Ida B. Wells

Ida B. WellsIda B. Wells was an African-American journalist and a leader in the early Civil Rights Movement.   She was also widely known for her campaign against the practice of the lynching of African-Americans.

Born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862, just a few months before the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves was issued by President Abraham Lincoln, she grew up during the Reconstruction period that followed the end of the Civil War.

One of eight children, her life changed greatly when she was 16 when both her parents and one of her brothers died of a yellow fever epidemic.  She took over caring for the family, dropping out of school to work as a teacher.  In 1883, she moved to Memphis, Tennessee with three of her younger siblings to live with her aunt.

In the same year, she was forcibly removed from a train car reserved for white women.  This was decades before Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a bus.  Ida sued the railroad, won her case, but was overruled by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

While teaching, she began writing newspaper articles about the race issue in the South, and in 1889 she became co-owner and editor of Free Speech and Headlight, an anti-segregation newspaper that published articles about racial injustice.  Because of articles criticizing conditions in the colored schools of the region, she was dismissed from her teaching post.

In 1892, three of Well’s friends were lynched by a white mob.

Lynching, or hanging, had become widespread in the South in the decades following the Civil War.  Once African-Americans had been given their freedom, many whites felt economically and politically threatened. “Jim Crow” laws were passed by the white controlled state legislatures, effectively disenfranchising most African-Americans through a combination of poll taxes, literacy tests, and other requirements.  Lynchings were meant to control and terrorize the African-American communities.  As well as being hanged, victims were sometimes burned alive and tortured, with body parts removed and kept as souvenirs.

In response to her friends’ lynching, Ida wrote in her newspaper:

“The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival.  There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are out-numbered and without arms.  The white mob could help itself to ammunition without pay, but the order is rigidly enforced against the selling of guns to Negroes.  There is therefore only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.”

By directly challenging the white power structure, she became a target, and the office of her newspaper, the “Free Speech”, was attacked by a white mob and burned to the ground.

She moved to New York City, then to Chicago, and published an article and pamphlet, titled “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases” in which she documented lynchings throughout the South, and the circumstances surrounding those lynchings.  The pamphlet was widely distributed.

She stated:  “It is with no pleasure I have dipped my hands in the corruption here exposed.  Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so. “

Frederick Douglass, the famous African-American abolitionist, orator, and statesman, wrote the following words to Ida:

“Let me give you thanks for your faithful paper on the lynch abomination now generally practiced against colored people in the South. There has been no word equal to it in convincing power. I have spoken, but my word is feeble in comparison. You give us what you know and testify from actual knowledge. You have dealt with the facts with cool, painstaking fidelity and left those naked and uncontradicted facts to speak for themselves.

“Brave woman! you have done your people and mine a service which can neither be weighed nor measured. If American conscience were only half alive, if the American church and clergy were only half christianized, if American moral sensibility were not hardened by persistent infliction of outrage and crime against colored people, a scream of horror, shame and indignation would rise to Heaven wherever your pamphlet shall be read.”

She continued her anti-lynching campaign, and took it abroad, touring England, Scotland and Wales for two months, addressing audiences of thousands.

During the last thirty years of her life in Chicago, she worked in many ways to improve conditions for the city’s rapidly growing African-American population.  She campaigned strongly for women’s suffrage, and was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

She was only one person, but she showed what one woman, imbued with a burning passion for justice, could do.  She stood up, and helped to change the world for the better.


A New Myth for America BuddhismJames 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.

You can follow his journey, “Traveling to a New America”, on Facebook.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

During the Dark Hours


Flowers have bloomed
During the night.
A lovely bouquet this
Morning, though the
Night before, blooms
Were closed,
Seemingly dead,
Finished growing.
Transformation took place
During the dark hours.
Sometimes we wind our
Way up from the depths,
There is no light.
The hidden sun in our heart
Leading the way,
Pushing up through
Overwhelming darkness,
Dead-ends, doubt and despair,
The dream never dying,
Hope invincible.
To bloom as stunning
Beauties in the light.


FlowerJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten nonfiction 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 holding discussions about the future of our country – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America.”

Follow the journey on Facebook.

“Studs Lonigan” & the Great Wall Street Crash of 1929

“Studs Lonigan”, by James T. Farrell, is one of the great books of American literature.  Written as a trilogy in the 1930s, it tells the story of a young man, William “Studs” Lonigan, growing up in an Irish family on Chicago’s Southside during World War I, the Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression.

Farrell’s purpose in writing the novel was to portray in detail the life of those times, the ethnic street rivalry between Irish, blacks, and Jews, the decaying influence of the Catholic Church, political corruption, Prohibition, gangsterism, and, for Farrell, the most important of all, the spiritual poverty of the society in which Studs grows up, as a young man in school, with dreams of greatness and love, to a gradual loss of hope, disintegration, and early death due to drinking, whoring and fighting.

The climax comes on New Year’s Eve, 1928, in a riotous party with Studs and some of his old friends.  Studs drinks heavily, hoping to have sex with various female guests.  “Weary” Reilly, Studs’ old rival, gets drunk and rapes a girl, then beats up on Studs and dumps him in the snow outside, where he ends up with pneumonia.  It is the beginning of the end for Studs, and for the United States, the coming year marks the end of an era.

We are entering 1929, with its riotous surge of wealth and flappers and swell times and an unlimited golden age.

1929 Stock Market CrashThen came the Great Wall Street Crash of 1929,  a four-day collapse of stock prices that began on October 24, 1929, and ended four days later on Black Tuesday, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 12 percent in one day, losing $14 billion in value, ten times the annual budget of the federal government at that time.  Although the market bounced back and forth in ensuing weeks and months, the Crash signaled the beginning of a long, steady downward slide into the Great Depression.  By July 8,1932, the stock market had lost 89% of its value.

Just prior to the crash, between June and September of 1929, the Dow Jones average had gained more than 20%.  Before that, the market had been on a nine-year run that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average increase in value tenfold.  There were corrections along the way, but many believed stocks would continue to rise forever.

Today, we seem to believe the same.  Wall Street continues to thrive, paralleling 1929, with signs eerily similar.

The stock market is moving in opposition to the welfare of ordinary people, with profits going overwhelmingly to the wealthy and big corporations.  Our government is piling up enormous mountains of debt, while slashing the taxes of the rich, and gutting the safety net and welfare of its citizens.

We have given over completely to a dream of unlimited greed.

It was the dream that emerged after the Civil War, the dream of power and industry and money at any cost.  It is playing out now in the destruction of our environment, in hurricanes and drought, in floods and fires, in nature itself rebelling against the distortion of humane, spiritual values.

It was this sordid dream that covered over and buried the original dream of America, the dream of Emerson and Thoreau and Whitman and others, a dream that everyone has longed for since the beginning of time, a dream of justice and a true democracy, a more expansive world of the spirit than has ever existed on this planet Earth or in this universe we call home.

The reckoning is coming.  We are in it already.  We see it in the day’s headlines, in the divisiveness and anger, in rage and loss of hope, and in our government and our so-called leaders and President parading narcissistically across prime time.

Never fear.  Welcome to the birth pangs of a new world.

You are at the center.  You and everyone else.  You are the center of the universe itself.

This is the revolution coming.

And as it reveals itself in the mind of each man and woman, the mountains will fall and shift, chasms will open, the deserts will run with rivers, beautiful blooms will burst from dry dust, suns will sprout in the sky, animals and birds dance, the nuclear force of ten million stars will break forth with light, and the minds of men and women will reflect in every aspect of their lives the halls and mirrors of Eternity.

The Buddha is coming to America


A New Myth for America BuddhismJames 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 visiting towns and cities all across America, giving talks and holding discussions about the future of our country – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America”.

Follow the journey on Facebook.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

Abolitionist Abby Kelley Foster & “Come-outerism”.

Abby Kelley Foster Worcester MA Liberty Farm

This is Liberty Farm, a National Historic Landmark in Worcester, Massachusetts, where Abby Kelley Foster (1811-1887) lived most of her married life with her husband, Stephen Symonds Foster.

Abby Kelley Foster is a name most of us are not familiar with.  She was one of the many extraordinary women from our American past who poured out their lives for a better future, but whose memory has been for the most part lost and obscured.

We need to remember, and to carry her greatness forward into the fabric of our own  present lives.

Abby grew up on a farm in Worcester, and eventually became a teacher.

A turning point in her life came when she was in her twenties when she attended a lecture by William Lloyd Garrison, the prominent abolitionist.  She soon became passionately involved in the anti-slavery movement, as well as the struggle for women’s rights.

In 1838, she spoke at the Anti-Slavery Convention in Philadelphia, a meeting so controversial that after it ended protestors burned the building to the ground.  Two years later, at the American Anti-Slavery Society’s annual meeting, she effectively split the anti-slavery movement by asserting women’s equality.

She advocated not only for the end of slavery, but for full civil rights for African-Americans.  Her home became a station on the Underground Railroad network, helping slaves escape from the South.  After the end of the Civil War, she helped sponsor the 15th Amendment to the Constitution which gave African-Americans the right to vote.  In 1850, she was an organizer and key speaker at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester.

She was no supporter of progressive reform.  She wanted full rights granted to African-Americans and women now.

Frederick Douglass, the great African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator and writer, sometimes joined Abby on lecture tours.

Douglass wrote about Abby:

“Her youth and simple Quaker beauty, combined with her wonderful earnestness, her large knowledge and great logical power bore down all opposition wherever she spoke, though she was pelted with foul eggs and no less foul words from the noisy mobs which attended us.”

Abby spent more than twenty years traveling and lecturing in small villages and towns across the nation.  Her motto was:  “Go where you are least wanted, for there you are most needed.”

What Abby Kelley Foster is most remembered for is her advocacy of “come-outerism”, a belief that abolitionists were morally bound to leave churches that did not fully, openly, and absolutely condemn slavery.  There could be no middle ground on this moral issue.

She was in agreement with another woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the great novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, which had an enormous impact about the issue of slavery leading up to the Civil War.  The whole import of her book was that slavery and Christianity were incompatible.

As in Abby’s day, we now live in a morally confusing time.  We have a Republican Congress and Party, along with a great number of our American Christian churches, who support a President who denigrates African-Americans, Mexicans, other nations and nationalities; who aspires to deprive millions of Americans of their health care; who verifiedly lies obsessively through his tweets; who insanely is set on expanding to the tune of another trillion dollars our death arsenal of nuclear weapons; who supports a Congress secretly lusting to abolish Social Security for tens of millions of our elder citizens; who has been caught on tape expressing his low regard for women; who is trying daily to destroy the credibility of our system of justice, of our courts, of our newspapers and media; who would tear apart hundreds of thousands of children – “Dreamers”- from their families …and the list goes on.

It’s time we demand our own sort of “come-outerism”.

Today, Abby Kelley Foster would undoubtedly say:

“If you have any kind of morality and sense of justice, “come out” of the Republican Party.  Withhold your support or participation whatsoever in a Party and a President bound over at all costs to power and profit at the expense of the people.

“If you have any commitment of your own to the basic, root, moral tenets of the founder of your Christian religion, then you must “come out” and sever all your ties with this Party and President, and also walk away from your Church and Church leaders if they choose to cast their lot and support for such an immoral Party and person.

“This is Judgment Day – your judgment.  Where do you stand?”


A New Myth for America BuddhismJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books.

This year, he is connecting to towns and cities throughout America on his FaceBook Page, “Traveling to a New America“.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

Abraham Lincoln, the “kids”, and Guns

Stoneman Douglas High School
Parkland, Florida

Abraham LincolnIn 1864, President Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to Colonel William F. Elkins near the end of the Civil War, wrote:

“We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end.  It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood…It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country.  As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.  I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.”

He was speaking, of course, of the usurping of economic and political power by the corporations.

This malaise has finally engulfed us.

Lincoln was the standard bearer of the Republican Party.  He would undoubtedly be horrified to see his premonitions about the future of our country fulfilled by the political party he himself once belonged to.

The insane passion for money and power, at the expense of everything outside their own personal interests, comes now to a glaring pinnacle in the presidency of Donald Trump and his cohorts in the Republican Party and Congress.  The denigration of people and traditions and cultures and nations exemplified by this band of old white men represents the dying gasp of an old guard that is deserving to be tossed upon the trash heap of history.

We are seeing all of this, and it is a good, great thing that we are seeing it, finally, in all its ugliness.

The massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida is the latest, and most devastating, crack in the mirror of the facade of this Party of paid-off imposters.

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, two thirds of Americans now support stricter gun laws, 66-31 percent.  Support for universal background checks is almost universal, 97-2 percent, including 97-3 percent among gun owners.  American voters think Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence, by a 75-17 percent margin.  Yet Congress dithers, and fabricates, and confuses, and stonewalls.

One of the most vocal of the survivors of the Parkland tragedy is a young man named David Hogg.  He has since formed an advocacy movement called Never Again MSD, calling for stricter gun laws, and has repeatedly criticized the NRA, the National Rifle Association, for their lobbying efforts in Congress.

A conservative commentator recently lashed out at David Hogg, calling the school shooting survivor “a bully”.   He also stated: “High school kids are not people we should take seriously on any subject.”

Well, alongside a growing tide of indignation and  outrage among not only the survivors of this tragedy, but of similar past gun tragedies, and a growing clamor for change among the American populace, in March in Washington, D.C., and around the country, millions of “kids” will converge on towns and cities all across America to protest the immoral stance and irresponsible inaction of our government leaders.

If the leaders and spokespeople of this government begin to think that the voices of “high school kids” and other young people are not to be taken seriously, they are indeed unfit for government service, and are in for a whopping surprise.

On November 19th, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave one of the most memorable speeches in history, while consecrating the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

He spoke of a new birth of freedom, and a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

These “kids” are on the frontline in the battlefield for this sacred dream.


A New Myth for America BuddhismJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books.

This year, he is connecting to towns and cities throughout America on his Facebook Page, “Traveling to a New America

To arrange talks, contact the author.

Thomas Paine & The Age of Reason

Thomas Paine Statue MemorialThis memorial to Thomas Paine stands in the town of New Rochelle, New York, where Paine lived from 1802 to 1806.

Many people are aware of Paine’s contributions, especially his authorship of the inspiring pamphlets, “Common Sense” and “American Crisis”, which led to his being called the “Father of the American Revolution.”

Not so many people are aware, though, of another series of pamphlets he wrote later in life, called “The Age of Reason”, which resulted in his being ostracized in the very country he loved.

Published in 1776, near the beginning of the Revolutionary War, his first pamphlet,”Common Sense”, had an extraordinary impact.  In the first three months alone, 100,000 copies circulated among the two million residents of the 13 colonies, crystallizing a growing sentiment among the people for independence from Great Britain.

Subsequently, Paine began a series of other pamphlets, called “The American Crisis”.  The first of these pamphlets, also published in 1776, began with the famous words:

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”

George Washington had these words read to his troops, to inspire them.

President John Adams once said:

“Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain”.

Paine went on to also become an ardent and celebrated supporter of the French Revolution with his publication of “The Rights of Man”.

Later, Paine published “The Age of Reason”, which also had a  powerful impact, but which caused him to be viciously attacked, so that even a hundred years later, President Theodore Roosevelt would label him a “filthy little atheist”.

Paine was no atheist.  He was a deist, or person believing that reason and observation of the natural world pointed to the existence of a single creator or absolute principle of the universe.

Thomas PaineIn “The Age of Reason”, Paine wrote:

“I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

“I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavouring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

“But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of.  My own mind is my own church.

“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

He rejected miracles, revelation, and the authority of the Bible. Just as he had attacked the authoritarianism and tyranny of the British government and crown, so he now turned his attacks upon what he considered the tyranny of Christianity itself.

He wrote:

“Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid or produces only atheists or fanatics. As an engine of power, it serves the purpose of despotism, and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests, but so far as respects the good of man in general it leads to nothing here or hereafter.

“Whence arose all the horrid assassinations of whole nations of men, women, and infants, with which the Bible is filled; and the bloody persecutions, and tortures unto death and religious wars, that since that time have laid Europe in blood and ashes; whence arose they, but from this impious thing called revealed religion, and this monstrous belief that God has spoken to man? The lies of the Bible have been the cause of the one, and the lies of the Testament of the other.”

For the views expressed in “The Age of Reason”, Paine was attacked and vilified by the powers that be.  At his death, he was almost a forgotten man.

The great American orator and writer Robert G. Ingersoll later wrote:

“Thomas Paine had passed the legendary limit of life. One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts. On the 8th of June 1809, death came – Death, almost his only friend. At his funeral no pomp, no pageantry, no civic procession, no military display. In a carriage, a woman and her son who had lived on the bounty of the dead – on horseback, a Quaker, the humanity of whose heart dominated the creed of his head – and, following on foot, two negroes filled with gratitude – constituted the funeral cortege of Thomas Paine.”

But his influence continued to spread, influencing countless lives struggling for a better world.

Of “The Age of Reason”, the great American writer Mark Twain once wrote:

“I read it first when I was a cub pilot, read it with fear and hesitation, but marveling at its fearlessness and wonderful power.”

The great American inventor Thomas Edison wrote:

“I have always regarded Paine as one of the greatest of all Americans. Never have we had a sounder intelligence in this republic … It was my good fortune to encounter Thomas Paine’s works in my boyhood … it was, indeed, a revelation to me to read that great thinker’s views on political and theological subjects. Paine educated me, then, about many matters of which I had never before thought. I remember, very vividly, the flash of enlightenment that shone from Paine’s writings, and I recall thinking, at that time, ‘What a pity these works are not today the schoolbooks for all children!’ My interest in Paine was not satisfied by my first reading of his works. I went back to them time and again, just as I have done since my boyhood days.”

Here in the United States, we are witness to a corrupt, authoritarian government, motivated above all by money and power, wrapped in the flag of patriotism and supported by power-hungry fanatics of the cross, all conspiring as they were in Paine’s day.

Paine saw a deep connection between politics and religion. He came to believe that a revolution in religion was a necessary prerequisite for a fully successful, democratic, political revolution.

In other words, religion – or the way we see ourselves, our relation to each other and to this vast universe -is the key to unlocking a new world.

The power is not outside us, in the Church, the government, in differing stories of an external, omnipotent, tyrannical power, but in ourselves.

We are the creators.  We are the universe itself, waiting to come to fruition and bloom.  Our potential is infinitely great, but we don’t imagine it, let alone believe it.

This is the role of religion now, to bring the power home – to the common human being, to our common human heritage – and thus to transform everything, economics, politics, education – all transformed out of the inner transformation of one person after another, a chain reaction of light.

The Buddha is coming to America.



Maybe We Need A New ReligionJames 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 connecting with 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.

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.


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.


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?


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.


Trump & Pence: Nuclear Weapons & Christianity



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?


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.