A Face That Looks Like You: Matthew Septimus and the Protestors of Occupy Wall Street
As the Occupy movement wanes, its protestors brought issues of economic inequality to the forefront of our national political discourse. On Being looks back at the protestors driven out of Zuccotti Park in November and the faces that look like you.
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
As the Occupy Wall Street movement took root, Brooklyn-based photographer Matthew Septimus found himself visiting Zuccotti Park as much as possible. Now in his 50s, Septimus says he’s no stranger to protest movements, but describes his experience of Occupy Wall Street as “something different.” The people he encountered were open, trusting, and eager to have a conversation.
Walking into the park for the first time, Septimus remembers being overwhelmed by a wave of emotion and kept going back for more:
“The thing that resonated was the civility and genuine interest. All are willing to look me in the eye and acknowledge my existence. Not all is peace and love. But on the whole, the community is positive and committed. Finally people are speaking up. And I am engaged, too. It feels good to see people having a conversation.”
Over the course of several months, Septimus generated over 1,200 images documenting the scores of people who were drawn to Lower Manhattan to experience the energy and potential of the OWS phenomenon.
Using a vintage Rolleiflex camera, Septimus crafted intimate portraits revealing people’s humanity, diversity, and complexity. “The protester,” as seen through Septimus’ lens, flies in the face of stereotypes. His photographs challenge us to see them more completely.
Adrienne Rich Walks Through Life’s Door
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Adrienne Rich died yesterday at the age of 82. The pioneering feminist and poet has surfaced in many of our radio conversations over the years. Elizabeth Alexander cited Rich’s poem telling us that a poet needs to follow her intuition fully by “diving into the wreck.”
But, it is this simple, poignant poem in which she reflects upon the Exodus story that has always stuck with me. Somehow, with the upcoming Passover season and her passing through life’s door, I find it most appropriate on this solemn occasion to share with you here and remember one of our greatest:
Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.
If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily
to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely
but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?
The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.
A Heightened Potential for Creativity Even While Our Brains Slow Down
by Krista Tippett, host
Few features of humanity are more fascinating than creativity; and few fields right now are more fascinating than neuroscience. Rex Jung puts the two together.
He spends half of his time working with people living with brain illness or injury. In this role, he says, he’s something like an “existential neuropsychologist.” And what he learns there informs the other half of his working life, in the laboratory applying the newest technologies of brain imaging to the interplay between creativity, intelligence, and personality.
What I like about this interview is the humanity Rex Jung brings to his science. This is a quality of all the scientists we bring on this program, I suppose — whether it’s James Gates on supersymmetry, Jean Berko Gleason on linguistics, or Mario Livio on astrophysics. I’m fascinated by the richness of this exchange between humanity and science when you simply shine a light on it. Rex Jung, for example, got interested in studying brains as a volunteer for the Special Olympics. He came to love and revere the participants with supposedly “imperfect” brains.
Rex Jung first made a mark in the field of deciphering the brain networks involved in intelligence. But he was always aware that there is something more than intelligence involved in lives of beauty and integrity and vigor.
Now he’s working on the emerging frontier of the study of creativity — and how it is different from, as well as related to, intelligence. He and his colleagues have notably helped identify a phenomenon they’ve called “transient hypofrontality.” That’s a daunting name for an experience many of us will recognize. Simply put, Rex Jung says that intelligence works like a “superhighway,” with massive numbers of connections being made between the different parts of the brain with speed and directness. When we become more creative, our powerful, organizing frontal lobes downregulate a bit. The creative brain is a “meandering” brain. The superhighways give way to “side roads and dirt roads,” making possible the new and unexpected connections we associate with artistry, discovery, and humor.
One of the most helpful things about this conversation is the commonsense way Rex Jung describes the implications of his research. He says to take those famous stories we have of moments of great creative discovery — like Archimedes wallowing in his bath when he had his eureka moment — and be attentive to how we all prime our brains to be less directed, more creative. Some of us take a bath, some take a walk, some take a drink.
This cutting-edge research is a resounding affirmation of something we know we need in the 21st century but struggle to create: downtime. It’s a call to make this possible for our children too. Again, I think we all know this. For science to demonstrate it as a necessary precondition for creativity is bracing and helpful.
I appreciate the way this research validates the creativity of the everyday: of humor, of relationships, of social as well as personal, scientific, or artistic innovation. Rex Jung is also part of an emerging discipline called “positive neuroscience” — studying what the brain does well and, by implication I think, how what we are learning about our brains can be of benefit to our common life. He even believes that while there is loss in an aging brain — the phase many of our baby boomer brains have now entered — there is also a potential for heightened creativity in that very slowing down.
There are intriguing echoes between this research and neuroscientist Richard Davidson’s discoveries at the University of Wisconsin about how it is possible through behaviors — and with practice — to keep changing our brains across the lifespan. After listening to Rex Jung, I’ve become more aware of how I sometimes get myself into agonizing moments, when I need to be creative (on deadline, of course) but haven’t made the space for my frontal lobes to downregulate and let it happen.
I like feeling more in touch with my frontal lobes. I also like the way Rex Jung questions whether there is a necessary connection between creativity and difficult personalities (e.g. Steve Jobs). From my vantage point, I also feel we may be on the cusp of realizing new creative potentials in ourselves — again, in the everyday. I’ll let my brain meander here awhile to consider that. Talk about having your cake and eating it too; I get to delight in the purposefulness of meandering.
Rowan Williams To Step Down as the Archbishop of Canterbury
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Twitter is trending, dominated by the news of Rowan Williams’ retirement. At the end of December this year, Williams will exit his post as the Archbishop of Canterbury and become the 35th Master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge.
Archbishop Williams’ successor will take on some challenging issues as the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion of 77 million faces internal struggles and debates about the ordination of gay clergy and shrinking attendance. But the Church needs to choose the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury first. How is a successor chosen and who chooses?
“The responsibility for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury rests with the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). Its task is to submit the name of a preferred candidate (and a second appointable candidate) to the Prime Minster who is constitutionally responsible for tendering advice on the appointment to the Queen.
Once the Queen has approved the chosen candidate and he has indicated a willingness to serve, 10 Downing St will announce the name of the Archbishop-designate.
The College of Canons of Canterbury Cathedral formally elect the new Archbishop of Canterbury.
The election is confirmed by a commission of diocesan bishops in a legal ceremony (the Confirmation of Election), which confers the office of Archbishop on him.
The new Archbishop is formally enthroned in Canterbury Cathedral.”
The Muslim Luther and Reformation
by Mun’im Sirry, guest contributor
On February 15, 2012, Abdulkarim Soroush, a visiting professor at The University of Chicago, delivered a thoughtful and enlightening talk about revival and reform in Islam. Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar writes in The New York Times, “Soroush has been described as a Muslim Luther, but unlike the Protestant reformer, he is no literalist about holy books.” Robin Wright, a journalist who writes frequently about the Middle East, also describes him as “the Martin Luther of Islam,” however she acknowledges that Soroush himself prefers to avoid comparison with Luther.
In the beginning of his talk, Dr. Soroush argued that Islam has not undergone a reformation similar to that of Protestantism. This contention is certainly debatable since a number of Muslim reformers cited the need to reform Islam as Christianity was reformed. Even Muhammad Iqbal, one of the Muslim reformers whose projects were discussed by Dr. Soroush, identified Protestant elements in Islamic reform: “We are today passing through a period similar to that of the Protestant revolution in Europe, and the lesson which the rise and outcome of Luther’s movement teaches should not be lost on us.”
Many scholars discuss how the idea of “Muslim Luther” or “Islamic Protestantism” emerges in the discourses of Muslim reformers, especially the Shi’i circle. Charles Kurzman and Michaelle Browers explore the historical usage of the Islamic-Protestant reformation analogy. Sukidi specifically traces the traveling idea of Islamic Protestantism to what he calls “Iranian Luthers,” namely, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Ali Shari’ati and Hashem Aghajari. This characterization is, of course, not without problems. Muslim reformers might follow patterns of religious reform similar to those of Christian reformers, yet they certainly found their own ways of dealing with their tradition. However, the analogy is not invalid, given that these Muslim reformers themselves expressed their admiration for Luther and other Christian reformers. Afghani, for instance, strongly believed that Islam needs a Luther and he might have seen himself as that Luther.
The Egyptian Muhammad ‘Abduh’s admiration for Protestant reformation is often overlooked by scholars. Undoubtedly, ‘Abduh is the most influential Sunni scholar whose ideas of Islamic reform reached far beyond the theological divide and the Arab world. In his magnum opus, Risalat al-tawhid, ‘Abduh argues that Christian reformation included “elements by no means unlike Islam.” It would surprise no one that ‘Abduh was so impressed by the way Christian reformers strove to break the entail of obscurantism, curb the authority of religious leaders, and keep them from exceeding the precept of religion. “They discovered,” ‘Abduh writes, “that liberty of thought and breadth of knowledge were means to faith and not its foe.”
It is worthwhile that, unlike other Muslim reformers, ‘Abduh brings the discussion deeper into theological issues. “The reforming groups in the West,” he says, “brought their doctrines to a point closely in line with the dogma of Islam, with the exception of belief in the prophetic mission of Muhammad. Their religion was in all but name the religion of Muhammad; it differed only in the form of worship, not in the meaning or anything else.”
Perhaps, it was his disciple, Rashid Rida, who pushed this idea further to argue that belief in the prophethood of Muhammad is not a sine qua non for salvation. Commenting on Qur’an 2:62, he rejects the idea that this verse implicitly stipulates belief in Muhammad. In his own words: “… there is no problem for not stipulating belief in the Prophet because the verse deals with God’s treatment of each people and community who believe in a Prophet and a revelation particular to them. Their salvation (fawzuha) is certain whether they were Muslims, Jews, Christians, or Sabeans. God declares that salvation lies not in religious allegiance (al-jinsiyya al-diniyya) but in true belief which has control over self and in good deed.”
Elsewhere, Rida emphasizes the need to combine “religious renewal and earthly renewal, the same way Europe has done with religious reformation and modernization.” Rida’s attitude toward other religions is more complex than is sometimes supposed and is beyond the scope of this article.
It is interesting that Muslim reformers like ‘Abduh and Rida have no qualms dealing with the theological aspects of the nature of Christian reformation. While some Muslims might truly believe that Islam faces challenges similar to those faced by Christianity in Europe, ‘Abduh simply asserts that “Many scholars in Western countries confess that Islam has been the greatest of their mentors in attaining their present position.” Christian reformation is not alien to Muslim reformers, but one may still wonder why Muslim reformers envision their projects in light of Protestant reformation.
Mun’im Sirry is a PhD candidate in Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is currently a Martin Marty Center Junior Fellow and a Harper Dissertation Fellow. His dissertation is entitled Reformist Muslim Approaches to the Polemics of the Qur’an against Other Religions.
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Redeeming the Irish Catholic Church and Encountering the Face of an 8-year-old Child
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, is one of those men who may be just what the Roman Catholic Church needs at this moment. A clergyman with clear vision, a full heart, and a will to see the Church he loves survive.
The crisis of the sexual abuse of children by priests and the cover-up by the Church has led to diminishing attendance and a dearth of Irish clergymen. In a move that defied the actions of his predecessor and contrary to the wishes of the Vatican, Archbishop Martin provided “tens of thousands of pages of evidence against specific priests.”
In this powerful 60 Minutes report that aired on March 4, Bob Simon sat down with Archbishop Martin to discuss the shrinking enrollment and attendance, the devastation of the Church’s actions, and his will to see it prosper once again. And, it’s near the end, when Archbishop Martin talks about his encounters with victims and trying to put a face to the child who was betrayed that is most moving:
Bob Simon: When an abused child comes to you, archbishop, what do you say to him or to her?
Archbishop Martin: I usually meet them when they’re many, many years later. That’s when they come forward. What I try to do is imagine what they looked like when they were a child.
One man told him he had been assaulted when he was only 8 years old.
Martin: Basically he had been raped, you know, and he’d been raped in a sort of chapel, which makes it even more, more, heinous.
Simon: Can you reveal what you said to him?
Martin: I don’t say much. I listen.
The archbishop was so traumatized by this man’s story that when he visited a school the next day, he asked to see children the same age as that child raped in that chapel.
Martin: And the teacher said, “Where would you like— would you like to see some of the classes?” And I said that, “Okay, I’d begin— I’d like to see 8-year-olds.” And he must have thought I was crazy. But if you went in on the day of the opening of a new school, where you know, when the archbishop and the minister are coming, and the 8-year-olds are all dressed up and with their hair combed and so on. It’s devastating.
Simon: You couldn’t imagine it?
Martin: It’s just, you know, what do you say? You know, you just see— you see the— you know, you see that— you know, to— it was just somebody like that that was— I mean, a grown man is one thing. But when you actually see a child, you need to do that.
Q:Recently there was news story about a new technique being used in photograpy; the new method allows a digital picture to be taken. Later it can be downloaded on the computer and focused on different points. The name of the process starts with the letter "N". Can you tell me the name of this new process?
Good morning, Anon—
Although this is definitely not our area of expertise (we do news through the lens of theology, human experience, and storytelling), I actually know what you’re asking about. The technology is called plenoptic, or light field, photography. Joshua Topolsky describes it this way in his review of the Lytro camera for The Washington Post:
“When normal cameras take a photo, they measure the color and light coming through the lens to produce an image. The Lytro camera not only sees color and light but can understand the direction the light moves in while snapping a photo.
Instead of simply grabbing one point of the light in a scene, Lytro analyzes all the points of light and then converts them to data. Once the image is stored, it can be processed and reprocessed after the photo is taken.
What does this mean, exactly?
Basically, it means that you’re able to take a photo and then refocus the subject in it after the fact. It means that if you take a picture of a friend in the foreground and there’s something exciting happening down the street, you can use Lytro’s custom software to refocus on the background, or almost anything else in the scene that you captured. It’s hard to explain, but it’s amazing.”
You can see how this works and play around with images on Lytro’s photo gallery. Check out these examples in which I changed the depth of field by first focusing on the near and then focusing on the distant end of the tree, with one click:
The resolution of the photos has a long way to go. It’s rather poor, but apparently there’s hope. Here’s Eric Cheng, the director of photography at Lytro, explaining the technology and the company’s new camera.
Hope this helps!
Trent Gilliss, senior editor
“It’s not a war. It’s a massacre, an indiscriminate massacre.” Chilling words from a photojournalist on the ground in Syria.
“As I’m talking to you now, they’re dying.” Injured Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy gives Sky News an interview from his hospital bed. This is a really important interview. His descriptions of what’s happening in Homs are painful and terrible. He spoke of the scheduled regularity of the shelling, beginning with horrible predictability at 6:00 every morning.
I’ve worked in many war zones. I’ve never seen, or been, in shelling like this. It is a systematic … I’m an ex-artillery gunner so I can kind of follow the patterns… they’re systematically moving through neighborhoods with munitions that are used for battlefields. This is used in a couple of square kilometers.
He described the state of fear in Homs, calling it “beyond shell shock,” and the actions of Assad’s forces “absolutely indiscriminate,” with the intensity of the bombardments increasing daily. Conroy’s detailing of the inhumane conditions and the position of the Syrian citizens and the Free Syrian Army is important, because we don’t have as many journalists who have been able to tell us what it was like to be there as we have had elsewhere. He tells us that “The time for talking is actually over. Now, the massacre and the killing is at full tilt.”
I actually want to quote his entire interview about the people who are living without hope, food, or power and his conviction that we will look back on this massacre with incredible shame if we stand by and do nothing. In lieu of that, you must must must watch every bit of this interview.
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor