Category Archives: Faith and Social Justice

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

Black History Month: Bermuda

Cobbs Hill Methodist Church: 

“This one room place of worship was built block by block by the slaves and the free blacks, and completed in 1827 after two years of rigorous work. Bermuda stones were used from the local quarries to build the church. Most of the work was done during their free time at night. “

In contrast

At St. Peter’s Church

Free or enslaved blacks COULD worship with the Episcopalians (they drove the carriages of their owners?) but were in the balcony at the oldest continually used Anglican church in the western hemisphere: 

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At St. Peter’s church, blacks could worship in the gallery where the organ now is. Photo provided by the church.

 Both are on the African Diaspora Heritage Trail  

Both will be filled with worshippers this Sunday. 

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In lieu of a card

 

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My Christmas Card: before dawn, Rochester New York

I probably won’t get around to answering your cards this year, again. Sometimes I have sent New Year’s cards. Or Valentines. Or St. Patrick’s Day cards. 

Instead, here is a list of resources that are helping me face 2019.

At Princeton United Methodist Church, we have embarked on a series called Relationships and Faith, based in part on materials from the Arbinger Institute. to  learn the difference between an Inward Mindset and an Outward Mindset. Pastor Jenny Smith Walz is undertaking the important and difficult task — to talk about difficult questions of gender and race within the church. Her challenging sermon series, titled “The Beloved Community,”  begins this month, focusing on “What God wants for God’s people.”  The ongoing study has workbooks available in the church office. Also here is a link to one of the Arbinger books,

I am also led to discover, and embrace, the work of Julia Cameron. Known for founding  The Artist’s Way, Cameron recommends — nay, requires — those pursuing creativity to write “Morning Pages,” three pages written in the morning, first thing, to clear the addlement from one’s brain. I found my first Cameron book in one of those “free libraries” on the street in DC in October, and it has taken me this long to convince myself it might work.

For the evening, I am trying to use a journaling system called Vertellis Chapters,  This “mix of mindfulness and stoicism practices” is a Netherlands-based journaling system (the Dutch are so smart!) and I found it at my favorite shopping spot – online.

Then, my old favorite, is the Upper Room Disciplines. a book of daily devotions based on the lectionary — the Bible passages read throughout the Christian church. So often, that commentary, that scripture, speaks to a current sadness or gladness of the day. My small group at PrincetonUMC, the Monday Morning Group, uses these readings for informal study.

Am I reading these, writing these, studying these consistently every day? No. 

George was a habit-driven person and I am the exact opposite. He did exercises daily without fail. When it comes to doing exercises daily, I mostly fail. 

But I am trying to create these habits. And I feel led to share them with whoever is out there, just as Jenny, Ginny, Gerri, Aimee, Anthony, Ineke, Judi, Mary Lib, Pat, Deborah, Susannah and so so many more have shared their inspirations with me.  

 

 

 

Executive male or black teen?

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Graph of MIT survey courtesy of NZHerald

Princeton engineering professor Alain Kornhauser might seem to dominate discussions of driverless cars; he’s making them and leading the dialogue on their controversies.

Now Princeton prof and Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman has been linked to the ethics of how driverless cars make their decisions about who to hit – cats or people? pregnant women or old man? In this article, Kahneman is cited re his experiment on the psychology of health decisions that extrapolates to the choices that driverless cars will make.

Quoting the Washington Post and NZ Herald (note the British spellings!)

The way questions are framed can often have an impact on the final decision that’s made. The behavioural scientist Daniel Kahneman illustrated this through a thought experiment in which the outbreak of an unusual disease was expected to kill 600 people.

Respondents, in this case, were offered two potential health programmes. In programme A, subjects were told they had a 100 per cent chance of saving 200 lives. Programme B offered a one-third chance of saving 600 lives and two-thirds possibility of saving no lives.

In this scenario, most people went for programme A – the guarantee of saving 200 lives.

However, when Kahneman switched the scenario to lives lost rather than lives saved, the choice respondents made was completely different.

When they were asked to choose between the 100 per cent chance of the death of 400 people or programme B (which remained unchanged), most respondents opted for the latter despite the fact that programme A was unchanged in both scenarios.

What Kahneman illustrated was that moral decisions can be swayed by the way in which the questioning is phrased.

Kahneman doesn’t decide. He illustrates the complexity of the decision. What I am asking? Will driverless cars “see” race? 

Princeton Cop: in Dallas, Doing WHAT?

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Photo by Carli Geraci, Dallas Morning News

You could take this as another example of how the whimsical statues of Seward Johnson can amuse passersby all over the world.

The work of the 88-year-old sculptor, J&J heir, and founder of Grounds for Sculpture is scattered all over Princeton. At Princeton hospital, the figures of the caregiver tending the little old lady always give me a start, no matter how many times I’ve encountered them.

In 1983, using a Princeton police officer as a model, Johnson fashioned a statue of a nearly six-foot cop writing a parking ticket. Titled “Time’s Up,” it is one of seven castings, and it was installed at a Dallas shopping center, Central Market, by Lincoln Property Company.

How cute, you might say, especially since another whimsical touch, the eggplant, is nearby.

But since social justice is one of my concerns, I think there could be another motive. If you were an undocumented person — down there in Texas country — how would you react?

Is this just an update of Confederate statues meant to intimidate?

Thanks to Brendan Meyer for the light-hearted reporting, and the amusing details are here. The paranoid insinuations are mine.

(Aside to Princeton residents, don’t worry about current cops issuing parking tickets until after Christmas or even January. According to my ‘reliable sources,’ because of the confusing new system,’ the meter cops are issuing only warnings. But don’t tell the tourists — we need the revenue.) 

 

From England to Princeton to Saint Louis: William Morris

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“Mrs. Siddons from the series ‘The Economy of Grace'” and detail image of Blackthorn-inspired wallpaper Photographs by Monica Bowen.

Since I learned that the design for Princeton United Methodist Church, built in 1909, has its roots in William Morris’s Arts and Crafts Movement, I have been trying to learn more about it,  And my friend, Mary Pat Robertson, enlivens my research by posting Instagram pictures from England.

Now I find that Barack Obama’s portrait artist, Kehinda Wiley, is also influenced by William Morris, as described here by critic Monica Bowen, courtesy Nancy Marshall’s post on the Arts and Crafts Movement Facebook page.  

Wiley came to the streets of Saint Louis and Ferguson and painted 11 original portraits of people that he met. From the website of the Saint Louis Art Museum:  Kehinde Wiley creates large-scale oil paintings of contemporary African American subjects in poses that recall grand traditions of European and American portraiture. His models—real people dressed in their own clothing—assume poses adapted from historic paintings. Wiley’s portraits often feature ornate and decorative backgrounds, elements of which surround and sometimes weave around his subjects. His works address the politics of race and power in art, drawing attention to the pervasive lack of representation of people of color in the art world. The exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum continues through February 19, 2018 and admission is free.

So two of my passions – Princeton UMC’s architecture and stained glass windows and the study of African American culture, based on experiences with Not in Our Town Princeton –– now intersect.

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Carvings on the oak pews; At Princeton United Methodist Church, with roots in the Arts and Crafts Movement, attention was paid to every detail.

Freddish: How to talk to children

In this Atlantic article we learn how Fred Rogers took such great care in choosing words to talk to preschoolers. fred rogers

Author Maxwell King lists the nine rules of Neighborhood language, which he calls “Freddish.” And comments

Rogers once halted taping of a show when a cast member told the puppet Henrietta Pussycat not to cry; he interrupted shooting to make it clear that his show would never suggest to children that they not cry.

 

Princeton: Not a level playing field

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Here is an interactive map.

Zero in on the Princeton zip code and one finds that  black children growing up poor in Princeton are expected to make $27,000 a year when they are adults, and Hispanic children can expect to make $25,000 a year. But white children can expect to make from $34,000 to $50,000 per year.

“Research has shown that where children live matters deeply in whether they prosper as adults. On Monday the Census Bureau, in collaboration with researchers at Harvard and Brown, published nationwide data that will make it possible to pinpoint — down to the census tract, a level relevant to individual families — where children of all backgrounds have the best shot at getting ahead.” This article by Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui was published in the New York Times on October 1, 2018, and sourced from The Weekend Reader. 

 

Gossip’s Guide: What to see in 20 minutes?

Antonio Salemme's Paul Robeson
Antonio Salemme;s Paul Robeson

 

Conversing with a reference librarian at the Princeton Public Library, I learned that visitors sometimes ask: “What can I do in an hour before I leave for the airport?”

With my Gossip’s Guide hat on – I suggest: 

In 20 minutes, more or less

The Quick Paul Robeson Tour: Check out the Robeson bust by Antonio Salemme in the Princeton Room on the second floor of the library. Walk past the Arts Council of Princeton’s Robeson bust (this site formerly belonged to the Colored YMCA) to the Paul Robeson house and Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, where his father preached. (Both visible only from the outside).

the Norman Rockwell “Yankee Doodle” painting at the Nassau Inn Tap Room (reminding the patron that it is NOT a colonial era building!). Check out the alumni headshots. If you have time, a free place to sit is the upstairs lounge, by the fireplace.

Princeton Cemetery. Available at the entrance is a new brochure. 

Tiger Walk:  Stroll from the tiger in Palmer Square and the tigers at the entrance to Nassau Hall. Keep going and you will find more.

The Comparative Architecture Tour: Enjoy the interior of the Princeton Public Library, a Taj Mahal of libraries, designed by the Hillier firm. Diagonally across, the work of postmodern architect Michael Graves. Contemplate the differences. Then check out the interior of the Arts Council and the current exhibit.

Dohm Alley: a startling array of thoughts and objects in a small narrow space. Plus, there’s a water feature good for contemplating, and it’s right down the street from the town’s college bookstore (never miss a chance to enjoy a college bookstore.)

In 30-40 minutes

A quick Einstein tour — the Einstein museum in the back of Landau’s plus the Einstein bust at the corner of 206 and Nassau Street, great photo op. (The house is too far to walk in a hurry, but I tell people to drive and park on Edgehill.) 

Morven, now made relevant by truthful and inclusive exhibits that tell the stories of female occupants and slaves.

Prospect Gardens, always attractive in any season.

Cotsen Children’s Library inside Firestone Library

Princeton University Chapel, always open and it has a brochure about the windows

Tiffany Window Tour at Princeton United Methodist Church on Fridays and Sundays noon-2.

Quick sculpture tour 1: Circle of Animals by Ai Weiwei and Picassso’s Head of a Woman, down by the former Dinky Station.

Quick sculpture tour 2: The Plaza in front of the chapel: statue of John Witherspoon, Song of the Vowels by Lipschitz, and (just inside the University Library, and open to the public) Noguchi’s White Sun. Throw in Oval with Points if you are walking that way.

This tour works if a Princeton native can direct the visitor. Later I may have time to add the links. What would YOU recommend?

 

Race and Protest at Princeton and in Trenton

IMGP2677Welcome to the 54th reunion for Princeton’s Class of ’64! Not the “regular” class. Instead, we’re convening at the reunion for a special summer program for disadvantaged high school kids from the city. Its most well-known graduate – Harlan Bruce Joseph. Like most at the beginning of this tour, I had no idea who he was or what his fate would be.

Today (5-31-18) Kyle Berlin (Valedictorian for the class of 2018) and Milan Eldridge (Class of 2020) led three dozen people – townies and alumni — in a  performance walk “Walking Histories: Race and Protest at Princeton and in Trenton,” one of five different tours offered by the Trenton Project.  At this writing, three performances remain, all starting at Princeton University Art Museum. If you read this in time they are – all different —

Friday, June 1 at 10 a.m. Performed by Berlin and Eldridge, written by Berlin and Anna Kimmel.

Friday, June 1 at 11 a.m. Written and performed by Ben Bollinger: “Whites turn around to see a Negro dressed in Ivy clothes and carrying a bag marked “Princeton.”

Saturday, June 2, at 10 a.m. Written and performed by Maria Jerez: A life of Javier Johnson White.”

If not catch the Picturing Protest exhibition at the Art Museum, on view for the next five months. Or on first Mondays at 7 pm at Princeton Public Library, come to Not in Our Town Princeton’s Continuing Conversations on Race and White Privilege. On June 4, you will hear and discuss how racial literacy is taught at Princeton High School.

Alison Isenberg and Aaron Landsman  supervised this project; Landsman coached the students in the dramaturgy of how to tell this story like a play. The first stop: Spelman Apartments, named after Laura Spelman Rockefeller, a philanthropist and abolitionist whose dollars funded the first trial of the summer program for high schoolers said to have had “little hope for college.”IMGP2671

Next stop: the Lewis Center, near where Joseph would have arrived on the Dinky train, from Trenton. Contrast: the Lewis Center cost $180 million. Trenton is trying to build an arts center with $80,000. (Rich Rein quotes Berlin in his cover story in U.S. 1 this week, and here is the Berlin oped complete.

Continuing the ironic comparisons, Berlin stops at Whitman College (actually named after Meg but, for this tour, credited to poet Walt), and we learn that it cost $136 million to build, almost six times more than the city of Trenton’s annual budget. It was designed in ‘fake Gothic,” says Berlin, appropriate, he says, since eBay dotes on nostalgia.IMGP2672

At the next stop we learn, for this tour, that the building labeled Wilson College should really be named after Preston Wilcox, a social scientist and human rights activist who advocated for black history studies.IMGP2674

We leave the summer of 1964 and move to the spring of 1968 and the unrest after the King assassination. At this point Joseph is a sophomore at Lincoln University preparing to go to seminary. The police shot Joseph as a looter but all those who knew him deny that he would have done that. He was the only person who died in those riots.  We hear from the eulogy by beloved pastor G. Carter Woodson: “We are responsible for the conditions that allow riots to take place.”

More memories:

The boys of that 1964 summer were turned away from a Princeton barbershop. They wrote a letter to Town Topics in protest.

In their class they debated about that summer’s police brutality in Harlem. .

We share Joseph’s letter about his aspirations to be a minister. The letter was printed on cards, and we passed them around, reading it sentence by sentence: “I have the foundation and tools to be an effective minister, and I strive to help those who are discriminated against…Keep on trying. In every group there will be some listening to what you are saying.”

Was Harlan Bruce Joseph a looter? Or a dreamer?   We are asked to imagine that his statue has been erected “over there.”

 

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Calling White Evangelicals to Stand Against Racism

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Ten days before the national observance of the Stand Against Racism day, a leader of evangelical Christians sent a wakeup call to conservative Christians everywhere: Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary addressed  leaders gathered at Wheaton College (Illinois). In multi-faceted, far-reaching remarks, he defined white supremacy and attributed it to Christian leaders past and current.  

To get details on YWCA Princeton’s plans for Stand Against Racism day, click here. 

To read his address, “Political Dealing, the Crisis of Evangelicalism,”  click here.  Main points: 

This is not a crisis imposed from outside the household of faith, but from within.

This is not a crisis taking place at the level of language.

This is not a crisis unfolding at the level of group allegiance, denomination, or affiliation.

This is not a recent crisis but a historic one. . .”Right alongside the rich history of gospel faithfulness that evangelicalism has affirmed, there lies a destructive complicity with dominant cultural and racial power. Despite deep gospel confidence and rhetoric, evangelicalism has been long-wedded to a devastating social self-interest that defends the dominant culture over and against that of the gospel’s command to love the “other” as ourselves. . .

First is the issue of power.  …”The apparent evangelical alignment with the use of power that seeks dominance, control, supremacy, and victory over compassion and justice associates Jesus with the strategies of Caesar, not with the good news of the gospel.,,

Second is the issue of race. …”White history narrates the story of America’s heroes, and white evangelical history views those “good guys” as the providence of a good and faithful God.  When some white evangelicals triumphantly pronounce that we now have “the best president the religious right ever had,” the crisis it underscores to millions of people of color is not an indictment of our President as much as it is an indictment of white evangelicalism and a racist gospel…

Third is the issue of nationalism. …”For white evangelicals to embrace a platform and advocacy that promotes, prioritizes, and defends America above all and over all is to embrace an idolatry that has only ever proven disastrous…

Fourth is the issue of economics.  …”When white evangelicals in prominent and wealthy places speak about what is fair and beneficial for society, but then pass laws and tax changes that create more national indebtedness and elevate the top 1% even higher—while cutting services and provisions for children, the disabled, and the poor that are castigated as disgusting “entitlements”—one has to ask how this is reconciled with being followers of Jesus…

Labberton hopes that evangelicals can change their racist views and cites Matthew 28, the account of the Great Commission. “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Labberton points out that Jesus gave the Great Commission even to those who doubted, those who might have been considered unworthy. “So perhaps he can also still use American evangelicals as well.”

Though I  personally focus on trying to help the people of this world come to know their God better — and some say that is evangelizing — I oppose the rigid beliefs of evangelical theology. Nevertheless I applaud Labberton’s urging the conservative Christian community to study its responsibility for white supremacy, definable as “a system which manipulates and pits all races and ethnicities against each other.”

The organization I support, Not in Our Town Princeton, aims to identify and expose the political, economic, and cultural systems which have enabled white supremacy to flourish. We are trying to create new structures and policies which will ensure equity and inclusion for all.  

As NIOT Princeton’s website says, “listen to your heart, figure out whether you can contribute time, talent, tithe, or some combination of all three, and then STEP UP! And tell all your friends how your commitment to racial justice is reflected in your calendar, your checkbook, and your conversations. The website offers resources, one place to begin. 

Or come to the rally this Friday.