Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reinhold Niebuhr and President Obama's World View

"Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."
 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944) 

"We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us and still strive for justice.  We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity.  We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace."  
            President Barak Obama, Speech in Oslo, 2009

If American citizens, the general public, the media, right, left and center, understood the theology and philosophy of Reinhold Niebuhr, they would understand the thought and actions of President Obama.  That was one of the messages of Fr. Jim Bacik's lecture at Lourdes University's Franciscan Center last week.

Niebuhr on Time cover.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) was one of the most influential theologians in America in the 1950s and 1960s, Fr. Bacik reminded a faithful audience of over 100 people.

Niebuhr, a pastor, professor at Union Theological Seminary, and writer, developed a "public theology" based on his belief in "original sin,"  the existence of evil in the world and the need actively to fight against it. Fr. Bacik calls him "a pessimistic optimist."  His "Christian realism" had a far-reaching influence.

I remember Niebuhr for his opposition to the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, and I say the "Serenity Prayer," which he wrote during World War II, every day.

I didn't know that Niebuhr is one of President Obama's "favorite philosophers," and that his beliefs undergird our president's thought across the spectrum of social, political and international issues.   It has now become clearer.

President Obama accepts Peace
Prize in Ozlo, 2009
Fr. Bacik referenced an interview with journalist David Brooks in 2007, wherein Obama, then a senator, stated what he had learned from Niebuhr: 1) We must be realistic about evil in our world and be humble about eliminating it;  and 2) this is not, however, an excuse for cynicism and inaction. He repeated the lesson two years later in Oslo, upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize: "There's evil in the world, but we have to do all we can to eradicate it." 

Fr. Bacik  
I have, I think, become more Niebuhrian with time.  I once believed we could shape human nature and control change, that we were born innocent and learn evil, that human agency was the basis for creating peace and justice.  Perhaps.  But I see how the doctrine of original sin, the belief that evil exists and will always exist, "moderates this utopian idealism," as Fr. Bacik put it.

Niebuhr's theology helps place inhumane extremism, war, and man's ongoing inhumanity to man in broader perspective: ISIS and Middle Eastern violence; Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the tragedy of MH-17; the Ebola crisis, the Syria crisis, the African refugee crisis, the multiplying destructions and death that dominate our times. It's a perspective Pope Frances and many change agents around the world seem to understand and embrace.

Yes, there is evil in the world.  And yes, we have to do all we can to fight against it, to try through our actions to make the world a better place.  We cannot eliminate evil; but we can work to achieve "proximate justice" and "proximate peace."  It's a lesson I needed to hear.

Some reading:

Obama quotes that show the influence of Niebuhr (in Fr. Bacik handout):
"We begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes."

"We do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected."

"I know that engagement with oppressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation.  But I also know that sanctions without outreach--and condemnation without discussion--can carry forward a crippling status quo.  No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of a open door."

"No Holy War can ever be a just war....if you truly believe that you are carrying out the divine will then there is no need for restraint, no need to spare the pregnant mother or the medic or even a person of one's own faith."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sylvania Loves a Parade: Fall Festival 2014

Scenes from the Sylvania Fall Festival Parade, October 19, 2014.
Sylvania loves a parade.  And lots of  people turned out for the Fall Festival on this clear, crisp, colorful fall day.   Main Street buzzed with activity--arts and crafts booths, organizations and products to learn about, books and decorative items to buy, food to eat. The politicians were out in force, too.  Afterall, elections are right around the corner.

Here comes Philip's Maplewood School Cub Scout Pack 158!    
"I think this is one of the biggest crowds ever," I mentioned to Elissa.  She agreed, as we jostled through the dense crowds with Chase in a stroller and the boys tagging along.  We were excited that we were going to see cousin Philip march in his first-ever parade, with the Maplewood School Cub Scouts.  After lots of police and fire vehicles, fancy and antique cars, baton twirlers and cheerleaders, decorated trucks and great bands, came the Scouts.  "Maplewood Scout Pack 158.  That's what we're looking for," Elissa advised, as we strained to see the various scout troops marching by.

"There he is!" Kyle shouted out.  "I see him!" We all looked at the oncoming group of cub scouts and, sure enough, there was our Philip, smiling and waving and running with his friends.  He stopped to give Chase a kiss and a wave to the rest of us, but not for long.  He was back marching with his fellow cub scouts, as we high-fived around, watched the Shriners and their little red cars performing, and waved happily along to the very end.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Celebrating Bethany House, Remembering the Toledo/Lucas County Domestic Violence Prevention Board

At Lourdes college, celebrating Bethany House's 30 years. 
Bethany House, the first and the only long-term shelter for abused women and their families in NW Ohio, celebrated its 30th anniversary on Sunday.  Fittingly, the celebration was held at Lourdes college, the home of the Franciscan sisters who have played such a large role in creating and sustaining the house. Sister Mary Jon, the head of the Franciscan sisters, presented a moving testimonial to Sr. Mary Therese, whose passion for putting words and faith into action inspired them to act.  Bethany House is one result, a mission of the Sisters of Saint Francis to this day.

Past president Mr. Tom Jones memorialized his daughter, noting how important a long-term shelter is for women who want to live free of violence and need time and help. "I have witnessed the work of faith," he said.  "It makes me feel my daughter did not die in vain."  His comments reminded us that death stalks these victims.

Current board president Paul Sullivan, Jr, accepted a City Council Proclamation acknowledging Bethany House's achievements.

The celebration featured a documentary about  the history and purpose of Bethany House.  Women who lived at the House, who had suffered violence for so many years, bore witness to how Bethany literally saved their lives, powerful stories of growing to independence and self-sufficiency. Many of the women were in the audience, recalling the hope they found.  A young boy rose to thank Bethany for bringing his mom and siblings together in a safe place.   A woman told us: "I've seen my sister grow and blossom thanks to Bethany House."

Can't believe I found this old
button from Domestic Violence
Board's Public Awareness Campaign!
I was glad to be part of this celebration.  It took me back to the first-ever Toledo/Lucas County Domestic Violence Prevention Board (1978-1983), which I staffed.  This pioneering board was under the aegis of the Community Planning Council, with the aid of an LEAA grant, and chaired by Bishop James Hoffman.  The Bishop did an extraordinary job of organizing the board and developing its goals and programs.

The members of this board were appointed by the Mayor and the Lucas County Board of Commissioners.  It was a dedicated group involving people like Judge Charles Abood and other pioneers. Its mission was to help create a coordinated service delivery system and a safe shelter for women; raise public awareness; and provide training for the police and the criminal justice system, then on the frontlines of the silent but deadly problem.

At the time the only available shelter was the YWCA, a short-term safety net. It continues to provide emergency shelter and services.  The Domestic Violence Prevention Board brought in experts like psychologist and author Lenore Walker (The Battered Woman, 1979) to talk about the extent and nature of the issue.  It developed training for police, criminal justice and social services agencies.  It instituted an annual public education campaign called "Love Beats Abuse." I actually found a button from the first campaign!   One board member, Nancy Metzger, got the support of the Junior League and did yoeman's work in informing the media about the issue at a time when few people talked about it and public awareness was low.  It was a pioneering effort. Does anyone remember it? Is it forgotten history?

Walker's 2nd book.
I left Toledo in 1985, a few years after this Board merged with the United Way Child Abuse Prevention Agency.  How wonderful to learn about the history and successes of Bethany House since that time.  It represents an answered prayer to those of us early workers who plowed the field and planted seeds in order to meet the critical need for shelter, safety and support.

Bethany House stands on the shoulders of many volunteers, the dedication and hard work of the Franciscan sisters, the victims of domestic violence, and the almost-forgotten groundbreaking efforts of the unsung pioneers of the first Toledo/Lucas County Domestic Violence Prevention Board.

For information call Ohio Domestic Violence Network, 800-934-9840 or 419/727-4948.  For the YWCA call 888-341-7386.  For Bethany House call 419-727-4948.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Ted Walk: Catalogue Houses of Old Sylvania

Did you know that 80-90% of the homes in some of the oldest parts of Sylvania are "catalogue" homes?

So said Prof. Ted Ligabel, of Eastern Michigan University, who led a house tour of the area around the Sylvania Heritage Museum on a cool, cloudy day. 
Samples of Sears and Montgomery Ward House catalogues.

No, most of us did not know that. Our first surprise! Mail-order homes!

The Tour, sponsored by the Sylvania Area Historical Society (SAHS), attracted a lively group of 15 history buffs who loved hearing about these homes, and were glad the rain held off! 

The 'Ted Walk' covered a walkable square that begins on Main at Maplewood (a hotel sat on the northwest corner before a fire destroyed it), goes north on Main, west onto Erie to Philips and the Plummer Park area, back to Philips, and east down Maplewood to Main.  

Prof. Ted Ligabel (left photos) leads SAHS walking tour of these fabulous homes. Historian Gayleen Gindy (right) stands in front of the house she grew up in, now the Soy Candle shop. 
We began at the Sylvania Heritage Museum, which is across from the Reeb funeral home on Main. Yes, the Reeb is a catalogue house that has undergone many additions and incarnations! So is the Museum house.  

Ted held up a copy of Sylvania Homes that told some of these stories.  It was an early and noteworthy effort to preserve and record our architectural history, but only 12 copies were printed and it is hard to find. A copy is at the Museum. Gayleen Gindy, an historian involved in that project, was on hand to fill in details and add historical context. She is working on new book that will re-tell and update the history.  If only these houses could talk, what stories they would tell! 
 Ted Ligabel holds up a rare copy of "Sylvania Homes" (bottom center).
Photos of some of the houses featured in the publication and/or on the walking tour.   Lovely!
So, if  you lived in the 19th century or early 20th century, and decided you wanted to build a house out in the Sylvania countryside among all the trees, all you had to do is browse through a house catalogue and place an order.  You would pick out a basic design or basic kit in the kind of architectural style you preferred and have it shipped.   Early on there was an Aladdin catalogue and a Tiffany Blue Book. Then came the illustrious and ubiquitous Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogues. 

The growth of national roads, canals and especially railroads (and there's one very close by) made the process easier, and ever more popular.  

You would first build your own foundation--of brick, concrete blocks (from Chandler's in the late 19th century and up), or cobblestone (rarer but there are some)--then build your mail-order home upon it. The style and construction material of the foundation says a lot about the age of a home, Ted informed us.  We looked for and, to our delight, found a date imprinted on the bricks of some homes.
Greek Revival and Craftsman styles predominate in Old Sylvania. They are all shapes and sizes,  with interesting foundations and fantastic features & flourishes.
Grand or simple, originals or updated, these are all  catalogue homes.
Once you chose your basic design, you would select whatever additions and/or flourishes you liked, in a range of prices: certain styles of doors, windows, dormers, porches, columns, gables, fireplaces, all the interior cabinetry, hardware and fixtures, and everything you could dream of for your "designer" catalogue house.  Some were very expensive and grand, some simple and vernacular.  
Photos of the originals! Bottom house same
as Dague House on Erie; above is the Greek
 Revival with updates at corner of Erie &
Philips, which now has columns in front. 

Most of the homes around Old Sylvania are either Greek Revival style or Arts and Crafts (craftsman) style, the latter influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright's "Prairie Style" and the reaction against Victorian architecture. The 1898 and 1893 World's Fairs in Chicago also had an important influence. Features of these two basic styles, in various configurations, are rich and abundant in old Sylvania, sometimes mixed, always glorious. 

This was the relatively inexpensive and convenient way to build the house of your dreams from the 1840s up to the early 20th century.  This is, indeed, how many homes went up in the forest of  Old Sylvania. Imagine the excitment of seeing a house plan become a reality!  

Of course at that time there was lots of land and lots of natural space between the new homes. The next big housing spurt came after WWII with the phenomenal growth of suburban America (we saw some examples of one-story brick ranch homes), and then a huge expansion in Sylvania itself in the 1970s and '80s.  By this time, the "catalogue" era of "houses by mail"was long over.  

As we walked from house to house, I learned that Ted had grown up in the neighborhood.  So had historian Gayleen Gindy, in the home that is now Heaven's Gate Soy Candles on Main. Mimi Malcolm, who traces her family to the earliest settlers, had family around here, too.  I say 'around here' because I live on Main, just a few houses north of the Heritage Museum.  Yes, it's a "catalogue" house, Ted confirmed, as we walked by, "and the houses on either side of it, too," Mitchell's Clock Shop and Harmony in Life.   

We stopped at the house next to Mitchell's, 5763 Main.  "Now that's a great example of the craftsman style,"  he enthused, built in 1915 with features including a porch supported by thick "fluting" (layered) brick columns and a "Model-T garage."   The owners, a young couple, spotted us admiring their house and came out to tell us more. We even learned that the pretty flowering bushes gracing the front of the house are called "limelight hydrangea." 

Directly across the street, the house with the bright yellow door, now Keith's hair salon, formerly the Christian Science Reading Room, is also "a very important home," Ted noted.  It's the Cosgrove home, built in 1848 in a Greek Revival style. Ted pointed out the wide frieze board under the roof and around the windows, the design, other nice features.  Most of us weren't architectural experts, but we took in what we could!
From Main Street, we turned the corner onto Erie. Ted pointed out the different styles of the houses, including a row of three in the exact same style, with some minor individual features. I always wondered about those three look-alike houses, painted pastel, like pretty maids all in a row.   

We passed the "the only" all-brown brick house, not pretty but distinctive.  We walked to Philips at Erie and talked about the large and elegant Greek Revival at the corner, now graced with tall columns, which were not part of the original design, and updated with Italianate features. Much of the original detail came from western New York state, Ted said, not surprising given the large migration from there to this part of Ohio and southeast Michigan. I love the way it's decorated for the holidays! 

We walked a few houses west toward Plummer pool to pay homage to one of "the oldest catalogue houses in the area," the Dague House, an old classic Greek Revival with typical pilasters at the sides of the house and a pretty cornice over the tall front door.  It once stood alone, during and after the Civil war, surrounded by farmland and trees.  Lots of trees. 

As we went back onto Philips to continue our tour, Ted said with a flourish: "Just about all of the houses in this block are catalogue houses:  this one, that, that, that, that one, and that and that."  Some of my favorite homes. All different.  He pointed and talked.  We followed his finger and listened. 

Amazing!  All the houses that I pass almost daily with my kids and grandkids now living in the same area, houses I had questions about, they were all ordered from a catalogue, put up on foundations, and embellished by individual tastes and touches that added to their basic character.  The owner's particular taste are still found in the details. 

I now know lots more about what I look at every day! It's intriguing how you can look at something a hundred times and not truly see it--the detail, context, meaning and purpose of it, see the history and mystery, all at the same time.

Our 'Ted Walk' made history come alive.   

"We've already lost many structures, many homes, just in the last five years, " Bob Smith, former SAHS president noted.  Maybe 
Prof. Ligabel's tour will inspire us to do something to make sure we don't lose more.  

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