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


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.


--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.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

On Ends and Beginings

Two years ago, I passed a professional milestone of sorts.  I first taught a course as an adjunct at Butler University in January 2007, but became a a "regular" on the campus in August 2008.  So, in May of 2012 I got to watch my "first class" graduate from the university and go off into the wider world.

Yesterday, I had the honor of being the faculty speaker at Butler University's baccalaureate ceremony.  As that honor was bestowed by the graduating seniors themselves, it was even more special.  It was even more special for me because several former students were also part of the ceremony, and it was simply wonderful to stand before them and see so many familiar faces out in the audience. 

For those of you who aren't sure what a baccalaureate is, I'll allow the Butler University Center for Faith and Vocation describe it for you: 

"Marking the end of the undergraduate years in ritual, readings and blessings, this event marks the turning point of students and their families as a sacred time. In keeping with the University's commitment to religious pluralism, baccalaureate reflects the diversity of religious and spiritual commitments of Butler students. Steeped in the history of higher education,baccalaureate services come from the medieval European tradition of presenting candidates for the degree of bachelor (bacca) with laurels (lauri) in sermon oration. Today, Butler University is part of a widening community of U.S. colleges and universities holding religiously diverse baccalaureate services, striving to honor the distinct and varied faith traditions reflected on campus."

As the Class of 2014 had selected the slogan "Wisdom for the Journey," I tried to weave a bit of wisdom into my remarks, but also to talk a little about joy -- which as one member of the audience told me afterwords, is something we need to talk more about (distinct from happiness and other "fun" emotions).  Below is some of what I said -- or at least what was written down:

In all seriousness, there are, I think, two things I want to talk to you about in the time I do have.  The first is prompted by your choice in theme for today’s event, “Wisdom for the Journey.”  As you no doubt know, since you all, I am guessing, have at least one item of Butler clothing with the date stamped on it, the university you are about to graduate from first opened its doors in 1855.  What you may not know, was that Ovid Butler wrote the charter for this institution of higher education in 1850, and, by the end of the decade the school had selected as its motto a Latin phrase, which loosely translated into Hoosier is rendered as “dare to begin to be wise.”  As you start on your journey beyond the Butler Bubble then, take heart that you have indeed dared to begin to be wise already.

That wisdom, as conceived by those who founded your alma mater, was a wisdom steeped in faith.  And indeed, such a proclamation was right there in the name of the school itself.  The charter granted by the State of Indiana was to North Western Christian University, and in 1850 each of those four words held a special meaning, much of which we can look back on some 150 plus years later, and see in them the coming war clouds that nearly destroyed the United States.  Today, it is enough for us to remember that founding, and recall that you are graduating with a long history of embracing both faith and reason, and seeing them as compatible parts that make students—that make people-- whole.

And I could continue on that theme.  Indeed, I was prepared to do so.  But then it struck me.  You don’t want another lecture from a professor.  You’ve had enough of those over at least the last 4 years here at Butler!  What you need is a bit more wisdom as you start the next steps on your journey.  And the message I wish to convey to you today is the importance of making that journey a joyful one, and the role faith can play in making it so.

There is much in the world beyond Butler that can be upsetting.  That may even make you angry and upset.  Not everything will go your way, and day to day, there will be many frustrations and irritations, and indeed, even injustice to confront.  But my advice to you is to not let those things consume you.  To lose a sense of joy in life is to lose out on much that gives it meaning.  When those dark times threaten, may you have faith as a shield to protect you.  And may your faith sustain you and remind you of all that is good, and right, and of your own God-given abilities which can help you deal with, and perhaps even, overcome the obstacles life throws at you.

Faith does not promise us that everything will always be fine, either for us or for those we know and love.  Faith carries with it, of course, a good deal of reverence, of somber attitudes, and of quiet contemplation.  And that is as it should be.  But faith, I think, ultimately, should be a source of joy.  And a joyful attitude, a joyful heart, is a source – perhaps the source – of all that is good in this world.  Faith is the balance, not just to reason when it comes to education, but to living a life that has a deeper meaning than just the bottom line.  A faith filled life, in short, is a joyful life.  And such a life is a complete life, one that helps us appreciate what we have been given in good times and in bad, and strive to leave the world a better place than we found it.

My hope, my prayer, for you is that you find it and never let it go, in good times and in bad.  That you cultivate faith and that you spread joy wherever you go.  That you live a life, in other words, full of meaning and purpose.  And, that as you journey, you continue to seek to be wise. 

Thank you for the time you have spent here at Butler University.  And may God, who has blessed you these past few years, continue to do so as you journey on beyond this campus into the wider world.  And may you do so with a head full of wisdom, a heart filled with joy, and faith as your guiding light. 

As these former students of mine graduate today, as students elsewhere across the nation do as well in the days and weeks to come, I could think of no better prayer for them (and for us) that that we seek wisdom and live a life of joy, all the while being guided by faith.