A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Papers were nailed to the church door on Sunday as we entered. Curious about why, I pointed them out, and Ann remembered that Sunday was Reformation Sunday, a day when we celebrate Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the beginning of the Protestant Church.

Stories of Martin Luther’s challenges to the Roman Catholic Church, particularly about the practice of indulgences, are familiar to me. Martin Luther’s story has always been one of how ordinary people could have relationships with God without the intervention of a priest. It has been the story of a man who challenged the church’s sale of indulgences, challenging a practice that encouraged people to pay so that they could go to heaven. In my life, his story has been the story of a man who stood up for common people. Fittingly, two lay people gave the sermon about his story.

The second speaker, Kay Verelius, surprised me with parts of Martin Luther’s story that I had never heard. For one thing, he introduced hymns to the church service, though the meter was different in his day. Additionally, later in his life, Martin Luther was an activist against Jews. The website Christianity Today, among many other sites, reports that Luther published On the Jews and Their Lies (1543) where he wrote, “Set fire to their synagogues or schools.” He continued that Jewish houses should “be razed and destroyed,” and Jewish “prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, [should] be taken from them.” In addition, “their rabbis [should] be forbidden to teach on pain of loss of life and limb.” Still, this wasn’t enough.

Luther also urged that “safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews,” and that “all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them.” What Jews could do was to have “a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade” put into their hands so “young, strong Jews and Jewesses” could “earn their bread in the sweat of their brow.” According to Kay, his words contributed significantly to the German anti-Semitism that led to persecution of Jews during World War II. Kay said nearly every writer of Third Reich referenced and quoted Martin Luther’s works.

Kay also quoted Pastor Bernard Howard: “It seems to me Martin Luther is a man we should honor but not celebrate…. Luther is both hero and anti-hero, both liberator and oppressor.” Pastor Howard said that we should “honor” Martin Luther for all of his contributions, but not lift that honor to the level of celebration.

I’ve been thinking about that. What does it mean to honor a person? Knowing artin Lunter’s anti-Semitism, do I honor Martin Luther?

Martin Luther was a complicated man. Like most of us, he was created “half to rise and half tofall.” Can I honor the man, knowing both his great gifts and his great failings?

The question goes so far beyond Martin Luther. It’s again evidence of the partial histories our schools and church’s tell, hiding the darkness of those whom the powers would have as our heroes. Learning about Martin Luther reminds me of learning about Christopher Columbus’s destructiveness and about the Japanese internment in the U.S. during World War II. I didn’t learn about the darker side of these stories in school, perhaps because they undermine a myth of goodness and power that undergirds the American myth of virtue, and perhaps my church didn’t teach me about Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism for the same reason. This gives me pause.

Like humans, perhaps our institutions are created half to rise and half to fall. Our nation, our schools, and our churches, are a complicated mix of good and bad.

Thinking about this history and Howard’s comments, I wonder who I honor and what that means. I’m not sure I know what Howard means by “honor,” but I don’t honor the man, Martin Luther; I do honor some of his deeds.

As I think about this, I remember my niece Isabella, a debater in high school, who told me that she liked to argue the harder side of a debate but that she would never argue against immigrants or gay people. Because I know everyone has a dark side, I want to think about what, for me, is outside the bounds of honor.

Anti-Semitism is. So is racism. And so is macho-ism. Interestingly, I don’t think homophobia is for me. Maybe that’s because I grew up with it and with so many people I loved who were homophobic. 

I’ll have to think some more about this. I'd love for you to help me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Lovely, Dark and Deep

At my bi-annual eye appointment with my eye surgeon last week, Dr. C tested my eye movements. As usual, my left eye wouldn’t move left, and I whined, "I work on the every day!" 

The doctor said to me and the intern in the room: “Yep. Once that sixth nerve is dead, it doesn’t do anything.”

I’m part dead. I write a lot about how alive I am and how happy I am about it, and that's true, but it’s also true that I’m part dead, just not all the way. I think about this partial death when I consider that I need to sleep fifteen hours a day. If I were fully alive, I’d be doing things I love to do (other than sleeping) with more of my day. There’d be more time. Of course, time was the issue before my tumors, too. In fact, I remember one of the poems I wrote when I was in high school:

Too much to do,
Too little time:
The complaint of
a day, a year, a life.

I must have been 15 or 16 years old when I wrote that, but already I was fatigued by all I was trying to do and be: such an anxious child (with an undiagnosed thyroid disease, blood disorder, and brain tumor).

I grew into an anxious adult who slept a lot and whose conditions were gradually diagnosed. Now at the end of the day, I count the number of hours I slept that day: fifteen. This number of hours makes me think of the call to life in Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening":

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep

Each time I count those hours, I re-hear something I heard someone say once, a sentiment I’ve heard and thought often: “There will be plenty of time for sleep once I’m dead.”

Am I wasting my life with all this sleep? Or is all this sleep making my life more whole?

These questions whirl, and it’s breathing and art that settle me down. Last week, my friends Pam and Allyson played a house concert that people from our church had purchased at an auction. I love the joy of their music, the sweetness as Allyson looks at Pam to keep in sync, the loveliness of their harmonies. These harmonies make me feel the world is in tune. Even when the song is hard, the harmonies make something beautiful of the pain. Just listen to one of the songs they sang, “No Hard Feelings” by The Avitt Brothers 
 When my body won't hold me anymore 
And it finally lets me free
Will I be ready?
When my feet won't walk another mile
And my lips give their last kiss goodbye
Will my hands be steady?
When I lay down my fears
My hopes and my doubts
The rings on my fingers
And the keys to my house
With no hard feelings
When the sun hangs low in the west
And the light in my chest
Won't be kept held at bay any longer
When the jealousy fades away
And it's ash and dust for cash and lust
And it's just hallelujah
And love in thoughts and love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings
Lord knows they haven't done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold
When my body won't hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Where will I go?
Will the trade winds take me south
Through Georgia grain or tropical rain
Or snow from the heavens?
Will I join with the ocean blue
Or run into the savior true
And shake hands laughing
And walk through the night
Straight to the light
Holding the love I've known in my life
And no hard feelings
Lord knows they haven't done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold
Under the curving sky
I'm finally learning why
It matters for me and you
To say it and mean it too
For life and its loveliness
And all of its ugliness
Good as it's been to me
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies

Yep. I think my life is like that, too. Even when the song is hard, the harmonies make something beautiful of the pain.