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The other day, I watched a church service live-stream on Facebook. It occurred to me that I was seeing the exact moment of the lie taking place – yet no one was lying on purpose. The pastor asked if anyone wanted to accept Christ, and many came forward to pray. At the end, he said, “Congratulations! Now you’re born again! All things are made new!”

The lie is in the mood music they’re playing. The warm, welcoming church workers guiding people into their religion. The parishioners nodding as if you’re doing a great thing, this is a big step, your life is about to completely transform!

But that’s the lie of it. That’s the production. The musical number of it.

We expect all vestiges of our former life to just fall away. For all of our insecurities and problems to disappear. Poof! For this encouraging crowd of fellow believers to be there for us always, patting us on the back and giving us a high-five.

Not that anybody’s lying about what faith can do for you. It truly can change your life completely. But that’s the heart-work. That’s work you and God do together, and it happens over time, like a scroll unfurling. No one else can do it for you, and there is no magic prayer to make it happen instantly.

When I took the altar call years ago, in my mind it was more like the “alter call,” as if it would completely change my life instantly. What I came to conclude is that you walk the path with God and maybe alchemizes into of course. Is that you, God? solidifies into a firm foundation of faith.

It’s like that “Just Say No to Drugs” commercial from years ago, that showed an egg frying in a pan, with the voiceover, “this is your brain on drugs.”

In our version, we’ll show the sun rising, flowers blooming, and the earth turning. Massive, mystical, magical happenings – the only common denominator is the One holding it all together.

Good people, This is your soul on God.

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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.

Justice is not “just us.”
It’s everyone.
It’s every one
doing what that one can
and eventually, it is all of us, together.

So it really is just us. There is no “them.”
You and me again become we.

Step one: take one step.

Well, if you read the news these days, it’s discouraging, but there are still good people in the world doing positive things.

Like this flight attendant who saved one young girl from a sex trafficker and this tightrope walker who saved one man stuck in a ski lift.

These individuals didn’t save the whole world, they saved one person. Just one. But that one person really matters. To their friends, to their families. To God.

Both of these things happened in mid-air, so there was no other way to get help. Sometimes God puts a person uniquely equipped to save the day in exactly the right place.

We’ve all seen the protests, picket signs and caustic comments online. There are small pockets of positive resistance forming out there, waiting to connect with each other and spread peace instead of discord.

With all of the drama going on, that may be where the next groundswell sets in. Singular acts. Small gestures. Just you. Just me. Just us. Being neighborly. Keeping our words civil. Treating each other like extended family.

Hopefully, the next hashtag that catches on will be #JustUs. We’re all in this together, and there really is no Us Versus Them. We’re all “Us.” U.S. We all live here. We all belong here. We don’t all have to agree, but we can get along if we all agree to try.

Even aliens – and by that I mean, from outer space – should be treated humanely. The other type of “alien” doesn’t really exist. We all came from somewhere else. Now we’re here.

Post-election, my vote is to get past this ugly chapter and get on with the “one nation under God” thing. It’s time to put aside those weaponized words and meet each other as human beings with healing hearts. Somebody’s got to take the first step.

Reading SueBE’s and Lori’s posts this week gave me a lot to think about.

If SueBE is in for a world of hurt, having only been to mass twice in her life, I’m really SOL (this being a prayer blog, that stands for “Shucks! Out of Luck”) as I can’t recall ever having gone to mass. Perhaps as a child, since I’m told I was baptized Catholic.

But I’ve always chafed against the idea of rules that don’t make sense to me. This makes me an iffy candidate for any religion, not to mention line-dancing and speed-dating. Come on. You want me to sit down, stand up, and hold hands with a stranger? Heck. Now I’m just dizzy!

The other day I watched a “fire-and-brimstone” preacher on t.v. and it reminded me why so many Americans skirt the periphery as I do, calling ourselves “spiritual but not religious.”

He spoke of the doomed Titanic voyage, saying there were two passenger categories: “Upper Class and Steerage.” But when the sugar hit the fan (as it were – still a prayer blog, mind) names were listed under two different categories: “Saved and Lost.” He nodded his head, pleased at the metaphor, pointed at the congregation and bellowed, “Some of you are going to Hell first class!”

And, smooches unto you, too, Reverend Cuddlebear!

My word. If that’s the gospel according to that church, well then, sniff, sniff, I think I’ve got a cold too. I’ll have to miss that service this week. And forever!

For Lori, SueBe and me, this blog is a sacred space. We’re spread across the map geographically and spiritually, yet somehow we end up in the same place.

I say, it’s all right to miss church once in awhile (or in my case, altogether!) because the altar is already set up in your heart. The pew is the armchair you’re sitting in. The church is wherever you are, and wherever you are, that’s where God is, too. See there, you’re all set for the evening worship service. Sit with me, have a warm cuppa, and let us pray.

Did you ever find yourself in a snit about little things that seem to accumulate?

I had medical appointments and procedures over the last couple of weeks (everything’s fine) but got behind on reading blog updates, emails, etc. My schedule was thrown off and getting out of my usual routine really got under my skin.

You look at the salt shaker on the counter and think, Why is this here? It belongs in the cabinet! Stupid, small things become monumental.

Why is it overcast today? Just to annoy me? You start to think that everyone is doing things just to get on your nerves.

It becomes an almost tangible roadblock that can lead to a kind of spiritual gridlock.

You start to think everything’s out of whack, when really, it’s just a matter of pruning. Taking stock of what’s most pressing, and tending to the roots.

This is what matters most in life: faith, family, friends. Praying, staying in a peaceful state of mind, taking care of yourself. The rest is really just logistics. 

We spend so much time making sure all our ducks are in a row that we forget to feed the ducks! Don’t neglect to do the very things that would smoothe out those edges:

  • Pat your pets
  • Look at the sunset
  • Re-read a favorite book
  • Listen to music
  • Relax in a comfy chair
  • Read uplifting passages from Psalms
  • Wear a comfy sweater, even if it has a hole in it

Don’t throw out the sweater because it’s got a little imperfection. Sew it up, if you know how, or just toss on a scarf. Who’s going to know? Keep the comforts close at hand, so when it feels like life is getting out of control, you remember: there’s always tomorrow.

Count your blessings. Life is good.

Yeah, I realize that this post has more clichés per capita than a basket full of fortune cookies, 😊 but this is the gospel truth: God’s got your back.

Ride it out, and next thing you know, the sun is back up again. And lo and behold! All is well.

What follows is a pared-down version of the first post I ever wrote for this blog. I thought it might be time for review, to get my bearings, so to speak. I am still wandering, making great loops back to familiar subjects — prayer, faith, justice, the Church — yet remaining open to new discoveries along the way. How has your spirituality changed in the past five years? Do you still pray for the same reasons and in the same way?

I just read a fascinating article about how, if you blindfold a person (or place him in fog, complete darkness, or other sight-diminishing circumstances) and ask him to walk, drive or otherwise move himself in a straight line across some distance, he will end up making circles, loop after loop, until he either winds up where he started, or runs into a tree or other unfortunately placed item. Without sight cues like a mountain or a building to guide us, we can’t walk a straight line.

This reminds me of why I pray. God is my mountain — He shows me where I want to go — but prayer keeps me on track. It’s like echolocation is to bats or whales. It helps me finds my way, stay on the path, keep my eyes ahead on what is important. Prayer grounds me. It keeps me from running in circles, willy-nilly, never making progress. Because, let’s face it, we’re all blindfolded to some degree. If we saw with complete clarity, we would never hurt one another or ourselves. But things get in the way: jobs, people, everyday life, our own psychological tics. We need something to pull our eyes out of our own navels and show us the world not just realistically, but with hope. Because without hope, there’s no use standing up at all. You might as well curl up in a ball and die.

All of this is to say that I pray because I need to see the way. But we all have different reasons to pray. That’s sort of how this blog came about…the need for us to talk about prayer and create prayer so we can find our way to the light. Or express our emotions. Or shower God with rightful praise. Or whatever it is that motivates each one of us to a prayerful life.

So what about you? Why do you pray?

Over the weekend, I took a deep breath and suddenly was in so much pain, I doubled over. The doctor on call said it was something called “pleurisy” and told me to go to the ER.

My son drove me to the hospital, and, on the way, I mulled over what this mystery condition was all about. Could it be the plural version of leprosy?!? Something that sounds like a fancy French dish can’t be a big deal!

Two stern-faced nurses, one male and one female, started to disrobe me and put electrodes on my chest for the EKG. At least buy me dinner first! I thought.

They put an oxygen tube over my nose, started an IV line, drew blood and wheeled me in for a chest x-ray.

Finally, one of the nurses smiled. “Love your cat socks,” she said. Another one laughed and said, “How great!” and pointed to her jacket, which had a pawprint design on it.

Another nurse, Marielle, asked what I did for a living, and it almost occurred to me to say I’m a professional patient of late, but told her about my writing gigs.

Her parents only spoke Tonga at home, she told me, but she really tries to speak English like a native. Her “friends” corrected her all the time, and she said that she sometimes  confused “was” and “were.”

I was impressed with her because she worked in the ICU of another hospital in our town on weekdays, and at this hospital’s ER on the weekends. She’s already achieved so much, but what makes her feel less accomplished is her grasp of the language.

The nurses focused on my cute cat socks, even though all the while I was thinking, I look and feel like forty miles of bad road. They didn’t see what I saw.

Marielle focused on her perceived language issues, even though all the while I was thinking, she’s young to have accomplished so much in her career. She didn’t see what I saw.

When I got home that night, I prayed for all the nurses who had taken care of me, and that we could all see each other through God’s eyes, healing each other with kindness.

three little cover

Opinions are like elbows – everybody’s got one, and sometimes they’re out of joint.

With so many troubling things going on in the world today, everybody has a theory about why these things happen, and what to do about them.

I think that there are some good, solid values that endure, despite the fact that times are constantly changing.

If positive attributes had Christian names, we might be more inclined to take them to heart.

Grace: your friend who calls before you even know you’re down in the dumps. She shows up at the door with fresh-baked muffins while you’re still on the phone and takes your mind off of your troubles.

Moxie: a sweet little girl in pig-tails who never gives up. You see her at the end of the block, playing hopscotch like an Olympian, even when it starts to rain. Winning the game is her goal and she will not be deterred!

Joy: that shelter dog you’ve seen on the internet who has worked her way into your heart. A two-minute video of that pup wagging her tail and tilting her head tells you she’s already chosen you. It’s just a matter of time before you come around and head to the shelter to pick her up.

We’ve all got troubles to deal with, but there’s a way to meet them head on.

Being gracious in a hectic world, being tenacious when trials come your way, and being vivacious when your heart’s almost bursting from blessings.

Oh, and lest we forget: there’s your cousin. The one who keeps sending you encouraging emails and checks on you when you’re sick. Her name? Faith, of course.

Last night’s newscast included coverage of the political landscape. It started with Democratic nominee, Bernie Sanders’, supporters, most of whom were young and enthusiastic.

“I don’t trust Hilary Clinton – she uses a lot of diversionary tactics,” said the teen with a nose ring, a spike through her lip, and an interesting, if asymmetrical, haircut.

Next, we were treated to the gospel according to the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump.

“I’ve got all the best words,” said Trump, showing himself to be somewhat (big word alert! ) mendacious. 🙂

This political season seems to have brought out the worst in people. It’s like a polarized Polaroid – everyone takes a snapshot of life as they see it, boils it down to its simplest terms and presents it as the truth.

It would be easy to get caught up in this negativity, but we know the real story.

There’s a gospel passage that puts it all into perspective.

Lamentations is a chapter of sorrowful songs that really is the bummer of the Bible. In fact, it’s filled with depictions of doom that would do modern politicians proud!

But buried deep in these doldrums, there is a sliver of light. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”

There will always be people stirring up drama, trying to gain a position of power with their own version of the truth. But we know who’s really in charge. At the end of the day, we aren’t taken in by these false prophets of doom.

There are still babies being born. Flowers still bloom. We still find kindred spirits. The sun still rises in the east. We still love our families. We still dream and sing and play.

There’s still very much in life to look forward to.

And God is as good as his word.

“This I recall to mind, and therefore, I have hope.”

The spring right before the road.

The spring right before the road.

Holy Week.  At the risk of sending a few people off the deep end, I’m going to publically admit that I am not terrifically fond of Holy Week.  Yes, it is the time we observe and, dare I say, celebrate the sacrifice that was made for us.  It is a time of reflection.

But it is also a time that is insanely busy.  First you have Maundy Thursday service. Then Good Friday vigil.  Then all the hoopla that is Easter (both church and family).  For us that’s brunch with my dad, dinner at my sister-in-law’s, church Sunday morning, and then dinner at my sister’s.  We’re missing another dinner because . . . . seriously?  Did you see our schedule?

This year, my family let some of it slide and because we scheduled a trip out of town without realizing that Spring Break and Holy Week coincided.  We got back just in time for brunch.

Fern alongside the road.

Fern alongside the road.

This means that while everyone else was at church and dying eggs, I was at the lake. The boys were doing boy things and I was following a feed plot road.  In this part of Missouri, spring is making an appearance.  The land is still a little grim looking, all grey and brown, but there are also signs of growth, signs of hope.

One of the places that I connect most deeply with God outdoors. It’s easier when I’m alone and the past few days gave me some time to both wander and wonder.

I know, I know. It means I missed time that could have been spent in group worship.  And we missed a dinner.  But I also got to connect with God and having done that I can say it was truly worth it. His message?

Breathe. Just take a moment, stand still, and breathe.

It isn’t a message I would have received in worship or with family but it was definitely a message that I needed to hear.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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