Monthly Archives: January 2010

Wavelength Blog—1/31/10

The snowstorm that blessed Harrisonburg this weekend prevented me traveling to the studio to produce a new Wavelength episode.  As it turns out, I will also be absent from the studio February 6 and February 13.  Since I won’t be producing a new show until February 20, I don’t expect to produce a new Wavelength blog entry before then.

Core Convictions for Engaged Pacifism

The term “pacifism” is used quite often for many things—though generally without definition.  I believe “pacifism” is a great term and a great ideal when properly understood.  In the essay, “Core Convictions for Engaged Pacifism,” I spell out how pacifism works well as an orienting point.

The essay can be read here.

The background issue that was in my mind as I wrote was how pacifists might engage in resisting evil in our world. I argue that pacifism provides a perspective that helps us work at resisting evil without creating additional evils. I write in a Christian context, but actually believe that people who aren’t Christians should be able to affirm just about all of the eight core convictions I discuss.

Wavelength Blog—1/24/10

Yesterday on “Wavelength” I continued the approach I have been taking the past few weeks—playing two songs each from selected favorite albums.  Here’s today’s playlist.

Let me recommend five of the records I featured on the show.

Sam Cooke—Night Beat.  About a year before he was shot to death, Sam Cooke was reaching the peak of his powers.  Prior to that time, his albums were simply collections of singles.  With “Night Beat” he put together a coherent long playing record, the only one he created in his all-too-short life.  It can be heard on Lala here.  And here is the All-Music Guide review.

Mavis Staples—We’ll Never Turn Back.  I named Mavis Staples’ record “We’ll Never Turn Back” the Wavelength record of the year in 2007.  It’s a wonderful tribute to the American Civil Rights movement, recovering some powerful justice songs.  And, Mavis can bring it!  It can be heard on Lala here.  And here is the All-Music Guide review.

John Trudell—AKA Grafitti Man.  Several years ago, I watched a moving documentary on the Native American social activist John Trudell.  The film ends with treatment of Trudell’s poetry/music.  I decided to check it out and discovered this record, that was released in 1993.  It’s kind of a version of rap, with mostly spoken voice and a lot of driving instrumentation.  Trudell minces few words in his critique of empire and his call for liberation.  It can be heard on Rhapsody here.  And here is the All-Music Guide review.

Ray Wylie Hubbard—A: Enlightenment B: Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C) (Dig).  Ray Wylie has become a senior figure in the Texas music scene, but his energy has yet to be diminished, as seen in this brand new (January 2010) record.  It ranks among his best.  As one reviewer states: “His songs possess the tenderness of a poet, the empathy of a historian, and the raw nerve of a card shark.”  It can be heard on Lala here.  And here is the All-Music Guide review.

Bruce Cockburn—Live.  I’ve long been a Bruce Cockburn fan; I love his combination of progressive politics and religious faith.  And he’s a fine writer and great guitarist.  In fact, it was back in April 1989 that I saw him in concert.  He was in the midst of a very long tour at that point—the music from that tour is captured on this fine live record.  It can be heard on Lala here.  And here is the All-Music Guide review.

The Book of Revelation Speaks to American Politics

The book of Revelation does have prophetic bite, even if not as usually presented. Back in the Fall of 2006, I was asked to write an opinion piece on the 2006 election and the widespread defeat of Republican congressional candidates.  So I turned to Revelation for some ideas and ended up suggesting that the critique of the Beast in Revelation may certainly apply to Republican hubris, but when considered more thoughtfully also applies to all American Democrats who also support the American imperial project.

I called the piece, “The Lamb’s Power and Modern America.”

Rereading this essay now, after the Democrats greatly expanded their 20o6 gains in the 2008 election, including the presidency, I definitely think I was on to something. We, frustratingly, are seeing little diminishing in the commitment of the President and Congress to America as Empire.

Wavelength Blog—1/17/10

Yesterday’s Wavelength, like the previous couple, ended up being an eclectic show where I simply grabbed a bagful of albums on my way out the door to the station and played two songs from each record.  Like the others, this show turned out pretty well because they are such great records.  I hope to put together some thematic shows before long (several are in the works), but they do take more time.  Here’s the playlist.

Let me recommend five of the records I featured on the show.

(1) Blaze Foley, Cold Cold World

Blaze Foley was a true Texas character, a hard-drinking, hard-living, itinerant songwriter who died violently about twenty years ago, but whose music lives on.  Here’s a long, fascinating article—the account that alerted me to Blaze’s life and music: No Depression

This record, “Cold Cold World,” was released after Blaze’s death. It was produced with a great deal of added instrumentation by the great Gurf Morlix.  It is hard to find, but it can be heard on Napster: Blaze Foley and the Beaver Valley Boys, “Cold, Cold World” (Napster)

(2) Gillian Welch, Revival

Gillian Welch is indeed one of our favorites, post-modern old time Appalachian music.  She has not recorded a great deal, but all of her records are quite good.  Perhaps her best is this first one.  Here’s the All-Music Guide review.

The record may be heard here: Gillian Welch, “Revival” (Lala)

(3) Richard and Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights

Maybe 15 years ago or so I was reading one of those lists of the greatest rock and roll records of all time.  It was populated with the usual suspects except near the top was a record by artists I had never heard of—Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights.  My curiosity piqued, I did what I could to learn more about it.  I tracked down the record on vinyl and discovered that it deserved its accolades.  It’s still not widely known, but it should be.  Here’s the All-Music Guide review.

The record may be heard here: Richard and Linda Thompson, “Shoot Out the Lights” (Rhapsody)

(4) Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Always Say Please & Thank You

Not long after I first started to produce this radio show, I was stopped on the sidewalk by my friend Steve Cessna who said he liked the show and that I might enjoy his brother’s band.  Steve kindly loaned me a couple of CDs, and he was certainly right.  Slim’s second record, “Always Say Please and Thank You,” remains my favorite.  Here’s the All-Music Guide review.

The record may be heard here: Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, “Always Say Please and Thank You” (Lala)

(5) The Walkabouts. Satisfied Mind

The Walkabouts are a fascinating band.  They’ve been around since the early 1980s, operating out of Seattle as part of the fertile contemporary rock scene of that great city.  They have been hugely popular in Europe and record for the fine German label, Glitterhouse.  But they have never been that well known in the states.  Too bad.  Their many records are all good, and have quite a bit of variety.  My favorite is “Satisfied Mind,” which is kind of alt-county (in that sense quite a bit different from their others). Here’s the All-Music Guide review.

Unfortunately, “Satisfied Mind” is not currently listenable on-line as near as I can tell (except for 30-second samples at Amazon—follow the “Satisfied Mind” link above). Here is the Walkabouts page on Lala that provides access to many of their other records.

Son of Adam, Son of God

Why do we pay attention to Jesus? I think there are many good reasons people do—some not so good reasons, too, I suppose.  I am choosing to focus on the good reasons.  But I think that whatever reason we might have for paying attention to Jesus, we benefit from looking carefully at what the Bible tells us about him.

This morning, I preached the third of what I hope will be a 13-part series of sermons on Jesus.  I called it, “Son of Adam, Son of God.” My purpose was to consider what the Bible has in mind when it calls Jesus “Son of God.”  Actually, as this sermon focuses on Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:1-13), the focus is on what the meaning of “Son of God” in relation to Jesus is not.  In a nutshell, Jesus is tempted with using his status as Son of God as a means of exercising power over in bringing in God’s kingdom.

“Son of God” in relation to Jesus has to do with his approach to politics—what kind of king will Jesus be?  Jesus is indeed political, but it’s a politics of compassion and empowering others, not a politics of domination and self-serving.

Jeffrey Kovac, Refusing War, Affirming Peace

Jeffrey Kovac. Refusing War, Affirming Peace: A History of Civilian Public Service Camp #21 at Cascade Locks. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press, 2009. Pp. 192.

During World War II, about 12,000 young men, in face of the military draft, availed themselves of the option to serve their country with “work of national importance” in non-military settings.

Part of the U.S. government’s purpose with what was known as the Civilian Public Service (CPS) program was to keep these conscientious objectors (COs) out of the public eye.  The government largely succeeded—and in the years since the history of this program has not received much attention.  Now that participants in the CPS program are passing from the scene, the living memory of the witness of World War II COs is fading fast.

However, those events had (and continue to have) importance beyond the small number of lives directly affected by them.  So, this book by Jeffrey Kovac, the first in-depth study to focus on just one particular CPS camp, deserves our attention and appreciation.  Kovac, an ethicist of science at the University of Tennessee, has a personal interest in this topic due to his own pacifist convictions and the role his CO father-in-law, Charles Davis, played in the story.  His research is thorough, and he tells the tale in a clear, straightforward manner.

The camp whose story Kovac tells was operated by the Church of the Brethren and located east of Portland, Oregon, in the Columbia gorge near the small town of Cascade Locks.  The main work that campers in this camp (“Camp No. 21”) performed was forestry work in the mountains south of Cascade Locks.

Kovac’s choice of this particular camp was a sound one.  This camp endured for the entirety of the war and ended up being the scene for more than its share of drama. A key step early on that greatly contributed to the success of the camp was the choice of Brethren pastor Mark Schrock as the camp director.  Kovac portrays Schrock as a crucial player in providing wise guidance for camp operations.

Kovac tells of several of the key events in the five-year history of the camp that gained outside attention.  The most famous CPSer was the actor Lew Ayres—who for the first several months of the War was stationed at Camp No. 21.  In facing the draft, Ayres had sought to serve as a non-combatant in the medical corps.  The military would not guarantee such a position, so Ayres then successfully sought CO status and joined CPS.  However, the publicity his situation gained helped persuade the government to change their policies.  When Ayres was guaranteed a position in the medical corps, he left CPS and served as a non-combatant in the military.  He remained close friends with Mark Schrock and always spoke favorably of his experience at Cascade Locks.

Camp No. 21 next made the news when a CPSer of Japanese extraction, George Yamada, was ordered to leave CPS and enter one of the concentration camps that had been established to imprison Japanese-Americans.  Yamada, with strong support from his fellow campers, refused these orders.  This actually turned out to be one of few direct acts of resistance to the relocation efforts, and ended somewhat successfully as Yamada was permitted to stay in CPS when he accepted transfer to a CPS camp away from the West Coast.

This controversy pitted Camp No. 21, including director Schrock, against the Selective Service—and exposed the ambiguous nature of the arrangement wherein the Peace Churches acted as agents of the warring government.

A third notable story that Kovac tells is of a confrontation between campers and the U.S. Forest Service when campers discerned that one of the projects the Forest Service was asking them to participate in would too directly contribute to the war effort.  The campers stood strong and ended up being excused from the project.

Kovac also tells of an ambitious, and only partly realized, effort at education for campers, called the “School of Pacifist Living.” When the program began, Brethren leader, Dan West, agreed to help it start.  While the school did cover some important ground, it was difficult to sustain.  Participants were asked to invest at least eight hours a week to intense discussion plus significant time in study on top of their 51-hour workweek.  West had to leave after the first segment of the school, and in time the program petered out.

Kovac, along with covering these various high points, also gives the reader a good sense of the challenges facing the program.  Probably the most difficult challenge stemmed simply from the interminable nature of the service.  CPSers were required to stay in CPS for the “duration of the war.”  In time, most of them sought other assignments, especially more challenging and exotic possibilities such as working in mental hospitals and fighting forest fires. Towards the end of the War, director Schrock left to return to his home and the last year or so of the life of Camp No. 21 drug by, ending more with a whimper than a bang.

Refusing War, Affirming Peace is an interesting and important book.  This close-grained look at the experience of World War II COs comes at an important time for present-day pacifists.  As we lose the living connection with those who witnessed to the ways of peace, Kovac has given us a perceptive reminder of their motivations and experiences.

It is mostly an asset that the book focuses directly on the story of Camp No. 21.  We do have a few other books that give us the broader picture of the CPS story—though most of these are long out of print and hard to find (the most thorough treatment is Mulford Q. Sibly and Philip E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience [Cornell University Press, 1952]).  We have nothing else quite like Kovac’s treatment; it would be great if this book could stimulate some other similar studies.

I did wish for a bit more information in a few cases.  Several times Kovac gives us some tidbits about the future of some of the Camp No. 21 members (e.g., George Brown, who went on to serve 18 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives).  However, after learning a great deal about camp director Mark Schrock’s background and effective time of service at Camp No. 21, we don’t learn about his post-CPS life.

We also don’t learn much about the actual forestry work the CPSers did as part of their service.  Certainly, many (most?) campers found this work to be less than fully engaging and fulfilling, especially in comparison with their social transformative ideals.  Nonetheless, they spent most of their time and energy out in the woods performing “work of national importance.”  It would have been nice to learn a bit more about this work and what the CPSers did accomplish (or not) with it.

Jeffrey Kovac deserves our gratitude for completing this fascinating book, obviously a labor of love.  We now have an accessible portrait of one particular example of life in service of vital and costly ideals.  May it be widely read and serve as a stimulus for better understanding and applying those ideals.

Peace theology book review index (by book author)

Book review index (by date posted)

Wavelength Blog—1/3/10

My blogging on popular music connected with my radio show “Wavelength” (Saturdays from 3:00 to 6:00 pm Eastern; 91.7fm and online at has been nonexistent since July 2008.  A New Year’s resolution (or maybe “New Decade’s resolution”) is to get going on this again.  I will keep my sights low in hopes of making it sustainable.  Basically I will, once a week hopefully, offer a bit of commentary and some links related to my most recent show.

If you have any comments, reactions, or suggestions, please share them!

Yesterday’s was one of those shows where I just grab a bunch of CDs as I head to the radio station and see what finds its way on the air.  Here is the playlist.  It worked well to play two songs each of a number of albums.

Let me draw your attention to five of the albums I featured that I especially like.

Lyle Lovett. Step Inside This House.  This record, released back in 1998, is unusual for Lovett in being all covers.  He is in great voice; the songs I featured on the show were both written by Townes Van Zandt and quite beautifully rendered.  Here’s the All-Music Guide review and to listen to it on-line go to Lala here.

Patty Loveless. Mountain Soul II. Patty Loveless is a bit mainstream for Wavelength, but she has released several more traditional records in recent years that I really like.  Mountain Soul came out in 2001 and was terrific.  So is this follow-up, released in 2009.  All-Music Guide’s review is here and to listen to it on Lala go here.

Townes Van Zandt. In Pain. According to many serious listeners of Townes Van Zandt’s music, his best recordings are those from concerts rather than in the studio.  His early record, Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas often is mentioned as his best ever (listen to it on Lala).  In Pain was recorded while he was on tour in Europe not long before his 1996 death.  He sounds pretty good and the songs are some of his best.  The title accurately conveys the tone of the music.  All-Music Guide’s review is here, but In Pain does not appear to be available on Lala.

Eliza Gilkyson. Beautiful World. One of the great singer-songwriters in American music, Eliza Gilkyson is too little known.  This 2009 record is one of her strongest.  She sings potent songs of politics and love.  All-Music Guide’s review is here and to listen to it on Lala go here.

Jimmy LaFave. Trail.  I recently discovered this Texan with a beautiful voice and heart-oriented sensibility.  Trail is a two-CD live record from fairly early in LaFave’s career (1998).  He sings a number of Bob Dylan songs, several other sensitive covers, and his own compositions (about half the songs).  The Dylan covers are terrific—they sound like Jimmy LaFave songs, not Bob Dylan knock-offs.  All-Music Guide’s review is here and to listen to it on Lala go here.