Rev. Jeff Mansfield

On Kindness

Have you ever overheard someone talking on their cellphone nastily to some loved one? You only hear the one side of the conversation, but you start to imagine yourself on the other end of the phone. And you start to feel wronged. You imagine that you’re the one on the receiving end of all that venom. And you start to feel it pumping in your veins.

Has someone ever sat down on the spot on the subway you were patiently waiting for? You’re a New Yorker, your face doesn’t even slip. You take it on the chin. “I didn’t really want to sit there anyway! After all, I’m getting in off in just 17 stops! Nothing you can do can phase me!” And two days later. Brushing your teeth before bed. You can still feel it.

Us n Them

What do you all think of walls? Most of us have some walls. We all interact with walls in public and in private – our walls and city walls and other people’s walls – all day every day. What do walls do? Well, walls are architecture and they can be art. They divide up the human world into two categories that are relatively rare in the natural world – inside and outside.

Walls work best when applied exclusively to human space. Walls create bedrooms and houses, sanctuaries and schools – every familial, cultural, or practical space that you have ever enjoyed has been made possible in part by the application of walls. We’re surrounded by walls right now. We couldn’t be here without them. Walls help you to know you have arrived and they allow you to leave again and leave things behind to return to another time. Walls offer us greater freedom and life by organizing our privacy, our relationships, our work, and our time. Walls are rightly applied to space.

Salome's Platter

The Gospels don’t name her, but we know from other historical accounts that Herodias had a daughter named Salome. And history has not been particularly kind to Salome. Is that fair? Christian theologians have interpreted her as a lewd temptress (all that dancing…), conniving, cold, cruel, and feminine.

Classic Western art has used her as an excuse to sexualize and eroticize the body of an (often young) girl, dressed in revealing silks, her face flushed with her Oriental dancing. And Salome was frequently painted receiving the platter with John’s head on it – never Herod or Herodias, but young Salome – looking off into the distance, aloof or silly. Modern Western art has continued the trend – Salome the child has been transformed into the archetypal femme fatale – not merely lascivious, but a sadist and a psychopath sexually aroused by severed heads. 

Set & Setting

The first time I ever heard about LSD was in my fourth-grade Sunday School class. The class was taught by Mr. Taylor, a middle-aged unsmiling man who still buzzed his head with a pair of clippers every week – years after his military service was over. And Mr. Taylor ran his ship as tight as that crewcut. If you spoke out of turn in Sunday School or even giggled while he was writing at the blackboard, he would throw a piece of chalk at you – HARD. I mean, he would whip it at you. Sometimes it would explode against the wall next to your head. Sometimes it would hit you in the head. He didn’t seem to be too concerned about his aim.

Being Together is Better Than Being Apart

I’m taking a poetry workshop this summer entitled “Won’t You Come Celebrate with Me?” The angle of the class is that the greatest celebrations we can achieve will be the celebrations large enough to contain the grief of the past and the mourning of the present. I think of a funeral – in the midst of loss we celebrate a life. Or, on the other hand, the night that Obama was elected – the way our celebration was all the greater because it seemed to be not the victory but a victory over our country’s racist history. Or the way we felt in 2015 when the Supreme Court made marriage equality a guaranteed right under the constitution – the way that a painful history of violence, discrimination, legal and social separation made that highest legal decision of essential togetherness an explosion of overwhelming joy. The description of the workshop online told me that it would be guided by Lucille Clifton’s lines that it is reason enough for celebration that “everyday / something has tried to kill me / and has failed.” And I thought to myself, “Yeah, that’s the kind of class I might need this this summer.”