Donate to our boiler restoration fund!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Can you be persistent enough?


Pete....was persistent

I knew that judge. Judge Raymond H. Graham. Back in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Known as a  “hanging judge”. Pretty much neither feared God nor had respect for people. I was director of the Presbyterian Urban Ministry Council. Each church got to assign a representative to our board. Judge Graham was assigned by his congregation.I called the pastor. He said I’d be surprised. When I interviewed him, Judge Graham told me he’d had a heart attack. While he was in the hospital, he realized that he’ d been putting the wrong people in jail. And felt he had a chance  to make up for it. Together we created Oklahoma’s first alternatives to incarceration program.  (He’d brought along an old friend, Baker Davis,  who said I came to jeer and stayed to cheer…we had many a meeting at the Judge’s poker table over fine single malt and a slight haze of smoke.)

And now, the week…
John Oliver asks us to look up, way, way up there, way up in the sky, beyond the clouds, beyond the stars……way up there is rock bottom he tells us…And I am frightened by news from the Trump rallies…that if he loses, he will declare the  results illegitimate…what would that unleash?
On the one hand, i am  encouraged by some developments in the evangelical community….last week Liberty College students protested their President Jerry  Falwell’s continued  support for Trump…BUT….why only now?  Why not when he threatened 
Muslims? Mexicans? This is Not just about SEX…
Back to the parable…
Who are we in this parable?  How we answer that  question makes a world of difference. Basically, its about patience, persistence. But the issue is, who is telling whom to be patient? Jill Duffield, of Presbyterian Outlook, reminds us that on so many issues, we are simply not in a position to tell others to be patient. 
As Martin Luther King, Jr's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" noted: "For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This 'wait" has almost always meant 'never.'"

She goes on to say: That’s my concern with preaching these texts this week. That we will preach "don't lose heart" without an antiphonal cry of "How long O, Lord?" I fear that I would be tempted to proclaim "pray always," without also walking with the widow to the judge's bench.

In a1963 forum, a history professor asked about James Baldwin about his critique of liberals. Baldwin replied that, with some exceptions, "Liberals have the proper attitude with no real convictions." He had observed, he said, that, "when the chips are down," they "don't come through." I wonder if that couldn't be a critique of the church, too. I suspect the backlash against "thoughts and prayers" is grounded in this very reality.  We need more than thoughts and prayers…we need righteous action.

We need patience to continue work on what we won’t see accomplished  in our lifetime….to be persistent….to keep going back over and over again…the one  good thing Donald Trump said about Hillary in the last debate was….She doesn’t give up…she’s not a quitter..

That’s issue one.
Issue number two is…what do you know by heart?  Remember that in school? Learning the pledge to the allegiance? The Lord’s prayer?  Jeremiah is asking us what we know by heart…his challenge is for us to  know God’s law so well it shapes who we are and that who we are is visible embodiment of it…ou lives being then lesson text.  
As we talk about what we know, there are the expected replies…Lord’s prayer, Psalm 23, the rosary…Hail Mary, full of grace…then Rachel recites a beautiful poem about October..
Back to Baldwin fro a minute…do we come through? What difference does it make?
Thanks Leila....

Jill Duffield challenges us with these questions: 
1. When we say we will pray for someone or about something, do we? What difference does it make if we do or don't follow through on our promise to pray?
2. When have you lost heart? Were you able to find your heart again? If so, how?
3. How do we balance faithful patience with faithful action? When have you been persistent in seeking justice?
May God grant us persistence…….may God help us to encourage each other when we lose heart…persistence….until justice comes…

First Reading Jeremiah 31:27-34
27The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. 28And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the LORD. 29In those days they shall no longer say: "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." 30But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.
31The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt-a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Psalm 119:97-104
97Oh, how I love your law!
It is my meditation all day long.
98Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is always with me.
99I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your decrees are my meditation.
100I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
101I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
102I do not turn away from your ordinances,
for you have taught me.
103How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
Second Reading 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
Gospel Luke 18:1-8
1Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" 6And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

This is not an obituary


RL Haney

This is not an obituary…..

From the moment that RL’s leaving his studio at West-Park became inevitable, it was clear that he would not be coming back to Open Mic. The Open Mic which  had begun as Rhythms, Repair and Renovation.
The official poster
 (With its own '70's style poster...)Now by mid-March, the open mic had continued under the direction of the 3 D’s:  David Lyons, Dion Thompson and David Smythe. They’d kept the doors open, kept the community alive and RL’s values intact. They each have their own reasons:  the open mic brought out David Lyons as a performer, first one song, then two, then three.Then at other spots around the city "on tour." Dion found his own unique voice as a stand up comedian. And David Smythe began as part of RL's retinue and is now the church's go to handyman and sound guy. They do this at least in part to say thanks for what they've received and they've done well.  But no question:  RL was missed. 

When Victoire and Henri returned from Brazil, the first place they came was to West-Park anxious to see old friends, West-Park was Victoire's first landing place when she first arrived here from France. She now appears regularly on the city club and cabaret scene. They were wearing their Dusty Withers fan club badg
Dusty badge
es in honor of RL. It was hard on me to tell them he would not be there.  They were only two of so many more. So when word came to us (through Dion) that  RL would be making an appearance, word spread like wildfire through social media. And when word leaked that he’d asked Dion to go bring down his guitar, we knew he’d not only be appearing, but playing. 
Henri and Victoire wearing badges....

Even before he showed up, a record breaking crowd was showing up in the chapel. Many were there simply because this was a new open mic they had discovered. But many came to pay tribute to a mentor and friend to whom thanks was due. A truly eclectic crowd..worthy of what RL had created. 

David Lyons opened  the night. 
David Lyons open

Shirley reads

David Smythe played 
David Smythe
with his virtual drummer Kyle. Our new senior citizen contingent was represented by Helen Cohen . Journeyman Gene Cross, who's played with the best, backed Helen and then our young blues man Mike Handelman backed Gene.
Helen Cohen and journeyman guitar player Gene Cross 

Shirley Eitan did her acapella classics.

Harold Zoloshevsky
 did stand up and Joel Gold was back for what only he can do…his on the spot  improv that takes us back to the Village coffee shops and Beat poets. More than once I’ve seen rap artists drop their jaws in amazement at Joel’s spoken word. 
The one and only Joel Gold

Ross and Blain

Gene and Mike
Gene and Helen
Soon RL made his first appearance, doing a tribute to his friend and amiable rival, the godfather for a generation  of singer -songwriters Jack Hardy,( ) whose last circle included my friend and collaborator Jeremy Mage. I remembered how the door to the open mic had been opened by RL’s 2012 sanctuary concert which was not only a tribute to Jack (Shut up and play the song) but also the farewell concert the P&G’s crowd had missed in its untimely closing. And I recalled how I’d gone to P&G’s with Amanda and saw this amazing cast of characters including RL, Piano Dan and Mandola Joe. The first open mic I’d ever been to. 
RL speaks of Jack
RL brings the word

The young duo Beat Sticky, a nod to their use of the Chapman Stick.(,appeared next with their folk/r&b stylings reminiscent of a youngTracy Chapman. 
Beat Sticky
A young woman fresh from Australia (who has since become a regular), Aimee Watson, made her first appearance with dramatic original songs on piano and guitar.
Aimee on piano 

Aimee's first appearance
Ross Byron and Blain Nan played, Sharyn Schiller did a reading and Bernice sang Somewhere over the Rainbow.

Young Nick Lantigua played the banjo.  Now 20, he's been with us since he was 17. 
Nick on the banjo

RL took his time to play for us. To tell of the beginnings…how he was approached by someone asking him to sign a petition …something he’d never done before…to save West-Park. And how Amanda got him to play in a balcony music festival in a ruined church with no heat and no restrooms. How he was moved to get involved. Build those restrooms. Then launch his project of Rhythms, Repair and Renovation. His two loves (outside of Harvey, of course)…rebuilding  the church (the building, not the churchy part) and keeping live music alive. That is, on his terms. Where everyone always gets three songs, which gives you enough time to screw up and recover. In an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement. Where one is safe to grow to what they could become. In a feeling of community. And collaboration, not jams. For RL, jams are all about can you top this while collaboration is what can we create together. He told us  all that  again. So we'd remember. Tales about the gong player, the rappers and the tap dancer who tapped without music. 
RL Plays

And he played his most special, rarely performed  song, Rustling Winds. He wouldn’t be RL without tearing up, which he did. And so did we. He is in the end a classic romantic.

Many of us performed in special thanks. I did my Queen of the  Factory Town and Carolina Goin Home with Victoire.
Bob and Victoire
 She sang the song  she wrote about this open mic, about the old chapel and old cowboys, (RL).
Victoire sings of cowboys

Young  Jeremy and Jessie surprised RL with Full Moon on the Water, an RL song in an Ian and Sylvia style, like he’d shown them.  
Jessie and Jeremy

RL closed out the night  with Stay Awhile, as he always did. As was fitting . With probably the  largest collection of musicians we’d ever had onstage at the same time. Ever. And we all sang together. Collaboration, not  a jam.

The night was exactly the right way to say thank you RL. What it was supposed to be. 
An all-star line up for "Stay Awhile"

He came back a week later. Thought about performing. Decided not to play. That would be anticlimactic, he said. 

…..ain’t no trains at the station, seems about like to rain…..


This is not an obituary.

OK.So that’s  the story of a great night. It’s not the story of RL.  I’ve delayed way too long in writing this, partly because I don’t want to write a book and it’s hard to know what must be said and what to leave out. But more because to write this is in a sense, to admit that he has left the building, which is something I’d prefer not to do. (The why’s and wherefores of his leaving will not be dealt with here. Besides, RL has frequently stated he doesn’t do soap operas..) What can I say about RL?

RL is an American original. He is as much an expression of Americana as a Bob Dylan album. (the Michelangelo and Da Vinci of his craft, says RL... And my favorite bastard.) To truly write about RL, you would need Hemmingway and Garcia Marquez with an occasional dollop of Hunter Thompson. RL is a character of his own creation. He has a unique way of looking at and being in the world, courtly, mannered in a late 19th century way and yet a bit psychedelic. Obviously, his view of the world does not always (often?) coincide with that of others. Thing is, I found myself preferring his view.

And there is of course this Zelig-like quality to RL and the pop music culture of oh, quarter century or more. This tour with that band. Lights for another. Watering Lennon's pianos. And a few fistfights. (Won't say who won.) Those Studio 54 photos...

More than once he's quoted to me from Elwood P. Dowd, the main character of the play Harvey, (for whom RL nicknamed his wife, who was in the cast). In response to being told by a doctor to Wrestle with reality, Dodd replied:
Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it. 
And so has RL. 

He was there. From the days we reopened in a building described as somewhere between Berlin and Brooklyn (well, more like Havana, really, someone added.) From the fateful night at the end of Amanda's 2010 Balcony Music Festival when after leaving, he returned to read his  Red Ryder and the Fat Lady.When Danielle and I were the only ones on a daily basis keeping the doors open, he was there. If something needed fixing, he got it done. From big sanctuary doors to sidewalk metal grate doors to light bulbs. He’d hire a crew, call on one of the numerous skilled retinue of people he kept on retainers. Spent thousands of dollars. Just to get things done. And never kept receipts, because that’s not what it’s about. 

He was there as paternal protection and support for Danielle and for Priska when she had a studio above his. (How I miss Priska and Jeremy!) He was equally protective and proprietary on the  building as a whole, sometimes annoyingly so. He was the unofficial night watchman, “policing the building” before heading home. 

He was there for all of the intense craziness of the Occupy Wall Street Occupation of West-Park  and especially Teddy, who became our sexton.RL maintained, that Teddy was one of his fastest gets, i.e. they got each other within two days.  I sometime wonder how the last years would have been different had Teddy lived and we had been able to enjoy this adventure with him. Teddy  was the quintessential expression of what we were trying to become. Danielle, intuitively and completely  “got” my vision and would have done anything to help bring it about. He had my back in every way. 

RL  was there through out all kinds of artistic residencies  like Bread and Puppet. Warm memories of RL and B&P creator and genius Peter Schumann at the party at the end of their 50th anniversary celebration. Something about the two of them that  fit.  Two originals.

He was there to encounter and engage the many street folks who were part of the scene from Rachel and her shopping carts (who said why he danced lasciviousy at me!) to legless Sean and his electric and... acoustic?  wheel chairs. (Teddy had “saved” Sean. it just didn’t last.)

He was there during Zeljko’s shooting for his as yet unfinished docufairytale about New Yorkers and their dreams…

He was there. Especially for me. As much as he disclaimed the “churchy” part, that’s as much his overall allergy to institutions. ( I don’t do committees. I do projects, he says…) Even though he is an officially licensed shaman, when he shared with me Myles Connally’s 1928 inspirational Catholic classic Mr. Blue, about an eccentric follower of Jesus, I knew RL understood and respected my vision and would do everything he could to help it succeed. Out of care for me and more out of respect for the vision beyond me. 

He was there . During the darkest days for me, the days when I didn’t want  to go home because there was nothing there but a card table, bed, folding  chair and two weeks worth of clothing, his studio was a safe space. A place to stop by to catch my breath, or drink a cold one or catch an episode of Leverage. We'd watch other  series, like Nero Wolfe, but Leverage was my favorite. How could  I not be  attracted to a show that opened with:

The rich and powerful, they take what they want. We steal it back for you. Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys. We provide... “leverage". If the light was on in his stained glass window, (the bat signal), I knew there was welcome.

How many times would a tourist couple encounter RL at the Gate and wind up in his studio with an impromptu concert evolving for one great story to take home about the best vacation ever?

Fact: during one incredibly bad stretch of time, there are nights I would not  have eaten if it were not for RL.

The open mic gave rebirth to my music life after 30 some years. RL a great critic for songwriting. But more, he got my guitar rebuilt and got it hooked it up for electric amplification. Got me my first gig bag. Helped me to feel like I had joined the  fraternity. 

RL has added to his preferred business practices. In addition to no more partners, he has added no more working with churches ...or Christians. It’s not supposed to work out that way. As we become more …professional? uh..? we are like a gentrifying neighborhood that as it improves, runs the risk of losing  what  drew people there in the first place. We are not as rich without RL. Of the good that remains, RL was part of opening the door  for that. 

Check out the video made by Zeljko to raise funds to finish The Dream….watch as RL finishes his song Pinto, turns and slowly begins to fade…something prescient in that shot… as he turns and fades, part of my dream fades as well…


Epilogue….months later, there is this moment. RL has called for a tribal council meeting  at the Gate. The first time I heard him use that expression, six years ago, I took it literally, like there was  a secret society of musicians and others with RL at its center making important decisions about important matters. Even though I now know that wasn't quite true,  it's still cool to be included in a tribal  council…

He has brought the keys to every lock at West Park. I mean EVERY. And he wants to go over one more time with Dion and the Davids  the rules for open mic. No 2 song sets, it’s got to be 3…do whatever you want as long as you don’t offend me, which means taking  what you ae doing  seriously enough to  be prepared…and keep your clothes on…

The sun broke thorough the front windows warm and bright as he passed on the keys.

Never say never,but.... says RL. 
This is not an obituary.

Tribal council

To read more, simply search "RL Haney" on this blog.for more  posts than you would never want to read.

To learn more about RL and his music, go to

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Make a Joyful Noise


It was time to try something different. Whenever we have had the Open Choir as part of our service we would try and integrate their musical style with our service. But this time it was time to let the whole service roll with their energy and rhythm, truly reflect the way of work. Give it a chance to breathe. 

Larger crowd than normal. Several here just to see/hear the Grotowski folks. I used this line from Psalm 66 to frame the whole service:“Make a Joyful Noise to God, all the Earth”
We began as usual with our song by Bishop Tutu:“Goodness is Stronger than Evil” :

Goodness is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours, victory is ours
through him who loved us.
Victory is ours, victory is ours
through him who loved us.
We do the Psalm together as an OPENING PROCLAMATION:

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you,
sing praises to your name.”Selah
Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
He turned the sea into dry land;
they passed through the river on foot.
There we rejoiced in him,
who rules by his might forever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations—
let the rebellious not exalt themselves.Selah
Bless our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid burdens on our backs;
you let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.[a]
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth!

And then it was time for the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards
Felicita begins
sang her usual opening song"Ho Everyone who Thirsts” from Isiah 55 and then Aga brought the action of a woman in the crowd, with text from Thomas’ Gospel “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast that fed you.” And then Graziele performed one of their standards from the African American tradtition: “Child of God”
After reading from Thomas’ Gospel “Woe to the Pharisees and the scribes, ” Jorge brought a song from his Andean culture, "El NiƱito de Maria" followed by Feli’s soulful "Madre Agua”.

We read together from the prophet Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7 about “seeking the welfare of the city where you are” and then Eduardo’s “City of Refuge” naturally followed.

My friend Daniel shared "Ada al Kaun" and the text from Schrawardi, “The story of the Western Exile" and another song "La Ilaha Illa la”. Russ recognized then as coming for the Sufi tradition and this was probably the first time the words Allah u akbar have bene chanted at West Park.

Then another text from Thomas’ Gospel:

“Recognize that which is in your sight” and Jeremy led us into the African-American “Can't Nobody Hide" followed by Carol’s  “I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray”
Carol sings
and Grazier’s “Look How They Done My Lord” (not a mumblin’ word)

Aga returned with the action of a woman in the silence with text from Thomas’ Gospel “Whomever drinks from my mouth will become as I am and the hidden things will be revealed to him.”

Action with text from Thomas’ Gospeland Felicia followed with “He’s All” (Felicita)

Jorge embodied an old man with Nativity texts we returned to Spanish with Ururu Usurer by Jorge and Reina de los Jardines by Felicita.

Jeremy brought to life his Russian Jewish grandfather and "Hold to His Hand" and Aga took off with text from Thomas’ Gospel “The kingdom of the sky is like a mustard seed” with a brilliant riff on the birds who made nests in the bush that grew from the mustard seed.
Aga "bird speaks"

And finally, Mario’s Here am I, send me. 
John R, Rachel, Mario and Billy


Reading this, you don’t hear/see/feel the music, the words. What was also different this time is that the Workcenter has worked primarily in the tradition of African American Southern (pre) Gospel must and movement. This time, different participants went into their own traditions to find songs that find what my friend Katherine used to call the same channel but from different anguages and cultures, Chrisitan, Muslim, Jewish, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew…

I am still intrigued and somewhat puzzled at the whole process. Each performer, and they are performers, creates a character for whom this music is vital. They become that character as they perform the song.

Where is the line between this and worship? What does the performer experience emotionally and spirituality? When  is a line crossed between presenting/putting on and actually being?

Even more so, I’m intrigued by the collection of young people who come from all over the world to go to Pontedara, Italy and immerse themselves in this practice. Much like the Dzieci company (the church of Dzieci) and even the Bread and Puppet Company in Vermont.

I intuitively understand that tall these are connected to that experience we call church, but not sure I can fully articulate that or draw the connection together. In the emerging world we live in, there is something vitally rich and important happening here.

For more, listen to my friend Russ’ podcast interview with Mario :