BEFORE HE STEPS onstage as Ike Turner in TINA: The Tina Turner Musical, Garrett Turner (no relation) does a simple ritual: He swirls a wooden mallet along the rim of a Tibetan singing bowl. As the sound washes over him, he focuses on himself as Garrett, not Ike the musician and abusive ex-husband of the “Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll.” And he prays.
“Tina found Buddhism on her way to liberation from Ike, and it was something that Ike decried,” Garrett told me a few days after I saw him perform in Atlanta. Embracing something that Ike pushed away helps Garrett become Ike onstage while remaining Garrett within. With eight shows a week for the touring Broadway production, this spiritual practice helps Garrett draw a clear line between himself and the broken man he portrays.
ACCORDING TO AN Orthodox miracle story, St. Nicholas — the fourth century archbishop who inspired the figure of Santa Claus — quieted a raging sea. When sailors were caught in a storm on the Mediterranean, they called out for help. Nicholas appeared, walking on the waves before them. He blessed the ship, and the storm calmed. This is why he became the patron saint of sailors. It’s also why Mary Marza, a queer Orthodox artist in her mid-20s who is based in Los Angeles, illustrated St. Nicholas as a “waterbender.” Waterbenders, from the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, can control water and its movements. This is one of many works featured on her Instagram art account, Art of Marza.
“I liked the concept of blending saints with the elements or just blending the saints with things from my favorite stories and pop culture,” Marza wrote in an Instagram caption about this portrayal of St. Nicholas.
Marza (who asked to use her art account name instead of her real last name for this article) creates digital art and stickers that blend Orthodox iconography and prayer with street art and anime. The grungy, graffiti-and-animation-inspired aesthetic of her art and its confluence with iconography is part of her longing to “[see] God in places where people assume we can’t find Him,” she wrote on Instagram.
"COP CITY" IS A PLAN to raze 381 acres of forest land in Atlanta and convert it into a massive police training facility that would cost $30 million in public money and $60 million in private. It’s called Cop City because the plans include a mock city inside with things like a playground, school, gas station. All places that cops can train and simulate the things they do. It faced a ton of opposition from a wide range of organizations when it went public in 2021 — and really brought on people at different levels, including climate change and environmental preservation. The private money involved is from a lot of Georgia corporations — Coca-Cola, UPS, Home Depot — and it’s all being run through the Atlanta Police Foundation, the nonprofit entity that the city leased this land to. On the day of the vote, there were 17 hours of public comment against it. The Atlanta City Council approved the plan.
The 1992 classic is full of wonders you can’t find anywhere else: Michael Caine starring in a children’s movie, a ghost of Christmas future that haunts me every time I consider splurging on frivolities, and a drum set at a Victorian England Christmas party. But the movie isn’t just a fun, Muppet-y take on Charles Dickens’ classic novella; it’s also a compelling screenplay with heart-warming, humorous songs that offer a radical Christmas message of “cast down the mighty … send the rich away empty.”
During my time in college and graduate school, I accumulated something like $50,000 in debt. So, you’d imagine I would be particularly excited about the prospect of Biden forgiving some of my debt. But I already paid off my student loans! Does that mean I rue others getting theirs forgiven? No! I am happy that other people may receive debt forgiveness even if it doesn’t apply to me.
In order to understand King's life and legacy, it is critical that his activism be understood in the context of his call as a minister. In 1956 a sermon titled, “Paul's Letter to American Christians,” King called for a “better distribution of wealth.” He also asserted that “God never intended one people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.” Holistically interpreting King’s theological work as a pastor, public theologian, and faith leader requires grounding his anti-capitalism in his self-identification as a “minister of the Christian gospel.”
If you’ve heard white evangelical pundits lately, you’ll know there’s a dangerous “new” enemy threatening U.S. Christianity. If left unchecked, they say, this enemy will wreak havoc on traditional values and transform our entire nation into atheists. What is this growing enemy of evangelicals? Democratic socialism.
I GREW UP IN Guatemala, a country where the Indigenous people make up more than 50 percent of the population. I was told growing up that my ancestors were Europeans (Spaniards and Italians). Even though I was identified as ladino (not Indigenous) by Guatemalan official nomenclature, I was attracted to Mayan languages and communities (K’iche’, Kaqchikel, and Q’eqchi’, among others).
I felt a resonance with their orientation toward the earth, their deep sense of communal cohesion, and their mystical world of ancestral spirits. After doing some genealogical work, I learned that one of my grandfathers was Mayan.
I began to notice practices and attitudes in my family that I was certain were of Indigenous origins: my dad’s idiosyncratic disregard for manufactured material goods in favor of plants; my uncle’s pouring of alcohol on the floor before serving a drink; my mom’s smoking of cigars as an invitation to the spirits and San Simón to be with us in our gatherings. All have an Indigenous provenance.
As I learned more, I recognized those familial practices as part of a millennia-old cosmovision and mindset, a way of viewing the cosmic order of a civilization through which Indigenous peoples organize everyday activities, even today. Each is a theo-ethical gesture for safeguarding their relationship with life itself, in all life’s diversity.
IF YOU EXPECT a column about art, you may have turned to the wrong page. Though I would very much like to be writing about aesthetics, I’m afraid I cannot do so outright. The problem is simple: Our world is on fire, has been for a very long time, and we can no longer afford to avoid the why. Our country looks in the mirror and cannot recognize its face because its self-concept is built on lies. To be an American, it seems, is to be in a state of constant dissociation. Perhaps that is the fine print in our social contract—mandated distance from our inner worlds and the violence we inflict on each other.
But, if we are constantly looking away from ourselves, what are we looking at instead? The answer is, again, simple. We—this “we” primarily composed of white people—have traded a clear vision of reality away for the tawdry allure of images. Put frankly, we worship a portrait of America that has not yet come into being.
Today's economic demons resemble the 'Panic of 1893.'
“Every week, almost daily, I see patients who cannot afford care, can’t afford their medication."
Shall Christ or Cain reign in our American civilization?
“AFTER THE END came the Beginning.” This is how we enter the world of Ling Ma’s debut novel Severance: in the liminal space between end and possibility. In a narrative that alternates between aftermath and memory, we find a stark reflection of our present.
Protaganist Candace Chen works for a book production company, and her specialty is the acquisition of Bibles. Tedious office work. She has lost her parents, recently left a relationship, and lives alone in Manhattan when news of a spreading illness—Shen Fever—erupts. The fever begins in China, in a region that produces the Gemstone Bible, one of Candace’s specialty Bibles. Before and during this outbreak, work, for Candace, is at once sustenance and distraction.
Who can live outside capitalism? Jonathan, Candace’s ex, certainly tries. But that is not the life Candace wants—or, rather, that is not the life her immigrant parents raised her to want.
WITH THE NATION'S economy on the brink of another crisis (what, you haven’t heard?) and major banks expecting their feckless greed to again be punished with a harsh government bailout, what can we citizens do to help? We can shop, that’s what. It’s our patriotic duty.
In this capitalistic democracy we cast a vote for freedom every time we make a purchase. The more we buy, the more freedom we celebrate. (I didn’t just buy cat food this morning, I made a profound statement about America. And I’ll make it again when I go back for the cat litter that I forgot.)
The Founders might not have had this in mind when they conceived our republic, but they never felt the joy of buying a 24-pack of tuna at Costco, did they?
“ARTISTS EXPRESS things that people don’t have words for; that’s why it’s so important to have them in justice spaces.”
With that neat answer, the panelist sits back in her chair, satisfied, bedazzled nails glimmering in the stage lights. I roll my eyes, then immediately feel guilty. You know you’re in for a rough night when you find yourself side-eyeing a Tony Award-winning actress—at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, no less—but I can’t help myself. Her answer smacks of the vague, self-congratulatory art-speak I hear on a regular basis, in which people tell me their work is a “metaphor for capitalism,” without any kind of explanation.
IN 2015, Pope Francis told inmates at Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility that the purpose of prison is rehabilitation, “to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society.” The pontiff said these words in front of a throne-like walnut chair made for him by prisoners participating in Philacor, a program that, according to news coverage about the pope’s visit, offers job training in carpentry, catering, printing, and textiles to those behind bars.
WE LIVE IN AN AGE of “market morality”: In our market system, we believe that money grants value and meaning to the moral and social questions of life. It doesn’t. Nevertheless, we’re under its spell.
Market morality interprets life in economic terms. For instance, many corporations do not believe they have a moral duty to vulnerable communities affected by their business practices. Instead, they assert that their primary duty is their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and other stakeholders in the company. In this case, the moral domain of corporate practice is about securing profit returns to the exclusion of broader social and communal practices of care.
We have witnessed, repeatedly, poor communities and their environments polluted by toxins associated with corporate practices. This is readily seen in the Flint, Mich. water crisis, which persists. These companies offer no apologies, because their moral obligations are defined in economic terms, shaped by the bottom line of profit.
THE AGE OF THE ROBOTS is here. If you didn’t notice, it’s because we’re calling them artificial intelligence (AI) and they don’t look like we expected. They’re the touchscreen kiosk that has replaced the cashier at Panera, the mechanical arms and claws flipping burgers at fast food joints, the drone that may someday deliver your Amazon order. They’re the software that can turn a baseball box score or corporate earnings report into a wire service news story.
According to a recent report from the Brookings Institute, about 38 percent of the adult population could be put out of work by smart machines in the next generation. The choices we are making about our AI future depend upon our answer to the question Wendell Berry posed 30 years ago with his book What Are People For? Up to now, at least in the U.S., the answer has been that people exist to generate corporate profits.
Andrew Yang, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur running for the Democratic presidential nomination, argues that Donald Trump is president because automation eliminated 4 million manufacturing jobs in the Rust Belt states Trump narrowly won. Yang expects that blue collar alienation will multiply soon, when driverless vehicles replace 3.5 million truck drivers.
I WAS FILLING my coffee mug at a church lunch when I was greeted by a woman with a smile I couldn’t miss nor soon forget. Her short blond hair was pulled back under a red hat. She wore an oversized black T-shirt as a dress. A few lonely teeth protruded from her lower gums when she grinned.
Speaking fast, as though we might get cut off at any moment, she reminded me that we’d met when I’d first arrived in Berkeley, several years before. She asked if I would pray for her.
“Sorry if that’s presumptuous,” she apologized.
“Not at all,” I said. “I’m sorry, but would you remind me of your name?”
“Kim. And yours?”
“What’s your last name, Ryan?”
“Oh, a very WASP name!”
“That’s not me,” I told her abruptly. “I’m no WASP.”
What began as a prayer request soon devolved into a debate about Jesus’ divinity. In the back and forth, Kim referred to me as a WASP several more times.
“That’s not me,” I corrected her each time. “We’re not all as we look, you know.”
Driving home, my mind was stuck on my frustration with Kim and, specifically, my rejection of the label “WASP.” I am white and of Anglo-Saxon descent—mostly English. I am Protestant, even. But WASP still carries connotations of wealth—especially inherited wealth—that do not fit me.
Yet for much of my life, I would have been reassured if someone thought I was a person of means and status. Why was it urgent to me now to reveal the very thing I had spent the past three decades hiding?
Living in shame
As the oldest child in a single-parent family in the far Pacific Northwest, in a small town where dairy cows outnumber people 10-to-1 and the lone, blinking stoplight is more of a luxury than a necessity, I did my best to hide our family’s poverty.
Just off the driveway was a shed where we stored our garbage. Trash collection was another expense. Maggots tumbled out from black plastic bags when I opened the door just wide enough to heave another trash bag atop the pile. We never spoke of it.
In elementary school, I waited anxiously in line for the woman who took money for “hot lunch”—Mrs. Price, aptly named. I faked surprise when she told me, in a voice loud enough for my classmates to hear, that I had already charged too many lunches.
“How long are we going to have to use food stamps?” I asked on a drive home from the grocery store one afternoon. The look I received assured me I would not ask this question again.
College for me, as it is for most people, was a revelation of my identity. I was preparing for a developmental psychology lecture when I read that Head Start is a school-readiness program for children from low-income families. I had always assumed everyone went to Head Start.
My face turned red. I turned the page quickly, hoping not to be found out.
Many people, both inside and outside of the church, spoke about the problem of child care according to the same reasons. They viewed it as a complex, local problem with complex, local solutions. A team of parents attempted to create a new center and soon discovered the massive amount of capital, time, energy, and attention it would take. Everyone involved insisted that some solution must be possible if only we could bring together various stakeholders in the community to find a way to provide child care for those that need it. But this obscures the truth about the problem of child care in capitalism: It’s not complex and local, but big and universal.