Monday, June 24, 2013

Looking Backward: Reliving the 1990 NBA Draft

There are only two types of NBA Drafts one should watch: one is the live-and-in-real-time draft, held every June.  The other type is the one in which all drafted players have ended their careers, and an assessment of their legacy can be envisioned as you watch the younger version of the NBA retiree march awkwardly up to shake David Stern’s hand.  Watching a draft from five years ago is an exercise in inanity.  Watching a draft from twenty years ago is an existential reflection on youth and innocence and society, a historical document in living color.  You may not believe me.  Thankfully, NBA TV exists, and they broadcast old drafts. I decided to jot a few notes down while watching the 1990 NBA Draft to illustrate my point 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

American Jesus, 1895: Francis Schlatter, the New Mexico Messiah

On a Friday night in early January, 1896, a Unitarian minister in Salem, Oregon lectured on the topic "Is Francis Schlatter the Lord Jesus Christ come for the second time?" The exact details of his answer to that question are unknown, but we can be sure that his final word on the subject was "no." More interesting than his sermon, though, is why he would even bring up the subject in the first place. Schlatter never set foot in Oregon, neither before nor after his rise to fame. Twelve months prior he was virtually unknown, wandering through the New Mexico desert. But by August 1895, newspapers from coast to coast were writing about the "New Mexico Messiah" and cracking jokes about a new sect of "Schlatter Day Saints."

Who was Francis Schlatter, why did he gain messianic status in the eyes of some, and what, ultimately, happened to him?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Niebuhr's "Children of Light," a Summary and Reflection

You may not know Reinhold Niebuhr, but you know Reinhold Niebuhr. At least you do if you've ever read that "man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary," or recited the prayer "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

Gary Dorrien, professor at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University, has called him "the most important thinker of the past century concerning the relation of Christianity to problems of social ethics and politics." Time went even further, eulogizing him as the "greatest Protestant theologian since Jonathan Edwards." His career as a pastor, theologian, professor, author, and social commentator left an indelible imprint on intellectual life in the 20th-century United States.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Omaha's Crazy Religious Sects Pt. 2 (Or, the Figgites, Westboro Baptist, and Religious Freedom)

From 1897 to 1907 in Omaha, a minuscule religious group caused a sensation for its habit of bursting into religious services (and sometimes other public events) and denouncing everyone present as devil-filled sinners. In fact, denouncing other religious groups seemed to be the main point of their existence. Known as the Figgites, the sect disappeared from the historical record within a decade of their first public spectacle. When I first came across the group in my research into Omaha's religious history, I immediately was reminded of a more modern example of a widely-hated lilliputian religious group with a penchant for public trolling: the good folks at Westboro Baptist. And while our society has changed dramatically over the past century in regards to protecting the rights of minority religious groups, the treatment of the Figgites and Westboro shares some rather strong similarities. But more on that later. First, a little background on Omaha's prequel to Fred Phelps' clan.