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?)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Yarn and elections

I went on a yarn diet at the beginning of 2016. If you're not a knitter, you might be puzzling over just what that might be. For me it was knit the the yarn you've got, don't buy new. I stuck to it for six and half months without lacking yarn to knit with. Made myself a new red cardigan. Made socks. Worked on another sweater for me out of baby alpaca purchased eight or more years ago.

A yarn diet is not like denying yourself chocolate chip cookies. Knitting with midnight blue baby alpaca is not exactly ascetic.

However, like many diets, this one had a bounce back effect: you go off the diet and regain all you've lost, and more.

I learned a couple decades ago that the most dangerous time of any sewing or knitting project was right before you finish it, when it's looking good and it's just hours away from being folded up and set on the table and pronounced done. You have these feelings of power--look what I've done--that rapidly expand into omnipotence--think of everything I can do next! So you start things and shop for things and pretty soon you have three new projects in the works, despite the fact that you've only finished one. You can see where this is going.

I broke my yarn fast mid-summer when I opened an email from that was in my junk folder. It offered a discontinued color of Cascade 220, my favorite reasonably priced good-quality worsted, at 40 percent off. While I have quite the yarn stash for socks and hats and smallish projects, the sweater-quantity backlog is quite modest. If I needed to start a new sweater right now, there'd be exactly three yarns to choose from: one white, one in a mix of green and blue color repeats that's tricky to put into a garment, and a bag of bright pink. Cedar green worsted caught my attention. I ordered it and my 24-year-old son got a new fall sweater.

Holy moly, release the kraken:

Though actually, it was more like this:

People trying to lose weight should avoid bakeries. Knitters on yarn diets should avoid sheep and wool shows and yarn shops and Ravelry and even Facebook, where I see almost as many yarn ads as I do for online bra purchases.

(Don't let Third Love or Brayola catch you shopping for bras online. Their marketing research must have told them that once they've got a woman thinking she needs a new bra, constant nagging will get her to purchase one.)

So I've been making myself happy with yarn lately. Each purchase is an idea, usually a gift for someone specific, someone I want to wrap in the love that literally warms toes, shoulders, ears. Each purchase is also about time spent with a beautiful color, with fiber moving through my fingers, with the quiet click of the needles, with the rhythm of throwing the yarn.

The yarn cares for me.

I spent election night at a friend's election night party, which quickly devolved into a wake. As Ohio and Michigan and Wisconsin began to turn to Trump, I got up, said thank-you, and went home to my knitting. Fussy, patterned sock knitting on skinny metal needles bent into a permanent curve by my grip, the leveraging needed for a knit-two-together, and pedal-to-the-metal to the end of round.

I'm gonna need all this yarn in the four years ahead.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Trusting the breath

I am up early on this Monday morning because I could not sleep any more. I could not sink back into sleep, despite the pillow, despite the warm, rebreathed air and the weight of the blankets. Swirls of thought, insistent lines of melody stood between me and sleeping till sunrise. Too much weekend--concerts, conversations, dressing up and dressing down, too much to think about in the circular way one thinks while trying fruitlessly to go back to sleep. 

Time for clothes and coffee, organizing principles of my mornings. And ten minutes of sitting meditation. 

Sounds peaceful, yes? I started doing this first-thing-in-the-morning meditation over the summer--five minutes, seven, then ten, seated cross-legged on a cushion on the floor. Breathe in, breathe out, this moment. Now. Inevitably both body and mind revolt. My spine does not like to be stacked tall on my tailbone. My brain does not like to be still. Whatever part of me is not body and brain fights them for control and then has to be reminded to do this all gently, harmoniously, noticing the battle but returning to the breath. 

The breath, I guess, would be the part that is not brain or spine. Yes, it's made of air and molecules and oxygen drawn into lungs and blood and tissue. It's receptor cells, it's a mechanical vacuum. It's movement of muscles that move without thought and with it. But it's also mystic. 

Outside, inside, the sea I swim in, the source of consciousness, of life. 
Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
To trust that breath, to notice it, to let it calm both mind and spine, is to trust God--creator, redeemer, sanctifier, spirit.

And if those breaths become panicky, shallow, difficult? What does it mean to trust God there too?

Saturday, October 08, 2016

So glorious

Too long between posts, but here I am, back on Washington Island. Only now it's October, fall. A short, energized weekend, not the leisure of August.

A strong wind has been blowing. The kind of wind that knocked the car around on the highway yesterday. I gripped the steering wheel tighter, but then the next gust hit sideways and I swerved, as my arms and hands hands overreacted to the wind's energy. I eased up, put strong hands at 10 and 2, took a breath and thought about the road ahead--not the shoulder of the road.

A firm grip, without tension, kept the car in the center of the road. Eyes forward. It's tempting to look to see where the wind is coming from. But you can't see it, and you couldn't fight it any better if you could.

The wind is still blowing today, and it's a cold wind. Just standing outside for ten minutes, facing out at the lake, feels like you've run a race. The waves roar, the wind rushes past your ears, strings of hair whip across your face. The cold air goes right through your sweatshirt, so your body fights the cold, as if you were standing there in a summer tee.

Still, it's a glorious day. The weather system that makes the wind also blows cottony white clouds across the sky. It's bright blue overhead, and the water moving steadily towards shore is a deep, deep blue. It's too early in the fall for bright colors in the hardwoods--they're still bright, lush green, with the occasional luster of gold. It is that time in early fall when all of summer's colors burn brightest, before the frost, before the snow.

It's all so intense you almost can't bear to be outside. But it's all so glorious, you have to be.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Not the blue sky, the grey one

I did not have my phone in my pocket on Saturday morning as I looked out at the grey horizon, the grey clouds, the grey lake. So I did not take a picture to contrast with the photos of blue waves and pink sunsets from earlier in my week on the rocky shore on the west side of Washington Island, Wisconsin. But it is that grey shore, the grey sky, the grey water that I have tried to hold in my mind as I journey back from vacation to daily life.

Grey comes in many shades of dark and bright, in the depth of the distant drizzle and the darker rainstorm moving west with the wind, in the mottled rocks and the active waves. It becomes part of your very gaze. It is the peaceful light cast on your retina, the panorama encoded in the neurons of your brain. It's restful, it's focused. It is breath and air and Spirit, calm and active in the midst of all that lives between heaven and earth.

My breathing is calm and shallow as I think about it. This moment, that moment, and the next one, the next one. They curl into this one, observed and treasured, and carry me into tomorrow. I hope.

I looked and looked and shed a tear or two, then got in the car on Saturday morning and drove home. After a stop for breakfast and a rain-soaked ferry ride, I took a few minutes to reset my daughter's Facebook password while parked outside a fancy kitchen-goods store near Ephraim in Door County. We got French fries at McDonald's in Sturgeon Bay, and later, filled the gas tank north of Manitowoc. Hours later, after the last few agonizing miles of city traffic on Cicero and North Avenue, we pulled up at the curb by our own overgrown backyard and were drenched by another downpour while unloading the car.

For two nights now I've woken up at three or four and listened for the waves and the wind. My imagination is that good--I seem to hear them as my worries seek the comfort of wind and intimate water.

This moment, and the next one. This.

Monday, August 08, 2016


I saw the movie "Gleason" yesterday at the Landmark Cinema on Clark Street in Chicago. I went with two dear friends, who sat, protectively, one on either side of me. Given that it's a movie about a young man's fight with ALS, and my own son, 29 years old, is also battling ALS, I had to steel myself to go. I was afraid of feeling very bad afterward, but that's not what happened.

There's a lot of hard stuff in the movie. ALS takes a lot of stuff from people (including their modesty). It's a disaster that happens not just to individuals but to friends and families—spouses and parents and  children. And the movie shows all of this honestly--in caregivers' exhaustion, altered relationships, constant fighting to hang on to meaning. Chances are, if you see it, you'll cry, and it may be that where you cry might have as much to do with your own life and where you're hurting, as it has to do with Steve Gleason and others with ALS.

In the end, I walked back to the car, through the maze of urban theatre ramps and stairs, feeling exhilarated. It's not that I've survived the challenges of ALS, and certainly I know that the pain and fear my son and his wife face daily are much greater than my own. But there's something about being knocked back on your ass that brings life and love into focus. Go see the movie and be reminded of what it means to be human and just how sweet that is.

Choose your slogan—#nowhiteflags, #kissmyals, #speed4sarah, #gronksgrace, so many more. Do an Ice Bucket Challenge, participate in an ALS Walk, or just make a donation at or the ALS Therapy Development Institute. Because we have to beat this thing someday. But meanwhile--go see Gleason. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Under the weeds

Earlier this afternoon I went to work on the weed patch along the north side of my house. I live on a corner, so the three-foot-tall whatever-weeds-they-were were out there for all the neighbors to see as they walk dogs past my house or trail children on their way to the park. I take walks around my town and in observing other north sides of houses, I've learned that most people have something a bit more intentional going on in their greenspace. More to the point, this exuberance of wild greenery is what I see when I come home from work and park at the curb--an example of my failure as a homeowner. So despite the other even more exuberant patches of weeds on the south side of the house, this is what I worked on today.

Weeds didn't used to grow here. Nothing much grew here between the forsythia and the pink almond bushes. It was a dark, cold patch of grown. But the tree in the parkway that shaded everything, leaving the soil cold even while tulips bloomed ten feet away--this tree became ill. The first summer just a few big branches were dead, the next summer two-thirds of the tree failed to leaf out. Lucky for me, it was on the parkway, so it was the village government's responsibility to remove it. It was replaced with a new tree, a plucky, spiky little thing, that in its third summer looks like it's here to stay. But it won't be shading much of anything for many years.

The weeds have been celebrating, growing thick and tall and spindly like they could not do before. There are woody stems and sprouts of volunteer trees and shoots everywhere from the forsythia bush. I decided today that I wanted to be master of this patch, that it should look organized, intentional, as if there were a devoted happy homeowner. on the scene.

Actually I cleared out the weeds last May, in a previous effort to be master of the landscape. The weeds weren't so tall back then. The Lily of the Valley was spreading. It looked like there was hope for something in the nature of a garden here. I went to my sister Linda's house where ferns grow tall and thick next to the foundation. Linda brought these ferns here from the yard at my mother's old house, where we grew up, and they've thrived. They look like a prehistoric landscape where you'd find tiny dinosaurs skittering through the leaves. I dug some up and planted them next to my house, along with a wild geranium. My friend Tara contributed a big fern from her yard as well.

I had tried transplanting ferns before--ones from the garden at my mom's house. All that survived was one small-ish frond that came up faithfully every spring but never became something more--it did not spread to cover the bare ground under the old tree, nor did it lead a takeover against the weeds where the sun came to the area.

Within a week of transplanting the new ferns began to dry, curl and turn brown. Stressed by being moved from one garden to another? Probably. Giving up leaves while building stronger root systems? That would be the optimist's view. Just not going to make it? I can accept failure.

Today as I cleared out weeds and clipped the last of the brown, dried fronds, I discovered ferns that just might make it. There were tiny new still-curled fronds at the center of one plant, more developed growth on three more. They're weren't very tall, but I cleared out the dandelions  and Queen Anne's Lace around them and gave them room to grow. Maybe, I thought, I'll have a nice, thick easy-to-care-for patch of ferns here after all.

It was 12:45 p.m. The sun was bright, and high enough in the sky that the house provided no shade. It as hot. The sun beat down. These ferns which had staged a comeback while tall weeds were around to shade them are now going to be exposed to the hot summer sun every day.

What have I done? Will they make it? Were they better off as they were?

And what kind of metaphor is this for life?

Shelter me, O God, even under the weeds and Slippery Elm of my life.
Do not leave me in the sun, the bright, hot summer heat.
Let me grow in small ways, in moist places, not meddled with.
But if it must be, give me water in proportion to light, coolness rising from the ground.
Save me with your dark and soothing presence.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A woman for president

I was not a Hillary Clinton voter in 2008. I was a Barack Obama fan. I saw his convention speech in 2004 and remember well the Saturday in 2007 when he announced his candidacy for the presidency from the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield. It was audacious--an African-American male choosing to stand on the steps of the building where Lincoln gave his "House Divided" speech to begin a campaign to be the president of all America.

Eight years later we're a long way from a post-racial America, and the taunts and lies that have been directed at the extraordinary family living in the White House have shown how ugly and raw and unthinking racism is, even in a country whose founding document says "all men are created equal."

But there it is--"all men." We can't go back and rewrite a historical document, but who would dare use that language today? Women got the vote--eventually. Now it's men and women who are created equal, whose individual talents are recognized, and whose gendered ways of being in the world are beginning to be celebrated in ways that don't deprive women of power.

So yes, I cast my vote for Hillary in the primary and I'll vote for her again in November. I think she's got the right stuff for the job. I think being a centrist and a deal-maker and a listener is what we need right now. The way some Bernie voters are still doing the "my way or the highway" thing scares me. We don't need people staking out positions from which they will not move. We've got enough of that strongman thinking over in the Republican party. So I'm not for Hillary because she's a woman. I'm for Hillary because I think she's right for the time.

But what I'm finding this week is that tears rise in my eyes and there's a lump in my throat when speakers declare that Hillary Clinton will be "the first woman president of the United States of America." I feel tenderness and pride and validation for a feminine way of being in the world.

And when Bill Clinton, in that sly and charming manner he surely used on his mother at the age of 9, painted a picture last night of a young law student, an ambitious career woman, someone whose water broke, who worked for the good of children and mothers, who fussed in her daughter's dorm room until it was time to leave her behind, who just keeps doing the next thing--I don't know if this humanized Hillary for the rest of America, but it sure did for me. Maybe it's because we're close in age. I'm sure when that bio video for her plays on Thursday night, I'll see not only the person and the accomplishments, but also the dresses and the suits that we wore in the 70's and 80's and 90's and 'aughts, along with the life stages of a mother and a working woman.

Twitter and the commentariat went a little nuts last night about Bill's presumption in talking about their marriage without confessing to its troubles, which is to say, his own unfaithfulness. I choose to give her credit for soldiering on, for sticking with the partnership, for working with imperfection.

I've read interesting analyses of Hillary's political and leadership style that cite gender differences in her leadership style and the way gender expectations affect how she is perceived. Some of these have even been written by men. I think she'll be a very capable president, though unlikely to get tons of recognition for the good job she will do. There are many in our bitterly partisan politics who despise her and make cheap fun of her, who don't give her the same room as a man--room in which she can be fully human with faults and misjudgments. But she's got skills, she collaborates, she listens. I think she's what we need now.

I'll still be choking up in November when the election comes around, and I hope in January (she's all that stands between us and Trump!) on Inauguration Day--choking up with hope for a more perfect union in America, led by a woman.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Geek show

So I am not actually watching the Republican National Convention, minute by minute on cable TV or even just the hour of prime-time on the broadcast networks. Can't do it. It's not just that I can't listen to so much rhetoric that I disagree with. The ignorance behind the rhetoric makes me crazy and depressed.

But that doesn't stop me from following the convention, in blogs and on Twitter. It's like the pull of a soap opera. I followed "All My Children" with giddy but ironic embarrassment through high school and college. What delicious, outrageous thing would happen next, spun out slowly from Monday through Thursday, with a cliffhanger on Friday to bring you back again after the weekend. 

Nowadays there's reality TV, also spinning out stories for weeks at a time, stories that regardless of the appearance of spontaneity are arranged and even provoked by producers.  I'm not hooked on any of those, which might have as much to do with being too disorganized to remember to watch as it does with revulsion at the values and obsessions of the people on these shows. 

Politics is the spectacle I follow, though it worries me that political news is more about the story than the policies, more about who's winning and losing than about government serving real people. But all my college-educated high-mindedness still leaves me unable to take my eyes off the geek show that is the Republican presidential nomination process.

I don't use the term geek show lightly. My sainted husband, Lon Grahnke, often reminded people that originally the word geek referred to a sideshow performer who chased and caught chickens and bit their heads off. A geek was the lowest form of carnival performer, despised by other performers, who themselves lived outside the boundaries of polite society. 

Lon's knowledge of geek shows would come up in the context of discussions of professional wrestling. Lon was a journalist and a lifelong pro wrestling fan. If he were alive right now, I'm sure he'd be pitching a piece to his editors comparing Donald Trump and his campaign to a pro wrestling narrative.

Lon reported on pro wrestling in the late 1980s, in a way that earned him the trust of both wrestlers and readers. Was it all fake? He never put that question to the guys he interviewed, because, hey, everybody knew it was a, um, heightened version of reality. Lon's stories did not appear in the sports section but in the Chicago Sun Times' entertainment pages. Wrestling was more like live theatre than baseball, performance art for the masses, circus acts on steroids, with narratives punctuated by body slams and blood in the ring, bluster and the accumulation of crass wealth backstage.

The shared public value was dominance--winning. Also, humiliating the opponent. 

And so we arrive at the Republican National Convention, where the phrase "winning the nomination" seems to me to be heard far more often than "nominated for the office of President of the United States." We're watching a celebration of the contest, not a consideration of the responsibility ahead. The RNC and the Republican presidential contest and debates that preceded it have had much more in common with the wrestling ring than with, say, the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. Not that those 19th-century guys didn't play to the crowd--they did. They were politicians. But they also relied on reason and logic at a time when the nation's ideals were in serious question. The crowds listened, for hours under the hot summer sun.

Trump's message is about winning, vanquishing foes, making fun of losers. He appeals to the downtrodden by conning them with the dazzle of wealth or the promise of the freedom to say whatever you feel, offend whom you may, rather than with actual policy or plans. It's a geek show. He runs this way and that, catches the chicken and then outrageously bites its head off. He body slams opponents by making fun of them. His surrogates incite chants of "lock her up" against his Democratic opponent. You can't help watching to see what he does next, and this week of screw-up after screw-up, badly handled, has not failed to disappoint.

And then, in a turn of events worthy of the wrestling ring, Ted Cruz, the mortal enemy, takes the stage, seems to be making up with Donald, but in a surprising cynical twist, refuses to endorse him, uses the word conscience, and is booed off the stage. 

How can you not watch? 

When Lon reported on professional wrestling he was always respectful of its fans and his readers. The wrestlers he interviewed were also mindful of fans--after all, they bought the tickets and the merchandise. Pundits and analysts have been busy this year figuring out who the Trump voters are and pointing out that the "Make America great again" slogan appeals to people who are fearful of the future in a world that is changing. They point out that the policies of the elite leadership of the Republican party ignored the realities of its ordinary voters. 

Trump's life history shows that he's perfectly willing to use his brand to dupe fans, with schemes like Trump University or simply by not paying the contractors and small businesses who work on his projects. He's done serious damage to social norms in America and it's hard to imagine how the divisiveness he encourages for his own narcissistic ends can be repaired in the months ahead.

Trump's overblown messaging, his theatricality and spontaneity, are entertaining, mesmerizing even, though he's no more qualified to be president than Hulk Hogan. And he has a lot less heart.

Monday, July 18, 2016


I keep waiting for the moment when Donald Trump is revealed as the two-bit sham that he is, and people's eyes are opened and there's some big realization that what he's selling is not just snake oil, it's toxins. And everyone holds up just short of going over the cliff, like in a cartoon.

But it doesn't seem to be happening. Demographics, math, polls say he will lose in November, but how does anyone walk back the hateful rhetoric being spooled out in Cleveland tonight? How can anyone think this leads to good government?

I can't watch.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Open hearts

Yet another day of following breaking news about violence against police officers, this time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Another lone gunman walking around with an assault rifle--how could that happen again? How will it not happen again?

I read comments from leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement who condemned the violence--condemned all violence--but did not back down from nor became defensive about peaceful protest against racism. I feel good about their wisdom.

Our only hope is in sharing one another's suffering. It seems a feeble hope, though there is so much suffering to share. Opening our hearts to grief and sadness--well, who wants that? The news cycle has been crummy enough that one could get angry and want to get a sense of control back--might be inspired by a blustering promise to "make America great again."

But that is a call to power. It is not a call to enlightenment, or wisdom, or the way of the cross.

Thinking on these things .... Listening to Thich Nhat Hanh over at

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer Saturday

As the blogging (almost) every day till my birthday project continues, can I just say that I have nothing to blog about tonight?

Yesterday's attempted coup in Turkey is beyond me. No shocking news today. There was a Black Lives Matter protest here in Oak Park, but I didn't go. The house is a tiny bit tidier than it was yesterday and the overdue library book has been returned. The gas tank is full, and there's gluten-free bread in the refrigerator again. (But I forgot to buy the wheat bread for the rest of us.) There are fresh raspberries and peaches from the farmer's market and three kinds of beans for three-bean salad. I'll have clean clothes to wear this week, and my mother's phone is back on the hook at her condo.

I'd describe all this as quotidian, but that's a pretty fancy word for everyday, day-to-day stuff.

Which is not to say that you can get fresh Michigan raspberries every day--you can't. I love raspberries pretty much however and wherever I find them, but they're never better than when you eat them by the handful from a pressed paper box warmed by the sun at the Farmers' Market.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Grace made perfect

Duct tape, says my son Kris, over at Gronks Finding Grace. He's making choices about duct tape repairs for his ALS. What does he want patched up, patched over, at least for a while? Duct tape repairs are all that modern medicine has to offer these days for ALS.

It's kind of a downer to read about. I sat in the chair waiting to see the eye doctor this afternoon praying over this, but with no words for it.

I'm his mother. I think he's perfect. I always have, from the first moment his scraggly red newborn self was lifted into my tired but surprised embrace. It was a long labor. I'd forgotten the reason for it, but oh my! His four-month-old round-headed smile was perfect. His goofy butt-scoot crawling was perfect. His love for his six-year-old buddies was exemplary. (Is it any wonder there's a whole Gronks Grace team fighting ALS with him?)  His struggle with baseball was perfect. His choice of a special education career was so right for someone so intuitive about quirky kids. His love for his family--his father, his mother, his siblings--makes us all happier, better people.

Praying in words would be mere duct tape--fix this, send that, trying to specify where and how God should make repairs. Duct-taping things together is what the team of specialists at the ALS clinic do, and their work is important to Kris's well-being. Prayer asks for grace, for mercy, for holy presence, for healing and wholeness of the soul. "The Grace catches up to me later," says Kris.

Thank God, still perfect.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bastille Day, 2016

In moments when my mind is considering all the possible things that can happen, I sometimes think about how so many of the things we do every day require that we trust one another. And by one another, I mean trust our fellow citizens, the ones who are complete strangers.

We're driving cars at 70 miles an hour. Some of us are carrying lethal weapons. We all have it in our power to hurt others, to be completely selfish. And yet we queue up at the grocery store with 15 items or less in our carts. We don't talk during the movie (mostly). We don't spit in the salad bar. We don't push one another over the rails of bridges or onto the subway rail. We stay in our lanes. We try not to lash out in irrational anger against people we don't know. (People we're close to--that's a more complicated story.)

When driving, we don't drive up onto the sidewalk. We don't run into one another with our vehicles.

But now there's Nice.

Seventy people dead in a truck attack. (WTF is a truck attack?) People who were kicking back and watching fireworks and celebrating Bastille Day in a popular vacation spot.

That's a big failure of the social contract.

I was in a crowd similar to that in Nice last Saturday evening, watching people young and old enjoy Latin music and Latin dancing. The outdoor dance floor was packed. Couples on the sidewalk were showing off some fancy steps. My friends and I sat on a blanket with food and drink all around us. We took up a lot of space, but nobody stepped on the corners of our bright orange blanket. Nobody came crashing through the middle, knocking over the pasta salad. Everyone around us seemed to be having fun, and everyone had space in which to enjoy the rhythm and the music and the beautiful summer evening.

"So many people," my Aunt Clara used to wonder. "Where do they all come from?" Think about it that way and it's hard to imagine that all these strangers can coexist together in a big city, reasonably trusting one another.

Until terrorism undermines that trust. That--not the deaths--is the goal, to put everyone on edge, to allow no one to feel safe, to force everyone to deal from fear.

Snipers shooting at police officers also undermine that trust. Racism is a huge blot upon that trust. Inequality and greed threaten trust.

But other things pull us together--suffering, tears, joy, music, what we want for our children, the tenderness we feel toward newborns, the awe we feel when confronting death. These are experiences we share as human beings, and humanity is a very big thing to have in common. It's powerful--look how far we've come. Look how many hearts will reach out to the families in France, to the families of  Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, to the families of the police officers killed in Dallas, to all who wait or watch or pray tonight.

God bless our shared humanity, the humanity Christ has redeemed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Obama in Dallas

You gotta love a president who starts a speech by quoting St. Paul:
Scripture tells us that in our sufferings, there is glory, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Sometimes the truths of these words are hard to see. Right now, those words test us because the people of Dallas, people across the country are suffering.
Especially if you're a Lutheran, and a Lutheran blogger who spent some time with that passage (Romans 5:3-5) on Trinity Sunday, May 22.

What suffering can do was a theme of President Obama's speech today in Dallas, at the memorial for the five police officers killed on Thursday night at the Black Lives Matter protest. The President talked about suffering and sharing suffering, acknowledging one another's griefs and hardships, how this can lead us to see one another's truth. (Read or watch the speech here.)

He returned to Romans in the middle of the speech:
I understand. I understand how Americans are feeling. But Dallas, I’m here to say we must reject such despair. I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem. And I know that because I know America. I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds.
I know we’ll make because of what I’ve experienced in my own life; what I’ve seen of this country and its people, their goodness and decency, as president of the United States. And I know it because of what we’ve seen here in Dallas, how all of you out of great suffering have shown us the meaning of perseverance and character and hope.
And at the end:
We also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. For all of us, life presents challenges and suffering. Accidents, illnesses, the loss of loved ones; there are times when we are overwhelmed by sudden calamity, natural or man-made. All of us, we make mistakes, and at times we are lost.
And as we get older, we learn we don’t always have control of things, not even a president does. But we do have control over how we respond to the world. We do have control or how we treat one another....

It turns out we do not persevere alone. Our character is not found in isolation. Hope does not arise by putting our fellow man down, it is found by lifting others up.
Gotta run--but I can't add anything to this. Gonna miss this president.

Monday, July 11, 2016


Nothing like distance to heighten one's sense of the ridiculous. 

I coined that little saying yesterday and was rather proud of myself for doing so. It sounded great at the moment, but as I think about it, it's really not all that smart. It's a simple tautology, a statement that is repetitive and circular in its logic. Absolutely you have to take that step back and create or acknowledge some distance in order to see the contradictions that make something funny. At the same time, taking the step back makes a break in how you view something and the step all by itself calls forth laughter. 

It's the WTF moment. Or the one where your dog is looking at you and tilts his head about 30 degrees to the left. Yeah? Really? Ya' think?

Please know that there's an inner smile growing in the part of my brain that is watching the part that is writing this stuff. If I analyze this much longer I will have to laugh at myself and then I will lose all faith in the writing of this blog post. 

What I really wished to write about was how distance and a sense of the ridiculous lighten social situations. Chatting, talking, giving, receiving, but not being trapped or defined by that moment. Is his a start on what  a Buddhist might mean by non-attachment? Which is, at the same time, mindful? You see, you engage, you're there in the moment, but others do not define you. You are someone, something else. And you are laughing with joy.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


In upbeat times, I'm often cynical. In agonizing times, I look for hope.

It's what you would expect of someone blogging as The Perverse Lutheran. It may be that one of my foundational beliefs is that things have to get really bad to start getting better, so if they're pretty awful, hope can't be far away.

Or maybe I just believe that things are never quite as they seem.

After the grief and sorrow of this week, with the deaths of two black men at the hands of police officers and the mass killing of five police officers by an angry black military veteran, I found hope in a couple of places yesterday. My Saturdays are often spent in and out of the car, so thanks be to NPR for bringing me the world as I drive.

The first place was in President Obama's news conference and how he did not hesitate to describe both problems with policing in the African-American community and the problems faced by police, including how guns complicate interactions and endanger both citizens and law enforcement officials.  No politics--yeah, yeah, I know opponents, especially of gun safety would argue--but really, he described the world as it is, in all its complications, nuance, hardship and sorrow. But Obama's rational, thoughtful manner made me believe there are solutions and that talking about the problem, naming it on every side, can make space for understanding and working together.

The other thing I heard on the car radio was a segment on the TED Radio Hour titled "Do Animals Have Morals?" They do--or at least they have the basic emotions that lead to moral behavior. (Listen or read the transcript here.) Frans de Waal, the researcher who was interviewed, and colleagues have designed experiment in which primates show fairness, empathy, cooperation. Chimps reconcile after fights. They console those who are upset. Humans face more complicated choices, but still, morality comes from emotions that are wired into us, not from reasoning, philosophy, or religion. How can we harness those things?

I know there's also research that shows how tribal humans are, that our best impulses may not quite extend to those outside of the group of people who, for whatever reasons, we count as our own. Jesus, after all, made the hero of the parable a Samaritan, going against the expectation of his listeners in order to teach that empathy and care for someone in need were more important to God than clannishness or purity.

But still--we were created to live together in cooperation, sharing one's another's joys and sorrows, puzzling—and protesting—when things go wrong, like the monkeys do in the cucumber-and-grapes experiment show in Dr. de Waal's  TED Talk.

That's something to build on as we talk about how people in our diverse American society can create a better future for all. Lord have mercy, and show us your way.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

New every day

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

So said Henry James. But today I'm thinking it's summer mornings that are most beautiful. There's a breeze this morning and the sound of air, of breath, moving through maple trees. The leaves on the grapevine in my backyard are all a-quiver as they shade and nourish the hard green grapes underneath. There are birds, and even the sound of distant sirens headed for the hospital ER does not disrupt the beauty and the peace of this morning.

The patch of grass in my backyard is overrun with Queen Anne's lace. A week ago I tried to cut the stalks down, to make my weeds conform--if you were looking from far enough away--to the concept of "lawn." But they're back, tenfold! Solid lush green grass would perhaps be more restful on the eyes, certainly closer to the suburban well-kept ideal, but I'm good with a little wilderness meadow next to my cracked cement patio. I'm good.

And now there's a tiny rabbit, too--an infant with delicate ears, no taller than the grass. I'm glad he/she is safe in my backyard. (If I still had a dog, I'd be writing a different story.)

We've had a rough week here in the U. S., confronting fear and injustice, hate, vengeance, helplessness. It can't be wrong to stop for a while, to contemplate the clouds, listen to the pneuma, the spirit, the breath of God moving over all creation--its tender rabbits, its hard urban edges, its people who carry God's own image, though all too often unaware of this image in themselves and others.

The tiny rabbit in the weeds is quietly eating breakfast, alert but trusting, curious. The world is new every day.

Friday, July 08, 2016

July 8, 2016

How are we ever going to sort this all out?

Two days, two police shootings of innocent black men, with horrifying video on social media. And then a night when six policemen protecting a peaceful protest are killed by snipers.


This isn't Syria. This isn't war. But it is America, where the original sin was slavery, where the rhetoric of "all men are created equal" in the founding document did not include men of African ancestry (and did not grant full personhood to any women at all).

Statesmen knew this was going to be a problem. Thomas Jefferson, in Notes on the State of Virginia:
Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a context.
Abraham Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address:
The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
The discussion about justice is shifting in 2016. We're not talking slavery any more, or flagrant Jim Crow laws, we're talking Black Lives Matter. We're beginning to recognize institutional racism, how the system is built on assumptions about white privilege, how laws and history have created systems that are hard to escape but are no less unjust.

I live in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb whose eastern border is Chicago's west side. Back in the 1960s, as racial change and destructive housing practices crept westward through the city towards Oak Park, the village made a deliberate and largely successful effort to avoid resegregation and to integrate its schools and neighborhoods. Good for us!—or is that white privilege using its power to preserve its own property values? There's still an "achievement gap" between black and white students at the high school and racial disparities there in discipline and suspensions. We talk about these things in our local newspaper and in local elections, but there's a lot more hand-wringing than there are answers.

Racism has surfaced in our national politics in the "Make America great again" candidacy of Donald Trump. Most news media pundits are appalled, but a significant portion of them explain the Donald's appeal as the response of the economically disenfranchised, these are voters reacting to the disappearance of well-paying manufacturing jobs for those without a college education. But others cite polls that suggest Trump supporters are reacting to "the browning of America," to demographic change that threatens white control. There's a black man in the White House who's a powerful symbol of that change and a target for hateful responses.

Maybe the good news for America about Trump's candidacy is that it's brought racial hatred out in the open, where it can be named and disavowed, if not outright rejected. But the knee-jerk anger, the spite, the hatred are frightening. (See "Hang Hillary" in The New Republic.)

And there is anger on the other side. A comment about one of the snipers in Dallas, from the New York Times at 8:25am this morning:
The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said the gunman who was killed had “said he was upset at Black Lives Matter, said he was upset about the recent police shootings.” 
Chief Brown said, “The suspect said he was upset at white people; the suspect said he wanted to kill white people.” He was especially upset at white police officers, said Chief Brown. 
“This must stop, this divisiveness between police and citizens,” said Chief Brown said, who is black.
How will we stop it--not just the divisiveness between police and citizens, but between black and white, between those unaware of their privilege and those victimized by it, between the haves and the have-nots, between those who hold tightly to their place in society and those who know that America has always regarded them as "other" and not entitled to full freedom?

We've seen so much violence in the last 48 hours, in the last month, the sudden and fatal violence of gunshots, followed by arterial blood seeping through the shirts of victims. As Christians we worship a God revealed in Jesus, who died a violent. tortured death on the cross but then was resurrected. Will this heal a broken world? Fast enough? We wait.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 
 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:22ff)
The news from Dallas was appearing on my phone as I went to bed last night. On Facebook I posted a statement of prayer "for all in the valley of the shadow of death." It seemed feeble. I added an exclamation point for emotion and it looked even sillier, even more hopeless.

Grief and lament--I'll hand that off to the Spirit today. I'll begin to look for my role in sorting this all out.  Because we must.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Definitions on Trinity Sunday

So here's the chain of logic that  I'm puzzling over today:

Suffering > endurance > character > hope. 

The long version, from St. Paul in Romans 5:3-5:

We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.

It would seem that Paul is passing on some practical life wisdom here, some elevating advice that will get you through the tough spots in life--the surefire path from hard times to being ennobled by hard times.

But it's St. Paul. And life is complicated. So let's define terms.

Suffering. Whatever--if you think you're suffering, I'm not going to argue with you. No need to measure or evaluate or compare my troubles to yours. We're all going to run into suffering. Some of it whacks us upside the head. Some of it we create for ourselves. Some of it is, as Sartre would have it, Other People.

Endurance. The dictionary app is giving me two choices for a definition of endurance: 1) the power to withstand hardship or stress, or 2) a state of surviving, remaining alive. Is endurance a product of a "training effect," the way stressing the body with exercise builds the power to respond better to the next stress? Or is endurance just hanging on, as in, whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger? I'm inclined to the latter, being, this week, not very fond of exercise. Maybe Paul's point is as simple as without the challenges of suffering, one can't claim endurance.

Character. The first definition that comes to mind for character is "good repute," and this Perverse Lutheran is going to reject that one flat out. Too easy. Honestly, I think that life's challenges and the way you endure them may not make you into the person of "good repute" who everyone looks up to. Why should it? Challenges--suffering--can make you a bad-ass, can make you bitter, can drive you to drink or worse. You may eat more than your share of chocolate ice cream or Cheez-Its. You may end up being hard to be around or living on the margins, in the shadows, or alone. With that character of "good repute" you may end up being an inspiration to others. I'm not knocking that, but inspirational is really about others and their projected hopes and fears. It's not who you are on your own. So let's say instead that character is who you are and what has happened to you and how those things determine the way you live.

How does character turn into hope? This is serious. "Hope does not disappoint us" is written on a yellow post-it note that's been stuck to the bulletin board over my desk for the last two years. When I put it there, the hope, the tangible hope connected to that piece of paper, was that someone would find some diagnosis for my son Kris that would not be ALS. And we were disappointed there. But the post-it with its pencil scrawl remains on the bulletin board.

Earlier today I drew a diagram of this whole suffering-endurance-character-hope thing. There are straight-ahead arrows from each word to the next, but there are also arrows and curves that swoop low or point upward. Anger is at the bottom of an arrow that points downward from endurance, and it just sits there. It's not going away any time soon. There's a fish-hook curve that points from character back to suffering, with the words "Loving this" written in the drain-trap of that J-shaped arrow. That's a subject for another day.

Pointing upward from the word suffering is "because Jesus" and "because this is God's world." I think that the path from character and all of life's experiences into hope lies through Jesus. But I think it's important to say what that means, because, well, St. Paul and the early church were groping with that. And if we're not still doing that today, how can we say we understand. How can we know how to live?

So what is it about Jesus that the path to hope lies there? Well, it lies through a god who created the world but did not leave it on its own when its very nature became troubled and contradictory and evil. The path to hope lies through a god who took human suffering into god's divine nature and through a god who was and is creator, redeemer, sanctifier all in one. So that we can know hope, no matter what the crap of this world does to character, no matter suffering, no matter endurance.

Lord, this stuff is hard to think through. Often I wonder just what it is that makes us struggle with the infinite and with meaning and all of that. Isn't it hard enough just to get through the grocery store and cook dinner? Many of the Trinity Sunday texts are reduced to praise this and praise that, and holy, holy, holy. Awe without explanation.

But yet that post-it note says "hope does not disappoint us." For all its yellow mundaneness, it says the infinite will break through.

Because it already has.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


May is ALS Awareness Month. Today was ALS Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. So I tweeted at my congressional representatives. I changed my profile picture on Facebook to one that says "I asked Congress to support ALS research. Will you?" I've followed  #alsadvocacyday and the Chicago area ALS association chapter all day on Twitter, searching photos and captions for Kris--my 29-year-old son who has ALS and who was in Washington DC doing advocacy visits with congressional staff members today.

Now I'm searching for three words to put in a post or a video to share at, the advocacy site that channels funds to ALS research at the ALS Therapy Development Institute.

Three words, they ask for. Attempts:

This really sucks.
Please bring hope.
Two to five.
Brains locked away.
Beat back despair.
Much too young.
Power wheelchairs rock.

 I am trying to be useful. Trying to bring attention to PALS--patients with ALS who are passionately advocating for research to find a cure or a way to manage the disease--an answer to ALS that likely will come too late to help them, but that may mean an ALS diagnosis is not hopeless in the future.
It is wonderful but true that this effort in itself brings hope to those who suffer now with ALS.

Kris has never shied away from using profanity--at least when hanging out with friends. (He apparently has an off-switch used in his special ed classroom.) He often uses the hashtag #KissMyALS.  The piety of having a fatal disease need not separate one from vulgarity's life force, its anger and defiance. "Kiss My ALS," because I have this disease but I am not this disease--I am still who I always was, only more focused, more certain of what matters.

I struggle to find words to write about all of this. Kris does this memorably, energetically, honestly on his own at his blog Gronks Finding Grace. Anything else you want to know about the disease you can read on any number of websites. When I try to write as Kris's mother, as a family member of someone with ALS, I end up frustrated, tearful, and unable to let the words pour out onto the screen. This is my baby, my sweet son, my friend, someone I esteem, someone who means the universe to me. I am the mom and I am rattled down to my core by the way ALS has interfered with life, the care for life, the joy in living that is there to be passed from one generation to another.

Joy in living--I think of Kris's neon green beer straw, the one visible in his picture today in Tammy Duckworth's office. Presumably there was water in this cup this morning, but by the time I post this, I'm sure he'll be enjoying something more interesting--good beer makes life better. Tomorrow or the next night, I'll talk with him and hear not only about where he went and what he did in DC, but also hear about who he met and his plans for staying in touch with them, giving to and drawing strength from the ALS community. He'll be thanking God for these things on his blog, and so will everyone who knows and loves him.

Three words. More attempts:

Life is good.
Hope is powerful.
I love you.
Hang on, Kris!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Random on Palm Sunday

1. First, this:


The copy on the WeRaise page over at Wheat Ridge Ministries says:

As Christ walks among us, Harmony Community Church walks alongside its neighbors in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. 

Harmony's Pastor, James Brooks, walked alongside my two sons during some tough times when he was the Director of Youth Ministry at our suburban church. He walked alongside them as an image of Christ in their lives, listened, shared his own faith experiences and played a lot of basketball. He does this now for kids and adults who are up against some very tough problems (murder, violence, addictions) and some very basic ones (jobs, hunger). His church is a place of fellowship, coherence and hope, and they need a new roof. Help them, if you can.

2. I've spent so much time reading about politics lately. The primary season came to Illinois last week and has now left for other states. Stunned Republicans are late getting on the #NeverTrump bandwagon. I think that protesters who confront Trump supporters unkindly are playing into their persecuted white victimhood narrative. What on earth can we do? Satire? Is that a good weapon?

3. I'm not doing the drama of Holy Week this year. No, thank you, to waving the palm branch in church this morning. I'm not painting pictures in my head of this morning's procession or of the one later in the week that took Jesus out of the city, carrying his cross, to Golgotha. Not trying to picture myself in the "Crucify him!" crowd, not trying to imagine myself as Peter or even Mary at the foot of the cross. Why not?

4. Because I'm just trying to find myself in all this, myself in relation to Jesus, who is human and divine, who reminds me that my human life matters to God and is part of God's kingdom.

5. Which is how, of course, I can walk, as Christ, with others. God's image in me, God's image recreated in me because of Jesus' suffering and death here on earth. God's image resurrected in creation, in Christ, in me, in all things, in those whom I love.

6. Which brings me to World Down Syndrome Day, tomorrow, March 21. I've wondered many times about how my daughter with DS sees herself but couldn't imagine myself into her head. This video from CoorDown, an Italian advocacy organization, brought me up short. Of course! She sees herself as a beautiful, hopeful young woman with a beautiful, hopeful life. Why did it take me so long to get this?

7. We sang a Bach cantata at Grace this afternoon--Himmelskönig, sei willkommen
(King of heaven, welcome, BWV 182). The final movement--a little gigue--so let us follow the Savior through "Lieben and Leiden," love and sorrow. Follow? Or try to walk alongside, because really, who's leading?

Happy Holy Week.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Random on a Sunday while watching the Oscars

1. Yeah, I'm watching the Oscars. It's a ritual. I watch them more often than not, actually more often than that--I think I've missed one year since 1979, when I first watched the Oscars with Lon. My sainted husband was a movie critic when we first started dating. Later he was the editor on the Chicago end of the phone, talking to Roger Ebert filing his story from the west coast. So the Oscars, it's a family thing.

2. Right now I'm watching each of the supporting actress nominees smile sweetly and modestly after their clips are played. Have they been practicing? And the Oscar goes to -- arghhh-- there's a prepared crawl of who the winner would like to thank, too small and too fast to read. Ah, but  the winner of the best supporting actress Oscar is wearing yellow, beautifully, like a movie star.

3. I need a new dress for an Event. Will I see something tonight on the Oscars that will inspire me to shop? The leather jacket on the Mad Max costumer? Not really me. But everything else I see seems to be strapless. And the women seem to have incredibly broad shoulders. The woman film editor winner has style I can manage, which is to say, not much. But she had such smart things to say ....

4. I cannot imagine sitting down at a computer to write the copy for this show--the stuff that people introducing the awards read. Forgettable appears to be the standard. Or maybe there's some secret rubric the writers have to follow to write sentences that can be read by actors who've been drinking since mid-afternoon.

5. My Sunday began with a quick dip into Marilynne Robinson's collection of essays "The Givenness of Things." And now I have the book open again, looking for something to share from what I've read in the last day or two. It's not super-quotable stuff--it's paragraph after paragraph of ideas opening onto other ideas. Can't read too much at one sitting. My mind stays expanded only if I go bit by bit.

6. "You can make stuff." So say the Oscar-winning producers of "Inside Out."  Hands down my favorite quote of the day.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Something short of perfect

When my kids were younger and we went camping with the cousins, nights away from home and television and streetlights meant games. As the last streaks of sunset faded into the night sky, we'd start off perhaps with Memory, and once everyone had put on socks and sweaters and settled in, we'd choose teams for Pictionary. My family is pretty competitive--we're not sore losers, but we do prefer to win--so it's important that the teams are fair, with skilled and unskilled, young and old players equally divided between teams.

Eliza always wanted to play Pictionary, and Eliza has Down syndrome and the intellectual disability that goes with it. Whose team would she be on? Did she have to have a turn to draw, like everyone else? Would she be able to draw the random thing that came up on the card for her turn? What if she didn't know what it was?

We adapted. We made some new rules. We found ways to give her regular turns just like everyone else. She was happy and excited to be the center of attention and take her turn with pencil and paper, and we had a lot of noisy fun until campground quiet hours arrived at 11 p.m.

Did simplifying the game for Eliza give her team an advantage that was unfair to everyone else? Probably it did. We all had to give up a little bit of what we thought was "fair" in order for her to be included. We also had to be a little more gracious about bragging rights as winners and losers. But the game was better when everyone was included.

In churches we celebrate the idea of inclusion. Jesus is pretty clear about including everyone when he says "Come unto me." But we don't often acknowledge that to include everyone, individuals may have to give up some things and we might even be called on to celebrate the bumps and rough patches rather than judge them.

Our Transfiguration worship service this morning began with an awkward moment. The school handbell choir, students in grades 6–8 who I've been rehearsing with for a couple weeks while their teacher is on leave, was scheduled to play two pieces as the prelude. Neither piece is memorable music--they're short teaching pieces, with fun things in them like thumb damps and marts. As we finished the first and prepared to play the second, the pastor came to the front of church and started the pre-service announcements.

What to do? Darn it, we'd spent serious rehearsal time on "A Joyful Ring," and we were not going to be back to play it on, say, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. So before the organist had a chance to introduce the entrance hymn, we raised our bells and chimes, I beat out a measure, and we played.

So yes, the congregation was a little inconvenienced. They had to figure out what was going on and stand and wait and listen before singing "Love Divine All Love Excelling" (a much better piece of music). My back was turned so I didn't see, but I'm sure some folks didn't know if they should be watching the ringers in the balcony or turn around as directed to face the processional cross.

But they were fine. They gave up a little bit of comfort so that the kids could play. It was a small moment of grace, of God's grace appearing in us.

There have been other moments like that at my church, especially as many people, not all of them regular church-goers, came to a funeral last week for a young man who died tragically and much too soon. There were rough patches in friends' and relative's participation in the eulogies and in the liturgy. There were rough places for all of us, because--well, many tears were shed. But when we share the grief of others--and give up our own comfort--we become God's sweet tears, a sign of God weeping with us and holding us.

If we followed the Pictionary rules to the letter the game would be (might be?) perfectly fair. If everything in worship were slick and smooth and stylistically unified, it might be considered great art and certainly for many people it would be inspiring. But we'd be leaving people out.

We live on the plain, not Transfiguration's mountaintop. We live on the plain where our imperfections are where Christ's love and healing are revealed. Thanks be to God!

This month marks the tenth anniversary of The Perverse Lutheran. The first post was published on Transfiguration Sunday 2006.  There's plenty of imperfection on display in the 277 posts I've published since then, and more failings in the drafts that never were published. Thank you, dear readers, for sticking with me.