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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Godwrestling 4: Gaza. Ferguson. Staten Island. And a challenge....


Witnesses: Stephen, Hugo, Arcadia, Lilly, Stephen, Samantha

The empty days of late August. And we gather for worship. Our 4th in the series on godwrestling.
Good to see Russ back again. And Stephen W. And Rachel, who always lifts my spirits. We use Lead on Oh King Eternal as a musical reflection. And our main scripture this morning is Exodus 1:  8-2:10, which we do as a reader’s theatre, different voices, different parts. The story of a new pharaoh who knew not Joseph, the quasi genocidal project against male children and the rescue of baby Moses.

This time I do more talk at the beginning than I usually do. Much on my mind and heart.
Talk about wrestling…There’s the continuing siege of Gaza. The murder of loosie salesman Eric Garner. The protest march on Staten Island. Michael Brown, shot down in  Ferguson. We’ve now added to our common language, I can’t breathe... (Garner) and Hands up, Don’t shoot…(Brown). Foley's brutal beheading by ISIS. Feels like a world aflame.

Did you notice that last Monday on Monday Night Football the Washington Redskins  secondary entered the field with their hands up? Did you notice that our friend Osagyefo Sekou was sent to Ferguson as a representative of the Fellowship of Reconciliation? ( He commented that in Ferguson he needed  a gas mask more than his clergy collar. Turns out Brother Sekou grew up around there and graduated from Ferguson high school.

Our PCUSA officials released a statement that urged prayer and calm… son Micah  saw this on my Facebook and commented …seriously?....Micah’s point was what is called for is not calm, but a loud cry of outrage....

So we turn to our story…

First…how did we get into this situation?
* Jacob settled where he wanted, not where God wanted…setting it all in motion. He chose the security of a gated community over the wilderness where reliance on God is the only security.
* Joseph, sold away by his brothers,  put his fate in the hands of pharaoh, not God. Served the pharaoh. Manipulated a food crisis to rob the people of their property, enslaved the country, the lower class Egyptians as well as the Hebrews.
* The new Pharaoh manipulated  up resentment against and fear of the Israelites to distract from his culpability. It’s an old common story…lower class whites encouraged to blame the blacks, not those who control the economy. Lower class whites blaming immigrants. Jews driven out of one country serving the rulers of a new country until the people arise.  An old story.

Now…a new pharaoh…who did not know Joseph…arises ….(and even if he did know Joseph, his strategy could have been the same…)

The message is simple: when you buy into the empire you are lost…

There is also the reality of the more powerful fearing the larger population, Pharaoh afraid of Hebrew demographics,  Israel fearing being outnumbered by  Palestinians…

There is new scholarship suggesting that revolutionary war was not just about self determination but also about slavery…That the British Empire was preparing to end slavery and the colonial economy was dependent on slavery and so the drive for separation…the roots of today’s trauma run very deep….

The story of baby Moses and the bulrushes   has a sense of Bible story nostalgia.., a gentle glow of memory. It’s easy to forget that underneath this story is a genocidal plan…

Again, familiar…Gaza,(shooting fish in a barrel, as one of us says…),mass incarceration, drug laws, (remember again our West-Park overture, the disproportionate rate of stops, arrests, incarceration…with about 12% of the population blacks are 65% of drug arrests and 75% of incarcerations…)  and now with these shootings, is there any wonder African-Americans feel like there’s an outright war on black youth…(Deacon James, shakes his head. Remembers serving his country in Korea. Why? he asks,  Just why? You pay your debt. Why do you lose your vote forever? Seems like a plan… )No wonder they call it the new Jim Crow…

And so our midwives, Shiphrah and Puah had to wrestle. Note they get names. Actual names. How would they respond to their commands? Would they risk their own security for their people? They resisted where they were….did what they could where they could. With cleverness they outsmarted pharaoh.

And so Moses is pulled out of the water…(in Cairo they’ll show you exactly where…) Thus setting in motion a new story…..

So for us?.... A world on flame. A time of reckoning… a time for us to discern what we can do where we are…

The church cannot just look outside and speak a prophetic word. We must look inside. As last summer’s General Assembly showed, as our struggles over lgbtq inclusion are resolved, the real struggle over race and class will begin to emerge. We in New York City Presbytery have already been wresting with that for awhile now.

What we can, where we can…that’s what we must discern…

Arcadia is moved just by the death of so many children. Others by the inequity of power in Gaza. Or the newly militarized police forces across the US…

We struggle. We wrestle. What we can, as we can, where we can

Today for our prayer preparation, Jeremy and I do Amazing Grace Hank Williams style. To the tune of So Lonesome I could cry…As his musical offering, Jeremy sings his original Walk with me on the winding road....a song written for a mother who lost a child. In honor of mothers and lost children.

Anna meets with the session to announce her interest in officially joining the church. She's dressed up for the occasion. And we are happy that she is ready to commit. 

                                                                    * * * *

The service ends. And then it’s time. Last week the West-Park Angels softball team did the ALS  ice bucket challenge and then challenged me. ( this is my time. I know about the push back. Wasted water. Shallow analysis. Viral video. All that. But I also have read the comments of ALS survivors and families and know that thee has been 5.5 million raised as opposed to 32000 during this time last year. So I’m down. I go to the steps, make my challenge. To Gale Brewer. Presbyterian colleagues, clergy colleagues. And from Samantha’s suggestion, Amanda in Oregon. People gather around. Including people in Barney Greengrass brunch line. I raise the bucket, feel the ice and water pour over. Catch my breath…and laugh….

the challenge

Saturday, August 23, 2014

You never know what Friday night will bring....


Jake and Nick

Another two interviews for Danielle’s position. This is really hard. Each of our interviewees has something to offer.

Pat O helps Stephen and I understand the whirlwind of activities surrounding architects and contractors and Department of Buildings and…so many moving pieces. Like a mobile. On the other hand, it’s reconstruction we’re talking about. Let that sink in. And then we work on the congregational revitalization part of the plan.

Sean comes in. He has greatly reduced his footprint. But no solution yet.  So he’s in to change clothes before returning to the street.

Our neighbor Jeff is back from vacation. Compliments my glasses. It’s depressing when people are coming back before I’ve been away.

Open Mic is in the sanctuary tonight. Can’t be in the chapel with the Texas Trilogy in Mc Alpin right above. The acoustics of the sanctuary will make this a special experience. It will be a small crowd. Late August in New York. Nobody’s in the city except tourists and people who enjoy the emptiness. Most of the regulars are here.

David Lyons
David Lyons, who runs the sound in a pinch, gets a bit bolder every week. Tonight he does two songs for the first time. And his wife and daughter are there to cheer him on.

Troy from London filling in at the bar.

Joel takes us on his usual fantastic journey
Joe Gold
and RL sends me up to follow. I know where I want to end up and work my way there with tow originals. Kind of a bitter set. But to honor Texas, I come out with Hank Thompson’s Wild Side of Life. (I didn’t know God made Honky Tonk Angels…) It feels good.

Anna brings in some hip hop guys who are subletting from Mitchell and need a rehearsal. I tell them they can’t until the play’s over. And they’re cool with that.

Pat O surrounds a Nick Drake with two of his better originals, his own song about Nick Drake (…his last song was a hymn..) and coming from his Irish history, Old Soldier.
Pat O
After my talk about the Trilogy, David L’s wife tells me her father Lee Richardson, was in the original casts in DC and New York. Remembered how the New York reception broke Preston Jones’ heart. He died shortly after, much too young. (Thanks again to ReGroup for bringing him back…) I love those West-Park cross currents.

Mandola Joe
Mandola Joe had actually been planning to do both Wild Side and Kitty Wells’ answer, It wasn’t God who made honky tonk angels…but I got there forstso he just does Kitty’s song and two of his declamatory  a capella songs.
Young Nick the banjo player brings up his guitar partner Jake fop ran original and two of  his psychedelic bluegrass covers. (Though they’re really reimaginings..) They finish with a guitar version of four hand piano. That was amazing.
And then, as always, Stay Awhile, solo instruments playing fro the pews when RL calls them out.  Time to head to the Gate….and thank Paul the owner for all his support of performances at West-Park.

                                                                    Hank Thompson

                                                                       Kitty Wells

Friday, August 22, 2014

Recent events in the world being what they are today


Short time in the office today. Catching a bus to visit son Dan in Philadelphia.

My friend from the Revolutionary Communists calls. Breathless. Has to see me. I tell him I’ve only got a short time. He tells me he’s hopping on the subway and be right there. And sure enough, he soon arrives.

They’ve been planning a big event for Labor Day at West-Park. Part of the BA Everywhere campaign. But now, Recent events in the world being what they are today…they haven’t had time or energy to focus on BA Everywhere. Maybe they need to just hold an old fashioned picnic in Morningside Park. Could West-Park be a fall back in case of rain? I assure him that’s not a problem.

He wants to talk about recent events in the world. The Eric Garner choke hold death on Staten Island. Eclipsed by the events in Ferguson. The seeming open season on black male youth. The relentless seige of Gaza. ISIS/ISIL... It all seems  interconnected. like a world aflame. (…high water everywhere…) He hands me a copy of the Revolution newspaper… The bold print cries out an agenda for October:


A Call for a Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation!

(Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church USA is calling for Calm. And prayer. In response to that call my son Micah writes from Berlin seriously?)

I tell him why I’m going to Philadelphia and we talk about being parents awhile.

I continue to be fascinated, intrigued, puzzled by these folks. The common decency. Sincerity. Diligence. Commitment. It’s the devotion to BA, or precious leader, as the paper calls him in neoMaospeak that throws me.  Much of the analysis, well, pretty much there. But is this septuagenarian really the one to lead the worldwide revolution? 

I do find them easier to relate to than say, the youthful  Falun Gong or Korean Good News evangelists that visit periodically.

I think it was Walter Breuggeman who said that the opposite of faith is not doubt. It’s certainty.

And so, beyond a call to calm and prayer, what do we have to offer in response to recent event in the world being what they are today?

Things are rough out there


There’s a full day if interviewing candidates to replace Danielle. Young Latinas, each with their own gifts. One very professional looking who has helped her small Catholic church double in size.(That certainly appeals to me...) Men young. Men retired. Some candidates clearly have taken a training session in successful interviewing for jobs. Others natural and at ease. Too bad you can’t roll them together into a composite. Things are rough out there. (As Dylan would say, high water everywhere…)

One of the candidates very happy ot have a chance to play the Beckstein awhile. 

I look up and see Marina’s back. The first of the Noche gang to reappear. She’s heading out west to visit her family. Wanted to come onto the studio and work out since she’ll be away from dancing awhile. 

Summer is ending too quickly and I'm still here..

Gregory appears again with that look on his face. The over familiarity. Feigned intimacy. I offer to get him a round trip subway trip. Bu that’s somehow not enough.

Stephen W is back and jumps in to help with the interviews, his business sense a definite plus. We’ll need go out to dinner and catch up.

Pat O and Marsha are sitting down for a first go at a new budget. We’re walking a tightrope here.

Just as I’m about to head out to eat with Stephen, Sean appears. Needs me to help him call a friend who’s trying to help him with storing his stuff (which he has greatly reduced..) He’s been in  touch with another program that maybe…There is this touch of grace…There is something about Sean that does shine through. There is definitely a circle of people in the neighborhood who care for and look out for him. Sometimes that’s his only lifeline. Conversation finished, he says I love you man, into the phone and hands  it back to me. I’ll see ya Bob, he says. And wheels off.

Time to eat with Stephen then pay a visit to Rachel.