The Gift of No

A friend, who is a divorced Catholic, told me of having to leave a social gathering because she got so agitated when she realized one of the men was “working up the courage” to ask her out. “I didn’t know what to say to him,” she said. “I’m just not interested in dating.” I joked with her, “Let me teach you a two letter word to handle situations like that — NO. You can add ‘thank you’ but that is optional.”

I have been thinking about that on and off all week — about my own difficulties saying “No” (with or without the thank you) when I am asked to do something. A difficulty shared by many women and, maybe, especially by many older women in denominations like the Catholic Church.

And here was my personal insight this morning: The ability to say No is a gift that we give to others. It frees others to ask us without worrying that they will be imposing. I think of my friend and how careful I am about what I ask her to do because she will not say No unless it is literally physically impossible for her and even then she will apologize repeatedly and feel badly. So that shifts the burden of judging the appropriateness of a request to me.

Exercising the right and ability to say No is not just a matter of personal liberty (although it is most assuredly that), it is also a great and good gift that we give to others.

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Third Grade Theologians

With my third graders last Sunday, I told the gospel story: Jesus’ parable of the two sons whose father asked them to work in the vineyard; one said “no” but then went and worked; the other said “yes” but never got around to going to the vineyard. Jesus asked, “Which one did what his father wanted?”

We talked about what Jesus meant to teach us. I asked how many had fathers who owned a vineyard. No one. How many went to work with their father every day? No one. So does this parable have anything to do with us?

“Well, God is our Father too,” offered one child, “so maybe Jesus is telling us not to just say prayers but to do God’s work.”

“That’s good. A good answer'” I said, “So the next question is, What is God’s work?”

This took some discussion to figure out. “Going to church?” “Helping poor people?” “Doing what our parents and teachers tell us to do?”

It took a while, but we got there. Together we decided, as one girl suggested, that God’s work is love.

“Yes,” I said, “God wants us to love God and love each other.”

“OK,” said Elise, “as long as that doesn’t include me loving my 5 year old brother. He’s impossible to love.”

“Why is he impossible to love?” I asked.

“Because he’s mean. He is always mean to me. He does mean things to me every day.”

“And when he is mean to you, are you mean back to him?”

“Not always. Not usually. Sometimes, but I try not to be.”

“Well, Elise, every time he is mean to you and you are NOT mean back to him, you are loving him.”

“Uh? But I never FEEL like I love him.”

“That’s OK. The love that God wants from us is not a feeling but an action. There’s a saying ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ God doesn’t care if you ever say or think ‘I love my little brother.’ God cares how you ACT.”

Of course, at that point, someone else wanted to talk about mean words, bullying words, and how sometimes people can act nice in front of others but sneaky say mean things to you. So that got us into a whole other discussion about words and actions, bullying and protecting, only seeming nice and really being nice.

Continuing to reaffirm my belief that third graders are the best theologians.

My Mary

An angel describes,
Passionately,
How great her son will be.
A teenager asks,
Sassily,
“Aren’t you forgetting one thing –
I’m a virgin.”

A mother speaks to her grown son,
Gives him THAT LOOK.
He sighs,
And takes care of the wine problem.

A woman stands erect and unmoving,
Defying Romans, Jews and grief itself,
To watch her son die a criminal.

The church statues?
No time for them.
The meek mild ever virgin?
No need for her.

Mary the impudent,
Mary the importunate,
Mary the brave,
She is my Mary.

Psalm 97

There is one God, Sovereign and Almighty
I can relax, I can rejoice
There is one God, Sovereign and Almighty
One God who rules the universe and my life
With power and majesty, mystery and awe
With righteousness and justice
Burning away my doubts
Lighting my darkness
Melting my mountains of failure
From the heavens of hope
I proclaim God’s righteousness
With clouds of witnesses
I behold God’s glory
The glory of unfailing love
The glory of unending faithfulness
The glory that is stronger, brighter, surer
Than the false gods of despair that threaten me
I hear, I know, I laugh, I rejoice
For the certainty that You are greatest
Highest, bestest over all
Exalted far above the dark gods who trouble my peace
I rejoice for the certainty that You love me
You protect me, You rescue me
Light and lightness rise up in my heart
Joy and hope are born again in my soul
How can I help but sing?
Let me rejoice in God
And give thanks to God’s holy name. Amen.

For My Own Good

I have been preoccupied lately with the extent to which USA culture has shifted towards belief that life is a “zero sum game” – when you gain, I must lose. Compassion and generosity then require “self-sacrifice” and we become fearful of losing too much. But Jesus taught that only by losing do we win. Losing is not sacrifice but gain. Compassion and social justice are not just to benefit others but are the highest good for ourselves.

Freedom from Thought

I read about Ignatius’ three types of people exercise and, as I tried to think my way through it, I began to feel that my faith wasn’t “good enough.” I think because I misunderstood the exercise.

Then, believe it or not, Divine intervention came through Facebook. I saw a link on Facebook to an interview with Karen Armstrong and in that interview I read this, “thinking can only take you so far. Action, behavior, especially compassionate behavior, is more important than thinking. By constantly exercising compassion, the golden rule, you enter a different state of consciousness. This rather than thinking will get you to enlightenment.”

And there it is. There’s the freedom that God wants from me. Freedom from attachment to always thinking my way through life.

What Counts

If time is what counts, then we have little left
Most of life is behind us

If money is what counts, then we have enough
Mostly we can do what we want

If friends are what counts, then we have a few
Good and close and cherished

If family is what counts, then we have complications
Some good, some bad, some indifferent

If faith is what counts, then we have doubt
Trying to worship a God we are not sure exists

If achievement is what counts, then we have satisfaction
Good careers behind us

If security is what counts, then we have an abundance
Because we live as middle class white Americans

If class is what counts, then we have risen
Above our parents’ class

If service is what counts, then we have opportunities
Every day, in small ways and larger

If love is what counts, then we have everything