Thanksgiving Thoughts

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People have given thanks for the harvest since long before any major religions were formulated.  This giving of thanks always has something of a religious quality.  The relation of religion to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday has long been tangential at best, however.  Those paper pilgrim hats and feather headdresses from grade school weren’t about religion; they were about making us citizens with a common heritage, a shared history, incomplete though it was.

94933_CoverFrontThe role of religion in the Thanksgiving holiday made it a subject that liberal preacher John Emerson Roberts spoke on almost every year; the hypocrisy of talking about religious services and preferring feasting and games was an obvious target.  Here, from the biography, is a summary of his thoughts on the subject in 1895:

At this time, the day still had to be set by the annual proclamation from the president (The proclamations are still made, even though Congress fixed the day as the fourth Thursday in November in the mid-twentieth century.) These proclamations have religious overtones that go back to the Puritans. Grover Cleveland’s 1895 proclamation called for giving thanks “in our accustomed places of worship,” and for prayer that God would continue to show mercy to and guide the nation. Roberts applauds the people of the country for being ahead of the platitudes of the proclamation: they use the day for feasting, fun, and football games. He notes that even the newspapers, supposedly holding up the pious conventions, give far more space to reporting sports than to church services. The people know what they need and they act accordingly.

When the Kansas City Star published an editorial objecting to what Roberts had said. he used the papers themselves as evidence to support his argument. In the four daily papers published in Kansas City on the day after thanksgiving, he counted 568 lines covering religious events for the day and 6,480 on football alone. “These figures prove nothing,” Roberts admitted, but they showed what the editors judged to be “what the public was interested in on Thanksgiving day.”

What would Dr. Roberts say today about Black Friday and the way it has recently leaked into Thanksgiving Day?  Would he assert that “the people know what they need and they act accordingly?”  Or would he perceive a pressure of corporate capitalism throwing society out of balance, as I do?  My perspective is affected by the fact that I have what I need, and when I make a big purchase it is usually because something has broken and I want to replace it.  When something does break, I’m not likely to wait for sales or the crowds that go with them. I give thanks that I can avoid Black Friday.

An additional note on Thanksgiving:

I recently heard an ad for some worthy cause in which the speaker said, “People remember the thanks but they don’t always remember the giving.”  Another blow to language: giving thanks is not a two-part action.

Comments Roberts made on other Thanksgivings, and his comments on many other subjects are reported in John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher.  See more on the Books page.


Hong Kong Visit

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I’ve just had a great trip to Hong Kong, my first there, and only my second ever to Asia.  Hong Kong is a very lively city, and fairly compact for its size, as it is hemmed in by steep mountains.  The central part of the city, on Hong Kong Island, is built on the side of a hill.  Streets uphill are frequently replaced by stairs.  Clearly, the harbor was the important feature in the selection of this location by the British back in the nineteenth century.  The city continues to be bi-lingual, with a large foreign population – it takes seven years, I learned, to become a permanent resident.  And there are enough foreigners to support quite a few coffee shops, a feature I appreciated in the mornings, though I enjoy Chinese tea the rest of the day.

It was grey when we arrived, a result of the typhoons in the area.  This was convenient for one coming from a colder climate.

From the Star Ferry

From the Star Ferry

Gradually the weather warmed and the sun came out, providing an opportunity to enjoy the view from Victoria Peak.  Across the harbor is Kowloon, another part of the city, which is a peninsula of the mainland.

View from the Peak

View from the Peak

The look back at the peak, from a 42nd floor hotel room, shows how close the green landscape is, where it gets too steep to build.

Southern view from hotel

Southern view from hotel, morning sun

A half hour bus or taxi ride takes one around the hills and down to the south side of the island, where there are villages with nice beaches and houses which seem far away from the city high rises.  More of that in another post.

Progress on “Made and Remade”

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The Bridge Outside Paley's Door

The Bridge Outside Paley’s Door

The manuscript for my collection of poems about William Paley and his 200 year old text Natural Theology has gone to the publisher.  Made and Remade should be out in the middle of 2014

To celebrate I offer this poem, which opens the book and describes my enthusiasm for the project.  It also points to all that has changed since Paley wrote, and the world of change we live in now.


for Polly

I’m fixed on this book
like a three-year-old on trucks,
a five-year-old on dinosaurs.  You could
make it my motif, were I young
enough for birthday parties.

Language to sift and savor
artfully, skillfully portrays
a world of fixed order, art
and skilled contrivance.
This balance
wavers as I wonder
at that world’s collapse in
swings, cycles, evolving
life, shifting earth.

Mechanistic views dissolve in
reality’s wash and rub.  I
turn and read again for fragments,
museum quality gems of evidence
for a long dead argument, a fresh fix
of fine writing, proceeding
from a fine mind.

This poem was included in Ascents: Five Southwestern Women Poets.

Project Linus


I’ve sewn many of my own clothes over the years, and kept the leftover fabric, saying “Some day I’ll make a quilt of this.”  I didn’t know how to make a quilt.  I bought a book about quilts and admired all the complex designs.  I had no idea where to begin.


With this background it is surprising that I only discovered Project Linus a few years ago.  Members of Project Linus make blankets of all kinds: fleece, flannel, knitted and quilted, for children who are ill or in times of stress.  The local sheriff carries a bag of Linus blankets in his car because he never knows when the need will arise.  Local agencies are glad to receive them.  The local chapter is very active, but the supply never exceeds the need.

I began working with flannel, making small blankets for infants.  The quilting part – stitching the layers together – isn’t difficult. Maine Quilt

Gradually I learned to do piecing. Squares are still the easiest thing, but I did learn how to do triangles, which create diamonds.  Gradually I worked with larger sizes, though I don’t have space to do full size quilts.


What I like best is looking at colors and mixing and matching them.  I’ll never win prizes for my quilting, but I take pictures for my own remembering, and decided to share them.

Project Linus is easy to find at http://www.projectlinus.org.


All Saints Day

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Saints: the holy ones.  the old word “hallowed” gives us All Hallows Eve (or Halloween), a once new name for an old, old festival that marks the turning of the year toward winter, the diminished days.  Astrologers say that “the veil between the worlds” is thinner at this time, and so people think of their dead.  The early church wisely added to this pattern rather than combatting it.

We sing “For all the saints who from their labors rest . . . .”  Who are these saints?  Traditional theology would say it is all those who died in the faith, having been made holy by their baptism.  But if we are created by a loving God, we are already holy in our making.  And if you don’t believe in a god, don’t you think that all sentient beings deserve respect – and especially those of our own species?

Empathy and concern for the common good seem to be hard to learn in our individualistic society.  One could claim that an interest in the good of the whole is a characteristic for survival from earlier times which is no longer needed.  That is a limited view.  I wish that the barriers between us, the living, might also become thinner, so that we might more easily talk across our differences to discern what is best for all.