Archive for the ‘books’ Category

What it means to be a crunchy conservative

First published Oct. 3, 2016

There are many mansions in the American conservative house, and some of them are old and funky and smell like a pot of organic mustard greens cooking down on the stove.

— Rod Dreher, from “Crunchy Cons”

It wasn’t until I was 45 that I started to think of myself as a conservative.

At heart, I had always been one, even in my 20s, when I called myself a democratic socialist, traveled to Nicaragua, read Hunter Thompson and listened to Neil Young.

I still listen to Neil Young.

Like many of my contemporaries, I had the idea that to be a conservative meant to be a belligerent neocon on foreign policy, a self-centered libertarian on economics and a closed-minded culture warrior on social matters.

I was wrong.

Although I’ve never met him — and he’s several years younger than I am — Rod Dreher had a big influence on my thinking after I had left the Democratic Party over its ideological rigidity, joined an Anglican church and become the managing editor of a daily newspaper.

Dreher’s book that introduced me to a different way of understanding this venerable philosophy had a title that could have been a chapter: “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).”

Crunchy conservatism, Dreher explained, is not a political program, but rather a “practical sensibility” based on what the wisdom of tradition teaches is best for families and communities.

It is about conserving those things that are good and true.

This summer, I read the book again, and was struck by how much things have changed in the 10 years since it was written.

What a different time 2005 was. George W. Bush was president, Pope John Paul II was succeeded by the even more orthodox Benedict XVI, the Defense of Marriage Act was still the law of the land, legal recreational marijuana was a pipe dream, we were engaged in costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated how inept big government could be, the housing market was soaring, fueled by bad loan practices, and almost no one could foresee the financial meltdown that was coming.

I’m convinced that if the Republican Party had gone in the direction that Dreher and others suggested, rather than toward the hard-line libertarianism and isolationism of the tea party movement, it would have been able to compete with the Democratic Party for the hearts and minds of younger Americans and could have made a positive difference in our society.

Dreher’s crunchy (read: earthy) conservatism is traditional Burkean conservatism for a new generation. Edmund Burke, an 18th century Dubliner and British statesman, rejected abstract Enlightenment reason and “natural law” as guiding lights. All of us, he wrote, are influenced by our cultural traditions, and while individual liberty is important, community is no less so. We belong to one another, and that affects who were are.

Burke wrote that the individual is foolish, but the species is wise. We must learn from those who have gone before us and not rely solely on ourselves. And we must rely on the greater wisdom of the Supreme Being as handed down through the ages.

Mainstream liberalism and conservatism are both essentially materialistic, Dreher argues, and we should not be surprised that neither has led to the improvement of our national character. He describes his book as a rebuke to both the economic individualism of the right and the moral individualism of the left. Its purpose is to explore ways to live out conservative values in a culture that seeks to separate us from our values, families and communities.

In less than 250 pages, “Crunchy Cons” uses Dreher’s own experiences as well as those of people across the country who are living countercultural lives that are socially, spiritually and physically healthier than the ways of the dominant culture. He looks at organic farming and the slow food movement, new urban planning, walkable neighborhoods and aesthetically pleasing architectural design such as bungalows, the attraction of liturgical Christianity to a generation bored with “relevant” contemporary worship, and the understanding that conservation is the essence of conservatism.

“Crunchy Cons” was not a bestseller and is now out of print. It won’t make a list of the most influential conservative tomes, like William Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale” or Russell Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind.” But it influenced me more than any other book in my evolution into a conservative, and to see that I had been one all along. I recommend it to others.

You probably won’t be able to find it, though, unless you come across it at a secondhand bookstore or on Amazon, so in the weeks to come, I want to share a little more of it and hope it will stir your imagination, as it did mine.

The Preacher, the serpent and the library tax

Published Jan. 3, 2015

I remember it like it was yesterday. The Madison County Fiscal Court meeting room was packed with TV cameramen and newspaper reporters jostling for position to get a good look at the Preacher who was leading the campaign against the library tax.

After the ushers passed the plate for an offering, the Preacher asked all of us to bow our heads, which even the reporters did, not wanting to appear the infidels we’re sometimes accused of being. But as the Preacher invoked the Name of the Almighty, suddenly, we were wide-eyed, realizing he was asking Jehovah to smite the library. The daily I was working for then, The Richmond Register, had been solidly behind the petition drive to enact a special district property tax necessary to establish a public library in what was probably the largest county in Kentucky without one. The paper regularly ran a graphic on the front page of a bookworm, and as supporters gathered more signatures, the cute creature was colored in with blue printer’s ink, starting at the tail and working toward its grinning face.

The Preacher, however, thought it was something more sinister. As I snapped away with my Pentax, the slight figure held up a copy of the Register to show to the crowd.

“Isn’t it fitting that the enemy have chosen as their symbol a serpent?” he said.

Or words to that effect.

I was dumfounded, but when I recovered my senses, I piped up.

“Reverend,” I said, “I think that is a bookworm, not a serpent.”

The Preacher glared at me, looked at the picture, then back at me and said: “Son, I grew up on a farm, and I know a snake when I see one!”

That was the tenor of the debate over the library tax in Madison County in the early 1990s. Some of the arguments I heard against the library at a big public forum on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus was that children would read salacious literature that would corrupt their innocent minds, and if teenagers got too much book learning, their families wouldn’t be able to keep them down on the farm.

I remember one of the pressmen, whose name was Michael J. Fox (I’m not making this up) railing against the tax until I told him how much it would cost, and he switched sides on the spot. The only taxable property he owned was an old car, so the tax he paid in a year would be about what he’d pay for a lunch date at KFC.

Fortunately, the petition passed, the property tax was levied, and the library was established in a vacant storefront in Berea while plans were made to build facilities in Berea and Richmond. Now Madison County has a great library system, and my good friend Ruthie, who was the lifestyles editor of the Register at the time, is its director.

This memory came to mind recently when I was working on a story about judges’ rulings in two tax suits that, if upheld by the state Court of Appeals, could have dire consequences for libraries across the state.

In 2013, the courts sided with the plaintiffs, who opposed property tax increases in their counties. Library districts have for decades been following the 1979 law enacted by House Bill 44 that allows tax increases without a referendum as long as the increase doesn’t raise 4 percent more revenue than the year before. (Nelson County hasn’t had such a tax increase since 1990.) But the plaintiffs found an obscure 1964 law that says a library district created by a petition must submit all tax increases to the voters for their approval, and if it’s upheld, libraries could be compelled to refund taxpayers. In Nelson County’s case, if the board has to go all the way back to the 1990 referendum, it could mean a loss of 59 percent of the library’s funding. “We could survive,” Sharon Shanks, the local library director, told me, but the library would have to severely reduce services.

“For some libraries it would be total devastation,” she said.

That’s OK with Campbell County Commissioner Charlie Coleman, a tea party activist who supports the lawsuits. He told a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader:

“Libraries aren’t bad, but in lean financial times, you can’t be spending all your money on luxuries like libraries when you have other critical needs, like roads and jails.”


Try telling the high school student who’s working on a research report on a Sunday afternoon at the library, or the job seeker who’s filling out an application using the library’s Wi-Fi because she doesn’t have Internet access at home that the library is a luxury. Tell the elderly person on a fixed income who can’t afford books, but who is still reading and learning, that libraries aren’t needed.

Nelson County’s library tax is currently 8.1 cents per $100 of assessed value. On a typical $70,000 home, that’s $1.09 a week, or as Shanks put it, “pennies on the hundred” for thousands of dollars worth of services that belong to and benefit the people of Nelson County.

That’s a pretty good public investment if you ask me.

I wonder whether, 20 years later, the Preacher would disagree.

Books: ‘41’ and other great reads of 2014

George H.W. Bush may be the most under-rated U.S. president of the past century.

Ronald Reagan gets the credit for ending the Cold War, but it was really Bush who did more than he to bring that decades-long conflict to a peaceful resolution.

The 41st president also acted decisively to remove a drug-running Panamanian dictator, built an international coalition to drive invading Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, and laid the groundwork for the economic recovery of the early 1990s — in part by backing budget cuts and a tax increase, for which he was harshly condemned by the right.

Bush was an extraordinary commander in chief, diplomat and leader, but most significantly, he was a gentleman.

In his recent memoir, “41: A Portrait of My Father,” former President George W. Bush, describes a scene that attests to the character of his dad. Early this year, President Barack Obama, isn’t popular in Texas, flew into the Houston airport, and the elder Bush was on the tarmac in his wheelchair to greet him.

“When the president comes to your hometown,” the old man said, “you show up and welcome him.”

“In an era characterized by bitter partisanship, George Bush set an example of a man who put civility and decency ahead of the ugliness of politics,” Bush ’43 wrote.

It is one of the qualities that endears him to so many Americans.

Political memoirs usually have a short shelf life, but “41” soared to the top of the bestseller lists and stayed there. I can see why. It’s the best nonfiction book I read in 2014.

Probably my favorite fiction of 2014 (although I won’t finish reading it until 2015) is the novel I got for Christmas, Patrick Taylor’s “An Irish Country Doctor in Peace and at War.” It is the ninth novel in the Irish-Canadian’s “Irish Country” series that began in 2007. It’s based on the antics of the gruff rural GP with “a heart of corn,” as they in the wee North of Ireland.

The books are set in the fictitious village of Ballybucklebo near Belfast in the early 1960s, before the Troubles. They feature a cast of characters reminiscent of those in the BBC comedy series, “Doc Martin.”

They are different from his earlier, darker work.

At the end of each year, I share a list of books I’ve read throughout the year. Here’s the list for 2014 except for those I haven’t yet finished:

“The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism” by Doris Kearns Goodwin

“Unfinished: Believing is Only the Beginning” by Richard Stearns

“The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America” by Thurston Clarke

“The Wily O’ Reilly: Irish Country Stories” by Patrick Taylor

“Sackcloth and Ashes: Penance and Penitence in a Self-Centered World” by Ann Widdecombe

“This Beautiful Mess: Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God” by Rick McKinley

“The Vicar of Baghdad: Fighting for Peace in the Middle East” by Andrew White

“Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey” by Simon Armitage

“Paris” by Edward Rutherfurd

“Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering” by Timothy Keller

“Duty, Honor, Country: The Life and Legacy of Prescott Bush” by Mickey Herskowitz

“The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis” by Ira Shapiro

“Captured: An Atheist’s Journey with God” by Anna D. Gulick

“Recovering Redemption: A Gospel-Saturated Perspective on How to Change” by Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer

“TransAtlantic” by Colum McCann

“Eli the Good” by Silas House

“A World Lost” by Wendell Berry

“The Daring Heart of David Livingstone: Exile, African Slavery, and the Publicity Stunt That Saved Millions” by Jay Milbrandt

“Now and in the Hour of Our Death” by Patrick Taylor

“The Ghosts of Belfast” by Stuart Neville

“Republican Leader: A Political Biography of Mitch McConnell” by John David Dyche

“Eisenhower: A Life” by Paul Johnson

“To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party” by Heather Cox Richardson

“41: A Portrait of My Father” by George W. Bush

“The Snow Goose” by Paul Gallico

“Exploring Advent with Luke: Four Questions for Spiritual Growth” by Timothy Clayton

“The Day Christ Was Born” by Jim Bishop

“The Mad Farmer Poems” by Wendell Berry

The first Thanksgiving

Nov. 25, 2014

(This is a shorter, edited version of an earlier post.)

Myles Standish wasn’t so upstanding, and the Puritans weren’t so pure. And inviting the Indians to dinner was just politics.

Schoolchildren know the sterile version of the story: In 1620, the Pilgrims sailed to America to escape a tyrannical king and gain religious freedom. They landed on Plymouth Rock and established the first settlement. The Indians, led by Squanto, befriended them, taught them how to fertilize corn with fish and saved them from starving. The grateful Pilgrims invited the Indians to join them for a big turkey dinner and offered prayers of thanks. But what if what we know about the first Thanksgiving is mostly wrong?

In his book, “A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving,” Godfrey Hodgson makes a convincing argument that the feast recorded in 1621 by Edward Winslow wasn’t a Puritan thanksgiving at all, but a harvest celebration that was interrupted by a force of Indians.

The Separatists (they weren’t called Pilgrims with a capital “P”) showed their gratitude to God by fasting, not feasting. Being strict Calvinists, they didn’t celebrate holy days (holidays) because they considered them superstitious relics of Catholicism. Being English, they did celebrate the medieval harvest festival with food, beer, wine and games.

These wanderers or “pilgrims” were called Separatists because they wanted to separate from the established Anglican Church, but were willing to deceive King James by swearing fealty to the established church in exchange for being granted a colony. They had been run out of England, and in liberal Amsterdam some of their women dressed provocatively, and there were charges of sexual misconduct. The Separatists then left Holland, sailed for Virginia and wound up in Massachusetts by mistake.

They did not land on a rock, which would have splintered their ship. It remained a mile offshore, and they landed in longboats.

As early as 1621, the English settlers of Plymouth had hostile encounters with the Indians, whom they stole from, kidnapped and sold into slavery. White men had been coming to New England since John Cabot established Newfoundland in 1497, and by the time the colonists arrived, “thousands of European sailors were accustomed to spending the summers fishing” on northern coast, according to Hodgson.

Squanto, who had been captured and enslaved, escaped from Europe and made his way back to America, where he became an English translator for the Wampanoag chief Massasoit.

Standish, no Puritan, was a soldier for hire who “thought nothing of cutting off an Indian’s head if he thought it was the right thing to do,” Hodgson wrote.

The Wampanoags were at war with the Narragansetts and Massachusetts, and 100 Wampanoag warriors showed up at the Separatists’ feast with freshly killed deer (not turkey) as a gesture of goodwill to enlist the English in their fight.

“It was a kind of backwoods diplomatic encounter,” Hodgson wrote.

The alliance didn’t last. Within a generation, Massaoit’s son, King Philip, united the tribes against the English, who were depleting their natural resources and spreading diseases such as syphilis. The English won King Philip’s War and had the chief beheaded and quartered to underscore their point.

American artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris portrayed the Pilgrims as gracious hosts to the Indians at the first Thanksgiving. Godfrey Hodgson says it was frontier diplomacy involving a power struggle with other tribes.

The Pilgrims were not rugged individualists at first, but were communists who, like the early Christians, held their property in common and provided for each other’s needs. But communism has never worked in practice, and when the families started providing for their own needs, the colony prospered.

The story of the first Thanksgiving is, according to Hodgson, an example of what historians call “the invention of tradition.” While it is fiction, however, it is not fraud. It is, as Hodgson described it, a story that has been shaped into a “powerful and virtuous symbol.” It has become a “domestic celebration of gratitude, humility and inclusiveness.” Those are qualities for which we need not apologize.

Regardless of how it began, Thanksgiving has become a celebration of all that is good about America. It is a tribute to faith, family and country, and generosity of spirit.

And that is why it is, in my opinion, it is the best of all American holidays.

Revisiting places between the pages

If you like to read and travel, in books, you’ll come across places you’ve been, people you’ve met, things you’ve seen.

Last weekend, when it was raining and I hadn’t much to do, I savored books I had gotten at Christmas. One was “Churchill and the King” by historian Kenneth Weisbrode.

I came across this description of Prime Minister Winston Churchill being moved by the resiliency and patriotism of the British people during the German air raids on southeastern London in World War II:  “Churchill went to inspect bomb damage at Peckham, and saw little Union Jacks displayed in the rubble. He began to cry, he said, from ‘wonder and admiration.’”

Peckham is a place I know! In August 2001, just days before the 9/11 air attacks on our greatest city, I spent two weeks working in that part of London as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. The charity was replacing prefab shelters hastily erected after the bombings, which people were still living in 60 years later. I came to know residents and helpers, some of them members of a missionary church, Ichthus Fellowship, I had read about in a collection of stories by Ronald Sider a few years before.

On Dec. 26, USA Today printed a list of 50 best-selling books of 2013, only two of which interested me: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s, “The Bully Pulpit,” which I bought Sunday, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” which I’ve read three or four times.

My reading isn’t “popular,” but at year’s end, it’s been my habit to share the titles of books I’ve read in the year past. You won’t find anything here by Bill O’ Reilly about “Killing” anybody, or “Happy” thoughts by the Duck Commander, but maybe you’ll find something that interests you.

Some of these are available at the public library or local booksellers:

Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury – Rupert Shortt

A Short History of England: The Glorious Story of a Rowdy Nation – Simon Jenkins

John Quincy Adams – Harlow Giles Unger

An Irish Country Wedding – Patrick Taylor

From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism – Chris Haw

The Country of Marriage – Wendell Berry

Encounters with Merton: Spiritual Reflections – Henri J.M. Nouwen

The Matchmaker of Kenmare – Frank Delaney

The Last Storyteller – Frank Delaney

The Great Divorce: A Dream – C. S. Lewis

The Furious Longing of God – Brennan Manning

John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father – Peggy Noonan

JFK in Ireland: Four Days That Changed a President – Ryan Tubridy

Being Poppy: A Portrait of George Herbert Walker Bush – Richard Ben Cramer

Edmund Burke: The First Conservative – Jesse Norman

Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence – Joseph J. Ellis

Pray for Us Sinners – Patrick Taylor

C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet – Alister McGrath

Remembering – Wendell Berry

All the Living – C.E. Morgan

The Gospel According to Luke (KJV Pocket Canon Series)

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time – Jeff Speck

The Weight of Glory and Other Essays – C.S. Lewis

Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me: A Memoir … of Sorts – Ian Morgan Cron

Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage – Michael R. Veach

The Seven Storey Mountain (50th anniversary edition) – Thomas Merton

Knowing Mandela: A Personal Portrait – John Carlin

JFK, Conservative – Ira Stoll

Fingal O’Reilly, Irish Doctor – Patrick Taylor

Exploring Advent with Luke: Four Questions for Spiritual Growth – Timothy Clayton

The Case for Christianity (published in England under the title, Broadcast Talks) – C.S. Lewis

Why I Am Not a Calvinist – Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell

The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics —and Can Again — Joe Scarborough

The Snow Goose – Paul Gallico

Pope Francis: Untying the Knots – Paul Vallely

The Fall of Arthur – J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)

Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI – Kenneth Weisbrode

Brennan Manning and the meaning of grace

One afternoon, a report came across the newsroom’s police scanner of a possibly “suicidal subject.”

Usually, my first response when I hear this is to say a silent prayer, but this time, I asked my coworker why it seems there are more depressed and suicidal people in this part of the country than anywhere else I’ve ever lived.

Catholic guilt,” he answered.

What’s that?” I asked.

If I were Catholic, I’d know, he said. It’s the feeling that no matter what you do, you can never be good enough for God.

That’s true, I said, but isn’t that the point of grace?

Grace is God’s unearned favor, his unconditional love. It is most clearly expressed in the atonement of Jesus for our sins. The Scriptures tell us we’ve all fallen short, and anyone who says he hasn’t is a damned liar.

I don’t use the “d-word” here as a profanity. I mean it literally. We can never earn our salvation by what we do or don’t do, but only by accepting that Christ paid the ultimate penalty for our failures. Faith without works is dead, but the good we do we do in gratitude to God, not to put him in our debt. We are always in his debt. On that point, Catholics and evangelicals agree.

I’m always skeptical of Christians who are self-righteous and cocksure. It isn’t that they are too religious, but rather that they aren’t serious enough about their faith. Living with the knowledge of grace should be humbling.

The writer who helped me most to grasp what grace meant was Brennan Manning, who died last month just before his 79th birthday.

Author of “The Ragamuffin Gospel,” and many other books, Manning saw it as his mission to help sinners journey from self-hatred to self-acceptance.

It was a road he knew well. One of his worst days was when he got so drunk that he missed his mother’s funeral. He confessed it in his farewell memoir, “All is Grace.”

If ever there was a messenger who followed a different path, it was Brennan Manning.

According to a 2004 profile in Christianity Today that was republished after he died, Manning grew up in Brooklyn, studied journalism, was briefly a sportswriter, served in the Marines in Korea, studied at a Catholic seminary, and left after seven days because, he said, he dreaded rising at 5 a.m. and “chanting psalms in Latin with pantywaste 18-year-old postulants.” Later, though, he became a Franciscan priest and served the poor in Europe and the United States.

While living in seclusion in a cave in Spain’s Zaragova Desert, he heard Christ say, “For love of you, I left my Father’s side. I came to you who ran from me. …” It was the beginning of his deeper acceptance of grace.

Manning became an alcoholic in the 1970s when, as a campus minister at a community college in Florida, he failed to find the affirmation he craved. On April Fool’s Day, 1975, he was drunk and disheveled when he heard a pretty woman in her 20s say to her little boy, “Don’t look at that filth.” She then kicked him and broke two of his ribs.

Manning left the Franciscans, married a woman in Louisiana and became an “inactive priest.” After 18 years, he and his wife divorced, but remained friends until his end. Beginning in the 1980s, Manning was in demand as a speaker at events that attracted crowds in the thousands. His devotees included members of the rock group U2 and Eugene Peterson, translator of “The Message.” His books were bestsellers.

After Manning died, I read again one of my favorites, “The Furious Longing of God.” In it, I came across a story I had forgotten, about when Manning was working in a leper colony near Baton Rouge, and a nurse came running to him to tell him one of the patients, Yolanda, was dying and needed a priest.

Once, he wrote, this Mexican-American woman had been “stunningly beautiful,” but Hansen’s disease had ravaged her face and body so that she was hideous. She had been abandoned by her husband and utterly rejected by society and her family. But not by God.

It had been raining that day, but after he anointed her with oil, Manning said, the room was filled with brilliant light, and he looked at Yolanda, and she was radiant.

Oh, Father,” she said, “I am so happy.”

He asked her why, and she said “the Abba of Jesus just told me that he would take me home today.”

Brennan began to weep and asked her what the Abba (Father) had said to her.

She repeated these words:

Come now, my love. My lovely one, come. For you, the winter has passed, the snows are over and gone, the flowers appear in the land, the season of joyful songs has come. The cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land. Come now, my love, my Yolanda, come. Let me see your face. And let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is beautiful. Come now, my love, my lovely one, come.”

Except for her name, the words were from the Song of Solomon.

Six hours later, Yolanda died. That same day, Manning learned that she was illiterate. She had never read the Bible, or any book, in her life, and she had never heard those words from him. He was undone. 

I was reminded of Manning’s story a couple of weeks ago when, at Redeemer Fellowship Church, I heard a visiting Scottish pastor and former felon, Mez McConnell, used the analogy of outcast lepers to describe our estrangement from the kingdom of Christ, and the possibility of reconnection and restoration that the King’s healing touch offers. He also talked about the implications for how we are called to relate to those on the margins of society — AIDS victims, drug addicts, the homeless, the mentally ill.

“We’re still called to touch the untouchable, to love the unloveable. And the real question is, did we even notice them this morning (on our way to church)” he asked.
It’s a question we should bear in mind.
We who are “in Christ” have been shown grace, and in gratitude, we should extend it to others. It isn’t for keeping to ourselves. Brennan Manning understood that, and because of him, I’m beginning to get it.


2012 reading list

The following is a list of books I read in 2012. 

1. The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch – Lindsey Apple (NF)

2. Wordsmith: My Life in Journalism – Al Smith (NF)

3. On the Banks of Monks Pond: The Thomas Merton/Jonathan Greene Correspondence (NF)

4. Momentum for Life: Biblical Practices for Sustaining Physical Health, Personal Integrity and Strategic Focus – Michael Slaughter (NF)

5. George Herbert Walker Bush – Tom Wicker (NF)

6. Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero – Chris Matthews (NF)

7. Counterfeit Gods – Timothy Keller (NF)

8. The Great Divorce: A Dream – C.S. Lewis (F)

9. Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show – Frank Delaney (F)

10. The Spirituality of St. Patrick – Lesley Whiteside (NF)

11. Almost Catholic: An Appreciation of the History, Practice and Mystery of Ancient Faith – Jon M. Sweeney (NF)

12. The Other America: Poverty in the United States (50th anniversary edition) – Michael Harrington (NF)

13. Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party – Geoffrey Kabaservice (NF)

14. Ralph McGill: A Biography – Barbara Barksdale Clowse (NF)

15. Relationships 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know – John C. Maxwell (NF)

16. Sarum – Edward Rutherfurd (F)

17. Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship – Richard Aldous (NF)

18. The American Home Front 1941-1942 – Alistair Cooke (NF)

19. Freelancing for Newspapers: Writing for an Overlooked Market – Sue Fagalde Lick (NF)

20. The Tea Party: A Brief History – Ronald P. Formisano (NF)

21. The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick and Will (Eventually) Feel Better – Tyler Cowen (NF)

22. The Queen: A Life in Brief – Robert Lacey (NF)

23. London – Edward Rutherfurd (F)

24. George Washington – James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn (NF)

25. Thomas Jefferson – Joyce Appleby (NF)

26. John Quincy Adams – Robert V. Remini (NF)

27. John F. Kennedy – Alan Brinkley (NF)

28. John Adams – David McCullough (NF)

29. The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith – Peter Hitchens (NF)

 30. The Sons of Bardstown: 25 Years of Vietnam in an American Town – Jim Wilson (NF)

31. Selected Poems of Thomas Merton (V)

32. Thunder on the Mountain: Death at Massey and the Dirty Secrets Behind Big Coal – Peter A. Galuszka (NF)

33. Engaging the World with Merton: On Retreat in Tom’s Hermitage – M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O. (NF)

34. The Good Pope: John XXIII and Vatican II: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church – Greg Tobin (NF)

35. Social Security and the Golden Age: An Essay on the New American Demographic – George McGovern (NF)

36. Unabashedly Episcopalian: Proclaiming the Good News of the Episcopal Church – Andrew Doyle (NF)

37. The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again – J.R.R. Tolkien (F)

38. The Christian World of The Hobbit – Devin Brown (NF)

39. Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent – Enuma Okoro (NF)

40. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism — Timothy Keller (NF)


The Other America: 50 years on

 By Randy Patrick/The Kentucky Gazette

The first time I read Michael Harrington’s “The Other America: Poverty in the United States,” I was a  college student.

Harrington was the founder of Democratic Socialists of America, an infinitesimal faction within the Democratic Party that sought to lead it in a more leftward direction: toward policies to give working class people more influence in the workplace and government and to reate a stronger safety net.

On my 22nd birthday, Harrington spoke at the University of Kentucky on the subject of poverty and his ideas for ending it. I didn’t attend the speech, but I read about it in the newspapers and was fascinated. Almost at once, I became a convert to democratic socialism, with its emphasis on co-ops, pension-fund investments, union representation on corporate boards and other examples of market-based, decentralized economic democracy.

A few days after his speech, I encountered Harrington outside a lecture hall at UK at the same moment that he encountered and spoke with another socialist, the former British prime minister Sir Harold Wilson, whom I had gone to hear. It was a pivotal moment in my political transformation. I joined DSA for a year or two and read everything I could get my hands on by Harrington.

That was 30 years ago. Since then, I’ve evolved into a Burkean conservative. And though I’m still as concerned about the poor as I was then, I now think the right approach is to give them “a hand up, not a handout” — in the phrase coined by Sargent Shriver, who led the War on Poverty in the 1960s.

The Great Society programs — Head Start, Upward Bound, Volunteers in Service to America and the rest — were, for the most part, shaped to help the poor help themselves, rather than make them dependent on welfare. Contrary to popular belief, those programs worked. Poverty declined sharply in the 60s, until the government cut its funding and commitment in the late 1970s.

Young Michael Harrington’s bestseller (Time magazine included it in a list of the 10 most influential nonfiction books of the 20th Century) has been credited with sparking the War on Poverty in the last days of Presdent John F. Kennedy’s administration.

What was bracing about the thin volume was that it was not a dry analytical piece, filled with statistics and theory. Rather, it was a portrait of the poor and a call to conscience.

Reading the 50th anniversary edition this spring, it’s obvious to me that in many ways it is dated. Today the author’s suggestion of a massive public jobs program, for example, would have almost no political support. But Harrington’s central thesis — that solving the problem of poverty requires changing how we think about the underprivileged and the culture of poverty, is as relevant today as it was half a century ago.

His words still sting and, at the same time, inspire: “I want to tell every well-fed and optimistic American that it is intolerable that so many millions should be maimed in body and spirit when it is not necessary that they should be. My standard of comparison is not how much worse things used to be. It is how much better they could be if only we were stirred.”

At a crucial moment in our nation’s history, Harrington stirred us to be a better society, and his legacy is with us still.

Randy Patrick is a freelance writer in Winchester, Ky., and a longtime community journalist.

Good work if you can get it: On being a freelance writer

Nearly 40 years ago, when I was a seventh-grader at Conkwright Junior High School in Winchester, Ky., my English teacher, Mrs. Singer, had our class do a career study, and I chose “freelance writer” as my future occupation.

My classmates didn’t know what that meant, so I had to explain that it was a writer who isn’t an employee of a newspaper or magazine, but who sells his work.

John Boy Walton, played by Richard Thomas in the 1970s TV series "The Waltons," is reflective of the early life of the story's originator, novelist Earl Hamner Jr.

Like John Boy Walton on the 1970s TV series, I wanted to write what I wanted to write.

When I started freelancing late last year, it wasn’t because I had chosen it as a career, but it was one of the few options available to a jobless journalist in the most depressed economy our nation has seen since John Boy was scribbling stories on school notepads in the 1930s.

Last October, I ran into an old acquaintance, historian Thomas Parrish, at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort, and he asked what I was doing. I said I was doing a bit of freelancing, but added: “It’s a tough way to make a living.”

“Well,” he said, “you have to have a good idea.”

I felt stupid. I had just told one of Kentucky’s best-known authors — a man in his senior years who had made his living for decades as a self-employed writer — that it wasn’t a good life.

It certainly isn’t easy, as even the most talented and prolific writers will tell you. But even if you’re not as talented as Tom Parrish — or Charles Bracelen Flood or Silas House — it can be rewarding work if you don’t mind the rejection letters and sporadic paychecks.

This year, I worked part-time for almost four months covering the state legislature for The Associated Press, but I’ve continued writing articles for various publications.

Tom Martin, editor of Business Lexington, gave me my first assignment, an interview with Cindy Banks, executive editor of the Winchester-Clark County Chamber of Commerce.

When I applied for a reporter’s job at the Georgetown News-Graphic, the publisher, Mike Scogin, said he had decided to leave the position open for a while, but he could use me for some freelance work. That led to a week in Versailles working on stories for the News-Graphic’s Woodford Life magazine, a publication of the chamber of commerce. The two stories were about the women who own and operate most of the businesses in downtown Versailles, and a new initiative at Woodford County High School involving the use of school-provided iPads for all of the seniors.

My most recent article for publication was one I wrote for the Lexington Herald-Leader about the Clark Regional Foundation for the Promotion of Health and its plans for the old Clark Regional Medical Center after the hospital’s relocation to its new, facility on U.S. 60.

The story I spent the most time on, and which led to my current job covering state government, was one I did for Laura Cullen Glasscock, owner and editor of The Kentucky Gazette, a twice-monthly journal that covers state government, politics and public affairs. Now that my work with AP has ended, she wants me to write for the Gazette on a regular basis — at least one article per issue and a regular column on politics and public affairs.

The Gazette, named for the commonwealth’s first newspaper, had been publishing my political columns when I was the managing editor of The Winchester Sun until last August. When I lost that position, I asked Laura if she had something I could do. For the next few weeks, I worked on an in-depth article about how the trend toward more fuel-efficient vehicles would affect Kentucky’s road fund, which relies on the fuel tax for most of its revenue, and what alternatives the state might consider for those cars and trucks that don’t use diesel or gasoline as their fuel source.

Those articles are all here on Newer World, and I’ve included links to the original websites of the publications:

–– How will Kentucky fund its roads in a greener future? (The Kentucky Gazette, September 2011)

–– Winchester’s new chamber director gets off to a fast start (Business Lexington, Dec. 22, 2011)

–– Education in touch with technology at Woodford High (Georgtown News-Graphic, February 2012)

–– In Versailles, women mean business (Georgetown News-Graphic, February 2012)

–– Fate of old Winchester hospital complex has not been determined (Lexington Herald-Leader, March 26, 2012)

While I’m looking for full-time work as an editor or reporter, or a communications director for a nonprofit group, I intend to continue to do as much freelancing as I can. It will reduce the amount the government pays me in unemployment benefits, and, I hope, hone my skills.

Maybe I’ll even come up with a good idea, as Tom suggested, that will enable me to earn a living as a writer for hire.




Edward Rutherfurd’s magical history tours

What I'm reading now: "Sarum" by Edward Rutherfurd, which spans 10,000 years of English history and has its setting in Salisbury.

In his approach to historical fiction, Edward Rutherfurd takes the long view.  His epic novels follow the lives of a few families through several centuries, and along the way, the characters encounter real-life historical figures such as Robert Emmett in the second volume of his Dublin saga, “The Rebels of Ireland,” or George Washington in his latest book, “New York.”

There is also some sort of talisman or ancient family heirloom that is handed down from one generation to the next, and which no one remembers of the origin of by the time it reaches the current generation. In “New York” it’s an Indian girl’s belt made of seashells. In the novel I’m reading now, “Sarum,” it’s a carved stone figurine of a prehistoric huntsman’s woman.

Sarum, with its setting in Rutherfurd’s childhood home of Salisbury, and the home of Stonehenge, was Rutherfurd’s first fictional-historical yarn. It spans the longest time of all, beginning in the Ice Age and ending in the age of Margaret Thatcher, when the book was published. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

The length of Rutherfurd’s novels at first intimidated me because, with few exceptions, I get bored with long books. But his are broken into manageable chapters of 50 to 100 pages so that are almost like novellas, linked together by bloodlines and heirlooms.

My friend Randy Norris convinced me to read “The Rebels of Ireland,” the second of Rutherfurd’s two-part Dublin Saga, before he and I went to Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains in 2010 for a historical tour that focused on the Easter Rising of 1916 and the Irish Civil War. I took the paperback on the trip with me and couldn’t put it down. I then went back and read the first volume, “The Princes of Ireland.” I had earlier that year read my first Rutherfurd book, “The Forest,” a companion volume of Sarum that is set in England’s New Forest. Last year I read “New York,” and now I’ve just started reading “Sarum.” The next one on my list is “London,” and I hope to finish both before a visit I hope to make to England and Scotland with Randy in September.

That would leave only one of Rutherfurd’s novels, “Russka,” which I recently found a hardback edition of in mint condition at Half Price Books.

Rutherfurd's "The Rebels of Ireland," which is set in Dublin, is the one paperback I took with me when I visited Dublin in 2010.

But what I’m wondering now is what’s next for Rutherfurd? The Englishman has in recent years made his home in New York and Dublin and written about where he lives. Since he’s living in Dublin now, Belfast, which is only a short train ride from the republic’s capital, would be a great choice, with its turbulent Irish and British history. Derry (or Londonderry), Europe’s greatest remaining medieval walled city, for similar reasons also would be a good choice.

I’ve loved Northern Ireland ever since visiting the last Irish province of the United Kingdom in 2000. But I’m also fascinated with my family’s probable ancestral home of Scotland, though I’ve never been there. So I’d love it if Rutherfurd would write a book about Edinburgh, the Venice of northern European culture.

If, however, Rutherfurd wants to follow “New York” with another American book, I would suggest one of the South’s iconic cities such as New Orleans, Savannah or Charleston, which is steeped in Southern history and contains British and Caribbean flavors.

I can hardly wait.

[To visit Edward Rutherfurd's website,  click on this link or go to]

June 2017
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