Sunday, March 29, 2015

I Grieve

This week, a friend from church's mother died.  Though I never met her, I grieve for him and for his family.  It made me think of my own family, and loved ones we have lost in the past few years.  And so, I grieved anew for the loss of my loved ones, and for those who were even closer to those who have died than I, and the continual ache that such loss of a spouse or child creates.

But this week brought a new reason to grieve as well.  This week Indiana passed its version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, sparking protest and commentary--most blasting my home state for doing so.  As an historian who studies religion, politics, and law in American culture, as well as a Christian, the passage of the act, the reaction to it, demands of me some reaction.  And yet, I always try and be measured and let things digest before I write something (a trait I picked up early in my professional career, which more people on this and other issues should adopt, but that seems unsuited for the world we live in).  While I contemplated, a pall was cast over the place I am (still) proud to call home.

I grieve for the fact that Religious Liberty, a fundamental right and freedom, has become for Americans in the twenty-first century, a political football, to be used and abused by both the Right and Left in our politics.

I grieve for those who feel that this new law will unleash hate and persecution.

I grieve for those who feel that without this new law they will face persecution.

I grieve for those caught in between these positions--good people unfairly tarred as bigots.

I grieve for the increasing litigious nature of American society.

I grieve for those who protested against and for those who defend the new law, blindly--without actually reading it.  Such willful ignorance, and it can be found on both sides, saddens the part of me that still cares for politics.

I grieve for those--including friends and businesses--who have called for a boycott of Indiana because of this law.  Not because of the economic impact such threats carry, nor for the political implications, but because they are targeting Indiana for having passed a law that over 30 other states have versions of, and that originated at the federal level.  While there are differences and equivocations that can be made about these versions of RRFAs, the fact remains that if Indiana's law is bad, so are these.  If there are to be boycotts, then be consistent and work to change the law.

I grieve for decline in journalism I have witnessed in the past few days.  In particular, one newspaper's decision to use quotation marks around "religious freedom"--as if that is something that is not real or a term to be used sarcastically.

I grieve for a culture where celebrity opinions are given equal, if not exalted, weight to elected officials.

I grieve that the very topic of religious freedom has divided Christians, rather than bringing us together with other people of various faiths.

And so, I grieve.  But as this Holy Week begins, with a glorious sunrise on this Palm Sunday, I know that grief is but momentary and temporary.  And so, I have hope.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Part of the Public Discourse

The month of January has been full.  Full of getting back in the swing of a new semester.  Full of getting my children back to school after a fun filled vacation.  And still quite full from all the eating that was done in December!  But it has also been full of public speaking events.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak about the 1920s in Indiana, detailing to a local group the rise and fall of the second Ku Klux Klan.  This week, I talked to another local group about Prohibition in the 1920s, and got to be part of a panel at the Indiana State Museum to discuss Indiana's "blue laws," pertaining especially liquor laws that grew out of Prohibition around Sunday liquor sales.  Next week, there will be another talk to another local group about the second Klan in Indiana.

Why all the sudden interest again in the 1920s? Of course, I'd like to think it has to do with the new literature on the topics (including my own work on the Reverend Edward S. Shumaker--published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 2009, and my more recent work on how museums have interpreted the dry years--which was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2014), Ken Burn's miniseries, and the recent exhibits at places like the Indiana Historical Society and at the National Constitution Center.  There is also the analogies between alcohol prohibition and drug legalization efforts.

But there is more to it than that.  Prohibition forces us to talk about religion, politics, immigration, urbanization, industrialization, the nature of business, race, law, rural life, international relations, the Constitution....the list goes on and on and on! It remains timely, topical, interesting, and very much part of the public discourse.

There are few issues that cut across issues in American History like Prohibition.  That is probably why people come out to hear about over 80 years after it was repealed.  And that  is probably why, even though my interests take me in other directions, I will come back to it again at some point.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Visit to Walt's Park

For the past two Christmas seasons, my wife and I have given a Disney trip to our kids.  In part, this has to do with knowing that the magic of childhood will only last for a little while.  In part, it has to do with wanting to visit somewhere warm during the winter.  And in part, it has to do with the new book project I have embarked upon, looking at how Disney uses History.  Or, maybe we just have a "Disney problem"--going to the parks is fun!  This year, thanks in part to my sister-in-law now living in Los Angeles, we decided to go to the original park, Disneyland!  If what follows is a bit disjointed, please blame it on the post holiday/post trip jet lag.

As we had hoped, the trip was full of fun (despite the weather being very un-California like), and it was great to walk the streets Walt laid out.  While I won't spoil the eventual book that this trip is going to help inform with a lot of professorial ramblings, I know that some friends were wondering about how Disneyland compares to Walt Disney World and so below are some observations based on our experience.  But let me just say at the outset, if you are planning on going to either park, make sure that you visit Disney's website but also visit Tom Bricker's awesome blog about all things Disney--both are packed with info and insight.

First off, some advice that was given to me: You can't go in expecting Disneyland to be exactly like Disney World.  If you do, you might run into some problems!  There are similarities (of course) between Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, in terms of general layout and rides (at least in their names), but the differences are real--and if you expect it to be a carbon copy (and thus "know" what you'll encounter) you will be dismayed (and I suppose, perhaps even disappointed).  The flip side is also true (I was told that people who are used to Disneyland often feel overwhelmed by the Magic Kingdom).

A few examples are in order.  There are different rides at Disneyland that you won't find at the Magic Kingdom.  We had a great time on the Matterhorn, Alice in Wonderland's ride, and Pinocchio's ride as well.  Then there was "nostalgia" for us anyway, in that Disneyland still has Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and the converted 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride (re-themed around Finding Nemo) attraction.  These are well worth spending the time in line for.  Even the rides that are duplicated in both Florida and California are often different (case in point for me, was the Winnie the Pooh ride, which I would argue is superior in the Magic Kingdom) and fun.  There is also the fun of encountering new and different themed areas (like New Orleans Square).

Rides alone, of course, aren't enough to justify a trip out to California.  But don't let that sentence dissuade you, dear reader!  Though Disneyland and Magic Kingdom are quite similar (even though they are different--the biggest being the size.  Disneyland is much, much smaller, and that can cause crowd issues, because Disney does not have the room to keep everyone in line out of sight), what truly made our visit worth it (from a non-academic standpoint) was the California Adventure park (the so called "second gate" to Disneyland).  Cars Land alone is worth the price of admission.  California Adventure (which was once Disneyland's parking lot if the stories are true) does have the room to be "Disney-esque" when it comes to crowd control.  If you know Walt Disney World like the back of your hand, you'll quickly be at home in California Adventure.

There is another thing to say, when it comes to the parks and the issue of size.  Nestled in between Disneyland and California Adventure is California's version of Downtown Disney.  It is nice to have everything together and walkable, really walkable.  As in, once you pass through the main gate, you can see and pick from all three locations from the central plaza.  You can spend the day in a park, have dinner and shop in Downtown Disney all on foot.  As my wife put it, that option is "a nice diversion."

That being said, there were few other things that I should note, which jumped out to us.  First, there seemed to be more food option locations (in terms of snacks) in Disneyland than at the Magic Kingdom.  Second, there did not seem to be as many character opportunities in Disneyland as there are in the Magic Kingdom.  That is not to say you won't see characters, you will.  It just takes a bit more planning when you are at Disneyland (and from what we observed, there are even fewer opportunities over in California Adventure).  I would also say that the shows we saw were awesome (Mickey and the Magical Map was neat, the Fantasmic show was better in California than what is done at Hollywood Studios)--and that doesn't even include the Frozen experience that we got to be a part of.  We also enjoyed our time learning how to draw like a Disney animator (indeed, the whole Animation area in California Adventure was awesome).

Lastly, a word about where to stay.  When Walt built Disneyland, he only had enough money to purchase around 300 acres (in comparison, the company bought over 46,000 acres in Florida).  By the time money was rolling in from the park, others had snatched up near by parcels of land.  Though Disney has been able to buy more land since, other hotels (many of them chains) and restaurants dominate the strip outside the park.  There are three hotels owned by Disney, but we found them to be to expensive (at least for this trip).  So, we stayed at the Candy Cane Inn which is on the same side of the street as the park and literally abuts California Adventure (and is just 2 long blocks to the park entrance).

So, would I recommend going to Disneyland?  Yes (even though Walt Disney World will probably always remain my preferred park--and if I were planning a trip based solely around a Disney experience, I'd opt for Florida).  While I wish that we had one more day (perhaps because this was our first trip there, or perhaps because we were there during the holidays), we left after three days feeling as though we'd gotten a full experience (even though we didn't ride every ride or see every show), and blessed with more family time and grateful to walk the streets that Walt laid out.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Repeal Day

Yesterday was Repeal Day.  Don't know what that is?  It is the day that the United States ratified the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, repealing the 18th Amendment, and ending national Prohibition.  I saw several articles, most lite on History and strong on how bars have started using Repeal Day as an excuse to throw a party.

Mixed in with the tales of revelry, I also saw a few "politically" themed articles as well.  Coming from the Right side of the political spectrum, these articles hailed repeal as a triumph of individual rights over progressive "values"and misplaced "big government" programs.

This line of "attack" on Prohibition have always struck me as interesting.  First, because they conflate modern liberals who claim the mantle of Progressive for their own with the historical Progressives of the early twentieth century, a group that is much more complex than modern political labels often capture.  Second, they often make an economic argument for repeal (mimicking many of the attacks of New Deal era wets) which don't hold up to the historic evidence (the 1920s economy did just fine without legal drinking, unemployment was hardly caused by Prohibition, and repeal did not end the Great Depression). Thirdly, they hold Prohibition to an impossible legal standard (100% acceptance) that no other law is expected to meet. And lastly, they ignore the complex moral reasons that caused many to support Prohibition to begin with (not to mention how different drinking was before Prohibition versus after repeal became).

One of the great things about the study of Prohibition for me (I have written two books on the subject after all) is finding out just how much we assume we know about Prohibition versus what actually happened.

So, when Repeal Day comes along next year, feel free to raise a glass.  But take a moment before you do to understand the complex History behind what you are toasting.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Professional Developments

The month of November has flown by!  And here, on the last day of the month we find the first day, for Christians, of Advent. As the years have gone by Christmas, which was always my favorite holiday has a child, has grown increasingly special.  And Advent, this time of preparation and anticipation, is no doubt a part of that process.

Although this morning is grey and overcast, a week ago I was basking in the sun of Southern California.  I was in San Diego, attending the American Academy of Religion's annual conference.  The weather was great and the city was wonderful, the convention was also a great experience.  I took part in a panel that focused on Disney (astute readers of this blog know that Book 5 is centering on just that topic), and I delivered a paper about Christmas at Disney (and said readers also know this is a topic I've discussed before as well).  One of the points I raised was of the Osborne Family light show at Hollywood Studios.  In the process of doing so, I talked about the Nativity set that kicks the display off.  During the question and answer time, that topic came back up, and one of my co-panelists commented that she believed the Nativity to be something of an "afterthought."

I have thought about that comment quite a bit over the past week.  And I have to respectfully disagree.  First, for Christians, the Nativity is hardly an afterthought at all, but rather the center of the entire Christmas experience.  Having one as part of the display, especially when one considers some of the light displays themselves, certainly makes a good deal of sense.  But then there is a second reason: Disney doesn't really do "afterthoughts."  Every portion of the parks are thought out, both in terms of design, as well as display and function.  The Nativity is there because it is supposed to be there.  And on this first Sunday of Advent, that idea should be front and center.

Coming home from the conference, I arrived to a short week which ended in Thanksgiving.  Obviously, it was Thanksgiving in the holiday sense--complete with trips to see family and eat a good deal of turkey.  But thanksgiving as well because Book 3 (Interpreting the Prohibition Era) is now out and (most importantly for me) my author copies arrived.  As a professional historian and writer, it is always gratifying to see the final product and even more so to hold it in your hands.  It is my hope that the book will serve its intended purpose.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The View from a Mile High City

Last week I had the good fortune to travel to Denver, Colorado to take part in a conference on university honors programs.  It was a great time to be out in Denver, I met colleagues from around the country, got to tour the city, and came home with all sorts of new ideas for the honors program at Butler University.

Part of my time was spent taking part in a City-As-Text exercise.  My group traveled to the Colorado State Capitol building as well as Molly Brown's house (she of unsinkable/Titanic fame).  It was a wonderful time, with some breathtaking views.  The steps up to the statehouse itself have been confirmed via GPS to be a mile above sea level -- and if you take the tour, your view can get even better, via the observation deck that is around the golden dome.

In what little down time I had, I did some further exploration of the city, witnessing Denver as a city proud of its past in many ways, excited about its future, and grappling with issues caused by growth, tourism, and homelessness (the climate, both environmental--generally temperate with 300 days of sunshine--and political contribute to all three).  I even managed to get a little writing and revising done on my next book.

As an author, I know all to well what it means to grapple with a text.  But the rewards (and most often they aren't monetary) are worth it.  I have been thinking about that quite a bit as my third book (Interpreting the Prohibition Era at Museums and Historic Sites) is due to come out this month.  As I relate in the book, at one point I never thought I would return to the world of wets and drys (which was, after all, the topic of my first book).  But with this new book, I got to engage that material in new ways, and found if not new understanding, at least new ways to view the Prohibition Era.  You don't always have to look at things from the mountain top perch, but some times doing so helps you appreciate the view.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Back to the Land of the Sycamores

Last night, I had the honor of speaking in Terre Haute, Indiana to speak to the Wabash Valley Genealogy Society (you can visit their website here).  My topic was Prohibition in Indiana and despite the weather (storms moved through during my talk and all the way home), there was a great turnout and lively discussion.  It was a wonderful event and I am thankful I got to share with them a bit about my own research on the noble crusade.

It is perhaps fitting that I spoke in Terre Haute when I did.  Looking back, my professional career started there (I had to travel to take the GRE at Indiana State University my senior year of college).  And so, in talking about Prohibition, which was the focus of my dissertation-turned-first book, I got to bring it back full circle.  As an added bonus, in Prohibition is here to Stay, Terre Haute graces the pages several times--both because of the breweries and saloon-based political corruption there, but also because the Reverend Edward S. Shumaker was a pastor for a time there in his early ministry (before he made prohibition his reform).  But it was also fitting because a month from now, my third book Interpreting the Prohibition Era will be published by Rowman & Littlefield.  As that date gets closer, I grow more excited by the fact that I was given the opportunity to "go back" to the time of wets and drys and think about Prohibition yet again and in new ways.

Not every historian or academic gets that kind of opportunity.  And while my current research has taken me far from saloons and churches (in some respects), who knows, maybe I'll come back to it again.  After all, as I was reminded last night, there are still many stories waiting to be told in places both near and far away!