Family Treasures: Missing photographs, missing memories?

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Family Treasures

Jennifer Pollard with photo of her great grandmotherAmericans today are the most photographed people in history. Smartphones and Facebook make it easy to capture daily images of our lives and share them. Go back a generation or two, however, and photographs are rare. Many are missing, representing gaps in the stories of our families.

Do you have a photographic gap in yours?

Here’s a story of one such gap: Jennifer Pollard’s family is from Barbados, the tiny island nation just north of South America. Jennifer participated in our recent group discussion on objects and the values they signify. She showed a photograph of her Great Grandmother Cecelia. This photo is a valuable object. But the missing photograph is one of her Uncle Arlington, one of her Great Grandmother’s 11 children. Seven immigrated to America, and her uncle was the first. As Jennifer told us, “He came through Ellis Island, and he started a dry cleaning business in New York.”

As she told her story, she reflected that the activity of sharing such valuable objects can be difficult. “You realize how many gaps you have about your family,” she said. “I did meet my Uncle Arlington and some of his siblings—but my regret is that I didn’t get to know them more and to meet those whom I didn’t get to meet. I wish that they had lived longer so I would have been able to learn more about them. … A part of me is missing because I don’t have a decent knowledge of my great aunts and great uncle.”

Arlington’s story is a classic immigrant story of people coming here to make a better life for themselves and their families. His example illustrates the values of achievement, hard work, and enterprise.

Do you have a story like Jennifer’s?

Is there a gap in your family knowledge?

What object would you use to tell the story of your values and how you got them?

Your story matters!

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Changing Relationships: Who needs marriage, anyway?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series changing relationships
OV Pew 2014 Public Is Divided over Value of Marriage

CLICK this Pew graphic to read the entire Pew report.

Marriage and family are often considered to be the bedrock of society, but values about these institutions are changing.

One shift is rising support for legalizing same-sex marriage. But changing values about traditional marriage is an even bigger trend, at least in terms of sheer numbers.

What’s your view? Is society better off if marriage and children are a priority? Or, is society just as well off if people have different priorities?

You have plenty of company either way. Half of all Americans (50%) now say that society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and kids, according to a new Pew poll. And, 46% of Americans disagree, saying that society is better off if people make marriage and children a priority in their lives.

Younger Americans are much more likely than older Americans to say that society is just as well off if people have other priorities. Two-thirds of Americans who are 18 to 29 years of age say so, as do a majority of Americans (53%) who are 30 to 49. Americans who are 50 years of age or older are more likely to say that society is better off if getting married and having kids are priorities.

If a couple wants to spend the rest of their lives together, do you think they should get legally married? A majority of Americans say yes, but again we see differences by age. Just over one-third of Americans 18 to 29 believe that those who want to be together for the rest of their lives should get married, compared to half of Americans who are 50 to 64 years of age. The oldest group (65 and older) is the most likely to say that getting legally married is important if a couple wants to spend their lives together.

Have you or did you make marriage and having children a top priority in your life?

Should people get legally married if they want to spend the rest of their lives together?

Changing Relationships: What happens when religious values clash?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series changing relationships
United Church of Christ banner in a pride parade

Some religious groups welcome LGBT men and women. This United Church of Christ banner was part of a gay-pride parade in 2013. Photo provided for public use by NathanMac via Wikimedia Commons.

The right to make and break relationships is a defining feature of modern society.

Through most of human history, a person was born into a fixed matrix of relationships. Today, many people enjoy unprecedented freedom of action and choice when it comes to their relationships with one another and to institutions like religion, family, and community. But we don’t have complete liberty—values shape and influence the choices we make.

When values change, what happens to relationships?

One area of change involves religion and relationships with those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT). Public opinion has shifted in favor of same-sex marriage, but it is still a divisive issue—a majority of Americans support gay marriage, but a near-majority do not. For many churches, it’s an even more divisive issue.

Most LGBT adults feel that religious groups are generally unfriendly toward them, according to a Pew survey of the LGBT community. For example, at least eight of ten LGBT adults say that the Muslim religion, the Mormon Church, and Catholic Church are unfriendly toward them. Three-quarters view Evangelical churches as unfriendly.

It is noteworthy, then, when a prominent evangelical ethicist changes his mind about the church’s relationship to the LGBT community. The ethicist is David P. Gushee, who is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. Throughout most of his professional life, he took the traditional line on the church’s relationship to LGBT people. Now, in his latest book, he argues for “full acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church.”

Gushee’s book about changing his mind is changing many of his relationships. The new book’s official publication date is this week, but news about its message already is bringing him new allies, including friend requests on social media, and new opponents, some of them former friends. (You can read a new interview with Gushee in ReadTheSpirit this week.)

Given David Gushee’s pedigree and credentials, however, he cannot be easily dismissed.

To what extent will religious institutions change their relationships to the LGBT community?

In the religious institutions you know, what happens when values clash?

Prayer in School: Can a student write a term paper about prayer?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Prayer in School
College classroom photo by Elly Koepf for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

College classroom photo by Elly Koepf for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Officially sanctioned prayers are banned in public schools, including any religious expression in classrooms or graduation ceremonies led by school employees.

But what if a student wants to write about prayer or God in a class assignment? Is this allowable?

I once faced this situation. I teach in a public institution of higher education and so the ban on officially sanctioned religious expression obviously applies. But I had a business-school student ask me if it was okay to write about “God as a business partner” to fulfill a class assignment for a term paper. For example, in some banks, loan officers routinely pray with their clients for good terms on pending mortgage applications. Some companies incorporate religious principles into their business models. Chick-fil-A restaurants, for example, are closed on Sundays.

The student’s proposal might seem like a gray area, but the Department of Education is clear about the answer. Suppose, for example, that an English teacher gives an assignment to write a poem and a student writes a sonnet about prayer. This poem “should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school.”

Students are free to “express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions.” The instructor should judge the product solely on “the basis of academic standards.” It cannot be “penalized nor rewarded on account of its religious content.”

I confess that I didn’t then know all the details of the DOE guidelines, but it was apparent to me at the time that it would be fine for the student to write a term paper about God as a business partner.

Have you faced a similar situation?

Do you agree with DOE’s policy on the expression of religious beliefs in class assignments?

Get Out the Vote: How much voter impersonation is there?

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series Get Out the Vote

Tip O’Neill in his prime.

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER—Columnist Terry Gallagher has been exploring Americans’ voter apathy and challenges to raising the level of participation.

In Tip O’Neill’s autobiography, Man of the House, he used the phrase “Chinese hat trick” to describe a form of voting fraud.

On election day, a ward boss would hire Chinese men and have them vote repeatedly under different names. “Each time they came to the polls, however, they would be wearing a different hat, the idea being that to Caucasians, all Chinese people looked alike,” according to O’Neill.

But after winning a close race for re-election to the Massachusetts house, O’Neill introduced legislation to punish that kind of malarkey.

“I didn’t like people stealing elections–and I especially didn’t like people stealing them from me!” he wrote. “The bill passed easily, and that particular brand of corruption virtually disappeared from Massachusetts.”

Yesterday’s post looked at the growing political strategy called “voter suppression,” like requiring potential voters to show a photo ID, to reduce turnout among those who are likely to oppose your candidate. The common rationale is to prevent the kind of fraud O’Neill saw in Boston back in the day.

But how common is that really, where someone shows up at the polls pretending to be someone else?

Not very, according to an analysis reported in the Washington Post last week.

Loyola University Law School Prof. Justin Levitt looked at more a billion votes cast in elections across the country from 2000 through 2014, and found only 31 credible cases of voter impersonation.

“Election fraud happens,” Levitt wrote, including ballot-box stuffing by officials in on the scam. But those methods are not going to be stopped by requiring photo IDs.

When turnout is so low already, why would we make it more difficult to vote?

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS THIS SUMMER: Terry Gallagher has written about a wide range of topics. You can read more than 100 of his past columns by clicking on this link. Email us at [email protected] with suggestions for Terry. And Please, we always invite you to comment (below) or to share this column on Facebook (use the blue-“f” icons).

Get Out the Vote: For some, the real goal is voter suppression

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Get Out the Vote
2000 Florida presidential election ballot and box

The 2000 Florida presidential election is now so infamous that this voting stand, ballot and ballot box from that election is now an exhibit in the state’s museum in Tallahassee.

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER—Columnist Terry Gallagher has been exploring Americans’ voter apathy and challenges to raising the level of participation.

While many observers bemoan low voting turnout, not everybody sees it as a problem.

In fact, some political types embrace “voter suppression” as the key to electoral victory.

Their goal is not to persuade more people to support their candidate or position, but instead to discourage their opponents from voting at all.

“The tactics of voter suppression can range from minor ‘dirty tricks’ that make voting inconvenient, up to blatantly illegal activities that physically intimidate prospective voters to prevent them from casting ballots,” according to Wikipedia. “Voter suppression could be particularly effective if a significant amount of voters are intimidated individually because the voter might not consider his or her single vote important.”

Voter suppression is far more than minor dirty tricks, though. In Florida in 2000, which proved decisive for George W. Bush’s election as president, the United States Commission on Civil Rights said that “statistical data, reinforced by credible anecdotal evidence, point to the widespread denial of voting rights. . . . . The disenfranchisement of Florida’s voters fell most harshly on the shoulders of black voters.”

One of the seemingly innocuous ways to suppress voting is to require potential voters to show photo identification to cast a ballot.

So what? Not a big deal for most of us.

Turns out that studies have shown that 18 percent of all seniors and 25 percent of African-Americans don’t have picture IDs.

Do too many people vote?
Why would we make it more difficult?

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS THIS SUMMER: Terry Gallagher has written about a wide range of topics. You can read more than 100 of his past columns by clicking on this link. Email us at Our[email protected] with suggestions for Terry. And Please, we always invite you to comment (below) or to share this column on Facebook (use the blue-“f” icons).

Get Out the Vote: Can we kick start American voters?

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series Get Out the Vote

Fairvote slide from curriculum to teach the value of voting

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER—Columnist Terry Gallagher has been exploring Americans’ apparent voter apathy and, after last week’s low voter turnout, he will look at some creative ideas for kick starting American interest in voting.

Our recent primarily elections saw dismally low levels of voting participation.

And with the way that district boundaries are drawn these days, the primaries are increasingly important to determining who will get elected in November.

So our representatives in our state capitals and Washington are almost always chosen by a majority of the less than 20 percent of eligible voters who show up to vote in the primaries.

But so what? What difference does it make if people are so apathetic about the political process that they can’t be bothered to vote?

One simple reason to be distressed about low turnout is that it threatens democratic government itself: If more people do not participate, the government will be controlled by smaller and smaller groups with a vested interest in one candidate or policy.

“Robust voter turnout is fundamental to a healthy democracy,” according to organizations like the non-profit advocacy organization called FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy. They lament that “low turnout is usually attributed to political disengagement and the belief that voting for one candidate/party or another will do little to alter public policy.”

FairVote and numerous other groups have advocated dozens of ways to increase turnout, reforms like making voting registration easier; extending hours polling places are open and expanding opportunities for absentee voting; even on-line voting.

FairVote also recommends a new “National Curriculum” that could build fresh interest in voting. The curriculum includes lessons about how much voting mattered in the American civil rights movement—and it also includes images like “Voting Rocks” photo at the top of this column.

What do you think? Is low turnout a problem?
Should we make it easier for people to vote?
What reforms would you suggest?

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS THIS SUMMER: Terry Gallagher has written about a wide range of topics. You can read more than 100 of his past columns by clicking on this link. Email us at [email protected] with suggestions for Terry. And Please, we always invite you to comment (below) or to share this column on Facebook (use the blue-“f” icons).