Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Just up at Sojourner's...

... is this new piece, related to (but different than) last Sunday's post here. 

I really love the way that they integrated the video of Barack Obama's speech in Waco into the text.  The speech, I thought, was really good-- and must have been very moving in context for the people who were there (a crowd that probably included some Razorites).

If you were there, I would love to hear a first-hand report on what it was like in the Ferrell Center.


Be honest... do I look like a hobbit?

Joy Tull thinks so:

Monday, April 29, 2013


Just up at MSNBC!

My newest piece, Sentence the Boston Bomber to Meaninglessness.

Please go over to MSNBC and comment-- I would like to get a conversation started.


Historical Haiku Mysteries!

There was a lot of great haiku last week, but two of my favorites were riddles really.  Can you tell who the presidents are referred to in these two poems?  First, this great effort by the Waco Farmer (a guy who knows and loves history):

Probably smartest
read classics before breakfast
greatest Sec of State

first job at 14
faithful son of USA
died in the service 

peerless diarist
integrity & vision
low-rated POTUS

not a party man
swam naked in Potomac
Old Man Eloquent

And then this beauty, from David Best:

or fight!" said Dems. Mexican
American War.

Achievements were great,
But at a cost. Imagine
a more peaceful state.

He gave us Grier, and 
Grier wrote Prize, putting Lincoln's 
Blockade in the clear.

He gave us Grier and
Grier voted Scott, putting, Dred's 
name back under key.

The youngest to rise
to that cherished prize. Yet he died
not three months removed.

Great by his standards.
Did what he said. Took country
from sea to sea.

Forgotten for years,
then lauded by some, his methods
brought death and great tears.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Sunday Reflection: Higher Ground

So much faith revealed in a funk song!

Teachers keep on teachin'
Preachers keep on preachin'
World keep on turnin'
Cause it won't be too long
Oh no...

I'm so glad that he let me try it again
Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I'm so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin'
Till I reach my highest ground...Whew!
Till I reach my highest ground
No one's gonna bring me down
Oh no
Till I reach my highest ground
Don't you let nobody bring you down (they'll sho 'nuff try)
God is gonna show you higher ground
He's the only friend you have around

In Minnesota, there is water everywhere.  The snow that has built up for months (there is still some in my yard) is finally melting off, and it is filling up the low places.

When I heard this song yesterday, it fit what was happening outside.  I could imagine what might happen in a serious flood-- people fleeing to the higher ground.

You go there instinctively; people grab what they can and walk uphill.  When the metaphorical waters rise, people do that same thing, but the higher ground is God, regardless of what people often believed before.  I saw it this month in the wake of the crises in Boston and West, Texas... people of different faiths walking together to that higher ground.

Part of the power of that image-- of the people taking refuge in the higher ground-- is that it is shared space, where we have to learn to live together.  Sometimes, that is our weakness.

The other challenge is this:  Realizing that the narrow space at the top of the hill, that sanctuary, is not all of God's Kingdom.  All of it is-- the flooded places, the roiling waters, the displaced people themselves-- and none of us know how it all fits together.  How humbling!  And then the waters recede...

Saturday, April 27, 2013


The problem with drummers...

They die so easily!

Friday, April 26, 2013


Haiku Friday: Most Interesting presidents

Who cares about who the most important or the best presidents were... this week, let's discuss the presidents who were the most interesting.

Here, I will go first:

New Yorker told tale:
He shook hands with his dear wife
Each night 'fore dinner.

Now it is your turn!  5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables and involve a president...

Thursday, April 25, 2013


How will history remember George W. Bush?

Today is the opening ceremony for the George W. Bush presidential museum in Dallas-- a ceremony that will be attended by five living presidents:  Both Bushes, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama.   By all accounts, it will be an interesting and worthwhile museum, with a focus on tough choices and the importance of volunteerism and public service.

It's a bittersweet day for Baylor, which was not selected for the site of the museum, despite a strong campaign.  Still... the land acquired for that project is not being used for a new football stadium, so it was not a total loss.

How will George W. Bush be remembered?

It's hard to come up with any undisputed successes, but that is true for most presidents, I think.  Still, what would you rank as the most important successes and failures of the Bush administration?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Oh, that Rick Perry...

I couldn't help but notice the juxtaposition of two headlines which rested one atop the other on the Waco Tribune-Herald's web site yesterday, both dealing with the tragic explosion at a fertilizer plant in adjacent West.

The first was titled Perry Says State Oversight Would Not Have Prevented Blast.

The second headline was West Explosion Investigation:  More Than 70 Agents Searching for Cause.

So... we don't know what the cause of the explosion was, yet the Governor knows that state oversight couldn't have prevented it.  Sigh.

I very much liked Abby Rapoport's discussion over at the American Prospect website.  It's shocking how unregulated such a dangerous plant was, and it seems almost that the results were predictable.  No sprinklers?  In a plant which was full of explosives?  And then a fire precipitated this explosion?  Hmmm....

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


What's going on here?

At 2:28, of this film of outtakes from Season 4 of the Bob Newhart Show, there seems to be some kind of William and Mary joke (by a guy wearing a W & M sweatshirt, no less).  What's the story there?

Monday, April 22, 2013


Haiku on Tragedy

Wow... did you see the haiku last Friday?  They gave me some solace in a turbulent time.  Here are just three of the many great ones:

Blogger Sara Sommervold said...
No signs of life just
Shoes abandoned in the dust.
So grey and quiet.
Blogger David Best said...
Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?
For those who have been there, He
was also there, alone.

And while being God
He did not consider him-
self God. Instead he

Chose death. Joining us
at the time we need him most.
Not just sympathy.

An understanding.
A God present now, right now.
No words. Just love.

Blogger Renee said...
Come up sun yellow,
Pure,tell me Martin did not
Die.Jane's leg was not

Torn off by cruel hands.
Come up and say,they are all
Right as rain.Logic

Lives.That carriers
For books,carry just learning
And not death. Go ahead,

Tell me.You can't,can
You? So I breathe in filthy air
Something from me was

Rams it's rude horn into each
White still moment.God!

Just hold my hand.That
Is all. There is no logic now.
We are all we have.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Sunday Reflection: The Saints I Know

As I have pretty much already definitively established, I don't believe in the kind of heavenly saints who intercede between humans and God-- my faith allows for a direct connection to God that does not need, and would not benefit from, from such intercession.

That said, I am lucky that there are saints here on earth who have interceded on my behalf, many times.  I am lucky enough to be with some of them this weekend here in Chicago, where I gave a presentation yesterday with Hulitt Gloer and Randall O'Brien, two such saints.  Today, I will hear Randall preach.

I don't mean this in a flip or silly way; both of these men have in very real and direct ways interceded on my behalf, have confronted and improved my relationship with God, and have helped me to understand more clearly what the world needs from me, and what God requires.  Hulitt is the one, for example, who convinced me that what I needed to pursue was law as a vocation,  a life project where teaching and scholarship and advocacy are bound together by a stout rope woven of faith.  Randall, more than once, has saved me from doubt.

Recognize, too, that with these saints they have not just helped me, but helped me in the way that Catholic Saints help believers in that faith-- interceded in a flawed relationship with God to bind it up, nurse it to health, and encourage it.

How do you thank your saints?

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Two new pieces on the Huffington Post...

... and neither is about the tragedies this week in West and in Boston.  As I describe in the post below, I really can't get my mind fully around either yet, and a lot of what is being written sounds much the same.

Instead, I have this one about background checks for guns and this one about the remarkable Brittney Griner.  I would welcome your thoughts...

Friday, April 19, 2013


Haiku Friday: Tragedy

What a sad week... beginning with the bombing in Boston, and then on to the explosion in West, Texas, close to my old home in Waco.

I gave up trying to explain or make sense of such events a long time ago.  I reflect on them, am saddened or angered by them, but there is something too large and dark in there for me to fully understand, much less explain.

So, let's haiku about tragedy this week.  It can be a reflection on the events in recent days, or others, national or personal.  Not every day has to be happy.

Here is mine:

Those who rush to help
These remarkable moments-
Instinct plus heart.

Now it is your turn... make it roughly five syllables/seven syllables/five syllables, and thanks for helping.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Political Mayhem Thursday: Background checks get torpedoed

So, it appears that a coalition from both parties in the Senate has killed any chance for the bill expanding background checks on firearms purchases.

I'm stumped.  Why shouldn't there be tighter regulations on things like internet gun sales?  How, after Newtown, are we unable to even get this simple, popular, reasonable measure passed?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


The best parental advice ever

So, yesterday I got to speak at a fascinating event down in Bloomington, at their arts center.  The topic was art in prisons, and my fellow panelists were Tom Roy, who is Minnesota's Commissioner of Corrections; Richard Amos, an artist who learned to paint while incarcerated; and Bill Murray, a remarkable man who has spent decades teaching art to inmates of Minnesota prisons.  The panel, put together by UST grads Andrea Specht and Mark Haase, was in conjunction with the opening of an exhibit of art by Minnesota prisoners (including the piece above).  The crowd was intriguing-- social justice advocates, sheriffs, former inmates, and probation officers were well represented.

To get ready for this, I wrote my dad, an artist, for advice.

In response, he sent me eight words that were simpler, truer, and more important than anything I could have come up with:  "We all live in prisons.  Art frees us."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


A wonderful lunch... and then...

Yesterday at St. Thomas's mission awards lunch, I was very happy to get this award from our new dean, Rob Vischer.  In large part, I was happy because it was coming from Rob, someone who has stepped into a challenging job at exactly the time that we needed him.  It was also wonderful that it was about teaching, since that is the most important part of my job, and what everything else revolves around.

Susan Stabile was given the award for scholarly engagement and societal reform, and I think they should re-name the award for her, given how well her talents and accomplishments fit that definition.

In other good news, my sometimes-collaborator Rachel Barkow at NYU was nominated by President Obama to the United States Sentencing Commission-- a great pick!  Rachel is exactly the right kind of person for this spot:  Smart, well-informed, objective, and engaged in the subject matter.

Still, none of this good news changes the terrible news from Boston...

Monday, April 15, 2013


Haiku, and the week ahead...

Somehow, I knew that the topic of favorite shirts would take us to those we have lost.  I loved these two... the first is from Laurie Smith:

New sky blue T-shirt
Color takes me to heaven
Where my people live.

And then Renee:

They spread them out on
His office floor. His shirts still
Evoking himself.

I never knew his
Penchant for plaid.But there it
Was: A farmer's fancy.

I smelled long days, deep
Frustration. I gave it a hug.
Worry. Kissed cheek.

Saw him get sick in
An irrigation ditch.His
Ulcers were bitin'.

Rocked smart little boy,
Who worked so damn hard.No time
To do homework.Damn!

Old now,he turned left
Into on-coming traffic--
Oh,Daddy! Good-bye!

But I still have the
White and red and blue plaid--
Knowledge you loved me.

It's a busy, busy week for me.  Today is the Mission Lunch at St. Thomas, and then tomorrow at 4 I am talking about prison and art at this event in Bloomington, on a panel with Tom Roy, Minnesota's Commissioner of Corrections.  On Thursday at 7, I'll be speaking to the Minnesota Peace Project at Christ the Redeemer Church, 5440 Penn in Minneapolis.  Then, on Saturday, I get my wonderful reunion in Chicago with Hulitt Gloer and Randall O'Brien!   If you can come to any of these, please do...

Sunday, April 14, 2013


My first piece for MSNBC...

... is up on their home page now, titled Pop-Up Federal Agencies:  Government Without Bureaucracies.


Sunday Reflection: Learning from those who know

Within Christianity, there is a constant struggle between anti-intellectualism and intellectual arrogance.

I've struggled for years to try to find a middle ground, and am starting to feel more comfortable with the balance I have struck.  Because I am someone who is not trained in theology who still wades into theological debates, how to view this question is important.

Here is the answer I have come up with:  I have much to learn from people who are experts in the history of Christianity, the Bible, and the church.  My own knowledge in these areas is very limited; and I need to have an open mind and humble approach when I learn from those who are experts.

However, I give no credence to those who want to tell me what God thinks.  That is a fundamentally different question, and one that is surrounded by mystery because of the very nature of God.

To put it a different way, the experts in language and history are very helpful to me in understanding the way God has revealed himself to me and to our world.  What to make of that revelation, though, is a very personal and independent question, and on that I take my own counsel.

How do others strike this balance?

Saturday, April 13, 2013


New Comment on the Lady Bears

Just yesterday, I noticed a new comment on an old post-- the one about the Baylor Lady Bears sad early exit in the NCAA tournament this year.  Here was that anonymous comment:

Let's think about the losing. Really feel the loss. Doesn't this resonate? Doesn't this get you at the gut level? It sucks. It reels. It debilitates. Then, and only then, when there is nothing close to dreamy, when the pit is dense and heavy...then, and only then, can we ask ourselves to pick up the faith, not the truth, but the faith, and rise up and walk. There is nothing stronger than a gospel of walking the dog days. It's basketball after all. There are winnings and there are disappointments. Let them all go. Blow them away and start again. It's just a part of living.

I would love to know who wrote that-- it is really elegant and true.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Haiku Friday: Favorite shirt

We all have one!  Let's haiku about a favorite shirt today.  Here is mine:

Red flannel, soft, warm;
Official Sicky-boy shirt--
Healing properties!

Now it is your turn... it doesn't have to even be a shirt you even own any more, or perhaps one that reminds you of a moment.... 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables and something about a shirt is good enough for me!

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Just up at the Huffington Post...

Is the first thing I have ever written (well, besides the post below) which mentions the Kardashians, How to Awaken the Pardon Power.


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Obama Budget

First of all, let me mention that it is supposed to snow a lot here in Minnesota today.  Which is messed up.

Second, it appears that an intriguing group of celebrities (including all three Kardashians, Ron Howard, Will Smith, Cameron Diaz, Russell Brand, Scarlett Johannsen, Demi Moore, and others) have sent the president a letter which (among other things) expressly promotes what I have been pushing for a while-- that the president "under the Fair Sentencing Act, extend to all inmates who were subject to 100-to-1 crack- to-powder disparity a chance to have their sentences reduced to those that are more consistent with the magnitude of the offense," and "form a panel to review requests for clemency that come to the Office of the Pardon Attorney."   Interesting!  More news to follow on all that.

Finally, I'm fascinated by the new Obama budget proposal which includes significant cost-saving measures within social security and medicare.  As Waco Farmer and I have agreed in the past, any real solution to long-term deficits will require both cuts of this sort and increases in revenue.  Now that the President has proposed both, it appears that the first attacks are coming from his left.  

Do others agree that this budget proposal is a step in the right direction?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Gloer! O'Brien! (Me!) at 4th Pres....

I can't wait for April 20th-- a week from this Saturday.  Why?

Because of this event at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago:

Two preachers and a trial lawyer will combine forces to teach and demonstrate effective arguments for social justice at "Moral Advocacy," a special program on Saturday, April 20 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 5G of the Gratz Center.  

Randall O'Brien, President of Carson-Newman University; Hulitt Gloer, the Garland Professor of Preaching at Baylor University; and Mark Osler, Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas will recreate a class they taught for several years at Baylor University. The techniques they employ can be applied to a variety of forums, from sermonizing to simply convincing one's children of what is right. 

Hulitt and Randall are two of my heroes and mentors, and it will be wonderful to share a classroom with them again.  

Tuesday, April 09, 2013


Air Koryo!

I really love terrible 1-star airlines-- after all, that's why I flew American Eagle out of Waco all of those years!  The only thing I've seen that comes close to approaching the Eagle Outa Waco is Air Koryo, which is the official North Korean airline:

Monday, April 08, 2013


Thanks, Razorites!

First for the great haiku on Friday.  We learned, after all, where Sally and her former Mustang Boy met (hippy co-op in Madison), and got this great poem from Antonia Promessa, which made me look forward to Rome:

I stood in Trevi
One moonlit night a boy
Touched my lips with dreams.

The Sistine Chapel
A holy muralled helmet
Over our heads,we prayed

That only beauty
Would grace our eyes. It was a
Request God refused.

And so we stood where
Lions ate men;men killed men.Amid
Cheers.Different now,Friend?

Orange burning day
Waiter brought limoncello
Mad violin echo.

Now Francis abides.
Can one be humble in such
A grand house? God smiles.
Second, and more importantly, thank you for the many great words of advice yesterday.  It helped-- it really did. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the wisdom of those I know through this silly blog....

Sunday, April 07, 2013


Sunday Reflection: The Power of Prayer(?)

So.... a Razorite and one of my real heroes is sick.

He/she had surgery for cancer, a serious one, this week.  The doctors didn't get it all; it may have spread, the cancer is stage three, and chemotherapy is next.  I know this friend well enough to know how hard it will be-- the invasion of bodily integrity by the knife, the transformation of being identified as sick, and the uncertainty of the future.

It is an overwhelming fear and sadness that I feel for this relatively young friend and mentor.

There is a helplessness that comes with it, too-- my approach so often is to go in and try to fix things, to try to correct them through force of will, but that doesn't work with cancer (and a lot of other things).  My talents are quite limited.

What is left to do, then?  I pray, but I will admit that it is one of the times that I am uncomfortable with God, awkward in my conversation with him.  I don't know what to say.  I'm not sure what to ask for.  There are a lot of painful silences in that discussion.

Is it right to pray for healing?  That might not be what is going to happen after all, much as I hope for it; so often God's will (or at least what God allows) is very different than what I want, and I have to have the humility to accept that.

I have never been comfortable praying for an outcome, even when it is one (like now) that I so desire. It feels too much like telling God what to do, which is a reversal of our roles.  There is a God, a creator, and it is not me.  But, so much, I want the God that Is to do what it is that I want.

Friends, help me with this... and, perhaps, pray better prayers than I seem capable of.

Saturday, April 06, 2013


What's Going On?

My favorite album of all time is Marvin Gaye's What's Going On?, from 1970.  I've included a few of the songs from it below.

What made Marvin Gaye different was his fascinating combination of attributes-- a three-octave vocal range, combined with a social conscience that took him to places his record label (Motown) did not want to go.  I still listen to these songs and marvel.


Washington Update!

Yesterday I had a very good time (in between class sessions) talking to Andrew Krieg on his radio show, Washington Update.  I love radio, and it was great to be doing it two days in a row!

Friday, April 05, 2013


Haiku Friday: State Capitals

State capitals... remember having to memorize them?  Probably (if you are like me) you remember the process more than the actual capitals.  Still, this is the challenge for today... let's haiku about our favorite state capitals!  (or, cities you might mistakenly think is a capital).

Here is mine:

Really, guys?  "Pierre?"
That's the name of a capital?
Bring me more chislik.

Now it is your turn.... the recipe is 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables, and it's both easy and fun!

Thursday, April 04, 2013


Today on MPR...

At 11 am, Central Time, I will be a guest on "The Daily Circuit" with Kerri Miller to talk about the death penalty with Frank Zimring of UC-Berkeley (one of my favorite academics of all time) and former ABC News correspondent Greg Dobbs.  More info here, and here is the podcast: 


Political Mayhem Thursday: Mike Rice is fired

Yesterday, it came out that Rutgers had fired men's basketball coach Mike Rice for abusing his players.

Based on the video above, I think this was the right decision.  Student-athletes should not be treated this way.

Still... my sport in high school was distance running, which wasn't exactly susceptible to the same kind of tactics (the whole sport, after all, was about running away fast).  What do others think?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


Just up at Huff Po...

... My piece on Breakfast as Miracle.  Also, check out Jeanne Bishop's fascinating bio of holocaust survivor Hank Schwab, Transcending Buchenwald.


An Easterish Poem (by Megan Willome)

Last week in Austin I got about 12 seconds to visit with one of my favorite writers, Megan Willome.  For example, she wrote this wonderful profile of another person in that audience, Bob Darden. 

On her own blog, she recently posted this poem, which I feel compelled to re-post as the spirit of Easter lingers:

The March afternoon when Mom gave me the breakable angel

I placed it high on the mantle where its “Hallelujah! He is Risen!”
could always be seen, especially in spring
when the days start cool, then warm into full sun
when the light is longer
when grass is conquered by color. Who can call a bluebonnet delicate
when it grows in the most god-forsaken ditches?

It takes some strength to bloom where no one planted you.

I pick up the angel when — oh, look!

She’s missing a hand.

When did that happen? How did I not notice? Surely I didn’t throw it away?

That’s how fragile motherhood is. You can lose a hand and not know it.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


The end of the Griner era

On Sunday night, the Baylor Lady Bears lost to Louisville by one point (82-81) in the Sweet Sixteen.  It was the last college game for Baylor's remarkable post player, Brittney Griner.  Griner closed out her career    as the second-leading scorer in NCAA history, the leader in blocked shots, and one of the most memorable college athletes in any sport.

They lost to a Louisville team that played an amazing game, but the sting was still sharp for Baylor.  

I wondered, at the end, how hard it must be to meet the expectations that were placed on this team.  They were defending champions, with all their key players back, but something was a little off this year.  They lost an early game to Stanford, and then did not make it past the round of 16 in the only tournament that counts.

But... they are 19 and 20 year-olds, kids.  They played remarkably well for months.  They made a lot of Baylor fans very happy, and years from now they will still be remembered for the perfect season they enjoyed last year, rather than for the loss they suffered this week.

Monday, April 01, 2013


Reflections on the weekend...

The image above is one of several from Bob Kinney's Austin music blog, which ran a great photo-essay on our trial down there last week.  Check it out!

Last week, there were a lot of great haikus (including Renee's excellent entry, which was nearly as good as her hat in church yesterday!), but you really need to see this one from Lilly of the Valley:

In Paris this girl
Smears butter jam on croissant
Sips cafe au lait.

She walks in the rain
Smells violets rhyming jazz
With rose.Old men smile.

Venus in the Louvre
Gives her notions passionfire
She breakfasts on Seine.

He wants to paint her.
"I have no money," she lies.
She feeds him apple.

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