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Sunday at the Square: College & faith

This week presidential candidate Rick Santorum made a fairly audacious claim, were it true: President Obama wants to send more kids to college because he wants to indoctrinate them against faith. Santorum:

“I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country… 62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.”

One of my enduring frustrations driving the invention of The Village Square concept is the all-too-human tendency to assume we know the malevolent motivation of another individual we don’t agree with. Of course we don’t. Usually people at least consciously exercise good will, even if it’s shot-full of distortion, rationalization and self-interest (again, alas, all human).

Likely the determinative factor in Santorum’s decision to blurt this particular bit of hostile mind-reading out there is that he was on the Glenn Beck show… we’ve covered the subject of how like-minded company can twist and torque rational thinking (click here for C.S. Lewis on the topic). In this particular case this is – of course – just making stuff up, whether Glenn Beck was nodding his head at the time or not (studies show like-minded groups make stuff up too). Read all »

Sunday at the Square: How shall we navigate faith in the square?

“Faith claims are not arguable. Either one believes them or one does not. Public policy is and ought to be formed through vigorous public debate.” — Valerie Elverton Dixon, founder of JustPeaceTheory.com in The Washington Post On Faith

Shane Claiborne: “A Beautiful Conversation”

“As we create a conversation, I hope it is filled with grace. I hope that there are people here who don’t share my faith and I hope we can talk well together and I think what we need to do in settings like this is we need to be able to really wrestle together and honor each other and listen to each other. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from liberals and conservatives is that you can think you have all the right answers and still be mean. And if you’re mean, no one really wants to listen to you anyway. And maybe one of the most powerful witnesses that we can have is our ability to disagree well and to have civil dialogue. I think it’s Martin Marty that said the new political camps are not just left and right, but they’re nice and mean. And I want to be with people that are marked by grace and love and can disagree well with people… I think one of the things that marks our community is that we know how to laugh together… And if we can’t laugh the enemy’s already won.” — Shane Claiborne, Harvard Veritas (Thanks to Lea Marshall as always)

Sunday at the Square: The power of restorative justice

Please don’t miss this powerful story – written by TaMaryn Waters – of impossible forgiveness in today’s Tallahassee Democrat. It is the breathtaking story of Agnes Fury’s journey to forgiveness for the man who killed her last surviving child and her grandchild. Agnes truly vibrates with the kind of love and humility that could make this possible and if you don’t know her already, it’s time to remedy that. In the words of the man who took everything from her:

“When it’s their birthday, she lets me know. When it’s the anniversary of their deaths, she lets me know,” Scovens said, glancing down at the multi-colored string he fingered. “We deal with that. It can be rough but it’s nothing compared to what she’s gone through.”

And in the words of Dale Landry, the former restorative-justice coordinator for the state-funded Neighborhood Justice Center in Tallahassee: “Agnes is a giant of a woman.”

Read the whole story online HERE.

(Photo credit: Ryan Vaarsi)

“For Barack, our president and Rick, our governor…”

“…for this community, this nation and the world…”

–Prayers of the People, Book of Common Prayer.

Sunday at the Square: Da Vinci Code author on science & faith

Author of the controversial and wildly popular book The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown deals with issues of science and religion that are fueling our deep divisions, in the following excerpt from the audio recording of a New Hampshire Writer’s Project event:

What I’ve finally come to accept is that science and religion are partners. They’re simply two different languages attempting to tell the same story. Both are manifestations of man’s quest to understand the Divine. While science dwells on the answers, religion savors the questions. . . The world is a big place and now more than ever, there is enormous danger in believing we are infallible, that our version of the truth is absolute. That everyone who doesn’t think like we are is wrong, and therefore an enemy.

(Photo credit: John Goode)

Sunday at the Square: A reading from the wedding

“Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” — Romans 12

(Photo credit: Clarissa)

Happy Easter

Easter cross in the town of Otley, England.

(Photo credit: Tom Blackwell)

Sunday at the Square: How Religion Divides and Unites Us

Robert Putnam, of Bowling Alone fame, is out with a new book that’s of interest to Village Square-ish thinking. Co-authored with David Campbell, American Grace seems to make many of the arguments our organization has advanced about division in America: To the extent that we can have positive interactions with our neighbors – regardless of how different they might be on matters of faith – we seem able to put aside differences in favor of community. From the New York Times:

…the story told in this book, by the social scientists Robert D. Putnam of Harvard and David E. Campbell of Notre Dame, is urgently relevant to the recent surge in interfaith tension. Read all »

Chris Timmons: A little rock n roll for your Sunday morning

David Kirby is probably immunized against what must be a common appellation for him: “brilliant.”

An award-winning poet and FSU professor, Kirby has written a homage to Little Richard, popular music as serious art, and a taut celebration of youth culture.

His book “Little Richard: The Birth of Rock n Roll” excels in giving us an exact and delightful portrait of the most significant musical pioneer of the last 60 years.

It is kind of sad, though, that Kirby would have to make the case for Little Richard’s brand of artistic greatness. That’s the fault of rock critics. At first, I got the impression that Little Richard was being used as a proxy for theorizing in the academic mode.

There’s some of that in here, but Kirby retains the sincere, nostalgic infatuation of a teenage boy getting his first taste of youthful revolt.

About that theorizing: It can be seen as a high IQ professor slumming, but Kirby is a genuine appreciator of pop culture and he’s made a nice case for its importance. A lot of it, he says, is non-sense.

The non-sense of pop life didn’t begin with “Tutti Fruit-ti” but it refined it by adding black rhythm, therefore, it is a case of profound injustice that Little Richard has been ignored as a pioneer of rock history, while Fats Domino and others says Kirby, have not.

Art, says Kirby, is largely accidental. And Little Richard’s ability to give young suede shoe teens joy was a product of an accidental moment.

That moment in a recording studio, where Little Richard blushing in embarrassment at the nature of the original lyrics —a “paean to anal intercourse” —stood singing against a wall to avoid the sight of a young lady writer —would change music history by creating a chasm between adult culture and youth culture.

This is especially significant because pop music up until this time was a universally shared pleasure. Mostly, it was the polished stuff of Tin Pan Alley —Cole Porter, the Gershwin boys, Harold Arlen —with singers like Frank Sinatra crooning the swank lyrics.

It had a youthful theme: romantic loss, love, etc but with an adult gleam and sophistication. Little Richard bulldozed that and paved the way for a good deal of the musical act we have now, Lady Gaga, for example.

Although, I admit, jazz was reaching the high point of its artistic achievement in the stuff of Miles Davis, it by then was a minor art-form, mostly ignored among the wider listening public.

What makes Kirby’s appreciation significant is its celebration of the youth culture that Little Richard’s music wrought. The 1950s, as cultural watchers like to say, was the real ferment of culture-upsetting ideas.

What it allowed some Boomers to do is cherish an idea of youthful impetuosity that is self-involved and self-defeating. Greater minds have said better things about its assaults on cultural life than I can muster here. However, I’d like make the point that this is one of the regrettable legacies of Little Richard.

You take his wonderful, interesting exploitation of vaudeville, the black church, and see its seamless integration into his personality: His pancake make-up, gaudy wardrobe, very gay, Wildean personality. And say, Wow! Like Louis Armstrong, he could make you smile.

Kirby makes a claim that I’m not sure I can agree with: Little Richard was the first cross-cultural black entertainer. By being one of the first black performers to strut his musical stuff in front of fully integrated crowds, Little Richard is a little noticed hero of race relations.

I think that designation really goes to Louis Armstrong. Through his countless tours, jazz sets and albums, but especially his TV appearances he was one of the first, really cool black musicians to become accepted by a white audience.

Sometime ago, I was showing a friend of mine an original recording of Ella Fitzgerald doing her famous rendition of “Mack the Knife” in Switzerland. He’d noticed the no-frills accompaniment, assured and dazzling singing, but the lack of a performance concept.

That’s another thing Little Richard did for music: He made it into a performance art. Armstrong had his performing repertory of hokum, but Little Richard seems to have elaborated and perfected it.

His overwhelming legacy, before Beatlemania, was ushering in youth culture and making it possible for a list of pop acts— Madonna, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga — to use considerably less talent, personal novelty and various hi jinks to vulgarize and propel the adolescent swing of pop life.

Kirby makes the case that Little Richard was an original and exciting pop artist in a vivid prose, but he also left a cultural dearth. Still, the music was, readily conceding my tender young ears, “A-wop-bop-a-loo-lop-a-lop-bam-boom.

Chris Timmons shares his insights and conservative sensibilities in a featured blog for The Village Square (and occasionally does a little bit of rock n roll).

(Photo credit.)

Sunday at the Square: There’s a bit of this about

“You can tell you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually)

(Photo credit.)

Sunday at the Square: “Trifling with them both”

The term via media originated in the nineteenth century to describe the middle way between Protestantism and Catholicism, first charted centuries earlier by Queen Elizabeth I navigating her bloody family feud. It is attributed to John Henry Newman who wrote that via media is “neither the one nor the other, but with something of each, cutting between them, and trifling with them both.”

This isn’t unlike the story of America herself, as perhaps our founders most profound insight was to see our diversity as a creative force. Madison called this “factionalism” which he thought promoted deliberation and moderation. A devotion to what Alexander Hamilton referred to as “the constant clashing of opinion” is a fundamental principle of American democracy and I’d argue no small part of our having become a light in the world.

But mature and respectful struggle is hard given human nature, particularly in the age of uber-individualization of everything from I Tune playlists to news programming, and we’re increasingly avoiding the difficulties that come with disagreement. With the rise of a million choices, many of us choose to lead our lives never hearing a peep from people who don’t see it our way. As a result, the marketplace of ideas is ailing, replaced by a growing “tribal” hatred that has written far too many chapters in human history before America came along.

The psychology of like-minded groups is well documented over a hundred years of social psychology experiments: They grow more extreme in the direction of the majority opinion – to the point of actually denying facts in favor of a shared view of reality. We think that describes our current political environment, with two diametrically opposed sets of views and sets of facts.

Enter The Village Square, created by Tallahassee leaders with enduring across-the-aisle friendships and a commitment to revive the central role of jostling of ideas in solving real problems. Our nervy goal is to revive the uniquely American marketplace of ideas, where people stay connected despite their disagreements. We think that has to be done one relationship at a time – one community at a time – beginning in Tallahassee.

Our quarterly “Dinner at the Square” series takes on the most contentious issues of our day and our project “We the People” – winning a highly nationally competitive Knight Community Information Challenge grant through the Community Foundation of North Florida – will offer programming on hot local and state topics along with a groundbreaking project to civilize a tiny part of the internet.

The Village Square will complete its third dinner season this summer on June 22 with “Here I am, Stuck in the Culture Wars with You.” In the fall we will launch the Knight Foundation project, trying to involve as many community organizations and individuals as partners in the project. After building a strong foundation in Tallahassee, we hope The Village Square will grow to new communities.

The early Anglican Church ultimately agreed that – through the Book of Common Prayer – Catholics and Protestants could hit their knees in prayer together even while they disagree.

The Village Square thinks we can find common humanity at the dinner table while we “trifle with them both.”

That’s no small thing. Great countries have been built on it.

(This article was prepared for St. John’s Episcopal Church (The Village Square’s host church) newsletter called Logos.)

Sunday at the Square: La Ville d’Y’s

“In France one speaks of ‘la ville d’Ys’, the city of Ys, which, because of the simpleness of the surrounding world, disappeared in the depth of a lake. Only people with a pure heart can see this city through the waters of the lake and hear the sound of its bells. This is what we must learn to do with regard to others. But to do so we must first have a purity of heart, a purity of intention, an openness which is not always there – certainly not in me – so that we can listen, can look, and can see the beauty which is hidden.

Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty.

And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also – and this is not always as easy – with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation.”

— Met. Anthony of Sourozh
(… by way of Lea…)

(Photo credit.)