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A Year’s Worth of Reading

I was bemused recently by an article that said reading is being rediscovered. Reading has been a doorway into new ideas and other worlds for me since I was a child. Like other readers, I read for pleasure and recreation, and to gain greater understanding.

This year I realized belatedly I was reading more purposefully. It was more like, “what the heck is going on here?” I need to understand.

So many of my long-term assumptions about life no longer hold. The values that I have believed in are called into question daily. The institutions I trusted are in decline.

As this decline happens, Matthew B. Crawford writes that “commercial forces step into the void of cultural authority and assume a growing role in shaping our evaluative outlook on the world.” (The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014)

The growing influence of consumerism and secularization and the reactions to these dynamics are both fascinating and perplexing to me. But they are shaping our evaluative outlook, like it or not. (I don’t like it.)

It was not a conscious choice to pursue this in my reading, but over time, and with the questions raised daily by our political discourse, by year’s end it had become a theme.

However, there was much more than this existential search and in the list that follows I have briefly summarized both the good and the not so good, as I see it, in a year’s journey through the printed word, including both fiction and non-fiction.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, David W. Blight. This is a thorough and expansive biography of Douglass. It captures both the depth of his thought and the emotional turmoil that marked his amazing life. Despite his overwhelming strength, he was an imperfect and vulnerable human being, which makes his lasting impact all the more remarkable. It seems to me there is scarcely a leap from Douglass’ powerful indictment of 19th Century racism to the Black Lives Matter movement of the 21st Century. Such is his prophetic vision and the endurance of his notable life story.

Leadership in Turbulent Times, Doris Kearns Goodwin. This reads more like a novel than presidential history. Goodwin recounts how Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson provided crucial—sometimes heroic, sometimes flawed—leadership in times of great peril to the country. It made me nostalgic for real leaders. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Fear: Trump in the White House, Bob Woodward. Woodward fills in the backstories of major media coverage of the Trump administration. Thus, I didn’t find anything of compelling interest in this recounting of conversations and decisions that have already been reported daily. This narrative, laced with “f-bombs” did not appreciably help me understand the administration any more clearly than I can get by reading major newspaper or watching cable news. Non-fiction. Not recommended.

Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier. It’s curious to me how the savagery of war and life in the wilderness seems most truly conveyed in fiction. Frazier captures the brutality as well as the humanity of those caught up in the declining months of the Civil War. This tale of a soldier’s harrowing journey back to his love in the Blue Ridge Mountains is American literature at its best. Fiction. Recommended.

How Will Capitalism End?, Wolfgang Streeck. Streeck believes western liberal democracies based on capitalist economies are in crisis and we’re heading for a period of entropy. He projects we will be left to fend for ourselves because corporate capitalism is not only destroying itself, it’s destroying liberal democracies as well. The institutions that once restrained the excesses of capitalism are being subsumed by secular, corporate power. This academic treatise is a worrisome analysis of the current disarray across the globe as democracies struggle against authoritarianism and economic disparity. Probably the most influential book I read this year. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Working Class Rage, Tex Sample. I think this is the best of Sample’s work. He provides clarity about how resentment, powerlessness and marginality combine with racism and political manipulation to enflame the social dynamics that confront us today. He believes the antidote to resentment is local organizing that gives people voice and influence. Non-fiction. Recommended.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari. Harari is one of the most provocative thinkers writing today. He raises questions about the future that should inform public policy for the long-term. How will we manage artificial intelligence? What will we do when automation in the workplace leaves millions of us unemployable? In the age of big data, who is watching you, and why? Harari poses profound questions that we will wrestle with as the future comes roaring at us in a daily torrent of technological change. Non-fiction. Recommended.

The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West, Peter Cozzens. Even before the end of the Civil War, white people had begun to stream west invading lands ceded to native peoples and onto homelands occupied by them for ages. The conflicts have been widely documented, but Cozzens provides a comprehensive account of the treachery, savagery and inhumanity that led to the dispossession and near genocide of native peoples across the U.S. west. This makes for tragic reading. It is a history of massacres, lies, miscommunication, broken promises and suffering. In 1863, Pres. Lincoln called several chiefs into Washington, D.C. Cozzens reports he spoke condescendingly to them, advising them that their only hope for prospering was to take up farming like white people, and offering no guarantee that they would be allowed to live on the open range as they had lived for centuries. Then he sent them on their way. One Indian told a white friend, “The government made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one, they promised to take our land, and they took it.” Non-fiction. Recommended.

In Pieces, Sally Field. In an autobiography that is at times brutally honest and intimate, Sally Field tells of her ambiguous relationship with her mother, a relationship that affects virtually all others. Her roles as Gidget and the flying nun did not plumb the depths of her desire and determination to grow as an actor as the roles of Norma Raye and Mrs. Lincoln did. And in doing so, they affirmed her abilities as an actor and also put to rest some of the ambiguity between her and her mother. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Stephen Hawking. This collection of essays by Hawking published posthumously is mind-expanding. Hawking had the ability to explain complex theories about the cosmos in language that makes them accessible to the rest of us mere mortals. This makes for stimulating, challenging thought. Non-fiction. Recommended.

The Common Good, Robert Reich. The common good is rarely mentioned in political discourse today. Reich defines what he means by the common good, points out how it is disregarded by the economic and political elite, and makes a clear case for public policy and popular organizing to re-focus on the common good. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver is a national treasure. In this novel she tells the story of two families separated by a century, living in the same poorly constructed house in Vineland, N.J. She weaves themes of social change, culture, scientific inquiry and female empowerment into a compelling tale that resonates with our contemporary social reality. Fiction. Recommended.

Every Day is Extra, John Kerry. I had to make myself stay with this autobiography through the first three chapters because they present a personal history that seems to me to fit the stereotype of an East coast elitist male upbringing. But after that, the personal history comes alive with Kerry’s military service in Vietnam, his commitment to public service, his awakening to his motivations for entering into politics and his desire to make a difference in the world. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Proud: My Fight for An Unlikely American Dream, Ibtihaj Muhammad. To become the first female Muslim American to medal at the Olympic Games required perseverance and ambition beyond measure. The challenges and sacrifices Ms. Muhammad faced are recounted in gritty detail. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate. The story of Georgia Tann and the Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home is horrific. From the 1920s until 1950, at Tann’s direction, children from poor families were abducted, often with complicit support of the police, housed in an orphanage and adopted out to wealthy families. This fictionalized recounting of one family of these children and how their lives were changed is both engaging and heart-breaking. Fiction. Recommended.

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, Jon Meacham. Reading Meacham makes me think that we stand a chance of getting through the Trump years. Meacham writes that our current moment of partisan fury is not new. We have withstood deep division before, and with informed, capable leaders, have come out the other side for the better. We can hope. Non-fiction. Recommended.

War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence, Ronan Farrow. Farrow lays out how the U.S. diplomatic corp has been hollowed out by budget cuts and policies that replace diplomatic efforts with generals and military response in areas of conflict, and how this decline affects global stability and safety. I resonated with his writing. In a lifetime of traveling the world documenting humanitarian assistance, refugee aid and disaster response in the non-profit sector, I became concerned about what I perceived to be a decline in U.S. diplomacy. I saw the growing influence of China as U.S. diplomatic presence declined, even after 9/11. Farrow completes this picture with anecdotes, narrative and facts. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Walter Isaacson. To undertake a biography of a polymath like Leonardo is, to me, a monumental, if not unthinkable, task. Yet Walter Isaacson has written a remarkably accessible biography that reveals Leonardo in his humanity and social reality. This is an extraordinary accomplishment about an extraordinary figure. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Married to a Bedouin, Marguerite van Geldermalsen. A young Ms. Geldermalsen, of Dutch and New Zealand extraction, was traveling with a friend through the Middle East when she met and fell in love with her future husband, Mohammad Abdullah, a Bedouin. After further travels she returned and married Mohammad and they lived most of their adult lives in caves in Petra, the Nabatean city in Jordan, which has since been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO. This is a revealing look at family life through the eyes of Ms. Geldermalsen, who managed with her husband to bridge two cultures, raise two sons and lead an interesting, remarkable life. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Fascism: A Warning, Madeleine Albright. Having escaped Fascism in her youth, and writing from her rich global experience as Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright says that Fascism started in the 20th Century with a magnetic leader exploiting widespread dissatisfaction by promising all things. As authoritarianism rears its ugly head in politics around the world, her warning is one I take seriously and one which should make each of us in democratic societies more alert and attentive to our obligations as citizens. Non-fiction. Recommended.

The Forgotten Road, Richard Paul Evans. I hoped this would be a novel I would really enjoy as it involved the journey of a man searching for renewed understanding of his life by traveling route 66 in an attempt to reunite with his estranged wife. I grew up living only one block from route 66 in a small Oklahoma town and the highway holds more than a dose of romantic nostalgia for me. But this novel doesn’t cut the mustard. Fiction. Not recommended.

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, Peter Frankopan. Frankopan offers a sweeping history of the world by examining trade relationships. He makes the case that the center of world power resides in what we in the global North call the Middle East. Frankopan says this crossroads of civilization has been the most influential region for the exercise of global power and influence, and if we are to understand global dynamics, we must seek to understand this part of the world. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande. As we age, how do we continue, in so far as possible, to shape the story of our lives and maintain connection to significant others? This is the central question Dr. Gawande addresses in this sensitive and insightful discussion of end of life care. This could be a depressing subject but Gawande makes it a warm and compassionate exploration about our common humanity. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Living Faith, Jimmy Carter. For President Carter, faith finds expression through compassion and justice. He is an evangelical who gives substance and depth to faith. His search to understand faith as a way of life informed by the great theologians of contemporary times is a rewarding read. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Educated, Tara Westover. Reared by a radical Mormon survivalist father and a mother compliant to his harsh, often violent, rule, it’s amazing Tara Westover escaped and developed her own independent, educated life. Without condemning her family, this first person account provides insight into a unique and horrifying upbringing, and it is a testament to the value of education. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil de Grasse Tyson. This small book offers brief explanations of significant issues in cosmology in language that makes them understandable to those of us not familiar with complex scientific language. It’s just a so-so book, far less helpful, in my opinion, than Hawking’s book reviewed above. Non-fiction. Meh.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari. A look into the future that is enlightening, provocative and even frightening. For example, Harari, among other things, says “democracy and the free market will collapse once Google and Facebook know us better than we know ourselves, and authority will shift from individual humans to networked algorihthms.” Whew! Non-fiction. Recommended.

Last Bus to Wisdom, Ivan Doig. Set in the 1950s, this is a wonderful coming of age tale about a young boy from Montana. He lives with his loving grandmother who must send him to stay with an uncle in Wisconsin as she faces surgery and cannot care for him. He travels by Greyhound bus, meets a cast of characters and has experiences that broaden the narrow horizons of his innocent, rural life. The twists and turns, deeply human characters and loving relationships in tension with tough reality make this a wonderful tale. Fiction. Recommended.

The Book That Matters Most, Ann Hood. A mysterious book from childhood becomes the object of a life-long search for meaning. Our lives are more complex than we reveal on the surface, and we choose to conceal much that is painful and troubling. The narratives we shape, and the secrets we conceal, make for a life. In this interesting novel, the twists and turns of secrets, loss, love and healing relationships make for an engaging read. Fiction. Recommended.

What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton. It seems there’s no neutral position regarding Mrs. Clinton. She’s either respected or hated. In this account of her campaign she explains why she followed the course she did and what it was like to run against Donald Trump. The recounting is more personal than we’ve seen in much of the coverage of her, mainly because she felt she had to protect herself from prying media. That led to a distance that has yet to be overcome. Non-fiction. Recommended.

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership, James Comey. By now we’ve heard the case Comey makes for his behavior during the campaign and why he acted to reveal investigations that ultimately played a role in the election of Donald Trump. I find Comey’s explanations lacking and self-serving. I don’t doubt his commitment to ethical standards, but I do question his rationale for breaking precedent and injecting himself and the FBI into the campaign in a way that influenced the election. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Faith: A Journey for All, Jimmy Carter. At 96, President Carter continues to display an openness and activism that reveals a powerful, living faith. In this volume he defines faith as “a belief in something that has always existed; it is never based on scientific discoveries, or what we learn as facts, but always on a moral concept or a vision of something superlative or idealistic.” Non-fiction. Recommended.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo,’ Zora Neale Hurston. This work went unpublished for 80 years due to copyright complications. But it remains a compelling, important story in 2018. Zora Neale Hurston interviewed Cudjo Lewis, the last survivor of the of the last slave ship to make the transatlantic crossing to the United States. Told in Mr. Lewis’ own words, this is a powerful recounting of the inhumanity of the slave trade, an insight into the deep emotional wounds it inflicted, and a study in dispossession, alienation, and accommodation. Powerful. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Cave of Bones, Anne Hillerman. Anne Hillerman has picked up where her father left off with the tales of Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito, Navajo police officers solving crimes on the reservation in the Four Corners of the U.S. Her tales of the Southwest ring true, and offer entertaining respite from the daily grind of political rhetoric, corruption and criminal behavior inflicted upon us daily in real life. Fiction. Recommended.

A Theology for the Earth, Anne Marie Dalton. Exploring the writing of Thomas Berry and Bernard Lonergan, this is one of the most sound, and meaty, theological studies on the environment and spirituality I’ve read lately. There is too much in this writing to crystallize in one phrase, but the discussion of immanence is especially important. Dalton writes, “The doctrine of God’s immanence maintains that God is not distant from creation, but that all creation participates somehow in the divine reality.” At a time when we hear rigid dogma presented as the content of faith, this open-ended, sacramental understanding of Creation is a corrective to non-sensical fundamentalism and sentimentalized spirituality. Non-fiction. Recommended.

A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life, Pat Conroy. A posthumous collection of letters and essays written by the southern novelist Pat Conroy. Despite his harsh childhood, he found meaning in the stories of others and made it his life’s work to draw out those stories and enlarge upon them through fiction. He reconciled with his authoritarian father and chronicled the low country culture of his native South Carolina. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, Joshua Foer. I have a terrible deficit remembering names. It’s complicated by a medication I take. I was interested in working on mnemonics to help me remember names and avoid embarrassment and frustration. Foer explains how he became a world class competitor in USA Memory Championship competition using mnemonics. The key: to create as outlandish, and lewd, a mnemonic as possible. Enough said. Non-fiction. Recommended.

The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks, Terry Tempest Williams. This is such a pleasure to read. It’s a mix of poetry, narrative, spirituality and personal reflection based on experiences at national parks across the country. Tempest Williams’ activism is a gift to us. Non-fiction. Recommended.

The Faith of Dolly Parton, Dudley Delffs. Dolly is such an interesting character an in-depth biography of her life story would be an intriguing read. I hope some biographer gets beyond the managed image to the person. This is not that book. It’s a collection from second-hand sources interjected with evangelical religious reflections. Non-fiction. Don’t bother.

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, Michael Finkel. Finkel established a relationship with a true hermit who lived in the North Woods of Maine for most his adult life, scavenging for survival, sometimes terrifying local people as a result. Non-fiction. Recommended.

M Train, Patti Smith. Patti Smith is a performer, writer and visual artist. Her album Horses has been hailed by Rolling Stone as one of the best 100 albums of all time. In this first person narrative she reflects on her life, in no particular timeline, but over the accumulation of a lifetime of experiences. The book offers insight into the mind of a creative multi-platform artist. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Chasing Hillary, Amy Chozick. I thought I would get a picture of the Clinton campaign from the viewpoint of this New York Times writer as she traveled in the press corps. There’s some of that, but there’s also the writer’s reflections about her tense relationship with Mrs. Clinton, reflections that, frankly, seem less informative than embarrassing. With due respect to Ms. Chozick, I had hoped for more reportage and I didn’t need the interpersonal reflections. Non-fiction. Not recommended.

Henry David Thoreau: A Life, Laura Dassow Walls. This is the most informative and complete biography of Thoreau that I’ve seen. Dr. Walls presents Thoreau in a wider view than the writings for which he is known. His relationship to Emerson is threaded throughout the narrative, and his interests and activities beyond Walden are presented. It’s a worthwhile look at an iconic figure in U.S. history. Non-fiction. Recommended.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes. While doing photography at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, I picked up this volume. It earned Rhodes a Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. It’s a wide-ranging account of the lives of the scientists who developed the bomb, their evolving knowledge of the atom, the political environment in which they worked, the secrecy to which they were sworn, and the isolated social setting in New Mexico where they lived. It’s a thorough, and thoroughly engaging, account of a scientific accomplishment that has changed our world forever. Non-fiction. Recommended.

Walden and Other Writings, Henry David Thoreau. I started the year re-reading Thoreau. I suppose I would have been a Transcendentalist had I lived in his times. What strikes me about the Transcendentalists is their sense of the sacredness of nature. Thoreau witnessed the full-blown industrialization of the country with skepticism if not disgust. As we face a crisis of environmental degradation today that threatens human existence on the planet, Thoreau’s view of nature seems more prescient than peculiar. Non-fiction. Recommended.

The Genius of Birds, Jennifer Ackerman. Bird brains are far more complicated than that phrase implies, according to Ackerman. Birds are intelligent creatures, some more so than others. But in this account Ackerman reports on research around the world that establishes that birds are much more intelligent than has been recognized, and they deserve our respect and appreciation. Non-fiction. Recommended.

My Southern Journey: True Stories From the Heart of the South, Rick Bragg. Ever since he wrote for the New York Times, I’ve been a fan of Rick Bragg. I must confess, however, that I’ve become weary of southern males writing about their relationship to their mothers. It’s an overworked theme in country music and there’s plenty of it in this volume. I don’t mean we should disrespect our mothers, but this trope is over done. Non-fiction. Recommended.

This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class, Elizabeth Warren. I know she sets conservatives’ hair on fire, but she’s bright and clear-headed about the role of government functioning on behalf of the people and contributing to a more prosperous life. Perhaps it’s because she’s so competent that she causes such a stir. And maybe that’s why she garners such a strong negative reaction from the banksters and politicians they’ve bought. She’s a threat and she perseveres. Non-fiction. Recommended.

So, that’s it. I read a few other books about birds and nature, but they are of limited interest and not reviewed here.

I’m interested in hearing from you about your most interesting reading in the year past. Feel free to share in the comments section of this post.

In Search of the Soul of America

As immigrant children were being taken from their parents and held in cages, former First Lady Laura Bush compared it to the internment of Japanese Americans that started in February, 1942.

Public outrage was unlike any in modern times.

Many claimed it was un-American and it violated the soul of the nation.

That phrase, the soul of the nation, is more than intriguing in these dark days. It calls for self-examination and re-engagement with the responsibilities of citizenship.

What is the soul of America today when basic human rights are violated?

When compassion is mocked as being soft and truth itself is a refugee in search of safe harbor?

When some evangelical Christians stand behind a policy that takes babies from their mother’s breasts, puts children in cages, and incarcerates teenage boys in tent internment camps in the desert?

When the U.S. government refuses to reveal where the babies, little girls and female teens have been secreted away?

When a morally deficient president equates human beings to vermin who “infest” the country?

When an evangelical Christian attorney general quotes scripture to justify inhumane government policy as ordained by God?

We are in such a time. Toxic politics, nationalism, tribalism, misogyny, ignorance, racism, sexism, homophobia, isolationism, and perhaps most menacing of all, authoritarianism, are expressed openly putting our democracy in peril.

Trusted institutions are under attack. Truth is mugged daily. Compassion is mocked. The vulnerable are exploited and the rich get richer as the poor get left behind.

Re-considering the soul of the nation under these circumstances seems more than an urgent exercise. It seems a critical necessity, because the entire democratic experiment is on the line.

A few weeks before the family separation tragedy, I set out on a reading journey in an attempt to gain understanding of this thing called the American soul, perhaps to stave off my own depression.

One of the several books I read is John Meacham’s, The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels.

Meacham writes that we’ve been through dark moments before and the character of the nation’s soul has been a check on our worst behavior and a challenge to live up to our ideals.

This is reassuring, but it also contains a pertinent caution. We often betray our ideals and wound our soul. Sometimes we take one step forward and two steps back.

In key moments, dark moments, we have reached deep, claimed higher values and sought healing through truth, justice and equality.

Courageous leaders often stepped up and behaved in ways that led us through. He cites Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, LBJ and Martin Luther King, among others.

Knowing this history reminds us of the character required to take on tough problems and it recalls the values that have undergirded struggles for justice in the past.

Knowing how we’ve overcome our past challenges doesn’t lessen the seriousness of the problems we face today but it points us to key touchstones.

For example, Meacham writes that Teddy Roosevelt shared a dream of Anglo-Saxon imperialism. But at a time when people in the West were afraid of being overrun and outworked by Chinese, Roosevelt rose above the fears and defined an America that was more inclusive and egalitarian.

“Americanism is a question of spirit, conviction, and purpose, not of creed or birthplace,” Roosevelt said.

In declarations like this we begin to discover the meaning of “soul.” It’s what distinguishes the U.S. from other countries, Meacham says.

It is a nation founded on ideals, not on race, birthplace or tribal lineage.

“This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose,” he writes.

And our purpose is captured in key words and phrases: “All men (sic) are created equal,” “government by the consent of the governed,” “give me liberty or give me death.”

These are not mere clever formulations. They mean something.

Even when they are dishonored and betrayed, they are a call to our better angels, a pinprick of conscience imploring us to embody the values embedded in this soul message we tell ourselves.

Meacham does not soft pedal how native peoples were treated from the very beginning, nor the inhumanity and immorality of slavery.

He documents those times when we have denied our better angels: the selfishness, exploitation and greed that led to the Great Depression; the Civil War, and the racism that found new life in Reconstruction and the Lost Cause; the internment of Japanese Americans during WW II; displacement of Native people; denying women the vote; and the horrors inflicted by the Klan and other racists.

Progress comes slowly, he says. “Reform is slow work, and it is for neither the faint-hearted nor the impatient.”

But it happens. It happens because good people make it happen.

And in these days, remembering that the people embody the soul of the nation makes citizenship a serious responsibility that we often overlook.

Meacham says “progress does not usually begin at the top and among the few, but from the bottom and among the many.”

There is hope in this claim. If we the people hold fast to the ideals of the soul story, we can make change happen.

Even cynical leaders wear out their welcome Meacham says. He recounts the infamous McCarthy era.

McCarthy’s lawyer, Roy Cohn, who also trained a young Donald Trump, said, “Human nature being what it is, any outstanding actor on the stage of public affairs—and especially a holder of high office—cannot remain indefinitely at the center of controversy.”

“The public must eventually lose interest in him and his cause,” Cohn is reported to have said.

Meacham says grasping our past is orienting. It’s also encouraging.

If we remind ourselves that we’ve walked the path in dark shadows before and emerged into the light, we can do so again.

What drove me to reflect on this is my work experiences covering global humanitarian issues over the past 30 years.

I learned early in this work that the facade of what we call civilization is very thin and under adverse circumstances it can crack and fall.

Somalia, Ethiopia, Niger, Cuba, Kampuchea all taught me that we humans have the capacity to do unspeakable evil to one another, or to give assent to others and allow them to do great harm.

If we forget our own humanity and do not hold fast to ideals of human dignity and justice, evil things can happen.

Thus, I have never believed in the dictum, “It won’t happen here.” It could.

The soul of the nation is only as strong at the commitment of the people to hear and embody the truth of Lincoln’s words, spoken at another dark hour in our history, and to live so that they become true.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.
Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

First Inaugural Address, 1864

Do No Harm

Two United Methodist clergypersons who helped bring charges within church processes against Attorney General Jeff Sessions for instituting family separation write a cogent, compelling explanation in an op-ed published today.

They clearly articulate the United Methodist tradition, placing their action squarely within the theology of the Wesleyan movement and John Wesley’s preaching.

Wesley organized small study groups made up of the poor who were marginalized and overlooked by key institutions, including the church, in 18th century England.

He instructed them to follow three simple rules: “Firstly, by doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind…; Secondly, by doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men (sic); Thirdly, By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are:

The public worship of God.

The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded.

The Supper of the Lord.

Family and private prayer.

Searching the Scriptures.

Fasting or abstinence.”

In 2007, retired U.S. Bishop Reuben Job abbreviated these succinctly in his small book Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living. “Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.”

Beyond the three simple rules a body of social teaching known as the Social Principles adopted by United Methodists through their global represesentatives known as the General Conference have a section on The Nurturing Community.

Within this section is the affirmation of the importance of family: “We believe the family to be the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect, and fidelity. We affirm the importance of loving parents for all children.”

The Rev. Monica Corsaro and The Rev. David Wright have done exactly what United Methodists should have done in explaining their actions.

They have engaged the public conversation in a way that is within the finest mainstream theological tradition.

They have explained how faith can inform public policy by pressing for moral behavior and not by imposing doctrinaire dogma on others.

They have provided a clarion call for compassion and reconciliation based upon their understanding of Wesleyan theology, a theology of grace, and of graciousness coupled with a strong commitment to social outreach with particular attention to be with the poor.

They illustrate how United Methodists emphasize two important components of Christian faith: personal and social piety. The two cannot be separated.

The introduction to the Social Principles states: we care enough about people’s lives to risk interpreting God’s love, to take a stand, to call each of us into a response, no matter how controversial or complex.

The Rev. Ms. Corsaro and The Rev. Mr. Wright have provided us an instructive and helpful public witness.

My hunch is that Mr. Wesley would be proud.

Jimmy Carter on Faith

Faith: a journey for all

Jimmy Carter has solidified his global reputation as a statesman and moral leader.

He’s an evangelical who takes politics seriously, but he’s not in the least like those who most loudly represent this branch of the Christian tree in today’s media.

In his latest book Faith: A Journey for All, he explains his evangelical faith, an explanation which is about as traditional as it gets.

It’s so different from the fundamentalist, partisan evangelicals in the public eye today as to make it distinctive, perhaps even redemptive of the word.

His understanding of faith is gracious, compassionate, inclusive and just.

He writes, “I try to remember what I frequently teach: that the love and grace of God does not have to be earned; the message is not ‘Try harder and do better’ but ‘Receive the gift with happiness, and show your gratitude by sharing God’s love with others.’

He illustrates with one story after another. One of the most interesting is how he brought Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat together at the historic Camp David negotiation that resulted in Egypt and Israel entering into a new relationship.

He offers compelling personal history about how his parents, and later he and Rosalind, stood firm against the racism in Georgia that threatened their income, and sometimes their lives.

I found it instructive and challenging. If only I had that attitude of magnanimity and perseverance, I thought as I read.

As we know, his faith has practical consequences. He’s shown this throughout his life.

His discussion of faith, framed with insight from Niebuhr, Barth and Tillich among other mainstream theologians, is more than pieties. Faith values inform his understanding of diplomacy, policy, global relations and the body politic.

For example, his formula for dealing with dictators like Kim Jung Un where sanctions have brought extreme hardship to his people is to target the elite with sanctions on travel, foreign bank accounts, and other privileges of government officials, and not on the economy in which the oppressed are already suffering.

He warns that politicians in the U.S. at all levels are becoming obligated to big money donors. As a result, we are changing from a democracy to an oligarchy.

This is not a new thought, of course, but coming from President Carter, it rings with a power that sounds less like partisan sniping and more like a diagnosis to be taken seriously.

He recalls telling his students in a class at Emory University that church members are more self-satisfied, committed to the status quo and exclusive of dissimilar people than are many politicians he has known.

Many congregations are more like spectators than participants in the quest for justice and social change, he says.

He writes that he believes faith is both a noun and a verb.

Recently, when Jeff Sessions justified ripping immigrant children from their mothers at the border by citing a passage from Paul in Romans 13, in which Paul says we should be obedient to the laws of government because God has ordained government for his purposes, I turned Carter.

He wrote presciently. “Jesus went to his death and Paul spent his final years in prison rather than conform to religious and secular laws they could not accept.”

“We are not required to submit quietly to the domination of secular authority without assessing whether it is contrary to our religious faith.”

Carter explains a complex faith in simple language. He practices what he believes.

He is a gift, and we benefit from his telling of the Good News, truly an evangel.

Educated

Tara Westover did not set foot in a classroom until she was seventeen, at least that’s how old she thinks she was.

In her memoir, Educated, she says her birthday was never recorded. She had no birth certificate because her anti-government, survivalist father wanted the family to be invisible to the feds.

He was also radically anti-medical establishment and a fundamentalist Mormon.

For most of her youth, she sorted scrap metal in the junkyard that was part of her family’s home base below a remote mountain in Idaho.

Childhood

As a child, she was impaled by metal, abused physically and emotionally by both her father and an older brother. The latter held her head in a toilet to demonstrate his power, and once threatened her life, handing her a bloodied knife with which he had just dismembered a family dog as if to confirm his threat.

Her siblings and both parents experienced life-threatening injuries including disfiguring burns, head trauma and broken bones, all of which were treated with home remedies concocted by her herbalist mother.

Her mother was also an unlicensed midwife who yielded to the patriarchal authority of her husband, even when that meant acquiescing to, or denying outright, the violence and abuse that ran through the family’s relationships.

Westover details her father’s emotional extremes which she speculates could result from bipolar disorder and perhaps schizophrenia.

But she writes that he will never be diagnosed because he refuses medical treatment.

Education as a Way Out

Three of her brothers, among seven siblings, found their way out of the family dysfunction to go on to higher education. All achieving PhDs.

With encouragement from a brother, Tara eventually educated herself sufficiently to pass the ACT and achieve admission into Brigham Young University at age 17 as home-schooled.

It was not an easy transition. She held fast to the values imparted from her parents who regarded even “mainstream” Mormons as gentiles and considered her desire for education as “whoring after man’s knowledge.”

Her story is remarkable; a feral child from a family enmeshed in radical ideology and obvious dangerous dysfunction; a young woman who did not know about the Holocaust when it was raised in a lecture about Western art in her freshman year in college.

She was successful at BYU, so successful she received a prestigious fellowship to Cambridge, then Harvard, and ultimately earned her PhD as well.

It’s a wonder she survived, much less achieved academic distinction.

Narrating Her Own Life

She writes of the interior struggle to resolve the conflict between the reality taught by her father and the reality was learning through her education.

“My life was narrated for me by others,” she writes. “It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”

Here is the crux of her interior struggle—to discover her right to narrate her own story and develop the courage to find her voice.

At Cambridge she discovered the writings of Mary Wollenstonecraft and John Stuart Mill, and her intellectual world and her emotional world both began to open in ways she had never imagined possible.

A friend sent her Redemption Song by Bob Marley with the lyrics
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds.”

She scratched the lines in notebooks, on margins, and lost herself contemplating what they meant.

Estrangement

But the more educated she became, the more estranged she felt from her family back home. Despite the violence and rigid ideology, there was also a bond that she felt was sealed by love, as distorted and confusing as it was.

The pressures built. Her desire for connection, her love of family, her life narrated by others conflicted with the lectures and reading at Cambridge.

This struggle led to a nervous breakdown for which she sought counseling.

If all of this seems too horrific to bear, it isn’t.

Hope

Woven throughout her gripping, sometimes shocking narrative, is hope. It resonates like a mountain flower breaking through the winter snow and ever-so-gently bringing color to the landscape.

With the help of friends, counseling and her educated siblings, she regained her balance.

She writes of the empowering value of education, power that allowed her to claim her life, to transition from a frightened sixteen-year-old girl whose reflection in the mirror called her to be her father’s daughter on his terms, or to leave the girl in the mirror behind and create a new self.

Education

Education done well can enable us to claim a more authentic and aware self, and more.

For some of us it isn’t enough to lay claim to a new life, the old life must be deconstructed, to step away from the mirror.

And in Tara’s metamorphosis, it meant negotiating the difficult path to resist the hold of those who narrated the old life.

In the rigid family structure she was reared in, it also meant estrangement from values and beloved parents and siblings.

I thought of her story as I also read of the debate about the value of education in our country today.

The value of those majors in higher education that are not focused on skills for careers in new technologies are being called into question.

To Gain a Life

Tara Westover’s gripping story is testament that education is about more than learning a skill to find a job. That’s an important part of the process, to be sure.

But more importantly, it’s about gaining wisdom, the ability see more clearly.

It’s a door to something deeper, more enduring and life-changing—the development of a person aware of his or her place in the universe, and affected by wisdom inherited from those who have gone before us, and responsible to those who will come after us.

Finding a voice and developing the confidence to use it.

Selfhood.

Barracoon-A Story

The difference between a tragedy and a statistic is a story.

A story can enflesh the statistic, make it real, give it emotional context, and make it human.

A human story can reveal that we are more similar than different.

We share hopes and dreams that are not limited by barriers of language, geography or the color of our skin.

A story that reveals our desire for connection—to the land of our birth, to each other and, most importantly, our desire for basic human dignity, illuminates our common humanity.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo,’ by Zora Neale Hurston fulfills exactly this role.

And it does it through gripping, emotionally engaging, gut-wrenching tragedy bound up in unimaginable endurance and hope that is as authentic a human story as we will ever read.

The story of Oluale Kossula humanizes the tragedy of more than 12 million people in Africa who were captured, chained in stockades, and sold into enslavement.

Kossula was captured in 1860 by a warring king in Africa at the age of 19 and transported on the slave ship, Clotilde, in violation of U.S. law, to Alabama where he was enslaved.

The events in Africa are as horrific as the inhumanity that lies in future bondage in the U.S. And this honesty adds authenticity to Kossula’s very human story.

The Clotilde was the last slave ship to transport Africans illegally into the United States.

By enabling Kossula to tell his story in his own way, Hurston gives voice to one among those millions of voices most often left out of the story of enslavement, the enslaved themselves.

Much of what we know about this horrible period of human history is told through the words of the slave owners, the statistics derived from ship manifests and slave markets.

“All these words from the seller, but not one word from the sold,” writes Hurston in her introduction.

She held fast to helping Kossula (his English name was Cudjo Lewis), tell his story through his own distinct dialect, which publishers at the time wanted to change to “respectable” language.

Hurston refused to compromise and, therefore, it took 87 years for this story to be told.

We should be grateful, for Kossula is, in his own way, an articulate and powerful storyteller.

It is as if we are allowed into the sacred space of conversation between Hurston and Cudjo, sitting on the porch or in his windowless house in Plateau, Alabama, or under the shade tree, listening to the pain of dislocation, the loneliness, the hope for the future, and the incomprehensible strength of this life, this man who has survived against all odds.

The racism that infects contemporary society in the U.S. from the White House on down, makes Cudjo’s story is as relevant today as ever.

As Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead, it’s not even past.”

Editor Deborah G. Plant says in her afterword, Barracoon is a counternarrative to our collective silence about slaves and slavery, about slaveholders and the American Dream (and I would add inaction about racism).

Because it illuminates our humanity—the good and the evil, the horrific and the lovely, the vulnerability and the strength—Barracoon is as fresh and important today as it was when Hurston first sat down to listen to this powerful storyteller, and that she stood fast to tell the story in his own words, makes it all the more important and enlightening.

Nature as Grace

Snowy Owl

I was sitting in a ditch alongside a road in farm country in Kentucky. It was cold and windy. The ground was wet.

My legs cramped as I tried to arrange them around the tripod that held my camera close to the ground. My back hurt and my backside was wet.

I was focused on a snowy owl that had chosen to winter in this place.

The only way I could get a decent photograph was to get low and make the sky the background.

The owl sat on an old concrete building foundation barely three feet above the ground.

Central Kentucky is an unusual, even rare, location for this arctic native.

I heard footsteps and turned as a lady in rubber boots wearing a coat with a hood sat down on the ground beside me and started to talk.

She told me we could park in her driveway at the top of the hill, apparently as a polite and subtle way to tell us we were improperly parked.

Then she began to relate her experiences with the owl. It has been hunting on her side of the road, finding water at her stock pond, and landing on fenceposts nearby.

She shared photos she had taken.

I listened. She spoke of family, nature, the owl and her beautiful dogs. I take great joy in moments like this. Unplanned, authentic, spontaneous connection.

Spontaneous Connections

But she was only one of the half dozen folks I got to talk to that day. There was the farmer who owns the land on which the owl was resting, a local man who bragged that the owl came to his place in the evening to hunt, a local newspaper photographer who interviewed me about my interest in the owl, a mother and adult son who had driven about as far as Sharon and I to see the owl and take photos.

Some people stopped their vehicles in the middle of the road to talk, such is the lack of traffic in this beautiful farm country.

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

I’ve been thinking lately about nature, and how it is more than a resource for humans to exploit, despoil and use up.

Thoreau on Nature

Thoreau wrote in his journal in 1857, “In the street and in society I am almost invariably cheap and dissipated, my life is unspeakably mean. No amount of gold or respectability would in the least redeem it — dining with the Governor or a member of Congress!! But alone in distant woods or fields, in unpretending sprout lands or pastures tracked by rabbits, even on a black and, to most, cheerless day, like this, when a villager would be thinking of his inn, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that the cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer. I come to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home… It is as if I always met in those places some grand, serene, immortal, infinitely encouraging, though invisible, companion, and walked with him.”

I understand Thoreau. I’ve come to myself in solitude. But I’ve also come to others when we share a deep respect for nature. We connect. And when we honor it, nature makes healing connections.

Original Blessing

What I’ve been thinking about is this. Religions that speak of original sin need to be reconsidered. As Fransiscan friar Richard Rohr writes, it would be more accurate to think of our presence on this earth as “original blessing.”

“The first act of divine revelation is creation itself. The first Bible is the Bible of nature,” says Fr. Rohr.

In one of his meditations he shares the words of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore:

Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.
I asked the tree, “Tell me about God.”;
then it blossomed.

 

We sought a little owl far, far from home. We found, however, connection, community, beauty and joy–a shared experience of the divine.

Teilhard writes, “By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined [the divine] as distant and inaccessible, when in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.”

Surveying Our Ethical Landscape

I’m about half-way through Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls and I was struck by the recounting of Thoreau’s survey of Walden pond.

The pond had never been surveyed and local lore had it that the pond was bottomless.

In the depth of winter, when he could walk on the frozen water, Thoreau set about surveying it.

He determined it was 102 feet at its deepest point. But more importantly, the survey became a symbol for truth that would guide Thoreau throughout the rest of life.

In his journal Thoreau wrote, “The line of greatest breadth intersects the line of greatest length at the point of greatest depth or height.” This seemingly simple mechanical observation became a measure for ethics as well as mechanics, writes Dassow Walls.

In his journal Thoreau said: “It is the heart of man—It is the sun in the system…Draw lines throughout the length and breadth of the aggregate of a man’s [sic] daily experiences and volumes of life into his coves and inlets—and where they intersect will be the height and depth of his character.”

In Dassow’s words, “The angle intersection inscribed by our particular daily experience, the coves and inlets of our lives, will ground the decisions we make, our actions in the world. And the sum total of all our moral actions combined will constitute the ethical character of the society we build together.” 

As I was reading this I also saw an interview Donald Trump gave to the New York Times in which the fact-checkers for the Washington Post document that he gave misleading or false statements every 75 seconds—twenty-four inaccurate statements in 30 minutes.

And these were the on-the-record statements. His off-record lies were not counted in the Post’s tally.

In this light, Dassow’s summary of Thoreau is deeply unsettling—“the sum total of all our moral actions combined will constitute the ethical character of the society we build together.”

Blatant disregard for truth matters. Claims of fake news matter. Accuracy matters. The sum total of our actions constitutes the ethical character of the society we build together.

The Trumpian society is built upon falsehood, exaggeration, bullying and racism—undergirded by political sycophants and apologizers from the white Christian evangelical tradition.

The conservative former Congressperson Joe Scarborough writes in an op-ed in the Washington Post of a gathering storm.

“America’s constitutional norms tremble in the balance as Trump unleashes furious attacks on First Amendment protections, independent counsels and law enforcement officers who refuse to be bullied. While the framers of the Constitution foresaw the possibility of a tyrannical president, they never let their imaginations be darkened by the possibility of a compliant Congress,” writes Scarborough.

What is at stake in these troubled times is the ethical character of the society we build together. Will it will continue to be a democracy, imperfect to be sure, built on justice and equity, or an unequal and unjust morass of lies, deceit, ignorance and racist alienation?

The coming months will reveal the angle of intersection inscribed by our daily experiences, the decisions we will make, the sum total of all our actions.

Will we survey the breadth and depth of our responsibilities and return to leaders of integrity who observe constitutional norms, justice and honesty? 

Or will we normalize falsehood, ignorance and bullying, and lose our democratic ideals, and perhaps more?

On Reading Again–and a tongue in cheek thank you

I suppose I should thank Donald Trump because in a roundabout way he has caused me to become a reader again. I got so frustrated during the campaign that I stopped watching network television news. I also turned off NPR.
 
This was a major change for me. I was an information junkie. I was always tuned in to some form of electronic information source.
 
I weaned myself from these media for three reasons. The false equivalence of the journalistic method. The imbalance in airtime given to Mrs. Clinton vs. Donald Trump. (Ratings, ratings, ratings.) The unwillingness early on to call out falsehoods.
 
These led me to say, “enough!”
 
I turned to print publications and online news sources I trust.
 
I also returned to reading books. Not books about politics. Books about everything I’m interested in, which is almost everything.
 
I had become concerned about my inability to read long form journalism anyway. I noticed I was having trouble staying with longer pieces. I’d gotten accustomed to 500 word posts online. And I had acclimated to the ridiculous sound bite journalism of electronic media.
 
I committed to giving 15 minutes a day to reading and sticking with it. I turned off the radio, TV, cellphone, and put away all the devices.
 
The joy of reading began to return. Before long I found myself reading beyond my 15-minute limit.
 
Then I discovered I was becoming engrossed in books and articles. I was moving beyond my self-defined short-term attention deficit disorder.
 
Since the election, here’s what I’ve been reading:
 
The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr. Franciscan Father Rohr is attempting to “rebuild Christian teaching from the bottom up.” A formidable task, but well worth the effort. In this book he reframes teaching about the trinity in Christian religion. Rohr is providing hope-filled teaching. In this time of declining interest in a judgmental, punitive, exclusive faith, that’s wonderful.
 
A Christian Justice for the Common Good by Dr. Tex Sample. Dr. Sample provides a theological rationale for a justice for the common good. And he discusses how to apply it in today’s social environment.
 
Deep South by Paul Theroux. The veteran travel writer turns his attention to people of the U.S. South whose stories are rarely told. It’s an insightful reporting of conversations and attitudes about the South. It’s a reminder that as Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
 
Hank: The Short Life and Long Country Road of Hank Williams by Mark Ribowsky. A detailed look into the tragic life of country music’s most iconic star. It’s amazing that Hank accomplished so much in so short a time, and his life was such a tragic mess.
 
The Air Castle of the South: WSM and the making of Music City by Craig Havighurst. This is a well-written history of radio station WSM. The station made a contribution to the city of Nashville, the national culture, and to radio. I saw a small part of that history many years ago. As part of a training event run by Dennis Benson, I got permission to sit in on the all-night show of DJ Ralph Emery. He interviewed country singers after they had played sets in downtown honky tonks. The night I was there he interviewed a young blonde woman named Dolly. We all know the rest of that story.
 
A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life by Pat Conroy. This is a collection of papers, blog posts, and letters by this wonderful southern writer. He died in 2016. The papers reveal his affecting human qualities.
 
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. From 1854 to 1929, the Children’s Aid Society gathered an estimated 250,000 orphaned, abandoned and homeless children from the streets of New York City. They were put on “orphan trains” bound for families in midwestern states. Some found loving homes, but many did not. They became indentured servants, often facing cruel abuse and hardship beyond words. This novel captures their grim existence. It also tells of their strength of spirit, and the occasional goodwill of adults around them. Baker Kline uses a storytelling device that’s compelling in its own right. I won’t give it away.
 
The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. I grew up hearing about the Dust Bowl from my grandparents in Oklahoma. They lived east of the land affected by the great blows. But they experienced the Great Depression. Like many in the western part of the state, they also experienced displacement. Both of my grandfathers had to abandon farming and move their families to town. It was heart-wrenching. Egan captures the pathos of this hardship using the stories of survivors.
 
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. I decided to re-read McCourt’s memoir about his childhood in New York and Ireland. I wanted to refresh my understanding of memoir. This story is as powerfully moving as it gets.
 
Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs by Lisa Randall. Oh, if I only had a mind for understanding physics, cosmology, and quantum mechanics. I don’t. But that doesn’t make reading Randall less interesting. Her explanations are helping me to grasp an elementary understanding of these things. What is dark matter and what does it do? What’s the difference between asteroids, meteoroids, and comets? What does this have to do with the dinosaurs?
 
As you can see, it’s an eclectic mix, offering disparate views of the world. Always an intriguing world. I’d recommend each of them without reserve.
 
Oh, and I’m still getting news. I’m reading the NY Times, Washington Post, the Guardian, and VOX, online or in hard copy. I also turn to the BBC, Reuters and other sources for both video and narrative reporting.
 
Life is more interesting when I manage media more purposefully. I probably wouldn’t have done it without Donald. So, thanks, I guess.
 
But, to be clear. Still, I resist.

A Trump Anti-Inauguration Plan

How does a person of faith and a concerned citizen respond to the inauguration of Donald Trump which is only days away?

The question is especially pertinent if you believe Trump is a danger to the country, if not the world, and articulates opinions and policies that are clearly in conflict with the teachings of Jesus.

Much damage has been done to the impression of Christians by white evangelicals and other Christians who voted for Trump despite his obvious moral failings, racism, misogyny, authoritarianism, ignorance of policy and global affairs.

I think it’s important to reclaim the faith from the fear and warped theology that political operatives on the right have used to infect Christian teaching.

And I’m not alone in this. A plethora of email appeals to resist, repudiate, and protest Trump’s leadership and policies come daily. What to do?

Moral Response

A moral response based on faith is not only possible, it can be a witness to the teachings of Jesus from a different perspective.

A recent column by Charles M. Blow, while not written with religion in mind, provided helpful guidance. Blow writes that it’s not enough to be negative. Negative actions must be balanced with constructive response that reinforces principles and values. 

This resonates with me. Christian faith is embodied in constructive action. Faith is a way of living. In fact, in its earliest days, it was called “the way.”

Blow proposes a personal plan for making your opposition known. He says we must also deny that Trump and his behavior are normal. Blow calls it an “anti-inauguration plan.”

Like many others, I’ve been developing my own response to the election of Trump and I find Blow’s plan a helpful tool. 

So, with appreciation to Mr. Blow for his template, here’s my plan:

Pray

Prayer is lifting to consciousness our deepest concerns, hopes, fears, and joys, and baring them before God. Prayer is not limited to petitioning God for personal favors, or blessing others.

Prayer is also about perceiving and responding to the sacred in our lives. It is active engagement.

Since I left the workplace, I have been concentrating on nature and wildlife photography, not merely as a hobby but as a form of prayer.

The meditation time this provides, the awareness of the sacred it brings to consciousness, and the sharing it allows has become more meaningful than I anticipated when I began.

I believe when we bring our creativity to expression in concrete ways, we are are engaging in a sacred conversation. 

My photography not only expresses my creative impulses, it also is a reminder to me of the sacredness of the natural world. And it’s a way to call attention to the need to preserve and protect the whole of God’s good creation.

Protest

Protests are being organized around the country. I will join those in my city who proclaim that the policies proposed by Trump and some of his cabinet selections do not represent values and policies that I endorse. Some are antithetical to civil liberties, immigrants, women, and the environment. I intend to protest these harmful policies. 

Donate

Since the election, my spouse and I have donated to four organizations that are working to conserve wildlife and natural sites, one that is assisting people to utilize sustainable technology to improve their lives, a couple that work in public policy advocacy, and one that is speaking publicly from religious values to call the Trump administration to accountability.

Subscribe

We believe that a free press, flawed as electronic journalism is, remains an important line of defense in these troubling days. While I have stopped watching television news and public affairs programming and eliminated NPR from my information-gathering habits, I have subscribed to three newspapers and a magazine rooted in Christian teachings that focuses on justice and reducing poverty .

Remember that subscriptions also open the channel to online reading of content.

Read

It’s clear that an informed public is essential to the common good. I spend less time with TV and more time reading since we now have a president who seems averse to reading much of anything of substance.

In particular, I am re-reading Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer prize winning “Collapse”, and Dr. Tex Sample’s “A Christian Theology for the Common Good.”

Write

I have made my views known to my national and state legislators in the past but since the Trump election I have been much more frequent in writing to elected representatives to advocate for public policy that I believe is more humane, just, and consistent with the Constitution and the moral imperatives that Jesus taught.

Hearing from me more often, I assume also identifies me to them and reminds them of values that I advocate.

Letters to the editor, op-ed opinion pieces, radio call-in shows, feedback to news media about stories, and outreach through social media are means to voice support for fundamental moral issues of justice.

Connect

I have sought to re-connect with family and friends because we live in a society that is isolating and destructive of community. This disintegration of community is what fed the discontent and fears of Trump voters, and he was successful in exploiting discontent and fear.

People of faith also have local communities called congregations in which they can worship and find spiritual strength, develop friendships, and study the teachings of Jesus that are the basis for a life lived with meaning and purpose.

But to be frank about it, some of these communities have not been places where honest discussion of justice and faithfulness to the common good have been addressed forthrightly. It’s time to reclaim this lost territory for religious values that are humanizing and biblically sound, to call ourselves and our religious leaders to accountability before God.

We live in a society that has broken the bonds of community. The mantra of individualism has damaged community. It is based on a doctrine that the interests of the individual are, or ought to be, ethically paramount. Taken to excess, this doctrine today fosters hyper-individualism. 

Our housing developments are not created to encourage community. Houses are made to isolate us. Our social media intercede to substitute for direct person-to-person communication. 

Hyper-individualism is in direct conflict with the call of Jesus to be self-emptying in service to others. In this way, Christian faith is counter-cultural because it calls us to be concerned for one another, especially those who live in poverty conditions and those who are vulnerable.

We are discovering that no amount of things makes up for the loss of friends and communal interaction. We must rebuild our connection with others and re-discover the call to servanthood contained in the gospel of Matthew in chapter 25.

Volunteer

There are myriad ways to volunteer to assist people in local communities, and church people are usually at the head of the line. From groups that serve disadvantaged children, abused women, immigrants, the homeless, environmental protection, to missional efforts through local churches, there are ways to engage to make for a better world and repudiate divisiveness and fear of the ‘the other.”

These are some of the ways that I see myself participating in society today and making a difference. I am motivated by my understanding of the demands of faith, and by my concern that citizenship carries the responsibility to participate in a way that supports and protects the vulnerable.

I’d be interested in hearing about yours.

_________________

 

Here is useful resource: Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.

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