Posts by Susan:

Pandemic Reading

Psalms for Praying

Nan C Merrill

I once met a minister who would not allow his school age children to eat Lucky Charms cereal or read the Harry Potter series of books because the cereal was “magically delicious” and Harry Potter and friends were wizards and witches.

My own teenagers were reading J.K. Rowling’s fantasy fiction in the 90’s to early 2000’s, so I did as well. I have never been a fan of the fantasy genre, but these books were different. Set in England, they have a historical fiction quality that I found appealing.

Because my granddaughter is now reading Harry Potter and because I felt the need to have my imagination whisk me away, I re-read the series about “the boy who lived.”

J.K. Rowling has woven a tale about more than just witches and wizards; there are the straightforward themes of love and friendship, good versus evil, kindness, compassion, and overcoming obstacles, among others. Yet, the second time through I encountered more complex concepts such as racism, patriarchy, spirituality, and redemption. To dismiss these novels simply because the characters use magic seems foolish. I am glad I read the set again.

During this time of pandemic reading, I also read two more books by Anne Lamott: Dusk, Night, Dawn: on Revival and Courage and Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Because she is so real and genuine in expressing herself, I feel as though we are friends when I finish one of her books. This is further enhanced for me with her use of well-placed expletives. In fact, she says the fourth essential prayer is, “Help me not be such an ass.” Both books helped me see more clearly the extraordinary in the ordinary and the spiritual gifts hidden in difficulties.

I enjoyed the latest book in the Tea Shop Mysteries by Laura Childs, Twisted Tea Christmas. Cicely Tyson’s autobiography, Just As I Am, was a good read as well.

One of my favorite pandemic reads was The Love Letters of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi: The Journey of Two Great Saints, Soaked in Love, That Changed the World, compiled by Bruce Davis. This is a truly beautiful exposition on unconditional Love—the ‘God is love’ Love.

Speaking of Love, John Pavlovitz’s book, If God is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk: Finding a Faith that Makes us Better Humans, is excellent. Those of you, however, from a conservative Christian belief system will find it heretical. I guess that is one of the reasons I liked it so much—it challenged me to find a way to love you and not be a jerk.

One last recommendation for now is Nan C. Merrill’s, Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness. Each Psalm is a prayer of contemplative devotion to God, Awareness, Spirit. It is not a book to rush through.  The following verses come from Psalm 101.

May I be a mirror of your Love
to all that I meet;
May I reflect the freedom of your
Truth, and live
as a beneficial presence in
the world.

Happy reading!

What Do You Think God Looks Like

What Do You Think God Looks Like

In fact, the personal name of God, Yahweh, which is revealed to Moses in Exodus 3, is a remarkable combination of both female and male grammatical endings. The first part of God’s name in Hebrew, “Yah,” is feminine, and the last part, “weh,” is masculine.
theconversation.com

What do you think God looks like?

He has brown hair and green eyes. What do you think God looks like?

I think God looks like love.

What does love look like?

That’s a good question. There are different kinds of love like the romantic love between your parents. There is the love a Nana has for her grandchildren. There is the love between siblings and the love between friends.

I think love looks like rainbows.

Good one.

I think God has rainbow hair and rainbow eyes.

Cool! Is God male or female?

I think God is transgendered.

Wow, I think that’s amazing.

When my sons were young, I found the best place to have conversations with them was in the car because they were a captive audience. Our talks weren’t always serious; there was a mixture of fun shenanigans such as burping contests, making artificial fart noises with their arm pits and deciding whose song was playing on the radio as well as discussions ranging from sex to religion to … anything. Our minivan was a conversational confab group on wheels.

Seems this holds true now with my grandchildren as the above repartee between me and my granddaughter demonstrates. Her astute insight was cut short by our arriving at our destination. I did not get to ask her, for example, if she knows the meaning of the word transgendered.

Having taken a page out of his mother’s book, my son and daughter-in-law have been open in sharing about the topic of sex with her—age appropriately of course—so it is quite possible she knows exactly what she means. Either way, her acute evaluation of God’s gender identity shows a sharper awareness of God beyond the labels that many adults impose upon God. This will come in handy for her now and into adulthood as she navigates loving others the way Jesus teaches us to love.

Having been a follower of Jesus for most of my life, I have often wondered about his physical appearance. I use to believe that I needed to know what he looked like in order to fulfill a deep longing for an intimate and loving relationship with him as his follower.

In the Jewish Bible, Isaiah describes him as having “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” The author of Hebrews from the Christian New Testament says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature …”

Clearly his character is far more important than his features.

I would still like to know what he looked like when he was here in form, yet I am content to seek and see his temperament, disposition, uprightness—God’s Christ consciousness–within my fellow human beings.

I was waiting on a client to bring her car around to load her groceries from the food pantry. The sun was in my eyes and I guess it must have looked like I was scowling. David—himself a client/volunteer–asked if there was a smile under my mask. Seeing Christ in his eyes and peace in his countenance, I removed my mask and smiled, thankful for the reminder.

Not feeling particularly happy with what I was wearing one morning as I entered JCCM, an older gentleman client told me I looked nice. Seated on a bench outside the building, his appearance was disheveled and gaunt yet with an inward strength of Presence. Christ was in his eyes as well and I knew his out-of-the-blue compliment was not a come on, but a sincere, encouraging word. I thanked him and complimented him on the lovely cross hanging from his neck.

Debra, with bedraggled clothing and rumpled hair, helped me unload a cart of free breads and pastries onto a table in the front of JCCM. I do not remember what we talked about as we worked together, all I know is I felt a calm reassurance emanating from her as we did.

I was recently diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma, and I am just so grateful. Do not misunderstand me, I am not grateful for the cancer, but for the ways I have seen and am seeing Christ …

… in the care and concern of my doctors,
… in the love and affection of my family and friends,
… in the joy and playfulness of my dog, Polly,
… in the beauty of nature,
… in the serenity of mundane tasks,
… in acts of compassion and mercy and kindness of strangers …

Have you ever felt so grateful that you simply cry? I have. I do. I am now.

Christ is everywhere in everyone and everything. In Christ we—all of us, each and every human being ever and always–live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

We are here to help each other heal as St. Francis of Assisi makes clear in his “Peace Prayer.”

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Being awakened to Christ is to die now because eternal life is being an instrument of Peace now!

I think this is what Indian poet and mystic, Kabir Das meant when he wrote the following:

” I have
learned
from Him how
to walk
without feet,
to see
without eyes,
to hear
without ears,
to drink
without mouth,
to fly
without wings;
I have
brought my love
and my
meditation into
the land
where there is
no sun and moon
and without
eating,
I have tasted
of the sweetness
of nectar;
and without water,
I have quenched
… my thirst. ” …

( from: Songs of Kabir )

In peace and gratitude …

Ode

Ode

What follows is an ode to my dad.

My father has fulfilled many roles in his lifetime.

Third son born to William Henry and Hazel Taylor Fridinger on July 17, 1928, he was sibling to brothers Jack and Bill and later his closest sibling, a younger sister, Jeanne. Upon graduating from high school, he joined the Navy at the age of 17 and eventually became a Fireman 1st class. Taking advantage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, he graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering.

As a mechanical engineer for the Naval Ordinance Laboratory, later known as the Naval Surface Weapons Center, in White Oak, Maryland, he received many awards including the US Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1963.

In 1954, in what he calls his “best move,” he married his “West Virginia girl,” and became husband to Josephine Virginia Miller. Five years later, he became a father to his only child, a daughter.

He became a grandfather in 1984—Granddad or Gdad as he is known to Christopher, Matthew and Michael and in 2001 a great grandfather—also known as GGDad to Taylor, Ryder, Brooks, Annalise, and Hazel.

At Memorial United Methodist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, and New Street United Methodist Church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, he held every office imaginable except for Finance Chair.

He retired at the age of 55, but this did not stop him from accepting other roles.

He and Josephine joined the National Association of Retired Federal Employees in 1984 and became Life Members in 1987. He held nearly all offices in the local chapter and held every office in the State Federation of Chapters except Treasurer. He was president for three years. He started a new chapter in Charles Town when he was 1st VP and Membership Chair and four more Chapters (Pt Pleasant, Berkeley Springs, Keyser, and Elkins) when he was president. He served on the Berkeley County Council of Aging (now known as Berkeley Senior Services) for many years and was President for three and half years while the New Center was being designed, contracted and built. He was a sub chair for the senior sector fundraising. He received the “Bob Jackson Advocate for Seniors Award” in 2000 from Berkley Senior Services.

He was also an active member and office holder in the Charles Town, West Virginia chapter of AARP.

He is a self-espoused Socialist Democrat, Ford owner and United Methodist–for most of his adult life.

As the result of an upsetting incident between his parents that he witnessed as a child, he is extremely uncomfortable with confrontations. Having been raised in a patriarchal authoritarian household further contributed to his quiet, reserved nature.

Yet, it was Great Depression that was one of his saving graces—in his own words:

The depression was hard on the family. Dad was laid off from H.L. Mills and had no regular work until 1936. During those years we moved to Frederick – and back to Hagerstown – and lived mostly on money borrowed on the home that was acquired during better times. That money soon ran out; the home was lost; and we moved into an old log house in the country and along the Conococheague Creek. The house had belonged to my father’s cousin and had been empty a loooong time. The move to a house without electricity, running water and indoor plumbing was traumatic to my mother, but we boys thought it was the best and longest camping trip ever. Dad got work in a local lumber yard and gradually fixed up the house, built some boats and developed a “swimming hole” that was used by people all over the area. It was called Nickel Hole.

We learned to swim (it was mandatory), boat, and fish. We lived for a while with an Ice Box for food and a gas lantern for light. He organized the neighbors to lobby for electricity and it was brought to the area by the Rural Electrification Program – one of the depression projects. He then bought one of the first Fluorescent Lights for the dining area “for the kids to do their homework”. It took about ten seconds before it stopped blinking. We eventually got a phone – an eight-home party line – and our ring was four shorts. Good luck at making a private call! Summer baths in the creek and winter baths (occasionally) in the galvanized tub. We never got indoor plumbing or running water until we moved back to a town in 1946 after WW2.

He had first-hand experience with how instrumental government can be in improving people’s lives. FDR and the New Deal impressed upon my father the idea of service in helping others. This also explains why he has voted for every Democratic Presidential candidate since 1948. To this day he finds Ronald Regan’s quote, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” repugnant—to say the least.

He was sixteen when he became an uncle for the first time to John Morris Fridinger, son of his eldest brother, Jack. Other nieces and nephews were born in the following years. Eleven years later he was the last of his siblings to marry, something his grandmother worried would not happen.

When he enlisted in the Navy, he fully expected to drive a landing craft onto Japanese beaches. However, the atomic bomb and later Japanese surrender changed that and he spent the next 18 months aboard the USS Sitkin, cleaning up leftover ammunition from both World Wars, and transferring ammunition at sea in preparation for the next war. In his words, “It was not a happy ship.”

When I was a child, he fixed all my broken toys. In fact, he had a workbench in the basement that I thought of as magical. I could place anything on that counter and within a day or two, it was repaired. Cars, lawn mowers, TV sets, bicycles … you name it, he can fix it; although computer technology has made some repairs more difficult in these latter years.

He is intrigued with how things work which is why he was patient answering all my questions when I was growing up. Like, “why do car tires look like they are spinning backwards, when a car is moving forward” or “why does it look like there is water in the road on a hot, summer day?” The way he responded to my many inquiries may be partially responsible for why I really enjoyed teaching Middle School science—particularly physics.

Even now, whether it is fixing football helmets to prevent head injuries or solutions to global warming and climate change, he can be heard saying to the TV news anchor, “that would be so easy to fix,” while outlining how it could be accomplished.

As an adult, I know he did not always approve of my life choices, but he was and still is extremely generous, not only financially but also graciously. He has always had my back even when I failed to realize it or take him for granted.

Unwilling to complain, he is stoic during the midst of the most difficult and trying circumstances and discerning in all of his choices throughout his life. He has said he has never met anyone that he hates and he believes in the innate goodness of ALL people.

This resume, if you will, may give you the impression of a mainstream, straight, middle class, active pillar of his community. This is true of course. However, because he lives his life through gratitude, abundance and grace, he shows a profound willingness to be inclusive of diversity more than a whole lot of people maybe even know.

This is because my father has a very simple and humble faith.

He believes in knowing Jesus and doing his best to follow His example.

Mission accomplished!

Tangible

Tangible

If evangelicals were just a fraction as burdened to stop poverty, hunger, systemic racism, or bigotry as they are about policing LBGTQ folk’s bedrooms, bathrooms, and body parts, we’d have very little poverty or hunger or racism or bigotry–and Jesus’ prayer that the earth look more like heaven would be materializing in our midst and a tangible movement of God would be unmistakable. John Pavlovitz  from If God is Love, Don’t be a Jerk

Christ

Christ

I saw Christ today.

She was sitting at a table by herself in the fellowship hall of the church I attend.

I purchased the altar flowers in remembrance of my parent’s wedding anniversary—what would have been 67 years. Bright yellow Zinnias, deep red Carnations with lavender Asters completed the lovely arrangement which was a perfect blend of mine and my mother’s favorite colors.

Christ spoke to me as she was finishing her microwaved beef stew meal. She said her daughter’s favorite color was yellow and that she had died in the last year.

I could tell in her longing expression, she wanted one of the Zinnia’s but did not want to ask. I was going to give her one anyway. When I handed her the flower, I told her the bouquet was for my mom who had died. She asked how long ago my mother had passed and I said five years.

Thinking the moment had passed, I began to walk away. Christ was not finished with me, however. She called me back, “come here.” I did. She reached for my hand and I accepted hers.

Care-worn wrinkles adorned her face and hands, dirty fingernails and a weathered sweatshirt graced her frame along with garlands of bedraggled hair—I wondered about the life she had lived and was living.

Once our hands were clasped, she closed her eyes and began praying. Because I did not want to miss a moment of this sacred awareness, I kept mine open, watching and listening.

There was no “Gracious God” or “Heavenly Father” beginning. Her prayer was not punctuated with any “thee” or “thou.” No “we just ask,” no promises were made, no sin was mentioned nor forgiveness requested. In fact, the only thing she asked for was for God to bless me and that she, herself, had lost her mother in 2007. Some of her softly spoken words sounded like reverential mumbling. There wasn’t even an “amen” at the end; just a very gentle shake of my hand and her eyes opened.

A good-bye, a thank you—as I was leaving, I glanced back, she seemed lost in sweet memories staring at her flower.

No sermon, no invocation, no hymn that I heard that Sunday morning touched me as deeply as Christ did in that very brief, yet timeless instance.

I cried most of the way home—not sad tears, or happy tears—just tears of realization at how holy beautiful is Christ and how precious is all of Life.