All posts filed under: The Times We Live In

Addressing the challenges of our polarized times

Religious Freedom and the American Experiment

Few things set my father into action more than news of some fellow Baptist or other Evangelical Christian trampling over the doctrine of the separation of church and state in order to advance the views of their personal brand of religion or to persecute a faith community they saw as un-American. That rare breed of liberal Southern Evangelical Christian, my father was a regular on the Letters to the Editor page of the local newspapers, as he worked to tell his neighbors why Baptists—of all denominations—should cherish religious freedom. Just before he died, my father—a proud member of the Religious left—sent in his last letter on the topic, in response to Tennessee’s consideration of naming The Bible the official State Book. As one of his neighbors described the letter to me at his funeral, “It was a good one!” Suffice it to say that Tom Brown would have appreciated Steven Waldman’s new book, Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom as a welcome addition to our understanding of this important right. Waldman’s 2019 …

Resisting the Pressure of Reality

Labor Day is a time to refocus and rejuvenate. Facebook feeds are full of pictures of students heading off to the first day of school. Summer vacations are wrapped up and business activity picks up. After the news lull of the summer months . . . Wait . . there was no summer news lull? Unless you were disciplined enough to cut off your electronic devices and stop your newspaper deliveries, I suspect you know about Greenland and Denmark. The proposed nuclear (as in bomb) response to hurricanes. Our where-do-we-stand-this-hour trade war with China. Immigrant children dying in U.S. custody. Home-grown domestic terrorists killing men, women, and children in never-ending mass shootings. An unwillingness on the part of one of our political parties to protect our system of electing the country’s leaders. Dismantling of critical environmental protections. Selling off public land to the highest bidder. Disarray in the G-7. Staggering income inequality and a wildly fluctuating stock market. And that was just last week. I fear we are coming to a point where many will …

Why Labor Day Matters

We may hear more about “Back to School” sales this weekend than we do about why we celebrate Labor Day. I’ll do my little part to rectify that problem. Labor Day has been around in one form or another since the 1880s, highlighting the work of trade and labor organizations and their members. However, unions and workers have both taken a beating in recent decades, as financial interests have fought to rollback or restrict the gains made by the working classes over the years. I grew up in the South and saw first-hand the open hostility to unions. The powers that be wanted cheap labor and they used all sorts of tools to ensure that they succeeded. I was reminded of the promise and challenge of Labor Day while reading one of my posts from 2015 on the designation of Pullman, just outside Chicago, as a National Monument. Pullman, if you do not know the history, is a remarkably intact industrial town of historic buildings and landscapes. Located 13 miles south of downtown Chicago, it …

All Men Are Created Equal, Except . . .

Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter in 1855 to Joshua F. Speed that became famous for the future president’s stand against the anti-immigration Know-Nothing Party. Lincoln and Speed met during the 1830s and remained friends even though their views differed on slavery. Speed grew up on a plantation and owned slaves. A turning point in Lincoln’s life that rekindled his interest in politics was the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and opening the territories to slavery. It was in this context that the 1855 letter was written. In referring to the nativist Know-Nothing Party—which came out of a secret society in the 1850s and was primarily anti-Catholic, xenophobic, and hostile to immigration—Lincoln used his letter to make his point of view very clear: “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. . . .Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except …

Toni Morrison, R.I.P.

Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-winning author and arguably our First Lady of Letters, passed away last evening, August 5th, at the age of 88. She left this earth as a new book of essays, The Source of Self-Regard, along with a recently released documentary entitled Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, introduced long-time fans and new readers alike to her towering intellect and broad vision. These works could not have come along at a better time. Now that she has died, we will have to rely on the power of Morrison’s words; the clarity of her vision for social justice; the love of art, music, and literature that permeates the meditations in The Source of Self-Regard and the interviews in The Pieces I Am more than ever. At the end of “Peril,” the very first offering in The Source of Self-Regard, Morrison makes the bold statement that, “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.” And through 350 pages of speeches, essays, and meditations, she shows why. There are 43 pieces in The Source of Self-Regard, …

The Search for Wise Leaders

Is it possible to find wise leaders in this era dominated by 30-second soundbites, cable news demands for conflict, twitter-length pronouncements that take the place of rational discourse, and increasingly short — or nonexistent — attention spans? I began thinking anew about wisdom after hearing the Rev. Emily Griffin speak a few weeks ago on how those who are wise stay afloat in a figurative sea of rising waters. Those thoughts were carried forward in one new book that has been on my nightstand, along with another I’ve returned to in recent months. Both included perspectives on wisdom, insight, and discernment. Making the link between wisdom and leadership followed later as — with increasing frustration — I watched two nights of the Democratic presidential debates on CNN at the end of July. First, consider how we know that someone is wise. The writers I have been reading suggest that wisdom includes meaningful self-knowledge as well as an important outward-facing impact. Defining wisdom as “knowledge translated into action,” Emily struck a chord and helped begin my …

A Human Touch

I first saw Jackson Browne in the 1970s. Today, at 70 years of age, he is still writing and singing some of the most beautiful and heartfelt music around. A Human Touch is among his most moving. Written with Steve McEwan and Leslie Mendelson for the Paul Haggis documentary 5B, the song captures the compassion of the caregivers in the 1980s in San Francisco General’s Ward 5B, the world’s first AIDS ward unit. The video of the beautiful Browne / Mendelson duet includes footage of how courage and compassion changed the way doctors and nurses approached and treated AIDS as the epidemic spread fear and hatred throughout the world. “You can call it a decision I say it’s how we’re made There’s no point in shouting from your island Proclaiming only Jesus saves There will always be suffering And there will always be pain But because of it there’ll always be love And love, we know, it will remain Everybody gets lonely Feel like it’s all too much Reaching out for some connections Or maybe …