Thursday, August 31, 2017

what we need now...

Lately we have had so much sadness in the USA. Racial unrest, hateful protests and more have made our country so sad. On August 21st, much of the US had an opportunity to witness a solar eclipse. It brought our nation together, if only for a few minutes, to witness an act of God. People flocked together from all over to take part in something that lasted all of two minutes and left feeling refreshed, whole and happy.

That was just before a hurricane slammed in southeastern Texas, the worst hurricane our country has seen since Katrina in 2005. I am encouraged that once again, many people came together and are still coming together to offer assistance, aid and most important, prayers for those in need.

In my little town on the prairie, we too have come together in support of a high school aged girl who was in a serious car accident. I knew her through my work at the school. Last night, there was a prayer service at her church and I was startled at how many had attended. The streets for two blocks around the church were filled with cars, as was the parking lot itself. Many came out in support of this gal and her family. Many lit candles, said prayers and wept as we all became one voice, our heartfelt prayers lifted up to heaven on her behalf.

What held my attention is how, during times of need such as this, no one is labeled. I'm not Catholic, you're not Lutheran, he isn't black, she isn't Asian...we are all ONE...ONE body in Christ. We all come together, with no thought of, "I'm better than you are!" We do simply what must be done, with no real thought of reward. we pray, we cry, we offer support, we show our love and concern for one another.

"Where two or more are gathered, there I am in the midst of them."  
Matthew 18:20.

Two weeks ago, a woman knocked on my door. She introduced herself as a Jehovah's Witness from our town. I smiled at her and as she read her Bible passage, I thanked her. I told her that I am Catholic and though I appreciated her words, I was satisfied with what I believe in. I then reminded her of the hate-filled protests that were taking place in Charlottesville, Virginia, and that it was my desire also for there to be peace. "Shall we pray together, you and I, for that to happen?" I asked in all sincerity.

She looked shocked as her eyes widened. "Oh no!" she admonished, "I can't do that!"

"I fully respect that," I replied, "but you see, I am a member of the secular Franciscan order. We emulate St. Francis by living out his life in today's world. We pray often for peace and as he told his followers, 'preach the Gospel. Use words, if necessary.' I am simply carrying out his ministry."

She closed her Bible then, making an excuse as to why she needed to leave and hastily walked down the sidewalk to her car.

I walked into my house, crestfallen.

Labels. Why do we need them? Wasn't it her mission to also "preach the Gospel, using words if necessary," yet she had chosen another path.

"I can't do that!"
I had heard those same words at my mother's memorial service after she had passed away. Those who were gathered were waiting for the minister of her own Jehovah's Witness congregation to arrive. Finally after almost an hour, I said  a brief eulogy and sent the well-wishers away with a prayer. It was later that I found out the reason why the minister never showed up: it was because I was there. I, who am Catholic. My heart broke then as it did again after this visit.

I am not putting Jehovah's Witnesses down. In no way am I doing that. My point is this: if we are to have any peace at all in this sorry world, we MUST stop looking at others as if WE are superior to them. 

"Those who exalt themselves shall be humbled, while those who humble themselves shall be exalted." (Matthew 23:12.) 

We must remember that Jesus Himself showed us how to love one another. He Himself sat with the Samaritan woman at the well. He Himself told the story about the Good Samaritan. He Himself ate with tax collectors. He forgave sinners. He healed the sick. He raised the dead! He didn't need a special pardon from God to do any of that! He was God! And if God did it...then why can't we? Why can't we look at each other with eyes of love...and forgiveness...and tolerance? Why? 

Going back to the time after His crucifixion, it was known as Christianity. Followers of Christ. Then 1500 years later, there were disagreements with the church, which by now had many "rules and regulations." Thus, a split, with that new following being known as "Lutheranism," or Protestants. Yet more disagreements lead to more breaking away. Each breaking away had issues with the previous breaking away. And so on..and so on...

And now, we have so much animosity, so much, "I'm the RIGHT way, while you..." followed by head shaking. Yet last night, here in my own small town on the prairie, PROVED that we can get along, we CAN all come together in prayer for someone in need, we can help each other out, we can because....
because Jesus taught us that He "IS the Way...and the Truth...and the Life. No one comes to the father except through me. He who follows Me shall have eternal life." (John 14:6) We don't need special permission, we just do it!

What a promise! What an ideal!

May you all be blessed today. Reach out to don't need MY permission to do that! 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

how far does one go to promote social justice?

the statue at the center of Charlottesville's storm

(click on link above to read more about this story)

The unrest in Charlottesville, VA fills me with such grief. Grief at the fact that people are so hurtful towards each other. Grief too that many people think that the ends justify the means. If we want peace, we must be all about social justice. But how far does one go to promote "social justice?"

Does tearing down a statue promote peace? Wouldn't it be better to change people's hearts through love and loving actions instead? Then again, I am reminded of how Ronald Reagan, when he was president of the US, admonished President Gorbachev, leader of Russia to "tear down this wall!" in reference to the Berlin Wall... a wall that separated so many from their loved ones That pretty much was the end of the Cold War and life in Europe. Once down, it was hoped that peace would finally reign. However, any idea of "peace" was short lived as there was now a vacuum, a void of leadership that was replaced once more by factions, regimes and dictatorships.

If you want peace, promote social justice. Justice begins in our hearts, in our minds, in our SOULS! "If you see a man with no coat, offer him one of yours," Jesus told his disciples. (Luke 3:11). Jesus showed us time and again how to love others, thus His stories about the prodigal son, the woman at the well, the Good Samaritan. Love, love, love. Even later, the Apostle Paul, who at first, was all about tearing down the Name of Jesus, converted and became Jesus' greatest champion, even as he sat in prison under the worst conditions. What an example of a pure heart!

Love. It means to show tolerance towards all. At the grocery store, while waiting in line, sitting in a traffic jam, donating your time, talent or treasure towards a worthy cause. It means smiling at a stranger. Holding that door open just a bit longer than necessary. It means admitting compassion towards the homeless. To an alcoholic. To an addict. A homeless beggar has the same amount of dignity as any head of state. Yet we pay more attention to "celebrities," ( just died of cancer!") than we do the neighbor up the street, who also had troubles, but we paid them scant heed.

Tolerance means we accept people no matter their color, creed, gender, race, religion. We accept them for the faults they have, because we also have our own faults. We love them right where they are. They don't have to prove anything to us, because we also have nothing to prove. We are no better than they are. No better at all! We do not sit in our Ivory Towers, looking down at others, comparing ourselves to them. We came into this world naked, poor and crying and we will go out of this world the same way. we all have 206 bones and bleed red. The only thing that separates us is our ideology...our ways of thinking. This takes us back to where this all began...of how hatred separates us. And as it separates us from each other, it also separates us from God. Like any parent, as God watches His children fight and kill one another, He grieves. If you have any empathy at all, you grieve as well.

Today, look over your life. Note the baggage that you may carry, no matter how small. Others also carry baggage of varying sizes.Whose baggage will you also far will you walk with another?

The answer should be--must be: all the way.

May you have a blessed day! May God be with you and bring us all peace.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

how would you define integrity?

in life, you have to give every decision your best effort, or you will fall short. Aim high and you'll make it over every hurdle. True fact.


 How would you define it?

As I wrote about a few posts back, it IS about keeping your word. It IS about saying you will commit to doing something and then, following through. It is not doing something in a haphazard fashion, thinking that no one will notice. Believe me, people notice.

I had a painting job to do on my own garage, which was noticed by a passer-by, who informed me that she had a job for me if I was willing. I agreed. The job was painting her own garage trim as well as the trim on a rental house she owned. As I painted the trim on her garage, her husband was out there, observing my work with his own microscope. Every tiny little splatter, he would frown and when a couple splatters fell onto his brand new concrete job, I apologized as the two of us cleaned it up. When I was finished, I stood back and admired my work. It was done. It was good.

On to the rental house they owned. The wood that was to be painted on both the windows as well as trim was old, rotted away and as I scraped the paint off, chunks of wood came off too. I alerted them and they had the trim replaced with brand new wood. Ahhhh... bliss. I gave the new trim three coats of paint, to ensure that it was thoroughly sealed and that it would last a long time. I gave that job my best ability, just as I had their own garage.

When it was time to settle up on the payment, the home owner was less than pleased at my charges. I reminded them that it was what we had agreed on in both time as well as cost. I had done the job in the four hours that I estimated, yet they were unhappy. "Why did it take you so long to do the rental house?" I was quizzed. I replied that I did the exact same effort on that house as I did their own. "You know, it WAS just a RENTAL!" I was reminded.

I blinked. So...because it was rented out, the folks living there couldn't have the same effort to admire perfection as the home owner did? I shook my head in sadness.

"You reap what you sow." We are reminded of this a few times in the Bible. I believe in giving 100% in everything I do. Throughout my life, I have been hurt a time or three because of that philosophy, but I would not hesitate to do it again--and again if need be.

Why is second best considered "good enough?"

When I alerted the homeowner that I could not even complete the job due to rotting wood, she gave me a look of....what, I cannot define, but in my heart I knew that yes, I could have slopped on some paint and, from a distance, it would have been "enough," for maybe one more year. Up close though, that was a different matter. Up close, the scrutiny of rotting wood would have been obvious. Eventually that old wood would have needed a replacement, so why not do the job right the first time?

How about you? Have you ever been asked to just give anything you do a gloss-over? "It's good enough." Would you do that at work? How about with your friends? In your marriage? What would our world be like had God did that during the Creation? "And God look at all he had done and said, "it is good..." (Genesis 1:31).

With God, it is never "enough" to just do a shoddy job. Look all the way back to the story of Cain and Abel. God was pleased with Abel for the sacrifices Abel offered up. With Cain, not so much. (Genesis 4:8). The same held true in the parable Jesus gave of the man, the rich fool, he was called, whose barns became too small for his harvests that he stored up, so he built HIMSELF bigger barns. He then sat back and enjoyed the fruits of HIS labor, forgetting all about the offering that should have also been offered up to God. And God was displeased. (Luke 12:16-21).

In everything, give it your BEST shot. Not half done, not even "sort of... maybe... kind of...well, maybe tomorrow" effort. God knows what lies within our hearts. You may plead ignorant, but God also blessed each of us with choices. Choices to do it right---or wrong.

Put it this way, would you appreciate it if someone gave you a shoddy, half done effort? Then why do it yourself to another?

Golden Rule: "do unto others as you'd have them do unto you."

 May you have a blessed day.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

the lowdown on bullying

"There is no such thing as a bad boy." ~Father Flanagan, founder of Boys' Town Omaha, NE

in your life, are you an Eddie Haskell...or Wally?


Everyone in life has been exposed to it at one time or another. You may have been bullied...maybe you are a bully or perhaps know a bully. At school, at work. Road rage incidents are incidents of bullying. Bullying has been around since Cain killed Abel out of jealousy.  You could say that the Eddie Haskells of our day are in fact, people who show domination towards another with the outcome of creating submission through humiliation, power and control. "That's a lovely dress you're wearing today, Mrs. Cleaver!" When he said it, it was a slimy retort meant to cover up whatever malicious intent he was hiding. In Mrs. Cleaver's case, it didn't work.

Why do people bully? In life, even the animal kingdom, there are those who are dominant and those who are submissive. Unlike animals, however, people have brains to make choices. What bullies lack is a sense of empathy. Empathy is what gives us pause to think about how the OTHER person must feel when bad things happen to them. 

Empathy isn't always inherited, it's a learned trait and if no one teaches it, how is someone supposed to know about it let alone put it into practice?

I am reminded of Mister Rogers, that delightful soul of public TV during my growing up years. His calm demeanor would always reassure those watching that all was well. We were unique. We were special. We were his friend. And the way he looked into the camera, you came away with the feeling that it was to you that he was speaking. The world, though unsafe, could BE safe, because you were cared for and loved.

This meant so much to me, growing up in an abusive home. To be told that I was "special," even if not to my face, gave me hope that perhaps, it really WAS true, that I really WAS someone. Even while at school, as kids tormented me for not having the latest in clothing or hairstyles, with my bucked teeth and funny sounding last name, somehow deep inside, because Mister Rogers said I was special, then maybe I was. I had no sanctuary at all, no place of refuge, except within my mind.

Kids today are not so lucky. There are so many choices and conflicts in today's world that weren't there even thirty years ago. Back in my day, Viet Nam was a war on the other side of the world. I tuned it out, as it had nothing to do with me. Today, kids have all these in-your-face issues such as gender identity, drugs, sex trafficking, alcohol, absent parents, parents who need to work long hours to provide income. Kids are all alone to deal with outside pressures and so, they make up the "rules" of how to deal with that. Eat--or be eaten. In this case, bully if you must or be bullied- it's all about survival of the fittest.

Who among us turns away from a troublemaker? That kid, like Eddie Haskell, who is crying out for attention and will get it, either by domination or submission? If only we could be a fly on the wall to see what kids deal with at home! They cope by using power to control a situation they have no control over. Even among adults, pressures at work or home can turn someone into a domineering bully. Spouses, too use force to get their own way.

I knew a boy at the school where I work, who, in the 9th grade, sat by himself during lunch. He rarely spoke to anyone, he kept to himself. I determined in my working at the lunch counter, that I would, before the school year ended, get him to smile. I called him by name. I made small talk. I never pushed but rather, encouraged. Occasionally, I'd see a hint of a smile. Many times, though, he'd just sigh, as if worn out. In the hallways, if I saw him, I'd smile, I'd nod in his direction, but again, I got nothing. His hair was long, his clothes shabby, as if he didn't care what he looked like. You could say that for all intents, he shut down...put up that wall to save himself. By Springtime, I didn't see him anymore. When I inquired, I'd heard that he was having hard time with his dad at home and had been relocated.

Flash forward to a few weeks later. I was at the groomer/vet building to pick up my two dogs. There was an old dog on a quilt, hovered over by a boy with long hair. He was crooning to the dog and when he briefly turned his head, I recognized him. The receptionist just then ushered him into a room and he, as well as an older lady he was with, took the dog in. I knew right away what the outcome would be: the dog was being euthanized. I could hear the boy speaking calmly to the dog through tears. My own throat tightened up as I realized he had spoken more to that dog in the few minutes than he did to me in almost eight months while at school. The door then closed.

I went home and cried. I cried for the boy who I could not "save." I cried for the reasons he felt he had to put up a barrier between him and the world. I cried because I felt inadequate--what more could I have done? Mostly I cried because that had been me more than 40 years before. The baggage he carried....who else recognized it, let alone offered to help him carry it? When I inquired about him at school, I was met with shrugs of the shoulders, of an attitude of, "well, that's just the way it is." Nothing more.

To me, every child needs recognition. Every child. Even those for whom we turn away or want to tune out. How many teachers, when they realize what child they will be teaching, look away with the eye roll and shake their head? "Oh, THAT kid...yeah..." Those kids are the forgotten ones. And they WILL get attention, no matter what it takes. Even if it means picking on someone else to do so. How many of them want to be called by name? To be told, "hey, you have worth! You're special! I like you just the way you are!" To have that "you and me against the world" attitude. To be given the respect of being present in the world. Going back to the Cain and Abel story, had Cain also been shown more appreciation for what he had done in his life, is there a chance his anger towards his brother would have dissipated? I think so. We are all special and unique. What we bring to this thing called "life" is our own gifts and talents....are they appreciated enough...if at all?

Jesus was very much like Mister Rogers...or you could say that Mister Rogers epitomized who Jesus was. Jesus had that way of making each person feel special...why do you think he was so loved during His ministry? He called people by name ("Zacchaeus, (who was a tax collector) I am having dinner at YOUR house tonight!") Tax collectors were people whom the "Law" deemed unworthy! When His ministry was just beginning, He called people by their name: "Peter! James...John...come follow Me!" To hear your name is probably the best gift ever...why do you think when salespeople find out your name, they use it often? It is a way to make people feel good. To feel recognized. When was the last time you heard YOUR name being used?

Let's go back to Mister Rogers. The qualities he had were not just for television. All throughout his life, he had that special way of making people feel worthy. How could one even think of bullying others after dealing with him?

In today's world, we must look for the many opportunities to be kind towards others. When you arrive at your workplace, to whom should you devote your attention?

Towards all, my friend...towards all.