Opinion | Raphael Warnock: I Can Still Hear My Father’s Voice – The New York Times

The Rev. Warnock, a Democratic senator from Georgia, is the author of “A Way Out of No Way: A Memoir of Truth, Transformation, and the New American Story,” from which this essay is adapted.

“I can still hear my father’s voice.

“Wake up, son. Get dressed. Get ready. Put your shoes on. There’s something for you to do.” My dad almost never allowed me and my siblings to sleep late. It did not matter whether it was a weekday or a weekend, during the school year or summertime, the admonition was the same.

One sleepy-headed morning, I pushed back: “It’s Saturday. Get ready for what? What do you want me to do?” He paused and then blurted out, “I don’t know yet. Just be ready!” That was my dad. Loving. Gentle. No nonsense. A small giant of a man with a fierce work ethic and a profound sense of duty.

Jonathan Warnock was 52 years old when I was born, the same age I am now. As a young man, Dad was drafted in the U.S. Army during World War II and served about a year, all stateside. He experienced firsthand the indignities of that era’s Black military men, who served their country dutifully at a defining time in its history yet were treated as second-class citizens, particularly in the segregated South.”

Molly Worthen | 400 Years Ago, They Would Be Witches. Today, They Can Be Your Coach. – The New York Times

Dr. Worthen is a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who writes frequently about America’s religious culture.

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“Erica Carrico suspects that if she’d lived 400 years ago, she would have been accused of witchcraft. “Women who were healers, who were connected to the moon cycle and nature, they were considered witches,” she told me. “I love following the moon. I feel divinely guided by my intuition. I’ve done the new moon and the full moon ceremony. I’ve practiced with crystals quite a bit and sage, sweat lodges. I’ve done so many things, just trying to find my way, what feels right.”

Ms. Carrico is “all about the woo,” as her website puts it, but she also trains women to be hard-driving entrepreneurs. She is a spiritual coach, a relatively new occupation that is dominated by women and appears to be growing, although hard numbers are elusive (to further confuse things, some practitioners refer to themselves as business coaches, albeit ones with a generous helping of New Age ritual on the side). At a time when more and more Americans call themselves spiritual but not religious, these coaches give us a glimpse of the allure and the hazards of 21st-century D.I.Y. religion.

Spiritual coaches are a new chapter in the long history of female religious entrepreneurship in America — a tradition that runs from Boston in the 1630s, when Anne Hutchinson’s packed religious meetings outraged Puritan ministers, to today’s evangelical conference circuit, dominated by demure yet forceful female evangelists who are not ordained but whose books and podcasts constitute major media empires. By blending eclectic religious practices with the gospel of entrepreneurship, spiritual coaches pitch their clients (who, like the coaches, are mostly women) the things that religion has always promised. They offer a path to meaning in the midst of suffering and tools to recover a sense of agency in a world that flings us around by our heels.

If we are tempted to dismiss their taste for crystals and energy healing as New Age flimflam, it’s partly because they face up to something that many modern Westerners struggle to admit: Neither total submission to a traditional religious institution nor atheistic materialism feels right. We kind of do want the universe to hold our hand — without bossing us around too much.”

Thomas B. Edsall | The MAGA Formula Is Getting Darker and Darker – The New York Times

Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C., on politics, demographics and inequality.

“The chilling amalgam of Christian nationalism, white replacement theory and conspiratorial zeal — from QAnon to the “stolen” 2020 election — has attracted a substantial constituency in the United States, thanks in large part to the efforts of Donald Trump and his advisers. By some estimates, adherents of these overlapping movements make up as much as a quarter or even a third of the electorate. Whatever the scale, they are determined to restore what they see as the original racial and religious foundation of America.

“While these elements are not new,” Robert Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, wrote by email, “Donald Trump wove them together and brought them out into the open. Indeed, the MAGA formula — the stoking of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment while making nativist appeals to the Christian right — could accurately be described as a white Christian nationalist strategy from the beginning.” “

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Great work, thank you. I like the observation, that these people are diminishing in numbers, hence more dangerous. I’ve been an Episcopalian all my life, and there is lots of data about the number of people going to church regularly is in serious decline, for a long time. I recently returned in my heart to the church, as a Franciscan, or follower of Saint Francis, as his teachings and the teaching of his disciples are described by Richard Rohr, in Eager to Love. Humans are not above all other life forms. All life forms, and even non life forms, are sacred. Scientists report that the overpopulation of humans is crowding out other species, and will make the planet uninhabitable for humans as well. So the good new, if that’s what you need, is that our human caused problems will be self-correcting. We are multiplying like a green algae bloom. Sadly, it is all within our means to fix, and yet we bicker, and delay, and allow obfuscation.

Scott Hershovitz | How to Pray to a God You Don’t Believe In – The New York Times

“Before Rex came along, I struggled to account for my own religious practice. I don’t believe in God, so why do I fast on Yom Kippur and observe Passover? It’s just what we Jews do, I might have said; it keeps me connected to a community that I value.

I’d still say that, I suppose. But when Rex was 4, he reframed my view of religion. One night, I was cooking dinner, and he asked, “Is God real?”

“What do you think?” I asked.

“I think that for real God is pretend and for pretend God is real,” Rex announced.

I was stunned. That’s a big thought for a 4-year-old. It’s a big thought for a 40-year-old. I asked Rex to explain what he meant.

“God isn’t real,” he said. “But when we pretend, he is.”

Philosophers have a name for this sort of view. They call it “fictionalism.” Suppose I say, “Dumbledore teaches at Hogwarts.” If that was a claim about this world, it would be false. Hogwarts doesn’t exist here, and neither does Dumbledore, so he can hardly teach there. But they do exist in a different world — the fictional world that Harry Potter lives in. The sentence “Dumbledore teaches at Hogwarts” is true in that fiction.”

Ukrainians Flood Village of Demydiv to Keep Russians at Bay – The New York Times

The waters that poured into Demydiv were one of many instances of Ukraine wreaking havoc on its own territory to slow Russia’s advance. Residents couldn’t be happier. “We saved Kyiv,” one said.

“DEMYDIV, Ukraine — They pull up soggy linoleum from their floors, and fish potatoes and jars of pickles from submerged cellars. They hang out waterlogged rugs to dry in the pale spring sunshine.

All around Demydiv, a village north of Kyiv, residents have been grappling with the aftermath of a severe flood, which under ordinary circumstances would have been yet another misfortune for a people under attack. This time, it was quite the opposite.

In fact, it was a tactical victory in the war against Russia. The Ukrainians flooded the village intentionally, along with a vast expanse of fields and bogs around it, creating a quagmire that thwarted a Russian tank assault on Kyiv and bought the army precious time to prepare defenses.

The residents of Demydiv paid the price in the rivers of dank green floodwater that engulfed many of their homes. And they couldn’t be more pleased.”

Thomas L. Friedman | Shameless McCarthy, Soulless Putin and Nameless Ukrainian Soldiers – The New York Times

   Opinion Columnist

“I am thinking about three people today whose behavior could have a significant impact on the world in the coming months and possibly years: a soldier with no name, a politician with no shame and a leader with no soul.

The first I admire, the second we should have nothing but contempt for and the third must forever be known as a war criminal.

The unnamed soldier is the thousands of Ukrainians — those in uniform and those civilian men and women — who are defending their country’s nascent democracy against Vladimir Putin’s barbaric attempt to wipe Ukraine off the map.

Whether they are professionally trained soldiers or “babushkas” using their smartphones to call in coordinates of Russian tanks hiding in the forest behind their farms, their willingness to anonymously fight and die to preserve Ukraine’s freedom and culture is the ultimate refutation of Putin’s claim that Ukraine is not a “real” country but rather an integral part of Russia’s “own history, culture and spiritual space.” We don’t know their names — I can’t name a single Ukrainian general, despite all their success so far — but their deeds have shown Putin that the country they are fighting for is very real, very distinct and willing to ferociously defend itself.”

How Zelensky Tamed Ukraine’s Fractious Politics and Stood Up to Putin – The New York Times

“KYIV, Ukraine — Russian tanks were rolling over the border and Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, was in the grips of fear and panic. Street fighting broke out and a Russian armored column, barreling into the city, advanced to within two miles of the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In those tense first days of the war, almost everyone — Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, military analysts and many Western officials — expected the Ukrainian leadership to fracture. Instead, Mr. Zelensky decided to personally remain in the capital, taking selfies as he traversed Kyiv to reassure his people. And he ordered his senior aides, many Cabinet members and much of his government to also stay put, despite the risks.

It was a crystallizing moment for Mr. Zelensky’s government, ensuring a wide array of agencies kept running efficiently and in sync. Leading politicians put aside the sharp-elbowed infighting that had defined Ukrainian politics for decades and instead created a largely united front that continues today.”

Bret Stephens | Why We Admire Zelensky – The New York Times

     Opinion Columnist

“Why do we admire Volodymyr Zelensky? The question almost answers itself.

We admire him because, in the face of unequal odds, Ukraine’s president stands his ground. Because he proves the truth of the adage that one man with courage makes a majority. Because he shows that honor and love of country are virtues we forsake at our peril. Because he grasps the power of personal example and physical presence. Because he knows how words can inspire deeds — give shape and purpose to them — so that the deeds may, in turn, vindicate the meaning of words.

We admire Zelensky because he reminds us of how rare these traits have become among our own politicians. Zelensky was an actor who used his celebrity to become a statesman. Western politics is overrun by people who playact as statesmen so that they may ultimately become celebrities. Zelensky has made a point of telling Ukrainians the hard truth that the war is likely to get worse — and of telling off supposed well-wishers that their words are hollow and their support wanting. Our leaders mainly specialize in telling people what they want to hear.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Excellent essay Bret Stephens, thank you. I recently reread “the Hobbit,” by JRR Tolkien, for possibly the 10th time, and it is famous for good reason. Tolkien describes the elves, dwarves and hobbits of Middle Earth with humor and wisdom, poking politely at the many strengths, weakness, and foibles of human beings.
  Dictatorships, such as that of Russia, is represented by the Necromancer, and the goblins and orcs. The Hobbit was published in 1937, after WW I. WW II was on its way.
  Reluctantly, I think that NATO should go to war with Russia, to save the Ukraine, as if it were in NATO already. I think some things are worth dying for. In the Hobbit, the leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield, sits out the great battle of five armies, while others fight to protect his gold and dragon treasure. He is honorless, while his kin on the field fight with honor, for their freedom and very lives.
  The NATO countries are a bit like the coward, Thorin Oakenshield, whose mind is clouded with the love of his hoard of gold, to the point where he will not risk his life for his own kin and neighbors. In Tolkien’s magnificent story, Thorin pulls himself together, and restores his honor. It is not too late for NATO to do the same.
David Lindsay Jr is the author of “the Tay Son Rebellion,” about war in18th century Vietnam, and blogs at InconvenientNews.Net.

Margaret Renkl | Books About Death and Grief Can Bring Hope – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — I was 10 when “Brian’s Song” aired in 1971 as an ABC Movie of the Week. It is the story of the abiding friendship that grew as Brian Piccolo, who was white, and Gale Sayers, who was Black, competed for playing time as N.F.L. rookies with the Chicago Bears. It’s also the story of Piccolo’s death of cancer at 26. I was a girl in Birmingham, Ala., then “the most segregated city in America,” when “Brian’s Song” reminded this country that race was not an insurmountable barrier to love.

Of course I read “I Am Third,” the 1970 memoir by Gale Sayers from which the film was adapted, as soon as I could get my hands on it. When the bookmobile librarian suggested that I might also like “Death Be Not Proud,” John Gunther’s heart-wrenching account of his 17-year-old son’s death from a brain tumor, I devoured it too.

I was not a child obsessed with death; I simply wanted to understand how the world works. My friend Mary Laura Philpott read the same kinds of books as a child, and for the same reason.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Thank you Margaret, for your work and this beautiful essay. I quibble with your opening, “Reading stories is a gentle way for a child to encounter the hardest truth that shadows mortal life: There are no happy endings.” While there are no fairy tale, happily ever after endings,
I think I know a few individuals who faced off with death with dignity and courage, and left the world a much better place than they found it, and left their children with the tools to succeed, as well a having modelled a productive, cheerful, and generous life.
As one Christian elder once said, we all face our own crucifixion to some degree at the end of our lives. While death is inconvenient, and at times horrible and dreadful, it is part of the deal, and can be part of a successful, productive and meaningful life of service.
David also writes at InconvenientNews.net

David Brooks | The Secrets of Lasting Friendships – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“In early 2020, just before the start of the pandemic, I met a woman who said she practiced “aggressive friendship.” It takes a lot of her time, but she’s the person who regularly invites friends over to her house, who organizes events and outings with her friends. What a fantastic way to live.

I thought of her while reading Robin Dunbar’s recent book, “Friends.” If the author’s name means something to you, it’s probably because of Dunbar’s number. This is his finding that the maximum number of meaningful relationships most people can have is somewhere around 150. How many people are invited to the average American wedding? About 150. How many people are on an average British Christmas card list? About 150. How many people were there in early human hunter-gatherer communities? About 150.

Dunbar argues that it’s a matter of cognitive capacity. The average human mind can maintain about 150 stable relationships at any given moment. These 150 friends are the people you invite to your big events — the people you feel comfortably altruistic toward.

He also argues that most people have a circle of roughly 15 closer friends. These are your everyday social companions — the people you go to dinner and the movies with. Within that group there’s your most intimate circle, with roughly five friends. These are the people who are willing to give you unstinting emotional, physical and financial help in your time of need.”

Thank you David Brooks for another thoughtful piece. I remember reading about the magic number of 50, for the number most people can keep up with, and the observation that all over the world, throughout history, most military companies had 50 fighters. The comments are also interesting, because some people testify about the truth of the research reviewed, while others skoff and deride it as outdated. Many wounded people have trouble making friends, and feel threatened by the data revealed. I was often a black belt in many sports and martial arts, but never at making friends.