Golden States of Grace
BY Christopher Harrity
January 14 2012 5:00 AM ET
The religious landscape of California is diverse and populated with communities of people who have often been shunned by their more traditional religions. Rick Nahmias attempts to give them a presence with his photo documentary.
Golden States of Grace: Prayers of the Disinherited, a preface by Rick Nahmias
I am of the firm belief that every one of us carries something within that is marginalized: some piece of personal history or trait that has been, or which we wish would be left behind or cast off — the emotional scars left by an abusive alcoholic mother, the malformed foot, the embarrassingly immigrant heritage and so forth. It is this concept (compounded by an allegiance to Jung’s theory of the Collective Unconscious) which has led me to conclude that those whom society has cast off as “them” are, in reality, “us,” and which drove the creation of this body of work.
Since I began “Golden States of Grace” in 2003, it has often felt as if our world has drawn increasingly more stark divisions between “us” and “them,” be those divides cultural, political, socio-economic, or religious. Additionally, representations across faith lines have become filled with stereotypes, and at times, the outright hatred of the other. National and international events demonstrate almost daily that we live in a fundamentally faith-based society which has grown increasingly intolerant of those who do not clearly embrace the narrowly defined codes of morality and religious worship. (The day before I began editing this book a man with a gun entered a church in Knoxville, Tennessee, shot eight people, killing two. His motive: they were too liberal in that they supported the inclusion of gays, racial desegregation, and women’s rights.) This body of work aims specifically to counteract that intolerance, hoping its audience might open itself to discovering (if not experiencing) faith from the bottom up.
Even with the prevalence of mainline religious institutions and middle-class America continuing to exclude and even vilify those they view as “beyond the pale,” there are still reasons to be hopeful that we, as a society, can see beyond our religious tunnel vision. A recent study on religious views across America published by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life documented that nearly three-quarters of Americans believe that many faiths beyond their own can lead to salvation.
You do not have to want to sit down to breakfast with someone to respect his or her place beside you in sanctuary or in community. Nor is not my intention that this book’s reader throw their arms open to embrace the people depicted within it. Rather, if I have one singular hope, it is that our collective eyes remain open long enough to simply acknowledge every human being’s need and right to come to some profound understanding about their own connection to a higher power.
Thus, in the end, “Golden States of Grace” is a study of otherness — the otherness out there, the otherness within each of us, the otherness which begs us to bind together as human beings to celebrate, contemplate, and find meaning in our lives.