Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Who am I to judge?"


Some of my best friends are Roman Catholic.

Okay, that's pushing it. But I do have Roman Catholic friends, several of them in fact, none cut from the same cookie cutter as any other. Some think proudly like Jesuits, some are former evangelicals and carry the spirited commitment of any brand new believer, any new convert. Some are discouraged, really angry about thousands of abused children and a church that seems more interested in hiding its sins than healing its hurting.

I really don't know what my Roman Catholic friends think about what the Pope said a couple days ago in an impromptu news conference when, among other things, he chatted about gays. Perhaps a couple of those friends might put themselves in the camp of Pope Francis's two predecessors, who had nothing but derision--well, condemnation--for same sex stuff. But I'm pretty sure that some of them believe the church moved, almost miraculously, into the 21st century when the new Pope exhibited a whole new openness toward gay folks.

And he did it in such a jocular way.  He comes out of the jet's private quarters as if he were, well, a politician, just shucking and jiving, as if he's just one of the boys, and he goes on and on for 80 minutes.  A ton of pomp and circumstance--of pope and circumstance--just fell away, and he proved without a doubt that what people have been saying about him, that he's a Pope of the Folks, someone more at home on a city bus than in the popemobile, is absolutely true.

What most observers have made clear since that startling statement is that what he said doesn't really differ from traditional church teaching. He didn't advocate gay marriage, for instance, nor open church office to any practicing homosexual person. But in the way he spoke, in tone, he was on a whole different continent than his two predecessors--vastly more tolerant, even accepting.  And let's face it--tone can be a game-changer. 

Just to be sure, here's what he said:  “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” even using the English word gay.  But then came what seems to me to be the real shocker:  "Who am I to judge?"

Well, for starters, he's the Pope, the pontiff, the supreme prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, the man in succession of Jesus's own disciples. Traditionally, when he speaks, the church listens, not just with their ears but with their lives. For centuries, tons of Roman Catholics looked to the Holy See for the answer to every last question on matters of faith.

On those matters expressly, the pope--whoever wore the hat--was not only right but infallible, and infallible is a word that doesn't offer much nuance.  "Who am I to judge?" isn't just a catchy phrase, it's darn near heresy. It's not my job, a Calvinist, to hunt derelict theology when it appears in Roman Catholics pontiffs. I'm not interested in the least in blackening the eye or eyes of the new one. But that usage blew me away.

And I liked it. Sure, it's got a relativist's spirit; sure, it seems to not draw a line in the sand, sure, it feels like a sea change; but it also carries far more of a human spirit. Whether or not this guy is infallible isn't my call, but it seems clear that he isn't so darn sure he is.  

What he said doesn't make him a closet Protestant. He's not turning over church doctrine or traditional Roman Catholic teaching or somehow violating the office. But he is humanizing the hat and the robe and the zany car that comes with the office. 

It was a stunning line; and for a ton of reasons, I suppose, I loved it. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Morning Thanks--Choteau Creek


I found this 1992 memoir in a small-town, second-hand bookstore in Oklahoma, but it's all about the world I live in--just two hours west. Joseph Iron Eye Dudley grew up with loving grandparents on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, just west of Wagner, South Dakota. Once upon a time the Yanktons used to roam the land just outside my door.

Honestly, I know of no other book like Choteau Creek, a reminiscence of Dudley's almost idyllic childhood with profoundly religious grandparents whose lives were characterized by something akin to what the rest of us might call "abject poverty" in the run-down, three-room home where he grew up. What grandpa and grandma missed in a house, however, they made up for in a home, taking Dudley in as a little boy because neither of his parents cared enough to have him. The memoir, in fine Native fashion, honors his elders and their gifts, and it does so gloriously and graciously.

Its time period is unique, or so it seems to me, since Dudley grew up in the late 40s and 50s. His grandma was little more than a child when the Ghost Dancers came to the reservation (1890), but she lived well into an age when people traveled up the road at 50 or 60 miles an hour. 


I don't know of other books or memoirs quite like it, set in this exact time period, since, for the most part, traditional Native life was, by mid-century, already the historic past. Dudley's grandparents' religiosity--Grandma is powerfully and lovingly devout--is an interesting hybrid, a sweet and fragrant mix of Native and Christian sources. 

This memoir hasn't been, nor will it ever be a best seller, but Joseph Iron Eye Dudley's Choteau Creek has to be one of the most memorable books I'll read this summer. Probably not a beach read, but a treasure for the soul.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Team bowling



So I'm talking to this guy not long ago, a guy I'd just met, and he's talking about the area, about who lives here and who lives there.  I'm listening, and it seems to me in the way he's talking that it's just one big happy family, which it sort of is, I guess, because then he says this to me:  "We're all Alton Reformed guys," as if Alton Reformed is a bowling team.

It isn't, I guess, although what do I know?--maybe there is an Alton Reformed bowling team. 

What I mean is, a church isn't a bowling team.  At least that's what I thought the moment he said it.  I thought it was an unusual way to explain these guys' identity--"we're all Alton Reformed guys," as if they're all members of the same country club.

Maybe it struck me as interesting because it's not something I'd say--"you know, I'm a Covenant guy."  I've never in my life used that language, not even in my imagination, which may well explain why on earth the "Alton Reformed guys" line hasn't disappeared from my consciousness, why it's suddenly, this Monday morning, being pounded out on a keyboard and flashing in front of me on the screen.  

That was six weeks ago already, but that description has haunted me ever since because, doggone it, a church is not a bowling team. It's a people who gather for worshiping the living God. It's a people who share the body and blood of our Lord. It's a people who believe themselves gifted by the same Holy Spirit.  A church is group of people who invest their faith in a God who cuts a swath through life they recognize and define collectively.  And death too. 

But here's what I'm thinking too--the church is no bowling team, but it dang well better be one too.

There is, after all, a social function to a church. A church needs to see eye-to-eye on important matters of definition.  It may well be a good thing if once in a while you can pick the members out of a crowd by the monogram on their shirts or the way they share a (root) beer after a ball game, by the shape of their belt buckles, by the way they wear their caps or whether or not they get together occasionally on Saturday nights as well as Sunday mornings.  A church definitely has a social function, and bowling together is always better than bowling alone.

Besides, if worship is a conversation between God and man, those who do it together better speak the same language--which doesn't mean, by the way, that people who speak Spanish and English or Czech and Dutch can't worship together. Still, you've got to admit that it's pretty tough to be intimate if you don't know the language. If you speak Cornish, but the guy beside you understands only his native Bulgarian, there won't be many jokes.  Humor is little more than nuanced language after all, and where there is no nuance, there are no belly laughs.

If that's true, then people in a church likely need to come to some agreement on the language they use to talk to God--the nature and shape of liturgy, for instance; the kind of public prayers they lift every Sunday; the music they use in praise; the style and substance of sermons; the icons they hang on their walls. All of that too is a language, the "language" of worship.

So anyway, I'm starting to think it's probably quite healthy for a church when its members describe themselves as "Alton Reformed guys," because a description phrased in that way likely suggests community, brotherhood, you know?  These guys identify themselves as "Alton Reformed." Really, that's wonderful.

Still, if a church speaks an exclusive language, non-native speakers will be forever marginalized. What happens if I don't like the shirt the bowling team picked out this year?  What happens if I don't like the language we worship in?  What happens when I can't buy a spare? Am I off the team?

That "Alton Reformed guys" line stays with me because it begs questions, at least to me, that aren't easily answered. A bowling team isn't a church, but a church better be a bowling team.  
If that makes sense.

Chapter two.  Out in Marty, South Dakota, a gorgeous Catholic church stands in the middle of a stretch of plains whose hills would hide the place if that cathedral didn't have a gorgeous old European-style steeple. St. Paul's isn't really that old (1941), as cathedrals go, but it is remarkable.  There it is on the Yankton Sioux reservation, at the heart of it really.  There's a boarding school just beyond the chapel and the BIA school across the street, and in the middle of it all is a big beautiful cathedral.  

Here it is.


It's architectural design is universally Roman Catholic, but its accouterments are pure Native America, friendly ground if you're Yankton Sioux. If that communion table up front were a sweat lodge, some might think the church to be a little too Native; but it's hard to imagine some white guy or some red guy thinking that this sanctuary is somehow unChristian.

This church wants to be comfortable to its worshipers, comfortable as an old bowling shirt. It wants itself to speak a language that's familiar and intimate.  It wants to show the people who they are.  It wants to be particular.

Here's one of the stations of the cross.


The women attending the Lord's body, all saintly, are Native. The woman who might well be Mary, the one with her arms around the Lord's chest, is lighter skinned.  The artist may have felt sheepish about making Mother Mary look Yankton Sioux, but the other two are unmistakably Native.  

I asked one of the sisters, a woman who'd arrived at Marty, South Dakota, as an 18-year-old novice in 1960, whether a depiction like this would have been tolerated back then because I wondered whether giving Native Americans starring roles in the Easter drama was something new.  

"When we got them," she said, "some people didn't like them at all."

"Really?" I said.

She shrugged her shoulders. "They didn't like how naked he is," she told me.

I'm sure my mother would have agreed with them, and she doesn't know a Yankton from a Cherokee.

Churches will forever be, I suppose, both particular and universal, both worshiping bodies and bowling teams.  No worshiper at St. Paul's was bothered by the Native setting to the Easter story, but some, she said, thought that mostly naked Jesus went a little too far. It wasn't their particularity (their being Yanktons) that got in the way, it was something that probably shared with a ton of others, like my mother, who weren't or aren't Native--just a little squeamish about all that skin. 

Could I worship in St. Paul's Catholic church? Sure.  

Would I feel comfortable talking to God in the language of the sanctuary? 

Sure.  

Honestly?  For a long, long time?

That's a good question.

Hey, listen--I'm a Calvinist.  Read the monogram on my bowling shirt.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Morning Meds--Floods


 “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood”

There’s an intersection of blue highways south of town that most everyone calls “million dollar corner” because long ago the state put in what seemed a very expensive bridge. They did so because of a death, two deaths.  Almost one hundred years ago, a farmer and his daughter, somewhere in the vicinity, tried to cross a flooded creek in a horse-drawn wagon.  Both died.  When the flood receded, the girl’s body was found downstream, hung up in a tree.

A flood, here on the edge of the Plains? There is no river. 

But there was (and is) rain, the kind of torrent that David’s been showing us in Psalm 29.  Eleven inches of rain fell in an hour in the valley of the West Branch Creek, which otherwise barely exists.  For a couple hours there was a river, a deluge, and there was death, tragic and totally unforeseen horror at the Million Dollar Corner.
           
Maybe ten years ago a similar storm dumped a foot of rain on the northern-most reaches of the Loess Hills.  The water that washed down has to go somewhere of course, and eventually it channeled into Perry Creek, a skinny little ravine that runs into Sioux City.  When its bed filled, it flooded the low lying neighborhoods.  Some people escaped their homes in boats—that kind of flood.
           
My father-in-law and I went in a couple days later to help with flood relief.  After getting required tetanus shots, we wallowed into basements and shoveled muck until our backs gave out.  I don’t remember doing more decidedly unpleasant work at any time in my life.  That flood filled basements with sludge-like mud three and four feet deep, every last inch of which had to be shoveled out.  At one house a library had fallen in.  The muck was loaded with paperbacks, each of them a brick.
           
An old African-American woman in rimless glasses sat upstairs in her dining room, surrounded by pictures of her family.  Something like a doily lay neatly on the table before her.  She was herself a Depression-era photo. 
           
The only way to get the muck out of her basement was to lug it up the stairway in 20-gallon buckets.  By the time we left, those steps were an absolute mess, as was her hallway and breezeway.  All the while we were working, she sat at that table, looking at us directly, it seemed, but seeing nothing, her clay-like eyes in a vacant stare.
           
It would have been criminal for me to lug this verse of David’s song into her life just then:  “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood.”  Not all the verses of Holy Scripture bring joy or peace or relief all of the time

Here, the KJV is even more expressive:  “The Lord sitteth upon the flood.”  I know what David means.  I believe it.  But to those millions who have lost loved ones in last year’s hurricanes, the image is not comforting.
           
“The government,” the old text says, “shall be upon his shoulders.”  God rules.  Every believer knows God is not lollygagging outside of our lives.  But where was he when Perry Creek flooded?  At Million Dollar Corner?  At Auschwitz?
           
Tragedy is deeper by far for the believer than it is for the unbeliever, says Elie Wiesel, the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust.  I believe he’s right. 

The Lord sits enthroned above the flood, David says.  I believe that. 


I really do.  I really do.  I really do.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Blue Highways, Siouxland


It's a strange kind of treat to get off the beaten path, not a tourist spot within miles.  No matter.  

Welcome to a three-minute day trip, a road trip, down nothing at all but blue highways.  A little Nebraska, a little Iowa, and a little South Dakota.  All of it lovely in its own way.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Phallic humor


Yes, I know I'm violating some kind of code. It's in my head too--you know, 'Hey, you really shouldn't put a picture like this on your blog--it's, like, disgusting."

But when I took the picture, I was sure there was something wise and witty, something almost profound to be said about the differences between art and porn, about symbols and what they mean and do.  An English teacher kind of thing.

Besides, this guy's spray-painting finally says more about him (and why am I so blasted sure it's a male?) than it does about the image in question. He's just discovered Freud, for pity sake. And just in case you don't see see the symbols, here's what's going on with this silo--snicker, snicker.

Shoot, there's even embedded lesson in educational psychology here: this sadly repressed young man is telling you the answer before you can even imagine the question. He fails badly in the classroom of life, and he thinks he's being the teacher.

Like I said, I know I could have found something witty and off-beat, but it would have been a stretch for a Calvinist.  For a long time, I didn't dare put the picture here.

But now there's this former congressman from New York who's attempting a comeback.  You know the story?  Anyway, he's got this disgusting habit--I don't want to talk about it.

I'm sorry, but somehow this whole barn thing reminds me of him, and I'd name him if his blasted name wouldn't be just another in a series of indelicacies I shouldn't have brought up in the first place. 

You know.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Making Sense at Washita


As late as the 1930s locals still found bones right here, on a flat spot of ground in what was once a wide river bed.  Bones--the skeletons of ponies that had belonged to the Black Kettle's Cheyenne people. 

In the middle of the Seventh Cavalry's rampage that snowy November morning, one of his officers had approached his boss, General George Armstrong Custer, who was likely standing up on a knoll watching the action beneath him.  That officer told Custer he'd seen the troops killing women and children. Custer commanded a stop to such things.  That his order did much good is questionable.  

When the madness was over, he and his men rode over to the big herd of Cheyenne ponies.  If you come up on Washita from almost any direction today, you can understand why Black Kettle and his people were here that winter. There was water, for starters, and there would have been grass, lots of it, in a river valley that stretches a half-mile wide or more, creating a fulsome prairie.  Great place to winter because it had to have been a great place for the ponies.

So right here, on this stretch of flat ground, Custer ordered his men to destroy 850 Cheyenne ponies, a formidable task certainly; but after slaying 102 Cheyenne (the number is in dispute actually, Native people claimed many less), killing horses may not have felt like some staggering moral problem.  Their horses have to go.

Those Cheyenne who were captured and survived remembered the torrent of shrieking that had its origins right here.  The army began by cutting the ponies' throats, but that methodology got too tedious.  Eventually they just shot them, one after another, killed them all and left their bodies to rot.  Most of a century later, this spot was still a cemetery of old bones, old dry bones.

The thing is, such wanton destruction was not totally senseless.  Some Cheyenne escaped, of course, and teamed up with Arapahos and Kiowas, but no one got the ponies.  They were all dead.  Killing the horses was like taking the legs out from Native people.  

Listen to the logic:  if you want to stop the killing that's happening along those long trails west--honest, hard-working Americans who wanted a shot a fortune in gold and precious metals, the American west being a virtual Las Vegas--you simply had to stop the killers who were scalping all those entrepreneurs because good night, there was gold in them thar hills.  Something had to be done.  Shoot their buffalo, shoot their horses, and shoot them--get rid of all of 'em.  

By way of white man's logic, that all made great sense.  Shoot the horses too.

In a wonderfully soft-spoken memoir titled Choteau Creek: A Sioux Reminiscence, Joseph Iron Eye Dudley remembers the time when his Yankton Sioux grandmother--he lived with his grandparents--came home from a blood relative with chickens, a gift.  His grandfather built a coop that Grandma said needed to be sealed up tight at night, lest somebody come along and want those chickens.  Then he says that when his Grandma used the word somebody, she meant a skunk or a weasel, maybe a fox or a mink.  Grandma was, if you believe her grandson's memory, about as wonderful a Christian woman as you could imagine anywhere on the reservation in the 1950s, for that matter in all of South Dakota.  

Her profession of the Christian faith didn't mean, of course, that his grandmother had simply rejected all the ways of her people, and one of them was, Dudley says, that she regarded an animal, a fox maybe, as, well, somebody.

So throw that into the mix too. When the surviving Cheyennes heard their ponies being slaughtered, they were listening to somebody die.  Perhaps it wasn't senseless killing, but it was heartless.  

War is never really senseless.  It always makes good sense to someone, to somebody.  But it is often heartless.  

Right across the trail from the scene above, tree branches are decorated with ribbons, articles of prayer left by those paying vigil yet today because somebody died here, somebody was killed.

Lord, bless us with good sense.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I'm a fool


When I rolled up to the QuikStop in Hospers for an oil change last week, I stepped out of the Tracker, looked back, and saw flashing lights I swear I hadn't seen ten seconds earlier. The officer walking my way waved at me menacingly and told me to get back in, as if I might be toting drugs or wanted on some morals charge.  

I hadn't even seen him, and there he was, lights flashing, right in front of QuikStop, which wouldn't be all bad except that place has something of a coffee shop inside where some fine Hospers philosophizing goes on, I'm told, if, that is, there's no ex-Dordt prof getting pulled over by a state cop. Then the good old boys inside got finer entertainment to hoot about.

This time there was just that, and my first thought was the guffaws from Hospers' sharpest wits rubber-necking out the front window.

"Didn't you see me?" the cop said when I was back in the Tracker, window down.

"Never," I told him.  

Now the Tracker barely goes sixty, and my wife has been rolling her eyes lately at how slow I drive anyway.  Couldn't have been speeding, I'm thinking.  I probably rolled through the stop sign.

"You're not wearing your seat belt," the officer told me. 

I looked down like Adam, pre-fig leaf.  He was right.

Look, I know I'm a fool, but not wearing a seat belt on jaunts around the block is one of my last macho assertions.  I grew up without seat belts, for pete's sake.  Years ago, we used to chuck our two little squirts in the back of the station wagon with a half-dozen of their favorite toys and head off to Wisconsin, those sweet little honeys rolling around on a foam pad my mother-in-law covered in a bed sheet to turn the back of the station wagon into an all-day romper room. Today, that's child abuse.

Besides, I was in the Tracker, a car designed for Sunday School. You couldn't sin in that little thing if your heart was set on it.

He asked for all the relevant ID and headed back to his car, his red lights still flashing, even though we were nowhere near the road. I swear I could hear the yukking behind the window.  It's not everyday, I'm sure, this much hilarity just falls in their ample laps. I hate being the butt of jokes, and it happens way too often these days.

"You know," the cop says, when he returns, "you think I like wearing this bullet-proof vest?" and he pulls at something stiff just beneath his clavicle.  "I gotta wear it just in case--same as you and the seat belt."

Interesting visual aid, I'm thinking--just give me the warning and let me some save some smidgen of pride.

"Just this morning I had another one who didn't wear it," he said. "That's my least favorite part of this job."

And with that he hands me this document. It'll cost me $127.50, but I can take care of it on-line, he says, as if that's a blessing.

And then he's gone.

This morning, I'm going to take care of this on-line--all $127.50 worth.  Call it a warning, but give it a sting.  

I didn't think cops pulled a guy over simply for not wearing a seat belt, but probably for the rest of my life my pocketbook will remind me that they do.  This one did--a guy named Dykstra, the state cop, a Dutch guy. Take my word for it--and this bill right here, top of the page, payable to Des Moines.

Shit.  

It's been on ever since--that seat belt.  Not that it never was.  If I go a distance, it goes on.  Now, I put it on before I leave the garage, like my grandkids.  "Buckle," they all told me when they were barely old enough to talk.  "Buckle."

Go ahead, call me wimp.  What little macho this old codger had left is next thing to gone, and I'm a hundred dollars-plus poorer.  Then again, I'm better off than that other guy, the one he said he picked up that morning.

There's that too, I guess, Mr. Dykstra of the flashing lights.

But dang it!--back there in the QuikStop cafe, they're still howling.  I can hear 'em.   I swear.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Washita


If this place was center stage in some metro area, people might find it or even know about it. Maybe.  But chances are if it were, we'd run it through with strip malls, maybe nail up a sign along a downtown sidewalk or name the parkway after it or Black Kettle, the peace chief of the Cheyenne who, with his wife, was killed here.  

Maybe it's a good thing the Washita River is far from any beaten path these days, as it likely was forever.  Maybe it will survive, even if in obscurity in western Oklahoma, because no one really wants the land.  

See the trees?  There's a river down there, or was--the Washita River.  The Washita is what might be called "seasonal" because it's not there now--water that is.  There's a place where water flows--a channel; but there's not much of a river down there right now, mid-summer, in the shadowing trees.  The river is controlled--it's dammed, sort of like the place itself.

There was water in the river bed almost 145 years ago, when, one winter morning late in November, General George Armstrong Custer, looking for professional advancement after his illustrious stint in the Civil War, decided to follow orders and simply kill all the Cheyenne he and the Seventh Cavalry could find. There was water in the Washita because some of the Cheyenne went into the river and cut themselves on the icy banks as they tried to hide from the soldiers.  A few did.  Many didn't.  Women and children too, mostly women and children.

Otherwise, I suppose, little has changed since 1868. Today, to get there you leave behind any vestige of interstate highway and take a map full of lonely roads through Oklahoma towns where most everyone who wants to stay makes their living in oil--and a few in cattle. The site of the Washita Massacre is in out-of-the-way, fly-over country, and it is where it is only because Native American history is all about rivers--the Arkansas, the Red, the Cimarron, the Canadian, the Washita.  

And it's not hard to understand why.  The world out there on the southern plains can get parched, as it is today, and ponies need water, as do the people who ride 'em or own 'em. Somewhere between where I'm standing when I snapped this picture and the red hills off in the distance, there was plenty of water--and plenty of grass.  If Custer's Seventh Cavalry wanted to find what they called "hostiles," they had to watch the rivers, like the Washita.

Hundreds died in the slaughter. The story isn't that rare really because the larger story is told all through this land, and it goes like this:  Once upon a time there were aboriginal people here, but white and various kinds of European-Americans wanted the land the Native people lived on, so whites, in overwhelming numbers, simply took it.  (Yes, I know there are comma splices in that sentence, but I don't think it can be written with proper punctuation.)

Anyway, that's the story.  If I were red, I too would think all this consternation about illegal immigration is not only ironic but blind to our own story.

I'm guessing none of us would have to visit the Washita often.  Just one trip should do, just one hour-long walk through the grasses. Read a book maybe, go on-line, know the story.  Then go, then take the hike through the river bottom.  

In truth, the valley of the Washita is not a long ways from anywhere; it's here too.  It's written in most every corner of the American landscape.  The characters may be different and the plot lines might vary, but the theme is always the same.

Tell you what.  Go down to some river and listen for yourself.  See if you hear the voices of people who once lived there, loved there, died there.   It's not a nice story, but it's very much ours.

Monday, July 22, 2013

River Bend IV--a story



Tanya pulled her sunglasses out of her pocket, slid them awkwardly over her nose, and looked down the river into the late afternoon sun.  Then, when she turned back, she took them off again. "Sometimes when I'm down here alone," she told Carol, "there's beaver running around on the banks across the river, wreaking havoc." She pointed to the other side. "You think that all those uprooted trees come from the spring floods, but you're only half right. Beavers massacre 'em over there--here too." She pointed at trees not more than twenty feet away, already half-gnawed. "People think those idiot beavers smart, but they aren't--that's what I'm told. They just do it for the heck of it--maybe to keep their teeth sharp, who knows?"

"Nature's engineers," Carol said. "I always thought of them as nature's engineers, dam builders."

"Ask the guy up the hill." She nodded toward the park ranger's office. "He wishes he could get rid of the whole lot of them. All they do is make a mess."  She had to laugh. "But nobody buys beaver derbies anymore, or whatever hats beaver pelts make." And then, for the first time, the woman looked directly at her in a way that dropped any bit of profession and pretense.  "Hey, listen--I'm glad you're all right. I've had a big day."

"At least the boy is alive," Carol said. 


"He's not really a boy--he's as old as I am." Tanya shook her head, looked around aimlessly. "I was with his mother last night for a while," she said, a begrudging smile. "Woman officers, you know--we're supposed to be better at that sort of thing." She shook her head. "That woman--her heart is gone. It's like it's not even there. It's just awful, you know?  That kid shot his girlfriend, but he killed his mother." 

"I saw her," Carol said.

"She was worse off camera," the cop said. "No kidding."

She felt as if the woman had said enough. "So this  park is your beat?" Carol said.  "That's not bad."

She smiled. "There's a place down the river--the other way," she said. She was Paige's age, little more. "If you'd have walked the opposite direction, you would have seen it." She half turned. "You want to see? It's a place I go when--" she shrugged her shoulders, "--when I just like, have to, you know?" Once again, she looked at Carol in a way that seemed child-like in its pleading. "I suppose it's unprofessional or whatever, but this job--it isn't what I thought it was going to be. It's not glamorous and it's not at all easy on a woman."

"I'm sorry," Carol said. 


"I don't want pity," she said. "And it's not that I don't like what I do. There's just some times I got to stop down here and go see this upturned tree--in the river." She pulled her hands out of her pockets and drew a circle in the air. "It's huge. Some beaver probably dumped it a dozen years ago and the branches are all bleached like old bones--like that." She pointed at flattened cottonwood just fifty yards away in the river. "It's like that, but it's bigger, much bigger." Again, her hands drew out the branches. "But this spring, you know, when the water was high?--the river grabbed this whole other tree and laid it in those branches so that the whole thing looks almost like a big--" she bit her lip, searching for words, "--well, like a big cross, I guess." She seemed embarrassed. "I used to believe in God," she said. "Sometimes I look at that tree, you know--at the way it makes a huge cross in the middle of the river, right in the middle of all that mud, and it just helps, you know?  I mean, something weird like that. It's huge." Her face fell. "I'm sorry," she said. "The last couple days, you know?--that mother and that girl--" 

"It's okay," Carol said. "Show me. I'd love to see."

"Maybe it won't mean anything to you--I don't know," she said. "But it's huge, and it sits right out there like something God stuck in the middle of everything.  Just not something you'd expect to find--you know what I mean? It's like a shock or something, and it fills up something needs filling. I'm sorry--"

"What do you mean 'you used to be a believer'?" Carol said, laughing. "You sound like you still are."

"Maybe." She laughed, hard, in big heaves of breath that could have, in a moment, evolved into tears. "It's just stupid, I guess, isn't it?" she said. "And I'm so sorry, and here I am an officer of the law and all of that, and I'm spilling my guts over this river bank. I should be better than that."

"We all should be better than we are," Carol told her, and she walked up to her, then waited for the offer a shoulder. When it came, she put an arm around her. "Show me," she said. "I want to see this big old tree in the river. I don't believe it. I need to see it too."

"What?-somebody your age got problems?" Tanya said.

"You know better than to ask," Carol said. "You're a cop."

"You know," Tanya told her. "You got your life, and you got your job, but that's not everything really." She pulled away. "You're serious, right?  You're not just pulling my leg or being nice?"  


"Show me," Carol said.

"That's why I came, you know--to visit.  Stupid, huh?"

"That's why I came too," Carold told her.

*

When she got home later, Lloyd was standing outside the back door, waiting, his jacket on. "You must have done some serious shopping," he said. 


"I didn't go," she told him.

When she came up the walk, he grabbed her in his arms. "Carol, that kid--the guy who shot his girl?--he came home. He's not dead. It was on TV. He came back."

"I know," she said. "I heard." She put an arm around him, tucked her hand in the pocket of his jacket. "I went down to the river--"

"To the river?" he said.

"I went down to the river, and you can't believe what I found," she told him. "Lloyd--I'll show you. It's incredible."

"We haven't been there for a long time," he said.


She pinched his side. "I'll take you, Lloyd."
___________________________

"River Bend" appeared in Christianity Today.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday morning meds--"Glory"



 “and in his temple, all cry ‘Glory.’” Psalm 29:9

Psalm 29 is just about perfect for the Mesowe Apostles, an indigenous African Christian group who worship in the grand open spaces of Northern and Central Africa.  In fact, if you visualize the psalm—if you see it as David sings—what you see is a broad plain, a veld, a place so open only God can inhabit the emptiness. In this vast amphitheater, David says, the voice of the Lord has spoken in spectacle:  trees blasted, mountains moved, deserts swept, forests laid bare. 

Then suddenly, shockingly, instead of being outside, we’re not:  “and in his temple, all cry ‘Glory.’”  That’s disappointing.  I thought we were watching this from a place like the Grand Canyon.  Suddenly, we’re in church.  Well, maybe an IMAX theater. 

I’ll tell you how I’d like to interpret this—I’d like to believe that David is saying that all-of-this-world is God’s temple, that his Lord can’t be confined to four walls, that creation itself is his eternal dwelling.  That’s what I wish he meant.  The world is God’s holy temple. I feel that every dawn I spend in open country.
 
But that idea is tough to believe because I know the David wanted, more than anything, to build God’s own house with his own hands.  I also know he didn’t get the job because those very hands were bloody, too bloody.  I know no one treasured “the temple” more than King David. It’s difficult to imagine his using the word as a metaphor.

So how can I explain my being let down by this abrupt shift in point of view?—outside, one minute, in some vast natural amphitheater; to inside the next, and on our knees. 

Maybe the spectacle of temple worship for David was a whole different experience than what church-going is to me.  With all those buckets of flung blood, maybe it meant more to David than “church” does to me.

Maybe the point of view hasn’t changed.  Maybe King David out there with his friends, shuddering at God’s thundering voice, then panning north or south or east—whatever direction—to the temple, where God’s people are down on their knees.  “See that,” he says, “all the people cry ‘Glory.’  Psalm 29 is, after all, a poem for kings.  Maybe the temple’s radiant and joyful offerings are but another point in the sermon.

But then, maybe it’s me and not the psalm.  Maybe I too should be hearing God’s voice as deeply in the temple, in my church, as I do beneath the dome of his sky. 

Maybe I should be more like David.  We go, twice a Sunday, in fact, and have for years and years.  We love our pastor, treasure his sermons.  But there are times I feel God’s presence more definitively at a sunset on the banks of the Big Sioux River.

But then, maybe what I’d like to read into this particular verse—that creation itself is God’s great temple—is what is really there, even if David didn’t think that way himself.  In fact, it’s a given:  his words, scribbled down under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, transcend what he was thinking.  With divine prescience, maybe he saw the whole unmistakable truth, even if he didn’t recognize it himself.

God reigns. I’d like to go to Africa, just to see the Mesowe apostles—hundreds of them, millions, at worship in the temple of the outdoors.  God reigns over forests and mountains and Great Plains.  His kingdom stands wherever dawn lights the sky.  He is worshipped in that temple whenever and wherever his voice is clearly heard.  Just listen, David is telling his royal friends.  Just listen.

Then get down on your knees and sing, “Glory.” 

Seems to me that’s the word of the Lord.         

Saturday, July 20, 2013

River Bend III--a story


Carol looked around. They were here in the park in the winter, she and Lloyd, when snowbanks lay along the road like bread dough, and the deer left broken chains of darkened prints up and down the bluffs. Together, they'd come here several times because now, with the house empty, they'd been looking for new ways of being together: cross-country skiing, photography. They'd been right there where she was standing, the two of them leaning on their ski poles, sweaty, trying to catch their breath, when a half dozen deer walked right across the river in a single line. Life was good, a miracle.

That was before their daughter had done something unthinkable. That was before Paige shattered God's own law--an adulterer. Paige, adulterer.  That beloved child left behind. Lord, give me strength, she prayed, her eyes on the muddy river flowing silently beside her.

Through the trees on the bluff, the sound of the car coming down the road startled her, sent something she recognized as fear through her like a chill. She looked back at her own car, parked at the river's edge, and felt a kind of embarrassment when a brown squad from the state police emerged from the trees at the bottom of the hill. 

A quarter-mile away, she watched as the squad pulled up beside the Buick and an officer stepped out, a woman, who walked around her car as if it were itself a suspect, then followed what were likely Carol's own footprints in the gravel and looked down the path towards the woods, where she stood.

The young woman, her blond hair pulled back tightly, removed her sunglasses and held a hand up over her eyes, then stared into the trees. In a gesture that seemed instinctive, she checked for the gun on her belt before tossing her hat in the car and locking up. She started walking, looking, Carol thought, for the driver.

Poor thing, she thought, she thinks maybe there's another suicide, so she stepped out of the trees, stood there motionless for a moment, just to be seen, and then waved politely, happily, as if there were nothing amiss. The policewoman stopped, thought for a moment about going back, then kept walking.

Maybe the wave wasn't enough. Maybe the woman read the wave as someone putting her off. She looked down at her watch and realized that she'd been gone far too long, so she put her hands in the pockets of her coat and started walking back. 

 "I'm okay," she said, quite loud, once the officer approached.

The woman smiled, kept coming.

"I came down to have a look at the river," Carol told her. "It's something I do a lot."

"You too?" the cop said.

Carol shrugged her shoulders. "You mean you weren't worried?"

"I'm always worried," the woman said. "It comes with the territory." She stopped, ten feet away, just far enough that Carol couldn't quite read the name on the pin on her chest. "Sometimes--middle of the shift--I come down and take a little hike," she said. "It's my region anyway--it's not like I'm slacking."

"There's something about water flowing," Carol said, "something about the way it just never stops maybe."

The woman nodded, coming closer. "You're not scared?"

"Scared?" she said.

"Maybe you don't know," she told her. "You're not scared of the kid who shot his girlfriend?"

"Don't know what?" Carol said.

"The guy turned himself in about an hour ago," the woman told her, smiling. "We pretty much knew he would. Everybody said so.  He wasn't a bad kid--isn't.  People do things--you know?  You wonder why.  Shot her, you know?" She shook her head, took a breath.  "Might have been his mother on the TV brought him in," she told her. "I thought you might have heard the story--"

"I didn’t know," Carol said. “I was worried, you know—about him just ending it all.”

“Me too,” the cop said. “Didn’t happen. Dodged a bullet on that one—sheesh! That’s a bad joke.”

Carol could have kissed her. Her name, she saw finally, was Tanya.

“Hope you don’t mind me saying it,” Tanya said, “but sometimes it’s an awful job—this one I got.  Not that I regret it--I'm not sayin' that.  It's just not always what I thought it would be--you know.”

"Nothing is, I guess," Carol told her.  

And then they stood there in silence, the two of them, no longer strangers.  
_______________________________

Tomorrow:  What the river says.

Friday, July 19, 2013

River Bend II--a story


One silent hour later, she lied to him, told him she was going to Wal-Mart when she was actually going to River Hills, a park five miles west of town where the meandering Big Sioux River cut jagged sides from the yellow clay of a series of sharp bluffs. There were no police at the entrance--not that she expected them really, but the park wasn't more than a half hour away from the spot where they'd found the kid's truck--and not him.

It was May, late May, and from the top of the bluffs, where she first stopped the car and stood outside for just a moment, the whited path of the river making clear how high it had been carrying snow melt and heavy spring rains. All the way along, maples and cottonwoods had been brought low by the high water, kneeling solemnly. 

From the very beginning, she and Lloyd had been together on things, ever since Benj had called to tell them Paige had walked away from her marriage, left her husband and precious little Hannah for another teacher. She and Lloyd had never disagreed about how to handle it, not really. Not once. They'd sat together before the fireplace they'd just had built that fall--the idea was a sweet place to spend cold winter evenings, just the two of them--and they'd talk and talk and talk about what could or couldn't be done; and not once in all those nights had they really disagreed. She knew her daughter had no right to do what she did, no horrific grievance against her husband. Benj had treated both of them well, their daughter and granddaughter. She and Lloyd had agreed that it was their own Paige who was at fault here, and they'd told Benj as much, time and time again when they'd call him or when they'd talk to his folks.

Lloyd had been more angry than she had been. It was Lloyd who had done most of the talking--and the yelling. It was Lloyd who'd laid down the law. It was Lloyd who'd cut Paige off--told her that the two of them had to play hard ball with the outright sin she'd done, that neither themselves or the Lord God Almighty would buy her excuse about never really loving Benj--and the baby, my goodness, she thought, the baby. From the very beginning three months ago--from Benj's first call--not once had she and Lloyd really disagreed about what their own baby had done.


She got back in the car and followed the winding road down to the river bottom, where grass was just beginning to grow from the mat of gray mud that caked the banks after the spring floods. She pulled up to the bank of the river on freshly laid gravel, looked around to see if anyone else was there--the boy named Rory had tried to murder the girl, after all. 

 "Plain old lovers triangle," Lloyd had said. And why was she calling him a boy anyway? At 26, he was a man. 

I don't want to find him, she told herself--that's not the point. I don't want to see a boy who tried to murder a girl. I just don't want Lloyd to be right. Lord, she said, don't let him be right.  Doesn't have to end in more horror.

She didn't really know the problem. For years she'd lived with Lloyd's noisy eating--soup, for instance. It seemed that he had to make noise when he sipped. But lately it was so aggravating she couldn't take it. And why? Because of Paige? His laughing at a TV show could turn her inside out. Watching him correct his students' papers. Just knowing he was working at something in his office. Having to hear his strong bass voice in church made her almost nauseous--was it a virus she'd picked up from her daughter? They'd never disagreed about their daughter, not for a moment. They'd had a wonderful marriage--28 good years. But lately she could take so very little from him. Sometimes she just didn't see him suffer.

She left the car behind and followed the uneven path of freshly laid gravel as it skirted the river's edge. Across the water, beaver dens gaped like black moons from the banks beneath four scraggly cottonwoods splayed in four different directions like pencils in a cup. Mid-stream, a sculpture of bleached limbs, one of the river's earlier victims, stood like a monument to the torrent of water that now seemed wide and slow and safe, nowhere near to dangerous.  Floods took out trees and left them behind thoughtlessly.

What she wanted was for the boy to give himself up, not do himself in. But it was wrong of her to think that way about the whole story, because her motive really had more to do with her husband and his sense of what would happen than it did with the real life of a diabetic kid whose mother was horribly hurt. She knew she wanted him alive only to spite her own husband.


What she hated was Lloyd's nonchalance--and maybe that wasn't the right word either. What she hated was the fact that this horror of Paige's flooded every last part of her, and had, for three months, swept everything alive and growing into its channel, everything at work and at home and at church--wherever. She couldn't sleep, and hearing his breathing relax into that heavy pattern she'd heard for years only aggravated her more. She had to force herself to eat. Twice in three months they'd made love, laboriously. 

Maybe she should simply go visit Paige herself, alone, she thought. Maybe if she would take her daughter into her arms--maybe, maybe, maybe.

The park was empty, the river quiet, bedded down calmly.

And then she felt it. It came into her like something cool and refreshing, even though she knew what it was the second it entered her, recognized it for what it was: pure, unadulterated despair. Why wouldn't the kid kill himself?--she asked herself.  Lloyd was right. Why should the kid go on living? What single good reason could he give to come home to insulin and prison? His mother offered him help, sure, but what kind of help?  Help in  a lifetime of prison?

There was a bullet left in that gun. Why not just quit? She looked down at the water, silent and constant, and her own sadness, like the boy's, fed the flow of despair that came up suddenly and refreshingly from her soul. It would end things, she thought. It would end suffering. It would end horror. It would end aggravation she lacked the strength and courage to fight. It would end nausea. It would give her rest. Despair as relief. 


Across the water, a huge scruffy owl swooped out of a tree but stayed in the woods, flying between thick branches like a circus performer. It was wrong, she knew--despair was the lack of hope, and hope was hers, always, eternally.  Then why was she feeling it?--how was it that despair felt so good to her soul?
______________________________

Tomorrow:  Someone finds her at the river.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

River Bend I--a story



The woman on the television was grotesquely overweight, her hair a thatch of gray and what looked on the screen to be some flat amber-like coloring. A huge T-shirt printed with a bundle of multi-colored balloons lay like a tent over her chest. Her face was mess--she was crying, had been for some time. That was clear. 

"You can get help here, Rory," she told the camera, sobbing. "Please come home. We love you. You don't have your insulin. You don't have none of your medicine." She poked at her eyes with a big red handkerchief. "Please," she said again, shaking her head, "we want to help you, and we're the only ones who can."

Rory had shot his girlfriend five times, but she was still alive. The news report said she was 19. He was 26.  It was horrifying.

A preacher in his clerical collar, the girl's neighbor, said no one in town would ever have thought that something like this could happen there. "In a city, sure--but things like this are not supposed to happen here."


But they do, Carol thought. The six o'clock news verified that the unthinkable had occurred last night about two in the morning in a small town just thirty minutes down the river from where she and Lloyd were watching the news while finishing their vegetable soup. The search for Rory Melius had already begun, the reporter said.  That morning, his Dodge Ram had been found on a gravel road that dead-ended on a bluff overlooking the Big Sioux River. 

"Poor guy'll be dead," Lloyd told her. "You watch. He used that gun on himself, I’m sure." He raised a finger and pulled the trigger.

Carol looked at him angrily, but he wasn’t looking at her.

The reporter spoke to the anchor. "The police aren't saying much about Rory Melius. From all reports here, few people would have guessed he could do what police are saying it appears he did. They’ve issued no warnings, really. They're not saying that he's armed and dangerous."

"That's because he's already gone," Lloyd said to the TV. "He's not dangerous. His gun is empty. He put five into her and had one left."

"How can you say that?" Carol said.

"Well, count 'em yourself," he said, not looking up.

"That's not what I mean," she told him. "This isn't a movie, Lloyd--these are real people--good night, they're our neighbors almost."

He turned towards her. "It's domestic, honey. It doesn't matter that they weren't married. It's passion gone, shot to heck--love to hate to despair." He shook his head. "He's gone, Carol--you know that. Why do you think they're not putting out an APB?"

"I just wish you weren't so damned sure," she said. "Do you get some comfort out of that?--is that it?"

"Comfort?" he said. 


"Yes, comfort," she told him, picking up his dish, the milk, their silverware, then getting up to bring it to the kitchen. "Does it build you up or something to think you know exactly how all of this is going to turn out?"

She could feel his eyes on her. "How come you're so angry?" he said.

"I'm not angry," she told him, her back to him. "I'm just not as sure as you are that you're clairvoyant, and I wish you wouldn't do that--tell me what the outcome of this horrible, sinful mess is, as if you knew--as if there were no hope."

"It's a plain old lovers' triangle," he said.

"It isn't a 'lover's triangle,' Lloyd--my goodness." She opened the dishwasher. It was still full from last night. "That's a real woman on the screen--somebody's aching. There's a young girl shot. Can't you see that?"

"Is what I said wrong?" he asked her, picking up the crackers and jelly. "To me, it just looked open and shut, honey. There's too many things here--"

"I don't want to hear any more, okay?" she said. "Let's just drop the whole thing."
When he brought his dishes to the sink, she was still turned away from him.
______________________

Tomorrow: Troubled deeply, Carol visits the river herself.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Morning Thanks--poetry in the view


Road is - to be honest - mere euphemism here, a figurative expression, a sort of poetic license; as for a highway, there was none or just a trail. The boundless prairie lay spread out before us, and driver and horses knew their course. 'Twas a ride not without its peculiar enjoyment. True: it was bitterly cold in the wind which swept unobstructed from the North. I could only imagine how very different things must be in summer when the thick, soft carpet of dark green grass appears dotted with flowers of all colors; but even so, despite the barrenness, wildness, and monotony of the scene, yea by reason of these, there is some thing grand and awe-inspiring in the landscape. Nothing impedes or interrupts the view, whithersoever one looks. No hill or rock, not even a house or tree, not a single sharp line. Nothing, absolutely nothing but the vast, broad prairie! And yet it is somewhat different from the single horizontal line which describes our low, level meadows in Holland: an endless succession of irregular, undulating slopes which seem to extend one's circle of vision indefinitely.
There is an inexpressible charm, something solemn, mysterious in the nature of the landscape which speaks to the imagination and even to the heart. It awakens a consciousness such as that aroused by a view of the ocean; yes, in a certain sense it is even stronger here. There, in boundless space is the unending monotony of restless water; here, over the vast but motionless waves, petrified as it were, reigns a deep, solemn stillness, emblematic of peace and immortality, but also of fresh, free, invincible power. Indeed, there is poetry in the view, and I realize now why the Arab waxes enthusiastic over the desert; I understand now why the poetical soul of such a person as Miss Currer Bell loves the monotonous heath of North-England more than the most picturesque landscape. I can almost explain what people here say of a settler of the prairies, who complained of being stifled when he caught sight in the distance of smoke rising from the chimney of a "neighbor" who had located twenty miles away!*

I wish those words were mine, but they belong to a man named Dr. M. Cohen Stuart in Zes Maanden in Amerika (Six Months in America).  Dr. Stuart, from the Netherlands, visited Pella and the then developing world of northwest Iowa in 1873, when hearty Dutch-Americans were first putting down roots in the far corner of the state.  To his countrymen a century ago, he's describing the landscape in which I live.  

This morning, I'll simply go with what he says for my morning thanks. 
_________________________________ 
* from Jacob Van Der Zee, Hollanders of Iowa, Iowa State Historical Society, 1912, and available here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Morning Thanks--The Divinity School Address


It's a story I never tired of telling, and it happened yesterday--well, yesterday, July 15, in 1838 (and, no, I haven't been telling it for that long).  Ralph Waldo Emerson, a rising star in Massachusetts high culture, a young clergyman, a divine divine really, a man blessed with a gift for words, had been asked to speak to the young preachers-in-training at the seminary, the Harvard Divinity School.

He'd been asked because he was all of those things.  Besides, he'd given a passionate speech to the Harvard students not that long before, something called "The American Scholar," that had been wildly loved.  What Emerson voiced in that stemwinder was the idea that America should no longer follow the courtly muses of Europe, no longer act as if it were some misbegotten ugly duckling, but rather stand on its own two feet and create its own art and poetry and science and just about everything. That speech lit up the congregation because it was a kind of cultural Declaration of Independence, America thumbing its nose at its storied ancestors, the Brits especially.  It was time for an American Shakespeare.

It wasn't exactly the shot heard round the world, but there was more heavy breathing in the hallowed courts of Harvard College after that performance than there likely had been for quite some time. And, let's face it, what he'd sung was a chorus that a country loved, performed at a time when this newly sovereign-ed nation was beginning to look west with some seriousness, when the unimaginable riches of the wilderness was there for the taking (as long as you simply get rid of those disgusting aboriginals).  

Ralph Waldo Emerson was piping a dream, and people tuned in to the vision.  

"Let's have that guy back again," someone said, so he was asked, he consented, he delivered.

And right about now, in 1838, a day after the speech, the telephones were ringing off the hook, figuratively speaking.  People weren't just mad, they were livid.  They wanted his hide.  What he said got him tarred and feather, figuratively, and he wasn't asked back to Harvard College or the Divinity School for almost forty years.

And poor Waldo didn't really understand the uproar.  After all, he said, he'd told them nothing at all that was any different from what he'd said in his Oscar-winning lecture to the college.  He told them to stand on their own two feet, to break ties with tradition, to discover worlds they'd never dreamed of, to become something well, omnipotent.  

He'd said Jesus Christ was divine, maybe the only divine soul in the history of man, but so could each of them be divine. They could all be replica Christs if they'd only discover the divine in themselves.  He told them to forget the importance of scriptures and to create their own sacred writings by getting themselves in tune with the harmonic convergence then imminently available throughout Boston or anywhere else for that matter.

Something about that, to the profs at the seminary, was way over the line.

What mattered is that each of them touch that universal sort of thing that all of them have but few of them believe.  You know--that thing that's in all of us, whatever that is.  This sort of eternal sweet spot that connects all of us, the soul, the soul that inhabits humanity, the over-soul--yeah, that's it, "the oversoul."  You know.

Emerson was "new age" long before anyone had stuck those two words together.  But his odd religion, something that came to be called "transcendentalism," won the day among the intellectual elite even if it left its religious authorities livid.  Transcendentalism left its traces in just about every important writer of America's own Romantic Era--Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Dickinson.  

It proclaimed a radical optimism that harmonized with the aspiration of a new burgeoning (white) culture in a country that, in 1838, still really had no idea how much territory existed within its borders, how much wealth within its territories.  

And it died a miserable death with Fort Sumter.  It was hospitalized already with John Brown, when its own advocates determined that such unbridled optimism was, at best, a pipe dream.

It's all there.  You can read it for yourself in "The Divinity School Address."  Take it along on your next picnic and read it for yourself.

It's a great essay, and an even greater story because Emerson was scribbling out the truth far better than he knew--truth about us, about the human character, about what we could become.

And couldn't.  

Seems we still do need a Savior.