Archive for March, 2011

When the trumpet sounds: for Norman Patrick

Note: Ten years ago today, my grandfather, Norman Patrick, died at his home on Lee Street in Winchester. I wrote this column after his passing, during the week before Easter. He was my friend and teacher. I still miss him, and look forward to seeing him again.

“I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” — Jesus

The dogwood tree, which blooms in Kentucky around Easter, is rich in Christian symbolism. One reason is that its petals are in the form of a cross.

I remember a summer day several years ago. My grandfather and I were going fishing, and we were in his old green pickup with the camper on top that he used to haul his johnboat and rods.

As he shifted the truck into gear and pulled onto the street, it shuddered noisily, and he laughed.

He told me that a short time before, the truck had frightened my little cousin, Cooper. He repeated the boy’s words: “Papaw, I don’t like this old truck. It’s dangerous!”

He thought about that a moment and then said: “This old truck is like me; it may rattle a little, but it can still get around.”

He was in his 70s then and could still do most of the things he enjoyed, like spending a hazy afternoon casting for bass along a familiar creek beneath the shade of big trees, or transforming a piece of cherry wood into a functional work of art, or just sitting with my grandmother and guests in the house he built, talking about times gone by.

He belonged to what we now call the Greatest Generation. He had seen most of the 20th Century, from the Model T Ford to the Discovery space shuttle. He grew up in the mountains and started courting my grandmother, Junie Martin, when she was a schoolgirl. More than 65 years later, they were still in love.

Together they endured the Great Depression, a brief separation during World War II, the good years after the war, the apocalyptic ’60s, the uncertain ’70s, the decade of greed and the age of the Internet. Through it all, their faith and love abided.

We were close. There was hardly a weekend that I didn’t visit, if only for an hour. And I enjoyed doing things with him, like watching him work in his wood shop. He never considered himself an artist. That would be his brother Marvin, the painter and sculptor. But all the Patrick men were talented, and he could turn out some of the finest handcrafted furniture I ever saw. Later, he made wooden cars and doll beds for his church to sell at the Labor Day festival.

I was grateful that he could still lead a satisfying life well into old age. In his ’80s, he got to where he couldn’t fish anymore, and then he couldn’t work in his shop.

“I’m getting slower,” he would invariably say when I asked how he was. But he always reached for my hand and smiled and talked a little when I came to see him, although he was hard of hearing and missed much of what passed between my grandmother and me.

Then last year, he had a stroke. I was by his bedside when the second one hit him. He survived it, as he had survived a heart attack years before. He was the gentlest man I ever knew, but he was strong and determined. He walked out of Cardinal Hill Hospital, and for a while was able to go to church with his children.

But over the past year, he got weaker and was often sick and in the hospital. Recently, when he had come home again, I remarked that he looked better and asked how he felt.

My grandfather, Norman Patrick, was a carpenter and woodworker.

“Well, I feel a little better, I guess,” he said, smiling. “I don’t feel like a new man or anything like that.”
I always appreciated his sense of humor, even when things looked bleak.

Two weekends ago, I sat with him by his bedside, held his hand and listened to his labored breathing. He was in a morphine-induced sleep and never knew I was there. I said a prayer for him. Later, I went back to the office and worked for a few hours. That afternoon my father called. I knew before Dad told me. He was gone.

It was what I had prayed for — that his suffering would end and he would be at peace. Still, it was hard to let him go.
At his funeral, his pastor portrayed him as the kind and generous man he was: slow to anger, not one to hold a grudge, a faithful husband, a caring father and grandfather, a simple carpenter who enjoyed a satisfying life. It was a message of hope. A song reflected the words of the Psalmist: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

The scriptures tell us that our bodies disappoint us now, but when we are raised, we will have new bodies full of strength and glory. I believe this because 2,000 years ago, another carpenter healed the sick and raised the dead, and was himself raised on the third day.

Jesus assured his disciples that “the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to eternal life … .”

On that day, my grandfather will be “a new man,” and it will be better than any summer day we ever spent together.

This blog post was originally published as a column in The Jessamine Journal three days before Easter 2001.

Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con Manifesto

In my winter reading list blog post earlier tonight, I mentioned Rod Dreher’s “Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots.” Here is Dreher’s “manifesto” in concise form:

A Crunchy Con Manifesto

1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.

2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.

3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.

4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.

5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.

6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.

7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.

8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.

9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.”

Whigs, crunchy cons, Saxons and new friars

What I read this winter

When it’s too cold or wet to be outside, there are few things I find more relaxing than putting on an old wool sweater, pouring myself a steaming hot cup of coffee or a pint of ale and spending  an hour or two turning the pages of a good book.

I take a week off from work between Christmas and New Year’s Day and begin my winter reading list with some heavy lifting — usually a several hundred-page biography of a political icon. This year it was Kentucky statesman Henry Clay.

I began reading “Henry Clay: The Essential American” by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler last fall at the same time I was reading Robert V. Remini’s short book on Clay and the Compromise of 1850, but I put it aside for a while and picked it up again after the holidays.

The Heidlers’ book gave me a deeper appreciation of what it meant to be a political centrist in the mid-19th century and to try to seek compromise in an atmosphere that was at least as bitterly divided as ours is today.

It also helped me understand the conflict Clay felt as a slaveholder who worked for gradual, compensated emancipation of African-Americans. On this he differed from his cousin Cassius Marcellus Clay, who, according to the Heidlers, was a radical abolitionist for economic reasons, but cared nothing for the African slaves he wanted to free.

Henry Clay opposed abolition because it would have led to an earlier — and probably permanent — secession of the South, and the perpetuation of slavery. He was for establishing a colony of freed African Americans in Liberia because he thought that the emancipated slaves would be mistreated if they remained in this country.

It’s easy to find Clay’s position offensive, but it was considered moderate for his time.

The only work of fiction I read this winter was Edward Rutherfurd’s “The Forest,” which is set in England’s New Forest, in the vicinity of Winchester. In Rutherfurd’s usual style, it follows the lives of several fictitious families over centuries. This story begins with the accidental (or was it?) death of William II while hunting in the forest, and ends in 2000, the year the book was published.

The same time I was reading Rutherfurd’s book, I also read “The White Horse King” by Benjamin Merkle, a short biography of Alfred the Great, the Christian Saxon king who united most of England against the Vikings before the end of the first millennium.

February 2011 was a year of political anniversaries — including the centennial of President Ronald Reagan’s birth and the 30th and 50th anniversaries, respectively, of the inaugurations of  Reagan and John F. Kennedy. So I took a break from the longer books to read three concise Oxford Press bios: of JFK, Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, as well as a big coffee table illustrated memorial book produced by the Reagan Presidential Foundation.

“Living Mission,” edited by Scott Bessenecker, is a fascinating look at the “new friars” — mostly young missionaries who, rather than living in mission compounds, immerse themselves in the communities and cultures of the peoples they serve and live nearly monastic lives of poverty.

I’ve previously written two columns reviewing “The Tea Party Goes to Washington,” by Kentucky’s new United States senator, Rand Paul.

More interesting to me, however, was the book I that is almost the antithesis of Paul’s libertarian manifesto. It is “Crunchy Cons,” by Rod Dreher, and it is an appeal to those, like me, who prefer a return to an older, deeper, less ideological form of conservatism. It is a conservatism that wants to conserve the most important institution, the family, and uphold traditional values that are being undermined by excessive individualism and unquestioning worship of the free market.

“Traditional conservatives know that, absent the restraining hand of religion, tradition or the state, there is nothing to prevent human beings from acting in ways contrary to their own best interests or those of the community,” Dreher writes.

The new version of Dreher’s book, published last year, is subtitled “The New Conservative Counterculture and its Return to Roots.” But I read the original 2006 version with its longer and humorously descriptive subtitle: “How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-wing Nature Lovers, and their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or at Least the Republican Party).”

“Crunchy,” by the way, is Gen X slang for “earthy,” as in green living and granola.

After reading Dreher’s book, I’m convinced this is the kind of conservative I am, even if I’m  five years too old to be considered Generation X.

Here is the list of books I read this past winter, more or less in the order I read them — although I’m always reading at least two or three books at the same time.

January-March 2011

The Forest – Edward Rutherfurd

The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great – Benjamin Merkle

Henry Clay: The Essential American – David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler

Living Mission: The Vision and Voices of New Friars – edited by Scott A. Bessenecker

Ronald Reagan – Michael Schaller

Abraham Lincoln – James M. McPherson

John F. Kennedy – Robert Dallek

The Tea Party Goes to Washington – Rand Paul

Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-wing Nature Lovers, and their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or at Least the Republican Party) – Rod Dreher

Ronald Reagan 100 Years – Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation


What God has blessed

“I met a wise man who changed my life. He said, stop asking God to bless what you’re doing. Get involved in what God’s doing, because it’s already blessed.”
— Bono

Paul David Hewson, the 50-year-old, rough-talking Irish rocker known as Bono, the lead singer of U2, may seem on the surface an unlikely model for evangelical Christians.

Bono, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006, with President George W. Bush, and the first lady, Laura Bush, behind him.

Yet if you’ve ever heard or read his speech at former President George W. Bush’s 2006 National Prayer Breakfast, it’s hard to argue with what this man, who has such a heart for the poor of the world, has to say about being led by the Spirit to do the work of Christ’s kingdom.

This quote from that speech came to mind recently when I was having a conversation with my sister about why most churches aren’t interested in cooperating with one another. Their impact could be so much greater if they would join their mission efforts.

This has long been a frustration of mine. Years ago, when I was chairing the missions committee of a Methodist church in Jessamine County, my friend Dr. Curtis Absher and I tried to bring churches together to do something about the problems of poverty in our community.

We organized annual, ecumenical poverty forums and brought in speakers like Father Ralph Beiting of the Christian Appalachian Project and Nathan Wilson of Sojourners/Call to Renewal. But other than calling people’s attention to the work of existing organizations like Habitat for Humanity, All God’s Children and the Catholic Action Center, and maybe getting them to think holistically about the issue of want, we didn’t accomplish much.

Recently, my Winchester church, First United Methodist, tried to offer a free weekly meal to people. The program, called “Souper Saturday,” lasted for about three weeks before it ended for lack of interest.
I’m not surprised.

First, they did almost nothing to tell people about it. Second, instead of having it at the main church building downtown, where there is a kitchen and dining room, and where it would be within walking distance for most of the city’s poor, they had it at the First Fire campus out at Winchester Plaza.

These were good people with good intentions, but I wonder why they thought our church needed to start its own soup kitchen.

It's good that churches feed the poor, but not every church needs its own soup kitchen. Other churches could support those that are already doing it right.

Once a month, Emmanuel Episcopal Church offers a free meal, celebrates guests’ birthdays, takes prayer requests, has a chapel service for those who want to stay and pray, and provides transportation to those who can’t get there on their own. About six or eight of us from First United Methodist are among the volunteers. Why not get more volunteers from more churches and expand it to once a week?

Or why not support the Ark of Mercy, a Pentecostal church that feeds poor people every day?

One thing I like about my other church, Apostles Anglican in Lexington, is that it does connect with other churches. When we were new to the neighborhood in Chevy Chase, we joined with the Catholic church, Christ the King, across the street, to offer our first summer vacation Bible school for children. In the foyer are two large plastic barrels Apostles uses to collect food for Nathaniel Mission, a Methodist outreach in a poor part of Lexington. What does it matter that they’re a different denomination? One Friday night a month, several of us from Apostles, and occasionally friends from other churches, serve meals to drug-addicts, alcoholics and homeless men at the Hope Center. Other members volunteer at the Lexington Rescue Mission.

There is no need for our little Lexington congregation of about a hundred to try to replicate what’s being done by others. We just lend a hand.

We could do the same in Winchester.

To all those local churches that are not supporting local missions like the Clark County Homeless Coalition, Rapha Ministries, Habitat for Humanity of Madison and Clark Counties, Clark County Community Services, the St. Vincent De Paul Society, Ark of Mercy, New Beginnings and the Clark Christian Drug Coalition, I have to ask: Why not? Every church in this community should be tithing to these missions.

It’s sad that the Body of Christ is divided over what the Real Presence means, whether or not there will be a Rapture, and the timeless debate over free will versus predestination. But one thing Christians ought to agree on is that caring for one another is crucial. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,” and “What you did for the least of these, you did for me.”

We may not all be able to share in Communion, but we ought to be able to share a meal with one another and the those who are less fortunate. There should be room at the table for all God’s children.

Let’s open our minds and hearts to what God has blessed and get involved in it.

Love's the Higher Law: U2's journey of faith

Edge, Bono and the other members of U2, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullins Jr. (not shown), have been making rock music together since they were teenagers in the late 1970s in Dublin.

An earlier version of this was originally published in The Winchester Sun on April 20, 2006|By Randy Patrick

It was a rare bright morning in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, in October 2000 when I walked into a record store looking for a CD by Beth Orton and heard U2′s “Beautiful Day” (click here to listen) for the first time.

I was surprised. These guys were about to turn 40, and I didn’t think they could still make music that good.

I had been a fan of the Irish rock band in the 1980s, but didn’t like the turn they had taken. So much of their art after “The Joshua Tree” was absurd or bleak – a far cry from the energy and optimism of their early work. Yet when I listened to “Beautiful Day” and the other tracks on their 2000 release, I knew: U2 was back, and they were better than ever.

Not only was their return to a clean, tight sound refreshing, so was their renewed emphasis on spirituality.

Even during their glam period, U2′s art had been informed by their faith. But often it was disturbing, as in “Wake Up Dead Man.”

Paul David Hewson, aka Bono

With “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” however, it seemed U2 had come closer to finding “Grace.”

Grace, she takes the blame

Covers the shame

Removes the stain.

What left a mark no longer stings,

Because grace makes beauty

Out of ugly things.

For years, U2 was shunned by evangelicals in America because they drank, smoked and swore, but also because of the words of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which Bono called “a gospel song for a restless spirit.”

If they hadn’t gotten religion, the Pharisees asked, how dare they sing about God and faith?

But as Steve Stockman, a Belfast chaplain, explains in his biography “Walk On,” faith is a journey, not an arrival. Evangelical Christianity puts more emphasis on being “born again” than on maturing. Stockman quotes St. Paul’s letter to Philippi to make this point: “Not that I have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me.”

U2 has also pressed on. Bono is well known for battling the AIDS and poverty crises in Africa, and advocating debt relief for poor nations. He has been a leader in the Jubilee 2000 movement, and has teamed up with Microsoft magnate Bill Gates and Sargent Shriver’s son Bobby Shriver to fund DATA, an organization dedicated to addressing those concerns.

Bono with his childhood sweetheart and wife of three decades, Ali Hewson, in Africa.

In the spring of 2006, Bono was the keynote speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast, where he commended President George W. Bush and Congress for doubling U.S. aid to Africa. But he challenged them and the world’s most prosperous nation — which gives only a fraction of 1 percent of its budget to humanitarian aid — to increase its foreign assistance by 1 percent. He recalled the prophet Isaiah’s promise that “If you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, your light will rise in the darkness.”

Speaking to some of the world’s most powerful lawmakers, the singer reminded them that “love is the higher law.”

How did this tough Dubliner come to have a heart for the poor? In his speech, Bono noted that several years ago, “I met a wise man who changed my life. He said, stop asking God to bless what you’re doing. Get involved in what God’s doing, because it’s already blessed.”

Islam, Judaism and Christianity teach that caring for those on the margins is essential to serving God. But the belief that defending the cause of the poor is not a social responsibility is contradicted by scripture.

Public media under attack

In his Cold War-era novel, “1984,” George Orwell’s character Syme explains to Winston the language of the totalitarian society: “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? … Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think.”

Bill Moyers on PBS. AP photo

Bill Moyers, who served in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration prior to his long career in public broadcasting, used Orwell’s story to illustrate a point: “An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only on partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda, is less inclined to put up a fight, to ask questions, to be skeptical.”

We live in an era when many Americans don’t know the difference between news and spin.

It’s true there’s no such thing as as an objective journalist. It is the process, not the person, that is objective. Like scientists, journalists don’t start at the conclusion and edit the information to support their argument. They look at the evidence, corroborate the facts, and see where they lead.

Reporters are also conscious of their own biases and thus wary of how they might distort perception.

It’s all about the training. The idea that, in the Internet age, “We’re all journalists now” is horsefeathers. Thinking that an amateur with a blog and an opinion is a reporter is like thinking that a street-savvy kid with a gun and an attitude is a soldier.

Real journalism is in peril. One reason is that it has become too political.

Fox News, it seems, has had almost every prospective Republican presidential candidate on its payroll as a talking head, and the network helps bankroll the GOP. Its idea of “fair and balanced” is to have a far-left foil like Dennis Kucinich on Bill O’ Reilly’s show to provide “the other side.”

While most of those who work for newspapers and the traditional networks remain committed to genuine, public-interest reporting, it’s becoming harder for them to do enough. Newsrooms around the country are woefully understaffed, and there’s growing pressure by advertisers and executives to put more emphasis on what sells than on what matters.

That’s why we need public broadcasting, now more than ever.

When the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created in 1967, its purpose was to be fearlessly independent, offer a diversity of voices and provide programs to make people think, not tell them what to think. In addition to producing quality educational series, NPR and PBS pour millions of dollars into investigative journalism to compensate for the decline of watchdog reporting by their for-profit counterparts. Some of the funding comes from foundations, individual donors and, increasingly, business sponsors, but much of it comes from the federal government.

The CPB, however, is under assault in Congress by those who think it is an unnecessary expense and that it has a liberal bias. Really? The same PBS that gave us some of the most intelligent, articulate conservative thinkers, such as David Brooks and the late William F. Buckley? It’s good that there’s one source where thinkers can be heard above the loudmouthed, mindless blather of ideologues like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

I believe that Moyers is right: The attacks on public broadcasting are not so much about budget deficits as silencing an independent alternative to contemporary “Newspeak.”

St. Patrick — a slave for Christ

Near the entrance of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin a simple plaque marks the location of the well, where, legend has it, Patrick baptized converts to the Christian faith in in 450 A.D.

The real St. Patrick was no wizard, but a missionary.

I visited that Cathedral while in Dublin last summer, and it brought back memories of worshipping, 10 years ago, at another Anglican cathedral, in Belfast, where there was a huge, beautiful mosaic of Patrick. The saint is said to have first landed on Erin’s green shores at Downpatrick, just south of Belfast, and in that town, both the Catholic and Anglican cathedrals are named for him.

We all know the myths of Patrick, how he drove the snakes from Ireland (there were never any there), and used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the concept the Trinity. There are fantastical tales of his use of magic, such as the time when he changed his shape, and that of his companions, into deer to elude capture.

While in Ireland last year, I walked on the Hill of Tara, where the ancient pagans offered human sacrifices to their gods. It was on the nearby Hill of Slane that Patrick, in defiance of the high king of Tara, lit the paschal fire that signaled to the king and his druids that the light of Christ had come to Ireland.

This tale, whether or not it is factual, comes closer to illustrating the truth about who Patrick was — not a wizard, but a bishop and evangelist. As the young son of an aristocratic Briton and Roman official, Patrick had been captured by Irish raiders and taken across the sea to be a slave. He believed this was punishment for a sin he committed, but in his writings he doesn’t say  what the sin was. While he was a slave, his faith in God grew, and while tending his herds, he prayed, he wrote, sometimes as many as 100 prayers a day.

Patrick escaped from Ireland, but had a dream which led him to believe he was being called back to Ireland to spread the gospel. After being educated to become a priest and bishop, he did go back and served the church as a missionary.

I was preparing for a mission trip of my own to Northern Ireland with Habitat for Humanity in 2000 when I read “The Spirituality of St. Patrick” by Lesley Whiteside, a thin paperback published in Dublin (Morehouse Publishing, 1996). It is an explication of Patrick’s writings. Here is an excerpt from his best-known work.


The Spirit elsewhere is a witness that even uncultivated ways have been created by the Most High—I am, then, first and foremost unlearned, an unlettered exile who cannot plan for the future. But this much I know for sure. Before I had to suffer, I was like a stone lying in the deep mud. Then he who is mighty came and in his mercy he not only pulled me out but lifted me up and placed me at the very top of the wall. I must, therefore, speak publicly in order to thank the Lord for such wonderful gifts.

Who was it who called me, fool that I am, from among those who are considered wise, expert in law, powerful in speech and general affairs? He passed over these for me, a mere outcast. He inspired me with fear, reverence and patience, to be the one who would if possible serve the people faithfully to whom the love of Christ brought me. The love of Christ indeed gave me to them to serve them humbly and sincerely for my entire lifetime if I am found worthy.

Reagan: pro-union Republican

“Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.”

Those are the words, not of Walter Reuther or Hubert Humphrey, but of one of the president who is considered an icon to conservative Republicans: Ronald Reagan.

President Ronald Reagan, was a conservative Republican — and a supporter of labor unions and collective bargaining.

This video clip is from a speech Reagan  gave as president supporting the Solidarity labor union movement in Poland, in its struggle for freedom against Communism. It is included in conservative journalist Andrew Sullivan’s recent article “Reagan on Collective Bargaining” at (click here)

While many Americans remember that Reagan fired the air traffic controllers union members, most forget that he supported Poland’s labor movement, and that he believed in collective bargaining. He began his public service career, after all, as the president of a labor union, the Screen Actors Guild — and his anticommunism was motivated in part by Communist influence in Hollywood.

An important distinction is that he is here referring to private sector unions, not government workers. Given his action against the striking air traffic controllers in the 1980s, he may have been supportive of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to get concessions from teachers and other public employees during a time of financial crisis. But I don’t think he would have sought to abolish collective bargaining in general — even if he did take a dim view of public employees on strike. He was not an anti-union leader.

One of the points I’ve been making is that the Republican Party has moved so far right that even someone who was considered an ultraconservative 30 years ago, like Reagan, wouldn’t recognize it. This is a good example.

Other examples are that as governor of California, he increased public assistance benefits for those who really needed them while removing from the welfare rolls those who shouldn’t have been drawing checks. As president, he worked with Democratic House Tip O’ Neill to save Social Security as a social program — not privatize it as President George W. Bush wanted to do. In speeches, he strongly defended Social Security, making the point that it did not contribute to the federal deficit. Although he cut taxes in 1981 — and those tax cuts were needed — the 1986 tax reform bill was remarkably progressive, lowering income taxes for low-income people and removing the poorest from the tax rolls. And the Earned Income Tax Credit was the biggest,  most effective anti-poverty program in recent decades.

Reagan didn’t like Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs, but he generally supported the New Deal programs of his hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He began his political career as a liberal Democrat, and even as he grew increasingly conservative and became a Republican and a supporter of Barry Goldwater, two of the presidents he most admired and often referred to were FDR and John F. Kennedy, a fiscally conservative Democrat and anti-Communist who, like himself, made nuclear arms control negotiations a hallmark of his foreign and defense policy.

In contrast to the bitter partisanship and uncompromising attitude of today’s Republican hardliners, Reagan was friendly toward, and worked with leaders of the other party, including Ted Kennedy, Tip O’ Neill and other leaders.

He famously told O’ Neill that he could say anything he wanted to about him or his policies in congressional debates and press conferences, but after 6 p.m. they would be friends. And they were. They would have often have a relaxing drink together and swap jokes like the big-hearted Irish pols they were. And Kennedy also had an affectionate feeling for Reagan, remarking that he had been gracious to his family.

Is it any wonder there were so many Reagan Democrats in the 1980s?

The Republican Party today needs more Ronald Reagans and  fewer Sarah Palins and Newt Gingriches.



Hobbits of Kentucky?

J.R.R. Tolkien, the quintessential English fantasy writer, may have been influenced by Kentucky.

J.R.R. Tolkien, though he was born in South Africa, was the quintessential modern English writer.
In “The Hobbit” and his epic trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings,” the Shire represented rural England, and the hobbits were the common folk of that green and pleasant land: yeoman farmers, craftsmen and shopkeepers.

The Oxford don admitted that what he was trying to do with his tales of Middle-earth was create a mythology for England, because his country had no myth of its own other than that of King Arthur, who was really British (i.e., Welsh), and whose legend is a creation of the French.

Bradley J. Birzer, in his book, “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth,” says, however, that England may not have been the only inspiration for the Shire and its inhabitants.

It seems that Kentucky, of all places, may have influenced Tolkien’s characters.

According to Birzer, Tolkien’s former Oxford classmate, Allen Barnett, was a Kentuckian. He once said that Tolkien “used to have the most extraordinary interest in the people here in Kentucky.”

Could Daniel Boone, by way of Hawkeye, have been an inspiration for Aragorn?

“He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk,” Barnett said. “He used to make me repeat family names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins, good country names like that.”

According to Tom Shippey, who also authored a book of criticism of Tolkien’s work, Tolkien enjoyed fiction of the American frontier, especially “Red Indians” and James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking Tales.” Cooper’s main character, in turn, is believed to have been modeled in part on Kentucky’s most famous adventurer, Daniel Boone.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s curious just how much the ranger Strider (later revealed to be King Aragorn) resembles the character of old Dan’l — as Boone was recreated in America’s myth.

Note: A version of this blog post was originally published a few years ago in The Winchester Sun as a column.

'Mad farmer' and poet Wendell Berry earns honor

Come all ye conservatives and liberals
who want to conserve the good things and be free

— Wendell Berry, from “The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union”

President Barack Obama presented Wendell Berry the National Humanities Medal Wednesday at the White House. Associated Press photo.

For more than 30 years, I’ve been a disciple of Wendell Berry, Kentucky’s greatest living writer and political activist. While he might reject the label  (or any label), I think he is the epitome of a true conservative, one who, as he indicates in his poem about “The Mad Farmer,” wants to conserve the good things about our common wealth, which includes nature, and balance the rights of the individual with each person’s responsibilities to his community, country and world — and the kingdom coming.

I was thrilled to read this morning that Berry, 76, was honored Wednesday at the White House by President Barack Obama, who presented him the National Humanities Medal for both his literary work and conservation advocacy. It was well deserved.

Read James R. Carroll’s column on the award in The Courier-Journal today:|head

March 2011
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