Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Cataloging Old Podcasts #5: Samantha Baskind, Jewish Artists and the Bible in Twentieth-Century America

My friend and former co-host Kristian Petersen recently suggested that we store all of our old interviews at Archive.org. Indeed, this makes good sense.

So as I continue to re-post old interviews to this blog as well as to my "Podcasts" page here, I will be adding them to our Archive.org page called MRB Radio Archive. Both Kristian and Dave Krueger have said that they will be including their interviews there also.

With that, then, on to the next interview...

This one is with Samantha Baskind, author of Jewish Artists and the Bible in Twentieth-Century America

I will admit that prior to reading this book, I had never heard the names Jack Levine, George Segal, Audrey Flack, Larry Rivers, and R. B. Kitaj. But Baskind introduces each of these artists to readers, bringing us to the intersection of their biblical art and Jewish heritage.

As Baskind demonstrates and the reviews have confirmed, such a focus on religion makes this book unique within the world of modern art history. Often these themes are overlooked or discarded. But Baskind puts the Judaism of these artists at the center of her narrative, emphasizing that any understanding them would be otherwise incomplete. Moreover, she does this with remarkable clarity so that even someone like myself who has a limited understanding of this field can follow along and profit from this story.

Take a listen...


Friday, July 7, 2017

Cataloging Old Podcasts #4: Molly Worthen, Apostles of Reason

Micheal Sean Winter is a popular blogger at the National Catholic Reporter who has a longstanding interest in the ways that evangelicals and Catholics have forged political alliances, especially in the 1970s and 80s.

I first met Michael a few years ago when he visited Saint Francis University to deliver our annual "Ethics Lecture." I later interviewed him about his book on Jerry Falwell.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, Michael's name came to mind after I interviewed Molly Worthen about her book Apostles of Reason. He graciously posted the interview to his blog and then went on to write a three-part review (onetwo, and three).

Insightful and thorough as one would expect from Michael, he concludes with the following...
Worthen has made an invaluable contribution to understanding the recent history of American evangelicalism and, if you don’t understand something of 20th century evangelicalism, you don’t understand America, and you certainly don’t understand how Catholics often get tangled up in debates framed in terms quite alien to our tradition but touching on the core issue modernity poses to all churches, the issue of authority. That these important issues come with a prose that is light and lively is a further blessing. Hats off, ladies and gentlemen: A genius has entered the room and her name is Molly Worthen.
I can only agree--fully and completely.

Moreover, since reading Apostles of Reason myself, I have enjoyed and learned greatly from Professor Worthen's many other writings in places like The New York Times. My personal favorite is her reasoned and reasonable defense of the lecture in college teaching. "Listening continuously and taking notes for an hour is an unusual cognitive experience for most young people," she explains. "Professors should embrace—and even advertise—lecture courses as an exercise in mindfulness and attention building, a mental workout that counteracts the junk food of nonstop social media."

Certainly not all of my colleagues agree with this. But Worthen presents a serious argument that we are wise to engage with, even when we hold competing views. The same is quite true of Apostles of Reason. 

Anyway, the interview... enjoy!


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Cataloging Old Podcasts #3: Carolyn Dupont, Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975

Mississippi Praying is a powerful and important book; it is thoroughly researched, carefully argued and beautifully written. It sheds considerable light on the response of white Protestants in Mississippi to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and it dares to draw connections between those responses and the positions taken by conservative Christians in the state in the years since the 1960s. Many of these people continue to tell themselves and others that their dissent from more socially conscious elements of their denominations “wasn’t about race”; Mississippi Praying shows that the matter is not that simple.
And with this, Stephen Haynes concludes his review of Carolyn Dupont's book, Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975.

I had solicited this review while I was still the book review editor for the Journal of Southern Religion. I also managed to have Carolyn review Stephen's book, The Last Segregated Hour. Then I interviewed them both for Marginalia Radio. Synergy?


Since interviewing Carolyn, her book has gone on to win the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize presented by the American Society of Church History. A well-deserved honor, indeed. She also took over my position as the JSR's book review editor, and has done outstanding work as evidenced by the extensive list of superb reviews.

We recorded this interview at her house in Lexington, as I just happened to be passing through Kentucky (as one does). Carolyn is a runner, so we both hit the roads beforehand. My memory recalls an almost perfect winter morning for a run. A light crust of snow on the ground, minimal wind, and temperatures in the mid-30s.

Then, all of that positive momentum carried over to the interview....


Friday, June 30, 2017

Cataloging Old Podcasts #2: Paula Kane, Sister Thorn and Catholic Mysticism in Modern America

I reviewed this one for Choice, which means that I had a 190 word limit. Cruel and unusual punishment for those of us who use 500 words just to clear our throats.

Anyway, here's what I came up with...
Kane (Univ. of Pittsburgh) recovers the unique biography of an American stigmatic, Margaret Reilly (1884-1937). Raised in Manhattan to an Irish Catholic family, Reilly's body began bearing the marks of Christ in 1921, while she was on a spiritual retreat at a convent run by the Good Shepherd sisters in Peekskill, NY. Reilly soon joined the convent and assumed the name "Sister Mary of the Crown of Thorns." Some fellow sisters were suspicious of both her wounds and her supposed divine revelations from Jesus. But as word of Sister Thorn spread, she gained a following of lay and clerical Catholics. Her spiritual reputation expanded further as she embroidered Sacred Heart badges for friends and petitioners. Attempts to canonize Sister Thorn ultimately failed. And questions linger as to the authenticity of her mystical wounds. But Kane's rendering of Sister Thorn's life and afterlife brings into sharp focus the story of American Catholicism in the interwar years, while foregrounding themes such as modernity, ethnicity, gender, authority, urbanization, and assimilation. The clarity and accessibility of the writing is exceeded only by Kane's expert analysis. Summing Up: Highly recommended. 
For this interview, I traveled to Pittsburgh and met Professor Kane in her office, which is in the famed Cathedral of Learning. This is one of those great Pittsburgh landmarks, an image that one conjures when thinking of the city--right alongside chipped ham and the Immaculate Reception.

So it was a cultural experience, but also a terrific conversation.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Cataloging Old Podcasts #1: Stephen Haynes, The Last Segregated Hour

I was doing podcasts before podcasts were cool--like two solid years before Serial. 



Over the next few weeks, I am going to be re-posting some of my old interviews so that they can be accessed by anyone who might find them useful. It's also an opportunity for me to take a stroll down memory lane.

I took a break from the podcasting thing last year for a variety of reasons, most related to the significant time commitment. To be sure, I don't miss the hours and hours spent editing and streamlining interviews. But I do miss the conversations with interesting people.

People like Stephen Haynes.

Stephen was my first interview for the Marginalia Review of Books and we discussed his book, The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church DesegregationWe actually recorded this at the 2013 meeting of the American Academy of Religion, so it was one of the few face-to-face interviews that I did.

Here's the interview, followed by the opening paragraphs of my review of the book. I plan to add all of these to my new "Podcasts" page for easy access and cataloging.


In the introduction of The Last Segregated Hour, Stephen Haynes mentions the Walgreens in his Memphis neighborhood. In 1960, civil rights protesters were arrested there, and store managers soon removed their lunch counter instead of integrating it. Today, any memory of this store’s contested history has all but faded away. In contrast, Haynes insists that longtime residents of Memphis who glance at Second Presbyterian Church (SPC) instantly recall biracial groups protesting the church’s segregation policy in the mid-1960s. Similarly, many still sardonically refer to Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC) as “First Segregationist.” “Clearly,” the author resolves, “the moral standing of churches in this and other communities makes it difficult for people to forget, let alone excuse, what they perceive as immoral behavior on the part of church representatives." 
With this comparison, Haynes vividly outlines his book’s contribution to the history and historiography of civil rights. Church protests—or “kneel-ins”—were small in number across the South. But these prayerful petitions left indelible marks on the region’s physical, social, and religious landscape. Alas, Haynes laments that historians have given scarce attention to this topic. His book begins to fill this gap by using the Memphis kneel-ins of 1964–1965 as a point of departure for investigating the protests and their legacy. . . .  

Monday, June 19, 2017

My Sermon on the Prodigal Son (Really)

While I pontificate every chance I get, I have never sermonized--until yesterday.

Yep, I delivered a sermon for the first time. It was a very unique and enjoyable experience. The reading for the day was Luke 15:11-32--the Prodigal Son. To prepare (which took WAAYYYY longer than I will admit here), I started by consulting Marcus Borg. Most of what you hear in my sermon (especially the 3 act structure of the parable) owes to his insights, information, and analysis.

I never met Professor Borg but I was saddened by his untimely passing back in 2015. Rare is the scholar who can communicate complicated material with clarity and precision. But Marcus Borg did just this and he made it look easy. I am grateful for his example and intellectual legacy.


In putting this sermon together, I came to the conclusion that I can be both the prodigal and the older brother, depending on the situation. So if you have absolutely nothing better to do, give it a listen. If you're an expert on this, however, don't judge. Actually, don't listen. Close your browser and forget that you ever heard my name. It will be better that way...

Friday, May 12, 2017

Because "Writer's Block" Sounds WAY Better Than "Procrastination"

Leonid Pasternak, The Passion of Creation (1892)
To my ear, "writer's block" sounds much better than "procrastination."

So yea, I'm suffering from some writer's block this week--just like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Indeed, my "plan" for this summer is to finally produce a draft of my history of religion and sports in America. After a sabbatical last fall, I was able to get a good chunk of it "finished."

But then the spring semester started...

As each unproductive day slipped by, I kept telling myself that I would get to it over summer. I found this comforting at the time. But then finals came and went, and graduation marked the end of another academic year.

Now, finally, I have returned to my basement office to get some stuff done. And yet... I'm having a hell of a time getting started.

To put it bluntly, I am stuck. And no amount of guilt, shame, or anxiety is prodding me forward.


I suppose that I am experiencing some transition sickness. During the semester, days find a way of scheduling themselves. And there is no shortage of noise and activity. Now I'm alone, surrounded by a deafening silence, and facing down a single job. Perhaps, then, this is just a natural response to having more time and quiet than I am accustomed to.

But I also think that I struggle with anticipation. To explain, let me first begin with a little thought experiment, pilfered from The Worrier's Guide To Overcoming Procrastination... 
Step 1: Close your eyes and imagine a lemon.
Step 2: Now, imagine peeling this lemon and separating it into four equal sections.
Step 3: Finally, imagine taking one of those sections and chomping down on it. 
Did you cringe? Did your lips pucker? Did your mouth water? In other words, did you have some sort of physical reaction to the simple idea of biting into a lemon?

If you did, then congratulations! You have an imagination! And your imagination can anticipate a physical response to something that only exists in your head.

For me, this is what it's like thinking about writing. Instead of eagerly embracing the challenge of learning new things and developing my ideas, I anticipate the hours of toil and frustration ahead. And then I choose to avoid it entirely--but eating lemons is just fine, so go ahead and square that circle.


It doesn't help that the task ahead seems so daunting. If I am being honest with you (which I usually am not), I have to admit that the current state of my manuscript is something like....

It's a mess of ideas, words, and sources. When I open a chapter, I can't get past the first sentence. This brings forth all sorts of nagging questions. Can this ever become a coherent story? Even though I have written a book before, did I just get lucky? Was I unusually inspired then? And is this heap of flaming cow poo the real me?

Who knows.

But at this point, I truly do want to finish the damn thing. That's at least a good start. What, then, should I do about it?

I could begin by writing. Just writing. When I am at my most productive, I begin each day with a minimum of one hour of writing. To do this, I turn off my internet, set a timer, and hammer away. Most of what I write is junk. But there are always nuggets. And no matter what happens with the rest of my day, I have those 60 minutes to show for it.

I also think that it will be worth returning this blog to its original purpose. A little over a year ago, I started Between Jest and Earnest with the intention writing frequent updates on my book. I haven't done much of this lately. Over this summer, then, I will Make This Blog Great Again with more frequent book updates.

Worst case is that I admit to my ongoing.... um... writer's block. Yea, that thing. Best case, it helps keep me accountable--because accountability is a beautiful thing.