June 30, 2011

New York Pride

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 5:53 pm by a care in the world

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This past Sunday I had the honor of worshipping at Riverside Church on Pride Sunday. Riverside is home to the oldest continually functioning, church-sponsored LGBTQ organization in the United States, called “Maranatha,” or “The Lord Cometh.” The sermon was a beautiful statement of love, pride, acceptance, and celebration. Friday June 24th (my birthday, in fact), New York lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage (article here). For many of our friends and many in Riverside’s congregation, it was a long-awaited triumph, and the Gay Pride Parade on Sunday was just icing on the cake.

You can read the whole sermon here (and I highly recommend it!!), but one thing that really stuck with me is this: Interim Pastor Rev. Stephen Phelps spoke about Paul’s letter to the Romans, and I quote the pastor here: “‘I am confident in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself,’ Paul wrote. And then he said something that re-set the course of religion: ‘But a thing is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.’ In other words, sin and its destructive power arises from your inner motivations, from your inner condition, not from things in themselves.” So– God does not make anything unclean, it is humans who make things unclean. But Paul also says that it is legitimate for humans to make things unclean, because if you feel something is wrong or unclean, then it is for you. The pastor’s point was that we must accept and have compassion for people who believe homosexuality and gay marriage are “unclean,” because it may be wrong for them. The last thing we should be doing now is turning around and judging or condemning the people who condemned homosexuals. Mathew and Luke both say “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” (Mathew 7:1, Luke 6:37).

I certainly don’t mean to turn this post into a sermon, but as a pastor’s wife, so many things about the serivce struck me because of their inclusivity. I think you could use many of these words with all kinds of congregations of varying beliefs, including the small church we’re headed to in North Carolina. I do want to leave you with a prayer written by Howard Thurman, civil rights leader, from Pride Sunday:

Lord, open unto us.
Open unto us – light for our darkness.
Open unto us – courage for our fear.
Open unto us – hope for our despair.
Open unto us – peace for our turmoil.
Open unto us – joy for our sorrow.
Open unto us – strength for our weakness.
Open unto us – wisdom for our confusion.
Open unto us – forgiveness for our sins.
Open unto us – love for our hates.
Open unto us – thy Self for my self.
Lord, Lord, open unto me. Open unto us.

Hymns included the beautiful and uplifting “In the Midst of New Dimensions” (video not at Riverside)

Words and Music by Julian Rush CCLI #958649.

In the midst of new dimensions, in the face of changing ways.
Who will lead the pilgrim peoples wandering in their separate ways.

CHORUS: God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar.
We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and ever more

Through the flood of starving people, warring factions and despair,
Who will lift the olive branches, who will light the flame of care?


As we stand a world divided by our own self seeking schemes,
Grant that we, your global village might envision wider dreams


We are man and we are woman, all persuasions, old and young,
Each a gift in your creation, each a love song to be sung.


Should the threats of dire predictions cause us to withdraw in pain,
May your blazing phoenix spirit, resurrect the church again.


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June 15, 2011

Spoken Word Poetry

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:44 pm by a care in the world

One of my favorite cultural experiences in New York City has been spoken word poetry. I was introduced to this art form when studying hip hop theater in college, but I first saw it performed here, at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Often performed by poets of color, spoken word or “slam” poetry brings to light the gritty realities that black and brown people live with every day. Dangerous neighborhoods, crime, drugs, injustice, police brutality, racism, and domestic violence are just a few of the issues that these poets present in stark, beautiful language. Powerful imagery pulls you into the poet’s world and forces you to listen to what they have to say, and I’m blown away by the courage they have in saying it. Here are some of my favorites:

And to finish with something a little lighter:

Tonight I participated in a workshop on bringing spoken word poetry into the classroom, as a way to build and encourage student voices, to value student background and cultures, and to provide a safe space for student stories. I was asked to write a poem about my neighborhood. It’s nothing special, but I thought I would share.

My neighborhood was safe.
I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it now.
Full of cliched memories– fireflies and kickball and climbing trees.
Life was easy. I didn’t know what the world was like.
My father taught me Shakespeare and Renaissance Art.
My mother taught me the tricks of advertising so I would never be fooled by commercials promising the next best thing.
I was taught to be discerning in my tastes, to live a life of the mind… but not so much a life of the world.

My neighborhood was safe.
I played with my friends in the street and no one ever got hurt.
I went to school with people like me to learn from people like me
Reading writers like me who wrote about people like me.
I thought I knew a lot.
I was never questioned or threatened or judged; not really.
My neighborhood was safe.
I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it now.

I spend my time now with kids whose neighborhoods are not safe,
And I don’t know how to relate;
What to say.
What I could possibly say that they’d want or need to hear?
I was a child when I was young, and these are not children. They have seen too much.
My neighborhood was safe.

**As requested, here are the words to the poem “Foster Bears” above. I’m sorry the video quality is so poor, but the poem itself is beautiful.

June 13, 2011

No Pictures Today.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 11:22 pm by a care in the world

I come from a privileged world where the law, the judicial system, and the education system are protective and supportive forces in my life, not threatening ones. In my year in New York City, so many of my privileged-world blinders have been torn off, and I find it exhilarating and breath-taking and scary all at once. It makes me feel lucky and guilty at the same time– I can’t believe it took me this long to learn (really, to acknowledge) the innumerable hurts and threats that many Americans– children– deal with every day. The fact that half of my students come to school without breakfast or lunch money is stunning to me. I went to a school with a cafeteria that rivaled college dining halls at the time, and that was included in tuition. Though I consider myself a sensitive person, I have also been a very ignorant and sheltered person, and each new injustice and hurt shocks and hurts me. More and more, I am determining that my job as a teacher is so much more than a career choice– it is a vocation that will both force and allow me the privilege of working with people– children and parents– from all walks of life. The books I have read and the children I have taught this year have opened my eyes to the desperate situation that is public education.

I had a student this spring who, at age 16, is his own legal guardian. He has no one to go home to and, for that matter, none of us know what home he has at all. The foster system has all but given up on this boy. He is loud and rambunctious and never does any homework, yet he comes to class every day, participates, and is miles ahead of his peers in his insight into and analysis of the books we were reading. I don’t know if he is desperate for attention or if he just has nowhere else to go, but he continues to show up at a school that is about to fail him for the second time. What 16-year-old boy shows up for a third year of 10th grade? I hate to see him drop out, because he has a brilliant mind and is inspiringly curious (he won’t stop bugging me to bring him more Kurt Vonnegut books), but he won’t follow the rules or do the work. So who is failing here– my student or the system?
There was also an incident today that hits even closer to home for me. My little sister just graduated from college and works in healthcare, and she was called for jury duty today. Terrible luck, huh? Anyway, she was passed along through a couple of rounds until she got to the point of this scene: 47 people sit in a room. They are told that they are being considered for a murder trial in which a couple is accused of beating their two young children to death. The children were both under 5 years old. The officials demand that each of the 47 potential jurors stand and confess whether they or a close family member have ever been a victim of a violent crime. If they don’t tell the truth, they will be held in contempt of court. For privacy’s sake, I won’t go beyond that, but I was STUNNED that 47 innocent strangers were forced to confess traumatic and emotional incidents in their lives to each other so that 12 of them could be chosen for the jury on this already upsetting case. Is that justice?? What about victims’ rights? What about privacy rights? What about all the people who went home traumatized tonight because they were forced to dredge up and confess painful memories and experiences in front of dozens of complete strangers? I don’t think that’s what the founding fathers meant when they said everyone has a right to a fair trial.
The other upsetting thing for me is this– I have never in my life worried that the police or the judicial system was out to get me, or posed a threat to me in any way. And yet, millions of young black and Hispanic men live with that fear and reality every day. Who am I to be (usually) above these worries? What makes me any more worthy of respect and protection than them? And on another level, how can I teach young people who face threats and fears that it took me a couple of decades to even learn about? This is the hardest question for me as I complete my Masters in Education. I understand what to teach, and I understand how to teach a lesson. But how to teach and reach students on a personal, essential level? All I can do is pray for the grace to do my best and not screw up too badly. I have SO much to learn.

June 11, 2011

Museums of New York

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 11:47 pm by a care in the world

Now that we’re all caught up on trips, let’s get back to what I’m spending most of my time on. For the last couple of classes of my Masters degree, I’m taking advantage of some amazing New York resources and opportunities. I’m taking a class right now called Museums of New York, where we spend our time visiting local museums that are off the beaten track and learning how to use them in our respective classrooms. I’ve discovered that all of these museums have extensive education programs and regularly work with schools to bring art into the classroom even when schools cut arts programs. 

The Jewish Museum

Photo from here.

The Rubin Museum

Photo from here.

Brooklyn Historical Society

Photo from here.

Brooklyn Museum of Art

Photo from here.

I’m also in the middle of an independent research project on bringing art into the English classroom. Thanks to my father, I have a strong background in Art History and it’s always been a great interest of mine. He took me to museums and taught me how art, culture, history, religion and literature all intersect and influence each other. As I read more literature, learned more history, and began to recognize more artworks, I realized that knowing a few stories could help me become familiar with many aspects of culture, and the more that was familiar to me, the more intrigued I was. I began to understand that connections stimulate and motivate learning across disciplines, and as I’ve been exploring my own teaching philosophy, I find that interdisciplinary and multicultural studies are at the top of my priority list for students. Our world is continually shrinking as travel, technology, and the media open up nations and cultures that seemed incredibly foreign just 100 years ago, and our students must understand and appreciate the differences and similarities between people (and their history and cultures) in order to be successful global citizens.

So, because my great loves are English and Art, my goal this summer is to combine these two subjects into a rich, informative, interactive course that reaches students with different learning styles, cultures, and backgrounds and helps prepare them for a diverse world. I’m doing lots of reading and, as you can see above, visiting many museums as I design this curriculum. I certainly feel very lucky to be in New York City where so many resources are readily available. Here’s to a fascinating summer!

June 7, 2011

Portland, ME

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 9:19 pm by a care in the world

It’s been quite a busy start to the summer! Here I am writing about our trip to Maine 10 days ago, having just gotten back from North Carolina for a college reunion. It’s always wonderful to see old friends and professors 🙂

So, Portland! This was my first trip ever to Maine, and I was really stunned by its beauty. The closest place I can compare it to is Northern California, with its rocky beaches and rolling fog. We ate amazing food all weekend– highlights include lobster stew and strawberry rhubarb pie delivered to us by an opera-singing waitress in an almost-empty restaurant, and a  backyard lobster bake Sunday night at our hosts’ home. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to have my hands messy.

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We started out the day with a hike on Morse Mountain, ending up on a beach so foggy that we couldn’t see 50 yards in front of us. The water was too cold for most of us, but we did enjoy a walk and a couple of sandwiches and beers on the sandy rocks.

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  It was beautiful and ethereal, but we got even luckier later that afternoon– the fog burned off by the time we got home and this is what awaited us:
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It was an unforgettable trip and a perfect getaway from New York City. Our hosts were so welcoming that we felt perfectly comfortable and just let ourselves be taken care of for a few days. Thanks for the lovely vacation, and next time sign me up for dish duty!

June 1, 2011


Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 11:13 pm by a care in the world

This past weekend, my husband and I took the bus from NYC to Boston to visit his best friend. I was so excited to have a whole day set aside for visiting a couple of museums– I hadn’t been to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts since I was 17, and I had never been to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. My husband was a great sport to go exploring with me, since he knows how much I love art museums.

At the MFA, I was on a mission to visit the 18th and 19th century American Art, since that’s my focus for my independent research project this summer (again, that post is coming!). I have very fond memories of visiting the MFA when I was 17 and studying at Amherst College for the summer. I think it was the first museum I had gone to on my own– my dad is an art historian, so I’ve been to many museums with him. There’s nothing like seeing something with an expert 🙂 Anyway, I was wandering through the MFA when I came face to face with Jonathan Singleton Copley’s “Watson and the Shark”:

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I’m sorry for the poor quality of my photo– I was being sneaky in taking it. I remember being stunned and getting the shivers when I saw this painting 10 years ago– it was the thrill of seeing something I’d read about in real life. You can read about the story behind this painting, but what was so exciting for me was seeing the pages of a book come to life in a 230-year-old painting. I felt a connection to the painting that the museum experience in a way that I can’t explain– I’m clearly not doing a very good job here. Suffice it to say, seeing this painting a few days ago gave me goosebumps all over again.

The MFA also had an amazing Chichuly exhibit on display (personal photos):
Our next visit was to the Gardner Museum, which is a totally different animal. A 100-year-old personal collection, the museum is based in a 3-story palace built around a stunning courtyard and houses more than 2,500 paintings, sculptures, tapestries, furniture, manuscripts, rare books and decorative arts. Besides the courtyard, I think our favorite artwork here was John Singer Sargent’s “El Jaleo”:
Photo from here.
Gardner Museum Courtyard

Photo from here

After the museum visits, my husband’s friend picked us up for the drive to Portland, ME…