Paying Our Debts.

AuthorLueders, Bill
PositionBOOKS - The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon

In The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon, Bill McKibben wonders how things went so terribly wrong with these symbols of "American patriotism, American faith, and American prosperity."

The book interweaves historical analysis with McKibben's illuminating reflections on the past four decades of his life as an author and activist.

Given McKibben's prominence in the fight against climate change, beginning with his groundbreaking The End of Nature (1989) and continuing with Eaarth (2010) and other books, it's easy to overlook that the co-founder of the climate advocacy group has written about a great many things, from watching punishing amounts of television (The Age of Missing Information, 1992), to having a one-child family (Maybe One, 1998), to beekeeping (Oil and Honey, 2013), to the looming threat of genetic engineering (Falter, 2019).

The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon, McKibben's twentieth book, explores the tension that runs between idealism and reality, hope and despair, in its three subject areas.

On the flag, McKibben is torn between visions of a nation "born in a burst of radical egalitarianism" and his discovery that one of the main reasons many colonists fought to dissociate with Britain was so that slavery could continue. "What remained of my patriotism," he recalls, "was an illusion, and an ugly one at that." He now finds "all that talk about equality ... hard to take seriously in a country that has turned out to be as unequal" as ours. He supports reparations for slavery but acknowledges that people like Tucker Carlson have made this notion "radioactive" in today's divisive political environment.

On the cross, McKibben experiences similar cognitive distress, noting that many colonial pastors held enslaved people so they could free up time to write their sermons. As he surveys a landscape in which Christianity "and religious belonging in general" are on the decline, McKibben calls for "recommitting, but to a creed more radical than we once imagined, in the hope that it could help with all the other fights that face us."

McKibben tells of his sheltered childhood in Lexington, Massachusetts, where, at age ten, he was "shocked to find there were not two huge cities on the West Coast, one called Los Angeles and the other...

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