Miracles Man: Motown icon Robinson to close out 2021 Chautauqua season



Smokey Robinson

The final mainstage performer of Chautauqua’s 2021 season really needs no introduction.

Legendary singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson, once pronounced by Bob Dylan as America’s greatest living poet, returns to the Institution to perform at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater. The show requires a separate ticket purchase by all attendees; tickets are available at and any ticketing location.

Robinson’s career spans more than five decades, starting with Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. Their hit “Shop Around” was Motown Records’ first No. 1 hit on the R&B singles chart. The list of Robinson-penned classics is endless: “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Tears of a Clown,” “I Second That Emotion” and, of course, “My Girl,” made famous by The Temptations.

“When you hear any one of my songs by another (Motown) artist, I’d written those songs specifically for them,” Robinson told George Varga of The San Diego Union-Tribune. “I didn’t stockpile songs and say: ‘This will work for me.’ ”

If it wasn’t for The Temptations, Robinson said, he probably never would have had a career at Motown, where he eventually went on to be vice president, serving as in-house producer, talent scout and songwriter. “My Girl” has become an “international anthem” at Robinson’s concerts.

His list of honors is nearly as long as his song catalogue — he’s received the Grammy Living Legend Award, the NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award, the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts from the President of the United States. 

And, of course, he’s been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, as well as the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in his hometown, Detroit.

All told, Robinson has more than 4,000 songs to his credit, and now he’s back on the road this month for the first time since early 2020. He kept busy during lockdown, continuing to write new songs, recording and contributing to the script for a feature film about his life. But all that work was put on pause when he spent 11 days in a hospital, in intensive care, after contracting COVID-19 in December 2020.

“It wiped me out,” Robinson told Varga. “It was touch and go.”

COVID-19 “messed with my vocal cords,” Robinson said, but now recovered and resuming touring feels good, and meaningful.

“Everything means more to me now,” he told Varga.

Robinson to close with message of Chautauqua’s unique role in the world



The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson

When the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson preached at the closing worship service for 2020, he said, “We are not going to emerge from the pandemic until we understand what we are supposed to learn during such a time as this.” Given the pandemic, the injustice of the justice system and the climate heading in the wrong direction, Chautauqua had to wrestle with how to not let go until blessed by God.

Chautauqua found a way through the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, a new way for Chautauqua to spread its wings and its message. 

“Chautauqua is part of wrestling with how to answer the question: What does the world need more than ever? Unlike Davos, TED Talks or Aspen, we are not afraid to find God in all the wrestling. We are meant to renew our commitment to our mission and have the courage to have conversations that matter, and provide hope to a fearful, chaotic world,” Robinson said in the closing service. 

The Department of Religion wrestled with all they learned last year while developing the worship services and lecture series for the 2021 season. Speaking about the 2021 season, Robinson said, “It’s been a great season for the Department of Religion. A steady stream of thoughtful, lively and inspired preachers. And what we lost in a slightly pared-back series of lectures, we more than made up for in quality. Maureen (Rovegno) and I could not be more pleased with our 2021 season.”

Robinson, vice president of religion and senior pastor, will preach at the final 10:45 a.m. Sunday ecumenical worship service with sermon. His sermon title is “Are We More than a Theme Park?” The Scripture reading is Matthew 25:31-46. Rovegno, director of religion, will serve as liturgist. Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill will read the Scripture.

Robinson was elected Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire on June 7, 2003, becoming the first openly gay and partnered priest to be elected Bishop in historic Christendom. He served as IX Bishop of New Hampshire until his retirement in early 2013. A senior fellow at both the Center for American Progress and Auburn Seminary, Robinson is a celebrated interfaith leader whose ministry has focused on helping congregations and clergy, especially in times of conflict, utilizing his skills in congregational dynamics, conflict resolution and mediation. He is the author of In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God and God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage. In 2009, at the invitation of President Barack Obama, Robinson prayed the invocation at the Opening Inaugural Event at the Lincoln Memorial.

Stafford, Robinson reflect on 2021 season, look ahead to final Sacred Song Service, 2022



Joshua Stafford leads sacred song during evening service on Sunday August 22, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Josh Stafford entered the 2021 Chautauqua season excited, but hesitant. With COVID-19 regulations seemingly changing every day, Stafford wasn’t sure what his first in-person year as the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and director of sacred music would look like practically until the season started.

“It’s been wonderful to settle into a rhythm and have everything go so well this year,” he said.

Reflecting on this year, Stafford said he worked nearly nonstop all summer. 

“I had always known this was a big job, and it never really stopped, but I don’t think I was quite prepared for the pace of the season,” he said. “It really is relentless in a wonderful way.”

The pace will finally relent after this Sunday’s 8 p.m. Sacred Song Service in the Amphitheater. 

As with every Sacred Song, “Day is Dying in the West” and “Largo” on the organ are featured songs, Stafford said. For anthems, he has selected “For the Beauty of the Earth” by John Rutter, “The House of Faith has Many Rooms,” by Craig Phillips and “Alleluia,” by Randall Thompson.

“I’m hoping to provide an uplifting and cheerful end to a wonderful season,” he said.

Stafford experienced worship in the Amp six days each week. He said it was wonderful working with the Motet Choir.

“It’s been a treat working with a group of singers who are mostly professional musicians in their day-to-day lives,” he said.

Regarding the 5,640-pipe Massey Memorial Organ, Stafford said it sounded better than it has in years. 

Vice President of Religion and Senior Pastor the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson only had exemplary words for Stafford, saying he could not be more pleased with how Stafford’s performed this year.

“Nobody can quarrel with his ability to play,” Robinson said. “I’d put him up against anybody at any age with any amount of experience. He is just a brilliant musician.” 

Robinson said it’s clear the choir loves working for him.

“They rehearse seriously, and they give him their all,” he said. “That is a lot of them, of course, it’s also a lot of Josh. I think he inspires that in people.”

Stafford is a dynamic musician, playing a concerto one day and improvising a silent movie the next, something Robinson said most people wouldn’t dare attempt or have the skillset to attempt. Robinson was also impressed with people’s reactions to the silent movies.

Joshua Stafford, Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist; Director of Sacred Music, leads sacred song during evening service on Sunday August 22, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“People were laughing, and nobody was leaving,” he said.

For Sunday and weekday services, Stafford does not choose the music until he knows the scripture lesson and the sermon title. 

“He can find a text that so goes with the sermon, you’d think the preacher wrote it,” Robinson said. “It’s an astounding thing. Our preachers have all noticed, they’re all like, ‘Who chose this music? It is perfect!’ It’s Josh.”

In addition to the almost-daily sermons, Robinson said this might be the best group of preachers he’s seen since being at Chautauqua. 

“I’ve had more positive feedback about the preachers than I can ever remember getting,” he said.

Each one wrote a separate liturgy, something new for Chautauqua, he said. No two services repeated, while previous years saw three weeks of services repeated twice more, so each one of the services was done three times, he said. 

Due to the pandemic, Robinson said no worship booklets were used this year, instead displaying hymns on the screens. 

“For the most part, people have really liked that, and as a person up front it is nice to have people looking straight ahead or upwards and singing, as opposed to looking down into their book and singing into their book,” he said. “It just sounds better.”

The smaller choir was also a necessary change, he said, but he was amazed by the volume of music they did.

This Sunday, Robinson will be the preacher.

“That always adds a bit of drama to my life, because how do you sum up a season?” he said. 

He has an answer, though. His sermon, titled “Are We More Than a Theme Park?” will challenge people and offer a meaningful end to the summer, he said.

“Are we just here to be intellectually entertained, or is there more to it than that?” he said. “Do we hope for something more than that? What is that, and what does it look like?”

Turning back to Stafford, Robinson is proud to have him on staff, and feels it might be his best decision in his four years at Chautauqua. 

For Stafford, it’s been a dream come true, though he said it wasn’t the way he expected to get the job, following the sudden death of Chautauqua’s previous organist, Jared Jacobsen, on Aug. 27, 2019.

“This is a job I have dreamed of having since I was a kid,” he said.

Looking ahead to next year, Stafford is hopeful for a choir at least doubled in size, bringing organ recitals back to the Amp and having the organ heard at the Hall of Christ again. He also hopes to bring in an organ scholar to pass the knowledge and experience of Chautauqua to the next generation, he said. 

In the immediate future, Stafford said he is looking forward to resting after the season ends. He’ll return to his other job in Jacksonville, Florida, another relatively new position for him. For this year, it’s proven to be everything he hoped for, he said.

“I’m so excited to be here and be a part of Chautauqua and so thankful for the warm welcome I’ve received from almost everyone this summer,” he said. “It’s been really wonderful.”

Reaching new heights: Internationally renowned Parsons Dance brings joy-filled performance to Amphitheater

Parsons Dance takes the stage Monday in the Amphitheater to present a preview of “THE ROAD,” which is set to premiere this November.
Parsons Dance performs their final piece of the night, “Nascimento.”
Parsons Dance performs their final piece of the night, “Nascimento.”
Members of Parsons Dance take a final bow at the conclusion of their performance Monday in the Amp — the closing dance event of the 2021 season.

A taste of tradition: 2021 Culinary Week

The Thule Adult Swedish Folk Dance Team dances with music played by Svenska Spelman under the Culinary Week tent Tuesday in Miller Park. The Scandinavian Festival, usually held annually in nearby Jamestown but canceled for the past two years, was held as a one-day pop-up at Chautauqua both as a fundraiser for festival organizers and to showcase the cultural offerings of the Institution’s home region. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER


  • Patrons sample the offerings at the Scandinavian Festival at CHQ Pop-up Tuesday in Miller Park, marking the beginning of Chautauqua Institution’s Culinary Week 2021. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Patrons sample the offerings at the Scandinavian Festival at CHQ Pop-up Tuesday in Miller Park, marking the beginning of Chautauqua Institution’s Culinary Week 2021. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Patrons sample the offerings at the Scandinavian Festival at CHQ Pop-up Tuesday in Miller Park, marking the beginning of Chautauqua Institution’s Culinary Week 2021. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Patrons sample the offerings at the Scandinavian Festival at CHQ Pop-up Tuesday in Miller Park, marking the beginning of Chautauqua Institution’s Culinary Week 2021. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Patrons sample the offerings at the Scandinavian Festival at CHQ Pop-up Tuesday in Miller Park, marking the beginning of Chautauqua Institution’s Culinary Week 2021. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • The Thule Adult Swedish Folk Dance Team dances with music played by Svenska Spelman under the Culinary Week tent Tuesday in Miller Park. The Scandinavian Festival, usually held annually in nearby Jamestown but canceled for the past two years, was held as a one-day pop-up at Chautauqua both as a fundraiser for festival organizers and to showcase the cultural offerings of the Institution’s home region. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • The Italian Heritage Dancers perform along the brick walk in Miller Park. The Italian Festival — known in Italian as Festa di San Giacomo — was the second local festival that hasn’t operated in two years to be showcased as part of Chautauqua Institution’s Culinary Week 2022. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Italian sausages are charred on the grill during festival. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Sicily Stainbrook, 4, dances with her mother Kristina Stainbrook as her grandmother Grace Streed, left, looks on during the St. James Italian Festival at CHQ Pop-up Wednesday. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Final 2021 Letter from the President



President Michael E. Hill is joined on the front steps of the President’s Cottage by 5s from Children’s School’s Blue and Yellow Rooms.

Each week I have the privilege of writing a letter to the Chautauqua community exploring what we’ve just experienced and what’s to come as we progress through our Summer Assembly. As we close out each summer together, I have two opportunities to reflect with one: the closing Three Taps of the Gavel address and one last column. I’ll save most of my thoughts for Three Taps (no, not the eatery and gathering space you’ve come to enjoy — the speech)!  

Today, I want to share with you far wiser words than those I might pen. Each summer of my presidency, I have invited young people from Children’s School to the President’s Cottage to share their thoughts on the future of Chautauqua. I have one of their letters framed in my Washington, D.C. office — it takes up a seven-foot-tall pillar. These youngest Chautauquans annually deliver to me what I call the “Children’s 95 Theses.” In their words I see the hopes and dreams of not only today’s Chautauqua, but the Chautauqua of tomorrow.   

For my closing column to you, I share their words, which contain the passion, joy and longing for all we’ve experienced and all we hope to experience. I thank them for their annual reminder of the best in human values. I thank them for grounding me in my promise to be a servant leader for this sacred place. I see in their eyes all the reasons to push forward — even through a global pandemic — to make sure Chautauqua endures. 

Thank you for a great summer. I hope to see you in the Amp for Three Taps (or online if you cannot be with us). To quote these little ones: “We love Chautauqua! And don’t worry, we’re coming back next year … YOU BET!” 

Dear President Hill, 

Thank you for taking the time to meet with your 2021 Children’s School Advisory Board, made up of the 5-year-olds of the Blue and Yellow Rooms. We understand that you’ve had a lot going on in the past couple years and that life during a pandemic is still a bit crazy. With all that in mind, we thought we would carry on the tradition of offering a few revitalizing recommendations, as well as reminders of why this place is so special. We love Chautauqua and are so proud that we can help you make it even more wonderful! 

A few things we love about Chautauqua are …  

  • Being here with our families (especially the ones we haven’t seen!) 
  • The Bell Tower and bats
  • Riding the bus
  • Beaches and boats
  • Riding our bike
  • Playgrounds
  • Reuniting with old friends and making new ones
  • And of course … Children’s School!

Here are some ideas for potential improvements: 

  • More dirt so we can plant more flowers
  • Build a giant playground with a petting zoo
  • Add more trees so people can breathe better
  • Another bookstore with toys, too
  • Boating lessons for kids
  • More children’s books at the library
  • Fewer cars (so we can bike and play safely)
  • Throw Chautauqua an even BIGGER birthday party
  • Even more trees so we can have more books!
  • (Maybe we should make a tree zoo?)

We understand that these may be a bit beyond what you can do, but just in case, we’d like: 

  • To make all the bad people nice
  • Help the homeless
  • Donate toys to kids in the hospital
  • No more pandemics, please
  • Children’s School all year long!

It’s been a long year, and some of us didn’t have the chance to be here last year. While this made us sad, we are so grateful to be here with family and friends, all safe and happy. Let us know if there is anything we can do to help make your job a little easier. Thank you and your staff for all your hard work that allowed us to be here again.

We love Chautauqua! And don’t worry, we’re coming back next year … YOU BET!

U.S. Army Field Band & Soldiers’ Chorus return to Amp

Members of the United States Army Field Band & Soldiers’ Chorus perform on July 9, 2017, in the Amphitheater. The 65-member instrumental ensemble was founded in 1946, and will mark their 37th performance at Chautauqua at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amp. OLIVIA SUN / DAILY FILE PHOTO

The United States Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus is set to march back to Chautauqua for the 37th time for the last day of the summer season at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater, closing out the season with beloved patriotic repertoire.

Since the Field Band’s formation in 1946, and the Soldiers’ Chorus in 1957, the group has appeared in all 50 states and in more than 30 countries. The Field Band has participated in numerous presidential inaugural parades and supported many diplomatic missions overseas — but they’ve also played the Berliner Philharmonie and Carnegie Hall, as well as state fairgrounds and high school gymnasiums. 

Regularly traveling with the Soldiers’ Chorus, the band presents a powerful and diverse program of marches, overtures, popular music, patriotic selections and instrumental and vocal solos.

Known as the U.S. Army’s “musical ambassadors,” the most important resource the band provides is a bridge between its audience and the armed forces. 

“We are all soldiers, and we represent all of the soldiers in the military who are doing hard jobs all around the world on our behalf so that we can live in freedom and have the right to enjoy concerts like the one we are going to play,” saxophonist Brian Sacawa told the Daily in 2018. “It is so very important for us to be using these opportunities to honor our veterans, so that they know — and audiences know — that their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten.”

Chimemasters celebrate 110th anniversary of iconic Miller Bell Tower



Courtesy of Chautauqua Institution Archives

The Miller Bell Tower, an iconic Chautauqua landmark, has delighted the community for 110 years, playing eclectic and beloved songs for a wide and enthusiastic audience.

One of this season’s chimemasters, Marjorie Kemper, recalls putting together a set of holiday carols to play on the bells one Sunday night this summer, after that evening’s Chautauqua Vespers celebrated Christmas in July. Her regular 10 p.m. performance was met with revelry by community members gathered outside. Kemper played “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and people in the crowd were “singing at the top of their lungs,” she said.

Playing popular music and listener requests has been one of Kemper’s favorite aspects about ringing the bells this season. Chautauquans of all ages appreciate the artistry of performing music on the bells; many want to stand to the side and watch as they are played.

“A lot of people come in while I’m playing, and they’ll ask me to play something that they like, or they want me to play Happy Birthday for a friend,” Kemper said.

The bell tower — standing distinctively over the shores of the lake at 75 feet tall — was dedicated at the Old First Night ceremony on Aug. 1, 1911. Built in a campanile style reminiscent of medieval Italy, the tower was remarked upon by Bishop John H. Vincent in his dedication address as “the most prominent object on the horizon.”

The bells in the tower’s open arcade belfry were originally hand-played by levers attached to chains which would pull the clappers against the sides of the bells. The chimes are now operated by remote keyboard, with 12 white keys and only two black, one an F-sharp and one a B-flat.

“So you can only actually play in three keys, C, F and G,” Kemper said. “Maybe a minor key once in a while. But you can’t do anything with a lot of key changes within a song, because you just don’t have the bells.”

Kemper tries her best to accommodate requests as often as she can and satisfy the interests of curious Chautauquans, performing within the restrictions of having only 14 tones to work with. “You can’t play whole tunes on 14 bells,” Kemper said. But discovering what does work on the limited keys is, for her, one of the delights of playing the bells.

“I enjoy choosing things to play and finding out what really sounds good on the bells. It’s a kind of a challenge that I like,” Kemper said.

Since the first Chautauqua Assembly in 1874, bells have been rung on the grounds. Where Chautauquans first gathered on a grandstand near the lake, a single bell heralded the start of daily activities. A 10-bell set of chimes was later donated by early Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle class members and hung in the clock tower of the original Pier Building. These bells were first rung in a program on Aug. 2, 1885. The same program played that year is reprised annually on Bryant Day.

When the pier proved too unstable a location for the bells, shaking the structure as they rang, the current bell tower was constructed, in honor of Lewis Miller. Later added to the belfry were three bells of different tones donated by Miller’s family, and one large bell dedicated in honor of American poet William Cullen Bryant, for whom Bryant Day is named.

Interim Chimemasters Marjorie Kemper and Willie La Favor stand outside the Miller Bell Tower Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Both Kemper and fellow Chautauquan Willie La Favor — a minister of music in Rochester, New York — have been substituting this season for chimemaster Carolyn Benton. Kemper had played the bells before, about 25 years ago, under former chimemaster Tom Wierbowski, and agreed to play again this summer, picking pieces from hymnals, from special requests, or just to fit “whatever the weather is.”

Kemper also enjoys coordinating bell repertoire with the Department of Religion. A hymn may be played during the morning worship service, or a preacher may mention or quote a song in their sermon that can be homaged soon after during one of three daily chime performances. Kemper said she relishes finding “hymns that fit in with what the weekly preacher is talking about.” 

Relating to Week Eight’s focus on the human brain and soul, she heard the hymn “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” referenced by the Rev. Lynn Casteel Harper in her Aug. 15 sermon “The Gift of Wisdom.” The Motet Choir sang the hymn and Kemper was able to play it several times after. The bell tower has a repository of music Kemper will pull from, “and if I have (the tune) down there I’ll use it the next time I (perform). I’ll write the name down so I remember.”

Chautauquans regularly visit the bell tower during performances and remark to Kemper how wonderful it is to have the bells played again, as an integral part of the Chautauqua experience.

“People come in and a lot of them say, ‘Oh, it’s so wonderful to have the bells played again,’ ” Kemper said. “And somebody will say, ‘Would you play “Finlandia?” Because I’d like to wake up to that tomorrow morning.’” Kemper is happy to oblige a request such as that any time.

2021 edition of literary journal features water as unifying theme



“Chautauqua: Water”

Water is one of the planet’s most valuable resources and is a constant presence in people’s lives. This presence is what made it a perfect choice for the theme of the 2021 edition of the Chautauqua literary journal, titled Chautauqua: Water.

Every year for the past 18 years, Chautauqua has put out its own literary journal, featuring work from both professional and amateur writers. Included in this year’s edition is a selection of works featuring “Young Voices,” ages 12 to 18. 

This year’s journal features the theme of water. Since Jill Gerard took over the production of the journal from the first editor, Richard Forester, she and co-editor Philip Gerard have had a theme for each edition. According to Jill Gerard, this is so they can bring a sense of the Chautauqua season to the journal, matching the idea of a vertical theme for the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, with each week having its own topic.

The journal is unique because it is produced in partnership with University of North Carolina, Wilmington, students, as a way for them to experience working on a publication and going through the process of putting together a book. According to Gerard, deciding on the theme is one of the most fun parts of the class. They sit in a conference room and brainstorm 30 to 40 possibilities and narrow it down from there. 

The group — which is a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as professionals — wants to select a theme that will bring in an interesting assortment of submissions but also can find a way to tie into Chautauqua Institution. In the case of Chautauqua: Water, the group had in mind the environmental initiatives and the programs in place to improve the water quality of the lake. One of the biggest advocates for the theme was Lindsey Lake, who did the cover and book design. 

Lake — on top of being an advocate for the theme and the environment — found the art that was used for the book’s cover. The cover comes from the combination of different woodcuttings that accompanied the book De Arte Natandi, by Everard Digby. Lake printed outline recreations of the woodcuttings and watercolored them by hand in order to bring more color and life to the cover. 

“I think that we really did get some interesting and vastly different takes on things,” Gerard said. “One of my favorite ones is the essay … about going to the mikvah, which is a Jewish ritual bath. It was such a different essay. So I was really happy when that one came across the transom.” 

The journal includes poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction short stories between its pages, with content that ranges from swamps to coastlines to tear-streaked faces. Although the final product is one that Gerard and her students are all very proud of, it was not easy to produce. 

According to Gerard, production usually looks like chairs crowded around a conference room table with manuscripts being passed back and forth across it, and potential cover ideas blanketing the walls. This year, like so many other things, production of the journal was moved online, which was a difficult transition for Gerard and her team. 

“Everyone really just works with the best possible attitude and that allowed Zoom to work pretty well for us,” Gerard said. “… Because we could share the screens, we were able to pretty well replicate our editorials and work through talking through submissions.”

The copy editing and fact-checking process, as well as the cover selection, was much more difficult — and time-consuming — to do online. According to Gerard, the screen sharing feature was instrumental to the production process but was still limiting because only one screen could be shared at a time. 

“It was a willingness to just muster on that kept us going,” Gerard said. 

Copies of Chautauqua: Water are available for purchase in the Chautauqua Bookstore as well as available for order online. 

School of Dance’s Bonnefoux reflects on years with students



Chautauqua School of Dance students perform “When We Gather Beneath the Big Sky.” KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

After 38 years spent fostering excellence, School of Dance Director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux is retiring. Throughout his time at Chautauqua, he spent his career emphasizing the importance of preparing the next generation of dancers for success, leaving a sizable impact in Chautauqua that will forever be remembered. 

At 14, Bonnefoux began his professional career and joined the Paris Opera Ballet, named danseur étoile (star dancer) at just 21 years old. Serving as a principal dancer for seven years, he trained with the likes of Serge Peretti, Gérard Mulys and Raymond Franquetti.  

French by birth, Bonnefoux decided to move to the United States to join the New York City Ballet in 1970. He stayed with the company for 10 years, studying with world-renowned Artistic Director George Balanchine, Andrei Kramarevsky and Stanley Williams. 

Throughout his time as a dancer, Bonnefoux also danced with the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky Ballet) and Bolshoi Ballet, as well as the Royal Danish Ballet.

It was in 1980 that Bonnefoux realized his true lifelong dream, training young dancers as a choreographer, teacher and coach.

Alongside his career at the Institution, Bonnefoux also served as chairman of Indiana University’s dance department from 1985 to 1996 and as artistic director of the Charlotte Ballet from 1996 to 2016. His choreography includes works commissioned by the New York City Ballet, the Lincoln Center Institute, the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company and the Pennsylvania Ballet.

“From the very beginning, I understood the need for dancers to actually perform, not just take classes, incorporating choreographers that I love, as well as top guest teachers,” Bonnefoux said. “Part of the legacy is that as a teacher, you really trust your students — you give them the chance to gain confidence and find themselves throughout the summer, and you trust their willingness to learn and take classes, while also providing the right people that they can truly learn from, fast.”

Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux

Bonnefoux also spoke about dancers’ progression throughout the summer, as well as the faculty behind the magic.

“The (ballet company) directors will call me and say that the dancers that have progressed the most are from Chautauqua, leading them to continue sending students year after year,” Bonnefoux said. “Patricia McBride, director of ballet studies and master teacher, is so generous, caring, trusting — the energy she gives her students is so unique; I am so proud of her and her work passing on the tradition of Balanchine, which she knows probably better than anyone else.” 

Bonnefoux also recognized the coaching style utilized at the School of Dance, working to build mutual respect and assurance with the dancers. 

“It is an honor to have started coaching that works very well with the students,” Bonnefoux said. “We have two students an hour that come together and work together closely, with 40 students over the course of the weeks — the goal is to become close enough to the dancers and gain the trust to continue to help them grow and solve problems by the end of the summer.”

Bonnefoux extended valuable advice to young dancers and Chautauquans alike, emphasizing the importance in trusting the process.

“Students are always so worried about what is not working that sometimes they forget the things that are working, as well as just how lucky we are to be so close to the music here in Chautauqua,” Bonnefoux said. “We are not here just to show the tradition — we are also here to bring in new voices to show the dancers what they want and lack, while discovering who they truly are and the types of dancing they really enjoy.”

Jesus’ prayer for disciples and us: That they all may be one



The Rev. John C. Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, delivers his sermon, “Who is God, and Who are We Because of God?” on Sunday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

“If you were a dying savior, what would you pray for?” the Rev. John C. Dorhauer asked the congregation at the final morning worship service of the 2021 season at 9 a.m. Friday in the Amphitheater. “I know it is a strange question, because we are not saviors, but if you knew your death was imminent and others depended on it, what would you pray for?” Dorhauer’s sermon title was “That They May All Be One,” and the Scripture reading was John 17:20-23.

Jesus knew what was coming, Dorhauer said. 

“In four chapters, John 14-17, Jesus had a conversation with the disciples. We can sense how much was at stake. He was going over all of it, because Jesus was saying, ‘After tonight you are on your own.’ It was imperative for the disciples to listen. In Chapter 17, he stops teaching and starts praying. This is the last opportunity for them to get it right before they go out to the ends of the earth.”

Dorhauer took the congregation through Jesus’ prayer, “that they all may be one,” word by word to explain the text. “ ‘That’ means in order that, with the hope that, with the belief that,” he said. “This was a prayer with a purpose, with an intentional outcome.” The disciples had been with Jesus and had seen him preach and work miracles, and they knew he could get anything he wanted, but he said, “I pray that.”

“They,” the next word, does not refer to the disciples, but that the prayer was said on behalf of those who believe through the preaching of the apostles. 

“Are we not exactly those for whom he was praying?” Dorhauer asked. What Jesus was asking for is not dependent on individuals, but there is no walking away from being a disciple.  

“ ‘May’ is a clear glimpse of God,” Dorhauer said. “Jesus did not say ‘you must,’ ‘you better’ or ‘you ought.’ He said ‘Father, may,’ the language of invitation. Those created in the image of God have a choice in the matter. We must make a choice, but it is an invitation, not a demand.”

Everything in Jesus’ mission and ministry shows the length to which God’s love is offered, Dorhauer said. 

“It is offered to ‘all.’ Jesus accepted the prostitutes and tax collectors, not just the righteous. The message was that when God sets the table, all are welcome,” Dorhauer said. “The church wrestled with this concept after Jesus’ death, to be the church of no partiality.”

Dorhauer said to the congregation, “To ‘be’ is not to do anything but be something. Jesus had his fill of people who act one way but are something else. He had his fill of hypocrites. When we ‘be’ something, we embody something. If we become something, what we do will emanate from us naturally.”

Jesus prayed “that they all might be one.” Dorhauer asked the congregation, “Why did he ask for this thing? Why did he pray for it? Jesus knew that once the disciples were sent out, their success would matter to the extent they could show unconditional love for each other. How can you show love to others if you cannot show unconditional love to those aligned with you? Jesus was afraid they could not show love for each other, yet their success depended on being one.”

Dorhauer continued, “How many times have you heard people say they would not be part of a body that talks about love but can’t get along? I am weary of Christians fighting over theology and allowing their theological positions to separate them. I am weary of the disrespect and animosity that follows. It makes our evangelism ineffective.”

In Chautauqua, he said, different churches and religions are all represented and sing and share the joy of vision of the risen Christ. If the whole world were to be like Chautauqua, Dorhauer said, what Jesus believed might be possible.

“My final challenge to you as baptized, confirmed members of the body or as lovers of humanity is to commit to unity that knows no division,” Dorhauer said. “We may not agree on doctrine, but when the table is set, there is a place for you, no exceptions. May the dying prayer of the Risen Christ, that all may be one, be true.”

The Rev. David Shirey presided. The Rev. Susan Cartmell, who has been teaching Special Studies courses this season on reading the Bible thematically in a new way, read the Scripture. For the prelude, Joshua Stafford, Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and director of sacred music, played “Sunset,” by Edwin H. Lemare. Members of the Motet Choir sang “Draw is in the Spirit’s Tether,” with music by Harold Friedell and words by Percy Deamer. The postlude was “Toccata,” from Symphony No. 5 by Charles-Marie Widor, played by Stafford. The Daney-Holden Chaplaincy Fund provided support for this week’s services and chaplain.

Preacher, author Diana Butler Bass closes interfaith season with stories of resilience



Diana Butler Bass closes the 2021 Interfaith Lecture Series with her talk, “Get Up and Go On — Together,” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Sifan Hassan began her first heat in the 1,500-meter race at the Tokyo Olympics with a tumble. The Ethiopian-born Dutch runner was expected to win the gold medal for the entire event, and within a moment of her first race was on the ground.

She got up, and she ran for her life. Breezing past racer after racer, she overtook the lead, and won the race. That night, she earned gold in the 5,000 meter final. She eventually won gold in the 10,000 meter, too, and bronze in the 1,500. 

“For a woman who fell in her first race,” said Diana Butler Bass, who told this story to open the final Interfaith Lecture Series of the 2021 season.

Bass, an author, speaker and preacher, presented her lecture, titled “Get Up and Go On — Together,” at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 25 in the Amphitheater, bringing more heat to an end-of-summer heat wave. It was also the final Interfaith Lecture for Week Nine, themed “Resilience.”

Bass’ most recent book is Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence, and she’s won awards for several of her other 10 books, including Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks and Grounded: Finding God in the World.

She often thinks of stories like Hassan’s when she thinks of the word resilience — unbelievable stories of achievement, stories against the odds. But, she admitted, there are other versions of resilience, too.

“Resilience isn’t just grit and athletic superiority and making the best of a terrible situation, of bouncing back to win the gold medal,” she said. 

One different image comes from “The Trough,” a poem by Judy Brown. In it, a person is caught in ocean waves. They know if they fight against the current, they will strain themselves and certainly drown. But, if they conserve energy and let the flow take them, it will take them to another place on land.

“That is resilience, as well,” she said. “It’s a different kind than pulling yourself up and running on and displaying grit. In this poem, you’re employing knowledge, you understand the situation you are in and you know that if you fight you’re not going to make it. So, getting out of this situation means going with the flow until everything changes.”

In another image, Bass revisited one of her favorite stories, from Luke Chapter 4 in the New Testament. Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry and is invited to read a scroll to a synagogue on the sabbath. 

“He gets up, and he reads the wonderful words about how the captives are being set free, that liberation is coming to the oppressed, and then as he finishes it he sits down and says, ‘Today, the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,’ ” Bass said.

Jesus’ neighbors didn’t appreciate this, she said. A violent mob threatened to throw him off a cliff at the edge of town. Anyone who doesn’t know the story might wonder how Jesus will survive this situation, she said. 

“The text simply says, ‘Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way,’ ” she said. “He left!” 

Some people might argue that he is Jesus and worked a miracle to part the crowd, like Moses parting the Red Sea, she said. But Bass believes he simply walked away.

“It shows this idea of leaving when you’re rejected or when there is a threat,” she said.

A few chapters later, in Luke Chapter 9, Jesus commissioned his disciples to go out and spread the same news he shared in the synagogue. If people were not receptive, Jesus told them to “shake the dust off of your feet as you leave town,” Bass said. 

Knowing you can’t win, are in an unchangeable situation, are not welcome and that you could be hurt, and opting to leave is a form of resilience, she said. 

Bass’ March 2021 book, Freeing Jesus, is a memoir of her own experience with Jesus and of spiritual resilience, she said. Chapter 5 of the book is one she never wanted to write. Bass was in her early 30s and said she had taken the wrong path in life. 

“As a young woman, I was afraid of chaos and disorder, and I so wanted to be accepted, and I so wanted to please all the male authorities around me that I embraced an incredibly rigid, conservative form of neo-Calvinism,” she said.

She described herself as judgmental, certain she was always right and righteous, and easily condemned others. 

“I found myself becoming the sort of person you wouldn’t want to be around,” she said.

Eventually, she realized what she was doing, but she had no idea how to stop walking down that path. 

“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “Except, it became increasingly clear that I needed to turn around and go the other way.”

Turning around is an incredibly difficult experience, she said, full of admitting her wrongs over and over again. At 32 years old, she was newly divorced and unemployed — released from her first academic job at an evangelical college. It was Thanksgiving, and Bass was alone, as she was also distant from her parents. She sat down on the concrete floor of her garage-turned-apartment, and she cried.

“I had no company,” she said. “No feast. No table to share. No one who would care if I died.”

Then, she heard a voice, from John 14:31. 

Diana Butler Bass closes the 2021 Interfaith Lecture Series with her talk, “Get Up and Go On — Together,” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“I will not leave you orphaned,” she read. “I am coming to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not be afraid. Rise up. Let us be on our way.”

Bass’ resilience speaks to reaching an end, admitting mistakes, and starting over from scratch, she said. She presented these examples because she thinks people have too narrow a definition for the word “resilience.”

“I hope they’ve invited you into thinking about your own stories of resilience, because there isn’t really a single definition of resilience,” she said. “There is not only one way of resilience.”

Bass is more concerned with answering the question: Which path of resilience is called for at any given time? Two spiritual practices can help answer it, she said. 

The first practice is discernment, or the capacity to understand the moment one is in, she said. 

Quakers, she said, have group practices where they try to answer where they are right now.

“Discernment gives us that ability to be able to read the moments of our lives, and if we read the moments of our lives then perhaps we can figure out which path of resilience is best,” she said. “You might need others to help you there.”

The second practice is wisdom, something that people may not see as a practice but something that people acquire through age and experience, she said. 

“Wisdom emerges from bringing other moments to bear on the current moment,” she said. “Wisdom entails knowing the answer to this question: Where have I been?”

Wisdom can also answer which moments of life contributed to understanding one’s self and one’s community, she said.

Referencing Colum McCann’s Interfaith Lecture on Tuesday, Bass said these questions are about knowing one’s story. 

“Our lives are resilience,” she said. “Our capacity to know which path of recovery to take is dependent upon the stories we have already written.”

She then shared a few stories.

First was a personal story of an 18-year-old she met at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina, one of Bass’ favorite places to visit in the summer — along with Chautauqua. 

The woman ran into Bass outside of the green room. She was shaking, holding a copy of Bass’ book A People’s History of Christianity, and she asked Bass to sign it. 

Bass happily agreed, and asked her where was from.

“She was from a town of 300 people in the very buckle of the Bible belt,” Bass said.

The woman saved every cent she made from her after-school job so she could take a bus halfway across the country to this festival. It was the first time she ever left her town, a place where everyone believes the exact same way — questions are forbidden, Bass said.

“She said, ‘I had to see if you were real,’ ” Bass said. “I assured her I was very real. I asked her what she was going to do, and she said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just go back home. But it won’t be the same.’ ”

Bass remembers this story every time she thinks of complaining about her church. She remembers that woman who sacrificed her savings to ask about her own faith. 

“That is heroism of the everyday,” she said. “That is resilience that doesn’t make it on the evening news.”

Everyone has a personal story of resilience, ranging from illness to surviving genuine threats, she said. Each one creates a life of resilience and the capacity for one to practice wisdom, she said, and when one faces a tough task again, they can call on that wisdom.

Bass then turned to history, specifically the Spanish influenza pandemic a century ago. Her husband’s grandparents were young with two children when they all were infected. Both of their children died, Bass said. 

When the flu receded in the early 1920s, they grieved over the loss of half their family. They agreed, however, to try again, not knowing if the same disease might return and steal from them once more. 

Among the new family was her husband’s mother. If her parents never tried again, Bass’ husband would have never been born, she said, nor Bass’ own daughter. 

“That’s what history does for us — it gives a sense of wisdom and resilience where we can look back and say, ‘Yes, that was horrible, and look at what happened as a result of it,’ ” she said. 

Both well-known history and personal history show humans’ resilience, she said.

Faith stories, too, demonstrate resilience, she said. She referenced Hagar going into the desert with her son, trusting God would help them find something; Israel wandering in the wilderness; and several stories of people in exile fearing everything was at an end, for examples.

“Muslim, Jewish and Christian traditions are stories about resilience, except we usually don’t call them that. We usually call them faith,” she said. “We can talk about resilience in medical terms and in terms of spiritual practice, in terms of storytelling and all kinds of terms that make sense in our secular world. But ultimately, it leads us back to the simplest and most profound thing: resilience.”

Resilience makes Bass think of two words: hope and love. She said her husband’s grandparents are a story of hope.

“Hope separates itself from resilience just a little bit by saying, ‘You’re not going to get back what you had, but there’s still a possibility of joy, of life, of true change, of overcoming what brought you to this place in the very beginning.’ ” 

Resilience also teaches people to love themselves in the same way God loves people, she said. 

“Resilience involves loving others,” she said. “To be able to reach out and pull others up when they can’t get up for themselves, to be there to listen and hopefully have someone who will listen when we need those ears, when we need that community to say, ‘Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.’ ”

It also can allow people to spread enough compassion so nobody has to suffer the same thing again, she said. 

“That’s the best I can help you with this week,” she said. “As Chautauqua comes to an end for this year — this terribly, truly awful year — the end of it is faith, hope and love abide. And the greatest of these is love.”

A time for ‘Reunions’: Country music star Isbell, 400 Unit headline last Friday of season



Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit’s latest album, Reunions, was released on streaming services May 15, 2020 — but that wasn’t the album’s debut to the world.

No, Isbell and his band opted to release the album a week early, exclusively to independent record stores, to support those small businesses during the first weeks of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“I thought about independent record stores and the fact that they’re suffering like all small businesses right now,” Isbell told NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly on “All Things Considered.” “But even more so, when somebody puts an album out early via streaming platforms, it takes away an opportunity for them to sell the record, in a lot of cases. So instead of putting it out early I thought, well, we’ll stick to the same timeline, but maybe it would be helpful to those folks if we put it out just through independent record stores a week early. I think it was.”

Isbell and The 400 Unit were set to tour last summer following the release of Reunions, but like countless other acts, pushed the tour to 2021, with a stop at Chautauqua at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Isbell is known for his work as both a solo singer-songwriter and guitarist, and his work with The 400 Unit and Drive-By Truckers. He’s been nominated for 16 Americana Music Honors & Awards (he’s won nine of those nominations) and has won four Grammy Awards. Of his seven studio albums, three have reached the top of the U.S. country, folk and rock charts, and Reunions is the fourth album he’s released with The 400 Unit — a band that includes Isbell’s wife, Amanda Shires, who’s also part of the country music group The Highwomen.

The Dave Cobb-produced Reunions is a collection of 10 “expertly crafted tunes,” Andrew Barker wrote for Variety.

“Isbell’s brilliance has become so commonplace that one risks taking it for granted,” Barker wrote.

Initially, Isbell told Kelly, when he was starting work on Reunions, he was “just trying to write a bunch of good songs, and I think that’s always how it starts for me.”

“I don’t go in with much of a concept because I feel like that sometimes can distract me from doing the real work at hand, which is just writing the best songs I can and documenting where I am at that point in my life,” he said.

After writing a few songs, he told Kelly, he started noticing patterns. 

“I started seeing the fact that I was going back in time and reconnecting, at least on a psychological level, with a lot of the people, a lot of the relationships that I had growing up and when I was younger and before I got sober,” he said in May 2020. “I got sober eight-and-a-half years ago. For a long spell, between the time when I got sober and just the last couple years, it was really difficult for me to revisit those times in a way that was anything less than judgmental. Because I had to look back at myself with disdain and not risk turning back into the person I used to be.”

But, Isbell told Kelly, he realized that after years of sobriety and working with a therapist, he was feeling “not necessarily nostalgia, but more of a connection with the person I was a decade or two decades ago. I felt more comfortable and safer going back into that relationship and not judging myself, but coming to terms with the fact that I had good things to offer as well as bad things in those days.”

Isbell has been vocal in recent weeks about new COVID-19 protocols for his upcoming shows; he announced on Aug. 9 that all attendees at live shows would need to provide proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test prior to entry, and he’s backed out of performances where the venues wouldn’t comply. That decision has drawn strong reactions both in support and in opposition.

Still, he told Joseph Hudak of Rolling Stone that when he and The 400 Unit took the stage in Austin, Texas, hours after he’d announced the protocols, he knew he’d made the right call.

“As soon as we walked onstage, we could tell that the audience was full-on excited,” he said. “They felt more comfortable and they had a better time. It was one of the best shows that I’ve played, because the energy in the room was so good. That, to me, was evidence that we had made the right decision.”

That decision extends to Chautauqua, where the Institution — at Isbell’s request — is strongly encouraging wearing face masks at the concert. Anyone not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the start of the show. Third-party reports of negative results within the previous three days, if a PCR test, and six hours, if a rapid test, will be accepted. At-home test results won’t be accepted. Since this is a requirement of the band, there are no exceptions.

“I don’t feel right onstage while I think people might be getting deathly ill in the crowd. I don’t think it’s fair to the audience or to the crews at the venues or to my crew to put people in a situation where they’re possibly risking their lives or taking the virus home to their kids, or they go to school and give it to other kids,” Isbell told Hudak. “It just didn’t feel right. … I think if we hadn’t put these kinds of restrictions in place and we didn’t hold the line on it, I would feel like I was taking advantage of people while I’m doing my job. I don’t ever want to do that, because that little thing that I love the most about the job that I have is the fact that it spreads something positive. I want to protect that. I don’t want to spread positive tests — I want to spread positive vibes.”

Winthrop Rockefeller’s Hill describes push for equitable Arkansas in final AAHH talk




The Rev. Shantell Hinton Hill won’t stop until her mission for equity is complete. 

Born a half-hour north of Little Rock in Conway, Arkansas, Hill is an equity officer for the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in Little Rock, where she pushes for a narrative change and community voice in her community. 

Hill is the final speaker for the 2021 African American House Lecture Series. Her lecture today is based on Week Nine’s theme “Resilience.” It will be broadcast at 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27 on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

“I really think that the question of equity is about meeting people where they are with exactly what they need so they can thrive and prosper,” Hill said. “For far too long in Arkansas, and really across our nation, there have been groups of people that have been left out of the conversation about what their thriving would look like.”

At the foundation, she and others develop grants and partnerships with innovative and community driven organizations, she said. The foundation’s mission is to pursue economic, educational, social, ethnic and racial equity for all Arkansans, according to its website.

Since taking on this role in July 2019, Hill’s learned the power of trust in communities that are forgotten by funders and community leaders, she said. 

Critically listening for impactful changes in people’s lives goes beyond monetary investments, but also includes relationships that help people see models of innovation in other places, she said. 

“These are things that really just invigorate me to continue being in grantmaking,” she said.

Narrative change is a big part of the foundation’s strategy, particularly stories that influence what people believe about themselves, culture and the economy that impact how people vote and ultimately policies that are enacted, she said. 

One of the foundation’s newest projects is called Reimagine Arkansas. 

“(It) seeks to tell the stories of underheard people in Arkansas,” she said, “and share them in accessible ways so that narrative change can become an integral piece in what’s happening in local communities.”

For today’s lecture, Hill will discuss revolutionary truth telling and radical futures with a focus on resilience, she said. 

“In our American conscience, we love to talk about resilience,” she said. “We love a good bootstrap story. We love to talk about the underdog coming back from defeat to win the championship and how resilient those folks normally are. But there’s this other side of resilience that means a person has had to develop a set of skills to cope when there’s an unnecessary system of fairness and harsh treatment … to go up against.”

These stories may cause people to reevaluate other stories about American values, which Hill said might actually be troublesome and harmful if not examined more closely. 

Furthermore, she hopes people will walk away questioning things that were never questioned before. Most stories are told by people in places of power, and if people aren’t careful, they can influence and determine what the listeners believe, she said. 

“My hope is that people will begin to ask different questions about the stories we’ve all been told, and ask who is implicated in those stories, and ask if those people have been able to tell those stories on behalf of themselves,” she said. “A lot of times, when people who have been the most resilient begin telling their stories, they might tell the story differently than someone would tell it who is in a seat of power.”

To close season, ‘New Yorker’ staff writer Osnos shares stories of renewing American principles



Evan Osnos, staff writer at The New Yorker, delivers his lecture “American Bedrock: Renewing the Ties that Bind Us” Thursday in the Amphitheater, closing the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

Evan Osnos spent part of his career as a foreign correspondent, reporting in places like Cairo, China and Baghdad. Once, in Myanmar, he was smuggled into the country by the rebel army in the middle of the night.

“I will tell you it would have made me very nervous, except that the soldier who was driving me spent most of the time asking me how he might get a date with Taylor Swift,” said Osnos, a staff writer at The New Yorker specializing in politics and foreign affairs.

In his many, more serious conversations abroad, Osnos found himself defending America’s virtues, saying that despite the country’s flaws and grave mistakes, U.S. citizens had a fundamental commitment to truth, law and morality. But, after he returned home in 2013, he said, quoting John Gunther, an American journalist and author, he felt like a man from Mars.

Some of the changes were subtle. When he passed by Brooks Brothers, a men’s clothing store, he noticed some of the suits in the window had an American flag pin pre-implanted in the lapel. Osnos had never seen such a pin on one of their suits before, so he reached out and asked the company, who said they started doing it in 2007. 

“I did notice that 2007 was the year in which Barack Obama was getting lambasted for not wearing a flag pin in his lapel,” Osnos said.

Other changes were more wide-reaching. He noticed 9/11 altered American’s perceptions, such as a poll in 2016 finding that on average, people thought the U.S. population is one-sixth Muslim, while it is, in fact, one-one hundreth. He was also shocked at how the country viewed gun control.

“As a country, somehow we had come to live with the phenomenon of public shootings in our most vulnerable places, in schools, in public areas,” Osnos said. “Even though they were happening on average nearly three times as often as they had been the year I went abroad.”

But Osnos’ biggest surprise was how much less faith people had in law and politics. 

“Of course, the notion of a shared truth — mental commons we might call — had fractured before our eyes, and we were seeing it play out in our politics in 2016, and eventually, in 2020,” Osnos said. “But the signs of what we were seeing were very visible to us long before the COVID pandemic, before the murder of George Floyd.”

Osnos asked himself if he had been wrong all those years when he told people in other countries about American values. So, Osnos went on the road back to places he lived before, to find out what Americans thought, and what was being done to reverse these trends toward mistrust.

Those travels informed his latest book: Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury, which will hit shelves on Sept. 9. At 10:30 a.m. on Thursday in the Amphitheater, Osnos presented his lecture, titled “American Bedrock: Renewing the Ties that Bind Us,” concluding the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series and Week Nine’s theme of “Resilience.” 

Evan Osnos, staff writer at The New Yorker, delivers his lecture “American Bedrock: Renewing the Ties that Bind Us” Thursday in the Amphitheater, closing the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

Osnos discussed the work of three people across the U.S. who are trying, and sometimes succeeding, to better America’s commitments to morality and truth. As well as working at The New Yorker, Osnos is a National Book Award-winning author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China; this was the first talk he’s given about his forthcoming Wildland. For Wildland, Osnos chose to explore places he already lived because he knew their past. The first place he went was Chicago, where a lot of his family is from.

“Chicago is the great American city. It is at once real and flawed, and in a constant permanent state of becoming,” Osnos said. “Chicago is the place, as Frederick Jackson Turner put it a century ago, where all the forces of the nation intersect. And, in many respects, I think that description stays true today, both for better and for worse.”

Chicago, Osnos said, is also one of the most segregated cities in America, with most of the white population living in the downtown area. 

Enter Jamal Cole, a community organizer from the south side of Chicago. As a child, Cole was struck by how people spoke in church, how preachers could make their messages strike deeper and how he, himself, could use these same techniques. 

Cole’s father, Osnos said, was addicted to drugs, and the family moved constantly. 

“Statistically speaking, Jamal Cole was not set up to succeed. He was coming of age in a country in which one-third of Black men become involved in the criminal justice system. He entered the 21st century in a country that has more prisoners than farmers,” Osnos said. “But, Jamal was also allergic to the assumptions people had about him and what was possible.”

In high school, a guidance counselor told Cole to give up on going to college and to join a trade school or the military. Cole, instead, stole pages out of the counselor’s books about different colleges, and applied, Osnos said, “almost at random.” He was accepted to Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska.

After graduating and eventually landing a job in information technology, and then as a network administrator at a trading firm at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Cole volunteered on the side at the Cook County Jail and mentored juvenile offenders. He noticed that few of these young men, despite being born and raised in Chicago, had ever spent more than a few hours in the downtown area, even though they lived close by. When he asked the mentees where they were from, they would say the names of their neighborhood, and never Chicago. Cole asked why, and they said it was because there were no Black people in downtown Chicago, and they identified more with their own neighborhoods. To help each neighborhood connect with different areas of the city, Cole helped create My Block, My Hood, My City, also called M3. The organization began by taking young people to explore areas of the city they had never been before — waste treatment plants, homeless shelters and a chiropractor’s office. They even went scuba diving together. As the organization expanded, they took on more ambitious projects, such as a program where new police officers go on tours of neighborhoods guided by the young people who live there.

“A lot of the cops really don’t know the neighborhoods until they get there in a moment of crisis. This was giving both of them an opportunity to have a conversation, for some shared experience outside the confines of those moments,” Osnos said. “As he put it to me, ‘It’s a skill that neither side really has.’ ”

Evan Osnos, staff writer at The New Yorker, delivers his lecture “American Bedrock: Renewing the Ties that Bind Us” Thursday in the Amphitheater, closing the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

COVID-19 brought a whole host of new programs for Cole, who had to figure out how to do his work in safe ways. So Cole had the young people make wellness packages for the elderly, filled with items like hand sanitizer. M3 also partnered with a call center for seniors to train the young community members to work the phone, and if they did well, they could earn an internship.

When protests rose from all parts of Chicago after George Floyd’s murder, Cole turned to the relationships, with police and the community, he had built.

“It was no panacea, let’s be blunt,” Osnos said, “but it was, at least, a basis for some mutual understanding.”

His work even received attention from Oprah Winfrey, who gave Cole $500,000. Cole hoped to raise $1 million for M3, and ended up raising $10 million.

“To Jamal Cole, I realized, resilience is really not just fortitude, though he has that in spades,” Osnos said. “It is a strength derived from some other attributes, other muscles to use his words, like empathy and creativity, and the clarity to say with total conviction that his life deserves a greater share of what this country has to offer than he has so far received.”

The second person he discussed with was Jeffrey D. Grant, a former lawyer. 

“It’s not a story that’s easy to like, necessarily,” Osnos said. “The lessons in his life force us, however, to talk pretty honestly about some of the moral questions facing this country and what it will take to solve them.”

In the 1990s, Grant owned a law firm in Westchester County.

“As a lawyer, he specialized in real estate work, in corporate work, and he regarded himself, to use his words, as an assassin,” Osnos said. “His philosophy, as he put it to me bluntly, was ‘Win. Win. Win.’ ”

In his 40s, Grant’s life began unraveling. He was becoming erratic and was addicted to Demerol, a painkiller. He stole money from his clients, and after 9/11, he falsely claimed his office was destroyed in the attacks to receive aid. When the IRS discovered his lies, he served 14 months in prison.

“Grant had been disbarred, largely cut off from his old world — and that, he will tell you, saved his life,” Osnos said. “He had undergone an awakening of a kind that Bryan Stevenson, civil rights lawyer, describes as the power of getting proximate, getting close to people who are vulnerable, people who are suffering, people who are living a life outside of your own.”

After prison, he volunteered at the same rehab organization that helped him, and eventually became an executive of Family Reentry, an organization that helps people coming out of prison and their families, and later earned a degree in divinity at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan.

Evan Osnos, staff writer at The New Yorker, delivers his lecture “American Bedrock: Renewing the Ties that Bind Us” Thursday in the Amphitheater, closing the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

“Jeff Grant, in one form or another, had come to recognize that the problems in his life were not about Demerol; they were not about the events of 9/11. They were born of deeper fault lines in himself and in the culture that he represented and he inhabited,” Osnos said. “And frankly, one that is common in many of the most powerful corners of American life: The instinct to win, win, win.”

The third person Osnos discussed was Katey Lauer in West Virginia. The political makeup of the state changed drastically while Osnos was abroad, from three generations of Democratic control, to the state voting mostly for President Donald Trump in 2016.

“It forces people to ask: What would it take to restore confidence in government in rural parts of this country in places where people feel as if they have become, to use Jamal Cole’s word, disconnected?” Osnos said.

Lauer was an environmental activist who had become demoralized after she was routinely outmatched and outspent. In one instance, the mining industry sponsored a program called “Coal in the Classroom.” In this program, they had a workbook on economics for children decorated with “a smiling lump of coal with arms and legs opening the door to a bank.”

“It was a wake-up call for her. She said, ‘We’re done knocking on the door of the Capitol. We need to win positions of power ourselves,’ ” Osnos said.

Although her state went for Trump in the presidential election, Lauer noticed that all the counties had chosen Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. She also noticed how Democrats in Washington were mischaracterizing West Virginian voters, simply writing them off as ignorant. These points showed Lauer that West Virginia was turning against mainstream politics. 

Lauer was reassured this was the case in February 2018 during statewide teacher strikes. West Virginia paid teachers some of the lowest wages in the country, and the striking teachers demanded a 5% raise. When they succeeded, the strike spread to other Republican states and even other industries. Osnos said 2018 saw the most strikes since President Ronald Reagan was elected. So Lauer created the organization West Virginia Can’t Wait, whose goal is to go against mainstream politics all the way down the ballot.

“They avoided the term progressive,” Osnos said, “because they knew that in West Virginia, that would hold them back. There were people who just recoiled from the language of progressive politics. They said, ‘Let’s focus instead on the matter on the page. Let’s focus on the details of the issues, not on the labels we give ourselves or give others.’ ”

Evan Osnos, staff writer at The New Yorker, delivers his lecture “American Bedrock: Renewing the Ties that Bind Us” Thursday in the Amphitheater, closing the 2021 Chautauqua Lecture Series. DAVE MUNCH / PHOTO EDITOR

The organization found 93 candidates, half of whom were under 40, for races across the state and broke the state’s record of most small donors with 2,449. In contrast, the incumbent governor had 13.

“It will not shock you to discover that they eventually ran up against the limits of what might be possible at this moment in West Virginia politics in the 2020 election,” Osnos said. “The incumbent Gov. Jim Justice prevailed, and Donald Trump expanded his lead.”

Lauer was surprised that despite the organization’s losses, 18 more people committed to run for office within the state.

“She said one of the dimensions of the culture war that we’re fighting in this country is urban versus rural, and the idea that we should and can write people off; that there are ‘our’ kinds of people and ‘their’ kinds of people,” Osnos said. “And as long as we believe that, she said, we are putting ourselves into warring tribes, and we will never be able to reconcile.”

So, was Osnos wrong, or lying, when told people in other countries about American values?

“By the end of this process, I realized I was writing this for my kids, actually — because I needed them to see and to know of a period in which I do think we lost sight of our moral aspirations, our moral ambitions,” Osnos said. “We were drifting broadside to the judgments of history. And I think we have set out, in fact, to find our way back. And that gives me confidence.”

As part of the Q-and-A session, Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill asked Osnos how people should go about looking at different countries and cultures through a different lens, especially with the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

“There is a natural temptation to want to organize our world into convenient assignments of guilt and innocence,” Osnos said.

He also said the war in Afghanistan had an impact on American soil, especially small towns, which had more than twice the deaths of soldiers per capita than big cities. 

“This is the result of a project that has been limping along longer than it should have,” Osnos said. “And we allowed it to in this country, partly because this was not a war fought by all Americans. It was a war fought by a tiny sliver — less than one-half of 1% of Americans — and the rest of us didn’t have to bring the usual political pressure to bear.”

God’s vision: Everyone sits under their own vine and fig tree unafraid, says Dorhauer



The Rev. John C. Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, preaches Sunday in the Amphitheater.  DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

“I am a pacifist. Some crowds would not appreciate that statement and others would,” said the Rev. John C. Dorhauer. “Today that is irrelevant. This is a sermon about lifestyle and the choices that make peace possible.” 

Dorhauer preached at the 9 a.m. Aug. 26 worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “Enough is Enough,” and the Scripture reading was Micah 4:1-4.

Dorhauer spent his sermon series looking at who God is; who Jesus, God incarnate is; who the Holy Spirit who emboldens is’ and how humans see discipleship in the light of the Trinity. Dorhauer looked at lifestyle in the context of the first verses of Micah 4 and how Micah differs from a similar passage in Isaiah 2:2-4.

“The Scripture is a dream, a hope, a vision of God’s. If God had wanted to make this happen, there is no doubt that God had the power,” Dorhauer said to the congregation. “But God depends on us to enact God’s vision, and we should feel some obligation to shape our lives so that God’s vision of Shalom is possible.”

In this vision, all nations would come to the mountain where the Lord’s house is established and see each other through God’s eyes. 

“They would see the absurdity of taking up weapons and unlearn the ways of war and power over others,” Dorhauer said. “In Micah, the laying down of swords and beating them into plowshares and turning spears into pruning hooks is either a consequence of the vision or a prerequisite for the vision to happen.”

He continued, “What Isaiah does not have is the final verse in Micah 4:1-4. ‘They shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.’ … To have our own vine and fig tree is how God intended us to live. If we can’t sit under our own fig tree, we will be at war. Why can’t we see that God created abundance.”

Dorhauer cited a Brookings study of the wealth gap. He said that 20% of the population of the United States had more wealth than the entire middle class; the top 1% had more wealth than the entire middle class. The United States has 4% of the world’s population and controls 30% of the resources in the world.

“How did we get to such a place?” he asked the congregation. “New Testament scholar Luke P. Johnson said, ‘Anything you possess that someone else needs belongs to them.’ Everyone sitting under their own vine and fig tree is God’s vision of how to live in the world without war. There is sufficiency for all, but the 1% need their sword and spear because it is the only way to preserve wealth. The United States has the largest military budget and the link between the military-industrial complex and the 1% is not a coincidence.”

In his first call out of seminary, Dohauer served a congregation that was dependent on agriculture. He had a church member, Sylvan Smoots, who had a bumper sticker on his truck which read, “Live simply so others can simply live.”  

Dorhauer said, “There are 70 million refugees in the world who want food, water, a job and to sit unafraid under their own vine and fig tree. They cross many borders and get told, ‘You are not welcome here.’ The country of Jordan, one of the poorest in the world, with a population of 6 million, houses 2.5 million Syrian refugees. In 2020, the United States limit for refugees was set at 35,000. We have to struggle with this and the choices we have made in our lifestyle. To live simply is the pathway to God’s vision.”

Dorhauer said that 30 years ago the United States had 4% of the world’s population but controlled 40% of the resources; today it is 30%. “That is good news but now the middle class is struggling,” he said. “We don’t have time this morning to look at what a simple lifestyle might look like. We have to examine the decisions we would make.”

He continued, “God’s vision is enough. Only when everyone can sit under their own vine and fig tree unafraid will the vision be possible of no more war. It will be an honor to play in this world with God’s vision of Shalom.”

The Rev. David Shirey presided. Linda Bennett, a Chautauqua and Motet Choir member and a lay reader in her Episcopal church, read the Scripture. The Motet Consort played the first movement of Sonata No. 3 in D Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arranged by Willie La Favor. The Consort featured Barbara Hois on flute, Debbie Grohman on clarinet, Willie La Favor and Joseph Musser on piano. Members of the Motet Choir sang “Ubi Caritas,” with music by Zachary Wadworth and words by Paulinus of Aquileia. The postlude, “Gigue Fugue” BWV 577, by Johann Sebastian Bach, was played by Joshua Stafford, Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and director of sacred music. The Daney-Holden Chaplaincy fund provides support for this week’s services and chaplain. 

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