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For me, the holidays often seem like a loving time of year.  People are more considerate and think of the needy.  They hold doors open for each other.  They’re civil.

Still, this time of year is difficult for so many.  The invisible.  The unheard.  Those without power.

As you are selecting treats, wrapping gifts, and sending out cards, please take a moment.  Do something for those who have no voice.

That could mean making a small donation to an organization such as Heifer or Habitat.  Or maybe you’d prefer to work a shift at your local food pantry.  That’s a popular one here and slots for volunteers are already full.  But, and this one is really important, kids will be off school. This means that those who normally eat two meals a day at school may be doing without.  Consider putting together a special food offering.

Spare some love for those who have little or no power.  Bless them as God has blessed you.

–SueBE

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Sometimes we need to hear something more than once for the point to be made.  Today, I watched a TED Talk featuring Teresa Njoroge titled “What I Learned Serving Time for a Crime I Didn’t Commit.” (I’ve imbedded it below.)

Teresa started her talk by telling her story.  She worked in Kenya’s financial district in a job she loved.  She had studied hard to make it in this booming sector.  Then one day she was told that she had participated in a fraudulent transaction.  She was scared, but she hadn’t done anything.  By the time she was sent to prison, she has been asked several times to pay out large sums of money to make the problem “go away.” She didn’t so, in spite of her innocence, she went to prison for a year.  Her 3-month old daughter went with her.

In prison, she heard the stories of women.  Women with no educations.  Women from the poorest backgrounds.  Women who couldn’t pay bribes even if they didn’t trust the system.

By the time her one year sentence had been served, Teresa was determined to help women like these make better decisions and also have the resources needed to defend themselves from false accusations.  She founded Clean Start Kenya.

Teresa has since been exonerated of all charges.  She has also worked in the incarceration capital of the world – Louisiana, USA.

Yes.  The incarceration capital of the world is in the US.  Not North Korea.  Not Iraq or Afghanistan.  The US.

Thank God for Teresa Njoroge who refused to pay the bribe, who refused to write off her fellow prisoners.  This forest needs more trees like Teresa.

–SueBE

It seems like justice should be easier to achieve.  Why can’t we get the supplies to Puerto Rico that the people so badly need?  And get these supplies off the docks and out into the country itself?  Why do Americans have to go overseas for life saving surgery?  Why does the ACLU have to get involved before a city requires just action from its police force.

The reality is that it is a lot easier for us to look after our own self interests.  To ask ourself ‘what is this going to cost?’ instead of ‘who is this going to save?’

God knew that.  Christ knew that which is why he reminded his disciples – this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  (John 15: 12).

–SueBE

As I write this late Friday morning, I’m popping back and forth to check the local news.  A former police officer was just found not guilty of first degree murder. The victim was a black man the officer was accused of planting evidence on.

Guilty?  Not guilty?  I don’t know.  The plaintiff waved his right to a jury trial so only the judge had to decided.  He just released a 30 page document detailing the evidence and his decision.  So I don’t really have an opinion.  If you go with the media and the protestors, this is the wrong verdict.  Me?  I need the facts.

It’s unsettling to watch people’s reactions to this.  No one has had time to read all 30 pages.  No one.  But people are swearing that they have and that the judge is right.

Or the judge is wrong.

People have ruts and they are falling right into the same old predictable patterns.

As I listen to them rant and watch them posture, I wonder what will happen.  This is my polite way of saying that I’m wondering if there will be riots.  I’m wondering who has missed what because they think they KNOW.  What opportunities for peace and love have been missed because people went into this with their eyes shut, fingers in their ears, and their minds made up.

If only we would let go of what we believe about ourselves.  About other people.  We might be able to hear that still small voice of God.

–SueBE

 

 

The world is spiraling out of control. We are not evolving, but de-evolving. Every day things become more vicious, more divisive, more hopeless.

Here’s where you’re expecting me to say, “Have hope! God is with us!” I am not going to say that.

I’m growing increasingly tired of hearing, “hope and pray that things will improve.” I’m not sure that’s enough. It feels to me as if God is pushing our buttons lately, with a very intentional agenda in mind: What will it take?

What will it take for you to call your senator? What will it take for us to understand that we are all human beings and need to take care of one another? What will it take to stop blaming and start working on solutions? What will it take for us to wake up?

It is all very well and good to hope and pray. In fact, prayer can be powerful action. But there is more to be done, and it starts with making our actions congruent with our beliefs. Do you claim to be a Christian yet don’t care about (or actively work against) the welfare of the poor, the immigrant, those standing on the margins (like the LGBTQ community)? You might want to re-evaluate. Do you hate liberals? Conservatives? Hating is not a Christian value. Spewing that hatred, whether online or at a “rally” is not a Christian activity.

Which is not to say that Christians have a corner on morality; we don’t. And part of God’s wake-up call to us is recognizing that we, in our diversity of faith traditions, are more alike than different, that Sharia law doesn’t hurt me any more than someone keeping kosher does — just follow your own beliefs and be considerate of others’ beliefs. Religion isn’t the enemy; it’s people who misconstrue and misinterpret religion, who forget that God is love — above all else.

I firmly believe that Jesus was a radical. He didn’t come to soothe anybody’s spirits; he came to shake things up. And that’s what God is doing now. God is shaking and shaking us, trying to make us declare exactly who and what we are and what we believe is right and just.

So…are you ready to stand up? If not, what will it take?

lewis-on-justice

chuchill

Dear Scott Baio,

This is not the letter I thought I’d be writing you when I was 15 and my girlfriends were betting their first-born children over the color of the shirt you’d worn on the previous night’s “Happy Days” episode. Funny how things turn out, huh?

I saw you recently on television defending your friend’s observations about women. (Move over, Voldemort — there’s a new “He Who Must Not Be Named”!) What you said essentially (and verbatim) is that this is simply the way men talk, and that we women should “grow up” and get over it.

Hey! Isn’t this like the time Jesus told the grieving widow of Nain, “Your son’s dead. Grow up and deal with it”? Or the famous Sermon on the Mount, when he told the peacemakers, “You’re never going to achieve world peace. Grow up”? Wait a second. That never happened! That’s because Jesus couldn’t stay quiet in the face of injustice. He stands for the marginalized and abused. And that’s why I can’t take your advice either, I’m afraid.

My faith compels me to speak out — and act out — against injustice, just as Jesus did. When women are treated as things, as commodities for the use of men — that is unjust. You say that all men talk this way. You also believe that women talk about men this way, maybe over a glass of white wine. Maybe some do. I’ve just never met them. Oh sure, my friends and I kept a “Sexy Men” list in college. But with entries as varied as John Taylor from Duran Duran and Shaggy from Scooby Doo (my friend Kathy was so besotted, she claimed she’d never make him shave his peach fuzz or change his green T-shirt), it was largely played for laughs. And we never, ever spoke about violating anyone’s space, let alone assaulting them. Maybe I’ve always hung out with prudes. But I don’t think so.

Your buddy’s comments got women talking, though…mostly about their first sexual assaults. One of my friends was six years old the first time a man put his hands on her. Is that normal? I’m asking. Because I guess I don’t know what “normal” people do “all the time.”

I was tempted to talk about my own experiences here. But I saw the backlash in the Twitterverse toward women who came forward. Some people said they should just “grow up and get over it.” That talking about it doesn’t help. That it should be kept quiet. I’m pretty sure every woman has heard that before, from male police officers, deans of students, campus security guards, even family members. So I’ll keep my example “light.” Those lewd phone calls didn’t hurt me, after all. It’s just that…how did he know my name? And which dorm I lived in and on what floor? Didn’t he have to be someone I knew? Why did he make it a point to call every Valentine’s Day? Why did he stop when I told him I had a boyfriend who would find him? Again, I’m asking.

If “growing up” means accepting that it’s okay for one person to assault, intimidate, humiliate or hurt someone else, I guess I’ll never grow up. But you know, I think that’s okay. I can name a great number of people, saints and otherwise, who take after Peter Pan in this regard. They won’t grow up and accept racism, bigotry, poverty, unequal opportunity, war, violence…any number of things. I look up to them for this.

Because the other thing my faith gives me is hope. It’s a rare and beautiful thing, hope. It’s hope that keeps a person from “growing up” and growing accustomed to things that are not right. And it’s hope that makes me believe — wrongly or not — that the way your friend talks is not the way all men (or all women) talk. That the world is a better place than that.

I guess that makes me a wide-eyed kid, huh? Maybe I haven’t changed that much since I was 15.

I’m cool with that.

NB: I did not write this post. My friend Joan Frisz did. But it is so luminous, so lovely and so very timely that I was impelled to give up my weekly post in hopes that you will read this instead. It is a wonderful Lenten reflection, and I am proud to pass it on to you.

Well, it’s Lent again!

What began as a reflection for Ash Wednesday has morphed into this, so you’re going to get an amalgamation of things for this first Sunday of Lent.

Let’s start with the basics: I don’t like Lent. Never have. Being a competitor, I just haven’t felt I was very good at it. It’s not the giving up or giving more that seems to be the challenge. I can surely must up the self-discipline for that, at least for 40 days – and all the Sundays that don’t even count. I think the challenge for he has always been the expectation (have I mentioned that I’m competitive?). Perhaps it’s that I don’t like change. That is what this is all about, isn’t it? Changing our ways to make room for change in our hearts?

As I begin this reflection, I draw on the Litany of Non-Violence from the Sisters of Providence (I will draw on this throughout the reflection):

Provident God, aware of our own brokenness, we ask the gift of courage to identify how and where we are in need of conversion in order to live in solidarity with Earth and all creation.

Today we have the opportunity to say yes to the journey of Lent. These 40 days recall Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness and Jesus’ 40 days in the desert that prepared him for his public ministry. It prepares us to celebrate the mystery of the Cross, where the end of mortal life becomes the beginning of eternal life. It is a time to encounter God, to encounter Christ in others, and to respond with justice and compassion. it is a call to conversion, both personal and societal.

Deliver us from the violence of superiority and disdain. Grant us the desire, and the humility,
to listen with special care to those whose experiences and attitudes are different from our own.

Archbishop Oscar Romero has been in the news recently as he has been named a martyr for the faith, paving the way to his beatification. I would guess that that wouldn’t be as important to him as justice for the poor. the story of his conversion is well- known. A conservative priest and bishop, he was suspicious of the reforms of Vatican II and troubled by Liberation Theology emerging in the Latin American Catholic Church. He believed in the basic goodness of those who were in power in el Salvador and did not see the need for an end to the social, political, and economic status quo. However, he was deeply moved by the suffering of the poor, those whose experiences were different from his own, the killing of priests and others at the hands of the death squads, and he became an outspoken critic of those in power, calling for an end to the repression. Even as he was being converted, he called for the conversion of the powerful who had turned against him. For his efforts he was assassinated as he celebrated the Eucharist.

Deliver us from the violence of greed and privilege. Grant us the desire, and the will, to live simply so others may have their just share of Earth’ s resources.

One of the three pillars of Lent, almsgiving, gives us a deepened awareness of how blessed we are. We let go of some of our abundance so that others might prosper, too. The challenge is to examine our want for money, power, comfort, and privilege. By my race and nationality, I was born with a certain amount of privilege. By my gender I may have lost some of it, but overall, it has probably been regained with education and opportunity, job stability, family and community support. I know this is not true for all white, American women. Women the world over, including in our own backyard, suffer from religious and cultural norms that exclude them, or reduce them to less than fully human. As racial tensions ebb and flow in our own country, we realize that these are not isolated incidents with certain individuals, but they point to larger systemic ills in our communities and in society as a whole. Upon the death of a homeless man in our community just this week, the Assistant to the Mayor, lamenting the lack of funding that could have provided adequate housing to him, wrote to the St. John Center staff, “We seem to be a country comfortable with paying for punishment but not so willing to fund cures for societal ills.” As a covenant people, our baptismal call is to bear witness to the truth revealed through Christ, to be love and peace in our troubled world.

 Deliver us from the silence that gives
consent to abuse, war and evil.
Grant us the desire, and the courage, to risk speaking and acting for the common good.

I was struck by the language of the opening prayer prescribed for Ash Wednesday. It reads, in part, “Grant…that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint….” “Battle.” “Armed.” “Weapons.” Really? As one who believes that words do matter, I’m not sure this is the best way to engender a spirit of peace, especially in our troubled times. Someone has said, “Truth is what you get when truth is what you speak.” (Melissa Etheridge) The same could be said about love and peace. Peace is what you get when peace is what you speak.

Every day we are bombarded with stories and images of war and violence. Guns, bombs, drones, swords, and torture. All these – instruments of war – used to exert power and control. We pray for an end to violence. It begins with the setting down of these instruments so that our hands are empty to take up instruments of peace. While empty hands can cause much harm, they can also embrace, created, nurture, heal, liberate, share, and empower. Lent invites us to give up so that we have the capacity to embrace something new.

Deliver us from the violence of irreverence, exploitation and control.
Grant us the desire, and the strength, to act responsibly within the cycle of creation.

And here, we are invited to consider the third pillar of Lent, fasting. Fasting challenges us to give up in other ways, realizing that we take in more than enough to sustain us. This can be, but is not necessarily limited to food. There are many things from which we can fast – irreverence, exploitation, and control, for example. Sr. Sue Scharfenberger gave us some options several years ago that bear repeating: We can choose to fast from having the last word, or fast from holding on to a past hurt or memory. We can fast from always being right so that we can hear and hold sacred the truth of another.

Fasting – how, when, where, and from what – involves choices. When we face temptation, as Jesus did in today’s Gospel, we also face choices. While we cannot avoid them altogether, we can choose to walk away from them. In that choice, we decide who we want to be and how we want to live. Jesus embraced fully the human reality of struggling to be faithful. He faced temptations and he made a choice – to go to Galilee and proclaim the gospel of God. “No doubt about it,” Joan Chittister writes, “Fasting surely has something to do with peacemaking. It puts us in touch with the Creator. It puts us in touch with ourselves. It puts us in touch with the prophet Jesus who, fasting in the desert, gave up power, wealth, comfort, and self-centeredness, and teaches us to do the same. It puts us in touch with the rest of the creation whose needs now cry out in our own.”

The Litany of Nov-Violence concludes:

God of love, mercy and justice, acknowledging our complicity in those attitudes, actions and words which perpetuate violence, we beg the grace of a non-violent heart.

The journey of Lent, indeed “our discipleship journey, is a constant call to move back onto the path that Jesus marked for us – a path that calls us to be instruments of God’s peace,” (Dave Robinson)

to sow love where there is hatred pardon where there is injury
faith where there is doubt
hope where there is despair
light where there is darkness
joy where there is sadness. (Prayer of St. Francis)

The pastor of the Arab Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Aleppo, Syria, states that “being a pastor in this crisis is not as much about preaching as it is being with the people in their difficult time…. we are called to live in hope. We trust God and we do our job – praying, taking care of each other, reading the bible and being an instrument of love and peace in this community. This is what we do, and this is the hope we live in.” (Rev. Ibrahim Nsier)

Yep, Lent is here again! Amidst the challenges and expectations, let us walk this journey together, seeking peace within our own hearts that we might bring peace to our homes, to our city, to our country, and to our world. Amen!

— Joan C. Frisz

Last week I watched an amazing TED video (see below) with Kimberley Motley.  Kimberly is an American lawyer who works within the Afghani legal system, using the laws and customs of that country to protect women and girls.

In her own words, she works for justness using the law for its intended purpose, to protect.  She reeducates communities about little used or forgotten laws.  She shows fathers and brothers and elders how to protect their own girls. She reminds them that they know what is right and good. And, given these reminders, they choose just-ness.

What does this have to do with prayer and spirituality?  As Lori recently pointed out, it is hard to be spiritual in our consumer driven world. It is hard to do what is right and kind when so many people choose what is cruel but easy.

The thing is I believe that there are a wealth of people out there who know what is right and kind and good. They don’t often speak out or act in obvious ways because they feel outnumbered.  Like us, they feel like they are the only ones.

I’m not saying that we all need to take things to the court room.  After all, we aren’t all lawyers.

Last week at our final meet, I saw what a group of swimmers could do to influence others for good.  As the coaches gave out medals, the winners stood on the starting blocks so that everyone could be photographed by their parents in the stands.

Because relays involve four swimmers per team it gets a little tricky. As one group approached their block, two swimmers stepped up and wouldn’t make space for the others.  They shook their heads no, clearly telling their team mates that they had gotten there first and there just wasn’t room.

One of the swimmers gestured to another block.  On it stood four boys, arms flung around each other’s shoulders as they held each other in place, celebrating their work as a team.

When they saw this, the first two boys made room for their team mates.  No lectures were needed.  No coaches stepped in.  They just had to see someone else doing it to remember “hey, this is what we should be doing too.”

As a Christian, I am often frustrated by the world around me.  But, if I do what is right, I know that sometimes my actions will remind other people that they too know what is good and right and just.  Sometimes it just takes a gentle reminder.

–SueBE

 

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