Changefest ’09 Indeed

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I Have a Dream


I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshir
e. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Evolution’s Adventurers

This year (2009) is the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the sesquicentennial of his publication of The Origin of the Species. Books are rolling off the presses to commemorate both. If you are interested in the history of evolutionary thought from Darwin to today, I highly recommend Sean B. Carroll’s Remarkable Creatures.
Carroll is a professor of molecular biology and genetics. He has published two previous books: The Making of the Fittest and Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Thankfully, despite his academic training, he is able to communicate scientific discoveries clearly and without jargon. And he’s an excellent storyteller.
Remarkable Creatures tells the stories of people whose adventures in some of the world’s remotest places changed the way we thing about “the mystery of mysteries,” that is, the origin of species. Part 1, “The Making of a Theory,” focuses on Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle and the journeys of Alfred Wallace and Henry Walter Bates into the Amazon. Darwin and Wallace independently discovered the role of natural selection in evolution based on their travels.
Part 2, “The Loveliest Bones,” tells the story of six major paleontological finds: Eugene Dubois and “Java Man,” Charles Walcott and the Burgess Shale, Roy Chapman Andrews and dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert, Walter and Luis Alvarez and the K-T extinction, John Ostrom and the relationship between dinosaurs and birds, and Neil Shubin and the Tiktaalik “fishapod.” Each of these discoveries confirmed or revised evolutionary biology in significant ways.
Part 3, “The Natural History of Humans,” examines three significant advances in the understanding of human evolution: the discovery of the oldest human remains in Africa; the use of DNA to date and trace the course of human evolution; and the relationship between Neanderthals and homo sapiens.
In an Afterword, Carroll agrees with George Gaylord Simpson’s appraisal of how Darwinism has changed human understanding. Paraphrasing Simpson, he writes: “Darwin’s new picture of ancestry meant that humans have no special status other than our definition as a distinct species of animal.” As a Christian theist, I disagree with the implication, though not necessarily with the science. And I wonder if Carroll sees how ironic it is for one and only one species of “animal” to ponder questions of its own significance. At the end of the day, the discoveries made by Carroll’s adventurers are less interesting than the adventurers themselves. They—we—are the truly remarkable creatures.

"On Thinking Institutionally" by Hugh Heclo

I am the pastor of a denominational church, but I live in a culture that despises organized religion (and institutional anything). While I understand my culture’s distrust, I nonetheless value my church and my denomination. According to Hugh Heclo, I think institutionally.
To think institutionally is to have “respect-in-depth” for or “an appreciative stance” toward institutions. This respect and appreciation differentiate thinking institutionally from thinking about institutions. The former adopts the “internal perspective” of institutions; it is committed to the values they embody. The latter is a more academic enterprise that doesn’t care one way or another whether institutions survive.
Institutions themselves “represent inheritances of valued purpose with attendant rules and moral obligations.” They overlap with but are not identical to organizations. Examples include sports, medicine, journalism, religion, marriage, business, and higher education. Institutions “constitute socially ordered grounding for human life. This grounding in a normative field implicates the lives of individuals in a lived-out social reality.” Because institutions are inherently social, a “culture wholly committed to distrusting its institutions is a self-contradiction.”
Unfortunately, modern culture seems wholly committed to such distrust. There are two basic reasons. On the one hand, there is what Heclo calls “performance-based distrust.” Basically, institutions have let us down. Athletes dope up, journalists plagiarize stories, clergy abuse children, businessmen erect multi-billion-dollar Ponzi schemes, professors falsify research, etc. On the other hand, there is what Heclo calls “culture-based distrust.” Essentially, modern culture has taken libertarianism to heart. “Our moral polestar amounts to this central idea: the correct way to get on with life is to recognize that each of us has the right to live as he or she pleases so long as we do not interfere with the right of other people to do likewise.” In such a culture, institutions appear both hypocritical (with respect to their own ideals) and oppressive (with respect to individuals).
And yet, our very distrust of institutions reveals our dependence on them. When we critique institutional hypocrites, for example, we do not dispense with the ideals they embody. We don’t throw the journalistic baby out with the plagiarized bathwater. We demand that journalists write their own true reportage. Even libertarianism, with its vaunted individualism, relies on a web of institutions—the market, the legislature, the law court—as means by which individuals can relate to one another. We may not like institutions, but we cannot dispense with them either. To think institutionally in the modern age is to adopt a critically appreciative stance in which we “distrust but value.”
Our culture has the distrust side of this equation down pat. Heclo focuses our attention on the value side. For him, institutional thinking incorporates three basic concepts: “faithful reception,” “infusions of value,” and “stretching of time horizons.”
Faithful reception entails that the “emphasis” of institutional thinking “is not on thinking up things for yourself but on thoughtfully taking delivery of and using what has been handed down to you.” As a pastor, I cannot think of a better example of this than the institution of the Lord’s Supper, about which Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:23: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you.” Another example from the world of organized religion is baptism. In both cases, the institution in question is handed down by tradition. It implicates participants in webs of spiritual meaning and relationship. All institutions do this, although in different ways. To think institutionally is to accept this state of affairs gratefully.
Infusion of value draws on a distinction between “strictly instrumental attachments needed to get a particular job done and the deeper commitments that express one’s enduring loyalty to the purpose or purposes that lie behind doing the job in the first place.” I think, here, of a docent I encountered at Mount Vernon. In 1853, Ann Pamela Cunningham founded the Mount Vernon Ladies Association in order to purchase and maintain George Washington’s estate “in trust for the people of the United States.” Her purpose was not merely commercial or touristic. She believed that Americans could learn much from Washington’s ideals by traveling to his home. When I visited Mount Vernon a few years back, one docent in particular caught my attention. Unlike some other employees, who ran through their historical scripts in a perfunctory manner, this docent knew his material and was enthusiastic about it. Indeed, it was clear from our dialogue that he was conversant not only in primary source material but in secondary material as well. After retirement, he took on the job of docent because he believed in Washington’s ideals and wanted to teach them to an interested public. He infused his job with value because of commitment to the institution’s purpose.
Finally, the stretching of time horizons means that the institutionally minded person is “attentive to precedent” as he plans for the future. Heclo points to the Roman legal concept of usufruct as an embodiment of this attentiveness. “It refers to the right to make full use of something while also being under the obligation to pass on intact, without injury, the substance of the thing itself.” This concept derives from farming—usufruct means “use of fruit”—so a farming analogy is appropriate. A farmer plants a seed, waters and fertilizes it, prunes it, and after time enjoys its fruit. This process takes years. Cared for properly, the tree will continue to bear fruit for its owner long after the original seed-planting farmer has died. Destroy the tree, however, and it bears no fruit. An institutionally minded person cares not merely for the fruit, but also for the tree. He has long-term as well as short-term commitments. The non-institutionally minded person cares only for today.
Institutional thinking requires that we act differently. A “way of thinking” necessarily gives rise to a “way of being.” Heclo identifies three important terms in this regard: profession, office, and stewardship. Profession pertains to institutional “content,” office to institutional “position,” and stewardship to institutional “process.” An institutionally minded professional—such as a member of the clergy or a doctor or a lawyer—recognizes that he must master the content appropriate to the institution in which he participates. Christian pastors, for example, must know Bible and theology. It is knowledgeable interaction with this content that marks the professional out from the layman. To continue the example, pastors have certain duties inherent in their position: to preach, to baptize, to communicate, to discipline, to counsel, etc. But they must also be attentive to the processes by which they exercise these duties in the context of a local congregation. All stewards—not just pastors—receive these duties in trust, are responsible for “faithful management” of them, and must give an “accounting” of their actions to others (their Board, for example and ultimately God).
As I wrote above, institutions implicate participants in webs of meaning and relationship. To an institutionally minded person who acts in institutionally appropriate ways, meaning in life is not generated by an autonomous self acting independently of others. Meaning, like life itself, is given through relating. Contrary to the sociological and ideological trends of modern culture, then, institutionally minded people know that we really do need each other.
Which brings me back to my situation: I am the pastor of a denominational church in a culture that despises organized religion along with just about every other institution. While I appreciate and to an extent agree with my culture’s critique of the soul-deadening side of institutions, I see their life-giving power too. Institutions can oppress, but they can also liberate by connecting us to purposes larger than ourselves and communities stretched across time and space. As long as human beings are social creatures, there will be institutions. The only question is whether they will serve the purpose of human flourishing.
Let us pray—and think and act—that they do.

Jon Stewart on Obama’s Press Conference

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