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Sanctum

Spring 2011

Religion and Pop Culture

Sanctum Staff
CARLY SILVER Editor-in-Chief NANA AMOH, SHRUTI KULKARNI, LEAH GREENSTEIN Editors STEPHANIE RIEDERMAN, LEARNED FOOTE Senior Editors DANA SEGAL Art Editor EMILY GOLDSTEIN Layout Editor AKIVA BAMBERGER Webmaster

Thank you to our sponsors:
Christian Union The Foote Family Mr. and Mrs. Richard Silver The Student Governing Board of Columbia University

Sanctum - Spring 2011
4 6 10 14 17 21 EDITORIAL NOTE carly silver EX-HASIDIM AND THE POWER OF THE NEGATIVE samuel shuman A JEW IN KATHMANDU sara lederman GOOD MORNING, NEW YORK severine losembe THE CONVERT BLUES mark hay CREATING SACRED SPACES WITHIN SECULAR SOCIETY: The Religious Nature of Rock Music lindsay white 28 NO HANDS OTHER THAN OUR HANDS: The Economic Empowerment Programs of Two Harlem Churches natalie shibley 38 43 THE RIVER elizabeth keene IT’S ELECTRIC: The Prohibition Of Electricity And The Meaning Of Sabbath david baruch A SACRED SPACE IN OUR BACKYARD julianna storch 51 A MUSIC OF MORALITY: Where the Mystical Meets the Mundane jazmin malani graves

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Cover photo courtesy of Lauren Weiss; design by Emily Goldstein

Editorial Note
Carly Silver
What does it take to make a “Bad Romance” between the religious world and pop culture? Not much, if Lady Gaga is any example. With the release of her latest single, “Judas,” the pop superstar has managed to reignite a long-standing battle between “art” and “faith” with provocative lyrics like “Jesus is my virtue, and Judas is the demon I cling to.” The music video depicts Lady Gaga as Mary Magdalene, stirring the pot even further. The tune has already drawn criticism from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which criticizes the singer as “trying to rip off Christian idolatry to shore up her talentless, mundane, and boring performances.” This conflict is an age-old one: a rebel challenges the beliefs of a religious figure, resulting in a war of words, music, and art. Can the world of pop culture, in which celebrities are often virtually worshipped as idols, and modern religion, which usually eschews such practices, co-exist peacefully? The spiritual war between celebrity and religion has come under increasing scrutiny by scholars in recent years. The University of Saskatchewan has launched a Journal of Religion and Pop Culture, which examines not only “high art” as it relates to religion, but what is commonly dismissed as common and petty: that is, mass media. Because pop culture—ranging from reality shows to contemporary music—is often dismissed as base and detached from the internal spirituality of religion, many believe the two are incompatible. In fact, the conflict resulting over inflammatory pop lyrics such as Lady Gaga’s “Judas” proves otherwise. It does not matter whether or not these two sectors can agree on every issue. The mere fact that they seem to be in constant dialogue, oppositional or otherwise, indicates that there is a need for further investigation into the connections between the two. In this issue of Sanctum, we explore the relationship between religion and pop culture. Jazmin Malani Graves writes about how spirituality and hip-hop intersect in the figure of Columbia graduate Cyrus McGoldrick. Lindsay White endeavors to examine how rock music can transform from sound to sacredness. We explore how various avenues of religion and selfexpression, whether through music or spiritual practice, can affect each individual life. Carly Silver, Editor-in-Chief Questions? Comments? Want to get involved? Email Sanctum at columbia.sanctum@gmail.com

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photo courtesy of Michael Spencer

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Ex-Hasidim & The Power of the Negative
Samuel Shuman

photo courtesy of Samuel Katz
“The power of the negative, however, cannot be construed as a simple barrier, because in being separated, something is connected as much as it dislocated from that which it is set apart from, and it is on the curious tension of negations embodied in this relationship that we need to focus attention.” -Michael Taussig (1998:349) During the past year, I have become drawn to the narratives of ex-Hasidim: individuals who have exited their roles as members of the Hasidic1 communities in which they grew up. While some leave and relocate to different states or countries, others stay within, or live in close proximity to, the neighborhoods in which they grew up. Some vow never to speak with family members or friends again. Others, however, continue to interact with their friends, families, and community members on a daily basis.

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Boundaries blur in this matrix of daily interaction. Those who live only a few blocks away from the community can no longer be constructed in the Hasidic imagination as the radical “other.” Similarly, the boundaries of urban space in the Hasidic neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Crown Heights in Brooklyn are blurring. Hipster Williamsburg has become annexed to Hasidic Williamsburg like the New City to the Old City of Jerusalem. Urban space cares little about the borders constructed on charters and maps. As the borders of Hasidic territory and the outside world become renegotiated, so too, do the borders and boundaries between the Hasid and the ex-Hasid. How do Hasidic communities deal with the deviant ex-Hasid in their midst, those who deviate from the path,2 yet still live so close to them? The nature of deviance is reliant upon the “individual [who] violates rules of conduct that…the rest of the community holds in high respect” (Erickson 4). Eating treif,3 breaking the laws of Shabbat, smoking marijuana, experimenting with hallucinogens, and engaging in sexually promiscuous behavior: all become a common trope in the narrative Hasidim tell their children about those who leave, according to one of my ex-Hasidic sources. Ex-Hasids fit within the standards pattern of deviation from Hasidism. For example, a “confused” Hasidic boy might fool around with other Hasidic boys. For the Hasidic community, treatment, like ex-gay reparative therapy, can solve the “problem.” True deviant homosexuals, however, become the “others.” They live hedonistic lifestyles in the world of over there, which, for the Hasids, is Manhattan. In truth, in order to thrive or even to survive, the Hasidic community might actually need ex-Hasidim and the narratives they provide. By ignoring their differences to “come together to express outrage” against the “offensive” ex-Hasids, the Hasids “develop a higher bond of solidarity than existed before” (Erickson 4). For them, the ex-Hasid becomes a symbol of living an empty secular lifestyle. Does the fact that the ex-Hasid and Hasid live side-by-side disrupt this theoretical narrative? How does the changing urban landscape of Brooklyn reveal the ex-Hasid as not truly deviant? These questions, currently under investigation, illuminate the very paradox exHasidim face. Despite their attempts to disassociate themselves, because they choose to live close to their former homes, their identities become inexorably defined in relation to the very communities and identities they leave. In describing the experience of ex-Hasidim, one ultimately reverts back to discussing Hasidim.4 Writing about the ex-Hasid becomes akin to writing about the nature of God. Some of the greatest theologians could only describe God’s divinity through “negative theology,” or defining the divine in the language of not. The ex-

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Hasid, perhaps like God, becomes defined in relation to what he or she is not—what Michael Taussig calls the “power of the negative” (Taussig 349). This power demonstrates that, although two things attempt to become separated, “something is connected as much as it dislocated from that which it is set apart from” (Taussig 349). A woman whom I met explained that she left the Satmar Hasidic community to develop an autonomous identity. However, she has trouble identifying as part of an ex-Hasidic group because she inherently distrusts communities. Such is the predicament ex-Hasidim face in constructing their identities and a collective narrative. Samuel Katz, a writer for the Hasidic fringe website TheUnpious.com, critiques this narrative of dislocation as one that makes itself look like a narrative of victimhood. In order for an ex-Hasid to become part of secular society, Katz writes, the ex-Hasidic community must “stop focusing on the constraints that exist and instead focus on the potential for such integration” (Katz). If ex-Hasids only focus on the present and not the future of the community, Katz prophesies that the “archetype of the ex-Hasid” as a victim will “be amplified by a community of individuals” (Katz). Thus, an entire community of ex-Hasids would, in a selffulfilling prophecy, become victims of displacement. The displacement that Katz highlights is, in reality, a double displacement. First, the exHasid becomes displaced from the Hasidic community. By exiting Hasidic culture, the ex-Hasid enters a new world of unknowns. In this precarious zone, he or she experiences alienation from both the community he or she left and the one he or she enters. One ex-Hasid, a woman named Sterna “Gitty” Grunwald, found that ex-Hasids “were these brilliant, ruined people, floating from place to place, homeless, stoned out of their minds half the time. Last Purim, one of the rebels OD’d on coke and ground-up Xanax, a typical ex-Hasid drug concoction. The rebels were stuck between two worlds, Gitty thought, a dangerous place to be” (Jacobson).5 For Katz, this in-between zone of victimhood must be abandoned. In order to proceed, Katz opines, the ex-Hasids “will have to give up the comfort and reassurance given to us by the ex-Hasidic narrative” and become part of mainstream society, thus creating a new community narrative (Katz). Currently, it appears that the narrative of shared displacement serves as the glue that binds ex-Hasidim together. Without this glue, can a “community” of ex-Hasidim emerge on the streets of New York City and in the virtual realm of the Internet? Can the power of the negative, the “ex” in “ex-Hasid,” be enough to sustain a community? Indeed, can this community form without abandoning its collective narrative of displacement?

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Endnotes 1. To define Hasidim (a particular subset of this amorphous entity we call the “Jewish community”) or Hasidism (an ideological and historical movement) within a footnote is reminiscent of the Jewish proverb in which a man asks the Jewish sages, Shammai and Hillel, to recite the entire Bible “on one foot.” Despite this conundrum, as a PBS special explains: “The Hasidic ideal is to live a hallowed life, in which even the most mundane action is sanctified. Hasidim live in tightly-knit communities (known as ‘”courts”) that are spiritually centered around a dynastic leader known as a rebbe, who combines political and religious authority...in Brooklyn today, there are over sixty courts represented, but most of these are very small, with some comprising only a handful of families.” 2. What the observant (frum) community refers to as going “off the derech” (Hebrew for “path” or “way”) or “OTD.” This term is featured prominently on ex-hasidic websites like the unpious.com. 3. Yiddish for “non-kosher food.” 4. The study of Hasidic communities in America has garnered a significant deal of attention among scholars of religion, history, anthropology, and sociology. Little to no scholarly attention, on the other hand, has been paid to ex-Hasidim in America. 5. Italics added for emphasis.

Bibliography “A Brief Introduction To Hasidim A Life Apart: Hasidim In America.” 1998. <http://www.pbs.org/alifeapart/intro.html>. Erickson, Kai. The Wayward Puritans: A Study In The Sociology of Deviance. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1966. Jacobson, Mark. “Escape From the Holy Shtetl.” New York Magazine. July 2008 <http://nymag.com/news/features/48532/>. Katz, Samuel. “The Self-fulfilling Prophecies of the Ex-Hasid.” 18 June 2010. <http://www.unpious.com/2010/06/self-fulfilling-prophecies-ex-hasid/>. Taussig, Michael. “Transgression.” Critical Terms For Religious Studies. Ed. Mark Taylor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. 349-362.

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A Jew in Kathmandu
Sara Lederman

photo courtesy of Sara Lederman
“If a man wishes to find, let him be content to lose.” -Mulay Al’Arabi Ad-Darqawi, Rasa’il “This. This is God,” Aqib announced as he carefully drew a circle on the back of a manufacturer’s receipt. The fan overhead spun wildly, but did not seem to be doing its job. Pearls of sweat dribbled off the tip of Aqib’s nose. “These. These are the religions.” He drew many lines that all emanated from the center, going off in different directions. “Just like that, Sara.” I had seen this diagram just a few moments before in a small teahouse down the road. Being an anthropology major with a particular interest in religion, I found myself constantly asking questions. Many Nepalis loved to talk about the religious makeup of their country, as well as their own personal philosophies. One of my most common questions was how can religious pluralism strive in a country where there is complete political anarchy? The Nepali storeowner’s response to this question was fairly similar to that of Aqib “the circle” diagram, a slight head bobble, and the closing remark, “Just like that.” It was both beautiful and baffling.

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The roads are claustrophobic in Thamil, the heart of tourism in the Kathmandu Valley. Before you realize it, the hookahs and the cars and signs reading “Travel Kathmandu,” “Nepal: Land of Everest,” and “Infinite Tours Bungee Jump” become a borderless blur of colors and smells. The traffic is horrific. You walk on a road with a Danish professional trekker, a nine-yearold glue-addicted beggar, a mule taking a midday snooze in the road, and hundreds of taxi drivers. Layers of old flags and advertisements flutter above your head. Aqib, my new friend who drew what was probably my fourth or fifth circle diagram, was the 18-year-old Kashmiri owner of a small rug shop in Thamil. I stopped in his shop because I was intrigued by a stunning pashmina displayed on his door. As soon as I walked in, I saw a painting of what I identified as Mecca, lined with delicate, green Arabic writing. We ended up talking for hours in his shop over Darjeeling tea. Anthropology. Columbia. New York. Noses. Dal Ba’at, staple food of the Nepali diet. Kashmir. Lakes. And, now, God. I glanced at my watch and realized that I needed to catch a tuk tuk,a small, threewheeled public transportation car, so I would be home for supper. I thanked him for his hospitality and bought a small coin purse. He told me to come back. I said, “Of course,” even though I doubted that I would ever see Aqib again. After a week of work, my day off came around again. While scrolling through my e-mail, I saw a message from my grandmother. “Call me.” As I stepped into the shaky wooden phone booth, my hands shook uncontrollably. I managed to squeeze out the words,“Hi, Baubie.” She told me that something awful happened. I asked what. She said my mom was in a potentially fatal accident. I collapsed. As I stumbled out of the booth, I must have looked awful. The internet café owner asked, “Miss, everything okay?” I don’t remember how I responded. All I wanted was a community and my synagogue. I craved the familiar whispers and mumblings of religious tunes, the old men dressed in aged, light blue suits who sat in the back corner and gave out stale chocolates. But I had no access. I had nothing connecting me to that “center,” that arbitrary place where everything was serene and suddenly clear. I wasn’t even sure that a real center existed. That stupid Nepali diagram actually had me convinced that life was organized. My confident direction was suddenly less clear. I could not communicate to anyone what I needed. Despite my desperate attempts to master conversational Nepali, the only thing I grasped was butchering every Nepali word that came out of my mouth. How could I connect with anyone? Why was I even here?

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photo courtesy of Taylor Warnick

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Somehow, my feet carried my body to Aqib’s shop. I remembered seeing the picture of Mecca hanging on his back wall and how passionately he talked about Islam and home. I thought that, perhaps on a very basic level, Aqib could offer some spiritual guidance. He asked me why my eyes were red and I told him what had happened back in Minneapolis. After a long embrace, Aqib took my hand in between both of his, closed his eyes, and asked, “What can we do?” I responded by inquiring where I could go to pray, even though praying was not exactly my “thing.” I guess I just wanted to transport myself to a quieter, calmer place. I asked if I could go to his mosque. He responded by explaining that this would not be ideal, since I would stick out in many ways. He suggested an alternative: we would mediate in his shop. Aqib closed his door, turning down crowds of tourists ready to buy his rugs. He shut the windows and dragged out two mats, both worn and frayed. He pointed to the picture of Mecca with the green writing. “I will face Mecca. You will face Jerusalem,” he said. “It is the same direction.” Aqib then handed me the pashmina that initially drew me into his shop. He invited me to wrap myself in it, if that made me feel more comfortable. He went through the motions of the afternoon prayer while I sat, cross-legged, staring at the picture of Mecca hanging proudly on the wall. Potential customers knocked on the door and Aqib did not answer. The power went out, but neither of us moved. My eyes slowly drifted from the images of Mecca and I began to stare at Aqib, chanting each word with so much intense purpose. I closed my eyes and prayed for the first time since my father died when I was nine. We sat in meditation for three hours. Not only did Aqib help familiarize the “strange” for me,” he also helped me make my “familiar” strange. He taught me that I could always connect. I discovered—and I am sure Aqib would agree—that the “center” can be anything. It is not this hyper-abstract, superphilosophical, complex model that only works under certain conditions. It is not like a WiFi signal or a secret language. It is quite the opposite. For me, at that time and in that shop, the center was incredibly transportable, accessible, and elastic. It was a human connection made on the most basic level in the most urgent of times. And I was totally electrified. Aqib insisted that I keep the embroidered pashmina. He also handed over the circle diagram he drew for me the previous week, with the many lines sprouting out from the center. When I looked at the crumpled paper, I saw a new diagram. I did not see lines of different religions moving away from the circle—I saw them pointing back inwards.

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Good Morning, New York
Severine Losembe

photo courtesy of Vincent Desjardins
Aïe, what a difficult morning rise—memories of last night’s festivities down at the Beauty Bar were warm in my mind and angry in my stomach. Yet the sun was already high and 11 AM was ringing on my alarm—and, on this cold Sunday morning, I was marching to church. Walking down the street, I tried to remember the last time I had attended church. It was not too long ago, just on January 7—five days after my grandmother died in a passionate fight against this century’s evil, cancer. In my father’s Catholic family, we mourn our deaths for 40 days. My mourning was quiet—too quiet, I thought. No, I did not recall crying, rolling myself on the floor, or praying feverishly for the one we facetiously called “Mammy.”

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Perhaps this is why I headed towards Saint-Vincent-de-Paul on this Sunday. To engage in the mourning I regretted not having, to buy back the little bit of my soul which I had given to a sleazy bartender, and to look at my fellows with a morbid curiosity. Who at this church would open their eyes and recognize the pain I was meant to have? I was going to look for hearts that sincerely felt and believed, hearts that let me do so, as well. On the luminous Chelsea streets, I tried to pinpoint the people who would share this holy mass with me. The twenty-somethings from last night at the bar? The fancy lady walking her dog? The businessman wearing a suit? Or the Starbucks employee? If so, why were they going to pray? Were they like me, skeptics and wannabe New Yorkers, who have more trust in higher buildings than in the higher spirit? Lost in my metaphysical brooding, I barely noticed that I had arrived at my destination. The building standing in front of me was a small church, a phony imitation of Greek architecture stuck in between two red-bricked houses. Built in 1628, Saint-Vincent-de-Paul was New Amsterdam’s first French church. Today, on this street, it only looked strange, a little like a dollhouse in the midst of the skyscrapers. I stepped in and set foot on a worn red carpet. A vestige of better times, the church was neither fashionably “vintage” nor fashionably updated. It had a rich décor, yet lacked that hint of pristine New York elegance. Golden icons and colorful murals adorned its walls, while a grand candelabrum stood on the altar. The benches, carved in a light brown wood, seemed sparse and uncomfortable. As I sat down, the choir of Haitian singers were already raising their voices, perhaps to attract worshippers into this cocoon-like church, perhaps to whisper the secrets of this place. For the first time, New York City did not resemble boiling water in a pot. It was calm, it was intimate, it was a scene where sincere human feelings emerged. Mass started and the benches behind us were filled—about one hundred men and women had put their alluring and fast-paced lives on hold to sit in this decrepit church. First, a young and trendy Asian couple sat beside me; they were holding hands and wearing designer suits. Then, an old black lady joined us on our bench. She did not sit, but knelt with her head lowered in prayer. For the entire hour of the mass, she did not turn her face to us, but kept it on a cross in front of her. She reminded me of my grandmother. She smelled like her, like an old bottle of Guerlain’s Samsara. I looked around and Saint-Vincent-de-Paul was packed: young women with their fancy sunglasses, the ones you bump into at Bloomingdale’s or on Spring Street; men with serious faces that you see on TV or somewhere in Midtown’s fussiness; pretty old ladies with hair so

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bleached it turned pink; the people you have never met, but have always seen on the subway with a book, in the bathroom with a broom, or in a bar after work. During the ceremony, I sat there, trying my hardest to focus, but, when it ended, no magic had happened. My eyes still burnt, my stomach still ached, and the lady by my side still smelled like Mammy. I stepped out of this surrealistic building. I stared at this diverse crew. The suited Asians and pretty, model-like women ran off their separate ways. The serious men made their last prayers in the intimacy of their souls or played with their Blackberries in front of the statue of Mary. Now that my spiritual duty was done, I hopped in a cab heading uptown to do some shopping. The car stopped at a red light and I looked up to see another church service letting out. The pageant was the same as in Saint-Vincent-de-Paul: a man in his suit, a lady with her purse. And, perhaps too late, I understood that church and faith were not a parenthesis in their busy life. They are a part of them and their souls. The light turned green. We sped away and, closing my eyes, I smelled Samsara—Mammy’s perfume.

photo courtesy of Arienne McCracken

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The Convert Blues
Mark Hay

photo courtesy of Tenzin Nyima
“Okay, here’s the deal,” says R. as she lines up a soft shot to gently kiss the eight ball into the side pocket. “If I win, you owe me a beer.” She sinks the shot. I curse—liberally. She smiles. “Hey, no worries. If you win the next round, I’ll buy you a beer, too.” “Well, that’s fair,” I say, peering down the cue. I let the pause drag out as I look for a good break. “But you know I don’t drink, right?” “Why not?” I instantly regret saying anything. It’s not that this conversation always blows up in my face, but it does often enough that I don’t really like having it. “I don’t really want to get into

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that right now,” I say, making a point not to catch her eye and focusing all my attention on the white ball. “No, why?” She’s an inquisitive girl, and, today, it seems she’s hell-bent on figuring out what makes me tick. Best to just go with it, I suppose, and hope for the best. “Because I’m religiously observant.” I thought about feeding her some crock of shit about health reasons or something of that ilk, just to end the conversation, but lies do not suit the practice of my faith. Admittedly, sometimes I have fallen prey to the temptation to lie to avoid what comes next in this situation, but I feel so bad about the prospect of lying about my beliefs again that I can’t do it again. “That’s so stupid,” she says. “Why would you deprive yourself of fun just because of something like that? I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. Is it just like a cultural thing?” “No, I’m a convert. It’s my choice. I enforce it myself.” “A convert to what?” “This is going to sound weird, but I’m a seriously practicing Buddhist.” I add that preface to preempt the skeptical sneers I get now and then. It’s hard to take a white Buddhist seriously. The faith has made its splash into American culture by way of the new agers and hippies who latch onto eastern traditions as part of their break with western society. White Buddhists are portrayed more often than not as cherry-pickers of eastern faiths and counter-culture and without any great understanding of the traditions from which they pull. I was once asked if my Buddhism was not just a hodgepodge spiritual self-justification to drop acid while riding a high horse, pretending to be more enlightened than everyone else. On the other end of the spectrum, people react like R. “Oh … That’s not a religion. That’s a philosophy. So, you don’t have to stick to it. It’s not like anyone’s forcing you.” She smiles like she’s just solved the riddle for me. She’ll probably try to foist a beer on me later in the night and I’ll probably sink my chance at a good thing by holding steadfast to my sobriety. Actually, I might mess up the evening earlier than that, because, right now, I’ve got a hot lump stuck in my throat and a bit of fire in my gut. I want to sit her down and explain that perhaps others treat Buddhism as a philosophy. Perhaps the fact that we don’t have an explicit god makes us different from some other faiths. However, I take my faith seriously. There are rituals. I meditate regularly and with purpose, I obey the five precepts as best I can, I say the three jewels everyday. True, these rituals have a different flavor for me than for other Buddhists—every practice is a mandala, a sacred circle loaded with individualized lessons

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photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via NZJ

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and reminders. The faith is explicit in recognizing that practice will be different from person to person. But we all strive towards a common goal and share a common view of human existence, of the self and the soul. Though we can translate those views into the parallels of other faiths, they do not mix well when you try to overlay them onto other practices—like trying to mix Buddhist “philosophy” with Christian practice. For me and millions of others, Buddhism is a discrete faith and lifestyle, something we all cling to for different reasons, but something in which every practicing Buddhist I have ever known believes firmly. I want to convince R. of that because it can be so hard to convince members of the sangha, the community of believers, of my sincerity as a white Buddhist. Some Buddhists I have spoken with feel as if they are being used for spiritual tourism—some white boys wander into Nepalese monasteries for a few weeks, gain a newfound sense of “purpose,” and then wander back into the circle of samsara, the mundane state of self-perpetuating and eternal suffering in which all of humanity resides, with a few stories and half-understood meditation techniques. When I lay claim to Buddhist practices and traditions, many people just smile and nod. But, now and then, a skeptic among them will jump down my throat. They will scour my soul for the last lie I told or the last time I had a malicious thought. I have been berated for showing a glimpse of anger or owning up to a white lie and told that I am not really a Buddhist because I do not live my life impeccably pure of folly. Those attacks do more to burn me down and leave me ashen-faced than any other criticism can. Few of any faith’s adherents will live a blameless life, and I recognize that I am limited, as are most people. But the frustration I feel and the anger and the sorrow at being rejected by others striving for the same goals pushes me further away from the peace and clarity all Buddhists seek to attain. As R. takes her shot, I purse my lips and silently curse the popular image of white Buddhists once more. Then, I regret the curse. I ought to take it all in stride. I ought to accept the alienation of friends who think I ride a high horse of spiritual superiority, the patronization of others who see me as a faith-hopping new ager, and the questioning, cautious scrutiny of my fellow Buddhists. But I can’t. I’m still a weak man, and it is hard for me, as a convert, to find a comfortable place within my adopted faith.

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Creating Sacred Spaces Within Secular Society: The Religious Nature of Rock Music
Lindsay White

photo courtesy of David Gans
Rock music is usually described in secular terms, and religious leaders often dismiss its profane lyrics and reckless culture as amoral. To some extent, this characterization is understandable, for the phenomenon of rock music could not exist outside a secular and pluralistic culture driven mostly by economic motivations. Though rock music is, in many respects, a capitalist invention, rock music and its performance also illustrate the religious structures that underlie the capitalist culture. Rock music creates sacred spaces within secular society through the use of many practices that are thought to be sacred, such as ritual performance, totems, symbols, and even pilgrimage. Rock music complicates and questions the societal boundary between the sacred and the secular.

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photo courtesy of Dina Regine

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For centuries, scholars have attempted to establish a universal definition of religion. However, some scholars argue that such universalistic definitions rely exclusively on Western modes of thought and understandings of religion. Talal Asad, an anthropologist working at the City University of New York, argues that universal definitions of religion gloss over the social, political, and historical power structures that interact and influence religious structures. “The authoritative status of representations/discourses,” Asad writes, “is dependent on the appropriate production of other representations/discourses” (Asad 35). Throughout history, religious forces have constantly and dynamically responded to the development of these secular power structures. Religious institutions are defined by secular structures, but this influence necessarily moves in both directions, because secular power structures also respond to religious structures and symbols. As sociologist Max Weber famously argued, the capitalist mentality developed from the Protestant work ethic. Yet the modern economic system also defines today’s religious institutions and their functioning in society. Despite the historic interaction between religious and secular structures, our modern society is increasingly defined by the promotion of the secular. In a pluralistic, multicultural political system, religion’s influence in our society is diminished. No specific religious tradition is allowed to completely guide all aspects of life in Western societies. Religion is consigned to its own category and—though it remains an important aspect of some people’s lives—no longer unifies and defines society. Religious institutions, like any institution attempting to encompass a large following or audience in our contemporary society, must learn to adhere to the economic constructs of capitalism. Spirituality must be bought and sold, and sacred spaces must be constructed through the economic modes of production. Rock music enjoys success and acclaim in our secular society because it functions within these modes of production. Rock is a popular art form, and every concert and album release is part and parcel of a larger process of production, consumption, and exchange. Rock music as a whole does not propose any specific religious discourse. Certain subgroups of rock, such as Christian rock music, are indeed associated with religious traditions, but most contemporary rock music does not require that its consumers come from a specific religious background. Therefore, the music has the potential to reach a wider audience. The majority of rock music’s lyrics speak to secular themes. Its position within society affords it a broad cultural influence, but its secular, non-denominational expansiveness seems to contradict the religious and the sacred impulse. I propose, however, that several aspects of rock music culture—including worship of a

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perceived higher being, ritual performance, totems, and the creation of a sacred space through pilgrimage—move rock music towards the sacred realm. Music has the ability to define a space through the sounds it produces. The “soundscape,” a term first defined in 1977 by Canadian composer and environmentalist R. Murray Schafer, captures and recreates complete environments of sound. Scholar Robert Kruse suggests the possibility of a sacred space defined by music in his article about Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon memorial in Central Park. In Strawberry Fields, both the memory of the Beatles and the recreation of their sounds define the geographical space. Furthermore, followers of the Beatles repeatedly make pilgrimages to the sacred space, pilgrimage journey that recalls other religious pilgrimages that were also a “circulatory travel motivated by sentiment or belief” (Kruse 154). In the eyes of his followers, John Lennon himself bears resemblance to a god or a prophet and several of his fans have placed articles of religious importance on his grave. Memorial visitors come to Strawberry Fields to reflect on Lennon’s peaceful and communitarian messages. The struggles of his followers even echo historical controversies of religious freedom. The Central Park curfew, for example, has been strictly enforced by mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani, despite the traditional all-night vigil beginning on December 8, the anniversary of Lennon’s death. The music of the Beatles and the pilgrimage process creates a sacred, religious realm defined by rock music. The use of totems has often by consigned by scholars to the “primitive” realm of religion, but rock music translates the concept of totems into a contemporary art form. Sociologist Emile Durkheim posits that totems are sacred representations of rituals, and throughout history have bound members of the community to each other, and to the sacred and religious rituals that define the clan or community. Just as the totem acts as a connection and a reminder of the religious ritual that has taken place, recorded music acts as a reminder of the ritual of live performance of music. Scholars Kathleen Lacher and Richard Mizerski conducted a study in 1994 on why people decide to consume and purchase certain forms of music. Before processing their statistical evidence, these scholars proposed that “the need to control re-experiencing music should be of tantamount importance in the purchase of music” and, following their research, they found that this was exactly the case (Lacher and Mizerski 1994:369). The need to re-experience music produced a direct correlation to the incentive to consume it. This strong correlation suggests that the initial exposure to the music itself produces some sort of a connection to the individual. Their research points not only to the

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totemic nature of rock music, but also its accommodation within the capitalist structure of the economy. In order to function within contemporary society, rock music reproduces itself for continued consumption. If music were performed once and consumed only through that concert, it would become obsolete. However, the performance connects listeners with the music and, thus, listeners want to consume the music in their everyday lives. The recorded format of music serves as a reminder and constant connection to the performance of rock music. The ritual performance of music most clearly suggests the religious influence on rock music. Professor Catherine Bell of Santa Clara University describes the genealogy of a religious ritual, and she sheds light on the connection between religion and rock. “An essentially profane offering is made sacred,” she writes, “in order to act as the means of communication and communions between the sacred and profane worlds... a process of desacralization reestablishes the necessary distinctions between these two worlds that make up day-to-day reality” (Bell 1997:26). Bell makes the important point that religions use rituals to establish a break from everyday reality and practice, a break that is held separate from the secular world and defined as sacred, partly because it occurs within a structured time and space. Rock music establishes an exchange between participant and performer, a ritual interaction in which people feel a connection to the music itself. Bell explains that all those involved in the ritual are necessarily involved in the performance as well, in that “performance models suggest active rather than passive roles for ritual participants who reinterpret valueladen symbols as they communicate them” (Bell 1997:73). These performances are understood to be “something other than routine reality...a specific type of demonstration” (Bell 1997:160). Scholar Robert Somma, during the period of musical events like Woodstock, describes the performance aspect of rock music and how it is uniquely set apart from everyday life in his article “Rock Theatricality.” He lists musicians such as The Who, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and The Rolling Stones, performers who involved the audience and embraced the theatre aspect of rock. Somma explains that “audience reaction to a rock concert is locked with the music… To the extent that they [bands] deviate from the anticipated pattern, they disappoint the audience” (Somma 1969:129). The ritual of rock music performance correlates with more traditional religious rituals. Successful completion of the procedure depends on interaction with the audience and recognition of a specific structure and process that is recognized by the followers. Many religions acknowledge the importance of symbols, and symbols also help to

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support the conception of rock music as a spiritual or religious force. In “The Sacralization of Disorder: Symbolism in Rock Music,” scholar Bernice Martin describes how the “flux of experience is rendered meaningful by the employment of symbols” (Martin 89). The symbols of rock music, however, are extremely ambivalent, at once taboo and celebrated, feared and embraced. The disordered nature of much rock music reflects the individualistic tendency of our contemporary capitalist society. Though rock music serves as another form of production and consumption within capitalist society, it also is as an outlet for those wrapped up in the modes of production. However, in order for society to understand religious symbols, those symbols must reflect society itself. If religious symbols do not reflect the culture in which they exist, they no longer represent a medium through which man makes sense of the world. As Peter Wicke explains, “The aim of rock was from the start directed not at the experience of individuality but at the experience of collectivity.” Rock music thus sets out to resolve the disordered conflicts of the individual through a communitarian structure. Weber’s idea of the “disenchantment of the world” in secular society necessitates a transition of religiosity. For the religious impulse to succeed in the modern environment, it must move beyond traditional, institutionalized religions. “Secularization does not entail the progressive demise of religion,” Bell explains, “but a transformation of its form” (Bell 1997:199). The rituals of secular society no longer relate to one specific religion, but instead find grounding in larger cultural norms. The general secularization of society, combined with the capitalist structure of the economy, necessitates a different nature of religious ritual. Thus, sacred spaces are constructed not only within institutionalized churches, but also through cultural forms such as rock music. The disorder of rock music allows for a variety of influences, as rock music is defined by various societal systems, but also acts in response to these systems. This interactive structure helps to explain the ritual process of rock music, which uses a secular genre to construct a sacred space complete with the performance of rituals, the embrace of totems and symbols, and the worship of and pilgrimage towards beloved musicians.

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Bibliography Asad, Talal. Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. In Genealogies of Religion. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1993. Bell, Catherine. Ritual Perspectives and Dimensions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Bender, Courtney and Pamela Klassen, eds. After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement. New York: Columbia University, 2010. Cohen, Sarah. “Sounding out the City: Music and the Sensuous Production of Place.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 30.4 (1995). Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912, 1995 (translation). Frith, Simon. Taking Popular Music Seriously: Selected Essays. Burlington: Ashgate, 2007. Print. Frith, Simon. Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print. Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973. Kruse, Robert. “Imagining Strawberry Fields as a Place of Pilgrimage.” Area. 35.2 (2003): 154-162. Print. Lacher, Kathleen and Richard Mizerski. “An Exploratory Study of the Responses and Relationships Involved in the Evaluation of, and in the Intention to Purchase New Rock Music.” Journal of Consumer Research. 21.2 (1994). Martin, Bernice. “The Sacralization of Disorder: Symbolism in Rock Music.” Sociological Analysis. 40.2 (1979): 87-124. Print. Marx, Karl. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: Norton and Company, 1978. Reynolds, Simon. Blissed Out. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1990. Somma, Robert. “Rock Theatricality.” Drama Review. 14.1 (1969): 128-138. Print. Turner, Victor. “Frame, Flow and Reflection: Ritual and Drama as Public Liminality.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 6.4 (1979). Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Penguin Books, 2002 Wicke, Peter and Richard Deveson. “Rock Music: A Musical-Aesthetic Study.” Popular Music. 2(1982).

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No Other Hands Than Our Hands: The Economic Empowerment Programs of Two Harlem Churches
Natalie Shibley

photo courtesy of Roger Rowlett
Abyssinian Baptist Church and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church have long been powerhouses in New York’s black religious community. Both churches were founded in the early nineteenth century and both moved to Harlem in the early twentieth century. Furthermore, both St. Philip’s and Abyssinian employed their religious doctrines to promote economic development in the black community. Influenced by previous movements for black economic independence, these congregations considered economic empowerment part of their responsibility as Christians and sought to create lasting institutions to support the Harlem community. Though the churches failed to challenge the prevailing economic order, they worked within the existing system to make the secular sacred.

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The two churches were forerunners of the modern day mega-church. In the 1950s, St. Philip’s had the single largest Episcopal congregation in the country, with about 4,000 members.1 At its peak in 1967, Abyssinian Baptist had roughly 12,500 members, making it one of the largest congregations in the nation.2 Prominent and powerful ministers, including Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. of Abyssinian and M. Moran Weston of St. Philip’s, guided the congregations through the decades. Weston, who had previously founded the Carver Federal Savings and Loan Association, served as the rector of St. Philip’s from 1957-1982. He saw black churches as the foundation from which black economic development would occur. In a brief history of churches’ efforts to financially empower black communities, Weston wrote, “Black churches have laid the groundwork for the development of black business and have been a training place for learning the basic skills of the marketplace.”3 He continued this tradition of leadership in his work at St. Philip’s. “Christ chased the money changers out of the temple,” a 1968 Ebony article noted, “but Dr. Weston sees no conflict between religion and banking.”4 Weston believed his religion could empower black citizens who had been abused by white bankers, and were thus unable to obtain loans, own homes, or make other financial investments. St. Philip’s had a long history of mutual aid societies and community service programs that addressed the needs perceived by Weston. This economic strategy, according to scholar Stephan McKinney, “represents the use of a secular ideology, by a religious institution in order to strengthen its role in many of the nonreligious aspects of black communal life.”5 Shortly after the congregation moved to Harlem, St. Philip’s bought several apartment buildings near the church building, at the time the biggest real estate transaction ever conducted by blacks in New York City.6 The church’s new property holdings allowed it to fund more programs and buildings, which, in turn, attracted more people to the church. Beginning in 1960, St. Philip’s started building housing and community centers to “have an economic impact in central Harlem and the city.”7 These projects offered tangible opportunities to the community. St. Philip’s employed several black architects, sub-contractors, and workers to design and construct these various facilities. The St. Philip’s Community Youth Center, though not technically a religious institution, received substantial funding from the church; Weston also served as its president. The center offered summer camp programs, as well as job training and employment programs for teenagers, especially those with family incomes of $4,000 or less.8 According to Albert Edwards, director of Program and Services for the community center, black churches had “prestige and stability” and were “better powered

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to help the community than any other institution we have.”9 The churches directly involved themselves in the economic realm by providing work and offering assistance to those seeking jobs. The St. Philip’s leadership also approached political matters and demanded that government officials take the economic needs of black citizens seriously. When the city government considered a proposal to allow water meters for individual residences in 1965, Weston asked parishioners to write to local officials and oppose the measure. Assuming that landlords would pass on the cost of adding these water meters to tenants, Weston argued that the poor, “already overburdened with city and state sales taxes and other economic disadvantages,” would be unfairly affected.10 In a 1968 sermon, “The Ten Commandments for Renewal,” Weston extended support to the Poor People’s Campaign and promoted black voter registration.11 Amid discussion of New York City possibly becoming the 51st state in the early 1970s, Weston suggested that Harlem should also gain its own statehood, which he said would allow fair representation of black citizens in decision-making organizations and distribution of funding and other resources. By 1978, St. Philip’s had used both public money and private donations to fund multimillion dollar investments in Harlem, although most parishioners reported family incomes of $5,000 or less.12 The different projects included The New Community Apartments on West. 135th Street, which cost $7.9 million, the St. Philip’s Senior House on West 133rd Street ($6.4 million), and St. Philip’s On-the-Park on St. Nicholas Avenue ($10.4 million). The community center and Parish House complex at 204 West 134th Street cost an additional $2.5 million. Weston himself also founded a nursing home at 138th Street, at the time the only nursing home in Harlem.13 These various institutions housed 2,000 people and provided services to 1,500 more.14 In 1981, St. Philip’s carried out a “Procession of Witness for a Better City,” in which 400 members marched around Harlem to the different buildings that St. Philip’s had built. This physical demonstration promoted the idea that creating a “better city” was not only a possibility, but also a responsibility of Christian witness. Weston argued that these buildings were “only tools for a wider pastoral ministry,” with the real achievement being “our impact for good on the lives of people.”15 The church was not building just to build, but to change people’s lives. Although Weston perceived no gap between worship and service, government policies did not share his views. In order to obtain necessary public funding, St. Philip’s had to distance itself from the institutions it created. The community center changed its name from St. Philip’s Community Center to the Community Service Council of Greater Harlem, which redefined it as

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a nonsectarian institution.16 The council’s board included the president of Columbia University, the chairman of Tiffany and Company, and the publisher of The New York Times.17 Although the public funding allowed St. Philip’s to pursue these projects, it also limited the church’s control over the buildings and prevented them from having a religious essence. The church began to experience economic difficulties even as it pursued these productive projects. St. Philip’s lost a good deal of its membership when large numbers of black people, especially young families, began to move out of Harlem. Around this time, Mainline Protestantism as a whole also began to suffer a decline in membership. Additionally, many of the apartment buildings St. Philip’s had bought in its early years in Harlem deteriorated to the point where they could no longer be rented out. Thus, St. Philip’s began to cut programs and build up debt. The federal government assumed control of several of the organization’s buildings after tenants threatened to sue Weston and St. Philip’s due to poor living conditions.18 Like many other “faith-based social service providers,” McKinney argues, the church did not possess “the financial resources, professional staff, and technical know-how to internally manage the increased bureaucratic responsibilities associated with government funding.”19 When Weston retired, the gap in leadership negatively affected the church and its ability to promote a religious message. The community center continued to operate, partially using public funds, but the religious elements were greatly reduced.20 Many of St. Philip’s community affiliations with institutions, such as Carver Bank and several nursing homes, ended after Weston retired as pastor. Since they were technically nonreligious institutions, St. Philip’s had little authority over them.21 Upon retirement, Weston called his church a “stable, unmoving part of the community,” and said, “We believe that we are trustees of the resources we inherited from the past, and we cannot abandon that legacy when things get rough.”22 However, the church did lose control of many of the buildings it had constructed, rather than remaining “trustees.” It seems that Weston himself did not live up to the message he espoused. Despite his efforts to provide housing in Harlem, he himself lived in New Rochelle with his family. The Abyssinian Baptist Church also used its position in the community to enact social change. Its most famous pastor, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., envisioned the church as “not just a Sunday-go-to-meeting church, but a seven-day, 24-hour church.”23 Church members, according to Powell, needed to practice “continual witnessing” to carry out the mandates of the Christian faith, which would affect every facet of their everyday lives.24 In one sermon, Powell stated, “God has no other hands than our hands; he has no other feet than our feet, and he has no

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other tongue than our tongue.”25 For God’s will to be done, people must enact it in the present world. Even before Powell led the church, Abyssinian perceived itself as a model congregation and had provided extensive social services since the Great Depression.26 This attention to social services emphasized the need for interaction with society and the government. During his time as pastor, Powell ran the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign to force white business on 125th Street to employ blacks. Abyssinian and its members also built two housing complexes in the 1950s, the first of which was a $3.5 million low-rent Mitchell-Lama cooperative housing project on 138th Street.27 The development was to be the first project built by an AfricanAmerican group under the 1955 Mitchell-Lama law, which provided for state mortgages to build low-rent housing.28 In a 1964 speech to the National Association of Real Estate Brokers in New Orleans, Powell discussed the importance of affordable housing for low and middle income black Americans. He stated that “any fraternal, social, or religious organization” could and should construct housing for low and middle income people in order to “stop frittering away our future in this moment of opportunity.”29 Money was to be invested for the good of the poor, not quickly spent in the short term. Although Powell spent considerable time away from Abyssinian once he was elected as a member of Congress, the church’s mission of providing services to the most needy and its attention to political questions did not change. In 1961, Associate Pastor O.D. Dempsey warned that black and Puerto Rican New Yorkers would participate in a rent strike, as well as a work strike, if deplorable housing conditions were not rectified.30 Additionally, Dempsey and other church members sponsored the Mt. Morris Park Senior Citizens Housing Council, Inc., the first senior citizen housing complex in Harlem. The project, which received funding from the Housing and Home Finance Agency, aimed to provide housing for many elderly residents of Abyssinian Baptist.31 The church also purchased three nearby YMCA buildings.32 Within the church, Powell’s attempt to maintain two demanding full-time jobs in different regions of the country had caused a great deal of strife. His impending resignation as pastor reinforced his focus on economic matters. In December 1962, Powell announced that he would be stepping down as head pastor in one year, although he did not actually leave until 1970. He ordered his church, which at the time had 10,000 members, to “start being members of the Church of God,” rather than members of “Adam Powell’s Church.”33 He also threatened to leave sooner if church members did not attend regularly or give money generously.34 In October 1965, having still not left his position, Powell told parishioners that he found their amount of

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photo courtesy of Gordon Parks

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tithing satisfactory. He outlined further demands that might make him reconsider his decision to leave, which included hiring a business manager and closing the cafeteria, which was running a deficit. He also urged trustees to cut their own $4,800 salaries.35 Ensuring financial viability was an essential goal in his interactions with the church. After Powell had formally resigned, Abyssinian continued to work to empower black residents politically and economically. In 1982, Calvin Butts, then associate pastor, wrote that Abyssinian’s ministry was “to take the raw material of African-Americans who have been segregated, discriminated against, oppressed economically and socially, and who suffer from the same moral and spiritual diseases that afflict all human beings” and to turn “ourselves into human instruments of God’s will and His purpose.”36 This prescription necessitated specific actions to empower parishioners and other members of the Harlem community. In 1986, Butts began to form the Abyssinian Development Corporation.37 The first project was a transitional shelter called Abyssinian House.38 The corporation’s scope has since expanded greatly to include a myriad of housing, educational, and economic programs. An important contrast can be drawn between St. Philip’s and Abyssinian. Although St. Philip’s heyday of social programs ended in the 1980s, Abyssinian’s projects are still enjoying great success. Abyssinian’s consistency in prominent pastoral leadership after Powell’s departure, as opposed to St. Philip’s dependence on Weston, may help to explain the different trajectories traveled by the churches in question. According to scholar Hans Baer, black mainstream churches merely replicate hegemonic structures and relationships rather than issuing a challenge to American capitalism.39 Baer notes that St. Philip’s, Abyssinian Baptist, and a few other prominent black churches became the largest property owners in Harlem in the post-World War I era. He portrays the frequent emphasis on patronizing black businesses as proof that black churches were influenced by capitalist ideology. Black clergy, Baer writes, saw “Black capitalism as a viable strategy for the economic development of the Black community.”40 However, the development of “a new Black political-professional-entrepreneurial class to protect business interests in the central city, while ensuring political stability in the Black community” only contributed to further class stratification.41 Similarly, Adolphus Lacey characterizes Abyssinian as “a defender of the status quo” and says the church was “comfortable using the system or rebelling against it,” whichever method best served its ends.42 Abyssinian Baptist and St. Philip’s Episcopal emphasized the importance of black capitalism for economic development in Harlem. However, many of their projects also used

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public money, requiring all taxpayers to contribute to initiatives designed to benefit black citizens. While these political strategies did follow the rules of capitalism, they also allowed the churches to achieve great success. Though the housing developments and other community institutions did not seriously challenge the underlying economic structure, they represented concrete attempts to solve crises faced by residents of Harlem. Both churches’ understandings of the meaning of Christianity entailed a responsibility to act in a way that would empower the neediest members of their communities. Indeed, these policies made an immediate impact on the lives of thousands.

Endnotes 1. “Harlem’s Banker-Priest,” Ebony, March 1969, 100. 2. Will Lissner, “Powell Is Backed by Congregation,” New York Times, January 16, 1967, 22. 3. Moran Weston, “Black Religion and Economic Development,” New York Amsterdam News, June 26, 1976, B3A. 4. “Harlem’s Banker-Priest,” Ebony, March 1969, 93. 5. Stephan Patrick McKinney, “Secularization Theory and Black Protestantism: Patterns of Differentiation in a Contemporary Black Church” (Ph.D. diss., Drew University, 2010), 213. 6. Ibid. 7. Ibid. 8. “St. Philip’s Works in Central Harlem,” New York Amsterdam News, July 10, 1965, 6. 9. “400 Harlem Youth Served in Church Community Center,” New York Amsterdam News, August 2, 1969, 29. 10. “Police Review Unit Urged by Rector,” New York Times, July 26, 1965, 32. 11. George Dugan, “St. Philip’s at 150 Starts a New Life,” New York Times, May 6, 1968, 76. 12. Dugan, “St. Philip’s at 150 Starts a New Life,” 76. 13. “St. Philip’s Weston recipient of award,” New York Amsterdam News, May 6, 1978, B10. 14. J. Zamgba Browne, “St. Philip’s housing program, a big success,” New York Amsterdam News, October 3, 1981, 3. 15. “St. Philip’s Marking 170th Anniversary,” New York Amsterdam News, May 10, 1980, 16. 16. Ibid. 17. McKinney 249. 18. Ibid., 262.

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19. Ibid., 261. 20. Ibid., 263. 21. Ibid., 250. 22. Orde Coombs, “The New Battle for Harlem,” New York, January 25, 1982, 27-28. 23. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Adam by Adam (New York: Dafina Books, 1971), 37. 24. Ibid., 43. 25. Adolphus Lacey, “Congregation as Community Developer: A Socio-Historical Reading of the Social Ministry of the Abyssinian Baptist Church” (Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 2002), 194. 26. Ibid. 27. “Church Members Would Build Cooperative,” New York Amsterdam News, December 6, 1958, 23. 28. Ibid. 29. “Adam Powell Lauds Some Southerners,” New York Amsterdam News, August 1, 1964, 25. 30. “Center Asks for Aid of All Kinds,” New York Amsterdam News, March 11, 1961, 8. 31. “Reserve Funds for Home for Older Folks,” New York Amsterdam News, June 3, 1961, 35. 32. Powell 53. 33. “Powell Lectures His Flock,” New York Amsterdam News, December 15, 1962, 54. 34. Ibid. 35. “Powell Won’t Leave Abyssinian Church,” New York Amsterdam News, October 9, 1965, 1. 36. Calvin O. Butts, III, “The Construction of a Plan for the Effective Influence of an Urban Church on Public Policy” (D. Min. diss., Drew University, 1982), 21. 37. Ibid., 73. 38. Ibid, 135. 39. Hans A. Baer, “Black Mainstream Churches: Emancipatory or Accommodative Reponses to Racism and Social Stratification in American Society?” Review of Religious Research 30 (Dec. 1988). 40. Ibid, 171. 41. Ibid, 172. 42. Lacey,198.

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Bibliography Baer, Hans A. “Black Mainstream Churches: Emancipatory or Accommodative Reponses to Racism and Social Stratification in American Society?” Review of Religious Research 30 (Dec. 1988). Butts III, Calvin O. “The Construction of a Plan for the Effective Influence of an Urban Church on Public Policy.” D. Min. diss., Drew University, 1982. Lacey, Adolphus. “Congregation as Community Developer: A Socio-Historical Reading of the Social Ministry of the Abyssinian Baptist Church.” Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 2002. McKinney, Stephan Patrick. “Secularization Theory and Black Protestantism: Patterns of Differentiation in a Contemporary Black Church.” Ph.D. diss., Drew University, 2010. Powell, Jr., Adam Clayton. Adam by Adam. New York: Dafina Books, 1971.

photo courtesy of Dennis via Wikimedia Commons

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The River
Elizabeth Keene

photo Courtesy of Fabien Léonard
Mary digs her fingernail into the mosquito bite and pushes gently, then harder, the itch succumbing to a sting. The little red mound had swelled up at her wrist two days ago near the base of the thumb where, ever since, its pulsing has been an irritation, a passing distraction made worse by the tightly-buttoned cuffs of her blouse. It happened, surely, when she went down to the river with Brother Sebastian, over specially from Louisiana, to seek out a sacred spot for the baptism. At dusk, when those stinging pests are at their worst, Brother Sebastian had raised his pale hand and closed his eyes, granting his features the serenity of sleep, and announced that this was it. Cautiously, for near the water, the earth was unreliable, Mary approached the bank. Just there, the sleepy river curved and ghostly Spanish moss hung from the trees like luxurious hair. Brother Sebastian said the place was sacred, and Mary believed. “Mary, child.” One of the church ladies, Netta, distracts Mary from her absentminded scratching. Mary re-buttons her sleeve quick to cover the red marks her nails have left there. Netta is a woman of few words, but she looks pointedly to the

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corner where a broom leans, and soon the shuuup, shuuup of the broom can be heard through the house. When the floor is clean, Mr. Daniels will come downstairs and they will go together to the river. One day last year, a dirty red truck rolled up outside the Mittners’ house, which is the nicest in town. Mary was on her way home, kicking a stone along the side of the road, and, when she stopped, it was because she felt, the way an animal must in the forest, that there were eyes on her back. Three children were sitting in the truck bed, but they weren’t the same as other children in town. They wore overalls, even the girl, like the ones the Brothers put on when it came time to plant in the community garden. The Brothers laughed, though, great rumbling laughs, slapping each other on their solid shoulders. They winked at Mary as she handed each of them a clean pair of gardening gloves, “Well, little one, how do we look? Ready for a dance?” But the children’s eyes looked black, squinted against the late afternoon sun, and their hair was lank and unwashed. Mary never told anyone from shame, but, as she looked at the children and they looked at her, she covered her nose with her hand. It was the smell of sweat, like that which came from her when she had spent the afternoon running around in the garden, yet worse, the scent of hundreds of afternoons spent outside, not in the garden, but in the orchards, in the fields, and with no bath after. They leaned against each other as though they’d been propped there, and their faces were blank, empty, tired. Mary hadn’t known that children could be so quiet. But what would bother her long after she started home again was not their silence, but their stillness. That they wouldn’t leave the truck bed, that they didn’t seem to want to get out and run around. That’s what she would have wanted, Mary thought, if she’d been cooped up in the back of a truck for who knows how long. “They don’t got shoes,” Netta informed Mary’s father. Her teeth stuck out a little bit, because they didn’t grow in right, and she had the habit of sucking on them after she spoke. It was after dinner. Brother Paul, Mary’s father, was in his after-dinner chair making notes on a sermon. From across the room, the words, small and straight, seemed to march like ants across the page. “Who doesn’t?” Mary couldn’t help but ask. “Bed.” Netta said. The sun is gaining in the sky, but, already, a heavy Alabama mist tangles with

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the leaves overhead. Walking behind her father, Brother Paul, Mary can smell the river. If “wet” had a smell, it would be something like this: ancient mud, the fossilized bones of tiny river-dwellers, the smell of an attic reopened, or the underside of a rock. The river has a smell and it’s singing to her, calling her to meet it. Were she younger, she would fly ahead, past her father talking to Ms. Gray, the spinster in her Sunday hat, and Mr. Lewis, whose family is a trusty bloodhound, Rexford. Past stuck-up June Mittner, who, despite her vanity, is vaguely cross-eyed and works the back of the hardware store on weekends, sorting screws for her father. Past this rush of humanity that no longer seems to matter, and straight into the water’s shocking embrace. But she turned fifteen this August. And so she’s content merely to take her father’s hand in hers and smile. “Do you like the stars, Mary?” The night Mr. Daniels arrived, about a week ago, Mary was sitting on the front stoop as the light drained from the sky. She had thought herself alone and, when he lowered himself onto the stoop, she scooted her sewing basket out of the way, flustered. “I don’ think I’ve ever thought about it, Mr. Daniels.” This wasn’t true. “I used to be an astronomer.” “I know, Mr. Daniels. In Birmingham. Papa told me.” “Know somethin’, Mary? The longer you look up into a dark sky, the more stars there seem to be. I don’ know if you notice more, ’cause your eyes get used to the dark or if your mind adds ’em into the gaps. No matter the reason, you always see more, and more behind that all the way to eternity.” They sat in silence for a few moments, an odd pair, he wiry and fair-haired and frail, her young face blooming behind the severe blouse. “Did you study it, Mr. Daniels?” “Eh?” “Eternity.” “Oh, gracious no, child. S’people like your father study that.” She can see him now. His fair head dips agreeably in response to something Brother Sebastian has said. The woods grow darker around them; the congregation appears green in the forest-filtered light. As though they’ve become stone and the moss has grown down from the trees and over their slumbering forms while the world they knew has grown old without them. The birds are quiet; there is no sound of small animals in the undergrowth. And then, because they’ve reached the river, Brother Sebastian

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raises a pale hand and closes his eyes. “Mary, you’re a lucky girl.” Mary and Brother Sebastian had rested, having found the baptism spot, watching the river rush with heavy burden ’round the bend. “Yes, Brother Sebastian?” “Gettin’ to come to Mr. Daniels’ baptism on Sunday.” “Yes, sir, I know.” Mary shut her eyes for a moment, gathering words. “Brother Sebastian?” “What is it, my child?” Her voice came out higher than she expected. “Why do you think he’s gettin’ baptized?” “Oh, I think it’s pretty clear.” He turned to her and his dark eyes, the color of ancient river mud, crinkled at the corners. “Mr. Daniels is ready to take the leap of faith, Mary, he has chosen to believe...Jus’ like you did, when you came into the Church last year.” Brother Sebastian spoke the last word right to Mary’s face and that’s how she knows the smell of him: dust from the road and the wax from church candles. They’ve stopped at the bank of the river now. Candles have been lit against the gloom and all the church ladies, led by Ms. Gray in her Sunday hat, are singing hymns. Mr. Daniels is stepping into the water now, and, up on the muddy bank, Mary slips out of her shoes without untying them. Water that was merely water two days ago sliding slowly over his feet and past his ankles, pinpricks bearing with them salvation. “Almighty God,” Brother Sebastian’s voice rings out pleading, inviting, through the woods, the Spanish moss that hangs over the river trembling. Mary wraps her toes around the edge of the bank, so close is she to tumbling into that sacred water. “Who by our baptism into the death and resurrection of thy Son Jesus Christ…” He sings the words “Jesus Christ,” and a shudder runs across the congregation, as though they can feel Jesus right there, behind the next tree, across the river. “Dost turn us from the old life of sin! Grant that we, bein’... reborn my children to new life...” The words fly away from him, into the trees. Mary has never heard this line the way she’s supposed to. It is meant to remind Mr. Daniels of the responsibilities he has chosen, the water up to his waist now, digging cold pits in his belly. He’s closing his eyes and finding rapture looking up into the darkness. But Mary only hears “we, being reborn to new life.” Reborn. New. Life. Over and over in her head.

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It does not matter that Brother Sebastian is crying out “in Him” and wiping tears from his eyes, or that her father’s arms are climbing ecstatically into the air. Mary hears as from a great distance the “A-mens” escaping the particularly overwrought up and down the bank. She can see the stars beyond stars beyond stars, but there is no eternity there. Vaguely aware of the river water making room for Mr. Daniels’ near-naked form falling back once, twice, again. The weathered face of God, full of knots and whorls like the splintery hardwood floor she sweeps, has fallen away, leaving the stars to their own devices. And Mary cries out “A-MEN” with the others, to see if that will help. Yet it’s still there, the bite, maddening, calling attention to itself. It’s still there, diminutive heart, indignity, scab of human frailty, beating at the base of her thumb.

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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It’s Electric: The Prohibition of Electricity and the Meaning of Sabbath
David Baruch

photo courtesy of Olaf Herfurth
The Bible states categorically, “You shall not create a fire on the Sabbath in all your dwellings on the day of Sabbath” (Exodus 35:3, JPS). This statement forms the basis of modern Jewish understandings of the development of electricity and its resulting prohibition on Sabbath. Many Orthodox Jewish authorities consider electricity to be a simple issue, strictly prohibited with no need for further appraisal. The issue, however, is not necessarily as transparent as it may seem upon first glance. According to various legal opinions, there may even be reason to suspect that electricity on the Sabbath is, in fact, permissible. What are we to make of this possibility? How does it shape the Sabbath experience? Before delving into this question and its philosophical implications, we must first develop a brief technical understanding of the prevention of using electricity on

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Sabbath. What emerges, though, is that, despite the fact that the letter of the law may permit certain types of electricity, a deeper understanding of the spirit of the law may not allow for the use of electricity in order to preserve the essence of the day. The previously-stated prohibition in the Bible explicitly outlaws all activity that involves burning a fire. Most Jewish law codes1 interpret “fire” to include any heat or light source, such as the prohibition of heating up a metal rod found in the Mishnah, an early rabbinic legal source. According to this explanation, turning on a light or activating any object that may produce heat seem to be forbidden on the Sabbath, according to many traditional legal opinions. There still do remain, however, the types of electric objects that do not necessarily produce any light or heat, like an electric fan. How are we to understand the prohibitions of these objects? This topic is, in fact, widely disputed. Many rabbis have debated why the use of electricity that does not produce heat or light is prohibited. Attempts to understand the reasons behind this, however, have proven quite difficult. It sees that no one has yet found perfect explanations for this ruling. In fact, this lack of rationale led Rabbi Shlomo Z. Auerbach, a respected twentieth-century rabbinic authority, to suggest that Jews do not use electrical fans on the Sabbath because of the concept of minhag, a tradition that becomes law (Broyde and Jachter). While the minhag is an important concept in its own right, other opinions have presented difficulties. Was Rabbi Auerbach suggesting that there really is no inherently legal rationale prohibiting activating an electric fan on Sabbath? The possibility that there are no technical reasons for preventing use of an electric object that emits neither heat nor light implies that we do not necessarily have a grounded reason for doing it! Because it seems that there often is a deeper philosophical meaning behind prohibitions, it is worthwhile to examine what this means and what it says about Jews’ understanding of the spirit of the Sabbath day. The numerous restrictions on what one can do on the Sabbath stem from the Bible itself. The Bible tells us that “six days you shall work, and, on the seventh day, you shall rest” (Exodus 35:15). The word “rest” has significant ramifications for our discussion of the electric fan. One might argue that the Sabbath day is one for relaxation. In fact, various legal obligations for the Sabbath stem from the word “rest.”2 Maybe, in the midst of summer, when the weather is quite hot, there should be an obligation to turn the fan on and support this notion of rest. In this way, rest is understood as a break and a time to simply relax. The Sabbath is our day to recover from the past week and begin planning

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for the week to come. It is a means to an end, only a brief respite on the way to another cumbersome week. Though this definition of rest certainly is compelling and certainly would resonate with any overworked Columbia student, perhaps a deeper understanding of the Sabbath will lead us in the opposite direction. In The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “Technical civilization stems primarily from the desire of man to subdue and manage the forces of nature” (Heschel 5). During a hot summer, the electrical fan is an assertion of this dominance over nature When we turn it on, we are making a statement: we have a means to overcome the heat so it will not affect us. However, is the Sabbath really meant to be a day on which this philosophy of human dominance is the norm? After all, we use electricity the other six days of the week. Using it on the Sabbath would not make for a very unique day. Heschel further claims that, “six days a week, we try to dominate the world, [and], on the seventh day, we try to dominate the self” (Heschel 11). Perhaps we should take Heschel a step further, though. On the seventh day, the world dominates us. In this sense, rest is an act of abstention. Here, turning on the fan would constitute a lack of understanding of rest as one that refrains from activity. Rest is a sense of recognition, a comprehension of the fact that the world is not in our control and that, sometimes, we have to sit through the heat. When Rabbi Auerbach suggests that we do not turn on the fan because of tradition, the implication may be much deeper. The idea that this activity is mere tradition instead of law, suggests that the reasons for not turning on a fan are neither legal nor technical. In other words, this practice developed a prohibited status only because Jews abstained from turning on the fan. Initially, Auerbach argues, there may not have been a reason to make this prohibition, but that it came about only because people practiced it. Though this complicated prohibition can be difficult to accept, the lack of a strictly legal reason may be quite humbling for some. Many Jews keep this tradition because it demonstrates their commitment to rest, despite the fact that the rabbis occasionally invoked tradition as the only grounds to defend it. The Sabbath is not a day for fanning the flames: it is a day on which we appreciate our lack of control over them.

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Endnotes 1. See Yoreh Deah, 1:120, and Titz Eliezer 3:17, two Jewish legal sources, for further information. Moreover, for those looking for a thorough technical discourse on the subject in English, Rabbi Michael Broyde’s The Use of Electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov is an excellent source. 2. These include an obligation to have three meals and to eat certain foods. Bibliography Broyde, Michael, and Howard Jachter. “The Use of Electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov.” Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society 11 (1991). Daat. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. <http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/english/index.html>. Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: New York, 1951.

photo courtesy of FocalPoint via Wikimedia Commons

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A Sacred Space in Our Backyard
Julianna Storch

photo courtesy of Eric Hunt
Last spring, I returned from my first European vacation, during which my sister and I ran from cathedral to cathedral in Belgium and Paris. We stood, stared, photographed, and examined to ensure that we would remember the beauty before us that was unique from anything else we had seen. Back in Morningside Heights, I set out on an exploration closer to home in search of an attention-worthy religious site in Manhattan for a class project. I selected the local site of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine on 111th Street and Amsterdam. As I began to research the church, I wondered why my sister and I had never stopped to stare at New York’s cathedrals. How did we fail to notice such a monumental structure? Were we jaded, or is there something about the way that cathedrals are positioned in New York’s landscape and frame of mind that causes them to fall under the radar? Perhaps cathedrals in New York are far too ingrained into the grid. While Notre Dame is prefaced by a large plaza and Sacre Coeur Basilica rests atop an Everest of steps, Saint John the Divine is sandwiched between St. Luke’s Hospital and 110th Street. Across

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Amsterdam, it is flanked by restaurants and apartment buildings. Perhaps the area is too familiar for the cathedral to stand out, which seems to be precisely contrary to its founders’ intentions when they laid the cornerstone for the cathedral at the end of the nineteenth century. The cathedral’s founders were burdened by the responsibility to infuse American society with the positive force of Christianity. Much to their dismay, Trinity Church, the center of New York City Episcopalianism prior to the erection of the cathedral, had recently been buried in the New York skyline by other buildings. To them, the way in which Trinity Church cowered beneath neighboring commercial buildings represented a decay of faith in New York (Strong 84-5). They believed America needed religion to be restored to its prominent place in society. Like the builders of the Tower of Babel, they wished to erect a physical structure to reach new spiritual heights. At first, they succeeded. New technology allowed for taller construction. Most of the architects who submitted designs focused on suspending the cathedral as high as resources would allow (Strong 84-7). At the time, the structure’s height on a raised plot in Morningside Heights could be seen from as far as Queens and New Jersey (Quirk 29). Today, however, the cathedral cannot be seen from even an avenue away. I traversed Columbia’s campus to take a closer look at the cathedral. As I examined the structure’s grandeur from outside, I wondered why such a magnificent building often remains unnoticed. Its beautifully detailed and intricately designed façade provides a stark contrast to St. Luke’s industrial and unremarkable exterior next door. The juxtaposition of the two facades, one elaborate, the other plain, serves only to enhance the cathedral’s presence. Perhaps, after three years at school, I had just become oblivious to Columbia’s surroundings. Standing there, I watched passersby to discover if anyone else noticed the looming edifice. Despite the founders’ intentions, my fellow New Yorkers seem to have remained unaffected by the cathedral. Pedestrians quickly walked past on their way to work or school without so much as turning their heads to notice the beautiful building in their midst. One elderly woman slowed her pace due to her reliance on a cane. I observed her closely to see if perhaps her slower steps would allow her to notice the cathedral, but she, too, passed without a glance, too consumed by her Blackberry to turn her head. Such is the way of New York. We must walk briskly and look straight ahead without ogling at the sites, lest you be mistaken for a tourist who stops frozen in their tracks. First, they stand outside the church without really looking at the sight before them, instead

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burying their heads in their guidebooks. Once they have satiated their curiosity about the destination of the hour, they pull out their cameras and aim for the cathedral, trying desperately to fit the enormity of the church into their tiny lenses. It seems, though, that they fail to capture the intended religious force of the cathedral. For them, the sacred is just another stop on their tour of New York City. After examining the cathedral from below, I approached the steps to the main entrance. As I climbed the stairs, I became particularly aware of my ascension. Though the stairs may serve aesthetic and practical purposes, they also place the church on a plane physically higher than the rest of the city, as if to employ architecture to separate the sacred church from the profane street and further propel the structure towards the heavens. As I became more and more conscious of the church’s imposing structure, I realized that, perhaps, the original intention of a cathedral was to have it stand out, to represent the holiness amongst the mundanity of daily life. However, the New Yorkers I saw seemed to not notice this distinction. Reverend James Parks Morton, the former dean of Saint John the Divine, explains that cathedrals are intended to represent the whole world in a microcosm manifesting the “heavenly city” on earth (Quirk 8). There is intentionality in the creation of this sacred space in New York City; however, it gets muddled when the steps are used for hot dog vendors and the symbolism remains lost on passersby. At the top of the stairs, I pushed open the large bronze doors to the grand yet still interior of the cathedral. It was only once I entered its ornate cavity of silence that I noticed how loud it had been outside and how rare an urban occasion it was to be enveloped in quiet. Outside, cars and ambulances zoomed past crowded sidewalks. Doorways filled with chatter and clanking dishes from restaurant patrons spilling out onto the sidewalk. These noises all seem to permeate the walls of my bedroom, library, and classrooms, but the heavy bronze doors of the cathedral succeeded in keeping them out. Was the effect of the silent interior necessary to create sacred space for the church founders when the foundation was laid long, before Manhattan reached its maximum capacity? Or was it an unintentional side effect? Only the faint echo of church bells interrupted the consuming silence. I assumed that the real gravity of the sound was audible outside. Did the ringing waken the ignorant passersby to the church’s existence, or did it simply add to the cacophonous melody

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of the city that acts as white noise for the jaded New Yorker? Probably the latter, I thought, for I had never stopped to notice the bells during my days in the city. Since the cathedral’s height fell beneath its neighbors in the crowded New York skyline, the clanging of the bells seems to be all that is left to assert its religious presence. With each gong, the bells cried for attention, but no one heard their call. After all, the church was a sacred space. Why could no one see the marvel we have within our midst, as I had come to realize? Although I am not Christian, the silence, size, beauty and intentionality of this sacred space allowed me to grasp the cathedral’s religious aura. Even though most strolled past Saint John the Divine, I was not alone in the church. A few other visitors, mostly tourists, shared the space with me and seemed to be in awe. Some entered as they would a museum, extracting the aesthetic, historical, and cultural significance as they slowly circled the cathedral. Others came to pray, sit, and reflect in a place where perhaps they felt closer to God. And others came to sit in silence, to feel small in a place so big. Even if their New York hosts failed to see the potential for spiritual experience in this space, these individuals too were in awe at it. Although no one spoke, I could feel an invisible bond. We were united by our shared knowledge and appreciation of the gem we had found in New York City. Bibliography “The Episcopal Diocese of New York.” 19 Sept. 2010. <http://www.dioceseny.org/>. Hall, Edward Hagaman. A Guide to the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in the City of New York. New York: The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, 1965. Quirk, Howard E. The Living Cathedral: Saint John the Divine. New York: Crossroad, 1993. Wickersham, George W. The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. New York: Honorary Canon Emeritus, 1977. “Written History.” The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine: A House of Prayer for All People. 2007. 19 Sept. 2010. <http://www.stjohndivine.org/history_written2.html>.

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A Music of Morality: Where the Mystical Meets the Mundane
Jazmin Malani Graves

photo courtesy of Cyrus McGoldrick
In modern societies, the worlds of organized religion and popular culture seem dualistic. Popular culture—more specifically, popular music—appears to be a social sphere governed entirely by materialism, egoism, and individualism. Religion, by contrast, is a social sphere often directed by selfless duty to a Higher Power and to humanity; religion looks beyond the “self,” beyond the physical world, toward something immaterial, yet ultimately attainable. When brought into contact with one another, these two diametrically-opposed realms attract; with their meeting, a catalytic, transformational force emerges, one that has the power to inspire and unite humanity. This force is a dynamic message for the masses, a message that wields the spiritual

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weaponry necessary to merge the values of religion with the appeal of popular music. The following interview conveys the message of “music of morality,” as shown in the experiences of Muslim-American civil rights activist and musician Cyrus “the Raskol Khan” McGoldrick. Q: When did you first become aware of the interconnectedness of music and spirituality? A: Music has always had a very spiritual effect on me. It can have a very conscious, physical relationship with spiritual themes, like in the music heard in churches, temples, Sufi circles; and then access our emotions and soul through the sound itself. Growing up struggling with religion, but listening to five-percenter hiphop and Rastafarian reggae music, actually helped me appreciate faith and morality as the most valuable protest movement. Much of modern music is so nihilistic, but, with reggae, I found musicians who were singing songs about God, in praise of God, they were simultaneously enjoying their music, entertaining others, and expressing their pride in their culture, and that became a sort of model for me. Q: How did the Rastafarian reggae model affect the way you experience your own faith as a musician? A: I always loved that reggae, rooted in a religious ideology, accepted by relatively very few, became a global phenomenon. Even to someone outside the religion, that community’s conviction and pride in its faith is inspirational, contagious. The language in their music is specific to their religion, but, instead of alienating me, it makes me smile. We have to strengthen our identities, especially in a community under attack, so often dehumanized in the public space. Like reggae, rap is a unique platform from which to build bridges with all communities. Hip-hop is a major international movement touching every continent and speaking directly to people who find themselves marginalized. Q: You mention “marginalization” and “dehumanization.” Are you referring specifically to Islam and the way it is depicted by society? Would this imply some sense of polarization in today’s society? A: Yes, I think this polarization is occurring in two ways: the first is in how people

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construct the divide between their secular and religious spheres of action. When our moral existence does not define or inform our day-to-day choices, we are easily led into secular individualism and materialism, which naturally degenerate into injustice and oppression. The next degree of polarization is interpersonal. Due to prejudice and ignorance, polarization is occurring between blocs of people, “us” versus “them,” and one group attempts to dehumanize and delegitimize another through rhetoric and violation. As our world grows closer together, our communities are less homogenous and people are grappling with diversity and pluralism. But globalization, on the other hand, has set information free. Most hatred against “others” stems from ignorance, inexperience, and fear. We can be better than just tolerant of each other’s differences, especially as racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-Muslim bigotry are now standard fare in some spheres of politics and media. Q: What role do the media play in disseminating such negative conceptualizations? A: Well, the media has an enormous degree of influence on the way people interpret facts. Elections and trials are won and lost in the media. There are very few practicing Muslims in American media or politics, culturally powerful positions, so too many people do not have a human face for Islam. Too often, the believers are portrayed as the “other,” as “something foreign,” an identification that reinforces discrimination and oppression. The superficiality of media coverage veils and implicitly denies the intricacy of the movement itself. Q: What role does your music play in unveiling “the intricacy of the movement” that the media so often denies? How does it become an effective tool for achieving social justice for Muslim-Americans? A: Music is a unique platform, simultaneously [a] personal and communal experience. It is shared, but open to interpretation. I hope to strengthen the American and global Muslim communities and reinforce the concept of our shared humanity and shared struggles, so as to bring people of different backgrounds closer together. We have a common struggle to live with faith, united but not uniform, looking for happiness in harmony with God. Insha’Allah [God-willing], I hope that my music can help unite my people against our true enemies and convey the central values of Islam: community,

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selflessness, love. While some of the language is specific to Islam, my music is more broadly a music of morality, which I think can speak to people of any faith. A lot of people who come out [to the shows] aren’t Muslims, but it’s the music and the message that bring people together. Q: How would you respond to the belief that music is forbidden in Islam? A: I get all kinds of questions about this, so I searched our primary sources and asked scholars I trusted. The only fair conclusion is that what matters [are] your intentions, that you represent Islam and encourage good in others. So much of the world’s pain is emotional, psychological, and also spiritual. We can reach each other through music and heal from this pain and the movement must then organize to improve people’s lives in a tangible, lasting way. The sound of music itself—melody, harmony, rhythm, instruments, voice—opens up hearts and can target specific emotional reactions. The addition of words enhances the effects; words strike the soul through the intellect. This is why. in certain contexts, religions have forbidden music. Q: With this, you acknowledge a power in music to disseminate spiritual values and ideals. How do you interpret your own approach to wielding this power? A: This power is an opportunity and it can be used for good or evil. Too often, music is both consciously and unconsciously used to promote materialism, individualism, and selfishness. Popular music is both the cause and effect of a culture of waste. But music can also be used for good. It can be used to educate, rally, bring happiness, renew people’s faith in God and in each other, and aid our spiritual enlightenment. Q: Why do you find this need for “spiritual enlightenment” in today’s society so pressing? How does personal spiritual enlightenment relate to the movement for social justice? A: Spiritually, the world is wrestling with itself right now, but, to move forward, we must realize that our lives are the balance, that we have to make choices in order to secure social justice. I hear that we are living in the Age of Aquarius; we are looking again toward spirituality and religion for answers. A lot of our young people grow up in a world where religion isn’t cool, obedience isn’t cool, God-consciousness isn’t cool. They feel silly fasting and praying—they feel out of place. However, any connection of our

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youth to their highest selves—to love, to a sense of morality, to an acknowledgement of God—energizes our movement for a social justice predicated on universal human rights. True human progress is found not in secular individualism, but in spiritual collectivism, when we not only want for our brother what we want for ourselves, but are willing to sacrifice everything so that our brother can have the justice he deserves and desires. We already have a natural affinity for religious practice. We don’t know all of the answers, though: our internal search for truth must be guided and informed by the recognition, the consciousness, of something higher than ourselves, which we must actively seek. Q: How do you envision the role of the faith of Islam in the worldwide movement for social justice and human rights, as connected to humanity’s collective spiritual evolution? A: There is a divine logic to the ideology and the ritual of Islam. It is peace through submission, spiritual benefit obtained through discipline. We experience our religion with the consciousness that we’re standing before God and we see the fruits of Islam in our personal lives and relationships with each other. The values of Islam strengthen communities with a wholesome egalitarianism and its authentic practice is a true cure for cultural diseases like individualism and materialism. Because of the intense pressure being put on Islam and Muslims in the West, more and more people are being introduced to Islam, forced to confront Islam personally and in society, so they learn. Real peace, lasting peace, is rooted in true respect for all people, their sovereignty, and their rights. With the progress of education and the sharing of knowledge and resources, people will be more likely to value justice and try to both personally embody it and externalize it in society. There are so many more spiritual commonalities among us than there are differences. There is an essential unity of matter, of humanity, of creation; this recognition is certainly one aspect of an active God-consciousness. Q: To conclude, might you readdress the polarization of the world in terms of secularism and religiosity? Your personal philosophy and experiences clearly transcend this apparent divide. A: Of course. And, just as some people want to leave their religion out of their daily affairs, so do some religious people find it nobler to renounce involvement with the world. Yet, for people who believe themselves to be the recipients and protectors

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of God’s Word, there is a critical responsibility to uphold moral values while in the world in order to convey the beauty and desirability of a moral existence to others who might be struggling and to help shape the world, as we would like to see it. I hope that we can all be engaged in good work, and see any frame that tries to exclude God as merely an artificial construct. With this, the seemingly dualistic realms of religion and popular culture can no longer be seen as antagonistic polarities. The truly faithful can harmonize the music of these spheres in their everyday lives by behaving morally—being God-conscious—while enjoying the natural rhythms of life. The more completely harmonized the melodies of the mystical and the mundane within each life, the more freedom, equity, and justice human societies worldwide will enjoy.

photo courtesy of Cyrus McGoldrick

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