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I like to think that one of my gifts — my ministries, really — is prayer. I’ve always prayed vigorously for others, and I believe that prayer is powerful. That’s why I was so affected by a recent situation, one that dramatically revealed the limits of my charity.

“Pray for them,” my friend asked me. But I couldn’t do it; not the way she wanted me to. She was speaking of her employers, oil investors who grew used to a lifestyle that includes three mansions, dozens of vintage automobiles and a lifetime of lavish spending. And why not? They were making in the mid-five figures every month. Then the oil market took a downturn.

Suddenly, they find themselves having to contemplate selling one of their homes, liquidating a coin collection, borrowing from family. They’ve hinted that they might have to cut my friend’s hours. (My friend is 76 years old, supporting her grown children, with no retirement date on the horizon.)

I don’t mean to disparage these people. They may very well be much better people than I can ever hope to be. My friend certainly idolizes them. So what was my problem? Why did I say, “Yes,” even as my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth?

Praying for the oil market to return to its former profitability wouldn’t just help my friend’s employers. There are lots of good people who work hard for oil companies, who deserve raises and steady employment. It would be good for the economy of certain states whose coffers could use a nudge. But I still can’t mouth the words that would potentially help them.

I don’t think reliance on oil is good for the environment. But that’s not my real reason for not praying. It’s this: I simply cannot pray for the rich to get richer. And that says more about me than them.

Am I jealous? Maybe. It would be nice to have that kind of money. Am I too busy judging them to pray? Yes, certainly. That they did not save money, that they frittered it away, bothers me. But who am I to judge someone else’s spending habits? My own savings are ludicrously small.

In the end, it comes down to this: I am at ease praying for those on the margins, the struggling, the poor. White, wealthy and powerful? Not so much. God doesn’t judge, but apparently, I do. And that’s a problem.

Like my post of two weeks ago, I didn’t write this for assurances that I’ve done the right thing; it’s a genuine wonderment: When someone asks you to pray for something you don’t like/condone/care for, what do you do? If you do pray, do you worry that it is inauthentic? How do you keep judgment out of it?

I’ve settled for praying that my friends’ employers will find a way to live within their means without causing deprivation for my friend. It’s not what she asked for. It may even be sinful of me. But it did provide me with a moment of self-revelation.

I’m not altogether comfortable with the results. Maybe I need my own miracle, of the heart-softening variety. Maybe someone should pray for me.

dawnOn Ash Wednesday, our pastor talked about Lent and what the word itself means.  Light.

Really?  I hadn’t heard about that before so I looked it up.  Lent is from the Old English lencten or lengthen.  This was the word for spring but it literally meant lengthening as in more hours of day light.

Lent.  Light.  Lengthening or more light.

This has me looking at Lent in a slightly different way.  What is it that stands between me and God’s light?  Why am I not experiencing his love as fully as I should?  What is keeping others from seeing this light in me?

Last week, I posted about preconceived notions, specifically how I see the Cross, and my religion, vs how other people see it. I wish that was all that stood between me and the light.  But if I’m being honest with myself it isn’t.

Let’s just say that my irritability level has been a little high lately.  It seems like if someone isn’t trying to micromanage me (pet peeve!), they are failing to come through with whatever it was they promised to do.  As much as I would like to fix these people, it really isn’t possible. But I can change how I react to them.

So I’m praying. I am praying for compassion and insight. I am praying for patience and understanding. Of course, I’m also making sure that when someone doesn’t come through I can cover whatever it is that needs to be covered.  But I’m praying for the means to do it without attitude but with compassion. I’m not expecting this to be a quick fix but the good news is that Lent lasts for forty days.

Day by day, prayer by prayer, I will turn toward the light.  As I do, I hope to reflect that light outward so that other people can see His love.

–SueBE

“Are you a teacher?”

The Uber driver had looked at me in the rearview and asked the question.

“No, but everybody asks me that. Must be the cat’s eye glasses,” I said. “I did teach ESL years ago.”

“Really? How’s my English?” he asked.

“Not bad,” I said.

“I’ve only been here four years and I’m always trying to improve my English.”

“You’re doing fine,” I told him.

He said, “It’s more important than ever to blend in. Trump is making my life harder.” He felt the difference in the last year in the way people look at him, talk to him. “They think I’m here to cause chaos. I’m just trying to feed my family, y’know?”

Just like everybody else.

Last week in the news, police in Nice, France, were filmed forcing a Muslim woman wearing a burkini to disrobe on the beach while other sunbathers watched. A person on the scene said that some even applauded. A local official said that if people don’t feel safe, or are offended by someone’s outfit, it needs to be addressed. It’s a risk to public order, he said.

Thong bikinis and speedos are okay, but a fully-covered woman is a public crisis.

But what I want to know is this: what’s the difference between a burkini and a scuba suit?

Everybody has biases. One of mine concerns t.v. reporters wearing casual clothes. It seems every female reporter is wearing a tank dress to show her toned arms, and every male reporter on a news scene is wearing skinny jeans. You’d think they just came from a nightclub!

Of course, I know it’s just a matter of taste, and it’s my own hang-up. No need to hassle them, as happened when this weather reporter was told while live on-the-air that she needed to cover herself up.

Just as the Uber driver profiled me as a teacher, we can choose to view others through the filter of faith. Ah! Another blessed, beloved child of God on the road of life.

And maybe, just for today, the fashion police can take the day off.

Over the weekend, we all awoke to news of yet another police-involved shooting.

In most of the cases in the news recently, those involved have been men, so allow me to tell a story from a mother’s perspective, looking at the loss of lives from the male population.

We love our sons. Our brothers. Our fathers, grandfathers, cousins. Our neighbors. It would be devastating for any man that we love to be cut down in the prime of life.

Watching the press conference held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the mayor, the sheriff and the governor spoke of the horrific events of the day. Behind them, police officers stood in silent solidarity.

I watched, riveted, as these normally stoic officers showed the world their obvious pain. Some even wiped away tears. On the way out of the press conference, two of the officials hugged. 

It was such an unusual thing to see, since, as a society, we expect men to keep a stiff upper lip.

One of the officers killed, Montrell Jackson, had posted on Facebook the prior week, “In uniform, I get some nasty, hateful looks, and out of uniform, some consider me a threat.” As an African-American police officer, he felt the pain from both directions.

To me, it summed up everything about the volatile situation in America regarding police and communities of color.

All any of us are looking for is respect, and it’s the one thing missing from all of the encounters we hear of in the news lately.

We can’t afford to keep losing our men in this way. The three officers involved will be mourned by wives, mothers, daughters, sons, colleagues and the community. I have to believe that the shooter himself will be mourned by his own family as well.

The Sheriff of Baton Rouge was moved, and spoke from the heart. He said, “This is about what’s in men’s hearts. Until we come together as a nation, to heal as a people, this madness will continue, and we will surely perish as a people. I ask for your prayers for this parish, this state and this nation.”

Or, put another way, we really just want our sons to come home to us.

God said itToday, this nation experienced the worst mass shooting in our history, and the whole world is in mourning. A man with an assault rifle entered a gay bar in Florida and began shooting. According to the FBI, he may have had leanings toward extreme Islamic ideologies.

There’s so much to say about this event. I started this post, hoping to remain calm and keep a reverential tone in order to pay my respects those souls lost, but as I listen to details on the news, I feel myself simmering.

There are so many reasons to be outraged.

I’d say, “don’t get me started,” but don’t look now. It’s too late!

A semi-automatic rifle? Why in the world are such weapons available commercially in the state of Florida?

Attacking people because they’re gay? What does that have to do with anyone else’s life? How does one lose anything because someone else found love?

Doing this in the name of religion? There’s no way in the world that God would sanction this crime against humanity.

Trying to instill fear in the name of a terrorist group? I hate to break this newsflash, but it’s actually having the opposite effect all across the country.

At the Tony Awards ceremony tonight, actor Frank Langella said this in his acceptance speech: “When something bad happens, we can use that moment to define us, to destroy us, or to strengthen us.”

We join hands with the world in prayer today, for the souls to rest, for the families to heal, and for those seeking peace to find consolation.

Every time I click on a viral video of surprise soldier homecomings, I tell myself it’s not going to get to me, but it does. Every time!

Of course, on this Memorial Day, we remember the members of the military services who never made it home. It’s also a time to reflect on the ones who did come back, only to find that the war at home was still underway.

My father-in-law fought in Korea and Vietnam, and even though he came back alive, so many things had changed for him that it seemed some parts of his life had died.

He kept extending his tenure in the army in order to ensure that his family was taken care of. They lived on an army base, so housing, healthcare and education were provided. Even though he had little formal education of his own, all five of his children graduated college.

But the long deployments away from home affected his relationship with his family, and when he finally did return, it didn’t feel like home anymore. He felt like a stranger to his wife, and for many reasons, seemed to be regarded by his own kids as an enemy.

In the military, there’s a saying: “No one should be left behind.”

Generally speaking, I’m not in favor of military action in any situation. It doesn’t resolve the problem; oftentimes, it only exacerbates it. But I am in favor of the soldiers who put their lives on the line in many different ways. Some gave all. All gave some. Now it’s our turn to give something back to them, not the least of which is respect.

Today, at Arlington Cemetery, President Obama said everything that I’ve been trying to say in this post:

“Truly remembering, truly honoring these fallen Americans means being there for their parents and spouses and children,” the President said. “Truly remembering means that after our fallen heroes gave everything to get their battle buddies home, we have to make sure they get everything they have earned — from good health care to good jobs. And we have to do better. Our work is never done.”

spring

The weather was beautiful today here in New Jersey, and everyone on the block was outside, trying to make the most of it.

One neighbor had his convertible top down and rolled into his driveway, music blaring. The volume was so loud that I could hear the drum beat and bass line thumping in my house. The Judge Judy in my head nudged me: Kids today! How rude!

But in truth, the thing is, he’s trying to be heard, albeit in a way that may not be well-received by those around him. He likes that song. He can afford that nice car. He thinks he has good taste in general, and he wants to be known for that.

Another neighbor was outside, blow-drying her lawn. Now, I know the term should be “leaf-blowing,” but the thing is, there’s not a leaf in sight. She primped her yard all day long and that constant, high-pitched whir really got under my skin. The Judge Judy in me barked: You’ve proved your point! You’ve got a lot of time and money on your hands, so you spend it all on your fabulous yard. Congrats! But the thing is, it’s her money. It’s her yard. Her landscaping isn’t directed toward me as a slap in the face, even if I might choose to receive it that way.

On the block behind mine, kids were playing tag in the street, screaming at the top of their lungs. Normal, you say? Well, the thing is, even though they were playing, the screams were blood-curdling, as if someone was in danger. They “play-screamed” things such as, “No! Stop! Help! Get off me! You’re killing me!!!”

Once I saw their father coming outside, I thought he’d put an end to these heart-wrenching screams. Instead, he just joined in! Now he was “play-screaming,” too! The Judge Judy in me shook her head: A mother would never do that! But perhaps she would. And maybe this is just how they express themselves. The thing is, I could spin it in my mind to say, At least the kids are outside on a beautiful day, and their father is spending time with them.

The thing is, it’s a big world, and there is a wonderful way for me to share it with all my neighbors: knock off the stone-throwing and the nit-picking and focus on the bountiful blessings in my own life. And, while I’m at it, I’d better put the Judge Judy in my head on mute.

school busEach week, our prayer list contains the usual requests for prayer as people wait to hear from doctors, recover from surgery and celebrate life’s joys – births, marriages and new jobs.  For the last month, our church has added something new to the list.  Each week, there is a different local school.  It isn’t that there is anything in particular wrong at this school, but we are asked to pray with that school in our hearts.

I have to admit that I wasn’t entirely sure what to pray for the first few weeks so my prayers were vague.  “Dear God, please keep the students and teachers of Lawson Elementary strong.  Help them to treat each other well and to live with you in their hearts.”

Then one week I had a cold so I wasn’t singing with the choir.  Instead I was sitting in the back with some of our youth.  The pastor announced that our school of week was Combs Elementary and all of a sudden Jason, who was beside me, sat up straight. “Hey, that’s my school!”

The moment he knew that we would be praying for him and his classmates, this boy lit up.  The change was obvious and so was the change in my prayers.

“Dear Lord, there are so many pressures on these young people and those who seek to shepherd them into adulthood.  Help them see the path you would have them walk. Help them make good choices and to live as you would have us all live – with kindness, with love, and with integrity. Help them to not only do your work but to be your lights in this world.  Amen.”

Clearly, I was still praying for a whole lot of people that I don’t know but it went so much better when I had Jason in my heart and mind.  That led me to the greater realization.  When I pray for a group of people that I’ve never met – people who have experienced a disaster or hardship of some kind, or the first responders rushing to an accident, or the children in a school – I need to pray as if I know them, because to some extent I do.

They are, after all, my brothers, my sisters, my fellows in God’s creation.

–SueBE

In 1990, there was no such thing as accessibility for people in wheelchairs. The Americans with Disabilities Act was still an idea, and jarring action was needed. Word spread, and soon, disability rights activists made a shocking visual statement: they crawled up the steps of the capitol building, demanding that this law be passed. They stood up while on their knees.

In the 1950s, African-Americans were treated as second-class citizens. At the end of a long day on the job, Rosa Parks couldn’t take it anymore and refused to go to the back of the bus. She stood up while sitting down.

Memory Banda knew the path her family chose for her included marriage as a child bride in Malawi. Preparation for the wedding included an unthinkable ritual in which an older man deflowered her. When her own people encouraged this atrocity, she stood up and wouldn’t lie down.

Sometimes the right thing to do when you’re being held down is to stand up. Change doesn’t always come through “proper channels.”

It’s been said that for every problem, there’s a solution, but for those living without basic needs or those not being treated properly, the in-between time can be a living hell. It can also be a time of growth; a period in which change is gestating.

As people of faith, we bring our troubles to God. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6 NIV) This is the time of abiding.

But there comes a time when we are expected to act. Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 NIV) This is the time of deciding.

It takes a decision to do what’s right. Small things, like checking on an elderly neighbor in a heatwave. Larger things, like what the Miami Coalition for the Homeless is doing: helping homeless people right on the streets with food and medication assistance.

There’s a time for abiding and a time for deciding. The time in between? That’s life.

The Third Gate,jpg

“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out.” Music programmer Keith Hill’s claim that listeners tend to tune out when female artists’ songs are played on the radio created controversy. “Biggest bunch of bull I ever heard,” tweeted Miranda Lambert. Hill portrayed himself as the ultimate media expert and insisted that he was simply stating the facts according to metrics. What a blustery blowhard! I thought. He oughta go jump in a lake!

On the news this morning, there was a story about a civil rights leader and professor who identifies herself as African American, but as it turns out, she’s actually white. She’s no longer in contact with her family, so I found it telling that it was her parents who called the media to share this information. Well! She’s got issues! I said to myself, shaking my head.

But God caught me, right in between two “tsks” and set my heart right. These are people who don’t feel as if they are enough as who they actually are, so they’ve tried to re-invent themselves. Perhaps in this persona, they’ll be listened to and afforded respect.

Over the years, I’ve compared myself to others and wished I could be a better:

□ Mother   □ Sister   □ Writer   □ Friend   □ Citizen   □ Believer

But time and again, I was reminded of this universal truth:

I’m me. God made me. That’s enough.

Of course, if you look around, it becomes clear that not everyone knows this.

Veterans fume at instances of “Stolen Valor” – people who have never served in the military, walking around in uniform so that others will respect them for their “service.” Some believe that filming these imposters and posting it on YouTube is justified, but mistakes happen, as in this case of a senior citizen – an actual veteran, wrongly accused of stolen valor.

Many feel that it’s right to publicly shame those doing the wrong thing. But, what happens if you’re wrong and now it’s you doing the wrong thing? And even if you’re right, what if this person has mental health issues? What if they’ve never felt good about themselves their whole life and just wanted to be someone else, anyone else. What do you win if you shame them on camera?

There are three gates, like filters to put your words through before they ever leave your mouth, according to the great poet, Rumi.

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?

The third gate is the one that holds the key. If a person in pain is pretending to be someone else, maybe they’re trying to leave that struggle behind. Mistakes and missteps shouldn’t mean a life sentence. The kindest thing we can do for a hurting world is to get on a hotline to heaven and pray for its healing, and leave the gavel where it belongs: in God’s hands.

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