Sunday, December 22, 2013

Meta Chestnutt Sager, Notification of Selection for the Oklahoma Hall of Fame

The following is (1) a transcript of a letter sent from Scott P. Squyres, Secretary of the Oklahoma Memorial Association to Meta Chestnutt Sager. Dated Aug. 1, 1939, the letter notifies her that, later that year, she would be inducted in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. (2) Sager then responded with a hand-written letter dated Oct. 5, 1939.

If have transcribed these two letters "as is," with typographical errors, misspellings, etc. as they appear in the original. The photo above pictures Meta, at right, and a friend.  --Frank Bellizzi

Aug. 1, 1939

Mrs. Minta Sager,
Chickasha, Okla.

My dear Mrs. Sager:

It is my happy privilege to inform you that the Oklahoma Memorial Association has chosen you as an Oklahoman whose outstanding service and achievements in helping to build Oklahoma and advance humanity entitles you to a place in Oklahomas' Hall of Fame.  The Oklahoma Memorial Association sponsors this selection to Oklahomas' Hall of Fame each year for Statehood Day on November 16.

This honor comes to but few.  Please acknowledge receipt of this message and your acceptance to be honored.  We are inviting you to be our guest at the Statehood Day Banquet on Thursday November 16, 7:30 P.M. at the Oklahoma Builtmore Hotel, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  During the evening through impressive and proper ceremony you will be inducted into the Oklahoma's Hall of Fame.

Your immediate reply will be very much appreciated, together with a Thumbnail Biography Sketch of your life activities together with a picture for publication in the press.  Also please advise us just how you desire your name to appear upon the certificate to be presented to you at this ceremony.

May we caution you not to give out for publication, or to anyone, any information that you have been chosen. We make this request for the reason that we want to give this information to all the papers throughout the State at once, then they will all publish it at one time, while if your local paper gives it out the other papers will likely not publish the story.

Please be sure to state if you can be present for this ceremony because we want to make proper plans.

May I congratulate you upon this honor.  We will expect an early reply.  With kind good wishes, I am

Most sincerely,

Scott P. Squyres,



1528 South 7th St.
Chickasha, Okla.
Oct. 5, 1939

Scott P. Squyres,
1202 Ramsey Tower
Oklahoma City, Okla.

Dear Sir:

Yours of Aug. 1st is received. I assure you that its unexpected offer to bestow upon me such an honor fairly shocked me.

I have tried never to bring reproach upon my father's name, nor upon the name of my adopted state. I have sought no renown, but always considered the reward to be in the dowing.

Most assuredly I will gratefully accept such a royal honor from such an august body.

Most respectfully,
Mrs. M. C. Sager

P.S. I had to write longhand. I have been in bed ill since July 4th. Still in bed but sit up in bed and do some little things. Improving rapidly now.

I'll be 76 Sept. 8, 1939

Been waiting on the photographer to find a negative. If he cant find a recent negative can you make a reduced size to suit your purpose? I have the picture I would like you to use, it is 3 yrs. old, but a perfect likeness.
Mrs. Sager.

P.S  could send that right away

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Lord's Supper Meditation for Tomorrow Morning

This being the last Sunday before Christmas, all of us have been recently reminded that God the Son took on flesh, that he physically became a part of our world. This time of year, we remember that Christ was born.

This season of remembrance, however, does not teach us why Christ was born. But we need to know and recall the reason. Which is why Jesus himself gave to us the Lord's Supper, this blessed time of remembrance.

We would never want to downplay what Christmas is supposed to commemorate. After all, wonderful events surrounded the birth of our Lord. Scripture reports those things with a spirit of celebration and wonder. At the same time, it is worth pointing out that Jesus never told his disciples to observe something called Christmas. But of the Supper, Jesus said, "This do in remembrance of me."

On several different occasions, Jesus explained to his disciples the reason for his birth. One time he told them, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). When Paul interpreted the significance of this feast, he emphasized that it always announces that Jesus gave his life: "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26).

This can only mean that the rough wood of the manger in which the baby Jesus was laid pales in significance when compared to the rough wood of the cross on which he was crucified. The manger was incidental. But the cross was essential.

Why was the cross essential? Why did Jesus have to give his life? Hebrews chapter 9 gives the answer: Because "without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness" (22).  . . . Therefore, Jesus "appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him" (26-28).

That is what we now remember and celebrate!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Notes on Robert A. Orsi, Madonna of 115th Street

Orsi, Robert Anthony. The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.

The following are my notes on the title listed above. In a few minutes, you can get an overview of the contents of this book. The introduction and successive chapter titles appear in bold print.

Introduction: Popular Religion and Italian Harlem

Orsi begins by explaining, "This is a study of religion in the streets. It is the story of a religious celebration, the annual festa of the Madonna of Mount Carmel on East 115th Street in New York City, . . . " (xiii).

He states that there are two senses of the word religion: (1) rituals, practices, symbols, prayers, statements of faith, creeds, etc., and (2) what really matters to people: their cosmology, the collection of their ultimate values, what they deeply care about. Naturally, this raises the question: So how does a historian get at (2)? Orsi says that there are basically two ways: (a) you talk with and ask people and (b) you observe, you watch people.

"The main subject of this study, then, is the history of the devotion to and the festa in honor of the Madonna of 115th Street and its place in the religious life of the people who lived in the tenements, shopped in the stores, courted in the parks, and walked the streets around la casa della Madonna in Italian Harlem" (xxi).

Orsi says that when conducting his research, he had some secondary interests as well:

1. To analyze a modern, urban religious experience. How to do that?
2. To make a contribution to the understanding of Catholicism. Orsi notes that official spokesmen for Catholicism often speak of only a slice of what that religion actually does and is all about.
3. To offer a social history of a religious symbol.
4. To show how popular religion serves as the sacred theater of a community like Italian Harlem.

1. The Days and Nights of the Festa

An engaging description of the festa. Pilgrimage to the church took place on July 16th, but special events carried on for days. People came to Italian Harlem from all over the Northeast U.S., and even farther away. The devotional activities were extravagant: candles that weighed as much as a man, wax body-part replicas, expensive outfits, plenty of food and drink. Orsi says that he wants to get at what this meant, what it was all about.

2. Italian Harlem

Italian Harlem was upper east side Manhattan. Italians came there from the old country and also from lower Manhattan. Orsi provides a good section on the realities and hardships of immigration. Many of the first immigrants were single men, working enough to either return to their families in Italy with money, or to send remittances on which their relatives could survive and eventually buy passage to America.  The author emphasizes how vulnerable immigrants were and how hard they worked. Italian immigrants were often despised by other ethnic groups in New York because the Italians were used by labor to end strikes. Apparently, Italians were hired to take the place of striking workers. They were much more desperate for work, willing to labor under all sorts of conditions.

Orsi emphasizes the slum character of Italian Harlem. It was overcrowded and conditions were poor. A very high rate of infant mortality in that part of the city. As Italians began to do better for themselves, they would sometimes move out to the Bronx or to Astoria Queens.

3. The Origins of the Devotion to Mount Carmel in Italian Harlem

The author describes the beginnings of the festa in the early 1880s. He notes especially how the status of the Madonna matched the status of her devotees. Orsi states that origins go back to the earliest mutual aid societies in Italian Harlem. He describes how that feste were very important in Italian-American Catholicism. The feste, and the Italians who held and participated in them, were looked down on and condemned by Irish Catholics. It should be remembered that the feste were largely conducted by the laity. Italian American Catholic clergy were also no fans of the feste. But the Catholic Church depended on the Italians because of the large contributions they made to feste societies.

Orsi says that there were really three festas of the Madonna on 115th Street: the one that took place inside the church under the direction of the Catholic clergy, the one that took place in the streets and had next to nothing to do with official Catholic teaching or liturgy; and the one that was somewhere in between the first two, and which was expressed in both the church and in the streets (p. 59).

In 1903-04, the Madonna of 115th Street was elevated by authorities in Rome from the status of a shrine to that of a sanctuary. This has occurred in only three places in the New World: New Orleans, Mexico, and 115 Street in Harlem. Orsi explains the Vatican's motives for doing this: the move appealed to Italians in America and sent a signal to American Catholic leaders that, although they looked down on the popular practices and devotional activities of Italian Americans, they were not in charge of the American church.

At the end of the chapter, Orsi describes the decline of the festa in Harlem; how that on 115th St. it went from a situation where a festa had a church, to one where a church had a festa. Italian Americans were moving out of the old neighborhood, going to places like the Bronx, New Jersey, and Westchester.

4. The Domus-Centered Society

An interesting chapter on the family as a near or virtual religion in Italian culture: Sunday gathering of the group was expected; people could be "excommunicated" for certain infractions, etc. This was reinforced by a kind of anti clericalism among Italians. Good section on the significance of rispetto (esp. 92-93).

5. Conflicts in the Domus

Emphasizes inter-generational conflicts; those between immigrants who had been born and raised in Italy and their American-born children. Rules and norms of the older generation seemed quaint and suffocating to the much-more-American second generation.

Also, conflicts within the domus that impacted particularly women. Wives and mothers were granted a large measure of authority within the home, although they were submissive in public. Seems like what Orsi is getting at is that men insisted on public authority, but that they did not accept an equal measure of responsibility at home. That burden fell to the wife and mother, who typically worked night and day, and who appealed to and empowered the eldest son to carry out her orders in public. (Was this because she resented her husband for this abdication?) Single women had virtually no autonomy.

6. Toward an Inner History of Immigration

Orsi describes the anxieties and paradoxes of the immigrant experience. They wanted to be free from desperate poverty. They came to America and met with back-breaking work, unscrupulous bosses, etc. There was the tug and pull of leaving Italy, and then wondering if it was the right decision. They had grandiose visions of what New York would be like, and were bitterly disappointed. They had not anticipated that they could not simply come to America and make money without America changing them and their families. After immigration, impoverished village or farm life in Italy seemed wholesome and preferable to the dark and hard, unhealthy life in the huge city.

7. The Meanings of the Devotion to the Madonna of 115th Street

A. The Madonna was seen as the person, the power who brought people together from across great distances, and who cared for and protected people who were distant.

B. The Madonna "was a visible link between Italy and East Harlem" (168).

C. The experience of the festa put Italians in touch with their "preverbal environment" (171). Orsi focuses on the combined power of sights, sounds, and smells. He also mentions the significance of scapulars.

D. "Participation in the celebration of the feste and worship of the summarizing symbol of the Madonna  became the nexus between the individual domus and the neighborhood in Italian Harlem" (178). Orsi mentions, among other things, the assertion of Italian presence and pride during the processions which marked off the boundaries of the Italian community in East Harlem.

E. "The community reveals itself to itself" says Orsi. One example he gives: Through volunteer projects for the purpose of enhancing, beautifying the church on 115th Street, the community became aware of what it could do. Also, the festa was a community expression of the solidarity of that group, a time of heightened awareness of and commitment to their interconnection.

F. Orsi says that devotion to the Madonna of 115th Street was partially the result of American Catholicism's rejection of the culture of Italian immigrants. Thus, the Italian community turned to the Madonna as a sort of alternative to a church that did not accept them.

G. Orsi says that the "sense world" of the festa was the context in which healing in the Italian community was effectual.

H. "The festa of the Madonna of Mount Carmel announced that the entire texture of Italian humanity was good, that these people's needs and styles of organizing their inner and outer lives were good" (196).

8. The Theology of the Streets

A wordy condensation and summary of the book. It makes sense, but it's still hard to get a handle on this book, whose points are sometimes slippery and amorphous.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Wills Family Comes to Amarillo

We were encouraged and inspired this evening. The Wills Family visited the Church of Christ at the Colonies here in Amarillo. This family has been blessed with incredible talent. And they sing their hearts out, in that great tradition called Southern Gospel, so that God will be honored, and His people blessed. Special thanks to Darrell Bledsoe, music minister at the Colonies, for arranging this time of praise.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Faith, Fear, and Recent Immigrants to the U.S.

In important ways, Bruce B. Lawrence's book New Faiths, Old Fears: Muslims and Other Asian Immigrants in American Religious Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), updates the conversation that began in previous chapters of American religious history and historiography. What does Lawrence mean by "new faiths"? He means religions that in significant numbers are new to the United States as a result of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. All of them are identified with Asia. Specifically, they are Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Sikhism.

In what sense does the obvious presence of recent immigrants from Asia provoke "old fears"? Basic to Lawrence's argument is the idea that "out-groups in the United States have been marginalized by both race and class" and that "both markers continue to elide in subtle but insidious new forms of prejudice" (15). In other words, in relation to the dominant Anglo group in the United States, the experiences of Asian and Hispanic immigrants mirror the experiences of nonimmigrant minority groups, namely Native and African Americans (8). Lawrence's observation is the basis for a key phrase that comes up repeatedly in this book: "racialized class prejudice." The meaning of this phrase begins with the racial group that occupies the bottom of "an unspoken U.S. hierarchical social order," namely, African Americans. Lawrence asserts that because of a "persistent biracial patterning of norms and values" in the U.S., Asians, Hispanics, and American Indians are thereby implicated because they are not white (10).

Basic to Lawrence's prescription for this new and partly-unique scenario are two key terms. The first is "polyvalence," which, he insists, is different from diversity. While diversity refers to "a myriad of changing forms," polyvalence involves "the plumbing of depths within each form" (9). In essence, Lawrence advocates the abandonment of an outdated, two-dimensional model and the adoption of something more like a three-dimensional model that is more equal to the tasks of understanding the present American reality and charting a course for the American future.

Lawrence's second key term is "kaleidoculture" which he intends, above all, to serve as "the alternative to multiculturalism" (9). Here, the significant difference is that while "multiculturalism" presupposes that the simple fact of many cultures is an inherent good, "kaleidoculture" intends to evoke "a changing spectrum of cultural values and experiences, each set of which is bright and scintillating, worthy of attention, examination, and appreciation as well as debate, critique, and transformation" (9). Again, the contrast between two- versus three-dimensional comes to mind.

In order to frame and illustrate his main point, in Chapter 1, Lawrence begins with what he calls "A Tale of Two Professors." They were Diana Eck and Samuel P. Huntington, both of Harvard. According to the vision cast by Eck, religious differences should represent a cross-cultural dialogue, one that people should join and encourage. The very different vision cast by Huntington was that religion was at the root of a mounting war not between nation-states, but between civilizations. Lawrence critiques both visions as being far too simplistic to account for and provide any sort of feasible prescription for the future. He sees and hopes for a mid-twenty-first century United States where "neither the alarmist predictions of Huntington nor the dialogic preferences of Eck will prevail" (44). Instead, there will be, or at least could be, in America a "polyvalent kaleidoculture" which will contain "fungible subgroups of Americans, all polyvalent, neither minority or majority, just American" (45).

In subsequent chapters, Lawrence makes a number of telling observations, all of them designed to either highlight the need for an alternative vision or to commend the vision he offers. Along the way, he notes that non-governmental organizations, which stand at the center of a civil society, need not be thoroughly-secular. He says that religiously-oriented NGOs can and do, in fact, work quite well in civil societies in nations such as Turkey, Indonesia, and Senegal (Chapter 2). Lawrence also notes that racialized class prejudice has the effect of creating pariahs out of new immigrants (Chapter 3). Such is partially responsible for the ironically-low number of religious options for new immigrants to the United States. Many of them, such as recent immigrants from Iran, choose not to practice Islam in America (Chapter 4).

Nearing the end of his book, Lawrence laments that although Roman Catholics and Jews have been more or less successfully grafted onto the tree of what Henry May called "Progressive Patriotic Protestantism," Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs are still excluded. His sermonic final paragraph brings together and advocates his prescription:

[T]he challenge for American courts and schools and government agencies . . . is to affirm polyvalence, to admit that difference is not just possible but healthy, and at the same time to work for a kaleidoculture, to have every building block in the future of American society given its worth and its place in the land of the free and the home of brave. Who are the free? Who will dare to be brave? Every American, not just those with the privilege and power and history to claim America as their, not others' homeland, but also Asians and Latinos who share, with African Americans and Amerindians, a dream that America's future is greater than its past. Progressive Protestant Patriots will have to move over and share the dream with other Americans who are not less patriotic or progressive because they happen not to be Protestant or Anglo. Polyvalence will succeed because it must (144).

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if something like the program described here will be implemented and will succeed.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Some Time with Bill Humble

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to share lunch and to spend some time with Dr. Bill Humble, well-known among Churches of Christ as a historian, teacher, author, and international tour guide. For many years, he taught and served as an administrator at Abilene Christian University.

So what is he up to these days? At nearly 87 years old, he still walks about a mile and a half every morning, six days a week. When the weather is bad, he uses the treadmill.

He has given away almost all of his personal library. Only a few dozen volumes remain. He says that his days of deep study are over. He doesn't actively research anything anymore. That sort of thing "no longer holds the same attraction" for him. Of course, he reads a little, mostly in books or magazines that are available in large print. It helps that the head of the nearby branch of the public library just happens to be one of his former students. She is able to get him a large-print copy of most any book he wants to read.

He told me that he spends some time almost every day working on his memoirs. His daughter insisted that he write up at least some of his remarkable experiences. But he emphasized that these would be only for his immediate family. With that, he read to me a beautiful passage about how he, a first-year college student from the hills of Missouri, sat and listened as 70-year-old N. B. Hardeman spoke about his time in the Holy Land. That, said Bill, was the beginning of many trips that he would eventually make to Israel and to other parts of the world.

His wife, Geraldine "Jerry" Humble, died in March of this year. Their son, Eric, passed away about three years ago. It can't be easy for Bill anymore. Yet he remains cheerful and his mind is still sharp. I sat and talked with him, feeling lucky, thankful for the opportunity to be in the presence of this great man.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"El Meta Bond College"

Meta Chestnutt Sager (1863-1948)

In the following poem by Meta Chestnutt, the pioneer educator makes clear her theology and conviction regarding co-education:

We stand on the open prairie,
Our grounds ten acres broad;
Minco to southward and eastward,
Along the Rock Island Railroad.

The site in the Chickasaw Nation,
Three miles from O.T. line;
Looks out over boundless prairies,
Where browse the lowing kine.

The work which our school proposes
Invites the girl and boy,
God gave them both in one family,
Shall man that union destroy?

Away the fad of temptation,
That co-education defiles;
Is the rose less pure and fragrant
Because of the thorn by its side.

Then welcome the youth of both sexes,
Change not heaven's eternal decree;
But side by side in life's conflict,
Till ended, their mission be.

El Meta Christian College in Minco, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, c. 1898

Thursday, July 11, 2013

R. W. Officer's Obituary for N. B. Wallace: Text and Comments

Immediately after his conversion to Christ, during the early to mid 1870s, R. W. Officer cast his lot with the Baptists along the border dividing Middle Tennessee from northern Alabama and Mississippi. In that region, he served as a preacher and missionary for the Liberty Baptist Association. The Association was affiliated with a highly-sectarian group of Baptists who looked to preachers who had the blessing of J[ames] R[obinson] Graves, and who subscribed to his journal, The Baptist.

In time, Officer would publicly be rejected by some in that group, including their impressive leader, Graves. While still with the Baptists, Officer was sometimes derided as a "Campbellite." Eventually, he would be adopted by the Churches of Christ.

Historians have puzzled over Officer's religious views and identity. Besides the Bible itself, what were the influences in his life? It appears that during the time of his transition, Officer was taught and mentored by a handful of leaders among the Churches of Christ. These included Jesse Turner Wood, Murrell Askew, and perhaps also T. B. Larimore. But above all, the man who led and encouraged young Officer was Dr. N. B. Wallace, Sr. of Limestone County, Alabama. A quarter century after he first met Wallace, R. W. Officer wrote the following obituary for the Gospel Advocate.

* * * * * * * * * *

My father in the gospel, Dr. N. B. Wallace, heard the call, Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord, and accepted the invitation on the evening of December 27 last. He first saw the light of day near Decatur, Ala., on February 28, 1828. He obeyed the gospel at the tender age of seventeen years, graduated at the age of twenty-one years in Cincinnati, and spent his time for the good of others in the practice of medicine and preaching the gospel. Death can never mar the beauty of the life he lived. Its terror was at a distance; when unmasked, it showed to him a smiling face. The dome of thought, the palace of the soul, sleeps quietly at Athens, Ala. Dr. A. C. Henry and Brother Miller were with Sister Wallace, the dear children, relatives, and friends to comfort them with the blessed promises of our Redeemer. The fact that the spirit has returned to God, who gave it, and that the light of an eternal day is his, and joy and gladness for evermore, is a gentle reproof to pale sorrow that sits weeping at the home of our noble dead. We are glad that the shadow that death has cast over the souls of the living cannot dim the light of hope or frustrate that faith that overcomes the world. Like the flower that goes to sleep with the setting sun, he closed his eyes, and death was done; for to him it had no sting, and by faith in Christ the grave had lost its victory. Death waits on all, but waits for none. Let us be ready, as he was, to accept the invitation to come up higher. The day he was taken sick he turned to his faithful wife and said: Ada, the parting will be sad. The parting is over now; in gladness, hope for the meeting over there. He was called to the mansion prepared at eight o'clock in the evening. Think not of the dead, but of the living; for he lives with God and the angels. Let the thoughts of sadness sleep with him, and rejoice evermore in the light of the hope of the redemption of our bodies.

There is never a day so dreary
     But God can make it bright;
And unto the should that trust him,
     He giveth songs in the night.
There is never a path so hidden
     But God will show the way,
If we seek for the Spirit's guidance,
     And patiently watch and pray.
There is never a cross so heavy
     But the loving hands are there,
Outstretched in tender compassion
     The burden to help us bear.
There is never a heart that is broken
     But the loving Christ can heal,
For the heart that was pierced on Calvary
     Doth still for his people feel.
There is never a life so burdened,
     So hopeless, and so unblessed,
But may be filled with the light of God,
     And enter his promised rest.
There is never a sin or a sorrow,
     There is never a care or a loss,
But we may carry to Jesus,
     And leave at the foot of the cross.
What more can we ask than he's promised?
     And we know that his word cannot fail--
Our refuge when storms are impending,
     Our help when temptations assail;
Our Savior, our Friend, and Redeemer;
     Our portion on earth and in heaven;
For he who withheld not his own dear Son
     Hath with him all things freely given.

R. Wallace Officer, Atoka, I.T.
Gospel Advocate, January 26, 1899, p. 63.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Larry Schweikart on U.S. Exceptionalism

Professor Larry Schweikart is the main guy behind the "Patriot's History" series of books. He says he came up with that title as sort of an answer to Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States." Schweikart believes that a lot of left-leaning historians and scholars really don't love America, although at least some of them protest that they do.

One of Schweikart's points of contention with those to his left is the question of whether the United States has any legitimate claim to exceptionalism. Here's the question: Among the nations of the world, and across the sweep of history, is the USA uniquely different and good? Critics of the U.S. don't really think so. Some of them seem intent on cutting the United States down to size. Schweikart, on the other hand, thinks the U.S. truly IS exceptional. He says that a unique combination of four characteristics is what makes the U.S. uniquely great. Other countries possess two or three. But only the U.S. possesses all four. They are:

1. Common Law, a legal system that derives from the notion that the good Lord gave people an intuitive sense of what is right and wrong. The laws therefore grow from the grassroots up, but are understood to be ultimately from above.

2. A mostly-Protestant Christian religious tradition guiding the culture.

3. Private property backed up by titles and deeds. Schweikart says that in many countries people or families own land. The problem is that they have nothing like a legal deed. Therefore, they can't offer collateral to a bank. So they can't borrow money in order to build their wealth by, say, starting a new business or acquiring more land.

4. A free market system, with competitive supply and demand unhindered by government control, uninhibited by government regulation.

Question: Does the U.S have a legitimate claim to exceptionalism? Is Schweikart right? Why or why not?

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Worker Reads History

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima's houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India.
He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?

Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?

So many particulars.
So many questions.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Sorry About That

Ooops! I was recently without Microsoft Word, so I used my Blogger account to compose a letter. In spite of my best effort to be careful, I inadvertently published that letter here. Sorry for that strange confusion.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Some Recent Books on Choctaws and Chickasaws

In his most recent book, This Indian Country: American Indian Political Activists and the Place They Made (New York: Penguin, 2012), Frederick E. Hoxie offers a broad observation: in the United States, forgetting and ignoring American Indians is an old habit, one with deep historical roots. But, he notes, it was not always this way. Hoxie goes on to relate that during the decades leading up to the American Revolution, Europeans typically maintained both formal and informal alliances with Native Americans. Two Indian leaders who personified these arrangements were Joseph Brant, a Mohawk war captain, and Alexander McGillivray, a Creek merchant and soldier. Both men were significant figures upon whom the British could always depend.

But the treaty between the North American colonies and European states, signed in Paris in 1783, left out the Native Americans and their long-standing relations with the British and other colonial powers. The new American nation sought to sever all ties to Europe and to begin fresh on the North American continent. Because of these interests, the American colonists ignored all previous alliances, leaving the Indians of North America without a political friend. As Hoxie puts it, the Paris agreements "accomplished the double trick of erasing Native people from the international diplomatic arena, while placing them under the authority of a nation that took no formal notice of their existence" (23). According to the arrangement that was finally worked out, "the Americans laid the foundation of a new country that sought to ignore the Indian nations within its borders" (36). Consequently, citizens of the the new nation looked out over the vast expanse to the west and, in spite of the presence of tens of thousands of Indians, considered the land unoccupied and open for settlement. Indians soon concluded that if the United States had their way in North America, then they would be left with only two choices: death or surrender (43).

However, subsequent U.S. history bears out that unlike leaders such as Crazy Horse, Geronimo, and Sitting Bull, many Indians neither died nor surrendered. Rather, they learned to close an earlier chapter in which they established and maintained diplomatic relations with the Spanish, British, and French, and open a new chapter in which Indians would do legal battle with the new United States of America. In other words, shortly after the American Revolution, a good number of Native Americans came to realize that in the new political climate, in addition to a charismatic chief, it was just as important to have a sharp lawyer and a persuasive lobbyist. Consequently, from the days of the early American republic until the present moment, legal and political issues have held a central position in histories of American Indian tribes. A handful of recent studies emphasize this theme in connection with the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. The first three of the four books in the discussion and evaluation that follows fall into this category.


Clara Sue Kidwell, The Choctaws in Oklahoma: From Tribe to Nation, 1855-1970 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), can be seen as a specific example of Hoxie's broad point. It is no accident that Kidwell's book was the second volume in the American Indian Law and Policy Series, a title that clearly emphasizes the legal and political contours of Native American life.

Early on, Kidwell explains the specific dates of her subtitle. It was in 1855 that the Choctaw national government "appointed a delegation to initiate negotiations for a new treaty that would redefine its relationship with the U.S. government." In 1970, "the federal government acknowledged the right of tribal members to choose their own leaders by popular election" (xvii). 

As Kidwell narrates in detail, between the times "the Choctaw Nation underwent a transition from a tribal society whose cultural values were based on communal land-holding, obligations to kin, oral traditions and language, and traditional food and game, to a political, corporate national entity that in 2001 had a budget of over $300 million dollars; whose tribal leaders traveled regularly to Washington, D.C., to lobby for legislation favorable to the tribe; and whose membership included approximately 128,000 people living in all fifty of the United States" (xvii).

In short, through one hundred and fifteen years of struggle, the Choctaws went "from tribe to nation." Almost always, Kidwell's approach to the history of the Choctaws focuses on legal and political struggles vis-a-vis the United States, but also within the tribe itself. Her method is thoroughly descriptive, treating the story as an historical narrative inherently worthy of being told.

In at least two points, however, it becomes clear that, for the author, Choctaw history is always part family history. Series editor, Lindsay G. Robertson refers to Kidwell as both "a seasoned scholar" and "a citizen of the Choctaw Nation" (xi). Later, in Chapter 13, the author tells some of her personal family history, beginning with her great-grandfather, Gilbert Webster Thompson, a Choctaw Indian, and one of his daughters, Susie Ellen Thompson Kidwell, the author's grandmother (176-82). An interesting story, it brings some relief to the reader who has, by that point, digested page after page of often-detailed legal and political description. Kidwell placed her autobiographical chapter so that it would fit into the chronological scheme of her book. But one wonders if it might have been better to have put this chapter where it more likely belongs, at the beginning. How might this book have been different, even more insightful, if sometimes the author had included recollections of her childhood, and things told to her by her parents and grandparents, relating them to the overall story of the Choctaw past?


Published in the same year, Valerie Lambert's book, Choctaw Nation: A Story of American Indian Resurgence (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), offers both a supplement and contrast to Kidwell. Two basic differences between them stand out. First, while Kidwell's survey deals with Choctaw history before 1970, the bigger part of Lambert's book takes up episodes in the story after 1970. Second, unlike Kidwell, whose treatment is mostly phenomenological, Lambert looks at the history of the Choctaws through the eyes of a social anthropologist. Not surprisingly, then, her research  involves Lambert as an observer-participant. In fact, prior to writing, she conducted seventeen months of field study in Oklahoma. Consequently, unlike Kidwell, Lambert identifies and discusses the potential of cross-cultural parallels to Choctaw history. On the other hand, like Kidwell herself, Lambert is a member of the Choctaw Nation. In her "Acknowledgements," she expresses thanks to "the Choctaws" and refers to "our tribe"(ix). She also gives thanks to her academic mentors among whom is Clara Sue Kidwell (x).

Following her Introduction and an insightful, brief overview of Choctaw history to 1970, Lambert tells four separate political stories taken from the tribe's recent past. The first narrates the post-1970 reconstitution of the tribe as a legal entity, which culminated in a 1983 constitution, "the first since 1860" (90). The three chapters that follow go on to "explore the consequences of the late-twentieth-period of Choctaw nation building" (4). But instead of speaking in generalities, or of giving a blow-by-blow description of Choctaw history since the new constitution, Lambert takes up three specific recent episodes: the 1995 election of a Choctaw chief, ethnic conflicts associated with the construction of a travel plaza at Kalichito in the 1990s, and the 2001 water-rights battle between the Choctaw Nation and the State of Oklahoma, a conflict that was and is ultimately about tribal sovereignty.

Interestingly, although her treatment focuses on Choctaw resurgence since the near demise of the nation in 1970, early on Lambert radically expands the historical scope of her investigation in order to interpret the significance of the most recent period. In tracing out Choctaw history, Lambert identifies three special times that were characterized by what she styles as "massive rupture followed by a dramatic rebirth" (4). First, during the sixteenth century there occurred a "complete disintegration of the the great Mississippian chiefdoms," after which the group likely migrated and established what is the modern Choctaw tribe. Second, in 1830 the Choctaws "became the first tribe to experience the mass removal of their entire tribe by the U.S. government." Nonetheless, almost immediately upon resettlement in what is now southeastern Oklahoma, "Choctaw leaders launched a period of intensive tribal nation building and rebirth" (5). Third, although the nation nearly died as a political entity in 1970, since then, the tribe has once again experienced a restoration. Thus, according to Lambert's interpretation, recorded Choctaw history includes three periods of deep disruption and crisis that were followed by some sort of resuscitation. Her point is that the previous three and a half decades have been not only a time of resurgence, but also as a time equaled in significance only twice over the last five centuries.

Lambert also raises broad anthropological and political questions that the recent history of the Choctaw Nation helps both to answer and to illustrate. So, for example, one question the book explores involves nation building. Specifically, does the process arise more or less organically, like a natural reef? Or is it rather that nations are built  by individuals and leading groups who make critical decisions? To ask another way, is nation building the result of accidental process or deliberate action? Lambert believes it is the latter, and so do Choctaws who think of the recent rise of their tribe as the result of the efforts of Chief Hollis Roberts. Again, Lambert's work is especially important as a supplement to Kidwell. Too, Lambert's book would be more immediately interesting to contemporary Choctaws, and to those who monitor the the political life of their nation.


A third book, Wendy St. Jean, Remaining Chickasaw in Indian Territory, 1830s-1907 (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2011), "is a study of the Chickasaw Nation's struggle, in the wake of encroachments by the federal government and groups of noncitizen immigrants, to restrict tribal membership and assert its flagging sovereignty in the nineteenth century" (5). St. Jean's book is significantly shorter than and not nearly as detailed as Kidwell's. But aside from that and the incidental differences in the dates given in their subtitles, St. Jean on the Chickasaws is a counterpart to Kidwell on the Choctaws.

St. Jean relates that upon removal from Mississippi to Indian Territory in the 1830s, Chickasaws faced trouble on many sides. To the east lived the more numerous Choctaws, who agreed to sell land to the Chickasaws provided they would forfeit their political autonomy and merge with the Choctaws. To the west were "wild" (as opposed to "civilized") Indians--Apaches, Kiowas, Comanches, and other fierce tribes--who considered the Chickasaws intruders and who commonly came into their land, stealing what they could. To the south were Texans, who often mistook Chickasaws for dangerous, "wild" Indians, which made the Texans as dangerous as any of the western tribes.

By the 1850s, the U.S. government came to recognize a political distinction between Choctaws and Chickasaws, giving the Chickasaw Nation an independence that they had never known before in Indian Territory. But following the Civil War, Chickasaws were required to deal with former slaves and white intruders, all of whom sought from the tribal nation citizenship with its tremendous economic opportunities. St. Jean notes the most remarkable aspect of this story, and the events that ensued, as follows:

"Despite the nation's small population and internal divisions, the Chickasaw government managed to hold on to a measure of independence and inheritance longer and more effectively than its Indian neighbors. In state and federal courts and in the court of public opinion, the Chickasaws challenged noncitizens' claims and sometimes won privileges that other Indian nations surrendered without a fight. For example, the Chickasaw Nation delayed Indian Removal the longest, got the best payments for its southeastern lands, secured the right to tax and use force against white intruders, excluded intermarried whites from voting in critical national elections (1880s through the 1890s), surrendered its schools last, and was the only tribe to gain compensation for allotments that the U.S. government granted to freedpeople. The Chickasaws' leadership methods and attempts to redefine tribal membership helped them to accomplish these political and legal feats" (6-7).

Thus, in successive chapters, St. Jean takes up different parts of the history of Chickasaw political resistance and cultural maintenance. Along the way, she tells various stories like the Chickasaw's post-War decision not to adopt former slaves, the claim to the right to tax or eject U.S. citizens in tribal lands, and the attempt to maintain schools conducted by and for the Chickasaw people. By the end of the book, the reader can only admire the courageous battle the Chickasaws waged for one long decade after another, and lament the loss of what might have been.

Again, much like Clara Sue Kidwell's book, St. Jean's deeply-researched study focuses almost exclusively on the political and legal aspects of one tribe's history. In much the same way that political surveys of U.S. history leave out so much of the American story, both books present portraits that should be supplemented by works that take into account other contours of the histories of the respective tribes. 


First published in 1980, Theda Purdue, Nations Remembered: An Oral History of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles in Oklahoma, 1865-1907 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993) is the perfect follow-up to the books examined to this point. So much of what they lack, this book provides, and vice versa.

As Perdue explains, her book actually began during the Great Depression. One of the many branches of the Works Progress Administration was the Writers' Project. During the 1930s, under the auspices of the the WPA, the Writers Project "employed between eighty and one hundred individuals to send questionnaires to and conduct interviews with Oklahoma citizens who were knowledgeable about the days before statehood" (xviii). Decades later, once oral history began to democratize a discipline previously dominated by elitism, Purdue made her way through the dozens of volumes that had been produced. She then selected, cropped, and organized scores of transcribed oral reports. Thus, anyone who picks up her book can easily access representative statements in various sections that Perdue created, chapters like "War and Its Aftermath," "Entertainment," and "Religion and Education." In each of her chapters, Perdue not only gives the entries, but also provides a helpful introduction at the beginning, and notes at the end.

For those not yet acquainted with the history of the Five "Civilized" Tribes in Indian Territory, the selections found in this book are a great entry into the subject. But perhaps the opposite direction is better. For anyone already acquainted with standard surveys, to read the reports copied in Purdue is nothing short of an eye-opening delight. 

For example, though St. Jean can describe and discuss Comanche raids on the recently-arrived Chickasaws beginning in the 1830s (see St. Jean, Chapter 2), there is simply no substitute for reading for oneself the extended, harrowing report of an eyewitness found in Purdue (21-23). Thus Perdue is the perfect supplement to the surveys found in Kidwell, St. Jean, and in the first two chapters of Lambert.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What Did the Medieval Philosopher-Theologians Think They Were Doing?

About twelve years ago, I came to an academic fork in the road. That sounds momentous. Actually, I just had to make a decision. I could choose either to spend another semester studying Hebrew, or I could choose to take a course in some other field. At that point in time, some of Yale's Old Testament faculty were on sabbatical. There were also faculty gaps because the University was in between appointments. Consequently, the obvious course for me to take next in Hebrew was not then being offered.

At the same time, Yale was offering "Philosophy of Religion," which was to be taught by the renown Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff. This would probably be the last time Wolterstorff would teach the course. I had neither the time nor the money to take two classes.

I'm not exactly sure how I knew it, but I knew that Wolterstorff was a world-class philosopher. Somehow, I also knew that he was nearing the end of his teaching career. Already I had taken a class with Brevard Childs and another with Leander Keck. I had also sat in on a class taught by Abraham Malherbe. I was witnessing the changing of the guard at Yale University. The course with Wolterstorff would make my experience with the "old scholars" that much more complete. So I signed up for "Philosophy of Religion."

What follows are some of the notes I took during the first few class sessions, notes that I have since filled out and filled in with either some of my own words, or with words that I suspect Professor Nick either said, or might have or could have said. The opening illustration is my own, so if you don't care for it, you know who to blame:

At Manaus, Brazil, the Rio Negro (Black River) meets up with the Rio Salimoes (Yellow River). Each river is massive in its own right. Flying overhead, you can see that the two flow side by side, unmixed, for several miles. If you venture out in a boat and go to that line between black and yellow, you will see and hear strong whirlpools, the sights and the sounds revealing the power of the current on both sides. Eventually, the two converge and become one of the most incredible rivers in the world: the mighty Amazon.

A basic premise of this course is that what we call the Philosophy of Religion developed as a result of a specific historical confluence: the Christian faith and its convictions met up with Greek philosophy and its questions. Thus, the issues that make up what is called "Philosophy of Religion" are not inherent to every place and time. Instead, they are historically conditioned. The questions are not timeless, but grow out of specific contexts. That said, let's establish some of the necessary context for understanding what we're going to call "The Medieval Episode in the Philosophy of Religion."

When Medieval philosophers talk about what we call the Philosophy of Religion they use the language of "natural theology." And by "natural theology" they're referring to something that a person in their day would pursue for at least one of four related reasons:

1. The search for happiness
2. The development of scientia
3. The support of sacred theology
4. The attempt to transmute faith into knowledge.

One by one, let's expand on these points:

1. The philosophers of the medieval period took for granted that human life has a goal, an end, a purpose: what the Greeks called a telos. The medievals assumed that we humans are in search of something. And for each person it's basically the same thing; namely, quietude, well-being, happiness--although the word happiness connotes the idea of pleasure, and that's not exactly what they had in mind. For what it's worth, this assumption came straight out of the writings of Plato.

Now, someone might object that individuals disagree on what constitutes well-being or happiness. What exactly is it?! My step-daughter is convinced that ultimate happiness and well-being would come as the result of her being married to a guy called Lil' Wayne. But as you might guess, to me that prospect for her, or for anyone else, has no such appeal. And that leaves open the question of how we should define well-being.

Assuming that we arrive at an answer to that question, we then have another question: What are the means of achieving what we agree is happiness? So the two questions are: (1) What are we searching for? (2) And how do we find it?

According to medieval philosophers, what provides us with the deepest happiness is the satisfaction of the mind, the pursuit of intellectual goals. In other words, contemplating what is good and best and excellent is what leads us to well-being. "And what is good and best and most excellent?" you might ask. They would answer, "God, of course!"

Now, assuming with them that the contemplation of God is the most excellent way, we go to the next question: Where to you get the requisite knowledge of God? It's only when we know who and what God is that we can contemplate Him. This is a challenge, one that was sized up very well by Thomas Aquinas. He observed that the problem is, it seems like everyone has a common-but-confused sense of God:

Common because we all see the natural order, the obvious design of the world, and we intuit that there is a great designer. As a result, there is a common, general religiosity or "religiousness" within the human family. Common as it might be, however, our religiousness is also confused:

Confused because that knowledge or awareness of ours doesn't have further direction. For example, the creation doesn't tell us much more about what the Creator is like. It doesn't tell us how many gods there are. For example, some people think there's one god and other people think that there are thousands of gods. So our common religiosity is clouded by the lack of more definite, more specific information about the deity.

2. So, is there something that will "uncloud" all of this for us? Yes, said Aquinas. It's called scientia (in Latin). Now, the first thing we need to know about the Latin word scientia is that it does not mean what we mean by the English word "science." Scientia "consists of that body of propositions which have been deductively demonstrated from premises that are evident to rational beings." (In the interests of precise definition, we might note that Aquinas does not refer to the premises themselves as a part of scientia, but only the conclusions. This is mainly an academic distinction. Aquinas would have been the first to affirm that a correct conclusion does not proceed from false premises. At the same time, he does not refer to the premises as scientia, but only the conclusions).

A proposition is self-evident if it is impossible to grasp the proposition without understanding it and believing it. For example, if I have a sibling, then it's clear that my sibling has a sibling. If I have a spouse then is self-evident that my spouse has a spouse. You would never say, "Mr. Bellizzi has a spouse, but it is far from certain that his spouse has a spouse." If you grasp, if you understand what is being asserted by "Mr. Bellizzi has a spouse." then it is self-evident that "Mr. Bellizzi's spouse has a spouse." By the way, this points up one of the tragic ironies of American history: the signers of the Declaration of Independence applied this ancient philosophical definition in a very specific way. They said, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men were created equal . . . ." In retrospect, we know that many of them and their political heirs did not really consider that to be a self-evident truth. If they did, they certainly botched the application of that truth.

Now, building upon self-evident truth, medieval philosophy arises in the context of a rigorous scientia that is often hard to follow. And that's what repels so many people when they first read it. It seems stiff and stuffy and boring. Not only that, scientia has its defects and shortcomings:

a. It does not tell us what God is like. It does say a lot about what God is not. But it never really defines the essence of God. It doesn't tell us who or what God is.

b. Not many people have the time and the opportunity to make this sort of investigation. There are many pre-requisites to the medieval approach and not everyone (far from it) can meet those prerequisites.

c. It's possible that you will commit errors and wind up proceeded on false premises. So there's anxiety. "Did I get it right?" If not, then the whole project is off.

A note on how to read Saint Anselm and Thomas Aquinas: The high medieval assumption was that their ancient texts (like the Bible, Plato, etc.) were a body of deeply-articulate wisdom and truth. Differences between, say, Plato and Aristotle were glossed over or harmonized. The medievals wanted the disparity of their received texts not to exist.

There is (for people who can't or who don't want to pursue scientia) what Aquinas calls "the second way," and that's the way of faith. This is the way of accepting the revelation of God on God's "say so"; accepting the testimony. You take things on "say so" when you cannot see that something is true. What gives you certainty about the testimony though? Aquinas says, "Miracles." (This, of course, fails to satisfy us moderns. But it seems to be perfectly acceptable to Aquinas). This "second way" of Aquinas (again, the first way is pursuing scientia) is said to be superior because the acceptance of testimony (i.e., faith) can take you further than scientia can take you. Not to mention that it's a heck of a lot easier.

3. Sacred theology starts with the content of the Christian Scriptures and attempts to organize it into a system. It also attempts to defend the system against detractors, not only deflecting the objections, but also showing that the objections are false. However, the Bible does not establish the existence of God. It assumes it. So a natural theology (the philosophy of religion) is very handy for a sacred theologian because natural theology holds out the promise of establishing the existence of God, so that the study of the Scriptures (which are all about God) can proceed with confidence.

Aquinas considers sacred theology to be a sub-ordinate discipline. What's the idea here? Mathematics is an example of a super-ordinate discipline. Music is sub-ordinate, because the musicians depend (for tempo) on what the mathematicians have figured out. In the same way, sacred theology is a sub-ordinate science because what is super-ordinate is God and angels and the saints. So, in the medieval period, the philosophy of religion, natural theology was thought to be superior to sacred theology because "sacred" depended upon and assumed the results of "natural."

4. Transmuting faith into knowledge. Let's say that you're a Christian. You don't want to be a religious leader, a professional theologian, or anything of the sort. But you are interested in what we today would call "spiritual development." In that case, Aquinas would encourage you to pursue the study of natural theology because, although faith is in some ways superior, seeing something to be true is better than merely accepting testimony.

The defect of faith is that it can leave some doubts, like scientia, but only in a different way. Scientia leaves you doubting your conclusions because you may have missed a step along the way, or proceeded on a false premise, or some such. But faith can leave you doubting that the testimony really is true. So, Aquinas would say, you're better off if you transmute faith into knowledge, faith into understanding.

Now, in our own time the formula, "faith seeking understanding" is used to mean something like, "I'm a believer who wants to understand the Christian faith better." There's nothing wrong with that, but it's important in this study to recognize that in the Middle Ages, when the phrase was coined, "faith seeking understanding" meant "faith seeking to eliminate the need for itself by transmuting faith into knowledge." This actually begins with Clement of Alexandria and proceeds through Augustine all the way to the medieval period. In the writings of Anselm, such thinking is explicit.

In the writings of Anselm, he keeps referring to himself as an exile. What is the sure sign that he's living in exile? Answer: He doesn't have sight. That is to say, he doesn't know. Exile is a metaphor that he uses to describe his condition. Lack of vision. Lack of knowledge. And what is the cause of his exile? Sin! We were created in the image of God. Faith is the pre-condition of sight, but it is not the same thing as sight. Coming to sight depends upon argumentation. And coming to sight is one of the goals.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Remaining Chickasaw in Indian Territory, 1830s-1907

St. Jean, Wendy. Remaining Chickasaw in Indian Territory, 1830s-1907. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2011.

As Wendy St. Jean explains, this book "is a study of the Chickasaw Nation's struggle, in the wake of encroachments by the federal government and groups of noncitizen immigrants, to restrict tribal membership and assert its flagging sovereignty in the nineteenth century" (5).

The author relates that upon removal from Mississippi to Indian Territory in the 1830s, Chickasaws faced trouble on many sides. To the east lived the more numerous Choctaws, who agreed to sell land to the Chickasaws provided they would forfeit their political autonomy and merge with the Choctaws. To the west were "wild" (as opposed to "civilized") Indians--Apaches, Kiowas, Comanches, and other fierce tribes--who considered the Chickasaws intruders and who commonly came into their land, stealing what they could. To the south were Texans, who often mistook Chickasaws for dangerous, "wild" Indians, which made the Texans as vicious as any of the western tribes.

By the 1850s, the U.S. government came to recognize a political distinction between Choctaws and Chickasaws, giving the Chickasaw Nation an independence that they had never known before in Indian Territory. But following the Civil War, Chickasaws were required to deal with former slaves and white intruders, all of whom sought from the tribal nation citizenship with its tremendous economic opportunities. St. Jean notes the most remarkable aspect of this story, and the events that ensued, as follows:

Despite the nation's small population and internal divisions, the Chickasaw government managed to hold on to a measure of independence and inheritance longer and more effectively than its Indian neighbors. In state and federal courts and in the court of public opinion, the Chickasaws challenged noncitizens' claims and sometimes won privileges that other Indian nations surrendered without a fight. For example, the Chickasaw Nation delayed Indian Removal the longest, got the best payments for its southeastern lands, secured the right to tax and use force against white intruders, excluded intermarried whites from voting in critical national elections (1880s through the 1890s), surrendered its schools last, and was the only tribe to gain compensation for allotments that the U.S. government granted to freedpeople. The Chickasaws' leadership methods and attempts to redefine tribal membership helped them to accomplish these political and legal feats (6-7).

Thus, in successive chapters, St. Jean takes up different parts of the history of Chickasaw political resistance and cultural maintenance. Along the way, she tells various stories like the Chickasaw's post-War decision not to adopt former slaves, the claim to the right to tax or eject U.S. citizens in tribal lands, and the attempt to maintain schools conducted by and for the Chickasaw people. By the end of the book, the reader can only admire the courageous battle the Chickasaws waged for one long decade after another, and lament the loss of what might have been.

Much like Clara Sue Kidwell's book, The Choctaws in Oklahoma: From Tribe to Nation, 1855-1970 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), St. Jean's fine, deeply-researched study mainly focuses on the political and legal aspects of one tribe's history. In much the same way that political surveys of U.S. history leave out so much of the American story, both books present portraits that should be supplemented by works that take into account other contours of the histories of the respective tribes. A good follow-up to both books would be Theda Perdue, Nations Remembered: An Oral History of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles in Oklahoma, 1865-1907 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993).

Friday, March 08, 2013

The Next Pope: Does It Matter?

So when will the conclave begin? When will the cardinals gathered in Vatican City start selecting the next Pope? Here's another question: Does it matter?

At one level the answer is, "Of course it matters." Benedict XVI was a staunchly-conservative, academician Pope, which is part of why he was selected in the first place. Those sorts of commitments and characteristics mattered because they set the tone and established priorities in the Roman Catholic Church.

Anyone convinced that who's Pope doesn't really matter should consider John XXIII, the jovial, docile leader of the Church . . . who wound up calling the Second Vatican Council. (Don't be fooled by the sort-of-goofy guy who likes to repeat the joke of the day. He's much more serious than you might think).

But I digress. The point is, official leadership matters. Except when it doesn't.

It might be natural to think that, in a church, what officially matters is the same thing as what really matters. But it isn't. This is one of the themes of a book first published in 1985 by Robert Anthony Orsi, a book that went on to establish itself as one of the modern classics in the field known as "Lived Religion." What's that? You might say that Lived Religion is the study of what officially doesn't matter, but that really matters a great deal.

In The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950, Orsi insists that there are always those two senses of "religion." He also suggests that Lived Religion is the 90 percent of the iceberg that you don't see. When it comes to American Catholicism, Orsi noticed that those who articulated the meanings of the faith (cardinals, bishops, priests) rarely appreciated or even mentioned the incredibly popular devotions of Roman Catholics: the Madonna of Lourdes, Padre Pio, the Shroud of Turin, and many others including his subject, the Madonna of 115th Street in old Italian Harlem.

I've got my own version of the tale that Orsi tells. For about five years, I was the preacher at the Church of Christ in small southern town. I had been preceded by a long line of mostly-traditional, sometimes-militant preachers. Among almost everyone in the congregation, say, 45 years old and under strongly disliked that style.

Once I got to know those people, I conducted a straw poll. Here's what I said to them: "I know, this turns something complex into an either-or proposition. But just go with it. If you had to choose, would you say that you are a member of this congregation because of the preaching, or in spite of the preaching?"

You guessed it. 100% of the response was "in spite of." Naturally, that led me to ask another question: "So why have you stayed with the church of your youth? Or, if you came here as an adult, why did you do that?"

Most of the answers had a lot to do with extended-family connections. To many people, there was a tremendous overlap of church life and family life. Also, when a Baptist or Methodist married a member of the Church of Christ, if marital peace was going to be kept on the religious front, then the non-member of the Christ of Christ had to come over to "the more perfect way." The proverb about the squeaky wheel getting the grease comes to mind. Responses also included the idea that people who had spent their lives in the Church of Christ wouldn't fit anywhere else. On the positive side, these people said that they liked the highest ideals of the congregation, even though they acknowledged that we didn't always live up to them.

My little experiment was my first memorable exposure to the fact that why people are part of a group, and what leaders offer as reasons for group membership can be two different things. It reminds me of one of Donald McGavran's many wise sayings: the chief barriers to conversion are not theological. They are sociological.

So the cardinals can gather and decide and send white smoke through the chimney. Their choice will be  important. And churches can select their next preachers. And those preachers can preach and teach and write and blog. All of those are important too. But there are a lot of other things that Christian people feel and do that are just as significant, in many cases more so. In a world attracted to fanfare and hype, it's helpful, I think, to understand what is significant to most people most of the time. It's not the Pope or me.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Blizzard of '13: Big-time Snow in the TX Panhandle

Top photo was taken at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 24th. It was about 68 degrees with a light wind. The camera is facing north. As you can tell from the sun-drenched yard, the view to the south was cloudless. I could hardly believe that a blizzard warning would go into effect at 6 p.m.

By 10 p.m. it had hardly snowed at all. But it had gotten very cold. In just a few hours, the temperature dropped by about 40 degrees. The bottom photo was taken this afternoon, Monday, about 24 hours later. The temperature stood at about 30.

There were some pretty high drifts near homes and fences. Much of Amarillo and Canyon was shut down today (public schools, colleges, various businesses, and the mall). I suspect there will be several closings and cancellations for tomorrow as well. This snow was wet and heavy.

They just announced on the evening news that the official measurement is at least a foot of snow, and more like 19 inches in some places. Area schools will be closed tomorrow as well as today.

Friday, February 15, 2013

England and the Early U.S. in Asian Trade

Fichter, James R. So Great a Proffit: How the East Indies Trade Transformed Anglo-American Capitalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.

This book is about Anglo-American capitalism in Asia. The story, says author James R. Ficther, illustrates "the deep links between the United States and the rest of the world from that country's inception (2-3).

For what it's worth, the part about "from that country's inception" is significant. The field of historical study that focuses on the U.S. and the rest of the world is growing rapidly. More to the point, it emphasizes not so much U.S. impact on the rest of the world, but rather the world's contributions and connections to U.S. history.

In this book, Fichter notes that American international traders did quite well for themselves in the years that immediately followed the American Revolution. Their economic success helped to pave the way for the tremendous growth that the U.S. experienced during the nineteenth century. But how did it happen? A careful historian, Fichter argues that there were a number of global factors at work in the rise and success of early-U.S. international trade. According to the author, some of these factors were as follows:

1. A strong American resistance to state-sponsored monopolies. The English East India Company was the only corporation that could legally import Asian goods, like tea, to Great Britain and her colonies. This, says Ficther, was at the root of the Boston Tea Party in December 1773. It wasn't merely that British subjects in America resented taxes on tea. It was that they also rejected the monopoly that locked American merchants out of the import business. From the beginning, the United States held onto the economic theory that insists that open and fair trade is a good thing for everyone.

2. The French Wars, which lasted from about 1793-1815, were an incredible distraction and impediment to European trade. European navies required ships for military purposes. Hostile countries interfered in each other's international trade. All along, the U.S. was basically neutral. So its trading vessels could safely sail under the American flag and do business with anyone.

3. Asian sellers wanted to be paid by Western buyers in silver. But there wasn't much of that in the early United States. American business leaders remedied that problem by selling shares in a given trading voyage to sometimes twenty or more individual investors. Most of these investors could never have owned a ship or financed a voyage. But they could still get in on the huge profits that came from international trade. In essence, by pooling their silver, Americans were not only able to make a lot of money, they were also able to quickly become major players in the game of Western trade with the East.

4. In spite of all its pomp and pride, the English East India Company, a state monopoly, was incredibly inefficient. Ironically, by attempting to retain its authority and unique legal status, it defeated itself.

5. British colonization in Asia created a whole set of problems associated with ruling a place so far from home. The United States didn't have those problems because it didn't have colonies in Asia.

By 1815, the English East India Company was kaput. Also by that time, enough American international traders had accumulated enough capital that they were able to help other industries in the U.S. to grow. In short, the British came to adopt a superior approach to Asian trade. While that was happening, the United States became a major player in Asian trade. The foregoing is nothing like a complete review of this book. But it does present some of the highlights.

Now, what was best about this book? I'm no expert on this topic, but I can tell you about what struck me. I think that the scope and depth of this book are impressive, to say the least. Ficther has spent a good bit of time in libraries and archives literally all over the world. Because of the extent of his painstaking research, he is able to tell a broad, complex story that takes into account a tremendous amount of wide-ranging information. This book represents quite an achievement, one that the reader will learn from and appreciate.

What wasn't so good about this book? While focusing on economics, Ficther tends to ignore the political dimension of his story. This shows up when one takes note of the featured actors. The author pays a lot of attention to people like American merchants, ship captains, and representatives of the East India Company. By contrast, we hear very little about significant politicians of the day. Perhaps the most glaring omission is Fichter's near silence about the labor of slaves in the Caribbean, an absolutely vital aspect of this episode in history. I am reluctant to fault a book along this line because it seems like faulting the author for not writing a different book. But I do think that more attention to the issues I have mentioned here would make this really fine book that much better.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

A. C. Huff: A Brief Biography

The first full-time preacher for the Church of Christ in Altus, Oklahoma was A. C. Huff. By the time he arrived in Altus in 1907, he was forty-three years old and brought with him over twenty years of preaching experience. The congregation paid him $60 a month, which was roughly equivalent to $1550 by 2013 standards.

A.C. Huff was born in 1864 in Halletsville, Texas, a little town in Lavaca County, about halfway between Houston and San Antonio. His mother died when he was just three years old. As tragic and sad as that was, the little boy was fortunate in that he had four older sisters who mothered him.

Growing up during those difficult years just after the Civil War, he had very few opportunities to receive any formal education. At the outbreak of the War, many schools across the South closed. It was years later before public schools were common. However, when he was sixteen he was able to attend school regularly for a time at Brownwood, Texas.

We know very little about the religious background of his family. We do know that he was baptized into Christ by W. E. Hawkins in 1882, and that he began preaching two years later, when he was twenty years old.

From that time on, for over 80 years, A. C. Huff preached the gospel of Christ and taught the truth of the Bible! He lived from 1864 to 1967--from Civil War to Civil Rights--and died at the age of 103. If he had lived two more months, he would have turned 104. During those 80-plus years of ministry, he was instrumental in planting congregations at Tucumcari and Raton, New Mexico; at Vega, Dodson, and Bronte, Texas; and at Lacey Chapel, Oklahoma. He preached in countless places, engaged in four religious debates that we know of, fathered twelve children, and delivered a 40-minute sermon on the day he turned 101.

Apparently, he spent less than a year in Altus. Our best records indicate that he worked with the church there in 1907, and with the church in Hollis, Oklahoma in 1910. It is a testimony to his preaching in Altus that since those days, there have only been a few short times when the Church of Christ did not support a regular preacher.

A. C. Huff passed from this life on December 8, 1967 in Del City, Oklahoma. The next morning, John R. Stewart conducted his funeral there and accompanied the casket to McLean, Texas, where a memorial service was held at 3 p.m., and where the old preacher lies buried until the resurrection.


Baxter, Batsell Barrett and M. Norvel Young, eds. Preachers of Today: A Book of Brief Biographical Sketches and Pictures of Living Gospel Preachers. Nashville: Christian Press, 1952.

Burns, Thelma. "Church History: Church of Christ, Altus, Oklahoma 1898-1980." Unpublished document, 1980. The best written source for the broad sweep of the history of the Hudson and Elm congregation.

Hall, W. Claude, "Congregational Growth and Expansion: Altus, Oklahoma," Firm Foundation September 13, 1927. An indispensable source for the early history of what was at that time the only congregation of the Church of Christ in Altus. Includes photos.

Lambert, Gussie. In Memoriam. Shreveport, LA: Gussie Lambert, 1988. Contains a four-page biography of Huff and a photo.

Stewart, John R. "Huff, A. C.," Gospel Advocate January 11, 1968. Huff's obituary, written shortly after his death by the man who conducted his funeral.

Wilhite, J. Porter. The Trail Blazers: Heroes of the Faith. Shreveport, LA: Lambert Book House, 1965. Includes a brief biography of Huff and the notes for one of his sermons.

Wilson, Linda D. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture, s.v. "Schools, Subscription." (accessed January 30, 2013). I found this article helpful for understanding a reference to the little formal education that A. C. Huff received at a "subscription school."