Goodbye to a radical Baptist patriarch

The old Southern preacher had walked through many airport security gates using his cherry-wood cane and was surprised -- especially years before 9/11 -- when a guard ordered him to send it through the X-ray scanner.After that rite, the Rev. Will Campbell asked the guard to bring him the cane. The guard, somewhat miffed, asked if he could walk through the scanner without it. The preacher, somewhat vexed, said that was a question for his doctor.Facing a nervous crowd, the guard ordered … [Read more...]

The faithful soul of Jackie Robinson

Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey knew that the first black player in major league baseball was going to go through hell.That's why the cigar-chomping, Bible-thumping Rickey set out to find a man who would keep believing -- when facing bitter, scathing racial hatred -- that the powers of heaven were on his side. As baseball writers have often noted, Rickey needed someone who could turn the other cheek, as well as turn a double play.In writer-director Brian Helgeland's new … [Read more...]

Alveda King’s old dream

Fox News star Glenn Beck staged the show at the Lincoln Memorial, and then fired up his flock by claiming, "Something that is beyond man is happening. America today begins to turn back to God."Mama Grizzly Sarah Palin almost stole the show with a political shot at President Barack Obama, telling her fans, "You too know that we must not fundamentally transform America as some would want. We must restore America and restore her honor!"But there was only one African-American preacher present … [Read more...]

Prayers in a minefield (civil religion II)

Phyllis Tickle tried to pay close attention to the prayers at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, which isn't surprising since she has written a whole shelf of books on rites of public and private prayer. The problem was that she didn't hear much in the way of traditional prayer, in terms of clergy offering words of praise and petition to God. Instead, the prayers sounded like lectures or mini-sermons aimed at the masses on the National Mall."Did I think the official prayers were … [Read more...]

The roots of King’s dream

The telephone rang after midnight and sleep was not an option for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., after he answered it.It was late 1956. Years later, King quoted that hellish voice: "Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren't out of this town in three days, we are going to blow your brains out and blow up your house."King ended up in the kitchen, meditating on the mystery of evil and worrying about his family. He began praying out loud, voicing his feelings of weak … [Read more...]


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