2019
October
23
Wednesday
Kim Campbell
Culture & Education Editor

Welcome to the Daily. Today our offerings explore the erosion of trust in Hong Kong, the perseverance of a long-shot Democratic presidential hopeful, the enigmas of Putin’s Russia, the buoyancy of an all-women’s rug market in Morocco, and the growth of multicultural churches in the U.S.

But first, could a hug change the narrative on school shootings?

Footage of coach Keanon Lowe disarming a Portland, Oregon, student who reportedly planned to take his own life was shared widely over the weekend after it was first released. The security video, from Parkrose High School in May, shows Mr. Lowe handing off the shotgun and then hugging the student tightly.

“I felt compassion for him. A lot of times, especially when you’re young, you don’t realize what you’re doing until it’s over,” he said in an interview in May. “My message to staff members or people that work in schools is, ‘Love your kids.’”

Not everyone agrees that educators should be put in this position, but Mr. Lowe’s action chips away at fear that nothing can be done. Hope and vigilance need to go hand in hand, though, as another shooting yesterday near a school in California suggests.

Still, narrative-changers are emerging. Psychologist Melissa Reeves told Politico this week that rather than simulating danger – like firing blanks, as one school’s active shooter drill did – focus should be on talking with students about safety.

The team behind the 2019 documentary “After Parkland,” about that Florida community’s grieving process, also wants to influence discourse. Next month at the Denver Film Festival a panel will address this question: Can films that deal with school shootings really make a difference?

Perhaps the answer lies in the embrace of a viral video.

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A deeper look

1. Half a year into protests, Hong Kongers’ distrust runs deep

When unfounded rumors gain steam, we often blame social media. But hearsay’s influence also points to deeper distrust of government, media, and institutions, all of which have fueled Hong Kong’s protests.

Kim
Tyrone Siu/Reuters
An anti-government protester holds a tear gas canister during a protest in Hong Kong on Oct. 20, 2019.

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In October, four months after Hong Kong’s mass protests began, pollsters asked residents how much trust they had in the government and police, on a zero to 10-point scale. Roughly half said zero.

Distrust toward Beijing is nothing new in Hong Kong. Doubts about the territory’s “one country, two systems” arrangement with the mainland stretch back to before the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997. But in recent years, as concerns about Beijing’s growing influence have mounted, distrust in local institutions has also risen, from the police force to the media. 

Such fears have helped fuel the monthslong pro-democracy protests – and that distrust has also helped fuel unfounded rumors. For weeks, for example, Hong Kong’s government attempted to refute a conspiracy theory that three people were killed by police in a subway station.

“People have taken their stance and people believe what they want to believe,” says lawmaker Fernando Cheung, a retired social work professor who has served in the legislature since 2004. “They’re not directed by rational thinking. They’re directed by their stance. It’s hard to keep rational when the whole society is completely polarized.”

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Half a year into protests, Hong Kongers’ distrust runs deep

The last Sunday in September, one frustrated, anonymous person chose a traditional Chinese way of venting his frustrations in public. Taped to the glass wall of a rail station’s entrance hung 13 large sheets of newsprint covered in big, hand-drawn characters. They detailed the author’s claims that dozens of people had died suspiciously since protests began last spring. 

Passersby stopped to read. A man parked his green bicycle. A woman snapped photos while a taxi driver halted in the traffic lane and craned his neck. Several murmured: Why had officials lowered the number of people injured in a subway station during a violent police clearance in August? Why wouldn’t the government release closed-circuit footage to show what happened? Why did riot officers bar medics and journalists from the scene?

For weeks, the government attempted to refute unfounded rumors that three people were killed by police in Prince Edward station. The conspiracy hatched after first responders revised the figures of those injured that night from 10 to seven. The MTR Corp., the rail company, said it was told that nine were reported injured. A logbook was accessed multiple times. Police and fire officials provided accounts, but their press conferences did not calm part of the public. The problem, these residents said, was that the government had no credibility in their eyes.

“There’s nothing we can do. Hong Kong is under complete control of China,” said one of the poster readers, a man who would identify himself only as Mr. Lau because of fears the government might pursue him. “That’s why everyone is so frustrated. We can’t change the future, no matter how much we hate it. ... Certainly the government tries to cover up the truth.” 

Many Hong Kongers have been wary of Beijing for decades, stretching back to the bloody clearance near Tiananmen Square in 1989, which killed hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, and the government-imposed silence thereafter. In Hong Kong, as concerns grow about Beijing’s tightening control, many residents believe little of what the city’s chief executive or the police say. They view Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, as a puppet of Beijing. In her refusal to address many protesters’ demands, they see signs of a changing Hong Kong – a city that once claimed to be clean and transparent, now feeling more closed and threatening.

Asked in an October poll how much trust they have in police and local government, roughly half of residents said “zero.” Several other once-trusted agencies have fallen in public esteem in recent years: schools, the justice department, the hospitals. At one point, even weather service reports were questioned. Increasing wariness of local media, a sense that TV broadcasters and some news sites defer to mainland views, has added to societal unease.

Mark Schiefelbein/AP
A demonstrator wears a hat reading "Make Hong Kong great again" during a rally in the Central district in Hong Kong on Oct. 18, 2019. Hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators marched through the heart of Hong Kong in a flash mob gathering.

Fears that Hong Kong’s autonomy is ebbing stoked the massive campaign convulsing the city today. The focus widened from stopping a bill to allow extraditions to mainland China to demands for greater democratic rights and controls on police. The deep distrust has shaped an environment in which many Hong Kongers disagree about not just their opinions, but the facts. The protests have divided younger residents from older ones, those seeking peace under Beijing from those who say they must stop the government from stripping their rights.

“People have taken their stance and people believe what they want to believe,” says lawmaker Fernando Cheung, a retired social work professor who has served in the legislature since 2004. “They’re not directed by rational thinking. They’re directed by their stance. It’s hard to keep rational when the whole society is completely polarized.”

An uneasy relationship

Before Britain relinquished Hong Kong in 1997, Beijing pledged it would have a high degree of autonomy until at least 2047, including its own constitution to protect residents’ rights. Yet trust in the “one country, two systems” idea started to erode even before the handover, pushing many families and young people to flee abroad. 

Since then, the mainland government has intervened routinely. In 2003, locals pushed back against an anti-subversion law pushed by Beijing. Conflict has erupted regularly over the elections system, which does not allow voters to choose the city leader directly. In 2012, some 100,000 demonstrators rejected a local school curriculum that critics derided as Communist brainwashing. 

Concerns have intensified since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. Two years later, when Beijing backed a new elections system that would subject candidates to screening, it touched off a 79-day street occupation. In 2016, after some young Hong Kongers began to talk about independence and self-determination, Beijing issued an interpretation of the territory’s Basic Law that effectively ejected six lawmakers from office, leaving many young voters feeling disenfranchised.

Mistrust at times fanned strange rumors. Some netizens accused the Hong Kong Observatory in 2015 of failing to issue major typhoon warnings, blaming Li Ka-shing, the territory’s wealthiest resident, who some people believed pressured the government to issue lower signals to avoid economic hits.

Fear swelled the protest movement this spring. After months of anemic marches, university and alumni groups and some political parties warned that the proposed extradition law could send almost anyone to a Chinese prison – including businesspeople, churchgoers, and activists – and weaken legal walls between Hong Kong and the mainland. Many critics of the bill acknowledged that the government's likely goal was to curb corrupt business practices.

In June, an estimated 1 million people marched against the proposed amendment. When Chief Executive Lam stood by it, twice that many came out a week later. Only after her approval ratings plunged did she withdraw the bill. By then, many residents were enraged that the police had driven off crowds with a fusillade of tear gas and rubber bullets.

Mrs. Lam “is targeting, tearing Hong Kong people into two,” Millie, a young salesperson and protester, said in June – referring to young people, with more to lose in the future, and older residents, aiming to protect their business and property interests.

Police force fallout 

By far the most reviled institution in the Hong Kong government is the police force. In June, days after the million-strong protest, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters near the government center. Videos of people being beaten with batons, temporarily blinded and bleeding, enraged the public. An estimated 2 million people filled city streets days later, elevating police tactics to one of the movement’s key concerns.

Tensions built throughout the summer. Police waited in emergency wards of public hospitals, questioning and even arresting some patients. After they were admitted, some of those injured said that police stayed with them inside their hospital rooms. A lawmaker revealed what he called a loophole in a data system that allowed police to access patients’ information, an accusation hospital authorities have denied. Doctors established a hotline to funnel frightened protesters to physicians who agreed to treat people but keep their identities and injuries confidential, says Alfred Yam-hong Wong, a cardiologist and member of the Medecins Inspires support group.

Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor
Police prepare to advance on a protest in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong, on Sept. 21, 2019. Police tactics have become one of the pro-democracy movement's top concerns.

Au Yiu-kai, a retired surgeon who has volunteered to help protesters, says that while one teen was in surgery earlier this month – one of two young people shot by police – a team of riot police in full gear with helmets and shields entered the hospital. Dr. Au says he complained to the hospital authority. “I know there are still young people who are injured who dare not to go to the hospital authority or private specialists,” he says. “They just feel frightened. If they're exposed, they will be caught.”

After protests on Aug. 31, when public fury was at a peak, riot police stormed the Prince Edward subway station. Officers beat bystanders and tackled people, soaking some riders with pepper spray. Police defended their actions as an operation to arrest rioters. Officers barred medics and journalists from the station and, at one point, ordered a group of medical volunteers who tried to respond to stand facing a wall. When the station was kept closed for two days, the public’s suspicions raced.

Officials slightly changed the tally of injured people several times, and blamed the discrepancies on the chaos in the station. After people demanded that the transportation corporation release footage, it eventually shared about two dozen images. Police, hospital, subway, and fire authorities repeatedly said that no one was killed, as officials condemned the rumors.

Some citizens, though, continued to speculate that people died inside the station. The doubters shrouded a station entrance with white funeral flowers and burned incense. Protesters stood outside the nearby police station for hours, shouting “murderers” until riot officers fired tear gas at them. 

Shifting media scene

For years, media-savvy residents here have navigated a daily tsunami of news, rumor, and speculation, with a great deal flowing from the Chinese Communist Party. (Over the summer, Twitter announced it had suspended thousands of accounts that it believed were part of a Chinese government campaign to sunder the protests.) Traditional news outlets have seen readership fall, replaced by upstart and often free news sites that sometimes carry weak reporting. The biggest broadcasters have been criticized for soft-pedaling news about Beijing, and residents worry about increasing self-censorship from other outlets as well. Even back in 2016, trust in local news groups had fallen to its lowest in a decade, with an overall credibility rating of 5.66 out of 10, according to a poll by the University of Hong Kong.

Meanwhile today, unverified or skewed accounts spread by partisan groups mix with wild rumors to flourish on social media feeds and channels. The disinformation phenomenon led one journalism professor to start a new fact-checking project that examines claims on social media and LIHKG, Hong Kong’s Reddit-like site. 

“The scale of protest is bigger. The scale of violence is bigger. Therefore the volume of false information is bigger now, and it’s much harder to be discerning now,” says Masoto Kajimoto, assistant journalism professor at the University of Hong Kong. “The more polarizing the issues are, the more likely people fall for false stories or don’t care.”

Sometimes the problem isn’t false news, but interpretation. A video of a police officer who was beaten by a small group of protesters until he pulled his service revolver and shot one teen point-blank drew sharply different responses. Viewers sympathetic to the movement saw police brutality, Professor Kajimoto says, while police supporters saw violent rioters threatening an officer’s life. “It is not just selective editing,” he writes in an email. “People see what they want to see – that’s the real danger of this type of video. It confirms and reinforces our preconceived biases.” 

As for the Prince Edward incident? “It is total nonsense,” he says. But the question is how to refute it. “If you say, ‘This is what people believe,’” you are part of the ecosystem trafficking in fake news.

Unsettled by the rumors and distrust, some civil society groups asked the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, a spinoff from the University of Hong Kong, to query the public. Pollsters asked whether respondents believed rumors about collusion between police and gangsters, or that Chinese forces had infiltrated the Hong Kong police. In both cases, with no solid proof, about two-thirds of the public said yes, according to Ed Tai, a statistician with the polling center who has reviewed the as yet unpublished results.

“These puzzles or these questions have stirred into rumors and leave even more unanswered questions,” he says. “The chase for democracy has been overtaken by the pursuit of the truth.”

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A deeper look

2. Meet 2020’s most determined underdog

Adm. Joe Sestak, who once commanded 15,000 sailors, is polling at 0% in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary and has yet to make a debate stage. Why would he sign up for this?

Kim
Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Adm. Joe Sestak confers with his policy director, Nate Kleinman, in the early morning on Oct. 15, 2019, already several hours into a long day of events across New Hampshire. Perhaps the longest of long shots in a crowded Democratic field, Admiral Sestak is doggedly forging ahead with his presidential bid, and says he's overcome steep odds before.

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When Adm. Joe Sestak walks into the basement of the Peterborough Town Library around 4 p.m., there are six plastic chairs in a semicircle, three of which are empty. He sits down facing two journalists and a local activist whom he won over years ago by writing her a thank-you note after she visited his congressional office. It’s so quiet you can hear the clock tick.

You may not know it – most Americans don’t – but Admiral Sestak is running for president.

In the most recent fundraising quarter, he raised $374,000, compared with Bernie Sanders’ $25 million. In most polls, he registers at 0%, behind a herd of senators and governors competing for ink and airtime.

Which begs the question – why would a retired two-star admiral who worked in the Clinton White House, held senior positions at the Pentagon, and served two terms as a U.S. congressman from Pennsylvania submit himself to such, well, humiliation?

The short answer: He doesn’t see it that way. He loves this, he says, and thrives on talking to average Americans. Plus, he has made a career – a life, even – of challenging seemingly insurmountable odds. “Our strategy is a little different because it has to be,” he says. “I have a path that I can see to victory.”

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Meet 2020’s most determined underdog

It is 6:30 a.m. and Adm. Joe Sestak is already two hours into a grueling day as he sets off down a dirt road in the New Hampshire wilds, the full moon casting a shadow ahead of him.

Stuffed in the back pocket of his jeans is his schedule – 10 events, ending around midnight – and talking points for short videos he plans to make for Instagram.

If you’re not one of his 798 followers, you may not know that Admiral Sestak is running for president. So, in a bid to garner attention, he is walking across New Hampshire. His lean new ground campaign involves hiking boots, iPhones and some assorted wires, and a single sign on a wooden stake that says, Admiral Joe Sestak for President. The admiral prefers not to carry it.

It can be lonely at the back of the 2020 Democratic pack, especially when you have a herd of senators and governors competing for ink and airtime. Many of them have struggled to get out of the single digits in polls, despite having far more funding and name recognition than the admiral.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Adm. Joe Sestak walks from Dublin to Peterborough, part of a trek across New Hampshire to garner more attention for his presidential campaign, Oct. 15, 2019.

He once commanded an aircraft carrier battle group with more than 15,000 sailors, but on his current shoestring budget he’s operating with a Ford F-150 and a crew of two. In the most recent fundraising quarter, he raised $374,000 to Bernie Sanders’ $25 million. In most polls, he registers at 0% (though there’s one that puts him at 1%, tied with Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard). His de facto campaign headquarters is an Econo Lodge under construction in Des Moines, Iowa, where his “admiral suite” costs less than $50 a night. The largest audience he’ll have all day, apart from a school event, is around two dozen.

All of which begs the question – why would a retired two-star admiral who worked in the Clinton White House, held senior positions at the Pentagon, and served two terms as a U.S. congressman from Pennsylvania submit himself to such, well, humiliation?

The short answer may be: he doesn’t see it that way. He loves this, he says, and thrives on talking to average Americans. And he has made a career – a life, even – of challenging seemingly insurmountable odds. His teenage daughter beat brain cancer – twice. He was elected as a Democrat in a 2:1 Republican district, and won again two years later by a landslide. He challenged the Democratic establishment and President Barack Obama after the party endorsed former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, running against their wishes and winning the nomination.

Now, he appears genuinely convinced that despite the fact that he is widely considered to be a nobody in this race, he has a shot of making the cut when Iowa and New Hampshire voters cast ballots in February.

“When there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s hard to keep things going,” he admits. “And that’s how it’s been for us at the beginning.”

But, he adds, that’s when persistence matters the most.

“I’m going to make a light at the end of the tunnel,” he says. “We’ll just see how big it’s going to be.”

And so, undeterred, he sets off at a brisk pace eastward to Dublin. There’s a lot to do today.

Motivated to serve

When the admiral reconvenes with his team some three miles down the road, the sun has risen and they have a tidbit of good news. Someone called in to C-SPAN to say he’d make a good vice presidential pick for Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

He shakes his head. He’s not doing this to be VP.

“Warren would be a good VP,” he says, with no hint of irony. “She would execute. ... I think she has a talent for that.”

But the president, he says, has to unite the country.

He heads into an auditorium full of restless teenagers at the Dublin School, a private high school, to talk about why he’s the best candidate to do that. Afterward, an administrator comes up and clasps his hand. “I may be the only Republican here, but you could be a great president,” he told the admiral. “I don’t even know what we’re fighting about.”

It’s not an uncommon response from conservatives, who tend to value his public service.

“He’s motivated to serve from deep inside. ... It’s just built into him,” says David Liddy, who as a junior officer willingly worked 100-hour weeks to help Admiral Sestak finish a report on improving the Navy so it could more effectively combat Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. Several days later, the U.S. was blindsided by 9/11.

In New Hampshire, 40% of voters are independents, and can vote in the Democratic primary. Admiral Sestak sees an opening to win them over. But getting media coverage in such a crowded field has been a challenge.  

“The attitude is basically, ‘we have too many people running for president anyhow.’ OK, maybe you do, but maybe the best one is the one you haven’t seen yet,” says Mr. Liddy, who lives in New Hampshire and popped up unexpectedly at one of the day’s events to advocate for the admiral. “I’m really concerned because I’m a Republican, I’ve been conservative my whole life, and I may be shifting parties. ... And here one of the best people I know is running for president, so I’m trying to help.”

“When you don’t get on MSNBC, you go on Cheddar”

By the time Admiral Sestak survives his seven-mile trek from Dublin to Peterborough, walking past a steady stream of Mack trucks, he has recorded seven short video clips for Instagram, ranging from a sunrise stand-up on agricultural policy to one about moon bases.

“One of the biggest hits I’ve gotten was on space,” the admiral explains, referring to an appearance this summer about erecting lunar modules on Cheddar TV, an online channel. “Oh well, when you don’t get on MSNBC, you go on Cheddar. I’ve been on there twice. I also do very well on Breitbart.”

He’s setting up for another video shoot on the outskirts of Peterborough when a police car rolls up, blue lights flashing. It is admittedly an odd scene – a pickup truck pulled off the highway, a man standing directly underneath the green traffic sign for Peterborough and pointing up at it, and a younger man in a suit jacket and hiking boots pulling a knot of wires out of his cargo pants. 

“You folks all set?” the policeman asks quizzically.

“Yeah,” says Evan O’Connell, Admiral Sestak’s communications director, in his perfect British accent.

“You sure?” asks the policeman.

“Yeah, yeah,” they assure him again, and he slowly drives away.

It’s now nearly 1 p.m., and the admiral has a scheduled taping with Politics & Pints, a locally produced video series started by twin brothers Eric and Mike Jackman.

“You’re not Eric or Mike, are you?” asks the admiral as a young man comes out of the brewery.

“No,” says the young man. Then he pauses. “Oh, are you, uh –“

“Joe Sestak,” says the admiral.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Adm. Joe Sestak sits down with Eric and Mike Jackman for their "Politics and Pints" video series in Peterborough, New Hampshire, Oct. 15, 2019.

By the time he does the interview and pounds a stake into the ground to mark the end of his walk for the day, it’s 2:22 p.m. and no one has had lunch.

The boss doesn’t believe in eating on the road. He says it makes him tired. Yesterday, all he had was a bag of cheddar popcorn – around midnight. Nate Kleinman, an organic farmer who doubles as the campaign’s policy director and driver, has a few sticks of Kate’s butter on the floor of his truck along with a half-eaten baguette, but that hardly counts. Mr. O’Connell is running on fumes from the lobster roll he picked up this morning.

The admiral has a reputation for being a taskmaster – his congressional office was open seven days a week – but he also inspires deep loyalty. Within a week and a half of Mr. O’Connell getting a call from his old boss inviting him to join the campaign, he had quit his job in Paris managing Ernst & Young’s financial services for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India, and was on a plane to Iowa, temporarily leaving his fiancée behind.

“Of course any sane observer would have to say the odds are stacked against him,” says Mr. O’Connell. But he believes the admiral is the best candidate. Not only does he have a depth and breadth of global experience, he says, but he’s got heart. “Sometimes you have to take a bit of a risk if you really believe in something.”

Late for their next appointment, they wind up lost, wandering around a parking lot. The admiral spots a movie theater advertising “Downton Abbey,” a favorite of his wife and daughter, and stops to take a selfie – by himself. No one recognizes him, let alone asks for an autograph.

Some may shake their heads at his quixotic bid, but those close to the admiral value his conviction that he can make a difference. 

“He knows it’s a long shot but I think he feels it’s important to try, no matter how many people tell him that it’s a long shot,” says his wife, Susan Clark-Sestak, who knows firsthand his dogged determination. On one of their first encounters, a work trip to the Soviet Union, he proposed. She said no. Eight years later, they were married.

“Who knows,” she says, “maybe it’ll catch fire.”

An audience of three

When the admiral walks into the basement of the Peterborough Town Library around 4 p.m., there are six plastic chairs in a semicircle, three of which are empty. The admiral sits down facing two journalists and a local activist whom he won over years ago by writing her a thank-you note after she visited his congressional office.

In a few hours, 12 Democratic candidates will be taking the stage in Ohio for the fourth debate, which will attract 8.3 million viewers.

“I don’t know if you heard, but I’m in the debate,” says the admiral.

The local activist jumps out of her chair and high-fives him. “How’d you get in?” she asks, incredulous.

He clasps her outstretched hand and then explains he’ll be livestreaming his answers to the moderator’s questions later that night. The venue: a Dunkin’ doughnut shop.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Adm. Joe Sestak speaks at a public event in the basement of the Peterborough public library Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. The audience consists of two journalists and a local activist. A campaign staffer sits on the left.

About half an hour in, a student at Antioch College who is writing about Admiral Sestak’s climate change plan comes in and starts a second “row.” It’s so quiet you can hear the clock tick. The admiral is there for more than an hour.

They head out to the parking lot and Mr. Kleinman puts what’s left of a broken key into his ignition, and then takes out a wrench to turn it, bringing the truck to life.

As the crew piles in and gets back onto the highway, Mr. O’Connell calls up the team’s operations director, Chris Baker, from the backseat. “Look,” he says, almost inaudibly. “The event just now – small group.”

It’s a short conversation. The admiral wants to talk to Mr. Baker, who planned most of the schedule from the Econo Lodge back in Iowa.

“The day’s been great, thanks so much for what you put together,” the admiral tells Mr. Baker, asking him if he heard that an earlier event at an assisted living center went well. It drew about a dozen residents, one of whom slid her Joe Sestak brochure under the crossword puzzle on her walker.

“I won ’em all!” the admiral says.

He’s not the least bit disheartened about the library event, he says in an interview after getting off the phone.

First of all, he explains, it was mid-afternoon on a workday in a town where most people commute to work. “And the local press was there! So I succeeded where I wanted to succeed,” says the admiral. Plus, he adds, the local activist is very involved on Social Security issues and will “broadcast to her whole network” what she heard.

“So was that a win? Yeah, that was a win.”

It’s a big issue, he concedes, not being able to get on cable TV – though many people have been commenting on the ad he just ran in the middle of “Saturday Night Live.” But like a battle that doesn’t go as planned, it’s just something they have to work around. And he’s been here before. At one early event in his campaign against Senator Specter, only two people showed up: a retired general and his wife.

So if he has to drive for hours to see a handful of people, no problem. 

If he has to walk 105 miles in eight days, including through a Nor’easter, he’ll do it with a smile.

If he has to livestream his “debate performance” from a doughnut shop, where not a single customer pays attention to him, where there are technology glitches and only about eight to 10 people are watching online at any given moment, so be it.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
From a Dunkin' Donuts in Windham, New Hampshire, Adm. Joe Sestak livestreams his answers to Democratic debate moderators' questions in Ohio. Admiral Sestak, who is polling at 0 to 1 percent and raised $374,000 in the third quarter, has not met the established polling or fundraising threshold for participating in the debates.

He will keep working 18-20 hour days and gain voters, one at a time.

“Our strategy is a little different because it has to be,” says the admiral. “I have a path that I can see to victory.”

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3. Who is Putin? Even to Russians, a mystery.

In a wide-ranging conversation, two senior Monitor journalists offer context about a complicated leader – Russia’s Vladimir Putin – and the knotted relationship he has with his own country and the U.S. 

Kim

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Vladimir Putin is frequently painted in broad strokes in the West: as a dictator whose apparent popularity in Russian polls is inflated and whom the Russian public is ready to topple. If Mr. Putin were ousted, some believe, relations between Russia and the West would normalize and all would be well again.

But this perspective fundamentally misunderstands the man and how he is seen by Russians – and what he does for them as the leader of Russia.

For as the Monitor’s Moscow correspondent Fred Weir tells diplomatic correspondent Howard LaFranchi, Mr. Putin is no Lex Luthor. He is popular among Russians because he is seen as a guarantor of stability and the enabler of Russia's economic growth over the past two decades. They approve of what he is doing – even if their view of the man himself can be as clouded as that of Westerners.

Note: This audio story was designed to be heard. We strongly encourage you to experience it with your ears, but we understand that is not an option for everybody. You can find the audio player below. For those who are unable to listen, a transcript is available by clicking the "deep read" button.

 

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2. Who is Putin? Even to Russians, a mystery.

Who is Putin? Even to Russians, a mystery

Loading the player...

Vladimir Putin is frequently painted in broad strokes in the West: as a dictator whose apparent popularity in Russian polls is inflated and whom the Russian public is ready to topple. If Mr. Putin were ousted, some believe, relations between Russia and the West would normalize and all would be well again.

But this perspective fundamentally misunderstands the man and how he is seen by Russians – and what he does for them as the leader of Russia.

For as the Monitor’s Moscow correspondent Fred Weir tells diplomatic correspondent Howard LaFranchi, Mr. Putin is no Lex Luthor. He is popular among Russians because he is seen as a guarantor of stability and the enabler of Russia's economic growth over the past two decades. They approve of what he is doing – even if their view of the man himself can be as clouded as that of Westerners.

Note: This audio story was designed to be heard. We strongly encourage you to experience it with your ears, but we understand that is not an option for everybody. You can find the audio player above. For those who are unable to listen, we have provided a transcript of the story below.

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

SAMANTHA LAINE PERFAS: Even before the start of Donald Trump’s presidency, Russia has been a challenging player in diplomatic affairs. From the American perspective, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is seen as a mysterious, sometimes sinister character with unknown intentions. But have you ever wondered, What are relations actually like between the United States and Russia from a Russian perspective? What’s behind the strongman persona of Putin? And do Russians think he’s got President Trump in his back pocket? The Monitor’s diplomatic correspondent, Howard LaFranchi and Moscow correspondent Fred Weir dig into these questions. 

HOWARD LAFRANCHI: So, Fred, you are visiting Boston from the land of Vladimir Putin, and I think Americans by now have a pretty set image of Vladimir Putin. They see a strong man leader... I’d like to know who is the real Vladimir Putin? And how do Russians see their leader? 

FRED WEIR: Well, that’s a really difficult question. And there are many, many different ways to try to get at who the guy is. I would say this is something of an American fallacy. Americans often do tend to see, um, personify their foreign policy problems, whether it’s Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qaddafi. They create a Lex Luthor type character and then pin much of their analysis on that.

And Putin is, he’s a complicated person. He grew up in tough circumstances and was famously a KGB professional agent for many years. That was his core training. He used his security service surrounding to create a strong regime, to do a lot of things, to restore national cohesion, a sense of purpose. And he really did. I mean, he was assisted by high oil prices at that time. The Russian economy boomed, but Russian living standards improved markedly. He did a lot of things that Russians applaud. As good steward of Russia and Russian national interests as Putin may be, it just has to be remembered that America’s problem isn’t Putin. He is not the dictator of Russia, the Lex Luthor type that could be knocked off and then Russia would become normal again. Your problem is with Russia. Putin is popular because of the things he does. He stays in power because Russians don’t see any alternative, and they’re reasonably satisfied with what he does. And that’s a hard thing sometimes for Americans to get their minds around. 

LAFRANCHI: We also have a sense of a leader in Vladimir Putin of someone who cares very much about his image. I’m just wondering, well, what is behind that? I mean, some people say, oh, he has to establish an aura, a leader in control. What’s behind that image-building and maintenance? 

WEIR: Yeah, it’s a very carefully curated image and it’s very partial. He does seem to enjoy these activities that he engages in, you know, going down in submersibles and flying with the birds in the hang glider, riding horseback and fishing. And journalists love it. Of course, it makes great copy, but there are other sides to him. I am told that he now, when he travels, goes to religious sites as a pilgrim and he never brings any press. There are no photo ops for that. So that’s the private side of Vladimir Putin, it’s probably more telling than the public antics are. And a lot of his his life is is completely off the radar screen. We know very little about his family. It’s not only off the radar screen, it’s completely taboo in Russia to touch that stuff.

So you have it you have this image of Vladimir Putin that obviously is created for public consumption. And he likes the bareback, bare chested horseback stuff. He likes that. He obviously must. He wouldn’t let photographers into it. But we don’t know who he is personally. 

LAFRANCHI: Do we know, does he play golf? 

WEIR: He doesn’t. No he doesn’t Howard, sorry he’s never going to invite you to play golf with him. 

LAFRANCHI: Not me, Donald Trump. 

WEIR: Oh, Donald Trump. Oh, yeah. Good. Good point. No, I don’t think that one was gonna work. Yeah. 

LAFRANCHI: If Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump don’t have golf in common, they do express an interest in talking and when they’re together, they do seem to get along quite well. What does sort of create this mutual attraction that does seem to be there? 

WEIR: I don’t think there is a mutual attraction. I don’t think Putin has ever expressed any great love or admiration for Donald Trump. What did happen during the election was that Donald Trump was saying things that were well-received in Russia like, wouldn’t it be great if I could get along with Vladimir Putin and we should really have better relations with Russia. They were just grunts. They weren’t like well formulated foreign policy ideas. But when you contrast it to Hillary Clinton, who had compared Putin to Hitler, you can see why the Russians had a preference for Trump.

But I think that the Trump era has just completely discombobulated the Russians. They don’t know what to do with Trump. I don’t think they feel like they can dialog with this administration. And so I think that your explanation is something to do with Trump. Maybe he has a fondness for strong leaders. I think that this is largely a product of a Washington imagination, that Trump is somehow beholden to Putin, that Putin has some compromising material on him, and that Trump is Putin’s stooge. That is all some kind of imagery that has been politically powerful in Washington, but has absolutely no traction in Moscow. 

LAFRANCHI: Also earlier over the summer, we saw the protests in Moscow, which some people wondered, is this the first crack or is this a sign of dissatisfaction growing among the citizenry of Russia? And so what is really going on there? 

WEIR: You know, over the summer, there have been really many newspaper articles and columns in the West in which people draw up this list of things in Russia: there are protests in Moscow, there are protests against garbage dumps, Putin’s popularity rating is falling. They get a list of things that are going wrong in Russia. It says that Putin is doomed. But what if we drew up a similar list about the United States? So you’ve got an opioid crisis, mass shootings, immigration crisis, trillion dollar deficits. We could do the same thing. Is that doomed or is it just a day in the life of a big complex country? Russia is not a country in crisis right now, and Putin is not a regime in crisis. Very strong, very stable at the moment.

But these are just things that are changing Russia. I mean, there are are a whole lot of things in a big society that is still very much in transition from the Soviet Union. And these protests are part of that. They show class divisions. They show political friction, real friction between a certain segment of the population anyway and authorities; people are are coming out in the streets and challenging and pushing back and they think they lost this one. But there are other cases where they’re winning. Civil society in Russia is is coming up. It’s bubbling up in various forms, mostly apolitical forms.

I first noticed this in my own village where I live outside of Moscow. A lot of my neighbors were gathered in a sort of a derelict space near the train station. They were cleaning it up, but they were going to turn it into a children’s playground. I thought this is astounding. This kind of thing has almost never happened before. It’s radical and new. I think it’s one of the most significant things that is changing Russia from the grassroots up. 

LAFRANCHI: What about the younger generation, young Russians? Where do they fit in that clamor, as you say, for freer entrepreneurship or even in some of the civil society activities? 

WEIR: Well, I think most young people are immersed in their private lives. I have two children who are Russians, completely Russian, and they are also completely apolitical. They are culturally engaged. They’re engaged in, they’re on the Internet all the time. But they don’t give a damn about politics. And I think that’s representative of the Putin generation, even though you read about, and you might even read articles by me in The Christian Science Monitor focusing on this politically active segment of the youth. You would make a mistake to think that they are the majority or anything.

So I do not know where this generation is headed. Whether they will become politicized, it would have to be something that made them so. Because one of the hallmarks of the Putin era for everybody is that you don’t have to be political. You can have your own life. You can own property. You can have a career. An interesting job. You can travel. You can read whatever you want. And within reason, you can say whatever you want publicly even. And... I don’t know anybody who is enthusiastic about Putin, who loves or worships him. But everybody thinks he’s the guarantor of stability and the life that they have now. 

LAFRANCHI: Well, Fred, you do you raise a question there. So what is on the horizon if people are, if Russians are basically satisfied with where the country is now under Vladimir Putin, but he won’t be there forever? 

WEIR: Well, it’s guaranteed that he won’t be there forever. And it is increasingly an issue. And under the Russian constitution, he has to leave in 2024 when his current term expires and there isn’t much hint about what will be done about that. And so this is what, this will be the big story of the next four years or so because the Russian establishment is deeply dependent on Putin. I mean, as a personality, it’s that old Russian thing. They’ve had this for a thousand years, you’ve got one indispensable guy at the top and everybody pins their careers, their hopes, their ambitions on him. Like I would say, the best thing to do would be to cultivate more political, genuine political competition so that real people could come up with their own real power bases and showing their abilities. But the Putin system doesn’t allow for that. And so the second thing would be groom an appropriate successor. And we have no hint of what, whether he’s going to do that or not. And third, a stopgap solution is to change the constitution so that Putin can stay in some way as the guarantor of stability and all the things that we have now. 

LAFRANCHI: And so for the average Westerner, why does it matter what happens in Russia? 

WEIR: The United States and Russia have 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, including huge intercontinental weapons that could pretty much obliterate each other in half an hour. And the relationship between them for many other reasons besides that cardinal one is awfully important. And it has sunk to its lowest depths ever. There has never been a time even at that at the worst moments of the Cold War, when there were virtually no back channels. And even during the Cold War, there was an element of respect, mutual respect. And now it seems like contempt is the order of the day. And here in the United States, almost anything to do with Russia or meeting with Russians has become toxic. 

LAFRANCHI: Do you see any glimmers, though, sort of against this what would be kind of a mutual shunning, a moving away, that this is not a good direction to go in? I mean, is there a reason to hope that this moving away from from each other that’s not good globally, that’s not good for either side, that there are little shoots of promise that maybe this can be reversed?

WEIR: Yes. You know, I’ve been almost three weeks in Canada and the United States, and I am impressed with how most people are far more reasonable. And that’s good. It’s also true, I’m an American journalist in Russia. I mean, I’m a Canadian, but I’m the very image of the traditional enemy, an American correspondent. And I’m welcomed everywhere I go. People are just wonderful. The hospitality is great. So I don’t think there is a public problem here. I think it’s a political one. I think there are reasons to be hopeful that some more normal relationship is absolutely necessary and probably it’s inevitable. 

LAINE PERFAS: Thanks for listening. For more coverage on Russia, visit CSMonitor.com/world/europe. This audio story was produced by me, Samantha Laine Perfas, and edited by Arthur Bright. Copyright by The Christian Science Monitor, 2019.

Who is Putin? Even to Russians, a mystery

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4. The Moroccan market where women rule

How can women best profit from their labors? One answer, our reporter found, lies in a bustling Moroccan rug market: by cutting out the middlemen. Actually, most men.

Kim
Taylor Luck
Fatima Rifiya (left), a veteran carpet seller, bargains with a customer over a Berber rug at her stand at the zarabi souk in Khemisset, Morocco, Oct. 15, 2019.

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At a rug market in the plains below the Middle Atlas Mountains, women are the shearers, weavers, mediators, sellers, and distributors. There is no room for men in their business model – and they like it that way.

The market is in Khemisset, a bilingual town of Berbers and Arabs. It has long been a natural trading post where Berber farmers and craftswomen from the mountain villages and rural hinterlands sell to urban, mainly Arab clientele.

Anyone wishing to fill their tourist bazaar, hotel, or travel bag with the intricate Berber rugs on sale here must first go through the merchant matriarchs who run the market. Every Tuesday, dealers from Fez, Rabat, and Marrakech make their pilgrimage to Khemisset armed with a budget, empty vans, and patience. For the women of Khemisset know more than carpets; they know how to bargain.

The market isn’t a charitable or government initiative to help rural women. It is a grassroots product of local residents and shared interests that has evolved over three decades. How successful is it? Morocco now has two similar, smaller women-run markets in the plains surrounding the Atlas Mountains.

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The Moroccan market where women rule

The carpet palace is at the far end of the bustling, dusty, weekly outdoor market here.

Past heaps of wheat and grain, mounds of clothes, and piles of sandals and animal feed is a rust-colored structure with vaulted archways and bushels of thread and fabric.

But visitors drawn by the allure of Berber rugs of every hue must abide by one important law: Inside this palace, women rule.

For here at Khemisset’s zarabi souk – literally “rug market” – women are the shearers, weavers, mediators, sellers, and distributors. There is no room for men in their business model – and they like it that way.

Moroccan connoisseurs know their straight-from-the-source products: the minimalist, black-and-white geometric weaves of the Beni Ourain; the colorful reds, blues, yellow symbols, and wavy lines of the Azilal tribe; patchwork confetti-like Boucherouite rugs of leftover textile scraps; the blue-and-red, lightweight, tightly-nit kilims.

Anyone who wishes to fill their tourist bazaar, auction house, hotel, or travel bag with these intricate multicolor Berber rugs must first go through these merchant matriarchs.

Every week, carpet dealers from Fez, Rabat, and Marrakech make an early morning pilgrimage to Khemisset armed with a budget, empty vans, and patience.

For the women of Khemisset know more than their carpets; they know how to drive a hard bargain.

Situated 60 miles east-southeast of Rabat and nestled in the plains below the Berber-inhabited Middle Atlas Mountains, Khemisset is a bilingual town of Berbers and Arabs. It has long been a natural trading post where Berber farmers and craftswomen from the mountain villages and rural hinterlands sell to urban, mainly Arab clientele.

For the past three decades, women from the town have teamed up with relatives and contacts from the outer villages to sell carpets and rugs directly to vendors.

The business has grown to 40 local saleswomen who appraise and hawk the wares of 400 women from the surrounding Berber villages.

It is believed that on any given Tuesday, this small souk provides a livelihood for up to 1,000 people.

Carpet matchmakers

Before dawn, Khemisset merchants such as Fatima Rifiya gather at the marketplace to await dozens of women from far-off Berber villages (locals refer to themselves as Amazigh, which means “free people”) who arrive in horse-drawn carriages at 4 a.m.

The sellers and middle-women then rummage through the piles of rugs, evaluating every piece by size, coloring, thickness, weave, and pattern.

Khemisset women say their secret to success is an eye for desirability – fitting each carpet to the target audience and buyer who never knew they always needed it. 

“Every carpet already has its home. We are just playing the role of matchmaker,” Ms. Rifiya says as she splays a red kilim carpet for a customer struggling to hide her eagerness.

Taylor Luck
Fatima Rifiya, a veteran carpet seller, rules over her stand at the zarabi souk in Khemisset, Morocco, Oct. 15, 2019.

Multicolored rugs stand out when hung in storefront windows and make them an easy sell to shop owners in tourist hubs like Fez; post-modern freestyle squiggles by the Beni Ourain are more in demand by foreign tourists and chic Moroccans looking to deck out their Casablanca apartment or Airbnb.

“Once we grade the carpets, we explain to the weavers the values and who their customers may be, [and] we set a price and our commission,” explains Ms. Rifiya, herself a transplant from a mountainous Berber village who now acts as a head matriarch and an Arabic translator.

“Then they sit with us, and together we sell.”

Carpet dealers come from Marrakech and Fez. The men pace between the tiny stalls muttering, “Really, that is too much,” or, “I swear to God, I can get half that price somewhere else.”

But Ms. Rifiya and her sisterhood stand their ground.

She and some of the more veteran sellers such as Faten act not only as translators for the Berber weavers, but as coaches in the ways of bartering and selling.

Simple rules such as: Never appear desperate for a sale. Let the customer walk away, they’ll always come back. Add 20% to your preferred price to open up bargaining. A customer who buys one rug is always more likely to buy more.

Solidarity, and inspiration

But what makes this weekly matriarchal market truly remarkable is how it came to be.

This souk is not sponsored by a charitable association, a collective, or even a government or royal initiative to help rural women. Instead, it is an organic, grassroots product of local residents and shared interests.

Here at the zarabi souk, women are selling individually yet banding together – an alliance driven by economic opportunity, supply and demand, and a dash of solidarity.

It was not always like this.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Three decades ago, most Berber weavers say they would sell to middlemen who would go off to market towns and sell at any price they wished, or to traveling “dealers” who would purchase directly from village women for their bazaars and tourist shops.

But each Berber woman would not know how much others were being paid for their work or what the market rate was for their carpets.

With the success of Khemisset’s zarabi souk, Morocco now has two similar, smaller women-run markets open in the plains surrounding the Atlas Mountains.

Although there is no room for them in the women’s operations, men are still free to sell carpets outside the covered souk on the fringes of the Khemisset market – as long as they are willing to risk the women’s wrath and ridicule.

“Bad quality,” says Faten as she points at the dubious-looking Oriental carpets stacked a hundred yards away. “And it is machine-made. There is no way that would pass the eye test of an Amazigh woman.”

Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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5. Multicultural churches are on the rise. Here’s why.

Church may be one of the last places to integrate. But what does it take to be truly inclusive? Some congregations are finding it requires an examination of doctrine and worship – and a willingness to be uncomfortable.

Kim

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When Michael Emerson, provost of Chicago’s North Park University, first began researching multiethnic churches in the late 1990s, they made up little more than 6% of American ministries. This fall, he expects that level to reach around 20%.

Historically segregated, American churches are growing more diverse. That’s thanks to shifting demographics and folks seeking out spaces that are more diverse. Still, many ministry leaders acknowledge that being multicultural requires more than just being multicolored. True inclusivity, they say, takes honesty, intentionality and often a commitment to discomfort.

One church committed to that goal is East End Fellowship in Richmond, Virginia, which is split almost evenly between white people and people of color. It strives to integrate worship cultures that have been separate for centuries. Sunday service is scheduled for 4 p.m. Hip hop plays pre-service, as do children. When the nearly 200-person congregation settles, a white and black band leads worship. Pastors preach from the floor, not a stage. 

“People are no longer content to segregate themselves, certainly in worship,” says Pastor Mark DeYmaz. “All pastors and ministry leaders are doing in churches that are remaining stubbornly segregated is managing decline.” 

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Multicultural churches are on the rise. Here’s why.

Toya Obasi sacrifices something each Sunday when she goes to a church where people don’t all look like her. Ms. Obasi is African American. Her church is not. Instead, East End Fellowship, based in Richmond, Virginia, is split almost evenly between white people and people of color. That’s no accident.

“It’s like more of a sacrifice than I think people really realize,” says Ms. Obasi. “[The black church is] literally the only cultural thing that I have.”

Ms. Obasi loves the community at East End – so much so that after years as a congregant she now works as church administrator. But their work isn’t always easy. Historically an African American area, Richmond’s East End includes housing projects and new high-end homes. The church is home to both gentrifiers and gentrified. 

With racial conciliation central to its mission, East End often confronts a challenge facing churches nationwide: integrating worship cultures that have been separate for centuries. Historically segregated, American churches are growing more diverse. Still, many ministry leaders acknowledge that being multicultural requires more than just being multicolored. True inclusivity, they say, takes honesty, intentionality, and often a commitment to being uncomfortable. 

This November, church leaders from around the country will meet in Dallas for the nation’s fourth triennial multiethnic church conference. Hosted by Mosaix Global Network, a group promoting church diversity, the conference will announce a rising share of multiethnic churches and focus on how to handle that rise responsibly.

“People are no longer content to segregate themselves, certainly in worship,” says Pastor Mark DeYmaz, one of Mosaix’s founders. “All pastors and ministry leaders are doing in churches that are remaining stubbornly segregated is managing decline.” 

Achieving integration, but not equity 

When Michael Emerson, provost of Chicago’s North Park University, first began researching multiethnic churches in the late 1990s, they made up little more than 6% of American ministries. Since then, he says the share of churches no more than 80% one race – his threshold for “multiethnic” – has increased. He expects the level of multiethnic churches to reach around 20% this fall.

America’s growing racial diversity makes homogeneous churches less likely due to shifting demographics, but it also means people seek out spaces that are more diverse, says Baylor University sociology professor Kevin Dougherty, one of Dr. Emerson’s co-researchers. If you interact with people who don’t look like you at the park, he says, you’ll expect the same in the pews. 

Dr. Emerson says the recent rise shows some progress – churches were once so segregated that people didn’t think different races could worship together. But diversity doesn’t necessarily signal equity.

Multiethnic churches often involve “people of color sacrificing their cultural heritage to worship in ways that look more white,” says Dr. Dougherty. “Regardless of the percentage of whites in a multiracial congregation … white cultural tradition seems to often dominate.” 

Those most skeptical of integration, says Dr. Dougherty, tend to be African Americans, who fear assimilation. For the Rev. David Wright, executive director of Boston’s Black Ministerial Alliance, that skepticism extends to the very way multiethnic churches are measured. Part African American and part Afro-Caribbean, he says his church wouldn’t be counted as multiethnic because the congregation is mostly “black.” 

“The definition of multiethnic having to include white people all the time,” says Mr. Wright, “is symptomatic of the problem with the concept of the church in America: Everything defaults to a standard of white.”

To Mr. Wright, integration is as much about structure as it is skin color. Mainstream Christianity in America, he says, was long complicit in racism, starting with slavery. This led to fundamental differences in church focus. White churches emphasized personal salvation; black churches valued spiritual and physical freedom. 

Noah Robertson/The Christian Science Monitor
Erin Rose, a pastor at East End Fellowship, spoke on the importance of 'place' as she began a new series on the New Testament book of Colossians, during a service in Richmond, Virginia, Sept. 15, 2019. To integrate its congregation, the church has developed new liturgy, new worship styles, and new traditions.

“Liberation of the body as well as the soul – this is, I think, one of the defining factors of this thing we call the ‘black church,’” says Mr. Wright. “It’s never been just about my personal salvation and going to heaven, but there’s always been that social justice part.” 

Churches that promote inclusivity, says Mr. DeYmaz, are also challenging centuries of Christian theology. Regarding race, he says, seminaries often teach two things: New Testament churches were segregated, and the best way to start a new church is to target a homogeneous group of people. Both of these he disputes. 

“What that looks like to someone ... on the outside looking in,” says Mr. DeYmaz, is that “we all have our own gods. … It looks like multiple religions.” 

He connects that perception to shrinking congregations. If you say God loves all people, but your church is all white, he says, then that message looks contrived – especially to younger generations. 

“[Young people are] growing up in integrated environments,” says Mr. DeYmaz. “They’re working in integrated environments. They’re living in integrated environments. They’re not going to accept going to segregated churches.”

‘Relationships hold the church together’ 

To address these problems, East End Fellowship has developed new liturgy, new worship styles, and new traditions, for more than 10 years, says church elder David Bailey. 

On Sunday, the church meets at the Robinson Theater, a community arts center within walking distance for most of the congregation. Like the church itself, the theater is a “third space” – neutral ground between the area’s mostly separate black and white neighborhoods.

Staff lives in the community it serves. Members say they often offer their homes and cars to other members in need. Living so close means they have no other choice. If there’s a problem, they can’t ignore it. 

Sunday service is scheduled for 4 p.m. Hip hop plays pre-service, as do children. When the nearly 200-person congregation settles, a white and black band leads worship. Pastors preach from the floor, not a stage. 

During the week, smaller groups meet in each other’s homes. They break bread – well, usually pizza – while discussing Sunday’s service and whatever’s on their mind. Relationships hold the church together, says Associate Pastor Chris Lee.

Most American ministries, Mr. Bailey says, value “bigger budgets and bigger buildings.” Rooting itself in an area where poverty is common means East End’s budget is small. But Mr. Bailey says they define success differently.

Ms. Obasi and some others from the church sang at an interfaith gathering a night before the 2017 Unite the Right rallies in Charlottesville. Watching the protests the next day, she says she wanted to be angry, but she couldn’t – because of her time at church. 

“I’ve had too many positive interactions with white men here specifically for that one thing to cancel them all out,” she says. “And I’m so grateful for that because that could have broken me and it didn’t. I was like, ‘those guys look like my buddies.’ I can’t hate them. They’re like my friends.”

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The Monitor's View

The Balkans fuse

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Not once but twice in the 20th century, Europe’s southeast corner was the scene of tragic wars. This month, however, three countries in the Balkans – Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia – decided to create a common home for the region. Tired of waiting to join the European Union, they laid plans to create their own peace-shaping union.

The three agreed to allow passport-free travel for their 18 million citizens by 2021, much like the EU’s border-free zone. They also want a faster flow of goods, ending the long lines of trucks stuck at customs points. And qualified workers will be able to take jobs in each other’s countries.

The plan for a measure of economic unity in the Balkans is an attempt to replicate the core of the EU’s model: a values-based community that could prevent a return to blood-and-soil nationalism.

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The Balkans fuse

Not once but twice in the 20th century, Europe’s southeast corner was the scene of tragic wars, triggered by ethnic nationalism. This month, however, three countries in the Balkans – Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia – decided to create a common home for the region. Tired of waiting to join the European Union, they laid plans to create their own peace-shaping union.

The three agreed to allow passport-free travel for their 18 million citizens by 2021, much like the EU’s border-free zone. They also want a faster flow of goods, ending the long lines of trucks stuck at customs points. And qualified workers will be able to take jobs in each other’s countries. They also invited other Balkan nations to join.

“We are all on a European path, but we have agreed to decide our own fate,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

The EU itself remains an inspiration in the way it has built a “home” for so many countries after two world wars or decades of living under communist rule. “The Creator made Europe small and even divided her, so that our hearts could find joy not in size but in diversity,” wrote the Czech novelist Karel Čapek. Yet the EU’s sense of belonging has been troubled by recent tensions, such as Britain’s planned exit, lingering issues from a 2009 recession, and differences over the admission of new member countries.

Last week, for example, France vetoed the start of negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia that would allow them to join the EU. The countries are qualified to join. And most of the EU’s 28 members want them to join. But France is unhappy about disputes within the bloc.

The plan for a measure of economic unity in the Balkans is an attempt to replicate the core of the EU’s model: a values-based community that could prevent a return to blood-and-soil nationalism. “This initiative is a political step to relaxing relations in the region,” said North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. “The Balkans is no longer a ‘gunpowder barrel’ as it has been since the 19th century. This is a 21st- century Balkans focused on peace, stability, economic development, integration, and the improvement of quality of life.”

The Balkans is not yet free of ethnic tensions. Serbia has yet to acknowledge Kosovo as a sovereign nation. And Bosnia struggles with divisions between Croats, Serbs, and Islamic Bosnians. Yet two of the region’s nations, Croatia and Slovenia, have already joined the EU. Now the rest, waiting for the EU to get its act together, are defining their own home for now. Like a thriving family, there can be joy in diversity.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Energy that doesn’t run out

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For a woman struggling with chronic fatigue, the idea that God is the source of limitless energy impelled an aha moment and swift healing.

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Energy that doesn’t run out

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Around 800,000 of my fellow Californians were left in the dark recently. Their power was turned off in an effort to prevent sparks caused by downed power lines during severe wind conditions, which can lead to wildfires.

The potential challenges of a lengthy blackout led me to think more deeply about the concept of energy. There are many different ways we can think about it. For example, energy is something that exists naturally. Humanity has learned to harness some of these forces in useful ways that end up running our cars and lighting our homes. Energy is also used in, for instance, running a marathon.

But is there something beyond what we see that could be recognized as an ultimate, and even unlimited, source of energy?

From my study of Christian Science, I’ve learned that God is the creator and sustainer of His universe. Clearly, this activity involves energy. Because God is infinite, His energy must also be unlimited. Understanding this fact can be helpful in our daily lives. It enables us to see evidence of divine energy in operation, both in our individual lives and in larger ways.

Several decades ago there was a severe energy crisis. It took the form of limited availability of petroleum products, specifically gas and oil. There were long lines at gas stations, and thermostats were turned down in commercial buildings in order to conserve fuel. Many people, myself included, were praying for a solution.

During this time I was struggling with an energy challenge of my own: chronic fatigue. I felt exhausted all the time. One night I couldn’t sleep, and I found myself praying about the energy crisis. I reasoned that divine energy had to be infinite, since God is infinite. And since God is Spirit, energy couldn’t be limited to anything physical, such as what comes out of the ground.

It was a sudden moment of realization. I felt a sense of confidence, almost buoyancy, in recognizing that true energy was unlimited, actually infinite. I felt the promise in what Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this publication, stated in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “Let us feel the divine energy of Spirit, bringing us into newness of life and recognizing no mortal nor material power as able to destroy” (p. 249).

At its core, energy isn’t confined to physical resources, which are limited. Rather, its source is God, unlimited Spirit. As God’s creation, we too express freedom from limitation. And we have the right and ability to experience this spiritual fact in our daily lives.

The next morning I awoke full of energy. The chronic fatigue never returned. And although I certainly don’t claim credit for it, the larger energy crisis was soon over, too. To me these encouraging outcomes pointed to the underlying spiritual reality of illimitable energy.

In times of an energy crunch of any type, we can count on the spiritual fact that, ultimately, energy has its source in God, Spirit. With this inspiring our prayers, we can trust that God will help us see that our needs can be met, step by step, in ways small and large.

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Viewfinder

Sending up a flare

Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters
On Oct. 23, 2019, a Valparaiso demonstrator rallies in Chile, the latest Latin American country to erupt in protest. Demonstrations began after a subway fare increase earlier this month, but turned into massive rallies as Chileans expressed anger over growing inequality and the rising cost of living.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 24th, 2019 )

Kim Campbell
Culture & Education Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: Recent photos from NASA got us thinking about black holes and if they are really holes, or black. We’ll have answers for you in Thursday’s Daily.

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October 23, 2019
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