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Interfaith Lecture Recaps

Bonnefoux: ‘Inspiration and passion’ transform life, art

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Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, artistic director of Chautauqua Dance, delivers Wednesday’s Interfaith Lecture in the Hall of Philosophy. Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

It’s hard to imagine a 14-year-old Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux green in the face and shaking from nerves, but that’s what the Hall of Philosophy audience visualized when Bonnefoux transported them to his dance jury examination at the Paris Opera Ballet.

At age 21, Bonnefoux held the title reserved for the most distinguished of dancers in France. Bonnefoux has served as artistic director of Chautauqua Dance since 1983. He is also the artistic director and president of the North Carolina Dance Theatre. He has choreographed more than 60 ballets.

His lecture, “Inspiration and Passion,” was the third installment in the Week Four afternoon lecture series, “Art and Soul.”

Bonnefoux cited the book Spirituality of the Body, which addresses inspiration and passion.

“We experience transcendence every time we are moved by great passion or stilled by great experience. In both cases, the spirit becomes so charged that it overflows the boundaries of the self,” he quoted. “Two factors are needed to produce this transcendence: inspiration and passion. The inspiration for an artistic work always has some touch of the divine.”

He explained in his own words: “In the spirit, there is no more ego, so no more separation, no more ‘me’ as opposed to ‘them,’ ‘mine’ instead of ‘yours.’ … Where we can find inspiration is a state where we can share, listen, appreciate others, find the best of (ourselves), being in the heart instead of the head.”

Sacred texts, for example, inspire choreographers to express their spiritual beliefs and to demonstrate the scope of their talents, he said. He identified three important works that integrate strong examples of spiritual imagery performed today.

The first, “St. Matthew Passion” by John Neumeier, narrates the last days of Jesus Christ. The second, “Revelations” by Alvin Ailey, explores themes of African-American spirituality. Bonnefoux called the third piece, “Symphony of Psalms” by Jiří Kylián, “one of (his) favorite choreographies in the world.”

Faith also influenced one of Bonnefoux’s mentors, George Balanchine.

For Bonnefoux, inspiration can be a teacher, an artist, his students, the theater, a museum, a gallery or a concert hall.

From the age of 7, Bonnefoux knew he wanted to dance. He entered the Paris Opera Ballet when he was 10 years old. It was a taxing environment, he said, with a sense of competition among the young dancers. He recalled another dancer attempted to trip him moments before a performance.

Bonnefoux conjured the scene of a yearly dance exam at the Paris Opera Ballet in front of a jury and an audience of approximately 2,000 people. Each dancer performed two solos. Their performances determined their futures.

The time right before the performance was the hardest, he said, because it gave the dancers the opportunity to dwell on their doubts and insecurities. For Bonnefoux and many other dancers, these fears disappeared as soon as they reached the stage. After weeks of preparation, performing was joyous.

“It was like being a racing car, changing gears to accelerate,” he said. “I felt nothing could stop me.”

Out of 60 to 80 male dancers at the Paris Opera Ballet, Bonnefoux was discovered.

“When somebody else recognizes your talent, even if you have doubts, you can always go back to feeling that person could be right,” he said, marveling at his opportunity.

Throughout his life, Bonnefoux said, the good teachers respected tradition but weren’t afraid of progress or to make necessary changes. The bad teachers stuck to tradition out of a sense of duty.

One of his favorite teachers told him, “Tradition has to move to stay alive.”

He traveled to Spain with the Paris Opera Ballet and performed outside in the Generalife gardens.

“For a second, I forgot that it was not a theater,” Bonnefoux said. “So at one point … I look up, and there was the sky. It was not really the same (as) when you see the curtain or the drops that were going to be ready for the next scene. That moment was a beautiful moment for me, because I felt the power of nature and also the power of what was behind that nature.”

Like Tuesday’s lecturers, Chautauqua Theater artistic directors Ethan McSweeny and Vivienne Benesch, Bonnefoux said he believes there is a positive psychological reinforcement that comes with being the best. But overcoming the restrictions of ego is challenging.

“When you perform, you have a choice,” he said. “You can trust your thoughts, often negative, or you can trust your spirit. As you know, the spirit is … much kinder.”

Once he made the decision to leave France, Bonnefoux telephoned his old mentor Balanchine to ask for a season guest position. Balanchine gently refused his request, explaining it wouldn’t be fair to his regular dancers. The next day, Bonnefoux called again and asked to be taken on for two seasons. Balanchine recognized Bonnefoux’s dedication; Bonnefoux moved to New York City.

He had a difficult time adjusting to the new environment and thought he might eventually return to Paris. But he found inspiration in his new town, like the sculptures of Rodin. He found inspiration in people, too — dancers who genuinely loved to dance, who knew how to look at things and really see and who had presence.

Recently, an 11-year-old dancer at Chautauqua inspired Bonnefoux. The young dancers were given a questionnaire about their program and asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. Whereas the majority of the boys qualified their answers — such as, “I want to be a dancer, but also a lawyer…” — this boy said, “I want to dance. I want to be a dancer. That’s it.”

“He knew already what was his role in life,” Bonnefoux said.

He described the rich history of support for the arts at the Institution.

“Why do you think magic happens in Chautauqua?” he said. “It’s because there is a special bond between artist and audience, a bond formed by trust, expectation of pleasure … of being surprised, amazed, inspired and the knowledge that it will enrich artist and audience.”

Bonnefoux considers Daniel Albright another “Chautauqua success.” Now one of the best ballet dancers in the United States, Albright spent several years at Chautauqua. In August, he will return to teach.

“He’s really here to inspire our dancers,” Bonnefoux said. “And so, at the beginning, we inspired him, and now he is inspiring us.”

Another source of inspiration for Bonnefoux is love.

“Falling in love can be an inspiration, like the first time I met (my wife, Patricia McBride),” Bonnefoux said. “In a second, I knew we were supposed to be together.

“I feel often that my life was preordained.”

He mentioned many of his co-workers and friends in Chautauqua Dance who inspire and sustain him.

“One of the joys of my life has been discovering talented students and teachers,” he said.

Among those he mentioned were choreographers Mark Diamond and Sasha Janes, the two pianists of 19 years, the costume designers, his administrator and “rock,” Janice, and his wife, McBride.

“(McBride) said one day, “When I danced, I use to receive. Now, I want to give back,’” Bonnefoux said. “That’s the way I feel.”

McSweeny, Benesch: Humanity is revealed through theater

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Vivienne Benesch and Ethan McSweeny speak at the Hall of Philosophy during Tuesday’s Interfaith Lecture.
Vivienne Benesch and Ethan McSweeny speak at the Hall of Philosophy during Tuesday’s Interfaith Lecture. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

The playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote plays to share his message with a large number of people, an idea that seems old-fashioned in the age of new media.

But what if Shaw still chose to write plays in the midst of the 21st century?

“Is there something about the experience of live theater that actually is capable of creating more effective and profound change than sitting in front of a television or watching a movie? And I think the answer is probably yes,” Ethan McSweeny said.

“Yes,” Vivienne Benesch agreed, nodding.

Benesch and McSweeny, artistic directors of Chautauqua Theater Company since 2005, presented “Soul and Story: Choosing a Life in the Theater” together at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Hall of Philosophy. Their presentation was the second installment in Week Four’s afternoon Interfaith Lecture Series, “Art and Soul.”

Rather than lecture, McSweeny, a self-identified cynic, and Benesch, who errs on the side of mysticism, asked each other’s opinions about art and spirituality, demonstrating a camaraderie borne of a 16-year friendship.

“Did you choose this life?” McSweeny asked Benesch, referring to a life of theater.

She replied, “I don’t believe it was a choice for me.”

Her family is extremely artistic, she said, and she was exposed to theater at an early age. In times of turmoil, Benesch turned to theater as an alternate, controllable reality.

“To play make-believe … that was my refuge,” she said. “Was it a choice? No. It was a pull — a calling, if you will.”

“That’s a kind of loaded word — a calling,” McSweeny said.

He mused later that religion and theater share a common larger vocabulary.

“Quite a bit of that vocabulary is in the context of how we became practioners of this ancient and constantly dying art form, whose end is constantly heralded at least twice a decade, only to resurface, yet again,” he said.

He, too, was exposed to theater as a child, but considered it a hobby, something he would eventually outgrow.

“I guess I feel like I did everything I could to not choose theater,” he said.

He attended a university without a theater program in pursuit of a degree in Russian studies.

His epiphany came in college, when he realized he was failing to learn Russian because he skipped language lab to attend student production rehearsals.

“My interest in theater overwhelmed my better judgment,” he said. “It is a little mystical to characterize it as a calling, but I suppose maybe it is.”

But both emphasized that theater is a craft, not only a calling.

McSweeny asked Benesch, “When did you decide to be an artist?”

Benesch was interested in criminal law, an interest she now recognizes as an early manifestation of her passion for theater.

“It was some idea of getting to represent the disenfranchised, and to stand … publicly (to) do so,” she said. “That was very appealing to me.”

Two childhood moments in particular shaped her path, Benesch said.

One was the first time she made her father laugh.

“That moment where the child realizes they have the capacity to bring joy to someone,” she said. “I always go back to that moment. I affected someone there, and that is an addiction.”

The second was a monologue she performed in fourth grade. Others noticed her talent, and she reflected on the human desire to be the best.

She wondered aloud if McSweeny had any performing experiences of his own before he began directing.

He did.

He convinced a substitute teacher that his regular teacher, out sick, had left him in charge of the school’s theater production.

“(I) proceeded to edit and direct a production of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ starring myself as Scrooge. So I think it was mostly about the acquisition of power, for me,” he joked.

He cited the role of Captain von Trapp in “The Sound of Music” as another formative role, “but that kind of peaked my career as a performer,” he said.

The two transitioned into a consideration of the spiritual aspect to the theater. Benesch explained the process of inviting a character’s spirit to reside within oneself.

“As an actor, you want the spirit of a person to enter you … you want to invite that character’s spirit into you,” she said. “You spend a rehearsal process having a conversation with the character you’re playing.”

“You’re describing the act of acting as a little bit like channeling … that has a spiritual dimension,” McSweeny said.

Benesch agreed and asked him about his own spirituality in regard to directing.

“I think on some level, the difference between a director and an actor is an actor goes very … deep into a single psyche, a single person, and the director’s responsibility is actually to stay a bit outside that and tell a wider story,” McSweeny said, explaining that he did not experience the same prospect of channeling that Benesch and other actors adopt. “I think I got interested in directing because I was a frustrated actor — because I wasn’t actually satisfied with just focusing on a single character.”

Directors are deliberately excluded, in part because they are the representation of the audience, he said. But McSweeny said his personal failures have a religious dimension.

“There is the quality of a demanding sacrifice of the practitioner. … It does ask of you to give up a lot of things, not just remuneration,” he said.

Despite personal disappointment with his Broadway debut, Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man,” he moved on, he said. He found another play and used it to tell a story and affect people.

“On a spiritual level, (theater) asks you to give up things, and I think it keeps challenging you and testing you to renew your commitment,” he said.

Benesch referenced the Monday afternoon lecture presented by Don Kimes, artistic director of Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution, on the importance of getting lost in order to find one’s way.

“There’s something about, as I get older, the balance of what it means to be a dedicated, fully consumed artist and what it means to live my life as a human being, and that, actually, to be a better artist I need to keep living my real life,” Benesch said.

Many young artists fixate on their failures, believing they signify the impossibility of a successful career, instead of understanding that artists need pitfalls to become better.

“A faith journey is that: At what point do you trust?” she said.

“Have you ever thought about doing something else, recently?” McSweeny asked her.

“Momentarily,” Benesch said. “I think I experience a lot of those moments where (I say), ‘Oh, I should be doing something ‘more important.’ I think every artist goes through that,” she said.

Benesch said celebrity holds little appeal for her, but she wants to have the ability to “effect change where change is needed,” to have the opportunity to travel and to use her influence to make a positive impact.

She paraphrased advice McSweeny’s sister shared with her earlier that morning.

“She said … you don’t have to be able to do six things at once,” Benesch said. “You can create a palette or a community which can effect all that change so you are a part of all those things.”

McSweeny said he worries about reaching out to his audience, but concluded, “If you really want to sort of change the hearts and minds of people, the theater is a pretty good place to do it — at least, I hope so.

“If I hadn’t had experiences in the theater where that had happened to me, I wouldn’t be here today talking to you about why I make theater. … It only happens every once in a while, but we’re believers because we go in hope of that moment occurring again. You go in hope that that transaction that you can only really get in the live theater will occur and lift you out of yourself and return you back to yourself, a different and changed person. I think we all go questing after that moment.”

Benesch cited Anton Chekhov, playwright of Chautauqua Theater Company’s most recent production, “Three Sisters.”

Chekhov said, “If you want to change people, first you have to show them who they are.”

“That’s the charge I feel that we have, today,” Benesch said.

Kimes: Getting lost a catalyst for creative possibility

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Don Kimes, artistic director of Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution and professor of fine arts at American University, speaks in the Hall of Philosophy Monday afternoon. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

In 2003, a flood destroyed Don Kimes’ Washington, D.C., studio. Among his lost possessions were letters from friends, family photographs, his computer files and many of his personal artistic creations.

Kimes’ presentation, “Interruption, Transformation and the Creative Act,” initiated the Week Four afternoon Interfaith Lecture Series, “Art and Soul.”

He discussed what moves him artistically, his creative process and the discovery provoked by “unwanted, life-changing interruptions.”

Kimes has served as the artistic director of the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution for 26 years, where he helped to establish the Logan Galleries (which recently was relocated to the renovated Fowler-Kellogg Art Center) and merge the formerly independent Chautauqua Art Association Gallery with the School of Art and Visual Arts Lecture Series to form VACI, which now includes Strohl Art Center and the Melvin Johnson Sculpture Garden.

He also is senior professor of Fine Arts at American University in Washington, D.C., where he launched American University Visual Arts programs in Rome, Umbria and Florence, Italy.

After the flood, the artistic effect of interruption was no longer a theory. It was Kimes’ life.

“This was my interruption,” Kimes said. “I was lost. It was devastating.”

For three months, Kimes attempted to salvage four pulpy bags full of personal papers and pictures.

Someone asked him, “Have you ever painted through pain?”

Kimes realized his damaged photographs reflected a beauty akin to the ruins he had seen on his travels in places like the Villa of the Mysteries near Pompeii, Italy.

He sank into a chronic depression for three and a half years, but he created small studies of his destroyed artistic career in the meantime.

“I think painting saved my life,” Kimes said.

He considers the complete metaphoric pieces created out of pain to be his strongest work to date.

“Creativity isn’t about what we don’t have. Instead it’s about making music with what we do have,” Kimes said.

To illustrate his point, Kimes shared an anecdote about Master Violinist Itzhak Perlman, whom he saw perform in Italy. While onstage, the violinist’s string broke. He paused for a moment and signaled the orchestra to begin again — retuning and recomposing the concerto on the spot for three strings instead of four.

“The music he made that night with three strings was more beautiful, more sacred, more memorable than any he had ever made when he had four strings,” Kimes said. “What if that string hadn’t broken?”

He answered his own question: “The broken string allowed him to reach a level that otherwise would have been impossible. … That interruption, which might’ve caused a lesser musician to start over with a new violin, instead allowed Perlman to ascend in a manner not even he had considered when he walked out onto that stage.”

This, Kimes explained, is the essence of art.

“The notion of a foundation and experience, combined with the ability to recognize daylight when it happens, are at the core of what it means to make a discovery, to put things together in a way they’ve never been assembled before, while also giving us a sense of meaning,” he said.

Something is not art solely because it is raw nor because it is technically correct.

Art is “discoveries that are meaningfully original,” Kimes said.

Much of the art esteemed by the mainstream today was mocked, shunned or discarded at the time of its creation. It may have no relevance to popular culture and may take years to be appreciated. Kimes offered the examples of Vincent van Gogh, who sold only one painting in his lifetime; he and others created on what Kimes calls “the edge of culture.”

“Understanding art is not automatic,” he said. “It does not come ready-made, like some visual fast-food available in 30 seconds. It requires effort.”

As such, the cliché “Those who can, do and those who can’t, teach” does not apply to art, Kimes said.

The interaction between teacher and student is a historic one; it fuels creative and intellectual development, which is why Kimes believes institutions like the Chautauqua School of Art are so important for instructor and pupil alike.

Kimes was a student of art himself in the 1970s and 1980s, working and living in the New York Studio School in Greenwich Village. For four days a week, he left the city to get back in touch with nature. He discovered a rock where he thought he might sketch the stream flowing past and ended up painting in that same spot for six years.

“At the time, I thought I was painting landscapes, but looking back, I realized that it was the relationship to the human engagement with nature in that cycle (of time, change, permanence … birth, growth, death and rebirth) that held my fascination,” Kimes said.

His work became more and more abstract but still reflected motifs of life, death and rebirth.

In 1994, he and his family decided to move to Italy, a radical change. But being uncomfortable is a part of the artistic process, Kimes said.

“How can you know when work is hollow? When it’s comfortable,” he said.

He reflected on making art and experiencing interruptions in the age of information. Simultaneous experiences, like reading a newspaper, flying on an airplane and listening to Beethoven aren’t interruptions, but are bits of noise, Kimes said. Time and space are now simultaneous, not sequential.

“In this age of information, making art requires a greater act of faith than it did for Piero and Giotto and Masaccio,” he said. “They had the church. We have mass media.”

But Kimes said he has no doubt that new technologies will change art, not destroy it.

“I don’t believe for one second that if Leonardo (da Vinci) were alive today, he wouldn’t be pushing the envelope to the maximum. … He’d have a brush in one hand, a computer in the other, and, being Leonardo, he’d probably have an iPhone in the third hand,” Kimes said.

Painting has been relevant for the past 35,000 years, Kimes said, and the interruption of the digital world will not alter its value. The invention of canvas or the camera or the motion picture changed painting, but painting also affected those mediums in turn.

Kimes referenced the frescoes in the Villa of Mysteries near Pompeii, which continue to affect their viewers.

“At its deepest level, art exists outside of time and mortality,” he said.

Though his own work is autobiographical, Kimes believes the search demonstrated in his pieces represents an experience common to all of humanity. He concluded with a quote from T.S. Eliot:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

A twist on tradition: Staggs brings Bonhoeffer to life

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Al Staggs performs “A View From the Underside: The Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” for the Hall of Philosophy audience Friday. Photo by Megan Tan.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent his final hour before his execution in the Hall of Philosophy.

Clad in a makeshift striped prison uniform, the Rev. Al Staggs portrayed Bonhoeffer at the Interfaith Lecture at 2 p.m. Friday in his presentation, “A View from the Underside: The Legacy of One of the Spies for God, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”

Staggs has a master’s degree in religious education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a master’s degree in theology from Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate in ministry from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He studied applied theology under Harvey Cox and is the author of What Would Bonhoeffer Say?, published in January.

Staggs portrays approximately 30 comedic, historical and religious figures, including Archbishop Óscar Romero, Robin Williams, Thomas Merton and Willie Nelson, in addition to Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer preached against the general inaction of the German Protestant Church in Germany during the Nazi regime and plotted with other resistors to assassinate Hitler. He served as a double agent, ostensibly working toward Nazi goals but spreading rebellion and encouraging dissension instead. For his efforts, he was executed in a concentration camp in Flossenbürg, Germany.

The audience hung on to Staggs’ every word; patrons leaned forward in their seats and chuckled at occasional moments of wry humor, peppering Staggs with questions once his performance ended.

Staggs strode back and forth, taking long pauses, lapsing into hymn-singing, quoting letters Bonhoeffer had written to his friends and even holding a brief conversation with an imaginary cockroach.

Excerpts from Staggs’ performance:

  • “For the church is really only the church as she exists for others, and it is for that reason I will tell you with great deal of sincerity and conviction: I think the church should sell all of her property and give it to the poor. I am almost disgusted with worship services and liturgies and grand choirs and great music and splendid sermons in the face of the injustice which prevails in our land, for to conduct liturgies and to do worship in the face of this structural evil is blasphemy. And then there are most of the ministers who seem more concerned for their own security, their own station in life, than they do about the plight of the oppressed in our land.”
  • “There was another person that year who was to have an even greater impact upon me, and it was the person of Frank Fischer. … I came to the most radical and profound revelation, I do my believe, of my entire life. … For the first time in my privileged existence … I began to look at life and history and the interpretation of Scripture … from the perspective of the outcast … of all those who suffer.”
  • “Hitler promised to us security, and oh, how we worshiped at the god of security, while we allowed the systemic and structural evil of genocide to eat away at our souls like a cancer. And do you think that God is going to hold us guiltless? You see Christians in Germany face a terrible, terrible alternative. … We either work for the victory of our nation and thereby destroy civilization, or we work for the defeat of our very own nation and hopefully preserve civilization.”
  • “I have learned the secret of being able to transcend whatever size cell they put me (in). And what is the secret, hmm? It’s remembering — just remembering the experience God has allowed me in my life.”

Dorrien: Lesser-known racial justice activists should be recognized

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Gary Dorrien gives the Interfaith Lecture in the Hall of Philosophy Tuesday. His lecture considered the life of Benjamin E. Mays, a minister and early critic of segregation. Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

Benjamin Elijah Mays’ earliest memory was his father pleading for his life before a lynch mob.

His formative experience with race relations would affect the path of the rest of his life.

Gary Dorrien returned to the lecture platform at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy to continue his study of lesser-known figures in the fight for racial justice. Dorrien is the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, professor of religion at Columbia University and a renowned theologian, historian, lecturer and author.

Monday’s lecture subject was Black Social Gospel activist Reverdy Ransom. Thursday’s subject was Mays, former president of Morehouse College and one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s spiritual mentors.

Dorrien’s lecture, “Defying White Supremacy: Benjamin Elijah Mays, The Negro’s God, and the Black Social Gospel,” traced Mays’ academic achievement and national influence.

Mays was born in 1894 in North Carolina to a family of cotton farmers. Though Mays could not attend school year-round due to his farming duties, his father had learned to read illegally as a slave and passed his knowledge on to his children.

His father disapproved, but eventually, Mays rejected the family farm work and committed to attending school year-round.

“The experience of being taught by African-American graduates … was life-changing for Mays,” Dorrien said. “It gave him models of educational achievement and advancement.”

Growing up in the rural south, Mays and other African-Americans lived in constant fear of lynching and avoided white people at all costs. When he had the opportunity to attend Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, Mays was amazed to discover white classmates who supported him and stood up for him against local bigots.

In 1921, Mays set out for the University of Chicago Divinity School, considered the most prestigious Baptist school in the country. There, he was dismayed to rediscover racist southern whites. Some professors were reluctant to acknowledge their black students outside of the classroom. Jim Crow laws pervaded, especially in the wake of the 1919 race riots.

“Mays aspired to an academic career, but for the next 14 years, he kept getting sidetracked by what he later called ‘distracting temptations,’” Dorrien said.

Among these temptations was Mays’ teaching position at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Mays also took a pastor position at a local church, where he was plunged back into racist Southern society. In the midst of his three years there, his wife died.

Mays returned to Chicago, although the racial tensions in the city had not improved. He worked toward his Ph.D., a dissertation on pagan influences in Christianity.

“It made sense to him that all doctrines have a story, that religious thinking is rightly concerned with understanding the story behind the canonical narratives of Scripture, and that religious meanings are always going to be layered with relative, culturally conditioned historical forms,” Dorrien said.

He took a job at South Carolina State College and remarried. In 1926, he took a position as executive secretary with the Tampa Urban League.

Dorrien described Mays’ role as the “semi-official liaison between black and white communities of Tampa.”

But Mays never forgot the paradox of his work, simultaneously hating segregation and working to reform it.

He returned to Atlanta to be the national student secretary for the Young Men’s Christian Association/Young Women’s Christian Association with some trepidation. The YMCA/YWCA advocated rigid segregation laws, but it also had an impressive history of supporting black Christian leaders.

In 1930, Mays discovered his calling as a public theologian. In collaboration with the Rockefeller Institute of Social and Religious Research, he embarked upon a thorough survey of black churches in the United States. The Negro’s Church was published in 1933. It portrayed a grim national landscape but ended on an optimistic note: The church was culturally indispensible, owned and operated by blacks and a source of validation and recognition. The black church was truly democratic; it was open to all races, including whites.

“For his entire life, Mays approached his intellectual work with the same moral and intellectual conviction that he resisted race prejudice,” Dorrien said.

The Negro’s Church filled a sociological void. It launched the study of the sociology of black religion and furthered Mays’ academic career.

In 1932, Mays returned to Chicago and wrote his dissertation, “The Negro’s God as Reflected in His Literature.” Mays established two dichotomies: contemporary literature versus mass literature and compensatory religion versus constructive religion. His thesis was that all ideas of God are the constructs of particular social circumstances. Mays used the example of the African-American conception of God changing over time. Mays’ own experience pervaded his dissertation.

He traveled to India to meet Gandhi. The two discussed the philosophy of nonviolence and agreed that oppressed people around the world should network with each other.

Mays worried that African-American intellectuals were giving up on God. This was a new phenomenon in black culture — no matter how hard the situation, blacks relied on their strong sense of spirituality, Dorrien said.

“This phenomenon was a distinctive form of disillusionment,” Dorrien said, partly the result of mistreatment of blacks at the hands of the United States after World War I. This disillusionment set Mays’ professional agenda.

Mays was the dean of the School of Religion at Howard University for six years. During this time, he achieved renown as an ecumenical leader.

In 1940, he accepted the presidency of Morehouse College, where he served for 27 years, greatly improving the quality of education. Four years later, he was elected vice president of the Federal Council of Churches.

One of the students at Morehouse who listened to Mays’ sermons on morality and character was Martin Luther King Jr. King called Mays his “spiritual mentor … one of the great spiritual influences of my life.” After King was assassinated in 1968, Mays gave the eulogy at his funeral.

“Mays taught King not to shy away from saying that racism was the original sin of America and that it remained America’s greatest evil,” Dorrien said. “Persistently, Mays contended that race should not matter and that complete integration is the only morally worthy goal for a Christian to pursue.”

Mays took special pride in the American ecumenical movement, but he felt that Christianity had been destroyed by the burden of racism. He liked that Christian activism fueled much of the civil rights activism. Nevertheless, for the rest of his life, he lamented that it was the courts who effected permanent change, not the church.

He warned young African-Americans to study seriously and constantly improve upon their behavior; he believed they were subject to constant scrutiny by whites. He had a specific vision for the future of the American church, one where whites could attend traditionally black churches and blacks could attend traditionally white churches without suspicion or persecution.

The reason such historical figures as Ransom and Mays were ignored or overlooked, Dorrien said, is because American Christianity suffered from the same racism as American society at large.

Dorrien defined white supremacy as “a structure of power based on privilege that presumes to define what is normal.”

Under this definition, white supremacy or privilege is still alive today.

“To become more inclusive, we have to privilege the issues of people of color,” he said.

Dorrien concluded with methods to increase healthy dialogue among races and religions.

“We need new forms of community that arise out of and transcend the structures that we have inherited,” he said.

Chikane reflects on opponent of apartheid, future of peace

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The Rev. Frank Chikane, president of Apostolic Faith Mission International, speaks at the Hall of Philosophy Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

The Rev. Frank Chikane pays the salaries of his former torturers because of the influence of anti-apartheid leaders like Beyers Naudé.

Chikane is the president of the Apostolic Faith Mission International and a member of the African National Congress. His 2 p.m. lecture, “Daring Death to Save a Nation,” was the third in the Week Three Interfaith Lecture Series “Spies for God.”

Throughout his lecture and Q-and-A session, Chikane reiterated the philosophy of peace and the revolutionary history of anti-apartheid activist Beyers.

Beyers was of white Afrikaan descent. White Afrikaans speakers descended from Dutch, German and French colonists of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Beyers’s story is unique because of his race.

“He comes from the heart of Afrikanerdom,” Chikane said. In this way, Beyers’s story is comparable to that of Tuesday’s subject, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

“We understood the type of racism in South Africa as the same as Nazi Germany’s experiences,” Chikane said. “It had to do with what blood you have, as if blood is different. And it had to do with you being classified because of your color or the shade of your color.”

Chikane shared Beyers’ history in brief. Beyers, born in 1915, grew up in an affluent white Afrikaan family. Jozua François Naudé, Beyers’s father, was a dominant force in the Dutch Reformed Church and believed in a theological justification for apartheid. He and others like him believed that the Afrikaan people were the “new Israel,” a chosen nation. The Afrikaans believed they were called by God to rule South Africa, and Beyers accepted this and other racist ideologies and structures.

“It was quite an experience for us who were on the receiving side, that the people who brutalize you are the ones who want to spread the Word (of God) to you,” Chikane said.

He explained that the Afrikaans believed in the stereotype of a savage, “dark” African continent, where they would be the light.

“It was the worst type of brutality we experienced from people who claimed to be civilized,” Chikane said. “They were civilized for themselves but brutalized those who were not part of themselves.”

Beyers’ father refused to accept the British victory in the South African War and devoted himself to promoting Afrikaan nationalism. He also created a secret society, the Broederbond, devoted to infiltrating all realms of South African life to expand Afrikaan influence.

“Unfortunately, it was done at our expense,” Chikane said, referring to non-white South Africans.

Beyers studied at the Stellenbosch University. The Broederbond accepted him for membership when he was 25 years old, and he became a key leader in the Dutch Reformed Church.

The Dutch Reformed Church emphasized a close reading of biblical passages. In reading the Bible and interacting with Christians of other churches and races, Beyers realized that the truth might lie outside of his upbringing.

“The point where he took a stand, he used Acts 5:29, ‘We must obey God, rather than men,’” Chikane said.

Beyers’ original support for anti-apartheid measures was not out of any affection for Africans; rather, he thought apartheid would destroy the progress of the Afrikaana.

Chikane emphasized that Beyers’ change of heart was neither immediate nor easy.

“He struggled with this development (apartheid) in his church; his environment made him a child of his time,” Chikane said.

After 1948, apartheid was made law. Chikane explained the system of passbooks akin to those used in times of slavery. Certain prescribed areas of Johannesburg were prohibited from non-Afrikaaners unless otherwise authorized; a lack of a signature meant arrest and jail. Apartheid outlawed racially mixed marriages and segregated the military and public spaces. Any resistance to apartheid was declared communism.

As he was being tortured, Chikane once asked, “How do you do that?”

The man replied, “You are a communist, and I am doing my job.”

The man would go to church the next day, Chikane said, before returning to continue with his “job.”

Beyers led Bible studies to try to change the minds of his congregation. It didn’t work. Whites and blacks could not worship in the same spaces.

It took a massacre to change his mind. The Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 killed 69 people who were protesting pro-apartheid legislation. Afterwards, all liberation movements were banned. The Dutch Reformed Church supported the government’s decision to crush the uprising and kill the 69 protesters.

At the age of 45, Beyers’ perspective was transformed.

“His change was a miracle, in my view,” Chikane said, comparing Beyers’ “Damascus experience” to the biblical story of St. Paul, who stopped persecuting Jews after a miraculous occurrence on the road to Damascus.

Beyers was considered a traitor to his race for his support for the end of apartheid.

“(He) shook the foundations … of Afrikaana nationalism by challenging racist policies of his own people, which were brutally enforced against millions of our people in the country,” Chakine said.

Because of his position, he lost his leadership position in the Dutch Reformed Church.

“At that point, he decided to obey God, rather than men,” Chikane said.

His worried congregation questioned his decision.

In a sermon, Beyers said God loved diversity and that none could be excluded from the church.

“All laws which hinder love and justice between people are against the will of God,” Chikane said, quoting Beyers.

After Beyers made this announcement, a committee was established to decide upon his discipline. As the words of his final sermon left his lips, a member of the congregation stood and handed him a letter of dismissal. Beyers surrendered peacefully but did not stop his activism.

For his treason, he was imprisoned within the Johannesburg magisterial district for seven years. Authorities attempted to erase Beyers’ presence from public life; quoting his words and publishing his works were prohibited.

His children were harassed by their Afrikaan classmates; Beyers himself could not be close to his mother’s body at her funeral.

As a result of his rejection from the church, Beyers became more ecumenical. He interacted with members of independent churches and studied black consciousness and theology. He helped young white conscientious objectors who did not want to have to kill blacks in the army. He refused to bow to the whims of the government.

Beyers became a pastor to the restricted and oppressed, even in the midst of house arrest.

“He identified with the people, and he even went underground with them,” Chikane said. “For those of us who are black, it was difficult to see any good out of white people, with the experience we had. … It also humanized us, because to have somebody from the Broederbond to come and take sides with you told you this struggle is not about whites and blacks. This struggle is about sin.”

Beyers lived to see the fruits of his labor. Once apartheid was reversed, Beyers’ oppressors came to him and apologized.

Though remnants of apartheid remain in South Africa today, “We have peace,” Chikane said.

Chikane concluded with a warning.

“This is history,” he said. “But what worries me about this history is that all of us are always children of our time, and children tend to repeat the mistakes of their own parents,” Chikane said. “The world will never have peace as long as we strive to protect our sectarian interest … Your security will not be guaranteed by brutalizing other people. The only way you can guarantee your security is to free other people.”

Kelly: In midst of danger, Bonhoeffer never backed down

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Geffrey Kelly speaks on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the Hall of Philosophy Tuesday. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

Perhaps no other “spy for God” is as well known as the subject of Geffrey Kelly’s lecture: Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Kelly’s presentation, “The Costly Grace of Christian Discipleship in the Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” was the second installment in Week Three’s interfaith lecture series, “Spies for God.”

Maureen Rovegno, assistant director of the Department of Religion, described Kelly as “steeped in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” Kelly is a professor of systematic theology at La Salle University and the author of five books about Bonhoeffer. He is also one of the founding members of the English language section of the International Dietrich
Bonhoeffer Society.

“Bonhoeffer was an unlikely candidate for his actions to bring down the Nazi government,” Kelly began, explaining that Bonhoeffer was a double agent recruited by military intelligence.

Bonhoeffer came from a wealthy family. From the beginning of his education, Bonhoeffer was a gifted student; he received his doctorate of theology at the age of 21. He went on to teach at the University of Berlin.

Bonhoeffer’s doctoral dissertation “defined the church as Christ existing as the church community,” Kelly said. “The downside of this understanding of church was his conviction that the church of today could easily become the false church of tomorrow.“

Nowhere else was this belief more evident than in the allegiance of many churches to Hitler and the ideology of the Nazi party.

Bonhoeffer had a passion for the underprivileged and vulnerable, groups of people disparaged by Nazi ideology — groups of people Bonhoeffer believed Christians were called to serve.

He won a scholarship to Union Theological Seminary in New York. There, he met Reinhold Niebuhr, the famed social ethicist and theologian. Bonhoeffer learned Niebuhr’s three steps of social ethics: the ideal (unconditional love for all peoples), the achievable reality (justice) and the means (coercion, hopefully non-violent).

At Union, he learned the difference between an acculturated religion and prophetic religion, between a church ensconced in national politics and a church self-reflective and critical of power.

“He would conclude with Bonhoeffer that the purpose of theology was to change the world for the better, to continue what Jesus Christ had begun in his prophetic, earthly ministry,” Kelly said.

Bonhoeffer met Franklin Fisher, a young black theologian, who taught him about the Social Gospel.

“His experiences in Harlem would make him doubly sensitive to the persecution of Jews in his native Germany,” Kelly said.

Bonhoeffer also met Jean Lasserre, a French pacifist, who influenced his anti-war and anti-violence philosophies.

He had a conversion experience while at Union. Returning to Germany, his sermons took on new power. He argued passionately against the magnetism of Nazi ideology, which many churches found appealing for its strong family values, and the role of Hitler as “God’s man in Germany.”

The day after Hitler won his dictatorship, Bonhoeffer gave a radio address to explain the difference between a leader and a “misleader.” The Gestapo cut off his presentation.

“At every stage, Bonhoeffer attempted to counteract Nazism,” Kelly said. “He bemoaned the timid escapism of the church that was now affecting the leadership of the church and the country.”

He criticized the church for not listening to the commands of peace in the New Testament and for subjugating its teachings to politics. His message “The Church is Dead” lambasted the church for its love of security, calling it idolatry, and criticized the church’s acceptance of war.

Bonhoeffer addressed the clergy of Berlin after the passage of anti-Jewish legislation, urging his peers to question the authority of the legislation, help the persecuted and be ready to take action against the government if it did not comply. It didn’t go over well.

“These words provoked a loud cry of protest,” Kelly said. “Many stood up and left; some shouted him down. Several of the clergy accused Bonhoeffer of being a troublemaker, guilty of treason.”

Bonhoeffer denounced Hitler’s pretentiousness in declaring a new world order and his role as a supposed revolutionary. He avoided arrest only because his brother-in-law was the assistant to the minister of justice.

He rejected the ideas of war and the arms race. At an ecumenical conference, Bonhoeffer declared, “Peace is the opposite of security. Peace must be dared. It is the great venture.”

One student audience member remarked later, “(Bonhoeffer) left (the other delegates) with a troubled conscience.”

He was more progressive than his fellow clerics. He preached an anti-war sermon on the National Day of Mourning in Germany. His audience was filled with soldiers.

As anti-Jewish sentiment increased, Bonhoeffer left the university to be a pastor. No church wanted him.

“The marks against him were that he was too young, too radical; he would disturb their peace,” Kelly said. “And since he had brought his pastor friend (Franz Hildebrandt), whose parents were Jewish, and therefore (Jewish) in the eyes of the Nazis … he was called a Jew-lover.”’

He served in a London pastorate position for two years. His resistance activities did not wane.

“He refused to sign a statement that he would not criticize the Nazi government while he was abroad,” Kelly said. “He never lost an opportunity to denounce Nazism in his sermons at conferences in London.”

He wanted to visit Mahatma Gandhi to learn tactics of peaceful protest in order to further educate the churches of Germany, but his old mentor Niebuhr told him this is was a foolish idea, that the German government lacked the conscience to make civil disobedience an effective method of protest.

Instead, members of the renegade confessing church approached Bonhoeffer and asked him “to lead a secret illegal seminarian pomerania,” as Kelly termed it.

Eager to train clergy as a force of subversion, Bonhoeffer accepted and directed the program for two years until it was closed by the Gestapo in 1937. These collected teachings became The Cost of Discipleship.

“For Bonhoeffer, the trouble in Germany was that the voice of Jesus Christ had become muted except in domesticated, non-challenging, non-prophetic ways within the churches,” Kelly said.

Church leaders praised Hitler for ridding the country of atheism and communism instead.

Bonhoeffer refused the German army draft in 1939, risking imprisonment and execution. Niebuhr and Paul Lehmann tried to rescue him by inviting him to lecture in America.

But Bonhoeffer said, “I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”

In the midst of danger, Bonhoeffer continued to criticize the church’s inaction and to renounce different aspects of Nazi ideology, including euthanasia. During the expulsion of the Jews, Christians not only took Hitler for their conscience instead of Jesus but virtually expelled Jesus from Germany, too — Jesus was a Jew, Bonhoeffer declared.

Kelly concluded by mentioning three of Bonheoffer’s most subversive espionage assignments in Germany where he worked as a double agent. Many of Bonhoeffer’s family were involved in intelligence.

His first mission was to Norway, which was in turmoil. Bonhoeffer and a colleague were supposed to quell rebellion against the German occupation.

“(Norwegian politician Vidkun Quisling) had issued a prohibition forbidding one of the main organizers of the Norwegian church … to hold a religious service at the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim,” Kelly said. “That cathedral was a rallying point for opponents of the Nazi occupation … and the Quisling puppet government.”

The head bishop of Norway was put under house arrest, and Bonhoeffer was called upon to address the clergy. Instead of calming the conflict, Bonhoeffer encouraged the rebellion.

The second mission was Operation 7, which assisted several Jews in escaping Germany for Switzerland so they could be a voice for the effects of Nazi oppression.

The third mission was to use Bishop George Bell’s influence in an assassination plot against Hitler and to come to peaceful terms of surrender with Germany if the assassination attempts against Hitler were successful.

Kelly closed by quoting a letter Bonhoeffer wrote.

“We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.”

Dorrien: Ransom helped foster confidence in black consciousness

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Gary Dorrien, professor of social ethics, lectures on “Defying White Supremacism: Reverdy C. Ransom” in Monday’s Interfaith Lecture in the Hall of Philosophy. Photo by Megan Tan.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

When the Rev.  Joan Brown Campbell calls the afternoon Interfaith lecturer “one of the best lecturers of our time,” you had better pay attention.

The aforementioned lecturer was Gary Dorrien, Episcopal priest, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and professor of religion at Columbia University. Dorrien has published a dozen books and more than 100 articles.

Dorrien’s passion for social ethics manifested in his lecture, “Defying White Supremacism: Reverdy Ransom and the Black Social Gospel.”

The little-known Ransom helped to popularize the Black Social Gospel. He was a contemporary of such figures as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois and endured much persecution for his beliefs and approach to achieving racial equality.

“Our business today is to speak about American Christians who experienced their country as a site of oppression, a site of racial apartheid,” Dorrien said.

“(Ransom and Benjamin Mays’) resistance to apartheid was the wellspring of the civil rights movement,” Dorrien said.

On Thursday, Dorrien will resume his discussion of the founders of the Black Social Gospel movement with a focus on Mays. Mays was former president of Morehouse College, and Martin Luther King, Jr. called him his spiritual mentor.

Social justice activism has its roots in the Social Gospel, which was rooted in Christian socialism movements and a growing labor movement — trade unions were disgusted with the church’s inaction in the face of worker oppression, Dorrien said.

Two of the most important figures in the Social Gospel movement were Walter Rauschenbusch and Washington Gladden.

But Ransom, the founder of the Black Social Gospel movement, is not so well-known.

“He lived on the other side of American apartheid,” Dorrien said, and he launched into the story of Ransom’s tumultuous yet obscure life journey from a boy born in poverty to one of the most controversial figures in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Ransom was born in 1841. He was raised by his mother, Harriet Ransom, who insisted upon his education and worked hard to provide for him.

The Ransoms moved to Ohio, where hostility toward blacks was quite prevalent at the time.

“Yet they migrated there in large numbers anyway, coping with resentment, abuse, disenfranchisement and lynchings,” Dorrien said.

Ohio was also home to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, of which Ransom and his family were active members.

“Ransom spent his childhood puzzling over the chasm of black and white Americans,” Dorrien said.

Ransom attended a segregated school. All classes were taught by one white man. The curriculum never changed, year after year. Harriet Ransom took laundry jobs for wealthy white people in exchange for private tutoring for her son.

Ransom married young and had a child whom his mother largely ended up raising; she did not want the duties of fatherhood to distract from Ransom’s studies. As his mother decreed, he attended Wilberforce University, an African Methodist Episcopal-affiliated school, in Wilberforce, Ohio.

The school “stood for racial equality and black progress,” unlike other institutions of the time, Dorrien said.

Ransom’s troubled marriage, along with his increasingly liberal views about evolution and theology, conflicted with the conservative lifestyle and theology Wilberforce touted. Ransom feared his liberalism would be discovered and believed that he needed to pretend to be conservative to enter the ministry.

Ransom’s first several church assignments were small congregations. In 1890, he was assigned to a larger parish in Springfield, Ohio. During this time, Ransom developed his personal philosophy, embracing Social Gospel teachings as well as manifest destiny.

“Ransom implored that America could not claim to be civilized when it savagely terrorized blacks,” Dorrien said.

Once he arrived in Cleveland, Ransom converted to what Dorrien referred to as “Social Gospel socialism.” Bishop Benajmin Arnette, a prominent figure in the AME church, was active in the Republican Party.

“(Arnette) legitimized Ransom’s political interests, and he became a close friend and protector to Ransom,” Dorrien said.

Ransom’s political views demonstrated his difference from his newfound friend and his dedication to Social Gospel teachings.

“For Ransom, the best kind of political ministry focused on electoral politics, lynching and economic justice,” Dorrien said.

Ransom’s next church assignment was Bethel Church in Chicago, a place Dorrien called “perfect” for the type of activism that interested him. His congregation was full to bursting as participants in the Great Migration moved from the South. He also joined the Afro-American Council.

Ransom disagreed heartily with many of the beliefs of Booker T. Washington, whose teachings influenced the Afro-American Council. After one heated statement, he was forced to apologize.

“(This served) notice that the cause of militant racial justice had a new voice — the AME ministry,” Dorrien said.

He encouraged the path of democratic socialism, which would eventually attract African-Americans.

“Progressivism was about making progress, and Ransom’s calling was to make sure that blacks were included in it,” Dorrien said.

His next initiative was the Institutional Church and Social Settlement. It offered a variety of programs, including Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, childcare, early education, job training, counseling and lectures. Ransom felt his center filled a void the church could not fill. His colleagues in the AME church disagreed intensely, accusing him of imitating the white Social Gospel movement.

“Ransom replied that the white Social Gospel-ers were right about one thing: The church has a social mission to change social structures, creating a good society for everybody,” Dorrien said.

Reputed for his powerful preaching, settlement ministry and staunch opposition to the philosophies of Booker T. Washington, Ransom’s radicalism threatened his fellow AME clergy. Subsequently, Ransom was moved from his thriving congregation in Chicago. His protector Arnette stepped in and had him come to New Bedford, Mass., and eventually to a church in Boston.

Together, W.E.B. DuBois, William Monroe Trotter and Ransom founded the Niagara Movement. Ransom gave the first keynote address in praise of the abolitionist John Brown.

“(The Niagara Movement) stood for the abolition of discrimination in public accommodation, freedom of speech and assembly, universal education and equal rights, regardless of race or class,” Dorrien said.

Nevertheless, racism increased in violent ways.

“Even as the Great Migration took place, there was no tolerance in polite society for social justice or racial justice activism,” Dorrien said.

Again, AME pastors were unimpressed with Ransom’s notoriety and had him moved from his Boston congregation to New York City. But Ransom was not to be stopped. He made a deal with Tammany Hall to end the prohibition on hiring black police officers and co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Ransom adored the ecumenical movement and called it “American Christianity at its best,” Dorrien said.

The 1912 invasion of Cuba gave Ransom second thoughts about the nature and purpose of manifest destiny. Ransom came to see that the white people who implemented its tools brought ideas racism and white supremacy wherever they went.

Instead, Ransom stressed black consciousness and “pride of race.” Rather than racism, “pride of race lifts human being to greatness … the idea is a pride of personality that transcends race grounded in recognition of divine light in every soul,” Dorrien said in explanation of Ransom’s view.

Ransom was elected the 48th Bishop of the AME church. His mother was thrilled, but Ransom worried his administrative duties would take away from his hands-on approach. It did.

“In his last years, the black nationalist strain of Ransom’s thought was stronger than the democratic Socialist and Social Gospel strains,” Dorrien said.

Ransom still struggled with why white America was so afraid of black culture.

In the 1930s, he declared the situation for blacks was improving in only one way: Blacks were acquitting a stronger sense of identity and self-respect. His beliefs combined a confidence in black consciousness and the superiority of Christianity.

“His vision did not really diminish in his later years, however … He would’ve preferred to work with large interracial organizations that struggled for a cooperative commonwealth for all people, but they didn’t exist,” Dorrien said.

Ransom’s philosophy devolved into strange racial superstitions about genetic predisposition. Ransom was long forgotten by his death in 1959 because he had less of a direct connection to civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and less clout with white activists.

“Ransom is wrongly neglected, as is the Black Social Gospel, which inspired the greatest liberation movement in American history, one that has chapters left to be lived and written,” Dorrien concluded.

Dorrien will return at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy to present his lecture “Defying White Supremacism: Benjamin E. Mays, The Negro’s God, and the Black Social Gospel.”

Black: ‘We the people’ must preserve ethics in government

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U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black addresses the audience during his Interfaith Lecture Friday in the Hall of Philosophy. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

“Perhaps Chaplain Black’s spirit could best be described by the words that he gave to the president of Oakwood College … he said then, ‘For most of my life, I sought a relationship with God,’” Jane Campbell said in her introduction of U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black, the 2 p.m. Friday Interfaith Lecture speaker.

Campbell is the former mayor of Cleveland and was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives. She currently serves as the chief of staff to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). Campbell is also one of the parishioners at Black’s Wednesday noon Bible study for heads of staff in Washington, D.C.

She’s also the daughter of Chautauqua’s Rev. Joan Brown Campbell.

Campbell described Black as “the spiritual leader for a hundred senators, their families and their staffs — an extended community of almost 7,000 people.”

Black counsels senators in their daily lives, provides Bible studies like the one in which Campbell participates, officiates weddings and funerals and visits those in the hospital.

Black was a two-star admiral and the first African-American chaplain of chaplains in the United States Navy before he became the U.S. Senate chaplain.

“I came up with the title ‘Running Without Stumbling’ because I believe that one of the responsibilities of government — ‘we the people’ — is to prepare individuals for seasons of emergency,” Black said. “Government, when it is fulfilling its proper function, makes a substantive and significant difference in the lives of people. It will enable them to get through challenging seasons that they would not be able to get through without the ethical force of … a God-ordained government.

“I believe that we depend too much on some kind of institution, which has really no one that we know or can depend on, to bail us out of all kinds of difficulties. I think we need to be reminded that government consists of ‘we the people.’”

Black shared three ways ‘we the people’ can protect the United States by preserving its ethical foundations.

First, fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship. Black cited Romans 13, which instructs the people of God in how to respond to the institution of government.

The first of these citizenship responsibilities is to submit to government. Governmental authorities are ultimately appointed by God, and to resist such authority is to resist God’s authority, Black said.

The only exception to this rule is if the laws implemented by government contradict religious commands. To illustrate this, Black referenced the story of Daniel in the Old Testament and mentioned the civil disobedience and protests in the civil rights movement.

The second responsibility of citizenship is to support government, regardless of which political party is in power.

The third responsibility is to respect government.

“If we’re going to respect government, we must respect those in positions of authority,” Black said.

Words have power, he said, and some of the commonly used rhetoric is inappropriate to achieving a productive end.

Black’s second idea to preserve the ethical foundations of the United States is to pray for government leaders.

“Prayer is probably one of the most underestimated powers on the planet,” Black said.

He cited 1 Timothy 2:1-2, which suggests that peace and quiet, as well as godliness and holiness, may follow prayers put forth on behalf of authority figures.

He spoke of those retired from Capitol Hill who spend time in Washington, D.C., in order to offer intercessory prayer on behalf of government figures.

He cited James 5:16, which says prayer is powerful and effective.

Black shared his testimony about the power of prayer during the looming government shutdown. He led his Friday plenary Bible study, which serves between 100-150 people on a regular basis, to pray that the shutdown would not occur.

“All of a sudden, I heard myself say something which startled me,” he said. “I said, ‘You know, the Bible says that the effectual fervent prayers of the righteous avail much.’ I said, ‘There need not be a government shutdown, with all of these prayer warriors here.’”

Even as the words left his mouth, Black said, he realized he did not know how to keep his promise to his congregation. So he led his parishioners in a prayer citing James 4:2, which states “we have not because we ask not.”

Black stayed up late to watch television to see what the decision was.

“Oh, ye of little faith,” Black said, gesturing to himself.

When the decision to keep the government from shutting down was made, hundreds more parishioners flocked to Black’s Friday meeting, where he led the people in a prayer thanking God for his hand in the event.

“When you think that you are helpless, when you think there is absolutely nothing you can do, when you are concerned about the polarization in D.C. and you’re wondering, ‘How in the world do they even speak to each other?’ with all the bellicose rhetoric you are hearing, remember that you always have the power of prayer on your side,” Black said.

To introduce his third idea to preserve ethical foundations, Black said, “We should teach wisdom’s way.”

The government — “we the people,” as Black put it — have this responsibility. He compared conscientious citizens to “salt and light.”

Salt adds flavor, Black said, and referenced the horror of a food like grits without salt.

“The environment should be more palatable because you are there,” Black said. “The environment should be safer.”

Black emphasized the importance of the Golden Rule.

“I love the way it’s put in Judaism: What you don’t want done to you, don’t do to somebody else,” Black said.

He also cited John Stuart Mill’s philosophy of utilitarianism: “Strive for the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”

The third philosophy he referenced was that of Immanuel Kant, a choice that surprises some, he said.

“Live in such a way that your actions can be made universal law,” he quoted.

Light illuminates, Black said, but also is often silent.

Black referenced the words of St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Preach the Gospel everywhere you go. When necessary, use words.”

He called for the nation to tone down its rhetoric and to encourage civility.

His bonus fourth point to encourage the preservation of ethics in the United States was to maximize the advantages of virtue in government.

“(Virtue) brings material prosperity. There’s something about truth and honesty that helps business thrive … It also brings social harmony. Spirituality and religion have done much to bring people together, to break down walls,” he said, referencing the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson’s sermon from earlier that day.

Moral power, in addition to material prosperity and social harmony, is the third reward virtue brings.

“There is something about believing that you have the moral high ground that gives power and courage to your enterprise,” Black said.

Black concluded using the words of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” — with a twist.

Calling the American citizens “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield,” Black said, “And I would add, to run without stumbling.”

Dionne: Misunderstanding of history makes living in the present difficult

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Washington Post columnist and author E.J. Dionne listens to a question from an audience member after his Interfaith Lecture at the Hall of Philosophy Thursday afternoon. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it,” reads Hebrews 13:2.

“I have always loved this,” E.J. Dionne said.

Dionne is a columnist for The Washington Post, a NPR commentator and a professor at Georgetown University. He is the author of Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right.

His lecture, “Does Faith Make Us Strangers or Friends?” was divided into three parts. He discussed the role of the common good in history, Christianity’s relationship to democracy and what a world without strangers would look like.

“There are some, including a very smart lecturer who is here this week, who would deny the possibility of a common good,” Dionne said. “I profoundly disagree and would simply ask the question that if there is no such thing as a common good, if it doesn’t matter how we shape society for all of us, then why are any of us here who are successful or fortunate, successful or fortunate? Is it all our own effort?”

Dionne said that a misunderstanding or ignorance of history makes living in the present difficult.

“We don’t know who we are, because we don’t know who we’ve been,” he said.

Americans ignore the complexity of their past when they attempt to identify one signifier that will mark them as “American” instead of appreciating its complexity and diversity, Dionne said.

Though it may be a flawed interpretation, the Tea Party has brought American history back into the national spotlight, Dionne said, and now to combat the claims of the Tea Party, Americans must take a closer look at their past.

Dionne dwelt on the implications of the name of the Tea Party. The original “tea partiers” in 1773 were upset over taxation without representation, Dionne said, not taxes that were too high or that existed at all. And taxes were the 17th complaint that American revolutionaries listed in the Declaration of Independence; although it was a significant complaint, it was not the most pressing.

Rather, the Founders despised the British monarch for denying the common good, Dionne said, and began the document with this complaint.

Dionne referenced Robert Bellah, who co-authored the book Habits of the Heart, which emphasizes two communitarian strands in the history of the United States.

The first strand is biblical, explained Dionne, as he quoted excerpts of John Winthrop’s writings, who advocated for diversity and the common good. Today, partisan philosophies offer different approaches on how to achieve the common good.

“Our biblical inheritance as a nation is bifurcated between a stress on communal action and an emphasis on individual behavior or, perhaps more precisely, between communal action to transform personal norms and communal efforts to transform social and economic structures,” Dionne said.

The second strand is republican — “Little ‘r,’” Dionne said.

“All of us are republicans, or ought to try to be,” he said.

Dionne cited Gordon Wood, who explained that the early republicans in the United States had a highly communal view of liberty.

“It’s about as distant as you can imagine from pure individualism,” he said.

But Dionne also emphasized what he termed “the American balance” between individualism and preserving the common good.

“I would argue that preserving individual rights is itself a communal project,” he said. “My liberty is not safe unless you and the entire community are willing to come to its defense. Liberty will corrode in a society that does not tend to common institutions that bind us together.”

Dionne’s second point focused on Christianity and its relationship to democracy.

He quoted H. Richard Niebuhr: “We tend to become so devoted to Christianity that we do not inquire too diligently into its character. We love democracy so dearly that we do not ask it too many questions about its heredity, its religion, its virtues and its vices. We find beauty in both because we love them, as well as love them because they are beautiful. Defensiveness only increases confusion in this realm.”

Niebuhr was hesitant to revere democracy as divinely ordained, Dionne said.

“No people can live in the world of God who live for themselves, who consult their own desires in making laws,” quoted Dionne.

This implies the existence and necessity of a common good, he said.

“The positive relationship between Christian faith and democracy is more a moral than intellectual one,” Dionne quoted Niebuhr.

Dionne encouraged Chautauquans to reassess the relationship between religion and democracy in historical context.

“We might work together across our divides to think about what a theology of democracy might look like,” he said. “It should be an honest theology of democracy that would be as candid … about the tensions and conflicts within our own tradition.”

Dionne’s third point sought to answer the question, “How do you trust someone whom you don’t know and with whom you are not familiar?”

Both Christian and Jewish Scriptures say we have the ability and the obligation to love strangers, Dionne said, citing passages from the biblical books of Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Matthew, Romans and Hebrews.

“I think a world without strangers would be a better world, because all of us everywhere could feel at home all of the time,” Dionne said. “In a world without strangers, we approach the new people we meet anticipating the joys of friendship, not the anxieties of enmity. That is what I’ve noticed happens on (Chautauqua’s) streets every day. People you have never met in your life approach you and start talking to you about some of the largest questions in the world. I guess I’m saying the world needs to be more like Chautauqua.”

Dionne concluded with a reflection on the use of the epithet “bleeding heart.” He shared the anecdote of a conservative who railed against bleeding-heart liberals and the unintended negative consequences of their government programs. A pastor stood up and declared, “I worship a Savior with a bleeding heart.”

But you don’t need to be religious to have a bleeding heart, he said, and bleeding heart-esque compassion transcends political party lines.

“I am grateful to be among people who try to bring heart and mind together, who have passion for reason and bring reason to their passion,” he said. “It is in bringing these together that we will discover that good in common that we seek.”

Saperstein: Jews obligated to be forces for justice, peace, fairness, equality

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Rabbi David Saperstein delivers his lecture, “The Use and Abuse of Religions Traditions in Contemporary Political Debates: A Jewish Perspective,” Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

“The moral tradition of our religions can contribute to a rich moral debate about what the common good is in America and a more vibrant and robust debate about what the common good is for (the) world,” said Rabbi David Saperstein. “A new world is being fashioned before our eyes. That new world has within it the seeds of great possibilities but of deep and profound dangers as well.”

Saperstein is a rabbi, political lobbyist and lawyer, as well as the director and chief legal counsel at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center. He is the current co-chair of the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty. His lecture, “The Use and Abuse of Religious Traditions in Contemporary Political Debates: A Jewish Perspective,” was the third installment in the Week Two interfaith lecture theme, “The Role of Religion in Engaging Citizens for the Common Good.”

According to Saperstein, religious dogma should be used not to dictate laws but to provide a moral framework.

“In truth, the Jewish tradition does not suggest that the Jewish legal answer … should be binding upon a non-Jewish society,” he said.

This belief is rooted in a covenantal philosophy, that only the Jews who stood at Mount Sinai entered a contract with God and subsequently, Jewish law. Judaism is also not a religion that seeks to proselytize, Saperstein said.

Nevertheless, the idea of “ethical monotheism” pervades human history, Saperstein said, as he listed parts of Judaism that are universal to most philosophies.

First, there are other covenants, like that of Noah, who stood in for all of humanity. Noah’s encounter resulted in several universal laws, including laws prohibiting murder and stealing.

In addition, Jews are obligated to improve their surroundings constantly.

“The law of the land in which Jews live is the law that Jews live by, so long as it doesn’t require violating a religious law … or discriminated against Jews,” Saperstein said, meaning that Jews must work to improve the laws of the place where they live, rather than conform them to the standards of religious law.

Jews are called to be the light of the nations, not a light to the nations.

“The idea is wherever we are, we have to be a force for good,” Saperstein said. “We have to be a force for justice and peace … to work within the legal structure of the countries in which we live; to make it more just, more fair, more equitable for more people.”

Saperstein emphasized the importance of preserving the history of Jews and Judaism to understand the political discussions that occur today.

Next, he listed several principles that are shared by many societies and cultures throughout history, such as the infinite value of life, creation in the image of God and the fundamental equality of all people. Another belief is in the perfectibility of individuals in society.

“The Messianic times would come … out of history, through human initiative,” he said. “It would be brought about step by step through caring people, just like us, gradually making the world a better place. That doesn’t mean we can make ourselves perfect. It means we can constantly make ourselves better.”

This idea resulted in universal education, he said.

“Judaism was never a tradition that saw justice being played out in the passive articulation of the rights to which others were entitled,” Saperstein said, an approach that is less abstract and more pragmatic.

Saperstein also named the accountability of powerful leaders, the concept of distributive justice and the protection of God’s creation.

The final universal characteristic was freedom of choice, what Saperstein revered as “perhaps Judaism’s most significant contribution to Western thought.”

“While they are not intended to be binding on non-Jewish societies — and this is crucial — they may well be relevant,” he said. “What we as moral human beings are commanded to do by God is to test those human inventions, the policies our leaders put before us, by whether they further impede those universal values.”

Saperstein applied his ideas to two sets of philosophical issues. The first was economic justice.

“What is the role of the public sector?” Saperstein asked.

He explained that liberals and conservatives have vastly different ideas about this question.

“There’s no answer in the Bible to this question,” he said.

The Bible says only that the hungry should be fed and the orphan and widow should be cared for, he said, and in Jesus’ time, there were five social institutions set up to fulfill these needs.

“The government played the key role in ensuring that this would be done,” he said. “There was extensive government regulation of the economy.”

Jews paid voluntary charity dues, and the government collected these like taxes.

“The model of the Jewish tradition and the model of creating institutions that ensure that the poor will be helped and paid for by our taxes and regulated by the government is one that accords very strongly with the liberal model in the debates we have today,” he said.

Saperstein encouraged the audience to reconsider the harmfulness of debt and touted the Jubilee economic model of debt relief, which is being explored by modern organizations.

The Jewish stance toward social issues, such as abortion and gay rights, is “not quite conservative, not quite liberal,” Saperstein said.

The Scriptures make no mention of same-sex relations between women — only men.

“It would be hard to find anything that would say if people refrained from participating in those acts whether or not there would be any kind of penalty to somebody or discrimination allowed against someone simply because of their sexual orientation,” he said. “I don’t know what the argument would be about the biblical basis for such discrimination.”

Regarding abortion, Saperstein was frank in his admission that he believes women have the fundamental right of freedom of choice, “(which) argues powerfully in secular America,” he said.

The health of the woman comes first, he said, and different rabbis differ on the topic. He emphasized once more that the universal values shared by many religious and secular traditions, not Jewish law, should guide the United States.

“Good moral people can differ on (these issues),” he said. “But the one sin from all of our religious traditions is to close our eyes to injustice and close our ears to suffering.

“We are rather mandated to dirty our hands and (to) the gritty task of building a better world. The creating of the common good … is our greatest heritage.”

Henderson: Multifaith Great Awakening will unite generations

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Katharine Henderson, president of the Auburn Theological Seminary, gives Tuesday’s Interfaith Lecture in the Hall of Philosophy. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

The Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson said she considers “troublemaker” and “activist” to be honorific titles, so it only made sense that her lecture was titled “Trouble the Waters, Heal the World.”

Henderson is the president of Auburn Theological Seminary and the author of God’s Troublemakers: How Women of Faith Are Changing the World.

Her presentation at 2 p.m. on Tuesday in the Hall of Philosophy was the second installment in Week Two’s Interfaith Lecture series on “The Role of Religion in Engaging Citizens for the Common Good.”

“We are on the cusp of a new Great Awakening: a multigenerational, multifaith movement committed to justice, to healing and repairing the world,” she said.

Henderson said that from a young age, she began to see the responsibility that came with a life of faith.

“My growing-up years taught me that faith calls you to tend our shared space,” she said.

She said an example was her grandfather, who ran the only school for African-American children amidst persecution from the Ku Klux Klan in his North Carolina community.

Later, she marched with her parents in civil rights protests in the 1950s and 1960s in Louisville, Ky.

“The theological message was clear — that being a Christian … meant more than sitting in a pew on Sunday morning,” she said. “It meant being active, even political, doing something.”

When Henderson’s family moved to Germany for a year, their rented apartment belonged to the twin sister of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Nazi resister and Lutheran pastor. The family grew close with Bonhoeffer’s sister, and Henderson was exposed to the horrors of the Holocaust but also to the responsibility of religion.

But religion is still known for maintaining the status quo rather than challenging it, even when the status quo is evil and oppressive, as it was in Nazi Germany, Henderson said.

“The verdict is still out whether religion can be a force for good or not,” she said. The time for a new Great Awakening, she said, is long overdue.

There are four components to the new Great Awakening, Henderson said. Each component begins with the letter “m.”

The first “m” is moral imagination, “what Christians might call the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen,” Henderson said.

She convened 19 women from different intellectual and theological paths to create a list of core values shared amongst their different philosophies.

“We think it’s important to figure out not just what you’re against, but what are we for?” Henderson said.

These characteristics span different subjects and goals and include the declaration that all lives are of equal value and all people are created in the image of God; an attitude of humility; an emphasis on pluralism beyond tolerance, interdependence and an equitable distribution of material goods.

The second “m” is multifaith engagement, an exploration in religious pluralism and of the difference between stranger and neighbor. There are two parts to multifaith engagement, Henderson said — the theological and the practical.

“I think one of the most important tasks that we as people of faith can do is craft a theology of difference within our own religious tradition,” she said. “How do our truth claims make space for those who believe differently? Are we willing to say that God reveals God’s self to others in different ways?”

She said that such a stance does not encourage relativism nor dilute belief; rather, it involves genuine appreciation and understanding.

“We’re to build bridges across lines of difference, not because it feels good but because we can’t do the work of justice and peace without them,” Henderson said.

The examples she gave included the interfaith organization Prepare New York, which reached out to residents of New York City as a response to the media frenzy surrounding Park51. Its activities include 500 coffee conversations in each of the boroughs and a media campaign.

The third “m” is the millennial generation, referring to those born in the 1980s and 1990s. Henderson places great stock in the ideas and opinions of this generation.

“They think about everything … in fresh new ways,” she said.

Henderson called the people of the millennial generation “powerful allies in working for the common good.”

In 2016, the millennial generation will constitute 33 percent of the electorate, she said.

Citing the Roosevelt Institute’s survey of this generation, she shared several characteristics with the audience: They are largely alienated from organized religion but still spiritual and tolerant of religious diversity; they are concerned with the role the United States plays in foreign affairs as an arbiter of morality; they are interested in working for the common good and for causes of social justice.

The fourth and final “m” refers to movement building. Henderson elaborated upon the Latin root of the word “religion,” which is “religare,” or “to bind up.”

“Our role as religious people is to bind up … to tend and nurture the common good, to build a movement of connection that will be lasting,” she said.

Henderson said she believes that little movements must come together to form a larger movement to make an impact.

“We are diluting our efforts in these dispersed ways,” she said. “Yet these issues are not separate. They are complex; they are global; they are systemic; they are interconnected. We can’t respond to one without responding to the other.”

But secular groups and religious groups are often suspicious of one another, she said, even though they may share some of the same values.

“The light of social justice, I submit, flickers in brave corners, but it fizzles in isolation,” she said. “So in order to achieve meaningful change in a networked society, that light has to show in bold constellation.”

Henderson touted the benefits of this approach, pointing to the organization Groundswell, a movement that will reach out to people during the approach of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Groundswell strives to harness the energy of the millennial generation, knitting together religious and secular groups to have a greater collective impact.

Carroll traces history of assumptions about Jerusalem in American history

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James Carroll, author and columnist for the Boston Globe, opens Week Two’s Interfaith Lecture Series at the Hall of Philosophy Monday afternoon. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

“We Americans have trouble with religion,” said James Carroll. “Many Americans think, for example, that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.”

But that’s only the beginning.

“The ignorance I’m lifting up, though, isn’t about denominational creed or church history or biblical figures or saints,” he said. “It’s more about the question of, what are the religious assumptions that undergird America’s understanding of itself, even people who have no relationship to religion? And my theme today is that citizenship in this country is grounded in a set of religious assumptions that we pay very little attention to.”

This week, the afternoon interfaith lecture theme is “The Role of Religion in Engaging Citizens for the Common Good.” Carroll, author and columnist for The Boston Globe, opened the week at 2 p.m. Monday in the Hall of Philosophy with his lecture, “City on a Hill: Jerusalem in the American Imagination.”

Carroll began with the history of the negative associations religion has produced: the Crusades, for instance, a religious initiative targeting Muslims and Jews that began in 1096.

The Crusades resulted in a political and cultural paradigm, which Carroll defined as, “Christendom defining itself positively … against the twin negative of Muslims and Jews, a basic structure of the western mind out of which our American mind springs.”

The crux of Carroll’s elaboration was that the Crusades were what he terms “a millennial event,” an event ridden with special significance for Christians.

“The year 1000 was given magical, mystical resonance. After 1,000 years, the devil was going to be loosed to wreck havoc, to bring about the great war of the end time of history through which the new heaven and the new earth were to be established,” he said. “And in the book of the Apocalypse, the new heaven is defined as the new Jerusalem, and the search for Jerusalem defined the Christian imagination, especially powerfully beginning at the millennium.”

Carroll explained that once the gates of Jerusalem were closed and the travel route blocked, European visions of reclaiming Jerusalem transitioned into thoughts of colonization. The responsibility of rescuing Jerusalem took root in the European mind, Carroll said, including the mind of one European in particular: Christopher Columbus.

Columbus’ deep Christian mysticism is often overlooked, Carroll said.

“His goal was not just gold and silver and the Indies … his goal was Jerusalem,” he said.

Columbus considered himself a messenger of the new millennium, as recorded in his letters. He believed the New World to be the place to establish the new Jerusalem.

“By now, to take Jerusalem was the fulfillment of millennial hope,” Carroll said. “How do we solve the problems of the human condition? How do we resolve the challenge of suffering and death and loss? … We resolve it by bringing history to a climax as God has declared. The purpose of all of this will be fulfilled … when we take Jerusalem. That became the dominant motif: the real Jerusalem intentioned with the mystic Jerusalem.”

Carroll traced history to the time of the Puritans, another religious movement born of violence. Between 1620 and 1640, 20,000 English pilgrims came to what would become the United States, he said.

“Millions of Christians killed each other in the name of God in the 16th and 17th centuries, and out of that chaos came a renewed hope for the new heaven and the new earth,” Carroll said.

John Winthrop was one of these pilgrims, the man who gave the infamous “City upon a Hill” sermon. Carroll explained that the settlement this sermon referred to was Salem, Mass.

Salem is “another name for Jerusalem,” he said. “There are 20 Jerusalems; there are 61 Zions; there are 120 Salems from Massachusetts to Oregon,” Carroll said. “There was something in the unconscious working of the people who settled this country.”

Religious revival movements like the Great Awakening were meant to rekindle this millennial spirit, Carroll said.

“It wasn’t just political is my point — something profoundly religious an inch below the surface of all of this, despite the deist and somewhat secular figures who came into leadership,” Carroll said. “(Thomas) Jefferson would be appalled at my characterization.”

He went on to explain that a transformation in American society happened, one Jefferson never would have expected. The number of church congregations skyrocketed from 2,500 in 1790 to 52,000 in 1860; a second Great Awakening had occurred.

“Almost all of this growth was fervent evangelical Christian religion,” Carroll said. “That is to say, religion defined by the sense that we, in what we do, as we move west, as we tame this country, as we claim America, that what we do is bringing about the promised end time of history. It’s a millennial vision.”

The philosophy of manifest destiny led to “Palestine mania” and Restorationist Christianity, in which Christians strove to restore the Holy Land to Jews, converting them as a prelude to the Messiah’s return. Many renowned intellectual figures of the 19th century made pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and Carroll pointed to Chautauqua Institution’s own Palestine Park as evidence of “Palestine mania.”

The Civil War, another bloody conflict, only furthered this fixation, Carroll said. He explained that Abraham Lincoln emphasized that the Civil War was in no way a holy war, but his position later changed as the conflict became less about preserving the Union and more about emancipating slaves; only freedom could justify such bloodshed, Carroll said.

He added that the Civil War marked the beginning of rhetoric commonly heard today, “a mystical theology of freedom.” Carroll said tunes like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” set the message behind the Book of Revelation to music.

Other American conflicts demonstrate similar end-times themes, he added. The 1950s anti-Communist slogan “Better Dead than Red” means to “save the world by destroying it, which is the apocalyptic vision,” Carroll said.

In the same vein of this philosophy, Carroll said he sees the nuclear bomb as a prime example of an apocalyptic weapon, which rids the world of evil and obliterates the world simultaneously. Carroll posited this is the reason we maintain our nuclear weaponry arsenal and engage in what he terms “wars of choice.”

“There is something in us … it isn’t because we’re bad, it’s because we’re somehow imbued with a sense that number one, we have a mission to bring about the salvation of the world, freedom; number two, violence is necessary to that mission, (that) God wills it,” Carroll said.

He then shared three steps to assuage the tension between perception and reality. “The American religion is an engine of holy war,” he said. “How do we engage religion for the common good?”

One, reform theology.

“It matters what you say about God. And if you say ‘God wills it,’ terrible things follow,” he said.

Second, the Book of Revelation must be read in historical and cultural context. It was written in the midst of the violent conflict between Romans and Jews around the year 90 A.D.

Third, change America’s view toward violence. So much money cannot be allocated to the defense fund, which may call
for a bipartisan effort, he added.

Carroll encouraged the Institution to use Palestine Park as “an instrument of education for people going forward about how the memory of Jerusalem and Palestine has been misunderstood and abused to justify savage violence.”

“In Jerusalem, remember, God checked Abraham’s knife. No more killing in the name of God,” Carroll said. “In Jerusalem, religion was limited by ethics, and sacrifice was limited by love. In Jerusalem, with one God’s image found in every person, the western idea of human rights was born. So rescuing Jerusalem, not from the infidel, but from mistaken Christian notions, mainly, is an urgent obligation.”

Keehan: Affordable Care Act goes beyond myths to effect health care changes

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Sister Carol Keehan speaks at the Hall of Philosophy on Friday. Keehan is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

Sister Carol Keehan might be one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People, but she’s not bragging about it.

“Lady Gaga, a couple of dictators — I have to tell you, it is not the communion of saints,” she joked. “It’s not that I’m not grateful to Time, but it’s much nicer to have the Cross for the Church and the (Pontiff) from Pope Benedict.”

Those aren’t her only awards. Keehan also received the American Hospital Association’s Trustee Award and the American Cardinals’ Encouragement Award, among others. In addition, she is the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States. She has worked in medical administration for more than 35 years and is a part of the finance committee of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Keehan spent her time at 2 p.m. Friday in the Hall of Philosophy debunking misconceptions about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act throughout her lecture, “Will U.S Health Reform Advance Maternal and Child Wellbeing?”

This was Keehan’s first visit to Chautauqua.

“I think what you do here is so very important for the soul of our country, as well as for the kinds of support and good works which you inspire and foster,” she said.

Keehan began with current context of health care in the United States, a system challenging for women insured and uninsured alike.

According to Keehan, there are currently 50.7 million uninsured people in the United States, the highest number in the history of the census collection; of those, 27 million are women, and 48 percent of these women did not see a doctor, fill a prescription or attend a follow-up appointment due to cost.

“While we may have some of the world’s best medical facilities — if you can get access to them — we’re not protecting the world’s best health care system,” Keehan said. “We find in metrics like quality of care, access to care, efficiency, equity and longevity; we score below all other industrialized nations, and we are spending twice as much per capita.”

In 2010, the Commonwealth Fund surveyed 11 industrialized nations. The results demonstrated adults living in the United States were the most likely to forgo medical care because of cost, Keehan said, and 35 percent of people in U.S. spent more than $1,000 for health care in 2010, aside from paying for health insurance.

“As someone who has spent her whole life in health care, I am saddened to share many of these statistics because I have great belief in what our health care system has done and can do if we deal with the structure of our systems, particularly the financial structure,” Keehan said.

She added she is confident in the Affordable Care Act to effect these changes.

She shared the prediction of the Commonwealth Fund May 2011: the implemented health reform will insure nearly all uninsured women by 2014.

Parts of the Affordable Care Act especially excite Keehan. One aspect is the elimination of a lifetime limit on benefits.

“For the most vulnerable among us, this is a huge issue,” she said. “For people who have major health problems, this can be one of the most frightening things to live with.”

Another aspect is the elimination of denial of insurance based on a pre-existing condition. Keehan shared the story of a successful working woman whose husband had multiple sclerosis and child had cerebral palsy. Both were soon to reach their benefit limits, and the woman could not switch jobs to renew her limit because her family members’ conditions were pre-existing. For her, these reforms were literally lifesaving.

In addition, parents can now keep their children on their medical insurance until they are 26 years old. Such a change allowed one farmer to receive the $3,000-per-month medication his condition demanded and retain his livelihood, Keehan explained.

Former U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, who was responsible for that aspect of the Affordable Care Act, was in the audience of the Hall of Philosophy, and the audience applauded her efforts.

Keehan elaborated upon several more changes included in the Affordable Care Act.

First, insurance companies must prove fraud to cancel a policy.

Second, insurance companies must allow an appeal before they can deny a claim.

Also, important preventative services, like colonoscopies, must be administered even if the patient cannot afford a co-pay. Keehan called this “one of her favorite (changes).”

In addition, patients can choose their primary care physician, including obstetricians and pediatricians, no matter if he or she is out of their network.

The current health care system benefits stockholders of insurance companies more than policyholders, Keehan said. But a new process, the minimum medical loss ratio, will change this.

“This minimum medical loss ratio means an insurance company must spend between 80 and 85 percent of the premium they collect for medical care and quality improvement, not profits, bonuses or excessive salaries,” she said.

Keehan also spent time debunking myths about the new changes to health care.

One myth is that the Act will destroy Medicare.

“The truth is that it actually lengthens the viability of the Medicare trust fund into … 2029,” she said.

Another myth is that insurance companies will no longer offer Medicare advantages.

“Insurance companies are not looking to leave this market,” she said. “They know they will have to adjust to making less profit on it than they have in the past.”

In addition, it is not true that doctors will no longer take Medicare patients; in fact, one study showed that “doctors are more likely to drop private insurance patients than the Medicare patient,” Keehan said.

The rumors of “death panels,” the government having control over which tests and treatments doctors can administer to a particular patient, are completely false, Keehan said.

“The reality is that there is absolutely nothing in this bill that does any of that,” she said. “The bill does support the use of palliative care and it does support people’s choice of what they want if they have a terminal condition.”

And rather than increase, the cost of family insurance will be impacted favorably as minimum medical care cost is implemented — a positive change for families, individuals and employers, Keehan said.

“We do not need the top five insurers in this country having an $11.7 billion profit off health care,” Keehan said. “Much more of that can be better utilized by reasonable coverage, lower costs and making insurance what it was really intended to be when it began in our country.”

Keehan said she and others recognize that women are the primary health care deciders and providers in their families.

There are 18,000 unnecessary deaths each year in the U.S. due to a lack of access to health care; the examples Keehan gave focused on women in the advanced stages of cancer, who didn’t have access to preventative care.

Stress, which exacerbates many medical conditions, will also be alleviated significantly if women can rest assured that their health needs and those of their families will be taken care of, Keehan added.

Governments have a responsibility to their citizens, as do employers to their employees, she said. Insurance providers must take care to perform their services effectively and efficiently. The public at large must make sure to improve its lifestyle, to work toward becoming a healthier nation overall.

“As a nation, I have always felt that we were as smart and as compassionate as any other nation and that if we put our mind to it, we could take as good a care of our citizens as other nations do — and even better,” Keehan said.

Forman: Haitian recovery difficult but not impossible

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Forman holds a J.D. from American University, a Ph.D. in Latin American history from Washington University, and a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University in New York. Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

Johanna Mendelson Forman began her lecture on Thursday with a chilling scenario.

“If you can imagine a whole city … that is filled with tents, and you’re sleeping alone, and maybe you don’t even have a full tent around you; you don’t even have four walls, but you have blankets or quilts, sometimes blue plastic sheeting that’s given out by humanitarian agencies. There’s no electricity and no lights, so it’s dark,” she said. “And suddenly you hear a rustling, and then you hear the sound of the knife cutting through the sheeting. And before you can scream, a man, or a group of men — often they come in gangs — crashes through the opening. They grab you. They push you down. They rape you. And often, all of this is done in front of your children.”

Forman’s Interfaith Lecture on Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy, “The Slaughter of Eve: Women and Violence in Haiti,” focused on the tragic prevalence of sexual violence in Haiti. Forman has served as the director of peace, security and human rights at the United Nations Foundation and as an adviser to the United Nations in Haiti.

This wasn’t Forman’s first time at Chautauqua.

“About a decade ago, I sat here, talking about the problems of a country that had come out of a very violent past and was trying to rebuild,” she said. “In some ways, while I’m happy to be here, it’s unfortunate that we have to continue talking about the kind of violence that takes place in Haiti.”

Forman spent a portion of her lecture on Haiti’s dysfunctional history and said the country is often considered “the poster child for things that could go wrong in development.”

The Haitian government was dominated

by authoritarian rulers, army coups and general corruption, she said.

“My mission is to really illustrate the pervasiveness of (violence) and to explain why poverty, lack of governance, lack of the rule of law and a judicial culture makes women’s complaints really part of the problem, and the culture of impunity continues,” Forman said.

She said that the January 12, 2010, earthquake further delayed political progress. “The election was postponed a year after the earthquake … only about 23 percent of the population was able to vote,” she said.

The earthquake incited other serious disasters, such as a cholera outbreak, she added.

“This is the eighth time since 1991 that the United Nations has returned to Haiti, and the Haitians, because they do have an elected government now, feel as though they are an occupied nation,” Forman said. “This does not create great relations.”

But the United Nations Stabilization Mission peacekeepers are the only arbiters of order in Haiti at this time, and they can only do so much, she said, and the Haitian army was disbanded in 1994. Only a United Nations-trained police force remains.

Forman described the wretched conditions of Haitian prisons. When the earthquake destroyed the prisons, 5,000 prisoners fled once the gate broke.

“There is much evidence to believe that people who are attacking women and children in these camps are people who’ve escaped from the jails,” Forman said.

United Nations police officers have arrested many of these criminals, but the physical and mental damage done to women and children as a result of their sexual crimes is irreparable, she said.

She explained that rape is a security issue, as well as a health and human rights issue; rape undermines public order, destroys families, prolongs conflict, prevents women from taking part in peace negotiations and often leaves the attacker unpunished. Until 2005, rape was not a part of the criminal code in Haiti, Forman said. The audience was audibly shaken.

Forman explained that the bureaucracy involved in reporting rape is complex, doing more to discourage than encourage women to pursue their perpetrators: the rape must be reported within 72 hours and documented, and for illiterate women, these requirements are virtually impossible.

But Forman said several groups managed by Haitian women who are also rape survivors have an access to the refugee camps that United Nations forces do not and can help traumatized women to deal with the results of their attack.

“Women are now becoming part of the solution in Haiti,” she said.

Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, Forman said she is hopeful for the future of Haiti. Several solutions may prove viable. The first of these is the brainchild of American architect Oscar Newman, which Forman calls “defensible space for women.”

Currently, there is no lighting in any of the 25 large tent cities in Haiti. Toilet and shower facilities are isolated and located on the edges of camps.

“How could we create space for human beings to live in without being the victims of violence?” Forman asked.

There are several factors to the concept of defensible space; Forman mentioned territoriality, natural surveillance and an image or physical design that provokes a feeling of safety and milieu.

Creating camps in cul-de-sacs rather than grids and centralizing latrines instead of building them on the camp borders will also help to create a defensible space, Forman said.

“Is this going to be a quick fix? No,” she said. “But is it going to be a way to start getting people to think about how we put people in safe places? Absolutely.”

The second solution is to work with the international legal system, Forman said.

She said she believes this solution will take a long time.

“But we can train Haitian police … to be sensitive to women as victims,” she said.

Confident in the abilities of current Haitian president Michel Martelly, who has committed to initiatives like using taxes to rebuild its schools, Forman said, “There is a new attitude that the government will take its responsibility to protect as something that it takes seriously.”

It will take time, she said, but rebuilding is possible.

“If we understand that the people with the resources and the drive want to stand behind a government and begin to do the hard work of politics, then I think we can get to a place where Haiti can be repaired,” she said. “I think the fate of women and children, as awful as it is today, can be turned around.”

Meleis: Empower the whole woman to promote worldwide well-being

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In her Interfaith Lecture, Dr. Afaf Meleis emphasizes the importance of the whole woman, rather than just her disease or her reproductive ability. Photo by Megan Tan.

Emily Perper | Staff Writer

It’s all about women, and she’ll explain why in fives.

“For ancient Egyptians, five was for worship” — Dr. Afaf Meleis raised her right hand — “and it was for offerings”  — she extended her right hand  — “and it was on temples to keep the evil eye away, which now is the khamsa that’s used in so many cultures … (and) brings its owner happiness, luck, health, good fortune and safety. And that’s what we want to bring to women of the world.”

So it should come as no surprise that Meleis chose to organize her lecture, “Empowered, Healthy Women: Overcoming Universal Challenges,” by fives.

She started with five reasons she loves visiting Chautauqua: her admiration of Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, the “warm and inviting” Chautauqua community, the presence of her colleagues and opportunities to make new friends, intellectual stimulation and spiritual inspiration.

“I simply love this place!” she said.

Meleis is the Dean of Nursing of the University of Pennsylvania and directs the university’s WHO Collaborating Center for Nursing and Midwifery Leadership. She is also Council General Emerita of the International Council on Women’s Health Issues.

“This talk today is about advocating for safe womanhood and diplomacy about women’s health, diplomacy that’s not about health in general but is particularly about women’s health,” she said. “This is not about maternal-child health; it’s not about women as reproductive beings. This is about women as productive human beings. It’s about half the population of this world who are vital for productivity, for economic security, and for peace. … This is about safe womanhood, not safe motherhood.”

In her next set of five points, Meleis shared the experiences that fuel her passion for safe womanhood.

First, she listened to the stories of women around the world. Meleis has traveled to 60 countries and researched formally in 10, but her own roots inspired her.

“My listening actually started with my own grandmother … who was illiterate in terms of education but she was wise in terms of life,” she said.

Half of her grandmother’s children died at a young age.

“She helped me ask the questions — why she didn’t get help with her birthing and why so many babies died — which are the questions we’ve been asking this week,” Meleis said.

Her second inspiration was her grandmother’s determination to secure an education for Meleis’ mother, who went on to become the first woman to receive advanced nursing degrees in the Middle East.

“It was my mother’s knowledge, perspective, compassion, and passion and diligent work as a nurse-midwife that ignited my passion for women’s health,” she said.

Her third inspiration was her childhood friend. Close to tears, Meleis described how her friend, who was just 12 years old, left one summer and never returned, fated to be a child bride.

Nursing was her fourth inspiration.

She said she learned that nursing and midwifery help to solve many of the health issues women face.

Her extensive research, in countries from Brazil to Yemen to the United States, was the fifth factor.

This same research helped her to identify many myths about women’s health. She shared five of these misconceptions with the audience.

Pregnancy, she began, is not a wonderful time for all women. The No. 1 killer for women between ages 15–19 is the complications that arise from pregnancy.

“For many disadvantaged and marginalized women, (pregnancy) comes with grave risks,” Meleis said. “A woman dies every 90 seconds from a pregnancy complication. What’s even more staggering is that 90 percent of these deaths are preventable.”

In some parts of the world, a proverb describes cultural attitudes toward pregnancy: “To be pregnant is to put one foot in the grave.”

“There is a global shortage of nurses and midwives … because of lack of investment … because of lack of valuation of the work that those caregivers provide, because these are women’s professions,” she said.

Investment in these professions has not been a part of programs like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or other foreign aid packages.

But Meleis emphasized this is not just a problem in faraway countries.

“In the United States, one in five women of reproductive age lack health insurance and can’t afford prenatal care,” she said. “We rank 50th among the nations with the lowest rates of maternal mortality. It’s unforgivable.

The second myth is that motherhood is joyous for all women. For one, female children are devalued in some societies.

“When we put our gender glasses on, we find out that (technology) has some perils for motherhood,” Meleis said. “Mothers suffer the loss of their daughters before they are even born… They abort them because society does not like having daughters.”

She referenced the book Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl, who estimates that 163 million girls have been aborted since 1970 because of their sex.

In addition, malnutrition plagues motherhood.

“Malnutrition is the cause of one-third of all maternal and childhood deaths,” she said.

Malnutrition leads to delayed cognitive development, which can affect a country’s overall economic development.

Other phenomena, like hunger and human trafficking, complicate women’s ability to care for their children. Again, Meleis emphasized that such problems are local to the United States as well as global.

The third myth is about women and work.

“Women comprise half of the global population and workforce. They earn 10 percent of the world’s income,” Meleis said. “Women’s jobs outside the home tend to be the worst compensated, the least secure and the most dangerous.”

She said a lack of legal protection encourages manipulation, abuse and exploitation, and the work that women do inside the home is not counted by governments as “real” work.

The fourth rumor is that marriage is bliss. One out of seven women are married before the age 15, she said.

“Child marriage is one of the major obstacles preventing 600 million girls from getting their education and reaching their full potential,” Meleis said.

Child marriage also increases the risk of contracting diseases like HIV, she said.

“This is not unusual in the United States, so please don’t sit here and think this is happening somewhere else,” said Meleis, citing the incidents surrounding Warren Jeffs and the Yearning for Zion Ranch in 2008.

She said honor killings pose a serious problem, and according to the United Nations, 5,000 women are killed annually.

“Marriage is a risk factor,” Meleis said, referencing a “culture of silence” that causes a woman to worry her husband might take a second or third wife if she complains about her situation.

The fifth myth concerns urbanization.

“It contributes to scarcity of resources, lack of infrastructure, the provision of a social network … women face new health risks,” Meleis said.

Of the world’s people who live in urbanized areas, 32 percent reside in slums, and 70 to 80 percent of those who live in slums are women, she said.

Meleis then named five national and international actions that are happening today that treat “women as whole, rather than reproductive beings.”

First, Meleis discussed political progress in the United States.

“President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made girls and women central, not mothers and not pregnant women only, but girls and women, central in U.S. global health programs, advocating also for maternal and child health,” she said.

Obama requested an increase of 20 percent funding for global maternal and child health programs, and appointed Melanne Verveer to the position of ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, she said.

Meleis said she regards Verveer as an influential, articulate spokesperson.

The U.S. State Department recently released new information and ideas to combat human trafficking.

“When you have a report like that, it becomes a key diplomatic tool,” Meleis said.

Former first lady Laura Bush has developed the Women’s Initiative, which encourages women in the United States and abroad to take part in the political sphere.

“(The initiative) looks at how to give (women) a voice in the election process and put them in parliaments,” Meleis said. “It encourages girls and women (in the United States) to transform their communities.”

In addition to actions in the United States, Meleis explained the positive impact of the G8 Summit. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced a multi-billion-dollar initiative to target maternal and child health.

“It’s focusing on nutrition and relationships and immunizations,” Meleis said.

Though she would rather such an initiative focus on empowering women, she said she was encouraged by the parts of the initiative that went beyond disease prevention and treatment.

Meleis praised United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“(He) speaks so passionately about (women’s health) … he also appointed Michelle Bachelet the under-secretary of UN Women,” she said.

Bachelet was the first female president of Chile. Her full, formal title is Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

“The priorities (of the committee) are about ending violence, expanding women’s voices and leadership and enhancing economic empowerment,” Meleis said. “All those lead to better maternal and child health, but (don’t only) focus on maternal and child health.”

The fourth factor is the emphasis on the investment and training of midwives and nurses, demonstrated by World Health Organization and United Nations’ call for 1 million more health care providers.

The fifth action is an initiative taken by Meleis’ own University of Pennsylvania.

“We are preparing a capacity of future physicians and nurses who think about women and women’s health,” Meleis said. “(University of Pennsylvania) President (Amy) Gutmann invited 25 presidents of universities from 25 countries, and we partnered with the United Nations in calling for each of those universities to come up with a plan on how their participation in their own country (can help to empower women). We developed a white paper to be a model for other organizations.”

To conclude the lecture, Meleis offered six actions for the audience to consider.

  • A is for Act, Advocate and Ask questions.
  • B is for Be a voice and Be involved in your neighborhood.
  • C is for Collaborate.
  • D is for Dispel myth and Disseminate accurate information.
  • E is for Engage with groups working for the safety of women.
  • F is for move Forward.

“Make sure wherever you are, that you advocate for accountable maternity leave, benefits of eldercare, for childcare, for public safe places for women,” Meleis said. “We need to be enraged and nurture a passion for making a difference in the world.”

UPDATE: The story has been changed to correct the spelling of Afaf Meleis’ first name.

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