Discovering My Complicity in Denying Asylum

When I read a review of The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to Belong by Karen Gonzalez, I thought the book would be a perfect resource to demonstrate the Abrahamic Tradition’s mandate to welcome the “alien” and treat them as citizens in their new home.  However, beyond a discussion of the Bible verses that can be obtained through quick Google searches, the book contains much more:

  • Chapters discuss sacraments currently practiced by Christian churches.  Gonzalez links immigration issues specifically to those sacraments.
  • Gonzalez is an immigrant from Guatemala whose family faced many of the economic, asylum, and social issues of those now seeking access though the Southern U.S. Border.
  • She contextualizes the Biblical teachings within these issues.  For example, with the Biblical story of Naomi and Ruth, Gonzalez peels back and explores the relationship between the two women, economic necessity, and family commitment that caused Ruth to migrate.  Similarly, in the story of Joseph (of technicolor coat fame) Gonzalez details the many  roles and circumstances in which he and his family found themselves in Egypt as illegal immigrants, drawing direct parallels to current practices on the Southern Border.
  • Most personally revealing, is the very direct complicity and privilege that I draw from the current U.S. practices.  For example, in the story of Joseph and his brothers, the Egyptian flip-flopping over time, I realize how I directly benefit from not speaking out consistently on the immigration issues, based in large part on how I am directly impacted, whether economically or based on my ethical standards.

The book is short (200 pages) written in a casual style, but also well foot-noted for those wishing to check authoritative scholarly resources.  The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to Belong is a comprehensive, concise, and authoritative resource on the Abrahamic tradition mandates that contextualize the modern day crisis on the Southern U.S. Border.

The final section of the volumes contains excellent downloadable resources for further study, many informative websites, along with a study guide for each of the books chapters.


Wikipedia & Archaeology

The Society for American Archaeology‘s journal Advances in Archaeological Practice has just published Public Archaeology’s Mammoth in the Room: Engaging Wikipedia as a Tool for Teaching and Outreach by Katherine M. Grillo and Daniel A. Contreras.  The article is a must read for anyone interested in engaging with and disseminating to the public current research in the discipline.  The abstract for the article states:

Although archaeology has become increasingly concerned with engaging diverse publics, and has embraced the internet as a means of facilitating such engagement, attitudes towards Wikipedia have—understandably—been more ambivalent. Nevertheless, we argue here, Wikipedia’s popularity and reach mean that archaeologists should actively engage with the website by adding and improving archaeological content. One way to do this is in the classroom: this paper provides a detailed how-to for instructors interested in having students create new Wikipedia content. We provide a case study in Wikipedia engagement from an advanced undergraduate course on African Archaeology, assess a program (Wiki Education) designed to help, and suggest further avenues for future outreach. We conclude that Wikipedia’s utopian mission aligns with many of the goals of public archaeology, and argue that archaeology has much to gain by engaging with—rather than ignoring or even shunning—Wikipedia.

As long-time readers of this blog are aware, I am a big fan of Wikipedia for classroom instruction, as a scholarly resource, and for general information.  In my retirement, I am active with the Wikipedia Guild of Copy Editors in editing existing articles for grammar, style, and clarity.

Of more direct relevance to archaeology, I recently updated the Poverty Point site Wikipedia page to add references, current research, and perform a substantive rewrite.  (To view the pre-edited page click on the “View History” and click on the version for July of 2018.)  I was initially somewhat concerned at being perceived as the “expert” who rewrote the efforts of an amateur or avocational archaeologist who had passion for the site, wanted to see Poverty Point represented on Wikipedia, but did not have access to current research.  I am pleased there has been no negative reaction to my extensive edits.

The edits to the Poverty Point site page got me to thinking about expanding the project.  For example, the Indian Mounds of Northeast Louisiana: A Driving Trail Guide lists 40 archaeological sites in public view with commemorative historic markers.  The Trail Guide contains a map, and a 100-word basic description of each site.  Wikipedia is an ideal resource to expand this information.  Most of the sites listed in the Trail Guide do not have Wikipedia pages.  Adding those site pages, and editing existing site pages will be an ideal complement to the Trail Guide.

I anticipate starting the project this coming fall, working with archaeology classes at higher education institutions in Louisiana and beyond.  Interested in participating?  Contact me at and let’s talk!

Request for Response to Academic Advising Survey

Over the past decade, I developed a keen interest in advising/mentoring students and emerging professionals on issues related to career development.  I have written on the specific themes of co-creative mentoring and job placement on numerous occasions.

Events that support this interest include:

  • In the fall of 2017, I devoted one three-hour session of my Museum Practices graduate seminar to career development.  The session readings included A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career edited by Greg Stevens and Wendy Luke, the American Alliance of Museum’s 2012 National Comparative Museum Salary Study, and several others.  Fifteen percent of the course grade required preparing a resume, cover letter, and justification for same for a real-time job the student might apply for upon graduation.  The enthusiastic student response to the session and project surprised me.  Prior to the seminar, not one of the students had their resume or cover letter critiqued by a professional in their field!
  • Five years ago, I participated in a focus group of employers who hired graduates from the university where I was teaching at the time.  The first question asked of the focus group employers by the university representative was “What is the greatest skill deficiency of our graduates you have interviewed or hired?”  All fifteen of the employer participants agreed on the response – oral and written communication skills.
  • Over the past decade I have been both pleased and disappointed at the preparation students receive for entering the job market.  Some students flow seamlessly from academia into careers and others struggle with even the task of creating a resume.  The difference between the two sets of students seems unrelated to their academic successes or failures.  At the same time, higher education seems awash in job fairs, career counseling centers, advising and so forth.  Yet, something is not clicking.

Today, I created a brief survey to explore how former students perceive the advising they received during their academic career that prepared them to enter the job market.  The purpose of the survey is to determine how and where student expectations and needs for career counseling are met.  Is higher education meeting these needs?  If so, where and how?  What resources outside of higher education do students use to prepare for their careers?  Now in the workforce, what advice do emerging professionals wish to provide current students in their field?

The survey will take 5 minutes or less to complete and is completely anonymous.  No information that provides the identity of any individual survey respondent will be shared with any individual or organization.  I will distribute the survey results as follows:

  • Minimally, a full summary report will be published on this blog.
  • Survey respondents may request to receive a summary of the survey results.
  • I fully anticipate the survey will form the basis for an open-source (and ideally peer-reviewed) article that will be made available through this blog.

I will appreciate your distributing this blog post and/or the survey link ( to former students, emerging professionals, educators, and other relevant individuals via your social media, email contacts, or other networks.

Thanks in advance for your help in this project!

Mussorgsky & Magic at St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans

I was born in 1952 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  By 1966, I had never heard classical music.  But I knew all the rock songs and their lyrics.  Every Saturday, I rode my monster-sized bike (that I had taken a ballpeen hammer to for effect) the couple of miles to the Newmark Melody in Swifton Shopping Center to get the Top-40 list for WSAI AM radio.  As a buzzhead 14 year-old kid with coke bottle glasses, Top-40 music was what I knew, and I knew it well.

As a Freshman in high school, I gravitated to the margins, hanging with the poets, standing in the marble hallways after hours, beating weeds with the goateed dude from Cleveland, Jau Billera, who later offed himself, as a bunch of that Cleveland group seems to have done.  I was malleable putty in the hands of my teachers, Marionist Brothers steeped in the liberation theology end of things.  There were grape boycotts, silk-screening revolutionary slogans on t-shirts, and eating soup with nuns who wore plain dress in their five-story walk-up tenement apartments in Over-the-Rhine.

I had a small Zenith hi-fi record player.  The family had a big old box looking radio.  But I also had my 9-volt AM transistor radio the size of pack of cigarettes.  I fell asleep every night with that radio turned on, securely stashed under my pillow.  I first heard Simon and Garfunkel’s song 7 O’clock News that morphed from the singing of Silent Night to the newscast of the day.  I tried to adjust the dial, thinking something was wrong as the transition in the piece began to tell about the death of Lenny Bruce.  That was Magic.

But I had never heard classical music, nor did I know anyone who had until my Freshman year of high school. That year I took the required course in music appreciation taught by the band director Mr. Frank Dowd.  The class was raucous and I have no recollection of what went on except Mr. Dowd screaming for the class of some thirty or so testosterone soaked adolescents to shut-up.  Our response was exceptionally defiant and cool in our contempt for whatever he was trying to teach.

On a day like most any other during my Freshman year we got hauled down to gym for an assembly.  We were going to listen to the pianist from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra play something.  The piano was set up on risers in the center of the basketball court of the gym flanked by rows of worn wooden chairs.  I sat about ten rows back, slightly to the left of the piano.  The piece he played was Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  The pianist gave an introduction suggesting that we imagine ourselves walking through an art museum and stopping at different paintings along the way.  I had never been to an art museum.

But, I had walked the streets of my blue collar industrial  hometown with my transistor radio in my ear, listening to the rhythm and sounds of the city.  I could walk down the Pike with all of the stores, imagining what was inside that I did not have money to buy.  I could study the store front windows of the Kresgee’s Five and Dime, Anna’s coffee shop, to the big box GM plant, stroll through Victory Park to the residential streets where I fantasized about the exciting lives behind the doors.

But on that day in 1966, the pianist played.  I was transfixed.  The promenade provided the transition between the settings.  The piece captured my brooding teenage depression, the feeling of liberation I had come to know with alcohol.  The piano spoke of frivolity to the abyss of crossing through the Great Gate of Kiev – all tied together by that promenade, the transition, the thread of the fabric, the Magic.

The piece ended.  The pianist stood and bowed, we all applauded.  I am certain I applauded, but mostly I was transformed.

After school that day I rode my bike to Marlboro Books and Music, a burgeoning head-shop that I thought was my best shot at finding the Magical piece of music on vinyl.  No luck.  The long-haired freak that ran the place instead sold me a three-record set of Daniel Barenboim doing a bunch of Beethoven’s sonatas, including Moonlight and Pathetique.

During my career as a university professor, generally at some point during the semester, it came up that I had a 0.7 GPA during my first try at college in the 70s, though I ended up with a PhD and a 4.0; Today, I do not know an adagio from an allegro, from a sonata or a Pissarro from a Cezanne, but I can pick out a Carroll Cloar at 50 paces; I have never read a Shakespeare play, but the best theater I ever saw was a production of Julius Caesar with an all woman cast; or that I have never read anything by Plato, but I might someday.  There is a bit of a risk in telling those truths.  The well-trained and privileged students steeped in the Western Arts often became dismissive of my ability to lead a graduate seminar.  I didn’t care.  What I considered more important was to validate the student in the class who came from a similar place as me to live into their passion.  Those who live at the top of the hill by circumstances alone will remain at the top.  But the students who start at the bottom must be sparked into the process of ascent, to hear their Mussorgsky . . .

. . . to start the process . . . which leads me to an experience of mine over a decade ago. This telling begins with an excerpt from my journal I wrote while sitting on a park bench around noontime in Jackson Square in New Orleans, the most Magical city on earth.  Here it is:

I rode some 60 + miles yesterday along the Longleaf Trace out of Hattiesburg.  This was to be a retreat, but it does not really feel to be so much of that.  I am not certain what it is I am supposed to think about.  I seem to be in an angst of sorts, on job and life.  Both are what I am driving toward, but neither is terribly right at this time, though both are where I need to be. 

What do these have in common from my high school times that I still remember:

  • “Ecstatic static” – from a Ferlinghetti poem.
  • “I only wanted to live in accord with the promptings that came from my true self – why was that so very difficult” – from Herman Hesse’s epigraph to Demian.
  • “I inhabited the wake of a long wave” – the line of poetry from W.S. Merwin.

A wave, static, true self, are all dynamic, things that cannot be grasped and held in the hand.  They cannot be quantified or measured by anything that is meaningful to me.  They are all process.  They are always changing, always in motion.

I am left with the understanding that I will be perpetually in process, in riding the wave.  I will always be in transition.  Is that sort of my lot in life?  And that if I get the understanding that life is not getting some place, and putting down stakes, but always toward something – not happiness, but meaning – then that process cannot be totally smooth or without anxiety or stress, or in ease.  

It seems there can be refuge, respites, but I need to continue to get out of self.  There is the listening to classical music or Ravel, that brings some tremendous solace.  How does Pictures at an Exhibition link the past with the present with the future.  Why was I so obsessed with that music so long ago and till today?  The process of going through the museum.  It is all process.  Perhaps that is why I find the contradiction with some life circumstances – they mess with the fun of the process, being so goal oriented, and me being so process oriented.  That is where some conflict can arise.   That the process in all forms is a good thing. To have enjoyed that process, and had meaning in that process.  That the idea of leaving the place better that you found it is good enough.  

At this point, Jackson Square was filling with folks for lunch time.  Distracting.  I decided to move my operation to the inside of St. Louis Cathedral to continue writing.  The church always has unoffensive canned Gregorian Chant playing.  I walked into the church and made my way toward a central pew – away from the tourists in the back and front.  I heard the strains of an organ . .  . familiar . . . what is it . . . oh man, it’s Pictures at an Exhibition . . . I had never heard that on an organ before!  Where was the canned Gregorian Chant?

One bit of wisdom I have gotten in life is that when the Gods speak, one needs to sit down, shut-up and listen – which is exactly what I did.

Review of A Lyle Saxon Reader – New Orleans stories

While roaming the French Quarter the other day I stopped in Beckham’s Bookshop (228 Decatur St) the premier used book store in New Orleans.  I came across a good copy of John Dos Passos U.S.A. Trilogy which would have been good for the day.  However, I also came across an unfamiliar title: A Lyle Saxon Reader: Lost Stories of the French Quarter and Buried Treasure edited by James Michal Warner.  I was surprised I had not seen a copy before as I have read most of the biographical material on Saxon.  The 2018 copyright explained why.

The book is divided into four parts.  First, is an introductory essay by the editor detailing Saxon’s life.  Warner focuses on the ambiguity Saxon created about his youth.  An included copy of Saxon’s birth certificate counters Saxon’s fictive claims of birth in Baton Rouge – he was actually born in Whatcom County, Washington.  Warner also explores Saxon’s mixing of fantasy and fact in his role as one of the early advocates for tourism in New Orleans.  The introduction provides a brief synopsis of the next three sections: short stories, History and Preservation articles, and character sketches, all written early in Saxon’s career between 1919 and 1923 and published in the Times Picayune newspaper.

The short story section contains eight pieces written by Saxon. I found this section the weakest part of the volume.  Edward’s notes that Saxon’s early short stories are not of the same quality as his later novels, including Children of Strangers, which I found to be patterned after Marie Stanley’s excellent novel Gulf Stream.  Regardless, this section of 50 pages often comes off as the overly contrived work of a novice story-teller.

The next section of the volume includes Saxon’s reports on the need for the architectural and cultural heritage preservation of the French Quarter.  Spurred by the French Opera House fire of 1919, the twenty-eight year old Saxon wrote passionately about the loss of this 70-year-old New Orleans icon.  The section also includes an article tracing the Ursuline nun’s 200-year legacy in New Orleans, based on Saxon’s review of the hand written 150-page history by Mother Mary Theresa.  In addition to stories on the Pontalba buildings that flank Jackson Square, this section includes one of Saxon’s early walking tours of the French Quarter, embellished and included in several of his later publications.  Presumably as well, Saxon here is doing what he does best – acting as a reporter.  Given the context of the articles in this section, one might assume that he does not drift too far into fantasy as he reports the events.

The final section of the volume, which takes up nearly half of the pages, is the strongest part of the book – Character Sketches.  Published in the Times Picayune as the series “Unusual Ways of Making a Living” the 25 sketches are as eclectic as they are entertaining in creating an image of New Orleans in the 1920s.  The range of employment includes street vendors, hotel workers, a cowgirl, artisans, office workers, fortune tellers, musicians and others.  The stories include the physically disabled, loners, folks eking out a living and just getting by.  I was surprised by the large number of European immigrants included in the sketches.  The picture painted is one that New Orleans tries to embrace today – a gumbo of flavors where everyone can find a place.

Over the years, I have found Saxon’s writings at times frustrating, but always entertaining. Frustrating because as head of the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers Project Saxon oversaw the production of the New Orleans City Guide and later Louisiana: A Guide to the State.  I would like to take these as accurate histories but also know of his inclination to create a New Orleans without blemish.  For example, in Gumbo YaYa, Saxon tells the fanciful tale of himself as a young child spending Mardi Gras Day in the company of Black employees of a Saxon relative.  The reader is led to believe they are getting an insight into a facet of New Orleans not typically explored.  As it turns out, Saxon was not there and conjured the story up later in life based on tales told over the years . . .

. . . which brings me to a personal conclusion on some of this.  When I was fresh out of graduate school, only weeks from successfully defending my doctoral dissertation, I was sipping sweet tea, sitting in the yard of my academic advisor in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.  His brother-in-law was telling a story. As the telling went on, my academic training caught flaws, inconsistencies, and perhaps outright fabrications in the telling.  But my better half overcame my knee-jerk scholarly reaction to the fantasy in recognizing “But damn, that is a good story!”

Such is the case with this volume.  A Lyle Saxon Reader is well worth the read.


Co-Creation in Mentoring

Adapted from The Courage to Teach (1998:102) by Parker Palmer

In the past couple of years co-creation has become a buzzword for a rather imprecise range of activities from simple collaboration to truly reciprocal processes.  In the Introduction to Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset  Elizabeth Bollwerk and I argue that co-creation

“. . . does not mean working for the community based on what a museum perceives are a community’s needs. Instead co-creation means working with the community to address the needs as expressed by the community itself.”

To apply the concept of co-creation to mentoring, simply substitute “mentee” for “community” in the above quote.  A co-creative perspective best describes my approach to mentoring.

The other day I began reading On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old by Parker Palmer.  The title sums up the volume’s focus.  Palmer includes a substantive mentorship discussion in the book.  As well, he articulates an approach to mentorship to which I completely align.  He writes (2018:33):

Every spring, commencement speakers take the stage across the country to tell the graduates, “Our hopes for the future are in your hands.” . . . It’s unfair to lay all responsibility for the future on the younger generation. . .  it’s not true that the young alone are in charge of what comes next.  We – young and old together – hold the future in our hands.  If our common life is to become more compassionate, creative, and just, it will take an intergenerational effort . . . let’s change the metaphor and invite young adults to join the orchestra.  As we sit together, we can help them learn to play their instruments – while they help us learn the music of the merging world, which they hear more clearly than we do.

Flowing from the above, here are two relevant points in how I approach mentorship:

  • The mentor and the mentee are in a reciprocal learning relationship beyond the mechanics of the mentoring process.  I find that the mutual expenditure of time and effort by the mentor and the mentee is a miniscule part of the reciprocity.  Instead, as with Palmer’s orchestra metaphor, both the mentor and mentee learn from their mutually shared wisdom and skills.  This point is the very essence of the diagram pictured above, adapted from Palmer’s The Courage to Teach.  In a teacher/student or mentor/mentee relationship, everyone can access the Great Thing.
  • A true co-creative approach mandates that the expressed needs of the mentee be at the heart of the relationship.  The mentor responsibility is not to create a clone of themselves or what aligns with the interests of their academic department.

Below, I offer several mentorship examples I experienced that illustrate these points.

Emily Neal and Scott Hadley were interns at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in 2010.  They created a hands-on activity using educational collections of stone tool artifacts.  In the first couple of minutes of this video, Emily and Scott talk about what they learned in creating the activity.  What I remember most from the eight-year old experience was, to use Palmer’s metaphor, “learning the music of the emerging world” that they represented.  In the activity created by Emily and Scott, they explained how stone tool styles changed over the thousands of years of prehistory.  Typically, when I explain stylistic changes, I rely either on battleship curves (popularized by James Ford in archaeology over 50 years ago) or talk about automotive stylistic changes through time.  Emily and Scott used the stylistic changes of video gaming devices over a several year period, something that the 10-15 year old target audience could readily appreciate.  The activity they created contained many similar examples.  Emily and Scott clearly reflected the mindset of the target audience better than my PhD in Anthropology.  I learned a great deal about education in museum settings from Emily and Scott during their internships.  As an aside, I am pleased to see in a recent Facebook post that the stone tool program is still part of the Museum offerings and Emily, now a full-time employee at Chucalissa, leads the activity that she created eight years ago as an intern!

Gabriel Short graduated this year with an Masters in Liberal Studies (MALS), and certificates in Museum Studies and Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership from the University of Memphis.  I met Gabriel in about 2015 when he sought advice on a career in museums.  Gabriel was one of those folks with a million ideas about what he wanted to do in life without a solid plan on anything.  As a result, although he was someone with clear intellectual ability, his lack of focus and mediocre GPA caused his rejection by academic departments to which he applied for graduate studies. He was becoming frustrated.  I met with Gabriel and suggested a different approach.  I suggested that he consider the MALS program – often considered by academic departments as a “less than” degree.  However, for Gabriel, it would allow him the opportunity for considerably greater latitude in constructing his curriculum, explore his research interests, and study abroad for course credit.  Upon his graduation this past spring, Gabriel sent me a note expressing how the MALS program proved ideal for preparing his next career steps.  He is now employed as a data analyst with the University of Memphis Research Foundation.  In working with students such as Gabriel, along with examining my own academic and professional career, I emphasize the need to think long and hard about the necessary steps to prepare for a career.  Too many students end up with graduate degrees that either poorly qualify or over qualify them for their career interests.  I learned that mentoring students on their academic trajectory must be divorced from my own interests in what I think they should pursue, or the recruitment interests of the department to which I am affiliated.

Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I first met in 2013 at the bus station in Caraz, in her native Peru where she had come to pick me up to then head up to the small village of Hualcayán. A colleague, Rebecca Bria had invited me to participate in a cultural heritage project in the small 400-person Andean community.  The next year, Eli applied to and was accepted as a graduate student at the University of Memphis.  I hired her as a graduate assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa which provided her with a stipend and tuition waiver.    Upon receiving her M.A. from the University of Memphis, Eli was accepted and funded to a PhD program at the Louisiana State University.  Over the past five years, we worked together on several projects in both Hualcayán and the Casma region on Peru’s north coast.  Eli and I published articles and gave presentations based on our mutual work.  For example, here is the Annual Report from the first year’s activities for the Culture and Community in Casma nonprofit we launched.  Since our first meeting based in a student/faculty relationship, today we have moved to function as colleagues.  Since 2013, in my half-dozen trips to Peru, I have learned much about the rich cultural heritage of Eli’s country.

Eli and her family have always expressed tremendous gratitude to my wife and I for providing for her in terms of material and moral comfort during her time as a student in the U.S.  When she received her Masters Degree, members of her family from New York to Lima, Peru came to Memphis for the event.  At a dinner in Eli’s honor, I noted how her family always thanked me for helping Eli, but I wanted to use the occasion to thank them.  I noted that career goals for me included giving back for the benefits I received as a student and also to conduct meaningful work.  Besides the hospitality her family always provides when I am in Peru, I thanked them for entrusting their daughter to our household for two years – pretty much sight unseen.  I thanked them too as in coming to know an work with Eli, I ended the “institutional” part of my professional career in a several year project that met my expressed needs to be engaged in the preservation and presentation of the cultural heritage of underserved peoples.  I more fully learned through working with Eli how it is the student/mentee who provides the opportunity for the professor/mentor to live into their needs as a professional.  I have also come to see in students such as Eli the true collegial component of such relationships.


Now, back to co-creation – in all three of the above examples, the expressed needs of the mentees formed the basis of the engagement – whether in gaining experience through internships, advising on an academic trajectory, or obtaining a graduate degree and launching a local program to preserve and present a vanishing cultural heritage.  At the same time, the expressed needs of the mentor are addressed equally by the very same processes.  Obviously, the mentee and mentor cannot exist independently. I am convinced that in ideal relationships, the mentor and mentee co-create with each other opportunities of equal value to grow more fully into their true selves.

God, Jefferson Sessions, and Sarah Sanders Meet

As it came to pass, God, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders came to meet just outside Heaven’s Pearly Gates.  On the inside were thousands of Hispanic children attending a fiesta.  The conversation between the three adults got somewhat heated.


God: So now, tell me why is it that you chose to separate and imprison these children, made in my image, when their families sought asylum in the United States?


Sessions:   I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes ¹.

Sanders: Yes, it is very biblical to enforce the law²

God: Hmm. . . . there is no law that requires immigrant families to be separated. The decision to charge everyone crossing the border with illegal entry — and the decision to charge asylum seekers in criminal court rather than waiting to see if they qualify for asylum — are both decisions the Trump administration has made.³

Sessions: But as Paul commanded, we must obey our government decisions . . .

God: Hold it right there.  First off, your cherry picking scripture.  Why do you cite Paul, a mere mortal, but ignore my own written word and command. As y’all are fond of saying in your neck of the woods “That dog won’t hunt.”

Sessions: But . . .

God: No buts about it.  Sarah, let me ask you, in your vacation bible school years ago, what did you learn that I told Moses?

Sanders: I can’t comment on . . .

God: Well I can.  I told him to go to the Pharaoh and tell him that I am running the show and that he is to let my people go (Exodus 3).  The Pharaoh could either do it my way, or suffer the consequences.  I did not care about the laws or decisions of the Pharaoh.

Sessions: But, Paul said . . .

God: Look Jeff, you need to take some time off this summer for some remedial study of my Word.  I am tired of folks deciding what they are going to do, then trying to find some scriptural justification.  Instead, my followers need to read the scripture to determine what their actions should be.

Session: But Lord, Paul said . . .

God: Jeff, give it a break.  I am tired of hearing about Paul.  In the same letter to the Romans Paul also said: “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:9-10).  You are completely missing the point on this anyway. But, let’s go back to what I have to say about all of this and forget about your convenient use of Paul.  Do you not remember how in Leviticus (19:34) I said “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”  How can I be any more clear?  I have often sent my people to live as foreigners in new lands.  Look at Abraham or Jacob and his family who I sent out to escape the famine in their country.  How are you so certain I have not sent these Hispanic families to the United States to escape the same oppression?

Sessions: But Lord, we must have order and . . .

God:  Listen sonny – again, I have said  “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodous 22:21).  As my son is fond of saying “Whoever has ears, let them hear” Matthew (11:15).

Sessions: But Lord, the law . . .

God: Once again, the law!!!  Did you not read the legal scholar who questioned my son about what is written in the law?  Your 2000 year old legal equivalent correctly responded that the law stated:  “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27-28).

Sanders: But Lord, who really is my neighbor?

God: Girlfriend, you don’t want to go down that road.  Do you not remember the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke:30-38)?  I mean you even name hospitals after this guy.  But another story my son told is also relevant here:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46).

So my question to you, Jeff and Sarah, are you goats or sheep?

Sanders: I never thought of it that way before . . .

Sessions: I just did not know . . .

God: Well now you do.

And with that God went inside to join the fiesta with the children.


Other Voices & A New Direction

Two years ago I posted how I disliked when blogs just went away without any explanation.  I noted that with my pending retirement, my six-year blogging experience with Archaeology, Community & Outreach would change, but I was not certain of the direction.

In the last two years I wrote a few posts as I transitioned to being “institutionally” retired.  I wrapped up lots of loose ends, finished my formal responsibilities in higher education, and became more immersed in my favorite city in the world, New Orleans, Louisiana – home for the duration.  In the past year I also faced health challenges with a cancer diagnosis and a recent heart attack.  With all of that more-or-less under control, and thinking through my next phase of existence, I am recasting this blog and my general digital presence.

First, Archaeology, Museums & Outreach is gone (but archived) and now replaced by Other Voices: Life, the River, and Beyond.  Similar to a podcast I launched some 15 years ago called Archaeology Overlooked, and my more recent interest in the concept of co-creation, I intend for Other Voices to explore the offerings of those often ignored.  So what do I plan to explore?  Not constrained by anything other than my interests, the potential scope is broad.  Consider:

  • As a social activist for more than a half a century, I am keenly interested in the polarization and demonization of the “other” in the world today.  I learned as a high school senior in Brother Myron’s Problems of Democracy class that I have a responsibility to not only speak but act in seeking a remedy to the ruinous road we now travel.
  • In 1970 I was as an English Lit major.  The written word has remained integral to my life.  From my home on the southern end of the Mississippi River, when I google the term “literary New Orleans” I come upon George Washington Cable, Grace King, Lafcadio Hearn, Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Francis Parkinson Keyes, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, John Kennedy Toole, Anne Rice, and others, but never two of my favorite writers – Robert Tallant and Mary King O’Donnell.  Tallant’s Mrs. Candy series of novels and O’Donnell’s Those Other People, all written in the 1940s, are compelling portraits of the local and colorful working class of New Orleans.  I intend to resurrect these types of “other” voices in the story of my city.
  • My colleague Ana Rea and I have embarked on a project to explore the mentor/mentee relationship.  Both raised in blue collar families and the first generation educated beyond high school, mentoring is something that each of us found critical in our lives both within and outside of academia.  We see how higher education often continues to fail in the responsibility to the “other” who do not fit the cookie cutter student mold.
  • Although I consider my formal work in museums and those professional organizations to be on the back burner, I will continue to write about and advocate for co-creative approaches to community engagement in the preservation and presentation of “other voices” cultural heritage.  I remain active in research projects on the north coast of Peru.
  • And I am certain I will have to talk about my favorite place within the city of New Orleans – our backyard kingdom of herbs, vegetables and fruit trees!

I am not certain how the above all ties together into anything terribly coherent, but  . . .

So that is where I intend to take the next iteration of my digital footprint.  If any of the above is of interest to you, stick around.  More to come!



Street Art as a Third Place Museum Experience

Over the past several years I posted final exam essays of students from my Museum Practices graduate seminars, written as responses to my challenge to justify their aspirations to work as museum professionals in today’s world.  Another section of the final exam allows students to choose and respond to a set of questions from an IMLS publication.  The question sets range the gamut of Museum Practices.  One student, Samira Rahbe Chambers, chose the question set addressing Museums as Third Places.  Her response is thought-provoking in considering street art performance as a Third Place practice for museums – a fresh and innovative approach.  Below is her essay.   


Museums as Third Places

by Samira Rahbe Chambers

The potential for museums to serve as Third Places has been an interest of mine over the last year as I tried to reconcile my admiration for street art and my involvement in the museum business. It became clear to me that the street served as a sort of Third Place for street artists where they could produce their art and viewers were able to consume art in a way that was very different from museums. Some of these differences include: the street is free, there is no entrance fee; you can be as loud as you wish, there is no museum staff hushing you; you can take photographs, even using your flash; you can touch the art, and even collaborate with it. Perhaps the starkest difference between viewing art on the street and viewing art in the museum is that there is no one influencing your reaction to the work; you happen upon the piece and are free to consider the work however you wish. There are no labels, there is no authoritarian stamp that “this is art,” and there is no pressure to pretend you understand or like the piece. It has been my hope in participating in the museum studies program at the University of Memphis that, as I enter the museum field, I may participate in the realization of museums as Third Places.

The Future of Museums and Libraries pose three questions to consider when imagining museums as Third Places: One, what are the social purposes of museums and libraries? Two, how will these [social purposes] be met in the future? Third, will communities continue to need physical gathering spaces or will virtual communities grow ever more important? For this discussion, I will refer to Robert Janes’s “Museum and Irrelevance,” Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community, Robert Connolly and Elizabeth Bollwerk’s Positioning your Museum as a Critical Community Asset, and Nina Simon’s “Participatory Design and the Future of Museums.” In order to address the last two questions, answering the first, what the museum’s purpose is, needs to be done.

Janes argues that museums “provide answers to a fundamental question, ‘What does it mean to be a human being?’” (18) and he further states that, “At their very best, museums present the richness and diversity of life, and keep reflection and dialogue alive for their visitors…museums [have]..the obligation to probe our humanness and, in assuming this responsibility, museums are unique and valuable social institutions that have no suitable replacement,” (18). In other words, on a basic level, the function of museums it to help humans understand what it actually means to be human. Museums engage this conversation by looking into the past to understand where we’ve come from and how we have and haven’t changed. Also, museums help us understand our humanness by participating in contemporary dialogues of identity, gender, race, religion, class, and health. The topics museums address are controversial and must be handled delicately. It is for this reason that museum must realize themselves as Third Places and provide a safe environment to have these hard conversations.

To understand more of what a Third Place is and how museums can identify as one it is necessary to dig deeper into Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. I read Oldenburg’s book this past summer and cannot stress the significant implications his thoughts have for the future of museums. First, a Third Place can come in different forms. While Oldenburg lists some examples of Third Places in the title of his book, the primary identification of a Third Place is that it offers neutral ground where all feel comfortable. These places must be accessible and accommodating. Furthermore, these places do not “reduce a human being to a mere customer,” (18) but instead, approach people holistically engaging and appreciating all dimensionalities of their visitors. Lastly, Oldenburg proposes that in Third Places, “…joy and acceptance reign over anxiety and alienation,” (37) and that, “…what distinguishes the third place is that decency and good cheer consistently prevail” (84). While I admire and agree with Oldenburg’s ideals of a Third Place, I do not know if all museums can be called one, for there are several museums that maintain an air of elitism, viewing visitors as dollar signs, and who engage in only one-sided dialogue or ignore difficult conversations all together. Ultimately, I argue that Janes and Oldenburg’s thoughts can be understood as the purpose of museums.

Yet, how can museums fulfill its social purpose to provide a safe space where humans can come to question and understand their own basic human condition. To answer this question, it is helpful to consider Connolly and Bollwerk’s textbook. Positioning your Museum as a Critical Community Asset opens with a quote from John Cotton Dana: “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs,” (1). It is in this basic statement that museums can understand how they can serve as Third Places. It is only through engaging with the community the museum serves that it will be able to find out what kinds of conversations visitors wish to engage in and how those conversations may be best handled and treated. Furthermore, the concept of co-creation is the basis of Connolly and Bollwerk’s work and can help museums see that their community is a co-participator in the mission of the museum which shifts visitors from dollar signs to essential meaning makers. Also, Bollwerk and Sarah Miller discuss two topics, open authority and advocacy, that can help museums to fulfill the role as Third Place. It is through “de-authortizing” the museum that visitors find that their own voices are important and that they can possess different opinions from the museum and still be accepted. Also, concerning advocacy, it is in spaces that people feel represented, spoken-up for, and enabled that they will feel safe. If the museum does not advocate for its own services or the safety of its community, no one will want to engage with it.

Lastly, in considering whether the museum as Third Place can exist virtually or needs a physical building, Nina Simon’s “Participatory Design and the Future of Museums” is helpful. Simon argues that museums can learn from participatory websites whose accuracy and scope grows the more people use and contribute to it. In this way, museums, to engage and learn from its community, should consider more participatory and co-creative methods. While Simon asks readers to consider “the Web as a history museum” (18), it is also helpful to consider the museum as a web presence. In class, we looked at Google’s Museum Views program, which may become a popular way people experience museums in the future. We do not need to be scared of this possibility, but rather, we should be excited about what this means for the growth of museums. Museums can be a Third Place both physically and virtually allowing visitors who come through their doors or log onto their website to be engaged in a way that aligns with Third Place politics. For example, by allowing people to participate in the museum’s life and dialogue both in person and on the web, the museum enhances their accessibly and allows for more people to benefit from their services. Just because conversations are being had on the web will not take away from or extinguish conversations that happen at the physical site of the museum.

In conclusion, museums can be a hub for human interaction, growth, and delight both virtually and in person. The museum can foster online and on-site relationships strengthening their community and fulfilling their mission statements. It can be scary for museum staff to rethink their purpose as many are worried that if they open up the authority of the museum that they will lose their own personal voice and power. It is best for museum staff to reorient their thoughts to understand that their purpose is not to elevate their own voice but rather elevate the voices of others; it should be the museums function to help others find and use their voices. This rethinking of purpose requires humility as we learn to view ourselves as people whose opinions and thoughts are still valid but not necessarily the most important or “right” ones. If there is humility present, museums will easily become Third Places where everyone feels important but never the most important, for if we view our own opinion or authority as the most important, then we rob others the chance to understand and vocalize what it means to them to be human.

Museums as Participatory Institutions

For the past few years, half of the final exam in my Museum Practices graduate seminar in the Museum Studies Program at the University of Memphis consists of responding to the following:

Put yourself in the position of John or Josephine Q. Public. In the current economic chaos, the bank is foreclosing on their home, they have lost their jobs, and the city just reduced their public services. In referring to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the House Budget Committee recently argued that “The activities and content funded by these agencies…are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.” Isn’t your research or the position you aspire to a museum professional just another example of this wealth transfer? What do John and Josephine Q. Public get for their tax dollars that fund your research/position?

This year, Paige Brevick, a graduate student in Egyptology and the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program wrote a compelling response that incorporates some of the ongoing discussions of museologists today, specifically based on her experiences on the staff of the Museum of Biblical History in Collierville, Tennesse, U.S.  Here is her essay:

The stereotype of museums as hoarders of wealth, both economically and intellectually, is an outdated myth in desperate need of revision.  While museums may have historically catered to the elite or academic, they have undergone significant reform in recent years to increase the transparency of their collections and develop their resources.  Today, even the most research driven institutions must find innovative ways to entice the public and interact with them through increasingly creative means.[1]  This level of social engagement encourages a dialogue between the public and academic that is rarely seen in other settings.  It is in this way that the museum leaves behind the stereotype of “elitism,” rather, it strives towards the ideal of the “participatory,” where a community may take an active role in all aspects of museum administration.[2]  Tax dollars then do not only fund high-brow research or support unethical wealth transfer.  Instead, the Public’s tax dollars go to fund museums who are increasingly aware of the needs of their communities, and who cultivate environments for learning.

As curator at the Museum of Biblical History, a small museum with limited staff in Collierville, Tennessee, my duties are highly varied.  Not only do I conduct research and work in the gallery, but I am constantly seeking out new ways to engage the public with our exhibitions.  The Museum of Biblical History has served the community for over two decades and has had to adapt to the needs of the changing community over time.  At its onset, the museum hosted lectures on archaeology that were free to the public.  Attending a museum lecture like this would provide John and Josephine Q. Public the opportunity to briefly leave behind the troubles they face in a hopefully inspiring way.  Though not necessarily problem-solving in itself, attending free lectures is a way for the public to better understand what museums in their town have to offer.  Attendance at a lecture like this may be the first step to getting involved in action-oriented projects within the community, as museum programming brings people from different social groups  together.

In an effort to better serve the community of Collierville, the Museum of Biblical History now offers Bible Story Time programming to children once a week.  Local members of the community, including the mayor and firefighters, volunteer to read Bible stories to  children in the museum.  The museum provides two crafts per program, which student participants make in the museum and take home.  Museum staff and volunteers supervise the event, with the support of visiting parents.  This program is provided free of charge.  Though the Publics are going through difficult times with reduced public services, turning to the resources provided by their local museums may alleviate small concerns and provide a degree of routine to their schedule.  Many museums offer similar free programming at least once a month.

Though the Museum of Biblical History is small, it adjusts to meet the needs of the community.  This winter the museum stored its entire Near Eastern artifact collection away, in order to showcase a highly requested display of nativities from around the world.  Even the crèche collection itself is on loan from a community resident.  As an archaeologist, part of me was hesitant to make such a dramatic change in our gallery.  The public, however, had spoken so the show was underway.  I curated the nativity exhibition and watched on opening night as over a hundred people packed into the small museum, doting upon handmade nativities.  The show brought people together to discuss culture, tradition, heritage, art, and the history of Christmas as it is understood from international perspectives.  The Publics tax dollars support experiences like this one.  Their funding encourages not only an appreciation of art and history, but of empathy across cultures, even in the small town of Collierville.

Museums should strive to become beacons of knowledge, and act as windows into other worlds, whether those worlds are a glimpse into an ancient culture or an exhibit featuring local artists.  A museum is not only a safe-haven for research or objects of the past.  If  museums are to remain successful in an economically turbulent environment, they need to continue to focus on making the information they possess accessible to the communities they serve.  The Publics, then, are not transferring their money into a disconnected or wealthy museum entity.  Instead, their tax dollars go back into their own community, creating educated generations for years to come.

[1] AMA, Word of Mouth Marketing, pg. 38-40.

[2] Simon, Nina.  “Chapter 7: Collaborating with Visitors,” In The Participatory Museum.