Center for Ethics and Leadership

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Environmental Ethics and Entrepreneurial Leadership

When in Louisiana last week, my family and I went on a swamp tour given by Alligator Bayou. The owners, Frank Bonifay and Jim Ragland, were apparently quite successful in real estate and construction as young men. They then sold their business to purchase 1500 acres of the Alligator Bayou swamp in 1993. The swamp had been scheduled for clear cutting by a timber company. Bonifay and Ragland moved 901 acres into permanent preservation by creating the nonprofit Bluff Swamp Wildlife Refuge and Botanical Gardens. They have been working to improve their enterprise as an ecological education organization since. They give a wonderfully informative and entertaining tour. We need more capable leaders like them to put first things first, and to preserve national treasures rather than leaving them to indiscriminate development.

Laissez bon temps roule!

Louisiana, you are a special place. I thought I had fallen in love with New Orleans, but now I've gotten to know Baton Rouge and Cajun country. My wife, son, and I went to LSU for my daughter's Master's commencement ceremony. Did she ever plan a weekend for us! Every restaurant was perfect, even the crawfish and burger spot off campus. And as she said, LSU is an ag school, so their campus store ice cream is not to be believed. But it is to be devoured. Frequently.

And what is Louisiana without music? From the moment we arrived and had lunch at an antiques and arts store, there was someone playing something good. That old, paunchy guy in sandals and shorts? A language prof at LSU sitting on a chair playing John Hartford, old spirituals, and whatever on banjo, guitar, and fiddle. On Saturday night in New Iberia, way out in Cajun country, there was great fiddle and concertina while locals danced the two-step. The crawfish were good, too.

Avery Island, a good 75 miles from Baton Rouge, is a long ride. But that's where the McIlhenney farm is -- where the one, the only, the original Tabasco is made and where the McIlhenney family has preserved many acres as a bird and plant sanctuary.

Fifteen miles in the other direction is Alligator Bayou: A Louisiana Wilderness Adventure. Sounds a little hokey, but don't jump to conclusions. This is 1500 acres bought by former construction executives and now preserved as a nonprofit land conservancy. The tour was informative, and the swamp has a beauty all its own.

The cathedral of Baton Rouge is one of the prettiest smaller churches I have seen. The form is Gothic, but the execution is modern. I think it is the beige brick interior and the stained glass windows done in lighter colors. The liturgy is also more vibrant than most I have attended.

The best vacation I have ever had, right under my nose in the USA. As Russell Conwell, founder of my undergraduate alma mater, Temple University, famously wrote, there are acres of diamonds in your own back yard.

Gold Leaf Burger, Anyone?

An item on today (May 21) says that a burger joint on Wall Street is now selling a $175 bacon cheeseburger with mushrooms (well, sort of). It's Kobe beef, black truffles, foie gras, aged gruyere, and mushrooms -- for those who have had a really good day on Wall Street says the owner.

I almost forgot to mention the flecks of gold leaf on the bun.

MSN bloggers's responses give hope. Almost all roundly condemned the idea, and many drew comparisons between current economic conditions and those who can afford these burgers that were critical to say the least. Better, only two bloggers, one very young, thought this was all a matter of what one chooses to afford, and only one of those two ranted that poor people deserve to be poor.

Maybe there's hope. Idealists like me are always looking for a new dawn.

Sadly, The Abuse Continues

When I arrived here in 1992, I was stunned by the number of women students who told me of their abuse at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends. Eventually, I created a course on feminist theology and domestic violence and mounted a workshop for clergy to address the issue. As administrative duties grew, I lost touch with the problem.

It came back with a rush last week. I was in early for a meeting with the president. At 8:30 someone came in to tell me that her mother's boyfriend has beaten her mother. At 8:00 that evening, someone else told me of her husband's verbal abuse and her sexual abuse as a child.

And on it goes . . . we need to keep the matter center stage.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Jeremiah and His Jeremiads

I had thought that the Rev. Wright controversy would be old news by now, but conservative pundit William Kristol published a syndicated op-ed today in which he said that if Sen. Obama were to lose to Sen. Clinton, it would be because he had Jeremiah Wright as his primary running mate. Sigh.

The media knew of Wright's sermons for some time and seems to have been waiting for the right (pun intended) moment. I first heard of them from Bill O'Reilly, who was busy calling Wright un-American. I was unconcerned. The sound bites seemed to jibe with what I have heard Christian ethicists, black and white, say and write before. In fact, Catholic theologian Daniel Maguire's A Moral Creed for All Christians, published three years ago, renders an even more severe judgment of current American policies. And Rev. Wright's namesake, the prophet Jeremiah, spoke the words of YHWH that the very house of the Lord, the temple, would be destroyed because of Judaea's wrongdoing. For that, the Judaeans threatened to kill him.

Are Christianity and minister legitimate only if they pass a test of American political orthodoxy?

I do not want to let pass the media's feeding frenzy on the most provocative of Wright's comments. When MSNBC was reporting Wright's second set of comments about a week ago, the anchors called him selfish and several other names dismissively. I am still waiting for a fuller exploration of the source of Wright's remarks, namely, the black church in America. But the only white defenders I have read have been professional theologians such as the very distinguished Martin Marty or Jesuit philosopher John Kavanaugh. Black reporters have done a better job among the media. Sen. Obama was entirely correct in calling for an open conversation on race. But to return to the media, when are the J-schools going to start requiring their students to learn something of religion?

I could go on, but I think I have said enough to generate a conversation.