Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Eve

Saturday, April 15, 2017. Call it Easter Eve? It's a warm night, so I'm sitting in the  backyard after Easter Vigil, with an IPA. Hoppy. Bitter.

I read the Creation account at tonight's Vigil:

"In the beginning when God created the heaven and earth, the earth was without form and void."

So God spoke and brought forth light, separated it from the darkness. And then named the darkness, as well as named the light. And it was the whole first day.

Sun and moon and stars came on the second day, and with them the days, the seasons, the years: time! In good order. And good. 

There's not much order in my backyard, but there are things that are good: new cushions on the patio chairs, the leafing-out lilac silhouetted by the back-door light, that light reaching the long skinny  branches of the forsythia, covered in yellow blooms. And there's a breeze, strong enough to be heard rising and rushing down the east-to-west cross street.

God said, and called all this into being, out of the formless void. God said, and called Jesus from the dark tomb, from the void of death. God said, and called each of us through the waters of baptism, to light and love and endless Easter. 

Over at Gronks Finding Grace, my son Kris has written about letting go and about letting God. That God would be the God of Creation, the God of Easter, the God of promises, the God of salvation.  The God who speaks into the void and names the darkness so that there can also be light and love. 

The air is moving through bare trees. It's the Eve of Easter.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Up-twist of grace

I'm coming up on eleven years of being the Perverse Lutheran. In the name of all things flexible, I usually celebrate my blog anniversary on Transfiguration Sunday, a shifting target based on counting back from Easter and Ash Wednesday. This year it falls on February 26, but I'm writing a bit earlier. It's President's Day, I'm not at work, and I've returned to a favorite haunt of mine from a decade ago--Panera in the morning. A Cinnamon Crunch bagel, hazelnut coffee mixed with decaf, and enforced focus on the computer. No--not the computer--it's actually enforced focus on myself.

And since it looks like there's about to be a lot of conversation at the table next to me, I'm adding headphones to the enforced focus strategy. And strangely, music of Messiaen turning up in one of the various feeds Spotify inscrutably customizes for me. (Specifically, Olivier Messiaen, Fete des belles eaux, 11/14: Oraison, if you need to know.)

I'm smiling. Seriously surreal here.

It's an unusually warm day in February. We've had a couple days of this and according to the internet will enjoy a few more until the weather reverts to something more seasonably miserable. There are people here in shorts, and not just kids. Old guys.

The spring-like respite arrived just in time, and honestly, the sunshine matters even more than the balmy air. Life comes with long grey stretches, and when the skies reflect that despair back at you, it's hard to keep going. I find myself looking for hits of something interesting, in politics and Twitter and the reality TV show that is currently standing in for the federal government. It's an unfolding story, both banal and fascinating. But it's not my story.

That story, my story, on this blog, has been one of trying to look at day-to-day life with questions, from different angles--not the conventional ones, and usually, finding an up-twist to end with.

("Up-twist to end with." I like the rhythm of that. Also the vowels.)

But in these gray days--of life as well as sky--that up-twist has seemed--false, even offensive, because it does not seem truly felt. My questing, perverse soul is wrapped in anger, about what God does not cure, about what people fail to understand.

Watching ALS take away one thing after another from my 30-year-old son is not what's supposed to be happening right now. He's supposed to be sailing into the prime of his life. But life can and will throw anything at us regardless of "supposed to" or even "what we deserve." So a wide wave of warm, sinking grief washes over me, and it's very hard to stand up, twist up, and find something positive.

But the weather is warm. Yesterday was full of glorious music in an over-gilded, old-time, overly bright Catholic church. And the bracelet on my wrist says "grace." It's a brown clay bead given to me a while back by that same 30-year-old son, as he began to interpret his ALS at a blog called "Gronk Finding Grace," and as he called family and friends to his side as the Gronk's Grace team, for support and fundraisers and fun, even on this difficult journey.

It's harder to be him, and to be his wife, than most of us can know.

This brown clay bead originally came on an elastic cord for 24/7 wearing on the wrist. I have since had it made into an actual bracelet with a clasp and interesting earth-toned beads. I've broken it twice since having it made. The first time was probably related to the way it was put together, or so said the person who repaired it. The second time was entirely my fault--accidentally yanked it off my wrist along with my watch.

Grace--small-g grace. An appropriate subject when looking back on eleven years of Lutheran blogging.

Clay grace. Brown, modest, lowercase grace. Etsy-bead grace. Broken grace.

There's a period after the word grace on my bracelet, as in grace, the end. Or grace, enough.

A few warm days of spring-like weather, then back to winter, Ash Wednesday, the promise of Easter.


Thursday, February 02, 2017

That thing

We need a name for it.

That thing where you wake up at three a.m. and think, why am I awake, and then, with a sinking feeling in your forehead mashed under the pillow, remember that Donald Trump is president—president of the United States, all of them. And white nationalists think this is great and other people from the great middle of the country also think it's great, at last they've got someone on their side, and you think, how did this happen? How? And you think about racism and misogyny, whiteness and white male-ness and women who don't trust women to lead but do think they lie. And how so much is being made of this word "elite," and yeah, there are elites maybe who are out of touch with ordinary people, but "educated" and "knowledgeable" are not synonyms for elite, they're good things. And facts are not matters of feeling, and the earth really is warming, people need health insurance, automation has killed more jobs than trade deals, and, and, and--

Donald J. Trump is president. Also, Paul Ryan is spineless, and only John McCain can save us because Democrats just don't have the votes. Despite getting almost 3 million more of them in November.

That thing.

We have "resist," which makes a good t-shirt, a good coffee mug, and it seems like the thing to do, always, ongoing, in whatever way you can. With a scowl and clenched teeth, and daily calls to congressional offices.

But my teeth hurt, phone calls are frustrating until you get through and then if you're shy and you're sure you're the umpteenth person they've heard from, there's the nerves of rushing through your little piece, telling your little story, when really, don't they know? Why would anyone with an ounce of sense vote to confirm Betsy DeVos? Or that Pruitt guy for the EPA?

There's that thing where you start to wonder why you care so much, why this is tearing you up and why all your friends are depressed. Are we all sore losers? Embarrassed to be us, liberals, progressives? People who look to the authorities--the kind with knowledge and experience, not the strong-arm authoritarian kind.

There's that thing where you can hardly stand to watch the president on television because of the deep sense of shame you feel for the country. What about that thing where you keep watching because you can't take your eyes off the news? Because surely worse stuff will happen if you don't keep watching, if you don't personally keep an eye on it. Or worse stuff will happen and what if we all stop noticing, or caring, and can no longer tell the difference between living in a country that aspires to liberty and justice for all and living in a country that supports liberty and justice only for those people who already have them. Don't We, the People, have a shared vision anymore? Is the category "We, the People" actually growing smaller?

Here's what I think: the name for all this is love of country.

The name for all this is human kindness, the old-fashioned term for being careful with your speech so as not to offend those who have not offended you (but who perhaps have been treated in an offensive way by history, by government, by us).

The name for this thing: American values, American ideals, America.

You and me, tossing and turning at 3 a.m.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Liberty Tree

Inauguration Day 2017. I spent much of the day at work in a struggle with a networked copy machine. I won the battle--I got my 600 copies made on 67 lb. cardstock--but not without significant tactical stress, amplified by the distance and the stairs between my office computer that created the document and the machine in the basement doing the printing.

It wasn't all about the machine. There was definitely displaced anger on display. I took time out in the late morning to watch Donald Trump take the oath of office and deliver his inaugural address. I found his "we, the people" rhetoric infuriating, along with his trashing of the last eight years of American progress and his dogwhistle call to his supporters, "you've got your country back."

Yet in one of my dogged trips up the flights of stairs from copy room to office, what should pop into my head but "Johnny Tremain"? Not the book by Esther Forbes, which I read many times as a child. The sound in my head came from the Disney movie adaptation.

Bear with me--this may be totally a Boomer thing. Sunday evenings in my childhood in the early 1960s were grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup eaten while watching "Lassie" at 6 on CBS, and "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" on NBC at 6:30. The Disney hour was often a nature or science program (not exactly must-see TV), but sometimes it was a lot more fun—episodes of "Davy Crocker," with Fess Parker as Davy and Buddy Ebsen as his sidekick, or Hayley Mills as Pollyanna, annoyingly cheerful in frilly dresses. And best of all, they re-ran "Johnny Tremain," a multi-episode movie version of the historical novel about a young man in revolutionary Boston in the 1770s.

Johnny was an orphan; he was cute, with an intriguing "widow's peak" framing his face. He was tragic; apprenticed to a silversmith, he burned his hand in an accident and his fingers grew together as it healed. And there was, of course, an innocuous love interest.

There was also a stirring patriotic tune in the score. Johnny participated in the original Tea Party, political action defying the Tea Act passed by the British Parliament in 1773. Colonists objected because they believed that it violated their rights as Englishmen to be taxed only by a legislative body in which they were represented. Today in my imagination I pictured myself swinging into the post-political action march:

Yes, there are precious few women (and the ones that are there are only accessories to the men),
but when I watched "Johnny Tremain" as a child, I did not fail to see myself in that parade. There's a leap of faith involved. In 1773 my own German ancestors were still in Germany. My great-great-great Grandfather Gotsch wouldn't arrive in America for another 75 years, not until European revolutionary fervor in 1848-49 challenged his clerical authority and upended his pastoral relationship with his parishioners. I do not have Boston patrician forefathers, but yet as a nine-year-old girl I could claim that liberty song for myself.

Since then I have lived through a lot of American history: the civil rights movement, the women's movement, Vietnam protests, Watergate, the GOP's Southern Strategy, 9/11, Iraq, gay marriage, and much more. I have learned in the classroom, from newspapers and from television news that the reality of America has fallen far short of the ideals of liberty and justice for all. The stories of my fellow Americans have put a wider and more diverse vision of America in front of me, a vision I share with many people, especially as we march into the future.

"And we are the sons, and we are the sons, the sons of liberty" sang in my head today, as I tromped from office to copy room. But the crowd I imagined around me no longer looked like a collection of Hollywood male actors circa 1957. I swung into the march with people of color, women in pink hats, Muslim children, people in wheelchairs, people with intellectual disabilities, black people protesting police violence, white people in need of good jobs, poor folks in need of basic health care--all of us with a shared and ever-expanding vision of liberty and justice for all.

I can't make it to a march tomorrow--too many responsibilities. But I'll be there in spirit, singing.
And it will grow as we grow, boys.
It will be as strong as we.
We must cling to our faith, boys—
faith in the Liberty Tree.
It’s a tall old Tree
And a strong old Tree
And we are the Sons
Yes, we are the Sons
The Sons of Liberty.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Riff on breath

Kris wrote a blog post yesterday about celebrating life's breathtaking moments and the irony that ALS literally takes your breath away.

It's a beautiful post. Go read it, if you haven't already. You'll come away treasuring life and breath more deeply. And you'll have a theme word for today, for the New Year celebration, and for daily living.

I think about breath a lot. It's the thing I need to do better as a singer. It's also that thing you're supposed to return to, in meditation or yoga or moments of panic and confusion. Like many people I hold my breath when I'm stressed, muscles too tight to allow the next breath to enter easily, naturally, fighting nature's mechanism for renewing my will and energizing my heart.

Blessedly, just thinking about it slows and deepens my breath. The hot coffee slipping past my lungs has warmed them, loosening the allergy-related congestion. Could thoughtful breathing, and caffeine,  lift the gloom of this last day of 2016?

Social media posts have been full of "so glad to say goodbye to this awful year." Woo-hoo-- except,  of course, tomorrow is continuous with today. There's no hitting the reset button at midnight, no clean slate, no "Clear history" choice on the drop-down menu. Tomorrow, or Monday, or Tuesday, we will pick up right where 2016 left us, facing the same problems, the same conundrums, the same mess. I've read two pressing-forward, we-can-do-this op-ed/think pieces this morning, and while I do have neurons that resonate with this kind of thinking, so many of life's inevitabilities don't yield to optimism.

Back to the breath—and my own breathtaking moments (sensible Kris--for thirty years he's been my roadmap to feeling more cheerful!). Here are some I can think of this morning:

  • The lakeshore when the water, the rocks and the broad horizon are as a big as God — who is as close as the breeze in the cedars and the energy in the waves. 
  • Smiles on the faces of my children, grown, but to me, still the delightful little ones of Christmas seasons past. 
  • Music-making: the magical moments when it all falls into place (sometimes in rehearsal rather than performance). 
  • ewborn lambs at the Sheep and Wool Show, and gorgeous hand-dyed colors in merino and blue-faced Leicester, alpaca and silk. 
  • Reading "When Breath Becomes Air" on a summer day in my backyard (many layers of breath-taking in that one). 
  • Images that finally appear clear on the page if you take enough words away. 
  • Strong coffee that sometimes tastes even better than I remember it, even though I drink it every day.
  • Long, fast walks. 
  • All those many things Kris listed: newborns, kisses, milestones, loved ones.

There were breathtaking images in 2016 that weren't so good: photos from around the world of people in need, dead, dying, oppressed, bombed, injured, desperate, grieving. Video of angry people, of resentment, racial hatred, misogyny, blinding arrogance, willful ignorance. Challenges to those  evils often fell short.

Breath is what we hold in common: animals breathe, plants breathe, lakes and oceans fold the moving air into the tumbling waves. We gasp for breath as we're born and again when we die. We breathe together when we sing. We quiet our breath as we pray.

Keep breathing in the year ahead!

Saturday, December 17, 2016


The sky is beautiful as I look through the web of black tree branches outside my window. The new-risen sun streaks the clouds with light. Even the clouds of smoke and vapor coming from the chimney of a home across the street momentarily catch the gold glow of the sun, still low in the sky. Beyond the clouds, the morning sky grows deeper and more radiantly blue from one minute to the next.

I'm not usually an early riser -- it's rare that I see a summer sunrise. But I see them in December, as the days begin and end gilded in pink and yellow and gold. The colors seem distant but promising as I drink my morning coffee, elegiac as I walk the halls at work and catch a last glimpse of today's sky before it's time to go home.

Our struggles are long, but life is short, and we never quite grasp all that we reach for. Yet we keep going.

I spent a long afternoon with my son Kris on Monday. He has ALS and, no longer able to work as a special ed teacher, is at home with a caregiver during the day, while his wife, Michelle, heads off to her job as an art teacher at a K-5 public school that serves children from low-income families, children whose home lives are often chaotic.

Kris sent me into the kitchen of their home, to look at the glass star hanging in the window by the sink. "We finally got it up," he said. "You gave that to us." My mind was blank at first, but then I remembered thick tissue wrapped around the glass. Where had I bought it, this arty Christmas decoration? Ah, in a little store in Granville, Ohio, where I drove to pick up my younger son, Kurt, from college, two Decembers ago.

"I am trying to get some things done around here," said Kris. "since I have the time to take care of these little things."

Getting it done meant seeing that it got done--the stick-on Command hook purchased and placed, the star hung, either by Michelle or by Emily, the caregiver, who gets him up, showered and dressed on weekday mornings, who does their laundry, makes lunch--cares for things, supervised by Kris.

Do the next thing. Do the little things. Here, in this moment, but with care for the future.

That star in Kris and Michelle's window has five irregular points--cobalt blue and bright yellow drawn into each one by the craftsman who shaped the glass. There were many stars hanging in the store where I bought it--each one different, each one formed by skill and happy accident. Each one, I suppose, a next thing, requiring care and attention before moving on.

The world seems particularly overwhelming to me this Christmas. In our family, it's the pull of ALS, drawing Kris ever deeper into motionlessness. In the news, it's a will to power, pulling politicians to lash out in ways that enrich the privileged few at the expense of the downtrodden.
Restore us, O God; let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved. (Psalm 80:3)
But how? How are we saved? In the shining light of a December sunrise? In the smeared beauty of the rose colors rising above the horizon at the end of the day? Or in the dark night, the shining stable, the angels that filled the sky over Bethlehem and brought heaven's light to earth? Light that arrived as Mary labored, each pain a next thing. Light that spread as shepherds watched over the little lambs, caring for their flock's future.

God's light--shining from the distant sun, shining in us in the darkness. Stir up your power, O God, and come!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A pale tint of azure

Once upon a time I had an Advent-blue dress. Maybe the shade was closer to navy than to Advent candle blue. It was pretty basic, from Land's End, with long sleeves and a hem below my knees--the kind of thing you buy to dress up by adding a scarf or a necklace or, you know, "something great." Not that I owned something great to dress it up with. Mostly I put it on and was relieved to be covered and ready for church in something that looked presentable and required no ironing.

I walked into the choir loft one Sunday in Advent wearing that dress, and the organist said, "Look at you in your Advent-blue dress."

Or did he say "Advent-blue gown"? Maybe he did, because "Alice Blue Gown" is a thing, or was a thing when it was a hit song in 1919. The Alice-blue gown belonged to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, oldest daughter of TR. Alice blue is actually quite pale, an icy evening gown color. Or the paler tints of blue in this, from Wikipedia:

AP97 ice floes (3422931129).jpg
By michael clarke stuff - AP97 ice floes, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

My Advent-blue dress is long gone, out of style and too big for me now. So this morning's Advent blue was navy pants and a merino cardigan in a bright navy. Tonight at my house, there's a dark blue tablecloth on the dining room table and an Advent-blue Christmas runner on the table next to my chair. The cowl and ear warmer I knit last weekend of blue handspun are lying around waiting to be worn for the first time.

And the kitchen table holds two boxes of blue lights I bought this afternoon which are destined for the backyard fence sometime in the week to come.

Where am I going with all this? I don't think it's about seeing blue, or liking blue, or decorating with blue. What's really going on is I'm feeling blue and wondering what to do with that in the longer-than-usual Advent ahead.

"O wie selig, muss ich sein," I sang this morning in church in a bit of Bach. "How blessed must I be, when Jesus comes and lives in my heart" ("Öffne dich" from BWV 61, Nun komm der Heiland Heiden). It was an excited little aria whose elegant ornamentation I should probably keep right on practicing. No blues there. Well, maybe in the relative-minor B-section--with a text that says something about "though I am but dust and earth, Jesus does not scorn me."

Despite the Advent-blue at church, the navy blue in my closet, the deep blues on my table, the hope in my heart is Alice blue this season—"a pale tint of azure," says Wikipedia.

It's a slight shimmer above dark waters, light bouncing off crags and challenges, glittering and gone.  You wait for it, you watch to see. It is distant and wary of easy answers.

And yet that blue light, the light of blues, is the light of Christ, thanks be to God.

(Note to self: new dress for Christmas?)