The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Courthouses and churches

Not perfect, but also not for sale.Churches have steeples pointing to heaven. Take away any signs from in front of the building, and you still know it’s a church; you just don’t know, for certain, the denomination.

Courthouses often have a cupola of some sort atop their roof, with a clock announcing to passers-by the time to draw near and be heard. Without a sign, they might be confused with a library – not a far reach from their purpose as a repository of important information – but never would they be mistaken for, say, an entertainment center.

Courthouses and churches are a lot alike, I think. They each are their own signs: “Matters of great import conducted within.”

Both are places for truth-seeking, at least as best we humans can discern it.

Entrance to a courthouse usually is gained through heavy doors that set the tone for the business to be conducted in the multitude of offices where we pay our tithe, settle our differences and attend to the various mundane and grand governmental affairs of our community.

Preachers and judges, from their respective pulpits, proclaim their authoritative roles from raised platforms  at the front of expansive halls in which ornate railings often separate the main actors from those who have come to listen, learn and petition.

We chastise our sinners, celebrate our marriages, and, sometimes, make decisions the effects of which are felt across the planet.

Some of us may be heard to complain mightily about the expense incurred in commission of some of the functions performed within the buildings, but we rarely hear objection to the cost of erecting the structure. The peripheral offices of churches and courthouses may find quarters in the rear of a former Five-and-Dime, but if the main building finds itself there, we all know it is only temporary.

What is most amazing is that the citizens charged with actually performing the activities within these buildings generally take their assignments seriously. Most remarkable are those called to serve on juries, often for so little pay as to be nearly free.

I have sat in coffee shops and heard the accused declared guilty, modern Judge Roy Beans decreeing, “Give the guilty fellow a fair trial and hang him in the morning.”

I have later seen some of the same people become jurors who listen intently and seriously consider the information they are given. The proof is sometimes evident in verdicts contrary to popular, pretrial, declarations.

I offer that to offer this: The Supreme Court of the United States has made a few decisions in the past year that have been contrary to popular, pre-trial, expectation. Though during confirmation, each candidate dependably recites the mantra, “I will consider each case on its merits,” we often are certain we know the verdict before the case is accepted.

The good news is the esteemed jurists seem to actually consider the evidence before rendering a decision. Though it does not guarantee all decisions will make all of us happy, it is helpful to know, on balance, the issues will be considered fairly.

And if we do not like a decision, perhaps we should consider changing the law.

Thanks for sharing the ride. I hope you enjoyed the journey. Comments are welcome, and please feel free to share.


  1. Interesting reflective column, John.

    • Thank you, sir. it does seem to me we’re all a mite too wound up worrying about things might not go our way that we don’t even notice when they do.

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