Blog Archive

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Who's in charge here?


CONTROL


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...


THINK ON THESE THINGS



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!
Jan

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.

Next?

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 www.elca.org 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.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chaos Closed: Philadelphia Church Official Jailed, awaits sentencing

Church official found guilty of cover-up in abuse cases


"Imperious" church leaders and an "insular camaraderie" among clergy promotes the cover-up of sexual abuse against women and children in local parishes. So says a source to the NYTimes article cited for this blog.

A Philadelphia Archdiocese official and advisor to the late Archbishop was found guilty on Friday of endangerment and covering up incidences of abuse. Endangerment. This is a key part of the charge.

Protestant church leaders, don't bother breathing a sigh of relief that it was them, not you. The justice system will find you too.

It is only a matter of time.

The tide has turned.

Twenty years when I began this work -- fighting abuse in the church -- I had a churchwide (ELCA) mandate but still had an uphill battle and precious, few allies. Today there are still too few in the church who seem to 'get it' and to take an aggressive approach against perpetrators. But the tide has turned. Without question. Chaos closed. There is no explaining this behavior, no defending it, no blaming the victims any more.

Oh, that still happens, but in all official circles of justice it is clear. There is no fuzzy boundary. And that is a good thing.

Church leaders, like doctors, take their own oath in their ordination vows and while the words, "First, do no harm," do not appear verbatim, their meaning is clear. Church leaders are always responsible for keeping the safe boundary between clergy and laity and that boundary never includes sexual contact. If a bona fide couple emerges, it is up to them to remove the danger of a misuse of power by ending the pastor/parishioner relationship and conducting an open and honest relationship. Otherwise, it always runs the risk, or it is outright, an abuse of the considerable power of the pastoral office.

So. This verdict is in. It is a shot across the bow of all judicatory and other church leaders. No more cover ups. You will be held accountable. I know of cases where this must have some bishops shaking in their boots. And rightly so. The justice system is coming for you. I suggest you plead guilty. Chaos closed.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Talk back

For the moment, the best way to respond to me is either on the facebook where many of you read this blog or by sending me an email. I have enabled the comments section but it does not appear at the bottom of the post. This is not ideal because you all can't talk to one another but if a great discussion threatens to break out I'll ask your permission to cut and paste your responses to me right here on the blog. And if I ever figure out how to outsmart this system, the comment box will be back. (It is on old posts but something changed and it has gone bye-bye.)

So, talk back at epfam@aol.com Or respond to my facebook post at Jan Erickson on facebook.

Thanks, and my apologies for the inconvenience.

Jan

Chaos Theory in limits

Not all chaos continues.

Or should.

I wrote the book on boundaries, for heaven's sake. Chaos has to resolve.

There are cars that seem not to understand that traffic lanes are meant to be used. And that turn signals, traffic signals, merge signs and other directions are meant to be followed.

Chaos in traffic is, well, chaos. And dangerous. I was reminded of this just moments after posting yesterday's blog and I thought, what was I thinking! Of course, chaos has its limits.

Boundaries are there for our safety. Order -- to to a point -- is a guide that keeps us human really beings moving alongside one another without crashing.

Surprise is one thing, and it does crack us open to new possibilities. But you won't get me to say that unlimited chaos, in daily life, is a good thing.

My days go better, are more productive when I impose some order, some expectation on them. I am writing now because I have a commitment to writing in the mornings.

What I do argue for is being open. My phone just rang. An unexpected offer to write a guest blog once a month. Too much order would have closed me off from even answering the phone.

Some of us have a higher tolerance for chaos than others. If yours is low, honor your own needs. If you run a magazine that has weekly firm deadlines, well, you're stuck. But I still say, always leave a squige of room for the unexpected to sneak in.

Chaos, at least in theory, is a good thing. That's how the light gets in!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Chaos Continues

I prefer chaos to the hell of order.


Paraphrasing the late, Polish poet, Wyslawa Szymborska, I want to cast my vote for the messiness of chaos.

Chaos is a twenty-year-old Stanford student ringing your doorbell at 8:30 p.m. on a Tuesday evening, with her suitcase and duffel bag and all the earthly belongings she will require for a summer in Denver to give up her time and passionate energy to work on the Obama campaign. I was not quite expecting her.

"Hi, I'm Ashley." I was so flustered I forgot to tell her my name. Two hours later she found the courage to ask, with polite patience, "and what do I call you?" Ooops.

In all the commotion of planning a quick visit to our local high school by the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and training a few hundred new summer volunteers, and having a wingding weekend for voter registration at the PrideFest and Juneteenth events this past weekend, Ashley's arrival was only rumored, never confirmed. Chaos. But such good chaos.

Ashley (or is it Ashleigh, I don't yet even know her last name!) will be living with us this summer while she gives her time to the campaign. What a privilege for us to participate in this way. And what fun to have another kid in the house.

Chaos brings surprise, change, new ideas, fresh and promising possibilities to our world. We roll with it. That is what we do. And I believe that is what the divine does with the universe. Rolls it. And rolls with it.

I can't wait to see what happens next. In fact, that's life, waiting for what happens next.

Gotta go buy new sheets. Ciao for now.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Brand: Chaos

Chaos leads us on!


Chaos gets a bad rap. Not with me, though.

Chaos is the raw material that makes life move. Without chaos we would be static, stuck, left with only the materials and experiences we have at hand. Without chaos we would have only what we were given at birth and only what we have already had.

Chaos brings the vitality to our lives. Chaos is the swirling mass of messy stuff that gives us new chances, changes, growth.

I love chaos, in theory. I create it wherever I go. It is that 'out of the box' oddball question that pushes the conversation beyond its boundaries. Chaos is the moment when the mad mix of unexpected possibilities swirls into position and something new is born.

That is my "brand." In this world where all of us are asked / expected to have a brand, to be one thing and not another, to be cold-eyed laser focused on a topic, a place, a worldview, my view is chaos.

For those of you new to the blog, you will discover a variety of topics here: Poland, history, spiritual life, sexual abuse, and daily life. It may seem a disparate hodge-podge but I invite you to see what is below the surface: Chaos. It started with a laser-focus on Poland but so much more feeds it. And it all adds up to this, the roiling and rollicking mix of life adds up to this wonderful, if sometimes vexing, reality. We are born in and from chaos and we live in it. The trick is to make it work for us. I hope your chaotic day adds up to something really cool for you.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Space for rent

I am not renting out space in my head.

I am giving the grey matter away for free.

Disrespect is hard to tolerate. And I got dissed today, big time. It doesn't much bother me when I'm disliked (okay, I mind but it doesn't rankle the same way). But disrespected. Oh, look out.

What about you? What is it that gets under your skin the most?


I have to thank for my real estate problem an editorial agent who didn't bother to read my material and then proceeded to tell me what was wrong with it. I like critics who carefully engage and give constructive criticism. But this was a level of disrespect I had almost forgotten.

My consolation, as always when dealing with ass-holes, is knowing that he has to live with himself. I wouldn't exactly mind it if his plane got delayed in Cleveland overnight, either.

How do you keep idjuts from renting space in your head -- or getting it for free?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Losing my religion"

It is interesting to be out in the world incognito.

For whatever it is worth, I don't make a point of telling my hairdresser, my friend's parents, folks I meet in writing class and random people in the world that I am a Lutheran pastor.

I sure learn a lot that way.

The conversations I have, and overhear, are both enlightening and ear-splitting. Most are heart-breaking.

People hate the church. Let's be honest about this. People don't feel neutral or indifferent. They're either in it and of it or they really really hate it.

The reasons for hating "organized religion" are often personal and various but they generally come round to one basic, grounding point. As the poet and playwright wrote, "Somebody almost walked away with all of my stuff."

Abusing power takes many forms. I spent years fighting against and responding to the scurge of sexual abuse, which seems not to have abated, just gone underground again.

But the abuse of power can be subtle and all the more dangerous. A recent news story tells of a Catholic hospital refusing HIV meds to a patient because, well, you know. The controversy around contraception continues.

Freedom from, and of religion was articulated as early as the ancient Greeks. They knew the danger of messing with power and the spirits of persons.

Spiritual life can not be imposed or implied. It cannot be enforced. The human spirit will go its own way.

Which leads to a multitude of abuses all their own. Anarchy in the spiritual realm is as potentially dangerous as dictated spiritual life.

Which leads me to this: life asks a lot of us. It asks of us respect, carefulness, kindness. It asks of us a brain -- to not fall for anything. And a heart -- to not push our experience of the divine down anyone else's throat. It asks of us decency, to speak truth as we know it. And to challenge one another.

It asks us, god forbid, to be intelligent. Much of what I hear from outside the church is mush. It is intellectually nonsense. It is reactionary and shallow. To my mind. And yet I respect the experience that is searching for articulation.

And it comes back around to this: Somebody messed with me, with my mind, my spirit, my body and I didn't like it so I quit. They might not be able to explain it to the satisfaction of the great minds of our time, or any time, and so we ridicule them. Not fair at all.

They are on to something. It is the abuse of power. Messing with folks. Using the gift of divine grace to impose, manipulate, screw with. In whatever fashion.

If the church wants to survive -- and maybe God has new plans for getting the word out, it has become that serious -- we are going to have to clean up our act. And first of all, we are going to have to own up, humbly without excuse or self-exhonoration, to our badness. We are not what Jesus wanted. Not always and maybe even not often enough. It is not just odd balls who screw up. It is the institution itself. We have to apologize. And be open.

We must listen more than we speak, which is why I sit there while Ty puts stuff in my hair to make it come out looking lighter and let him rant and rave. He has a real beef, a real story. Then I ask a few questions. Gentle, respectful. He could like Jesus. He might even follow Jesus. But he is not going to be going to any of our churches anytime soon.

What are we going to do about that?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Nazi Death Camps

My Polish gentile friends' fathers and mothers were not incarcerated in "Polish death camps." They were Nazi camps. Nazi from the start to the finish.

Because the Nazi's put their death camps -- Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Birkenau -- out of their way on Polish soil,, it has become common to speak of the "Polish death camps."

Let's say this altogether: Nazi death camps. Nazi death camps. Nazi death camps.

The Polish experience of the death camps was death, not authority. They did not administer, run, rule or in any way have responsibility for what the occupation German forces did on their territory.

President Obama made the mistake again yesterday and we're up in arms. It has been such an uphill slog to gain respect for the Righteous Gentiles who saved Jews, who paid with their own lives. There was as much, and as little, anti-Semitism in Poland as in Spain, France, Norway and most certainly in Germany, but this does not broad-brush the Polish people with the blame for these hideous wreckers of humanity and challenges to the human condition.

The camps were conceived in Germany, executed by Nazi officials, and set on Polish soil only for proximity to the victims (and to keep from offending the German sensibilities).

I was shocked to find my Polish gentile friends and their parents with the same blue tattoos on their arms as my Jewish friends in Chicago. Poles were kept in the death camps as long as they were useful for hard labor. Then they were summarily killed too.

The Nazi's --- I am so tempted to return evil for evil and simply call them German's --- had a plan to annihilate the majority of the Polish population to leave it as "living room" for their own people.

So let us be clear: The Polish people, Jewish and Gentile, were victims of the Nazi plan of genocide. The Poles were victims of the war, not (any more than elsewhere) collaborators.

If you want to talk about collaboration, let's sit down and talk about Vichy France. Why are we not still outraged and preoccupied, prejudiced about that? It is time for history to tell its story with integrity and honesty.

Peace to the memory of the victims of the Shoah, and to all those Polish gentiles who also died at the hands of the Nazi's and their death camps.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Decoration Day

My mother taught me to drive in the cemetery.

It was the one place, she said, that I could not kill anybody. Also, she joked (she actually made a few jokes from year to year) that if I made a terrible mistake, well, we were already in the place where we would end up after all. She did not make me laugh often but this was her scandalous joke and she told it often, to anyone who would listen. I sometimes wonder if there was some secret humor she was keeping to herself, her last laugh at the dead.


At any rate... Generations of Andersons, Swansons, and Ericksons were buried in Linn Grove Cemetery. In Colorado we mean, by generations, at the most four or five but we went all that way back. My great-great grandfather August was out here for the post-gold rush gold rush by the 1860's. He was a miner in Gilpin County, Central City, long before Colorado became a state and he is listed with his brother in the 1870 census. Fortune failed them in gold country so they became "sod-busters" on the dry, desert plains north of Denver and were attracted later to the county north of Greeley between the Cache le Poudre and South Platte Rivers. Irrigation was invented and farms began to spring up.

C.V. and August wrangled the earth successfully, had bushels of children and children's children and managed to yield fine crops of sugar beets, potatoes, corn and hay.

When I was a kid, before learning to drive, we went to the Linn Grove Cemetery on Memorial Day and it was called Decoration Day. We put petunias on some graves and geraniums on others. If you want to know the truth, my cousins and I wandered around and played. As years went on, I became amazed at just how many Andersons and Swansons and Ericksons had been laid carefully to rest forever in this dry clay dirt.

I don't go to the cemetery anymore. I have learned to drive. I don't need it for that. And I have lost the sense of connection with all those ancestors too. Some I would just as soon forget forever. I inherited some weird DNA, there are some petty stories that bother me, and I just don't feel like I belong.

Some day this summer, though, I will find myself drawn to Linn Grove and stand over those graves and wonder about the ancients who came west on horseback and in wagons and on primitive trains. They came with guts and pick axes and shovels and Singer sewing machines like the one in our dining room. They could have stopped but they kept on coming. They could have found an established city or town to settle in but they kept on moving.

So maybe that line of connection is unbroken after all. I don't forge new ground with a pick ax or dig up much dirt with a hoe -- my garden is modest -- but that impulse to forge new adventures, push into the unknown, break new ground is still alive and compelling.

So maybe I'm no dirt farmer. But I belong.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 1982: New Fantasies

The afternoon was warm and gentle and I walked for hours among groves of graceful, whispering birches, listening to the joyful songs of birds well nurtured by nature, soaking up the warm restoring rays of an early summer sun.

All of this elegant beauty shouted aloud to me of the promise of God's goodness, the promises of new life, of resurrection. It was the presence of a new creation and the sure, constant presence of God's "fresh every morning" love.


Only one thing was wrong with this scene: I was walking through a cemetery. And not just any cemetery at that. 470,000 bodies lay in the ground under those gentle birches, most all of them in mounded, unmarked graves -- huge mounds of verdant fresh green grass as far as the eye could see. They were marked only with plaques that gave the year of death: 1942, 1943, 1944.

What began as an ordinary city cemetery became, in the years of World War II, a bloody shrine of Russian pain and humiliation. Leningrad, as it was then, was surrounded by Nazi troops for 900 days. Hitler's plan was to lay siege to the city and to starve and shell it into submission. At that he did not succeed. But for those 900 days, through two bitterly cold winters, the people of Leningrad endured daily bombings and struggled to survive and feed families on rations of two grams of bread -- the equivalent of one communion wafer -- a day.

In the end, hundreds of civilians died. More died from starvation and disease than from the bombs. All of them were victims of war. They were buried together, sometimes 5000 a day, a tangle of pain and loss under those mounds of now fresh earth. Now it was eerily quiet except for the song of birds and breath of breeze, and, ironically, beautiful except for those ugly grave markers.

Among my companions on that day long ago, a German friend. Three others were Soviets. Udo was in the most poignant position. Not only was he German, from Nurmberg, the designated 'enemy of the day,' his own uncle, a conscripted Nazi soldier had died on the other side of the lines at Leningrad. His body was buried who-knows-where in the countryside outside the city. Or was he buried here too? German blood mixed with Russian? He confessed his sense of guilt, even as a member of the new, young generation, the children of the war soldiers. He also expressed fear -- that we would blame him. And frustration, that the war ever happened, and dread: could it happen again? In those Cold War days, THE WAR was not so far behind us and yet another loomed as Europe filled up with warheads pointing every direction.

The moment came as Udo poured out his vulnerable soul to his friends, to us, that our Soviet friends came to surround him and put their hands first, tentatively, on his shoulders. Then it became a hugging, tears all around, and reconciliation. One generation forgiving the child of another. It was a moment I will never forget. Of forgiveness.

Forgiveness. Reconciliation. New thinking. Memory, not forgetting. But memory not beholden to the past.

As I look out on this Memorial Day, I remember that walk in the cemetery, Piskarovskoye. It is a hopeful memory. Poignant and tragic as it is, none of which can be washed away, it is yet a place where a new reality took root. A "new thinking" of peace, of understanding, letting go.

Beginning anew. We who are Christians call this resurrection. All of us who are human call this new possibility, fresh every day. We can wake up and be different. We can wake up and forgive. Let go. We can all be new.

The Soviets eventually, under Gorbachev, gave it a new word, "Perestroika." Remember those heady days? It is easy to lose heart but it is still possible, every day, each one doing our bit. Perestroika. New thinking. New fantasies of how it can be.

New doing.

May the memory of all who died be blessed and redeemed. And may we find a new fantasy that catches fire so the killing will end.

Peace.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"And I think to myself, what a wonderful world"

Trees of green, skies of blue

And that is only the beginning.

Gratitude.

Today.
Walking into our funky untraditional church holding hands, a minute late because of the spectacular tennis match we had to finish watching first.
"Jesus prays for us."
Realizing how far I've come, through hellfire and damnation and I'm still here.
A survivor. Thriving (some days).
But not overcome with bitterness or hate. I may have got angry and I still fantasize the best pranks on the planet but I don't hate and I'm not preoccupied with evildoers.
I'm recovering from the trauma.
Still a bit perplexed at the power of evil unleashed in this world but not beholden to it.

Plus, an amazing partner who stood by me through ten years of hell and fear and threat.
He didn't have to have stayed. Most partners don't, I've learned. Most marriages break up.
And two daughters who, despite it all, are healthy and whole.
I have not become an addict --- also an exponential likelihood for folks like me.
I love to watch too much tennis and I don't exercise enough but that is fixable.

Besides all this, I have a closet full of clothes I love to wear.
And earrings and jewelry I like.
I like my hair.
I look better than I have in years.
I have a beautiful home to be steward of and share with whomever will come over.
I have books and books and books to stretch and tickle my mind.
I have a computer that works. And I know something of how to use my iPhone.
My world is full of gorgeous music all the time.
Our yard looks wonderful and gives us something to tend and nurture.
I have a piece of Polish china that thrills me more than it should.
I saw a moose --- three, in fact --- the other day.
I have a car that I love and loves me back as it takes me on terrific adventures.
I have a piano with almost all of the notes that play just fine.
And, as of today, I even have a leaf-blower, the sign of being a true grown-up.

I have an extended family, brother, sisters, in-laws that love me for who I am.
I have a community that is fragile but fresh and inspiring.

I am learning a completely new skill at this advanced stage of life and doing not half bad.
I have something meaningful to do with my time and skill and imagination.
I have time.
I have laughter.
I have lots of love in my life.

I could go on and on and that alone is something to say "Yay!" about.
But most of all is this, I have a grateful spirit.
Today. And hopefully, tomorrow.

I am a blessed woman, so very lucky, fortunate.
That is what fills my mind and my heart today.

It's not all perfect. It never will be. Like an amputee, I lost something important. But like a survivor, I am learning how to live without what is gone and to be joyful about what is here. I am learning how to cope with nightmares, panic attacks, memory loss. I am learning that I may be traumatized but I am also strong enough to manage it, if not immediately, then ultimately.

Jesus prays for me. I like that. He prays that I not succumb to hatred and a hard heart. He prays that I not return evil for evil. He prays that I have courage and kindness and peace. And he prays that I will be free. Free indeed.

I find Jesus' prayer taking shape within me, every day, up and down, over and out, around and around. But some way or another, Jesus' is still taking shape within me.

And for that, most of all, I am very very grateful.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

To wait, perhaps to putter

Waiting is not an empty time.

I am writing this with some fear and trepidation, to reveal the inner life of a family waiting for a holy and good death. We wait. We are waiting. We are simply waiting.

How do we wait? The one who waits for death is quiet, acquiescent, kind, humble, and exceptionally gracious.

I want to write honestly about this. He knows we are hovering around, busying ourselves with many things, mostly for his comfort, yet we are just waiting. How can he be so kind, so loving, so merciful to the ministrations of a family that is existing simply to serve him?

I see him in his chair, as comfortable as one can be in the circumstances, and listen to his measured answers, "that would be good;" "yes, that would be nice;" "Okay, it is okay." He answers questions with an equanimity that would fail me completely.

As I, the daughter-in-law, the 'spare part,' as I jokingly called myself, watch these loving ministrations and hear the considerate questions, I am stunned by his grace.

"Go away and leave me alone," is what I feel I'd be likely to say.

He waits, knowing he waits, knowing we are waiting, knowing he knows we know he knows we are waiting, waiting, for one inevitable outcome. There is but one.

He waits, knowing that we who are a thousand miles from home are here for one reason, to wait. To watch. To make the most of the time we have. But finally it comes down to this, we are waiting. Time out of time.

It feels like holy time. And it feels like ordinary time. We are busy with things like flower arranging, baking, cooking, the ongoing press of business. Yet it all stops to wait at least once an hour. We look for signs.

It all feels morbid. And it all feels sacred. And there we have it. As the sages have said, there is no divide. All of life is holy. And, frankly, all of life is at least a bit morbid.

Those of us who plan to go on living for awhile are worrying about blood pressure and growing moles on our cheeks. Morbid, if you ask me. Long-term care insurance, morbid. Reminders of our morbidity. But we wonder too about college choices and shoes and soccer matches and savor the exquisite flavors of Luce's artichoke dip. We play the piano. We sing.

Waiting is a holy ordinary time. There is no other.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Blog suspended temporarily due to family illness

It is impossible to pretend to be back in Poland and write about those wonderful adventures when we are all feeling concerned about the health of my husband's father. It is where my mind is and will be for awhile. Don has a form of leukemia/lymphoma and it is serious.

We find ourselves feeling surrounded by loving friends and family -- and I'm going to leave you with that for now. Keep Don in your thoughts and prayers.

Peace,
Jan

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Life always happens when you're not quite ready

The flight was due to leave Denver at 4:50 p.m. on Thursday.

On the day before, Wednesday, at 4:50, we learned by accident that our flight had been rescheduled and we'd be leaving on Thursday morning at 10.

Procrastination is not a good strategy for those who are preparing to travel.

A quick trip to the pharmacy to complete errands we'd planned to accomplish on Thursday morning. Discovered a prescription called for a medicine that didn't exist. Emergency call to physician. Gentle, reassuring, patient and persistent pharmacists who worked overtime to take care of things. Prescription filled. I could proceed.

Back at home to finish packing. And a short night's sleep.

And we were off.

Going to Poland is always emotionally fraught for me. So many memories, so much expectation, so many disappointments, heartbreak, exhilaration.

But this time Dave was coming along. And what a joy that was.

We hurried up and waited. Discovered that TSA missed some forgotten liquids in our carry-on luggage.

Flew off into the clouds and through the night, watched three movies to stifle the nerves, a long lay-over at Heathrow, excellent French Onion Soup in terminal three, and then...

do Warsawaw, to Warsaw.

A city bus to our Five-Star Hotel and a gracious, elegant Old World welcome.

Arrival. Settle in. Go exploring. Settle nerves. Gawk with amazement.

Warsaw. A city of utter devastation in 1945. Nothing, nothing but rubble. And now, here we are, living again on the rubble of the past and finding a thriving, forward-leaning city.

Warsaw is not just its past anymore. It is its future. And that is all around! Especially in the university students that are our neighbors.

Poland is not built on rubble anymore. It is built on dreams.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Most this amazing day

There is no way one can say I didn't squeeze the very most out of life on this planet today.

Simple pleasures. All.

Coffee on the back porch looking out at the apple tree loaded with white blossoms and another that is brilliant pink. Birds going nuts in the warmth. The sound of the breeze in the tall fir trees and rustling the aspen. Warmth on my face, my arms, my toes. A true blue blaze of sky. The spiritual breeze gently stirring around and on and within me. Clear bell wind chimes singing the song.

There is a very special Colorado whirring fresh brush stroke that moves through the air and it kept me company all morning. The aspen are leafing out even as I watch. A time lapse camera would reveal their progress from morning until late afternoon. Likewise the apple tree: I sit and watch as they literally open up one-by-one-by-a-dozen.

Dave's company when he gets home from church. We sit and sigh. And watch the aspen metamorphosis. Then time for tennis. A great championship match. A trip to the garden store for a few more supplies. And a trip to the book store -- can it be better?

Then pie. And home for a late afternoon date with trees and bees and a lone white butterfly, lemonade from girls on the corner (50 cents for a medium) and a visit from Lola the pup across the street.

It hit 80 degrees but felt more like 75 all day and we soaked it all in --- the neighbors' forsythia, our busting-out tulips, the lone daffodil. And a big bouquet of pink popppies.

And now it's NCAA Women's basketball; time to text-chat with Kaia and decapitate my chocolate bunny.

These is more to life, I suppose. But I don't need it. This is the life. This.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Adrienne Rich: Soundtrack of my life

"Let us return to imperfection's school, no longer wandering after Plato's ghost."
....Adrienne Rich


Daily. Every single day. Some phrase of Adrienne Rich goes through my mind or I use it to clarify a point in conversation.

"She [Marie Curie] died a famous woman denying her wounds
denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power."

"Truth is not one thing or another but an ever-increasing complexity."


Rich died yesterday at 82 and I feel as though a companion has gone away. But the lovely thing about poets is that their wisdom is timeless and always accessible. I will continue to ponder these truths and so so many others for the rest of my days. They are as imprinted in my mind as my name. I view the world through these eyes, of ever-increasing complexity. I have learned that our wounds come from the same source as our power And that we do well to stop wandering after Plato's ghost. And so much more.

There are songs, too, that make up the sound track of my life but I have to say that Adrienne Rich's poetry is more constant than any one song. I'm so grateful for her wisdom and her courage.

God did a real good thing when She partnered with Adrienne to teach the world its truth.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cleaning out the closets

Closets need fresh air

That's the trouble with closets.

Closets are almost always small, closed off, interior rooms that have no access to fresh air or light. They get stale and messy and they are always filled with dark corners and, in fact, the closet itself is generally dark unless there is an artificial source of light that is turned on. Most of us know our way around our own closets so well that we can stumble around in the dim light and find our shirts, the checked one, and shoes, the stinky ones. Closets need exposure.

My gay and lesbian friends talk about coming out of the closet. Hurray!

My issue is a bit different. It is a different closet and a different set of issues. But then, not altogether different, I guess.

My closet needs some fresh air, natural light. My closet needs me to get out of it, too.

My closet is shame.

It is shame from a terrible experience that happened to me that seems to be nobody else's concern, that is, not beyond my faithfully wonderful family.

My closet is PTSD. I am not a war veteran. I don't get pages in the New York Times or coverage in Newsweek. I remember when the first war vets were being diagnosed with PTSD and I was so very glad they were getting the public attention and care they deserved. Now it seems the pages are filled with stories -- as there should be -- of PTSD suffering and war veterans.

But nobody writes about me. Not that I am a narcissist. That is not the point anyway. The point is to have a fellowship of suffering, a community of folks who see the world as you do, who freak out when you do, who cower in their closets of shame like you do. Community. Solidarity.

Clergy. Clergy who have been battered and beaten. That is my community. And nobody writes about us. We are the church's dirty little secret. That we happen. That terrible stuff happens to us. No one wants to know. Any articles written about us are sanitized beyond the point of our recognizing ourselves and what happened to us.

There is power in community. But nobody knows -- or has said -- how many ELCA clergy are disabled due to PTSD, depression, battering. We don't know one another. And, frankly, we are so shuttered in our own silos of depression and mistrust that we are not the ones who are most likely to reach out and find one another.

Well, this is a start. A modest proposal. If you trust me, let me know. We will continue to live without recognition, respect for our struggles, concern for our condition until we ourselves ask for it, maybe even demand it. No one, no bishop is going to come looking for us. We are their worst nightmares. In some cases, they are ours. But we need to find a way to clean out our own closets of shame and depression, of shell-shock and shattered trust.

And the way to do it is the way the military has begun its work with veterans: by drawing the victims together.

Can we do that? We can.

Monday, February 27, 2012

"Give up" (repeat by request)

Give up?
I'm not giving up.

It is Lent. And even people who aren't particularly religious talk about what they are giving up for Lent. Ice cream, alcohol, shoe shopping.

I'm not giving up for Lent. That's right. I'm giving up giving up. For Lent. Forever.


The old old word that became Lent means "lengthening." There are lots of things in my life that need lengthening. And strengthening.

So I am adding rather than subtracting. Muscles. Discipline. Time to concentrate.

Some of us have already given up a lot. And not always by choice. In fact, I'm still grieving all that was stolen from me.

When so much has been taken, I honestly don't know what else I've got to give up.

I'm not giving up anything more.

Bring it on.

"a foolish consistency"

"a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." __Emerson


Point well taken.

I said "no politics" but do you truly expect me to shut up about the deceit and absurdity of the present moment. No. That would be a foolish consistency.

But that is not what my title has in mind.

Does Rick Santorum know from facts? Does Romney? Will they ever tell truth? They have stretched the license for a little inconsistency to its most absurd extreme.

Lies. If you're going to quote the President, get it right. If you're going to quote a former President, get that right and, by the way, remember the Constitution.

And if you're going to insist on intrusive vaginal probes for women wanting to exercise their reproductive freedoms, and you happen to own the company that makes those probes, let us know.
And drop it, for the love of God.

This is what I don't get. The GOP is the party of small government. But everyday I wake up and discover them in my bed, in my prayer life, in my family life, my kids' college plans.

At least what the other party wants to do is be helpful. Not to be my mother. I had one. We worked out our issues. Sadly, she died. I don't need another one. The GOP wants to be my mother. The Democratic Party wants to stand in the gap when things are going south. That I can take.

Santorum, Romney, and Mr. Aspirin-Between-Your-Knees, get it right if you're going to be Right. And still, you're wrong. Wrong.