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December 8 celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which (as anyone who reads me regularly knows) has nothing to do with baby Jesus and everything to do with baby Mary. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary being conceived without Original Sin. She comes into the world, unlike the rest of us, sin-free. And she stays that way.

What would you do with a brand new, spotlessly clean soul? If the past is any indication, I’d probably just soil it again. Even after being absolved of my sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation — despite my sincere vows to not fall into the same traps again — I inevitably sin.

Is it the human condition to fail and fall, over and over again? Can we ever rise beyond our nature? Surely some of us do. But how?

What must it take,
once washed white,
to stave off soil and stain?
Love, mercy, justice,
wielded wisely.
Love launders.
Mercy bleaches clean.
Justice proofs the fabric
against what muck may come.
Lather liberally. Saturate spots.
Rinse and repeat as needed.

I seem to be writing about the senses a lot lately, especially sight. Maybe that’s because I’m trying to see things clearly. Or maybe it’s because so much of what I see is hurtful and in need of change. What about you? What are you seeing? Does your seeing bring you optimism? I hope so.

“Pluck it out.”
You make it sound so easy.
Yet it isn’t my eye that offends,
but what it sees:
a nonstop parade of casual cruelty,
even as the eyes of the world
look on, aghast.
We have a moment now.
The plates are shifting.
We can move mountains.
Or we can ignore the rumbling
beneath our feet and set our faces
like flint, even as we slide into the sea.
Look. See. Find the focus and fight, push.
We cannot slow down now, lest we lose
what we love, the shape of the land,
the idea of us, of all that we could be —
but only if none of us is left behind.

Whole oceans of grief
threaten to consume us.
Pass sadness into every hand;
let us drink it and know
why it cannot still be served.
Waves lash relentlessly:
names pile painfully
on the sand. Say them.
Words repeated will
beat the drum for justice.
Sure, the tide will roar,
as it does, afraid of change
when surely it knows
all things must change.
Open your eyes to color,
its beauty and importance.
The shore will not erode —
not if we hold hands.

By now you’ve heard about the college admissions scandal that’s rocking both academia and Hollywood. It’s just another example of what privilege affords in this country — and in this world. Where can we look for justice, equality, fair play? Revolution? Revolutions erupt into bloodshed. Maybe there’s a different way, a gentler way….

I used to wish for a burning bush,
all roaring heat and choking smoke,
too hot for ignorance to withstand:
it would burn, blackened twigs snapping.
But now I think: Perhaps a campfire,
burning low, welcoming, warming.
As each stranger sidles up to it,
there is a murmuring, you are home.
As the feeling comes back into flesh,
we realize that we can pick, together,
the weeds of injustice.
Small love, over time,
will do the work of wildfires.
And anyone can light the match.

Ask me to name a president whose a social justice warrior and first on my list will be Carter.  Definitely Carter.  His work with Habitat for Humanity has earned him the #1 spot on this list.

But Eisenhower?  I can’t say that I would have even considered him until I saw this quote.  In trying to find out when, Eisenhower said this, I’ve seen it quoted by warriors (Colin Powell), justice organizations, peace movements and more.

This reality made me think.  Often we assume that we know how someone feels and what they are thinking especially when it comes to things like Justice and Peace.  We think we know who is for each and who is against.  But this has helped me see the truth of what is stated in 1 Kings 8.  Only God knows what it is in every human heart.

Only God.



Do you feel broken by recent events? I hear you. It’s hard to live in the here and now when here is untenable and now is rife with violence, greed and anger. Perspective helps, so let’s go back to the Sermon on the Mount. You know what Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,” etcetera. Notice what he didn’t say? “…for they will inherit the earth — in twenty minutes!” Nope. All of those rewards Jesus talks about? Those are things that will happen in heaven, in the hereafter — “next life” stuff.

So how do you make it through this life when real justice will only occur in the next? Think long-term. Even the king of the fruit flies only lives 24 hours. Sure, he can buzz as loud as he likes, even assemble a fruit fly army…in the end, he is a nothing in a sea of nothingness. He is a grain of sand. He is a mote, a distraction, a flicker, an afterthought. This life is brief. The next life is eternal. Why waste time on negativity, selfishness or anger when there is so much joy to look forward to?

I’m not asking you to ignore life or to ignore the inequalities and injustice that surround us. Just the opposite. Keep working on it. Don’t give up because of “this world” distractions. Those are just fruit flies. Swat them away. Keep plugging away at justice, mercy, love and hope. Because that’s what will matter in the next life. And next life stuff is awesome. I want to be there for it. Don’t you?

These days, I’m everybody’s Auntie. Nodding at the neighbors as they walk by. Smiling at new mothers with their strollers and Shih Tzus. Shaking my head only to gently remind passing cars of the speed limit. There was a day though, let me tell you. There was a time when I was a leadfoot with the need for speed. People can never believe this as they look at me now with my cardigans and cat’s eye glasses, a Nana if ever there was one.

But it’s true. I got pulled over for speeding so many times, I kept my license, insurance and registration paper-clipped in the center console for easy officer-viewing. Heck, I got pulled over so many times I knew that you could speak to the prosecutor right before your court appearance and tell him you’ll plead guilty in exchange for not getting points on your license.

Let me tell you. I was as guilty as the day is long. Guilty as sin, every time. I was pulled over by officers of all different demographics: old, young, male, female, Black, White, Hispanic. Out of the dozen or so times I was pulled over for speeding, I only got a couple of tickets. Back in the day, I could flutter a mean eyelash when I wanted to. I knew how to launch a charm offensive in a pinch. Here’s the thing. Never once, when I was pulled over, did I fear getting shot. And I was guilty on all counts.

That’s how I know white privilege is real. I don’t say it to knock my own race. I’m not trying to implicate all police officers. But if you can’t be safe in your own car, or as happened recently, in your own home, the system has really got to change.

Photo Credit: Jack Gruber, USA Today

When you hear the phrase “free time,” you might think of reading, going to the park, socializing with friends. But reading this article about a wrongfully convicted man who was recently released after being in jail for fifteen years, I wondered if it’s possible to put a price tag on time. 

“Under a 2016 law, Michiganians who were wrongly convicted can qualify for $50,000 for every year spent in prison, making Salter’s imprisonment worth roughly $700,000.”

Even with this settlement, how will he ever get his life back? And isn’t false imprisonment a crime? Isn’t somebody going to jail for that offense?

On the other side of the justice system, there are those who have been jailed for crimes they did commit, some of whom have been rehabilitated. How will they ever make up for lost time? And is it really possible to leave a life of crime behind and become a contributing member of society? This novel program in Baltimore hires ex-offenders to remove reclaimed wood from abandoned buildings. It keeps wood out of landfills, which improves air and land quality. It reduces crime by eliminating abandoned buildings, which often serve as drug dens. It allows participants to learn a skill and earn a decent day’s wage. It’s a metaphor: from unclaimed to reclaimed. They get to re-build their own lives by tearing down remnants of the past.

As the first story shows, some prisoners turn out to be innocent. Of those who aren’t, all of them turn out to be human. Granted, there are some in jail who need to stay in jail. Forever. But if lumber from an abandoned building can get a new lease on life, surely a person who has served time and changed their ways can be given a second chance.

I saw the best overheard quote today.  Apparently, a mother was heard telling her daughter, “You aren’t really helping someone if you aren’t helping them in the way they asked you to.”

What does that have to do with justice?  We as a society have a tendency to decide how other people should live. Why don’t they leave the reservation and have a good life?  Why don’t they give up their traditional dress and dress like us?  Why don’t they do it our way?  Be like us, do like us, and you’ll get the help we’ve decided you need.

About a year ago, we had a fantastic speaker at church.  He discussed the workings of the Presbyterian Church USA in Egypt.  Before they offered any help whatsoever, they opened a neighborhood center.  They talked to people.  And when I say talked, I mean that they listened.  They got to know the neighbors.  Only when they had a feel for those they were among did they ask what help was needed.  And people came to them.

This wasn’t flying in clothing or food. This wasn’t a monetary donation.  This was getting to know people and their values and dreams, their worries and desires.  This was giving them what they truly wanted vs what we think they should want.  That’s a big part of social justice.

Diversity has a place and we have to learn to honor that even as we give them the help they want.



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.



Have a Mary Little Christmas

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