Commonplace Book #27

When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases–bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand should to shoulder–one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them.  And this is not altogether fanciful.  A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine.  The appropriate noises are coming out of the larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself.  If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may not be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utter the responses in church.

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” (1946) cited in Alan Jacobs, How to Think, 95-96.

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

  1.  Were the “20. and Odd Negroes” Slaves or Indentured Servants?
  2.  Debs: Socialism in “merely Christianity in action.”
  3.  Why NBC Dumped Bob Costas
  4.  An Anti-Racist Syllabus for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam
  5.  Skype Interview Nightmares
  6.  Commonplace Book #25
  7.  When a Popular and Powerful First Lady Opposed the Women’s Suffrage Movement
  8.  What Did Trump Mean When He Capitalized “Trail” in a Tweet About Elizabeth Warren: Some Historical Context
  9.  Why Did God Allow the Great Boston Fire of 1760?
  10.  Some Thoughts on James Dobson

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: Trump Plans National Emergency to Build Border Wall as Congress Passes Spending Bill”

The Washington Post: “‘Off the rails’: Inside Trump’s attempt to frame border wall defeat as a victory”

The Wall Street Journal: “Trump to Sign Spending Deal, Declare National Emergency”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Shot and killed in Nashville, singer Kyle Yorlets comes home to Carlisle”

BBC: “Trump to declare emergency over Mexico border wall”

CNN: “Republicans pay the price for Trump’s wall crusade”

FOX: “Alan Dershowitz: Ousting Trump via 25th amendment is ‘clearly an attempt at a coup d’etat'”

 

Commonplace Book #26

Over the years, I’ve had to acknowledge that some of the people whose views on education appall me are more devoted to their students than I am to mine; and that some of the people whose theological positions strike me as immensely damaging to the health of the church are nevertheless more prayerful and charitable, more Christlike, than I will will ever be.  This is immensely disconcerting, even when it doesn’t mean that those people are right about those matter we disagree on.  Being around those people forces me to confront certain truths about myself that I would rather avoid; and that alone is reason to seek every means possible to constrain the energies of animus.

Alan Jacobs, How to Think, 76-77.

The Author’s Corner with Myra Glenn

dr harriot kezia hunt

Myra Glenn is a Professor of American History at Elmira College. This interview is based on her new book, Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt: Nineteenth-Century Physician and Woman’s Rights Advocate (University of Massachusetts Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt: Nineteenth-Century Physician and Woman’s Rights Advocate?

MG: I was astonished that there was no book length monograph on a woman who was a pioneering female physician, health reformer, and woman’s rights advocate in nineteenth-century America. Once I began reading her 1856 autobiography Glances and Glimpses as well as her lectures and speeches I became fascinated with her and knew I had to be her biographer.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt: Nineteenth-Century Physician and Woman’s Rights Advocate?

MG: My book argues that Hunt warrants extensive study because she offers a rare, fascinating case study of how a single woman from a working-class Boston home became a successful professional and renowned reformer in nineteenth-century America. This text also uses Hunt’s richly detailed life narrative, Glances and Glimpses (1856), to explore how women described and interpreted their lives in antebellum autobiographies.

JF: Why do we need to read Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt: Nineteenth-Century Physician and Woman’s Rights Advocate?

MG: My book examines Hunt’s establishment of a flourishing medical practice in Boston in the mid-1830s. Convinced that many of her patients’ physical maladies were rooted in their spiritual and mental anguish, Hunt became renowned for listening to women’s troubles, or “heart histories,” and counseling them. I also discuss Hunt’s unsuccessful efforts to attend lectures at Harvard’s medical school in 1847 and 1850 and her emergence as a leading woman’s rights advocate. She became the first woman in Massachusetts to publicly protest the injustice of taxing propertied women like herself while denying them the right to vote. Her annual petitions declaring “no taxation without representation” were widely reprinted in newspapers throughout the Northeast and Midwest. Hunt was also prominent in the annual woman’s rights conventions of the 1850s where she championed health reform, female doctors, higher education for women, and their enfranchisement.

Study of Hunt’s life also illuminates how religion promoted reform activism in antebellum America. I discuss how the Hunt family’s conversion to Universalism encouraged Harriot to challenge established gender roles and spurred her commitment to the woman’s rights struggle. I also explore how Hunt’s conversion to the ideas of the Swedish mystic Immanuel Swedenborg as well as her friendship with leading antebellum feminists, especially Sarah Grimké, led her to challenge patriarchal power within mainstream Protestant churches.

Finally, my book analyzes Hunt’s 1856 autobiography entitled Glances and Glimpses. At a time when few women wrote life narratives Hunt offered a richly detailed and revealing work. Her text was the first autobiography published by a leading antebellum feminist and also by a female physician.

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

MG: My father, a waiter in Brooklyn and immigrant from Cuba, was always a voracious reader of American history and instilled in me a love of both history and politics. Even when I was in high school I knew that I wanted to study how the past shapes our present and future.

JF: What is your next project?

MG: I plan to investigate how a group of leading antislavery and woman’s rights activists in antebellum America coped with old age and the challenges of facing illness, the death of loved ones, and their own mortality. This would be my fifth and probably last book.

JF: Thanks, Myra!

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Trump Puts Best Face on Border Deal, as Aides Try to Assuage an Angry Right”

The Washington Post: “Judge finds Manafort lied to Mueller probe about contacts with Russian aide”

The Wall Street Journal: “Judge Rules Paul Manafort Lied in Violation of Plea Deal”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Second forum on legalizing pot again dominated by those who support it”

BBC: “British IS schoolgirl ‘wants to return home'”

CNN: “Manafort bombshell deepens mystery in Russia probe”

FOX: “Menendez threatens to call police on reporter asking about Green New Deal: report”

Commonplace Book #25

You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff.  You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire.  You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site.  You are–strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself–accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.  Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nature, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world–all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.

NT Wright, Surprised by Hope, 208.

Out of the Zoo: “Finding a Calling in the History Classroom”

annie

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this column she reflects on how she brings together her passion for history and her passion for ministry. Enjoy! –JF

Like many other college freshmen, when I started attending Messiah College last fall I had lots of doubts–concerning my major, my future career path, and my calling in general. For my first semester I was enrolled as a history major with a concentration in public history. I knew history was something I enjoyed, and something I was relatively good at. I pictured myself working at the Smithsonian or a national historic site someday, doing research or designing displays or preserving artifacts.  However, fresh from a year serving as an intern for my youth group and a summer working as a counselor at a Christian day camp, I wondered if perhaps I would be better suited for ministry.

So what did I choose? Well, by the description of this column you can probably infer that I haven’t switched my major to ministry, but it turns out I didn’t stick with the public history track either. I actually turned down a different path entirely and decided to add a teaching certificate into the mix.

Despite the numerous times adults have asked me if I’m planning to teach with my history major, until this year I never once pictured myself going into education. As a high school student, I was ready to get out of grade school and run away as fast as my legs could carry me. I didn’t think I had enough patience to teach. I convinced myself I would never be captivating enough to hold the attention of 20-30 kids for an extended period of time.

Sometime after high school, though, the walls I had built against any aspirations to become an educator began to fall. Working with kids all summer and learning to keep their attention tore down a few bricks. Being told by several peers that I would make a great teacher destroyed a few more. What made them all come tumbling down, though, was my realization that becoming a teacher had the potential to combine both my passions–history and ministry.

If you’ve read the first installment of this column, you know that one of my favorite things about history is its ability to make the past come to life; by choosing history education over public history, I would still be doing that–except I would be bringing the past to life for kids in a classroom, rather than the general public in a museum. Pursuing a career in education will also allow me to practice ministry. No, I won’t be able to read scripture in class or evangelize from behind my desk (especially because I want to work in public schools) but I will be given the opportunity to represent Christ to my students, their parents, and my coworkers as well and as often as I can. I am a firm believer in the idea that ministry isn’t about the title–it’s about God’s love. If your goal is to show God’s accepting, forgiving, never-ending love to the people you work with, anyone can be a minister, no matter what their profession.

Did Lincoln Offer a “verbal cake and ice cream” to slaveowners?

Who was responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation?  Was it Lincoln?  The Republican Party? The slaves themselves?  Gettysburg College Civil War scholar Allen Guelzo makes a case for Lincoln in his recent piece in The Wall Street Journal.  Here is a taste:

In an age when rocking century-old statues off their pedestals has become a public sport, no historical reputation is safe. That includes Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator.

It is “now widely held,” Columbia historian Stephanie McCurry announced in a 2016 article, that emancipation “wasn’t primarily the accomplishment of Abraham Lincoln or the Republican Party, but of the slaves themselves, precipitated by the actions they took inside the Confederacy and in their flight to Union lines.” Ebony editor Lerone Bennett put this argument forward in his 2000 book, “Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream.” The Zinn Education Project, which distributes Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” to students, claims that Lincoln offered “verbal cake and ice cream to slaveowners,” while slaves themselves did “everything they could to turn a war for national unity into a war to end slavery.”

The case against Lincoln is a lot less energizing than it seems. Slavery, as it emerged in American life and law, was always a matter of state enactments. There was no federal slave code, and Madison had been particularly eager to ensure that the Constitution gave no federal recognition to the idea that there could be “property in man.” But there was also no federal authority to move directly against slavery in the states.

The attempt by the Southern slave states to break away in 1861 seemed to offer several ways to strike at slavery. Some U.S. Army officers attempted to declare slaves “contraband of war,” and therefore liable to seizure like any other military goods. But the “contraband” argument fell into the error of conceding that slaves were property, and, anyway, no legal opinions on the laws of war regarded such property seizures as permanent.

Congress tried to put a hand on slavery through two Confiscation Acts, in 1861 and 1862. But “confiscating” slaves wasn’t the same thing as freeing them, since the Constitution (in Article I, Section 9) explicitly bans Congress from enacting “bills of attainder” that permanently alienate property. Confiscation would also have had the problem of ratifying the idea that human beings were property.

Lincoln tried to dodge the constitutional issues by proposing, as early as November 1861, a federal buyout of slaves in the four border states that remained loyal to the Union—Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri. But the representatives of those states rebuffed the offer, telling Lincoln that they “did not like to be coerced into Emancipation, either by the Direct action of the Government, or by indirection,” as a Maryland congressman reported.

Many slaves didn’t wait on the courts or Congress, and instead ran for their freedom to wherever they could find the Union Army. But the Army wasn’t always welcoming, and there was no guarantee that the war wouldn’t end with a negotiated settlement including the forced return of such runaways. Fugitive slaves were free, but their freedom needed legal recognition.

If you can get past The Wall Street Journal paywall, you can read the rest here.

Debs: Socialism is “merely Christianity in action”

Debs

Jill Lepore, in a piece at The New Yorker, argues that Eugene Debs‘s socialism was deeply rooted in values that were both American and Christian.  God and country!

Here is a taste:

But Debs’s socialism, which was so starry-eyed that his critics called it “impossibilism,” was decidedly American, and had less to do with Karl Marx and Communism than with Walt Whitman and Protestantism. “What is Socialism?” he asked. “Merely Christianity in action. It recognizes the equality in men.”

The myth of Debs’s Christlike suffering and socialist conversion in the county jail dates to 1900; it was a campaign strategy. At the Social Democratic Party convention that March, a Massachusetts delegate nominated Debs as the Party’s Presidential candidate and, in his nominating speech, likened Debs’s time in Woodstock to the Resurrection: “When he came forth from that tomb it was to a resurrection of life and the first message that he gave to his class as he came from his darkened cell was a message of liberty.” Debs earned nearly ninety thousand votes in that year’s election, and more than four times as many when he ran again in 1904. In 1908, he campaigned in thirty-three states, travelling on a custom train called the Red Special. As one story has it, a woman waiting for Debs at a station in Illinois asked, “Is that Debs?” to which another woman replied, “Oh, no, that ain’t Debs—when Debs comes out you’ll think it’s Jesus Christ.”

Read the entire piece here.

My favorite biography of Debs remains Nick Salvatore’s Eugene Debs: Citizen and Socialist.  It is worth your time.

Do You Believe in Miracles?

Miracles

No, this is not a post about sportscaster Al Michaels and his famous call of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team victory over the Soviets.

This is a post about actual miracles.  Over at Commonweal, noted biblical scholar and Emory University professor Luke Timothy Johnson makes a case for them.  Here is a taste:

The fourth element in recovering a sense of wonder about God’s presence and power in the world is embracing the truth-telling capacity of myth. Secularity’s success in shaping Christian consciousness is nowhere more evident than in the double-minded discomfort of educated believers with mythic language. We have been taught by our learned theologians that such language, in which divine forces are said to operate within the world, may have been appropriate for ancient people who knew no better, but cannot in good conscience be reconciled with a “scientific” worldview. Whatever is good and lasting in Scripture, they say, must be stripped of what is false about the construction of the world, so that what is true about God and humans might be saved. Others have gone further, observing that “God” is just as mythic as the three-decker universe, and all that Scripture ultimately teaches us is about the cosmic projection of human alienation and longing. All this is long past argument for religion’s contemporary critics; for them, “religious myth” is a redundancy, since religion is as false as the stories it tells.

Discomfort with the language of myth pervades the religious life of the double-minded. Listening to the stories of fellow-believers eager to share how God is working in their lives is positively painful, and recounting such narratives to others embarrassing. Teaching or preaching on the miracles found in the Torah or in the gospels becomes an excruciating exercise in avoidance or explaining-away. Even the public prayer of the church gives the sophisticated pastor pause, if he or she really pays attention to the wonders for which liturgy gives thanks and the wonders it seeks from God. This discomfort with mythic language forms a huge stumbling block, and believers need to challenge secularity’s pretense that its discourse is sufficient to understand human existence in the world. We need to demystify, and reverse, secularity’s epistemological overreach.

Read the entire piece here.

Skype Interview Nightmares

Skype

From Stephanie Hull of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation:

  • One candidate allowed her hamster to run loose in her home. During her interview, it ran up the back of her shirt and popped out on her shoulder, next to her collar.
  • During one candidate’s interview, a floor lamp toppled, spraying glass shards. She was cut and bleeding on camera.
  • Another candidate chatted with a committee while sitting on her bed, propped up by ruffled pillows. (Fully dressed, but it was still a little disconcerting.)
  • Then there was the candidate who was seated in front of a firearms-training target that showed several bullet holes grouped around the heart and the center of the forehead.
  • A candidate with a large dog failed to secure said animal in another room, so it came bounding in and leapt onto her lap mid-interview, knocking everything over — and howled loudly for the rest of the interview when finally forced to stay in the adjoining room.

Do you want to avoid these problems and look good on camera during your next interview? Check out Hull’s full piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Parkland: A Year After the School Shooting That Was Supposed to Change Everything”

The Washington Post: “How Manafort’s 2016 cigar club meeting with a Russian goes to ‘the heart’ of Mueller’s probe”

The Wall Street Journal: “Trump is Lukewarm on Border-Funding Deal”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Penn State alumni trustees: Freeh report on Sandusky case ‘unreliable and misleading,’ harmed school”

BBC: “Venezuela in crisis: John Guaido vows to bring in aid”

CNN: “Going it alone on the wall would be peak Trump”

FOX: “Cottin says media was ‘Stalin-like’ in Ocasio-Cortez Green Deal cover up”

An Anti-Racist Syllabus for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam

Northam

American University historian and National Book Award-winner Ibram X Kendi offers a reading list to embattled Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in the wake of his blackface scandal.

Here are some of the books on Kendi’s list:

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told

Daina Ramey Berry, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh

Leon Litwack, North of Slavery

Eric Foner, Reconstruction

Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis

Mary L. Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

Read Kendi’s entire piece at The Atlantic

Commonplace Book #24

..The Kingdom-inaugurating public work of Jesus and his redemptive death and resurrection…isn’t just a story of some splendid and exciting social work with an unhappy conclusion.  Nor it is just a story of an atoning death with an extended introduction.  It is something much bigger than the sum of those two diminished perspectives.  It is the story of God’s kingdom being launched on earth as in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which the power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus’s followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice.  Atonement, redemption, and salvation are what happened on the way because engaging in this work demands that people themselves be rescued from the powers that enslave the world in order that they ca n in turn be rescuers.  To put it another way, if you want to help inaugurate God’s kingdom, you must follow in the way of the cross, and if you want to benefit from Jesus’s saving death, you must become part of his kingdom project.

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

A Night in Colorado Springs

UCCS Campus from the Bluffs

I’m on the road (or in the air) today trying to find my way back to Pennsylvania through the snow, but I wanted to say a very quick word about last night’s lecture in Colorado Springs.

Jeff Scholes of the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (UCCS) Philosophy Department and Director of the Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life was a wonderful host.  The UCCS History Department also sponsored the event and I am pretty sure my friend Paul Harvey was the point person on that front.  We had a great turnout for a lecture titled “The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”  Thanks for everyone who came out last night and I am sorry I could not hang around longer to answer all of your questions and here are all of your stories.  Feel free to follow this blog or my twitter feed to keep the conversation going!

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: With Shutdown Looming, Border Deal reached ‘in Principle'”

The Washington Post: “Lawmakers say they have reached an ‘agreement in principle’ to avoid government shutdown”

The Wall Street Journal: “Lawmakers Reach Agreement in Principle to Fund Border Security, Avoid Shutdown”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Winter storm brings snow, sleet, freezing rain: The latest”

BBC: “US border security deal reached to avert shutdown”

CNN: “Washington braces for Trump to weigh in on shutdown deal”

FOX: “Ocasio-Cortez blasts Trump’s comparison of Green New Deal to ‘HS term paper'”

Commonplace Book #23

And if God’s good creation–of the world, of life as we know it, of our glorious and remarkable bodies, brains, and bloodstream–really is good, and if God wants to reaffirm that goodness in a wonderful act of new creation at the last, then to see the death of the body and the escape of the soul as salvation is not simply slightly off course, in need of a few subtle alterations and modifications.  It is totally and utterly wrong.  It is colluding with death.  It is  conniving at death’s destruction of God’s good, image-bearing human creatures while consoling ourselves with the (essentially non-Christian and non-Jewish)  thought that the really important bit of ourselves  is saved from this wicked, nasty body and this sad, dark world of space, time, and matter!  As we have seen, the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, speaks out against such nonsense. It is, however, what most Western Christians, including most Bible Christians of whatever sort, actually believe. This is a serious state of affairs, reinforced not only in popular teaching but also in liturgies, public prayers, hymns, and homilies of every kind.

N.T. Wright, Suprised by Hope, 194-195

When a Popular and Powerful First Lady Opposed the Women’s Suffrage Movement

Sarah Polk

Her name was Sara Childress Polk, the wife of President James Polk (1845-1849).  Read Anna Diamond’s piece at Smithsonian.com:

In July 1848, as hundreds of women suffragists gathered in Seneca Falls to demand the right to vote and assert their right to participate in the public sphere, one prominent woman in Washington, D.C., was busy shaping the nation’s policy and guiding its direction at the highest level of government. Unfortunately for the activists, she didn’t share their politics.

First Lady Sarah Polk formed half of an unusual political partnership with her husband, President James Polk, during his sole term in office from 1845 to 1849. Despite his brief time in office, Polk had an outsized influence on American history, particularly with regard to the Mexican-American War.

As president, Polk sought his wife’s counsel on decisions, relied on her smart politicking and benefited from her popularity. Her active role in his presidency made her the most powerful woman of the era, asserts Amy S. Greenberg, professor of history and women’s studies at Pennsylvania State University and author of the new book Lady First: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk.

Religious and conservative, Polk didn’t support the suffragists’ campaign; she had no need for what they sought. Polk had leveraged her privileges as a white, wealthy, childless and educated woman to become “the first openly political First Lady, in a period when the role of women was strictly circumscribed,” explains Greenberg, whose book hits shelves amidst a wave of feminist political activism. 131 women were sworn into Congress this January and the race for the Democratic Party nominee for the 2020 presidential election features multiple women candidates.

Read the rest here.