Hope is High for America

America is in a quagmire.   The land around is shaking and sinking.  Vision is being dragged down into dark, dense, black holes.

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light – an America desecrated, besmirched by its so-called leaders, by specters of darkness and division, and dreams of an all-white Republic.

American FlagThis is where we stand, beneath a wavering, limping flag.

For many – young people especially – hope is lost, dreams tarnished, the future seems sullied with fear and anger and dark clouds roiling up on the horizon.

This is only what seems.  The darkest omens portend bright suns.

America is poised for fruition and bloom.

Walk down any street now and see them coming – buglers, drummers, horns – tramping to a new rhythm, a new song.

The animals themselves have been waiting, elephants waving their trunks, bright birds screaming overhead, otters and whales and seals splashing the waves in anticipation.

America, at last!

It all comes from within the heart, all the hell and hatred and greed and despair, reflected in typhoons and burgeoning hurricanes, floods and fires, pole caps and glaciers melting, sending down swaths of cold, the oceans regurgitating foul stench and garbage.

It is all within the human heart.

We have seen ourselves.  Daily, we see ourselves, the dark side.

Now turn on a dime.

One person to change.  One person to transform himself, herself, and clouds begin to clear, stars and sun and moon re-emerge, the heavens realign.

It is all within ourselves.  It is all within our power.

America is that one person, turning everything from night to morning.

Progenitors of the dawn, you and I.

Washerwoman, grocery clerk,  trash collector, teacher, truck driver, ice cream vendor, hair stylist, dishwasher, nanny, taxi driver, waiter – all the unknowns, all the unremembered, all the trampled upon and disregarded, the ones we thought subservient to kings and congressmen and presidents – all come to the fore now, inevitable, America as it was destined to be.

America will always be a beautiful dream.

We create that dream.  We have that power.

This is America as it is becoming.

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James Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books that are opening the way to a new vision of ourselves, a new dream of America, a new religion for the world.  This year, he is meeting people throughout the country, giving talks and readings – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America”.

Follow the journey on Facebook.

To arrange a talk, contact the author.

Theodore Parker: American Visionary

Theodore Parker Photo  Transcendentalism

Although relatively unknown today, Theodore Parker, who lived in the turbulent decades leading up to the Civil War, was an American whose life exerted a tremendous influence upon his own times, and whose thought and actions still reverberate at the very heart of modern day issues.

In one speech, Parker used the phrase, “A democracy of all the people, by all the people, for all the people”, which later influenced Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.

Of the abolitionist cause he was advocating, he wrote: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience.  And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”  These words later became the basis of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Parker ( 1810-1860) was a minister of the Unitarian Church.  He was also associated with the Transcendental Club, which included such figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

In 1841, he gave a sermon titled “A Discourse on the Transient and Permanent in Christianity”, which set him on a collision course with orthodox Christian belief.  He argued that the essence of Jesus’ teachings remained the permanent essence of Christianity, but denied the churches’ reliance on miracles, revelation, dogma, and the literal authority of the Bible.

He was attacked, and most of the pulpits in the Boston area were closed to him.  His supporters, however, organized the 28th Congregational Society of Boston, where he was installed as minister in 1846.  His congregation, which grew to a membership of several thousand, included such famous social reformers as William Llloyd Garrison, Julia Ward Howe, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

In the second half of his life, Parker was deeply involved in anti-slavery and social reform movements.

He fought and organized opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act, which required citizens of all states to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves.  He even hid fugitive slaves in his home.  He denounced the Mexican War.  He supported women’s right movements.

At the heart of all his work was his sense of himself as a religious reformer.  He felt that individuals should find their connection to a higher spiritual source, to God, without the need of intermediaries, without the trappings of orthodox Christianity.

Parker’s stances would put him at odds with the beliefs of most of the churches, religions, and faith traditions of Western civilization today:  A reliance upon the authority of the Bible; a belief in Biblical miracles; a belief in miraculous births, and atonement of sins; a belief in the infallibility of religious leaders and books; and the list goes on.

He wrote:

“Let then the Transient pass, fleet as it will, and may God send us some new manifestation of the Christian faith, that shall stir men’s hearts as they were never stirred; some new Word, which shall teach us what we are, and renew us all in the image of God”.

We live in a world of old, decaying ideas that have bound us for millennia.  We struggle in the dark, while our religions become instruments of division and hatred, anger and death.

Amid all the trappings of religion and religious faiths, we are still looking for that “Word”, which will reveal to all of us our true identity and the scope and meaning of our interconnectedness to this unbelievably vast universe we inhabit.

The Buddha is coming to America.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

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Traveling to a New AmericaJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books that are opening the way to a new vision of ourselves, a new dream of America, a new religion for the world.  This year, he is traveling to towns and cities all across America, giving talks and readings, and holding discussions about the future of America – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America“.

Follow the journey on Facebook.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

Richard Wright, Our Own Native Son.

Richard Wright, author of Native Son and Black Boy


Richard Wright (1908-1960) was perhaps the most influential African-American writer of the twentieth century.  His books helped to change race relations in the United States.

I was 16 or 17 when I first read Wright’s novel, “Native Son.”

I still remember the impact it had on me.  I could only read the novel piecemeal, bits at a time, because I was so overwhelmed by the story.

It’s about the murder of a white girl by a young black man.

One reviewer wrote:

“The day ‘Native Son’ appeared, American culture was changed forever. No matter how much qualifying the book might later need, it made impossible a repetition of the old lies, and brought out into the open, as no one ever had before, the hatred, fear, and violence that have crippled and may yet destroy our culture.”

Much later, I read Wright’s autobiographical “Black Boy”, the story of  his upbringing in Mississippi, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee, followed by his eventual move to Chicago.

How would you feel, from the day of your birth, to live in a town, a State, a Country, in which you could feel no relief anywhere from the oppressiveness of having the very value of your existence denied?  Of living in perpetual physical fear even of doing anything that marked you as having an individual personality, of being unique in any way, of speaking your mind, of acting like your own human being?

This was the journey, from Natchez to Arkansas to Memphis to Chicago, that Richard Wright took in an attempt to escape the unrelenting racist mindset of white society.

But there was no escape; and today, observing the embedded roots of racism still in our society, one has to wonder what it will finally take to surmount and move on from our troubled past.

The transformation needed has to come from within the individual human heart.  This is indeed where we are at; and all the discord and anger and divisiveness we see all around us, from the top of our government on down, is showing us in stark terms what we need to see.  We need to grapple finally with who we are.

We are not black or white, or yellow or brown.  We are not Christian or Muslim or Jewish or agnostic or atheist.  None of these narrow, limited identities describe the depths of being of what we must discover and become.

We are becoming one with the universe itself.  This is our universal identity.  There is no end to the expansion of recognizing ourselves in others.

It is the war within, the daily battle to grow and expand and become more than we could ever imagine we could become.  It is the Civil War, played out on a daily, individual field of battle.

Which side are you on?

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Traveling to a New AmericaJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books that are opening the way to a new vision of ourselves, a new dream of America, a new religion for the world.  This year, he is traveling to towns and cities all across America, meeting people, giving talks and readings, and holding discussions about the future of America – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America.”

Follow the journey on Facebook.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

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Trump & Pence: Nuclear Weapons & Christianity

Hiroshima

Hiroshima


In his State of the Union address, Donald Trump called for a modernization of our nuclear arsenal – to create a nuclear arsenal “so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of agression.”

This means sending more money after the trillions of dollars we have already spent on nuclear weapons.  The United States and Russia together possess about 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons, and now our commander in chief is calling for more.

He is not alone.  We seem obsessed with stockpiling these evil weapons; and the military-industrial complex is once again rubbing its hands with glee.

Appearing non-stop by Trump’s side is Vice-President Mike Pence, a self-proclaimed Evangelical Christian, who avows that Trump is a wonderful Christian also.

The enormity of this coupling of nuclear weapons and Christianity with our own government is appalling.

Nuclear weapons represent the utmost evil.  They represent a mode of thinking that supports the idea that anyone should have the power to push a button and effect the incineration of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of men, women, and children in the blink of an eye.

Make no mistake about it, this is where our nation stands.  Avowedly for the production, possession, and use of nuclear weapons.  Yes, use.  We would not hold them if, given the circumstances, we were not prepared to use them.

How does this square with the United States of America as a Christian nation?

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe

In 1851, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote her great novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” which documented in passionate and heart-rending detail the tragic breakup of black Kentucky families sold down the river to slavery.  Her book had an enormous impact upon society at that time.  She was only one woman; yet her courage and passion stirred the moral conscience of the entire nation.

The main theme of her book was that slavery and Christianity cannot co-exist.

I think if Ms. Stowe were alive today, she would write another bestseller about nuclear weapons, and their incompatibility with Christianity.

Nothing supposedly said by the founder of the Christian faith can support the possession and use of these horrible weapons – just the opposite.

“All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

The only logical conclusion is that our government is not a Christian government.  Our leaders are not, by any stretch of the imagination, Christians.

Who are these hordes of Evangelicals who support, along with Mike Pence and Donald Trump, our nuclear arsenal?

Who are they?  Who are these imposters?

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Traveling to a New AmericaJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books that are opening the way to a new vision of ourselves, a new dream of America, a new religion for the world.  This year, he is traveling to towns and cities all across America, meeting people, giving talks and readings, and holding discussions about the future of America – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America.

Follow the journey on Facebook.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

The Heart of a Lion

LionDeath is the failure to unleash the power of your own life.  Death is the stifling of your voice.

Dreams incubate in the inner realm of our mind, crying for expression, one after the other, seeking a tongue, seeking to paint the universe beyond in the colors and drama of our own mind.

Life and death, dancing about each other, a war, a shifting, moment to moment, death like a doorstop before a door.

The panoply of life and death plays out each moment in our lives.

Create a dream, bolster it with surges of trying and effort, and in comes death, fantasizing destruction, pain, sapping away of energy, doubt, despair, anything to undermine and destroy.

Especially dreams that connect to the dream of the universe itself.  Dreams to grow, to expand the heart, to reach beyond the isolate self to the stars.  Dreams that break down barriers of what is possible.

Our self contains the power to give expression to the boldest dream ever imagined, yet dreams languish and die because of a lack of tenacity, of sweat and labor and fear and the hurdles of the mind.

Once death appears is the time to summon up reserves of power never before known.  This power exists, yet death blocks the vision and the way.

Who will win?

Those with the heart of a lion.
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Traveling to a New AmericaJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books that are opening the way to a new vision of ourselves, a new dream of America, a new religion for the world.  This year, he is traveling to towns and cities all across America, meeting people, giving talks and readings, and holding discussions about the future of America – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America.

Follow the journey on Facebook.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

Traveling to a New America – Arts & the World of Napa

Napa Valley Arts Association Yesterday, I spent two hours giving a talk and doing readings from one of my books, then holding an open  discussion with the wonderful members of the Arts Association of Napa Valley.

Part of the conversation centered around the mood of divisiveness we are experiencing in America at this time.  These were some of peoples’ comments:

– “It’s so easy to get caught up in taking sides. We’re divided in this country right now, especially politically, and I find that when I jump to one side, there’s a certain type of energy that gets generated, and I jump to the other side, and there’s a different kind of energy, and I know that that’s not the answer, that somewhere else is the answer.  So I’ve been telling myself lately that no matter what’s going on, no matter how I feel about it, it’s better to try to find that middle way, and to try to not polarize my own mind about what’s going on.  It helps somewhat, but it’s still a struggle.”

– “In a Sunday school class, when I was a teenager, we were asked what our tenets were, what did we live by, and I was roundly criticized for not using any of the Baptist rhetoric, but instead saying: live and let live.  I think we could all benefit by remembering the word tolerance.  I think there’s a great deal of comfort in being tolerant of all kinds of different viewpoints, being able to say we agree to disagree, rather than barking at each other and causing discord.”

– “I think in our school system we should have classes on compassion, a class on other beliefs and acceptance, and I think it should be part of the way our children are raised, because I don’t think people are getting it in their homes.”

– “Last year, I did an art project that was inspired by a sign that I saw right after the election.  I was photographing vineyards right here in Napa and the sign had the word hate in it, and at this intersection it was just radiating this awfulness, and it stuck with me.  I did my photograph and drove home.  I started thinking about what would it would be like if instead of seeing hate, we saw a visual representation of love, kindness and compassion.  So I started working on heart art.  I got together people and we made quotations of love, kindness and compassion on all the trees aligning the street in downtown Calistoga.  Then I did a project at St. Helena elementary school, and all the children were involved one way or another, they all had their names on little hearts that were on the garlands and arches, and they made great big collage hearts, and a good friend of mine who is a music teacher had them for their spring concert, all the songs had to do with friendship, kindness and compassion and love.  And the children …  That was how I spent last year…  My vision was to see hearts stretching as far along Highway 29 and vineyards as possible.”

– “Learning how to listen, to friends and to people who are not friends.  Don’t just jump out in somebody’s face because you don’t agree with them.  We have to learn to listen, and then take what’s being given to us, and where do you stand at that point.  We’re in a huge society, and we have to work together to make this a free country, and by jumping on everybody, it’s not going to happen.”

– “You’re reading about Emerson and Walt Whitman and the whole American enlightenment period of the 19th century, and it seems so strong, and then between 1917 and 1947, a hundred million people were killed by each other on this planet.  How does one grasp that – that so many people can try to be enlightened and yet with the forces of politics around the world, or suspicion or whatever, a hundred million people turn on each other.  It’s just staggering.”

– “Oftentimes, people are afraid to speak about their own spirituality or their hopes for the future.  It seems very easy to throw out racist epithets.  I mean, it’s so easy to spew negativity and sometimes so hard to talk about positive things.  It’s almost as if there are boundaries you don’t want to go beyond to influence other people and yet that’s the message that you’re sending.  Why is it so easy for some people to speak in such fear and hatred, but hard to speak of goodness?”

– “We want to be with like-minded people, it’s almost primal.  Right now, I want to surround myself with loving, like-minded people.  I feel like I fit in, I’m not zigging when everyone else is zagging.  But that instinct also has a shadow side to it also.  If you become too separate from everybody else, you need validation for that, so you turn against someone who is thinking differently about things.  So our primal instincts of wanting everyone to validate who we are, it has two sides, it has a real big shadow side.”

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Traveling to a New AmericaJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books that are opening the way to a new vision of ourselves, a new dream of America, a new religion for the world.  This year, he is traveling to towns and cities all across America, meeting people, giving talks and readings, and holding discussions about the future of America – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America.”

Follow the journey on Facebook.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

Hubert Harrison

Hubert Harrison Chances are you have never heard of someone named Hubert Harrison.  Until this past few months, I know I never had.

I’d like to introduce you to a truly remarkable person in our own American history.

I came across him in a strange way.  Somehow I clicked onto a page on Google that was about a black man named Hubert Harrison, who was giving lectures and selling books on the street corners in Harlem during the First World War – lectures on science, women’s suffrage, evolution, religious superstitions, politics, class and race consciousness, and other topics which would draw crowds of hundreds of people.

I thought to myself: Who is this man?

Another thing that peaked my interest was a quote from Henry Miller, the great American author of Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn and other books, and an early literary idol of mine, who, as a young man recalled Harrison as one of his own idols.  Miller wrote:

“There was no one in those days who could hold a candle to Hubert Harrison.  With a few well-directed words he had the ability to demolish any opponent.  I described the wonderful way he smiled, his easy assurance, the great sculptured head which he carried on his shoulders like a lion.  I wondered aloud if he had not come from royal blood, if he had not been the descendant of some great African monarch.  Yes, he was a man who electrified one by his mere presence.  Besides him, the other speakers, the white ones, looked like pygmies, not only physically but culturally, spiritually.  Some of them, like the ones who were paid to foment trouble, carried on like epileptics, always wrapped in the Stars and Strips, to be sure.  Hubert Harrison, on the other hand, no matter what the provocation, always retained his self-possession, his dignity. “

I discovered a superb biography, “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918″, by Jeffrey B. Perry; absorbed it in a few days, and was quite astounded by this heretofore unknown person Hubert Harrison that I had run across.

Harrison was born on St. Croix, Danish West Indies in 1883.  His mother was a working-class woman, and his biological father was a slave.  Growing up in poverty on the island, Harrison learned first-hand the struggles of his race.

In 1900, as a 17-year-old orphan, with nothing but the clothes on his back, he arrived in New York City, and immediately was confronted with the atmosphere of intense racial oppression of African Americans existing in the United States. Harrison was especially horrified and shocked by the lynchings and virulent white supremacy that was then reaching a peak in these years in the South.

Working low-paying service jobs, he attended high school at night, and read and educated himself.  Over the ensuing decades, he rose to become one of the most influential people in America.  Writer, orator, educator, critic, editor of “Negro World”, political activist in the Socialist Party, founder of the New Negro Movement, his work had an immense influence not only upon his own time, but upon the times and people that followed.

Author, journalist and historian Joel A. Rogers wrote:

“Harrison was not only the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time, but one of America’s greatest minds.  No one worked more seriously and indefatigably to enlighten his fellow men.”

At the core of Harrison’s life,was an unrelenting devotion to justice.  Racism and white supremacy were his targets.

Harrision once wrote:

“Politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea.  The presence of the Negro puts our democracy to the proof and reveals the falsity of it…True democracy and equality implies a revolution…startling even to think of.”

Through his writing and lectures and social involvement, he labored unrelentingly to educate the masses, and to give voice and dignity to African-American men and women everywhere.

He wrote:

“America is a great experiment in democracy…unique in the history of the world…And the great American experiment is to determine for the future whether we can make out of the welter of races and nations one people, one culture, one democracy.  It is confessedly a hard task, but it can be done, and the grounds of that faith rest on the known facts of the present and the past.”

Of course, he was attacked on many fronts; but his labors became the seedbed of future movements and many great future leaders.

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Traveling to a New AmericaJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books that are opening the way to a new vision of ourselves, a new dream of America, a new religion for the world.  This year, he is traveling to towns and cities all across America, meeting people, giving talks and readings, and holding discussions about the future of America – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America“.

Follow the journey on Facebook.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

“Mother” Jones – Battler for the Dream

Mother JonesToday, young people probably have never heard of a woman named Mary Harris Jones.

She was famous, or infamous if you will, in her day, all across America as a labor and community organizer.  She lived 93 years, from her birth in County Cork, Ireland in 1937, to her death in Maryland in 1930.

She met a host of terrible events as a young woman.  When she was a young girl, the Great Potato Famine forced her and her family, along with a million other Irish families, to emigrate to North America.  In 1861, she married George E. Jones, a member and organizer of the National Union of Iron Moulders.  In 1867, her husband George and their four children, all under the age of five, were carried off by the yellow fever epidemic.  After that, Mary moved to Chicago to start a dressmaking business, where, four years later, she lost her home, shop, and possessions in the Great Chicago Fire of 1971.

After that, she began organizing strikes, mainly with the United Mine Workers.  This was a turbulent time of confrontation between workers of different industries and industry owners over wages and working hours and conditions.  Management often brought in strike-breakers and militias to break up the unions.

Mother Jones PosterThroughout the rest of her life, Mother Jones, as she came to be known, worked tirelessly on the behalf of workers and their families.  She organized children who were working in mills and mines under bad conditions, and was instrumental in bringing the issue of child labor to the forefront of public awareness.  More than once she was arrested and spent time in jail.

Once denounced on the floor of the United States Senate as the “grandmother of all agitators”, she replied:

“I hope to live long enough to be the great-grandmother of all agitators.”

Her work became legendary among mine workers.  The Mother Jones Festival is still held annually close to her birthplace in Ireland, celebrating her legacy between admirers in Ireland and the United States.

She was one woman – a great woman – who, overcoming her own early personal tragedies, waged an all-out war for the betterment of other peoples’ lives.

She was one, of many, who came before us, to whom we all owe deep remembrance and gratitude.

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Traveling to a New AmericaJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books that are opening the way to a new vision of ourselves, a new dream of America, a new religion for the world.  This year, he is traveling to towns and cities all across America, meeting people, giving talks and readings, and holding discussions about the future of America – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America“.

Follow the journey on Facebook.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

The Realm of the Heart

A New Myth for America BuddhismA new world is birthing.

At present, this new civilization exists only in the hearts of men and women.  But from the hearts of men and women will eventually arise new, unsurpassed structures of life.

The realm of the heart will take the place of everything.  Not economics, not politics leading the way, but the heart.

This is the path of development for the next several thousands of years, and forever.

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Traveling to a New AmericaJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books that are opening the way to a new vision of ourselves, a new dream of America, a new religion for the world.  This year, he is traveling to towns and cities all across America, meeting people, giving talks and readings, and holding discussions about the future of America – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America.”

Follow the journey on Facebook.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

All It Takes Is One Person

To the youth of America:

All it takes is one person.

The nature of reality is such that your determination can send tremors into the farthest regions of the universe.

It is your universe, to create as you please.  Never mind what anyone has told you up to this point.  The world is your mirror.  Project onto that mirror what you dream of in your most private heart.

But your dream must include others, even those you despise.  Gandhi got to that point, which is why he could move the levers of the world.

The Buddha & The Dream of AmericaThe universe around you is your own selfsame life.  Mould it.  What you envision in your heart, with immense effort, will be reflected in everything that comes into vision and being around you.

Never mind that no one supports you, that no one participates in your dream.  The universe and all its forces will only come to you when you have weathered storms and gales of doubt and come to the point of needing nothing and no one.

Be a dreamer.  Build everything brick by brick. Build it within your life, your commitment, your perseverance, your compassion, your unflagging effort.  Never give up.  If you never give up, you will never be defeated.  To never give up is to achieve ultimate victory.

The universe is with you, urging you always on.  The test is whether you can persevere, whether you can hold your heart forever on course.

No matter what anyone says, live out your dreams.

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Traveling to a New AmericaJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books that are opening the way to t a new vision of ourselves, a new dream of America, a new religion for the world.  This year, he is traveling to towns and cities all across America, meeting people, giving talks and readings, and holding discussions about the future of America – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America“.

Follow the journey on Facebook.

To arrange talks, contact the author.