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She was voted “Best Smile;” I was voted “Most Intelligent.” We remained close after grade school, despite going to different high schools, because she worked in a department store I frequented. Whenever we saw each other, we’d chat as if no time at all had passed since graduation.

Reconnecting on Facebook was a shock. I expected my old friend; instead I saw awful caricatures of President Obama and hateful speech. When did “Best Smile” become…this? I stayed friends but shut off her posts, checking in every once in a while to see if anything had improved. It hadn’t. Things eventually came to a head, and I had to unfriend her altogether.

This kind of division is becoming prevalent. Poetry, as always, becomes my voice.

You hear: up is down.
I hear: black is white.
Bedrock becomes liquid
and the oceans walkable.
When we cannot agree
on the color of the sky,
things have surely come apart.
We fire our pistols into the air,
heedless of the hail of bullets,
which, after all, have no
place to land but on our heads.
When the mad tea party ends,
we walking wounded
will have to speak, but how?
The alphabet is in ruins;
we are left with lines
in the dirt, crude gestures.
Only a devil could sow such discord.
Only God will loosen our lips.

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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?

I’m late getting to this today because I voted.  It is lunch time here and, dare I say, I’m already really tired of hearing about the elections.  Really tired.  I’m also fed up with politics and people trying to skew facts to suit their politics.

Today a friend posted an article about many Mexicans not having to come to America.  “Maybe because Mexicans are Americans?” That’s something we tend to forget.  While we in the United States are American, so are Mexicans.  And Canadians.  And Guatemalans.  And a whole lot of other people.

But when we get caught up in rhetoric, we forget that.  We forget that our country is not a continent no matter how hard we try to forget that.

Christ was pretty clear on it all.  He ate with tax collectors.  He healed the unclean.  He turned over tables and stepped beyond boundaries.  I’m guessing he might have even talked to both blue and red.

–SueBE

I can make myself believe
that voting still matters
that good will win out
that women will be heard
and people of color respected

I can make myself believe
that redemption is possible
that no one (even me) is useless
that justice is a-comin’
and blue waves can save

I can make myself believe
all manner of fairy tales:
Father knows best
blind obedience is my duty
and we can pray away the pedophiles

But I cannot believe in America
(not really)
or in my Church
(not absolutely)
until men believe in change.

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.

tower-of-babelThis week, I got a message from someone I knew growing up.  He was one of the “grown ups” at church when we started going there.  I had sent him a friend request on Facebook.  His message sounded a little ominous.  “I’m politically conservative and state my opinions respectfully. Do you still want to be friends?”

Um . . . what? Somehow I felt like I was getting a warning.  Look out!

But then it hit me. He’s was wondering if I was going to be an unholy brat if he disagreed with me. Frankly, I understood why he felt the need to ask.  Let’s face it.  It’s pretty obvious that I’m an unapologetic liberal. And liberals are not looking like a kinder, gentler people lately. We’ve been engaging in a lot of name calling like when CNN reporter Marc Lamont Hill called Bruce LeVell, a member of Trump’s diversity team, one of a group of mediocre Negroes.

This kind of name calling isn’t meant to start a dialogue.  It isn’t going to solve a problem.  It is simply designed to shut . . . someone . . . down.

For another example, have you heard about the controversy surrounding Veronica Roth’s latest young adult novel, Carve the Mark?  One group of people in this fantasy is described as savage, brown and nomadic. I haven’t read the book so I’m taking someone else’s word for that. Those criticizing Roth claim these baddies are another example of demonizing brown people.

Not everyone agrees. Some of her fellow authors believe that Roth has a diverse population of characters and not all “bad guys” are brown, not all “good guys” are white. One of these authors is Sabaa Tahir who was criticized for not falling in line. One commenter berated Tahir questioning whether or not she knows what racism is. Tahir kindly explained just how completely she understands racism, citing numerous racist acts perpetrated against her. She also challenged the notion that minority authors must speak as one, that they cannot have their own opinions, and that there cannot be a dialogue.

Dialogue is a rare commodity in our society.  It is almost like we are creating our own Tower of Babel. How? We seem to have the notion that if someone doesn’t agree with you 100%, you don’t need to listen to them, you don’t need to talk to them, and you can get by with calling them every name in the book.

We support this behavior although name calling creates a divide.  We condone this kind of public criticism although it doesn’t solve any problem.  It is just an attempt to beat someone down.

Seriously, people. We cannot solve problems as Christians as until we are willing to discuss things with people who don’t think exactly like we think.  We have to be willing to listen to people who disagree with us. And it isn’t going to be easy.  Bad habits are hard to break.

But I saw an interview today about how to get it done. Rev. William Barber challenges people to quit using the labels that commonly color our political discourse. We aren’t left and right, black and white, Republican and Democrat, or liberal and conservative.  We are people coming together to address an issue.

The issue takes the floor.

But for this to happen, we have to be willing to step away from the Tower of Babel. We have to be willing to stop the name calling even if we’re just labeling ourselves liberal or conservative.  We have to want to renew our ability to communicate. And to do that, we have to listen.

Can you hear me?

–SueBE

Driving from Kansas to southern Indiana (and back) is an interesting experience. As you wend your way through the heart of the Midwest, you see things. You learn things. Like what’s important to the people of the heartland. How? By simply looking around at the signs and billboards we post.

Politics, for instance, energizes us. Is “right to work” right for Missouri? I imagine the people of the Show Me state will have to work that out for themselves. Whom should earn your vote for judge in Terre Haute, Indiana? Perhaps a native could decipher an answer from the signs — I could not. (Though I liked the ones shaped like donkeys.)

We are a commercial society. Just about every town off the interstate attempted to draw me in with their antique shops, fireworks outlets and restaurants. Mile-high pie! Clean restrooms! All of these little towns proudly tout their heritages, as well. Come see the magical caverns! Walk the historic district! We are proud of where we live and what it has to offer.

We are proud of our faith, too. We like to advertise our churches and post random admonitions — scriptural and otherwise — in fields and on roadsides. The Midwest is keen to know whether or not I am saved. Anonymous sources exhort me on my sinfulness. Several cities advise me that I cannot possibly love babies enough. (Once the little rascals grow out of infanthood, I can only surmise that they are on their own.)

I love the Midwest. The weird juxtaposition of “Jesus saves” signs next to billboards for fast and discreet gun sales. The Burma Shave-like buildup for a café that may or may not exist anymore. The constant road construction and revamping.

I wonder what God sees when God looks at America and Americans — at our hearts, our good hearts, mostly in the right places. Does God laugh at our foibles, our quibbles, our vanity? No doubt. But God loves these things about us, too. God loves the giant cross in Effingham, Illinois, just as God loves the burgers and sundaes at the local Culver’s.

We are a big, loud, bombastic bunch, we Americans. We’ve got things to say! And that’s what makes the trip worth it: Taking in the come-ons, exhortations, admonitions, lures and wheedles and using our own moral filters to discern our paths.

I-70 runs through the heart of America, good, bad, ugly and righteous. It is up to each of us to decide what to buy…and what to speed on past.

I’ve read a lot of conjecture lately about politics and God: Namely, how would Jesus vote? What party would He back? My conclusion? People can twist scripture to affirm any notion they care to affirm, from socialism (Christ did say, “Sell all you have and give your money to the poor”) to Ayn Rand-ian hyper-Capitalism (in Jesus’ parable, those who invested their talents were rewarded, and those who didn’t were punished). In the end, it’s a moot point. Jesus wasn’t about politics. He was about souls.

Still, there are those who argue that America is a Christian country. “One nation under God,” and all that. (No matter that the “under God” is a rather recent development.) If this is so — and I like to think America is more tolerant than to insist that only one religion is the right one — there are a few guiding qualities that we ought to have, attributes that surpass petty political squabbling.

Kindness: Are our politics (and politicians) kind? Is what they stand for kind? What is the kindest approach — the approach Christ would take — toward immigrants, the poor, minorities?

Inclusion: Tax collectors might have been the most detested people in Jesus’ time, but He not only spoke to them, He included them among His disciples. He embraced women, who were not even considered people in His time, but rather possessions. Are our political leanings inclusive? Who do they include? Who do they leave out?

Forgiveness: If there’s one thing Jesus stood for, it’s forgiveness. Are we forgiving toward those who disagree with our political point-of-view or do we trample all over them, hoping our louder voice will drown them out?

Love: God is love. If we want Him to be present in our politics, our politics had best be loving. Is it loving to deny rights to people? Is it loving to punish or impede the side we don’t agree with?

In the upcoming political season, let’s keep these qualities in mind.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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