To all my progressive friends and compatriots

Conservative lawyer David French is now writing a column for the New York Times. Yoicks. A conservative writing for the bastion of liberalism in the U.S.?

Well, according to this opinion piece, French had the temerity to stand up for his “commitment to the classical liberal ideal of government as neutral guarantor of free expression and association that the new conservative intellectuals have abandoned.” Beyond that, he got hated on by conservatives in social media when he, a white man, adopted a Black child. It sounds like he kind of got kicked out of the conservative club.

In his first column in the Times, French wrote:

“Any time my tribe or my allies are under fire, before I yield to the temptation of a reflexive defense, I should apply my principles and carefully consider the most uncomfortable of thoughts: My opponents might be right, my allies might be wrong and justice may require that I change my mind. And it may, in all likelihood, require that I do this again and again.”

Presumably French is actually talking about himself. But he might as well be talking about us liberals and progressives and leftists.

You know what, sometimes we’re wrong. I won’t talk about liberals and progressives, but I can talk about my people, the leftists. Before my day, leftists in the 1930s were wrong about Stalin and the Soviet Union; we had to change our minds, which forced us to rethink what we meant by socialism and communism: we had to be reminded by conservatives that totalitarianism is always wrong, even when it masquerades as socialism or communism. In my day, leftists in the 1970s and 1980s veered from freedom of expression into hyperindividualism, and we mocked the conservatives who held on to values of community. We were wrong, and we began to realize individual expression had to be balanced against community. (By the way, this became even more clear when some leftists veered into libertarianism, went to Silicon Valley, and started creating a new kind of totalitarianism.)

And today? Hmm…some leftists are veering away from a commitment to the ideal of government as neutral guarantor of free expression and free association…in other words, some leftists are also veering towards totalitarianism.

We all need to listen to one another, without yielding to the temptation of reflexive defensiveness — liberals and conservatives, progressives and right-wing libertarians, leftists and today’s hyperindividualistic right wingers. We don’t have to agree — but if we listen, we might find we have to clarify our ideas or even change our minds.

Aaron Bash Windom

Following up on yesterday’s post, I decided to draft a brief biography of gospel composer A. B. Windom — just in time for the last few days of Black History Month.

Aaron Bash Windom, better known as A. B. Windom, was born on September 11, 1910, in Missouri. Nothing is known about his early years. By 1941, he was publishing his own compositions in St. Louis, often under the imprint “Studio of A. B. Windom.” In addition to being a gospel composer, he taught music, and his students called him Professor A. B. Windom. He was also a performer, and both sang and played piano. At one time, he was accompanist for Willie Mae Ford “Mother” Smith (Horace Clarence Boyer, The Golden Age of Gospel [Univ. Ill Press, 2000], p. 138).

On February 17, 1949, he married Selma B. Hurd. Born c. 1903, Selma was from East St. Louis, Ill., across the river from St. Louis, and was the daughter of Baptist minister Rev. B. M. Hurd.

Although all his published compositions were gospel music, Windom taught classical piano. As one of his students remembers, “He was very well versed in music theory as well. Gospel music is not all he knew. He was a light-skinned Black man, [and] eccentric. I still miss him.” At least one of his students went on to become a professional musician, the gospel composer Rev. Robert Mayes (1942-1992).

Windom served for forty years as the minister of music at Christ Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in St. Louis, circa 1940 until his death. In 1966, he served on the Devotional Literature Commission of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

His gospel compositions were recorded most notably by Mahalia Jackson, and also by less well-known performers such as Martha Bass, the Golden Harmoneers, the Clara Ward Singers, etc. His 1948 composition “Let Us Sing Till the Power of the Lord Come Down” (a.k.a. “Now Let Us Sing”) has been recorded a number of times and is widely sung by church choirs. This song has even entered the folk tradition to the point where “Now Let Us Sing” has entered the oral tradition, passed on from singer to singer; unfortunately in the process Windom’s authorship has sometimes been forgotten.

Windom died on February 28, 1981. He had previously turned over his school at 3905 Evans Ave., St. Louis, to Professor Lee Cochran, Jr., who continued to teach music there. Selma, A. B.’s wife, died on February 26, 1994. They are buried together in St. Peter’s Cemetery, Normandy, St. Louis County, Missouri.

(If you want references, they’re at the original post. Updated 12 March 2024 with info about Mother Smith.)

More on A.B. Windom

In 2016, I wrote a post about gospel composer A. B. Windom, giving what little information I then had, and asking if anyone knew more. One or two people commented who actually knew Windom, and one or two others have added little tidbits of information.

Windom is the person who composed “Now Let Us Sing,” one of the great gospel hymns. It’s hard to believe that there’s so little information out there about him. I realized today that if you search Google for “A. B. Windom,” my post now appears as the top result. That’s how little information there is about Windom online.

So I thought I should do a little more research and try to add to that 2016 post. I did what I should have done from the start — researched Windom on one of the genealogy sites. And in fact I did find a little more information, including the name of his wife. What I found in three hours of online research today had been added to the original post. If you’re looking for a research project, maybe you could go to that original post, see what little information is there, then go see if you can find more!

Post script: Singing the Living Tradition, the 1993 UU hymnal, attributes “Now Let Us Sing” to “anonymous.” Nope, it was written and copyrighted by A. B. Windom. And predominantly white churches that sing this song by an African American composer without crediting him, while changing the words to remove the God from this gospel song? … Mmm, the phrase that comes to my mind is “cultural misappropriation.”


Today’s walk took me a little further than intended, and dusk was settling in before I started heading home. Though I was hurrying a little, I stopped to admire a large rock outcropping that rose about twenty feet above a small artificial pond. Although the face of the rock was only about ten degrees away from vertical, it was mostly covered with plants and lichens. The lichens ranged from crustose microlichens, to Rock Tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) the size of your hand growing in large colonies, the thallus of each lichen dangling from its umbilicus and showing bits of the dark lower surface. In addition to mosses growing in several large patches, there were a number of vascular plants, of which the most numerous were ferns, Rock Polypodys (Polypodium virginianum). But there were also two or three small trees that had rooted in the rock face, including a small Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) near the peak.

Rock outcropping with plant life clinging to it, reflected in a small artifical pond.

The different organisms growing on the rock created a patchwork of colors: greenish brown where the Rock Tripe grew, dark green for the Rock Polypody, and various shades of gree for the other kinds of lichen and the mosses. Here and there, the gray rock showed through the life growing on it.

It’s a trivial sight, something you see every day. I don’t know why it caught my eye today. I admired it for a minute or so, then hurried on my way.

Legal personhood

Natalia Harrell shot and killed someone in Florida. She was six weeks pregnant. She was apprehended and put in prison. Now she has filed a petition with the Florida courts saying lack of prenatal care in prison is endangering the life of her fetus — or, to use Florida’s term for a fetus, her “unborn child.” In an interview, Harrell’s lawyer stated: “An unborn child has rights independent of its mother, even though it’s still in the womb. The unborn child has been deprived of due process of law in this incarceration.”

This is a logical outcome of the conservative Christian insistence that a fetus has rights. Of course we know what’s going to happen. The courts are going to twist things around so Florida does not have to provide prenatal care, nor in any way honor any putative rights the fetus has. In this conservative Christian ideology, a fetus is only considered a person when that serves to stop a woman’s right to abortion; but a fetus is not a person for any other purpose.

This makes me wonder if there are carpool lanes on some Florida highways. Because if there are, some pregnant woman should drive solo in a carpool lane, and if apprehended claim that there are actually two legal persons in the car: the woman herself, and the fetus. Of course, once again we know the Florida courts would rule that a fetus is not a person when it comes to carpool lanes. But I’m sure a lot of us would happily chip in to pay that woman’s traffic ticket and court costs, just to show up the hypocrisy of lawmakers who claim a fetus is an “unborn child” with full legal rights.

Eyes wide open

Conventional American Christianity tells that when we pray in groups, we are supposed to bow our heads with our eyes squeezed shut. I understand why people insist on bowing their heads: the conventional Christian God is supposed to require this gesture of obedience and submission. But why must our eyes be shut tight? I understand why we’re not supposed to plug our ears: if we did, then we couldn’t hear the words of the person who is offering the prayer. But why does public prayer require lack of vision?

Whenever I see people squeezing their eyes tight shut during prayer — because I don’t close my eyes during public prayers — I’m reminded of what Jesus says in the Christian scriptures: Do not be like the hypocrites who stand and pray on the street corners, making sure their act of piety is seen by others. Do not be like them. Do not bow your head in prayer, for if you do the only reward you will receive is the knowledge that you conformed to the conventions. Do not close your eyes: the eyes are the lamp of the self: open your eyes and your ears and your whole being and let your body be filled with light. Don’t stop when the person saying the words of prayer stops: pray without ceasing, that’s what the Christian scriptures actually say, pray without ceasing, pray without ceasing.

In conventional American Christianity, once the prayer stops — that is, once the person saying the prayer stops saying words — people open their eyes, and the praying stops. I, heretic that I am, didn’t listen to the words of the prayer and didn’t close my eyes. In the eyes of the conventional Christians I didn’t pray, and if that’s all there is to prayer, I have no interest in praying.


Best song I’ve ever heard about domestic violence: “Johnny’s Girl” by Spirit Artis. The music is not complex: mostly Artis’s expressive voice, with her understated guitar accompaniment, and a touch of overdubbed harmony singing. The song is powerful enough that it doesn’t need any more than that.

In a podcast, Artis said this is a song about toxic relationships as viewed by a third party. She had seen relationships where one partner subsumes themselves in the dominant partner, so that person isn’t even known by their own name; they’re just known as “Johnny’s girl,” or “Gwyneth’s boy,” or whatever. I’ve done a little bit of work with people in domestic violence situations, and Artis’s lyrics get at some uncomfortable truths:

“Johnny’s girl, she’s lost herself again,
She said, ‘He’s different, you don’t know him like I do,’
But Johnny-boy’s abusing on our friend,
She said, ‘He’ll change, just give him time, this bruise will fade’….”

In the same podcast, Artis added that she sang this song to someone she knew who needed to hear it, and that person got out of the toxic relationship that they were in. So I’m linking to this song on my blog — in case there’s someone else out there who needs to hear it.

Screen grab from the video podcast mentioned in the post, showing Spirit Artis singing and playing guitar
Screen grab from the podcast mentioned in the post

Online tools for finding religious diversity used to be my go-to online source for finding religious communities in a given area. In the San Francisco Bay area, I could type in my location, plus the search term “Religious organizations,” and I’d get a fairly complete list of religious communities, including communities that had no other web presence.

But here in southeastern Massachusetts, Yelp has been failing me. A Yelp search for “Religious organizations” seems to miss a good many religious communities, and has incorrect or outdated information for quite a few others. I won’t say it’s useless, but it’s almost not worth looking at., the “real Yellow Pages,” turns out to be somewhat better than Yelp, though you have to use search terms for specific religious groups.

Not sure what the significance of this is. It may simply be that Yelp’s user community in this area simply doesn’t pay much attention to religion. But I also think Yelp pays little attention to religious organizations these days. I claimed the Yelp page for First Parish in Cohasset, and have tried a number of times to get Yelp to change the name of our congregation from “Unitarian Church” to “First Parish in Cohasset,” but they just ignore me. I’m guessing Yelp gets no revenue from hosting religious organizations, so they just ignore us.

I was reminded of this old New England story recently. It’s one of those stories utterly pointless stories you tell in the winter when there’s not much else to do.

Back in the days of coastal schooners, there was a sailor who lived in Gloucester. He lived with his wife in a small house right on the harbor. His wife complained that the roof was leaking. He said he would stay ashore for a while to fix it. He got some back pay that was due him, bought some bundles of shingles, and got ready to fix the roof. He kept putting it off and putting it off, sitting around the house with his feet up, until he could put it off no longer. He grabbed his hammer and climbed up on the roof. Being a sailor, not a carpenter, he started at the ridge and worked his way down, instead of up the roof as he ought to have done. It was one of those foggy days where it was so foggy that when he was at the ridge he couldn’t see the eaves. By the time he was halfway down the roof, he couldn’t see the ridge or the eaves. He kept shingling and shingling, cursing when he bent a nail, which was often. The fog was so thick that he didn’t notice when he passed the eaves. He just kept shingling and shingling down the fog until he bumped up against the foremast of a schooner that was raising anchor, clambered down the ratlins, signed the ship’s papers and joined the crew.

Now that was a thick fog. We don’t have fog that thick any more.

Long distance uke

I’ve picked up the ukulele again, but there’s not a lot of live ukulele happening in southeastern Massachusetts. So I’ve been getting my uke fix watching the weekly video podcast of Hawaii Music Supply, which you can find on their YouTube channel. Yes, they promote their high-end ukuleles. Yes, there’s a lot of pointless chit-chat, as on every podcast. But there’s also plenty of music, with some of the best of the newer ukulele players, sometimes playing songs and compositions they haven’t yet recorded. Players like Honoka, Neil Chin, Taimane Gardner, and many others, appear on the podcast and jam with regulars Corey Fujimoto and Kalei Gamaio.

For someone like me who’s trying to pick up the uke again, it’s really helpful to hear what really good ukulele playing sounds like. Plus ukulele players tend to be welcoming friendly people, and the ukulele itself is a gentle happy instrument. I put this podcast on while I’m cleaning the floor or doing laundry, and it cheers me right up even on a rainy windy winter day.