Satpal Singh explores Sikhism creation and how to honor humans’ shared divine light on last Interfaith Friday

satpal singh



Satpal Singh gave the last Interfaith Friday lecture of the 2020 season on his perspective of creation and humanity as a Sikh at 2 p.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 28, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. Vice President for Religion and Senior Pastor Gene Robinson said that Singh’s words demonstrated a theme in the Interfaith Friday series.

“One of the reasons that I do this Interfaith Friday program is for people to see how much we have in common with one another, although we would use different words and different practices to express our own own spirituality, our beliefs in the divine and so on,” Robinson said. “… In this multitude of religions, we have this one theme that keeps coming through. Despite the fact that we’re each holding a different piece of the divine, … none of us can comprehend all of it. And what you’re saying has really demonstrated that.”

After the lecture on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Robinson joined Singh in a subsequent Q-and-A fueled by questions from Robinson and the audience, who could submit questions through the portal and on Twitter with #CHQ2020.

Singh researches neurodegenerative diseases at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Outside of his career, he is the father of Simran Jeet Singh, who has also spoken at Chautauqua on Sikhism, and Satpal himself is a thought leader on Sikhism in interfaith dialogues and on social justice issues. 

According to the Guru Granth Sahib, the central Sikh scripture, there is one universal god who created everything. But this god is formless, without physical traits or a gender. Singh referred to God as “their” to reflect this. While he said a formless god is also difficult to describe, this formlessness is like the concepts of gravity, space and time — though in Sikhism, God also created those, too.

“In a similar way, we can feel love, which is also formless and can permeate our being,” Singh said.

God existed before creation — no land or sky, only darkness.

“Only the divine existed in a profound trance,” Singh said.

Then the divine created the universe.

“From a non-manifest state, the divine became manifest,” Singh said.

Singh sees elements of the Sikh creation story in the Big Bang Theory, the most accepted scientific theory on how the universe began.

“In both cases, starting with nothing, there was a sudden unimaginable force that created an entire known universe,” Singh said.

The divine created it, and also became part of it. Singh said that humans are not only a creation of the divine, but a manifestation, meaning that humans embody the divine itself. The Guru Granth Sahib compares the divine to the ocean, and each human as a wave in the ocean. 

“There is no difference between the water in the ocean and the water in the wave,” Singh said.

In Sikhism, the spiritual pursuit of a life is to realize this and become one with the divine. But this is not on a physical plane. Any physical action, such as going on a pilgrimage, dipping oneself in holy water, fasting, facing in a certain direction, praying in a certain language, eating a certain way, is not related to the spiritual journey — though these actions can help prepare someone for spiritual pursuits on a physical or a societal level.

Since the entire world has been created out of the same divine light,” he said, “how can one person be good and one bad in the name of religion, gender, caste or anything else?”

“Some of these actions may offer us health benefits or other benefits at the level of our physical body or societal principles, but they do not offer us any sort of spiritual advancement,” Singh said. “This may seem odd coming from someone who looks like me. My turban is not a ticket to the realm of the divine. The turban is my identity as a Sikh.”

For Singh, his turban serves as a reminder to himself to maintain Sikh values and ethics, and to make commitments to stand up for equality. Because there is a divine light in every human, Singh said that how a person chooses to follow their spiritual path does not matter.

“If you are a Christian, be a good Christian,” Singh said. “If you are a Jew, be a good Jew. If you are a good Sikh, be a good Sikh.”

He said that recognizing the divine light in every human also means that no person can be greater or lesser than another. He compared it to the idea of water from the same pitcher that fills cups, though the cups all have different colors and shapes.

It’s a matter of practicing complete equality — absolute equality, with everyone sitting together to eat irrespective of religion, caste, gender or social status, or any other divisions among us,” Singh said.

“Since the entire world has been created out of the same divine light,” he said, “how can one person be good and one bad in the name of religion, gender, caste or anything else?”

Thus, the concept of hurting another human who possesses the same divine light becomes illogical. Singh said it was like two brothers with the same mother fighting over whose mother is superior.

“It does not make sense to fight or brutalize others in the name of religion, which we often do,” Singh said.

The concept of this shared divine light, which Singh said was an intrinsic, immeasurable value, is why religious houses of worship, including Sikh gurdwaras, offer free meals to anyone who visits. In Sikhism, this tradition is called langar. With the help of donations and volunteers, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, is the largest gurdwara and feeds between 40,000 per day on average and more than 100,000 on holidays. Regular-sized gurdwaras can serve thousands of meals every day. Gurdwaras have offered food during Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, flooding, conflicts in Syria, in refugee camps, and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a matter of practicing complete equality — absolute equality, with everyone sitting together to eat irrespective of religion, caste, gender or social status, or any other divisions among us,” Singh said.

Singh said that healthcare workers, community organizers and volunteers giving their time and energy to help during the COVID-19 pandemic expressed the greatest form of this spirituality.

“This is the divine connection that we all share with one another and our creator,” Singh said.

Chautauqua couple donate 113 acres of forest to forestry nonprofit

primary photo for First story

Nestled in Ellery, there is a forest thick with towering trees and winding streams in the watershed of Chautauqua Lake. Birds chirp and float from branch to branch as the flora and fauna bask in the summer sun. Deer pass through, nibbling on greenery and bedding down in the brush. This is First Forest.

First Forest is more than a picturesque Western New York landscape. First Forest has made history. Year-round Chautauquans Ted and Deborah First purchased this property in 2013 out of their love for nature and hiking. But they longed to do more than just love the land.

“We wanted to see if we could do more than be active land managers. Preservation wasn’t enough, because with the global impacts of invasive species and climate changes, you really need to take a more active role in terms of building a sustainable forest for the future,” Ted First said. “Then, we realized in the process of getting involved in that we needed a partner. We needed the skills of somebody that was committed to sustainable forestry that was going to deal with not just the woodlot, but all these other conditions — the invasive species, the overrun of deer, the climate change, the planning for the future.”

But, that partnership could not exist in preservation alone. 

“What Ted and Deb have done for (FSF) is tremendously impactful, but I believe that the vision they have for the region is equally (impactful),” said Annie Maloney, executive director of FSF. “Their donation is quite visionary, to be the first that we’ve ever protected in New York State. To really want to see people come into the property to learn about sustainable forestry and to think in a different way about their property is a really big deal for the region, and of course is a big deal for a small organization like ours to be able to have a broader impact on our landscape.”

“In an area like Chautauqua County that has serious low employment opportunities — (to) integrate sustainable harvest into the long-term plan was the only thing that (made) sense to us. What people in this region don’t need is more land locked up in preservation that nobody can access,” Deb First said. “We wanted a management plan that would engage a handful of local people who would be able to make a living through the harvesting and processing of lumber. That was a pretty integral part. It should add to the community’s economic health, as well as add to the environmental health.”

While acting as a board member for the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, Ted First came across the Foundation For Sustainable Forests, a nonprofit land trust based in northwest Pennsylvania that protects and stewards 2,000 acres of working woodlands. By rehabilitating forests and setting up sustainable lumbering operations, FSF provides local jobs and improves ecological health to the regions it serves.

After two years of coordination, the Firsts finalized their 113-acre donation to FSF in 2019. Their agreement stated that the couple would maintain seven acres of meadow and a cabin, while FSF developed 106 acres. 

“What Ted and Deb have done for (FSF) is tremendously impactful, but I believe that the vision they have for the region is equally (impactful),” said Annie Maloney, executive director of FSF. “Their donation is quite visionary, to be the first that we’ve ever protected in New York State. To really want to see people come into the property to learn about sustainable forestry and to think in a different way about their property is a really big deal for the region, and of course is a big deal for a small organization like ours to be able to have a broader impact on our landscape.”

FSF moved in to make improvements. First, they cleared pathways and reinforced banks to ensure easy access for the horse teams they used while lumbering — one of FSF’s most identifiable lumbering quirks. 

“Horses are great, because they have less of a footprint on the forest floor when you’re getting logs out of a forest, but they can’t get out as long distance as a mechanical skidder — so therefore you have to improve … the access road so that a logging truck can get a little further so that the horses don’t have to get as far out,” Maloney said.

Then came the ecological improvements. FSF did an “ash salvage,” where they cleared white ash trees on the property that were dead or dying because of the invasion of the emerald ash borer — a beetle that’s feeding and egg-laying under the bark of ash trees and has decimated forests in 35 states in the last two decades. Some lumber could be used, some could not.

“There’s a little bit of a time sensitivity there, where it doesn’t take very long for those ash trees to no longer be commercially useful once they start to die,” Maloney said. “So we had to act quickly on that.”

After allowing the land to settle, land manager Guy Dunkle said he plans to selectively cut parts of the forest to allow new growth, giving the land structural and age diversity. Dunkle and his team will then create a strategy to diversify the trees in the forest as a response to the high numbers of hemlock and Sugar Maple trees, threatened by wipeouts due to disease and climate change, respectively. 

While these improvements were being done, FSF tentatively scheduled the inaugural public event for the land — a woods walk — for spring 2021. Initially, it was set for spring 2020, and fall 2020, but was repeatedly postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the walk, the public will learn about the FSF’s approach to sustainable forestry after the initial forest improvements are made. 

One pillar of their forestry style is the worst-first method. Instead of clear-cutting large swaths of forest, the crew will strategically select individual trees for harvest. Maloney noted that the status quo in lumbering is to take the highest-grade wood first. FSF, however, targets compromised or less successful trees first. 

There’s great joy in doing this,” Deb First said. “There’s a great joy in knowing that we’ve done something that lasts well beyond our lifetime — that will have a benefit to people who we’ll never meet and won’t care a fig if they ever know our names, but it will make a difference.”

“That’s always been an argument — like, ‘Oh, let’s take this beautiful healthy cherry tree and these two smaller compromised cherry trees next to them will thrive.’ Part of the reason that doesn’t really work for cultivating resilience and health in a forest is that then those already-compromised trees don’t do well. They’re more prone to wind damage or storm damage, and they also are the ones that are left to reseed the forest,” Maloney said. “Let’s send those (compromised trees) out, allowing the trees that have been more successful to continue to thrive and reseed the forest — but (also create) space for regeneration in the forest floor. 

Maloney noted that this approach is uncommon, because it does not offer an immediate flood of profit for the owner. 

“The difference of that approach is at any one time, there’s not going to be as big of a net revenue for the land owner. They’re not going to get as big of a check as you might get in … (a strategy of) ‘take the best and leave the rest,’” Maloney said. “But if you do the worst-first (strategy) in a more frequent, but less intense, manner over time, you play the long game. The economic yield can be comparable. Certainly, the ecological benefits … show themselves over time with healthier, more resilient forests.”

FSF believes lumbering efforts in Ellery will bring new jobs to Chautauqua County. The project will offer jobs for horse crews, log haulers, truck drivers, excavating crews, understory managers and invasive plant managers. 

Like the financial outcomes of this type of lumbering, the partnership of goals and values between the Firsts and FSF will have a lasting legacy on the economy and the ecology of Chautauqua County. 

“There’s great joy in doing this,” Deb First said. “There’s a great joy in knowing that we’ve done something that lasts well beyond our lifetime — that will have a benefit to people who we’ll never meet and won’t care a fig if they ever know our names, but it will make a difference.”

‘Our lives depend on it:’ Former U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power concluded the 2020 Chautauqua Lecture Series with a plan for how America can reach ‘diplomacy at its best’

Power Screenshot

Of every role Samantha Power has served in her lifetime — diplomat, author, journalist, professor and scholar — none has been more meaningful than United States Ambassador to the United Nations. 

During her time as ambassador, from 2013 to 2017, Power helped mobilize 70 countries to take on ISIS, brought into force the Paris Agreement, worked with Civil Society to get prisoners out of jail and supported President Barack Obama as he leveraged contributions to end West Africa’s Ebola outbreak. 

In other words, Power said she has seen the indispensable need for diplomacy and what it can accomplish at its very best.

“The grim facts of the current moment help us appreciate just how important and how necessary diplomacy is,” Power said. 

Power’s lecture, “America’s Role in International Engagement and Leadership,” closed the 2020 Chautauqua Lecture Series and the Week Nine theme in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, “The Future We Want, The World We Need: Collective Action for Tomorrow’s Challenges,” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 28, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform

Diplomacy is necessary, first and foremost, to end conflict. More countries are experiencing some form of violent conflict in modern-day than at any other time in the last three decades, Power said. And they aren’t just increasing in numbers — conflicts are also lasting longer. The average humanitarian crisis involving the United Nations lasts more than nine years. 

“That’s almost double the duration of such crises as recently as 2014,” she said.

Conflicts often give rise to massive population movements, which are inherently destabilizing and have led to a rise in “xenophobia and nationalism across the globe,” according to Power. Close to 80 million people have been forcibly displaced across the world, this worst displacement crisis since World War II. 

“Over the last decade, this number has essentially doubled, to the point that 1% of the entire population of the globe has been forced from their homes,” Power said. 

Diplomacy is also needed to negotiate “more ambitious” global commitments to combat climate change. 

“The commitments made under the 2015 (Paris Agreement) was a starting point, not a solution,” Power said. 

Unprecedented drought and climate-induced migration already gave rise to two of the deadliest conflicts of the 21st century: the Darfur genocide and the Syrian Civil War. 

“Even in places where climate change doesn’t cause violence, it is due to cause mass displacement on a scale that is hard to fathom,” she said.

In the face of COVID-19, Power said diplomacy is essential to coordinating global action, as she did with the Ebola outbreak in 2014. Power worked alongside diplomats from 50 nations to support West Africa in ending the outbreak, but since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Power said more than 90 governments have instead restricted exports of personal protective equipment, medicine and medical devices. 

“It’s generating antagonism and a zero-sum mindset among nations to the detriment of individuals in need,” she said. 

Despite the indispensability of using diplomacy, Power said the United States and other democracies have not invested sufficiently in that “lost art.” The Pentagon and armed services have 228,000 American personnel deployed outside of the United States. The U.S. Department of State? Only around 8,000.

“The Pentagon, famously, has only slightly fewer people serving in marching bands than (the state department has) diplomats,” Power said. 

The “undervaluing” is apparent in a lack of proper funding as well, which Power said creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

“The less we engage in diplomacy, the more chaotic the world becomes, and the more chaotic the world becomes, the harder it is to convince people at home and abroad that international engagements are worth pursuing,” Power said. “We have to break out of this cycle.”

China, on the other hand, is making “gigantic investments” in diplomacy. China’s spending on diplomacy has doubled since 2013, at the same time the United States’ budget has stagnated. 

To give a sense of the trajectory, when Power joined the Obama administration in 2009, China was the eighth-largest donor nation, contributing about 3% of the U.N.’s budget. Currently, they have passed Japan as the second-largest donor.

“I believe that building a strategic relationship with China is essential,” Power said. “It’s also going to be immensely challenging.”

China is doing more with its standing than “play defense,” Power said. China is promoting national sovereignty, an interpretation that “endangers the international human rights system.”

“China is spearheading an effort, welcomed by undemocratic nations, to redefine inalienable rights as state-bestowed privileges,” she said. “China is bringing relief to many governments.”

The key question becomes: What can be done? Power offered three ideas, presented with “humility, as the task before us is genuinely daunting.” 

First, Power said America must strengthen the internal workings of its “democracy at home.” 

“No matter how many diplomats we have, our greatest weapon is the model of our democracy at home,” Power said. “Our perceived domestic strength and our perceived domestic competence has huge bearing on the willingness of other nations to follow our lead.”

Strengthening democracy at home begins with building the diplomatic core. Power said the Department of State is in crisis as many senior leaders have left, its mission is uncertain and “morale has hit rock bottom.” 

Three years into the Trump administration, more than one-third of the top positions are vacant or filled by acting officials, such as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, which has not had a Senate-confirmed ambassador since April 2019. 

In filling the vacancies, Power said “we need to make the face of America look like America.” 

“For as long as national security has existed, it has been a field dominated by white men,” Power said.

Since the country’s founding, fewer than 1 in 10 U.S. ambassadors have been women. No American woman has served as ambassador to China, Russia, Israel, Turkey or Afghanistan.

“More often than not, those (female) ambassadors have been posted to countries considered less critical to U.S. national security,” Power said.

Power said the record of “recruiting minorities is even worse.” Only 6% of foreign service officers are African American, a mere 6% Latino. As of this summer, of the 189 U.S. ambassadors posted overseas, only seven are African American or Hispanic.

After the murder of George Floyd, Power said many African-American diplomats began speaking out about the prejudice and discrimination they have faced. As the former U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Harry Thomas Jr. put it, “You can set up all of the kumbaya panels you want, but until you see people of color being given opportunities, nothing is going to change except Band-Aids on surfaces.”

“The standard half-measures used to address these inequities just won’t do,” Power said. 

Once those positions have been filled, Power said diplomats need to focus on supporting democractic transitions and strengthening alliances among democracies. 

“The economic heft of democracies dwarfs that of even an economically potent China,” Power said. “The ability of China or Russia to silence any one country using its economic leverage is far diminished if we can coordinate our positions and stand up collectively on behalf of one another.”

Lastly, Power said diplomacy needs to take into account one of the most “underestimated forces” in politics and geopolitics: dignity. 

Why did a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire, igniting the Arab Spring? He felt humiliated. It was a matter of dignity. 

Why have many Russians supported Vladamir Putin despite their country’s stagnant economy? Partly because they believe he has restored Russia’s status as a major player on the world stage. It’s a matter of dignity.

There have been more mass, non-violent movements around the world over the past decade than at any time in recorded history. What has been at the core of these protests, the peaceful resistance that helped bring down corrupt governments? Dignity. 

In closing, Power revisited the 2014 Ebola outbreak, a time before the United States and Cuba had reestablished diplomatic ties. Nevertheless, one of the very first countries to heed president Obama’s call for global contributions was Cuba, which sent more than 200 medical professionals to the region. One of the doctors deployed was a 43-year-old Felix Baez Sarria, who was dispatched to an Ebola treatment facility in Sierra Leone. 

Sarria contracted Ebola and was airlifted to Geneva where for two days, he drifted in and out of consciousness. He almost died, but with time, pulled through and ultimately chose to return to Sierra Leone to continue working. 

“He said he needed to, that Ebola was a challenge he wanted to fight to the finish, to make sure it didn’t spread to other countries,” she said. 

Power pointed out that to save his life, multiple nations had to come together. Sarria was initially treated in the clinic where he worked, which was built with the help of the United States. From there, he was transported to a clinic run by doctors from the British Ministry of Defence. Then, Sarria was airlifted to Switzerland aboard a plane operated by an American charter service. Upon arriving, he was treated with a Canadian-developed experimental treatment. 

Every one of the stops on his itinerary was negotiated by people practicing diplomacy. To Power, diplomacy was used to make “(something) hard happen in the interest of a better world” — diplomacy at its best. 

“It will not be enough to back to a point where we proclaim that diplomacy matters, nor even to say why it matters,” Power said. “Instead, we must treat diplomacy as a top line, national and global priority, rooted in a deep-seated, broad-based, whole new appreciation of the fact that our livelihood and our lives depend on it.”

Dr. Robert J. Wicks touches on burnout, resiliency and how to kindle self care

wicks screenshot

A computer screen separated clinical psychologist Dr. Robert J. Wicks and his audience, but it didn’t phase him. From his Pennsylvania home, he looked at the camera and spoke directly to people experiencing secondary stress and burnout in ministry roles and as physicians, nurses, educators, counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and “people like yourselves.”

His second expertise is resiliency psychology and spirituality, “which is designed not simply to help people bounce back from stress, but paradoxically because of it — to become deeper as persons both psychologically and spiritually in ways that would not have been possible had the trauma or stress not occurred in the first place,” Wicks said.

At 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 27, Wicks discussed the ways he has guided people as a psychologist and consultant bent toward the spiritual in self-care and resiliency — and how people can put these in practice — in his lecture titled “Night Call: Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled World.”

His lecture marked the end of the 2020 season’s Interfaith Lecture Series, and the Week Nine theme of “The Future We Want, The World We Need.” Wicks is also a recipient of the Holy Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, the highest honor from the Pope for service to the Catholic Church. In his lecture, Wicks discussed topics from his most recent book Night Call: Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled World. It touches on secondary stress and burnout in roles of both physical and emotional service to others and how a person can deepen their inner life.

He recited a quote from Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

But those who serve others also need to take care of themselves in the process.

“Not being aware of the serious stress in our life as we reach out to others — which is a call of every religious faith group — can be quite dangerous,” Wicks said.

Wicks expanded his lecture at Chautauqua to talk about burnout.

“The seeds of compassion and the seeds of burnout are the same seeds,” Wicks said. “Everyone who cares needs to be concerned, not just professional helpers and healers. It’s my belief that for every spiritually committed, compassionate person experiencing significant stress, there’s at least a dozen of us experiencing at least some form of spiritual and psychological burnout.”

Wicks observes guilt when working with nurses and physicians because they can’t save everyone, and in the case of COVID-19, hospitals often don’t have enough equipment to accommodate the high volume of patients. Health care workers also worried about infecting their family.

“Most often, stress is a development rather than a cataclysmic event,” Wicks said. 

After giving a talk in South Africa about his book Perspective, a woman approached him and said she couldn’t keep going as a social worker who specializes in helping women who have been sexually and physically abused. The women, who were often poor single moms, had to take off work to go to court. Then the often-male judge would look at the documents and cancel the court date, and would say to make another appointment. The social worker saw herself as a failure.

But Wicks said that she was there for these women when no one else was.

“Don’t you realize we are not in the success business?” he said to her. “We are in the faith business.”

He said that failure increases with proximity to the problem and possible solutions.

“The more we’re involved, statistically the more we’re going to fail,” Wicks said.

When Wicks worked with surgical residents, he started with telling them that they will end up killing people in their career.

“Maybe not through malpractice, but certainly through mispractice, because it is impossible to be at an A-level 100% of the time,” Wicks said. “But commitment is expected of us.”

Wicks described Rabbi Tarfon as a contemporary of Jesus, and quoted him as  saying: “The day is short, the work is great, the labors are sluggish and the wages aren’t high and the master of the house is insistent. It is not our duty to finish the work, but you are not free to neglect it.”

In terms of addressing wounds with God, Wicks said it was important to attribute them correctly.

“Are these wounds based on reality, or are they based on our lack of faith and our big ego?” Wicks said.

Wicks described how stress can cause a parallel process, where people mimic the patterns of those they guide, minister to or care for. But Wicks cited a spiritual master who once told him to seek to improve his part in a situation, before trying to “carpet the world,” by wearing slippers to cover his feet.

Life is not acute, it’s chronic,” Wicks said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, you have a problem, you conquer it and —’ no, no, life is chronic and comes and goes, but suffering need not be the last word.”

Wicks said people should be present with others, the self and something greater than either of those. Helping others can be as simple as comforting them in a time of need.

And be conscious of how people feel when they’re with you. While watching Desmond Tutu walk onstage, Wicks heard a man say, “Desmond Tutu is a holy man.” When his friend asked him why he thought this, the man said, “Because he makes me feel like a holy man.”

Wicks said that gratitude for others and the little things is important, and to connect with a cause greater than oneself.

On self-care, Wicks referred to humorist Irma Bombeck, who once said, “I think any man who watches three football games in a row should be declared legally dead.”

“We just eat, metaphorically, spiritually, whatever comes along — rather than taking out the time,” he said. “ … We have time for what we want.”

Stephen Covey recommends not only to schedule time, but also priorities. Wicks said people need to make time to be present through meditation, alone time, praying and reading scripture.

But when practicing self-reflection and meditation, Wicks said to avoid arrogance and projecting issues onto others, self-condemnation and discouragement — the last of which is “the last castle of the ego, because you want things to change immediately.”

Self-care is not a process that starts and ends. It’s continuous management.

“Life is not acute, it’s chronic,” Wicks said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, you have a problem, you conquer it and —’ no, no, life is chronic and comes and goes, but suffering need not be the last word.”

‘I Know Our Founders Would Be Proud’


In my four seasons as Chautauqua Institution’s president, this may be the oddest column to write to you. Normally at this point, I am sharing my sadness that our Summer Assembly Season has come to a close and I share reflections of my favorite moments from the previous nine weeks. I’ll save the latter for our closing Three Taps of the Gavel address at 8 p.m. EDT Sunday, Aug. 30 (join us at or on your CHQ Assembly app). And the odd part about the former is that while our 147th Summer Assembly Season concludes this week, we start anew in September with a new round of programming on CHQ Assembly.


COVID-19 took many things from all of us. There were missed celebrations and deeply sad moments. There was a “new normal” and a mourning of lost summer traditions, but it also ushered in a moment of reinvention for Chautauqua with the advent of CHQ Assembly. I’m so deeply grateful to all who took this beta test journey with us of the new digital collective. It was heartwarming to reconnect with you from around the world as you tuned in for lectures, classes, religious services and time-honored Chautauqua traditions. We have always said that Chautauqua is a powerfully connected community, and I am so grateful to all who used CHQ Assembly this summer to stay linked to one another. 

We begin now unpacking all we’ve learned from this summer. It’s amazing to think that people in 50 countries were a part of our Assembly this summer. It’s remarkable to note that of our 10,000 paid CHQ Assembly subscribers, only 3,500 have an email that we can tie back to an existing Chautauquan. This tells me that many more count themselves among a deeply expanded community, and, for that, I’m truly excited. Not since the days of the founding of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle has Chautauqua endeavored to have such a far-reaching impact; I know our founders would be proud. 

As I close out this column, I hope and pray that we will be able to safely gather with one another on the grounds of the Institution for our 148th Summer Assembly Season. I miss your faces, and I miss the energy of our in-person community. But I also know that when we do gather in person again, we will be joined by a growing legion of new Chautauquans, some of whom may never physically come here, but who share our passion for the exploration of the best in human values. May that be the blessing that comes out of this incredibly surreal time … until we meet again. 

Ever grateful, 

Michael E. Hill 

18th President, Chautauqua Institution 

Final Heritage Lecture Series presentation to cover historical Chautauquans

Krulish and Schmitz

“It’s kind of a right-in-your-own-backyard sort of story.”

Or at least, it is in the words of Emálee Krulish, Chautauqua Institution archives assistant, as she spoke about the final installment of the 2020 Heritage Lecture Series: “Ten People Who Left Chautauqua: And were better for having been here.” This lecture, featuring Krulish and Institution archivist Jon Schmitz, is set to premiere at 3:30 p.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 28, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform

“(We will profile) five men and five women who left Chautauqua (Institution) and were better for having been here,” Krulish said. “That ranges from whether they grew up here, they were employed by Chautauqua, they spent just one summer here, they made a visit, (or) they taught here.”

But none of these individuals were lifelong Chautauquans. All of them left. 

“They didn’t remain at Chautauqua, they didn’t become a part of the ongoing Chautauqua (movement) either by returning every summer as part of the administration or anything like that,” Schmitz said. “They went on, but they had been given a break, or had been very much influenced by their time here.”

Krulish pointed to journalist Ida Tarbell as an example. Tarbell sharpened her skills as a writer for The Chautauquan in the late 1880s before moving on to a career as an investigative journalist exposing corporate corruption. 

“I started reading her autobiography again and I was like, ‘Oh, she actually kind of had a falling out (with the Institution).’ She kind of found herself here and realized that this is not what she wanted to do,” Krulish said. “It gave her the experience; … Sometimes it’s helpful to have those jobs to know what you don’t want to do.”

Schmitz chose this topic as a way to cap off the lecture series with some historical reflection. 

“I usually close with something that deals with people at Chautauqua, rather than issues,” Schmitz said. “It’s just an appropriate way, as the season winds down and people are getting ready to leave — although that’s not happening this year — that we just look back a bit at some of the people who have been at Chautauqua and how that has made a difference for them, and ultimately to how it’s made a difference for Chautauqua over the years.”

In 2020, along with the rest of Institution programming, the Heritage Lecture Series existed entirely online. The lectures were recorded ahead of time, edited and published each Friday at 3:30 p.m. EDT. For the lecturers — including Schmitz — it was a new art form to perfect. 

“I know for me personally, it’s been a challenge. It’s been very much a learning experience. It’s not always easy to have to look at yourself present. When you’re doing it live … that’s it — you’re just seeing it from one side,” Schmitz said. “To actually be able to have to look at yourself and realize how much needs to be improved, it’s certainly been — I won’t say a humbling experience — but a learning experience.”

Schmitz learned about the technical side of things, like writing for a teleprompter and choosing images to accompany the presentation. But, above all else, Schmitz’s tone had to match the intimacy of the small screen.

“When you do recordings like this, there’s much greater intimacy with the audience, even though you’re not aware of where they are, who they are, what they’re thinking or anything else,” Schmitz said. “You’re going right into their living room, … and so you have to change your presentation a bit to actually realize that you are coming right into somebody’s home to speak to them, as opposed to addressing them in a huge audience, sitting in front of you.”

This series is made possible with a gift from Jeff Lutz and Cathy Nowosielski.

UNICEF’s Henrietta Fore examines challenges children face across globe, how COVID-19 has changed her work, and importance of education in global context

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Ewalt and Fore

During childhood, people experience three major turning points regarding education. At around age 5, said Henrietta Fore, they should be ready to learn.

“This means in those first 1,000 days, you need enough good nutrition so that your brain and your bones develop, so you have a full chance to both live to survive, as well as to thrive,” said Fore, executive director of UNICEF.

The second point is at age 10, when Fore said children should be able to read and understand a paragraph or short story.

“(UNICEF is) worried about the quality of education around the world, especially in the poorest communities,” Fore said. “For many of the children, 40% or 60% can graduate out of primary school without having this ability to read and comprehend a simple paragraph.”

The third turning point is at age 18, when Fore said the child should have enough secondary school foundational life skills to learn an occupational skill to make a livelihood.

“Our greatest worry is that many of the children will now drop out,” Fore said. 

She said because of the pandemic, 1.6 billion students were out of school, though some have started to go back into the classroom. Fore thinks that in the poorest countries and poorest communities, students — especially girls — are unlikely to have a chance to return to schools. In the poorest countries, she said students are tuning into class by radio and in middle-income countries, children are watching classes on TV. In high-income countries, such as the United States, she said, students go to school online.

At 10:45 a.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Fore held a conversation with Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt titled “How to Help Children Reach Their Full Potential,” as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series’ Week Nine theme of “The Future We Want, the World We Need: Collective Action for Tomorrow’s Challenges,” in partnership with the U.N. Foundation. Fore discussed the challenges children face across the globe, how the pandemic has changed UNICEF’s work, and the importance of education in a global context.

UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories, helping children survive, thrive and fulfill their potential. The U.N. organization supports children across the globe, focusing on education, sanitation, and the protection of young people against violence and exploitation. Its office and caseworkers also work to improve hygiene and health among young people.

Fore said that most mental health problems start to show by age 14, and young children who have experienced trauma show mental health issues even earlier.

“They will come in (to our caseworkers) and they will draw pictures of guns firing, people getting shot and names of members of their family,” Fore said. “They are reliving (trauma), and we need to make sure that we have safe places, that they can let their feelings be expressed, that they can talk to an adult and then they can learn how to deal with those feelings of anxiety and depression.”

UNICEF has offices in every country. Fore said the best practice to solve international issues is to work with local governments, so UNICEF is deeply involved in communities.

“We are hearing from people, and they are very worried. There is an enormous challenge ahead,” Fore said.

Many countries have been experiencing floods, others droughts, and she said locusts have hit eastern Africa. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an additional challenge to communities across the world.

Community health care workers are absolutely essential to our fabric of life, and governments need to know that these are not just policies that they’re implementing or systems or people in offices,” Fore said. “These are people.”

“The number one request our country officers had when COVID first came to us was that the governments wanted to reach out to their people in every language,” Fore said, “(in) all the local dialects, as well as in the major languages, to tell them about COVID and how they could stay safe, and what it means to wash your hands and have good hygiene.”

Because much of the world does not have ready access to water and soap, she said it is difficult for homes, schools and hospitals to have good hygiene practices. UNICEF is spreading information about the pandemic to various countries with handbills, as well as on social media.

Ewalt asked how UNICEF social workers keep children safe, and how much governments invest in these employees. 

“Community health care workers are absolutely essential to our fabric of life, and governments need to know that these are not just policies that they’re implementing or systems or people in offices,” Fore said. “These are people.”

She said these social workers are talking to parents and children in their daily lives, teaching them about immunizations, keeping children away from violence, the importance of education, and making sure the community has access to water.

“Many of (the social workers) have been falling ill. We are getting personal protective equipment out to everyone that we can. We have enormous demand around the world for this, but they risk their lives,” Fore said. “They didn’t miss a beat when COVID came. They just went out there and began talking and making sure that a community feels safe.”

Part of UNICEF’s work is also interacting with local and national governments.

“We are calling on every government to make sure that they do not cut their budgets on community health care workers,” Fore said. “All of our partners who are nonprofit organizations are trying to spread this word.”

Ewalt asked how the pandemic has affected prevention and response services for children who may be living in abusive households.

Fore said one of the ways UNICEF helps children is making sure every child can be identified by the government and has a nationality, meaning they are a citizen of a country, so they can be counted for school and have health care. As children get older, UNICEF focuses on protecting them from violence. She said one in four young people are in areas of conflict, and they sometimes are separated from their families.

“If you’re a very young child, it’s very hard to know your name, your parents’ names and the name of your village,” Fore said. “It’s hard sometimes for the caseworkers to know how to bring this child back to their family, but UNICEF does this with many of our partners, so that we reunify families; we want to be sure that children are not trafficked in these times of emergency.”

Fore said it is important to make sure the children that are safe and secure, have access to food, health care, sanitation and education. 

“If you (are) separated, it makes you very distressed, very anxious; and children can just be crying,” Fore said. “When I was in Mozambique just after the cyclone, … roofs had been blown off of most of the homes. So often, families were separated and children and families ran to the schools, because the schools’ roofs were still on.”

Rachel Bowen Pittman discusses the United Nations Association of the USA’s mission, shares actions each person can take to create a better world

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Rachel Bowen Pittman grew up in a segregated Memphis, Tennessee. At age 15, she attended a National Conference of Christians and Jews summer camp, which encouraged children to interact with other cultures and taught them how to reduce prejudice and be leaders in social justice. The second day, the counselors placed the campers into different groups based on their race, and gave different rules to each group. For example, white campers got special food, and Black campers were tasked with clean-up duty.

“As teenagers, we know we have to respect and listen to adults. We knew we wanted to rebel, but we’re afraid of the consequences,” said Pittman, executive director of the United Nations Association of the United States of America. “However, after some time, one camper stood up and crossed the line into another group to break the rule. And then one by one, we all stood up until we were united as one in protest against the counselors.”

This was a planned exercise by the counselors; the goal was to teach the campers they had collective power, and sometimes building a better world requires breaking some rules. 

Pittman spoke at 10:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 26, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, as part of Chautauqua Institution’s Week Nine Lecture platform, “The Future We Want — The World We Need: Collective Action For Tomorrow’s Challenges,” programmed in partnership with the U.N. Foundation. Her lecture, “Americans’ Role in Addressing Global Problems at a Local Level,” discussed what the United Nations is doing for its 75th anniversary, the effects COVID-19 has had on the globe, and actions each person can take to create a better world.

No step is too small, no movement forward will go unappreciated. Our path to a better world is real,” Pittman said.

The U.N. predicts that 71 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic by the end of 2020. Pittman said 270 million people could face acute food insecurity — more than double the number of 2019 — meaning their lives would be in immediate danger from lack of food.  

“It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is not the great equalizer,” Pittman said. “It, in fact, has a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable and marginalized communities.”

She also said by the end of 2020, the U.N. predicts global greenhouse gas emissions will decline by 6 percent. This decline, however, will not keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, which Pittman said would require world emissions to fall by 7.6% every year.

Pittman discussed her work with UNA-USA, dedicated to inspiring Americans to support the work of the United Nations, and how she helps members of UNA-USA tell their stories in Congress. According to the UNA-USA website, the organization has over 20,000 members and more than 200 chapters across the country. Members can participate in monthly national conference calls with U.N. experts and have a forum to voice their support for U.S. engagement at the U.N.

“Before the pandemic, I saw this framework in action by (UNA-USA) members,” Pittman said. “I escorted younger and older members around the halls of Congress, so they could advocate for full U.S. funding for the U.N. … Many of them had never taken this action before.”

Pittman said the audience needs to think about how they will participate in the global COVID-19 recovery. She said people of any age can become involved in community engagement and activism, as well as write letters about important issues to their local paper. People can also reach out to their elected officials to make sure they are endorsing laws and practices that promote equity.

“No step is too small, no movement forward will go unappreciated. Our path to a better world is real,” Pittman said.

The lecture then shifted to a Q-and-A session with Emily Morris, Chautauqua Institution vice president of marketing and communications and chief brand officer. The UNA-USA website states that 60% of their members are under the age of 26, and Morris asked how that affects Pittman’s work.

“We felt that the voice of youth needed to be heard more,” Pittman said, “and we noticed that youth in general were becoming more engaged in advocacy issues, such as climate change and gender equality, so it was a natural move for us to want to engage more youth.” 

She said UNA-USA reaches out to young people in several ways, including Model U.N. programs.

Morris asked what UNA-USA would be focusing on in the next few months.

UNA-USA holds the Global Engagement Online Series — webinars featuring a variety of experts in global issues. The next one, on Sept. 9, will be about how COVID-19 is impacting the educational systems in the U.S. and abroad, especially with the start of the academic year.

And for the 75th anniversary of the U.N., UNA-USA chapters across the country are hosting virtual programs.

“We are always looking for people to advocate for the United Nations and the work of the United Nations — especially the World Health Organization,” Pittman said. “We need to fight the COVID pandemic.”

The Rev. Mitri Raheb looks to future with hope in spite of Israel and Palestine’s present

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At 58 years old, the Rev. Mitri Raheb has lived through 11 wars and battles in Bethlehem, Palestine.

“On average, every five years we go through a war,” Raheb said. “And in such a context, it’s really not easy to keep hope alive.”

But as an Evangelical Lutheran pastor, he preaches hope all the same.

“The more I read the Bible, the more I was preaching, the more I discovered that actually the Bible itself was written in a context of lots of despair, war, exile, destruction,” Raheb said. “And you hear the prophets saying, ‘How long, oh Lord, how long?’ And yet, that same book, the Bible, is infused with hope.

In his lecture “Palestine: Hope at Times of Despair?!” Raheb described how just like in the Bible, Palestine is in despair, but he still has hope for future peace.

He pre-recorded his lecture from Bethlehem, Palestine. It was released at 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 25, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as part of the Week Nine Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “The Future We Want, the World We Need.”

He started with the present. After Palestinians have been pushed out of their homes by Jewish settlers for the last 50 years, Raheb said Israel President Benjamin Netanyahu aims to annex around 40% of the West Bank, including important resources like the Jordan Valley “vegetable basket” and access to water resources like the Dead Sea and a water aquifer. He compared the annexation plan to Swiss cheese.

“Israel gets the cheese, that is, the resources, and the Palestinians are pushed out and get the holes,” Raheb said.

The current U.S. administration is also partial to Israel’s goals.

“They give Israel everything without really leaving any options for the Palestinians,” Raheb said.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan, illustrated in a map, leaves parts of Gaza disconnected from one another, with limited roads to travel between them.

Raheb has been discouraged by the international state response in general. Raheb said the atrocities Jews suffered in the Holocaust often cause European states to hesitate to act on what the Israeli government has done to Palestinians in the name of a holy land.

Meanwhile, Arab states like the United Arab Emirates gain financially and politically through ties with Israel at the expense of Palestine. The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish uses the Judeo-Christian allegory of the 11 brothers abusing Joseph and casting him out in the Old Testament to summarize the the waning lack of support over time from traditionally Muslim countries, though Palestine, too, is traditionally Muslim.

Raheb said it feels like a two-state solution is dissipating, while a one-state solution doesn’t seem possible yet, either.

“We live in this limbo,” Raheb said.

Raheb also uses another word to describe this limbo — apartheid.

“There is no way to violate human rights in the name of divine rights,” Raheb said.

Since 2002, Israel has built a separation barrier deep into Palestinian territory that has been condemned by the international community. Qalqilya, Palestine, is a city with 50,000 people surrounded by a 25-foot wall. To travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, five miles away in Israel, Palestinians need a permit. Israel has also created separate road systems that Israelis are permitted to use, while Palestinians are restricted to smaller roads.

When looking at maps, Raheb said it’s hard to be hopeful. But people still inspire hope in him.

He is first comforted by the fact that 6.5 million Palestinians live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan Valley. They are not going to just disappear. In 1948, outside forces tried to do this by kicking Palestinians out of their homes and displacing them.

He is also comforted by the 6 million-strong diaspora of Palestinians around the world. His conversations with Palestinians abroad who are young, educated and still passionate about Palestine  — even as second- or third-generation immigrants — are another source of hope.

Raheb said that young Jewish people also give him hope for Palestine’s future.

“The third sign of hope is a movement that is happening in the Jewish community, and especially the Jewish community in the United States,” Raheb said.

Raheb said that J Street is part of this movement. An Interfaith Lecture Series talk by J Street’s founder Jeremy Ben-Ami releases at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 26, the day after Raheb’s.

“J Street said we have to work for a two-state solution. We have to find a compromise,” Raheb said. “Not because they love the Palestinians so much, but because Israel cannot be a democratic country and a Jewish country at the same time.”

Raheb said that he also still sees hope in the international community. Like this summer, when Black Lives Matter protests spread globally following the death of George Floyd. And when Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Israel, the international community did not follow suit because Raheb said it recognized Jerusalem not as the capital of Israel, but as an occupied state. And churches in the United States and all over the world are calling for companies to divest from business with Israel in protest.

“It is a desperate situation, but there is still hope,” Raheb said.

The future of Palestine, Raheb said, needs the international community to take human rights violations in Palestine seriously, engaged citizens who pay attention, and to regain the diversity that Palestine had prior to British colonization. Until 1928, Christians, Jews and Muslims worked and lived in one municipality before the British divided it  into two separate societies. In 1947, British soldiers did the same with a leper hospital and divided them into Jews and Muslims.

Raheb said that without a state, Palestine doesn’t have access to the rest of the world (though being a state doesn’t cut a nation off from everything in a post-nation-state era). After Palestine has been treated as stateless for generations, Raheb said that a confederation of two states rather than a two-state solution could be an option for peace. And regional cooperation on transnational issues beyond Palestine and Israel — like the COVID-19 pandemic — are also priorities.

“This virus doesn’t know boundaries,” Raheb said.

But to be able to prioritize these concerns, Raheb said the hundreds of billions of dollars of military funding need to be distributed back into investments for the people. He is concerned about growing religious nationalism worldwide; in Christian Zionist movements and links to general populism.

“When you blend religion with nationalism, this is a very explosive mix,” Raheb said.

To look toward the future of Palestine and the world with hope, Raheb said, reminded him of the prophet Jeremiah from the sixth century B.C.E., who watched Jerusalem fall while he was still imprisoned. He asked a family member to buy him a piece of land in Jerusalem after the tragedy.

“This is exactly what we do,” Raheb said. “We are investing in Palestine regardless of the weather, if it’s good or bad, if we have peaceful times, or even during wars; we were busy building the future.”

Raheb is the president of Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem, Palestine, and co-founder of the U.S. nonprofit Bright Stars of Bethlehem, which funds the university educational and cultural initiatives. During the last five months of the COVID-19 pandemic while everything else shut down, the university finished building an outdoor plaza for students, and a new art gallery for the university art collection — and also started a new training center in Gaza, which suffers from polluted air, water and a lack opportunities for young people due to Israeli state violence.

“The only option we have, actually, is to get ready to work and invest even when no one wants to invest,” Raheb said.

Hear them Now: School of Music voice students to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter through African Diaspora recital

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When George Floyd lost his life at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, the world didn’t stop. Instead, it marched. It chanted. It ignited.  

Before 2020, the 2017 Women’s March held the record for American protests at 4.6 million attendees. Polls indicate that, as of mid-June, more than 21 million adults had attended a Black Lives Matter protest.

Nicoletta Berry, an incoming masters student at the Juilliard School of Music and recent graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, wanted to stand in solidarity through song — and decided to create her own way of honoring the moment.

“The more outspoken we are, the better things are going to be for the future of us all,” Berry said. 

“Hear them Now: A Recital of Works from the African Diaspora,” a School of Music Voice Program recital, is available on-demand on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. The recital initially aired and was recorded Sunday, Aug. 2, on Zoom. 

To ensure the planning and execution of the recital was as diverse and representative as possible, Berry reached out to Jaime Sharp, an incoming masters student at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music and recent graduate of the University of Michigan.

“I didn’t want this to be yet another thing run by people who are not Black,” Berry said. “We have seen way too much of that recently.” 

After they sent an email to every student in the Voice Program, 18 students volunteered to perform in the recital. Berry and Sharp put together a program of 18 solos, including art songs, spirituals and arias. All composers are Black. None of them repeat. 

“We feature an Afro-Latino composer, living composers, late composers and female composers — we basically checked as many boxes as we could,” Sharp said. 

There are staples in the set, Sharp said, such as Harry Burleigh, the first African-American composer acclaimed for his concert songs as well as for his adaptations of African-American spirituals, and Hall Johnson, whose Hall Johnson Choir is responsible for many of the greatest choir performances on stage and on screen in the ’30s and ’40s. But there are also contemporary additions, like Carlos Simon, whose work is contemporary partially because of its versatility, partially because he’s only 33. 

It can be difficult to get a hold of music by Black composers, according to Sharp. She has been to music libraries where none of the Black anthologies were accessible, and one where it was listed in the catalog, only for Berry to be told the library was “unable to locate it.” Berry has two anthologies of her own, but was hesitant at first to approach the repertoire because of her limited knowledge of Black composers.

“Those kinds of things just aren’t good enough anymore,” Sharp said. “The failure of these institutions to provide this kind of repertoire is hurting us as students. I hope now that a lot of the singers have heard this music, things begin to change.”

Things are changing already. Sharp and Berry gave each student who performed access to all of the included compositions and said many students expressed they were eager to include it in classes and performances during the subsequent semester. Sharp said a vocal coach from her school now wants to include some of the pieces into his American art song class. 

“The first step is being exposed to them,” Sharp said.

Berry said 18 students is merely a starting point. Most music students across the nation have never explored Black repertoire, something Sharp finds difficult to make sense of. 

“… When you sing American music, that is now going hand in hand with white American music,” Sharp said. “We just want to normalize the concept of when you have to perform an American art song, the one you pick just happens to be an American art song by a Black composer, by a Black woman.”

Normalizing the repertoire, for Berry, means appreciating the work of William Grant Still and Scott Joplin just as much as that of Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann. But for too long, Sharp added, classical music has been deemed “white Eurocentric music,” which she said is narrow and not true, a view she hopes “Hear them Now” will broaden and “alter for life.” 

“How can we incorporate this Black music in the future not because we have to, but because it’s amazing and it deserves to be performed?” Berry said. “I want people to listen to this recital and realize it’s not this foreign thing — it’s here and it’s always been here and we have the obligation to nurture it, perform it and to offer it to the world.”

Virtual Bryant Day reveals first 2021 CLSC selection amid ringing bells

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Though it may have been a recording, the Miller Bell Tower rang out just as true as it always has on Saturday, marking the beginning of Chautauqua’s first virtual Bryant Day.

The Bryant Day ceremony — named in honor of William Cullen Bryant and his support for the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle — is an event that marks the official beginning of the new reading year for the CLSC.

At the virtual ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 22, Director of Literary Arts Sony Ton-Aime unveiled the first 2021 CLSC book selection after a rousing program including songs, poetry and pride. He began by acknowledging the challenges posed to the CLSC by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am so proud to be part of this community of readers,” Ton-Aime said. “As we approach the end of the 2020 season, we are happy to announce that it was a great and successful season. You, the people of this community of readers, made it possible. Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, we came together around our mutual love of literature and lifelong learning, albeit virtually.”

Ton-Aime said the theme of the CLSC’s 2021 reading year would be “The People,” a theme borne from the “resiliency and ingenuity of (the world’s) people.”

“Next year, the CLSC selections will explore our contributions as people, our commonality, and what makes us human — without losing sight of the individual in each of us,” he said. “They will highlight the myths, fables and narratives of our humanness.”

With that, Ton-Aime turned the program over to Dick Karslake, the president of the Alumni Association of the CLSC, who began with the traditional poem written by Grace Livingston Hill-Lutz, read every year at Bryant Day.

“Your hillside by the quiet shore, / In hearts your watchfires burn, / With answering fire that shall inspire, / Still other hearts in turn!” Karslake read. “Fling wide your music, deep-toned bell, / From out your woodland tower! / Ring, clear, sweet bell, the story tell! / Proclaim the opening hour.”

From there, vocalist Amanda Lynn Bottoms and Chautauqua’s interim organist Joshua Stafford performed the first of two songs, “From Age to Age They Gather,” which was to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Then, after Lynn Bottoms and Stafford performed the short psalm “Bless Now, O God, We Pray,” Ton-Aime moved to reveal the first CLSC selection of 2021.

“Now is the moment I think you’ve all been waiting for,” he said.

After acknowledging the rising (virtual) tension, Ton-Aime lifted the Week Nine CLSC selection in front of his camera for all to see — the CLSC selection for Week Nine of the 2021 season.

“It is Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit, by Eliese Colette Goldbach,” he said. “It’s a book that recounts the years that Eliese spent working in a steel mine in Cleveland, Ohio, during the Depression. It’s the only book that we’re going to present now, but stay in touch — we are going to have all the selections revealed in the coming weeks, until we get to the season next year.”

And with that promise, Ton-Aime shifted the presenter’s screen to the recording of the Miller Bell Tower, ringing away.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño calls for community with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Bishop Minerva Carcaño said amidst U.S.-caused inequality in the country and abroad, reaching out to help vulnerable people to bring into communities is an antidote.

“We must agree to strive to love one another as we are loved by God, our creator, remembering that we all yearn for the same thing — belonging in a beloved community,” Carcaño said.

Carcaño gave her lecture at 2 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 24. Titled “The World We Need — Belonging in Beloved Community,” the discussion on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform kicked off Week Nine’s Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “The Future We Want, the World We Need.” 

Carcaño is the bishop of the United Methodist Church’s California-Nevada Conference and an immigration rights advocate. In 2004, she became the first Hispanic woman to be elected into UMC leadership. Her lecture was pre-recorded from her office in Sacramento, California, where fires caused by lightning have ravaged the state and displaced people from their homes indefinitely. Carcaño urged people to donate to the Red Cross or to funds organized by respective religious bodies.

Carcaño said that in her role on the board of the California Endowment, the largest health foundation in the state, a fellow board member and college student, Lupe, reached out to collaborate on working for the health and well-being of all Californians. While working together over the last few months, Carcaño found that she and Lupe had many similarities. Each have immigrant roots in the border regions of the United States, have experienced extreme poverty, and imagine a better world. But while Carcaño sees the world from the perspective of someone preparing to retire comfortably in a few years, Lupe sees life in two-year increments as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals student who has to reapply to stay in the country every two years.

“DACA is just one more sign of the brokenness of our immigration policies in this country, and of our racism and xenophobic nationalism,” Carcaño said.

Carcaño said that the ICE detention camps of undocumented immigrants started not with current U.S. President Donald Trump, but with the former U.S. President Barack Obama.

“President Trump has carried out the most recent atrocities, but he did not establish these practices,” Carcaño said. “They began under the Obama administration. We have been allowing the destruction of the world we need for too long.”

Carcaño visited McAllen, Texas, with a group of immigrant rights leaders in 2014 to look into what was happening to unaccompanied minors at a U.S. entry point. Near ICE detention centers and the places on the Rio Grande River where people typically crossed, they also witnessed the intervention of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which had transformed itself into a center that provided unaccompanied children with hot food, showers, medical care, new clothes, new shoes.

But Carcaño said the welcome they gave the children was another gift, as a door opened to reveal a large room where church leaders, volunteers and immigrant children already there would stop what they were doing to welcome the incoming children in Spanish.

“Some were in awe, some would giggle, and some would begin to weep,” Carcaño said.

She remembered how one child who started to cry when he entered the facility later snuggled up to her while showing her pictures he had drawn at a coloring station. He had traveled over 1,500 miles on foot to get there. When she asked him why he was overcome with emotion, he told her that no one had welcomed him until then.

“It will not be an easy task to move from a world of division and war, from bias, blatant racism, racial inequity, xenophobia, genocide and economic systems that create long-term crippling poverty for too many around the globe, from unjust legal systems that discriminate the poor and people of color, from a world living in disastrous disregard for creation to its detriment — to a world of care, justice, peace, hope and belonging,” Carcaño said.

While thinking about the theme for this week that looks toward the future, Carcaño drew inspiration from the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“… the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community,” King wrote. “It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends.”

King said the necessary fight against racism, war and economic injustice was “a revolution of values.” He not only advocated for racial justice within the United States, but was also against war and the United States’ exploitation of young countries, including through the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Free Trade Agreement — exploitation which Carcaño said is the root cause of migration that continues today.

In 1967, King spoke out against the Vietnam War in front of 3,000 people in Riverside Church in New York City. He said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

“King challenged the assumptions of the inevitability of war, stating unequivocally … that war and its effects of death, homelessness, destroyed families and communities, increased hatred and violence, and physically and emotionally disabled and disfigured soldiers could not be reconciled with wisdom, with justice or love,” Carcaño said. “War could not be reconciled with the virtues of wisdom, justice or love then, and it cannot be reconciled with these virtues now.”

Carcaño said that this is still evident, not only in wars that the United States participates in abroad, but in its internal wars. More money is funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline than educating children. Private prisons of undocumented people who make billions are simultaneously blocking the legalization of immigration.

And police have disproportionately arrested Black people. Carcaño listed just a few names of Black people who died at the hands of police. George Floyd allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill before the eight-minute video of his death went viral. Breonna Taylor, 26, was killed while sleeping in her home when police tracked down a suspect to the wrong house. Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was taking care of her 8-year-old nephew when police came to the door. Stephon Clark, from Sacramento, California, was a 22-year-old killed in his grandmother’s backyard while holding his phone. Botham Jean was 26 when he was eating ice cream on a sofa.

“The list is endless, and we should never forget a single one of them,” Carcaño said. “We are a nation at war with its own citizens, its own children. Such a nation will fail and fall.”

King titled his 1967 speech on war “Beyond Vietnam.” Carcaño said that U.S. citizens need to follow suit and look beyond the wars of today.

“In our moment of history, I agree that we must treat one another with respect and human dignity, seeking common good rather than our self-centered desires,” Carcaño said.

Carcaño ended her lecture with a childhood memory of the new neighbor, Mr. Johnson, a Black cattle rancher who became friends with her father. Her family had never met a Black person. Carcaño’s father didn’t speak much English, but he and Johnson would meet at the fence to speak with one another at the end of every day. Johnson taught Carcaño’s brothers about the bulls he raised, and watched Carcaño and her siblings when their mother had to check on the grandparents down the road.

When Johnson died years later, Carcaño discovered on the way to his funeral that he wasn’t allowed to be buried at the cemetery they lived next to because of his skin color. He was instead buried in the nearby woods.

Carcaño’s father died not long after, and was buried in their backyard. By the time Carcaño’s mother was buried next to him many years later, Carcaño saw that the woods had been cleared and the cemetery had expanded to the woods where Johnson was buried so many years ago. In death, the neighbors were reunited.

“I don’t want to wait for eternity for that gift of belonging, of love and community,” Carcaño said. “It can be ours now.”

Hazon’s Rabbi Sid Schwarz calls for humans to take up responsibility for creating a better world on Interfaith Friday

rabbi sid schwarz

Before he began his Interfaith Friday lecture, Rabbi Sid Schwarz said his take on progressive Judaism was one of many.

“No one should be so arrogant as to think that their interpretation is the only interpretation and the intent of the Biblical text,” Schwarz said. “What I now offer is a Jewish take, because there is no such thing as the Jewish take. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Schwarz gave his Week Eight lecture “The Creation Story and Humanity’s Homework: A Jewish Take” at 2 p.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 21, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. Vice President of Religion and Senior Pastor Gene Robinson joined him in a subsequent Q-and-A.

Schwarz has served as a rabbi for 40 years. Prior to Schwarz’s time as a senior fellow at the nonprofit Hazon, he founded and led PANIM: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, and organized a historic protest against the former Soviet Union’s treatment of its Jewish citizens. He said that the understanding of creation for Jewish people is multifaceted.

“For Jews, interpreting the texts of the opening chapters of Genesis, or any passages in the Bible, are closer to one of those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books that you might have bought for your kids,” Schwarz said.

These layered meanings are compounded by the traditional study of Rabbinic literature.

Schwarz said that progressive Judaism is not a common perspective within the broader faith. His parents were Holocaust survivors, and he grew up with the traditional idea of God as an all-powerful, omnipotent being. But when his uncle, who was also a rabbi, introduced him to the writings of reconstructionist Jewish thinker Mordecai Kaplan as a gift for Schwarz’s bar mitzvah, a young Schwarz agreed with Kaplan’s concept that religion should drive personal and community development.

I have always been drawn to this second image of God,” Schwarz said. “Not as a master of the universe, but as a force for personal, social transformation in the world. And this guy gives humanity homework because this guy cannot work alone.”

With Jewish thinkers spanning multiple centuries across the continents, Schwarz said reading the full breadth of Rabbinic literature would take several lifetimes to complete.

“If I, as a 21st-century rabbi, want to deliver my own interpretation on a verse, I stand on the shoulders of rabbis from generations who came before me who commented on the same verse,” Schwarz said.

Schwarz used two verses from Genesis to present two views of the task that God gave humanity. Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 2:15, depending on how they are translated, can connote that humans control the domain of the land on earth because God gave it to them, or that they must work in service to others, protect, and guard the land that God gave them.

Schwarz said that this dichotomy is reflected in the American debate over climate change. Climate change deniers often believe that if God is in control of the environment, humans should be able to build what they need without consideration of the earth because God will provide.

Schwarz believes in the second view of humanity: the idea that people are stewards of the earth for God.

“The world has been given to us as a sacred trust,” Schwarz said.

Schwarz said this reflects two competing perspectives on God in Judaism, as well as Christianity and Islam. One version of God is patriarchal and hierarchical, with divinely ordained justice from above.

The second version of God is a healer, in Psalm 147, and as a leader of the oppressed as described in Exodus 6.

“I have always been drawn to this second image of God,” Schwarz said. “Not as a master of the universe, but as a force for personal, social transformation in the world. And this guy gives humanity homework because this guy cannot work alone.”

Schwarz quoted a portion of the Talmud, which says that God didn’t create bread, but created wheat so humans could make bread. And rather than creating bricks, God created clay for humans to make bricks.

“Humanity is an integrative part of the unfolding of the creation of the universe,” Schwarz said.

This accounts for all humanity, not just a few. Genesis states that all humans are created in the image of God, which means that humans must treat each other as a fellow reflection of the divine.

“God is present in the world when human beings do their homework and decide to be God’s agent on Earth,” Schwarz said.

Annual Friends of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center contest goes online, celebrates all applicants

Bethanne Snodgrass Contest Recap

Among the winning poetry and prose showcased in the Friends of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center’s Contests Awards Sunday, Aug. 16, on Zoom was a piece by May Kuroiwa called “Just Like the First Time” that aimed to summarize — in a single paragraph, no less — a woman’s entire life.

“(It) beautifully captures the arc of a woman’s life in a compressed flash format,” said Randon Billings Noble, the judge for the prose award and an essayist and educator. “A series of vectors, this story swirls through time and leaves the reader with the same wondering feelings as its main character.” 

This year’s judges were Noble and the poet Mathias Svalina, both of whom were in attendance at the awards ceremony. Noble and Svalina led workshops for the Chautauqua Writers’ Center on the CHQ Assembly Online Classroom during Week Seven.

“This is our first Zoom award ceremony, and we can only hope it will be our only Zoom ceremony,” said Bethanne Snodgrass, the Friends of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center contests coordinator. “We’d like to refer back to it with some humor. The writing contests have been put on in Chautauqua for almost 90 years; the Women’s Club started with poetry contests back in 1931.” 

Snodgrass said that this season, the Friends of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center contest was fortunate to be hosted online at all. 

“We’re lucky that we had already put this writing contest online,” she said. “If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here this evening. We’ve got it running through the Submittable platform pretty smoothly, and we’re hoping to do some interesting things with it in the future, as well.”

After Kuroiwa’s prose piece was read, Svalina introduced the three poetry winners to the audience; he started with Pat Owen’s poem, “Amaryllis,” which won the honorable mention in the poetry category.

“This was a poem that I really deeply related to, and felt really seen and present with,” he said. “It pairs the flowering seed and solace, and shows how a poem that meditates on the ways the life and beauty that flowers grant us can also be a balm for difficult times.”

Next, Kuroiwa read her second-place poem, “In Her Bedside Table,” which Svalina described as “perform(ing) a rare feat of reverential magic.”

“(It uses) these two small objects from a loved one’s life as tent spokes that demonstrate the wide variety and expanse of an individual,” he said. “It is a small poem on the page, but speaks enormously about its subject.”

The winner of the Mary Jean Iron Prize for Poetry was for Julie Phillips Brown’s poem, “For You, Unborn.”

“It is a poem that flings into itself, both quiet and wild, a little bit prayer and a little bit resignation,” he said. “Through leaping surprises the poem carries me effortlessly into thinking and images I could never have conceived without these words and lines.”

At the close of the ceremony, Snodgrass said that the celebration of the winner’s work had turned out to be an “amazingly moving event.”

“I really thought we’d be sorry that we got stuck on Zoom, but it’s been absolutely wonderful,” she said. 

New York Times Magazine’s Emily Bazelon discusses how voting was laid out by the Founding Fathers, and how the pandemic and voting suppression may affect the 2020 election

Ewalt and Bazelon

A larger amount of mail-in ballots for the 2020 presidential election may force states, particularly swing states, to count the ballots into the next morning. 

Emily Bazelon, staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and best-selling author, said the process may be slowed even more because some states have a rule that election officials cannot count ballots until Election Day in order to prevent fraud. Many ballots may arrive at the last minute, and states have never counted a large number of mail-in ballots before. 

“There may be totally legitimate reasons why the state election officials just haven’t counted all, or even a large fraction, of the absentee ballots on election night — and we should all be ready for that,” Bazelon said.

She said the media, herself included, has a broad responsibility to prepare audiences so they understand the process of counting every ballot, “as opposed to (audiences perceiving) some evidence that something fraudulent is going on.”

“I do worry about that potential for litigation, but I think the headline going into election day is that we should all be prepared to be patient,” Bazelon said, “and obviously watching to make sure that these results are fair and legitimate and regular — but not to be worrying that if we don’t have an immediate result.”

At 10:45 a.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Bazelon discussed how voting was laid out by the Founding Fathers, how the pandemic and voting suppression may affect the 2020 election, and possible Constitutional amendments that can improve American democracy, as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week Eight theme of “Reframing the Constitution.” Her conversation, with Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt, was titled “Voting and the Constitution.”

Ewalt asked Bazelon to explain how the right to vote is not explicitly protected in the Constitution.

Article One describes how senators and representatives will be elected, and the fourth section states that the time, places and manner of election will be determined by each state. The 14th Amendment expanded voting rights to Black Americans, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 and the Voting Rights Act ensured that voters, particularly Black voters in the South, were not subject to “overt barriers” like poll taxes and literacy tests.

“What we still are lacking is a sense that there are limits to what states and localities can do to close polling places — for example, to change the way elections are shaped in a way that can affect representation,” Bazelon said.

Bazelon said the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder “really, in some ways, gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act,” by no longer requiring that the Justice Department approve changes to the electoral process by state and local governments. Since this decision, she said thousands of polling places have closed across the country, particularly in the South.

The U.S. has also had disputes over voter identification laws, and Bazelon said tens of thousands of votes were removed since Shelby County vs. Holder if the state and local election officials found that they were “inactive voters.”

“When you see these kinds of moves that really limit the franchise, (making) it harder for people to vote,” Bazelon said, “that makes me wonder if we had this Constitutional guarantee, (we might) be better equipped to address them.”

Ewalt then asked how the April 7, 2020, Wisconsin presidential primary was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think, unfortunately, that (the) Wisconsin primary was a full-on disaster,” Bazelon said.

She said at that time, in the face of COVID-19, election officials in Wisconsin were debating how to handle the election — whether to extend deadlines for absentee ballots and what to do about workers uncomfortable staffing the polls. Bazelon said that staffing problems may occur again in November, as volunteers tend to be older retirees who may be at higher risk of the virus. 

She said Wisconsin had never had more than 2-3% of the electorate vote by mail, but saw large increases in mail-in ballots for the primary.

“They just had a lot of trouble getting all the ballots out in time and then back in time,” Bazelon said. “Wisconsin, confusingly, doesn’t have a postmark requirement for returning absentee ballots, and so there were a lot of people whose ballots were not received by election day as the law required, and they were disenfranchised. This is upwards of 10,000 people.”

Another problem — with a lack of workers and concerns of the pandemic spreading — is that cities, such as Milwaukee, closed “almost every single polling place. So you saw a big city that usually has hundreds of polling places having only a handful,” she said.

“There were these very long lines of folks lining up to vote, having to spend hours, sometimes in the rain. This is not what we want to see on election day; that’s just way too big a burden,” Bazelon said. “Unfortunately, after the election, contact tracers found that dozens of people got the coronavirus, and that may have been linked to their either working or going to the polls.”

Ewalt asked what people should pay attention to in the courts in the near future related to voting rights.

Bazelon said dozens of lawsuits surrounding voting rights are occurring, such as the Republican National Committee having $20 million in reserve to spend on election litigation. She said that the committee is trying to challenge Nevada’s plan to give everyone an application for an absentee ballot and Pennsylvania’s plan for having secure drop-off boxes for collecting mail in order to take pressure off the United States Postal Service. 

She said Democrats are trying to increase enfranchisement; for example, if a person submits an absentee ballot and their signature does not look correct, they will have a chance to verify it, which is called signature curing. She compared this to the “hanging chads” of the 2000 presidential election, where many ballots were thrown out because of the way some voters punched their ballot. 

Ewalt asked Bazelon to expand on recent discussions about Constitutional amendments, like the renewed interest in the Equal Rights Amendment.

Bazelon said people are debating an amendment setting term limits for federal judges, who can potentially serve in their position for 40 to 50 years. When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, she said they did not know people would want to be federal judges in the future.

“It was kind of a crappy job. (In those days) you had to literally ride a circuit on horseback around the original states to do your job,” Bazelon said. “It wasn’t particularly prestigious, and so life tenure was this extra benefit they were dangling in front of people. Also, (there were) very different average life expectancies than they have now.”

She said people are now chosen for the Supreme Court partly because of their ages, and the hope that they will stay for many decades.

“I would argue that’s just too much power to give a small number of people, to give nine people,” Bazelon said. “They get to have the final say of the meaning of the Constitution, and in many cases law, in this country for a very extended period of time.”

But if Supreme Court Justices had staggered, 18-year terms, then every president would appoint two judges.

“We wouldn’t have the same incredible Sturm und Drang over each single appointment, because it would be much more regularized, and that I think would also be healthy for our democracy,” Bazelon.

Additionally, Bazelon said she was originally dismissive of the effort to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment when the push was relaunched a few years ago.

“I have changed my tune about it, in part because I watched the show ‘Mrs. America,’ which was all about the original 1970s effort to pass the ERA. I understood much better what was at stake,” Bazelon said. “This is my own lack of knowing our nation’s history, I suppose, but I understood much more that it was this foundational fight, and what they were asking for was just to be treated equally.”

She said since the 1970s, when ERA was passed through Congress — but not 35 states — many of the demands of ERA supporters have become law, and it has been harder to discriminate based on sex in the United States. Bazelon said the new ERA may address pregnancy discrimination, and, potentially, “a more secure anchor for the right to access to abortion.”

Cato Institute’s Robert Levy explores how libertarians agree and disagree liberals and conservatives on the role of the federal government

Levy Screenshot

Libertarianism is a philosophy centered on protecting private property, free markets and individual liberties. Robert Levy, chairman of the board of directors at the Cato Institute, said that libertarians tend to agree with conservatives regarding fiscal issues, and agree with liberals on social issues.

“Does that mean libertarians are philosophically inconsistent, because we agree with liberals sometimes, conservatives other times?” Levy said. “No — in fact, it’s conservatives and liberals who are inconsistent.”

The 10th Amendment says that the federal government may only exercise powers that are in the Constitution. Levy said that conservatives and libertarians tend to agree in a “tightly constrained view of the federal government, but there are a couple of key exceptions.”

Levy said that many conservatives, as opposed to libertarians, are willing to assign the federal government more responsibility, such as with hurricane relief, retirement systems and medical care. 

“Take a look at the totally effective-less war on drugs. If you look through the Constitution, you will find very few crimes mentioned: counterfeiting, treason and piracy,” Levy said. “Criminal law is typically left up to state and local governments, and yet conservatives believe because of the drug war … we can ignore that there’s no Constitutional authorization.”

At 10:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Levy discussed how libertarians agree and disagree with liberals and conservatives on the role of the federal government, and the powers the people and the Constitution gave the federal government, as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week Eight theme of “Reframing the Constitution.” His lecture was titled “The Founding Fathers’ Vision.”

Levy said that Congress is supposed to enact laws — not the Justice Department or the Environmental Protection Agency. He said liberals would likely be against giving the Justice Department the ability to enact regulations for national security.

“When the same Congress delegates to the Environmental Protection Agency power to enact regulations, with no more guidance than to keep us safe from pollutants, the left applauds enthusiastically,” Levy said. “Now, could it be the pollutants are a greater threat than terrorists, or is it more likely that the left has this selective indignation about the role of government, reflecting an inconsistency in liberal mindset, just as there is inconsistency in the conservative mindset?”

Levy said that when Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, and wrote that all men are created equal, with unalienable rights, he also wrote that governments are instituted “to secure these rights.”

“Notice he said secure, not grant,” Levy said. “He said secure. We already had the rights.”

The Constitution, Levy said, is not “a code of conduct. Its purpose is to limit the power of government, and secure individual liberties. It is not the people or the citizens that are required to obey the Constitution.”

The lecture then shifted to a Q-and-A session with Chautauqua Institution Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt. He asked Levy if federal legislation, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, oversteps the government’s responsibilities. 

Levy said federal legislation is doing more than it should, and the ADA specifically should not be regulating as much when it comes to private parties. He said that private parties should be able to negotiate “whatever employment agreements the employer and the employee agreed to.”

“While I think that it was a bad idea, remains a bad idea (and I believe) that employment relationships should be up to the private parties involved,” Levy said, “I nonetheless recognize this isn’t on the horizon, and there’s no proposal with the Cato Institute or by any of the experts at the Cato Institute to abolish the ADA, or for that matter any of the other anti-discrimination laws.”

Ewalt asked how limited government, such as one libertarians support, can deal with large issues that the Founding Fathers never thought of, like climate change.

Levy said libertarians mostly agree that climate change exists and is partly manmade, but there are some disagreements on how detrimental global warming will be, and a vast disagreement over what actions the federal government should take.

“The new green proposals by the Democratic Party … some of those cures may be worse than the disease,” Levy said. “Libertarians do not deny that the federal government has a major role to play in climate change because climate problems could consist of some people engaging in activities that have injurious effects on other people, and government has a meaningful role to step in and stop that from occurring.”

Ewalt then asked how Americans should go about educating themselves about the Constitution. 

Levy said that it is understandable for the public not to be well-versed in the Constitution; only a few years ago, Congress passed a bill requiring all members of Congress read the Constitution.

“In fact, it was read on the floor of Congress,” Levy said. “(For) some, I’m sure, that’s the first time they were exposed to the Constitution.”

He said everyone should be required to read and study the Constitution in school, and that there should be a much greater school choice. 

“If you’re going to learn about government, the last thing in the world you want is for the government to be running the school system,” Levy said. “So far, I think privatized education is a heck of a good deal, if not exclusively, at least as a supplement to public education.”

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