America:—What’s Your Mission Statement? (#Ferguson #Thanksgiving)

The British novelist Charles Dickens toured the US in the early 1840s. Dickens was considerably left of center and had a particular dislike for monarchy and social class. He wanted to see firsthand this new nation that had thrown off the yoke of threadbare European ideas.

Instead of encountering that shining city on a hill, however, Dickens experienced a society soaked in classism, slavery, and gun violence.

One city on his tour was St. Louis, Missouri. (He visited at about the same time my ancestors showed up in the vicinity.) Dickens wrote this:

“Public opinion has, within a few years, burned a slave alive at a slow fire in the city of St. Louis; and public opinion has to this day maintained upon the bench that estimable judge who charged the jury, impanelled there to try his (the slave’s) murderers, that their most horrid deed was an act of public opinion, and being so, must not be punished by the laws the public sentiment had made. Public opinion hailed this doctrine with a howl of wild applause, and set the prisoners free, to walk the city, men of mark, and influence, and station, as they had been before.”

(American Notes, Chapter Seventeen)

Had Dickens been able to tweet about the above incident, I expect that he might have used the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. As I have mentioned in another post, across the river from St Louis, in Illinois, one of my ancestors serving in the Illinois National Guard joined in shooting the African Americans the Guard had been sent in to protect. It goes on.

Classism. Slavery. Gun violence.

As the Dickens lines remind us, Fox News is nothing new on the American scene. “Public opinion,” also coded as “law and order,” are always there to be used as excuses for atrocity and oppression.

The 175 years that separate the words of Dickens and the news from Ferguson have changed the method of murder but not the fact of murder. And not the exoneration by “public opinion.”

Dickens drew this conclusion concerning the American experiment:

“Rather, for me, restore the forest and the Indian village; in lieu of stars and stripes, let some poor feather flutter in the breeze; replace the streets and squares by wigwams; and though the death-song of a hundred haughty warriors fill the air, it will be music to the shriek of one unhappy slave.”

As might be expected, American streets were soon lit by piles of Dickens books burning.

When we get lost in the weeds, my congregational leaders go back to our mission, vision, and values for focus and clarification. We consider a question: Is this institution here only because the institution is here, or are we here for a reason?

For this Ferguson Thanksgiving, perhaps that’s a good question for all Americans to ask. Dickens concluded that the American experiment was not an improvement on the condition of the continent before Europeans arrived. But Europeans did arrive. And many others from many places since. Are we—all Americans—here only because we are here, or are we here for a purpose?

Sometimes it’s good to look at that mission, that vision, those values.

(reblogged from the Pathoes blog UU Quest for Meaning)

#Thanksgiving at the Greyhound Station


Hell is a bus station
on a holiday.

I read as I wait, thinking
Sartre most likely

had something
figured out.

Thanksgiving eve
with a crowd so large
even TV news joins in
and little kids gather
behind the reporter
to wave and flip the bird.

But that gets edited out.


Hell is a bus station.
No exit and no arrivals.
Which is the status quo.
Everyone gets edgy
because we’re all
to much like ourselves.

What we will have
is what we take away.
And no one has change
for the video games.

Hard to say how to love.
Hard to say my neighbor’s ticket
is just as valid as mine.

Hard to relax when
everyone knows everything
is double-booked.

Hard to say traffic
and the upcoming sales
and flipping off the TV
aren’t the answer.
Hard to say what
will be enough.

On Perfect Moments

It’s tough then, not
feeling beatific, when
the sun obsesses on
its morning haze and
eternity sports a goatee.
The day plays bongos,
and even sea birds

rest from the waves. Then,
“frankly” can’t explain
how frankly transcendence
(satori, what-have-you)
has caught the breeze.

That’s when the future
does more than ask, “What
next?” and even busses
run on time. That’s when
this the world of loss and
love lives up for once
to promises the poets

have heard. That’s when
for once time and tide collude
(as always we knew they could)
on nothing else but splendor.

Still, It Appears

IMG_2854Gnats swarm in a floating ball

that brightens like a planet
in the rising sun. Busy, busy,

it appears. Busy like the bus
I once rode, used to dread.
It comes still, raising dust

in the late summer morning.
The dark silhouettes of kids
inside are still, waiting.

Becoming. The moles have
been up all night sowing
fresh lumps of turned earth.

Busy, busy, busy, it appears,
and autumn coming on.
The marigolds I planted

in the spring mud bloom.
Busy, busy till seed time,
it appears. And a chirping bird—

only a glimpse of crimson;
and a dew-wet spider web
waving in the morning’s breeze—

busy, busy, it appears, bustling
in the late summer . . . all
this, my home once. Years ago,

too many to count. Busy still,
it appears, as I wait, a silhouette,
still, waiting, it would appear.