Remembering Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Twenty years ago today, an unspeakable horror took place at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Five years ago, I visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial, erected to memorialize the lives lost, and wrote this post about that place and the need for remembrance.

In his recent series about Why Old Places Matter?, my  colleague Tom Mayes wrote about the importance of memory.  He quotes Randall Mason in noting that “Memory is an essential part of consciousness….”  Tom adds, “Memory contributes to the sense of continuity. Memory also gives people identity—both individual identity and a collective identity.”

No place demonstrates that better than the Oklahoma City National Memorial. At the 20th anniversary of the events of April 19, 1995, this memorial continues to help us to remember, while also helping us to regain the consciousness we need as humans.

More to come…


Religious Freedom 101: A Lesson from Old Places

The First Baptist Church

A reminder from The First Baptist Church, Providence, RI

We are hearing a great deal these days about religious freedom. Much of it comes from individuals who appear – from their comments – to know little of our country’s history.  For the past three days, I’ve been immersed in a state where all Americans would be well advised to come for a class on Religious Freedom 101.

One of the truly misunderstood stories in American history is that of Rhode Island and the establishment of religious freedom. My father – that lonely breed of Southern Christian liberal – has spent the past decade or more writing letters to the editor that remind his fellow church-goers of the importance of the separation of church and state. For my part, I’ve been in Providence and Newport this week, and took the time to visit two of the landmarks of the nation’s move to ensure that all had religious freedom, including the right not to worship.

Friday, I was in Newport for a series of meetings that began at Touro Synagogue, a National Historic Landmark and an affiliate site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Standing as a landmark to religious freedom for all Americans, Touro Synagogue, dedicated in 1763, is the oldest synagogue building in the United States.  As described on the National Trust website:

A structure of exquisite beauty and design, steeped in history and ideals, the synagogue is considered one of the ten most architecturally distinguished buildings of 18th century America and the most historically significant Jewish building in the United States.

The congregation was founded in 1658 by the descendants of Jewish families who had fled the Inquisitions in Spain and Portugal and who themselves left the Caribbean seeking the greater religious tolerance that Rhode Island offered.

Touro Synagogue

Touro Synagogue, Newport, RI (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

By the time those families came to Rhode Island, the “lively experiment” that was Rhode Island was already underway.  An exhibit in the Ambassador John L. Loeb, Jr. Visitor’s Center (and captured on the website) explains it best:

Rhode Island’s experience was a catalyst to the development of these values (that the acceptance of the separation of church and state was a uniquely American value).  Under the terms of its founding Charter, Rhode Island stood alone among the colonies in its desire to “hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil State may stand and best be maintained, with a full liberty of religious concernments.”

Roger Williams and his followers were convinced that religion was a matter of conscience between an individual and his God, not the government. The founding documents for Providence, Rhode Island indicate a clear division between the public, civil realm and the private world of belief:

We, whose names are here under, desirous to inhabit in the town of Providence, do promise to subject ourselves, in active or passive obedience, to all such orders or agreements as shall be made for public good of the body in an orderly way, by the major assent of the present inhabitants, masters of families, incorporated together into a town-fellowship, and such others whom they shall admit unto them, only in civil things.

“Only in civil things.” This phrase, assumed to be from the pen of Roger Williams himself, establishes the principal of religious liberty that was to become the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In the Rhode Island Colony, only matters of civil interest were to be considered by the town-fellowship. Matters of theology, doctrine, and religious practice were to be considered apart from the realm of civic discourse and within the confines of the individual consciousness or “soul-thought.”

The Charter of the Rhode Island Colony, negotiated in 1663 by Newport founder John Clark on behalf of the Rhode Island colonists from King Charles II of England, clearly demonstrates that religious freedom was the prime reason for the colony’s existence. Rhode Island’s Charter, which served as state constitution until 1842, includes this unique provision:

No person within the said Colony, at any time hereafter, shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion, in matters of religion, who does not actually disturb the peace of our said Colony ; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his own and their judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land heretofore mentioned, they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly and not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness, nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others.

Touro’s unique place in American history came about in 1790, when in response to a letter from the congregation, President George Washington eloquently defined the new nation’s standard for religious freedom and civil liberties. He declared that America would…“give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Providence – where I spent the rest of the trip – is a city that celebrates its religious history.  Few communities carry off having a “Steeple Street” with the history that Providence does.  (It is even obvious in the city’s name!)

Steeple Street

Steeple Street, Providence

The most important of those houses of worship, from a historical standpoint, is The First Baptist Church, Providence.

The First Baptist Church

The First Baptist Church, Providence, RI

Note that I didn’t write “the First Baptist Church in Providence.”  No, this is THE FIRST Baptist Church IN AMERICA. 

Historical Marker

Historical Marker on The First Baptist Church, Providence,

Coupled with the Roger Williams National Memorial, managed by the National Park Service, The First Baptist Church tells an important story that is as fresh as today’s headlines.  I’ve given a couple of speeches recently that focus on the relevance of historic places today.  Here’s what I said in the most recent one:

When we change our focus (in preservation, from buildings) to people, we become serious about relevance. In many of the places we save, and in the way we approach their conservation, we often talk about the “period of significance.” But at the National Trust we are turning that on its head, and asking, “What if the period of significance is now?”

At President Lincoln’s Cottage, where Abraham Lincoln conceived the Emancipation Proclamation, understanding that “the period of significance is now” leads us to use of the site as the springboard for exhibits, lectures, and projects that address human trafficking in the 21st century. Slavery, unfortunately, didn’t end in 1865.

Old places can be eloquent in  helping us think about how the lessons of the past inform us about today’s issues…whether those issues be human trafficking (Lincoln’s Cottage), immigration (The Lower East Side Tenement Museum), labor relations and income inequality (Pullman), or religious liberty (Touro Synagogue and The First Baptist Church).

Visit a historic site, and connect the past with today’s big issues.

More to come…


Baseball vs. Golf. No contest.

BaseballSpring is a weird time for sports.

First, there are lots of changing seasons.  Playoffs are just starting in hockey and basketball. (Do you know that WWII wasn’t as long as the NBA playoffs?) Baseball is in its first week. Golf begins to come back onto the radar screen. And those folks who think football is the only game get all excited about…the draft.  (Please. Get a life, people.)

This afternoon, I watched about all the golf I will take in on television over the course of the year – the last nine holes of the Masters.  It takes me about an hour of CBS coverage of the Masters to remind myself why I think golf is so damn pretentious and full of itself.  The hushed tones, the endless references to history, the endless paeans to Phil (I make millions of dollars, but I still complain about having to pay taxes) Mickelson. (The guy actually wears logos of a bank and an auditing firm.  That should tell you something about this “game.”) Give me a break.

After the impressive win by Jordan Spieth at the Masters, I quickly switched over to ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.  In spite of the 455th installment of Yankees vs. Red Sox on the world-wide leader in sports, it was quickly apparent why baseball vs. golf = no contest.  You have real characters in baseball, even among the announcers.  (Love Kruk’s sling…I feel like a kindred spirit.  Kruk once said, “I’m not an athlete, I’m a baseball player.”  Priceless.)  Big Papi and kids – these guys are having fun. The Nats win their second of the year, with Zim flashing some leather, despite having a team batting average well below the Mendoza Line. The Royals are mad because despite being in the World Series last year, many folks have said they won’t make the playoffs. Plus, a fun report on a Red Sox bar in the heart of New York City.  You don’t get this stuff in golf.

So bring it on.  Even if we do have the Yankees and Red Sox again tonight, golf doesn’t stand a chance.

More to come…


Tut Taylor, R.I.P.

Tut Taylor

Tut Taylor

This week we lost the third member of the Aereoplane Band when “The Flatpickin’ Dobro Man” Tut Taylor passed away at age 91.

Taylor, along with the late Vassar Clements, Norman Blake, and Randy Scruggs made up the Aereoplane Band that helped the late John Hartford record his ground-breaking album Aereo-Plain – which I once highlighted as my favorite album of all time.  (And yes, the name of the album is spelled differently from the title cut.  Hey, it was the 70s.)  I heard Tut play with Hartford’s band (Earl Scruggs opened for Hartford, if you can believe that) about 40 years ago, and I most recently heard him at MerleFest, where he was a mainstay.

Much has been written about Taylor’s unique style of playing the Dobro with a flatpick, as opposed to the finger picks used by every well-known Dobro player from Uncle Josh Graves to Jerry Douglas.  Tut Taylor was unique, and his bluesy style fit well with the fiddling of Vassar Clements and the stellar guitar work of Norman Blake.  This group has been rightly credited with starting the “newgrass” movement in Nashville, and has also been compared to a jazz quartet because of the interplay between the musicians.  They were also the strangest looking group of musicians you were likely to see in the 1970s.  Tut and Vassar looked like the country boys they were, while Hartford and Blake were wearing long hair before long hair was fashionable in Nashville.


Hartford’s hippie look on the seminal Aereo-Plain album that launched an acoustic music movement

Aereo-Plain back cover

Norman Blake, Vassar Clements, John Hartford, and Tut Taylor

As I wrote on my earlier post, for so many people who played acoustic music, Aereo-Plain gave them permission to try new things.  Sam Bush has described it as a seminal recording for the newgrass movement.  Hartford simply showed how to mix a hip, youthful sensitivity with a love for bluegrass music.  Tut Taylor was an unlikely accomplice in that work.

Taylor did more than just play on two of country music’s most influential albums of the 20th century.  He founded GTR Guitars, which is now known as Gruhn Guitars, and he also opened the Old Time Pickin’ Parlor on Second Avenue in Nashville, where I spent many a night in my college years.

But Tut will be most remembered for his help in changing the musical landscape.  Take a listen to Vamp in the Middle from Aereo-Plain.  At about the 30 second mark, Taylor starts adding in some delicious little fills that propel this tune forward.  Great stuff.

Rest in Peace, Tut Taylor.  You will be missed.

More to come…


Good-bye Basketball, Hello Baseball

Baseball/BasketballIt is a good thing I don’t bet on sports.

Last weekend, as college basketball teams were playing to reach the Final Four, I found myself in a strange position: leading my office “friendly” pool after three of the four teams had been decided.  I had Kentucky and Wisconsin. I even picked Michigan State to make it.  I never win March Madness pools or similar challenges, I don’t play fantasy anything, and I don’t bet.  (Andrew’s godfather – John Lane – says it best:  “I have the same chance of winning the lottery whether I buy a ticket or not!)

But here I was, getting giddy at the prospect of leading our pool going into the final four games.

And then my head lost out to my heart.

I so wanted Gonzaga to get into the final weekend.  I so did not want to see another Duke team in the Final Four – even if I thought they had the best chance to beat hated Kentucky. So I went with my heart…and got bumped from the top perch.

However, I was still close…until the  first game of the semi-finals, when I still could have come out okay with a Michigan State win.  The Spartans, however, were thoroughly thrashed by Duke.  Another “heart” beaten by “head” game.  But the heart had one more chance.

And the heart WON!  My main desire of this March Madness tournament was to see Kentucky lose.  I hate the one-and-done culture. And don’t get me started about John (“I didn’t know anything about those violations”) Calipari. I had picked Wisconsin to make the final, and with a glorious and fierce last 7 minutes, the Badgers pulled it out in a classic.

So, I have one more chance, although our current office pool leader (who happens to do all my finance work) also has Wisconsin to win it all, so I don’t have a chance to come out on top.  That’s okay.  If I won, I might be tempted to actually throw some money into a pool the next time around, and you know, I have the same chance of winning…

In any event, good-bye basketball. (I don’t watch the NBA.  Any sport that allows a team to take a time-out and advance the ball to the front court has decided that rules don’t matter.  That would be like allowing a football team to move the ball past the 50-yard line whenever they wanted to in the last two minutes of the game.)

Hello baseball!!

Opening day is tomorrow.  Nats vs. Mets at Nationals Park.  Max Scherzer on the mound. (Unfortunately, I will be on the road traveling, but I’ll try to catch a bit of the game.)

And to whet your appetite, check out this cool article in today’s New York Times about how long it will take to break various records in baseball.  The numbers suggest the single-season home run record could be broken again in as little as 49 years.  Batting average?  We’ll all have to wait 250+ years for that to happen!

All in all a great read about some wonderful baseball history.

Play ball!

More to come…