Your strength is devastating in the face of all these odds

Your strength is devastating in the face of all these odds June 23, 2018

• The Fairbanks Goldpanners won the 113th annual Midnight Sun baseball game this week on a ninth-inning, walk-off home run buy Nyles Nygaard.

Philip Jenkins looks at some even older — but, alas, mostly forgotten — summer solstice traditions revolving around St. John’s Day and St. John’s Eve. Most of us did not spend last night in carefree revelry around community bonfires. I, for one, wish we had.

I also think the idea of a big celebration around John the Baptist might be relevant about now. We could do with a bit more “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” and probably also a bit more “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the tree.”

• There is a big mid-summer community festival coming up in Asbury Park. It’s a celebration to bring everyone together and even includes a very John-the-Baptist-y bit involving the collection and distribution of food and clothing for those in need. It’s a party, and a little picture of blessed community. Go and tell John what you hear and see: the outcasts are being welcomed, the hungry are being fed, and the poor have good news brought to them. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense.

That festival, by the way, is scheduled as counter-programming to an evangelical revival being staged at the city’s convention center, where a homophobic right-wing preacher infamous for peddling conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and announcing that Robin Williams is in Hell will be presenting whatever such a creature imagines constitutes “good news.” From the days of John until now, the kingdom has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.

Paul Putz has a nice pop-history piece on Nick Chiles, the black saloon-keeper turned newspaperman turned civil-rights champion who ran for a U.S. Senate seat in Topeka, Kansas, in 1926. The whole thing is worth reading, as Chiles was an amazing character, but let me just highlight this one example of epic shade, involving Chiles’ response to Charles Sheldon’s week-long stunt of guest-editing the city’s white newspaper, the Topeka Daily Capital, in keeping with his “What Would Jesus Do?” vision. The gimmick was phenomenally successful, with the paper’s circulation of 12,000 exploding to more than 360,000 that week.

But Chiles was looking for something more substantial from Sheldon’s foray into his business:

Sheldon had a good reputation among Topeka’s black residents, his church often providing resources for impoverished black residents in the city. Thus, Chiles’s Topeka Plaindealer responded enthusiastically to Sheldon’s idea, believing that, for one week at least, a white newspaper would take a serious interest in the problem of racism in American society. “There is no doubt in our mind if it were possible to conscientiously answer the question ‘What Would Jesus Do’ that the Jim Crow car, lynchings … and burning of poor defenseless Negroes would pass away,” a Topeka Plaindealer editorial declared.

But Sheldon’s stunt was a letdown. “Rev. Sheldon has accomplished one thing … if all else was disappointing,” the Topeka Plaindealer lamented at the end of the week. “He used the upper-case ‘N’ in Negro. We know that’s what Jesus would do.”

It was perhaps because of this experience that Chiles decided he could not rely on sympathetic white Christians to make anti-racism a priority.

That was nearly a century ago, but I don’t see much evidence that “sympathetic white Christians” have changed a whole lot.

• The ’70s channel on the music piped into the Big Box has added a new song to the mix — Greg Kihn’s Petty-esque 1977 cover of “For You.” The original, of course, is from the same Springsteen album as the postcard pictured above. Where Bruce tends to slow this one down, Kihn speeds it up. That works too.

I think I may add this to the playlist for next year’s St. John’s Eve bonfire party.

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