January 25, 2015 § Leave a comment
New York. The City that Never Sleeps. The Big Apple. The Melting Pot. The Capitol of the World. The Center of the Universe.
I’ve never been there, but it’s on my bucket list. I want to see first-hand the diversity, the culture, and the people.
Until then, I’ve got the Internet.
Most of you have heard of Humans of New York, the wildly popular photoblog and book created by Brandon Stanton. It’s a captivating collection of portraits and stories. In the video below, Stanton talks about the appeal of his work:
I think, you know, we walk down the street and we see all these people and we kind of wonder about their stories, the celebrations and the victories, and that’s what people are engaging with.
Humans of New York got me thinking. What other of-New-Yorks are there out there?
Here’s what I came up with:
Voices of New York (CUNY)
“The best journalistic work being produced by scores of community and ethnic publications,” curated by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. It currently is featuring such stories as “Diversity in Korean Language Schools,” “Remembering the Earthquake in Haiti,” and “Guyanese Artist Tells an Immigrant’s Story.”
Voices of New York (NYU)
This site, from New York University, is an archive of findings from the Fall 2001 students of the class The Language of America’s Ethnic Minorities. It’s a look at how distinct language groups in New York are being maintained or being lost. From “The Irish,” here are Nicole Feder and Chiene Joy Jones:
Coming off the train in Woodside, we had all kinds of fixed notions of what a typical Irish person would look like and how they would act. While sitting in the subway car Chiene turned to Nicole and said, “I bet he’s Irish, lets ask him if he is going to Woodside.” We played into those stereotypes of pale skin, reddish hair, light eyes, and drinking all the time. Feeling ridiculous for making such speculations, we decided not to ask and eventually reached our destination. While in Woodside we met several people fitting into various categories of the stereotypes. It wasn’t until we walked into an Indian owned Deli that I realized how easy it would be to categorize people. When we asked the owner why he had so many Irish products in his store, he replied, “You should know better than I, you’re Irish. . . .”
The Many Languages of New York City
In 2012, Arun Venugopal of WNYC reported that only 51% of New Yorkers are English-only speakers at home. A graph in the article shows the languages that are spoken. Another set of graphics, from Andy Keirsz at Business Insider last year, shows a map of the most-spoken languages in New York (“Here’s the Most Commonly Spoken Language in Every New York Neighborhood that Isn’t English or Spanish“).
Endangered Languages of New York
The New York based Endangered Language Alliance is “the only organization in the world focused on the immense linguistic diversity of urban areas,” including the 800 spoken in New York, many of which are at risk of extinction.
Bookstores of New York
Last Year cartoonist Bob Eckstein of The New Yorker shared his drawings of his favorite bookstores in the city, along with anecdotes from store keepers. Of Three Lives & Company he writes, “Any time a book is bought, the entire shelf must be reordered, since no books of the same colored spine may be adjacent, lest they appear erroneously as a set.” And just as New York has its endangered languages, so it has its threatened bookstores. “The Endangered Bookstores of New York,” is the title of Eckstein’s followup collection.
Museums of New York
From ny.com, here’s a long, though probably not exhaustive, list of the city’s museums. But if you want THE Museum of New York, you’ll need to go the Museum of the City of New York, where you can see exhibits such as Péter Forgács’ Letters to Afar, an art installation made from home movies filmed by Jewish immigrants who traveled back to Poland in the years preceding the Holocaust.
Loneliness of New York
In a city of 8,336,615 people, you can be “lonely, but never alone.”
Doors of New York
Graphic designer Allan Markan has collected images of doorways in the city and published them in the book Door Jams: Amazing Doors of New York City. You can see samples of his images at his website. They are pretty amazing.
Windows of New York
Another graphic designer, Jose Guizar, has put together his illustrations of windows in the city that have caught his attention. Colorful and creative.
And last, but not least . . .
Streets of New York
I thought this was just a movie, like Gangs of New York, but it’s a pizza, pasta, and sub restaurant. Mmmmmmm. I can already taste those authentic flavors of NYC, located a convenient 2,400 or so miles from Times Square . . . in Arizona and Nevada. (It took me a while to figure out the location. The fact that they serve “the official pizza of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns” was my first clue.)
January 18, 2015 § 2 Comments
When does a house become a home?
I asked that question of some friends a while ago. One answered, “When your mess is everywhere.” Another said, “When you feel part of the neighborhood.” My wife said, “When you hang your pictures on the wall.”
When we first moved to Taipei, another missionary family let us live in their apartment for a few months while they were back in the States. We needed a house to stay in while we looked for a place of our own. But it wasn’t our home; it was theirs. Their clothes were in the closets. Their books were on the shelves. Their beds were in the bedrooms.
Later, we found that place of our own. It was on the 17th floor of a 21 story building. While we enjoyed living there, the family who owned the apartment had left some of their furniture there, so we always knew it was someone else’s place, and sure enough, after about two years, they told us they wanted it back for themselves.
When we moved, we ended up in a great apartment with a huge balcony . . . and a hovering landlord. She wouldn’t let us forget that we were in her house, like the time she dropped by on Sunday morning to prune the plants on our balcony so that their leaves wouldn’t clog the drain. The next day she saw me at the post office and commented on the strong odor in our house. It was my wife’s cooking, I said. Spaghetti. Not a good smell, she replied, frowning and shaking her head.
So when we got ready to move back to Joplin, Missouri, we should have been ready, right? Well, while we were busy moving from house to house in Taipei, the city itself had become our home. We had developed routines there. We had made friends there. We had a found a purpose there.
But we needed to move, and move we did. Though that was over three years ago, Joplin doesn’t yet feel like home again and neither does the house we’re in now. We’re renting, and we’re not making long-term plans to stay here.
Actually, it’s the third non-home house we’ve been in since our return. The first was a residence that our church purchased for visiting and returning missionaries. We were there for about six months and are very grateful that it was available. We certainly weren’t the only ones in Joplin in transition at that time. It was June of 2011 and we were living across from the parking lot of the church property where two “tents” stood, distributing food and prayers to those affected by, as everyone here calls it, the tornado.
While we were there, the items that we’d had shipped from Taiwan arrived and we unloaded them into the garage. From there we moved to a rental house, with me still looking for full-time work and all of us wondering what the future would bring, praying about where we’d land.
In Taiwan, I remember reading news about the recession in the States, but I didn’t anticipate how much it would affect my ability to find a job once we returned. Ask anyone looking for work and they’ll tell you how difficult it is right now. Add to that the fact that being out of the country makes a person out of sight and out of mind for potential employers. With so many people looking for employment, those doing the hiring hold most of the cards, and they’re reluctant to take chances on someone who could do the job. Rather, they’re looking for someone who’s already doing the job. And the risk is much lower if they choose someone whom they’ve known for a while.
Since our arrival, I’ve worked at a number of money-making ventures, often overlapping. They include being a janitor and a paraprofessional at an elementary school, cleaning at another school, working at a multi-media ministry, teaching ESL, driving a delivery truck for an auto-parts store, recruiting international students at a university, and donating plasma.
We’re still not sure if we’ve landed yet or if that will come later. And the pictures aren’t on the walls. Instead, they’re still packed up, stored under our bed. When we finally do open them up, I think we’ll find some that we forgot we have.
When I asked my question about a house becoming a home, another friend had this response: “It’s when you can go to the bathroom at night without turning the lights on.”
That reminds me of a passage in a book I read several years ago. It was discussing people who had been blind for a long time and then had regained their sight. Now that they could see, navigating their surroundings obviously should be much easier. Yet when they needed to move through their house—their home—quickly in an emergency, they would close their eyes. That was more familiar to them.
When we’re under stress, we rely on the familiar to help us find our way.
That’s home . . . the familiar place, the comfortable place, the place where we can close our eyes and know we belong.
January 2, 2015 § 1 Comment
UK-based filmmaker Rob Whitworth has established himself as a master of hyperlapse video. Regular timelapse photography captures the movement in a scene using a camera that is set in one place or that moves only slightly. Hyperlapse goes beyond this by moving the camera over large distances.
Whitworth’s brand of hyperlapse takes the method one step further by using the camera motion to stitch clips together into a continuous piece. He calls the result “flow motion.” Below are his unique looks at Barcelona, Pyongyang, and Shangai. (For the video of Pyongyang, he and JT Singh were given unprecedented access to the North Korean city, though it is still the view that the government wants to be shown.)
Whitworth tells The Creators Project that Keith Loutit’s Bathtub IV was his inspiration to specialize in timelapse. Loutit uses tilt-shift photography, a technique that results in the illusion of filming a miniature world. Bathtub IV was made with the cooperation of Australia’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.
Another of Loutit’s videos shows miniaturized view of Singapore.
Whit worth also tells The Creators Project of his love for the work of Pau Garcia Laita, specifically praising his video showcasing Girona, Spain, part of the same project as Whitworth’s Barcelona piece above.
(Beckett Mufson, “Meet the Filmmaker behind Unreal Hyperlapse Tours of Barcelona and Other Cities,” The Creators Project, July 14, 2014)
December 26, 2014 § 2 Comments
When we lived overseas, we were encouraged to make lists of items we would need to grab in case of an evacuation. First there was the list for what to collect if we had only fifteen minutes to leave. Then there were lists for an evacuation in an hour, in 24 hours, and so on.
While a swift departure from our apartment in Taipei was a possibility, it didn’t loom over our heads as it does for many in other countries . . . so we never made a formal list. Rather, we had a cluster of absolutely-most-important-things kept in the same room: my laptop, our passports, extra credit cards, a printout of important contact information, a first-aid kit.
We never tackled listing the irreplaceable items, those with sentimental value. Like writing a will, it was hard to think about and too easy to put off.
If you had to leave your home in a hurry, what would you take? What if you had to escape your country, as well? And what if you knew it would probably be nearly 20 years before you were able to create a new home?
Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, knows a lot about people who flee their homes and about what they lose and what they take with them. She knows a lot because she meets refugees and talks with them.
In her TED Talk, “Let’s Help Refugees Thrive, Not Just Survive,” she tells her motivation for what she does:
So I started working with refugees because I wanted to make a difference, and making a difference starts with telling their stories. So when I meet refugees, I always ask them questions. Who bombed your house? Who killed your son? Did the rest of your family make it out alive? How are you coping in your life in exile? But there’s one question that always seems to me to be most revealing, and that is: What did you take? What was that most important thing that you had to take with you when the bombs were exploding in your town, and the armed gangs were approaching your house?
She then shares the story of Hany, a young Syrian refugee who knew exactly what he would take when his family was forced to flee to Lebanon. “I took my high school diploma,” he said, “because my life depended on it.” He had risked his life in war-torn Syria to earn it, and he saw his education as his hope for the future.
Fleming goes on to tell more stories of refugees and to recount some sobering statistics, including these (I’ve added some additional numbers from “UNHCR: Facts and Figures about Refugees“):
- The approximately 50 million forcibly displaced people at the end of 2013 is the highest number since World War II.
- Each day last year, an average of 32,000 more people were forced from their homes.
- 33 million of the displaced people remain in their own country. 16.7 million flee to other countries, making them refugees.
- 86% of the world’s refugees are living in the developing world.
- On average, a refugee will be displaced for 17 years.
- The war in Syria has produced 6.5 million displaced people, about half its population. More than 3 million of them have entered neighboring countries.
- Lebanon, a country of 4 million, is home to 1 million Syrian refugees.
- Half of the Syrian refugees are children, and only 20% of those in Lebanon are in school.
Below is Fleming’s full TED Talk, followed by a video message from Hany, produced by the UNCHR.
The last video is “Lebanon: Through the Eyes of a Refugee,” featuring Hany’s photographs from his participation in the UNHCR workshop Do You See What I See? The two-week class on photography and writing was led by photojournalist Brendan Bannon.
December 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” I John 2:1 (NIV)
A couple weeks ago I was preparing a lesson for the adult Sunday-school class I help teach. (Sounds a little old fashioned and quaint, doesn’t it?) The text was the second chapter of John’s first letter.
As I took notes on my computer, I checked the news as it developed through the day—and the developing news that day was the demonstrations following the grand-jury decisions concerning two white police officers, Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, and the deaths of two black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
I am a white man, in a predominantly white Sunday-school class, in a predominantly white church, in a predominantly white city, in the predominantly white state of Missouri. I probably don’t have to remind you that Ferguson is in our state, too.
My lesson ended up tracing through the themes of I John 2. If we know Jesus, we will obey him. If you hate your brother, you live in darkness. Do not love the world. Beware of antichrists, who deny the Son.
But mixed with the verses on my computer screen were the headlines about the protests, the demonstrations, the riots, and the arrests.
When I taught the class, after working through the chapter, I returned to the first verse, that verse that touches on the tension between justice and grace. Do not sin, John says, but if you do, Jesus will take your side. Jesus is our advocate before God, the judge. While Satan is the prosecutor, Jesus is the defense attorney.
Maybe it was a stretch, I told my class, but I needed to address what was going on in our country. I needed to talk about it, even if I had to shoehorn it in a little. If we Christians want to “live as Jesus did” (v 6), then we need to make ourselves advocates, too.
It’s an odd thing to think of God pleading our case to God. But the creator has shown us his love, his concern, his grace by mingling with us, talking with us, sharing meals with us. Through Jesus’ life on earth, he has empathy for us (Hebrews 4:15), and he has become our intercessor in heaven (Romans 8:34).
We need to listen to those who have different experiences than ours, to learn their perspective. As a white person, I realize my need to listen to the stories of blacks, to try to see the world through their eyes.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying in this picture that I am Jesus and blacks are the sinners needing my advocacy. Instead, I’m saying that all us Christians—of all races—need to imitate Jesus in breaching the walls that divide us and to plead for each other, before man and before God.
Months ago, well before these two high-profile incidents, many black people were already afraid of police officers. I could argue all I wanted that they shouldn’t be afraid, but my arguments would probably show how out of touch I am. Theirs is a fear that goes well beyond the nervousness I have when a police car pulls up behind me at an intersection.
Why is that? If we hope to understand, we’ll need to do a lot of listening, and not just to those who would reaffirm our comfortable assumptions. We’ll need to read viewpoints of people who’ve lived lives unlike our own. We’ll need to try to see the world through the eyes of people who don’t look like us. That doesn’t mean that we must always agree with what we hear. Often, the loudest, most strident voices are not the most reasonable. But if we want to hear the quieter voices, then we’ll need to listen that much harder. And then we can pass on what we hear, speaking on behalf of our brothers and sisters, to each other and to God.
The Other Side of Fear
Black civil rights attorney Constance Rice has worked for years building trust between minorities and the police in Los Angeles. While she started out as an adversary to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, suing the department multiple times, they are now partners in reform.
During an 19-month period, Rice interviewed over 900 police officers. On NPR’s Morning Edition, she says that their talks became like “therapy sessions,” with some opening up to her about their own fears. “Miss Rice, I’m scared of black men. Black men terrify me,” they said. “Miss Rice, can you teach me how not to be afraid of black men?”
Are the people who said this racists? Rice says not consciously so, but a policeman’s fear can produce the same outcome as racism:
He doesn’t feel like it’s racism. The black community experiences it as racism, that’s very clear. So what I’m saying is that for people who have to be in the business of solving this dilemma you have to be able to step into the frightened tennis shoes of black kids, black male kids in particular. You have to be able to step into the combat boots of scared cops, and racist cops, and cruel cops, and good cops. And you have to be able to distinguish amongst all of those human experiences and then bring them together on a single platform of we’re going to solve this by empathizing. We’re going to solve it with compassion and we’re going to solve it with common sense.
Reconciliation Is Hard Work
Nearly twenty years ago, one of the books on my bookshelf was More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel, written in 1993 by Chris Rice (no relation to Constance Rice) and Spencer Perkins. Side by side on the cover were the smiling faces of the authors—one white and one black.
The two not only wrote a book together, but they and their families lived together in a community called Antioch, showing by example what they believed. The philosophy of their work can be summed up succinctly by the titles of their book’s three sections: Admit, Submit, and Commit.
Four years after they wrote More Than Equals, I assumed that the two were still smiling in the glow of their togetherness. But it wasn’t so. In 2010, Chris Rice told Christianity Today that he and Perkins “could hardly sit at the same dinner table” and living in Antioch had become too difficult for him and his wife. They wanted out.
Upon hearing the Rice’s desire to leave, an angry Perkins asked, “Why do only white folks make ultimatums like this?”
They called in two mentors to help keep them together, but meetings with them led to an outpouring of old grievances. Finally, as the mentors were about to leave, Rice says that he and Perkins were “interrupted by grace.” Perkins chose to allow the Rices to leave. The Rices chose to stay. Three months later, Perkins died of a heart attack.
The Need to Communicate
Some who have never heard of Spencer Perkins would be familiar with his father, the minister and civil-rights activist John Perkins. Born in 1930 into a family of sharecroppers, John was raised by his grandmother after his mother died before his first birthday. When John was 17, his older brother was shot and killed by a local sheriff. Later, with his own family, John became a Christian after Spencer, not yet in kindergarten, invited him to Sunday School. Even though he didn’t study beyond the third grade, John has authored numerous books and has been given honorary doctorates many times over.
I know of John Perkins through the writings of his son, and, more recently, from when he spoke at a service at my church this year. So while preparing my Sunday-school lesson, when I saw his name in another Christianity Today article, it grabbed my attention.
The article is entitled “A United Evangelical Response: The System Failed Eric Garner.” In it, a multi-racial group of 28 give their reactions to the grand jury decision following the death of Garner. The entire article is worth a read, but I will end here with John Perkins’ comments, as he discusses the need for the kind of talking and listening that leads to true reconciliation.
It seems like our nation is out of control, and some of this is the result of our polarization and our own victimization in both the black and white community. We have not found ways to confess to each other our wrongdoings and haven’t been able to make the kind of peace that could come from having that type of conversation. We haven’t been able to take the responsibility as God’s people or as citizens. As a nation, as individuals, and as communities, we need to start taking responsibility for our communities. As blacks, we need to take some responsibility for how we raise our children, and the whites need to take responsibility for their lack of forgiveness and imperialism and for some of the failure in our school and education systems. We also need to take responsibility for not training our police officers to affirm the dignity of humanity. We are all victims and have not found ways to truly reconcile to each other. I think that is the issue before us, and our task is learning how to actually communicate and have conversations, so we can get at some of these issues.
John Perkins is a great advocate for those who need his voice. I want to be an advocate, too.
(“Civil Rights Attorney on How She Built Trust with Police,” Morning Edition, NPR, December 5, 2014; Chris Rice, “Born Again . . . Again,” Christianity Today, March 26, 2010; “A United Evangelical Response: The System Failed Eric Garner,” Christianity Today, December 4, 2014)
[photos: “Eric Garner Protest-Rockefeller Center” and “Eric Garner Protest-Rockefeller Center (3),” by Tina Leggio, used under a Creative Commons license]
December 11, 2014 § 2 Comments
Most commercials make me hit the mute button or click “Skip this Ad.” But some I like so much that I search them out on Youtube for a second, third, and fourth look. Here are two of those.
The first one, from Rosetta Stone Language Learning, begins with this: “Imagine the world if everyone learned just one more language. Imagine the stories we’d share.”
The second one, my favorite of the two, is from the American Heart Association. It opens with the words “Hello, Jack. Hello, Jack. I am your grandfather. I waited so long to meet you”—and ends with a nice surprise. (By the way, from what I can tell, the grandfather is learning his English from a Langenscheidt pocket dictionary.)