Top Ten Posts of 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to share books and articles from others that have prompted reflections and thoughts, as well as sharing experiences from the my own journey here. While my weekly collection of "Four Articles and a Poem" draws a certain readership, I have excluded them from this list. Hence, many posts in this list are commentaries and reviews of books. I am especially grateful for the ways that readers have interacted with what I have posted here. Conversation is at the heart of he time that I put into this blog.

So, I share a series of my ten favorite posts from the year, posts that help engage us in what I believe to be significant conversations.

  1. 50 Ideas for Making Laudato Si' part of Parish Life. My top post of the year is my most viewed and a post that has been subsequently published elsewhere. Pope Francis' Laudato Si' was such a landmark work, I enjoyed writing these  ideas on how to live the encyclical in the local parish.
  2. Zuckerberg's "Year of Books." My reading this year has been highly influenced by Mark Zuckerberg's list. His decision to share his reading this year introduced me to new writers and a deeper immersion into cultures and science with which I was less familiar. It really has been a joy to accompany Zuckerberg in his reading.
  3. The End of Power: So What Do We Do? The best book of Zuckerberg's list may well have been his first, Moisés Naím's The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What it Used to Be.
  4. Mons. Jack Egan and Chicago. Jack Egan was an amazing priest and a model to many, including me. I spent some time reading a biography this year, a real joy!
  5. Blessed, indeed, are the Organized. Jeffrey Stout gave me a new book to recommend to those interested in organizing. It is a great book, and I am glad to share the good news.
  6. No More "Scissor Charts." Robert Putnam, Harvard's esteemed sociologist, published an engaging account of his hometown, Port Clinton, OH and other cities across the U.S. Sadly, his research indicates that many of our kids are failing, and he provides some suggestions on how we might take better care of Our Kids.
  7. From a Father to his Son: Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Between the World and Me." The National Book of the Year, this book will be on many people's year-end list.
  8. The New Jim Crow: A First Look. Michelle Alexander's book was an important read. This post was the first of four to reflect upon it.
  9. Rational Ritual and Social Change. Another Zuckerberg pick, Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge by Michael Suk-Young Chwe, popularizes serious academic work in game theory.
  10. The Light of the Heart's Desire: The Dark Light of Love. Fr. John S. Dunne, C.S.C. was a mentor and friend. This posthumous work was a great gift, an opportunity to re-encounter an old friend.

Four Articles and a Poem

Weekly, I share links to four articles that I found significant, accompanied by a poem. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. One article comes from the world of photography, a discipline intent upon shaping how we see. Another article takes up technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another takes up an aspect of our common life, seeing more clearly together. Another article refers to faith, seeing the unseen. Finally, the weekly post concludes with a poem, because poetry is about seeing words whose arrangement allows us to see anew.

So close to Christmas and its cheer, let me address the darkness not caused by the short days.
  1. Making War Make Sense, Mathematically. Sanjena Sathian, writing for Ozy, profiles Kiwi physicist Sean Gourley. By analyzing raw data on violent incidents in the Iraq war and others, Gourley discovered strong mathematical relationship linking the fatality and frequency of attacks, an algorithm for conflict and war. His TED Talk is short, and, while from a few years ago, I'd love to see an analysis of the data concerning ISIS. 
  2. 'Do Not Stand Idly By' on gun madness, make gun makers step up. Dan Rodricks of the Baltimore Sun offers an analysis of the IAF's grass roots campaign to address gun manufacturers in the interest of public safety. The campaign Do Not Stand Idly By draws its name from the Book of Leviticus (Lev 19:16). While the NRA has tremendous pull in Congress and state legislatures, his campaign, launched by the faith leaders and citizens who make up the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (Metro IAF) network, is based on two simple premises: first, that we can’t end the plague of gun violence in America until the manufacturers of guns make safety and responsible sales among their highest priorities, and, second, that the companies that step up to lead in these areas will thrive. They’ll tap a growing demand for safety, and expand their market share among major public-sector gun buyers. Citizens, law enforcement leaders, public officials and investors are working together to ask gun manufacturers to lead their industry by: Creating first-rate networks of dealers that meet high standards of security, record keeping and cooperation with law enforcement, and bringing child-proof, theft-proof guns to market – along with a variety of other gun safety technologies.
  3. 2015: Our Top 21 Photos. I find it odd that my first reference in this blog  to Dr. Paul Farmer is in the context of photography. Best known for his humanitarian work providing suitable health care to rural and under-resourced areas in developing countries, starting with Haiti, Farmer, an American anthropologist and physician, is co-founder of an international social justice and health organization, Partners In Health (PIH). His Pathologies of Power is a must read. These 21 images show a great organization at work.
  4. Bishop Madden: US Catholics Uniquely Equipped to Push Back Against Islamophobia.When I was an undergraduate, I was very fortunate to have a semester in Jerusalem. While there Bishop Denis Madden was one of my professors. Then a priest, Bishop Madden did humanitarian and reconciliation work work among Palestinian refugees in Gaza and Lebanon. Bishop Madden's call is one to understanding, based on our experience. It is an urgent call to peace.
Beset by such forms of violence in the prior articles-- the mathematics of war, the gun violence in the U.S., the violence of inequality in access to healthcare, and the violence of a minority within a religious faith and the engendered cycle of violence, may our hearts seek peace. Let us draw hope that we can indeed do something, that we can push back this darkness.
On this day in 1848, Emily Jane Brontë died at 30 years old. Brontë was an English novelist and poet who is best known for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, now considered a classic of English literature.

"Fall, leaves, fall"
By Emily Brontë

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

The Marvels of Murdoch Mysteries: Characters, History, Science, and Faith

I do not watch much television. I have a few favorites like The Daily Show. I watch news. I am not heavily invested in television series. Nonetheless, I love Murdoch Mysteries. I got into it when I spent some time in Canada last year. Subsequently, Mom DVRs it each week on the local PBS station, and we have watched other seasons borrowed from the public library.

Murdoch Mysteries is a Canadian television drama series aired on both City and CBC Television, titled The Artful Detective on the Ovation cable TV network, featuring Yannick Bisson as Detective William Murdoch, a police detective working in Toronto, Ontario, around the turn of the twentieth century. Murdoch Mysteries was initially adapted for television from Maureen Jennings’s popular Detective Murdoch series of novels as three made-for-TV films broadcast in Canada in 2004 and 2005. The series first premiered in Canada in January 2008.


Detective Murdoch is conspicuously Catholic. As he arrives at the scene of each homicide, he makes a devout Sign of the Cross. Early episodes show the tension around his being a "Papist," and the discrimination faced by Catholics in "Protestant" Toronto. In fact, he was denied a promotion in the constabulary owing to his Catholic faith. In another episode, we met his parish priest, who fostered his love of learning. We know that he was educated by Jesuits. His sister, as revealed in one episode, is a nun. His relationship with Dr. Julia Ogden (played by Hélène Joy) has been frustrated, at times, by some of his Catholic convictions. And, yet, in other ways, over the seasons, we see less of how his Catholicism shapes him in a daily way.

Across the board, the cast is strong. Murdoch and Dr. Ogden are accompanied by other well-developed characters. I particularly enjoy Constable George Crabtree (Jonny Harris, a comedian by profession), Murdoch’s eager but sometimes naïve right-hand man. Crabtree has a habit for speculating how technology might be adapted for use in the future. He also has a very complicated family tree. Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig), Murdoch’s fiery boss, emerges as a warmer figure. Coroner Dr. Emily Grace (Georgina Reilly) fills a vital role as Dr. Ogden’s protégé, Crabtree's beloved, portrayed with verve and enthusiasm.

A period police drama, Murdoch is a pioneer in criminal investigation, employing new methods like "finger marks." In fact, new technology frequently appears as the episodes involve encounters with figures from the Age of Invention: Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, and Henry Ford. Other historical figures like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Winston Churchill, Jack London, Buffalo Bill Cody, Harry Houdini, H.G. Wells, and Mark Twain (played by special guest star William Shatner) make appearances. Also, then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper played a desk sergeant in one episode.

The Age of Invention lends itself to a demanding task for the show's props department. The Globe and Mail noted in a 2012 article:

The props department on the set of the TV series Murdoch Mysteries is a busy place: In the fifth season, property master Craig Grant stuck a recumbent bike inside a Thule cargo carrier to create a purely fictional electric car. This season he turned an ultra-light plane into something the Wright brothers might have flown, recreated the first fountain pens that used refillable cartridges and built an early version of a metal detector.

Murdoch Mysteries, as a Canadian program, has a different vantage of their neighbor to the south than most U.S. programs. The program can be more critical of decisions, historical and contemporary, in the script. Watching Murdoch is fascinating for what it teaches of Canadian history as well. Our neighbor to the north had a slightly different journey than the U.S., and it is worth knowing better.

Returning to the questions of faith (and I must confess that I have not seen any of season 9), Murdoch's character has evolved over the seasons. He has had to embrace greater ambiguity in his life. As Murdoch has invested more of himself into science and learning, we see less to suggest how he relates his experience and learning to his faith in the middle seasons. I believe that there is rich material to be unearthed. I'd love to see a plot where young Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. visits Toronto, long before his great discoveries. Or Fr. John Zahm, C.S.C. could serve as a precursor. Such a plot could allow for a greater conversation that digs deep into the question of how scientific inquiry and faith in God are compatible in Murdoch's life. Many of the great physicists are, in their own way, mystics.

If you have not seen Murdoch Mysteries, take some time to see it. You may just get hooked on it, like me.

Blessed, indeed, are the Organized

I may have a new first book to recommend to folks about the nature of community organizing. Often, I suggest Dennis Jacobsen's Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing as a first book to read. I once kept a small box of Jacobsen's book in the car to give to key people when we were trying to build an organization in South Bend, IN. This weekend, I finished reading Jeffrey Stout's Blessed are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America, the likely replacement to Jacobsen's fine work.

To begin with, I love the title: Blessed are the Organized. Invoking the Beatitudes gives a pithy, novel explanation to the purpose of organizing. The Beatitutdes, as spoken by Jesus and related in the Gospels, tells of a "blessing" given to those who, for their current condition, appear more bereft than blessed. We organize that our lives might know a blessing that we do not currently experience. The book derives its form from the fortuitous suggestion of Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian at Duke University (and a personal favorite), that Stout meet Ernie Cortés. In typical, salty Hauerwas fashion, referring to the IAF organizers, Hauerwas quipped, "they'll kick the shit out of you" (293).

Blesses are the Organized, then, is the fruit of spending considerable time with the Industrial Areas Foundation in the West and Southwest of the U.S. The IAF, founded by Saul Alinsky in the 1940s, is the nation's largest and longest-standing network of local faith and community-based organizations. Stout's text provides wonderful stories from organizers and leaders, explanation of the foundational elements of organizing, references from Alinsky and the history of organizing, and reflection on the nature of democracy and grassroots democracy. In other words, while this book will introduce a reader to the concepts, practice, and history of organizing, an advanced reader will not be disappointed. Stout engages in significant consideration of philosophical issues related to democracy and organizing as well.

Since 1975, Stout is a professor of religion at Princeton University. A member of the Department of Religion, Stout is associated with the departments of Philosophy and Politics and with the Center for the Study of Religion and the Center for Human Values. Interested in film as well, Professor Stout seems to pursue a wide-array of interests. Those broad interests are well-utilized in creating this important book.

The Idea Factory: Industry, Monopoly, and Creativity

Mature, public conversation about issues that matter is foundational for democratic society. I am delighted that Mark Zuckerberg's "A Year of Books" offers such an opportunity. To contribute to that dialog, I will offer commentary on each of the readings proposed by Zuckerberg.

There is something fascinating about old buildings, especially big, industrial style buildings. "Old," as a word, is rather vague, in this sense, occasionally something quite distinct from the chronological. Seeing old factories, like the remnants of the Studebaker factory in South Bend, hint at bygone days of industry. I have wanted to understand these buildings, and the people who once inhabited them. Jon Gertner's The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation is a marvelous introduction to the people and spirit and place of Bell Labs. It breathes with more than nostalgia for this earlier era.

Published in 2012, The Idea Factory tells the history of Bell Labs from the 1920s through the 1980s, in which the invention of the transistor revolutionized the world of technology. Created in 1925 by AT&T scientists at Bell Labs have won more Nobel Prizes than any laboratory in history, boasting seven in Physics and one in Chemistry. According to Gertner, part of the genius of the place was that business housed both pure and applied research, combining science and engineering. Unique conditions brought that about, specifically Bell's monopoly in communications and its commitment to quality in the materials and products used in its business. Also, the leadership of the labs understood a difference in managing "ideas" rather than people.

The author, Jon Gertner, is an editor-at-large at Fast Company magazine, a magazine built on the premise that a well-run company can change the world.

Today, no parallel place exists, but the book begs the question if we might see something new in our day. Since the break up of Ma Bell and the decline of Bell Labs, universities and government laboratories tend to do the more pure research. Nonetheless, as the privatization of the space race, perhaps we will see some new incarnation of corporate research, albeit with different outcomes and in a very different climate. One can only hope that amid the concerns of climate change and other difficulties that beset us, we will have creative persons of science who will open new frontiers and apply the learning in practical ways. that will transform our lives and our planet.

Four Articles and a Poem

Weekly, I share links to four articles that I found significant, accompanied by a poem. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. One article comes from the world of photography, a discipline intent upon shaping how we see. Another article takes up technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another takes up an aspect of our common life, seeing more clearly together. Another article refers to faith, seeing the unseen. Finally, the weekly post concludes with a poem, because poetry is about seeing words whose arrangement allows us to see anew.

This week, we begin by examining the budget-making process of the U.S. Federal government. Do not yawn yet; there are valuable treasures in the article. Then, under science, we see how Nobel laureates look at dollars and the literal death of the middle class. Under the faith heading, we consider the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and in photography we visit Our Lady of Guadalupe on her feast. Our poetry as well underscores this beautiful feast.
  1. 'Tis the Season. Congressional budgeting processes rarely get sufficient scrutiny from the media. Veteran house staffer John Lawrence sheds critical insights in this post to understanding how the process gets done, some of the pressures on elected officials to get it done, and some of the areas exploited by lawmakers to get what they (and their moneyed supporters) want. While an often boring subject, it is in the details that major decisions are made. Read this article for a window into this essential part of U.S. political process.
  2. When Inequality Kills. The actual impact of the previous article on the U.S. Federal Budget has repercussions and echoes throughout the U.S. economy. Nobel laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz writes in this article about the findings of the current Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Angus Deaton, and Anne Case found in a recent study: Case and Deaton's data show a decline in life expectancy and health for middle-aged white Americans, especially those with a high school education or less, attributed especially to suicide, drugs, and alcoholism.The inequality gap can be measured not just in wages, but also life expectancy. The budget process outlined in the first article has direct consequences manifested in this article. Boring numbers and decisions in Congress have life or death consequences for hundreds of millions of Americans. Unfortunately, the burden is borne disproportionately by all but the 1%.
  3. 10 Suggestions for Interrupting White Privilege. In response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, some have retorted: All lives matter. I saw a "theological" reply to the rejoinder. Jesus, in the Beatitudes, said "Blessed are the poor in spirit," but no one yelled back "Everyone is blessed." With the Beatitudes, Jesus' point, one might say, was to life up those who otherwise are disregarded. Given our sad history where Black lives have NOT mattered, we need to hold them in much more conscious regard. Thomas Bushlack, writing on the Moral Theology blog, offers some very concrete ways that a white person support this critical movement.
  4. USA "Our Lady of Guadalupe." Jay Dunn, a National Geographic award-winning photojournalist, brings us images from the celebration of today's feast in Des Plaines, IL in 2009. My first post was on this feast in 2009. It is a glorious day to accompany the Mexican people with the Patroness of the Americas.
This mid-winter feast of flor y canto, of song and flower, brings together deep aspirations for the dignity of all and the promise of God's special accompaniment of those who suffer. It is a beautiful feast. Let us conclude then with poetry that honors Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

Our Lady of Guadalupe: 1952
by Francis D. Clarke

We have learned to laugh like cannonades
When the corners of our tears rake our faces,
Because the night lurks so broadly in our day
And the trees put up their arms like deprecations.

Can you not hear us, Mary, hear our songs
Trickle down death? We plunge our prayers like swords
Deep in the lifting bosom of your mercy,
And all the world's a lonely Tepeyac
Yearning to kiss your feet.

Come, tease our winter
With your Castilian roses! Where we dance
Wrong measures, come and balance on the moon.
Because we all grow frowsy with our fears,
Wear the blue sun again in casual folds.

All men's faces turn like pitiless mirrors
To show our terror. Take the screaming stars
Back to their happy places on your mantle.

Mary, all the world's a Tepeyac
Bleak for your coming. Paint our shabby prayer,
A rougher tilma, with your saving face.

Spirit Journal, Volume 19, 1952-1953, pages 162-165.

Who teaches the practice of democracy to our youth?

Since I have returned to the U.S., I have repeatedly heard expressions of frustration, disregard, and even dismissal of American youth because they do not vote. In June, the U.S. Census declared that Millenials now outnumber Baby Boomers. While their lack of voting is troubling, frankly, I do not think that the problem is with American youth, Millenials or younger; the problem runs much deeper.

For some, the practice of democracy is little more than to inform oneself about the issues and the candidates, to vote in primaries and elections, and to contact elected representatives (via letters, letters to the editor, emails, online petitions, Facebook shares, and Twitter hashtag campaigns, or any other means that may come along). If these are the obligations, and so few achieve even these modest goals, it seems foolhardy to expect more.
11 9 07 Voter Apathy Bearman Cartoon Used with permission
Our modern political parties do not seem to help. Mostly, we receive emails generated on slivers of issues to motivate campaign donations and antipathy toward the opposing candidate. Any analysis of the modern democratic landscape likely generates only despair. Neil Postman's assessment in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business remains sadly relevant. What we remember from candidate debates are the putdowns, not the policy. What we learn is that many elections are simply exercises in mass manipulation. Candidates deliver poll and focus group-tested messaging, appealing to the democratic ideals of our founders while funded by a mechanism that is precisely anti-democratic. No wonder so many turn away in disgust.

The landscape is not entirely depressing. Current efforts around #BlackLivesMatter have powerfully engaged young people. Some electoral campaigns have engaged substantial numbers of youth. Here in Salina, KS, I was encouraged by young people that I saw at a recent NAACP event. Some young people recently met with the Salina Chief of Police, Brad Nelson, to talk about firearms in the city. There is an energy, but it has to be cultivated, formed, trained in the practices of democracy.

When I learned to play soccer, I played on teams organized by the local recreation commission. I practiced at home and played during recess at school. I had a coach, someone who taught me the rules, drilled me in how to play the game, and convoked others to play alongside me. In high school, I even spent a season coaching kindergartners. Just as playing soccer is not learned from reading a rulebook, the practice of democracy is not learned from simply reading the U.S. Constitution. It is about the virtuous cultivation of a set of practices, habits, and skills. Wanting my soccer team to win the game was not enough, we had to know how to play, by the rules, with teamwork. Likewise, a desire for social change is not enough. We need to know how democracy works, the rules of grassroots democracy, and how to work together.
(Used with permission)
Where do we learn to practice skillful and virtuous citizenship? I suppose that I learned first in my family, and, then, it was reinforced in the Boy Scouts, high school debate, high school U.S. history and government classes, and Boys State. I also learned about citizenship in my parish, learning about my values and responsibilities in service of the common good. As an adult, I learned in the context of community organizing. While some will criticize Saul Alinsky or Barack Obama, neither of whom need me to defend them, community organizing is an essential vehicle for the transmitting the practice of skillful and virtuous citizenship. It builds teams, teaches the "rules" of democracy, and provides trained coaches in organizers. Democracy is hard work, but, like soccer, it can be a lot of fun and yield a tremendous amount of satisfaction.

Let me extend my soccer analogy one step further. There is a big difference between watching a game on television or in the stands and actually playing on the field. Professional soccer is a money-making endeavor. I believe that the World Cup and FIFA are, above all, money-making enterprises. Yes, they promote goodwill and support youth soccer leagues and the like, but they are also rife with corruption. So long as people pay to watch and sponsorships roll in, FIFA is happy. Likewise, the political process in the U.S. encourages "team" loyalty and financial support and a lot of watching on television and computer screens and, occasionally, in person. That "watching," being entertained and amused, was the point of Postman's critique.

In a democracy, we all need to get off our couches and practice democracy with skill and virtue. We urgently need a renewal of our democratic life in the U.S. Our troubled times require us to find the means to successfully harness the discontent of so many, the anger heard on all sides of the political spectrum, into concrete changes in our society, but, if we are not skillful and virtuous in our practice of democracy, then we will continue to deserve and get more of the same.

Neumark's "Hidden Inheritance" is a must read

Craig Dykstra, then at the Lilly Endowment, now at Duke Divinity School, first recommended reading Neidi Neumark's Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx, and I bought it a few days later in 2008. It is one of the few books to make both the journey down to South America with me and back to the North again.

When I saw that Neumark had a new forthcoming book, Hidden Inheritance: Family Secrets, Memory, and Faith, I made arrangements to have it shipped as soon as possible. Yesterday morning, I finally pulled it from a stack of books on my dresser. It was the perfect tonic for all that besets us this day. I read it straight through, interrupted only by visits to the coffee maker, an email to the author, and my mother's inquiries as she decorated at the Christmas tree.

Neumark discloses very early in the book, so this is not a "spoiler," that unbeknownst to her, her father's family was Jewish and suffered in the Shoah (the Hebrew term for what we commonly refer to as the Holocaust). Neumark, the pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan, had imagined centuries of Lutherans in her family. Neumark was compelled to examine this aspect of her heritage and recounts the journey in her book.

One element of Breathing Space that I loved was her capacity to tell stories from her life and the lives of her parishioners. She takes the fragments of those stories and gracefully sweeps them into the Story of Salvation. She does not do so with tidy bows, but it is a beautiful thing to see. Breathing Space drew together both the prevalence of asthma in polluted inner-cities and young bodies seeking breathing space within their lungs as well as ruah (Hebrew for "spirit") and inner-city churches giving people a breathing space for the Holy Spirit. The work made its way into my prayer, my thinking, and my preaching regularly. It is one of my favorite books, alongside some heavyweights of Western Civilization. Personally, I connect that work to Pope Francis, who gives the Church breathing space, in spite of having the use of just one lung since he was a teenager.

Imagine my expectations coming to this work.

And, yet, Neumark exceeded my expectations.

As usual, Neumark takes very human stories of her family, of her parishioners, shares them honestly and in vulnerability, in all their broken pieces, and, in them, she animates anew Scriptural passages. She re-interprets the personal story in light of the Story, enriching them both. She tells of GLBT youth that her parish welcomes and serves. She brings in Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other German-speaking theologians of the period. In a central passage, she breaks open the Genesis story of Joseph (62-66). Unlike "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," the biblical Joseph cannot and should not be seen as a Hebrew success story. While not a part of Neumark's recounting, the narrative arc of Genesis was the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham of a land of milk and honey, but Genesis ends with the Israelites enslaved in Egypt. The final words: "Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. He was embalmed and laid to rest in a coffin in Egypt" (Gen 50:26). God spends the next four books (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy getting the Israelites to the Promised Land.

Neumark's insight on the Joseph narrative, and she says that she draws it from a Hebrew scholar, Avivah Zornberg, is that Joseph's brothers never heard his cries for mercy, thrown in the well. His cries go unrecorded in Scripture, because he was not heard. She connects this experience of hidden pain (hidden inheritance) to so many who have suffered abuse. This causes a form of dismemberment. In Joseph, his "brothers had not 'recognized' him at the pit, had had no compassion for him. The result is that he cannot know himself, cannot relate to his past in compassion for himself" (66). Citing Zornberg, Neumark writes, "Healing can only happen when another person hears the truth of what has occurred" (66).

 To explore her heritage and the questions before her, Neumark travels twice to Germany. She shares her questions and encounters with persons, with letters, with art, with history, with Scripture. She tells anew the horrors of the Shoah, in a very personal way as she uncovers the history of her family amid it and the church where her father had been baptized and confirmed. She ties the story of the Shoah, as well, to tendencies that remain with us today in racial profiling and police shootings of unarmed African-Americans (121). She also connects it to Christian churches: "This idolatrous 'Christianity' lives on. It sanctifies racism and militarism, bigotry and greed packaged as holy prosperity" (78). Yesterday, the press was aflame with Donald Trump's plans for Muslims. As a Catholic, it hurt to see the reference to Fr. Charles Coughlin, an American priest who espoused the worst of Anti-Semitism. Neumark recounts how, while many Americans gave their lives to liberate Europe, saving many Jews, we turned many refugees away (133), which I read at the same time as many U.S. governors reject the resettlement of Syrian refugees to the U.S. (I am grateful for Archbishop Tobin's leadership.) The boat that brought her father to the U.S. becomes a new version of Noah's "saving ark" (136).

Toward the end of the book, Neumark remarks preaching in the church where her father was baptized in Germany. Here, she offers some fitting words to all who preach:
Sadly, many people could add items to a long list of "Things Not Fit to Mention in Church." There are churches where it is not safe to talk about racism and White Supremacy, about being infected with HIV/AIDS, not safe to speak about incest and other forms of sexual violence, addictions that may be addressed by a 12-step group in the church basement but not in the sanctuary, depression, and mental illness to name a few examples. Never mentioning such real struggles in the lives of those who come to hear a word of hope is a shaming act in itself. The implicit message is that your truth is so loathsome that we can't even talk about it here. There are people who think that preaching is an outmoded form of communication, but I believe that it can still make a difference for good or evil. (187-188)
Neumark calls for a "no-holds-barred honesty in church" (188). I find her summons stirring, hopeful, life-giving. At my best, I tried to preach like that and likely failed more often than I succeeded, but I also know that it is what I seek when I attend liturgy.

Hidden Inheritance is a wonderful book. I have read a lot of good books this year, but this may well be, for me, the best, and it came at the right time.

Obstacles to Retaining the Creative Class

Some years back, I asked an urban planner of the city of South Bend for some recommendations in his chosen profession. After Jane Jacobs and her 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, he recommended reading Richard Florida, and I quickly picked up and read The Rise of the Creative Class from 2002. Now, more than a decade later, I come to his 2006 follow-up The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent.

Richard Florida, the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, researches the social, economic, and demographic factors that drive the contemporary world economy.

In The Rise of the Creative Class, Florida argues that those whom he describes as the creative class are a key driving force for economic development of post-industrial cities in the U.S. Cities like Austin, Chapel Hill, Portland (OR), San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. exemplify Florida's "three 'T's": Technology (the technological infrastructure necessary to fuel an entrepreneurial culture), Talent (a highly talented/educated/skilled population), and Tolerance (a diverse community, accepting of bohemians and homosexuals).

In The Flight of the Creative Class, Florida argues that the U.S. has become less supportive of members of the creative class. The end result is that the U.S. attracts fewer foreign graduate students, academics, and entrepreneurs, because of increased immigration restrictions due to the War on Terror, weakening our Talent, which in turn will drive down competitiveness.

Another way to put it is this: kids graduating in May from nearby Salina Central High School are not competing for jobs with kids from Salina South High School, let alone with the kids from Sacred Heart High School or St. John's Military Academy. As Tom Friedman constantly points out, the competition is global. Our youth are competing for jobs with kids from India, China, and Germany, competing with young people from Brazil, Chile, and South Africa.
Richard Florida (used by permission)
I agree with many of Florida's essential claims: a bedrock faith in the creative capacity of every human being, the importance of immigration, the detrimental effect of political polarization, his concepts for local economic development, and his prescient remarks about economic inequality. At the same time, the book already seems dated: a mention of the Palm Pilot (26), a quaint reference to a political newcomer (35, Barack Obama did not even make the index; I hunted for half an hour to find the page), and a hope that our protracted political paralysis would yield more promptly. Also, as the Great Recession occurred shortly after the book was published, I look forward to seeing how Florida will articulate his views in subsequent works.

A few great quotations:
  • In almost all of my public speaking, I've called for a moratorium on such government megaprojects [stadium-building and large-scale downtown revitalization]. Like Jane Jacobs, I argue that real economic development is people-oriented, organic, and community-based. (49)
  • This much is clear: Immigration is the lifeblood of the creative economy. (86) [There is a beautiful anecdote about immigrants contributing to local Midwest economies on 70-71.]
  • [Quoting Charles Darwin] It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. (133)

One might describe Florida's early work as Jane Jacobs meets Peter Drucker, as both have ample citations in his work. In fact, Florida writes that his concept of the creative class was constructed in contrast to Drucker's categories like knowledge worker (35). Flight introduces Jacobs and Drucker to Tom Friedman's notions of globalization, although he is cited only once. Obviously, this oversimplifies Florida's contributions. While this may not be the best place to begin, anyone concerned about their city's development, especially elected officials, should be familiar with Richard Florida's important work.

Four Articles and a Poem

Every week, I share links to four articles that I found significant, accompanied by a poem. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. One article comes from the world of photography, a discipline intent upon shaping how we see. Another article takes up technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another takes up an aspect of our common life, seeing more clearly together. Another article refers to faith, seeing the unseen. Finally, the weekly post concludes with a poem, because poetry is about seeing words whose arrangement allows us to see anew.

This week, we will look at what role faith may play in reducing gun violence. We will examine the science around soil loss and the politics of climate change in Paris. We will look at a photographer who documents gun violence in life-giving ways. Finally, we will hear from Rudyard Kipling as he mourns his son.
  1. Can Faith-Based Organizing for Gun Control Work? With the San Bernardino tragedy this week, on top of so many, and the #thoughtsandprayers meme (politicians offer thoughts and prayers and nothing more after these shootings), I saw Sarah Posner's article. Posner, an investigative journalist, author, and expert on the intersection of religion and politics, articulates a way that one might organize he faith-based community around firearms and violence.
  2. Global soil loss a rising threat to food production - scientists. Chris Arsenault of Thomson Reuters provides a summary of the problem that Wes Jackson and The Land Institute here in Salina have been working on for more than 40 years.
  3. COP21 Paris climate talks: a beginner’s guide. Another unfortunate impact of the San Bernardino shooting is that it deflects any attention that would otherwise be paid to the Paris Climate Talks. In fact, most of the coverage regarding President Obama's visit to Paris was in light of ISIS and gun violence. The Financial Times' Pilita Clark offers a helpful introduction to this important meeting.
  4. Shot. In 2013, Kathy Shorr began shooting (pardon the irony of the word) portraits of subjects who have been shot by guns — the victims and survivors of gun violence from around the United States. The ongoing project is titled “SHOT” and now contains over 50 portraits. Here is another description of her project.
This week, we will conclude, given such sad news, with a mournful poem from Rudyard Kipling. Kipling's son, John (or Jack), died in World War I. This poem was written in his loss.

"My Boy Jack"
by Rudyard Kipling

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

A Wartime Murder Mystery: Pérez-Reverte's The Siege

To be honest, I read little fiction. What I do read and like, I am inclined to repeat. John Grisham novels were once regular companions on a flight out or a flight home, the perfect length to tide me through the journey. As a seminarian, Fr. Brent Kruger, C.S.C. introduced me to Spaniard Arturo Pérez-Reverte's The Seville Communion. It was great, followed by The Nautical Chart, the Captain Alatriste series, The Fencing Master, The Flanders Panel, and other works. With excursions to Spain (like the Camino de Santiago), I have enjoyed learning more of that land and its history.

A visit to the Salina Public Library occasioned an encounter with The Siege, published in Spanish as El Asedio in 2010, and translated into English in 2014. Set in the siege of Cádiz (1810-1812), the Spaniards encountered war with Napoleonic France as well as troubles with the independence movements in the American Colonies. The book was an occasion to deepen what I learned a few years back: how from Mexico to Chile, Spain faced unrest from simultaneous independence movements, as I saw that independence was occasioned by the turbulence within Spain itself.

The Siege recounts a series of brutal murders synchronized with military events. Pérez-Reverte takes us across Cádiz from the homes of the wealthy to the darkest alleys of that port city. In an epic 598 pages with detailed descriptions of Cádiz's neighborhoods, Pérez-Reverte acquaints us with Spaniard and French, alongside a few English officials, the loved and the loathed. Like Captain Alatriste and other characters in Pérez-Reverte novels, police investigator Rogelio Tizón is a hardened figure. As the tale unfurls, characters, for whom we have grown in affection, are borne toward tragedy. I found myself crossing off the name of one suspect after another, while abiding the fear of an unfortunate end for beloved characters. In the end, Pérez-Reverte draws it all together in a fine way.

The Siege is a fine book, but, if you are unfamiliar with Pérez-Reverte, I would start with something from the Alatriste series. Perhaps you will be hooked on his writing, as I have been.
Arturo Pérez-Reverte (Wikimedia)
Pérez-Reverte, an international war correspondent for 21 years, attends to many details of history, attire and warfare, on land and at sea. The award-winning translator, Frank Wynne, notes his need to consult not only dictionaries but also experts to martial the appropriate terms for Pérez-Reverte's technical prose.