Thursday, March 19, 2015

Writing about Nebraska

One of my favorite stops on the internet is Religion & Politics. They're not a rapid-fire content accumulator or aggregator. Instead they post just one article a week. But that one article is almost always something worth reading.  

To someone like me, someone who is intensely interested in notions of place and identity and how those relate to religion, perhaps the coolest thing R&P has going on is their "States Project." Here's how they describe it: 
We gathered writers from around the country to tell us about where they discovered religion and politics in their states. Both part of a union and cultures unto their own, these states reveal stories of people, places and histories of the American experience. 
As of last week, they had covered 23 states. This week, they added their 24th state: Nebraska. And I was fortunate to be the writer they allowed to take on the Cornhusker state. If you haven't yet, you can check out my piece, "Nebraska: A Cornhusker Prays with FCA." I wrote about one way that sports, religion, and the power of place are linked together in Nebraska.

After you read that piece, feel free to catch up on my other Nebraska-related writing from the past couple of years. Among other things, I've written about the fantastic Omaha-based 1960s documentary film, A Time for Burningthe NBA's brief 1970s foray into Nebraska, the religious beliefs of legendary Nebraska Senator George Norris, and brand-new Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse's relationship to the Christian Right. I've also published an article in Nebraska History on Charles W. Savidge, a pioneering turn-of-the-twentieth-century holiness movement pastor in Omaha. And finally, one last plug: in August, I'll be publishing a second piece with Nebraska History. More details to come on that in the near future.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year in Review: My Favorite Music in 2014

It's time for my annual year-end list of favorite albums. I'm no music critic, so my criteria for which albums make the cut follows the Lemon test: I know what I like when I hear it. Normally I'd write a little blurb for each of these twelve albums, explaining why it's a favorite. Unfortunately, I'll have to set aside that little extra flourish this year due to time constraints.

With that said, onto the list!

Favorite Song: Patriarch
Favorite Song: The Dark (Trinity)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Things I Wrote in 2014

Most of my writing this year was devoted to research papers for PhD coursework. My topics were as varied as the courses in which I was enrolled: I wrote papers about William Gladstone's perceptions of America, depictions of atheism in the early American republic, and Mary Mills Patrick's college for girls in Istanbul and its connections with early twentieth-century liberal American Protestantism and Turkish nationalism.

Along with coursework, my writing in 2014 included blogging (here, at the Religion in American History blog, and at the American Society of Church History blog), writing pieces for more formal/established online outlets (Christian Century, Christ and Pop Culture, and Religion & Politics), and working on history conference papers and academic articles. Here's a list of the highlights from that non-coursework writing in the the past year (and yes, "highlights" is very much a relative term).

Conference Papers/Academic Articles

1) “‘Endless miseries, ruined lives, and social disaster’: Marrying Parsons and Sexual Revolution in the Progressive Era.” - presented at the Religion and Sexual Revolutions Conference at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics.

2) “‘First Pick the Mote From Thine Own Eye’: The Christian Rhetoric of Racial Equality in the African American Press of the Great Plains, 1890-1900.” - presented at the Missouri Valley History Conference and the Conference on Faith and History.

-I am working on submitting both of the pieces above to academic journals sometime in 2015. 

3) “Christian Historians and Social Media” - presented as part of a roundtable discussion at the Conference on Faith and History. You can read the full text of my comments here.

4) "From the Pulpit to the Press: Frank Crane's Omaha, 1892-1896." I recently submitted this article to a history journal, and should have a response back from them sometime in January. Hopefully, I will be able to list this as a published piece when I do a 2015 roundup of my written work.

5) Co-author with Jordan R. Bass and Mark Vermillion, “‘Going Viral’: The Impact of Forced Crowdsourcing on Coaching Evaluation Procedures,” International Sport Coaching Journal 1.2 (2014): 103-108. Mostly I did some background historical research on college coaching scandals, while Bass and Vermillion did the heavy lifting in putting the piece together and connecting the information I collected within a theoretical framework.

Most Popular Blog Posts (1000+ hits)
At both this blog and the Religion in American History blog I can track the page views that my pieces receive. I had three blog posts* this year that managed to get a four-digit hit count:

1) The Fifteen Best NBA Teams Of All Time...If Those Teams Were Organized By Players' College Degrees

2) Zach Lowe, Graduate Student in History

3) The Urban Pulpit: New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism (Review)

*I also had two book preview lists posted at the Religion in American History blog that garnered well over 1000 views. Those two posts were easily my two most-read blog posts this year, but since they didn't really require much in the way of writing, I list them separately here. You can access my first preview list here, and my second preview list here.

Non-blog Online Pieces

1) Son of God and marketing Jesus movies to ministers (The Christian Century's "Then and Now" column)

2) A Short History of Christian Matchmaking (Religion & Politics)

3) A Narrow Vision of America’s Great Big God (Christ and Pop Culture)

Academic Book Reviews/Reflections

1) The Urban Pulpit: New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism (RiAH blog)

2) Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era (RiAH blog)

3) Transcendental Meditation in the Midwest (RiAH blog)

4) The Cross of War: Matthew McCullough's New Book on Christian Nationalism in the Spanish-American War (RiAH blog)

5) Rally the Scattered Believers: Northern New England's Religious Geography (RiAH blog)

6) Capture These Indians for the Lord: Indians, Methodists, and Oklahomans, 1844-1939 and Catholic Borderlands: Mapping Catholicism onto American Empire, 1905-1935 (RiAH blog)

7) Five "First Books" of Note in 2014 (ASCH blog)

American Midwest/West

1) An ASCH Member Heads to Washington: Ben Sasse and the Christian Right (ASCH blog)

2) Take a Stand for Peanuts: Thinking Out Loud About The Irreverent George Norris (RiAH blog)

3) The Minnesota Turn in the Study of Christianity (ASCH blog)

4) Bringing Social Gospel Back (Religion in the American West blog)

Commentary/Reflection on American Christianity

1) Progressive Evangelicals and Christian History (ASCH blog)

2) What God's Not Dead Gets Right (And Wrong) (Putz blog)

3) For Christians, Must Art Always Serve A Purpose? (Putz blog)

4) A Narrow Vision of America’s Great Big God (Christ and Pop Culture)

5) A Short History of Christian Matchmaking (Religion & Politics)

6) The Imagined Atheist in Colonial America (ASCH blog)

Basketball (all from the Putz blog)

1) The Fifteen Best NBA Teams Of All Time...If Those Teams Were Organized By Players' College Degrees 

2) The Most Interesting College Degrees in the NBA

3) College Majors and College Degrees for the 2014 Draft Prospects 

4) Zach Lowe, Graduate Student in History 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Historians and Social Media: A Grad Student's Perspective

Last weekend I traveled to sunny Malibu for the 2014 Conference on Faith and History. As you can see from the image on the left, the conference theme was centered around the notion of the historian's "public." As a graduate student, my perspective on who my public is and how I want to reach them is necessarily different from established historians. Thanks to my participation in a roundtable focusing on "Christian Historians and Social Media," I was able to discuss some of those differences.

The mastermind behind the roundtable, Jonathan Den Hartog, orchestrated a plan to have each of the participants post his comments from our roundtable online this week. You can read Den Hartog's introductory remarks at his blog, John Fea's comments at his blog, and Chris Gehrz's reflections at (yes) his blog. Or one of his four blogs, I should say.

To round out our series of posts, here are my comments. They have not been edited for clarity or length. You get 'em in all their original muddled glory.

Friday, September 5, 2014

What God's Not Dead Gets Right (And Wrong)

I finally got around to seeing the surprise hit movie God's Not Dead. Contrary to my friend Alan Noble, who wrote a scathing review before he had even seen the movie, I think the movie has gotten a bad rap. While there were certainly some implausible scenes, I found that there were also multiple plausible scenes. And since the film currently has a 17% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, I think it's time that someone give the film a fair shake, recognizing what it gets right (along with what it gets wrong). To that end, in what follows I list the Most Plausible and Least Plausible scenes in the movie.

*SPOILERS BELOW* Before we get there, a quick summary of the film:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Favorite Writing Music in 2014

We're now into the second half of 2014, and as usual I've been keeping track of my favorite new albums. I'm never able to keep up with everything that comes out, but from what I have listened to thus far my top 12 albums list would probably include (in some order): The War on Drugs, Conor Oberst, Lykke Li, Old 97s, Cloud Nothings, Sun Kil Moon, Run River North, How to Dress Well, The Roots, Common, Spoon, and Atmosphere. 

Usually I approach a new album by listening to it all the way through a few times, then selecting the songs that I like from the album and adding them to a "Best Songs of [Year X]" playlist on Spotify. Those songs then get played extensively whenever I take up a writing project. Below, I've compiled my ten favorite writing songs from albums released in 2014. This isn't necessarily a "ten best songs" list. Rather, it's a list of the songs that have provided the best writing soundtrack. As you can see from the list, I tend to gravitate towards songs that are wistful, pensive, or earnest in tone. Suggestions/snide comments welcome.

(Since some albums had multiple songs that would have made the list, I decided to limit each album to only one song. Click on song title to check out the songs for yourself.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Finally, a Langball Explainer

What is langball? (also known as "Lang ball" and "hang base ball")
Langball is a now-defunct game invented by C.G. Lang, a YMCA director in St. Joseph, Missouri, sometime around 1892. It's something like baseball or kickball, except that the batter in langball dangles from a horizontal bar or flying rings, striking the pitched ball with the bottom of their feet. Kind of like this:

Pic from Los Angeles Herald, April 19, 1896.

What happens after the ball is kicked?
The batter then runs to first base, much like in baseball, with the goal of eventually making it back to home base and scoring a run. Depending on the rules being used, there could be as few as two bases or as many as four.

Any fly ball caught by the defense is an out. But the rules for getting a runner out vary: if a light rubber ball is used, then the defense must hit the runner with the ball to get them out. Sometimes, however, a medicine ball is used. This brings an element of danger, for (as one early promoter of the game explained), "this indiscriminate throwing will endanger windows and apparatus, if not heads." Thus, the medicine ball version usually outlawed throwing at runners to get them out. Instead, you threw to the base, as in baseball.

Pic from Physical Education 1.2 (April 1892): 32.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

For Christians, Must Art Always Serve A Purpose?

Over at Christ and Pop Culture, Jordan Monson wrote a short piece titled "Do Christians Have Poor Cultural Taste?"

Monson began the piece by describing a "beautiful and melancholy" film that he viewed with a couple Christian friends. Monson loved the film: "In a mere three hours it led me through the full spectrum of human emotion," he wrote. "I empathized—even lamented—for its fictional characters. But my sorrow was of the redemptive kind, and it convicted me to go forward and share the hope of Christ with those who search in vain."

But his friends were not so enthused. One didn't like its lack of transforming robots; another thought that it did not teach viewers the proper moral behaviors.

From there, Monson began to wonder why it was that his friends and many other (evangelical) Christians were unable to appreciate the movie like he was. He assigned three factors to this tendency: having poor taste, "misunderstanding the role secular art can play in our lives," and something about fast-food culture vs. art.

Monson brought in the big gun for his analysis: C.S. Lewis. Lewis, according to Monson, argued that to have good taste one must receive art ("temporarily suspend judgment")  instead of use art (where art is simply a means to advance one's agenda). Monson agreed, arguing that evangelicals must learn to receive art (in a discerning way, of course), even from "secular" sources. And he suggested that approaching art in this manner "should inspire us to grow into better Christians, parents, evangelists, laborers, and listeners."

Like Monson, I too have wondered why it is that evangelical Christians have a tendency to enjoy terrible movies, music, and books. But it's not just the enjoying part -- the movies, music, and books that are most popular among the broad American population I often find terrible, too. What makes many evangelicals different is the fact that they often really, really want others to enjoy the cultural good as well (this is why they do things like rent out theaters for Son of God). Many believe that by getting others to partake of the cultural good, others will be sanctified or made better in some way. And on the other side of the coin, many evangelicals believe that some movies/music/books (often deemed "secular") will make people spiritually worse in some way. Why is this?