The Common Good

The View from 1908

Tony Jones Great GrandfatherThis summer, two friends and I are doing something that seems a bit outlandish (especially for 40-year-old guys). We've borrowed a friend's RV, and we're touring the country to talk about our books. Doug Pagitt (A Christianity Worth Believing), Mark Scandrette (Soul Graffiti), and I (The New Christians) are in the midst of a 32-city tour that we've dubbed, "The Church Basement Roadshow: A Rollin' Gospel Revival." We've completed our West Coast leg, and now we're about to roll down the center of the country (click here for dates)

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What's a bit more outlandish is that we wanted to make this unlike any other book tour, so we conceived of and wrote a 90-minute show to highlight the core message in each of our books. And in that show, we each play our fictional great-grandfathers, two-bit revivalists from 1908.

Honestly, we stumbled on 1908 because it's 100 years ago, but then we started doing research and discovered what an incredible year it really was. (On the RV we've been reading the book, America, 1908: The Dawn of Flight, the Race to the Pole, the Invention of the Model T and the Making of a Modern Nation by Jim Rasenberger.) At the dawn of 1908 almost no one had heard of the Wright Brothers; by the end of the year they were household names. The race to the North Pole was on, and an automobile race from New York City to Paris (via the Bering Straight!) had captured the American imagination.

But while most Americans were extremely optimistic about the technological advances of the telephone, the automobile, and the airplane; all was not well. That winter, President Teddy Roosevelt (whom many in the country consider deranged for his fluctuations of temper) sent the U.S. Navy's Great White Fleet around the world, most probably to intimidate Japan. And that spring, New York and Chicago experienced frequent terrorist bombings by anarchist groups.

Over two million children worked in factories and mines. And sixty percent of the wealth in America was controlled by a hyper-wealthy two percent of the population (think Carnegie, Morgan, et al).

Things have changed in America in the last century, to be sure, but I keep thinking about a summer 100 years ago when our nation was sending Olympic atheletes overseas (to London) and preparing for a presidential election between a Republican insider (Secretary of War William Howard Taft) and a midwestern Democrat known for his scintillating oratory (William Jennings Bryan).

And the more I think about it, the more kinship I feel with my great-grandfather (the non-fiction one).

Tony Jones is the national coordinator of Emergent Village.

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