Every Wednesday at 7:30 AM during Morning Maine, WERU Volunteer Duncan Newcomer presents Quiet Fire: The Spiritual Life of Abraham Lincoln. This short feature examines Abraham Lincoln in a manner unlike anything else in the media. Tune in live or listen to our archives to hear for yourself. Flowing out of Quiet Fire on the radio is Duncan’s newly published book, entitled 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln: Quiet Fire. What follows are Duncan’s responses to a few questions about his fine work.
What is it like having a book published?
It is an event of hope. Not only because Lincoln himself is person whose words and life make a clearing for hope, but the very event of a book being published is an act of hope. It assumes that there still exist people who care about true words and real virtue in public life. Books exist between a rock and a hard place. Books stand for something that was lost in the Dark Ages and may get lost in the social media age—books carry words that don’t go away. There is a quote from the iconic Russian novel, The Master & Margarita, by Michail Bulgakov, “Manuscripts don’t burn.” The irony is that the character burns his own book, and, of course, Soviet and Nazi regimes and others do burn manuscripts. But because of the community of belief and its ongoing existence, manuscripts live. That’s what publishing a book feels like to me. Bulgakov also said about his novel, “So that they know…so that they know.” To me this book is about “so that they—we Americans—can still know” that American democracy is a good idea and a source for the world. A spiritual source. To me WERU is a community of belief.
What was your motivation for becoming a volunteer feature producer?
Well, I have doctorate in the rhetoric of spiritual speech, preaching. Oral interpretation is the source of all religious scriptures. The spoken living word is a necessary human community event. Radio has been a magical place for me to hear words and music that enliven my imagination. When I was a kid in State College, Pennsylvania, I would take hikes through the woods out to the field where the WMAJ, I think, transmission tower was and the little hut where some student technician sat and watch the dials! I was hooked. I made a crystal set in Scouts, and I visited the NBC Studios in New York City.
To me poets, preachers and radio people live by the spoken word and help us to “be” in that special place that heard words take us. As valuable as books are to us all, spoken shared words are just as valuable. The places where authentic speech exists are getting rarer and rarer. Truth and trustable words are a lifeline, and are necessary for democracy, and I think democracy is a real spiritual sanctuary for freedom and humanity.
What is it like writing a book and producing a feature?
It’s like cooking a meal. You have to do a huge number of things first, including going shopping. I spent at least one hour for every minute of the feature. Learning to keep it to five minutes, or a bit more, has been a wonderful discipline. I love John’s musical show (John Hillman-Waters of Wednesday Morning Maine) so much and respect his time and his voice, so I really struggle to constrain myself. I fail often, but I like editing as much as creating—for some reason.
Creating the feature is a spiritual practice for me. It helps me deal with the world as I find it, and make some sense of it. Lincoln knew that America could not be America the way it had been. He knew there needed to be a rebirth of freedom His interpretation of God and History gives us his view of how the new birth can be. It is our turn to do that again, not to imitate Lincoln but to replicate his poetic and spiritual effort. He created a new America and we are going to have to, as well as a new world. That’s why the music I chose is from the New World Symphony by Dvorak. I get chills every time I hear it. I hope for a yonder place called America where God can be with us and we can be with God.