Spring 2021 will bring big changes at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. We would love your support!

Some things are changing in America. Other things are staying the same. And we at The Way of Improvement Leads Home will continue to chronicle this moment in our history and offer useful historically-informed commentary. We always need good American history, but we need it more than ever in times of great social and political change.

In April 2021, we will be announcing some major changes to our platform. (Teaser: “The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog and podcast are not going away). Our supporters will learn about these changes very soon in a patron-only announcement at our Patreon site.

The transition will require a stronger support base. When I started The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I told myself I would never clutter the site with ads. I also wanted to remain independent, so I have regularly turned down invitations to join larger blogging network that pay bloggers. Instead, I decided to help fund our work through Patreon.

So if you have benefited from our writing and podcasts over the years, please consider becoming a supporter through Patreon. Click here to get started. You can support us for as little as $1 a month.

And yes, mugs and signed books are still available for patrons!

And for our loyal patrons: THANK YOU for your ongoing support!

Episode 80: How Alternative Media Broke Our Democracy

Our guest in this episode is historian and public intellectual Claire Potter, author of Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter How Alternative Media Hooked Us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy. She helps us make sense of the current state of alternative media and how it has hooked Americans on politics.

Listen at:

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And other podcatchers!

If you like what you hear, or perhaps you are new to the work of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog, please consider supporting our work.

Click here to become a patron.

Support The Way of Improvement Leads Home!

As more and more of you are checking-in during this crazy moment in American history, I want to remind everyone that if you like what we do here–-both in terms of the daily blogging and the podcast–-please consider supporting our work. We always need good American history, but we need it more than ever in tumultuous times.

Stay tuned, we have some surprises in 2021! In the meantime, we have some great podcast episodes lined-up. Episode 80 drops on Sunday night with historian and public intellectual Claire Potter, author of Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked Us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy.

Click here to become a patron. You can support us for as little as $1 a month.

And yes, mugs and signed books are still available for patrons!

And for our loyal patrons: THANK YOU for your ongoing support!

Sam Wineburg: Why history can’t be about telling our children lies

Sam Wineburg is one of our favorite writers, authors and thinkers here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. Listen to our conversations with him in episode 4 and episode 52 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Anyone who reads this blog knows my favorite Wineburg quote:

For the narcissist sees the world–both the past and the present–in his own image.  Mature historical understanding teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born.  History educates (“leads outward” in the Latin) in the deepest sense.  Of the subjects in the secular curriculum, it is the best at teaching those virtues once reserved for theology–humility in the face of our limited ability to know, and awe in the face of the expanse of history.

This quote is even more relevant now than when Wineburg first published it nearly twenty years ago in Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.

Last week Wineburg published a piece at the website of Phi Delta Kappa titled “The Silence of the Ellipses: Why History Can’t Be About Telling Our Children Lies.” He writes, “History textbooks often tell sanitized versions of the past when a more complete story will enable us to know who we are as a country–and become even better.” Here is a taste:

In September 2020, President Donald Trump stood in the great hall of the National Archives to denounce what he called a leftist assault on American history: “We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms,” he said, and teach our children a kind of history that will make them “love America with all of their heart and all of their soul.”

Love built on a lie is false love. It achieves its mirage by making truth its victim. The goal of historical study is to cultivate neither love nor hate. Its goal must be to acquaint us with the dizzying spectrum of our humanity: lofty moments of nobility mixed in with ignominious descents into knavery. When history’s mirror intones a single phrase — that we’re the fairest of them all — it freezes us in childhood and stunts our growth. History that impels us to look at the past, unflinchingly and clear-eyed, does not diminish us or make us less patriotic. The opposite, in fact, is true: It makes us grow up. Understanding who we were allows us to understand who we are now. Only then can we commit to doing something about it.

That should be the goal of history education. Our children deserve nothing less.

Read the entire piece here.

Episode 79: John Foster Dulles and the Cold War Protestant Left

In this episode we talk about the connections between liberal Protestantism, American foreign policy, and the Cold War in mid-20th-century America. We discuss these themes through an examination of the life of former U.S. Secretary of State (1953-1959) John Foster Dulles. Our guest is John Wilsey, author of God’ Cold Warrior: The Life and Faith of John Foster Dulles.

Listen at:

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And other podcatchers!

If you like what you hear, or perhaps you are new to the work of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog, please consider supporting our work.

Click here to become a patron.

We have some big changes in the works for 2021. I can’t say anything yet, but it’s going to be huuuuge!  Stay tuned.

And yes, mugs and signed books are still available for patrons!

Did I mention you can click here to become a patron? Pledges begin at $1.00 a month or you can make a one-time gift.

And for our loyal patrons: THANK YOU for your ongoing support!

Episode 78: How a 1630 Sermon Shaped American Exceptionalism

Our guest in this episode is Abram Van Engen, author of City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism. He helps us make sense of the phrase “city on a hill” in John Winthrop’s famous 1630 sermon A Model of Christian Charity, both in its 17th-century context and today.

Listen at:

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And other podcatchers!

If you like what you hear, or perhaps you are new to the work of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog, please consider supporting our work.

Click here to become a patron.

We have some big changes in the works for 2021. I can’t say anything yet, but it’s going to be huuuuge!  Stay tuned.

And yes, mugs and signed books are still available for patrons!

Did I mention you can click here to become a patron? Pledges begin at $1.00 a month or you can make a one-time gift.

And for our loyal patrons: THANK YOU for your ongoing support!

Cyber Monday at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

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The Way of Improvement Leads Home offers content to the general public that we believe is essential for our life as citizens in a democracy. We are just trying to do out part, and we could use your help.

As more and more of you are checking-in during this critical election year, I want to remind everyone that if you like what we do here–both in terms of the daily blogging and the podcast–please consider supporting our work.

Click here to become a patron.

We have some big changes in the works for 2021. I can’t say anything yet, but it’s going to be huuuuge! 🙂 Stay tuned.

We are also recording new podcast episodes. In this season we have heard from Lorri Glover on Eliza Lucas Pinckney, Peter Manseau on the Jefferson Bible, Paul Harvey on Howard Thurman, and Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn on the “art of living.” And we are only beginning!

And yes, mugs and signed books are still available for patrons!

Did I mention you can click here to become a patron? You can be a patron for as low as $1 a month!

And for our loyal patrons: THANK YOU for your ongoing support!

Episode 77: The Art of Living

How shall we live? Where do we find the resources for living well? In this episode, historian Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn examines the reappearance of ancient philosophical thought in contemporary American culture. She argues that we need to take back philosophy as part of our everyday lives as a means for piecing together a coherent moral framework for democratic life. Her recent book is Ars Vitae: The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living.

Listen at:

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Podbean

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If you like what you hear, or perhaps you are new to the work of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog, please consider supporting our work.

Click here to become a patron.

We have some big changes in the works for 2021. I can’t say anything yet, but it’s going to be huuuuge!  Stay tuned.

And yes, mugs and signed books are still available for patrons!

Did I mention you can click here to become a patron?

And for our loyal patrons: THANK YOU for your ongoing support!

Episode 76: Howard Thurman: Theologian, Mystic, Activist

Howard Thurman was a mid-20th century theologian, writer, activist, and mystic who had a profound influence on the leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Thurman’s writings–especially his 1949 work Jesus and the Disinherited–provided an intellectual and spiritual guide to those trying to make sense of an era of racial and social unrest. Our guest in this episode is historian Paul Harvey, the author of Howard Thurman & The Disinherited: A Religious Biography (Eerdmans, 2020).

Listen at:

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If you like what you hear, or perhaps you are new to the work of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog, please consider supporting our work.

Click here to become a patron.

We have some big changes in the works for 2021. I can’t say anything yet, but it’s going to be huuuuge!  Stay tuned.

If all goes well, we will drop an episode every Sunday until mid-January 2021. We have some incredible guests lined-up!

And yes, mugs and signed books are still available for patrons!

Did I mention you can click here to become a patron?

And for our loyal patrons: THANK YOU for your ongoing support!

Episode 75: The Jefferson Bible

Did you know that Thomas Jefferson edited a copy of the Christian gospels? In this episode, Smithsonian curator and author Peter Manseau joins us to talk about the so-called “Jefferson Bible” or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. We explore Jefferson’s religious beliefs and how his “Bible” was appropriated by later generations.

Listen at:

Apple Podcasts

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Spotify

Podbean

Podchaser

And other podcatchers!

If you like what you hear, or perhaps you are new to the work of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog, please consider supporting our work.

Click here to become a patron.

We have some big changes in the works for 2021. I can’t say anything yet, but it’s going to be huuuuge!  Stay tuned.

If all goes well, we will drop an episode every Sunday until mid-January 2021. We have some incredible guests lined-up!

And yes, mugs and signed books are still available for patrons!

Did I mention you can click here to become a patron?

And for our loyal patrons: THANK YOU for your ongoing support!

Episode 74: An Independent Woman in Revolutionary America

In this episode we talk with historian Lorri Glover about Eliza Lucas Pinckney, a woman who lived through the American Revolution in South Carolina. Pinckney’s story sheds light on gender, agriculture, politics, and slavery in this era and unsettles many common assumptions regarding the place and power of women in the eighteenth century.

Listen at:

Apple Podcasts

Stitcher

iHeartRadio

Spotify

Podbean

Podchaser

And other podcatchers!

If you like what you hear, or perhaps you are new to the work of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog, please consider supporting our work.

Click here to become a patron.

We have some big changes in the works for 2021. I can’t say anything yet, but it’s going to be huuuuge!  Stay tuned.

If all goes well, we will drop an episode every Sunday between today and mid-January 2021. We have some incredible guests lined-up!

And yes, mugs and signed books are still available for patrons!

Did I mention you can click here to become a patron?

And for our loyal patrons: THANK YOU for your ongoing support!

Support The Way of Improvement Leads Home!

As more and more of you are checking-in during this critical election year, I want to remind everyone that if you like what we do here–both in terms of the daily blogging and the podcast–please consider supporting our work.

Click here to become a patron.

We have some big changes in the works for 2021. I can’t say anything yet, but it’s going to be huuuuge! 🙂 Stay tuned.

We are also recording new podcast episodes. If all goes well, we will be dropping an episode every Sunday between November 8 and mid-January 2021. We have some incredible guests lined-up!

And yes, mugs and signed books are still available for patrons!

Did I mention you can click here to become a patron?

And for our loyal patrons: THANK YOU for your ongoing support!

Court Evangelical Kenneth Copeland is…THE GUNSLINGER!

Witchita Slim

This week we released Episode 73 of The Way of Improvement Leads Podcast titled “Cowboy Evangelicalism.” Our guest was Calvin University professor Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

We also published a post on court evangelical Kenneth Copeland and his wild theory about why Donald Trump “cusses” so much.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a reader who offered a video that brings these two posts together. Watch:

Learn more about Wichita Slim here.

Episode 72: Andrew Jackson, Donald Trump, and the Upending of SHEAR

Podcast

In this episode we talk with Daniel Feller, the editor of The Papers of Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. We discuss his work as a documentary editor, the uses of Andrew Jackson in the age of Trump, and a controversial paper he recently delivered at the annual meeting of the Society for the Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR).

You can also listen at your favorite podcatcher, including Apple Podcasts.

My review of the Monmouth County Historical Association’s Springsteen exhibit

Springsteen exhibit

Some of you may remember our interview with Melissa Ziobro, the Monmouth University history professor who curated a recent exhibit on Bruce Springsteen’s relationship with his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey.

Listen to Episode 60 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

This week New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal published my short review of the “Springsteen: His Hometown” exhibit. Read it here.

Episode 71: Writing History for Young Readers

Podcast

Have you ever wanted to write a children’s, middle-grade, or young adult history book? How do you get started? What is the process like? Do I need an agent? In this episode, we talk about writing history for young readers with former Smithsonian educator and author Tim Grove. Tim is the author, most recently, of Star Spangled: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem. Learn more about his work at TimGrove.Net.

Listen here.

What about the Gettysburg monuments? A local take.

Lee at Gettysburg

Some of you have listened to Episode 70 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast featuring Gettysburg University historian Scott Hancock. In that episode, I talked with Scott about racial injustice in the wake of the George Floyd killing.

In today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Scott brings the discussion to bear on Confederate monuments at the Gettysburg National Military Park. Here is a taste of Peter Smith’s piece:

Mr. Hancock said he can understand having historical markers for where regiments fought and soldiers died. 

“I would identify myself as a follower of Christ and a Christian,” Mr. Hancock said. “All human life is made in the image of God and valuable, whoever they were fighting for. The loss of life is tragic.

But, he added, “The state monuments fall into a different category.”

Read the entire piece here.

Why so many Southern Baptists do not believe in systemic racism

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If you want to understand what is dividing the Southern Baptist Convention today, watch this documentary produced by a group called Founders Ministries :

The discussion of race in America picks-up at the 33:00 minute mark when Thomas Ascol of Founders Ministries starts talking about “critical race theory” and “intersectionality.”

Why are some Southern Baptists so afraid of critical race theory?

I have never met a Southern Baptist who accepts every dimension of critical race theory. So I am imagining much of the concern regarding these ideas is best explained by the old slippery slope theory. In other words, critical race theory will lead to compromises in other areas of doctrine that will put Southern Baptists on the road to theological liberalism. These conservative Southern Baptists, like the fundamentalists of the early 20th-century, are always guarding against declension. In his wonderful book The Sin of Certainty, theologian Peter Enns compares this kind of Christian faith to “sentry duty.”

We can get at this issue in a slightly different way by thinking about the debates over social justice that have been raging in conservative evangelicalism.

There is much that is true about critical race theory. For example, it forces us to come to grips with the fact that some groups in society oppress other groups. In this sense, there are parts of critical race theory that illuminate the impact of human sin on modern life. Is anyone in the Founders Ministries group going to say that white people have not oppressed black people in American history? Is anyone going to deny that white Christians have used their power in ways that are unChristian? Critical race theory might be one way to make sense of this. If James Cone can help me become more aware of racism and teach me how to have a greater solidarity with the oppressed, then why wouldn’t I want to read him, engage him, and employ some of his ideas in my work? All truth is God’s truth. This seems to be the general thrust of the so-called Resolution 9 discussed in this video.

So what is really going on in this documentary? It seems like the folks who created it want to avoid having hard conversations about racism in America. In fact, it seems like they don’t want anyone in the Southern Baptist Convention to have conversations that might lead to more effective efforts at dealing with racism in church and society. They are trying to scare ordinary Southern Baptists by telling them that there is some evil Marxist force working in subtle ways to undermine Christianity. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

When I watched this documentary, at least the parts related to race, it seemed like I was watching the Southern Baptist version of a debate that recently took place in the House of Representatives:

Let’s remember that the Southern Baptist Convention was born as a pro-slavery denomination and remained committed to white supremacy for much of its history. As a result, white supremacy is deeply embedded in all of its institutions and has been for 150 years. Repentance, apologies, and spiritual transformation through the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary, but so is structural change.

Those looking to bring such structural change to the convention should be glad that Founders Ministries felt the need to produce this documentary. As an outsider looking in, it tells me that despite the Trumpism of Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham, Richard Land, Greg Laurie, and Al Mohler, some things are starting to change in the Southern Baptist Convention.

But I am also sure that folks like Jarvis Williams, Matt Chandler, Dwight McKissic, Matthew Hall, and Curtis Woods would say that the convention has a long way to go. As University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter reminds us, these kinds of deep structural changes often take generations and can only “be described in retrospect.”

Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron has some good reporting on evangelicals and systemic racism. She quotes Redeemer Presbyterian Church founder Tim Keller: “You can’t simply say, ‘We’re going to convert everyone and convict them of the individual sin of racism and everything will be OK.”

If you want to dig deeper, a good place to start is Episode 48 (Jemar Tisby) and Episode 70 (Scott Hancock) of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.