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.

Four articles and a Poem

Weekly, I post four articles that I found significant and a poem accompanied by some comments about what we can learn from them. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. Each week, one article comes from the world of photography, a discipline that is about seeing. Another article comes from the world of technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another article takes up an aspect of our life together, seeing more clearly the other. 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.

One of the regular criticisms in Pope Francis' challenge to the world is of what he calls a "throwaway culture." Today, I'd like to ask us to take another look at those who are so easily thrown away and how we might challenge that.
  1. Halawa Correctional Facility Makahiki Ceremony 2015. Kai Markell photographed the inmates at the Halawa Correctional Facility who participated in Makahiki on Tuesday. The Makahiki season is the ancient Hawaiian New Year festival, in honor of the god Lono of the Hawaiian religion. The Makahiki is something they are passionate about and do annually. When I looked at the photos, I did not see "prison." I saw these men in a new light.
  2. Anne Frank and her family were also denied entry as refugees to the U.S. Amid fears of terrorism, our nation seeks to turn its back to the vulnerable of Syria. I am grateful that the media seek to tell the story in surprising ways that may turn our hearts anew. One of those books with enduring impact has been The Diary of Anne Frank. Her life might have been very different had the U.S. and others not turned away. Elahe Izadi tells us how in this article from The Washington Post.
  3. "How Can I Not Denounce the Injustices You Suffer?" – In Nairobi Slum, Pope Defends the "Neighbors." While Pope Francis visits Africa, Rocco Palmo assesses the hallmarks of papal visits. Francis especially prioritizes "Matthew 25" moments, the corporal works of mercy, in his sojourns abroad. His message of solidarity and his answer to "who is my neighbor?" is important in a world of slowly closing circles of care and concern. Pope Francis broadens the circle, widens those who are of concern to us.
  4. My Giving Story: Melinda Gates.Duke Forward gives us this reflective piece on Melinda Gates. A telling line from the early portion of the article: "The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which operates on one simple belief: All lives have equal value." While some have criticized this generation's iteration of philanthropy, those with firsthand experience of the foundation and, especially, Melinda Gates have spoken glowingly. No doubt, living the ideal that all lives have equal value undercuts the disposable nature of our modern society.
Finally, let us look at some short verse from Wendell Berry. A Kentucky farmer who hates to see anything thrown away, he gives us a revolutionary way of looking at life. This work, while brief, brings a good conclusion to today's meanderings. May we rest in the grace of the world.

"The Peace of Wild Things"
By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Four Articles and a Poem

Weekly, I post four articles that I found significant and a poem accompanied by some comments about what we can learn from them. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. Each week, one article comes from the world of photography, a discipline that is about seeing. Another article comes from the world of technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another article takes up an aspect of our life together, seeing more clearly the other. 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.

Thank you for reading this post. Today, we will take up the issue of languages and, more specifically, the death of languages. Next, we will take a look at the aftermath of the attack in Paris and some suggestions on how not to overreact to the terrorist threat. Then, we will see through Twitter and an experience of conversion. In the world of photography, I share with you the feed for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, that we might see the face of those who so many wish to ignore. In poetry, we turn to William Blake.
  1. Media (R)evolutions: The internet and the death of languages. For many years, I have had interest in the fate of the world's languages. Languages convey structures of thought that are shaped by the language. I believe that speaking a second language allows one to access different ways of thinking. Each language offers unique elements, and the world is impoverished when a language disappears. We are impoverished, as well, by a growing sense of sameness, the way that a street with box stores and chain restaurants could be anywhere in the U.S. and, just as easily, anywhere in the world. On the World Bank's blog, Roxanne Bauer, a consultant to the World Bank's External and Corporate Relations, Operational Communications department (ECROC), writes about a diminishing use of languages not widely found on the internet. Note: when the young no longer learn their parents' language, the language is not imperiled or endangered; the language is virtually extinct if the young do not learn it.
  2. How not to overreact to ISIS. Jeremy Shapiro of Brookings offers three suggestions to frame an apropriate response to terrorism. An older piece from Yuval Noah Harari offers more depth: "The Theatre of Terror." Sadly, I am disappointed by the replies of many presidential candidates.
  3. How a prized daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church came to question its beliefs. Three years ago, a member of the Phelps family deserted the Westboro Baptist Church with her sister. The New Yorker published a lengthy piece on how and why she left. The article mixes social media with quotations, rendering a living portrait of this young woman and her relationship with her family, their church, and the hate that the church advocates.
  4. Photo gallery from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the U.N. Refugee Agency. It is important to see the faces of those to whom so many cowardly elected officials and candidates wish to close the door. A number of commentators and web memes have pointed out the incongruity between turning out backs on the refugees and our national ideals as well as the tenets of those who profess the Christian faith. Stephen Colbert offered a brilliant conclusion here regarding the Christian faith, and former U.S. Marine Phil Klay offered a strong rebuttal regarding our national identity on twitter gathered here.
Now, in poetry, William Blake, a leading figure in the Romantic Period, was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. The poem "A Poison Tree" is rather direct and moralizing, although we could do well, given our national political discourse, to think about the seeds we sow. I pray that we find a better way ahead.

"A Poison Tree"
by William Blake

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Mons. Jack Egan and Chicago

This fine book, An Alley in Chicago: The Life and Legacy of Monsignor John Egan, tells an important story of the Church in Chicago before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council through the life and experience of one of the city's more notable inhabitants, Jack Egan. (An earlier, 1991 edition is available for free here.)

Simply put, I loved this bittersweet book. Jack Egan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, led a life that is difficult to summarize: priest, pastor, community organizer, and activist are but a few words. A teacher once told me, "To tell me who you are, tell me who your friends are." This book, populated by Egan's many friends, tells us a lot about who he was. Many of the names were known to me, certain names were people whom I had met, and a select number of them are people that I have known well, and a few are still with us. The story is bittersweet for three reasons: first, for those recalled in the book who have gone on to their eternal reward; second, for the beauty of a church that in many ways no longer exists; and third, most personally, for the beauty of the life of this admirable priest and the challenges of imitating his life today.

An Alley in Chicago rubs elbows with many of "the greats" from that period around the Council. A Catholic historian seeking to write a dissertation on laity in the American Church in the Conciliar era would find many worthy leads in this book starting with Pat and Patty Crowley. Egan was in the vanguard, at the forefront, always. He was among the first Catholics to march at Selma, and his witness signaled support to many that followed. Egan worked with Saul Alinsky during legendary days in Chicago. Many who I have read and admired make appearances: Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, and labor priests like Monsignor George Higgins.

In the index, I counted 23 people that I have met personally, several of whom I have known a bit more closely, especially those from Egan's days at Notre Dame. Naturally, the names of Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., Jim Burtchaell, C.S.C., Louis Putz, C.S.C., and his recollection of days at Moreau Seminary stir deep feelings in me, as well as Fr. Richard McBrien and Jim and Evelyn Whitehead. The book also recalls Fr. Joe Fichter, S.J., who resided with us at Moreau during my senior year. We had some lovely conversations, and, at the time, I had only faint notions of his extraordinary role in working for racial justice. 

Personally, as my notion of priesthood evolved, I yearned to be a priest in the mold of Egan and the labor priests. I feel so keenly that this witness is essential to the Church today. I also feel that some of Egan's method and priorities are reflected in Pope Francis. Part of what stirs me in Pope Francis' example are the same things that stir me in Egan's witness. Sadly, for a whole host of reasons, I came to know that I could not continue in this path. I do pray that others will take up their mantle, but I believe that there are structural challenges that impede the emergence of this next generation of priest like Egan, especially in the declining number of priests relative the burgeoning number of laity. Amid the demands for sacramental care, a priest free to act as Egan did is rare. Secondly, we remain too cautious in spite of Pope Francis' vision:
I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. (Evangelii Gaudium, 49)
I pray that we may incarnate this vision of the Church.

Egan was a fine priest. His story is an important one within American Catholicism. May his example inspire American Catholics to build the church that his preaching and witness hailed.

The Bully Pulpit: A Jolly Good Book!

Doris Kearns Goodwin writes big books. I have an intimidating pair of them. Her 2005 book about Lincoln, Team of Rivals, stretches 917 pages, 121 of those pages are notes. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, a "brief" 892 pages, has but 96 pages of notes. I worked my way through The Bully Pulpit first. Intending to sound like one of the work's principal subjects, Theodore Roosevelt, it was "a jolly good read!"
In The Bully Pulpit, Kearns Goodwin paints vivid, attractive portrayals of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft through their lives as young men, colleagues and friends, president and cabinet-member, fierce adversaries, and reconciled old friends. Alongside these principal characters, we meet their wives, their families, and the journalists who covered them.

We meet Archibald Butt, who loved and served both presidents as a military aide and confidant. Kearns Goodwin tells of his death in a manner that thoroughly surprised me, even though I studied the historical event which captivated me as a child.

We encounter Jacob Riis, whose life deserves greater recognition. (I recommend heartily this book.) Kearns Goodwin makes S.S. McClure come alive in full dimension. We encounter Ida Tarbell, Ray Baker, Lincoln Stephens, Upton Sinclair, and Kansas' William Allen White.
Doris Kearns Goodwin (Credit: LBJ Foundation)
The Bully Pulpit, while intimidating in size, is elegantly written. Perhaps the book incarnates the Roosevelt adage: "Speak softly, but carry a big stick." The stories, well-told, are magnificent. Take your time; this book is worth it.

Four Articles and a Poem

Weekly, I post four articles that I found significant and a poem accompanied by some comments about what we can learn from them. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. Each week, one article comes from the world of photography, a discipline that is about seeing. Another article comes from the world of technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another article takes up an aspect of our life together, seeing more clearly the other. 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.

Amid the grief of terror striking Paris yesterday, France will weigh invoking Article 5 of the NATO. I invite us to pray for the victims, but also to envision a new way forward. We will look at the place of restorative justice in the community, some research about incorporating migrants into society, religious perspectives toward religious violence and extremism, and how cinema (and the stories it tells) can shape opinions.
  1. The fallout from crime affects more than just victims. As discussion of sentencing reform, especially around non-violent offenses, enters the presidential primaries as a major topic, this article about a conference at the Catholic University of America is powerful.  When crime happens, relationships within a community are broken, trust decays. Healing, in the midst of crime, demands restoration of relationship. As people of faith we have unique resources to bring to this conversation. This article tells some touching, powerful stories, and be sure to visit the conference website as it has some links to slides about the theological basis for restorative justice as well as on how we might reform incarceration.
  2. Migration: A Global Issue in Need of a Global Solution. While some will blame the Paris violence of refugees, we need to remember that the refugees are fleeing the very perpetrators of this violence.Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, offers clear principles for attending to migration.
  3. Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence. Again and again, it bears repeating to debunk the myth that religion inspires violence. In a recent lecture at the Brookings Institute, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks shares from a recent book that he authored and examines the recent phenomenon of violent extremism by exploring the origins of violence and its relationship to religion. Rabbi Sacks challenges the assertion that religion is an intrinsic source of violence and describes how theology can curb religious violence and extremism. 
  4. 8 movies that changed the world. Stéphanie Thomson of the World Economic Forum writes about eight movies that have shifted opinion on important social issues.To be honest, I have only seen (and even heard of) a few of the films. I might have included others that seem to have had greater impact, in my opinion, but the stories we tell, in photographs, or in movies, shape us powerfully. It is good to be aware of and thoughtful how we are shaped by the stories we tell.
For poetry, we turn to a classic from the First World War, as we recently observed Veteran's Day and today remember so many newly dead in France. Wilfred Owen was an English soldier and poet, killed in action in France in 1918. Most of his poetry was published posthumously. 

"Dulce et Decorum Est"
by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

"Trust, but verify"

We've heard elected officials and candidates speak routinely of "trust, but verify." The adage, invoked by many, including Ronald Reagan, recommends that while a source of information might be considered reliable, one should perform additional research to verify that such information is accurate, or trustworthy.

Amid concerns about the impact of big money in political campaigns, at the heart of democracy is a trust in the veracity of elections. We need to trust that the published outcomes are legitimate, accurate, and fair. We also know that democracy will not survive if the electorate is not vigilant.
Dr. Beth Clarkson
Hence, Dr. Beth Clarkson raises some troubling issues. I should preface by noting that Dr. Clarkson is a statistician, a professional mathematician. She is Chief Statistician at the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR); Senior Research Engineer and Chief Statistician for the National Center for Advanced Materials Performance (NCAMP); and Co-Chair of the Statistics Working Group and founding board member of the Composite Materials Handbook (CMH-17). Also, now an independent, Dr. Clarkson has been a registered Republican, until the 2013 government shutdown. Dr. Clarkson tells her story of the numbers not in a partisan outlet but via the United Kingdom's Royal Statistical Society in an article entitled: How trustworthy are electronic voting systems in the US? 

Yesterday, Dr. Clarkson shared her findings and concerns with a little over 100 people in Salina at Kansas State Polytechnic (link to Salina Journal article covering the event). She began with the chart below, a chart which repeats itself in numerous elections.
I am not a statistician. I am not great at helping numbers tell a story, but Dr. Clarkson is very curious about the story behind the numbers in the graph. The green line is what is expected. The green line shows manual inspection of paper ballots. The gradual trend-lines upwards in the other colors are befuddling. There is no ready explanation in mathematics or statistics for why they should differ from the green line.

Dr. Clarkson said, "I feel like a crazy nerd who can't let this go."
The problem is this: the upward tick of those lines suggests election fraud. It suggests that machine counting in larger precincts provides outcomes that favor certain candidates. Dr. Clarkson has found that these upward ticks occur in Red states as well as Blue. Perhaps it is machine error. Perhaps it is something more nefarious. She is clear: the data suggests that there may be election fraud happening in voting machines, but only an audit of those machines can prove it and restore trust in the fairness of elections.

So, Dr. Clarkson has tried to get the data to audit. Barriers have been thrown up. She has had to sue to seek access to the data. Her website,, tells the story of her work. The numbers tell an alarming story, and the election data, for the good of democracy and public trust, needs to be made available to the public for analysis.

I would summarize her main recommendations in the following way:
  1. Voting machine results must be audited. Apparently, Kansas has never cracked open the box to examine if the digital results correspond to the paper recording of the votes within one particular type of machine.
  2. All voting machines must provide a record for recounts. Ideally, the scanning machines that read a paper ballot are preferred. Thus, an audit or a recount is possible.
  3. The voting machines must use open source software. Currently, all the machines use proprietary software that independent persons cannot evaluate.
Thank goodness that Dr. Clarkson "can't let this go." She does a great service on behalf of citizens in raising these questions. This is not partisan. This is about the trustworthiness of democracy in the United States. Hopefully, it is a question that that will stir the hearts of voters such that elected officials must take the necessary steps to assure us that our elections results are transparent, trustworthy, and fair.

Dr. Clarkson receives no remuneration for her work. She does this work in her "free time." Out of her own pocket, she has funded her legal challenge to get access to the data. If the legal challenge is successful, she will be charged to examine the data. All of this incurs expense. Dr. Clarkson has a Go Fund Me campaign, and I highly recommend donating to her efforts.

Four Articles and a Poem

Weekly, I post four articles that I found significant and a poem accompanied by some comments about what we can learn from them. Our lives are enriched by seeing better. Each week, one article comes from the world of photography, a discipline that is about seeing. Another article comes from the world of technology, hence seeing something of the future. Another article takes up an aspect of our life together, seeing more clearly the other. 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.

Thank you, again, for reading this post. I am grateful to those readers who find my weekly reading suggestions interesting or even helpful. I also appreciate your feedback. If you want to include a comment below about the article that most strikes you or how it touches you, I would find that helpful.

This week, we look to the new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S., Michael Curry, we recall the scholarship of the late René Girard, we examine parental leave, and we take a look at Lima, Peru through a novel photography project. Finally, we savor the poetry of theologian Gerald Schlabach.
  1. Video: Curry’s sermon at installation of the 27th Presiding Bishop. On All Saints’ Day, Bishop Michael B. Curry was installed as the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church at the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul (the National Cathedral) in Washington, D.C. Bishop Curry's homily is considerably longer than a Catholic homily, clocking in at over 37 minutes, but watch the video and read the text. He is a great preacher. I particularly enjoyed his twist on the Good Samaritan: "But imagine the same parable with slightly different characters. A Christian was walking the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and she fell among thieves. Another Christian came by, but passed on by. Another did the same. And still another follower of Jesus passed on by. A brother or sister who is Muslim came by and stopped and saw her in need and helped her. Imagine. Who is the neighbor? It could be a young black or Hispanic youth who is hurt, and a police officer who helps. Or the police officer hurting and the youth who helps. Imagine. Do you see where Jesus is going? He’s talking about turning this world upside down." In the third section he also suggests a form of evangelization that echoes Pope Francis.
  2. History is a test. Mankind is failing it. This week, on Wednesday, we lost a great scholar, René Girard. A member of the prestigious Académie Française, Girard was called "the new Darwin of the human sciences." His many works provide a wealth of material for discussion in many fields, offering a bold, sweeping vision of human nature, human history and human destiny. He died Nov. 4 at 91. Girard's concept of "mimetic desire" has been particularly important and insightful in my eyes.
  3. Pope Urges Maternity Leave and Job Security for Women. Pope Francis recently urged nations to provide maternity leave for women. I am dumbfounded that the U.S. is the only OECD country without a right to maternity leave. Often enough, we can hear politicians talk about being pro-family, and this is a simple litmus test. In fact, it is really just a test of consistency. When the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, insists: “I cannot and I will not give up my family time,” I applaud him for his commitment to his family and beg the same for other families in this country. Elizabeth Bruenig connects the dots in her article: "What Paul Ryan Could Learn From Pope Francis About Family Leave." Sorry to give you a three-for-the-price-of-one, but each one adds onto the other.
  4. Lima's Life Stories, Through Photo-Portraits. Shannon Sims writes in Ozyof an intriguing photography project in Lima, Peru. Peruvian photographers, Jaime Travezan and Morgana Vargas Llosa (daughter of the Peruvian Nobel Laureate in Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa), and an art director, David Tortor, collaborated to create "Mírame, Lima" (Look at me, Lima). 
For our poem this week, I'd like to direct you to the website of Gerald Schlabach, a professor in the Department of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Schlabach published on his website a poem entitled "Sed contra (a poem)." The title, derived from St. Thomas Aquinas' formula of argumentation, is ordinarily rendered as "On the contrary." As per the title, the poem speaks to the challenge of discerning the truth in love today. I believe that it articulates the aspirations of the recent Synod as much as it articulates the perspective of its author.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

Why Nations Fail: A Theory to Explain World Inequality

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.

Somewhere in the back of my head, I recalled seeing Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in footnotes or the content of some book. After concluding Why Nations Fail, I embarked on a fruitless search to find the reference. I thought maybe Moises Naím included it in The End of Power. Or Hank Paulson, given the lengthy examination of China by Acemoglu and Robinson, might have referred to it in Dealing with China. Finding no reference to it, I even turned to Steven Plinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, but such a discovery would have been anachronistic as Plinker wrote before Acemoglu and Robinson. While I cannot recall where I first heard reference to this book, I was pleased to embark on this book when Zuckerberg announced its selection.

I delighted in the breadth of the work. Acemoglu and Robinson assess contemporary political and economic institutions as well as reaching back to the archaeological record of the Natufian people and everything in between. They draw examples from every inhabited continent and from different eras. The authors use the breadth of their examples to underscore the utility across time and geography of their theory. Throughout the past couple of centuries, many have theorized about the rise and fall of nations. In high school, Mr. Charles Budke, an inductee into the Kansas Teachers' Hall of Fame, would often challenge us to understand the reasons for the fall of Rome and what they might indicate for us today. In a similar way, Acemoglu and Robinson avail themselves of the sweep of history, including Roman history, to debunk certain conclusions and propose a new theory.
Daron Acemoglu
The authors reject theories that claim nations are poor for reasons of geography, culture, or ignorance. Against the first and second, citing the differences between Nogales in Arizona and in Sonora, Mexico, the differences between North Korea and South Korea, where one sees marked economic and political difference amid similar geographies and cultures. Citing the historical record, they argue that ignorance does not explain the failure of impoverished nations to improve their status. The book seeks to understand the causes of the differences between apparently similar contexts.
James A. Robinson
Acemoglu, an economist at MIT, and Robinson, an economist and political scientist transitioning from Harvard to the University of Chicago, build a theory for world inequality based upon the interplay of political and economic institutions. Their basic thesis is that inclusive political institutions tend to create and strengthen inclusive economic institutions and, at the same time, inclusive economic institutions tend to build inclusive political institutions, a "virtuous circle." In contrast, extractive political institutions tend to create and strengthen extractive economic institutions and, at the same time, extractive economic institutions tend to create and strengthen extractive political institutions, a "vicious circle." Their argument provides a better description for the behavior of nations, especially those that fail, than the arguments for geography, culture, or ignorance.

When I read, I like to underline and write notes in the margin. Key points and graceful turns-of-phrase, both in abundance int his book, meant a lot of underlining. There is a lot that I like about this book, but I am nagged by a margin note that I made: "a Whiggish interpretation of history." Historians criticize those works that demonstrate an inevitable march toward progress as a "Whig interpretation of history." Acemoglu and Robinson go to great lengths to assure us that there is nothing inevitable about "critical junctures" in history, all is contingent, and it feels like they are trying to avoid the "Whig argument." Nonetheless, another criteria that I find helpful for sniffing out a "Whig interpretation" is the search for historical "goodies" and "baddies." England's Glorious Revolution is lifted up as inclusive, economically and politically, but England through the Colonial period could only be seen as "extractive" in its relationships with the American colonies, with Africa, and with India. The U.S. is lifted up, while Mexico is criticized, but Mexico liberated slavery at its inception (inclusive politics), while the U.S. fights a Civil War to en end slavery (1865), replaced by segregation and Jim Crow, and, now, mass incarceration. The theory proposed by Acemoglu and Robinson seems simplified between inclusive and extractive, when institutions have contradictory impulses toward each.

My reading of Why Nations Fail was interrupted briefly by the visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. (which I earnestly watched on television) and the Land Institute's annual Prairie Festival. Pope Francis, in his address to Congress, pointed toward what Acemoglu and Robinson would characterize as inclusive institutions:

If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

At the Land Institute, they address issues of how, since the Anthropocene epoch and human farming, humanity has dedicated itself to an extractive relationship with the earth. The growing devastation from climate change and the Sixth Extinction urge us to find more inclusive institutions and processes, broadly understood. Both the Land Institute and Pope Francis urge us to care for our common home, a boldly inclusive view.

Why Nations Fail is a good, readable book. I recommend it. It advances an argument that, while I remain unconvinced based on their evidence, I want to succeed. In the end, I find the argument of Why Nations Fail to be an assertion of hope as well as warning. In the U.S. today, we have growing evidence of political exclusion (e.g., declining rates of voter participation) and economic exclusion (growing economic inequality). Our relationship with the Earth is much more extractive than inclusive. The contrast in language between extractive and inclusive provide some guidance. I earnestly hope that Acemoglu and Robinson are correct and that their vision persuades some to tack for a different course. The alternative is to see more economies and states crash against the rocks, as well as to see our home, Earth, further degraded.