Downtown Steubenville

After visiting Fransiscan University of Steubenville yesterday, I drove downtown and explored a bit before hitting Route 7 South along the Ohio River, marking the Ohio and West Virginia boundaries. Downtown Steubenville doesn’t look to be in great shape, although the relatively recent rehabilitation of historic Fort Steuben was compelling. I didn’t realize Dean Martin was born in Steubenville. The American flag is flying at half mast in honor of Sen. John McCain.

So many towns and communities like this in America’s great middle, some on the track of natural reclamation by the countryside they once cut into, and others somewhere between health and sickness, just waiting for the promise of the Information Age and ubiquitous connectivity to breathe new life into the place.

Visiting Franciscan

I got into Cincinnati yesterday afternoon and will be here for the rest of the week, but on the way out from Philadelphia I stayed in State College on Monday night and decided to visit/stop in Steubenville on Tuesday night so I could visit Franciscan University of Steubenville for the first time. I’ve met a number of Franciscan alumni over the past few years and they’ve all been sober, serious, and remarkable people, so I wanted to see where they came from; or at least where they spent a few years in college.

After my brief visit to campus, I visited downtown Steubenville and its Fort Steuben, which once protected the American frontier. After that I hit the road and completed the remaining four hours or so to Cincinnati, arriving downtown to meet for dinner at Sotto off East 6th and Walnut.

Visiting Happy Valley in late summer

Here are scenes from past few days of travel; first in leaving Philadelphia and driving past the Art Museum where they were setting up for Labor Day’s “Made in America” concert, and the rest from State College and Penn State on Monday night and throughout Tuesday. I worked from the Creamery Tuesday morning before heading downtown and eventually to HIST 197, and it was a great sort of “living nostalgia” getting to enjoy a coffee, catch up on the news, clear my inbox, and just be amidst the fairy subdued early morning bustle of the early fall semester.

After all of this, I headed out of town around 9pm headed toward Cincinnati but decided to stop in Steubenville, Ohio around 1am.

Visiting HIST 197 again

I sat in this morning on Prof. Michael Milligan’s HIST 197 “History of Penn State” course. Like I did this time last year, I wanted to get a sense for the sort of Penn Staters attracted to the course. This fall the course it taking place in 225 Electrical Engineering West, which sits between Willard Building (where it was last fall) and the Hintz Family Alumni Center. It’s held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:35-11:50am.

It was more than five years ago that I remember speaking with a number of alumni from different generations in a short space of time who all had a similar vision for a Penn State course on Penn State history. It would be a way for students of any major to learn about Penn State itself, from its earliest moments through its most difficult periods to the present. Prof. Milligan ultimately made this happen through his development of the semester-long curriculum.

Today’s lesson brought students through some of Evan Pugh’s early writings on the nascent Penn State and the vision for something more than merely another agricultural college, the generation-long struggle through much of the remainder of the 19th century as the institution was led by superintendent-style presidents, and ended just on the cusp of President Atherton’s emergence on the scene.

The LION 90.7fm in late summer

I drove to Penn State late this afternoon, getting into town just after 7pm and just in time to sit in with The LION 90.7fm, the campus radio station, for its first staff meeting of the academic year. Ross Michael is the station’s president and general manager this year, and Russ Rockwell continues to serve as adviser and engineer.

While I’ve advocated for and continue to fundraise for a scholarship for The LION 90.7fm, this was the first staff meeting I’ve sat in on in nearly a decade. Great to see so many people from so many backgrounds in life and in terms of academic and professional interests together at the station. That seems to be a constant.

I’ve written before that I think the primary benefit of campus radio at this point is its role as a platform for learning how to think and speak in public; basically how to intelligently participate in the public square in a way that enlivens the community and ennobles the speaker. We’re often disgusted with social media because it doesn’t seem to ennoble us, to bring out the best in us. Platforms like campus radio still can, because they force one to really come to grips with what’s about to come out of one’s mouth when there’s a live mic. And whether you’re sharing great or unusual music, talking Penn State football, or public affairs, your voice can in some meaningful way speak either a better or worse reality into existence—even if just for a few thousand listeners. Striving to do that is part of being human in the fullest sense, and doing it out of a genuine love and enthusiasm rather than as simply on obligation is what can make community life better too, which is part of what citizenship is about.

Phil Schwarz, a friend for many years and former host of The Wake Up Call (the station’s morning show) for three years during our time as students is back at Penn State as of this month to complete an MBA program. It was Phil’s first time seeing the station’s new facilities since moving in 2015 into a newer part of the HUB-Robeson Center.

The fall semester is underway as of last week, and tomorrow morning I plan to sit in on Prof. Michael Milligan’s HIST 197 “History of Penn State” course.

Tuskegee Airman encounter

On Friday evening I hailed an Uber to the Philadelphia Country Club in Gladwyne for the Pennsylvania Eagle Forum’s 2018 Annual Dinner. I had been invited by a friend, and took her up on it so we could catch up and because I know a number of the people who would be there.

Phyllis Shlafly’s Eagle Forum is a patriotic/political organization. Andy Schlafly, one of Phyllis Shlafly’s sons, was in attendance, and he and Bobby Schindler have spoken together in the past. I met Phyllis Schlafly years ago in Washington, and remember growing up my grandmother being an admirer of Schlafly’s various advocacy efforts, particularly on the risk of adopting basically libertarian laws that would de-emphasis natural human relationships in favor of market/commercial rights that themselves would reorder society. I expect within the next few years that a form of the Equal Rights Amendment will be ratified by new states, and that a push will be made to recognize it as the 28th constitutional amendment.

Corey Lewandowski was the keynote speaker. I was not impressed by him either in substance or style. Far too much hero-worship of the presidency and a great deal of self-aggrandizement. Congressman Glenn Thompson joined a half dozen or so candidates for office, and he was great. I met Thompson when I was a student at Penn State and when he was still Centre County Republican Party chairman, just before he won his 5th district office. Thanks to Pennsylvania redistricting, Centre County has now been split in two, and Rep. Thompson’s district designation becomes the 15th this November.

The highlight of the evening was in hearing from Dr. Eugene Richardson, one of the few surviving Tuskegee Airmen:

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces. During World War II, black Americans in many U.S. states were still subject to the Jim Crow laws and the American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subjected to discrimination, both within and outside the army. …

Before the Tuskegee Airmen, no African-American had been a U.S. military pilot. In 1917, African-American men had tried to become aerial observers, but were rejected. African-American Eugene Bullard served in the French air service during World War I, because he was not allowed to serve in an American unit. Instead, Bullard returned to infantry duty with the French.

The racially motivated rejections of World War I African-American recruits sparked more than two decades of advocacy by African-Americans who wished to enlist and train as military aviators. The effort was led by such prominent civil rights leaders as Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, labor union leader A. Philip Randolph, and Judge William H. Hastie. Finally, on 3 April 1939, Appropriations Bill Public Law 18 was passed by Congress containing an amendment by Senator Harry H. Schwartz, designating funds for training African-American pilots. The War Department managed to put the money into funds of civilian flight schools willing to train black Americans.[5]

War Department tradition and policy mandated the segregation of African-Americans into separate military units staffed by white officers, as had been done previously with the 9th Cavalry, 10th Cavalry, 24th Infantry Regiment and 25th Infantry Regiment.

It was an honor to meet Dr. Richardson and some of his brothers-in-arms. It was surreal to hear him speak about President Truman as a contemporary rather than purely as a historical figure. (Truman’s Executive Order 9981 ended segregation of the armed forces.) And it was a gift to speak with him briefly afterwards. Dr. Richardson is 94 or thereabouts, and this year my grandfather—who also served in World War II in the U.S. Army Air Corps—would have turned 91. I thought of him as we spoke.

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Dr. Richardson is also a Philadelphian and a Penn Stater:

Tuskegee became the center for training African Americans for air operations and was the only source of black military pilots in World War II. Today, the airfield where they once trained is known as the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

Richardson’s interest in flight began in 1930, when as a young boy his father and a friend took him along to see the Colored Air Circus, a group of black aviators performing an air show in Mansfield, Ohio. At 17 he decided to join the Army Air Corps in order to become a pilot. A few months later – at the age of 18 – he completed basic training and went on to Tuskegee Army Airfield for 40 weeks of pilot training. He later received gunnery training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and went on to Walterboro, S.C., for combat training.

While he and 37 others finished their flight training in March 1945, the war ended in the European theater just two months later so they never saw any combat. Of the 38 pilots in his class, 23, including Richardson, graduated as fighter pilots and 15 as B-25 bomber pilots.

Richardson was discharged in 1946 and returned to Philadelphia, where he finished his high school degree and did his undergraduate work at Temple University. He also earned master’s and doctor of education degrees from Penn State. Pursuing a career in education rather than aviation because of the lack of career opportunities for black pilots, he became a high school principal in Philadelphia’s school system. He is now retired and tours the United States and Canada speaking about and teaching the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.

His experiences have inspired a generation of African Americans, including his son, Eugene Richardson III, who became a fighter pilot and an airline executive.

In an interview at Penn State Dr. Richardson reflected: “Every way we can possibly— every vehicle we can possibly use—to let the world know that people are people. Because they’ve had different experiences, because they come from different environments, doesn’t make them any different. They still have the same basic needs and the same basic desires. And we need to help people realize that.”

Beyond human concepts

First, scenes from Center City Philadelphia recently, when the afternoon light was casting City Hall’s shadow onto the rich brickwork of the old Market Street National Bank building across the street. A new glass tower will be built adjacent to this building in the next few years on top of what’s presently a surface parking lot. A large mural on the side of the old bank building will be lost, I think.

Second, I saw the excerpt below shared on Instagram earlier this week. A page from a book was shared, and this excerpt stood apart from the rest to me. I searched a bit, but couldn’t readily find whatever book this came from:

Saint John of the Cross and Thomas Merton are just two voices in a huge choir of seekers who, throughout the ages, have understood this concept [of goodness despite disappointment and loss] clearly. It is not in getting what we want that we find true joy. We find true joy when we give up wanting. Then we can discover the beauty and joy inherent in what is. Immaculée Ilibagiza, author of the extraordinary book Left to Tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, is another, more recent member of this choir. Having watching her entire family and most of her friends brutally beaten, raped, tortured, and murdered, Ilibagiza shares a story of survival that is an astounding portrayal of miracles and forgiveness. The greatest miracle of all is her ability to both love and forgive those who tortured and murdered her family. Through witnessing humanity at its worst, she was catapulted into a pure, unconditional love beyond all human concepts, values, and limitations. …

God is within us. Always within us. But we have forgotten. We don’t notice. We mechanically stumble through life thinking that we know what we need to be happy, and we know where we can find it. Yet we keep looking in all the wrong places.

Dupont Circle, overcast and sunny

A few scenes from Washington, DC earlier this week, specifically around Dupont Circle near my hotel just down New Hampshire.

It was an alternately overcast and sunny day, one of those changeable days where nothing outside seems fixed; hot and muggy, then a bit chilly, overcast and squint-worthy weather, then resplendent and sunny, etc. There’s one thing that’s always just what you expect, though:

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I don’t mind the Metro, and I don’t understand the culture of complaining that seems to surround it. It’s unlike any other subway system I’ve experienced, and gets points for being both distinctive and clean. Maybe I’d change my opinion if I lived there and had to use it for daily travel, but I hope not.

NY1 and truly local news

A year or so ago I subscribed to the New York Times’s “New York Today” and “California Today” weekday email newsletters. I like scanning these each morning and being able to quickly get a sense of what’s happening in New York City, especially. On Tuesday, there was New York/California overlap with this news:

NY1, which is also owned by Charter, is adored by a slice of New Yorkers who are charmed by its homespun feel and its roster of longtime anchors and correspondents … [its] laser focus on New York-only stories, especially in politics, often pays off. NY1 was the only news station that had a camera at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign event to chronicle her Democratic congressional primary upset in June.

Whether the 24-hour Los Angeles network [set to launch] becomes as popular as NY1 remains to be seen. Los Angeles is not exactly hurting for local television coverage, but Spectrum insists it is carving out a different space …

Mr. Bair said that 125 people would be hired for the newsroom and that they were already more than halfway through staffing up the network. The new channel — he would not reveal its name — will be headquartered in El Segundo, near the Los Angeles International Airport and The Los Angeles Times’s new headquarters.

Spectrum has several local news stations around the country, including in Florida (Orlando and Tampa) and Texas (San Antonio and Austin). Mr. Bair said that the local news stations are very popular and “create a higher level of retention” for the cable service. …

“We don’t have to worry about two-minute sound bites,” Mr. Bair said. “If an interview takes three or four minutes, we stick with it. We’re more likely to cover much smaller stories, neighborhood-based stories than you’d see in other markets.”

Mr. Kiernan, the longtime NY1 anchor, said New Yorkers who have moved to Los Angeles constantly ask why there isn’t a version of the station in the city.

“They’ll do stories about the 405 with the same intensity that we do stories about the 6 train,” he said of the new Los Angeles channel. “But a lot of the hallmarks of NY1 reporting will be key parts of their reporting: politics, education, jobs. Those are stories that often get squeezed out of local newscasts by an endless rundown of crime reporting.”

What’s presented for news almost everywhere now is national news. Not even the international news in America tends to really be international; it’s only interested in how America is impacting or being impacted internationally and not actually interested in pure reporting of just what the hell is going on in other places.

As for national news, whether on traditional news channels, the cable networks, or across Facebook, Twitter, etc., we’re all exhausted by it. And that’s largely the fault of the media itself, which has forgotten how to cover news without simultaneously sensationalizing and debasing most of what it presents.

What NY1 and Spectrum are doing make perfect sense. It reminds me of advice I got at Penn State when I was involved with The LION 90.7fm, the campus radio station. A few alums, some of whom worked in news and sports media, warned us not to focus on national issues on the public affairs/politics program, and not to talk exclusively or even primarily about national sports on the sports program, and not to play very much from the Billboard 100 on the music shows, etc.

“Why,” many us of asked somewhat incredulously?

“You’d be derivative and irrelevant,” was basically the response.

“No one wants to hear what a bunch of 19 or 20 year olds who just got out of comp sci class think about the Yankees. But a lot of people—especially a lot of community and alumni listeners who are the likeliest to be tuning inwant to hear what a 20 year old Penn Stater thinks about Penn State football, basketball etc. National reporters and national Top 40 stations are already covering national content better than any amateur student could, but a Penn State student can be a professional covering the local community better than anyone from the outside. To be relevant, don’t go national; go local.” That thinking has stuck.

That’s basically why truly local news used to be great, before all the local papers and stations were scooped up by national chains and become derivative from national syndicated reporting. And it’s why NY1 and things like it should and will win in their niches—because no one cares more than they do about covering the stories of their community well, day in and day out.

Christianity, virtue, and wholeness

In my reflection piece the other day on Andrew Bacevich’s piece, one of the things I wrote was that Christianity as a “belief system” was more important than Christianity an “organizing principle.”

This was in response to Bacevich writing on another author of Christianity “as project—reference point, narrative, and source of authority—[which] imparted to history a semblance of cohesion and purposefulness.”

What I was trying to get at was that the question, “Is Christ who he said he was?” has always been distinct and incomparably more important than the social impact of Christian institutions, but in thinking this way I probably responding to something that really wasn’t contested. Aside from getting my understanding of “organizing principle” exactly backward, my friend Ben Novak wrote to me in what became a back-and-forth correspondence on the direct of Christian faith generally. There are two questions in particular that I posed and to which he responded, and that we wanted to share:

Question 1: “Can you explain what you believe the early organizing principle(s) Christians defeated was/were?”

All of the ancient religions (except the Greeks) worshipped power. Power was the essence of divinity, especially great wealth and power over people. The ancient gods of the East were gods of power. Whoever had power had a touch of divinity about him that could not be questioned–power was divine. Wealth was the sign of power. Power as evidenced by wealth and command was the first and highest attribute of power. This is why we refer to Eastern “Potentates” (definition: one who has power over others, ruler, sovereign).

Thus the first attribute of God in all semitic religions (Muslim, Jewish, and even Christianity) is “omnipotence,” or “almighty.” (First line of the Apostles’ Creed: “Credo in unum Deum, patrem omnipotentem”–I believe in God the Father Almighty.)

Power was the paradigm of all society and religion, and all of society was designed and organized in terms of the flow of power. The emperor or king had absolute power over other men, and other men had power only insofar as it came from him.

Now, imagine what the simple story of Christ meant to this paradigm. The first element was that when the son of God chose to become a man, but did not choose to have power over men. Absolute reversal. Suddenly, divinity was not found in power or wealth, but in something else—the example of Christ, who was a poor man, born in a stable, raised the son of a carpenter, who had nowhere even to lay his head to sleep, and had no elaborate funeral upon his death, but was crucified among common criminals.

This overturned the entire basis not only of society but of personal life. It meant that one did not have to have or to seek power to reach the divine. Divinity to a poor man could be sought someplace else. It also changed the relation of the individual to those with power–they no longer participated in divinity solely by the power they had, but based on their virtue–and even poor men could have virtue. Only the fact of the son of God being born poor was necessary for this organizing principle to be established. From this fact alone, divinity could no longer be associated solely with power.

The underling for the first time had a basis on which to judge those above him other than their possession of power. Whereas before, divinity was associated only with power, now even the slave could judge his master as lacking in divinity based on the story of the son of God, who in the desert even turned down the devil’s offer of power over all the earth.

This story of Christ changed the organizing principle of both personal and societal life. Men suddenly could organize their lives on a principle other than seeking or worshipping power or wealth. It changed the organizing principles of society because it meant that those in power could be judged as lacking in the attributes of divinity as displayed in Christ.

The simple fact of the story of Christ was simply that power was not divinity. This is why, for example, even today people have a warmer feeling toward Christmas than Easter and we celebrate the former much more. It is because it is the story of the son of God choosing not to be born in a palace of power, but in a manger in a barn. God chose to become a man born not to power but among the poorest of the poor and the most powerless. Even the most abject slave could see that the path to God–and a share of divinity—was as open to him as much as to the Emperor on his throne. Even today, the story of the child in the manger resonates more than Christ’s ascension to power and glory.

The story of the resurrection is also a new organizing principle, for no longer did power and wealth in this world matter, but even the poorest and most miserable could look to happiness in the next, while the power of the most powerful men was no longer absolute and unconditional, but subject to being judged after death.

Now slaves could look in judgment on their masters, and the poor no longer had to envy wealth. What a totally different basis of society and personal life! Now power was subject to judgement that even the poor could see and understand.

The story of the crucifixion is also important here, for at the crucifixion, in crucifying the son of God, power had executed its own divinity—God himself. What those in power did to the son of God meant that power could never be seen in the same way again.

It is in this sense that the story of Christ in its barest bones, as the earliest Christians probably heard it, introduced an entirely new organizing principle into the world and changed the basis of both personal and societal life.

They only had to believe that Jesus was the son of God, and everything else flowed from that. A new organizing principle, by which every man, even the poorest, could re-organize his life and reorient it had come into the world with the story of Christ.

So, to specifically answer your first question (“Can you explain what you believe the early organizing principle/s Christians defeated was/were?”) the answer is: the organizing principle that the story of Christ defeated was that power is the essence of divinity.

Question 2. “What is the organizing principle confronting Christianity today? Is it what animated Communism and other ideologies; slogans like ‘everything is economics,’ ‘the personal is the political,’ etc. Is it something else?”

The issue is that the story of Christ has been co-opted. Socialism and Marxism as well as democracy furnished new and alternative theories to justify the poor judging the rich and powerful. If one believes in any of these, one no longer needs the story of Christ to empower the poor.

The organizing principle that is confronting the Church, however, is that these organizing principles are denuded of divinity. In the story of Christ, divinity was relocated from power to virtue and innocence. But in the modern world, these heresies have re-enthroned power, and merely shifted the argument to where power should be located: in the few or the many?

Thus, in another article by Bacevich (which I can’t find right now), he notes that modernists can march for the poor and against the rich without any need to be personally good; it doesn’t matter if they are adulterers or delinquent dads or druggies or sinners at all. All they need to be socially moral is to hate those with power and wealth and to demand it for themselves. Virtue and innocence mean nothing to them, social justice is everything.

How shall the Church (or the son of God) re-enthrone virtue and innocence—as well as the ability to achieve virtue and innocence again even after sinning, by forgiveness and repentance and mercy? That demands wholeness and integrity.

So, to specifically answer your question, my answer is this:

No, it is not by opposing beliefs with beliefs. Admit that after 1,800 years the social sciences figured out another way to decouple power from divinity. But that does not have to result (as Marx would have it) in destroying all divinity in the world, it only succeeded in one separation—the total identification of God as power. Now the Church must insist that virtue, rather than simply social justice, is still divine. At the same time, it must teach that while power is not the sole essence of the divine, it is also part of the divine, but only with innocence, humility, and all the other virtues. Therefore, the new organizing principle that the Church must offer is wholeness and integrity, rather than parts.

That is why, for example, I once argued at one of the conferences we attended together that truth is the issue, for truth to me means integrity which means wholeness.

Here I am speculating:

I think that the reason God had allowed the horrible scandals in the Church is to teach us that proclaiming virtue and innocence is not enough without humility and forgiveness and mercy for sinners. As a result, the Church has first had to relearn humility.

So, it’s no longer a single issue of decoupling power and divinity, but re-coupling a whole panoply of issues including humility, virtue, innocence, forgiveness, mercy, etc., all at once.

Frankly, I welcome this, for it pits the “whole man” against the partial man—a heck of a challenge in a technological world that favors specialization! Just as finding wisdom in a world drowning in information and knowledge is hard enough, today’s Catholic must argue for wholeness in a world that divides and dissects everything into parts.

We’re not sharing this because we think it’s necessarily right, but because it might be a helpful exchange for anyone trying to think through these issues.