Friday, January 30, 2009

E-History: Teaching and Technology

I was recently featured in my school's magazine, The Eagle, in an article about 21st century teaching. The article outlined the school's 21st century learning initiatives. Although it is not clear from the picture, I am teaching through Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, and am referencing the website for the PBS documentary about his book. Here's the blogpost I used for the lesson that day.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Inspiration on the Internet

It appears that this blog inspires people. I'm humbled that my musings mean something.

Messiah College historian John Fea awarded bald blogging with a 2009 Inspiration Award. Thanks, John!

I first met John in 2004 at the Conference on Faith and History bi-annual meeting in Holland, Michigan. At the time I was a third-year Ph.D. student, and if memory serves me correctly John gave a keynote address for the student presenters. I was (and am still) grateful for his reflections on finding balance in one's life amidst the busy nature of graduate school. I re-connected (pardon the pun) with John in 2007 through the Religion in American History blog, and have enjoyed our recent electronic exchanges. I should also say that I enjoyed his book on Philip Vickers Fithian.

While I suppose an Inspiration Award carries with it the responsibility to continue offering inspirational blog posts, more immediately I must pay if forward and bestow Inspiration Awards on 5-7 other blogs that inspire me (Feeling generous, or rather super inspired, so I doled out 9 awards.)

So, in no particular order, here goes.

1. The Way of Improvement Leads Home. That's right, John's blog inspires me too. I'm impressed with his blogging energy, and I always look forward to reading his historically grounded, thoughtful analyses of contemporary politics. I'm equally impressed with the way that he relates moments in the life of Philip Vickers Fithian to so many contemporary realities. John brings history alive this way, and I'm sure his classroom is the same way.

2. The Professor (formerly The Proletarian). This is the blog of my teaching colleague and good friend Edward Carson. I met Eddie two years ago and with our mutual interests we became fast friends. The Professor's blog is a gold mine of teaching reflections, political analysis, and all around solid commentary. I should add that Eddie's a fantastic teacher and lecturer. He's also marathon runner. And I'm thrilled that we are currently working on a book together. We will unveil the details of this project at a later date.

3. The Next Generation of Educational Leadership. This is the blog of educator, author, school administrator, athlete, and all around Renaissance man Nathan Barber. Nathan served as Dean of Students for a year at Second Baptist School in Houston, and I truly count it a highlight of my teaching career to have worked with him. Life is not the same without Nathan, but he's making a huge impact in Baton Rouge. Thanks to the world wide web I continue to draw inspiration from him.

4. Religion in American History. Like John, the efforts of Paul Harvey and Kelly Baker and my other co-editors are truly inspiring. In fact, I happened across one of Paul's class blogs a few years ago and his example, in part, inspired me to use a blog in my classroom. Religion in American History is one of the first blogs I visit each day. I continue to learn tons from the conversations going on there.

5. Musings of a Postmodern Negro. This is the blog of my good buddy Anthony Smith. I met Anthony almost 5 years ago, and his friendship means the world to me. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, in so many ways he saved my life. His blog is creative, inventive, prophetic, and honest. As with other readers of his blog, I wish he'd blog more often.

6. The Homeless Guy. This is the blog of Nashville resident Kevin Barbieux. The subtitle of his blog says it all: "There's more to homeless people than being homeless." Kevin gives me tons to think about and is a voice for the voiceless. I've never met Kevin in person, but keep up with him through his blog and through one of my former students who knows him. I hope to meet Kevin one day. I want to shake his hand, give him a hug, and simply say "thanks."

7. Brands of Faith. This is media scholar and author Mara Einstein's blog. If you have not done so, you should read her fine book Brands of Faith. It adds some serious and critical perspective to the confluences of media, religion, and marketing in the present day. Mara's blogposts always inspire me to analyze contemporary religious culture in ways I've not thought about. I look forward to her next book on religion and contemporary culture.

8. Praxis Habitus: Blogging Race Religion & Culture. This is the personal blog of Davidson College sociologist Gerardo Marti. Having already heard of and read his work on multiracial churches, I had the privilege to officially meet and spend some time with Gerardo last fall when he was a visiting professor at Rice. Our conversations were lively, engaging, and thoughtful, and I'm glad to keep up with Gerardo through his blog. It is a treasure of cultural analysis and features commentary on the latest work in sociology of religion. There's never a dull moment at Praxis Habitus.

9. Syncopating, Improvising and Responding to the Call of a Love Supreme. This is the website and blog of Colorado pastor Robert Gelinas. I first met the Jazz Theologian about 4 years ago on-line, and I've regularly read his blog since. And if theology is about application, then Robert is a true theologian. He labors regularly for the saints there in Colorado and has nine children. The majority of Robert's kid's are adopted, so there's no doubt that the Jazz Theologian and his wife know how to syncopate, improvise, and respond to the call of a love supreme. (I should add that I'm looking forward to reading Robert's first book Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith--due out in April--as well as his second, Strange Fruit: A Jazz-Shaped Response to the Call of the Cross, due out in 2010.)

The rules stipulate that those who accept an Inspiration Award (1) put the logo of the award on their blog if you can make it work with their format (the painting of Marie Antoinette); (2) link to the person from whom you received the award; (3) nominate 5-7 other blogs (sorry, had to do 9); (4) put the links of those blogs on your blog.

However, I'd like to add an optional fifth requirement: post a picture/image of a person you find inspirational and explain why.

Here's mine: James Baldwin.

I first started reading James Baldwin 4 years ago, and his books have been at my fingertips and in my briefcase ever since. Along with the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, Baldwin's writing has transformed my outlook on life. Suffice it to say that since beginning to read Baldwin I’ve discovered many times he seems to know me better than I know myself, and his pointed honesty calls me to be more authentic.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Of Politicians, Pastors, and Prayer

Here's a piece Shayne Lee and I wrote about Rick Warren, Barack Obama, and the inaugural prayer. It relates to some of the ideas behind contemporary Protestant evangelical religious leadership and American culture, which we detail in our forthcoming Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace (NYU Press).

It is crossposted at From the Square, NYU Press's blog and Religion in American History.


Numerous journalists, political pundits, and scholars are discussing and debating Barack Obama’s decision to invite California pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural prayer, particularly in the context of Warren’s support for California’s Proposition 8.

E.J. Dionne’s New Republic column, for example, titled “Big Tent,” (HT: John Fea) a thoughtful analysis of the Obama-Warren issue, reports that some wonder to what extent Obama has betrayed his liberal politics, while others embrace Obama’s decision and call for a more enlightened liberal politics. Christianity Today, the leading magazine of evangelical thought and culture, features some writers who are asking if Warren is the next Graham, or if he’s transcended the aged leader’s stature. Another voice of the religious right, Steve Brody’s blog at the Christian Broadcasting Network, “The Brody File,” (HT: Get Religion) features e-lamentations about Warren’s decision to pray at the inauguration. Alan Wolfe’s New Republic piece “Obama’s New Pastor Problem?,” (HT: John Fea) offers further contextualization about Warren and the religious right. And corroborating Steve Brody’s blog, Rachel Zoll’s article points out that some of Warren’s toughest critics are those on the religious right. Sociologist Gerardo Marti offers a brief history of Warren his Southern California context, what he calls “Warren-ology.” Religious studies scholar Anthony Pinn provides precise analysis of theology, political compromise, and the presidency, and historian of religion Anthea Butler contends that president-elect Obama misgauges Americans’ religious convictions.

Obama’s choice of Warren to pray at the inauguration—and in particular the range of responses this choice has elicited—gives us occasion to reflect on Protestant evangelical religious leaders we call “holy mavericks,” five of whom we discuss and analyze in our forthcoming Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace, due out in April with NYU Press.

We contend that Rick Warren is a holy maverick. Simply put, a holy maverick is an enterprising religious leader who crafts his or her ministry to a particular niche (or niches) in the spiritual marketplace. Holy mavericks are talented and savvy spiritual suppliers we call innovators, efficiently successful at recalibrating their messages and ministries toward the existential needs and tastes of church-going America. Houston minister Joel Osteen, for example, effectively marketed messages and books titled Your Best Life Now (2004) and Become a Better You (2007). Osteen’s brand of self-help spirituality reaches millions, and gains new followers each day.

Holy mavericks can be a fascination to the general public, and command wide audiences with messages of purpose, empowerment, and uplift. Rick Warren, for instance, took his purpose driven message to professional sporting events, political meetings, and to pastors in Africa. He also recently addressed the Muslim Public Affairs Convention in southern California. Holy mavericks can also exist as a thorn in the flesh of gatekeepers of church traditions who chide innovators for casting wide nets and polluting the gospel with “watered-down” versions of Christianity. Holy mavericks can elicit both intense loyalty and venomous contempt from clerical peers and congregants.

Another distinguishing mark of a holy maverick is his or her ability to sense how historical moments and opportunity structures shape their messages and marketability and help to bring their individual initiatives to fruition. Holy mavericks possess social, cultural, and spiritual dexterity. Put another way, holy mavericks are brilliant at surfing spiritual waves, a practice in which spiritual leaders discern where God is moving in one’s cultural milieu, and then prepare their churches and themselves to cooperate with the movement. Here’s Rick Warren: “Three key responsibilities of every pastor are to discern where God’s spirit is moving in our culture and time, prepare your congregation for that movement, and cooperate with it to reach people Jesus died for. I call it ‘surfing spiritual waves.’”

Warren knows that of which he speaks. Consider these snapshots from his recent activities: not many other preachers are friends with the president of Rwanda, write a monthly column for Ladies Home Journal, and receive a standing ovation after speaking at Harvard University. Not many other conservative pastors possess the flexibility to be pro-life and pro-poor, the ingenuity to lead a preaching seminar for rabbis at the University of Judaism, or the versatility to work and dine with homosexual activists while maintaining a firm stance against same-sex marriage. Not many spiritual leaders mentor prominent businesspersons like Rupert Murdock and Jack Welch, or can claim that after three decades of ministry, they have never been alone in a room with a woman other than their wife. Few evangelical pastors are friends with both President George W. Bush and Democratic president-elect Barack Obama, a notable participant at Warren’s 2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the recent Presidential Forum, both at Saddleback Church. And Warren’s latest book, The Purpose of Christmas, adds further insight into the complexity of this holy maverick’s cosmopolitan outlook. It continues to articulate the readable simplicity of the purpose-driven message and hit the major points of conservative evangelical theology (e.g., centrality of Jesus, authority of Bible, etc.). Yet with a closing chapter on Warren’s P.E.A.C.E. plan, it registers as decidedly cosmopolitan in outlook and activist in tone.

And there’s even more to the relationship between Warren and Obama: the president-elect launched a “40 Days of Faith and Family” tour while campaigning in October 2007 in South Carolina, an initiative clearly adapted from Warren’s popular “40 Days of Purpose” movement from a few years previous. (Read first-hand accounts about “40 Days of Faith and Family” from Obama’s website.)

So if Rick Warren is accustomed to surfing spiritual waves, and if Obama is serious about working across political lines as he embraces the change he promised, then Warren accepting Obama’s invitation to give the inaugural prayer is neither out of character nor a simple, shrill political move. It is a holy maverick at work.

If Warren is serious about working for social, political, and economic change through his P.E.A.C.E. plan and if Obama is serious about embodying change in today’s combative and partisan political order, and if these two visionaries will work together—at least for a day—then perhaps history will observe that the real mavericks of the 2008 Presidential election cycle were not, in fact, John McCain and Sarah Palin, but Barack Obama and Rick Warren. Why? In the midst of differences, each appears willing to find common ground in order to work together. Perhaps we all have something to learn from pastors and politicians after all.