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As you may know, I’m from Jersey. I’ve told a few choice “Joizey” jokes in my day, and they always get a laugh.

But if you try to knock New Jersey in my house? Oh, heck no.

I’d tell you to make like a banana. And split.

Make like a tree. And leave.

Make like a shepherd. And get the flock out of here!

It’s like this. You know how dysfunctional your own family can be. But they’re still your family. You might give your sister a hard time, sure. Goffa Bids (Jerzese = God Forbid) anybody else does it.

Likewise, I feel defensive when I hear anyone knocking religion. Even though I don’t belong to a particular church myself, my faith is the hinge of my life, and prayer is the door.

But lately, I’ve seen things in the news that make me wonder if certain churches didn’t get the memo – you know, the one about doing unto others. They may have missed the class on compassion, and they’re giving all of us who are spiritually inclined a black eye. The litmus test for a person of faith is simple: if you don’t treat people well, you don’t know God.

Take this church (please!) in Knoxville, Tennessee, with its billboard designed to offend those who believe everyone is entitled to equal rights.

Or this one in San Francisco, California, with shower sprays that aim out toward the front of its church building. Not to put out fires, mind you; no, they’re used for the sole purpose of discouraging homeless people from sleeping there by drenching them with water.

The great Thomas Merton said, “The fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.” And these churches may really believe they are following God’s leading by driving away those souls already feeling disenfranchised.

Even though it isn’t always clear what to do in a difficult situation, one thing is certain. Nobody claiming to hold faith has any right to diminish another. I’m no theologian, but I know one thing, as sure as I’m sitting here. God has an open door policy. Everyone is welcome to walk through.

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Watching the news yesterday, the scroll at the bottom of the t.v. screen said, “Market Crash.”

And I stopped sipping my coffee.

Say what?

I looked outside.  Some macabre part of me was thinking I might see people jumping out windows and others frantically running in the street.

The market crashed? Where was the general panic?

As it turns out, it was an ill-chosen headline.  It actually referred to a hit-and-run driver having crashed into a fruit market.

Phew! I thought. For a minute there, I thought the end was nigh.

And then I heard the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say. (Young demographic, please google this reference.)

One woman was killed when this driver crashed into the market.

It really is equally tragic.  One life lost is just as momentous as the whole stock market crashing. For that person, for her family – it really is the end of the world.

Then I read that Robin Williams had ended his life. He brought so much light and laughter into our lives, we never thought he’d leave us this way.

Just as the President announced that we would start airstrikes in Iraq, while at the same time, delivering medical and humanitarian aid, each one of us has a choice.  When we go out into the world, we can bring a bomb or a balm.

Everybody is going through something, even if you can’t see it. Please choose kindness as your default setting. One small word of compassion can make a big difference for those silently suffering through dark nights of the soul. God’s grace is a constantly replenishing resource.  You can give it away and still find your soul filled to overflowing.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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