Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Clay & Community: Killing Hate Together

A mind is like a glaze recipe: you throw in ideas, give them some time and energy, and they blend to create something new.

I've been cogitating on a handful of stories I encountered around the same time, and in my mind they are fitting together to form thoughts. First was the Roberto Lugo video I shared earlier; it's powerful, and one of the ideas Lugo discusses is the power of ceramics to bring people together. Second is this story out of Nebraska, about a man who hated Muslims until they became his neighbors, and in getting to know them he found his heart changed. And the third, sadly, is about the distressing events this week in which nearly 70 Jewish community centers had to be evacuated because they were the targets of bomb threats.

Yeah. That happened, in our America.

Like so much that has happened lately, I feel powerless to do anything about it, but I don't feel like I can just say, "Oh, yeah, a bunch of Nazis threatened to bomb my friends, neighbors, and compatriots, totally normal, no big, let's talk about my wacky burner situation!"

It's not totally normal, or any other kind of normal, and anyone who has any kind of a platform has an obligation to say so. My Republican friends keep saying "Just because I am conservative doesn't mean I am a bigot" and I believe them - so this is for them, too. All who reject bigotry as an American value should condemn this intimidation campaign. Politics is one thing, but surely all reasonable people can agree on rejecting Nazis. Our grandparents fought and died for this!

(This goes without saying, but if you are a Nazi, or any other kind of bigot, you should boycott this blog! I totally deserve to lose your readership, so buh-bye.)

Which brings me back to my thesis: in clay I see one road to an understanding of our shared humanity.

I taught my first pottery class in 1994. Over the years, I have had thousands of students, of a broad variety of races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and religious persuasions. I currently have many Christian and Jewish students, and a handful of Muslim students, and of course many whose beliefs are unknown to me.

I have never once observed or overheard bigotry in the clay studio.

It may be that clay just attracts a certain good-hearted kind of person, but I think the causality goes both ways. Like the Nebraska man who found he didn't hate Muslims once he actually knew some Muslims, it's hard to hate a person who seems just like you. In clay class, students all struggle with the same challenges: learning to center; oops, collapsed; how do I get this dang handle to stay on; rats, it cracked in the firing; yikes, massive glaze run! And we celebrate successes together: Look, first handle! Biggest thing I've ever thrown! Kiln unloaded today, show everyone your beautiful pots. Clay studios are tight-knit communities, and communities have the power to transcend differences. We make dear friends based on our shared enthusiasm and experiences.

Now I hope we can take the love we've grown in our clay spaces into the wider world. A Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, and an atheist walk into clay class. They talk, they laugh, they commiserate and they encourage one another. They walk out friends. They take that friendship into the world, and become a shining example of what can be when we recognize that we are all just people.

Keb Mo says it better:
Well I feel just like you
and I cry just like you
But I heal
Just like you
and under my skin
I'm just like you....

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