Archives For America



Today is the birthday of James Weldon Johnson, born 1871.

James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871 – June 26, 1938) was an American author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and civil rights activist. Johnson is best remembered for his leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where he started working in 1917. In 1920 he was the first black to be chosen as executive secretary of the organization, effectively the operating officer. He served in that position from 1920 to 1930. Johnson established his reputation as a writer, and was known during the Harlem Renaissance for his poems, novels, and anthologies collecting both poems and spirituals of black culture. (via Wikipedia)

 In honor of his birthday, we offer this poem…

To America
James Weldon Johnson

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Walt Whitman 1872

Tomorrow, May 31, is the birthday of Walt Whitman, born 1819…

I just encountered this recording of Walt Whitman’s poem “America” that is supposed to be read by Whitman himself in 1890.
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Walt WhitmanI Hear America Singing
Walt Whitman


Today is the Birthday
of Walt Whitman, born 1819

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
       singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as
       he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning,
       or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
       or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day–at night the party of young
       fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

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[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1608998177″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”” width=”220″ alt=”Peter Leithart” ]Critiquing Nationalism

A Feature Review of

Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspectives,

Peter Leithart

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2012.
Buy now:  [ [easyazon-link asin=”1608998177″ locale=”us”]Amazon[/easyazon-link] ]


Reviewed by Branson Parler


For some, the adjective “evil” is necessarily entailed in the concept of “empire.” Not so, argues Peter Leithart, who is compelling, provocative, and insightful as always. Why do we need a more complex account of empire? In part, Leithart argues, the historical reality is that all empires are living and therefore not static and not all identical. We also need a nuanced account of empire because the Bible does not treat historical empires with a one-size fits all lens. Furthermore, Leithart contends, “imperial ambitions and concepts were ‘reinscribed’—or better, always already inscribed—at the heart of Jesus’ teaching” (37). In other words, if we purge the concept of empire from the Bible, we would purge the core of Jesus’ life and message: the imperium of God is at hand. Leithart contrasts God’s Abrahamic empire with both Babels—empires that attempt to impose uniformity on other nations—and beasts—empires that devour the saints and drink their blood.


The book is divided into three sections. In part 1, Leithart uses three metaphors for Scripture’s analysis of various empires—rod (Isa 10), refuge for God’s people (Dan 2), and beast (Dan 7). Leithart’s concise overview would serve as a great introduction to the theopolitical nature of the biblical text. Leithart’s attentiveness to the craft and art of biblical and theological exegesis is a delight.


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Joan WalshA Review of

What’s the Matter with White People: Why We Long for a Golden Age that Never Was

Joan Walsh

Hardback: Wiley, 2012.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by David Swanson.

The title question of Joan Walsh’s book could be understood very differently depending on whom is doing the asking.  Sarcasm and shock might be the tone coming from a certain kind of white person who believes reverse racism is as much a reality as is the more traditional variety.  Resigned disappointment could be expected from an African-American who has felt again the barb of systematized prejudice.  In Walsh’s case I imagine notes of frustration, confusion, and disappointment.  For Walsh, like me, white people are my people and there seems to be something the matter with us.

“What’s the matter with white people?” is a question that has recently come to my mind with disappointing frequency.  The race of our president has provoked code language and race baiting from those who want to retake “our country.”  Debates about immigration have once again made suspect those whose language, customs, and religion don’t fit the accepted American narrative.  In my city of Chicago one’s race is a far-too-accurate predictor of the likelihood of incarceration, a fact often ignored or explained away by white people like me.

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The Color of ChristRethinking the Story of American Christianity and Race

A Feature Review of

The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America

Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey

Hardback: University of NC Press, 2012.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Myles Werntz.

In recent years, there has been a flurry of new works from within Christian theology interrogating the origins of race, and exploring how Western thinking of race evolved in conversation with theological commitments. Works such as those by J. Kameron Carter, Willie Jennings, James Cone, and Miguel de la Torre have attempted to–in one way or another–provide an archeology of race and theology from the side of theology. While different from each other, they have this one thread in common: that Christianity has predominately been a white affair.

It is here that Blum and Harvey offer a potent and compelling re-reading of the relationship between racialization and theology which is sure to both attract attention, and to stir conversation about whether or not Christianity (at least, in the American context) has been as monological as has been commonly assumed. Blum and Harvey weave together a story of race and religion in which the image of Jesus–as it was appropriated and re-appropriated–appears from the very beginning of the American colonies as a work in process.

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James Atwood - America and Its GunsClamoring for Safety and Security

A Feature Review of

America And Its Guns: A Theological Expose

James Atwood.

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2012.
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Reviewed by Todd Edmondson.

Late last month, when reports broke of a gunman opening fire outside the Empire State Building, the news should have been more shocking. Public violence of this sort should have stunned those who heard about it on TV, the internet, or the radio. But instead, there was a normalcy to the event, an inevitability, even. It didn’t seem particularly earth-shattering or even extraordinary that someone might inflict this kind of violence on his neighbors. This was merely the latest in a series of fatal shootings that had dominated the headlines on a regular basis throughout the summer of 2012. The Dark Knight Rises. The Sikh Temple. Texas A & M. Add to this list the Virginia Tech and Fort Hood massacres and Jared Lee Loughner’s Tuscon killing spree, and it appears that in recent years, the kind of violence that shocked us when it unfolded at Columbine High School in 1999 has grown so prevalent as to seem commonplace. Mass shootings are neither a new phenomenon (according to Mother Jones, there have been 60 such incidents in the U.S. in the last thirty years) nor a wholly American one (Anders Breivik’s rampage in Norway last year was one of the deadliest such attacks ever carried out). Nevertheless, the recent spate of these killings on American soil should provoke serious reflection, beyond the normal political grandstanding and news-cycle hand-wringing that constitute the usual response. Continue Reading…


A Review of

No Sympathy For The Devil:
Christian Pop Music and the
Transformation of American Evangelicalism
David W. Stowe
Hardback: U of North Carolina Press, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon – Hardback ] [ Amazon -Kindle ]

Reviewed by Adam P. Newton.

Being both a science-fiction geek and political science nerd, I’m a proponent of any thinker or scholar who proposes any sort of unified field theory. It’s not because I think that there will ever be one set idea or school of thought that will be able to provide a baseline explanation of the world. Instead, I like such theorizing simply because I’m a systems thinker who does long to make sense of the world around me (as unending and unsatisfactory as such searching can be at times). Couple this tendency of mine with my long personal history of working in and writing about the Christian music world, and I found myself quite enamored with foundational tenets driving the new book written by David Stowe.

At its root, No Sympathy For The Devil serves as a both history text and a sociological investigation into the early world of how the Baby Boomer generation created the industry that became Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and introduced the burgeoning culture of modern evangelicalism to America. It is a copiously researched study that focuses heavily upon interviews with key players both lauded and forgotten, along with parsing the finer details and perspectives presented in the biographies and autobiographies of genre-crossing artists like Keith Green, Al Green, Johnny Cash, and Marvin Gaye. More than that, it is a long-overdue exploration in how the Western/American low Protestant church progressed from the hippie Jesus People of Calvary Chapel, Vineyard, and JPUSA to the overtly political Moral Majority in under fifteen years’ time.

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An excerpt from

American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and the Quest for Perfection.
Laurie Essig.
Hardback: Beacon Press, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Watch for a review soon in the ERB…


“A Rich Heritage of Food”

A review of
97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families
in One New York Tenement

By Jane Ziegelman

Reviewed by Douglas Connelly.

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families
in One New York Tenement

Jane Ziegelman
Hardback: Smithsonian, 2010.

Buy now: [ Amazon ]

97 ORCHARD - Jane ZiegelmanThis edible history tells the story of immigration to America through the foods the immigrants brought with them.  Jane Ziegelman, director of the Tenement Museum’s culinary center in New York, focuses on the families who inhabited one tenement on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  We learn about the different groups who inhabited the area, where they bought and sold the foods they loved, and how their food changed the eating habits of all Americans.

These early immigrants did not leave much of a personal record behind so the author has to rely on knowledge scholars have gleaned from the larger ethnic groups.  She then applies that understanding to the individual families – along with a healthy dose of supposition and imagination.  The few facts known about each family and the broader knowledge of their ethnic foods become the springboard for the contribution each group made to the American passion for food.

The account begins in the 1860s with the Glockner family, recently arrived from Germany.  The Germans introduced dark breads, frankfurters, delicatessens, and, of course, beer.  Spicy German potato salad and even hamburger patties emerged from the German enclave on the lower East Side.  The apartments in the tenement buildings were small and incredibly cramped but the new arrivals found comfort in the food they grew up on in their mother’s German kitchen.

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