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The Soul of America


Chapter 1 of Love and War includes: Homeward Bound, You Are Me and I Am You, A Song For You, and Walkin' the Dog.

Homeward Bound

My mother immigrated to the United States from Brazil by ship when she was sixteen years old. Her mother was from the small town of Gravata in the northeast, not far from where Lula, the autoworker who would become president of Brazil, was born. My father’s Dutch/English ancestors also came by sea, but in 1642. One of their descendants was a laborer in the small party of men who founded the city of Newark, New Jersey.


Growing up, I never felt like the son of immigrants. Maybe because the word “immigrant” didn’t carry the weight it does today. Maybe be- cause all I was interested in was sports, girls, and getting drunk. Where we lived in southern Indiana the Klan was very active. The dry cleaners we used while I was growing up was run by a Klansman who was later sent to prison for burning down an African-American bookstore...

You Are Me and I Am You

Yesterday I happened to find myself sitting in a car in the parking lot of a convenience store just outside the tiny hamlet of Clifty in northwestern Arkansas. The deliveryman emerged from the store with a tray of bread that had passed the expiration date for sale. He was a middle-aged white guy--he looked something like Hank Hill of King of the Hill. An older black woman was sitting in her car with her window rolled down. He passed right by her and she asked him if she could have the discarded bread.


He said yes but it was more than that. He didn’t say it like he was doing her a favor or doing it as charity or doing it as his Christian duty. He did it like they were two old friends having a meal together. It was beautiful...

A Song For You

On July 1 of this year, Rene Marie stepped to the mic at the annual state of the city speech by Denver mayor John Hickenlooper. She had been asked to sing “The Star Spangled Banner,” an unpaid gig. Instead, she sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known historically as the “Negro National Anthem.” Several weeks earlier at the Colorado Prayer Luncheon, she had performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” even though asked to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” and received praise from many of the political leaders assembled there. But that was a private affair. When Rene Marie made the same song switch at the mayor’s event, it was very public. The sharks smelled media blood.


Mayor Hickenlooper, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, and members of the Denver City Council attacked Marie for not singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Barack Obama found time in the middle of his Presidential campaign to do the same. They all insisted that there is only one national anthem and that is what should be sung. If our national anthem was just an ode to our country’s beauty and to its people, they might have a point...

Walkin' the Dog

The Arkansas River gets no respect

Not like the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Colorado

The Arkansas River gets no respect

But it’s a mean piece of water, my friend


Especially where it flows from Oklahoma into the state which bears its name

It’s wide and deep and big and bad

The currents surge in all directions at a sprinter’s pace

They define the water like scars on a boxer’s face...

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