31 July 2012


When Denise and I moved from Lee's Summit, MO to Sarasota, FL, we gave all our living houseplants away to folks we knew would love and care for them.  It was quite a large selection.  We like to have living, growing things around us.  However, in establishing ourselves in our new townhome, we decided not to have live houseplants...a way to further simplify our lifestyle.

That lasted about two months.  We purchased a Basil and a Chocolate Mint plant in pots that live on our lanai (screen enclosure at the back of our first floor living room).  These herbs are hardy and generally vigorous.  In this  part of Florida, they generally live year-round.

For me, this turned out not to be enough.  My study needed the addition of a living plant...something unique and different from my former choices.  I spent weeks quietly searching and finally came across a list of plants that benefit the air quality and environment of the rooms in which they are placed.  One such plant that caught my eye was the Sansevieria.  It had sturdy, thick leaves that grow upward from its pot and is known to absorb nitrogen oxide and formaldahyde.  While I don't believe these chemicals are present in my environment, with any hardy plant, one gets a reduction in CO2 and additional O2.  Also, this plant has several common names.  Here, it is known as the "snake plant."  You would have to know my background to understand the attraction to that...that's another blog.

I found just the plant I wanted at one of our local Lowe's.  It took a while of exploring the home garden center, but, as soon as I saw it among a number of easy care houseplants, it was like a rescue dog speaking, "take me to your house."  So, on 23 July, the Sansevieria, aka Snake Plant, came to live on the temporary bookcase in my study.

Now...this may be a southern thing...it is important to find a suitable personal name for a plant that will live in close proximity.  For instance, in seminary, I had a very happy varigated red/green coleus that simply screamed the name "Claudius" to me.  It thrived and stayed with me through my first curacy in Springfield, MO...a total of almost six years.  I gave it to a good friend when I made the move back to Central Florida in 1980.

Naming is a sacred act.  Something about a plant or animal emerges...a kind of character...which a name provides a descriptor for that character.  When I got my snake plant settled in my study, I sat looking at it...studying its features...asking what impact it had upon me and what characteristics is reflected in its new surroundings.  Without warning, the name popped into my head.   "Dirksen."   After further reflection, it established itself, and, in a simple gesture of gently placing my hands around the plant, I pronounced that it would henceforth be known as "Dirksen Sansevieria."
Sansevieria (Snake Plant):  Dirksen

Like anyone, I have persons I count as heroes in my life.  People whose lives and work have exemplified what I believe to be important attributes and contributions to our culture.  They have provided me with inspiration for my own growth, development and vocation.  This may come as a surprise from one who has already admitted to being a moderate/progressive Democrat; but one of my heroes is Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen (1896-1969), a Republican from Illinois.

Senator Dirksen's story is like many folks of that period.  The son of German immigrants, he grew up on a farm in Perkin, IL....not far from Peoria.  He attended college and was in law school, when WWI erupted.  He left school to serve in  the Army.  To cut to the chase, he entered national politics as a member of the House of Representatives in Congress in 1933 and served until 1949.  After overcoming a health issue, he was elected to the Senate in 1950 and served until his untimely death from cancer in 1969.

My admiration for Senator Dirksen began in the 1960s.  In Jr. High School I had a teacher in 7th grade who introduced us to daily news through the "Weekly Reader."  This is where I met the rumpled, fiery orator with hair that never seemed combed much.  I learned that, while he stood on the ground of being a "conservative Republican," he was always at work building bridges between where his ideology could meet the ideology of those of at the other end of the spectrum.  He crafted, or help craft, a number of key legislation that shaped the changes and the reshaping of our society in the 1960s.   He is most famous for his role in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Open Housing Act of 1968.  He helped break a nearly deadly filibuster during the crafting of the Civil Rights Act and created a compromise with the hold out southern Democrats that allowed the legislation to pass into law.  Whenever debate in the Senate would become convoluted, he would introduce legislation to make the marigold the national flower.  He was wise, humorous and didn't take himself so seriously that he couldn't find a means to get the important work of the people accomplished.  He wasn't afraid to change his mind, if he found a way to create a compromise that would make the legislative process work.  For all his time in the Senate, he was the Minority Leader.  He could be found consulting with Mike Mansfield or Lyndon Johnson (both Senate Majority Leaders) when legislation seemed stuck or heading for defeat.  I could go on, but I think you get the point.   I so identified with Dirksen's style, that I think I subconsciously adopted aspects of it in my own professional development.
Senator Everett M. Dirksen

Now, what does my plant named Dirksen have to do with the historically significant statesmen Everett Dirksen?   Absolutely nothing.  It isn't my wife's favorite indoor plant, but she knows I have an attachment to it.  Compromise...it stays in my study.  It looks a bit unruly and "rumpled."   Somehow, it inspires me to think outside the box...even in choosing it from among other "handsomer" indoor plant possibilities.  It's intuitive, but that's where most creative energy comes from...our right brain intuition.  I don't know what it is, but when I sit and look at this plant, I begin to get ideas.  It seems to invite that internal journey.

We are in an era of uncommon politics and radical shifting.  A lot of what we see happening in our electoral process is disconcerting.  Pundits and various personalities say simply off the wall, dumb stuff.  Yet, they are coming very close to possibly being elected.  Compromise?  No work is getting done in Congress, because there is no hint of a desire to compromise on the part of radical parts of both sides of the aisle.  We don't have a Dirksen anywhere in sight to help us fashion a legislative process that will lean us forward...into the wind of needed change and growth as a culture and a nation.  We are now becoming the laughing stock of other nations....losing our stature as a wise and advancing culture.

It isn't the fault of one or two people.  When things aren't going well, we immediately want to find someone to blame.   Just look at the campaign ads and the Facebook rhetoric.  It is as much our fault as it is the fault of any branch of state or federal government.  Everett Dirksen helped folks with legislative and governmental responsibility see the need to put aside ideology, roll up their sleeves and create ways to find common language and purpose.

We will continue sliding and stumbling on this slippery slope until we can find a common voice that puts aside differences and looks for the common good.  Jesus told us to look among the poor in spirit to find the blessing of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is the place of healing and wholeness.  Perhaps all of us are suffering from poorness of spirit at some level.


Fr. Fred+


  1. Thanks for freshening my memory of Senator Dirksen, one of our great statesman. I long for Republicans of his nature (for that matter Democrats of his nature). He was even a distant cousing on my mother's side (maiden name Dirksen) so I have often prayed for some of his DNA.

  2. I mistook "sansevieria" for "sinsemilla," and wondered if you had taken up a new hobby?

    We rode the Auto Train from Sanford to DC once sitting across the aisle from Sen. Dirksen's long-time chief of staff and his wife. We had a delightful time hearing Dirksen stories.