Dear Everyone Associated With “Hamilton”

The Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th Street, New York City

Dear Creative Team and Cast of HAMILTON,

I had not imagined that when I finally got to see the show on November 17, 2016 that we would be in a period of shocked horror and mourning. I had so hoped to wait in line for your autographs with joyful crowds.

I have been thinking about all of you in the past week because you are bringing your full spiritual and creative selves to the work of inspiring people and you haven’t had any time off for a death in the family since last Tuesday night, but I know many of you are feeling like there has been one. Me, too.

Your cast album has been on my exclusive play list for at least six months and I have fan-girl’d on Twitter, watched all the #Ham4Ham videos on YouTube and followed anything Hamilton-oriented I could find. I have said to fellow members of the clergy that one reason this show is such an extraordinary, ground-breaking cultural phenomenon is because it is not only a brilliant artistic achievement on every level but that its creators (led by Lin-Manuel) very intentionally created COMMUNITY around it.

The community that you have all so generously created around “Hamilton” the show and the spirit is the community that looks like the America I love and believe in. The first time I heard “My Shot” playing on a college radio station (Best of Broadway on WERS, Emerson College in Boston) and heard, “I’m joining the rebellion/’cause I know it’s my chance/to socially advance/instead of sewing some pants,” I was in my car. I had to pull over and just listen to every word and every voice and every instrument and not do anything else but that or else risk an accident!  I immediately drove back home and downloaded the entire recording and spent the next several hours listening to it. It was like, “Cancel all my appointments! I just downloaded ‘Hamilton!’”

I knew the show was hip-hop inspired. I knew it was a multi-racial cast. I knew I would think it was cool (I loved “In The Heights”) but I did not anticipate that it would hit me in my heart and soul like it did. “Hamilton” instantly became the soundtrack for my ministry and work for social justice with partner organizations (many of which advocate for immigrants – who do get the job done), my life in an extremely diverse neighborhood, and my hopes and dreams for my country in the midst of the rise of Trump.

I am also a theatre person. The disciplines that I have learned through performing have stayed with me in my work (stuff like: Take care of your instrument. Don’t ever phone it in. Keep studying your craft to improve it. Make quiet time for your soul every day. Trust the holy energy that is working through you. Respect its intensity. Eat your vegetables. Don’t skip warm-up). But you guys. You guys are the Olympians. You are the champions. You are the magic-makers whose sweat and water bottles and cough logenzes backstage the audience will never see and whose quick costume changes they will never think about. You are the stars.

I simply want to thank you for all that you are giving of yourselves in the telling of this story and for holding up to audiences what America really does look like – not just its future but its NOW. I want to thank you for all the time you have dedicated to the young people who are inspired by this show, who have fallen in love with history through it, and who can see themselves as leaders because of it.

This coming Thursday night, my two best friends and I will be in the house. If you feel extra beams of admiration and adoration coming from ORCH (Left) G 17, it’s just me shining back at you.

Your obedient servant, V. Wein

The Reverend Dr. Victoria Weinstein

 

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Intersectional Feminism, Twitter Trolls, Amy Schumer’s “Formation” Parody And Me

I saw the hashtag #AmySchumerGottaGoParty pop up in my Twitter feed yesterday. It was started by Feminista Jones, who posted a short video of herself reacting to Schumer’s parody of Beyonce’s “Formation,” which, if you didn’t know, was a huge event when it came out, generating countless think pieces and becoming an instant phenomenon. Within minutes, Black Twitter was popping with negative reaction to Schumer (yes, there is such a thing as Black Twitter. It’s a free education in white supremacy, go learn).

On Twitter, I watched in “oh my god she ditint” disbelief grainy footage of Amy Schumer tossing sweaty, crimped hair and trying to twerk. It was painfully unfunny. I have been a huge fan of Schumer’s for a long time. I have watched her career with a sense of personal investment like that old female relative who sees you once in awhile, but cups your face in her hand when you’re leaving the family gathering and says, “I’ve got my eye on you. You. You’re a little something.” Then she shakes her finger at your parents. “This one. Quite a something.” And they smile and say, “Yes, yes she is.”

I think Amy Schumer is quite a something, and now I’m shaking my finger at her, because she has made too many really stupid decisions lately.

There is no way that it’s time for anyone to parody “Formation.” We’re still in the bad, ugly, evil thick of the reason it got made in the first place. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time for a white artist to parody “Formation.” I’m aware that Beyonce and Jay-Z gave their permission, but permission isn’t endorsement. For all we know, Beyonce and Jay-Z are laughing their heads off now saying to each other, “Yep. Look at all this backlash. Pass the hot sauce.”

I get it: comics are irreverent. Comics know that sacred cows make the best burgers. Amy Schumer is great at cooking up those burgers. She usually knows exactly what she’s doing in sending up pop culture. This time, she was appears to have been either too lazy or too entitled to consider the implications of reducing Beyonce’s “Formation” to a fun, sexy twerkathon. The video not a dance party, did she miss the drowning police car at the end, or was it more convenient to ignore that and all the other references to police brutality against African Americans? Watching Schumer enact her drunk-white-girl schtick to its phrases set off air raid sirens of White Lady Cluelessness in my head.

When Roseanne Barr sang the national anthem off key while grabbing her crotch, a lot of us thought it was tacky and ineffective as comedy or political commentary, but since the national anthem belongs to all Americans, it’s fair game for all Americans to parody. Everyone can comment on it, protest it, kneel during it, adore, abhor or ignore it. It’s our shared song.

Not all songs belong to everybody, and some songs quite obviously belong to a particular group. When that group is an oppressed, traumatized minority and that song is an anthem of strength, power and resilience, it’s a monumentally insensitive and ignorant decision for someone outside that group to appropriate it for yuks.

To those who argued that Black women are in Amy Schumer’s video, it’s not for me to speak to that. This is what Feminista Jones said [please click on images to enlarge them]:

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-40-21-pm

But freedom of speech! Yea, I know. I’ve heard of that. Artistic freedom and — and — and the comic’s subversive role in society! Yea, I’ve heard all about that, too. I’ve heard it from the boys who defend rape jokes and from Schumer’s white friends like Lena Dunham who pulled a grotesque, racist blooper fairly recently (during an interview with Schumer) by publicly accusing Odell Beckham, Jr. of being a misogynist for not giving her the attention she felt she deserved at the Met Gala. When she finally issued an apology to Mr. Beckham (who had never spoken to her and had no idea who she was), she qualified its sincerity by tweeting to her bud, “Glad the outrage machine roars on though, right?” Oh, okay, Mayella Ewell. Please go study some history and learn about what has happened to black men in America who were accused of paying too much attention to/not enough attention to/not enough respect to white ma’ams. And stop grinding on hot black men you don’t know and bragging about it. Your joke about “grinding on” Michael B. Jordan is super gross on too many levels to go into, but no one should have to explain it to you.

Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham’s shenanigans are Exhibit Z in a very long history of why black women so often leave the “feminism” room in disgust. Feminism isn’t just about how men treat women but how women treat other women. Who high-fived the “Formation” parody in the writer’s room, I wonder? I wonder who is in that writer’s room in the first place. There are so many other iconic videos Schumer could have parodied.

So I fired off a few furious tweets.

Amy Schumer is dead to me.

I was  a HUGE Fan of @AmySchumer until she enrolled in the Lena Dunham Academy for Insufferable White Women.

There is no possible excuse for not to know the cultural significance of for black women.I hope this ruins her career.

God knows I’m hyperbolic, but I totally don’t wish that so I deleted that Tweet and edited the last line to read,

“I hope this hurts her career.”

My tweet got picked up by some internet news websites and appeared in on a television clip somewhere. Cue the trolls.

Now, this “Formation” parody backlash happened mere days after Schumer insulted Donald Trump at her show in Tampa, Florida, causing 200 or so audience members to walk out. She had just published an open letter in response, which was likely to be appreciated by the Trumpsters just as much as her original comments. The letter is more peevish than funny and she sounds tired and fed up, but the ultimate burn is that she got these people’s ticket money.

The actually, genuinely funny thing that happened next was that the same Trump fans types who were dragging Amy Schumer for criticizing their Cheetoh-In-Chief lined up on my twitter feed to defend her! That’s how much integrity and moral clarity these people have.  Unfortunately, almost every one of these doofuses copied Schumer on their Tweets to me, so her mentions have been full of “@peacebang.” Sorry, girl!

Lots of eggs, lots of guys with guns in their avis, all the usual drama queen  who twist every comment into a Wolf Blitzer-level Situation. That’s what trolls do.

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What Leads Us: An Election Sermon

This was giving at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Norwell, MA in 2008 by the Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein (“PeaceBang”) I note today, on October 16, 2016, that candidate Donald Trump possesses none of the attributes of leadership enumerated in this sermon. 

The Election Sermon has been a tradition is an old and venerable tradition in this country — I believe the first on record in New England was 1633, far before the separation of church and state, but the tradition has lasted well into our times. And that’s a good thing, I think. By now we’ve watched the debates, we’ve seen dozens of ads, we’ve read the editorials, the blogs, the magazine articles, we’ve watched the talking heads discuss the candidates. And now we come to church to think about the coming election from the perspective of that thing called faith – which, for today, we can define as having confidence that there is more meaning to the events of our shared lives than the random occurrence of events.

We do not go to the polls as machines tallying up numbers and factoids – neither do we go as brute creatures struggling to survive in a wilderness we don’t understand — we are human beings; and the values, hopes and dreams we bring to our civic life have a tremendous impact on our present and future. Whatever decisions we make around our selection of a candidate will be decisions we’ve ideally made from not only a practical and reasoned perspective, but an emotionally and spiritually engaged one as well. Before we go to fill in little circles or to pull levers, we should be sure that we have brought the dignity of our full attention to the decision-making process — in other words, make sure we’re not pulling levers or pushing buttons as a response to having had our buttons pushed.

 

In the Election Sermon, it has always been traditional for the minister to bring to the attention of his or her flock the major issues facing the nation. I feel I hardly need to do that. You know what the issues are. Unless you’ve been living on a very happy planet far from this one, you know that the economy is a major area of concern, to put it mildly.   We have been fighting a war in Iraq for five years; that is another challenge facing the next administration. International diplomacy and policy; our relationship as a nation with other nations. Central to our nation’s future. Some other issues: The Supreme Court and how it and the Oval Office interpret the Constitution. Questions of leaders–who might come along as a team with the elected President and Vice President, what kind of Congress they will be working with. Taxes. Education. Civil and human rights. What are we going to do to address the health care crisis in this country? The role religion plays in policy-making. The role and scope of the federal government.

That’s a long and serious list of responsibilities and concerns. I don’t have to tell you.

I think to myself, “Who on Earth could genuinely want these jobs!?”   Stepping aside from politics for a moment, we have to know as compassionate people that no matter what promises the candidates make, the fact is that they are taking on impossible jobs, really. Whoever achieves the highest office in the land will be bitterly complained about, mercilessly lampooned, accused of being a failed messiah by disappointed supporters and derided by certain heads of state no matter what they do, no matter how hard they work, and no matter how fine and upstanding a human being they may be. The President of the United States, whoever holds the office, is a personage of so much power that we forget he (and someday, she) is also a figure to be pitied. I hate to be a killjoy, but no one is going to “win” this election. This isn’t a game one wins or loses. It is a most solemn mantle of responsibility one assumes, and it comes with, in the words of the old hymn, immediate and unavoidable “dangers, toils and snares.”

 

Winston Churchill once defined leadership as ‘going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm,” and we must assume that those who make the expensive and exhausting run for President and VP do it because they love it and have a calling for it. And I see that in all four of the candidates. No matter what we may think of them individually, there is no doubt that they are excited about, and believe themselves fully ready, willing and able to be the best leaders for this country at this moment in our history. When I watch Sarah, Joe, John and Barack, that’s what I look for: what kind of leader is this? What are his or her ultimate values around leadership itself?

Peter Senge is a guru of organizational change, whose book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization has been a real treasure-trove for me. Based on Senge’s work, I offer for your reflection ten qualities that I agree with Senge make for an effective leader in our culture and for this specific time in history:

  1. We all look for leaders to have a sense of purpose, but I think we should also look for a quality of non-certainty. Only a fanatic is certain that he or she is right. “Genuine commitment, on the other hand, always co-exists with some element of questioning and uncertainty.” (334)
  2. All leadership involves change, but the mature leader also looks at what is important to conserve. While leaders, collectively and individually, work to bring about “a different order of things,” they must also be stewards for something they intend to conserve.
  3. Strong leaders understand that their lives require sacrifice and service, but wise leaders balance their service with time for reflection and renewal. I was very gratified myself when I learned that Winston Churchill took a nap every day.
  4. I believe that leaders must seek solutions to problems that are sustainable. This may mean taking more time to craft a response to a crisis, and it may mean refraining from heroic measures that contribute to a feeling of being in control and having power, which is a very American way to lead. In this era, our political leaders must consider: can we afford this? What kind of resources do we really have to do things this way? Are we making false promises to preserve the status quo? Can we really work this way over the long term?

My next point is related, which is …

  1. A good leader has the ability to see systemic issues. The old proverb, If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime” is a perfect example of this.   Leadership requires having a broad view, seeing the interconnectedness of things. In five years from now, will the government still be sending billions of dollars of aid to the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast, or will we have figured out systemic, interrelated issues of poverty and climate change are contributing to a chronic problem there? The sixth point is also related, and it is
  2. That a leader must be willing to say the unpopular thing. Yes, everyone loves a great orator, but we also need people in office who can give us the straight dope. Remember Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech of 1979, when the economy was in serious trouble, we had hostages in Iran, unemployment was at 7%, gasoline prices soared, and the prime lending rate stood at 15%? Carter had intended to speak about the energy crisis, but he spoke instead about American’s fall from grace. “Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.” “In other words,” — and I get this from Andrew Bacevich’s book The Limits of Power, “the spreading American crisis of confidence was an outward manifestation of an underlying crisis of values.” (33)

Of course, no one wanted to hear this, and Carter lost the 1980 election in a landslide to Ronald Reagan. I expect my national leaders to have their own take on the national situation, and I don’t mind – in fact, I appreciate it – when they are able to move beyond spin (if their handlers will let them) to speak earnestly about it.

  1. Which brings me to the seventh quality I look for in a leader: the ability to hold a vision while able to honestly confront current reality. I don’t mean a campaigning slogan, I mean a real vision, which is something that leaders develop in conversation with their constituents, and with other trusted sources – and not just people who share all their opinions or party loyalties, either.
  2. A good leader considers him or herself part of a team, and is a coalition-builder. “Reinhold Niebuhr once described the essence of statecraft as ‘locating the point of concurrence between the parochial and the general interest, between the national and the international common good.’” (Bacevich, 174) My vote on Nov. 4th will go to a flawed human being, (both of the candidates are flawed human beings), but it will go to the candidate I believe will build the strongest team around him, and will be the best representative of Team USA, if you will, in the work of international coalition-building.
  3. Leaders are not naturally exceptional in many cases: they are people who work hard and who make a habit of life-long learning and personal growth. I have a great admiration for leaders who are not afraid to change their minds based on new knowledge or understanding.
  4. And there is that final quality that we all look for in a good leader. I call it integrity, and by that I mean wholeness of being, a person with weaknesses and flaws but who is not compartmentalized, not hiding a secret life – someone who knows who he or she is and works hard with what they have in the service of their vision. You can’t buy that quality, and you can’t fake it.

Two Tuesdays from now, this country will elect a new president. I know that you will make your choices carefully and according to your deepest values and feelings. As your minister, I am going to ask one thing of you as you prepare to go to the polls, and it is an unusual request. In your own fashion, I ask that you pray for these candidates, and for this country. For whoever it is that is inaugurated in January of 2009, he has a truly Herculean task ahead of him – and neither John McCain nor Barack Obama can save America. We are not electing a superhero, we are electing a human being. To quote the Unitarian politician Adlai Stevenson, “Who leads us is less important than what leads us — what convictions, what courage, what faith — win or lose.”

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days, for the living of these days.

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