Category Archives: Faith and Social Justice

items from Not in Our Town Princeton (http://niotprinceton.org) and Princeton United Methodist Church (http://princetonumc.org)

Ebenezer on the Couch

At McCarter, Lauren Keating’s rewrite of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” relates Scrooge’s obsession with money to Dickens’ life story.  Of the two children in the play who have symbolic names, “Want” and “Ignorance,” Dickens was a child of want.

While previous productions delighted audiences with spectacle and magic deployed by the spirits who scare Ebenezer Scrooge into generosity, Keating’s version is much more generous with psychological insights. For instance, it opens with a peddler who introduces all the characters, including Ebenezer’s obnoxious father. Ebenezer, played by Dee Pellettier, skillfully reveals his gradual change. 

As a collector of antique buttons, and a member of the New Jersey State Button Society, I have been doing research on the history of button making and ran across what I believe to be a significant insight into Dickens’ childhood. In 1852, in his ”Household Words,” he described the Birmingham button factories: ‘range beyond range of machines—the punching, drilling, stamping machines, the polishing wheels, and all the bright and compact, and never-tiring apparatus which is so familiar a spectacle in Birmingham work-rooms. We see hundreds of women, scores of children, and a few men… Very young children gather up the cut circles. Little boys, ‘just out of the cradle,’ range the pasteboard circles, and pack them close, on edge, in boxes or trays; and girls, as young, arrange on a table the linen circles…”

Far from being outraged at this child labor, Dickens wholeheartedly approved. Compared to his own experience, the button making tots had it easy. After all, they were with their parents and worked only 10-12 hours a day.

In contrast, when Dickens was 12, his job (pictured above) was to paste labels on bootblack jars in vermin-infested smelly factory with long hours. Meanwhile his father was in debtors’ prison, accompanied by his mother, along with the younger children.

If naysayers object to Ebenezer being played by a woman, oh well. As Keating points out, gender differences were more accepted in Dickens time than in Victorian times. Dickens refers to “the cook and the cook’s special friend.”

If this version more openly preaches the moral of the story, so be it. That’s in the true spirit of Charles Dickens.

The ghost of Christmas Past begins to change Ebenezer in Lauren Keating’s version of “A Christmas Carol” at McCarter Theatre. Photo by Matt Pilsner.

Correction: earlier I listed the Dickens publication as “Household Matters.” Apparently it was “Household Words.”

A Palmer Square Saint

On All Saints Day I was remembering Mary Hultse, who left this earth in 2018 and left Princeton before that. In preparation for the All Saints Day service on November 6 at Princeton United Methodist Church, we were asked to think about who were the saints in our lives

The name “saint” implies perfect, but according to Derek Weber, who quotes Psalm 149 in his All Saint’s Day meditation for the Upper Room Disciplines book, “saints of God are those who accept the invitation to dance. A saint is someone who knows something of the joy of living, even in the hardest moments of life. A saint is someone who knows something of the exuberance of praise, even when tears fall like rain and sweat falls like great drops of blood.”

As a successful advertising executive at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Mary Hultse commuted to Princeton from an apartment on the Upper West Side, where she was a regular at Riverside Church. Then she bought a second apartment, a fourth-floor corner walkup on Palmer Square, so that she could look out over Princeton University and enjoy walking around town. She retired in 1990.

Mary had such joie de vivre – going dancing, loving beautiful art, anything Hungarian, and clothes. She told stories of escaping Hungary with gold coins sewn into the hem of her dress. With a passion for the arts – she loved to sing, act, and dance – she joined local theater groups and played Aunt Eller in “Oklahoma” at Washington Crossing. She was beloved by the staff at Richardson Auditorium, where she volunteered as an usher. Devoutly faithful, she enthusiastically participated in the life of Princeton United Methodist Church (PrincetonUMC) and was in charge of the Altar Guild. She reveled in her Hungarian heritage and loved the daughters of a Hungarian family as if they were her grandchildren.  

She was a trooper – not just in drama, but in stamina – even with arthritis and knee surgery, she trudged up four flights, 67 steps, to keep her view. She had Moxie, like the name of her former German shepherd.  She had faith and extreme hospitality.  But what we loved about Mary is that she helped us to be our Best Selves.

Everyone she met was perfect – beautiful, wonderful, perfect. When you think about Mary glowing with compliments — that’s the kind of love that Jesus offers. Unconditional love. Like at PrincetonUMC, when we say “You are enough because God is enough.”

The same qualities that made her a good executive – persistence, insistence – eventually evolved into just plain obstinance, masking depression and the beginning of dementia. When she began to fail, she refused to move away from her apartment. It was so hard to help her, because she would agree to something one day and refuse the next day. 

An ad-hoc care team of a dozen PrincetonUMC people did help her stay in that apartment. We alternated taking her places. One woman did her wash. Others brought her home for meals and took her shopping. Walking behind her, we pushed her up those stairs and fetched cappuccinos from the Palmer Square kiosk. We worked with Princeton Senior Resource Center. We worked with Palmer Square management and (surreptitiously) with her doctors. We worked with McCaffrey’s. (Wanting to be independent, she would go to McCaffrey’s on the bus but not be able to get home. They would call us to come pick her up and we would dispatch someone on the Mary Team.) A couple from the church put in endless hours to organize her finances and pay her taxes. Along with her Hungarian friends, we were her family.

In the end, we were the benefactors, because in helping Mary, we got to be the best we could be. We surprised ourselves. We found out how good it felt to act out our faith.

In his meditation Weber refers to the English carol Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day. “In his own voice and with his life, Jesus calls all to dance with joy for this gift of life eternal. . . On All Saints’ Day, we remember those whose dancing with their Lord has given us all hope. And we aspire to follow them in the music and dance Jesus is leading.”

Mary Hultse embodied the spirit of the eternal dance.

Embodied Faith: experience spirituality in a new way

I’m excited about this. You knew I would be. Annalise Hume begins a four-session “Embodied Faith” workshop on Monday, September 26 at 7:30 p.m. I’m inviting all my friends and movement buddies to attend — by zoom or in person. Here’s how Annalise describes what we’ll do.

Our bodies hold memories and store our stories. By paying attention to how we feel or want to move, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and God. Each week we will experience a passage of scripture or theological theme through a combination of prayer, movement, play, and journaling. If you yearn for a fresh way to experience God this year, come and play. No previous dance, yoga, or movement experience necessary.

ANYBODY can do this. “While the sessions are movement based, our brain-body connection is so strong that you are welcome to do the entire class in your imagination without moving at all. All abilities and disabilities are welcome.”
These four sessions are sponsored by Princeton United Methodist Church and any reader of Princeton Comment will be my guest. The sessions are every other Monday from 7:30-8:45pm by ZOOM or in person in the church’s Fellowship Hall at 7 Vandeventer in Princeton. Register here:

https://princetonumc.breezechms.com/form/1353a5

Affordable Housing? Explained

Affordable housing is complicated in every municipality, especially Princeton, where there both a nonprofit agency and a government agency are trying to do the right thing.. Now there’s controversy swirling around two proposed apartment developments near Princeton Shopping Center. Richard K. Rein makes sense out of this in an article in TAP Into Princeton.

Quoting his lede,

“It was a tale of two PILOT ordinances at Princeton Council’s August 22 meeting. There was a “good” PILOT, a tax arrangement by which Princeton would end up with 65 new units of affordable housing, tucked in with and no different from market rate units in new developments loaded with amenities. And there was an “evil” PILOT, a program that, as one prominent critic argued at the meeting, gives away the store to the developers and also ends up costing municipal taxpayers more than they initially perceive.

The clash of good and evil has the happy consequence of forcing us to enter the weeds of this increasingly popular financing arrangement.”

How to decide? When i’m confused, I vote with Leighton Newlin. Pictured above. He’s been around a l o n g, long time. He knows what’s what.

Making sense out of crazy parking conflicts

Confused about Princeton’s parking madness? I’m smilling at Rich Rein’s analysis, always cogent and often, as in this column, entertaining. For this astute deep dive into the controversy he calls, as witnesses, “some of the most dedicated apponents of permit parking” naming homeowners on Hawthorne Avenue, Library Place, and Princeton Avenue.

Even if you don’t know – and don’t care – about this problem, it’s fun to follow how Rein makes his point. “People with parking often don’t want neighbors to get it,” he says. Rein founded U.S. 1 Newspaper and now publishes at TAP Into Princeton. The article: After a Deep Dive into Parking Madness, We Emerge — Not Recovered But At Least Recovering

Read it here and be persuaded. Or at least informed — about your supposedly liberal neighbors.

This Policy Bit Back

Edward Tenner’s “Why Things Bite Back” investigates the unintended consequences of tech revolutions. Better football helmets encourage more violent play, antibiotics breed more dangerous bacteria, imported wildlife that overwhelms native species, and so on.

I wonder if Tenner would include standardized aptitude tests in his lexicon of bite-backs. I had heard that the Educational Testing Service — one of Princeton’s largest employers — has had to defend its mission and tactics on various fronts. But I had not heard this history of why the College Board wanted to develop the SAT. As published in Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac for today, June 17.

But the biggest proponents of intelligence testing were college officials who were concerned about the rapid influx of immigrants — especially Eastern European Jews — to their student body… These college officials believed that immigrants had less innate intelligence than old-blooded Americans and hoped that they would score lower on aptitude tests, which would give the schools an excuse to admit fewer of them.

How wrong they were.

I would like to get self righteous, but before I point a finger, I need to look at my own heritage. I need to admit that I inherited a very dark pot of prejudice. I’ve scrubbed it up, but I’m not the one who should call the kettle black.

Use stillness – or movement- to meditate?

I choose “move.”

Told by a shrink that I really really need to find a meditation class, I dabbled in various mindfulness techniques but never found one I could stick with. First, because I am Christian, and when they start talking about chakras, I get an uncomfortable feeling about polytheistic religions. I am fine with however anybody else wants to worship their God or gods, but I need to keep my own wandering and curious spirit reined in.

I choose “move.”

Second, I don’t do “Same.” Routines are supposed to be calming, I’ve been told, because you don’t have to make those minute by minute decisions. (Decision making is another of my weaknesses.)

Third, most meditation techniques emphasize quiet stillness. Since for all my 80 years I have probably had undiagnosed ADD, I have trouble sitting still.

Nevertheless, while I yearned to hear the still small voice of God, to experience the “still point of the turning world,” I remained mired in a “place of disaffection…distracted from distraction by distraction” [Burnt Norton, T.S. Eliot.]

Seven weeks ago, I found my answer. On weekdays at 7 AM and on Saturdays at 8 AM I zoomed for Wake-Up Meditations led by — amazingly — a member of my United Methodist church, who had been tapped to be the lay leader of the Adult Education Ministry Team. Claudio Lamsa Da Silva has studied a wide variety of meditation techniques.

 “In my twenties,” he says, “I explored different ways of practicing monasticism through the lens of various religions…. I explored Hinduism in ashrams in India, Buddhism in Nepal, Zen temples in Japan, and Sikhism through my wife.” In 2005, he served as a monk in Zen monasteries in Japan and after that walked the 900-mile Ohenro pilgrimage alone in complete silence. ” DaSilva employs all these concepts, and his ecumenical vocabulary accommodates all religions, but I can be personally comfortable praying to God the Parent, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

As for the formerly despised Routine, I am a changed woman. No longer a night owl with disrupted sleep patterns, I conk early, awakening at 6:15 (or 6:30) to stumble into the kitchen for the prescribed lemon water and lukewarm tea. After tuning in from 7 to 7:30, I am able to be, as we say, “present in my life” and have set my intention to govern the day. This IS what I need to do to age well.

Most valuable to me, the fidgety dancer, is the chance to emphasize a particular thought with movement and touch. Some is the same and some is different every day, Monday to Friday, because each day has a different focus. The movement is easier to do than describe. Anyone interested, I encourage you to take advantage of the free trial for Daily Wakeup Meditation, currently May 31 to Jun3 4 at 7 AM Eastern Standard Time. The daily classes are ordinarily $10 but half that price if you go by the month. Email Claudio@reconcilewithlife.com for information and the link.

If you do, you will join me and people from around the world without having to leave your house. In Da Silva’s words:  We explore together the dimensions of our being (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) and of our living (relationships with others and with life) through breathing exercises, contemplative meditation and adjusting movements. 

Photos from Reconcile With Life web page and Facebook page.

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The Day After

Brandice Canes-Wrone, whom I know as member of Princeton United Methodist Church, weighed in on the election in this podcast on the day after the election. A political scientist she is Director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics

Brandice asked, what happened with the polls, again? Traditional wisdom is that the polls reflect shy Trump voters. “In some parts, that’s true, but it’s not true in rural Pennsylvania – and other Trump strongholds.”

Collins has won Maine, and everyone thought that wouldn’t happen. But Trump loses statewide by huge percentage points. She cites other examples of split tickets, down ticket votes going to more traditional Republicans. “But that doesn’t mean they need to scrap reaching out to less well-off voters.”

Also scheduled for this panel were Michael Calderone, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Ali Valenzuela, Eddie Glaude Jr. and Keith Whittington

Prepping for November

Did I write this just so I could use this image of a protest poster? not really.

Of all who read this, SOMEBODY will be unhappy after the election, so I offer a link to a class in making protest posters, here, led by the Princeton University Art Museum on November 5.

Hopefully, it won’t be MY side needing to make the posters!

Meanwhile, the more overtly political department of Princeton University offers some prescient talks.

Here’s one on how Wall Street can be less heartless and more helpful, Wednesday, October 14.

And here’s a chance to hear how Isabelle Wilkerson, the author of Caste: the Origins of our Discontents, addresses white supremacy history, on Thursday, October 15.

And if you REALLY want to know what precipitated the great divide during the Trump era, attend on Monday, October 19.

I’m going to TRY to go to these, but my priority lies with dance classes and spiritual development. For dance, I recommend online classes at the Martin Center for Dance, where I take a class for older adults and a ‘dancey” exercise class with Mary Pat Robertson and Gabriella Proffitt. For spiritual development, I’m in small groups and studies at Princeton United Methodist Church. Because, after all, health and spiritual delight will carry us through whatever is going on in Washington.

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.