Sunday, July 09, 2017

Fledgling on the ground

There's a fledgling on the ground. A baby cardinal in the grass, stretching its wings, but managing only a big hop forward on the grass, not flight. It's brown, not easily seen--through orange enough and pointy enough around the beak and head that it is distinctively cardinal. I saw it first because the bright adult male swooped down with food to share. He's hanging out nearby, in the mulberry and slippery elm and weedy trees that separate my yard from the alley. Chipping sounds are everywhere --hard for me to determine where they're coming from--and sometimes I heard the clear call of the adult male. He seems, to me, concerned, worried, as am I. He's the leader. He's persistent. He will solve this thing.

This patch of mown weeds and grass does not seem a dangerous spot, though a cardinal egg met its demise here a few weeks ago, I'm not sure how. Now there are other birds flying in and out of this patch of grass, many of them brownish, not-yet-adult cardinals, though it's hard to tell. Their heads in profile give them away, but the orange and red that give them their identity are not yet out.

I've watched for ten or fifteen minutes now, and that fledgling has finally gotten out of the open and disappeared into the weeds by the fence. I swear that little gathering of other young birds a few minutes ago provided cover, their meet-up on the grass urged the little one forward into safety. The anxious calls have ended. But I wonder, what will this fledgling's fate be on this quiet Sunday in July?

Bringing up children is the great drama of our lives. We leave our parents' nest, we fledge in the grass, succeed or fail, and repeat in the next generation.

My contemplative journey this Sunday morning began with opening Mary Gordon's "Reading Jesus" to the chapter on the Beatitudes. I went from there to a writing exercise on who has influenced my life and whether that influence was expansive or constrictive. My notebook now has notes about parents and spouse and a teacher, but this question could just as well lead to ruminations on sons and a daughter. The running themes are compassion and kindness, alongside courage and restlessness.

Sparrows and other small birds are now fishing goodies out of my gutters, in-and-out activity that makes a distinctively aluminum sound. There is so much life to watch here in my backyard, more than other places, perhaps, because I am careless about cutting down weed trees and cleaning out gutters. I am content to sit and watch and mark the presence of abundant life.

Which brings me back to Mary Gordon:
Mourning is not a moral act. To mourn is to mark. It is, in this, related to the artist's work. A kind of making. A making of something of the nothing caused by loss of the beloved. It is simply an act of deep human connection. ... It is, once again, a refusal on Jesus' part of the straight and strictly defined in favor of the deep movements of the heart.
God's eye is on the sparrow, and the fledgling cardinal. And God cares for my heart, my human, troubled heart.

Peace to you this Sunday morning!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Sunday evening

For the last several weeks I've been watching a pair of cardinals who have claimed my back yard as part of their territory. They have built a nest in the cascade of Concord grape vines staked ten feet in the air on a rusty post next to my patio. The nest is well hidden. It is only because I spend time out there, morning and evening, that I know it's there. I looked for it only after seeing both male and female fly to perches near the nest, hop to the top of the vines and dive in.

I suspect from the goings and comings of both birds that there are babies by now. A couple weeks ago the story was all about the female, pulling strips of bark off a branch on the fence and flying into the tangle of leaves to wind each strip into the vines to secure her nest. A few days later I found one broken egg in the grass, with purple-gray spots on the shell, just like the picture of a cardinal egg that I'd seen when I looked up cardinals on Wikipedia. Last week I saw mostly the bright red male flying across the yard, perching on the pole that holds the hanging baskets of marigolds. From there it was a short flight upward to the post that holds the vine. Silhouetted, you could see the food in his mouth. He'd dive in. There'd be a rustle and a flutter--the female taking the food--and off he'd go again. This morning it was both birds flying in and out--hauling in bits of seeds and whatever else it is baby cardinals eat. I suppose I should scatter sunflower seeds on my back steps--it's what my Aunt Clara would have done. But then you have the challenge of keeping the squirrels away. Clara would sputter at them, but it didn't help much.

I've just finished reading Mozart's Starling, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. It's a good read, with chapters on linguistics, music, natural philosophy, Mozart, Vienna and a pet starling named Carmen. It made me listen more carefully to the birds in my backyard. I can't say I know much more about what I hear than I did a week ago, but I have a new sense that birds are not only chirping--they're listening. I can pick out the cardinals better, not just their pretty territorial boasting, but also the male and female chip-chipping at each other, one in the lilac bush, one near the nest, just to stay in touch. A couple nights ago, a multi-sentence fuss went out from the under the grapevines when I pulled out my chair and settled my candle and notebook on the table. "She's there. She's there. Want to be sure you know—she's there. Careful."

Every now and then I get out of my aluminum chair, step closer and look up at the nest from underneath, ducking my head under the umbrella of vines and trying to pick out which patch of grey brown is the actual nest. I can see it, barely, but it's above my head, so I can't see into it. I'm curious, but I don't need to know. I'll mind my business so that they continue to mind theirs. They are that kind of neighbor. .

I'm sitting in the backyard as I write this. It's growing dark. Since it's July 2, there are fireworks popping in the distance and the noise of traffic a few blocks away. I just watched the female cardinal come and perch next to the vine. I heard a soft chipping sound coming from the nest. For a minute I thought it might be the babies. I stared and listened hard. Then--a flash of bright red--just the male taking his turn at bringing food to the family. He flew off and she went in next.

So much going on. So many sounds. Such peace.



Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Good and pleasant

Here's what was running through my mind about eight o'clock this evening:

How good and pleasant it is when there is no choir on Wednesday night, and instead of going to rehearsal, I get to sit outside on the sidewalk at a local restaurant and have dinner with two of my favorite people--my kids. Not that there's anything wrong with choir. An hour or two of singing will remedy almost anything for me. But the outdoor table, the summer evening, an hour to relax and be and eat and sit inside a quarter century of family love—that is life, good and pleasant.

Let's try another one. How good and pleasant it is ... when the internet goes down at work, and there's nothing you can do about it. That's what happened this afternoon--a side-effect of installing a new firewall. Eventually I went home to a working wi-fi network, but it is a blessing suddenly to have no reason not to linger over a conversation, not to take time to talk about the bumps in the road, and not neglect the tales of rough places made plain either.

How good and pleasant it is this evening continues to be. The smell of weed wafts over from the neighbor's deck, two backyards away, but it's 2017, nothin to see there. How pleasant that I'm not the only one sitting outside thoroughly enjoying the soft June air.

How good and pleasant it was to read Kris's blog from yesterday--about summers gone by in all their active glory, about peace for him, with his beautiful Michelle, at the close of each day of this simpler summer.

How good and pleasant it is to remember to breathe while typing, to drink the last drops of decaf,  cold in the bottom of the cup. To wear a sweater that suits the weather--and oh! to look over your shoulder and glimpse the full moon through the grape leaves tumbling off the arbor.

How good it is to know that at 10:35 tonight I'll have Stephen Colbert on the Late Show to help me laugh at the crap news in my Twitter feed today. How pleasant, as I watch, to be knitting with yarn that's half merino, half llama. Bouncy and silky smooth, all in a glorious green.

Plenty of irritations will be back tomorrow, or maybe even as soon as I click Publish, and close the laptop. But for now--may it be good and pleasant with you, too. Good night.




Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A hymn to Grace Notes, Ascension Eve 2017


To be sung to the tune ASCENDED TRIUMPH
(With apologies to "Up Through Endless Ranks of Angels")

Note: Grace Notes is the name of our church newsletter. Finished the June-July issue this evening.

Scroll through endless ranks of emails,
Each one winding through a thread,
Tracking down each scrap of info
That will get these Grace Notes fed.
June through July, all the church news
Everything that must be said.

Photo-finding, copywriting
Clear and equal to the need
To engage folks in our mission
And for budget dollars plead.
Stewardship and August picnics
Covered all these things indeed.

To the text boxes and headlines
Of each page I’ve set the style,
Through the edits and the versions
So much blather to compile.
Welcome is the moment when I
Finally print the finished file.

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Oh, the copies multiply!
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Oh, at last they’re done, I cry.
Alleluia!, Alleluia!
Grace Notes, out the door, good-bye!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rotunda

The buildings at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, are solid, brick, new, clean, traditional yet contemporary, with wide corridors and modern classrooms.  At least that's true of the Martha Miller Center for Global Communication and Phelps Hall across the street, which hosted a conference on spiritual writing that attended yesterday and today. Funky student bulletin boards about being a classics major or a German major were well contained in glass-front bulletin boards.

Maybe it's all so tidy because the spring term is over and the students are gone. More likely, it's the Hope College's Dutch Reformed heritage and what must surely be a solid development department. Maybe it was Holland itself: even the nearby coffee shops (Lemonjello, 205) had clean lines, square tables, new furniture.

The Martha Miller Center has a two-story rotunda that sits on a broad street corner. Lots of light, cushioned windowseats, comfy chairs, and cookies and fruit for conference attendees in the middle of the afternoon. I stopped there more than once to catch my breath, read my notes, and help myself to another lemon bar.



Something about the roundness of that room--270 degrees of circular--sucked me in, made me sit and relish the comfort. With so much space by the windows there was always room. With so much light and height it never felt crowded or noisy. It was perfectly okay to be alone there.

Which I was, mostly. This was not a conference where I knew people or met old friends. While I had many interesting conversations, I don't know that I will ever see any of these folks on Facebook or meet them again at another conference. My notes, however, are full of websites to check and especially, books to read--each one a personal recommendation.

Writing has meant ephemera for me, mostly, in my life. Stuff that I, or my children, will throw out some day. Notebooks that go back to fifth grade. Typed poems from college and grad school. A one-act play that I surprised to find was not all that embarrassing to read when I came across it a few years ago. A three-act play called "Heroines" that I would dearly love to read it but can't find now. There are notebooks of fury and confusion from stressful years of marriage and madness. Passages of love and wonder for my children. Bits and pieces where I nailed it, scrawled pages in search of a subject. And blog posts that live in a cloud, here, on The Perverse Lutheran. I like that I can go back and read these, plucking them out by year and month. They remind me that yes, I can write, that sometimes the angel stirs the water for me and I actually slide into the pool in time.

I took all these swirls of ideas to solid brick buildings this week and listened to accomplished writers (Barbara Brown Taylor, Rachel Held Evans and many others) encourage new writers, with generosity, humor, prompts and creativity. Laughed at oblique references to Trumpish distractions. Discovered stuff I truly already knew (situation vs. story, likable narrators with faults and self-deprecating humor, what to edit out). I heard about the realities of modern Book-dom, things like social media platforms and marketing plans.

Read five minutes of my PV Lutheran stuff at an open mic and listened to other folks do the same.

Sitting at home, on my rectangular couch, in my squareish living room, I'm glad for that rotunda. No corners, open to the hall--picturing that place keeps the ideas circulating through my head, even as my feet are braced firmly on the edge of the cedar chest that holds my yarn inside and my beer glass and coffee cup on top.  I'm glad I cleaned up the clutter in my house before leaving home. It's not quite up to Dutch standards, but it will do as a place for new and orderly thoughts about writing.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Writing 4 Ur Life

Blogging from a writers' conference in Holland, Michigan. Processing? Preserving something? Maybe a little bit of preening, surrounded by all these people who I'm sure have written and published reams of whatever?

The idea was to go do something different, take some time away from work, feed the writer in me. The conference is called--well, I'm not totally sure what it's formally called but it's put on by Writing for Your Life, or, on Twitter, writing4urlife.

There's a lot in that "for"? Or, on Twitter, "4"?

Writing your life--well, I've done plenty of that here on The Perverse Lutheran. If not moment by moment, blow by blow, then mood by mood, or at least epoch by epoch. But "for your life"?

Prepositions are about relationships between words, and relationships are tricky to explain. We feel our way into them, can't always describe them. In language, when it comes to prepositions we often rely on "sprachgefühl," the feeling of the language, what we know intuitively. In human relationships there's intuition, too. Though that can lead you astray.

So writing for your life--what would that be?

Often for me a Perverse Lutheran post is the answer to, well, feeling pissy--unmoored, unnoticed, tangled, frustrated, bogged down in stupid stuff, un-brilliant, uncreative. I put a sentence or two up on the screen and then wander through to where it takes me. It's like traveling, or exercise. It's speaking a truth--tentatively (because blogs--they're over quickly) and wondering if I can get others to see it too.

It's making sense of my life, for the sake of going on with it--whatever it is, real or written.




Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Eve

Saturday, April 15, 2017. Call it Easter Eve? It's a warm night, so I'm sitting in the  backyard after Easter Vigil, with an IPA. Hoppy. Bitter.

I read the Creation account at tonight's Vigil:

"In the beginning when God created the heaven and earth, the earth was without form and void."

So God spoke and brought forth light, separated it from the darkness. And then named the darkness, as well as named the light. And it was the whole first day.

Sun and moon and stars came on the second day, and with them the days, the seasons, the years: time! In good order. And good. 

There's not much order in my backyard, but there are things that are good: new cushions on the patio chairs, the leafing-out lilac silhouetted by the back-door light, that light reaching the long skinny  branches of the forsythia, covered in yellow blooms. And there's a breeze, strong enough to be heard rising and rushing down the east-to-west cross street.

God said, and called all this into being, out of the formless void. God said, and called Jesus from the dark tomb, from the void of death. God said, and called each of us through the waters of baptism, to light and love and endless Easter. 

Over at Gronks Finding Grace, my son Kris has written about letting go and about letting God. That God would be the God of Creation, the God of Easter, the God of promises, the God of salvation.  The God who speaks into the void and names the darkness so that there can also be light and love. 

The air is moving through bare trees. It's the Eve of Easter.




Monday, February 20, 2017

Up-twist of grace

I'm coming up on eleven years of being the Perverse Lutheran. In the name of all things flexible, I usually celebrate my blog anniversary on Transfiguration Sunday, a shifting target based on counting back from Easter and Ash Wednesday. This year it falls on February 26, but I'm writing a bit earlier. It's President's Day, I'm not at work, and I've returned to a favorite haunt of mine from a decade ago--Panera in the morning. A Cinnamon Crunch bagel, hazelnut coffee mixed with decaf, and enforced focus on the computer. No--not the computer--it's actually enforced focus on myself.

And since it looks like there's about to be a lot of conversation at the table next to me, I'm adding headphones to the enforced focus strategy. And strangely, music of Messiaen turning up in one of the various feeds Spotify inscrutably customizes for me. (Specifically, Olivier Messiaen, Fete des belles eaux, 11/14: Oraison, if you need to know.)

I'm smiling. Seriously surreal here.

It's an unusually warm day in February. We've had a couple days of this and according to the internet will enjoy a few more until the weather reverts to something more seasonably miserable. There are people here in shorts, and not just kids. Old guys.

The spring-like respite arrived just in time, and honestly, the sunshine matters even more than the balmy air. Life comes with long grey stretches, and when the skies reflect that despair back at you, it's hard to keep going. I find myself looking for hits of something interesting, in politics and Twitter and the reality TV show that is currently standing in for the federal government. It's an unfolding story, both banal and fascinating. But it's not my story.

That story, my story, on this blog, has been one of trying to look at day-to-day life with questions, from different angles--not the conventional ones, and usually, finding an up-twist to end with.

("Up-twist to end with." I like the rhythm of that. Also the vowels.)

But in these gray days--of life as well as sky--that up-twist has seemed--false, even offensive, because it does not seem truly felt. My questing, perverse soul is wrapped in anger, about what God does not cure, about what people fail to understand.

Watching ALS take away one thing after another from my 30-year-old son is not what's supposed to be happening right now. He's supposed to be sailing into the prime of his life. But life can and will throw anything at us regardless of "supposed to" or even "what we deserve." So a wide wave of warm, sinking grief washes over me, and it's very hard to stand up, twist up, and find something positive.

But the weather is warm. Yesterday was full of glorious music in an over-gilded, old-time, overly bright Catholic church. And the bracelet on my wrist says "grace." It's a brown clay bead given to me a while back by that same 30-year-old son, as he began to interpret his ALS at a blog called "Gronk Finding Grace," and as he called family and friends to his side as the Gronk's Grace team, for support and fundraisers and fun, even on this difficult journey.

It's harder to be him, and to be his wife, than most of us can know.

This brown clay bead originally came on an elastic cord for 24/7 wearing on the wrist. I have since had it made into an actual bracelet with a clasp and interesting earth-toned beads. I've broken it twice since having it made. The first time was probably related to the way it was put together, or so said the person who repaired it. The second time was entirely my fault--accidentally yanked it off my wrist along with my watch.



Grace--small-g grace. An appropriate subject when looking back on eleven years of Lutheran blogging.

Clay grace. Brown, modest, lowercase grace. Etsy-bead grace. Broken grace.

There's a period after the word grace on my bracelet, as in grace, the end. Or grace, enough.

A few warm days of spring-like weather, then back to winter, Ash Wednesday, the promise of Easter.

Alleluia.







Thursday, February 02, 2017

That thing

We need a name for it.

That thing where you wake up at three a.m. and think, why am I awake, and then, with a sinking feeling in your forehead mashed under the pillow, remember that Donald Trump is president—president of the United States, all of them. And white nationalists think this is great and other people from the great middle of the country also think it's great, at last they've got someone on their side, and you think, how did this happen? How? And you think about racism and misogyny, whiteness and white male-ness and women who don't trust women to lead but do think they lie. And how so much is being made of this word "elite," and yeah, there are elites maybe who are out of touch with ordinary people, but "educated" and "knowledgeable" are not synonyms for elite, they're good things. And facts are not matters of feeling, and the earth really is warming, people need health insurance, automation has killed more jobs than trade deals, and, and, and--

Donald J. Trump is president. Also, Paul Ryan is spineless, and only John McCain can save us because Democrats just don't have the votes. Despite getting almost 3 million more of them in November.

That thing.

We have "resist," which makes a good t-shirt, a good coffee mug, and it seems like the thing to do, always, ongoing, in whatever way you can. With a scowl and clenched teeth, and daily calls to congressional offices.

But my teeth hurt, phone calls are frustrating until you get through and then if you're shy and you're sure you're the umpteenth person they've heard from, there's the nerves of rushing through your little piece, telling your little story, when really, don't they know? Why would anyone with an ounce of sense vote to confirm Betsy DeVos? Or that Pruitt guy for the EPA?

There's that thing where you start to wonder why you care so much, why this is tearing you up and why all your friends are depressed. Are we all sore losers? Embarrassed to be us, liberals, progressives? People who look to the authorities--the kind with knowledge and experience, not the strong-arm authoritarian kind.

There's that thing where you can hardly stand to watch the president on television because of the deep sense of shame you feel for the country. What about that thing where you keep watching because you can't take your eyes off the news? Because surely worse stuff will happen if you don't keep watching, if you don't personally keep an eye on it. Or worse stuff will happen and what if we all stop noticing, or caring, and can no longer tell the difference between living in a country that aspires to liberty and justice for all and living in a country that supports liberty and justice only for those people who already have them. Don't We, the People, have a shared vision anymore? Is the category "We, the People" actually growing smaller?

Here's what I think: the name for all this is love of country.

The name for all this is human kindness, the old-fashioned term for being careful with your speech so as not to offend those who have not offended you (but who perhaps have been treated in an offensive way by history, by government, by us).

The name for this thing: American values, American ideals, America.

You and me, tossing and turning at 3 a.m.



Friday, January 20, 2017

The Liberty Tree

Inauguration Day 2017. I spent much of the day at work in a struggle with a networked copy machine. I won the battle--I got my 600 copies made on 67 lb. cardstock--but not without significant tactical stress, amplified by the distance and the stairs between my office computer that created the document and the machine in the basement doing the printing.

It wasn't all about the machine. There was definitely displaced anger on display. I took time out in the late morning to watch Donald Trump take the oath of office and deliver his inaugural address. I found his "we, the people" rhetoric infuriating, along with his trashing of the last eight years of American progress and his dogwhistle call to his supporters, "you've got your country back."

Yet in one of my dogged trips up the flights of stairs from copy room to office, what should pop into my head but "Johnny Tremain"? Not the book by Esther Forbes, which I read many times as a child. The sound in my head came from the Disney movie adaptation.

Bear with me--this may be totally a Boomer thing. Sunday evenings in my childhood in the early 1960s were grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup eaten while watching "Lassie" at 6 on CBS, and "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" on NBC at 6:30. The Disney hour was often a nature or science program (not exactly must-see TV), but sometimes it was a lot more fun—episodes of "Davy Crocker," with Fess Parker as Davy and Buddy Ebsen as his sidekick, or Hayley Mills as Pollyanna, annoyingly cheerful in frilly dresses. And best of all, they re-ran "Johnny Tremain," a multi-episode movie version of the historical novel about a young man in revolutionary Boston in the 1770s.

Johnny was an orphan; he was cute, with an intriguing "widow's peak" framing his face. He was tragic; apprenticed to a silversmith, he burned his hand in an accident and his fingers grew together as it healed. And there was, of course, an innocuous love interest.

There was also a stirring patriotic tune in the score. Johnny participated in the original Tea Party, political action defying the Tea Act passed by the British Parliament in 1773. Colonists objected because they believed that it violated their rights as Englishmen to be taxed only by a legislative body in which they were represented. Today in my imagination I pictured myself swinging into the post-political action march:



Yes, there are precious few women (and the ones that are there are only accessories to the men),
but when I watched "Johnny Tremain" as a child, I did not fail to see myself in that parade. There's a leap of faith involved. In 1773 my own German ancestors were still in Germany. My great-great-great Grandfather Gotsch wouldn't arrive in America for another 75 years, not until European revolutionary fervor in 1848-49 challenged his clerical authority and upended his pastoral relationship with his parishioners. I do not have Boston patrician forefathers, but yet as a nine-year-old girl I could claim that liberty song for myself.

Since then I have lived through a lot of American history: the civil rights movement, the women's movement, Vietnam protests, Watergate, the GOP's Southern Strategy, 9/11, Iraq, gay marriage, and much more. I have learned in the classroom, from newspapers and from television news that the reality of America has fallen far short of the ideals of liberty and justice for all. The stories of my fellow Americans have put a wider and more diverse vision of America in front of me, a vision I share with many people, especially as we march into the future.

"And we are the sons, and we are the sons, the sons of liberty" sang in my head today, as I tromped from office to copy room. But the crowd I imagined around me no longer looked like a collection of Hollywood male actors circa 1957. I swung into the march with people of color, women in pink hats, Muslim children, people in wheelchairs, people with intellectual disabilities, black people protesting police violence, white people in need of good jobs, poor folks in need of basic health care--all of us with a shared and ever-expanding vision of liberty and justice for all.

I can't make it to a march tomorrow--too many responsibilities. But I'll be there in spirit, singing.
And it will grow as we grow, boys.
It will be as strong as we.
We must cling to our faith, boys—
faith in the Liberty Tree.
It’s a tall old Tree
And a strong old Tree
And we are the Sons
Yes, we are the Sons
The Sons of Liberty.