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“Equal rights for others do not mean fewer rights for you.  It’s not pie.”

This is one of those sayings that I dearly love even if it does beg the question.  So what is like pie?

We’ve been taught to think that universities are limited in the numbers of young learners they can accept. We are told that affirmative action is why there aren’t enough seats for other students. Yet, class after class is canceled when not enough students enroll.  Credit courses and continuing education classes alike suffer this fate.

Jobs? Common knowledge is that if we let those people in and give them jobs, then there won’t be enough jobs for the rest of us.  Of course, we are also supposed to believe that employment is up.  And, when employment is up, people spend more money on homes, cars, food and clothing.  That would mean more jobs, maybe not making these items but selling and maintaining and keeping them clean.

Whenever I hear someone talking about how generosity to “those people” is what has cost us, I think about the loaves and fishes.  For those of you who don’t remember the specifics, here is the story of Christ feeding the multitude as it is written in the Book of John.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there).  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”  So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

Even if the boy was worried, John doesn’t say anything about him complaining to Jesus.  “Wait minute! If I give this to you, I won’t have enough.  But if the boy did complain, I imagine Christ telling him.  “Don’t worry.  It isn’t pie.  There will be enough for everyone.

–SueBE

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We designed this blog as a sunny, positive place to reflect and pray. That does not mean that we turn a blind eye to the darker things of this world. Take the situation at the border: Children are being torn from their parents’ arms, placed in overcrowded “shelters,” sleeping on concrete, not being provided with even the most basic care. They are getting sick. They are dying. Have no doubt — we will be judged on our response to this crisis. And that judgment will come sooner than we think.

Be warned:
We are writing on the most fragile of pages
in ink that breaches the veins, burning
blood, leaching poison. They will remember us
as the stuff of childhood nightmares,
as the monsters their mamas swore
did not exist. (Sometimes parents are wrong,
and monsters wear a human mask.)
We are imprinting a world on their skins,
a world of screaming terror, filth and misery.
We may forget, but they will not. Not ever.
The dark thing we’ve unleashed will come
to roost in our own pretty homes,
soon, soon. It will swoop and smother.
No nation can stand with a millstone
round its neck. Judgment is coming.
Do not look away.

My yard is populated with birds, squirrels, and an occasional deer. There are also some squatters that hang around: Rocco and Enrique, the raccoons, and Fred Sanford, the red fox I see once in a while. Inside, every so often, I’ve had to contend with Sid and Sylvia, the silverfish. And of course, Steve, the spider who lives behind the bathroom door.

Every last one of them thinks that this is THEIR house.

They look askance at me as I’m looking askance at them.

What are you doing in my home? we’re each thinking.

If we startle each other, both of us react in fear. I always try to capture bugs as opposed to having to squish them, but if they surprise me, I make no promises. As long as they respect my space, we can co-exist in peace. Isn’t it the same way with the world?

This is my country. What are you doing here? In this country that was founded by immigrants. Mind you, this land was already populated by native Americans. Religions all stake the same claim: We alone possess the truth. Abide by our rigid rules, or suffer the consequences! When we overlap, we tend to squish each other, talking louder, claiming the community’s shared space as our own.

Then there’s Grady the groundhog, who keeps finding a way back under my house despite a wildlife company trapping nine of his family members, sealing holes and installing underground fencing. It took him a while, but he found his way back in. I hear him knocking sometimes under my sunroom. We aren’t each others’ fans, but like religion and politics, if the best I can do is not burn down the house to get rid of a few pests, it’s a tiny step in the right direction.

Consider the following: A woman decided that whenever she saw a man walking towards her, she would not deliberately get out of his way. She ran into 28 men in short order.

Consider also: During a prayer ceremony, a box full of beautiful, hand-forged glass beads was passed from person to person. Each bead was unique and connected to a prayer; the bead you chose indicated which prayer you would read aloud. Out of dozens of beads, I chose the bead for “silence.” Oh, the irony! I have always been a quiet person — a good baby, an obedient child, never prone to expressions of emotion or even strong opinion (except in my writing). Loquacious friends know they can call me, and I’ll listen for hours. So what was my reaction to choosing that particular bead? “Fifty-three years of being quiet, Lord. When do I get to speak?”

Clearly, the questions need to be asked: Who always gets out of the way? Who gets to speak and who remains silent? And why do we simply accept these answers?

When it comes to politics, the loudest voice wins. The voice doesn’t necessarily represent the majority; it doesn’t have to. If it makes its point loudly enough and with enough aggression, the others will back down. We are seeing this on a daily basis with our current government. Who is allowed to speak when it comes to immigrants and immigration? Not the immigrants themselves. Why? The story is about them. So why are their voices largely unheard?

Who drives policy and who is expected to step aside, even when the policy has nothing to do with the drivers and everything to do with the conceders? Why? Because the drivers have the power. Is that fair? Is that even logical? And if it isn’t, what will it take for the conceders to stand their ground?

I want you to think about this. Are you the person who steps aside or the one who expects others to get out of the way? Are you a loud voice or a silent one? And most importantly, how does God expect us to treat the other? Is God a walk all over people God or a considerate God? Whom did Jesus side with — the powerful people or the silent people (women, the downtrodden, the poor)? And when the silent are enjoined to be “civil,” to not make a fuss, is that what Jesus would do?

What we do with the answers to these questions will say a lot about who we are. It may even determine what happens to us in the next life. I have a feeling that Heaven is where the silent finally speak.

It would be so easy to read this quote and think, “Aha.  She’s a Dem and she’s commenting on the whole situation at the border.”  And the funny thing is that you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

I am a Dem.  I have incredibly strong opinions about what is going on at our Southern border.  I’ve shared those opinions with our state Senator – the one that is running for reelection.  He’s a Republican and we disagree about 97% of the time so I could have let him have it.

Instead I started out my letter by wishing him a happy Father’s Day and thanking him for all the time and energy who puts into his job.  Like my grandmother always said, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  If I didn’t back down, next would be ‘keep a civil tongue in your head.’

G-ma would definitely have agreed with Lori.  We are so caught up in making sure that people know, in minute detail, what we think, that we are leaving Christ and his love behind.  We go on and on about the fact that there are no compromises anymore, people stick with their party.

But we also forget that we are just as guilty when it comes to the name calling.  Conservative.  Republican.  Liberal.  Fool.  Whatever term we use, the contempt comes through loud and clear.

Why not try something new?  Don’t just have compassion for whoever you think is being ignored – immigrants, the American worker, or whoever.  Try to see into the heart of the person you are disagreeing with.  We are all God’s children and he probably wouldn’t mind if we all tried to remember that.

Compassion and kindness.  Honey and civility.

–SueBE

This may be one of my all time favorite Bible verses and it has only become more so after a God moment I experienced this week.

My friend and I are once again preparing to teach adult Sunday school.  Our class uses two sets of material.  One consists of pamphlets put out by a religious press.  They cover a wide range of topics from the Lord’s Prayer to the Kings.  While I try to tell myself that I’m okay with them, 90% of the time they feel like an educational snack.  There’s just enough there to make me want more.

The other set of books are the ones produced by the Presbyterian Church USA for women’s Bible study. My friend and I chose the 2007/2008 study that taught Jonah and Ruth.  We tend to like these books so we didn’t really look at it.  We already knew there would be almost more information than we could use.

Thursday I flipped it open and read lesson 1.  Some scholars believe that both Ruth and Jonah were written after the Babylonian captivity.  That is why both books are strongly anti-foreign, an issue that God addresses with Ruth and Jonah and the author addresses in the study.

This study may be 10 years old but it is still needed today.  Thank you, Lord, for leading us to it.

–SueBE

1. Never sneeze with half-chewed nuts in your mouth. I’m still picking bits out of my hair.

2. If your wife makes something for the potluck, remember to actually bring it. (Owen, that’s you I’m talking to.)

3. Folks can say in one breath that they voted for Trump because he is pro-life, yet in the next breath fully countenance the forcible removal of immigrants, the yanking of health care to thousands — making pregnancy a “pre-existing condition,” while simultaneously denying prenatal care, and failing to understand why Black Lives Matter.

4. When one only has herself to cook for, one tends to eat sporadically and strangely. Creamed kale for supper, anyone?

5. God makes God’s-self known in loud trumpeting…and barely perceivable whispers. Both. I am much better at hearing the trumpeting. Although it is jolting.

6. As a brilliant artist friend reminded me with his painting of Jeremiah being lifted from the cistern (the biblical prophet’s enemies throw him into a dry cistern; a court official rescues him, not just with rope, but — thoughtfully — with pieces of cloth to place under his arms while he is being lifted, so the ropes don’t chafe him), you can lift a person up by throwing them a line and expecting them to be grateful for it, OR you can lift someone up with special attention to their individual needs — i.e., gently. How do you lift people up?

7. There is always a third option: To not lift people up at all. This is becoming less and less acceptable to me, yet more and more common in the world.

8. I need to speak less and listen more. This will render me pretty much selectively mute. That’s okay; the world has enough noise in it. It will, however, make phone calls awkward.

9. I need a nap. A year or two ought to do it. Now, if you’ll excuse me….

My, my, my. The Church Lady must be having a field day. I refer of course to the old Saturday Night Live sketches featuring Dana Carvey’s judgmental and oh-so pious authority on all that is good and evil. She was always quick to call out hypocrisy in the “whited sepulchers” who frequented her show. Such insight has never been as necessary as it is now.

America likes to think of itself as a Christian country, though religiously speaking, we’re actually mutts — a mix of everything, from Mormons to Sikhs. Yet those who project — and protect — this “Christian America” image most fiercely seem most in need of a reminder of what Christianity actually is.

There is no Christianity without Christ. And to know what Christianity is about, one only has to access the words and deeds of Christ. This is not a case of “what would Jesus do?” but “what did Jesus do?” He embraced the outcasts and told us to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, a radical reversal of the current state of immigration. Jesus, tellingly, put no codas, no provisos, on his commands — no clauses like “only if they speak English” or “only if they have a good job.” Indeed, he seemed most concerned about those most on the outside, most in need of lifting up.

Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty (written, I hate to tell you, Mr. Miller, expressly for the Statue of Liberty) comes down hard on the side of the outsiders — and, consequently, the side of Christ. To stand in defiance of the huddled masses longing to breathe free is to stand in defiance of God.

Oh, I know. It’s hard to welcome the stranger. Strangers are scary precisely because they are strange to us. Is every immigrant a good person? No, but neither is every homegrown American. It is simpler to draw ourselves inward, to turn our backs on the “other” and “take care of our own.” Except who decides who is “our own” and who is not? Who was the “neighbor” in the parable of the Good Samaritan?

I am not saying that everyone opposed to the welcoming of immigrants is a bad person. But neither is he or she following the precepts of Christ.

What I’m asking for is very simple: a little truth-telling. It’s time for a good scrub, America. Let’s wash out our mouths with soap and water and get down to brass tacks. Either we welcome strangers or we do not. Either we are Christian or we are not.

But we don’t get to have it both ways.

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There have been very few times in my life when I’ve actually been speechless.

But something happened over the weekend that defies words. In fact, it defies logic. Humanity. The bounds of decency.

President Trump wrote an Executive Order banning immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries.

This seems like the action of someone out to prove a point. Perhaps he was irked by the recent women’s marches or fired up about his contention that the popular vote was rigged to make it seem as if most of the country voted against him.

Just as it’s never a good idea to discipline your children when you’re out-of-control with rage, it’s not prudent to issue edicts on the spur-of-the-moment and without knowing all of the facts.

As we all adjust to this new reality – the “reality” of “alternate facts” and grudge matches between officials with the power to declare war on countries and on whole groups of human beings – I’m gaining strength from great gurus, such as our own SueBE and Lori, and I’m meditating on their wise words.

Taking solace in this quote from FDR:

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

Enjoying the irony in these words from John Steinbeck:

“My whole family has been having trouble with immigrants ever since we came to this country.”

Nodding in agreement with the wisdom of Margaret Mead:

“The discrepancy between American ideals and American practice — between our aims and what we actually do — creates a moral dry rot which eats away at the foundations of our democratic faith.”

And leaving you with these words from an Enlightened Encourager, the great Mother Teresa:

“The more I traveled, the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.”

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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.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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