Why I Remember Dr. King

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King at the Civil Rights March — Washington, DC, By Rowland Scherman – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

I am spending half of my day today remembering the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I suspect that there will be some who read this who will wonder why I would do this, particularly if it is a holiday and I can do anything I want.

To be honest, part of the reason is that I sing in a community choir has been invited to sing in both citywide and local celebrations–I’m spending a good part of the morning singing. Our director is an African-American man, a gifted musician steeped in the tradition of the music of the Black church, much of which became the music sung during the Civil Rights movement. The music is different from that of my church upbringing. It teaches me to exuberantly praise, to cry out in lament, to endure for the long haul, to hope and aspire.

As a white man, I will never fully understand what it is to be black. Days like this are part of a process of understanding more. The songs, as they sink into my being, put me in touch with the long struggle of a people and invite me to join in that struggle. The speakers invite me into a different set of stories from those I ordinarily hear. I admit that there is much more to understanding what it is to be black than joining in a one day celebration. It is one of many steps. I always learn something.

The day honors the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was this rare combination of Christian who was a prophet, a peacemaker, and a martyr.

  • Prophets not only foretell, they “forth tell.” They call people forth to God’s highest ideals and expose when we are less than that. King said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Injustice at the lunch counter, on the bus, or at the voting booth threatened our whole fabric of justice, our aspirations as a nation for “liberty and justice for all.”
  • He was a peacemaker. He said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” He taught church people to put these principles into practice with non-violent resistance. For the same reason, he opposed the Vietnam war.
  • He was a martyr, not merely for the sake of his own people. He understood the tremendous soul-burden racism placed upon whites as well as blacks. He said, “If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.”

His life and death are worth remembering for these and many other things. It always does me well to remember the noblest words and deeds of others, rather than the tawdry words and deeds that are so much a part of our news.

I can imagine someone at this point interjecting with the imperfections of King’s life. I’ve read the biographies and know them well. I won’t offer any justifications. But it seems that we only call up these things against those we don’t like, and overlook them in those we favor. Worse, we overlook them in ourselves. King admitted “the evil in the best of us.” Do we? Perhaps it is not a bad thing to engage in some self-examination on a day like this. What is the log in my own eye that needs removing?

I use this day to remind myself of the reason Dr. King is known to us, the log in our national eye, as it were. Our sins around how we displaced one people and forcibly enslaved another, and after Emancipation, have persisted for another 150 years in finding ways to oppress our Black fellow citizens have been called “America’s original sin.” Even a bloody Civil War failed to bring us to lasting repentance. Abraham Lincoln seemed to understand better than most how this war was a judgment of God upon the nation:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether (From Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address).

I tremble as I think of God’s judgment that we failed to heed the scourge of the Civil War and have perpetuated for another 150 years in different ways the oppression of slavery, and often nurtured racial hatred in our hearts. The lament songs that ask “how long” speak powerfully to me, calling me to persist in prayer for repentance from our national sin, and the healing of our racial divisions.

But I cannot stop there. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of hope. On the night before he died he said,

I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.

If a man like King, who had faced so much opposition and evil and hate could continue to hope, why shouldn’t I? To gather with others across racial boundaries on this day is to remind ourselves of that hope, the “Dream,” and to strengthen our resolve to persist in that hope. It cannot be just another “kumbayah” moment, quickly forgotten. It means continuing to stand together to seek justice in our communities, in our prison systems, and in loving resistance against structures that try to perpetuate white supremacy in a country formed around the “unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” of all of our people.

All this is why I remember Dr. King today.

 

Bob on Books in 2020

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Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The year of 2019 was a banner year for Bob on Books, both the blog site and the Facebook page. Early in 2019, the blog topped an all-time total of a half million views. At the end of the year, the total was over 650,000 with over 162,000 views from nearly 113,000 viewers. We posted over 180 reviews of books, including a number of science-faith reviews from guest reviewer Paul Bruggink. On the Facebook page, we started the year with around 2,000 people who “liked” the page. By the end of the year, we had topped 5,500.

Numbers are only part of the story. Early on, I wrote on my “about” page:

While I am a person of faith as a follower of Christ, I hope the blog will be a meeting place for anyone who cares about good literature, who loves books and reading, and wants to talk about ideas that matter. We live in an amazingly diverse mosaic of peoples and ideas which can either be the source of endless conflict or the opportunity for rich engagement with one another across our differences in pursuing together goodness, truth, and beauty in our world. My hope is that this blog will contribute to the latter.

I am encouraged that by and large, both on the blog and the Facebook page, we have cultivated a meeting place that is a pretty good approximation of this description. It feels to me that this is a volatile time, especially around matters that have been part of our political debates and that volatility has occasionally flared up, especially over on Facebook–a medium that is most prone to this. A simple post of the text of Greta Thunberg’s United Nations speech (reading material!) brought out some of the most vicious comments I’ve seen.

Most of the time, we’ve just enjoyed discussing the books we are reading and the quirkiness of those of us who are bibliophiles. My awareness of the diversity of genres people are reading has grown, and I’ve picked up some great ideas of mysteries and science fiction to read from others. While I post a number of reviews of Christian works, others have written about different religious and philosophical texts that have been formative for them. At least we haven’t fought about religion, but rather learned from each other. I was most delighted when several on Facebook commented that our page was the main reason they hadn’t closed their accounts.

As for the coming year? I’m in a new job that also involves a blog, social media, and other web media to encourage and equip and network emerging Christian scholars, and much of my creative energies are invested in that project. I’m applying much of what I learned these past years to this job (it might have even helped me get the job!). But here are a few things I want to keep on doing and do better here:

  • I love reading and reviewing books, and if there is anything I want to do this year, I want to pay attention to great reviewers, and work at the craft of writing reviews that are both interesting to read, and help you decide whether the book in question is one you want to read.
  • I will keep writing about Youngstown. I haven’t run out of things to write about yet and love discovering more about the people and places and institutions of the place where I grew up. Just as our own lives are enriched by our family history, I believe our communal life is enriched by understanding our communal history–what has made us uniquely us!
  • I also enjoy learning and writing about everything bookish. I hope I get around to more bookstores this year. I also believe libraries play a critical role in fostering reading among both children and adults and an increasingly important role as a “third place” in our culture. I’ll continue to explore the quirky qualities that make us bibliophiles, and hopefully help us laugh at ourselves, something we all need.
  • I was warned recently about writing about religion and politics. I happen to think there is nothing more important than how we answer the “big questions” of life, whether they concern what we believe to be really real, or how we order our relations and priorities in society. I strive to be neither a proselytizer nor a partisan.  Whether in religion or in political discussion, I hope we can reclaim a civil public square from the trolls, the gaslighters, the echo chambers, and the partisans. I hope to moderate and write (when I do) toward that end! When we can’t engage civilly and substantively around the big questions and the common good, we surrender our culture to the demagogues and the power-mongers.

That’s it, as far as I can see, although you never know what comes along. Thanks for coming along with me this far. I’m looking forward to some great books in 2020 and I wish for you the same!

Bob on Books Best of the Rest

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The front page of one of the hometown newspapers I delivered.

Each year I post summaries of my best books of the year and my best Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown posts. Here is a list of the “best of the rest,” posts on reading, current events or observations about life. Hope you enjoy this sampler from Bob on Books.

  1. The Death of my Hometown Paper. On August 31, 2019, The Vindicator, under the ownership of the Maag and Brown families, ceased publication. Since then, the Warren Tribune Chronicle has picked up publication under The Vindicator name, but something died that day for me.
  2. It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books. This received a good deal of reaction. Secretly, many of us bibliophiles use this rationalization, but I suspect we still feel uneasy about the amount of books around us.
  3. What Happens to Unsold Books? This arose out of some idle curiosity, but it appears that many worry about the fate of the unsold!
  4. Why I’ll be in Church This Sunday. Attendance at Sunday worship services has been dropping. I don’t try to answer why this is, but rather why I keep showing up.
  5. Getting Impeachment Right. Before impeachment proceedings began, I outlined the conditions I thought necessary for this to be done properly. I don’t think Congress has paid any attention! I wrote at the end of my post, “While we have survived past crises, that does not mean we will this one. All I can do is hope. And pray.” If anything I feel this more than when I wrote the post.
  6. Counterfeit Books on Amazon. A good friend’s book was counterfeited by third-party sellers using Amazon’s platform. In my outrage, I looked into this and wrote about it.
  7. Why Are Prisons Banning Used Book Donations? I learned that my own state, along with others to ban the donation of used books to prisons. When I looked into this, I became even more disturbed as I realized the commercial interests and the state’s financial interests involved in this decision, and the deleterious impact on those in our state’s prison system.
  8. Toxic Masculinity? Following a controversial commercial by Gillette last January, I wrote about my own reactions to this commercial. This was one I received a fair amount of pushback on as well.
  9. Do You Own Your E-books? Many people were surprised to discover that they do not and why this is.
  10. Memo: To the New CEO of Barnes & Noble. When James Daunt became the new CEO of Barnes & Noble, I asked those on my Bob on Books Facebook page what advice they would have for him. This post summarized their responses.

For my most faithful followers, this list will be a visit with old friends. For others, it might be an interesting read to discover what you might have missed on the blog in 2019. I so appreciate all of you who follow, read, and comment on the blog. Over 100,000 people (for the first time) visited the blog this year and made nearly 160,000 visits (so far). I appreciate all the interactions–not only those who agree but those who write with everything from grammar corrections to disagreements with what I’ve written. You force me to be a better and more accurate writer and thinker, and hopefully a better person. I hope what I write has some of that effect on others as well!

The Prince of Peace Comes to a Divided Church

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Prince of Peace” by GP 316, Public Domain CC0 1.0 Universal

I should preface this post by saying that what follows is a Christian reflection addressed to fellow Christians. Not all who follow me on social media share these convictions–not even all Christians! With that disclaimer, feel free to read on, tell me what you think if you differ, or pass, as you are inclined. Whatever the case, may the peace and joy of the holiday be yours.

I write this on Christmas Eve at the end of the season of waiting for the coming of the King. I wait not only to celebrate his first coming but also long for his return. Advent reminds me that I live between the times, between the kingdom already come, and the fulfillment of that in the return of the King. My Advent readings of this year remind me of the longing of those who witness the world’s turmoil and our longing for the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) who will set all things right.

But it is not merely in the world that he will set things to rights. It will also be in the church, his Body, his Bride. What is troubling is that if the King were to return right now, he would find his American church in deep turmoil, and split by allegiances penultimate to the King–political powers and parties, ideologies of race, disparities of wealth and poverty, deep differences around questions of gender and sexual orientation. The Christianity Today editorial calling for the president’s removal from office and the opposing fierce reactions that have filled my social media this past week are only the latest evidence of how deeply divided the American church is, and from what I can tell, how undisturbed we are with this state of affairs.

I wonder if we reflected on this last night as we gathered in our different churches for various forms of Christmas Eve celebrations, or this morning for Christmas Day services. How many of us considered that, in the midst of our war of words, we were celebrating, in common, if not together, the same Prince of Peace? This is the King who said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, NIV). It is little wonder to me that record numbers of Millenials are turning away from Christian churches when they see the disparity between the words we mouth, and the way we really treat each other, and how undisturbed we seem to be about the divisions among us, let alone in the world.

I, for one, am deeply troubled by all of this. One reason I have chose not to comment on the CT editorial is that online comment only furthers those divisions, in my mind. It is not that I am trying to sit on the fence. I’m more interested in tearing down those fences. I fear the judgment from the Lord whose return I long for if we persist in the things that divide us. Instead of a church split in its allegiances to earthly powers, I long for a church united by our common allegiance to the Prince of Peace who is our peace and has torn down every dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14). I’m troubled when the national political agenda of one party or another is more important to the followers of Jesus than his global agenda for the nations.

There are steps that I need to take personally that I would commend for (at least) your consideration:

  1. I want to be sure I am paying more attention to the Prince of Peace than to the human participants of our nation’s political drama. I’ve spoken far more about the latter than the former in the last years.
  2. I want to re-double my prayers for those who lead. The reason we are to do so, stated in 1 Timothy 2:2, is that we might lead peaceable and quiet lives. I believe there are spiritual powers at work in our national political drama that are fostering discord, both in the nation and in the church. Do we believe in seeking the One who is above all heavenly or earthly powers to act?
  3. I want to be sure that I am living in the story of the King rather than the stories spun in public media–whether on Twitter or Fox News or CNN. A test for me is whether I’m spending more time reading and meditating on and acting upon scripture than following the news and talking about it.
  4. I will pursue political conversations with other believers, even those who differ with me, where there is a prior commitment to relationship, to the seeking of truth and justice with humility, and to prayer for one another and for our nation and world. This means most of those conversations will not be online. If you really care what I think politically, and are willing to commit with me to these practices, I’m glad to find a way to talk.
  5. None of this means I will withdraw from seeking the common good in our society. What I want to do is to listen to God about where I should focus attention. I want to examine myself in whatever I pursue, that I seek peace, and as far as it is possible for me, to make friends, not enemies, even with those who disagree with me.
  6. Finally, I want to live a life defined by the Great Command and the Great Commission–one defined by love of God and neighbor, and a love of Christ and his gospel that in life and word commends the excellence of the Prince of Peace to others.

I wonder if our political allegiances, whatever they are, have become so important because we have lost a sense of the excellence of the Prince of Peace, who we celebrate this day. While not ignoring the world around me, I want to get caught up in the story of the Prince of Peace. I wonder what would happen if believers from disparate factions of the American church were also caught up in this story? What would happen if this were the leading topic of our discourse with each other? I doubt it would resolve all our differences, but at least we might be reminded of what is truly precious to us all, the “pearl of great price,” and, as we catch each others eyes, we might say, “so you love him, too.” And in that moment, we might have at least a taste of the Peaceable Kingdom to come.

Facebook, I’d Really Like To Be Transparent

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Screen capture of Page Transparency information for my non-business page.

To be a Facebook user means navigating a continually changing platform with regard to privacy settings, newsfeed preferences, and connections with other social media. Then there have been the privacy breaches, like that with Cambridge Analytics. I know some who have become so frustrated with Facebook that they have thrown in the towel.

That has not been my experience, but I’ve tried to keep up on the changes, recognizing that for me, this is a free service that has fostered good connections with friends and new connections with people who share common interests, as well as serving as a platform to promote events and other causes of interest. I’ve no plans to close my account any time soon.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have my bones to pick. Here is one I’ve become aware of lately: Facebook Page Ownership is only possible for verified businesses.

Here’s the deal. In the summer of 2018, those of us who have connected blogs to Facebook learned that we can no longer connect them to a profile. We must connect them to a page. So I created a Facebook page, Bob on Books, matching the name of my blog. That has been an unexpectedly delightful process. Just the other day, the page went over 5,000 “likes,” far more than my current number of friends. I post my blog, humor, and curate articles and images from across the web as well as a “question of the day,” and apart from a few controversial topics, we’ve had fascinating conversations about our common love of books.

I try to be diligent as a page admin, removing derogatory comments and profanity from the page, and watching for any sign of abusive treatment of other members. If one visits “Page Quality” for my page, you see this message: “Your Page has no restrictions or violations.” That’s kind of a negative way of putting it–it would be nice if there were positive statements like “this Page meets or exceeds Facebook community standards”–but I have a green rating.

Recently, Facebook has upped its efforts to foster “page transparency.” I’ve received messages about confirming business ownership for the page as part of the transparency information visitors can see. For actual businesses and political organizations, this is a good thing, so page visitors know who they are really doing business with, particularly if a product or a candidate is being promoted. We don’t want to get “faked” out, so this is a good step.

The problem for me is that Bob on Books is not a business. I don’t sell anything. I am not advocating for a politician or political position. All I’m doing is creating a space where people can talk about all things book-ish, and have fun doing it. No dues, no admission. Just show up. I cannot go through a business verification process, because there is no business to verify. There is just me. I’m listed as page admin and people can go to my Facebook profile and learn about me if they wish.

But on the Page Transparency information for Bob on Books, you see the message in the screen capture above: “A page owner hasn’t yet completed business verification process.” It makes it sound like the page is less than fully transparent. But there is no way I can do this short of creating a business that can be verified, which I have no interest in doing. This is a hobby, a labor of love. I already have a job, but all of this is separate from my work.

I’ve tried to communicate this to Facebook but have received no response. My only recourse at this point is to include the following in a “pinned post” on my page:

Page Disclaimer: I post material I think will be interesting for this page. No endorsement or agreement is implied. Nor does anything posted here reflect the views of any organization with which I am associated, including my employer. There is no Page Owner listed for this page because it is not connected with any business nor does it try to sell you anything. Bob Trube manages this page and curates all content and comments.

It feels to me that Facebook wants me to be a business so I will buy services from them including advertising. I wonder if Facebook sees my page as social media or business media. I feel like I’m kind of second class, because there is no comparable verification process for pages that are not businesses.

For now, it hasn’t seemed to matter. There is a good deal of traffic on the page, and a growing number of “likes” every day. It’s actually far more than I thought it might be. My only hope is that the page will not be “downgraded” because I cannot complete a business verification process. I suspect there are a number of others in a similar position. Many of us work hard to adhere to Facebook community standards and create good spaces. I’ve had people write that if it weren’t for Bob on Books, they would have closed their Facebook accounts. Facebook might be a better place if they positively recognized good pages and groups, rather than sending negatively framed compliance messages. At very least, I would advocate a comparable verification process for pages owned by individuals, not businesses.

Facebook, I “like” you. I hope you will “like” me as well.

“What Will Peace Among the Whites Bring?”

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Frederick Douglass, Public Domain via Wikimedia

“If war among the whites brought peace and liberty to the blacks, what will peace among the whites bring?” Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1875.

I came across this statement by Frederick Douglass in David W. Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass. He was speaking at a July 5 picnic in the black section of Anacostia, called Hillsdale. Douglass, escaped slave and abolitionist had spent the ten years after the end of the Civil War working with Republicans, especially under Grant, in advocating for the full civil liberties of Blacks in the South under what is known as Reconstruction. One of the things that broke his heart was the tendency of Northern whites to reach accommodations with those in the South–accommodations that turned a blind eye to lynchings and the suppression of the vote and hindered black citizens in their efforts to get educated and make economic progress. These accommodations were the “peace” to which Douglass referred, and what Douglass foresaw were all the odious outcomes of Jim Crow.

I wonder if things have really changed. I would contend that whenever a white person points out evidence of the continued racialization of our country, and our unwillingness to truly face the original sin of racism that has passed from generation to generation in our country North and South, one can expect a smackdown. Whenever one speaks against abuses of civil rights of people of color, whether it is racially-profiled traffic stops, the shooting of unarmed “suspects,” or keeping refugee children in cages, one can expect pushback.

On social media, this often comes in the form of “trolling” and “gaslighting” comments that are broadsides interested neither in substantive discussion nor truth. I’ve had this happen when I’ve written on such things. The social pressure is to toe the line, and stick to posting cute pet videos.

One thing I notice when this happens. All of the people making these kinds of posts and applying this social pressure are whites as I am. Increasingly, this makes me wonder what they are afraid of losing or what injustices they are complicit in that they just do not want to face. I wonder why they are so bothered they feel the need to do this. Have I disturbed their peace?

I’m a middle child, and so peacemaking comes natural. But Douglass alerts me to a kind of peace we cannot make. We cannot make peace when it allows the exploitation or subjugation or unjust treatment of other human beings. Making this kind of peace, “toeing the line,” as it were means turning my back on the suffering of fellow human beings whose difference from me is something as superficial as skin pigment.

I’m not one of those who is constantly writing on issues. I prefer writing about books I’ve enjoyed or my beloved home town of Youngstown. But there are times when I realize that refusing to write to keep the peace (as well as engaging in other forms of advocacy and engagement) is to buy my peace at the expense of others.

Someone has said, “may the peace of Christ disturb you.” I think that is right. We should be disturbed when we see people Christ loves being excluded from the wholeness, the flourishing, that biblical peace involves.

So don’t be surprised if I don’t pay attention to your attempts to get me to keep the peace and toe the line. It’s not that I don’t like peace. I just like it for all human beings and not just “my kind.”

Getting Impeachment Right

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The Impeachment Trial in the Senate of Andrew Johnson, Theodore Davis, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

In 2016, I mentioned to some friends that I feared with either candidate, that there was a good chance we might see an impeachment process. It appears that my fears were warranted. Having lived through the preparations for impeachment after Watergate that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon and the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, I was saddened, because I realized that no matter the outcome, in our present climate, it was going to get messy, and perhaps ugly.

I have no interest in discussing whether impeachment proceedings are warranted or not with this president. What concerns me at this point is that our elected officials in both houses of Congress need to cease to see themselves as members of political parties and understand their roles in upholding the Constitution, the rule of law, and separation of powers, and the public good. The more that both House and Senate members (and Justice Roberts, who will preside in the Senate if the House passes articles of impeachment) can see the president as neither of their own party or the opposition party but as a citizen holding high office who, at the time of writing, may be accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the better.

I realize that in our present climate, that seems practically impossible. Yet given that climate, it is all the more urgent that leaders of both parties determine how to go forward where they act as a separate branch of government, and not as partisans for or against the president. Right now, the role of the house is akin to a Grand Jury, examining evidence to determine if charges that must be tried are warranted. When it comes to a trial in the Senate, the Senators become jurors. I’ve been a juror on two trials, one a murder trial. I had to approach this as “innocent until proven guilty” (and if I could not, to disclose this), and to be willing to find a defendant guilty, if the charge was proven beyond reasonable (not all) doubt.

What our system asks of ordinary citizens is to serve the interests of justice with as much impartiality as humanly possible. Now we need to ask our elected officials to do the same. Many of those in the Senate are lawyers. They understand well these responsibilities. What seems to me crucial is that those of the Democrat party should ask themselves if they, on hearing all the evidence, would vote any differently were the President of their own party. For the Republicans, they should ask themselves if they would vote any differently were the President not a Republican. I’ve written asking such of my own elected representatives.

I think at this point the American people do not believe party members of either House capable of acting in this fashion. [I will acknowledge that eventually the House will designate “managers” who will prosecute the charges or articles of impeachment, and that the President will designate those who will present his defense. Those individuals obviously have to be zealous advocates in an impeachment trial.] Most expect this to play out along partisan lines in both houses, merely reinforcing and deepening the existing political divides.

What concerns me in all this is the weakening of Congress as a separate branch of government, acting for the public good while seeking to uphold the constitution. Leadership in both houses need to think about the long game of our republic’s future and not the upcoming election. If majority and minority leadership in each house fail to come together, the result will only be the diminishment of their own power and the expansion of presidential power. While little may be legislated, the trend of the last several presidencies of the use of executive orders will increase.

We feared an imperial presidency in the time of Richard Nixon. Increasingly there are those who clamor for one now, seeing the weakness and perpetual conflict within our legislative branch. We have had a system where the president is answerable to the legislature and the courts. How the leadership of both parties act in the coming months, regardless the outcome, will determine whether this balance will hold and whether they will enjoy the increased or diminished confidence of the American people.

It seems to me a perilous time. Those who are people of prayer ought devote themselves to this. And one hopes that those who represent us also recognize the time we are in, and rise to greatness rather than retreat to “politics as usual.” While we have survived past crises, that does not mean we will this one. All I can do is hope. And pray.

[I know it is very tempting to argue one side or the other of these issues online. I believe these are matters for our elected officials. Any partisan comments on this post, either on this blog or on social media, will be taken down without comment. Use the time you would spend writing engaging your elected representatives.]

The Insects are Coming!

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Maize weevil, U.S. Department of Agriculture, [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

The other day, we had a delivery scheduled at our home. A young man was directing the driver as he backed into our driveway when suddenly he yelled, “Stop!” He pointed up, and low and behold, there was a nest of bald-faced hornets hanging from a branch in the maple tree by our drive, about twelve feet from the ground. Concealed partially by leaves, we had not noticed it. I’m glad this young man did, because bald-faced hornets are nasty insects when aroused. They can sting repeatedly and respond in large numbers when their nest is endangered. Not something any of us wanted to deal with.

Because of the location, near a sidewalk where many people, including school children walk, we had no safe alternative but to call a pest control company to remove it. If the nest had been on a part of our property remote from house or walks we could have safely left it a few more weeks because the first frosts would have taken care of it. The young man who came out, wearing protective gear, quickly took care of it. We were chatting about the warmer temperatures and changes in growing seasons and then he made an interesting comment. He said, “I don’t know about this climate change stuff, but it sure has been good for our business.” He deals with things like termites and ant infestations as well.

Much of the focus in discussions of climate changes have focused on rising sea levels, melting glaciers, warmer temperatures, drier or wetter conditions, more severe weather events and so forth. Another consequence however is greater problems with insect pests that eat crops, that carry disease, and invade our homes. My pest control man is already seeing the difference in his bottom line. I guess climate change isn’t bad for everyone!

It is bad news for the world’s food supply. Insects are ectotherms, which means that their metabolisms speed up as it gets hotter. They eat more and reproduce more quickly. Some projections suggest up to a 46 percent increase in wheat yield losses, 31 percent for corn, and 19 percent for rice. This compounds potential losses from weather events, drought, and other climate-related problems.

Two other factors also stand out. One is that insect ranges are changing. As once-temperate zones get warmer, tropical and subtropical insects are able to move into these zones. Also, in northern areas, like the one I live in, many insects don’t survive stretches of sub-freezing temperatures. Some always do, but more will with milder winters.

While the most critical impact could be on crop yields, we can’t ignore the increased prevalence of insect-borne diseases and the need to deal with more insect pests invading our homes.

It is possible that various pest management approaches and insect-resistant plants can offset some of these impacts. But it also means we should be prepared to spend more addressing the problems these pests cause. It might be extra cost for increasingly scarce food or even food shortages. Or it might simply be extra production cost. Wearing insect repellents may become necessary whenever we go out. Pest inspection and control measures may become a cost we factor into home maintenance.

A saying I remember from the first Earth Days in the 1970’s was “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” We may have fueled our high energy economy relatively cheaply with fossil fuels, only to find we have merely deferred the cost of our actions, perhaps long enough that our children will be the ones to pay them. If nothing else, it appears they may face a buggier future. I doubt they will thank us for it.

One Writer’s Journey (So Far)

Writing

Photo by Free-Photos via Pixabay

I discovered that the post that will go up on Bob on Books on Saturday will be number 2000 on the blog. In the interest of truth, a handful of these have been contributed by a guest reviewer, for which I’m thankful. This is in a bit over six years. The biggest surprise in this has been to discover I am a writer, that this is at least a piece of my calling. Six years ago I would not have described myself this way, which has been one of the biggest surprises of this journey. I will leave judgments on the quality of my writing to others.

What I’ve noticed about myself over the years is that at times I’ve had the knack of distilling the sense of what people are trying to say into something with a bit greater clarity. Some of that I’ve done at work in emails and memos, letters and documents, or in research papers in grad school or talks given in collegiate ministry. It is often the case that in the writing, I figure out what I want to say. Myers-Briggs people will chalk it up to my INFJ type. Usually it has just been work that needed done. I never thought of myself as a writer.

The blog grew out of posting reviews on Goodreads. I started that mostly as an exercise in remembering what I’ve read and what I thought of it. The exercise of reducing hundreds of pages to 500 to 800 words (usually) was a good way for me to see if I had grasped the essence of the book. Eventually I added summaries where I reduced it to a sentence. That is hard. Enough others found it helpful that I was encouraged to attempt the blog to make the reviews available to those not on Goodreads.

I can’t review a book every day. So I wrote posts on reading and on life. Some of the latter provoked a good deal of comment as I wrote on things I care about such as the captivity of the evangelical church to politics, the environment, immigration, and on different issues in higher education. Here again, I had the strange experience of hearing from people that I had given words to the things they thought and felt. I had a younger friend recently thank me for being an older (!) voice affirming things she held deeply.  Of course there were those who took issue with me. Most of the time, I was just working out my own ideas on the things about which I was writing.

Then I started writing about my home town of Youngstown. I initially thought it would be a post or two, until I made the mistake of writing about food! Youngstowners love food (don’t we all?). That work has been a combination of putting into words what a good place this was to grow up in during the years I lived there, and exploring the people and events, and forces, natural and human, that shaped this place. I’ve had the privilege of interacting with hundreds if not thousands of Youngstowners who have added so much to my understanding of the place where we grew up, while discovering that so many of my memories resonate with theirs. Now I’m working to put some of this into book form under a contract with a publisher.

This “side hustle,” as it were, led to another interesting turn in the road as I took on a new assignment with the collegiate ministry for which I work. In July, I started directing a “digital first” effort to develop resources and network aspiring scholars who want to connect their faith and academic lives, living out their God-given callings. That means both more writing and work with others writers, as well as other kinds of collaborations.

I admit that I muse on what this all means and I have even less clue today than six years ago where this will go. What I have concluded is that I am a writer, if by that you mean a person who writes. I want to get better at this work and put time into it nearly every day. I love finding words for ideas.

Some things I’ve been learning along the way:

  1. The only way to improve at writing is to write…and write…and re-write!
  2. Reading and writing are inextricably linked in my life, not only because I review, but books are part of the community that feeds my own imagination. When I find writers I like, it is fascinating to figure out what in their writing I like.
  3. Speaking of community, I draw so much from both local and online communities. While actual writing at times requires solitude, it is impossible (at least for me) without others.
  4. Facility in writing comes with practice–writing begets writing.
  5. Story-telling is vital even in non-fiction. The only difference is making sure that the story you tell is true. Even ideas have a story, a history.
  6. It’s amazing where curiosity will take one. I’ve probably found this most in writing about Youngstown. How did a place get its name? Who is the person it was named after and what did they do? Recently I wrote a post about a place I passed many times but never knew what happened inside (nothing nefarious!). Finding the answer to that, and the history behind it was sheer delight.

Finally, I would say I’ve written about what I like and am interested in. Why would you do otherwise? I guess I believe that if you work hard to convey your interest in something, you don’t need to worry about whether others are “interested.” I would also say, don’t wonder about whether you are a writer. I think one discovers that in the writing. At least I have.

 

 

Do We Need a New Andrew Carnegie?

Andrew_Carnegie,_three-quarter_length_portrait,_seated,_facing_slightly_left,_1913

By Theodore Christopher Marceau – Library of Congress, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Andrew Carnegie was a steel and rail baron of the nineteenth century who made a fortune, and then spent the last two decades of his life giving much of it away. All told, he gave away approximately $350 million (the equivalent of $65 billion) in today’s dollars. Some say he was atoning for the ruthless practices involved in acquiring his fortune. He was a pioneer in developing the vertically integrated industry in which rail, coal, steel, and steamship lines controlled every aspect of production.

After selling his industries to what became U.S. Steel in 1901, he turned his focus to giving away his fortune. One of his major investments was libraries. His idea was to give his resources so that the poor could help themselves, and libraries were a key component of his philanthropic strategy. His first library was built in Dumferline, Scotland in 1883. He built libraries in Great Britain, Canada, other English speaking countries and in the United States. The first in the U.S. was in nearby Braddock, Pennsylvania, opened in 1888.

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Source unknown, widely attributed to Andrew Carnegie

According to Wikipedia, by 1923, 1419 grants totaling $45,865,440.10 resulted in the building of 1647 libraries. An NPR story puts the total at $60 million building 1689 libraries. Worldwide, his grants funded construction of over 3,000 libraries. In addition, he invested in educational institutions, including Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University) and Tuskegee Institute (a historically Black college). He also invested in pension funds for his workers and in the arts.

Many of the library buildings constructed with his grants are still standing, often among the distinguished architectural structures in their towns, whether still in use as libraries or not.

So what is the situation today? Libraries offer a tremendous array to Carnegie’s working man or women and their children. In addition to books, a variety of digital resources are available for lending, children’s programs, tutoring programs and a variety of adult education programs are offered in many communities that assist with job skills and job hunting. Computer resources provide online access for those who cannot afford these or have only limited access. Most libraries are providing ever-growing numbers of people with greater numbers of services, often at fairly static funding levels, making them among the most efficient organizations.

The funding picture of libraries is primarily through state funding and local property tax levies. Ohio, where I live recently raised the percentage of its state budget going to libraries from 1.68 to 1.7 percent. This money provides roughly half of library funding overall. The reality though is that while some municipalities invest heavily in their libraries, others, often in cash-strapped rural settings, live almost entirely on state funding. The good news is that there is a great return on investment in library funding. A recent study found that $1 invested in Ohio libraries returned nearly $5 in economic value and Ohio has the highest per capita library use in the country. Federal funding for the Museum and Libraries Services was recently renewed and increased by $11 million, despite Trump administration opposition.

So while there is some good news on the U.S. funding front, many small libraries are struggling, and I hear of some that have closed, leaving “library deserts” in some areas of the country. The situation is worse in the United Kingdom, where nearly 130 libraries closed this past year and many are being run by volunteer staff. Certainly, the situation is more dire yet in other parts of the world.

Could philanthropists play a bigger part? For twenty years, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did that, but announced in 2018 that they are winding down their program after funding free internet access in U.S. libraries, and greater technology access throughout the world. While some places like Harvard have huge endowments of $36 billion. A Washington Post article reports that by contrast there are only several billion dollars nationally in library endowments. The case has been made for a National Library Endowment with a goal of $20 billion. How could it happen? The Post article notes that the top 400 wealthiest in this country are worth $2.4 trillion. In other words, less than one percent of this wealth could fully endow this fund at $20 billion, and continue to build it in succeeding years. This could mean hiring librarians in cash strapped urban systems, expanding digital access, developing school libraries, and enhanced technology for research libraries. Mackenzie Bezos has committed a portion of her Amazon fortune to The Giving Pledge, organized by Warren Buffett to encourage just this kind of philanthropy.  Wouldn’t it be a bit ironic if she gave this toward a library endowment? Stranger things have happened.

Libraries continue to provide huge benefits to their communities and serve as “springs in the desert.” Who will take up the mantle of Andrew Carnegie in this generation? One hopes the day may come where alongside Carnegie’s name, we see those of Zuckerberg, Buffett, Bezos, Brin, Ellison, Bloomberg, Winfrey, and Cuban. All it would take is for these folks to put their heads–and their money–together and decide to make it happen. The whole country would be richer for it.