Not So Messy

The folks at Witness have abandoned a theological system (Reformed) to rally around a racial (black) identity. Jemar Tisby explained:

Christianity is not some otherworldly religion that is only concerned with our spiritual lives. True faith acknowledges that our souls inhabit bodies and we experience the world in a physical and material way. So Christianity is also concerned with our reality as a people who have been marginalized due to the racial caste system in America.

We are a “black Christian collective” because we are made in the image of God and part of that image includes our melanated skin along with the culture and experiences that go along with it….

As a “black Christian collective,” The Witness has returned to its original mission to serve black people. The move from “African American” to “black” acknowledges this endeavor is international scope. The Witness is for the entire African diaspora. We are also a collective in the sense that a variety of black Christians from different denominations, ages, regions, and experiences all contribute their perspectives. The Witness is not the voice of black Christians; it is the microphone that amplifies those who have often gone unheard.

I was curious, in light of these changes, what The Witness’ perspective or counsel on the shootings in Texas might be. After all, the congregation is white and the shooter was white. So how would black Christians speak to or about Sutherland Springs?

It turns out, they sound like any other U.S. evangelical (white or person of color):

Tragedies like this provoke many discussions and debates around issues such as domestic violence, gun control, and church security protocols. We absolutely need to address these issues and seek concrete solutions, but that is not the focus of this post. Honestly, I don’t feel like I have the proper words at this point. I am tired saints. I have been to war and back and I am tired of violence.

Will you join me in praying that those in Sutherland Springs would be comforted by the God of all comfort? Is it alright if we include Charleston, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernardino, Blacksburg, Aurora, and all of those who have been struck by this plague of gun violence?

Let us pray.

Father God, we cry out to you. We thank you that we can approach your throne of grace boldly through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We thank you that you have caused us to be born again by the power of your Spirit who now indwells us and testifies with our spirits that we are the sons and daughters of God.

Father, you are able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. We come to you now and we ask that your kingdom would come and that your will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. Lord God, bring healing to the families and communities impacted by these tragedies. We ask that you invade every place of darkness with your glorious light. Let grace abound.

I do wonder about the use of the word “darkness,” but otherwise, kudos to The Witness for showing solidarity with white Baptists.

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Send the Confederate Monuments to Canada

After all, as Wilfred Laurier asserted, where else does a nation honor both the victors and the defeated?

Where is the Canadian who, comparing his country with even the freest countries, would not feel proud of the institutions which protect him? Where is the Canadian who, passing through the streets of this old city and reaching the monument raised a few steps from here to the memory of the two brave men who died on the same field of battle while contending for empire in Canada, would not feel proud of his country? In what other country under the sun can you find a similar monument reared to the memory of the conquered as well as of the conqueror? In what other country under the sun will you find the names of the conquered and the conqueror equally honored and occupying the same place in the respect of the population? (The Benefits of British Institutions, 1877)

Laurier, Canada’s first francophone Prime Minister (1896-1911), was referring to the Wolfe-Montcalm Monument that memorialized the two generals who fought on opposite sides and died in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, a decisive battle in 1759 during the Seven Years War when the British rolled back French colonial presence in North America.

Canada’s capacity to honor both anglophones and francophones in one monument may give provide reasons for thinking of the nation up north as exceptional.

The Small Town and Its Defenders

The missus and I were glad to be in Jackson, Michigan, at the Grand River Brewery, for a set of presentations sponsored by The American Conservative. We heard Bill Kauffman, who is arguably conservatism’s funniest voice. Here’s an excerpt:

My hometown, Batavia, New York, population 15,500, has had plenty of Bill Baileys and Hughie Cannons over the years. I don’t mean by that shiftless drunks, daydreaming musicians, guys who stay out all night—they’re okay by me—but rather people who leave town, or who refuse to make a home in the place where they live. They reject Booker T. Washington’s wise injunction to cast down your bucket where you are.

In 2003 I published a book called Dispatches From the Muckdog Gazette, which is, megalomaniacally, a memoir about my repatriation to Batavia, but it’s also about the way that Batavia—and by extension all the Batavias from sea to dimming sea—has struggled to maintain a distinct identity, a character, rather than becoming just another formless wattle on the continental blob.

To the world, Batavia is merely Exit 48 on the New York State Thruway, that hideous gray scar across our green and lovely state, that drab version of the Erie Canal dedicated to that drab man Thomas E. Dewey, who fled his fine little hometown of Owosso, Michigan, which was too small to contain a man of his talent, or ego.

I don’t know how much anyone here knows of Batavia—I’m afraid we keep our little light well hidden under the bushel—but I will skip lightly over the first 160 or so years of our history and say only that it is rich, mythopoeic, beguilingly strange, as befits the cradle of the Anti-Masons, the first third party in American history.

Batavia was a prosperous little city, manufactory of combines and tractors and shotguns. English and Scots and Germans were the early settlers, coexisting uneasily with the late 19th-century polyglot influx of Italians and Poles. I’m a mongrel, a mixture of several of these streams—though my beloved late Italian grandmother insisted that we were “northern Italian—almost Swiss.” So in my book I gave myself license to write freely, even raucously, of the ethnic conflicts that once cleaved Batavia—but also gave it a good deal of its spice.

In some ways we were a typical small American city but in other ways we were “Batavia”—our own place. We did not yet bow down before the new American royalty: Burger King and Dairy Queen.

Then, as Joseph Heller would say, something happened. Urban renewal. My old boss Senator Pat Moynihan once said, when driving through Auburn, New York, which was decimated rather as Batavia was—I would do my Moynihan impression but I’m afraid I teetotaled at the reception—“in the 1950s, with a progressive government and newspaper, you got into urban renewal and destroyed everything of value in your town. If you’d had a reactionary newspaper and a grumpy mayor, you might still have it.” (Try to imagine any U.S. senator today saying something one ten-thousandth as perceptive.)

Red Ribbon

Just removing the cake from the Bundt pan was victory enough for we theologians of the cross. But when the cake entered at the The Most Popular Fair on Earth won second place in the Bundt cake division, the red ribbon was icing on the cake.

Here is the recipe for Mississippi Mud Cake:

Into a bowl sift together 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and a pinch of salt.

In the top of a double boiler set over simmering water heat 1-3/4 cups coffee and 1/4 cup bourbon for 5 minutes. Add 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate and 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, all cut into pieces, and heat the mixture, stirring, until the chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is smooth.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 2 cups sugar. Let the mixture cool for 3 minutes and transfer it to the bowl of an.electric mixer.

Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, beating at medium speed, and continue to beat the mixture for 1 minute.

Add 2 eggs, lightly beaten, and 1 teaspoon vanilla and beat the batter until it is smooth.

Butter a 9-inch tube pan, 3-1/2 inches deep, and dust it with cocoa. Pour in the batter and bake the cake in a pre- heated very slow oven (275° F.) for 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool completely in the pan on a rack and turn it out onto a serving plate. Dust the top with powdered sugar or serve with whipped cream.

The recipe comes from a celebrated blue ribbon winner at Wisconsin county fairs who lives in Chicago and has edited and published a couple of my books.

Fine print: the one time I used butter and cocoa on the pan, the results were not great. The better strategy is to use what works best for your Bundt pan.

How History Makes the World a Better Place

Sometimes even boomers know the score. Take Camille Paglia (via Rod Dreher):

Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.”

Or try Rod Dreher:

Imagine that the US was involved in a major overseas war in which over 11,000 American soldiers died in one year alone (1967). For a point of comparison, fewer than 7,000 US troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 14 years of combat there.

Imagine that 17,000 US soldiers would die in 1968, and 12,000 in 1969 fighting that war

Imagine that you might be drafted to go fight there.

Imagine what it would be like if you were convinced the war was profoundly immoral, and you had to choose between deserting the country and bearing arms in that war.

Imagine that many college campuses had become hotbeds not of snowflakey sit-ins, but of serious violence.

Imagine that domestic bombings by left-wing radicals had become a routine part of American life (e.g., five per day in an 18-month period in the early 1970s).

Imagine that two of the nation’s most prominent political leaders (MLK and RFK) Bobby were gunned down three months apart.

Imagine that your government and military were lying to Congress and to the American people about the war, and had been for years (as was revealed with the 1972 publication of the Pentagon Papers).

Imagine that major American cities were burning in race riots.

Imagine that cops in a major American city staged what was later called “a police riot” outside a political party’s national convention, and beat the hell out of protesters.

Could it be that Rod Dreher had it rougher than Ta-Nehisi Coates?

The mind reels.

Conversations Fifty Years Ago

You think having them today is rough, consider Wendell Berry’s experience:

While at Stanford, Berry witnessed several outdoor meetings called by black students for the purpose of establishing a Black Studies program on campus. In Berry’s recollection, the meetings were what historian Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn has called a “harangue-flagellation” ritual in which the black students condemned the white students and faculty for their racism and the whites in attendance nodded in agreement mixed with occasional applause.[30] In another situation on campus, Berry found himself in the middle of a civil rights protest. When a student in the protest heard Berry ask his companion a question in his Kentucky drawl what was going on, his accent prompted the response, “You damned well better find out!”

Berry thought there was no way for him to speak meaningfully in that context, and so The Hidden Wound is what he would have said had the moment allowed it. He wrote it during the winter break in the Bender Room at Stanford University’s Green Library. The essay was motivated by the feeling that the civil rights milieu at the time was at a stalemate and would stay there if the focus on power eclipsed other possible ends. Though Berry agreed that racism was a moral evil and political problem, he thought the most visible sentiments guiding these events were dangerous. Just as in his writing about agriculture, nature, and land—and in his, “A Statement Against the War in Vietnam,” delivered at the University of Kentucky the winter before—he fought abstractions and the separations that oversimplify: of means and ends, of thought and emotion, intentions and actions.

He wrote that the “speakers and hearers seemed to be in perfect agreement that the whites were absolutely guilty of racism, and that the blacks where absolutely innocent of it. They were thus absolutely divided by their agreement.” In his interview with hooks he said more simply: “I thought guilt and anger were the wrong motives for a conversation about race.” People can be more “dependably motivated by a sense of what would be desirable than by a sense of what has been deplorable.” By arguing that power is a necessary part of the discussion, but no more necessary than love, Berry refused the false dichotomy between structure and personal responsibility. During the demonstrations, in contrast, “one felt the possibility of an agreement of sorts, but nowhere the possibility of the mutual recognition of a common humanity, or the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation, or the possibility of love.”

So why is it that adding Jesus to discussions of racism only heightens a sense of what is deplorable?

Yet, even some activists are willing to listen to Berry:

The Hidden Wound, an extended essay in which Berry traced the grim legacy of slavery and racism in Kentucky, and his family’s role in the perpetuation of these evils, was the result. The book was not widely read on publication in 1970, but it has been granted a second life through republication and the sustained admiration of poet, essayist, and activist bell hooks, another Kentuckian who went to Stanford a decade after Berry and later, partly due to Berry’s influence, returned to Kentucky. Since she returned to Kentucky to teach at Berea College in 2004, hooks has been teaching from The Hidden Wound and wrote a sustained reflection on it in Belonging: A Culture of Place. An interview with Berry follows the reflection.

Labor Day South of the Equator

I used to think (I avoid assuming because of the consequences) that the rest of the world followed the general contour of the seasons in the United States.  Is that a consequence of American greatness and status as leader of the free world?  Perhaps.

But now I am woke.

While still flying solo last night I viewed a documentary about beach resorts in Argentina, Balnearios.  It was pretty good.  It was more orchestrated than some documentaries, but provided a glimpse of Argentinian life that fascinates. I give it three stars.  The cats are still voting.

One aspect that struck me was that summer there is our winter.  Of course, since I spent time in Brazil a couple decades ago during the month of February, I knew that their summer matched our winter.  But since I was teaching at a seminary and classes were in session (which they also seemed to be at the affiliated university), I had assumed that the school year below the equator lined up with ours in North America.

I saw vividly last night what this website confirms (by the way, I checked to see about South Africa and discovered they have four terms that run almost the entire year):

The school year in Argentina runs from March to December and lasts about 200 days. Schools are closed for national holidays, such as Good Friday and Easter, and two weeks in July for vacation. Normally, public elementary schools are in session four and a half hours each weekday. Saturdays are generally reserved for extracurricular school activities. Often, a school will have a morning and afternoon session, allowing pupils and teachers to choose their sessions. Some elementary schools offer evening classes for adults.

Imagine that. Stocking up on notebooks and pencils about the same time you are throwing out Christmas gift wrapping and determining this time really really to lose a few pounds.

What may even be harder to conceive is not having a Christmas recess from classes because the school year just ended.

Talk about American myopia.

Postscript: Ellen Marie Jones and Jay Glenn Hart were married on this day seventy-five years ago at Metropolitan Baptist Church (now Capitol Hill Baptist). Need to mention this here since in heaven, where they are, there’s no marriage and so likely no wedding anniversary celebrations.

America is Already Great

I’m in a good mood. Time to celebrate the joys and accomplishments of this blessed land.

Where else to you have the liberty to make observations like these from Mitch Albom on the differences between 1967 and 2017 of dropping your kids off at college/university?

OLD: “We drove our son to college today. What a proud moment. He was a little embarrassed by Mom and Dad coming up to his room, but we promised not to make any ‘square’ jokes. We unpacked his trunk and Mom helped organize his drawers. We met his roommate, who seemed nice. His name is Scott.”

NEW: “We drove our young prince to college today. What a proud moment. He was embarrassed by having his mom and step-dad and dad and former step-mom and dad’s current girlfriend all coming up to his room, so we had to watch from a distance. We saw him hook up his cable TV and his Xbox, then assemble his IKEA furniture. We also met his roommate, who seemed nice. Her name is X. And we are not supposed to use the word ‘her.’ ”

NEW: “After helping our son hang his flat screen and surround-sound speakers, we went for a walk around campus. We saw the 24-hour state-of-the-art exercise facility and the 24-hour Apple computer labs. He showed us the ‘safe spaces’ where no offensive words can be used, and the ‘healing spaces’ where you can go if you were accidentally exposed to an offensive sentence. There were seven cafeterias to pick from, so we chose the non-GMO, gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, vegan facility, which made our young person very happy. His nonbiological father took him aside and said, ‘Listen, friend, we know the drinking age is 21, but since you’re 18, please go easy on the beer. You don’t want to pass out in a hot tub and have it uploaded to YouTube.’ ”

OLD: “Our son had a brief meeting with his academic adviser, who told him his first two years, as expected, would be mostly required classes including classic literature, philosophy, math, a foreign language and history. But he was excited to learn he could choose an ‘elective’ each semester. Such freedom of study!”

NEW: “Our young liege checked his iPhone to pick his classes. A student protest to eliminate dead poets from the curriculum means he won’t have to study Shakespeare, and since history was found to be an offensive word (“His” and “story,” so sexist!) he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. The fact is, his curriculum is totally up to him — to inspire and challenge his natural talents — but he did say he planned to study a foreign language. I think he said, ‘Fortran.’ ”

OLD: “We wanted to have ‘the talk’ with our son, make sure he wasn’t confused about the whole birds and the bees issue or its consequences. His mom told him she wouldn’t mind if he met a nice girl here, and if it was someone special, maybe she could come home with him for Thanksgiving. Dad took him aside and reminded him that he was here to study. After all, tuition costs $2,500 a year.

“Then, despite all that, Dad gave him a bottle of aftershave.”

NEW: “We wanted to have ‘the talk’ with our child, after he told us the hookup rate at his school was one of the highest in the nation. We toured the nearby Planned Parenthood office and the sexually transmitted disease clinic. His step-dad gave him a box of condoms, as did his mother. We were happy that his biological father reminded him that tuition, with room and board, was $70,000 a year. So it would be good if he studied once in a while.

“Happily, our young genius nodded repeatedly with his eyes closed. Then again, he was wearing headphones.”

The U.S.ofA. is no less great because people can react to Albom’s column in such thoughtful and inspired ways:

Filling a column with hackneyed jokes about gender identity, biological parents and more reasons college has “changed since 50 years ago” doesn’t seem like the smartest move, but apparently no one told Mitch Albom that. Albom, the long-time Detroit Free Press columnist (where he’s previously gotten in trouble for fabricating a story about players attending a game as well as self-plagiarism), decided to write a column along those lines this week, and it’s so, so bad.

The lesson? To notice difference is bad.  To have no awareness of historical change is good.

But we are the land of the free.  Bravery is mainly a symptom of following Major League Baseball in the South.

The Attack on Public Art

With all the attention to Confederate Monuments, I was wondering about what the recent hostilities in Charlottesville might say about the state of public art in the United States.

For instance, Nicole Martinez wrote positively about public art displays as recently as May:

If you walked past one of the Garment District plazas in New York City last fall, you may have noticed those giant, vibrantly colored animal sculptures towering over sidewalk diners at café tables. Or perhaps you were running to catch a plane at Miami International Airport, and you glanced up to see an intricate web of etched glass on the roof of the bustling transportation center. If you’re an artist, you might be wondering how you might land an opportunity to showcase your work in a public space and land a public art commission – and while the process can be long and arduous, there are a variety of opportunities to participate in public art programs across the country.

Public art programs were first launched in the United States in the 1930s, when President Roosevelt’s New Deal spurred the idea that Americans should take pride in their cultural treasures. The New Deal program Art-in-Architecture (A-i-A) developed percent for art programs, a structure for funding public art still utilized today. This program gave one half of one percent of total construction costs of all government buildings to purchase contemporary American art for that structure. Today, acquisitions also include specially commissioned art projects for public art spaces, and the percentage allocated from a new construction project typically varies from one-half to two percent.

You might think that public art is a positive aspect of American society.

The Association for Public Art admits that some pieces might receive support from the entire community but that should not stop funding and recognition:

In a diverse society, all art cannot appeal to all people, nor should it be expected to do so. Art attracts attention; that is what it is supposed to do. Is it any wonder, then, that public art causes controversy? Varied popular opinion is inevitable, and it is a healthy sign that the public environment is acknowledged rather than ignored. To some degree, every public art project is an interactive process involving artists, architects, design professionals, community residents, civic leaders, politicians, approval agencies, funding agencies, and construction teams. The challenge of this communal process is to enhance rather than limit the artist’s involvement.

For that reason, Martinez advises caution to artists:

Ultimately, artists interested in landing public art commissions should pay close attention to government agency websites in an effort to keep track of open calls for public art commissions. If you choose to apply, consider crafting a proposal that directly addresses the architectural components of the space, bearing in mind the agency’s budget constraints and your own ability to stick to the budget you’ve laid out. And while its true that a public art project may not be the most lucrative commission of your artistic career, its lasting influence will likely impact it for years to come.

Obviously, she wasn’t thinking about changing historical awareness.

Consequently, to keep up with the times, Americans for the Arts decided to create distance between their support for public art and the kinds of public displays that have drawn ire recently:

“For nearly 60 years, Americans for the Arts, with its member organizations, has been a fierce advocate for public art and how it can help transform, inspire, and educate communities. Americans for the Arts stands with community members who are coming together to have civil and just dialogues, and to meaningfully and honestly assess the value of their existing public art pieces, monuments, and memorials in telling the narratives that their communities desire and deserve today. Americans for the Arts stands in opposition to any form of violence, intimidation, or illegal activity that cuts short such community dialogue.

“We support ongoing community dialogue around truth, reconciliation, and removal and replacement of the various artistic and cultural vestiges of white supremacy and racism in the United States, and the installation of monuments commemorating narratives of emancipation, shared strength, and equity. We recommend that local arts agencies and other arts institutions join these dialogues in concert with affected communities.

“Americans for the Arts strongly supports diversity, equity, and inclusion, and stands against racism, bigotry, and hatred. To support a full creative life for all, we commit to championing policies and practices of cultural equity that empower a just, inclusive, equitable nation.”

Sixty years for public arts. Four days against white supremacy and racism. You do the math.

Pope Angelo

First, he condemned Joe Paterno to hell.

Now, Angelo Cataldi opens the pearly gates for Darren Daulton, the Phillies catcher who succumbed to brain cancer yesterday. On this morning’s show, Angelo told one caller whose mom, now deceased, had a crush on the sexiest MLB player of the 1990s, that she now had the chance to meet Dutch since both the mom and the catcher were in heaven.

I initially thought that Angelo was going beyond the creed of Therapeutic Moralistic Deism. Maybe this was a holdover from his pre-Vatican II upbringing in the archdiocese of Providence, Rhodes Island. Surely the idea of heaven and hell — eternal rewards and punishments — was harshing out his listener’s buzz of learning about car insurance discounts and dancers at “gentlemen”‘s clubs. But sure enough, heaven is part of Therapeutic Moralistic Deism’s creed:

God is a cosmic therapist and divine butler, ready to help out when needed. He exists but really isn’t a part of our lives. We are supposed to be “good people,” but each person must find what’s right for him or her. Good people will go to heaven, and we shouldn’t be stifled by organized religion where somebody tells us what we should do or what we should believe.

Mind you, Angelo should not speculate on Daulton’s eternal fate. It’s not what sports-talk-radio-hosts should do. But if Angelo is going to create a moral spread sheet on every sports figure in Philadelphia, can he himself really stand in that great day?