Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas, part two: What matters

December 23 today. It's a good number. In that part of my brain where numbers (pitches, too) have personalities and preferences, 2 and 3 get on well together. They're good friends, even-odd neighbors whoadd neatly up to five, a handful, half-ten.

December 23rd is the almost-deadline day, when stores are busy with people who know what they want and people who don't. I waited in line at Walgreen's, at Bed Bath and Beyond, and at the grocery store. Patiently, because really, that was all I had to do. I've got things to do tomorrow, but not too many. None of them involve going to a store. None of them will make me crazy.

I don't keep track of near as many things as I once did in preparation for Christmas. My children are grown and I no longer keep a running tally of the number of packages per child in my head. It no longer has to come out even. (Hope I'm not wrong about this.) Maybe some Christmas in the future I'll bake twelve or fourteen kinds of cookies again, have a party, or make new quilted table runners or new ornaments. This year it's enough to have a tree and a creche and to be cooking food to bring to other people's houses.

Even theologically I'm looking for a simpler Christmas. No wrapping my amazement around paradoxes of faith this year: God made man; wooden mangers and wooden crosses; angels singing for lowly shepherds; wise men bringing myrrh for graveclothes. There is exercise for the mind and soul in these things, and they're good practice for life. Things will be turned inside out and all around from time to time. It's good to have some experience with tracing those paths in the story of Jesus and  recognizing the power of God in the surprises. Because, well, life.

But just like baking and shopping and wrapping, it doesn't have to be that complicated. In the Christmas story there's a baby, born in the middle of the night in a lowly place, held in his mother's arms, nourished at her breast. Her breath caresses his brow, her touch lets him know it's good to be here, on this earth, where love matters more than sin and sorrow.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas, Part One:

Disclaimer: "Part One" in the title of this blog post in no way guarantees that there will be a part two, much less a part three or four.

December 22 and the sun is up, on the day after the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.

It did not come up in a big, glorious sunrise. There's light, but it's December grey. The white window frame, the black tangle of tree branches against the half-tone sky — these could be a nineteenth century photo. There is no color in them at all.

What to make then of the soft multicolored lights on the Christmas tree? I thought twice before turning the tree on this morning. Its lights belong to an evening celebration. It seems like a leftover party guest when it's on in the morning, dressed up in evening lights, a little awkward and out of place as I drink bitter black coffee and read the morning news on the laptop.

A friend gave me a pair of bayberry candles last night, in a box with an artful red ribbon. The candles came with a scrap of paper that says burning these down to the nub on the night of the winter solstice will bring good luck in the coming year. True? Or just a way to sell candles?

A search of "bayberry candles solstice" brought me to the  James T. Callow Folklore Archive with pages and pages of field notes about Christmas customs involving candles, bayberry and others. Some were about good luck, some about hospitality, some about lighting the way for the Christ Child. The Google search also turned up sites on pagan Yule-tide customs, which is what you'd expect when solstice is in the search box. And of course, there were many hits for sellers of bayberry candles.

I lit the candles last night, on an impulse, because there were tall candlesticks still hanging around in the living room from the Thanksgiving dinner table. Blew them out, though, after an hour or two, before they were down to the nub. Seems a waste to burn them up in one night.

There's no extravagance in keeping the Christmas tree lit all day--maybe a tiny bump in the electric bill to keep the electric candles lit in the windows at night, to power the string of energy-efficient LED's around the back door and the lights in the kitchen window. The natural light outside is harsh in the daytime, and so is the cold.

Candlelight, on the other hand, is soft and warm. Have I jinxed myself by not giving it a chance to bring in luck, to welcome peace, hope, God?

There are many colored nights ahead, and many grey mornings.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving dinner, pre- and post- (part one)

I was thinking of live-blogging Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. The apple pie was about to go in the oven and it looked very nice, sealed up, brushed with a little milk, and encircled with bright orange silicon pie crust protectors.

(These are the best thing ever if you are a pie-baker. Thank you, niece Gerianne, for knowing how happy these would make me every time I bake a pie.)

The live-blogging got as far opening up my laptop and setting it on the kitchen butcher-block table. But I couldn't quite bring myself to place to buttered-and-floured fingers on the keyboard. It would be one more thing I'd have to clean up later.

So instead, it's random thoughts from a woman who  is up too early this morning, but who should be using that time for one last run to the grocery store.

Thanksgiving cooking -- or at least, the thinking about Thanksgiving cooking -- got a late start this year. There was work to do all weekend, and some kind of stomach bug to contend with on Monday and Tuesday. There aren't any exotic ideas in this year's Thanksgiving dinner, and not much that's creamed or rich or au gratin. Couldn't bear to think of that stuff two days ago.

Our family has grown to an astounding size, with spouses and fianc├ęs, significant others, and a new generation of children. I count 21 for dinner. With a dining room table that seats 8 comfortably, 10 closely, 12 squished.

It took a beer--a New Belgium Fat Tire--to get me started in the kitchen yesterday afternoon, after an hour and a half of "my house will never be clean" anxiety. I never vacuum under the couch cushions. Heck, I almost never vacuum. Why did that become so important yesterday afternoon?

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of work, though I suppose it's only as much work as one decides it's going to be.  And timing it all is challenging. I spend a day and half thinking, what can I be doing now to make things easier tomorrow/this afternoon/an hour from now.

The list was running through my head as I get out of bed. Turkey in the oven at noon. Stuffing casserole dishes at 3. Take them out of the fridge earlier. Don't forget the rolls. Gluten-free cornbread in the cast iron skillet. Traditional corn bread in the molds. Wine goes in the refrigerator when the turkey comes out. Set the table as soon the turkey goes in. And figure out what's going to have to happen in the living room.

At least one chair from the living room will have to go in the bedroom--how else will we be able to open up that extra table? When will this happen? How many of my kids will I have to persuade to go along with this? Will they have a better idea?

Yeesh--I'm going to the grocery store. Back home. Church. Many descants.

Then cooking.

It's all good. It will be good enough. God is good.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Now, on All Saints' Sunday

It's the first day of "fall back," the return to standard time. It's also All Saints' Sunday. The golden evening is gathering in the west, as the sun sets at 4:43 today here on the eastern end of the Central Time Zone.

A gentleman named Duane is outside raking my leaves. He may, or may not, have a job interview tomorrow at Walmart, or Cosco. He rang the doorbell, and begged, hands folded, for the job. He said he was a Christian. Maybe he is, or maybe he just thought it was a good thing to say. He may, or may not, be high on something.

In truth I wanted him to go away, but he was persistent, and there is cash left over from the weekend in my wallet with which to pay him. I told him to meet me around back at the garage door and I'd give him a rake. He introduced himself again on the back sidewalk and asked my name.

Gwen, I said. As I punched the code into the garage door opener, I added, and I am a Christian too.

We are both saints.

"Blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor," said this morning's Gospel reading.  I'm more certain of Duane falling into these categories than I am of myself. Even if he's only meek some of the time. Even if  he bears some responsibility for his own poverty.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." I'll give him this. I think Duane's claim to the name of Christian suggests that he desires to be forgiven and righteous before God. And anyway, it's God's blessing to give, not mine to judge or withhold.

The word I heard most in church this morning was "now." "Beloved, we are God's children now" in the second lesson. "Blessed are you, now," in the pastor's sermon. There were multitudes washing their white robes in the blood of the lamb in some distant heaven, out of time, out of space, in the first reading from Revelation. There were saints passing in bright array in the great Vaughn Williams hymn for the day. There were the names of those who have died in Christ in the last year in our congregation read out loud in solemnity and tearfulness.

But the word I heard was "now." The hymn I loved was Fred Pratt Green's text describing where you find saints now: marching with events, bearing someone's cross, showing patience in caring.

When we got to the "forever and ever" in the Lord's Prayer--I wondered, why is that there? Jesus' words in scripture when he taught his disciples to pray are all about now don't have that ending about power and glory forever and ever.

Now. Your kingdom come. Now.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Belong where?

"Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." Matthew 22:20

The Pharisee's trick question about paying taxes was the Gospel lesson for today, the Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost. Jesus answer begs the question, doesn't everything belong to God?

I found myself thinking not about everything belonging to God this morning, but about that word belong and about what kind of economic model is implied or assumed in the statement "Everything belongs to God"? Capitalism? God is the owner and we are the labor force? More than enough evil for the day is apparent if you pursue that metaphor; neither God nor capitalists come out looking good. Feudalism? And we are all vassals paying tribute--even the emperor? Might be what Jesus' followers thought of, but we western European thinkers abandoned that Chain of Being social model sometime around the Enlightenment. 

What about other models of God's economic relationship with the world? I'm no ethnographer or scholar of world religions but I've lived with the mythology of the American West long enough to have heard that Native Americans didn't believe in owning land. The Great Spirit put it there to support and sustain all. Fuzzy, hippie thinking? Maybe, but it's a concept of God that will get you away from mental images of dividing piles of coins between taxes, tithe and treasure house. Or from belonging to God meaning servanthood or slavery, with no agency of one's own. It might even lead to better stewardship of God's creation.

When I sat down to blog this afternoon, I typed belong into the search box in the computer dictionary, expecting to have my prejudices about the economic taint of the word confirmed. But no--some other ideas showed up: 
with adverbial of place ] (of a thingbe rightly placed in a specified position: learning to place the blame where it belongs.
have the right personal or social qualities to be a member of a particular group: young people are generally very anxious to belong. 
God, to whom we ascribe personhood--which can be limiting, might also be thought of as something like an "adverbial of place"--an "up where I belong" or "at home where I belong." Even "with whom I belong." Giving to God what is God's might mean being rightly placed, rightly oriented, living as part of God's kingdom or reign or without all that kingship stuff--as part of God's life and breath here in the world.

Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's: taxes, coins, whatever. But for yourself, belong to God, with God, where God is.

(Of course, on Tuesday, November 4,  belonging to God's kingdom just might influence your vote!)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Island weekend

I haven't unpacked my suitcase yet, so let me try to explain about the Island.

The Island is Washington Island, off the tip of Door County, Wisconsin. You must cross Death's Door to get there—Death's Door being the name of the strait to the south of the Island that connects Green Bay with Lake Michigan. It was a dangerous place for sailing ships more than a century ago, but the Porte des Morts name probably goes back to the 16th century and the Winnebago Indians, whose demise as a tribe may have begun with the loss of 500 warriors in a storm on Lake Michigan--500 warriors sneaking up on the Potawatomi. It's confused as history--the Potawatomi may have been the bad guys in the story. 

Today you cross Death's Door on a ferry boat run by the Washington Island Ferry Line. It's a domesticated experience, doesn't feel risky or adventurous. On a windy day the boat goes up and down over the waves and cars at the front of the boat get wet. Walking across the deck might be hard on such days if you're timid or careful about your balance. But the engine churns loudly underneath you and you feel secure on these boxy vessels.

The Island is a small place, with a small population. In the height of the summer tourist season there may be 2000 people there including day-trippers. (I heard that somewhere, I'm not sure). Many people have summer homes on the Island and others (like my family) camp, rent cabins or stay at one of the quirky motels, hotels, or resorts.

This last weekend my daughter and I stayed at the Cedar Lodge Resort. The present owner has been there for 41 years and has been trying to sell for the last four. It's on West Harbor, with a beautiful water view from the lawn. Inside--butt-ugly was my first reaction, with an avocado green refrigerator, burnt orange vinyl flooring in the bathroom, and a cut-velvet greenish-gold sofa in the living room. It's not my favorite place to stay on the Island (that would be the Sunset Resort half a mile to the south), but it's what you can get last minute for Columbus Day weekend, the biggest weekend of the fall.

But a weekend on the Island is not about the decor. The gentility and consideration of Island hosts. is not stuck in the 70s. It's assumed and innovative. There was a night light in an outlet in the kitchen in our apparent. Seemed like a strange place for a night light but it was exactly what was needed to light the way to the bathroom from any bedroom in the middle of the night. There were cast iron skillets on the stove if we'd cared to cook. The space heater kept the living room warm. The shiny new chairs on the porch and the old chairs around the fire pit focused on what was important: the view.

You can sit and look at the water on the Island and people will let you be. You can talk, or not, knit, read, write, walk, poke around, go to an Island festival or go out to dinner. Low expectations are rewarded. The restaurants aren't extraordinary. The service is friendly but not super well-trained. If you're open-hearted and respectful, that's what you'll get back.

It's okay to just be on the Island. Maybe that's because as many times as I've been there, I am still a tourist, not a resident, someone who brings commerce to the place, who spends money on the Island. Whatever I do is okay, because I'm there and gone and will pay my bill. I'm just there for a short time and don't have to figure out how I fit into the overall scheme of things, the social system.

Or maybe it's because Washington Island has a tolerance for quirkiness--old Icelandic settlers who fished and farmed potatoes and must have been plenty quirky. Its map is marked with odd little places, businesses that come and mostly go, museums curated by retired volunteers with long memories. Some people succeed, some come and go and just keep trying things, whatever. The woods and the water dwarf everything else, and the clouds that blow across the sky bring fresh starts twice a day or more.

I go to the Island to turn my face toward the lake, into the west wind, out to the sunset and up into the night sky. I try to take it all in--pine trees, maples, rocks, forests, light, to live and breathe the chilling beauty of every moment I'm there. I know myself as a child of God in those woods even as the sky beyond the water tells me I cannot begin to know the depth and breadth and otherness of God's being.

I haven't unpacked my suitcase yet. Not yet.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


I read a review of "Calvary" in the New York Times a couple weeks ago and thought it was a movie I might like to see--but also that it might be the kind of movie that never makes it out to the suburbs. But it's playing at the neighborhood theatre this week, and on this bright summer afternoon, on the spur of the moment, I texted a friend and off we went.

And now--so much to think about. "Calvary" is a dark movie, about religion, death, the church, guilt and forgiveness. And about living for others.

Is religion about being afraid of death? The priest in "Calvary" says this is the case for many people.  We lean on our faith at funerals, sing in the face of death, quote Paul about death having no power over us.

But faith also evaporates when facing death. Where is God when death comes too soon or too suddenly? When death comes violently? And where is God in all the daily little deaths of misspent lives, of disappointment, of moral failure?

A cynic could leave this movie saying God is absent. A religious person could leave this movie saying God is there in the climactic scene.

God suffers, God dies—what does that mean?

*Another review: Why Every Christian Should Watch Calvary

Friday, August 22, 2014

Too much

Sometimes it's like you just stop believing. Clicking the heels of the red shoes together does nothing. You can't write the puff piece, can't ignore the contradictions, can't bear how people go away hurt and silent and let the contradictions simmer till they're burnt to the bottom of the pan.

The New York Times article this morning said that people with autism may have too many connections, too many spines on the neurons in their brains. Makes sense to me. Living with too much of everything is paralyzing.

A long week with too much going on had me headed for a melt-down late this afternoon. Dinner at a restaurant with two interesting young adults (my son and his girlfriend) helped. A lot. No reason for them to be interested in my problems, therefore no reason to go back over them. Meanwhile they can think of lots of possibilities for their futures and think about them with wonder and a wish to learn more about the world.

Of course, they probably slept till noon.

Thursday, July 03, 2014


I've been to Germany and back, only I'm not quite back.

It's 6:00 a.m. and I've been awake since 4:30. My home feels strangely quiet and comforting after the packed plazas and tiny hotel rooms of Cologne and Munich. But I'm numb, hitting the on switch only when it's necessary to talk.  After two and a half days of being back, I'm still out of sync with the clock and with my usual self.

Did I spend too much time staring at ecclesiastical art? At Virgin Mothers with oddly proportioned, small-headed infants in their arms? (Did medieval artists not notice that babies' heads are huge relative to their bodies? Or did they see Jesus strictly as a mini adult?) Too many relief carvings of Jesus being taken off the cross, with a Middle Ages Mary Magdalene caring tenderly for his body? Too much time breathing the air of Catholic cathedrals and Romanesque Reformed churches, air rarefied by the vault of the ceiling--ancient roofs, restored after the bombings of World War II?

All these things--the churches, the organs, the arches--have American counterparts. Our great-grandparents built places of worship that imitated European originals. They criticized the 19th century German state church they left behind, but the familiar buildings were so closely associated with their faith that they built them again in America. I drove through Oak Park yesterday noticing churches, all imitations of European originals.  In Germany churches fell into three categories: Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque. The church I grew up in is Romanesque, the church I attend is neo-Gothic, and some of the Catholic churches I've been in at least aspire to Baroque. (Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple here in Oak Park might be the exception, but its boxy shape reminds me of a European synagogue.)

Which cathedral? Speyer, I think. 
Excavated wall of a medieval synagogue in Speyer

I know just enough German to be confused by it, just enough that trying to read German museum labels or German brochures shuts down my thinking in English. But I don't have the necessary vocabulary to actually think in German, so the voice in my head--the one that narrates my life to me in stories told in English--was muted. My memories of my trip are visual--which makes sense, but yo! like, language! How do I know what I think without a story to tell in my head?

Where Luther translated the New Testament into German in the Wartburg, Language!

I had my son Kurt to talk to in Germany. He is a good talker, but he is an abstract thinker and a writer who keeps his ideas close. I read a book in English on my trip--re-read "Mansfield Park"--the familiar English of Jane Austen, but her darkest, oddest book, with questions about moral values and their foundation in authority.

Castles were also part of the awe of Germany: Heidelberg Schloss, Wartburg Schloss, and Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich--the first two astonishingly ancient, the last astonishingly, elaborately, and so lightfully Baroque. They were seats of power as well as homes to people whose lives seem like those of another species yet also familiar. What was it like to be set above so many ordinary people, simply because of your birth? To live in those elaborate rooms? To look out on ancient hills and forests, where German people had lived for thousands of years?

Mosaic inside the Wartburg, c. 1900. 
And then there's Heidelberg's Hauptstrasse, the longest pedestrian street in Germany, dedicated from beginning to end to shopping. It's exciting to walk down the Hauptstrasse, at least the first couple of times. But the materialism high wears off quickly, the excitement of all those people going somewhere, seeking something superficial--students, families, tourists--is just plain wearing.

It's good to find a place to sit and order a pils, and just look out at the world. But it's still breakfast time here in the U.S., too early for a beer.

Time to catch up--but with what?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Thank you, Meredith Willson

Three times, now, I've done The Music Man--once, as a nine-year-old, playing Amaryllis; eight years ago directing a cast of fifty, ages 7 to 70, in a Tuesday's Child production; and just now, directing The Music Man Jr. with a company of three dozen junior high students.

The Music Man brings out the best in people. Part of it is the affection the show has for its characters. Part of it is that every actor onstage is part of the grand action of the story--the transformation people undergo when they sing and dance and go around whistling the Minuet in G.

Life is more than everyday humdrum. The citizens of River City, Iowa, may be stubborn, but they're not stuck. When we work together we can hear the bells ringing, see the birds winging and experience the love that sings all around us. This love heals us, saves us, and makes life worth living—and even a con man knows this in his heart.

Bravo, Grace junior high! Thank you, Lisa and Brian and Janel.

And thank you, Meredith Willson. Like you, I always think there's a band.                                              

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The ache of May

An achingly beautiful May day, I said to myself this morning. Achingly beautiful.

We had blue skies this morning and sun, but it’s cool yet and the wind is blowing. The trees are in blossom or in bud. Some are tendering new leaves, still pink at the bud, growing, searching, but not yet chlorophylled (or chloro-filled). They’re not green, not yet ready for summer.

Summer will come—who but God could stop it?  But spring aches and grieves, because of everything in winter we must leave behind. We travel into summer. those of us who yet live. We belong to time, those of us still on this side of the grave.

I sang in the choir for a funeral today, and singing for that one kept me from attending another. The one for which I sang was for an eighty-year-old man with a full and wonderful life who died too soon. Cancer killed him and did not take long enough to do so. The other funeral, the one I avoided, was for a twenty-one-year-old young woman, a friend of my son’s, killed quickly in a car accident three weeks ago. I don’t know that I ever met her—perhaps I did in the flashing, picture-taking confusion of a pre-prom gathering, perhaps in a hasty introduction at graduation or in one of those embarrassed moments when parents suddenly intrude into high school students’ lives–when your kids’ friends mind their manners and seem genuinely glad to meet you, while your son or daughter melts into the floor, no longer sure of who he to be when his two worlds collide.

Two funerals. Death hid behind every corner today, beneath the ground, in the heart of trees. It filled in the shadows of friends. It rang in hymns and prayers. It lived in memory, it looked into the future.  

May has an edge. The spring we’ve waited for so long does not wipe away sadness. It’s still cold. The shade is thin, the future uncertain. 

As I waited for the funeral to begin this afternoon, through the organ prelude, as the mourners organized themselves for the processional into the sanctuary—as we waited, I read and re-read a quote my son had posted on his Facebook page:

And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch. 

Donna Tart, he says, is the source of the quote. Thinking of Rachel, he says, is the reason. 

May is the glory, I say, and the privilege, and love itself is what Death can not touch. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Wonderful, each moment

I've been watching Facebook today, as one by one, my son and his friends have posted pictures of a friend who died yesterday in a car accident. They are posting pictures of themselves with this young woman, a friend from high school. The photos are beautiful--young people relaxing together, talking on the beach or the lakeshore, in the golden light of a setting sun, their arms draped around each other's bodies in comfortable, familiar friendship.

They were friends in high school, and now they're away at college. Rachel died in South Africa, where she was studying. My son is in Germany this term, and he's traveling this week. But there was a photo he kept on his phone.

Each photo collects many, many "likes," a ritual for sharing grief. Parents click like, too. What else can we do?

Life is beautiful and precious and I swear, twenty-one-year-olds know this better than I do.  Life is a summer evening with friends and a few beers. It is the breathless morning view from the top of a mountain and the evening fire on the beach.  It is the dreams shared in a basement rec room, the discussions in the dark about the meaning of life.

And life is everything you hope it will be when you are twenty-one. I'm sure of it tonight. Sweet and sad and wonderful, each moment.

Friday, March 14, 2014


Pulled out of the garage early this morning when there were streaks of brilliant pink in the eastern sky. Pulled back in this evening with streaks of pink in the west. Now I'm eating green mint chocolate chip ice cream--a color just as bright and fleeting as those sun-traveled skies.

I went to a funeral today at my church for a father of six children, grandfather of eighteen. A much-loved coach, cook, and encourager, a good friend to many. I know some members of his family. I hadn't expected to be able to go to this funeral, but the morning turned out differently than I had thought it would.  I opened the wooden doors into the narthex expecting to find the service already underway. Instead this man's large family was gathered behind the coffin, ready for the service to begin. I turned quickly to the side aisle door and hurried into a pew as the processional cross, the coffin and the mourners came down the aisle. The congregation sang "I Know That My Redeemer Lives," and I joined in, though not very well. One must get one's bearings before one can sing the hymns at a funeral with a steady voice. And that's hard to do, because inevitably I find myself slipping into that imaginative space where I begin to remember my own dead and begin to grieve for them anew.

I am not special. Everyone at that funeral, at least everyone over the age of 30, has lost someone, has seen firsthand that lives come to a close. Which, I guess, is why we come to funerals--to share the family's grief, to extend the care that we ourselves have received, to carry our own part in this collective grieving about human mortality. And to pay death its due. The sun rises. The sun also sets.

Jesus knew that too.

Every gospel has Jesus knowing something about his death, warning his disciples about it, speaking with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop about it. He was human. He could, he would, he must die. 

Good to know. Bring the body to church. Speak God's word. Share the meal and then return the much-loved loved one's flesh to the earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 

You find your bearings in this dirty world of death, and when you do, you can sing the songs of resurrection with a steadier voice.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Lent and taxes

So yeah, I just noticed that Lent and tax season coincide.

Repent. Or something.

I really, really, really need to read a book that will change my attitude toward money. Get out of the shame/fear/loathing/guilt thing where money symbolizes so much, and go to the matter-of-fact, deal-with-it, I-make-choices place.

Like reading a book could do that.

"One does not live by bread alone," said this morning's Gospel. I am reading Anthony Trollope's "Barchester Towers" which is about 19th century Anglican clergy maneuvering for power and preferments (i.e., positions with income attached to them). What they really want--the bishop, the archdeacon, the chaplain, the preceptor, a couple of wives and one widow, is to be confirmed in their own self-importance, or more charitably, to be affirmed in their sense of what the world is and how it is surely moving towards what it ought to be. Trollope being Trollope, it will not come out exactly how anyone wants it to be.

It is a hard thing to give up--what you think the world ought to be and your own important role in getting it there. How I think things ought to be places me in control of my destiny, my income and my taxes. But life is what happens for real, even while you're imagining something else.

This is true on so many levels. Kids head into a basketball tournament dreaming of championships, but mostly fail to bring home the trophy. The sound heard from the real choir is not the one imagined in the director's head when programming the piece. The life you live is not the one you imagined for yourself. Maybe it's better, but maybe it's lonelier.

Also from the morning's lessons, this time from Romans 5:
 If, because of the one man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
I often feel, reading Paul, that all his drawing of parallels between old covenants and new, Adam's sin and ours, inhabits a logical world of its own and that his whole framing of the issue does not have much to do with my experience--despite many years of having it explained to me in Lutheran schools and churches. Paul's framework is the Jewish rabbinical teaching that he has given up or revised because of the new life he found in Jesus. I'm in the grip of other things--happily-ever-after fairy tales, the American Dream, family life in all its variety, politics, and some rather fuzzy ideas about living for art. 

Yet like Paul, "much more surely" will I exercise dominion in my life if I do so through "the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness" found in the life and death of Jesus Christ. 

In Lent (and taxes) I don't feel powerful. I don't feel in control. 

"Jesus walked that lonesome valley," sang my youth choir this morning. "Jesus bore the cross to save us." And they sang, "We will take our cross and follow." 

So I'm repenting, giving up--to make room for grace, righteousness, and new life. 

Sunday, March 02, 2014


Transfiguration Sunday, though it moves around on the calendar, is the day I mark the anniversary of my blog. And I can't mark it without posting. So--random Sunday observations.

Church began with "Love Divine, All Love Excelling," the hymn sung at my wedding, sung again at my husband's funeral. Kinda blindsided me this morning. I'm not sure I know what "changed from glory into glory" means, but I love to sing it, even if it makes me cry. Something to look forward to.

It's Oscar night in glorious Hollywood. It is the night in the year when I most miss Lon. We always watched the Oscars. It was a big night for someone who covered Entertainment. We watched together at home on the couch, or in the late 80's and early 90's by phone, because Lon was in his office at the SunTimes, taking phone calls from Roger Ebert who was dictating his front-page story from the bottom up. on the coast. Chaz must be missing Roger tonight.

This afternoon was taken up with a two-hour forum on hope for a just peace in Israel and Palestine. It was the culmination of many months of discussion and work by a committee I chaired. It was not a "balanced" presentation where people supporting opposite sides of the conflict face off in debate. The real problems are not going to be solved with a debate about right and wrong, or by measuring one side's injustice against the other's. People must be willing to put away fear and be courageous about doing justice. And not just in the Middle East. Right here in midwestern suburbia too.

And if that all sounds grand, or pretentious, or idealistic, or whatever, well, I've spent a long time on this. And I've arrived at a place, not where I shrug my shoulders and say it's difficult, but where I have convictions. And where I pray.

This blog has not been an especially lively place lately. Haven't posted since before Christmas. I've been sometimes lazy about writing, sometimes too busy with other writing, sometimes just out of words or reticent. This post, like so many before it is far more serious than I set out to be as the Perverse Lutheran.

More randomly: I'm watching the Oscars, and just wandered off to Twitter to see Ellen DeGeneres' selfie. Retweeted. But how petty that seems next to the happiness and beauty of the young woman from Twelve Years a Slave who just won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

I feel like a kid writing an essay for school (while watching TV). Have I met the word count yet?

Enough. The Perverse Lutheran, eight years old, more or less, today.