A Little Farther Down the Path: Broken Words—The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics

As you know, if you read this blog at all regularly, for my Lenten discipline this year, I selected fourteen titles from my “New Books” shelf and will devote a separate blog post—two per week across the seven weeks of Lent—to each of them. This post is number ten in the series.

In choosing these fourteen titles, I left twice that many on that same “New Books” shelf (yes, I buy books much faster than I read them), but I have derived such benefit from this exercise that I may continue the practice, at the rate of one book/post per week, even after Lent is over. I’m thinking of calling that weekly post “Library Friday.” I’ll of course let you know if I decide to undertake a schedule like that, and if I do, I’ll publish, in advance, a list of the titles I plan to read and write about over the next few months. Continue reading

Advertisements

A Little Farther Down the Path: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

I graduated from high school in 1967. I took a course in American History in both the eighth and eleventh grades, and both teachers were good at their jobs. But neither my teachers nor my textbooks exposed me to the information and the point of view presented by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz in her 2014 book, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

I am no historian, but three observations seem indisputable. First, much of world history is the story of conflict—often between nations, races, or ethnic identities, but sometimes within the same people group. Second, the primary cause for conflict is economic and/or material, as when one group lays claim to some entity already claimed by another group (generally land and the wealth that comes with it), and conflict ensues. Third, the historical narrative describing the conflict, its causes and its outcome, is generally written by the winner. That was definitely true of the history textbooks I studied in school. Continue reading

A Little Farther Down the Path: The Warmth of Other Suns

I might never have known about Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns, had it not been recommended by a Facebook friend who, upon reading one of my posts, thought I might appreciate this book. She was right. Thanks, Mary.

The book’s subhead summarizes its subject: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. At least two or three events in US American history have either claimed or been tagged with that designation. The one Wilkerson writes about is probably the least well known and by far the largest. Her book chronicles, after a fashion, the period between 1915 and 1970 when six million African Americans left the Deep South and resettled in the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, and the Far West in search of greater opportunity and freedom from discrimination, injustice, and even physical cruelty. Continue reading

A Little Farther Down the Path: The Road to Character

When I recently reviewed my book purchases from Amazon for the past few years, I was surprised to note how many of the titles I had ordered after I watched Charlie Rose’s interview with the author on his PBS talk show. I also observed that, while an interview with the author could prompt me to purchase a book, as a motivation to actually read the book, it was decidedly less effective. That was a major reason, then, for undertaking this series of fourteen special posts during Lent, each one referencing a different title from my “new books” shelf.

When I selected the fourteen titles for this series, I had not yet read more than half of them, but I had purchased them because I felt fairly certain they would help me move, to quote E.M. Forster once again, “a little farther down the path” in the direction my life has taken over the past few years. After I published the list on Facebook and here on my blog, I had second thoughts about one or two of the titles. Not about whether they would be worth the expenditure of time to read, but about whether they would illustrate forcefully enough the principle of moving me a little farther down the path. Continue reading

A Little Farther Down the Path: Between the World and Me

I first learned of Ta-Nehisi Coates through his writing in The Atlantic magazine. His article titled “The Case for Reparations” in the June 2014 issue is one of the finest examples of long-form journalism I have ever read. The article’s subhead effectively summarizes his point: Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, New York City, 2012

By the time I read that article, a similar thesis had been percolating in my brain forseveral years. My thinking did not address the question of reparations, and I don’t think Coates really believes that will ever really materialize. His larger point, I believe, was that, while some kind of monetary reparation would be fair and helpful, if a strong majority of white Americans would simply come to believe in the justice of the idea, that would go a long way toward healing the gaping wounds left by the historical realities summarized in his article’s subhead. Continue reading

A Little Farther Down the Path: The Very Good Gospel

For most of my life I gladly identified with the subset of Christianity known as evangelicalism. That was the community in which I had come to faith in Christ, the context where I sensed a call to vocational ministry and began the years-long program of study by which I hoped to prepare myself to fulfill that call.

I liked the word evangelical. Basically it was the English transliteration of a Greek word, euangelion, which essentially meant “good news.” That Greek word is generally translated “gospel” in most English versions of the New Testament, and the word evangelical seemed to say that the people who claimed that designation must surely have a clear and comprehensive understanding of the Gospel. Continue reading

A Little Farther Down the Path: Convictions

Perhaps nothing illustrates the way my thinking has changed over the past decade better than the evolution in my appreciation for Marcus Borg.

Like many students of conservative, evangelical theology—the tradition in which I grew up—I first learned of Marcus Borg in his role as one of the most prominent figures involved in something called The Jesus Seminar back in the 1980s and ’90s. That endeavor comprised 150 academics and laypersons who met occasionally to debate the authenticity of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. The group’s methodology for registering their individual opinions—i.e. depositing colored marbles in a box, each different color representing greater or lesser likelihood of authenticity—provided ample material for jokes and put-downs in the conservative circles where I moved at the time. Continue reading