Sunday, August 30, 2009

Heart song, hearts sing

I got caught up in watchng first, the memorial service for Ted Kennedy on Friday night and the funeral and graveside services on Saturday.

I never knew that he loved to sing, how much he loved singing. I loved how important singing was to everyone saying goodbye. That big Broadway star who sang "The Impossible Dream" on Friday night was impressive (though how his accompanist coped with 9/8 measures that felt more like 7.5/8 I don't know). But what I loved was Nick Littlefield, an attorney and Kennedy staff alum singing "a song for Teddy." The song was Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Love Changes Everything." Littlefield said he had often sung it with Ted, including the last time he had seen him. And that it seemed to sum up Kennedy's love for his wife, Vicky. Littlefield sang it confidently, joyously, forthrightly. He's a fine singer, not a pro, but one whose song is connected to his mind and heart. Watching and hearing him makes me so happy.

More singing: Placido Domingo at the funeral, making good choices with "Panus Angelicus." With just Yo Yo Ma accompanying, it was the lower end of his range, the firm, warm baritone, that made the most wonderful music. Susan Graham, was, of course, perfection. The Tanglewood Chorus singing Brahms "Let Nothing Ever Grieve Thee"--eh, it's harder to make music with that piece than one might think.

But again, what struck my heart was not the professional music makers. At the end of the service, the casket left the church to "America, the Beautiful." And the Kennedy family members who acted as pallbearers sang as they walked along side the casket.

Later at the capitol, the plan was for all the staffers on the steps to sing "America the Beautiful," led by a DC school choir director. The moment was less than wonderful, however, at least on television, because the microphone picked up only the director's voice--now crowd. But then--ah, in those last moments before the hearse pulled away, the crowd of citizens and tourists across the street sang--spontaneously--"God Bless America" and again, "America the Beautiful." As solemn a moment as you could hope to see, to sing.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Erring, Errant

What kind of perverse Lutheran would I be if I did not comment on the ELCA voting that it's okay to allow someone in a committed same-sex relationship to be a pastor?

It is good to see Christians dare to err on the side of grace, to see Christ in surprising places, to accept and bring people in rather than judge and shun them. All those things, I'm sure, sound old and obvious, especially to anyone who has listened to the days and weeks, months and years of discussion that preceded this decision.

I'm the sort of lay person who decided this one long ago for myself. So watching a church body labor through this is kind of like watching someone much younger struggle through adolescence. You can't be sure how he'll come through and if you'll want to know him when he's a serious adult.

I have this idea that this vote is one more step in the choosing of sides. Many of us can relax now that our more moderate branch of American Lutheranism has come down on the liberal side of this issue. Check that one off. What will be the fallout from those who believe in the other side? Will we all end up at the heavenly banquet sitting on opposite sides of the table, finding it hard to make conversation, suspicious of how the people on the other side of the table got there? Why they are there at all? And which ones exactly are the Pharisees and which the rabble from the wayside?

Yet we are all there. Even now we are moving into God's new kingdom, marching to Zion, together. What does it mean to be a motley crew headed for heaven's mansions, pulling one way and then the other along the straight and narrow--no that would be the wide and winding path in front of us?

It means we're human. God's image broken, though not entirely lost.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Health care--not spirtual

Who will explain to angry people that leaving their healthcare alone is not the answer? Who will explain that insurance companies give you the illusion of free choice, not the reality, and that people can't buy health care rationally the way they choose a brand of laundry detergent? That behind the scenes, doctors and hospitals and other providers of health care make all kinds of financial deals that have everything to do with maximizing profit and that providing good quality care is not consistently a byproduct of that process?

I am frustrated this morning by an insurance system that tells an old friend, in need of follow-up care after a serious mental health crisis, that she must see a new doctor a half-hour drive away from her home instead of going to an office six blocks away to see the doctor who knows her case well. This is crazy, and it is making her crazier than she needs to be right now. The New York Times this morning has an article on outrageous doctors' fees -- actually on a survey of doctor's fees conducted by America's Health Insurance Plans, an organization representing insurance companies. I'm imagining a press release headlined "Don't blame us--it's their fault!"

How can we fix something as complicated as healthcare when the public discussion deteriorates to a level where a proposal for Medicare paying for someone to help people make a living will is twisted into a "government death panel"? Most of the people screaming about this would probably acknowledge that at the end of life they don't want to be kept alive by a bunch of machines and tubes and that hospice care is a good thing. If someone supported them in writing a living will, they could control their own exit from this world. Yet the truth is distorted.

We live in a very complex world, where it takes some sophistication, some appreciation of both rationality and irrationality to understand the banking system, the health care system, international politics, government budgets. Yet we have these visceral debates. On the one hand, don't tell Sarah Palin that baby Trig does not have quality of life. On the other hand, don't raise anybody's taxes so that state governments can provide adequate services for people like Trig with developmental disabilities. (Disclaimer: this blogger has an eighteen-year-old child with Down syndrome.) This is a democracy, yes, where Senators and Congressmen work for the people who elected them. But the Founders, steeped in the Enlightenment, never imagined an electorate or a world like this.

Or did they? There was rabble and the fear of mob rule when the American republic was founded (and the populist, ignorant outcry against rational reform of the health care system is a kind of mob rule). The Founders believed that better minds could prevail, that elected officials could make good decisions, that collectively we could act in society's best interest.

It would be easy to watch this all from the sidelines, make cracks about the stupidity of angry white people of certain economic classes, and shake my head sadly about the whole mess. But I think I'm going to have do better than that.

For starters:'s "Top Five Health Care Reform Lies—and How to Fight Back."

Friday, August 07, 2009

Wave and shore

The first day back from vacation began soberly enough--coffee and the New York Times online, the way most days at home begin for me. A little bit of work while still in my jammies, some family business to arrange with a friend, then off to church to try to catch up, whatever that means. By midday, my leisurely vacation life was left behind, and pretty soon, the mad extrovert that rested while I was on vacation had spilled out, and I was back to analyzing problems instead of contemplating them lakeside.

It's a high-contrast life. I'm wearing a black t-shirt and white capris today--would that be yin and yang, sin and holiness, darkness and light, sanity and craziness--what? Drama.

Here's my journal from the last day of vacation--just yesterday:

It is a beautiful shore. Prettiest place on the island. Maybe that's not quite the word--pretty.

God separated the dry land from the water at such a place as this. No boats there then. No sand toys strewn on the beach. But grass and plants growing from dry land, moving in the Spirit blowing upon the face of the waters--plants growing in the shallows as the water becomes the shore, gold and green, leaning, always leaning toward something, bent by the Spirit wind, dancing.

Birds of the air, fish of the sea--one can see why these come next in the Creation myth. Birds glide on the wind as if they were a part of it, as if they flew out of it, called into being by the word of the Lord. Fish form in the water, unseen, from muck at the bottom, from still water deep down, and go their own dark ways, beneath the waves, in dimmed light.

Animals, man, woman--we become strangers to this shore, our lives complex, twined and twisted together in social systems whose patterns look silly, unnecessarily complicated. We are captives, not of wind and wave, but of brains and language that never quite says what we need. Captives of each other, on the earth, not of it. We have come far away from the Spirit that long ago gave us birth.

And yet.

A family group--three generations--walks down to the water and closes ranks for a picture, water behind, arms extended to hold young ones, support old ones, alive together where water meets land. Standing tall, leaning together in the wind.