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Prison Fellowship

A Prison Fellowship volunteer skates with a child at Wollman ice rink. (Prison Fellowship)

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A day on the ice

Children of incarcerated parents find their footing in Central Park

A New York moment: 

A cold and clear Saturday in Central Park is the right time for ice skating and hot chocolate. About 60 children eagerly hit the park’s Wollman ice rink this past weekend as part of Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program. All have incarcerated parents. 

Olympic figure skater JoJo Starbuck and other instructors were carving the rink to train the children, some of whom had never skated before but stayed on the rink for hours despite the unseasonably cold weather. 

Starbuck took a break from lessons to talk on the sidelines. Prison Fellowship’s president James Ackerman, on the other hand, was too busy skating with some of the kids to talk—“Every time I go around I’ll come back to the wall and answer a question,” he said. Ackerman said Starbuck had been going to Rikers Island (the city’s main jail) with the ministry.

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Johannes Schmitt-Tegge/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

The English Bulldog Jay enjoys a sculpture by artist Dana Sherwood at dOGUMENTA. (Johannes Schmitt-Tegge/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

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Dog days of fall

A canine art gallery, a heartbreaking collection, and other big city happenings

A New York moment:

By the piers in swanky Battery Park City, curators set up a very serious outdoor sculpture show. The intended audience: dogs. Yes, this was an art show specifically for dogs, and because of the high demand, owners had to reserve time slots for their dogs to experience the art. “What was your favorite art, Harry?” a staffer asked an unresponsive poodle. The assembled gallery visitors were mostly childless, and the “exhibits” seemed designed for Instagram purposes.

One couple vainly spent about 10 minutes trying to put their dog in a tiny pink armchair for a photo. One sculpture formed a triangular shallow pool, and an owner was attempting to drag the ambivalent dog into the pool. Sculptures were surrounded in astroturf for when the dogs inevitably followed the call of nature, sometimes on the “art” itself. Staffers canvassed the “gallery” with a hose to clean up.

This fits the overall trend of New Yorkers treating their dogs with more precious attention than children. One time I witnessed a dog owner in Riverside Park become indignant when a woman asked if she could pet the dog. “You [the human] might get my dog sick,” the owner said.

Worth your time:  

The New York Public Library has a new digital collection of the “Green Book,” a travel guide for black families in the Jim Crow era. An African-American mailman created the series when he was traveling to visit family, and it was so popular he expanded it to cover the country. Paging through the guides to hotels and restaurants that will help African-Americans avoid “difficulties and embarrassments” is heartbreaking. It reminds me of the excellent book that documents the perils of Jim Crow-era travel, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.

This week I learned:

Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States are suicides and most of those deaths are white men.

A court case you might not know about:

A federal district judge in Wisconsin recently ruled that the parsonage allowance, a tax break for clergy, violates the Establishment Clause. This is the result of yet another lawsuit from the atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation. Becket Law is appealing the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which previously threw out a similar lawsuit on standing grounds.

Culture I am consuming:

Roman J. Israel, Esq., a film from Denzel Washington and Dan Gilroy, the writer/director of last year’s Nightcrawlers. I did a group interview with Washington and Gilroy; Washington, an outspoken Christian, used the time to read a Scripture passage to reporters. A review of the film, set for a Thanksgiving wide release, is forthcoming!




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Andres Kudacki/AP

Heavily armed police stand watch as revelers march in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade in New York. (Andres Kudacki/AP)

Metro Minute

Metro minute

A Halloween amid terror, and other New York moments

Hours after the deadliest terror attack in New York City since 9/11, tiny trick-or-treaters trailing their parents packed the sidewalks of Manhattan in the dusk. The truck attack—which made a murderous path down a pedestrian area—didn’t keep parents from buzzing the streets with their tots dressed as sharks, scientists, and Frozen characters. In apartment- and renter-dominated Manhattan, children seeking candy go primarily to local businesses rather than knocking on neighbors’ doors. Restaurants, bars, and drug stores were filled with children flowing in and out, a salve for adults on a dark day.

The pastor of Trinity Grace Church Tribeca, Michael Rudzena, witnessed the attack right after picking up his 9-year-old daughter from school—and separately his son was just leaving school nearby when the attack happened. His kids still wanted to go trick-or-treating that night, so they went.

And the show went on at New York’s Lincoln Center, where the New York Philharmonic was performing Leonard Bernstein’s “Jeremiah” symphony to a packed house. Conductor Alan Gilbert opened the concert by grieving the attack, and mentioned that someone had said to him earlier that “only” eight people were killed. The audience shuddered. Gilbert called for silent mourning for the eight, and continued, “These are strange and dangerous times.” After a pause, he took up his baton for the performance. 

In the last movement of Bernstein’s “Jeremiah” symphony, a mezzo-soprano sang Hebrew text from the book of Lamentations. The translation appeared above the stage, words that fit the moment well. “How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people. …” The singer concluded: "Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days? Restore us to yourself, O Lord.”

Worth your time:

• In New Hampshire, which has one of the highest rates of opioid-related deaths in the country, the medical examiner who has been dealing with all of the bodies is resigning to go to seminary. [The New York Times]

• You may have heard that the Trump administration issued a significant religious exemption for nonprofits, for-profits, and individuals from the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. But states still have control over some religious groups’ insurance—the U.S. Supreme Court rulings against the HHS mandate were based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, not the U.S Constitution, giving states leeway. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reminded everyone of this after the Trump administration announcement, saying that New York still mandates abortion and contraceptive coverage. [Newsday

This week I learned: 

If, over many decades, actors thank only one person more than God in Oscar acceptance speeches, send up those red flags. 

An under-reported court case: 

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is one of several federal appeals courts considering whether anti-discrimination statutes cover sexual orientation. The particular case pending in New York is Zarda v. Altitude Express.

Culture I am consuming: 

Seeing: These last few weeks I covered the New York Film Festival. Several films will be in theaters this fall: Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut and my favorite movie from the festival), Wonder Wheel (Woody Allen’s latest offering), Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes’ children’s movie that I reviewed), and Last Flag Flying (Richard Linklater’s film about a dad losing a son in Iraq; I reviewed it, too). I also saw Battle of the Sexes in a theater and thought it was one of the worst films I’ve seen this year. 

Reading: The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875) and Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby by Candida Moss and Joel Baden (2017).

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