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.
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.
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.
Here’s my confession: I’m such a Dr. Ruth fan. A couple of decades ago, when I was scheduling an interview with her, she left a message on my phone mail that I kept for weeks, delighting in that throaty signature voice.
Here is Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s prescription for Covid positivity, published in the AARP newsletter. Memo to freelancers: she pitched her own story. It wasn’t the editors’ idea but they bought it. Memo to photographers and stylists: This is how to make an elder look good!
Wassail – the drink and the song – evokes pungent memories. At Christmas my Senior Girl Scout troop went caroling to the Baltimore County jail. Singing our way, “Here we come a wassailing.. Love and joy come to you…” through the cell blocks, we tried not to be daunted by what we didn’t want to see.
Yet wassail, as a festive drink, is a jubilant memory. My parents made it by the gallon jugs for our four-hour Christmas open house. Creating the base required simmering spices and sugar; later they added squeezed-by-hand juice and cider. I still have my father’s aluminum citrus squeezer.
Our house was small, so the nearly 100 guests came in waves – medical school colleagues from 1 to 3, friends of my sister and me from 2 to 4, and everybody else from 3 to 5.
Because the hot wassail was such a spicily unusual drink, the teen boys judged it “spiked” and claimed the bowl, ignoring the (delicately flavored with very good whisky) eggnog. Everyone looked forward to our Smithfield ham (an annual gift from a former med student) and cocktail shrimp (in the early ‘50s shrimp was not yet standard party fare).
At these parties I learned to love to entertain.
When my parents brought wassail to me at college, I learned how much parents will do to help their children. They brought not just one jug of wassail, but enough for more than a hundred people. With the modern dance group at Duke University, I had produced the first-ever multi-art Yule Fest. We danced to Christmas carols, accompanied by a medieval combo plus recitations by drama students. After the applause, dancers came down the aisles of the ‘theater in the round’ with glass cups of hot wassail for all.
Here is the Figge family wassail recipe in the small quantity (with medium and largest quantities in parentheses). My father’s notes say the largest quantity will be enough for 50 people (if you also have 3 gallons of eggnog!)
Boil 2 cups sugar (8 cups or 5 lbs.) in 2-cups water (8 cups or about 1½ gallons water) for 10 minutes. Add
6 cloves (24 or48)
1 stick cinnamon (4 or 8)
6 allspice or ¼ t ground (or 24- 48 allspice
1 T grated lemon rind (or 4 or 8 T)
1 T grated orange rind (or 4 or-8 T)
1 T chopped ginger (use your judgment for larger amounts)
Cover, stand 2 hours. Put in gallon jug, preferably glass. (At this point you can store the base, outside if it’s cold).
On the day of the party, strain it into a large kettle and add
1 1/2 cups orange juice (6 or 12 c) preferably fresh squeezed
3/4 cups lemon juice (3 or 6) preferably fresh squeezed
2 cups sweet cider (or 8 or 16)
Before you reheat and serve this, dilute with 2 quarts cider or water, by taste.
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
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.
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.
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 Churchlacked 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-stepgroups 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.
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:
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.
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?
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.