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More from the Methodist church retreat. This, believe it or not, is one of the reverends.

When the Blumenaus of Hope Street crossed paths with a noteworthy person or people, I like to write about it.

For instance, I’ve written about times my dad not only saw but chatted with his jazz idols, and the time my grandpa convinced one of the NFL’s finest defensive players to stand still for a casual portrait.

One of the faces in the photography post of earlier today merits the same treatment; and hopefully, I can do justice to his accomplishments.

But first, inevitably, a few words about me.

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rainesbaseball

Having been born in the summer of 1973, I came along too late to witness the socially active priests of the 1960s — people like the Berrigan brothers, and Milwaukee’s Father James Groppi, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and of course the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I always understood the Rev. Dr. King to be a giant of his generation. But from what I read in retrospect, some of the other socially active men of the cloth seemed rather too keenly interested in publicity.

(As a pop-culture fan, I am reminded of the lines from Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard”: “Then the radical priest come to get me released / And we was all on the cover of Newsweek.”)

Indeed, my template for the socially active priest is probably the Rev. Scot Sloan, the gently parodic composite introduced by Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau in the early 1970s.

The early Sloan, while earnest, was a bit too self-aware … a bit too interested in projecting the right image of coolness in his book-jacket photo, and a bit too excited when a national magazine described him as “the fighting young priest who can talk to the kids.”

When I saw my grandfather’s portrait of a handsome young minister, puffing a cigarette as coolly as if he’d just played a set at Birdland, I thought to myself, “What have we here? Another fighting young priest who can talk to the kids?

My father and Google have jointly convinced me that considerably more respect is called for.

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rainescamp

When the cigarette photo was taken — as well as the other photos in this post — Rev. John C. Raines was 24 years old and nearing the end of a two-year period as youth minister at my family’s church, Springdale Methodist.

He made a deep impression there, in my father’s words:

He was indeed a smart dude and wonderful teacher. … He was one sharp dude, really.  Told me if I applied myself I could be a knockout classical organist in three years (I was a high school junior at the time).  Unfortunately, I chose jazz.  And that engineering stuff.  

He was the perfect youth minister when he was 24; knew everyone and knew that there was no one way to reach everyone.  All the girls loved him because he was cool, athletic, good looking (your grandmother thought he looked like a Greek God), had a great smile.

Rev John Raines

Raines’ subsequent career would show a substantial amount of backbone to go along with the quick mind and charming smile.

As mentioned in my earlier post, he was an active participant in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In 1961, the first year of the Freedom Riders, he was arrested with several compatriots for protesting the segregation of the Little Rock, Ark., bus station. (Fifty years later, Raines noted, the city’s mayor welcomed him back to town as a “public hero.”)

Ten years later, Raines took part in an even more audacious act of civil resistance: With his wife, Bonnie, and six others, he helped plan and execute the burglary of an FBI office in Media, Pa., near Philadelphia.

In a remarkable action against the nation’s top investigative agency, the group made off undetected with more than 1,000 documents that showed the extent of surveillance the government was devoting to its own citizens, particularly those active in protest.

A statement issued by the group explained its purpose. (The highlights are mine.):

On the night of March 8, 1971, the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI removed files from the Media, Pennsylvania, office of the FBI. These files will now be studied to determine: one, the nature and extent of surveillance and intimidation carried on by this office of the FBI, particularly against groups and individuals working for a more just, humane and peaceful society; two, to determine how much of the FBI’s efforts are spent on relatively minor crimes by the poor and the powerless against whom they can get a more glamorous conviction rate, instead of investigating truly serious crimes by those with money and influence which cause great damage to the lives of many people—crimes such as war profiteering, monopolistic practices, institutional racism, organized crime, and the mass distribution of lethal drugs; finally, three, the extent of illegal practices by the FBI, such as eavesdropping, entrapment, and the use of provocateurs and informers.

As this study proceeds, the results obtained along with the FBI documents pertaining to them will be sent to people in public life who have demonstrated the integrity, courage and commitment to democratic values which are necessary to effectively challenge the repressive policies of the FBI.

Some of the newspapers that received copies of the documents declined to print them. But the Washington Post wrote the story and others followed, giving the country its clearest look at the disruptive reach of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.

None of the burglars were caught or charged, despite an extensive investigation. Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger, who broke the story in 1971, later wrote that only one of the eight was on the agency’s list of suspects when the case was closed in 1976.

The surviving burglars came forward about a year ago. Raines — who drove the getaway car and helped distribute the documents — told the New York Times that the group saw itself as a last line of defense against overreaching government surveillance.

“It looks like we’re terribly reckless people,” Mr. Raines said. “But there was absolutely no one in Washington — senators, congressmen, even the president — who dared hold J. Edgar Hoover to accountability.”

“It became pretty obvious to us,” he said, “that if we don’t do it, nobody will.”

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If those two incidents had been the extent of Raines’ career, it would have been remarkable.

Of course, they weren’t. He also taught for more than 40 years at Temple University in Philadelphia, serving for a time as the chair of the college’s Department of Religion. (Raines continues to teach a class at Temple but is now largely retired.)

An online festschrift compiled by his students shows the respect he engendered in that role, with contributions including “My Heartfelt Gratitude to Professor John C. Raines” and “I Chose Temple (Because of John Raines).”

To quote the introduction:

His example, as well as his words, makes him one of the premier scholars of the academy; and for his witness, his testimony, and his example, we—his students—are deeply grateful.

The cigarette-puffing young man of 1960 seems to have approached the times he lived in with an uncommon amount of both wisdom and willingness to act.

That seems worthy of note and respect, not just on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but every day.

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