Category Archives: Faith and Social Justice

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

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.

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. 

 

‘Don’t let the failure of your imagination limit your ability to serve your customers’

close-up-person-cutting-cheese-with-knife-round-chopping-board_23-2148166558

My friend Hugo Campos, writes Susannah Fox, is originally from Brazil and taught me a lovely phrase in Portuguese about someone who holds all the cards, who seems to have all that they need to create change: “Está com a faca e o queijo na mão.” It means: He holds the cheese and the knife. This person has what they need to execute their vision. You want to be that person.

Details here. 

Image credit:
<a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/food”>Food photo created by freepik – http://www.freepik.com</a&gt;

 

Dear Abby: elders need to share family history

dear abbyDear Abby:

In your column today, “Not Interested” kvetches about his mother, “obsessed with family history and preserving attachments to relatives…her house is stuffed with furniture, books, legal documents, photos, and the like. Each has a story that goes with it.”

Instantly I identify with both of them, the young person who yearns to accomplish goals in the future, and the old person who wants to pass down her heritage (memories, objects, collections, pick one) to her descendants. I was that young person, dealing with a memory-preserving mother, and at age 79 I still share the lofty goal of :making a difference’  with the time I have left to me.  I am that old person, yearning rather desperately to leave ‘something of me’ behind.

Abby, your advice was practical but insufficient. You tell the son to find other relatives who might want the collection. You tell him not to make any promises he does not intend to keep.

As a former print journalist, I honor your word limitation. But you failed to acknowledge the deep almost desperate desire of elders to preserve their heritage. Perhaps later you can suggest ways for young people to help us do that. Videotape us telling our stories. Photograph our objects and make a book for us to keep. Set up storytelling sessions with our grandchildren. At the very least, be lovingly polite about our desperate need – as we face the end of our lives — to pass along a bit of ourselves.

And on the other side, we elders need someone to help us face the River Styx. Someone to remind us that, regardless of the objects that anyone keeps or does not keep, whatever we said or did in the past is what they will remember.

PS. Here’s a shout out to my sister, RosalieAnn Figge Beasley, and family genealogists everywhere. Those of us who don’t want to do that work now — we are likely to be grateful later.

 

 

 

Artist as Serene Warrior: Makoto Fujimura

MakotoFujimura_August2016_Photoby_AndrewHKim_resized-400x400
Makoto Fujimura. Photo by Andrew Kim

“Art helps you put your guard down. Artists are amazing warriors, says Kate Shin, owner of Waterfall Mansion and Gallery, in a video about Makoto Fujimura, an artist and an evangelical Christian who has a studio in Princeton. “The Holy Spirit was speaking through this painting.”

I was alerted to his work — why had I not heard of it before? — by an article in Pasadena Now that previewed a talk by Fujimura in a church setting. It had special meaning because June is when the Christian Church celebrates the Holy Spirit with Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday. It’s exciting to me that a Japanese artist links the message of Christ to a many-layered art form, Nihonga.

Nihonga involves pulverizing minerals to turn them into pigments, used in many layers, each taking a long time to dry. It is a slow process, and a spiritual one. In this inspiring video, Fujimura says:  “All of us are pulverized in some way as we are made beautiful…in experiences that challenge us. Beauty through brokenness that is captured in the surface of Nihonga.

Fujimura’s book, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Lifeissues “a call to cultural stewardship, in which we become generative and feed our culture’s soul with beauty, creativity, and generosity.” In 2017 he illustrated the Four Holy Gospels, honoring the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. Follow him on Facebook here. Read excerpts from his book Silence and Beauty here.

David Brooks, in a New York Times column, compares Nihonga to Kairos time, qualitative rather than quantitative. “When you’re with beauty, in art or in nature, you tend to move at Kairos time — slowly, serenely but thickly.” Slow and serene? That’s not how I am, it’s how I yearn to be.

 

Waking up to racism at reunions

 

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Beyond the beer bracelets and the colorful jackets, the organizers of Princeton Alumni Reunions have included some displays and events that explain the history of white supremacy — the political, economic, and cultural system that manipulates and pits all races and ethnicities against each other.

On view today at the Frist Campus Center is the photographic story of James Johnson.  This is a somewhat positive story about a formerly enslaved man who worked at the university, in various capacities including as an entrepreneur selling snacks, from 1843 to 1902. A Princeton woman paid to keep from having him returned to his former owner. (He repaid the debt).

PTI

Until 5 p.m. today, on the south lawn of East Pyne Hall,  experience a solitary confinement cell in an exhibit organized by the New Jim Crow of Trenton and Princeton. This exhibit, also, has a positive spin. It is co-sponsored by the Class of 1994 and the admirable Prison Teaching Initiative (PTI).  PTI offers a panel on Friday, May 31, at 2:30 p.m. in the Andlinger Center. 

PUAMOSE_30941In the Art Museum, now and until July 7, resonate with the problems of immigrants at the border in an exhibit: Miracles at the Border, 

 

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You may have noticed odd stones in the sidewalk on campus. They are part of the (In)Visible Princeton Walking Tours, five self-guided tours on your cell phone covering the experience of minorities (African-Americans, Women, and Asian-Americans) as well as standard Tiger traditions. Download and take any tour anytime.

Back by popular demand are the “performance theater” Race and Protest tours. When I took one last year there was some confusion, among those who signed up, about the format. The theater artists tell location-based stories. If you read this TODAY, May 31, meet at the Art Museum for an hour-long tour at 10:30 a.m. or 4:30 a.m. It’s well worth going. Or read about my experience here. 

And – if you are a townie – join Not in Our Town Princeton at the Princeton Public Library on Monday, June 3 at 7 p.m. for Continuing Conversations on Racism. At these monthly sessions you can learn about – through discussion with others — what white supremacy really means.

 

Equity in Princeton? Find out Wednesday

ppsA public forum to assess progress in implementing the recommendations of the 2018 Equity Audit Report for the Princeton Public Schools will be held on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 at 4 pm in the John Witherspoon Middle School (217 Walnut Lane, Princeton), in the All-Purpose Room (ACC).

The event is organized by the Youth Advisers of Not in Our Town Princeton, the local anti-racism organization, in partnership with the Princeton Public Schools. With the participation of school administrators, teachers from the schools’ equity teams, members of the Civil Rights Commission, and Board of Education, the forum aims to assess progress made in implementing the recommendations of the Equity Audit Report issued in 2018 and will include both pre-submitted questions from students and questions from the audience.

“We really wanted students and community members to hear about the progress that the district has made around equity from the people who have been doing the hands-on work to try to move the schools forward. They are the ones who can truly speak to where the district has grown in terms of working on equity and where it still needs to improve,” said Raisa Rubin-Stankiewicz, one of the forum organizers. “We have really appreciated the commitment and willingness of the district to helping us coordinate this discussion.”

Introducing the report by Marceline DuBose, the educational equity consultant who conducted the audit during the 2017-18 school year, Superintendent Steve Cochrane wrote, “Equity is the most essential goal of the Princeton Public School District. . . . The work ahead of us to diversify our curriculum, diversify our staff, overcome bias, and foster inclusion is not easy or quick.”  How far the district has come in one year is what the forum organizers hope to determine.

Says Rubin-Stankiewicz: This event is free to the public so please come out and share your thoughts on the one-year progress of educational equity at PPS !