Tag Archives: Hoosiers

Points Of Light

I was scrolling through Facebook Sunday afternoon, after my return from Danville, and came across a post by a longtime friend, Chris Douglas. He was commenting on a shared article detailing many truly horrifying things done to African-Americans in the period leading up to the Civil War. Chris pointed out that people inclined to minimize these truly despicable behaviors, discounting evil because it was reflective of the “culture of the times,” are simply wrong.

Good people then knew better, and they were doing more than protesting.

Let us note that at the very same time, Hoosier Levi Coffin was among leaders organizing an illegal Underground Railroad (in which the David Douglas family participated); Calvin Fletcher was providing legal defense to escaping slaves; Central Christian Church of Downtown Indianapolis (Disciples of Christ) was advocating disobedience of the Fugitive Slave Act; Hoosier Ovid Butler was providing racially integrated college education; and Hoosier Abraham Lincoln (moved on to Illinois) was speaking against slavery.

I was especially struck by the truth of this reminder, because I had just returned from giving a guest speech at the Danville Unitarian Church (posted Monday), where I had encountered precisely the sort of Hoosiers Chris was describing.

It was gratifying.

Danville, Indiana is a small town on the western outskirts of Indianapolis.(When I say small, I mean it; the town has a population of around 9800.) The church is in the middle of Danville’s small downtown, and I would estimate that somewhere between 40-45 congregants were at the service.

This was the second time I’ve spoken at this particular church, and both times I’ve been really impressed by members expressing a welcoming and decidedly non-prescriptive theology. (The core of Unitarianism is a genuine respect for each individual’s search for his or her own truth.)

This was most definitely not a collection of fundamentalist/Nationalist Christians. (I especially loved one of the songs: John Prine’s “Your flag decals won’t get you into heaven anymore..”)

The entire service emphasized inclusiveness and service to the community. (There were two offerings; one of food for those in need, and a conventional “pass the plate” to support the congregation.) At times, the small congregation felt more like a supportive family than a gathering of co-religionists.

During the question and answer session that followed my talk, it became clear that this group of people, from a very small town in a very red state, is profoundly worried about the direction of the country. Like the early Hoosiers cited by my friend Chris, they aren’t just complaining about the problems they see; the email asking me to speak specified that they wanted suggestions for actions they could take to improve civic knowledge and elevate political conversations.

After the service, one of the congregants proudly shared with me that she had been concerned a year or so ago when a proposal to resettle a Syrian refugee circulated–she’d worried about rightwing resistance and anti-immigrant attitudes. But there had been absolutely no negative response. Her pride was obvious. In small-town red Indiana, the refugee had been welcomed, just as she–a trans woman–had been welcomed by this congregation.

Chris’ point is worth underlining. The tenor of the times and/or the political environment are never an excuse for hatefulness, for bigotry, for brutality. (Ask the Germans who hid Jews from the Nazis.) Fear of social disapproval cannot serve as an excuse for keeping quiet and staying on the sidelines when our fellow human beings are being abused by people engaging in deeply immoral behaviors.

Harming people simply because they are different is always objectively wrong.

In every era, when bad people do bad things, good people stand up to them. And good people are everywhere–including churches in small towns in bright red states.

I always feel better after being with Unitarians.




“Good Enough”

Morton Marcus once identified the major barrier to progress in our state as the widespread belief that mediocre is “good enough.”  He was right. It may be that our persistent disinclination to aim high is linked to a contempt for “elitism,” or it may be that we’ve decided that we aren’t willing to expend the effort needed to escape second-rate status.

Whatever the reason, the results of our lack of civic ambition can be seen everywhere: our neglected parks, our under-resourced public schools, the pathetic bus system that passes for our version of public transportation.

What I remember most about my tenure in the Hudnut Administration, back in the late 1970s, is the effort to change that attitude. Mayor Hudnut was determined to make Indianapolis “no mean City”–and that meant paying attention to the built environment’s design and maintenance, among other things. Back then, streets in the Mile Square were swept daily, and the “Clean City Committee” encouraged attention to other aspects of civic tidiness. The improvements to Monument Circle were made during Hudnut’s tenure, as were numerous other brick-and-mortar projects intended to strengthen the city’s core and improve the physical environment we share.

Design matters, and during the Hudnut Administration there was recognition of that fact. Today, the creation of urban amenities depends almost entirely on the generosity of philanthropists. The Cultural Trail is a good example.

It has been over thirty years since the improvements to Monument Circle, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those improvements are a bit tired. It is time for some refurbishing–some attention to a public space that has been recognized as one of the best such amenities in the country. So the recent announcement by the Ballard Administration that such a refurbishing would be undertaken was welcome–until the details emerged.

The City intends to hire engineers to oversee the project. Not architects.

A decision to hand over the redesign of one of the most important civic spaces in Indianapolis to people whose focus and training are on traffic flow and structural integrity is more than disappointing. It is yet another signal that Indianapolis has reverted to the “good enough” mindset that characterizes so much of Indiana.

Apparently, the Ballard Administration thinks Monument Circle is just a traffic roundabout that periodically needs repaving.

That’s good enough, right?

Indiana’s Choice

Now that the primaries are over, and the outlines of the gubernatorial campaign are getting clearer, it is beginning to look as if Hoosiers will have a choice between a candidate with bad ideas and one with no ideas.

The Star reports that Democrat John Gregg is advocating both a tax cut for businesses and the elimination of Indiana’s gasoline tax. He proposes to make up the lost gas tax revenue by “better management.” This at a time when government is struggling to provide basic services, and when all available evidence rebuts the tired rhetoric about tax cuts generating jobs and government funding services by cutting “waste.”

Add to these positions his anti-choice and anti-gay-rights pronouncements, and apparently, Gregg has decided to campaign as the non-Pence Republican.

Meanwhile, Pence has refused to take any policy positions. In 11+ years in Congress, he never passed a bill. He’s never held an administrative position, and–to use a Republican talking point–never made a payroll. He has never disclosed the slightest interest in the complexities of public policy.  The only thing he has done is sermonize and hector. In fact, given his holier-than-thou persona, it’s odd he didn’t just go into the clergy.

Unfortunately, one of these men will win in November. Rupert Boneham, the libertarian who has thus far made more sense than either of them, is simply not viable in a state and country that doesn’t elect third-party candidates.

So our choice–as my son frequently notes– is between a competent conservative from the 1950s, and a posturing theocrat from the 1590s.