Sunday, January 27, 2013


The cantata at today's Bach Cantata Vespers was "Herr, wie du willt, so schicks mit mir (Lord, as you will, so let it be done with me, BWV 73)." The cantata text was heavy on acceptance. The homilist talked about trust. I didn't hear it all; at these services, the middle of the choir is not the best place for hearing what is said in the pulpit. But the sermon opening had a lot about the importance of trust in human relationships at a macro level (politicians and voters) and the micro (families, spouses).

I listened to the preacher's list of examples and my thoughts wandered off into my own life. I thought of the many ways in which people have broken trust with me, and I with them. And I looked at the people around me wondering how many had been unfaithful to a spouse--in a Lutheran church choir, maybe not so many. But how many had broken a confidence, had responded with rage when someone needed mercy? How many hurts have I inflicted on others without knowing, or knowing and not caring?

These are not happy thoughts. Trust breaking all around you is like a jackhammer breaking up the ground beneath your feet.

Infants come out of the womb ready to trust the arms that hold them and don't let them fall. We respond to their needs and teach them to trust us so they learn what it feels like to be safe and calm. Can we trust God this way? My spirit, sorely sagging on this icy Sunday, longs for infantile comfort. But my many pictures of who God is get in the way. Omnipotent, the one who wills all things. The one who controls what happens to me. The one who chides and chastens and challenges. The one I seem to fight and wrestle with, who won't let me have I want. Why would I trust this God, the God of everything is "for your own good"?

I think I've given God too many jobs. I think I've also confused God with notions of fate or fatalism, confused "Whatever God ordains" (from the Lutheran chorale title) with whatever--whatever happens.

I didn't hear the homilist well enough this afternoon--well, I'll be honest, didn't listen hard enough to know exactly where he ended up, but I think I remember hearing the words "God is faithful." And faith is trust, and I don't know, maybe there's some kind of complete circle there. The God I trust in is the one who holds me like an infant, who, unlike an unfaithful spouse or a fair weather friend, does not break trust with my need to be loved, whose love for me is a light that brightens all things.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Perfect? Free?

This may turn out to be a self-pitying, whining blog post. That's actually what I'm going for, on this cranky Friday evening, though every parent voice in my brain will try to turn me away from that goal, because it's bad to whine and complain.

By parent voice, I mean the voice of parental authority--not the one I try to use on my kids from time to time, but the parent voices that were used on me and that live on inside my head. The ones that said try hard, do your best, things come easy to you so you have a responsibility to be even better. And don't complain. Mundane, boring tasks are part of life. You're no better than anyone else, just do them. In fact, doing them (without complaining) is ennobling.

All of that--that is so ingrained in me that it's a credo, the creed of where and how I am supposed to live in the world.

I guess it's useful. Keep pushing to do better. Rewrite. Tinker. Keep learning. Work hard. Vocalize. Exercise. Plan. Proofread.

But it's all such hard work. (Whine, feel sorry for self here--but who wants to read that?)

Last weekend I ripped the finished front band from my purple-sweater-in-process so I could fix the way it puckered. This meant picking up 375 evenly spaced stitches from the front edge all over again. Respacing buttonholes. And reknitting six rows times 375 stitches in a 1x1 twisted rib. The result, after about six hours of knitting, will be a front band that will lie flat, plain, and unremarkable across my upper chest. I hope.

So many things to try to do perfectly. I heard someone pronounce something "perfect" today, something I thought was not at all perfect. I don't believe in using that word lightly. I'd rather pound myself with it. I've torn up and rewritten things many times over, though still not to my satisfaction. I've grown frustrated and unhappy with my singing. I've been short and snappish, insincerely outgoing and charming, and spittingly angry, toxic to others--or at least I think so. I've beaten myself up in the late hours of the afternoon and the early hours of the evening and before I even get out of bed in the morning. You'll not hear a chirpy, irony-free pronouncement of "perfect" from me.

The problem is, this is all very tiring. Doing stuff isn't much fun. And the word freedom keeps popping up in my mind.

In my Bible study group we are reading Galatians these days: Paul and the freedom of the gospel, based in faith, not works. Before Christmas we read James: "faith without works is dead." I think the way to reconcile the two is by trying to imagine the faith experience of both writers, or of Paul and of the Christian community led by James. In James it's a faith experience that makes suffering and hardship a joy, since God can be trusted. In Paul it's an experience of Christ that completely changes his life. But in both places a life of faith goes well beyond what you do and how well you do it. It's living by inner light that has its source in God's redeeming love. And letting go of that nagging, shaming parent voice.

Parent voice, lighten up. Heart center, light up. Have a little compassion on the whiner. And let there be peace and joy in the weekend and in the reknitting.

Thursday, January 03, 2013


Yesterday I read about a journalism teacher whose "signature assignment" is the "humiliation essay": write three pages about your most humiliating secret. "It encourages students to shed vanity and pretension and relive an embarrassing moment that makes them look silly, fearful, fragile or naked."

I won't be doing that here.

I am considering possibilities though. Here's one: the college-era performance of Beethoven's Ninth during which I could not stop crying because the choral director had made fun of my name. I don't remember what he said, but I know the room was lemon yellow and it was April and it was hot. We in the chorus were smashed together on the stage and had to stand through the whole damn symphony, including the first three movements when we didn't sing. I couldn't see. If there were risers I wasn't anywhere near them. I was claustrophobic. I had cramps and a headache, an uncomfortable dress and a desire to be anywhere but there. The notes were high. And I cried and cried. The director, with some compassion, appeared at my elbow to apologize, which didn't stop the tears. It only made them more embarrassing.

This choir director bullied and teased all the time. He was a smart-ass who picked out easy targets--the really odd people on campus. A smart, handsome man, making fun of the lowly, for cheap laughs. And all those adoring singers in his choirs laughed. It made me angry, but apparently it was funny to make fun of the notorious psych student for example who was six-fee-somethingt tall, had pink eyes and scars on his forearms and wore a white wool overcoat that reached to his ankles and made him look like the Easter bunny.

I did not want to be counted in the same group as him. The flash I felt of that is what started the crying. The humiliation kept it going.

I don't have three heads or three breasts or three of anything that I should have two or ten of. But all my life I've just wanted to be normal. Telling humiliating stories does not seem to be the way to get there.

When I started this blog and named it "The Perverse Lutheran," I hoped to be witty and clever, to charm, to turn beliefs over in the light to discover little-seen facets. I planned to be the Perverse Lutheran by being one-up on much of what has been handed down to me.

And yet the path into a story is always through the heart, through the heart's humiliation.

There's something about incarnation there . . .