There’s a fairly young but now well-used expression that goes “Let go and let God.” For the last several weeks in particular, although it goes quite a bit farther back than that, I’ve been struggling with something that feels like the inverse: “Let God, or let go.” In other words, I feel like I’m nearing a “two roads diverged” choice in terms of my spirituality. The choice is about how I’ll view God, and God’s love. On one hand, I can accept a personally involved, loving God (as Christians should) and continue to try to make sense of the world He created within that framework. On the other, I can let go and give in to long-held Deist tendencies that tell me that God is there, magnificent and basically benevolent, but that He loves us in a way we can’t- and aren’t supposed- to understand. That even from within Catholicism, the prism I still view God through, I’ll come to believe that His presence in our lives- this one, anyway- isn’t what I was brought up to think. I’m hardly the first person to struggle with this question. Untold millions have viewed and suffered human horror that dwarfs my imagination; my life is charmed by comparison in every conceivable way. Yet many have come down still on the side of traditional notions of Judeo-Christian worship. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but despite the tonnage of horror I do see, I’ll admit there are times when God seems to remind me, if subtly, that things aren’t as clear as I’d like to think. The Angel Band Project is one of them.
In July of 2009, Teresa Butz was 39, engaged to her female partner, active in charitable causes in the Seattle area, and a deeply loved daughter, sister, friend and member of her community. As the two slept, a young man entered their home through a window with a knife. He raped and began stabbing both repeatedly until Teresa decided to fight back. She saved her partner’s life and lost her own. The crime was one of the worst local police had seen in years. This one act, spurred on by whatever unholy combination of drugs, instability and pure, undiluted evil, altered forever the life of one of these decent women and ended that of her soul mate in a paroxysm of blood and terror. We in the system have ways of dealing with these things, sometimes involving alcohol, cigarettes, or 100 other forms of self-medication. I usually get by with a few stiff drinks and can normally avoid the ontological angst. But stories like this one, thankfully rare but still being made, are the building blocks of the dark doubt in my mind that there is rhyme or reason to anything in the world as we see it.
Teresa’s story has an angelic twist, though, something that despite the horror and sadness surrounding her death, scatters the darkness and bubbles up fountain-like with something hopeful. Something beautiful. Something almost ordered. Teresa’s partner, you see, is a conservatory trained vocalist. Her brother is a Tony award winning musician and actor. At Teresa’s funeral and memorial service, the singing and music experienced there inspired a project, which is Angel Band. It involves these two and others who loved Teresa, hitting different studios around the country and recording a tribute collection of songs in her honor. What I’ve heard so far is sometimes melodic and haunting, sometimes rock and roll heavy, but always captivating. It’s a work still in progress, easy to follow either on Facebook or the band’s web page. The proceeds will go to support a group I work with and admire greatly called The Voices and Faces Project. Voices and Faces is a documentary project that specializes in memorializing- either through audio or video- the accounts of survivors of sexual violence. Some are women in old age who for decades had never uttered a word of what they suffered. Some were violated in war, some in marriage, some in childhood. Their accounts put a deeply human face on sexual violence, something desperately needed in order to take one more step toward ending it altogether. It is, yet again, a matter of light, even a spark, penetrating and then destroying darkness.
I guess it’s the power of that light that, through both of these projects, threatens in benign fury the neat and unhappy picture of the world I have. But light is just a symbol. The real, beautiful, bountiful thing is order. Order suggests a Creator. Order suggests a destination as well as a journey, however tortured or smooth. Order suggests a reason for a beating heart. A reason for giving a damn at the end of another day. This isn’t to suggest that the chasm created by Teresa’s death will be at all filled by the great gesture of Angel Band. But it helps to see darkness- blind, random and cacophonous- scattered by light so wonderfully clear and guiding.
Upon the assassination of John Lennon, Elton John noted in song “it’s funny how one insect can damage so much grain.” Thanks to the acts of one particular insect, I’ll never know Teresa Butz. I’ll never experience her warmth, her kindness, her spirit. But thanks to the courage, love, and resolve of these remarkable people, I am blessed with a profound sense of what they saw in her, and more importantly, what just might lie beneath the surface- ordered, sane, and loving- of a far too broken and random looking world.