Saturday, August 16, 2014

Thoughts at the End of Summer

I have had a wonderful summer.  It has been hectic at times, it has flown by in many ways, it has seemed short (no doubt because of the cooler temperatures).  But it has been a wonderful time filled with lots of time with my kids, fun, travel, relaxation, seeing family and friends, and a general sense of accomplishment and even some relaxation.  It has been an exciting summer on the professional front, not only in preparation for a new school year and the exciting things I hope to do with the University Honors Program at Butler, but also in signing a contract for a manuscript (Book 4), finishing two book chapters (that will appear as part of a collection in honor of Indiana's upcoming bicentennial), getting a release date for Book Number 3--which came about because of Book 1, and starting work on a new manuscript (Book 5)!

Because it has been all those things, this summer has also led me to think about some questions (which relate back to The Mainline aka Book 2) and which I hope to address at some point this Fall in a number of blog posts (as time and schedule allow).  But as I sit here tonight, listening to crickets chirping away outside with the occasional firefly floating by in our backyard, I am also troubled by developments half a world away.  I have written previously about the situation in the Ukraine and in Nigeria, and won't be returning to those situations tonight.  Rather, I have been thinking about the ongoing situation in Iraq.  What follows is not political (though I have both personal political as well as professionally historic opinions on the topic to be sure) about what the United States should (or should not) be doing and why (though, again, I have policy convictions on the matter), rather it is an attempt to express and remind readers of a current humanitarian, historic, and (yes) religious crisis that is engulfing that country.

A bit of background:  We should remember that Iraq is (as I often tell students), a "made up country."  That is, until the twentieth century, there was no Iraq and no Iraqis.  It was part of several different empires (Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greco-Macedonian), on the fringes of some others (Roman, Byzantine), and a part of the Ottoman and British empires more recently.  As such, it is (to borrow the wonderful phrase of Benedict Anderson, "an imagined community" in many ways--filled with people of various religious, cultural, and ethnic identities, united by circumstance and various "fictions" as a nation.  It was not until the First World War (if you've not read this, do so) and its aftermath that Iraq came into existence.  Not because of history, but because of the political need of the victorious Allied powers.  It was a battle ground (if only briefly) during the Second World War, and really only became an important part of American foreign policy in the late twentieth century.  Indeed, in the span of little more than a decade, the United States has fought two wars in Iraq, and as I write this (one might argue) is now fighting its third.

A year ago almost, I wrote about the situation in Syria, and whether or not U.S. intervention was compelled by Just War Doctrine or not.  My point tonight is not to ask if U.S. action in Iraq meets those criteria or not (though I think it does much better than the debate that faced us a year ago), but rather to highlight and remind those of you who find your way here of what the group formally known as ISIS is doing to Iraqis they disagree with (both religiously, culturally, and one might assume as well, politically).

While I have been enjoying my summer, ISIS has gone on the march.  Destroying historic sites that withstood previous wars and conquests unharmed.  They have targeted religious shrines (both Christian as well as Islamic ones).  They have sought to slaughter those who do not see the world as they do.  In their rhetoric, they might talk of re-establishing a caliphate, but what they have embarked in is little more than a genocide against those who disagree with them in both matters of faith and of politics, as well as the systematic destruction of ancient shrines and temples -- effectively seeking to not just destroy the opposition, but wipe clean the memory that such people (and their beliefs) ever existed.

As an American, I was glad to see the United States finally take some action against ISIS.  As a Christian, I pray for those who are in the path of ISIS--especially my brothers and sisters in the faith.  As a religious person, I was pleased that people of faith have condemned what ISIS is doing (both within the Christian tradition as well as within the Islamic tradition).  But someone who loves the past, who has dedicated their professional life to preserving and passing on history, I weep at what ISIS has done. 

Change, as I often tell my classes, is not the same as progress.  And I am outraged at the "changes" ISIS has unleashed upon Iraq (and portions of Syria).  The obliteration of the past, the murdering of innocents, is not progress for Iraq or the world.  Instead, it is a reminder that whatever progress we have made since the great wars of the twentieth century, it is progress held together only by the common thread of civilization and our common humanity.  Defending those things, should know no labels, whether partisan or religious.  And that is something I was reminded of as this summer comes to an end.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Servant Leadership

Last week I had the opportunity to sit in on the final presentations of students who took part in the Butler (University) Summer Institute.  This year there were 29 young scholars, representing every college on campus and a wide variety of majors, who spent over two months researching under the direction of a member of the faculty.  Many of them will take that summer research and turn it into either a departmental or university honors thesis.  As I have told several people since BSI came to a close, it was by far one of the most enjoyable (and varied) academic "conferences" I have been to in a very long time.

For the purposes of this little blog of mine though, one of the presentations stood out.  It was on servant leadership in the United Methodist Church by Brittney Stephan, a rising senior at Butler.  Brittney has been interning with a local congregation (with the approval of the Indiana annual conference), studying the topic of servant leadership (for more, see the following) and what both laity and clergy mean by the term.

Like the other presentations, it was interesting and well done.  Perhaps it struck a chord with me though because of my work on the Mainline.  While I did not look at servant leadership, the idea that there might be a disconnect between the different levels of a denomination (top level bureaucracy, clergy, laity) over terms, ideas, or pronouncements was hardly surprising.  That there has not been more study of these kinds of issues is surprising.  Perhaps in the future, there will be.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

"Set our hearts at liberty"




My friend and fellow historian, Thomas Kidd, wrote earlier this week about his "top five forgotten Founders," a timely and topical post to be sure, since the United States celebrated the 238th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th.  And though I was on vacation (and doing a little research for my next book project), I was thinking about writing about one of my favorite forgotten founders, Francis Hopkinson--signer of the Declaration from New Jersey, member of Christ Church Episcopal in Philadelphia, lawyer, writer, and first federal judge of what became the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.




His story is an interesting one.  His home was raided by British troops (but an officer, or so the story goes, refused to allow it to be burned to the ground because of Hopkinson's impressive library), he was an advocate of the Constitution, and though he died shortly after assuming the federal bench, his son Joseph Hopkinson was later appointed to the same position, and enjoyed a long tenure as a district court judge.

But, I changed my mind.  Perhaps it was because our vacation had taken us to Walt Disney World (where there was little time and even less inclination, to write a blog post).  It was not as though we lacked for patriotic stimulus, Disney has maybe the best fireworks displays for the Fourth of July (which tops their usual fireworks) you will ever see and hear.



It was very special to get to experience it with my family.  But it was also fun to get to witness it along side with thousands of others, not just from the United States, but from around the world.  And that got me thinking about the patriotic message that Disney was proclaiming and what it meant not just to me, but to all those other people--in particular for those who were not American citizens.  What did they make of all our red, white, and blue patriotism? 

I don't have an answer for that question, but I was pondering it a bit this morning while waiting for church to start.  While flipping to the first hymn, I paused for a moment on Charles Wesley's "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," where I came upon the line that offered up the title for this post: "set our hearts at liberty."  And that got me thinking about what those Founding Fathers (whether forgotten or not) meant by "liberty."  It does not have the same meaning as "equality" (the great buzz word of both modern America and the French Revolution) not even akin to "equality under the law" since they knew laws might change.  It does not have the same meaning as "freedom,"with notions of doing whatever one wants.  No, I think when the Founders spoke of liberty I think more often than not they meant it was the ability (indeed the responsibility) to do what was right.  It came with a set of implied moral precepts that today we either to often take for granted or don't even recognize.

It is true, of course, that Americans don't always live up to the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence that Hopkinson signed.  It is good to recall them, and not just on July 4th.  We can only hope that God will continue and continually "set our hearts at liberty," while also offering up the prayer included in Katharine Lee Bates hymn "America the Beautiful," may "God mend thine every flaw."

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day

It might seem a bit odd, although for those who know I fell under Clio's spell early in life perhaps not, but I can remember clearly "commemorating" (in my own way) the 40th anniversary of D-Day.  At the time, the house we lived in had a pond....and we had a raft.....and I remember swimming the raft to the other side of the pond (along with a baseball bat for an pretend rifle), and then bringing the raft back across to "land" on the little beach my parents had made on our side of the pond, and then "charging" the imaginary German fortifications that were the back porch of our house.

Thirty years later, I know a good deal more about the landings, the lead up and the entire conflict we call World War II.  And so, on this, the 70th anniversary, I leave you with a few words from three of our former presidents (the Roosevelt D-Day prayer, I merely point out, is currently the subject of some debate, as some seek to block its inclusion as part of a memorial, on the grounds that it violates the separation of church and state....showcasing that they know even less about the Second World War than I did when I "stormed" the beaches as a child):

Sending the men forth.....

"Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking."

-- Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower


Calling a nation to prayer......
 
 "My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home - fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas - whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them - help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too - strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen."

--President Franklin D. Roosevelt


Selections from the 40th Anniversary.....
 "These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war."

"The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought -- or felt in their hearts, though they couldn't know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell."

"Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: ``I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''"

--President Ronald Reagan


As one other commentator put it today:   "They were young, but they were not children. . . . I remember walking through the Canadian graves at Bény-sur-Mer a few years ago. Over two thousand headstones, but only a handful of ages inscribed upon them: 22 years old, 21, 20... But they weren't "kids", they were men."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Friend in Need

One of the nice things for me about The Mainline project while I was in the middle of it was getting to visit churches of many different denominations and get to know, both as member, guest, or visitor many priests, ministers, and pastors.  As such, I saw not only how they were, in many different ways, they were serving their congregations, proclaiming the Gospel, and helping people in their communities and around the world.  They did not come from the same denominational, theological, or doctrinal positions (and I dare say that many of them would have disagreed with each other on many of those points had I ever gathered them all together to talk about such things), but the experience reminded me often of C.S. Lewis' take in Mere Christianity, making the process both spiritually and intellectually satisfying more often than not.

That being said, there was and is, tension for some of my pastoral friends within their denominations because of their stances on theology and doctrine.  This is most pronounced within the Old Mainline of course, as pastors who might adhere to conservative (or orthodox) positions were at odds with denominational leaders who were more liberal in their beliefs (even if, officially, the denomination itself, at least officially, might agree with the pastor).  As a result, these pastors face the prospect of if not being run out of their denominations, then never advancing their pastoral careers very far--indeed, of being told that the small congregation they've been appointed to is the only congregation that they'll ever be appointed to.

Now, as someone who grew up in a small, non-denominational church, such things are still difficult (at times) to wrap my head around.  And even though I am now a member of a denomination, it is still hard to fathom that good pastors, who have been called to the ministry, are being forced out of the pulpit--not because they are incompetent, not because they are not good at their job, not because they no longer believe in God or in Christ's resurrection--but because they have run afoul of a bureaucracy that would rather advance its own agenda rather than the Gospel of Christ.

Alas, it doesn't end there.  It might be easy to say "well, then they should leave that denomination for another."  But alas, it isn't that easy.  Not only might their be employee benefit (pension, housing etc) considerations, but there is also the problematic nature of American denominationalism to consider.  If you were, say, a Presbyterian or a Methodist who faced such a dilemma, you may indeed find it difficult to "switch denominations" (pastors, in other words, face the exact opposite problem of people in the pews when it comes to religious consumerism in the United States).  Additionally, because they were part of a denomination, they may find pastoral doors closed to them in the nondenominational world (because even without rigid hierarchies, such churches often discriminate in hiring against those coming out of say the Old Mainline).

What then should we say to pastoral friends who find themselves in such a position?  Should we tell them to stand fast and pray for renewal within their denomination?  Should we tell them to make their stories known--to bring lay and grassroots pressure on their denomination?  Should we hope for schism within denominations--the further splintering of both American and Global Christendom?  Should we tell them to keep trying to find a new job?  Should we go so far as to say that perhaps they should leave the ministry altogether?

There are no easy answers to those questions I'm afraid.  And for that, I lament for my pastoral friends who find themselves in such a position--caught between the Cross of Christ and some in the hierarchy of the Body of Christ--and lift them up in prayer and hope that Christians can eventually find a way to be one.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Work Progress

When you work as an academic, at times it is hard to see much progress in your work.  Lots of research, lots of writing, all of which often lead to lots of revision.  And then, after you submit a manuscript (whether for book or journal for example), you have to wait for publication (assuming of course that your submission is accepted for publication and you don't have to start over on something else, or there isn't more revision that needs to be done!).  And that is just if we are talking about a manuscript.  Academic teaching also involves a good deal of waiting to if the lectures you've delivered and the reading you've assigned have actually produced results in your students or not--which often doesn't happen until final exams or papers are handed in!  It is a wonderful teacher of patience.

That's why I'm thankful for days like today.  I had the opportunity to stay home from my campus office and get some projects done around the house.  Sanding, painting, moving furniture, cleaning out the garage, yard work were all on my agenda, and all accomplished.  I was reminded of many of the jobs I had before I headed off to college:  working on a farm baling hay, doing construction work, all of which were hard work, but also jobs in which when you ended the day (even if there was more work to do tomorrow) you could see the progress that had been made.

There is satisfaction in working until a project is done, to seeing it through.  There is also satisfaction when that work is noticed by others.  In the past few months, a second round of reviews of my book The Mainline have appeared.  The most recent I've found come from Church History and from The History Teacher.  I was gratified, as I always am, when I find out my book has been reviewed.  Even more so, because the reviews were positive!

In the case of Church History, the review was written by Dr. Barton E. Price (in the journal's December 2013 issue on pages 1018-1020) of IUPU-Fort Wayne.  I was gratified, in particular, that Dr. Barton noted my attempt at defining the mainline as the "most culturally influential and demographically representative group of denominations at a given historical moment" (3).  As he then notes, "this statement is without a doubt Lantzer's crowning achievement because it reorients our use of the term."  (1019)  That he goes on to hit some high points and issues he has with the narrative -- as any good reviewer would -- and still finds the book "a valuable resource" (1020), is very flattering to this author.

And then there is The History Teacher review.  THT is the journal of the Society for History Education, and the review of my book was published in its November 2013 issue (on pages 138-139).  The journal asked Dr. Jerry Hopkins of East Texas Baptist University.  That he also enjoyed the book enough to recommend it (saying, "For those who teach American history, culture, and religion courses, this is a very good source.  It is well researched, appropriately documented, and very readable.  It is a good book for both instructors and students."), calling it "an excellent resource" isn't to shabby either!

As this day draws to a close then, I guess it is good to remember that hard work does pay off.  That what we do each day is progress to the next.  And being patient does often bring with it rewards.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Global Historical Studies

As part of its core curriculum, Butler University requires students to take two Global Historical Studies courses.  Now, as an Americanist by training, I wish that part of the core was a required U.S. History class as well, but still, I've enjoyed teaching GHS courses every now and again, as it gives me a chance to think about U.S. History in a global context, as well as read up and lecture on things that I might not otherwise get to do in much detail or depth.

One of the GHS classes has a unit on Colonial (and post-Colonial) Nigeria.  In a blog-based nutshell, here are the basics:  Nigeria is a "created" country (by the British during the nineteenth century scramble for Africa), with three main ethnic/tribal/linguistic groups (Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba) and many other smaller ones.  Independence in the 1960s produced not just a new nation, but also unleashed some of the best literature on the impact (both actual and literary) that colonization had on people (see for example, Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart).  It has extremes of poverty and wealth, driven in large part by past government corruption and instability, and the fact that Nigeria is resource rich (including oil).  Since independence, it has seen one full fledged civil war, and several military coups.  However, there was hope by the twenty-first century that some stability had arrived.  That stability, however, has become imperiled by the rise of ethnic/religious violence and terrorism.

For those who follow the news in even in just a passing (or social media fueled way), Nigeria has been making headlines for the past several weeks, and not in a good way.  From terrorist attacks, to kidnappings, to the "hash tag diplomacy" of #bringbackourgirls and possible American military intervention, Nigeria has been thrust into the news feeds and minds of millions of people around the globe.  If you need a bit of background on recent events, including Boko Haram (the Islamic terrorist group that has abducted several hundred Christian girls), you can read more here.  Depending on the report, roughly half of all Nigerian identify as Christian, half are Muslim--the vast majority of which do not adhere to radical beliefs, and the remainder follow largely animistic religions.  It is, in some respects, ground zero for a place where religious, political, cultural, and ethnic identities converge and matter in very real ways.  It is both heartbreaking to watch and fascinating to study.

All that being said, I am glad that a decision was made when GHS was created at Butler to utilize Nigeria as a place for our students to study and learn about.  I hope my former students recognize in the headlines of today the lessons we covered in the past.  And I hope as well that they join me in praying for the safe return of those kidnapped school girls and an end to the violence in Nigeria.