All posts by bfiggefox

Helping One Helps All

Best Buy’s landmark employee handbook

Reading this post I watched an interview with a nationally known HR guru on how taking care of caregivers can help everyone – including the employer.

Charles Montreuil, SVP of Human Resources at Best Buy, was interviewed by Alexandra Drane, co-founder and CEO of Rebel Health and ARCHANGELS, a national movement that recognizes and honors caregivers.

Montreuil broke new ground in ways for a corporation to care for its workers who are caregivers, and as both a recipient of care and a caregiver myself, his ‘corporatized empathy’ has special meaning for me.

Charles Montreuil and Alexandra Drane

At minute 23 came my AHA moment about why my church’s new arrangements for “taking care” are so meaningful. Montreuil says that having a caregiving system in place will reduce stress — not only for the employee caregiver — but also for everyone who works with or who knows that person. Stress for one person affects those around her. When the employee’s friends – her team – know that she can get help if she needs it — they can relax too.

I tend to carry a lot of that kind of stress. As an empath and a diagnosed worrywart, I am prone to worrying about who isn’t being taken care of. Ten years ago I helped manage an informal team to look after a beloved church member who lived alone but had dementia and other health problems. Refusing to move from her fourth floor walk-up Palmer Square apartment, she charmed everyone in sight, inspiring them to help her. But it took 10 of us to manage all aspects of her care.

What org”>Princeton United Methodist Church lacked then was an organized system of tracking who else needed care. We did have had other formal systems in place. In addition to the pastors, they included:

Stephen Ministry, which I knew pretty well since my late husband worked, as the lay leader, with then -pastors Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash and Rev. Catherine Williams and the lay team of Stephen Ministers — caring Christians trained to walk alongside those in need for as long as necessary to provide emotional and spiritual care.

From Stephen Ministry grew a caring group for widows and widowers, called Love Lives On.

The Prayer Chain, for as long as I can remember, offers solace to many. To be able to say “our prayer warriors will pray for your loved one” seems to help even those (perhaps especially those) without a firm faith.

Until Covid, several 12-step groups had, for decades, found a warm and welcoming meeting home in the church’s building on the town’s main drag. (After Covid, they will return).

Then. last year, Pastor Ginny Cetuk and an experienced lay member, Laverna Albury, put together a program, Circle of Care, to try to ensure that no one in our flock would “fall through the cracks.” This 12-member team “provides services and support to individuals or families who find themselves in acute distress due to illness, injury or family stress. ” When Covid came along, Circle of Care was in place and ramped up its efforts.

My AHA moment: When Best Buy’s HR guy, Montreuil, acknowledged that help for a stressed out caregiver could reduce the stress among that worker’s associates. “When you take care of one employee you are influencing the rest of the store. ‘Look at how this store takes care of us.'” Just knowing that respite care is available for the co-worker makes everyone breathe easier.

Yes! I realized. With the Circle of Care in place I can put that particular worry, that particular reason to be anxious, on a shelf. Other folks are in charge!

Full disclosure: I found this video on the website of my daughter, Susannah Fox. She bills herself as an “internet geologist” who helps people navigate healthcare and technology. At the end of her post she gave a link to Best Buy’s caregiver handbook.

The photograph below shows the elder in the fourth floor walkup, barely able to walk herself, charming a 10-yea-old stilt walker.

“See the Indians” in 1948

See the Indians! The sign at the tourist store offered photo opps.

In a camping trip to Colorado in 1948, we went to a tourist store that featured photo ops with Native Americans. My parents truly valued the Native American culture. Our home was filled with baskets, weavings, rugs, pots, and jewelry that they started buying in the 1930s and continued to buy in the ’40s. But appreciating skills doesn’t do much for the concept of equality.

In this video from the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church, Rev. Chebon Kernell, tells of the historic mistreatment of Native Americans by the United Methodist Church. I saw this video as part of a 10-session series, Vital Conversations on Race, screened in zoom meetings at Princeton United Methodist Church.

More than 30 annual conferences are beginning to pay attention to Native American concerns and to offer acts of repentance, says Kernell. “This is just the beginning. Are we really ever done with repentance? Some have asked me ‘when will you be satisfied.’ My answer ” Repentance is like discipleship. Do not expect my contentment any time soon. As long as the church stands up for a society that has worked to eliminate our presence…we are not even close to existing in a church and world that is inclusive..”

On Thursday, September 24 at 7:30 p.m., Princeton UMC will start another 10 week session of Vital Conversations on Race in September. I found it VERY helpful. I recommend it.

Wearing the cowboy hat from my uncle, I stand next to a Native American girl just my size (I was 8) while my sister stands with our cousins. I’m sure we paid for this photo. Nobody in this photo looks very happy. And no wonder. Sisters in their matching dresses, made by our mothers, and how heavy those feather headresses must have been!
My first introduction to Native Americans, at age 3.

Looking back — at least as a child I had some idea of what a native Americans looked like, as opposed to the usual white man’s conception of Tonto and the cowboy and Indian movies. But nobody told me – not at home or in school – about the Trail of Tears. Nobody told me how the Native Americans had been forced to give up their culture.

Thirty years later, when I met the chief of the Turtle clan of the Lenape people, I found out. As a reporter for a daily paper in Media, PA, I tried to help them save a sacred spring. By going to their corn planting ceremonies and attending their rituals, I had some insights into a spirituality that did not depend on pews or stained glass or organs. It came from the earth.

These photos came from my father’s slides, curated by my sister Rosalie Ann Figge Beasley.

The Ordinary Made Holy

liturgy

Sometimes “chance” happenings are just too grace-filled to be chance. On August 2, Rebekah Anderson’s sermon text and a chance-read book “happened” to coincide with (shh) my colonoscopy prep. A former church member gave me a book her group had read, “Liturgy of the Ordinary: sacred practices in everyday life,” by Tish Harrison Warren. I perused the first chapter. It was about making your bed in the morning and it helped me to enjoy doing that.

This morning, with creaky bones and foreboding spirit, facing a 36 hour fast for my colonoscopy, I happened to pick it up again. The next chapter is about “living in a body” and it was so perfect that I feel impelled to share this passage.

Jewish faith, the soil from which Christianity sprang, is delightfully, at times shockingly, earthly and embodied. Observant Jews use a prayer called the Asher Yatzar, which they recite after using the bathroom. 

Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollows. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if even one of them ruptures, or if even one of them becomes blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You (even for a short period). Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.

It’s embarrassing and perhaps a bit uncomfortably graphic, but there is a baldness and beauty in this Jewish blessing. it dares us to believe that the God who holds the planets in orbit deigns to be involved with even the most mundane, pedestrian, and scatological parts of human embodiment. It calls us to gratitude and worship in the most undignified parts of our day. 

Then the author, who began the chapter by pondering on the act of brushing teeth, continues  ..these small tasks of caring for our bodies, as quotidian as they are, act as an embodied confession that our Creator…who mysteriously became flesh … has made our bodies well and deserves worship in and through our very cells, muscles, and teeth. 

Oh yes, the text for that Sermon “An Invitation to New Life,” available on video here.(at minute 35, and at minute 25 is an amazing handbell solo). The text was Isaiah 58:

ALL ABOUT HOW TO FAST!

Might We Be Someone Else’s Weeds?

duke chapel space
Duke University Chapel entrance, without the statue of a Confederate general

Today at PrincetonUMC, 7-19-2020, Pastor Jenny Smith Walz addressed the conflict I have been holding in my heart — how to condemn the evil of white supremacy and still love those (in my family and elsewhere) who perpetrated it, those (including me) who benefit from it, and those (in the #endracism movement) who — as they try to eliminate symbols of injustice from public places — find it hard if not impossible to acknowledge that someone who did evil may also have done good.

Let’s admit that we ignore 98 percent of the information that we see or hear. Of the remaining two percent, we put half into a bucket, labeled “I like this,” and the other half into a bucket labeled “I dislike this.”

Don’t believe that the human race is so cruel and blind? Here’s what Pastor Jenny cited as historic examples.

Let’s send the convicts to Australia.
Let’s create an Aryan society.
Let’s eliminate the Tutsis.
Let’s create different sets of privileges for those with black and brown bodies.
Let’s block whatever the opposing party in Congress wants.
Let’s leave our church because someone I don’t approve of can belong.
Let’s put this person’s name in stone on the bad list, so no longer can I see them as a whole person.

It’s the last one that twangs my heart. 

Woodrow Wilson was a terrible racist and I support removing his name from a school that represents public policy. He was a president, but he was more racist than others of his time.

At my alma mater, Duke University, a Confederate general’s figure was removed from the entrance to the chapel. Robert E. Lee, a West Point graduate, was more loyal to his roots in the South than to his nation.

Some want to rename the middle school named after John Witherspoon, a Scottish preacher, sixth president of Princeton University. He trained  three justices of the U.S. Supreme Court); 10 Cabinet officers; 12 members of the Continental Congress, 28 U.S. senators, and 49 United States congressmen. But he also owned slaves and lectured against the abolition of slavery.

Can we no longer see Witherspoon — or any of our political and spiritual leaders — or anyone in our community — as whole persons? Must those in the #BlackLivesMatter movement condemn people who are at different places on the spectrum of learning about and accepting the concept of white supremacy? 

Yes, I want to work against white supremacy,  a system which manipulates and pits all races and ethnicities against each other. That is the mission of Not in Our Town Princeton.  Nevertheless, I admit to being empathetic to those who struggle with emotions of ‘white fragility,’ as described by Robin DiAngelo. I DO empathize, because I’m struggling too.

It’s not only that I am ‘feeling fragile while white.’ I understand why these symbols need to be removed, but I also have a firm commitment to the Christian teaching that there is good in everybody. And evil in everybody. Can we condemn the evil and still acknowledge the good? 

Preaching on the Parable of the Weeds, Matthew 13:24-30, Pastor Jenny says:

Let’s try to imagine that we might be someone else’s weeds.
Let’s acknowledge that it doesn’t have to be either one or the other.

Is it possible to acknowledge that evil does exist and not seek to destroy those who enact evil while you destroy the evil itself?

Pastor Jenny says that Jesus is describing the Kingdom of God and a gardener, knowing  that weeds will inevitably crop up, advises — wait to pull out the weeds until the good crop is ready to harvest. “This gardener is so immensely patient that it scandalizes and terrifies us. Jesus shows us a picture of the Kingdom, the mysterious realm that is the 98 percent that is hard for us to perceive, hard for us to even know that we aren’t perceiving.

This patient gardener can hold ambiguity in a holy, purposeful way. We “good people” are beautiful but weeds are growing up in us and around us. Jesus invites us to sit with the silence, the patience, the challenge, the ambiguity – to try get in relationship with God. Our job is not to create a pristine landscape for the world to see, but to imagine that there is a place there for every one of us. And that it is God’s job to sort out the weeds.

In this sermon I think Pastor Jenny is trying to open a safe space for everyone, no matter where they are in their opinions.  She closed with this poem, ending… 

May my peace and acceptance
be the seeds I sow
for the next harvest. 

from Weeds and Wheat, by Steve Garnaas-Holmes

Guilty Pleasures Needed

loneliness
by Tracy Lee for NPR

“Guilty pleasures” are good for our health says psychologist Dan Gottlieb on WHYY today. He says there is a good study suggesting these guilty pleasures do help loneliness. So, to combat loneliness, grief, and the fear of tomorrow, do something you enjoy at least every day. This will nurture social capital.

Another tip from NPR, this from a May 10 segment on Quarantine Blues:  Don’t miss the opportunity for small touch points throughout the day. Even sharing a joke over text can make you feel less alone, says  Judith Moskowitz, of Northwestern University.

Got questions? Dr. Barile has answers

logoKnowledge is power. Information reduces stress.
Join Dr. David Barile on a weekday to get your questions answered. He sends this invitation: 
Here in NJ we are facing the very real possibility of a shortage of respirators, PPE and ICU beds. Just today we had additional positive tests reported bringing our state’s total cases to 8,825 with 108 deaths. We are working with several of our Coalition partners to address some of the unmet needs.
Toward that end, from Monday 3/30 to Friday 4/24, Goals of Care Coalition of New Jersey (GOCCNJ) will be launching a daily webinar M-F at 1:00pm to help educate people and address their questions regarding POLST and advance directives for the populations at high-risk for complications of COVID-19 (nursing home populations, frail elders, people with underlying medical concerns, etc.) and/or their family decision makers/healthcare proxies. Visit the GOCCNJ website, www.goalsofcare.org, to register for the webinar.

Please share the attached flyer with your networks and let people know this resource is available. We have more information and resources online at our website www.goalsofcare.org. We would be so grateful if you help spread the word!

Many thanks and please stay healthy and safe!

Best,

David R. Barile

Founder & Chief Medical Officer
Goals of Care Coalition of New Jersey
webinar flyer

Dancing at 20, 50 — and now 80

1990 group birthdayIn six months I’ll be 80.

I’m dependent for my health and strength on Pilates, as taught in the Anthony Rabara studio, and I’m learning new strengthening moves at Princeton Fitness and Wellness, but nothing beats actual DANCE.

Dancing (modern dance) used to be my life. I danced a lot, in college.  Some, in my 30s. Less, in my 50s. (The image* is of my 50th birthday party, led by my then dance teacher,Esther Arnhold Seligmann.  Even less in my ’60s, though with Alma Concepcion I did try to learn flamenco, until I realized what it was doing to my knees.

Absolutely no dance in my 70s.

Now, on the cusp of 80, I have rediscovered the joy of moving through space.

SPACE.

You don’t get it in Pilates, you don’t get to move through space in a gym, you can move through space only in a dance studio, and dance studios are notoriously unfriendly to old bones.

mary pat robertsonSo I am beyond thrilled to find a dance class geared for seniors, one that satisfies my desire (yea, my need) to move through space but honors my arthritis. Mary Pat Robertson,who had extensive experience in Merce Cunningham technique as well as being a master teacher of ballet, has begun a class for mature dancers of 50 plus years (that’s me), ranging from beginners to former professionals (I’m in between), to”retain flexibility, balance, and core strength.”

It’s at the new Martin Center for Dance, established by Douglas Martin and Mary Barton martin center logoupon their untimely exit from American Repertory Ballet. (This article in U.S. 1 explains some of the details and here is an earlier Town Topics article by Anne Levin).

I had studied Humphrey/Weidman technique and ‘experienced’ Graham technique, and I’m finding that Cunningham technique is kinder to old bones. Robertson merges what she learned at the Cunningham studio with what she experienced at a special “over 50” class in London.

It’s good for me. It’s fun. It has me moving (safely) through space.

Intrigued? Come and see! Robertson teaches the “over 50” class on Mondays and Thursdays, 11 AM to 12:30 p.m. at the Martin Center for Dance11 Princess Road, Suite 5. What used to be a warehouse is now a stylish space for two dance studios and a black box theater.

*Recognizable faces in the 50th birthday picture: top row, Mary Hultse, Sandy Goettinger, Barbara Palfy, ?, Ann Yasuhara, ?, Pat Hatton, Joan Crespi.  First row, Esther Seligmann, ?, ?, Barbara Figge Fox, Anna Rosa Kohn, Brenda Fallon, Nicole Plett. (Additional IDs welcome. With little provocation I will show you the video. It reflects Esther’s amazingly free spirit.) 

Clarity of purpose trumps knowledge: Clayton Christensen

christensenDisclosure: I had never heard of this man, Clayton Christensen, until my daughter noted his obituary and said that he had had a big influence on her life.

When I read this excerpt of his words in the Weekend Reader* — the fact that Christensen  is so devoted to God’s purpose for him, and that he has managed to impart this to the secular business community, ‘blew my mind.”

For me, having a clear purpose in my life has been essential. But it was something I had to think long and hard about before I understood it  … Clarity about (a business person’s)  purpose will trump knowledge of activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence, disruptive innovation, the four Ps, and the five forces…

If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most…

If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture—and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works. 

I also really liked this principle, one that I learned from Rev. Paul Couch when he pastored Redeember Moravian Church:

The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place. 

Rev. Couch said over and over again — if you slip once, it will be easier to do it again.

My daughter, Susannah Fox, posted about listening to Christensen in 2014. 

Then, his remarks targeted health care.  Her comment: “Great thinkers can … take you on “a helicopter ride and point out new patterns in a familiar landscape.”

Perhaps that is because he was, by definition, humble. (May I point out that great spiritual leaders, from Paul Couch to Fred Rogers are, by definition, humble?

Said Christensen:

 And if your attitude is that only smarter people have something to teach you, your learning opportunities will be very limited. But if you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited.

My interpretation of how teach humble is to offer good preschool care. Self esteem matters.

Generally, you can be humble only if you feel really good about yourself—and you want to help those around you feel really good about themselves, too. When we see people acting in an abusive, arrogant, or demeaning manner toward others, their behavior almost always is a symptom of their lack of self-esteem. They need to put someone else down to feel good about themselves. 

Here’s the takehome, for both business leaders and the rest of us.

Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.   

 *Note: Maxwell Anderson, who blogs as The Weekend Reader, is a Princeton seminary graduate and can be counted on to take a God-centered view of every issue. If curious, subscribe here.  I borrowed the image from his blog post.

Artists and musicians reveal racism

bainbridge exhibit

An architect/artist and a composer/musicologist offer revealing insights into how white people appropriated African-American labor and African-American culture.

“Creation Myths,” a new installation by Hugh Hayden at the Princeton University’ Art Museum’s new Artt@Bainbridge gallery on the corner of Nassau and Vandeventer, “evokes themes of cuisine, leisure and education and explores the intersections of these themes with slavery’s bainbridge-housecomplex legacy.”  It will be discussed Thursday, Feb. 20, at 5:30 p.m. in 50 McCosh Hall, followed by a reception at the Museum and is on view now through June 7.

In the “I’m sorry I missed it but at least i now know about it” department was a three-day musicology conference sponsored by the university’s music department: Within and Without: Les Six at 100, les six imagewhere Harvard’s Uri Schreter presented a paper, “‘Snobs
in Search of Exotic Color’: Blackness and Transgression in the Music of Les Six.” With in depth technical analysis of musical scores, he aims to prove that despite enduring beliefs in French “color-blindness,” French notions about blackness were articulated in nuanced ways that perpetuated long-standing, exoticized representations of the black Other.”

Schreter:  In the years after World War One, Les Six rose to fame as the enfants terribles of the French avant-garde. Much of their rebellious image hinged on their appropriation of African American music, which has often been claimed to transgress racial and social boundaries. But were they actually inspired by the so-called “black jazz”? In this paper, I demonstrate that at least in some works, the composers drew on a French, diluted form of “white jazz,” while presenting it as an exotic symbol of blackness. By doing so, they pushed black jazz to the periphery of French culture and reinforced the “sonic color line.”

By comparing the French music-hall with compositions by Les Six and recordings of contemporaneous African American musicians, I demonstrate that several works touted as being influenced by jazz, such as Milhaud’s Caramel mou (1921) and Auric’s Adieu, New-York! (1919), actually drew on French popular music. This study of the reception of jazz in Paris provides a unique vantage point for understanding the crystallization of French perspectives on race. The risqué and modern character of jazz appealed to many audiences, but it also sparked turbulent debates about race, class, and national identity that reflected postwar anxieties.

The political and economic systems that have enabled white supremacy to flourish are relatively easy to trace. But to excavate the cultural systems that spawned white supremacy requires artistic scholarship (Schreter) and creativity (Hayden). To those who try to cut funds from the art and music studies that are part of a liberal education, TAKE NOTE. 

 

e. e. cummings on ‘who is an artist?’

eecummings_amiscellanyrevised9
“a dog in the manger….Aesop knew” by e.e. cummings

“An Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself;

and the agony of the Artist, far from being the result of the world’s failure to discover and appreciate him,

arises from his own personal struggle to discover, to appreciate and finally to express himself.”

…e. e. cummings in The Agony of the Artist (with a capital A)
as quoted in BrainPickings.org,
a 14-year-old blog by Maria Popova.