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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

He's Got the Whole World in his Hands 3: with Ryan Smith from the Presbyterian Ministry at the Unites Nations


Victoire, Bob and Ryan 

Our special guest this Sunday is Ryan Smith, our Presbyterian Representative to the United Nations. We begin with a traditional old hymn, God of Grace and God of Glory. I lift up some of my favorite lines:

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
For the facing of this hour

And most especially:

Save us from weak resignation
To the evils we deplore

And I tell the story of its  writer, Harry Emerson Fosdick, founding Pastor of the Riverside Church after having been brought up on heresy charges by the Presbyterian General Assembly and resigning from First Presbyterian in the Village where he had preached his scandalous Shall the Fundamentalists Win? Sermon which started the furor. Rockefeller built Riverside especially for Fosdick. I also asked us to think about what the world was like in 1930 when  it was written.

Our Gospel passage of the day is Matthew 12: 16-17:
And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" And they said to Him, "Caesar's." 17And Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at Him.

It follows in our ongoing emphasis on authority, most recently with the story of the golden calf. Here the message is clear, the whole world is God’s, not the emperor’s.

Following the reading of the gospel, our friend Victoire sings Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind…

And then as a follow up to our participation in the Climate march, Ryan shares with us an overview of what has been going on at the UN. The current round of talks are conclude with a summary of main points so far. Negotiations will continue leading up to a meeting in Paris and then Lima. There is much emphasis on keeping the rise in temperature under 2’ centigrade. At a 2’ rise, some UN island nations would vanish altogether. The process of getting a draft treaty will be long and arduous. And our own country does not have a good record of supporting international treaties. Ryan was impressed by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s active engagement and leadership on this issue, including higher summer and lower winter temperatures at the UN.

Ryan also shared with us something of his work in the area of trafficking and Israel –Palestine issues.

Once again, we sing He’s got the whole world…

As I look around, my heart feels encouraged. My rabbi friend Steve from Open Mic has come.
Rabbi Steve and Bob
My friend Carman Moore has come with an artist friend from Denmark. And Berik has 3 friends from Kazakhstan here for an art show at the UN. Our circle is larger.

I ask Victoire to sing one more dong for us following the service. So we all stay and listen as she sings a traditional French song. 

We’ve had a very good morning together.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What I said at the opening of the Maitreya Loving Kindness Toiur


Pastor Brashear at the Maitrya Loving Kindness Tour

It is a joy and honor to be with you here this evening for this exhibit and tour, this night, dedicated to loving kindness.

It is pretty generally known that in my tradition, when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, he responded, 
 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment . And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
But I have two other passages I would like to share with you this evening. The first is one that is extremely important to me in my own life:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

This tells us first of all that justice and mercy are inextricable from one another, They must always go together. And as Thomas Aquinas reminded us, mercy without justice is powerless but justice without mercy is cruelty. We must always hold the two together.

The walking humbly is also an essential  part. As we understand ourselves as creatures, part of creation, we can only be humble. It leads to what Jonathan Edwards called benevolence to all being. And as we walk humbly in relation to creation, justice and mercy are easier expressions of that humility.

Finally, another bottom line verse from the first letter of John 4:7:
 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

For all of us, the ultimate truth is behind a door. Occasionally that door opens and we get glimpses, but we see is only that and nothing more. We use our own languages to describe what we have seen and build our institutional structures based on that language.

The error is when we mistake our expressions of what we have seen as the whole and exclusive truth, superior to others. The fact of the matter is, we need to share with one another our own particular insights in order to even begin to come closer to the whole vision. And as we are human, it will always be partial.

So we must walk humbly with one another and out of that humility learn to love one another.

The deepest purpose of this tour and this evening is the opportunity to further the experience, the reality of loving kindness in the world we share.

And for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you this evening, and in this experience, I am profoundly thankful.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

...the people already have the answer within them....


The sleeping man on the steps continues his circle between the steps and the sidewalk. This is becoming a group project. We’ve gone through this ritual 3 times now.

Anna and Eddie and his fiance are in. We are making progress in finding them a permanent home.

ETHEL has returned and I’m comforted to hear the sounds of their music coming down from the balcony again. 

Neighbor Jen comes in with 5 pounds of candy for Halloween.

A woman psychiatrist who once attended Union Seminary is looking for office space.

Volunteer Richard from Brooklyn in from his weekly gig folding brochures. 

Jason Harris is here to debrief our shared experience at the Princeton Sant’Egidio poverty and peacemaking conference ( how it relates to what Jason is up to in Staten Island. He continues to work at the grassroots level on the Eric Garner choking by police death in Staten Island. Garner’s death now eclipsed by Michael Brown and Ferguson.

Jason is exasperated by the professional activists and the idea that the solution is better training for police, more recreational activities for kids or even prosecution of the responsible officers. He sees police violence as just the most visible expression of deep seeded and systemic racism. Reflected in unemployment, incarceration, health issues. And it’s impossible to attack all that at once. He remembers the Sant’Egidio representative who asked pointedly why we didn’t examine the violence created by corporations and the violence of inequity.

On the one hand, Jason almost is overwhelmed by the width and breadth of the situation. On the other, he keeps having conversations. Fact is, unless you believe BA is truly bringing the worldwide revolution, there is no easy answer. I remember my mentor Philip. How he said that if God wants something to be done in the world, it is already being done. How it was his role as a bureaucrat to find it and get resources to where it is happening.

By extension, there are places where the new reality (like the new church) is already being created. Little places like Word Up Bookshop in Washington Heights where a pop up bookshop turned into storefront turned into a full fledged bookshop, performance space, community center or center of community.( I suggest Jason go check it out.

And I recall how the Presbyterian LGBTQ activists after two defeats, set aside didactic, adversarial debates and committed themselves to 1000 conversations and at the end of those conversations, finally won. Maybe what Jason needs is 1000 conversations. 

And I think about Freire and education for critical consciousness. Working with people to become the subjects of their own history. And that at some level, the answer will arise out of those conversations because the people already have the answer within them. That’s about as far as we got today.

I’ve got to roll because I’ve got to get to the Tibet House to speak at the opening ceremonies of the Maitreya Loving Kindness Tour and exhibit of Buddhist relics.( Thought only Catholics did that. On my way…


Back from the Buddhists. Happy that my friend Beppe joined me there. And Dion too. And of course, TK.

Time for Open Mic. RL’s under the weather so Pat O is MC and it’s another full night.

Pat opens the night. Followed by Kieran.
And then a new spoken word artist, Poez,
who accompanies himself on piano. He apparently has had quite a career as a poet/performing artist.( Then follows another solid set by Nick. And then Joel calls Rabbi Steve up to accompany him on his journey. 
Steve Blane and Mandola Joe

Steve, who has a new CD out, ( surprises us with a ukulele set followed by Pigeon Shit, which moves from a deliberately crude beginning to poignancy. Young Jeremy from the burbs of Westchester continues his recreation  of early Dylan and finishes with an original. 

Next up, another spoken word/rapper, Bryant Rogers,
Bryant Rogers

(who can be seen here Bryant had given Joel a serious high five after his set. Poez had been into his iPhone, but as Joel hit his stride, set it down, entranced. (

Mandola Joe, back again. David S, another solid. I do two originals, then bring back A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall again. I intend to wrestle that one down until I’ve got it. 

had her first real full set in the Village last Wednesday. After her originals, she brings us Dylan’s Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door…She’s got another set November 1st. David L grows in confidence and Miriam
gives us a traditional, an original and a cover with a throughline about being seen. 

RL has come in, still alive, we see. Does a set. Then steps down as Pat O leads us into RL’s closer, Stay Awhile. I go up to join Pay and then RL himself steps.

Outside, Mandola Joe is enamored of the weather. Maybe next week we need to focus on songs about fall. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Except without the smile


OK. There are much sought after years ago Halloween decorations that are unaccounted for. Given the fact that this preceded Occupy, I don’t have much hope. Anything not nailed down got repurposed during those heady days.

Leila thinks they may be in the basement. She opens the secret door in my office to the hidden world, the catacombs, under the sanctuary. The ladder that used to be there is gone.

David S has some creative ideas regarding the radiator that needs repaired in Priska’s space. We need to deal with that before we turn the boiler on. Before she returns from Europe. We enlist David to get a ladder and go down below. He’s more than happy to do so.

Pat O has come in to prepare for the Session meeting and is excited to follow David down below. Time for me to head to the bank.

Christians, smiling Christians, looking for space. Independent. Non-denominational as they say. The independent pastor who has started his own fellowship. They are always so damned loving. Which is why I can never understand the banning of gays and the subservient role of women. Isn’t there a way to have the love of Jesus without the exclusion, the judgment spoken or not?

Session meets. Another disappointment. Another 3-4 months of time and energy gone south. For some of our members, it’s an almost fatal despair. Too many years. Too many disappointments. Patience, hope, wears thin. It's easy to forget that months ago we were ready to stop looking for a white knight,just do it ourselves. What my gut told me was right. But this possibility looked so good…It’s hard to figure out what I need to do to keep people’s spirits up. That’s the question on our minds as the long night ends.


Sean wheels up. Chances come. Chances go. I tell him we can’t store his stuff forever.

Darren, on the other hand, is excited. Our contacts have come through. One more person off our steps and into housing of their own. Sometimes it actually does work. Honestly, like about 80% of the time.

The sleeping man is on the steps again. Looks a lot like the character on the Uncle Ben’s rice box. Except without the  smile. The other day, we had to ask him to move three times. (Interested to see how Charles will deal with this..) Today I tell him he can’t sleep here during the day. He nods. Grumbles. Gathers his stuff and moves to the space between our steps and Barney Greengrass. OK. This one goes to Stephen S when he arrives.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

...and you even get free music...


Jeremy G and Rishika stop in before their open choir to talk a bit about Marissa’s memorial. Rishika had a perspective I had not thought about. Marissa’s death was a tragic event for their small community. They took on the role of organizing and producing the time of grieving and remembrance for what turned out to be a very large group of people. Who needed to be together. Nevertheless, in some ways, it prevented the community from dealing with its own grief. Rishika’s own needs were  subsumed in the needs of the larger group. So there remains work to be done. Jeremy is still somewhat amazed at how this all came together and is sorting out its meaning. I look forward to talking with the Seed Group and processing this more. Questions for building a community.

The Session meets to review the latest news which seems to throw all the puzzle pieces into the air again. We need to keep in front of us all the work that is moving forward, the reconstruction ready to begin. Need to keep our eyes on possibility.

Upstairs in the Papp (balcony) theatre, Jessica’s production of Brian Friel’s Lovers has its opening night.


Stephanie J is a friend of Jeremy M. She’s looking for some space to hold some small choir rehearsals for a new project she’s working on. Turns out she has had some Grotowski theatre training as well. During Occupy, she collaborated with Jeremy trying to create chants and songs that could unite people while in the midst of demos and marches. She’s working on song as a force to unite people in work for social change. Creating then new world we are working on creating. Or at least new reality. She spent most of last year doing a series of house concert/conversation events across the country around issues of lgbtq inclusion. Her partner has moved on so the next step is still coming into view. (You can check out her work here: I take the time to give her the full West-Park tour because I want her to understand what this place is and has been. And that what she is working on s very much at the center of what we are working for. So we’re talking about a trade of rehearsal space and time for sharing her work in worship and/or in other ways. I feel like this is a beginning of a conversation. Or another part of the conversation.

Karen is back from Hawaii. We haven’t seem her in awhile. She’s in the sanctuary,playing music. As she plays a piece from the classical piano canon, I say to Charles, …and you even get free music..He and Leila are hard at work on getting a grant proposal done.

Pat O is in and there is a lot of clean up work to be done in the wake of a city decision. Carefully. Very carefully.

Jessica stops in. The first night of Lovers went very well. She’s heard that the theatre she’s working in was created by Joseph Papp and is blown away to learn that it’s true. I share with her the whole story of Papp’s Shakespeare Center. ( Pieces of the Helen Hayes Theatre and the set of the Royal Shakespeaere Company’s Nicholas Nickleby went into building this theatre, later excavated and resurrected byteh Frog&Peach Theatre Company. ( I look forward to seeing her production.