For years I dragged around poems in the pockets of my white coat, pressing them into the hands of unsuspecting medical students and residents. As an attending physician at a teaching hospital in New York City, my job was to supervise the medical students and residents. I had to ensure that our patients received good medical care and that our doctors in training were learning the ins and outs of inpatient and outpatient medicine.
But medical training is a stressful time. Conventional wisdom as well as a growing body of literature suggests it is a critical component of the hardening of character, contributing to burnout, cynicism, brusqueness, and all the unappetizing traits we’ve come to hate in doctors. The humanities were one of those things that was thought might smooth some of the rough edges of training, humanizing—as the word itself suggests—our otherwise brutish selves.
Edith Barksdale Sloan speaking at the first national conference of household workers, in 1971. (Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, National Archives for Black Women’s History)
I’d been following the domestic workers movement here in Massachusetts as they campaigned to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. In 2014, Massachusetts became the fourth state to approve the domestic workers bill of rights which guarantees basic work standards, such as meal and rest breaks, parental leave, protection from discrimination, sexual harassment, etc. I wanted to know more about the movement and this lead me to Premilla Nadasen, who was involved as an activist and historian.
I tend to gravitate towards stories of fierce activists and agitators on the margins, so naturally I was fascinated by the history Premilla unearthed in Household Workers Unite. The women she writes about—Dorothy Bolden, Geraldine Roberts, Josephine Hulett—were all brilliant organizers who responded to the challenges that were unique to their profession, challenges that were so severe that mainstream labor regarded them as “unorganizable.” For instance, domestic workers were isolated in the home, they could have any number of employers at any given time, and perhaps most problematic, their work was categorically disregarded as work. They were excluded from basic state and federal labor rights; and were, to quote Geraldine Roberts, “invisible workers.”
In response, they recruited other domestics on buses and street corners, made alliances with black freedom movements and women’s rights groups. They sought to professionalize the occupation through technical training programs.
Beacon Press author John J. McNeill died at the age of ninety on September 22, 2015 in Florida after a full and world-shaping life. He leaves literally thousands of survivors, people like myself whose lives were enriched, in some cases even saved, by his courageous and prophetic work as a gay religious pioneer.
John McNeill was a Jesuit priest who wrote the first substantive treatment of Catholicism and same-sex love in his 1976 book The Church and the Homosexual. It was originally granted the required Imprimi Potest, but that permission to print was shortly withdrawn by his religious superior when it became obvious that John had touched a nerve.
Contra Catholic teaching, John argued that homosexuality was part of the will of God. Far from being a threat to the family, he claimed that lesbian, gay and bisexual persons (transgender people were not in his view at that point) had new experiences to share about sex unconnected to procreation. He proposed that same-sex love, rather than alienating people from God, could instead bring them closer to God. So much for the Catholic teachings on Sodom and Gomorrah, of heterosex only, and that without condoms or other forms of contraception. He articulated post Vatican II moral theology with intellectual rigor and pastoral insight.
Drawing from the Nazi book burnings and Stalin’s campaign of political repression, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 depicts a dystopian future of compulsory book burning in the name of censorship. This future, to an extent, is a present-day reality. Look at the enduring push to ban books with “inappropriate content,” the standard no-no’s of everyday life: sexualities, four-letter words, violence, political and religious viewpoints, etc. As bleak as American society is in Bradbury’s novel, there is a ray of hope in the character of Clarisse McClellen, the inquisitive and nonconforming teenage girl who inspires fireman Guy Montag to question his blind faith in book burning. Our present-day Clarisse is the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which reports the most common banned or challenged books. For this year’s Banned Books Week, we compiled a list of banned books enjoyed by Beacon authors and staff.
In 1988, Pope John Paul II beatified Junípero Serra, the first step to canonization. In the wake of the Red Power movement of the 1970s and the International Indigenous Movement that followed, there was a strong outcry from California Indigenous descendants of those who perished of overwork, starvation, and outright killing in the Franciscan missions that the hands-on Serra created. The Franciscans, not the Spanish state, were the actual first colonizers of California Indians, by forcibly relocating them from their traditional territories and villages to labor for the Franciscans in the missions, making the order wealthy from the products produced there. Indigenous peoples’ who are involved in UN human rights work raised a ruckus in the UN system, and friendly Human Rights NGOs and formerly colonized member-states and liberation movements lobbied the Vatican at the UN to not canonize a notorious colonizer. That was twenty-seven years ago, and Serra was not brought up for sainthood, such a notion being clearly unacceptable. Then, to the shock of the California descendants, in May 2015, the new and admired Pope Francis took Serra off the shelf where he was meant to stay, gathering dust, and announced canonization, trying to pass him off as a Latin American, or US American, apparently not having received the memo that the Spanish empire was overthrown by the Mexican people in a ten-year war to drive them out. California was a part of Mexico. One of the first acts of the independent Mexican government was to secularize society, sending the Franciscans packing, closing all the missions.
It’s almost that time of year again—and we don’t just mean Halloween. The eagerly anticipated fifth season of the American Horror Story anthology on the FX television channel is ready to air.
AHS is something of a guilty pleasure for the two of us, not least for its superb casts, vivid (if grotesque) blending of history with American popular culture, and wild, even haunting, flights of imagination that often touch on themes of dehumanization, prejudice, fairness, and justice.
The two of us aren’t alone. Many people love to be terrified out of their wits by fictional ghosts, psychopaths, and disturbed strangers who lurk in shadows at the dark end of the street—just so long as nobody really gets hurt and the story finally ends.
I wrote this book for personal and professional reasons. Contracts have been very, very good to me. Without them, I wouldn’t have my child, best friend, marriage, or job. Moreover, our son would only have two parents. Contracts, and mini-contracts I call “deals,” made it all possible.
I’ve taught contracts and written about family agreements for nearly twenty years and want to bring those lessons to a wider audience. Call it stealth self-help, packaging legal information in a palatable package so that people in the families I call “Plan B” realize that they have more power to shape their families than they may realize and that contracts and deals provide powerful tools to do it. If policy makers, judges, attorneys, therapists and other professionals help families drink the contract Kool-aid, so much the better.
When I was in my twenties and thirties, I did not expect to ever want or need a rabbi in my life again. After years of defending my Jewish identity as the child of an interfaith family, I thought I was done with Jewish institutions and clergy. I joined a community created by and for interfaith families, filled with families that spurned religious dogma, labels, and litmus tests. And I was happy.
And then, Rabbi Harold Saul White swept into my life, like some kind of mystical wind, simultaneously fresh and ancient, revealing a new way to connect back to Judaism. Here was a rabbi so radical, so confident, that he was willing to become the spiritual advisor of a community of interfaith families—and share leadership of this interfaith community with Reverend Julia Jarvis. He worked with ministers and priests, marrying generations of interfaith couples, and welcoming their babies, and helping their children come of age, and conducting their funerals.
Working in the creative department at a small non-profit book publisher, we are constantly brainstorming new ideas of how to get our books noticed while not breaking the bank. Perhaps surprisingly, our limitations are sometimes what help elevate our designs to a higher standard. Our department is constantly brainstorming new ways to communicate our message through a combination of digital and physical media. I have had to rely on my abilities to illustrate, draw text, sculpt, paint, photograph, and collage on covers. My favorite covers have always resulted from some sort of experimentation with media and imagery.
For the Spring 2016 covers, we had a lot of fun with mixed media. Below are some of the few ways I experimented with mixed media with my designs.
Linda K. Wertheimer's book launch at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA, August 18, 2015. Photo credit: Christian Coleman
Linda K. Wertheimer had a fabulous book launch at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts last month. In her presentation, she talked with us about the classrooms she visited throughout the US to write Faith Ed. The ones in Wellesley, Massachusetts and Modesto, California stood out. Teachers in Wellesley spend half the school year teaching the world’s religions to sixth graders. High school students in Modesto take a world religions class in order to graduate. You can watch her full presentation here to hear more about her travels and the current state of fostering religious literacy in today’s youth. Here are some highlight questions from the Q&A session that followed.