching bullet that is my 50th birthday. Do people really have the faces they deserve? One could argue that money, as usual, effects exceptions to the rule — if one has a clever plastic surgeon, that is. It would also be appropriate to note that life isn’t fair, and the results of this unfairness often show up on the kindest and best of visages. When my brother was just barely out of toddler-hood, he cracked his head open after tripping on a jump rope (to be fair, my sister and I were chasing him). He has the scar to this day. I have a similar scar on my lower lip, the product of a childhood incident with a sharpened pencil and prolonged spinning. (What was I thinking? Knowing me, I was thinking the pencil was a magic wand, and I was a twirling fairy, and, well, splat…an unhappy ending.)

Truly bad things happen to good people, with surprising regularity. Still, one could argue (and I intend to) that none of get what we really deserve. Because someone took the weight for us.

Whether or not you believe in the Adam and Eve story, you must admit that we humans have been both blessed and cursed by Free Will. Given the choice, we often do awful things. Whether those things fall into the category of unlawful fruit-eating or violence against one another, it does not matter. The black mark on our souls is there from the start. Most of us do little to mitigate it.

And that could have been all she wrote. (Not me, silly. I mean “that might have been the last word on the matter.”) Except for three exceptional blessings: Baptism (to wash away Original Sin), Reconciliation (the process of confessing and being forgiven one’s sins) and — most crucially — Christ’s death and resurrection, which guaranteed for all of us the possibility of the most stunningly unearned outcome of all: An eternity with God in heaven.

No matter how unfair life is, to our faces or our fortunes, we have a miraculous reprieve available to us. Jesus suffered and died for us so we, all of us sinners, throughout the ages, could have the very best of presents: More time, the best time, time free from all the petty concerns of this earth.

So maybe I do have the face I deserve. Or not. But I certainly have so much more — the hope of heaven. And that’s a pretty good comfort to cling to, no matter what life throws my way.

What do you call a group of resolutions? I nominate the word brace. Why? “Brace” not only works as a plural, it connotes resolve. And that’s the difference between a wish, a dream and a resolution: A resolution demands resolve. You’ve got to have a will of steel to make a resolution happen. That’s why most of us fail at it.

I’ve got one resolution this year: Not to make any resolutions. The very idea of it seems to hint that I know what’s best for myself and that I ought to be the one shaping my life. I’m not so sure that’s true. Now, mind you, I’m not advocating for anyone to just sit in a chair doing nothing but sighing, “God’s will be done.” Not at all. If God didn’t want us to be involved in our own lives, God would not have given us free will.

I’m simply saying that God knows better than I do where I need to go. This year, I resolve to be less of a backseat driver. (“Really, God, you want me to go there? Are you sure? I’m not sure there is really in my wheelhouse. Wouldn’t over here be better?”) I’m going to embrace the journey, even if it involves what I perceive to be standing still for long periods of time. I’m going to remember that there’s a reason for everything, even if I don’t see it.

This year, God will make my resolutions for me. I can count on God’s resolve. Mine…not so much.

God puts beauty into the world.  Its up to us to help it thrive.

God puts beauty into the world. Its up to us to help it thrive.

Last week, I made this comment on Lori’s post. “I think a lot of people fail to make the connection that a good, benevolent God doesn’t mean that you will always have peace, joy and ever blessed thing you want. You are, after all, living among flawed humans.”

Lori responded, “You need to write more about what you just said. People really don’t get it!”

The fact of the matter is that this is a really tricky topic because it comes back to free will. Free will, the ability to make our own decisions, is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s easy enough to see why it’s a blessing, because it means we get to make our own decisions. We have choices. We aren’t just puppets in a cosmic play. We are free.

But with freedom comes responsibility and it is the responsibility we would often happily do without. We want the freedom (fries or onion rings) but we don’t want the responsibility (high cholesterol, obesity, and heart disease). As if that wasn’t enough, we don’t just make decisions that harm us. We make decisions that harm other people. We go astray.

Recently, I lead the lesson for our women’s circle at Florissant Presbyterian Church. This year we are studying from Dispatches to God’s Household: The General Epistles by Nancy Benson-Nicol. In the lesson that I taught on elders, she refers to people as God’s sheep, his flock.

Most of us, myself included, resent being compared to sheep. After all, sheep are not exactly known for their intelligence or their ability to keep themselves out of trouble.

Hmm. Maybe when you put it like that it isn’t such a bad comparison. We constantly put ourselves in harms way. Time and time again, we put others in harms way. We know what God wants; he has told us to love each other time and time again.

God tells us what He wants but he also gave us free will. The choices that we make are ours. Its about time we learned to accept the responsibility, and the blame, that comes with the freedom.

–SueBE

Remember how it felt to be a kid on Christmas morning? We don’t often experience highs like that as adults. Oh, holidays are still pleasant, but they’re more work than they used to be. And any “high” is immediately followed by a “low” — something that was easier to take in stride as a child, when the next holiday or birthday party or field trip was always just around the corner.

I’m coming down from a “contact high”: That is, time spent with my friends and classmates at a recent reunion. I’m not going to lie (although I am going to use blatantly ‘80s slang): I had a blast. But now the afterglow is wearing off. It’s back to business as usual.

I used to wonder, as many people have, why human beings couldn’t be happy all the time. We seem to expect it. We are uncomfortable with sadness; we don’t like it. We speak of being “depressed.” Actually, of course, depression is a medical condition involving certain brain chemicals. Most of us aren’t really depressed, not medically anyway. We’re just sad.

I’ve come to a conclusion about happiness. I don’t think we’re supposed to be happy all the time, or even most of the time. I think it’s unfair to suggest that we should. The story of the Garden of Eden attempts to explain what I’m talking about — namely, that our free will comes with a price, and that price is unhappiness, at least from time to time.

Our choices make us unhappy. Our ability to choose the direction our lives will take makes us unhappy. Even choosing happiness can make us unhappy, as happiness can only be fleeting. We are built for contrasts: There can be no satiety without hunger, no dark without light, no unhappiness without happiness.

Like any living thing, happiness (laughter, sunshine, love) takes specific care. You have to work at it. Maintain ties with people who make you happy. Choose positivity in your day-to-day demeanor. Remember good times. But don’t expect to be happy all the time. Flowers need rain to grow, too. And happiness in this lifetime comes only in glimpses. We’re not ready to see Heaven…not yet.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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