Thirty Pieces of Silver

On the fourth day we went to the Historic House Trust and ended up discussing how historic homes depict cultural memory in a very specific way. Often historic homes are restored to be pristine. Never does one see dirty dishes or laundry out at a historic home and I started to think about the implications of nice dinnerware and clean homes. The same goes for when we have guests over, most often the house is thoroughly cleaned and the best dishes are brought out. It is all about the performance of order, not chaos, which often homes can be as they are one’s private spaces. The dish example was very clear to me that just like we recreate historic homes, we also recreate the memory they hold. We sanitize the house and forget about the humans that lived in these places. The Alice Austen house proved to be a perfect example of this restoration process and it was hard to tell who lived in the house. Her photographs in the side room provided the most insight and unless one was really looking they may have missed how she viewed the world in which she lived.
The next night we went to a panel about gentrification at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and something I wondered as a couple panelists defended gentrification was could “we aim to make gentrification more human?” But I really questioned how could gentrification, something that tries to make areas look so tidy and put together like the historical homes, be more human, when humans sometimes leave dirty dishes in the sink? All humor aside, I had just begun an immersion experience, which would show us the lack of concern for some cultural narratives, the dirty underbelly in New York City.
After listening to the panel on gentrification, I decided to crutch up to the second floor to look at Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.
I could not help but go back to the conversation at the Historic House Trust because each table setting was beautifully ordered and decorated. Yet, this piece of feminist art from the 1970’s gave the these historically significant women a place at the table. In a way these beautiful tables subverted the traditional role of women, women who could be found setting and serving the table, because their lives were memorialized for their achievements outside the home. Each woman with her own table embodies and embodied what we have now labeled the feminist movement. I walked around the entire dinner table and at one point ended up in the corner of the floor. I saw photographs of the female body sculpted in sand, then I saw the following installation:

Cornelia Parker (English, b. 1956). Thirty Pieces of Silver (exhaled), 2003.
30 silver-plated objects, metal wire. Private collection

Cornelia Parker (English, b. 1956). Thirty Pieces of Silver (exhaled), 2003.
30 silver-plated objects, metal wire. Private collection

This art installation called, Thirty Pieces of Silver, pleasantly surprised me because I was engaged in an intense debate about dinner tables and silverware. The checkered floor took me to the 1950’s era and the silver hanging from the ceiling was fine silver. I read about the art and it stated, “This sculpture is made from scavenged collections of silverware that were first crushed by a 250-ton industrial press and then hung from wire. The violent flattening of the objects and their gravity-defying suspension just above the floor transform the silverware and relate to Parker’s interest in the concepts of death and resurrection. These themes are also implied by the work’s title, a reference to the coins for which Judas betrayed Christ.” The flattened silver, the violence of material culture, yet the hope for resurrection made my thoughts go multiple directions.
I was left questioning, have we, creators of cultural memory, been like Judas? Have we betrayed Christ’s gospel by judging others according to their dishes and silverware? What does it say about us to falsely depict historical homes and as a result tarnish cultural memory? I am still searching for these answers. But…
I came to the understanding, that ultimately, there is hope of resurrecting past narratives and preserving cultural memory as long as we are willing to look beyond the dishes.

The Little Red Lighthouse

While we were traveling I got a phone call asking if I would be a godparent for my neighbor’s new baby and needless to say I said yes right away. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be home in time for his baptism but through the wonders of technology I was “Skyped in” along with two of his other godparents. Continue reading

Experience Informs Design

My set design professor in college always said “action informs design!” meaning your set had to support what the director wanted to have happen. I see this same principle at work in memorial design. The way you interact with a memorial has to support the emotional experience you expect to evoke in the visitor.  In NYC we visited two memorials that couldn’t have been more different in experience and design. Continue reading

Urban Haiku

These impressions follow the format of the haiku, which contains 17 syllables in 3 lines (5/7/5).  These 2 pairs of sites presented stark contrasts to me—contrasts of meaning, aesthetics, emotions.  These spaces are like Biblical texts that speak to different people in different ways.  So, these are impressions and not judgments.

Jan 16th1

A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, Goldsworthy’s “Garden of Stones”



Gray sky    Gray glass                    Gray

saplings perched in granite          Parched

Parched                                             with no beauty

Louis Armstrong 4




All that Jazz, with riffs

fleet and deep, sleek and sweet.  This

is Louis, Dolly.

Jan 16th

The National Sept. 11 Memorial (under construction)




heroes and victims

United Nations Peoples

vengeance, no                 no peace

African Burial Ground 3

The African Burial Ground National Monument



.               lovingly buried

.                         indomitable spirit(s)

.               wailing and walking

And, now that I have mangled an Asian art form, let me do likewise to a Western form.

Picasa 2013 NYC Classmates1

There once was a class from PSR

Who were immersed in New York with no car

For two weeks they flaneured

They hobbled and blogged and observed

Now back at home

Still counting and twitching

Devin quickly repaired to a bar


We met with activist and artist Todd Lester, founder of Free Dimensional, and current executive director the Global Arts Corps, three times during the trip. At our second meeting he mentioned that most of the activist work that he starts has set end dates. For instance he created Free Dimensional, an organization that works to bring artist and activists in distress around the world to safety. Todd created Free Dimensional with the intent that it would exist for 10 years and then end. Clearly, the persecution of artists and activists will not be solved in 10 years so Free Dimensional will close down when there are still artists in need.

The idea that you would stop working on a problem before it was “solved” was totally new to me and perhaps I should admit to a larger savior complex than I thought but I think it’s an idea that is foreign to our churches too. Churches as institutions, are meant to last forever and with the same color carpet in the sanctuary to boot.  Or so we see to think.  Continue reading

There’s Queer and Then There’s Queer

There’s Queer . . .

My seminary friends are in complete agreement that class group projects are anathema.  A group presentation was required in this course and there was a collective groan.  To my great surprise, however, I found that two extreme introverts working together can be pleasant and productive.  Ben and I had independently chosen “Immigrant Memory” as our first choice but, instead, we were both assigned to “Urban Queer Space.”  We had both just completed Prof. Johnson’s transformational “Transforming Christian Theology” class so we had a fund of shared knowledge.  The work was joyful—fast decision making, short discussions (a.k.a. “meetings”), worked well separately, worked well together, and each bringing different strengths to the project.  I think that my new criterion for group work for the rest of my time at PSR is that the group all must be extreme introverts or they all must be Ben.

We wondered:  what is “Queer Urban Space”?  The site visits to the Alice Austen House and the Gay Liberation Monument were obvious spaces, that is, spaces that were occupied by those identified as queer.  But, like different-gender loving folks, same-gender loving folks (“queers”) were/are everywhere and in every time.  Therefore, we encountered queer space in many other sites.  Like so many sites rich in cultural memory, queer sites were sometimes tinged, but more often drenched, in sorrow.  Sarah Schulman is sorrowed by the forgetfulness of new generations who have no concept of, or interest in, the “Plague” (earlier period in the AIDS epidemic) and no sense of the terror of mass deaths.  Ben and I discussed this peculiar lack of awareness of such a profound time.  In addition to Schulman’s analysis, we thought a possible factor might be the isolation that queer people were subjected to; imposed by themselves, by their families, by a society so fearful of apparent differences.  Isolated deaths do not leave behind individual stories that are told and retold so that new generations can remember.   This lack of story telling and remembering underscores the worth, importance, and function of these urban spaces, these museums, monuments, and memorials as memory-keepers.

And Then There’s Queer . . .

Equally instructive to Ben and me were the assigned readings for our unit:  “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies” from In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives by Judith Halberstam and chapters from The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination by Sarah Schulman.  Having taken Prof. Johnson’s class, Ben and I understood that, aside from sexual orientation, “queer theology” points to a space in, and a point-of-view from, the margins, the same space occupied by Jesus, and that this queer space has been with us for a long time—from the Christmas story to Easter to the Transfiguration to Pentecost.  Both authors write a theology that is relevant also to Christians.

I have, to a much smaller degree than Schulman, experienced that “activists win policy changes, and bureaucracies implement them.” (12)  I also experience anger and disbelief when I see “truth of complexity, empowerment, the agency of the oppressed, replaced by an acceptance of banality, a concept of self based falsely in passivity, an inability to realize one’s self as a powerful instigator and agent of profound social change.” (14)  Schulman names “this thing that homogenizes complexity, difference, dynamic diologic action for change and replaces it with sameness” as gentrification, which includes the literal/physical (razing diverse urban communities and replacing them with money making homogenized groups) and the spiritual (“a gentrification of the mind, an internal replacement that alienated people from the concrete process of social and artistic change,” i.e., “a diminished consciousness about how political and artistic change get made.”) (14)  My particular frustration is with those of us who occupy privileged places in a bureaucracy, with the ability to make changes, but refuse or are unable to see themselves as agents “of profound social change.”  So many of us who should know better have come to “the belief that obedience to consumer identity over recognition of lived experience is actually normal, neutral, and value free.” (51)

I have come to see queer space as a factor that could counter gentrification.  If gentrification is about homogeneity, queer-ification is about differences, diversity, and dialogue.  If gentrification is about forgetting, queer-ification is about radical memory, memory not just of facts and events but also of searing pain and energizing rage, and this memory can be our collective memory by its retelling to every generation.  If gentrification results in “a process that hides the apparatus of domination from the dominant themselves” (27), then queer space like the public memory spaces found in New York City are crucial reminders and disruptors to all of us.  For me, practicing Christianity means all of the same things (insert “Christianity” in this paragraph in place of “queer. . .”).

The gospel or good news is that God disrupts, Jesus models this disruption, and the Holy Spirit moves us to unexpected queer spaces.  I have experienced that loving, holy disruption and I have come to understand that, as a 61 year old straight Chinese woman, I can (and must) occupy and help to create holy queer space.  The Schulman writing gives theological under-girding to the importance of cultural memory.  Urban spaces in New York City overflow with cultural memory and serve as lessons of the dangers of gentrification and the vital promise (the necessity, really) of queer-ification.

Gentrification of Palestine

I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage and Living Holocaust Memorial for the first time when was 14. I remember being awed by the depth and texture of the Jewish ritual tradition and horrified by the abject, inhuman cruelty of the Nazis. I left thinking how right it was that the Jew should have a homeland and that it should be the Promised Land Israel. It never occurred to me then that when the international community incentived European Jews to move Israel, a different people was already there and had been for thousands of years. It wasn’t that I had been told that Palestine was a “peopleless land” but no one had ever told me there was anything complicated or questionable about European Jews inhabiting an Arab land either.

In 2010 I traveled in Israel and Palestine for two weeks meeting with grassroots peace organizers on both sides of the conflict. I was traveling with an interfaith group of Christians and Jews and our conversations were nothing if not candid, challenging, and transformative. We began out travels all over the ideological map and returned still not agreeing but none of us in the same places as we started either.  The people we met with and the books we read troubled the waters for my understanding of Israel, the government’s actions, the United State’s support, and our cultural narrative that unquestioningly supports Israel and its right to exist. Not only was Palestine far from a peopleless land, it was a thriving and diverse nation that was systematically conquered, evicted, and replaced by European Jews who told each other that this land was their birth right.

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