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When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

earyikg21d4-maja-petricIn the news lately, we’ve been hearing about people committing awful acts of terror, and this term seems to come up more often than not: “self-radicalized.”

It might be more accurate to call it “metastasized.” Something incompatible to life taking root at the cellular level.

I’ve noticed that this word isn’t applied to everyone equally.

We don’t call these two grandmas in a shoot-out at Wal-Mart “radicalized.”

In most cases, the term is used when speaking of Muslims involved in violent acts, but I think it could be applied to people of any race, gender or religion who feel disenfranchised.

That being said, I still believe that most of the world’s population is comprised of peaceful, law-abiding people. Of course, there are some exceptions, but there are still many reasons to be hopeful about life.

God’s grace is still the oxygen of the universe.

Here’s what buoys my spirits.

To know that there are people like this four-year-old who read a thousand books and was made Librarian for a Day at the Library of Congress is like a vitamin for the soul.

To know that this elderly lady in distress dialed a wrong number and it turned out to be a police detective who stayed on the line to help her is evidence of Providence at work.

To know that these stray dogs in Turkey were given shelter at a mall by kind-hearted locals during a snowstorm warmed my heart.

To know that young and old can connect, as this 82 year old man found out when a 4 year old said, “hi, old person, can I have a hug?” brought a tear to my eye.

What if we took back ownership of the word, “radicalized,” and used it in the spirit spoken of by Dr. King?

We might self-radicalize toward full-scale compassion. Mobilize in the direction of brazen kindness. Maybe if we open our hearts and reach out our arms, we’d find we could embrace the whole world.

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l8a9vhn6pje-gabriel-piThe one who blesses others is abundantly blessed;
those who help others are helped.
Proverbs 11:25 (MSG)

Waiting in the lobby of the doctor’s office for my appointment, I noticed an elderly gentleman walking in the door. He stopped, squared his shoulders and set his chin. It occurred to me, Something is about to happen.

Marching over to the front desk, he waved a paper at the receptionist.

“You people did it again! Tried to bill me twice. But I’m onto you. You won’t get another DIME from me!”

The receptionist said, “I’m sorry about that sir, but if I can direct you to call our billing department, which is at another location….”

The angry man turned on his heel and noticed someone he knew. “Hiya, Tom,” his friend said. “Having an issue with the billing?” The man said, “Yeah, I had to give them a piece of my mind. Sometimes you have to show them you’re not gonna take their BS!”

Proud as punch, he swaggered out; still, he didn’t get his problem resolved. He’d refused to listen to the woman trying to tell him how to address it, and he was still as tightly-coiled as a cobra.

Not exactly one for the “Win” column.

You can berate, raise a ruckus, and cause a stir, or you can represent yourself and your faith in a memorable, mindful, mature way. Really, you can’t do both. There is a clear choice, every day. Navigating sticky situations with compassion. Showing the world your character, even as others lower the bar. Outreach instead of outrage. Tact instead of attack.

A new approach might be to “Bless-tify.” To testify about your faith by treating everyone with respect, even reverence – especially when emotions are running high.

“Blessing” is both a noun and a verb. The beauty of it is that you can give it and receive it at the same time. You’ll find yourself walking in the same spirit of love that changed your life when it really mattered. The saying goes, “Think before you speak,” or to put it another way, Pray Before you Say.

5lrxnlhfzoy-paul-greenIt’s been said that public speaking is easier if you picture your audience naked. (Oh my! How did Hugh Jackman get into the audience? Crikey! 🙂 Or for the younger crowd, perhaps Ryan Gosling. Hey Girl.)

Writing a story recently, I wasn’t sure if it was a drama with comedic notes or a comedy with dramatic underpinnings. I couldn’t quite place my audience.

I decided it was a lot like life: a comedy with dramatic under…pants. The key is keeping it light and not airing the dirty laundry.

Everybody’s dealing with something just under the surface.

In times like these, it’s more important than ever to focus on the good things in life. I like to picture my audience smiling. That’s why most of my posts are about accentuating the positive.

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I like to grab that hook of hope and hang my hat on it. For me, it’s laughter. Finding the funny in everyday things.

That maniacal look in my KitKat’s eyes as he rolls on the rug as if he finally tracked down his mortal enemy. “Bathroom rug… at last we meet. In a dark corner at the crack of dawn. Prepare to meet thy doom!”

 

20170102_203052The Lyft driver who thought he was going to make my day when he gave me a free sample of…. wrinkle cream! Derived from snails, yet. Some in my sensible shoes might have been offended when given an old lady lotion, but I laughed out loud. “Snails? My word. Well, they’re not at all wrinkly, that’s true. More slimy.”

And for those around you who only seem to complain and kvetch? 

A friend of mine in HR once told me her policy: “If you’re coming to see me just to vent, I’ll give you five minutes. If you want to solve the problem, I’ve got all day.”

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“Commiserate” is a word that tells its own story: let’s come together to share our misery.

What’s the opposite of “commiserate”?

Prayer.

People of faith coming together to request that others be blessed.

It’s like a spiritual standing ovation. Now that’s a story with a happy ending!

2016 — the year that was. It’s practically played out, virtually put to bed. Maybe it was a great year for you (Cubs fans), but for me it was largely a crapfest. We lost some good people, and I don’t mean just the famous ones. I lost three of my beloved cats. I lost my friend Mary. I am worried about the future when I look upon the wreckage of the past.

But enough about what is practically last year. We’ve got a whole new one stretching in front of us, and lots of people are doing lots of thinking about what might happen in it…or what they hope might happen.

Think about 2016 as a suitcase. You’ve arrived home. What do you want to take out of your suitcase and discard, and what would you like to carry on into 2017? Sure, most of us would like to stuff our suitcases with money, but realistically, unless we all hit the lottery simultaneously, that’s probably not going to happen. So deal with what you’ve already got packed: your job, your relationships, and — most importantly — your spirituality.

I would like to unpack lingering bitterness toward others. It’s heavy, and it’s weighing me down. I would also like to unpack the past…not forget about it, but stop feeling the sting of regret. I would like to add to my suitcase hope, focus and direction, especially vis-à-vis my relationship with God. I’d like to know that I’m on the right path, that I’m heading toward God in the most direct way possible. Inasmuch as a person can know her intended purpose on earth, I’d like to know that I’m at least hovering nearby it.

I’ve got a few things for your suitcases, too. I wish you peace of mind and heart. I wish you honest conversations and open hearts. I wish you closer family ties and better days ahead.

And you? What will you pack in your suitcase? What are you willing to leave behind? Are you certain you need everything you’ve packed? Or are you willing to walk into the new year with an empty bag, and wait for God to fill it? Whatever you decide, I wish you the very best in 2017.

 

 

Image result for half mast flag soldier

Your battles inspired me – not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead.  
James Joyce

This is to the soldier on the last battle field.

In my mind, it’s like the scene from “Gladiator” with our fallen hero in the Coliseum. The lady he’d loved and lost stood in front of his body and said to the crowd: “He was a soldier of Rome. Honor him!”

My father-in-law passed away last week, and I’ve been wondering what his journey to the next world might be like.

Admittedly, I’ve got no idea what happens after we leave this earth. I’d like to think it will be more of a “Homegoing” than a time for sackcloth and ashes.

A friend once told me she believes that we go to the place we’ve always regarded as home, even if we’ve never been there.

For my mother, it would have been a log cabin. She always spoke of her dream of owning a little cabin in the woods with a fireplace and wood-burning stove.

For my father, it might have been the bar from “Cheers.” He just loved that show, and his favorite joke became a call-and-response tradition for us every time I came for a visit. Dad: “If anyone calls for me, Coach, I don’t want to be bothered.” Me: “Who does?”

For my father-in-law, it could, paradoxically, be on the field of war. While he hated the fighting, he felt most like himself there. As a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, he was respected by his peers. He knew how to be a soldier. Get the job done. It made sense to him.

Life was clearer as a soldier. Here is the objective. Over there, the enemy. We’re doing this for those we left back home.

When he came home, he had to re-learn how not to be at war, and it wasn’t easy.

For our soldier who took the journey home, we honor you. May the angels stand at attention when you arrive. You fought the good fight, and now, rest. At ease.

Reading SueBE’s and Lori’s posts this week gave me a lot to think about.

If SueBE is in for a world of hurt, having only been to mass twice in her life, I’m really SOL (this being a prayer blog, that stands for “Shucks! Out of Luck”) as I can’t recall ever having gone to mass. Perhaps as a child, since I’m told I was baptized Catholic.

But I’ve always chafed against the idea of rules that don’t make sense to me. This makes me an iffy candidate for any religion, not to mention line-dancing and speed-dating. Come on. You want me to sit down, stand up, and hold hands with a stranger? Heck. Now I’m just dizzy!

The other day I watched a “fire-and-brimstone” preacher on t.v. and it reminded me why so many Americans skirt the periphery as I do, calling ourselves “spiritual but not religious.”

He spoke of the doomed Titanic voyage, saying there were two passenger categories: “Upper Class and Steerage.” But when the sugar hit the fan (as it were – still a prayer blog, mind) names were listed under two different categories: “Saved and Lost.” He nodded his head, pleased at the metaphor, pointed at the congregation and bellowed, “Some of you are going to Hell first class!”

And, smooches unto you, too, Reverend Cuddlebear!

My word. If that’s the gospel according to that church, well then, sniff, sniff, I think I’ve got a cold too. I’ll have to miss that service this week. And forever!

For Lori, SueBe and me, this blog is a sacred space. We’re spread across the map geographically and spiritually, yet somehow we end up in the same place.

I say, it’s all right to miss church once in awhile (or in my case, altogether!) because the altar is already set up in your heart. The pew is the armchair you’re sitting in. The church is wherever you are, and wherever you are, that’s where God is, too. See there, you’re all set for the evening worship service. Sit with me, have a warm cuppa, and let us pray.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
Proverbs 16:24 NIV

CJ Craig: “Mr. President, I hate to ask you this…”

President Bartlet: “Not too late to stop yourself.”

Dialogue from TV series, The West Wing

It’s always a red flag when someone says, “I hate to say this,” or “To be brutally frank,” before they give an opinion.

A friend noticed I’d gotten new glasses. He cocked his head and said, “You really want to know my honest opinion?” That didn’t bode well, so I said, “No.” He told me anyway. “I don’t think they’re the right shape for your face.”

Fie!

I had to un-follow a blog about faith that I really enjoyed when the blogger wrote, “I hate to say this, but let a gay kid in high school get beaten up a few times and maybe he’ll see the error of his ways.”

Well.

I hate to say this, but to be brutally frank, that’s not inspirational. That’s hateful.

Imagine someone saying, “Let a Christian kid in high school get beaten up a few times, and maybe he’ll see the error of his ways.” Or a Jewish kid. Or a Muslim kid. Or any kid, especially one of your own children.

Why is it some people think that others need to hear a negative opinion that nobody asked for? Do they just like to rain on parades? I wonder what they get out of being a chronic bubble-burster.

I love the way this passage from Ephesians is phrased: “…Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”

Speak to one another with psalms. At the same time, sing to the Lord. Is it possible to do both? It is, when we remember that when we speak to anyone, we’re talking to a beloved child of God – a prince or princess, if you will. That should make it easy to speak with tact and grace. Kindness and compassion.

Sweet as honeycomb.

Did you ever find yourself in a snit about little things that seem to accumulate?

I had medical appointments and procedures over the last couple of weeks (everything’s fine) but got behind on reading blog updates, emails, etc. My schedule was thrown off and getting out of my usual routine really got under my skin.

You look at the salt shaker on the counter and think, Why is this here? It belongs in the cabinet! Stupid, small things become monumental.

Why is it overcast today? Just to annoy me? You start to think that everyone is doing things just to get on your nerves.

It becomes an almost tangible roadblock that can lead to a kind of spiritual gridlock.

You start to think everything’s out of whack, when really, it’s just a matter of pruning. Taking stock of what’s most pressing, and tending to the roots.

This is what matters most in life: faith, family, friends. Praying, staying in a peaceful state of mind, taking care of yourself. The rest is really just logistics. 

We spend so much time making sure all our ducks are in a row that we forget to feed the ducks! Don’t neglect to do the very things that would smoothe out those edges:

  • Pat your pets
  • Look at the sunset
  • Re-read a favorite book
  • Listen to music
  • Relax in a comfy chair
  • Read uplifting passages from Psalms
  • Wear a comfy sweater, even if it has a hole in it

Don’t throw out the sweater because it’s got a little imperfection. Sew it up, if you know how, or just toss on a scarf. Who’s going to know? Keep the comforts close at hand, so when it feels like life is getting out of control, you remember: there’s always tomorrow.

Count your blessings. Life is good.

Yeah, I realize that this post has more clichés per capita than a basket full of fortune cookies, 😊 but this is the gospel truth: God’s got your back.

Ride it out, and next thing you know, the sun is back up again. And lo and behold! All is well.

misty-rose

“That, plus a token…”

You don’t even need to finish the phrase. It’s clear: whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying, pal.

Now, with tokens phased out, the saying just isn’t quite as catchy.

“That, plus a metro card…” Oof. Kinda clunky.

Old sayings change.

Old ways sometimes need updating.

At the bank, I overheard a man say, “This is my funeral suit. Told my wife this is the outfit I want to be buried in!” Everyone laughed, but I wondered why he’d even be on that wavelength.

Never say this: ”If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all!”

In truth, you actually have good luck. I call it Providence, but (I’ll update a few old sayings) – you say sweet potato, I say yam.

Just like watching the nightly news – if you judge the world by the headlines, you’d think it’s all going to Hades in a shopping cart! Those acts you hear about on the news are not the norm. That’s why they’re news!

Most people are doing the right thing. We all want harmony in the neighborhood and peace in the world. But…

It only takes one Granny Smith to sour the entire assortment! (Meh. That one needs work.)

It’s the bad apples that get the coverage. God’s still in charge. Not the gangs or the cartels or the syndicates. It really is a family of man. We are all related.

So I say this to you: Befriend your blessings. Don’t just count them. Marinate in them. Meditate on them. It’s the story you tell as you live your own life that seeps into your psyche. It either shores you up or drags you down. Just as you’d encourage a child with praise, it’s important to nurture your own soul by focusing on your blessings.

Forget the school of hard knocks. Matriculate in the University of the Universe’s Favor.

Grace is gentle, like a soft rain misting a rose. Let it fall on you like, well, Babka from Paradise! 🙂 Okay, you’re right, bubbe – the original is still the best choice. Like Manna from Heaven!

  • Someone saying, “I’m speechless!”
  • The Lone Ranger had a sidekick.
  • “Stay out of trouble,” I said to my teen-age son. “And have fun!”
  • A faith that claims to welcome all, simultaneously excluding some.

So I’m no longer driving, and have discovered Uber. I’ve met many drivers – some say very little, and some are quite talkative. Last week, my Uber driver chatted amiably with me, inquiring about my Freelance Writing projects and suddenly asked, “Are you a Christian?” I said that I was. “Well, we should talk.” He handed me his card, and it listed his title as, “Church Planting Catalyst.” He suggested that I might be interested in writing about their movement.

I mentioned to him that I don’t belong to a church, and it occurred to me that my writing to encourage people to go to church would be an intrinsic oxymoron. He told me that it wasn’t an issue and asked me to think about it and take a look at their website.

The site talks about the important role that believers play in establishing new churches in communities. It spoke of welcoming all believers, but as I read on, I noted an intrinsic oxymoron, and that is, women have no role in the organization. At all. It seems to be geared toward men exclusively, only referring to “ministry wife” as an option for women.

It would be another intrinsic oxymoron for me, a woman, to take on a writing project that would exclude women from making meaningful contributions.

Outreach to me is what SueBE’s Presbyterian faith does, as she wrote about in an earlier post – standing up for social justice. It’s what Lori’s Catholic Church does to minister to those in need. In my town, it seems that Catholic Charities helps more families than the government’s social services.  

Even the word “outreach” is all-encompassing, so I’m puzzled as to why any faith would decide to bypass some of God’s children. So, while I’m always in the market for new writing gigs, I think I’ll take an Uber to another destination. Somewhere that everyone is welcome to ride.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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