The Right Way To Proselytize

On Saturday afternoon Richard, Russell and I went to the Strawberry Festival at the St. Florian Catholic Church in Hamtramck.  After goggling at the church, which is a huge, beautiful, quasi-Gothic structure that looks like it should be in a European capital rather than towering over a modest American working class neighborhood, we walked downstairs to watch younger people from the congregation enthusiastically and energetically perform some native Polish dances wearing colorful native costumes.

After applauding the dancers until a break came, we went back outside to check out the rest of the festival.  On a walkway between the church and a neighboring school, we were approached by a pleasant-faced woman who appeared to be in her 40s.  She was holding an array of prayer cards.  “Uh oh,” I thought.  “Here we go.”

She asked if we were enjoying the festival, and we said we were.  Then she asked if we were Catholic, and after we confessed that we weren’t, she asked if we were Christian.  We stammered a bit in response to that one, because none of us are churchgoers.  Then she proceeded to talk, in a very polite way, about her faith and how important she thought it was, and eventually asked it we would pray with her, right there.  Richard said he didn’t feel comfortable doing that, and Russell and I agreed — and she let it go.  She thanked us for coming, gave us each a prayer card, and said she would pray for us, and we thanked her for that and went on our way.

When you go to a church festival, you’ve got to expect to be approached about religion.  Often it isn’t a particularly pleasant experience, because the proselytizer comes on way too strong about how you’ll burn in hell if you don’t convert, right then.  In this case, I was struck by the gentle way in which the woman raised the question, made her points, and then let us go without an unkind word.  It made me admire the woman and her determined, resolute faith, even though I don’t share her beliefs.

There’s a right way to talk to complete strangers about religion, and lots of wrong ways.  This pleasant woman did it the right way.  I don’t have a problem with people who are religious talking about their beliefs and often admire their commitment to their faith, and I hope that religious people don’t have a problem with those of us who aren’t true believers.  We’ve all got to get along.

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Stick To Your Ribs Fare

We’re up in Detroit for a visit with Russell. Since this is The Winter That Will Never End, we were treated yesterday to a hard, cold rain and temperatures in the upper 30s.

One time-honored approach to miserable weather outside is to go inside and fortify yourself against the elements. So, we stopped by the Krakus Restaurant & Bar in Hamtramck, which specializes in Polish and American cuisine, and I got the meat pierogies with bacon, onions, and sour cream, it came with a steaming bowl of spilt pea soup, and I topped it off with a bottle of Okocim beer. The food was excellent, the lager went down easy, and I relished a meal that Mom would have said would “stick to your ribs.”

Thus fueled, we ventured forth again into the never-ending chill.

Our Muslim Friends

Kish and I have friends and acquaintances who happen to be Muslims. We’ve shared meals with them and celebrated special events with them.  They live in our town, have worked with us, and are related to our friends.  They are people we know and like and trust.  We don’t fear them because Islam is their religion.

IRAQI-AMERICAN MUSLIMS CELEBRATE IN DEARBORN OUSTER OF HUSSEINI’m quite sure that we’re not unusual in knowing and working with Muslims.  America still remains a melting pot where people of different nationalities, colors, and faiths can come and pursue their dreams, without being shackled by caste systems or tribal ancestry or corrupt political systems.  In America, a person’s religious faith is just one aspect of their persona.  It doesn’t immutably define them, and it certainly shouldn’t cause them to be targeted.

That’s why comments like the one Ted Cruz made yesterday are so . . . appalling.  In the wake of the latest ISIS-supported bombings, in Brussels, Cruz said that “we need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” and that America cannot be confined by “political correctness.”   But America isn’t like Europe, where in many cities Muslim immigrants live in separate neighborhoods, never learn the language, and never become integrated.  What would define a “Muslim neighborhood” in America?  Would Hamtramck, Michigan, be one?  That’s America’s first majority Muslim city — and it also happens to be where our son Russell lives and works.  How would police patrols “secure” such “Muslim neighborhoods” and prevent them from becoming “radicalized”?  Does anyone really think that police car drive-bys or foot patrols are going to keep receptive young men and women from falling prey to the terrorist teachings of ISIS?  And while I think there are times when political correctness can run amok, it isn’t “political correctness” that prevents targeting people because of their religion — it’s basic American principles that flow from the First Amendment.

I’m as interested as anyone in defeating ISIS, but we have to focus on the terrorists, not their religion.  People are more likely to become radicalized when they are disaffected, and dividing people and targeting “Muslim neighborhoods” with a heavily armed police presence sure seems like a good recipe for creating disaffected people.  The better course, I think, is to do what America always does — accept people, welcome them, and let them pursue their dreams in a country that is free and full of opportunity for all — and then make sure that we find and crush the terrorists who are slaughtering innocents because of some sick and twisted ideology.

The Art Of Hands

IMG_7470I remember reading once about the difficulty that artists have in presenting hands in drawn or painted portraits.  Many portraits feature only the head and shoulders of the subject — perhaps because including the hands is so darned difficult — and in full-body portraits the portrayal of the hands is often just a bit . . . off.  The fingers are too smooth, or the thumb looks weird, or the hand is put in an unnatural pose.  It takes a true master to draw or paint hands that actually look natural.

I think that is because the hands are among the most expressive parts of the human body.  You can learn a lot about someone by looking at their hands, and for others the hands are as eloquent as a face or a voice.  One of my grandmothers joked often about her “stubby fingers,” but her hands were essential to her interpersonal communications, as she patted cheeks and clutched elbows.  Even after she had a stroke and could not speak, she would hold your hand and squeeze.

IMG_7474So I was fascinated by a show at the gallery at 9338 Campau, during our visit to Hamtramck last weekend, that was all about hands.  Called The Visibility of Labor by Tsz Yan Ng, it featured plaster casts of the hands of the people who helped to create a single dress at a factory in China — from the pencil-holding designers to the fabric cutters to the sewers to the folders to the hands that ultimately display the finished dress.  The hands are so perfectly cast that you can see every wrinkle, vein, knuckle, and ring; it’s easy to tell the hands of the older workers from the hands of the younger.  You half expect that the hands will move before your eyes.

The Visibility of Labor has moved on from the 9338 Campau gallery, but keep an eye out for it at an art gallery near you — and if you’re lucky enough to catch it, pause for a moment to think about the art of hands.

The Colossal St. Florian

IMG_7485St. Florian Roman Catholic Church is about a block away from Russell’s apartment in Hamtramck, Michigan.  It is a huge, beautiful church, with a multi-colored spire that stands out in sharp relief against the blue sky that prevailed during our visit.

It’s hard to accurately describe the colossal size of the church, which dominates the neighborhood, is twice the height of the neighboring homes, and can be seen from blocks away.  That’s a good thing, because we knew Russell’s place was near the church, and all we had to do to find it was keep heading unerringly toward the spire.

Construction of St. Florian was begun in 1926 and completed in 1928, when Hamtramck was home to thousands of Polish immigrants who came to America to taste freedom, establish a better life for their families, and obtain employment in the booming auto industry.   It’s a rich and familiar American story, where immigrants brought their traditions and cuisines to the New World and, once they put down roots, wanted to establish their houses of worship there, too.  St. Florian still hosts festivals with a strong ethnic flavor, and even though the neighborhood has changed in the last 90 years you’ll still find some pretty good Polish restaurants, that offer some pretty good Polish beer, located close nearby.

These days, it seems, we often forget that America is truly a land of immigrants.  In Hamtramck, St. Florian provides a beautiful, tangible reminder of that fact.

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A Window To The ’50s

  
Russell is living these days in Hamtramck, a separately incorporated enclave within the sprawl of Detroit and Wayne County.  It’s always been an ethnic community, initially with a huge influx of Poles coming to work in the nearby factories and, more recently, with a large Middle Eastern population.

Hamtramck feels apart from the rest of the Detroit area, too.  We walked down its Main Street area yesterday, and it was as if we were on a Hollywood set for a Back To The Future-like ’50s period piece.  No strip malls here, just individual buildings with street-level shops.  One of the shops, which sold clothing for men and boys, looks like it was transported directly from 1955.  Check out the mannequin hair styles!

To complete the time warp feel, when we were sitting in a Hamtramck tavern watching some college football, a friendly man came up, shook our hand, and announced the he had just been elected to city council and wanted to say hello.  When was the last time that happened to you?