Tony Romo Was Amazing Last Night

I was never a Tony Romo fan during his playing days.  I probably would have liked him better if he did not play for the Dallas Cowboys.

But I have come to enjoy Tony Romo as a CBS NFL commentator and he was in rare form last night.  Watch:

Here are some more great tweets:









By the way,Romois calling the Super Bowl in two weeks.

Commonplace Book #2

…we go astray when we think of our task primarily as “overcoming bias.”  For me, the fundamental problem we have may best be described as an orientation of the will: we suffer from a settled determination to avoid thinking.  Relatively few people want to think.  Thinking can force us out of familiar, comfortable habits; thinking can complicate our lives; thinking can set us at odds, or at least complicate our relationships, with those we admire or love or follow.

Alan Jacobs, How to Think

What Do Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and Andrew Johnson Have in Common?


Fillmore, Pierce, and Johnson were sitting presidents seeking reelection who failed to win the nomination of their political party.  And it almost happened in 1980 as Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter for the Democratic Party nomination.

Could it happen in the GOP in 2020?

Jon Ward of Yahoo News discusses Kennedy’s challenge to Carter in his piece “Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and a lesson from history for President Trump.”  Here is a taste:

The heightened anxiety of the time—from gas lines, to rising costs for basic goods, to unemployment—was reflected in the public’s desire for a stronger form of leadership in the White House. More than half of the country—55 percent—still thought Carter was honest in a June CBS News/New York Times poll. But 66 percent said they wanted someone “who would step on some toes and bend some rules to get things done.” Democrats in the poll overwhelmingly said they wanted Kennedy to be their nominee in 1980, with 52 percent for Kennedy to 23 percent for Carter, and 8 percent for California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Beyond economics, Americans were worried that their country was “in deep and serious trouble” because of “moral threats which cut right through the social fabric,” according to one survey by Democratic pollster Peter Hart in Wisconsin. Hart’s results showed widespread concern over “a lack of morality and religion and the breakdown of the family structure.” People said they were “afraid that people have become too selfish and greedy, that the people are apathetic and just don’t care.”

Hart’s survey in Wisconsin showed a desire for “a reemergence of the more traditional approach to life and a turning away from the more publicized free-wheeling attitudes of the 1960’s and 70’s.” This should have given the Carter White House some reassurance that Kennedy, whose life bore all the hallmarks of excess and privilege, might not be as formidable a foe as the polls showed. But when things are going badly and you’re getting blamed, it’s hard to think clearly, and the Carter White House was spooked.

The New York Times columnist Tom Wicker noted that many of those polled about Kennedy supported him despite holding less liberal views than he did on health care and government spending. “He is a glamorous figure with a great name,” Wicker wrote. “Those who are trying to draft him are looking for a winner.”

Carter remained publicly defiant about his political future, despite his tanking popularity. One day after the June numbers appeared, he hosted several dozen congressmen at the White House for a briefing on the Panama Canal treaty, which was struggling to gain support. The House members were seated at round tables, in groups of ten or so. Carter went from table to table. While he spoke to one group, he was asked by Representative Toby Moffett of Connecticut how he felt about the 1980 election. Carter claims that Moffett asked him if he was even going to run for reelection, “which was kind of an insult to an incumbent president.”

“Of course I am,” Carter told Moffett.

Moffett persisted. “What about Ted Kennedy?” he asked.

“I’m going to whip his ass,” Carter said.

Representative William Brodhead, a Michigan Democrat, was taken aback.

“Excuse me, what did you say?” he said.

Moffett cut him off. “I don’t think the president wants to repeat what he said,” he told Brodhead.

Read the entire piece here.  And check out Ward’s new book Camelot’s End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight That Broke the Democratic Party

The Author’s Corner with Richard Hughes

myths america lives by

Richard Hughes serves as the Scholar-in-Residence in the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University. This interview is based on the second edition of his book Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning (University of Illinois Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning?

RH: At the national meeting of the American Academy of Religion that convened in Chicago in 2012, I was one of five scholars who responded to James Cone’s new book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. As part of my comments, I spoke of the five national myths that I identify in my earlier book, Myths America Lives By (Illinois, 2003), and how those myths shaped my understanding of both the nation and race when I was growing up in West Texas some sixty years ago. When I completed my remarks and took my seat at the panelists’ table, one of the panelists—the late Professor James Noel of San Francisco Theological Seminary—leaned over to me and whispered, “Professor, you left out the most important of all the American myths!” When I asked what I had omitted, he told me straight up, “The myth of white supremacy.” That simple comment launched me on quite a journey of reading, reflection, and introspection. In time I began to see Noel’s point, that even whites like me—whites who strongly resist racist ideology—can escape the power of the white supremacist myth only with extraordinary effort, if at all. That is because assumptions of white supremacy are like the very air we breathe: they surround us, envelope us, and shape us, but do so in ways we seldom discern.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning?

RH: The book draws three conclusions—first, that the myth of white supremacy is the primal American myth that informs all the others; second, that one of the chief functions of the other myths is to protect and obscure the myth of white supremacy, to hide it from our awareness, and to assure us that we remain innocent after all; and third, that there is hope, but only if whites are willing to come to terms with this reality. An important sub-theme in this book is the role white churches in America have played in perpetuating the doctrine of white supremacy since the birth of the nation—and especially now

JF: Why do we need to read Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning?

RH: As far as I know, no other book systematically explores the mythic structure of American identity and roots that mythic structure squarely in the myth of white supremacy.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RH: I was raised in a very narrow, sectarian Christian tradition that claimed to be the one true church. My deeply held, existential questions about those claims first led me into the history of American religion. In time I saw unmistakable parallels between the sectarian dimensions of my church and the sectarian dimensions of my nation, and the mythic structures that sustained both

JF: What is your next project?

RH: Sidney E. Mead was widely recognized as the dean of historians of American religion and was my teacher at the University of Iowa. Mead always claimed that the Enlightenment stood at the heart of the American experience. Much later, a group of evangelical historians placed American evangelicalism at the heart of the American experience. I want to do a project that compares the work of Mead and the work of the evangelical historians on the way those two traditions helped shape the American experience.

JF:  Thanks, Richard!

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Republicans Push Trump Immigration Plan, Seeking to Corner Democrats on Shutdown”

The Washington Post: “Trump two years in: The dealmaker who can’t seem to make a deal”

The Wall Street Journal: “China’s Annual Economic Growth Rate Is Slowest Since 1990”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a look at race equality in Pa., U.S.”

BBC: “Brexit: May looks for a way to break deadlock”

CNN: “Kamala Harris to run for president in 2020”

FOX: “Kentucky student seen in viral confrontation with Native American speaks out”

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

What happened to Lindsey Graham?

A smart take on the Buzzfeed-Mueller controversy

Hey Marie Kondo, don’t mess with my books!

Alan Wolfe reviews Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment

Trump’s evangelicals do not go to church

End Abortion, End Poverty, End Racism, End War”

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice vs. The Confederate White House

Work and meaning

“Rough-and-tumble” park rangers

What happens when you try to film Hamilton from the fourth row of a theater in Puerto Rico

The slave narrative of a wealthy intellectual from West Africa

Does water have a flavor?

Histories of liberalism

Abigail Adams on French women

Teaching the recent past

Commonplace Book #1

Hence the concept of identity as it is now understood would not even rise in most traditional human societies.  For much of the last ten thousand years  of human history, the vast majority of people lived in settled agrarian communities.  In such societies, social roles are both limited and fixed: a strict hierarchy is based on age and gender; everyone has the same occupation (farming or raising children and minding a household); one’s entire life is lived in the same village with a limited circle of friends and neighbors; one’s religion and beliefs are shared by all; and social mobility–moving away from the village, choosing a different occupation, or marrying someone not chosen by one’s parents–is virtually impossible.  Such societies have neither pluralism, nor diversity, nor choice.  Given this lack of choice , it did not make  sense for an individual to sit around and brood over the question “Who am I, really ?”   All of these characteristics that make up an inner self are fixed.

–Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: Trump Offers Temporary Protections for ‘Dreamers’ in exchange for Wall Funding”

The Washington Post: “Trump offers 3-year extension of protection for ‘dreamers’ in exchange for $5.7 billion for wall; Democrats call it a ‘non-starter'”

The Wall Street Journal: “Trump Says He Supports Temporary DACA Protections for More Wall Funding”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Morning rain could become sleet, ice, with subzero windchill values”

BBC: “Trump offers ‘compromise’ to end government shutdown”

CNN: “The Jayme Closs case: A chilling tale of murder, kidnapping and escape in rural America”

FOX: “Trump’s immigration offer brings sharp reactions from Dems and GOP”

Introducing The Way of Improvement Leads Home Commonplace Book


Com-mon-place book(noun): “a book into which notable extracts from works are copied for personal use.”

Let’s give this a try.  Every now and then I will post a quote or very short excerpt from a book I am reading.  Some of these will be related to American history or American religious history, but others will come from books I am reading outside of my field.  They will be pretty random.

Stay tuned.

Alan Jacobs: “Demanding that others stop criticizing your preferred group is a cheap identity-politics move”


Baylor University scholar Alan Jacobs reflects on Mike Pence and the journalists who cover him:

VP Mike Pence says, “Criticism of Christian education in America must stop.” No it musn’t. Nobody and nothing is above criticism. Demanding that others stop criticizing your preferred group is a cheap identity-politics move. It would simply be a good thing if the critics made some effort to understand what they’re criticizing, though of course that’s not going to happen. I can’t imagine a cohort less likely to inform itself about conservative Christianity than the cohort of American journalists.

My caveat: There is a growing number of excellent journalists covering the religion beat who do try to understand conservative Christianity.

Exiles from Eden


The Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University

Due to a few things going on in my life right now, I have been thinking again about Mark Schwehn‘s book Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America.  This book has been very influential in the way I have understood my academic life.  I return to it often.

When I read the preface of Exiles from Eden in 1999 I was hooked.  Here is Schwehn:

On a spring evening in 1982, I sat in a circle of my colleagues from the University of Chicago and from other institutions of higher learning in the Chicago area.  We were meeting together  as the Chicago Group on the History of the Social Sciences, convened by Professor George Stocking of the Anthropology Department.  We had all read a paper prepared by one of the members of the group, and roughly eight of the twelve or so of us had arrived to discuss it.  The paper, like most of those presented to the group, examined some aspect of the professionalization of the social sciences.  I remember little else about the setting that evening, except that I was was sitting directly to the right of Professor Stocking.

While we were waiting for the remainder of the expected participants  to straggle into our midst, someone (I think it was Peter Novick, but I cannot be sure) made the following proposal: “We’ve just recently filed our income tax forms; let’s move around the circle from left to right and indicate what each of us wrote under the heading ‘occupation'”  This simple exercise was thought to have potentially profound and self-revealing implications.  And so it proved.

The first person spoke up at once with a kind of brisk confidence.  “Sociologists,” he said.  And so it continued–“anthropologist,” “historian,” “psychologist,” “historian.”  At about this point (though I have sometimes been slow to catch the drift of things, I did discern this time a clear pattern emerging), I began to  wonder whether or not I had the courage to be honest in the company of so many of my senior colleagues.

Though trained as an intellectual historian, I had never once thought to put such a designation down under “occupation” on my tax form.  When I finally spoke up, I admitted (it certainly felt like an admission) that I had written “college teacher” under the relevant heading.  This disclosure was greeted with what I can only describe (thought it was doubtless a projection even then) as a combination of mild alarm and studied astonishment.  I felt as thought I had suddenly become, however briefly, an informant from another culture.exiles

The present book accordingly begins by unpacking one commonplace of academic life–the mysterious  complaint, “I don’t have enough time to do my own work“–and by engaging one of the most closely argued and most culturally influential accounts of the academic calling ever written, Max Weber “Academics as a Vocation.”  My study of Weber’s account of the academic calling led me to investigate  the larger subject of this book, the relationship between religion and higher education.  The logic of the problem of vocation impelled me in this direction, because Weber, in the course of his statement of the academic calling, self-consciously transmuted a number of terms and ideas that were religion in origin and implication.  Even so, my interest in the relationship  between religion and higher learning was and remains really more of a chronological matter than a strictly logical one.  Indeed, the title of this book Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America, is, as they say, another story.

Later in 1982 I resigned my position at the University of Chicago, after eight years of teaching there, and I accepted an appointment in the honors college of Valparaiso University.  I did this for several reasons, but perhaps the main one of them was that I found that I could pursue my own sense of the academic vocation more fully and responsibly at Valparaiso than I could at Chicago.  Valparaiso is a church-related university, and Chicago is not.  Valparaiso therefore strives to keep certain questions alive, such as questions about the relationship between religious faith and the pursuit of truth, that were then and still are close to the center of my understanding of the meaning of academic life.  In brief, I sought to think through the problem of the academic vocation in part by living through it. 

This story is the stuff of legend at Valparaiso University and, more specifically, in the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts housed on its campus.  Schwehn, whose 1978 Stanford dissertation on Henry Adams and William James won the Allen Nevins Prize, spent the rest of his career at Valparaiso and Exiles from Eden became the unofficial mission statement of the Lilly Fellows Program.

The questions Schwehn raised in this book are still alive and continue to shape the careers of young scholars in the humanities and the arts.  Seventeen years after my  Valparaiso sojourn (2000-2002), I continue to try to think through academic vocation “in part by living through it.”

Is Os Guinness Riding the Trump Train?

os guinness

I don’t know if the evangelical writer Os Guinness voted for Donald Trump or supports all of this policies, but I think it’s fair to say that he thinks Trump’s critics are misguided.  Here is Christian Post piece on Guinness’s recent appearance with court evangelical Eric Metaxas:

Guinness said he agreed with Metaxas on his assessment, saying that he believed anti-Trump evangelicals and Catholics “haven’t analyzed the situation rightly.”

“They’ve become obsessed with Trump, and they’ve failed to see that he’s not the cause of the problem, he’s the consequence, the symptom,” Guinness responded.

“While they’re being obsessed with him, the real problems are developing underneath. And Trump won’t be forever. So he serves out two full terms and finishes in whatever way. Then you would still have the problem.”

Actually, I think some evangelicals have analyzed the situation rightly.  They see both the serious problems with Trump and the longer-term problems that Trump represents.  In my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I took a very long view of Trump’s rise among evangelicals.  My analysis was driven by my understanding of American religious history.  I am an anti-Trumper because I have tried to analyze the situation.

Here’s more from the Christian Post piece:

Labeling many of the evangelical and Catholic critics “friends” of both himself and Metaxas, Guinness went on to state that he felt they were “dead wrong” about their focus on Trump.

Metaxas then added that he found it “horrifying” that many of these evangelical critics of Trump were “demonizing” supporters of the president, arguing that their statements prevent civil discourse.

As a Trump critic, I am not trying to “demonize” anyone.  I just want people like Eric Metaxas to use his platform to speak out against the incompetence and immorality of this president.  And when I say “immorality” I do not only mean Stormy Daniels.  I mean the nativism, misogyny, and racist comments and policies.  Let’s remember that Metaxas, among many other things, defended Trump’s Charlottesville comments.

More from the Christian Post:

“They think that everyone who is a sane person must be viciously against Trump. If you’re not that, then you’re not part of the crowd anymore. And so, you can’t even talk to those people,” continued Metaxas.

Guinness believed that Christians needed to adopt “a better analysis of what’s gone wrong” in the United States and to “respond to it in a much more Christian way” than attacking Trump supporters.

Better public discourse can emerge if Americans would “get it out of just the obsession with Trump” to better think about pressing issues, like whether to build a wall on the southern border, Guinness added.

“You think of the wall and the fact that here’s a position which so many of the leading Democrats supported themselves, for the right reasons, not that long ago,” said Guinness. “Now because Trump’s in favor of it, they can’t possibly admit anything like that. Well, this is an insanity for the nation.”

Am I reading this correctly?  Does Os Guinness favor the Trump’s border wall?

Read the entire Christian Post piece here.

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Mueller Statement Disputes Report that Trump Directed Cohen to Lie”

The Washington Post: “In a rare move, Mueller’s office denies BuzzFeed report that Trump told Cohen to lie about Moscow project”

The Wall Street Journal: “Trump Team Split on Border-Wall Strategy”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: What the snow, rain, ice and cold meant for central Pa.:  The latest”

BBC: “Pawel Adamowicz: Poland mourns death of stabbed Gdansk mayor”

CNN: “Trump plans to make Democrats an offer to end shutdown, not declare national emergency, in Saturday speech, official says”

FOX: “Trump calls release of BuzzFeed report ‘a sad day for journalism’; Giuliani urges DOJ pursuit of leakers”

Trump is Down 13% With White Evangelicals


Here are the results of the latest National Public Radio/PBS/Marist poll:

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds Trump’s approval rating down and his disapproval rating up from a month ago. He currently stands at 39 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove — a 7-point net change from December when his rating was 42 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove.

And the movement has come from within key portions of his base. He is:

  • Down significantly among suburban men, a net-positive approval rating of 51-to-39 percent to a net-negative of 42 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove. That’s a net change of down 18 percentage points.
  • Down a net of 13 points among white evangelicals, from 73-to-17 percent approve to 66-to-23 percent approve.
  • Down a net of 10 points among Republicans, from 90-to-7 percent approve to 83-to-10 percent.
  • Down marginally among white men without a college degree, from 56-to-34 percent approve to 50-to-35 percent approve, a net change downward of 7 points.

Read the rest here.