See also www. for more background on this author, old blogs

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

New! Look Up! Field Trips for Grown Ups!

The "Light Gets In!" blog has moved, and is turning a corner ...

"Look   Up!  

Field  Trips  for  Grown  Up's"

is a fun new book -- close to publication -- all about the joy of getting out there, looking up, and seeing the delight, wonder, quirky, inspiring, and hilarious world we get to live in.  

Fully illustrated and with some inspiring words to prompt you to look up, look around, explore, indulge your sense of curiosity and wonder about the world, the primary focus is on stuff to do in Colorado. 

But hey, Owen, Marny, Heino, Brenda and John, Deborah, Martha, Lars,  Suzanne, Julie, Ann, and Linda... from Illinois to Jerusalem, Estonia to the west coast of Sweden, and from Texas to Santa Barbara, Maine to Montana, find the local equivalents and write your own book of Field Trips.  

Field trips are simply going places, getting out, looking, observing, wondering. I don't want this to sound onerous, too seriouus. But I do mean to encourage more than a drive by!  Don't just look at a tree. STAND IN ONE!  Yes, stand IN the tree. Let it all in. And push yourself to find new places, spaces, people, food, experiences that expand and increase the breadth and depth of life.  

New experiences teach us new and significant stuff about ourselves.  "Life begins right beyond the edge of your comfort zone."  

At the same time, as a good old Girl Scout, I remind you to "make new friends and keep the old..."  Sometimes your comfort zone is the best place to be. So go there. Be there. 

LOOK UP!  See the stars!  Look up and see what all is out there.  If this universe is purposed for anything at all beyond it's own internal development, I say it is purposed for pleasure. Wonder. Awe. 

Link now to

Monday, April 4, 2016

Allan Boesak, not banned any longer, thank God, and in Denver. Racial Justice

My heart is so full -- overflowing. Life comes round. LAST NIGHT ... 30 years after Allan Boesak was arrested and kept in house arrest for his courageous, brilliant Anti-Apartheid activism in South Africa, 30 years after we had spent two entire years corresponding, speaking on the phone, and planning for his visit to Chicago, 30 years after Allan was to be the featured speaker for thousands -- who knew him at that time, by reputation, as well as they knew of Tutu and Mandela, at the Illinois Conference of Churches' "Interfaith Peace Event" (IPE), and I was coordinating the entire thing with fantastic volunteer committees and a terrific board, 30 years after we were all stunned and devastated - not for ourselves most, but for Allan and his family, and for the movement, life rolled around and...
LAST NIGHT -- 31 years later -- we met. It felt like such an emotional 'reunion' among all-but-strangers. He knew my name immediately and there was a lot of hugging, as in "WOW, then, and now... I can't believe it... That was such a terrible, fraught time, such a crisis. His life, among others was in danger.
I thought, last night, also of Bishop Munib Younan, who has a similar place in his 'country,' and, like Boesak, Bishop Younan and his family, Margaret Younan, and others are in our prayers now daily. I also thought of Mitri Raheb and Rana Khoury, (Beth Nelson Chase), and of our vigils for their safety and freedom. The parallels are chilling.
(As an aside, Allan said that when he and other South Africans visit Palestine, they are so "deeply disturbed, for the Palestinians it is even far worse than it was for us under apartheid." And the prognosis is, frankly, worse, more daunting. Thanks America.)
Back 30 years ago, I and others then had spent long tense hours praying for his safety, his well-being, the movement, for his family, it was an all-consuming 90 hour a week, altogether,( the peace event project, putting the conference together,) and then another 90 hours just praying for Allan. He was 'banned,' if you remember that hideous practice. Forbidden to be quoted in public, even mentioned, phone calls monitored, etc. House arrest.
And so he sent a very worthy ambassador to deliver his remarks, his brother, the Rev. Dr. Willa Boesak, a delightful guest, for whom his own personal highlight was our 30 minute private meeting in Jesse Jackson's office at PUSH, with Rev. Jackson, of course. And also a very powerful preacher/speaker.
Just before we went 'on,' Allan called me somehow at the UIC office we had for the day and dictated another 20 minute speech for ME to deliver, in part in introduction of Willa. I'll never forget those moments, scribbling from the phone, And his power, his voice.
Well, there was no way this Swedish-American calm mild woman could ever get up and preach it like the Brother did. Not a Baptist preacher, then or ever. But what a privilege to share that message. And then, thank God, Willa cleaned up! Wow! Not a dry eye. We were ready to get on the next flights to Capetown.
I do know that our weekly protests at the SA Consulate quickly picked up attendance and urgency. And they continued. For years.
Last night. 31 years later. Fjedur is still singing, this time for the Palestinians... "We will not give up the fight..." "We are marching in the light of God!" Still. Forever. Come, joinI think you were there),Susan Steinhaus,Sherman Gregory HicksArnie Pierson, the unstoppable Barbara Gazzolo, Theresa Molgren, Beverly Lucille Conway, and others (forgive me) who walked the circle, Kaia learning early some critical words and lessons, "Free Mandela." Susan Brooks, Dave McGowen, Bishop Frank Griswold joined us, as did Paul Erickson, and the hosts of wonderful ecumenical colleagues.
Now, Boesak, unsentimental and very clear-eyed in his analysis, is very concerned about the "Imperial" life of the world. We must change. If the church will not allow itself to be an effective agent of righteousness and justice, not sappy (how good to know you) piety, but REAL JUSTICE -- AN END TO THE IMPERIAL ORDER, of white privilege. "The Spirit is so determined, she will find a way, even it that is outside the church."
Some of us, including Pastor Louise Westfall of Central Pres, Brother Jeff of Five Points, and other local pastors are going to get something stirred up around here.
Because it matters not one whit that I finally met Dr. Boesak, if this encounter does not lead to ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT FOR RACIAL JUSTICE. JUSTICE. We will not stop until... Thank you, Louise, for your gracious hosting and words, and Brother Jeff for coming soon to Bethany! And Beverly, at MoBetta, we're ON!
David Erickson-Pearson and I rejoiced in sober reflection and commitment. Grace and Burt Nelson, we are in your debt, and Gordon Jack Schultz, you were part of this, too. Even from Princeton. And Paul LindmanPaul Wee, J.Martin Bailey, Lydia Talbot, Paul Sherry, and Paul Hedberg, we did make a difference at NPTS, Bill Marilyn Sandin Ross, you did it. And Roger Willer and Carole Willer, Stewart Herman, and the crew at LSTC.... WOW! And my Princeton University comrades, including Tim Callard, you changed lives!
Last night. And now, this morning, 31 years later. Fjedur is still singing, this time for the Palestinians... "We will not give up the fight..." "We are marching in the light of God!" Still. Forever. Come, join us!
Joan PearsonAnnika Erickson-Pearson, I thought of how Grandma and Grandpa made a point of being there, that day, October 5, 1985. That meant the world to me. And Jims Erickson, you were all in!
(Both Dave and I left our PHONES AT HOME, so no photos from us but Louise and Jeff and a press photog are sending some.)
My heart is so full! The struggle just goes on. I'm in. Are you?
Public Figure
Allan Boesak

Monday, November 9, 2015


Lagom: "just right, not too much, not too little"

"Please describe your perfect date," the judges ask candidate Cheryl Frasier, in "Miss Congeniality."  Absolutely oozing sweetness and light, this hapless belle from Rhode Island, has to think about it. 

Then she finds her voice, "That's a tough one. I'd have to say April 25th. Because it's not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket." 

It's funny to most people because she missed the point of the question.  

It is funny to Swedes and Swedish-Americans also because we recognize what she's saying, "not too..."   It's called lagom in Swedish. We are lagom. 

Lagom:  "It's not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket."  We are 'not too ..."  

Swedes are lagom. They are famous for it. Swedes speak of it often among themselves. Both lamenting it, at times,  and freaking out when they fail the lagom test. "I got a...!" She was too excited. A bad thing. "I got carried away!"  Bad boy. 

Swedish-Americans have inherited this trait from the homeland perhaps even more than any other. We joke often:  "but, but you can't do that!  ...we're nice here!"  

In fact, that was the punch line in the homecoming play at my very Swedish-American college. And it brought down the house. Because we all knew: Yep. That's the rule.  It is simply too true to be understated.   Be nice.

Even-tempered, not too enthusiastic, certainly not allowing very much, if any passion, to sneak past your internal censor - we all have one. And use it often. 

We didn't swoon. We didn't gush "I just love your new hat," or your cherry pie. We noted that "it was good." "Oh, you have a new hat." Effusive approval was rarely expressed. Just the fact. "It's very nice." 

Our favorite joke was about the Swedish man who loved his wife so, so so very much that, after much hemming and hawing, he thought about it long and hard, and so he almost, almost!  came close to telling her once.  Tell me, friends, Swedish-Americans, you have your variation on that one. "He almost told her once."  Yep. That's us. 

Temperance. Balance. 

This can be taken to extreme:

You don't even need to love your neighbor, as long as you can be nice, fake it, or cover up the tension that may be between you. Our cardinal sin may well be the sin of not being nice. 

So, of course, it follows,  "But you can't speak up! No protests!  No speaking out!  It's not nice.

The cloud of living witnesses looking over my shoulder included a very large extended family, all within watchful range, made me extra cautious: beginning with Frank, Johanna, Amelia, Adolf, Olaf, Anna-Brita, Anders, Johanna, Esther and Frieda, Lillian, Helen, Anna, Gladys, , Oscar and Lily, Elsie, Harriet, and Hannah, and August and Hilda, Agnes, Lucille, Beulah, Belva, Violet - a shipload of cousins, second cousins and aunts and uncles plus my own immediate aunts -- there were many many Ruth's. Point being, lots of pressure!  It was a much bigger issue with the women and children than the men, in part, because as I child, I was rarely around the men. And women were held to a higher standard of niceness. Much higher. 

I was smothered - I mean, surrounded by three elder generations, equaling dozens of respected relatives, to whom I was as accountable as to my parents to "be nice." It never even occurred to me NOT to be nice. Nice. 

Niceness was next to - and certainly, in the course of daily life, better than godliness. Superior to godliness. I'm serious. Be ye nice, said Jesus from the cross.  Or so I assumed. Was led to believe. And the point was reinforced with, ironically, a cruel cut. One could be banished for not being nice, for not being lagom. 

That dictum applied especially within our circles of family, friends, church folks, and all the regulars with whom we interacted commercially. And it really only applied when we were encountering them directly.  The old folks who were nice all the day long in public, ripped each other to shreds when safely ensconced with just one trusted friend or sister.  And they tossed around a whole passel of shit, not talking nice about the folks who were absent, perhaps not even really related. You knew if you had to miss a family gathering, you would be scrutinized and judged and found wanting. 

And, when it came to 'odd' persons, those persons who were not exactly like us (perfect, of course!) -- persons who were African American, Mexican, Asian, poorer, much much richer, Catholic, Jewish, the rare Italian, alcoholic, pregnant outside of marriage...  none of these persons were due any but the sparcest token of logom, and often not even that. I watched this double standard for years,  "we don't have to be nice to those people."  

Swedes even today are determined to be logom. There is more than just a shred of truth in that view!  I, too, grew up with lagom being the first virtue. "Now, be nice..."  

Even among themselves, Swedes talk quite a lot about their quietism and lack of emphatic communication. They have opinions, for sure! And it is important to Swedes to have carefully considered points of view. But heaven forbid they tell you what they are!  Whatever they think, Swedes are more likely to express them in even, measured tones and, frankly, they'd just rather not have to get too involved at all in pressing a point in public. Heaven help you if you are passionate!     Mercy!  

So, those of you who think of me as a mouthy broad, (as we used to say), outspoken about some things, bold, "a sentinel," as a friend was kind to describe me the other day, have got to be wondering,  "how did she fall off the truck?"  The 'nice' truck. 

One simple response would be to say, blame it on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It's all his fault. His, and my teacher of Bonhoeffer, F. Burton Nelson.  Burt was among the very first to discover DB (as we refer to him around home). A pre-eminent Bonhoeffer scholar, Burton was very close to Bonhoeffer's closest friend and correspondent while in prison, Eberhard Bethge. And to other members of the Bonhoeffer family. His writings on Bonhoeffer are the clearest, most useful and true 'take' on the life, inner life, and intentions of DB.  

If Burton (FBN, as we refer to him on occasion) was an ardent, dare I say, passionate interpreter and advocate for Bonhoeffer, then I was among the keenest disciples. As early as 1974, midway through college, I took my first DB course. No one has influenced my understanding on Christian discipleship more than Bonhoeffer. And no one has offered as clear a word about grace, either. 

My DB library sits just a few feet from the bed. Once you have encountered "The Cost of Discipleship," you learn that the occasions to not be 'nice' are legion. 

For example, when you learn about apartheid. American racism, especially as systemically rooted in Chicago's (where we lived) structural policies, programs, and in evidence all of the time, wherever you happened to be was reason to hit the streets. And a military / nuclear policy that I believed was entirely immoral, begged a response. 

This did / does not come naturally or easily, even today, to a Swedish girl whose blood courses with lagom. It was always agony to decide to speak out -- about anything. This is not something I relish.  

"It's not easy being me, but I make it look that way."  

I was a mouse for my first 18 or 19 years. A real mouse. I would have never called anyone out. Not even when my own mother stood up to her brothers who had made vile racist comments at the Christmas dinner table. I was so proud of her but so blown away, the nerve!   But I loved it. Quietly. 

So here I am. Prompting some folks to ask, "why do you need to say stuff (about ongoing injustice) in public?" 

Well, the real culprit is Jesus. He taught me too well. He let nothing pass. He spoke 'truth to power' so often that we hardly notice anymore. But we can't ignore him. Jesus was indeed a shepherd. He found that last missing sheep but also exhorted the rest of us to get out there and hunt 'em down. 

"Follow me," Jesus said, meaning, 'do as I do.' I simultaneously hear John 10:10 and Mark 8, ringing in my ears. Both make sense. Held in a single peace. 
Jesus was not lagom. 

In the next weeks you will have the opportunity to see two powerful films about women and men who were not preoccupied with being 'nice,' and getting along.

The women in Suffragette were at their wit's end. They had tried for decades to gain the vote by using gentle, nice tactics. But no one even listened to them, much less gave due consideration to their cause. So they moved on to plan B. I do not condone their violence. And it is tragic that history can only render the facts in one way: that an escalation of their tactics finally gained women the vote. I rather strongly doubt that I could have been a part of that militant wing of the movement. But you come away thinking:  so this, this, violence! , it took this!  

The second film, Spotlight, I urge caution: to prepare your spirit, to guard your soul, when you see it. It is, from all I've read, a truly excellent film. I will go. But not alone. It is a battle between overwhelming power and intransigence on the one side, to cover up terrible things, against another powerful force that accompanies those who seek to unmask such evil deeds. That sexual abuse is evil is not a question. 

If the movie is as good and as true to events as I've heard it is, there is the chance that we will all find ourselves becoming impatient and irritated with those who relentlessly seek to unmask the violence (abuse is violence). Because they are so relentless. Because they seek to expose and make transparent that which even we -- in spite of ourselves, knowing that truth will set us free -- wish not to know about. It is ugly and we would rather not confront it. Yet it is so important that we do, that the secrets do find the light of day, the healing light and spotlight of truth that sears out the wound and begins to heal  it, from the inside out.  It will test your spirit. 

The abuse, and even the careless misuse of power by officials who have the added cachet of 'representing God' is unbelievably soul-scorching to see. Those who seek to expose it cannot be lagom. 

It was never my job to go 'on a tear' as these reporters and editors must. But I did have the responsibility for responding to clergy sexual abuse in the ELCA for almost ten years. It was an agony, soul-scorching in every way. 

We did not go hunting down perpetrators. There were no witch hunts. We simply responded to victims. And sought to care for them, and then to remove from the 'field of play' those who could not be entrusted with the power that is conferred by identity as a "Man of God." 

And we sought to do whatever seemed possible to deter and make it harder for perpetrators to use their wiles to create more victims. One of the strategies was to be transparent about what had happened, what does happen when power is abused. 

So. When I am asked, even now, why go public with concerns, even different concerns, about power and its use or misuse, I can only respond that light is good, transparency is important, and healing is possible when the light gets in. 

This is not lagom. This is not 'me,' the Swedish up past my eyeballs, me. I would rather go on field trips and find the Aurora Borealis and eat raclette and play in the leaves and serve runaway, abused teen-agers their Thanksgiving dinner. 

But for some reason, that is beyond my understanding, God has chosen to entrust me -- that is what 'call' means, in part, -- with this thankless and very painful task of carrying a flashlight. 

I ask you not to judge what I do, but to ask why it is necessary. 

And I ask you to do what is within your power to do, to stop the abuse from continuing. 

It is ultimately not a flashlight, or two, or ten that is needed, but, within the church, a bathing cleansing flood of light that shines in the whole system. 

Pray for those who have power, to use it for good alone. And pray for light to shine throughout the system so those of us with candles and flashlights can put them down. 

Pray for us too. This is terrible work. Because I really don't like doing this.  Nor does any victim of injustice. They/we need to be bathed in light. 

Not just carry a torch. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Steer into the wind, right?

Hurricane Joaquin isn't the only wind blowing! 

It's October.

In case you were wondering, that is. It is the tenth month. October.

October is "just get through it" month for me. If I  make it all the way to the end without committing a serious crime -- I've already had to ask Dave about the legal status of some activities; they're still illegal -- we'll chalk up another victory for the healing of the soul.

October is the month I was attacked. October was hell from start to finish (not that I was aware of the finish; the last 9 days are missing from my memory).

Thirteen years ago.  13!  And I foolishly thought I was all better.  As in, all better. Felt great, was productive, reconnecting with some old friends, being brave. Daring even. Creative. Active.

I taught a class for three weeks on Palestine! And it went very well. My brain worked. I worked. It was tremendous to have Palestinian friends here last week. Their resilience and sense of hope had me feeling so strong I actually wanted to talk my psychiatrist into letting me go over there. Their resilience and sense of hope is jaw-dropping amazing.

"Every time we get angry, we start a new project," Mitri explained.  "You must be very angry," said an observer of the dozens of projects that have been initiated by Christmas Lutheran Church in - where else - Bethlehem (Palestine, not Pennsylvania). They are setting things on their head. It is a wonder!

It was inspiring and the trauma of their lives did not trigger any of my old junk.

But today did. Meeting two brave and kind people -- one Israeli and one Palestinian -- who each have had children killed by snipers or soldiers from "the other's side," undid me. Why?

They told the truth. Together. They told the truth. All of it. Unvarnished. Ugly. The horror of the occupation.

It is ugly. Bassam has a terrible terrible, tragic story to tell. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is cruel and a living hell. And it frankly isn't good for the Israeli's either. Robi's story is also tragic. Terrible. At the end of the day, a parent's tears are a parent's tears. No difference, Israeli or Palestinian. And so together they tell their stories and work for reconciliation. It is a beautiful gift they give the world, but at far too high a price. We are not worthy.

Bassam was very blunt about the reality of their life. "Palestinian children don't have to be taught to hate," said Bassam, an Arab from the West Bank. "They see it modeled from their earliest childhood by the Israeli's."

Not by their own parents. But by their enemies. They learn hate from being hated. "I was robbed of my childhood. It started at the beginning." 

Now,this is the astonishing part. He stood and told us his story, including this part, while Robi, a very powerful Israeli woman, who, if she didn't like something would say so in no uncertain terms! and STOP IT, stood inches from his shoulder. And she sighed in agreement.

WHAT???  As I listened to him, I watched her. And wondered, how unbelievably uncomfortable is she now?  To stand by as he tells us what I also know to be true about life in the Territories.  And so, I asked her privately afterward what it feels like for her, day after day, to stand by Bassam as he tells the honest truth of the horrific conditions of occupation. Doesn't it sting?  Isn't she angry? He's saying this about 'her' people.

"It is the truth," she said simply. "We have to tell the truth." About who we are. And "we have to hear it."  Even when it implicates us.  Especially as it implicates us.

And that is when I fell apart. Telling the truth.  Is. No. Small. Matter.  Nor is having to hear it.  I never got that. Will likely never get it. Not from this institution. It is far more impervious, nonporous to the winds of Spirit than the broken hearts of middle eastern parents. They know that truth makes you free.

Ironically, the people who 'own' that text as one of their own don't get it. The Jew and the Muslim do. The Israeli and the Arab get it. But not the former bishop of my church. Or his associates. Or the other folks, laity, for whom it is inconvenient.   (I know, I'm starting to sound like I'm whining, but, well, read the Psalms, for starters. And then think about this. This very event today, the one I'm describing. Is it SO hard?  Yes. But they know how healing it is.)

I felt ripped open. All my own trauma bled out and I was back in a room with a slick liar and pile of slander, cruelty, and basic stupid incompetence (or uncaring).  Poor Robi. What a woman. She was beyond kind, compassionate. Sat me down. Reminded me that making peace with the awful, evil experience I had did not also require of me to forgive. "If anyone says that to you, they're immoral."

I have to make peace with the reality that I will never see justice.  And certainly, revenge is not even in the realm of this universe. I thought I had made that peace.

But, oh, shit. I haven't. I so want the truth to come out.

Even Palestinians and Israeli's can do that:   tell it, to and about and in front of one another. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is the one miracle that prevented a bloodbath after the end of Apartheid in South Africa. And it is desperately needed, still, in Poland, where history is an open wound, festering, preventing progress.

But in that church?  with my former bishop?  his staff? And church members?
No way, Jose. They lie and slander me to this day.

I've told this truth before. On another blog. I wrote about it. So some know. But not the folks closest to the perpetrators. Not the vulnerable. And I did not speak my truth in the presence (nor to my knowledge, to the knowledge) of the perpetrators. They refuse to listen.

So I read the Psalms.  Out loud. Loud. "Find yourself in the Bible," Dave quipped, quoting an old book we'd read.  I read Psalm 94, (vss. 8 ff),

"Understand, O dullest of the people;" (names omitted to protect the guilty, I guess),   "fools, when will you be wise?  He who planted the ear, does he not hear?  He who formed the eye, does he not see?"   You think you get away with your deceit?  Your wickedness? There are no secrets here.

This was cathartic:  'he sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs, which destroyed them..."  It gets worse. God gets pissed. Very. God does get good and pissed off at injustice. By whomever.

That is somehow just good to see. I don't wish people ill. I just want the truth. God will somehow take care of justice.  (I do think frogs would be a good touch, swarms of frogs, horned toads, slimy, croaking all night, overwhelming flotillas of frogs floating through their lives...alas).  God will take care of justice. If frogs are involved, it's fine with me.

Also, Psalm 109 is nice, in a not at all nice sort of way:  "For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,  speaking against me with lying tongues. They beset me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me -- even while I make prayer for them! So they return me evil for good, and hatred for my love."  And whipping a rather dull - oh, again, guy into such a frenzy he thinks he needs to attack me on their behalf. I never hated him. He was only the weapon the others were wielding, controlling. He was a victim of their propaganda too. I couldn't press charges. Make him their fall-guy.    

Yep. This's it. The poet is repeating my rhyme. Or I his.  And both of us: a slice of the story of Jesus. He did die. I only felt like it.  __And apparently, at times, still do.

As the song goes,  "This is my story..."  - this Psalm, so far. That's what happened. It must happen a lot. We are a screwy motley bunch.   (And also brilliant, amazing, wonderful!  How do we move on from our hates?)

Then the poet gets totally frank with God. "Wipe them in the own curses! Wrap it around them like a belt! May they be wrapped in their own shame like a mantle...clothed themselves with dishonor..."      Note to reader: the poet is NOT ready to move on, reclaim his higher self.  "Wrap them in their own..."

Would that please me?  I suppose it would. But I'm not asking. Only for respect, dignity, the dignity of telling my truth to the assembly of the involved. But even for that, that bit of justice, I have given up hope. Things are too entrenched. They go blithely on.

As my friend reminds me, however, "Well, they do have to live with themselves." So true. And if they are too dull and foolish to 'get' this, then they are missing out on a lot of the good stuff, too.

Read the Psalms, especially the parts we left out of the prayer books and hymnals because they were 'too much, too harsh' for the laity. Oh, I think we'd all do well to have the entirety of this gift. It is truth. And truth-telling sets us free.

Read the Psalms. They are for reading aloud, with feeling. Ask Dave. He heard them today. The anger, fury, heartbreak.   I ranted today. About the insolent. The ruffians, the slanderers. The poet is in pain.  If he or she can wail, I figure I can. Especially if I'm quoting.  So. Good catharsis.

And so it is. Good literature is good catharsis. Whaddaya know.

Moreso, is truth.

Steer into the wind.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Who's in charge here?


Being out of control just sucks. Feeling out of control sucks. It does. It just does.

I used to feel that way. It was a child's way of trying to keep the wolves from the door. It is a common experience of children who have experienced abuse. It is a common experience of children who grew up in the midst of chaos.

Who ever thought I would come to be a grand champion of Chaos. In theory. And even: in practice.

I love chaos. Being out of control is fine with me. It is the way of the world. We are not in control. We can be in charge of certain things, of some things. But we are not in control.

There is - news flash - no control. Meteors charge into the atmosphere. And this, this: children die. Markets blow up. Gangs shoot up the school ground. Planes crash.

Children die. I'm still feeling the shock and grief, from a distance, at the death of a two-year-old from Tay-Sachs. And friends remind me with a facebook post this afternoon of the death of their son two years ago from another hideous disease. I used to think somebody should be in control of these things. SomeBody should. But that's not how it is. Nature has its way with us.

Chaos, in theory, even in practice, takes us through the landscape of No Control. It takes us through the quagmires of grief and sadness. It pushes us across the terrain of loss. Real loss. Over which we have no control. And it nudges through fields of bleating sheep and crazy awful quicksand that can sink us if we don't make the best navigational choices. Chaos takes us into the valley of the shadow of death. It dumps us down in the dumpsters, the trash heaps of emotion. It is all about uncertainty. Questions. Where will I / we end up? What next?

It is not reasonable at this moment, with death breathing on my shoulder, to celebrate chaos. That would be crass, insensitive, insufferable.

But. I know, from painful experience, and some joyful experiences too, that chaos can lead to a new place. It is not a place free from jagged cliffs. But it is a place where life can be lived big and loud and good and true.

Control -- attempting to control -- makes us crazy. Chaos leads us on a meandering way straight through the rugged heart of life. And gives it back to us. Whoever thought it could be true?

But that seems to be the way it is. Chaos, lets the light in. Chaos, brings us past the roughest scatchiest patches. Chaos brings us through.

Nobody's in charge here. We go with what we get. And we make the choices that are put before us. Chaos. Chaos sets the table.

Friday, February 15, 2013

If there is any beauty, any wonder, anything good and virtuous...


People mess around with translations and different renderings of the biblical text so much these days, I don't even care that I did not get this right. The point is, think on these things.

Vanity, vanity. Trying to explain, to rationalize, to put things to rights.

If we had any sense at all, words would fail us.

The evil, awful dying of a child. One I am thinking of, in particular. But thousands today around the world. And the twenty people in this country who died today of gun violence. And the millions who suffer from war and famine and systematic starvation. Half the children in the US living under the poverty level. Good lord!

We waste our time with explanations. All, any explanations. It us beyond us. Let's be honest. We try to find our way through the jungle of inexplicable suffering, horror, evil with words that placate. But let's be honest. Let's just say, we don't know why.

Oh, we may know some of the facts. A missing enzyme. Cruel dictators, greedy bastards. Scared and abused people who only know how to scare and abuse others. We know that part of 'why.'

But the ultimate why? Let's be honest. We really don't know. To say otherwise is to fashion a god in our image. Even the revealed God didn't fall for our clumsy platitudes. The tower falls on the just and the unjust. Deal with it.

We have one way through this abyss. Grace. To see grace, to be grace. To see beauty, to be beauty. To be honest, to shine with light.

So, on this day, as we grieve and think about the dying of the child, and the man who suffers with cancer, and the woman who is starving, and the stupidity of lawmakers, I can offer only only this, but what this it is.

If there is any beauty, any wonder, anything good and vibrant, anything light and lovely,
think, think, take in and revel for the moment. In these good things. Grace.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Original ash

"ORIGINAL BLESSING, but then....

It is pure arrogance to presume that we are born into purity and goodness. We come bearing those gifts to the world but the world receives them not and sooner than later, we seem to be borne down by the powers of selfishness, primordial powers that are so primitive we assume they are part of our nature. I think that is an argument for another day.

The reality is that we are weakly, some more than others, and cannot bear too much reality -- as the playwright reminds us. So we succumb to dastardly deeds, some more than others. My own children still seem innocent to me -- the one who watched them day by day and saw so little to fault.

Yet all have sinned, as it is said. And today is a time of taking account. I am not pleased about calling this Ash Wednesday and I'll tell you why. It has nothing to do with the reality of acknowledgement, that from dust you have come and to dust you shall return. This is my problem:

Today is the anniversary of a day like many others during the Holocaust. A train from France arrived at KL Auschwitz. And within hours the skies filled with ash. Hundreds were gassed, killed by unnatural acts. Their ashes make our remembrance of Ash Wednesday an odd event. It feels like it should almost not belong to Christians anymore. Unless...

Unless: We are honest about this truth. That part of our sin was a terrible complicity in the death of millions. The ash-rendering of others. Too grave, too enormous, too horrible to comprehend. The church has its place in this complicity and for us to ignore this truth is to compound the problem. Do we dare to place ashes on our own foreheads, blithely, without cognizance of what we have been part of?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Allt for Sverige

Allt for Sverige

I want to go to Sweden this summer. I'm due.

Did you know, for all the falderal about palm trees in Poland, that I am a fourth-generation Swedish American? And (for that matter), I'm a fourth generation Coloradoan. I come from hardy stock. My ancestors came out here to mine. I found them in the census registry in mining territory from 1870, and earlier. After the mining didn't pan out, they farmed. On this desert. Like I said, crusty, hardy stock.

But about going to Sweden. I think it is time. My novel, set near Boston and in Poland, has a strong Swedish component. My protagonist was born in Stockholm, at the Karolinska Institute, where her father was doing post-doctoral study. She comes from a distinguished, if a bit odd, Swedish-American lineage. You see, in her life -- as in my own -- there is this story...

"'They say that horse-racing is the sport of kings. I say it is bedding young girls,'" says Farmor. My grandmother is about to tell me the family secret. I scoot in close. The Kentucky Derby can wait..."

The rumor in my own Erickson family, and the reality in my fictional Lind family's is that the King of Sweden had, shall we say, a dalliance with a young woman of the family. And a child was born. I am maybe, my character is for certain, descended from that liaison.

I think I need to go and check this out, don't you. I don't have a clue how to corroborate the story in my case. But it would be fun to wander around Dalsland feeling a bit like a princess.

I just applied, at my brother's urging, to be on a Swedish reality show, to search for my ancestors. I even promised I'd eat crayfish, jump from an airplane, bungee jump, ride a reindeer. I really think this would be the bee's knees. Don't you?

Allt for Sverige needs me. Don't you agree?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Change to my blog

New occasions bring new duties, to paraphrase the poet.

I get on average about ten spam responses to my blog everyday. They are anonymous responses that advertise prescription medications at discount prices. I am sick and tired of them. They are spamming on old blogs from up to a year ago.

So, from now on I am not going to allow reader comments on my blog. I'm sorry. But this spam has discouraged me from blogging altogether.

If you would like to respond to the blog, I'm afraid you will have to email me directly. Of find me on facebook and do it there. The blog will still go directly to facebook and you can join a conversation there. My email is (you'll forgive my formatting here and figure it out:) e p f a m a t a o l dot c o m If the hackers figure that out, more power to 'em.

I hope to begin blogging again. We'll see....

Meanwhile, call your Congress people. This is going to be a grassroots effort. I'm calling mine today.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's a Mess! It is that messy time of year. A shuffle of Christmas letters cover the bedroom floor, envelopes waiting for addresses (why do you move? It is so inconvenient for me!) and photos waiting to be stuffed. A massive invasion of snowmen are mustering in the kitchen and the family room, waiting for their annual assignments. It is one big mess. Meanwhile, the Swedish Tomten have arrived and skirmishes are breaking out as they jockey for space. What a mess. The turkeys are still retreating and the extra boats are heading for harbor and all this stuff has covered the kitchen table so we couldn't eat on it if we wanted to. It is that messy time of year. What is the purpose of all this fuss? Advent. Advent means "coming." Jesus is coming. Something is happening, or getting ready to happen and it is worth all the fuss. Jesus, alas, is still in the box, the wise men are wandering, the shepherds are shuffling after their sheep and Mary and Joseph have bogged down en route. But Jesus is coming, that's what this season, pre-Christmas is called. And it suggests a sense of preparation. Now it is tempting for me to be pre-occupied with Tomten and snowmen and berries and Julbokken. If I'm honest, I'm aware that it is messy in my soul, my spirit. Dare I hope? Again? Will something happen? Something good? Could it be that Christmas will be about hope and heart, about trust and commitment this year? Will I find new faith? Will that be my gift from the baby? Stir up your power and come, O One who is All, come and stir us to new hope.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bunnies and rainbows

I am looking forward to the future. I don't expect it to be bunnies and rainbows. In fact, I expect lots of hard work, hair-raising hard work. For all of us. I expect, however, that my gay friends will be getting married in Maine and Maryland and Washington. I expect that Pell Grants and other means of financial aid (otherwise not known as free stuff but earned stuff) will assist my daughter and others attending college. I expect that the Supreme Court will not overturn Roe v. Wade and that the immigrants I know will be welcome. It is a tone, besides a bunch of facts, that pleases me from the Obama administration. And, come to think of it, maybe like Obamacare, a term he and we have come to embrace, as a good thing and a fitting moniker to honor the one who made it happen. Maybe like that, I'm not so offended by the epithet that Obama is the President of Free Stuff. Except it isn't free. Nothing, as they say, is free. But Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. My family has had to make use, at one time or another, in one generation or another, of all those generous programs and some before them. My great-grandfather only got to America because his brother gave him the money for the trip. And then got him set up. How many of us can say the same, must admit the same? We are the benefactors of others' largesse. If being a liberal labels me as a giver of Free Stuff, then count me in. I'm glad to share. That is the tone I like in my liberal friends. They all feel that way. "How can I help?" We are the givers of FREE STUFF. Let it roll.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Annika's Octave is complete

And what will Annika do in her 20's?

This is the question we've been pondering all week, beginning with her 20th birthday last Sunday. What will her 20's hold?

Graduate school. International relations. Leadership. Music. Singing, especially. Travel. We had our birthday dinner for her at a French restaurant to symbolize her plans for Paris. NYC is definitely on the agenda.

And who knows what else?

Well, for starters, an International Affairs major at the University of Colorado (Boulder).

We've been moving her in in stages, all week.

Bedroom linens by Marimmekko and IKEA. A trip to Target for a colander, silverware drawer, plates. Groceries from King Soopers. Gifts from friends. A wooden spoon from home.

White board and 3M hooks from Bed, Bath and Beyond. Luxurious blue blanket from BBB, too.

TV from a store in NYC. Desk lamp from IKEA and dad's genius with a screwdriver. Antique blue vases from mom. Christmas lights from the stash in the garage.

New computer battery from Dell. Expensive e-Books from the textbook gods.

And she's in. There are three roommates, four separate bedrooms (with locks!), a kitchen, living room with beautiful, peaceful very un-collegelike art. She has milk and eggs and pasta and peanut butter. I think we forgot bread. She has apples and granola bars and cereal.

Class starts Monday morning - tomorrow - at eight o'clock, sharp. She knows how to get there on the bus.

And so it is. And so it goes. A life-changing transition with a bunch of basic quotidian activities and materials. It went like clock work, simple, straightforward. Piece of cake.

A life-changing transition that takes your breath away. At least it took mine.

Annika's Birthday Octave is completed. And now the 20's really begin. What will they be?

Happy Birthday Annika! Now it really starts! (I love you so much!)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Ghastly understatement is gross insult in British press

On this date in 1944 the Lodz Ghetto was 'liquidated.'

According to a Poland-based British news magazine, the Lodz ghetto was originally set up as a "Jewish gathering place" and became a source of Nazi materials while the inhabitants lived there.

This makes it sound like the Ghetto was a voluntary community. In point of fact, it was a gated community, one of the worst in Poland during WWII, where Jews were forced to survive, barely live, starve to death, and finally, be herded onto trains and taken to the extermination camps.

The Lodz Ghetto was a "Jewish gathering place" in the same sense that Ground Zero in Hiroshima was a city cemetery. Nothing the least bit voluntary about it. A place of hideous death and suffering. That Nazi material made while the inhabitants lived there was the product of forced labor and was the source, in many cases, of the Jews' own suffering and death.

I raise this for two reasons. One, basic awareness. All over Poland the Nazis herded Jews into involuntary quarters that were over-crowded by a factor of as much as 100, where disease and starvation caused mass deaths, and that were eventually liquidated to the extermination camps like Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Point: The ghettos were part of the death-plan the Nazi's had for the entire Jewish population of Poland. Compliance was not voluntary and any ethnic Pole caught hiding and harboring Jews was shot.

Reason two for bringing this to your awareness today. British laziness? Anti-Semitism? Ignorance? Who knows why this story was so grossly underdescribed. It is a ghastly understatement and it's the Brits who made it. The Poles would not do this.

The accusations of anti-Semitism still leveled at the Poles are tiresome. Some Poles are anti-Semitic, as some Americans are racist against Mexicans, blacks, Asians, etc. But the official media and the official policies are not anti-Semitic. This is on the Brits.

Why? I have no idea. But let's be careful who we char with what brush. As I will be. Maybe this mistake was just laziness. Or a mistaken use of language. Maybe British English IS that different from American English. (I doubt it.) But anyway, the point we should all be clear on is that the Nazi's were the agents of death for Jews, and Poles, in Poland in World War II and today is a very sad anniversary. It led directly to the deaths of thousands of Jews who were stuck in that Lodz Ghetto against their will.

That is worth bowing our heads and asking for mercy.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Face,family, story, not a statistic

A very young man was buried today.

Too young to know dirt and the box.

Joshua J. Ehlers was buried today in a very small town, Albert City, in Iowa. He was the son of Betty and Steve Ehlers and the wife of Lauren, father of Izzy and Jamie. He was the grandson of Doris Skog. He was the brother of Bethany and Caleb and Andrew and Britta and Madison. He was an uncle, a cousin to our cousins, a friend, and a soldier.

Sgt. Joshua Ehlers took his own life a week ago near Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

His family is devastated.

Joshua suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He suffered. He went to war, came home, and suffered more.

His family is devastated. He is too young to be locked beyond time, beyond us, beyond his family, in ground.

We are told that one soldier commits suicide every single day. Every day one post-Iraqi and post-Afghani veteran kills him or herself. Every day. One dies.

We hear the statistics but not the stories. Joshua's mother is distraught. His father, his wife, his daughters -- when they become old enough to understand, his siblings. His grandmother. In little stories across this country, ground is opened and dirt is poured. It is a sour sacrament.

We hear the statistics and say, "something must be done," but we are clueless.

There are treatments for PTSD. Not enough soldiers have access to them. Or choose them.

I had such a treatment today. My war was only a few miles from here, from home. The IED's that blew up were quieter, but deadly. My wounds are hidden too.

Except to my family. And my therapist. This afternoon I held small electronic chargers in my hands and felt the bilateral pulses in my palms, while I relived a part of my trauma. I sobbed and felt the same sensations in my body as I had when the trauma occurred. An hour later, some small measure of healing had occurred.

It will be a long time before my trauma is healed. And I cannot say that this approach, called EMDR, works for everyone. Trauma is a tricky fox that shows itself in different guises and has manifest disguises. It does not give up easily. It is a brain injury. I don't know if it could help even those who can't afford treatment. I feel very lucky. But not everyone with PTSD is able to choose the various therapies available.

And not all of them work quickly enough to alleviate the excruciating pain that our veterans bring home. I don't know if Joshua was in therapy or had been treated for PTSD.

I just know that he was family. A face, a story, a father, a son, a brother, a husband, a guy who just last week was mugging for the camera with his young daughters, his wife, and two overgrown make-believe animals at a theme park. He was a grandson to a sweet woman who makes the best cinnamon buns in America. And now he's gone. All but memory.

Such a tragedy. A human one. An Albert City tragedy. A family tragedy. A very sad sad loss.

Peace to the memory of this bright young man.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Box and the Amber Necklace That Got Away

It was supposed to have been an amber necklace.

Years afterward, I bought myself an amber necklace to replace, in my mind, the one that got away.

In the spring of 1987, I hosted a small delegation of some six or seven Russian Orthodox bishops at our congregation in Chicago for an ecumenical prayer service. It was a meaningful evening with early American (think Sacred Harp) and other traditional hymns and moving homilies about Christian Unity from the leader of the Russian group, an Archbishop Kirill, and the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, The Rev. Herbert Chilstrom. My baby was barely five months old and the photos show I had not lost the pregnancy weight.

Later that night, Archbishop Kirill wanted to see the top of the Sears Tower so off we went through the streets of the South Loop, Orthodox hats with their long tails trailing and flying in the wind. It was rather hilarious, really. It turned into a fun day with lots of good feeling and a warmth I had hoped for but barely dared to expect. They had been a bit taken aback when I was the official representative to meet them at the airport, tiny imp in my arms. But we bonded. And at the end of the day, when I dropped them off at the Sofitel, they implored me to come up to their room. Their was much hush-hushing and murmuring among them.

As it turned out, the beautiful amber necklace they had reserved for me was given, an obligation, to the wife of Bishop Chilstrom instead. They had no gift for her when she turned up at the service and she must receive something. They felt chagrinned at having nothing left for me. So.

There is a malachite box on my kitchen island this week, reminder of their visit. They gave it to me late that night as a consolation gift in place of the afore-lamented amber necklace. It is a beautiful little box. I have a small Orthodox cross tucked inside. It also happens to be the perfect size for holding AA batteries. It usually resides on the living room bookcases.

Why did I move it to the kitchen? As it turns out, Archbishop Kirill is now Patriarch Cyril of the whole big Russian Orthodox Church, their pope, as it were. And a top supporter of Putin. Patriarch Cyril is currently visiting Poland, trying to promote and ratify a better relationship between their Roman Catholics and the Russian Orthodox. That is a longer story than this brief blog post can even begin to tell.

I am simply being a bit sentimental. Remembering a long time ago, a meaningful evening, a riot of bishops billowing in the windy canyons of downtown Chicago. Cyril has long been a vehicle of the Russian government -- I'm not that naive -- but he was a funny, kind man when I met him. And I understand something of the cost of discipleship in impossible places. No excuses, just a bit of nostalgia. And a wisp of wistfulness for the amber necklace that got away.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Welcome home Missy Franklin

How refreshing this is!

In a grim summer that seems only to get bleaker, it was so much fun to see the uninhibited, unabashedly joyful posters in the neighborhood this week that say, "Welcome home, Missy!" I've taken to driving past them just to make me smile.

A young woman doing what she is gifted to do. A young woman doing what she loves to do. The perfect marriage of love and ability. It is a gift to this world to have joy and laughter and skill working in sync -- one can hardly say working with a straight face, it looks like such fun, except we know it does involve a lot of work.

Five Olympic medals, four gold (in case you slept through the Olympics, fair enough) are now at home just up the hill from our house. Pretty cool. And a lovely young woman who loves life.

No grim lectures, no hateful, snarky rhetoric (of which I too am guilty), no fires, no drought, just joy and being who God made her to be.

That is the coolest thing and I am going to be all about that (I hope).

Those welcome banners of course should hang on the neighborhood signs for all of us who work hard and do well at joining our gifts to good purpose. But for now I'll at least enjoy the ones that welcome Missy.

"The Golden Gator" (the neighborhood swim team) is back in the 'hood. And we're all feeling a bit brighter.


Who in your neighborhood gets a banner and a welcome home party? Think on these things.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Medical school commencement

Commencement: To begin, to enter in, to start.

The first day of school. Pencils, check. Notebook (electronic), check. Big pink erasers, check. Bike headlight, check.

I'm remembering the shopping trips that netted big bags of yellow number 2 pencils, chubby-finger primary color crayola brand crayons, Elmer's glue, a red pen for the teacher, Hello Kitty folders, pink backpacks, and a plastic protractor. I loved those trips for school supplies.

Every year our trip was itself a sign of forward movement. From Hello Kitty to horses to, finally, plain color folders. Big trapper binders. Expensive calculators.

How does it go so fast? The girls don't think so. They think, "FINALLY!" I'm thinking, "what, where, when did it pass?"

Medical school commencement. The first day of school. A ceremony that involved a stethoscope, an oath (think Hippocratic only updated to allow cutting of skin), and a sleek white coat. A processional, a recessional. Suit coats and fancy dresses.

Now we have gone from locker partners to "body buddies," from algebra to anatomy.

She is a woman. Her own woman. Still ours but more hers. It jolts the system, I confess. Even while it feels right. She can cut skin and bonk people on the knee to check reflexes and, before we left, she confirmed that each of us has a heart.

Commencement. It has begun.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What is facebook for?

It's like the Chatterbox Cafe.

We meet up here to encourage and support each other. We meet here to share ideas and to commisserate. We meet up here to brag about our kids and face the passages of life. We share pictures, quips, provocations and wisdom. We vent, rant, speak up and speak out. We generally know we are preaching to the crowd when we post our political comments. I know I do. And I don't write about things to disrespect others but to encourage kindred spirits and to express myself.

I draw the line at looney tunes. Or, as Annika calls it, loon birds on pills.

I love my Republican family. I don't agree with them but we have indeed agreed to disagree. I engage from time to time but often just let their comments go. I can't argue with everything. And I don't want to. I want to learn and I do try to understand what my family and friends have to say when their views differ from mine.

But hate and threatening language is beyond the pale. I unfriended a few folk today because they had lost touch with the reality that most of us on earth seem to appreciate. Even their own conservative friends urged them to reign it in.

I wrote a FB post earlier today about my decision to block folk. It wasn't the mainstream of the family and friends who are my GOP pals I blocked, or would. We are friends, in spite of our differences. And frankly, I want to know and understand what is so upsetting to the GOP about my views and those of the Democratic stream.

I'll continue to post my views and will welcome rational dialogue -- as my earlier post -- put it. But stuff so loony I don't want to pollute your tender brains with it, well, that is beyond my tolerance level. And it isn't healthy for children and other living things.

I hope we can learn to know and understand and respect one another better. Wouldn't that be a good use for facebook?

Meanwhile, I'll be at the usual table in the Chatterbox Cafe. See you there, friend.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Obama is coming to Denver Sunday to comfort victims of shooting

I'm glad President Obama is coming to Denver / Aurora today, Sunday, to comfort the victims of the theatre shooting. It is appropriate for the Comforter in Chief (well, that would be God but in temporal terms, it is the President) to be on site with those who suffer, to share in their pain and to offer, in the name of all of us, a word and a gesture of empathy. He belongs with us.

This has been a sickening, horrible two days. And this is before we really get to see the faces and learn the stories of all the lives cut short. Hearing, seeing just a few is heartbreaking. Hearing the others will be more than we can take in.

It will be good to have our President come to share our sorrow and pain. The Governor and other officials have also been wonderful about this. And together, we will find ways to move forward. But we'll always be missing someone. Those twelve who died were our neighbors, if not our own friends and families. The world will be poorer for their loss.

And that leads me to think of all the Americans who are gunned down in senseless tragedies, one or two at a time. They are lost to us too.

If the statistic I saw today is correct, Obama could make a visit to Chicago every single Sunday to visit with the families and victims of the same number of persons who died and were injured in gun violence here on Friday night. Twelve people die in Chicago on any typical weekend of gun violence.

That is a lot of Presidential comforting.

I'm not faulting the President for not going to Chicago, or LA,or wherever every time an American dies in gun violence. He would do nothing else. It is that bad. Can you imagine?

On the other hand, perhaps that gesture alone would make a staggering point spectacularly clear. We are out of control.

With all due respect to the Second Amendment, I am done respecting the Second Amendment. We done up and did our big Revolution two-hundred-some years ago. We don't need to fear the British. And we don't, as some paranoids worry, need to fear our own government. They are not that dumb. But we are that dumb. We are being bullied by the gun lobby to allow 12 year olds to walk into an Army-Navy Surplus Store with their dad and buy an AK-47 (saw it happen). Now what on earth is that for? Practice? For Friday night at the movies?

My daughter should not live in fear of random gun violence at a Friday night premier of any movie. And the idjuts who are making a "sassy" clever deal about the Batman connection in this case are missing the whole point. We don't know the shooter's motive and it, frankly, doesn't matter.

What matters is that a disturbed individual can order 600 rounds of ammo and buy four deadly weapons with the same ease that I purchased the gauzy turquoise cardigan on page 63 of the clothes catalog tonight.

I say, repeal the Second Amendment. Find a fair way for hunters to buy their hunting rifles.
Stop making the rest of the junk. Arm the police and train them. And let the rest of us get our rocks off the old fashioned way. Let's wrestle for it.

Call me naive (I am). But from where I sit I'm just done. Done falling over and wringing my hands and saying, oh, we're just doomed. Civilizations have changed before. Human nature has never been improved but its societies have. Let's try something bold.

Otherwise, I vote for Obama to visit every single family and victim of gun violence in America next week. All several hundred of them.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Let the record show: a history of Clergy Sexual Abuse at Holy Trinity

The reception is going to be modest. In a conference room. Apparently, not a large crowd is expected. I've RSPV'd for four Erickson-Pearson's. We want to tell the bishop "God Speed" -- as in speed you away from us!

For the record and before Bishop Allan "Paterno" Bjornberg leaves office. let it show that he and his staff did everything but tie me to a pole and light it on fire to keep me from venturing anywhere near the sad subject of clergy sexual abuse at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Littleton. My intentions were tender but mis-communicated and he whipped the congregation into a frenzy of anxiety. One of his assistants recently expressed her regret that I am still angry?

After a day again like today, filled with nightmares, intrusive thoughts and terrifying memories. Madelyn, anger doesn't even begin to cover it. In fact, it isn't anger. It is trauma.

Interestingly, over the past ten years I've heard from a score of experts, including the work of an MIT organizational expert, about how organizations will do every single thing in their power to avoid humiliation and embarrassment, ANYTHING, EVERYTHING. That is a lot of things.

My mind can comprehend the failure of nerve, the lack of conscience but the MIT guy was not writing about churches so much as about business and politics. Call me naive but I did not expect such behavior in the church. Yes, call me naive. Me: very naive.

I know I will never hear a word of apology, not an offer of responsibility, of accountabiity. That is how power works.It closes in on itself. So let me just say thing again, for the record, Holy Trinity is Penn State and Bishop Bjornberg is Joe Paterno -- he and legions of others who have done all in the power -- which is a lot, it turns out -- to cover-up the abuse and turn any whistle-blowers into scapegoats.

It is not a career path I expected. Not something I planned for my resume. But here we are.

And you, victims of abuse, don't ever bother hoping the institution will come to its senses and repent. Church or no church, repentance is not part of their picture -- at least in this synod. You can expect nothing.

Instead, get a really really good therapist. You might think I am writing this in a pique of anger but actually I am writing out of a sense of hope, and power. You will find ways to heal. You will move forward. But not if you count on the church to help. Your therapist can help you frame the situation as abuse. And help you to understand what can and cannot be counted upon by abusers -- and those who cover up for them. Get help because you can get better!

I'm far more than angry. I am hopeful. I am in treatment twice a week and three times one week of the month. I am on more medication than you can imagine. And I do EMDR and, you know what, it all helps.

What the church won't offer, the healing arts can and will and do. My prayer for you is to find the very best therapist you can and work to undo the abusive syndrome that now floods your spirit. It is slow. But it can be done. I believe you will be better.

Just because the church will always be screwed, you don't have to be. Peace be with you and keep in touch. The journey is home.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

People in the church love me

Oh yeah!

Would you believe they run when they see me coming?

Not all. Not all by any means. I have found myself a tiny little sense of community within church and they seem to like me okay. Of course, I'm pretty quiet there. I need it to be safe.

Speaking truth to power is not a popular item on most people's agenda, whether you are the one called to speak or to listen. It is a conversation that goes unspoken and unheard. Hence, the findings of the Sanduskey/Penn State investigation.

I get tired of being ignored. I get tired of being shunned. I get tired of feeling I live in exile, even in my own larger(ELCA)community of faith. But that is the way it is. Because some things must be said.

Red flags

More red flags than you could count.

So says the findings of the investigation into the sexual abuse cover up at Penn State.

I've not written much about this case because it feels like shooting ducks in a bucket. There is so much wrong with Jerry Sanduskey and his higher-ups / enablers at Penn State.

I just want to say this. The very same thing still happens in the church. The Protestant church. The process of moving and enabling abusive clergy continues. I hate to say it but if you are part of a church you should just assume that your pastor is a potential perpetrator and that if he is, or she is, no one in power has done anything to stop it.

Now, really, most pastors, the overwhelming majority are not perpetrators. But you are not going to know that. Because no one in authority is going to tell you. No one is going to intervene in the system to get the perps out of it. I hate to say this but the intelligence I pick up 'from the street' indicates this is true. Bishops are too busy circling the wagons -- in a different configuration, to be sure -- and trying to be relevant and to grow the church to pay any attention to the warning signals or signs or even, in some cases, outright allegations.

Okay, not no one. I believe in the commitments of some of the leaders in the church to stop abuse and to stop abusers. They do yeoman's work to respond with care to victims and to put the perps out of business. But they are not the majority of leaders out there. We have regressed.

So, watch for red flags. This could be a commercial for reading "Safe Connections" -- still available as a PDF download from the website. There are always red flags. Throw them. Pay attention. And even if it isn't you getting caught up in abusive behavior, think of the vulnerable young single women in your congregation. The single mother or father. Throw the red flag for their sake and don't stop until someone pays attention to you.

The saddest thing from this Penn State report was the comment about how much abuse could have been prevented "if only" authorities had acted sooner. Think of all the children who have to live with hellacious memories and intrusive thoughts -- signs of trauma -- for the rest of their lives.

Throw the red flag. Now.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The gift that goes on giving

"Tell me when it comes to a nuclear apocalypse."

That is the threshold we agreed on. When the Fast and Furious scandal reaches the point of impending nuclear catastrophe, I want to know. Otherwise, Dave has agreed to pay attention to it for me and I don't have to know one blessed thing.

We are big fans of the writer, Calvin Trillin. Trillin and his wonderful, late wife Alice had their own special tradition which we have copied.

It is impossible for any one of us to keep track of everything in the news. So the Trillins gave one another gifts. She would follow (this was many long years ago) the developments of the war going on then in Cyprus so that he would not have to. She gave this to Calvin as a gift. He could skip right over those news headlines and TV reports and pay them no heed whatsoever. It left his mind free to worry and wonder about Northern Ireland and the state of the downstairs neighbors. It was an excellent arrangement. Of course, he returned the favor and set her free from a topic of her choice.

Dave has done this for me, and I for him, over the years about a variety of topics. For example, I don't think he's worried about Tadijkistan for years. And I don't fret about dead-heading the salvia. But this is a bigger gift: Fast and Furious.

The moment I heard word one about the subject I thought, I don't care. And sure enough, Dave offered to care about it for the both of us. It is the gift that keeps on giving. Through days and weeks of headlines and broadcasts, I don't have the slightest idea of what it is all about. I don't have to. Dave is paying attention enough for the both of us.

As with the Trillins, we get to set a threshold for when to intervene and say, "Time you knew about this!!!" I could have set a lower threshold, like the whole business with the Attorney General being censured by Congress but I really didn't want to know about that. So I've said, nuclear war. When the salvia, or Fast and Furious lead to an impending war, I want to know. Until then, spare me.

I need to get Dave another gift, though. Any ideas? I'm thinking perhaps the lawn art.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Poland wins European champion games

Poland wins!

When was the last time you heard those words?

Spoken not with cynicism or cruel resignation to an opposite fate, these words are an apt description of the outcome of Europe's futbol championships. Granted, the Polish soccer team exited in early rounds.

Some two million fans invaded Poland to watch "the beautiful game" and cheer on their teams. A banner sign at the train station invited visitors to "feel like at home." Nobody claimed to hold Poland hostage to an alien political philosophy and, in fact, the Poles ended up feeling rightfully at home in the middle of Europe -- where they belong.

As you know, I don't have a horse in this race. I'm not Polish. I have no Polish relatives to regale me with tales of the golden age of Polish football (soccer) in the 70's, though I do have some friends who try. I'm theoretically neutral.

But it is hard to be neutral about Poland. A partisan by choice, I can only rejoice in this Polish victory. The continent came to Poland and Poland made a good impression and its people feel like they have a rightful place in the midst of things. Politicians solidified their friendships -- can you imagine Angela Merkel and Poland's Donald Tusk cheering together? Fans from Spain and Italy despised one another but loved Poland.

Financially, there are still some bills to be paid. This may not have been marked paid quite yet. But the benefits will continue.

It took a beautiful battlefield, with gorgeous green turf and some defenders keeping the ball out of goal, and some strikers getting it in. But Poland is back in the thick of things and not just for now. There is a renewed spirit of participation and engagement. Poles walk around with their heads just a bit higher and their shoulders straighter. It is the new beginning of a new beginning.

And like we said earlier, how terrific is it that the world came to Poland to fight it out and the trophy was a big shiny silver thing and not the very turf itself.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Germans fight on Polish soil: Battle it out

The Germans are back, battling on Polish soil!

Poland is a part of Europe. But of course, you say, look at the map.

Poland is a part of Europe. You would think this too obvious to mention. But you would be wrong. Poland has been forgotten, ignored, neglected, abused, wiped off the map completely, and left out of European self-consciousness time after time after time. For much of its long life -- since the 10th century -- Poland has ended up on the wrong sides of rivers and seas and geo-political divides. From 1945 - 1999 it was locked behind an iron curtain, a satellite in orbit around a behemoth that required it to forsake its largely European identity. It might have been smack dab in the center of continental Europe but it surely didn't seem so. Poland felt more like a back-water, isolated, stagnating, while the rest of Europe recovered from World War II and moved on. It was so little known, its own War story was ignored. Even in other European countries, like the souvenir shop I visited in Amsterdam in 1984, one heard, "But Poland isn't a part of Europe."

Well, it is.

Poland has been Europe's favorite lost-in-plain-sight battlefield for centuries. Conveniently located on a largely level plain, with unimpeded access from east and west, Poland is the place where Europe has come to fight for forever. Mongols and Tartars, Turks, Teutonic Knights and Germanic tribesmen. Slavs from Eastern lands and even the now-taciturn Swedes conquered and ravaged Poland over the ages. More Turks, Austrians, Hungarians, Germans, Russians. The French marched through without stopping to take over and won the "Most Popular" award. But then the Russians attacked again. And Germans again. Then the Russians again. Who hasn't invaded Poland?

And now they have come again. Europe came back to fight on Polish soil. But of course, the flat fertile fields and rich mineral resources have been contested for eons.

More startling, the Poles are happy to welcome them. The Europeans -- all of them -- are doing battle in Poland again right now. Portugal and Spain, England and Sweden, Greece, Slovakia, even the Russians got swanky accomodations.

But this time it is different. This evening (Thursday), Germany will fight its heart out. And Italy will be the opponent, not the Axis Ally.

This time it is very different. This time they are fighting on the lush green turf, not for it. This time the trophy will not be the land itself.

Poland is hosting (along with Ukraine) the UEFA -- European Football Championships -- 2012 games. It is the coveted UEFA Cup at stake, not Poland itself. Visitors, so far some 86% of them, have said they will come back again to enjoy the Polish hospitality. It's largely gone off without incident. The Russians were not especially welcome and a brouhaha broke out. And was quickly contained. But that's all.

This time Poland will be left significantly better off economically after everyone has gone home. And what a change that will be.

It is high time that Poland be back in the middle of things! Poland -- in the very heart of Europe where it belongs. And it is about time for Poland to get to host a friendly, even lucrative invasion where the battles will be civilized, if not always civil, and the trophy will not be the land itself.

Tonight Germany fights on Polish soil. But not against Poland. What a great lot of change that is.