Sunday, November 4, 2018



Icons in Ash

Last week in New York City, there was a week long exploration of the end of life. The organizers described their mission in this way: Reimagine End of Life is a community-wide exploration of death and celebration of life through creativity and conversation. Drawing on the arts, spirituality, healthcare, and design, we create weeklong series of events that break down taboos and bring diverse communities together in wonder, preparation, and remembrance. 

My friend Heide Hatry once again exhibited her profound Icons in Ash collection of portraits  made from creation remains... and as usual, accompanied the exhibit with performances by an eclectic array of music and spoken word performances.
Christine Isherwood and Mike Handdelman
This was my contribution..... 

When the night has come  and the land  is dark
And the moon the only light I see
I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid 
Just as long as you stand by me.
Stand by me, Oh darling stand by me..

I sang for my neighbors as they gathered in the community garden in the middle of 115th in a memorial  service. When I stopped on my way to  a gig earlier this afternoon, a Baptist preacher in a fine suit was rendering a prayer. When I return hours later after the  gig, they're still there. Playing music, grilling food.

I sang this song for them before. At a sidewalk birthday party. In the cool of the evening on long summer nights, the folks without airconditoning gather  outside our building to share  food, drink and talk. The  woman they celebrate, "Cuz",was part of that circle. So they ask me, "Bob with the guitar," to sing for them.  That's how  they know me. The only way the know me. I like that.

In my old life, death was a regular part of it. Old faithful members in their  due time. Teenagers dead by the One train. Tragic and too soon. Gay men dead of AIDS, their bodies snatched away by parents who wanted to pretend their partners didn't exist. Partners now left bereft and alone. A kitchen worker from Barney Greengrass. And homeless men who died with my card in their pocket.

I always said I liked funerals as much or more as weddings. Marking a moment after which nothing would ever be the same again. Each life a complete universe of and to itself with its own interconnected planetary systems, galaxies. Narrative arcs. A world dies in each death. I always felt privileged to be present in these moments.  Now in my new life, not so much.

So strange, then,  this weekend to encounter it three times. In a long delayed family memorial for one also an icon in ash. The time flowing gently into an open mic. Then accompanying the ashes of a friend's wife from a Chelsea funeral home back to the Upper West Side. His wife of 37 years beside me in a simple box in an ecofriendly reusable bag. From funeral a home to Whole Foods. I place the bag on the bar stool beside him. He speaks to her. The bartender pours four shots of Hennesy, her favorite drink. We toast. And drink.

They have joined me in harmony. The stakes are high. See the woman over there, she is a real singer. She's gotta sing with you, they say...And now they want another song. What could I sing? (When I told my son about my not knowing what to sing, my son said, Dad they knew you were white when they asked you to's you they want..) So I play the song I wrote for Teddy the pipefitter, the Occupier, the guy who understood a vision so clear he'd do anything for it or me. He died in his sleep at the church. Soon surrounded by a circle of flamenco dancers from downstairs, crossing them selves with Salve Marias  and Padre Nostros as his soul took flight.

Rest awhile,I said rest awhile
Come away and rest awhile
Rest awhile,I said rest awhile
Come away and rest awhile
When the crowd is so demanding and the need is so great and you feel like you just can't go on,
Then walk beside me and soon you will see the victory is already won and you can
Rest awhile...

Again they join in. Wringing every ounce of Gospel they can find from my song. Then more drinks poured. Stories told of families living on this street 50-60 years or more. Of Luigi who built this garden. And life flows on. On into the night.....

Rest awhile,I said rest awhile
Come away and rest awhile
Rest awhile,I said rest awhile
Come away and rest awhile

                                                                     Rest Awhile

                                                                 Stand by Me


Monday, October 29, 2018

Let me see again


At the end of a hard week, I find myself once again at Good Shepherd Faith. After reading Mark10:46-52, I begin my "prompting," as they say here....

Mmm. It has really been a week. Again. Having lunch in Greenwich Village with an old friend, a journalist. Her phone hoes off. Bombs found in Obamas mailbox. Hilary's mailbox. The phone will continue to ping every time a new bomb is found. It's hard being a journalist, she says, when you have bene declared an enemy of the people.  And then yesterday, the news of the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, my home town, and where I worked in an interfaith ministry for 10 years. The shooting took place during a baby naming ceremony. At least eleven dead.
Pittsburgh strong....

All this while I still struggle daily with the knowledge that I now live in a country that separates parents from children. And puts children in cages. And, for some unknown reason believes it is necessary to take away rosary beads from detainees.

(And has expressed an interest in taking a look at our genitals...)

These are difficult times we are living in.

I don't say this to depress you. But theology is always done in context, and this friends is our context. And it is always the work, the life, of the faith community to figure out what it means to be  a faithful Christian in days like this. And the preacher's calling to help with that task.

And so...the one they call Blind Bartimaeus. One of my favorite characters. On the surface of it, a simple story. A man who is blind, and a beggar, hears that Jesus is passing by and calls out to Jesus for "mercy." As always people tell him to be quiet. Don't disturb Jesus. (Or us.) But nevertheless, he persists. Jesus asks him what he wants. He asks to be able to see again. Jesus tells him, "Go your faith has made you well." And Immediately he regains his sight. And he follows.

OK. Anytime we have a story like this, we walk into a bit of a theological mine field. It's easy to just dribble the homiletic ball down court and go in for the easy lay up, the slam dunk. Just believe in Jesus and everything will be ok. The catch is, it seems to leave the impression that there is a direct connection between faith and physical well being. (well there is but don't go there yet..)

I have been part of Presbyterians for Health Education and Welfare for many years. We are a community of ministry networks, one of which is the Disabilities Concerns network, One of its members once pointed out to me that in his version of the song, he would sing "I once was blind and I still am" One of my West Park members  once brought that up to our then music director, who was African American. He responded, "Oh but that is just a metaphor." And she said, "Yeah, like wash me and I shall be whiter than snow?" ( She herself lived with MS.) And he thought and said, "Oh." We forget that that the power to control metaphor us yet another expression of privilege.

When I worked in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I has a friend who had been a student at Oral Roberts University. He had been born with a withered leg. His fellow students constantly prayed for his"healing" and when his leg didn't change, they actually got angry with him, He obviously did not have faith. Ultimately, Oral Roberts himself had to intervene and tell the students that God's ways were always mysterious.

Here's the point...Jesus tells him... before anything has happened, "your faith has made your well." He does not say, "Your faith has restored your vision" It is after Jesus' announcement that something has already happened that his sight is restored. That's the thing with Jesus, watch what has already happened before we see it. (Here comes a metaphor) Archbishop Tutu during the struggle against apartheid used to say "We have already won. The other side just hasn't realized it yet." Tutu's announcement of what God had already done helped the people experience an inner liberation that could help sustain them in the ultimate victory of external liberation.

In this story, the man's vision being restored is only an expression of what as already been achieved.

So what does that have to say to us today? What is the good news? Well, I think a lot of us are having problems with vision. With what we can see. Bob Dylan sang, "How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky? How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?"  I know I feel like another Dylan song, "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there..."

There's two different vision problems here. Some  of us cannot see the consequences of words that are said and policies and what they are doing to people in real life. That words can give the permission to unleash acts of darkness, acts of evil. On the other side, some of cannot see a way out or what to do or where it all ends.

Like Bartimaeus we cry out 'Lord have mercy on me. Let me see again..." As the old hymn said ,"Open my eyes that I may see.." or the old hymn sung in the midst of the potato famine, "Be thou my (remember?) vision.."

Jesus tells us "your faith has made you well.." Can you believe it? Can we believe it enough to claim our "wellness," our vision, even in these days of darkness? Can we proclaim what we see?

Go, your faith has made you well.....


And we have our conversation. The pianist feels its not fair just to criticize one side. And he has his own litany of examples of liberal incivility and worse. That would be a long conversation. The short answer is that to be neutral in a conflict of unequal power is to side with the oppressor. The voice of the soloist is sweet and light and comforting as a ray of light breaking through. Soon enough tis back to the cold windy street again.

Gospel Mark 10:46-52

46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" 49Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." 52Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Housing Our Future:Now


It was a beautiful day for a march. Though it felt a bit more like Thanksgiving than Halloween. Crisp fall air. And sun. We gathered at 86th Street and Second Avenue to march to Gracie Mansion, Mayor Di Blasio's home. The march was in support of the "House Our Future" campaign...a call for 30,000 new homes. The point was obvious, I think. The mayor  has his home. A lot of New Yorkers don't.

A crowd that would grow to 250-300 or so is gathering. Marc Greenberg, Director of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing (which I chair), asks me to help hold our banner.
Bob Brashear and Marc Greenberg with the banner
"Looks like a good crowd," he says. His broad smile reminds me that this is what Marc lives for. The gathering  of people, the marching, the chanting, the never ending struggle for housing justice that he has remained faithful to for decades.

The housing crisis which blossomed under Bloomberg has only worsened under Di Blasio. We now have record numbers of homeless, approaching 61,000. One third of those are working poor. Ten percent of city school children are homeless. It is scandalous. More so because Di Blasio campaigned as a progressive, promising 30,000 units, a promise yet to be delivered. (In more ways than one, Mayor Di Blasio, not unlike President Obama, came into office with a strong progressive base. And instead of using that base for truly progressive change has instead fallen into more traditional liberalism. Sad because the base is there...)

The march winds down 86th to East End. What do we want?Housing. When do we want it? Now. If we don't get it...shut it down..Hey, hey, 30K...and more chants. The crowd gathers.
In the crowd
A bombastic heckler is barely heard. There are homeless people working people, faith community people. People sharing their own stories. What will it take to be heard?

The Interfaith Assembly has been faithful to this witness since the "Kochville" occupation of City Hall Park thirty years ago in 1988. (See John Jiler's Sleeping With the Mayor .... Founded by a faith community trio of steadfast witnesses Marshall Meyer, Dan Berrigan and my predecessor, Bob Davidson, Marc has led the IAHH through these many years. There would be no better way to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Kochville than action on the 30000 badly needed homes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Test question


Welcome Evgeny

Today is a very special day in the life of Beverley Church. For the first time in many years, they are welcoming a new member. Evgeny came first as a handyman but was attracted to the fellowship and has decided to become a member. And this is an occasion for celebration!

But first, my reflection for the day....

It's good to be back, and as always, there's a lot going on. Today is Worldwide Communion Sunday which means when we break bread together later today that we will doing so at the same time with brothers and sisters all around the globe. That's a powerful be part of a worldwide family of followers of Christ with a loaf that symbolizes one true loaf and  a cup that is our common shared cup. 

We also have another holiday weekend. Columbus Day Weekend to be exact. We've travelled a long way from when I was a kid and we were taught in school" in fourteen hundred and ninety two Columbus sailed the ocean blue....":
* He never actually set foot on this continent.
* Turns out he was not a very nice guy, to say the least
* This was not in fact India and the people who lived here were not Indians but they've been stuck with that ever since 
* Though this week I saw the "Israel Unite in Christ" people out on Lexington and 116th and following up on one of their fliers discovered that on subsequent voyages that  Columbus actually did think  he had discovered the "12 lost tribes of Israel"
Israel Unite in Christ

* And Columbus' discovery would eventually lead to a genocide of native peoples in this hemisphere..
* Last year when I was in Argentina, there was an alternative celebration held in a recently discovered historic black neighborhood featuring indigenous people and their music and dance 
Anti-Columbus Day celebration, Parana, Argentina

Not "discovered"

* But in Central America when I was there, the day was celebrated as "el encuentro...el dia de la raza.." The vast majority of Central American peasants are mestizo...mixed native and European a direct result of Columbus' visit...
SO it is complicated.....and Italians are none too happy about all of this..

And we've lived though a very rough and divisive which week isn't?  Where it seems like the Republicans wanted Kavanagh approved just out of spite and we wind up with a President mocking a woman who had been abused. A shameful action in what has been a shameless administration. It is depressing....

So what's happening with Jesus this week? Looks like he's being examined by hostile conservatives determined to make him look bad. With test questions...

Starting with a question about divorce. And his answer is hard....
 "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 7'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

It is for this reason the Catholic church has never allowed divorce. And for most of our history our own Presbyterian church wouldn't accept a divorced pastor. Nor our country a divorced President. It was really seen as wrong...But what was Jesus really saying? If you look closely, the way the divorce has worked was that a man could get a certificate of divorce for his wife. She would have no recourse or defense. A man...and not a woman. And if a woman wanted out and the man disagreed, he could hold her in bondage forever. 

And in Jesus' society, divorced women were the most vulnerable, as vulnerable as widows.  Jesus' hard line here is not standing up for an institution, marriage, it's standing up for vulnerable women.  You don't have to ask where he would be. He'd be side by side with Christine Blasey Ford...and every woman who's ever been abused. That's what this verse means and what Jesus means.

Therefore it makes perfect sense that the next topic to come up for Jesus in this passage is children..because his disciples are discouraging their presence. In his society, children were only slightly less vulnerable than women. But beyond their vulnerability, there's something else about them....the way they receive the kingdom...and when I try to understand this, I think of my grandson, y'all know what I'm talking about....the way he looks at the world....that sense of awe and wonder like a very special gift is   being opened just for him.  That's how Jesus wants us to receive the kingdom...not like a careful rule book, not as a disciplinary measure...but as a truly awesome beautiful reality. 

How do you think Jesus feels bout this? Last week the NewYork Times reported:
In shelters from Kansas to New York, hundreds of migrant children have been roused in the middle of the night in recent weeks and loaded onto buses with backpacks and snacks for a cross-country journey to their new home: a barren tent city on a sprawling patch of desert in West Texas.

Until now, most undocumented children being held by federal immigration authorities had been housed in private foster homes or shelters, sleeping two or three to a room. They received formal schooling and regular visits with legal representatives assigned to their immigration cases.

Friends ...this is our country...this is our government...Jesus is in those tents with those children....

Take a look at the Jesus we meet today under hostile questions meant to test him. He takes us away from debates about  doctrine or rules to compassion for the vulnerable...and if he is with them, he is surely here with us...

Let us allow him to show us where and how we need to be. And live in the confidence that  he will be with us as we respond...

Following the sermon, we officially welcome Evgeny as a member of the church.  It turns out that even though he had grown up in the Soviet Union, his grandmother had secretly had him baptized. We go through the reaffirmation of baptism liturgy and welcome him as a member, including the laying on of hands. Following communion, Evgeny goes downstairs to finish preparations for the celebratory feast he has prepared. And for a final benediction, I she these words from Lutheran Pastor Anna Blaedel:

blessed are you who are raging. 
blessed are you who are mourning. 
blessed are you who feel numb. 
blessed are you who feel sick. and tired. and sick and tired.
blessed are you who refuse to turn away.
blessed are you who need to turn away. 
blessed are you who keep breathing deep. 
blessed are you who are tending to your own needs. blessed are you who are tending to the needs of another.
blessed are you who have been calling. 
blessed are you who have been organizing.
blessed are you who have been testifying. 
blessed are you who have been hearing. 
blessed are you who have been resisting.
blessed are you who feel broken open beyond repair. blessed are you who are raw beyond words.
blessed are you who are working hotlines and crisis care centers and bearing witness to the forces of violence and trauma unleashed and unloosed. 
blessed are you who are marching. 
blessed are you who are weeping.
blessed are you who preach and know that divinity resides in despised, abused, violated flesh. 
blessed are you who know deep in your bones that you are good. and beautiful. and beloved. and sacred. and worthy. and believed. and held. and capable of healing.
beyond your wildest imagination. 
blessed are you who remind others they are good. and beautiful. and beloved. and sacred. and worthy. and believed. and held. and capable of healing beyond their wildest imagination.
blessed are we when we dare to dream of a world without sexual violence, without white supremacy, without misogyny, without police brutality, without anti-trans and anti-queer violence.
blessed are we when we stay tender. 
blessed are we when we stay fierce. 
blessed are we when we dare to imagine repair, and transformation. 
blessed are we when we labor together to make it so.

Then we go downstairs to celebrate with a classic Russian feast including just a touch of коньяк. It has been a very beautiful day.

Welcome Evgeny

2Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" 3He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" 4They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." 5But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 7'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Fahrenheit 11/9


A conversation with Michael Moore

Went to see Michael Moore's new movie, Fahrenheit 11/9....and who should appear but Michael Moore himself...

This movie is important. Michael seeks to understand what happened, why it happened, where we are now and what we might do.

As far as what, beyond the Russians and other attempts to subvert democracy, Moore chronicles well the responsibility of the Democrats for their own defeat. Including their own subversion of democracy in the nomination process and essentially ignoring serious class issues. Taking too much for granted.

Trump is seen not as a cause but a symptom of a system that is already far gone with rot and decay. The situation of Flint, Michigan, for example, happened long before Trump. The issues around its water are nothing short of criminal. And President Obama, whose arrival was viewed as their salvation, instead took photo op sips of the water essentially dismissing danger. And those who gave up and decided not to vote were enough to cost the Democrats Michigan. The subsequent use  of Flint as a staging ground for military training exercises....including bombing!...was almost surreal beyond belief.

We are also reminded that President Obama deported more immigrants than any previous administration, use drones to take people out and continued the decline of democracy.

The comparisons of the rise of fascism in late Weimar Germany and Trump era USA are chilling. Most chilling is the juxtaposition of the burning of the Reichstag and 9/11. While Moore is not arguing ( I think) that 9/11 was as the conspiracy folks call an "inside job," it was nevertheless exploited to expand unchecked government power (the Patriot Act) and start a new war in Iraq for no valid reason. That is seriously frightening.

We see the rise of openly racist armed angry  people and it's almost enough to cause one to give up. Thankfully there are signs of hope...
* The student activists from Parkland, Florida
* The campaign of Alexandria  Ocasio- Cortez  and other women.
* The campaign of military veteran and former Trump supporter Richard Ojeda in blue collar West Virginia.

It feels overwhelming right now. But, as Sharon Welch says, Cynicism is the prerogative of privilege. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into it.
Neither can we wait for a great man or any one on a white horse.  We need to remember the slogan of those now fighting for democracy in Nicaragua.....solo el pueblo salva el pueblo...only the people can save the people. And the time is now,


Michael stayed after for questions and answers. And we reminisced briefly about his visit to West Park during the Occupy Wall Street days. The struggle continues....

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Great and Small


Back to Good Shepherd Faith in the shadows of Lincoln Center....

My other text for the day is ...
"You who choose to lead must follow..." that's actually the Grateful Dead...'

Where to begin? So many moments from this past week floating was Yom ever notice that even with Labor Day, the fall really doesn't begin in New York City until after the High Holy Days? I loved seeing the boxes plied to the roof high in front  of Barney Greengrass, delivery trucks fired up and ready to go..
Ready for BreakFast
.their biggest day of the year...supplying lox and bagels to the world...the last  couple of years, they've rented out the West Park Chapel as an extra work space...something about their night long marathon makes me smile..

Yom Kippur morning my rabbi friend Steve invited me to preach at his Yom Kippur service at the Bitter End.
Yom Kippur at the Bitter End
..he does his usual services online but on High Holy days gathers a real live crowd at the iconic night club with a jazz band. Now that was a pretty good sermon, BUT, ah not quite right for today..

Friday night two West Park members, including one from Kazakhstan had an international music festival including American singer song writers, a rock singer from Malaysia, Central Asian pop singers, rappers form Queens a heavy metal guitar player from Moscow and a Tazhiki wedding singer. Leaving aside the occasional SNL feel to the night, I'm willing to bet there was not a more diverse audience in the Upper West Side. (Or beyond)

Yesterday I studied the beauty of Goergia O'Keefe's Hawaiian paintings  at the Botanical gardens.
Georgia O'Keefe in Hawaii

Georgia O'Keefe in Hawaii 
And last night, again at West Park, a concert for Nicaragua...with a singer who took me back to the 80's and all my time there. FYI, the country's leader has become a despot and over 400 have been killed and 23000 fled into neighboring Costa Rica. "It feels like we've been at war most of my life" the singer says. And when the tour is done, mother and daughter will go to Europe because they can't go back. Our Presbyterian mission workers have left too. 
Katia Cardenal at West PArk

All these in my mind when I think about my "prompting"..but here's where I want to go. I went to Louisville this  week to do a memorial service. For a friend who worked for the PCUSA for 35 years following the circle  from NYC to Louisville. With one year to go before 65, she turned down an opportunity for early retirement out of dedication and wound up being cut in a reduction of staff move. After 35 years....
Remembering Susan

She was not one of our church's visible faces. Stated Clerk or CEO or Division Head with portfolio or tall steeple preacher. Not featured in church magazines or webinars or....she was an administrative person. One who answered the phones. And for hundreds, thousands of presbyterians across the country, she was voice that people heard who called with problems from AIDS to mental illness to healthcare issue to addictions to domestic violence....she was a rolodex, no a Siri, better than Siri...she knew who was doing what where around the country and where to connect someone and would stay with them as long as it took. Far more than any "leader" or "face,"  she was the voice of our church and the loving heart that helped people feel loved, cared for and valued. And when she died, she could not be listed in the church's necrology because she was not an elder. Or even Presbyterian. Her name was Susan. And she is representative of 100's of others across this church who spend their lives, literally, making church real for people.

"Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." See?

Jesus had tried to tell the disciples something important. But they just didn't get it. At all. And didn't even bother to to ask. Instead they fell into bickering about who was greatest. (And where was Martha during this debate?) Jesus sets them straight. Keep that in mind. 

Then he takes it further...
Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
Children...I'm not going to go too long on this one, but two things come to mind...
ONE...the morning I woke up and realized "I live in a country that separates parents from children and puts children in cages. I'll say that again...I live in a country that separates parents from children and puts children in cages. Let that sink in.

And I thought of the horrible revelations about the Catholic church that broke while I was in Pittsburgh. Numbers so staggering ...300 priests and over 1000 victims in just ONE state. I'm always uncomfortable about talking about another tradition, but sure feels like something's seriously broken...friends in deep pain over now discovered broken trust... 

And responses to the Kavanagh accusations that sound like "boys will be boys, girls you're on your own..."

7"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

and the opposite equally true...

Jesus was trying to tell them about where his path would lead. And when they didn't get it, he responded with a model of what is called in some circles "servant leadership..."  It is the Susans of this church, this world, that keep it going but more so give witness to what the ministry, the reality of the living Christ is.

So as we conclude, take a minute and see if you can think of one who has been that in your life, who's quiet, unassuming work has lived out the gospel...

Thank God for their lives among us...


It was interesting to hear the person picked himself...

Psalm 1

1Happy are those

who do not follow the advice of the wicked,

or take the path that sinners tread,

or sit in the seat of scoffers;

2but their delight is in the law of the LORD,

and on his law they meditate day and night.

3They are like trees

planted by streams of water,

which yield their fruit in its season,

and their leaves do not wither.

In all that they do, they prosper.

4The wicked are not so,

but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

6for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

Second Reading James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

13Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

4:1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

Gospel Mark 9:30-37

30They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement


with Rabbi Steve on Yom Kippur

My friend Rabbi Steve Blane's Sim Shalom synagogue lives most of it's life online. ( ) But come the High Holy Days, it comes to life at the  Bitter End, perhaps Greenwich Village's most iconic nightclub. (Video of service here... Once again, he asked me to share a sermon...and afterward, a's what I had to say....

It is good to be back here with you again this year. Since last year I have actually performed on this stage twice...with Rabbi Steve and I feel at home.

It's Yom Kippur which means that most of you are fasting. I'm thinking that's a strange word. Because I did this for many years... in an  interfaith family...and you know what, when you are fasting, time goes  really slooooowly....

Yom Kippur....the holiest day of the year. It means literally Day of Atonement. I've been thinking about that word.  I mean we all know that to atone is something you do to make up for something you did. 

But I want to go a little deeper. In English, it is what looks like, at ... one.....the word emerged in the 16th century from the Latin word adunamentum  or ‘unity.' ....and carried with it the sense of reconciliation.

It reminds me that in my tradition, after our corporate prayer of confession, I would say...It is good as we seek forgiveness from God that we seek forgiveness from one another, as we seek oneness with God we seek oneness with one another and as we seek peace with God, we seek peace with one another...the peace of the Lord be always with you...and they respond and with your spirit...and then we all exchange greetings of peace.  As I think about it, it's a reminder of something I learned from my Jewish friends...that repentance is never just personal, it has a social aspect. As a rabbi friend of mine once said, Judaism is  a team  sport.

You can't ask God to forgive what you did to another person without going to that person first. It also says, as Simon Wiesthenthal made clear in his beautiful book the Sunflower, neither can you forgive what wasn't done to you. Your being here as a community says that you can't  be one with God without being one with one another. It begins with relationship.

I  need to  say a word here about forgiveness and reconciliation. They are not the same thing....forgiveness is something one does for oneself. To stop being controlled by another. To break the power of victimhood. To let go. As one friend once said, to give up for all time the hope for a different past. It frees oneself. Last year in Berlin, I met a man from Rwanda who after years of searching found the man who had murdered his father. He had intended for years to take revenge. Take his life. Get even. But confronting the man, he thought about what had been controlling his heart all these years and forgave the man. He said he had learned that we become what we do not forgive. 

Forgiveness however, does nothing for the relationship. As a friend of mine once said, there is no reconciliation without reconstruction.  It is a process. Sometimes a long process to reconstruct a relationship step by careful step. But what else can atonement be about?

Well, I know these are the final hours of the days of awe....what was written down last week in pencil is now going down in ink, close to being sealed. Book closed and locked. As we used to sing when I was a kid, making a list, checking it twice,gonna make sure who's naughty and nice..

But think about this afternoon in the waning hours. Find a quiet place. To sit for a few moments. Let the faces of people who are important to you pass in front of you. Those who have made you happy, who have been there for you. Those who have hurt you. And perhaps those you have hurt. Even inadvertently. Where a relationship is broken. And ask yourself if there is just one step, just one that you might make to break the ice, the iciness of brokenness.

There is a lot of brokenness around us these days. When we think about how hard it is between two people, sometimes even family members, how can we even  imagine that there might be reconciliation between those who believe Donald Trump is the answer and those who don't? Between blacks and whites? And yes Palestinians and Israelis? 

But in that first scary step, that is where life is. The closing words of the Torah portion for this morning say:

 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days,

May your fast go well. And your  breakfast joyous, L'chaim.