Both the house that we sold last year in Minnesota and the Rectory (i.e., church-owned house) where we now live in Texas have a lot of built-in book shelves. Some of the books on those shelves are just for fun and just for me. Others are there to help me think about biblical narratives and human nature and culture as I write sermons. But there are also books that simply remind me of the past, of my ethnic or spiritual heritage, of those who have gone before me, of the people and theology and ideas that have shaped the world around me and the ground beneath me.
For example, the book on the far right in this photograph, Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate, is the autobiography of the Rt. Rev. Henry Benjamin Whipple. He was the first bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, arriving there at the end of 1859. Bishop Whipple was a strong and too often solitary advocate for the rights of Native Americans. In 1862, he appealed to President Abraham Lincoln to spare the lives of 303 Dakota warriors who had been condemned to death after the end of the Dakota War. As Bishop Whipple wrote to United States Senator Henry Rice:
We cannot hang men by the hundreds. . . . The leaders must be punished, but we cannot afford by any wanton cruelty to purchase a longer Indian war — nor by injustice in other matters to purchase the wrath of God.
President Lincoln personally reviewed each case and granted reprieves to 265 of the condemned men. Nevertheless, to this day, the public hanging of the remaining 38 Dakota warriors on St. Stephen’s Day, December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota, remains the largest mass execution in the history of the United States.
I actually have two copies of Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate. The one pictured above belonged to the Rt. Rev. Frederick Warren Putnam, Jr. He was born in Minnesota and would eventually serve as the first bishop of the Navajoland Area Mission of the Episcopal Church, which was created in 1978. Bishop Putnam also served as an interim rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Edina, Minnesota, where I was the Rector from 2007 to 2014. He died in Edina, on my birthday, soon after I arrived there. Needless to say, that book is more than just a book to me.
So let’s write haiku about books and the stories they tell, whether to everyone or only to us. Or you can write a haiku about Bishop Whipple and others like him who have the courage to advocate for those who do not have a voice, even when doing so is extremely unpopular. Your one verse of poetry only needs five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line.
Lights and Shadows speaks
to me — both through the author
and through the owner.