Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech

I'm sure I was not the only parent in America who listened to the reports from Virginia Tech on Monday afternoon and felt compelled to phone a son or daughter away at school. I got my son's voice mail shortly before three o'clock, and wasn't sure what message to leave. "I know you're alright, but I just had to call," I said. And more stuff, less coherent, with the "love you" closing.

I still think of my twenty-year-old, college sophomore son as one of my three teenagers. Yet he is the age of those college kids in the videos, the Virginia Tech students being interviewed, the roommates of the killer, the friends of the dead. They don't seem as young to me anymore. They have earned the right to be called adults. So many, so suddenly must no longer feel safe in the world. This is life-changing knowledge, the kind you wish they could absorb slowly, in small sips. Drinking such icy water all at once and way too fast can cause paralyzing brain-freeze, even life-freeze.

As they seek healing, the Virginia Tech students gather in community. One young woman on the radio, when asked if she wanted to go back home to her family, said, No, I need to be with my friends and share this with them.

Oh, the Facebook and My Space pages as twenty-year olds mourn other twenty-year-olds.

How can such violence be redeemed? Better "gun-safety" laws? Better counseling centers on campus? Discard civil liberties and lock up potential madmen? So that these dead shall not have died in vain? You don't have to be a cynic, just a realist, to feel that not much will change in the long run.

But today's college students will carry this week and its sad, horrific news in their hearts for a long time. To honor the dead, some may try a little harder to give their own lives meaning, to enjoy the sunshine and love and appreciate family and friends. Some will struggle with fear and uncertainty, trying to keep their balance inside a world where you can't always protect yourself from serious harm. Some day, there will be another shooting, some other terrible news, and they will be shaken by memories of April 2007.

Young adults this age go to war. They are kidnapped in Iraq. They are the brutalizers and the victims in parts of Africa and Asia, and in the cities of North America and Europe. But yet a steady, hopeful light burns in them, shining out
from their youth, from the way they do not shirk from bullies and danger, from the way they stand by their friends..

Dear Lord, watch with all who grieve and protect them with your everlasting love. .

Saturday, April 14, 2007


In the past few weeks, my house has gained a new bathroom, new paint, and most recently, refinished hardwood floors.

All this change is making me anxious.

Yes, it's change for the good. No, it's not the lead-up to selling the house and moving somewhere new, though I do have those thoughts and I do sometimes voice them as a threat inside this brick English bungalow, a great starter home in always-desirable Oak Park.

Living here is like wearing new clothes--the sort of new clothes you purchase for an interview or speech. Who am I, I wonder when I am all dressed up. Who is the person who lives within these new yellow walls, with the refinished hardwood floors and the blue bathroom? What's with the pretty surroundings?

The old and comfy mess of our house is in retreat. The kids' bedrooms still have dirty walls and worn floors. The back room, the one with the desks and computer, is full of the usual paper and books, plus stuff from the front rooms that has been stashed there, out of the way of the painters and floor sanders. The pictures will eventually go back on the walls. The stacks of music and magazines--well, I guess now is when we find out what we really need and what we can get rid of.

Did I mention that the piano is in the kitchen? And the kitchen may be slated for an overhaul?

Transformation is hard, whether it's home or self. It's not like St. Paul in I Corinthians saying that we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. That is then--on the day when the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. Now we have to put on Christ anew each day, over and over again, like donning a new wardrobe or learning to live in a new environment. It's uncomfortable at times. How off-balance did those disciples feel after their encounters with the risen Christ? Probably a lot worse than I do when stepping around the piano to get to the dishwasher.

Christ's resurrected body could pass through locked doors. Yet Thomas could touch the wounds in his hands. What possibilities await us?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Happy Good Friday

My daughter just woke up. On her way back from the bathroom, she said, "Happy Good Friday, Mom."

Eliza has Down syndrome. I've always hated the upbeat generalizations people often make about individuals with Down syndrome: "They are such happy children" or "They love music." But I have to admit--heck, I'd even brag--that Eliza's intellectual disability makes her remarkably clear-sighted at times. Today is an occasion, and Eliza loves occasions: happy birthday, happy anniversary, happy Good Friday.

So far, it has been a happy Good Friday. It started early in my household. I drove my fourteen-year-old son to church at 6:15 this morning. The Youth Director challenges the teens to show up for the 6:30 a.m. worship service on Good Friday. Then he takes them to the Original House of Pancakes for breakfast. Kurt donned a dark suit, a black shirt and tie, and extremely cool sunglasses for the occasion. He was dressing up because at noon, he will part of a choir of adults singing Richard Hillert's setting of the St. John Passion. It's a good thing it was not fully light when we left the house, because I was fighting back a smile as I looked at this kid in his aviator sunglasses. Being fourteen, he would not have appreciated my grin.

I came back home, read the New York Times online, and mixed and kneaded the dough for cinnamon rolls, which will make me a hero to college-age son, home for the weekend. He will probably wake up around noon, when those rolls come out of the oven.

Happy Good Friday.

"It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him." (Mark 15:25) That would be right about now, when the sun is climbing in the sky, and a busy day is going into full swing. What did those citizens of Jerusalem, up and about and doing their pre-Sabbath errands, think of this Galilean dragging a cross through the streets? They joined the soldiers in charge as they mocked and derided Jesus. Probably it was all in a day's life on the streets in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. Whatever the people may have heard of this man, Jesus--miracles, preaching--was now just another tale come to naught. Who could have known that this crucifixion would immortalize the cross as a symbol of God's compassion for his wayward creatures?

Darkness came over the land at noon, and lasted until three o'clock. Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and then breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two, a curious detail reported in Matthew, Mark and Luke. John doesn't say anything about the temple, but the pierced side detail comes from John, with blood and water flowing from the dead body of our Savior.

We relive Jesus' suffering and death in worship services, devotions, private thoughts, but at the same time we bake the coffee cake, order the lily, iron the outfit, and rehearse the music in preparation for Easter. Meaningless rituals? Remnants of pagan celebrations of spring? Or something about life and death and God's power over all things?

The day before yesterday--Wednesday--I went to two funerals. Actually, a funeral, and a memorial service held almost three weeks after the death of my sister-in-law. For me, it was a day to be gotten through, to be polite, to serve and to be served. Thinking too much brought grief and questions, and this was a day for self-control.

The funeral was a hymn-filled 11:00 a.m. church service, thanking God for the life of a ninety-year-old woman, who a few days earlier, after a life filled with Christian service, had chosen hospice and the end of dialysis, looking forward to Christ welcoming her into heaven. We sang her casket down the aisle and off to the cemetery with the final stanza of "O Day Full of Grace," the one that begins "When we on that final journey go." The funeral luncheon was ham and cornflake-topped potatoes, three-bean salad, fruit, and pink lemonade. A foretaste of Easter and a celebration of old-fasioned church hospitality.

The memorial service was much sadder. My sister-in-law died of cervical cancer, two weeks after diagnosis. Her husband held her until the crash cart came into the room and the medical personnel asked him to leave. Her last words to him were "I'm scared." I am not close to my brother-in-law (my husband's brother) and barely knew my sister-in-law. Yet this is a loss that is hard to comprehend. At the memorial service, my brother-in-law played a video of snapshots of his wife, with Kris Kristofferson on the soundtrack singing "Look at that old photograph, is it really you?" My job at the service was to speak grace and comfort, singing "Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me home."

We commend the spirits of our dead to a God who died. We prepare for the new life of Easter.

Happy Good Friday.