Alaska Miracles

Alaska Miracles480
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4 Essays

  1. Anna Bruzzese | Stony Brook University says:

    Religion in the United States is a dynamic social phenomenon. It shapes American society and is shaped by it in return in ways that are unique and surprising; ways that defy simplistic generalizations.

    Yes, Americans are the most religious society in the Western world, but they do not accept religion passively. They reframe and reshape religious dogmas. There is a constant dialogue between religion and the contradictory demands of living in a secular, contemporary American society.

    The sign advertising “coffee, counseling, prayer and miracles” sums this up so well. It is a recognition of what so many contemporary Americans seem to need – a little physical, emotional and spiritual “pick-me-up” every day… And it is an example of how people come up with creative ways to try to meet such needs.

  2. Donna Gaines | Sociologist, says:

    Kitch or irony free? Faith peddled on a billboard. Come inside, have free coffee, counseling, prayer, and miracles. Set against a storefront window selling “stuff” we may wonder, is God just another commodity form, or why not? Why shouldn’t comfort stations offer soul-weary travelers something hospitable for the Spirit?

  3. kennedywong says:

    “Jesus Loves you! May God bless you!”

    This is not a quote from a pastor or church member. This is a routine closing sentence that I heard from Cynthia, a street sleeper that I got in touch with for a few years. She claimed that she is a Christian, going to church regularly for free food. My first impression was amazed by how religious discourses are common in the homeless community. This could be the outcome of the 'wonderful works' of God! But I am skeptical of the ‘wonderful works.’

    In contrast to my previous picture, homelessness is always ‘visible’ in front of a church in the city. People line up a long queue for free food or free drinks. On the other side, the church claimed that they are not just feeding people physically, but mentally and spiritually. Is that true?

    Marx wrote, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. (Mckinnon, 2005)

    I had a chance volunteering with a missionary group for a while. Sometimes, I heard a lot of wishes saying aloud in the prayers. I have never seen a miracle as an event after. But I could see some people genuinely relieved their worries after speaking to god. The power of praying to God or talking to a pastor, in another perspective, could be a form of narrative therapy in counseling psychology, that help people to build up a new form of identity. (Brown & Augusta-Scott, 2007) By confessing his sin in front of God and the pastor, as an agent, he is told to be forgiven, having a new identity and hope in his life.

    However, most of the time, I could not see this free 'wonderful works' happening. People are not so interested in religion because it is too distant from their immediate suffering. They are lining up solely for food. But it is still common that people would come for free counseling and prayer. Once there was a young man, claimed to be a Christian, and asked for a prayer of his health. Soon after I prayed for him, he asked me to give him some more food. At that moment, I felt for his situation, and I decided to give him another set of free meal. After he left, another person came, asking for prayer, and then some more free food. After volunteering for a few months, I realized that this is a strategy for people to get more food.

    Claiming to be a Christian, or saying religious discourses is a way for a homeless man to get into Christian group and earn empathy from the in-group members. Discourses serve as an agent for them to access more material, opportunities and caring. A homeless man once told me about his life in a very ‘religious’ way, “I do not have any negative feelings or emotions. I now only have motivations and positive things in my mind”. I was skeptical of his claim, so, I asked him to justify the origin of the positive feelings. He then told me that some Christian from a church was visiting him and talking to him frequently, with free food and prayers. After a certain months getting along with those church members, he was told to be housed, and very soon with the aids of the church.

    Somehow, the free miracle is happening to him, and he claimed that he forgot all those negative feelings he had before. Is the ‘wonderful works’ truly empowering him? Or it just serves as opium that relief the immediate starvation, and temporarily turn a person’s attention from mental suffering?


    Brown & Augusta-Scott, Narrative Therapy, 2007, p. 36

    McKinnon, AM. (2005). 'Reading ‘Opium of the People’: Expression, Protest and the Dialectics of Religion'. Critical Sociology, vol 31, no. 1-2, pp. 15-38.

  4. aerdnazelaznog says:

    The image to the left was taken from Rachel’s collection in Alaska, one of America’s ‘least religious states’. The state of Alaska has large indigenous population as well as a large Protestant population. The sign is an example of the Westernized worlds most widely utilized form of visual discourse: The Advertisement. It is located in front of a ‘tapes and novelties’ shop, offering passing residents the opportunity to grab a free warm cup of coffee, perhaps with a side of counseling, prayer and a Miracle if luck or Jesus were to strike. The sign and font of the sign look older, perhaps late 90’s. I chose this image not because of its modernized quirkiness, but because nothing is really free.
    Coffee is advertised first to draw in potential candidates, with hopes of eventual membership to prayer or intervention. I also chose this advertisement, because adding folks to a religion in the 21st century age now requires catchy slogans and some form of advertising. Ethically speaking, those in compromising positions (homelessness, poverty, in need of resources) may enter this space for the coffee, for the food. Not pictured here are what participants look like, what is going on behind the window that advertises ‘Tapes and Novelties’. We do not know the economic climate, the temperature outdoors. There may ulterior motive. It is layman's knowledge, however, that to persuade others to congregate anywhere to explore a particular agenda, ceremony or meeting- food and drink are currency. This sign exemplifies the bigger picture, motives, and aspirations of one local organization.