Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks This Day

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. Psalm136:1

I live in a country where I am free to worship, free to speak, free to vote, free to pursue my dreams.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. Psalm 107:1

I have a family through whom I have been immeasurably blessed: my wife Janet, my son Travis, my son Andrew, my daughter-in-law Stephanie, my daughter-in-law –to-be Jessica, my grandsons Cameron and Caden, and my grandson-to-be.

I have an extended family through whom I have been immeasurably blessed: my two brothers, my sister, their families, aunts, uncles, cousins and family by marriage.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. 1 Chronicles 16:34

I have a faithful God, who has always met the needs of my family and always met my needs, even when I didn’t understand what those needs were.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. Psalm 118:1

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on my country, for we are sinners.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I have no wisdom to offer

On Monday night, my wife and I sat in our suburban St. Louis family room and watched St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCullough tell reporters and the world that the grand jury did not return a true bill against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. In other words, no charges would be filed.

Since the death of Brown in August, I have heard and read much about the case, and early on I understood one thing.

Tell me how you vote, and I will likely be able to tell you your opinion on the Brown case.

I first saw it two days after Brown’s death. A good friend published a blog post, which was as extreme as any I have seen since that time. Anyone who gently pointed out that we didn’t yet know the facts to draw any conclusion was rudely dismissed – this happened because of endemic and institutional racism, and because white police officers are by definition racist.

My friend is an otherwise gentle soul. I like his writing and his books. I’ve reviewed his books, and favorably; in fact, that’s how we introduced ourselves to each other. I wasn’t surprised at his feelings; I was shocked at the absolutist way he responded to even mild criticism. He seethed with anger.

Many people have been writing about Ferguson. The writing is largely predictable, even among most Christians. I’ve seen lots of feelings, beliefs, arguments, and advice. What I have yet to see – from any sector or individual – is wisdom.

And let me say right here I have no wisdom to offer. This is not the time for wisdom.

Yesterday I watched the press conference by the mayor of Ferguson, followed by the press conference by the governor of Missouri trying to explain why the National Guard wasn’t sent into Ferguson last night until after the business district was looted and burned. (Looters hit corporate targets like Walgreens, McDonalds and Toys R Us; they also hit a cake shop, a beauty supply business, a Chinese restaurant, a public storage facility and the convenience store where Michael Brown was filmed stealing cigars minutes before his death). I did not watch the press conference by Attorney General Eric Holder.

It was the Ferguson mayor’s press conference that has stayed in my mind. With the mayor were ministers from local churches, urging calm and an end to the violence. One, an African-American woman whom I bet can blow out the windows when she’s in the pulpit, gave a mini-sermon. None of them offered words of wisdom.

They offered something more: love and hope.

If our community is to find our way through this to something better, it won’t be politicians, who have generally made the situation worse, who lead us. It won’t be the anarchists who seem to have arrived by the busload from out of town. It won’t be the media, and it certainly won’t be the editorial writers at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

It will be the church.

Not  churches collectively, but “the church,” the Christians who belong to various denominations and attend various churches. I saw them at the mayor’s press conference, and I recognized them. I see them at my own church, which is still a buttoned-down Presbyterian kind of place. I see them at a lot of churches in St. Louis, and I see some who don’t attend church at all.

In The Cure: What if God Isn’t Who You Think He Is and Neither Are You, authors John Lynch, Bruce McNichol and Bill Thrall say this: “We’re learning to live with a community of people who trust God and others with what is true about them. We discover we’re part of a destiny bigger than our own. While we have an individual destiny, the community we are part of also has a destiny, and we are intertwined with it.”

It will be the church who leads us, the church led by the Spirit.

Politicians will not be able to do this.

Only the Spirit-led church can do it.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Cure. To see more posts on this chapter, “Two Destinies,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact. This concludes our discussion of the book.

Photograph by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Fierce Convictions of Hannah More

She may be the most famous person I never heard of.

Hannah More (1745-1833) wrote plays for the great 18th century actor David Garrick. She was a friend of Dr. Johnson (yes, Boswell’s Dr. Johnson). She knew the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. And Horace Walpole. And Edmund Burke. She worked closely for decades with William Wilberforce to outlaw slavery, and died a few months after seeing that cause successful. She was a poet, and an educator, an intellectual when women intellectuals were frowned upon.

Karen Swallow Prior brings More to life in Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More, Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. It’s a biography, yes. But it’s more than that as well, a work of love reflecting a determination to bring to life a human being who should not have been forgotten.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Painting of Hannah More by H.W. Pickersgill (1821).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Adam Arenson’s “The Heart of the Great Republic”

This is a strange book to be reading about St. Louis right now.

Adam Arenson published The Heart of the Great Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War in 2011. He’s focused his academic studies on the American west and its settlement; his other books include Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire (2012) and Civil War Tests: Testing the Limited of the United States (February 2015). The Heart of the Great Republic is about the role St. Louis played leading up to the Civil War and after, and how the great forces of slavery, abolition and manifest destiny converged on St. Louis.

St. Louis is the prism through which Arenson examines the major American themes of the 19th century, and he largely confines himself to the 19th century. What is both strange and surprising is that some of those themes – perhaps all of them – continue to be played out today.

For most if not all of the 19th century, St. Louis was a larger city than Chicago. It was the gateway to the west (the theme of the Aero Saarinen’s Arch in downtown St. Louis), the place where all the wagon trains started to head to the promised lands of Oregon and California. Henry Shaw, an Englishman who founded St. Louis’ beloved botanical gardens, made his fortune selling hardware to the settlers traveling west and passing through St. Louis.

St. Louis was the largest city in a state where slavery was legal. It became the home of thousands of German immigrants, many of whom left Europe after the failure of the Revolutions of 1848. These Germans brought their fierce notions of freedom with them; they would turn out to be strong supporters of abolition, settling in a slave-owning city.

And thus the fusion of the great themes, the ideas that became the realities of conflict, war, and reconstruction. St. Louis escaped the physical ravages of the Civil War, but experienced the psychological and political ravages perhaps more than any other city of the North or border states.

Arenson, a professor and historian, discusses how these themes developed Arenson discusses how these themes developed in St. Louis through the great fire of 1849, which destroyed much of the city; the Compromise of 1850, whose popular sovereignty led to Bleeding Kansas and Nebraska; the impact of German immigration; the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court (Scott and his family lived in St. Louis); the Civil War itself, and how competing factions battled for control of the city; emancipation and reconstruction; the movement to make St. Louis the new capital of the United States; and what happened when St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis separated themselves in a popular vote marred by corruption. (This separation continues to have a major impact on the metropolitan area today.)

Adam Arenson
The author’s point is that the conflicts of the 19th century were a cultural civil war, and St. Louis occupied the physical location where that cultural civil war converged. And more than that: the landscape of St. Louis today still reflects the larger history of that cultural civil war. “The local history is national history, and St. Louisans sense it,” he writes.

And that’s precisely where the strangeness of the book is. If Arenson is correct, and I believe he is, then what does the current troubles and tension of St. Louis – arising form the shooting of Michael Brown, a black teenager, by a white police officer – suggest for the larger reality of the United States? What if the themes of the cultural civil war are still being played out on the streets of St. Louis?

As I write this, the grand jury investigating Michael Brown’s death is still deliberating, and an announcement could come at any time. The city feels like something of an armed camp. If there is one dominant emotion, it is fear. But there is also the understanding that what is happening is here is larger than St. Louis, extending across the nation.

St. Louis history is still American history.

Photograph of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis by Yinan Chen via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sit on a rock

Sit on a rock
and stare

across the water
and the road

to the bluff,

and rock soaring
to the sky

blue and hard.

Consider the effort

to carve and layer
these mounds of rock.

Wonder if God’s hands
got dusty.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Christian Wiman’s “Once in the West”

I’ve read a lot of poetry over my lifetime, and likely more in the last 10 years than the rest combined. Rarely have I been as taken with a collection as I have with Christian Wiman’s Once in the West: Poems.

The poems originate in Wiman’s childhood and coming of age in Texas. They extend beyond that, into the reader’s mind and own experience, a collection of sharp, piercing stones with cutting edges that leave blood on the floor – the blood of life and of a life lived.

Some may mind the occasional profanity. I didn’t, and it surprised me that I didn’t.

I’ll have more to say later, but here is one example of a poem from the collection.

A soul

from the body’s

needs a body
of loss

is that, then,
what we were

in that back-

seat, sweat-
soaked, skin-

habited heaven
of days

when rapture
was pure

and sinning



Photograph by Silviu Firulete via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, November 21, 2014

St. James Park Tube Station

A small station,
St. James Park is,
threatening inconsequence,
caught as it is in the space
between the riot of people
that is its nearby sister Victoria
and the riot of government
and tourists that is
its nearby brother Westminster.
But it has a reach, it does,
bordering on the formidable:
Buckingham Palace
the Horse Guards
Scotland Yard
Westminster Abbey
Victoria Street
Birdcage Walk and the park
the Ministry of Justice (all
those CCTV cameras) and sharing
a building with the tube’s HQ.
It even merits a ticket office,
attended by personnel, where
we wait in queue, quietly,
for our Oyster cards, topping off
with more pounds. 

We stand on the platform
waiting for the train
from Victoria (eastbound) or
from Westminster (westbound)
making sure as we board
to mind the gap. 

The St. James Park tube station in London has three entrances – one on Broadway, one on Petty France, and one on Palmer Street. We used all three, although the Palmer Street entrance was the closet to our hotel. 

Photograph: Exterior of the St. James Park tube station, Petty France entrance.