November 9, 2020

In popular imagination an evangelical church is a growing mega-enterprise. It is located in exurbia with such high traffic volume that parking attendant is a major ministry. However, this picture is not normative nor has it been for several years. Diana Butler Bass, a historian of U.S. Christianity, has a blog titled The Cottage ( Her October 13th entry summarizes the stats. White evangelicals are now about 15% of the U.S. population. Among Christians, their percentage has declined the sharpest… Read more

November 4, 2020

It was 20 years ago that Robert Putnam elevated the concept of social capital on the social policy and social science agenda with his Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster, 2000). Putnam of Harvard exhaustively crunched all the numbers to prove the steady depletion of community life since the mid-1960s—the loss of members and energy in political parties, churches, nationwide non-profits, school boards, unions, civic groups and even bowling leagues. “The health of civil society is in many ways just as… Read more

October 31, 2020

Cardinal Francis George, OMI (1937-2015) of Chicago was fond of controversial quips. Here’s one: “All Christians in the U.S. are Calvinists, including the Catholics.” He obviously did not mean that everyone belonged to a Reformed congregation. He meant that we are Calvinists because all of us understand the relation between salvation and worldly accomplishment in Calvinist terms. The Protestant work ethic is an odd outgrowth of the Reformation and maybe even of John Calvin (1509-1564). After all, the big theme… Read more

October 19, 2020

Time is catching up with the founders of the United Farm Workers Union ( Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) has been dead for 27 years. Rev. Jim Drake (1938-2001) died young. Larry Itliong (1913-1977), who started the famous Delano Grape Strike and National Boycott of September 1965, is gone. Marion Moses (1936-2020), who founded the UFW health care system, died last month. Dolores Huerta is now 90 and Rev. Chris Hartmire is in his late 80s. So too is LeRoy Chatfield. Chatfield… Read more

October 16, 2020

My north side friend is a tireless proponent of social improvement. Year after year he gathers people around the pressing issue of the moment. He gives lots of talks on the necessity of social change and on effective strategies for advancing justice. And so it was that he was invited to a university classroom in Wisconsin. My friend’s presentation was formulaic for about 30 minutes. Then he used this example: “Any three of you students, let’s say, could join a… Read more

September 26, 2020

The modern age began, let’s say, in 1500. That date is precise enough to include two pioneers of modernity. Christopher Columbus made his trans-Atlantic journey and was discovered by Native-Americans in 1492. Martin Luther (1483-1546) took a 16 ounce hammer to the door of All Saints Church on the hollowed eve of that church’s feast, October 31, 1517. The modern age is characterized by global travel and commerce (Columbus) and by the primacy of the individual over authoritarian institutions (Luther)…. Read more

September 19, 2020

During his acceptance speech this summer, presidential candidate Joe Biden included an inspiring quotation from a play by Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), an Irish poet. The quote is about hope. It comes from The Cure at Troy (Farrar, Straus, 1991), which is Heaney’s 81-page rewrite of Philoctetes by Sophocles (497 BC-406 BC). Late in Heaney’s play the Chorus speaks these lines: History says, Don’t hope On this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave… Read more

August 31, 2020

  Two Catholic laymen are credited with starting Labor Day: Matthew McGuire (1855-1917) and, no relation, Peter J. McGuire (1852-1906). Matthew McGuire was a machinist from Paterson, NJ who began factory work at age 14. Throughout the 1880s he was involved in the Knights of Labor, the first successful national union in this country. Peter McGuire was born in New York City. He moved to St. Louis where he was a carpenter. In 1881 he moved to Chicago and formed… Read more

July 29, 2020

Young adults are forcing our society to deal with several injustices and tensions. The long neglect is no more. Their protest movements are remarkably strong, even though the young adult leaders mobilize amid a deadly pandemic. The movements are now though at a crossroads. Thus, some of those leaders are studying U.S. history to learn what to do and what not to do next. Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), for example, is for some young adults a source for consideration, particularly his… Read more

July 4, 2020

Editorials and opinion pieces regularly call upon the bishops or the president or the Congress or business executives to do something: To speak out on racism, to condemn abortion, to restore reverence within family life, to end the virus, to improve the economy, to drain the swamp, to protect liberty, maybe to resign. Two angels on the Mount of Olivet asked the disciples: People, “why are you standing there looking up?” Likewise, too many in our troubled society are looking… Read more

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