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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Remembering George Todd: RIP

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George Todd  died this week after having served over six decades in urban ministry. During  those years he was involved one way or another with nearly every ground breaking development in urban ministry, literally around the world. His eclectic ministry began in the cutting edge East Harlem Protestant  Parish,  a decade in Taiwan, heading Urban Industrial  Mission for the United Presbyterian Church, global urban ministry for the Word Council of Churches, funding social change for the Wiebold Foundation in Chicago and finally serving as Executive Presbyter for New York City Presbytery. In each position he would make a lasting contribution.

George always saw his role as a facilitator of ministry with no desire to be in the spotlight. He believed that if God is in the world, it is the  Christian's obligation to go find God know what God is doing there. And that if God wants something to be done in the world, the probability is that it is already being done. And he saw his calling to identify and support those people who are engaged in creative and effective forms of church mission  throughout  the world.

For those  who did not have the opportunity to know George personally, we have his recent memoir Exposure and Risk: the Great Coming Church. A Half Century of Urban Ministry, (with Trey Hammond.) The book follows through the various stops on George's journey.

The East Harlem Protestant Parish was a vitaL model of shared ministry that remains relevant today in a time of diminished  presence of the old mainline churches. Those who made a commitment to this ministry took on four "disciplines": Religious (shared prayer, worship and study,) Economic (shared resources), Political (engagement in social action)and vocational (finding and staying with one's calling). One key principal...especially relevant today...was studied avoidance of church owned buildings ...and the institutionalization of congregations that inevitably requires. Tension over that issue would eventually  contribute  to his leaving the EHPP. That debate continues to be a major issue within urban ministry to this day.

With the Presbyterian Church, George would create a cadre of urban ministers. And help create new policy for the denomination's  General Assembly. He would reach out for ecumenical partnership and provide training. And his true passion was supporting his friend Sol Alinsky and Church  Based Community  Organizing  through the Joint Strategy and Action Committee.

In Taiwan, George would train a generation of leaders who would advance  the struggle for democracy there. With the WCCC, he would help Kim Dae Jung of South Korea into and during his  exile as Kim wrote what would become the constitution  of a newly democratic South  Korea.. He connected with Minjung(people's) theology in Korea and Dalit (untouchables) theology in  India (Jesus was a dalit..) and worked with the churches from throughout the socialist bloc of nations as they would come to East Germany to meet.


He would finish his ministry  in the most diverse Presbytery in the country, one which had no one group is in the majority and a long history  of institutional racism.

The book is written in George's own unassuming voice. One in which he can casually speak of having had Reinhold Niebuhr
perform his marriage. He describes  his influences of Albert Scweitzer  and his mystical reverencefor all things to Sol Alinsy and his  community organizing. From Barth's sense of the transcendent power of God throughout  the earth to Gollwitzer's use of Marxist tools for social analysis and work for societal change. 

He had a deep love of music and put together collections of "urban" hymns. He was close to Al Carmines and his creative Christian cabaret performances  in the Village and his friendship with Taize's Jacques Berthier led to the much beloved refrain,Jesus remember me when you come onto you kingdom."

Jointly with his wife Kathy, he won the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare  Association's John Park Lee Award for a lifetime of  commitment to the struggle for a more just society as a person of faith. He saw a great coming church, one less institutional, one more grass roots, flexible and engaged in the struggle for justice. 

Mainly he stood  beside us. Cared for us. Helped us to keep going. Much of what is good, creative and effective in the urban church today George Todd was involved with bringing to life.   I will miss him.

Friday, January 11, 2019

People on the Move: a perspective on the international migration crisis from Sicily

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On the Move

Late last fall, activists and humanitarian workers from around the globe gathered in Catania, Sicily to engage the current global migration crisis. Called together by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, "On the Move" was to be a conversation about "Global Migration: It's causes, the journey and strategies of welcome." It would also be an opportunity to observe first hand the reality of the crisis on Italy's "front line,"so to speak. The conversation was supported by and gathered participants from a host of NGOs representing those working in areas of humanitarian rescue, relief, resettlement and policy change. And we would meet with migrants and refugees themselves.

One of the first learnings had to do with language  itself. The words we use to name those on this journey are fraught with shades of meaning, eg, "illegal alien" and "refugee" and "political asylum seeker" vs. "economic refugee." There is agreement that the most appropriate, and accurate, phrase  is simply "people on the move." In reality, there is no real distinction between "political asylum" seekers and "economic refugees." All leave their homes  because of political policy decisions that make life in their home impossible. No one risks their lives to migrate unless home has become unlivable.

We also learned of the concrete reality of Italy. At first, Italy sought to respond in the most responsible and humane ways possible.  in fact, Italy can be credited with having  saved over 100,000 lives. But as a whole, the European Union turned its back on Italy leaving it on its own. Further, the Dublin Accords allow countries encountering migrants within their borders to return them to the "first safe country of entry," which in the vast majority of cases meant Italy. Since 2014, nearly 600,000 have passed through Sicily as a port of call.

The new Italian head of state, Giuseppe Conte, won on an anti-immigrant platform and since taking office, his Interior Minister Matteo Silvani has been the spearhead of a new crackdown on migration, warning immigrants to "pack their bags." Even more troubling has been a campaign of criminalizing humanitarian actions. In a disturbing turn of events, Mayor Dumenico Lucano, hailed by Fortune magazine as one of the world's 50 greatest leaders, has been arrested on a variety of migrant related charges. His city, Riace, had been one of several moribund Sicilian cities virtually revitalized by immigrants. His arrest has sent shock waves through the community of those concerned with migrants. 

Thousands now find themselves trapped in Sicily unable to enter mainland Italy and unable to return home. 

We visited the Misercordia Mosque.
at the Mosque
Misercordia Imam
With the influx of people from Africa..and the Middle East...it is now the second largest mosque in Italy. It must not only be a place  of worship, but a social service center as well. A beautiful piece of artwork with Islamic calligraphy was gift of warm welcome from a local Catholic church in better days. 
a gift from the Catholics


We heard from a wide variety of migrants, including former child soldiers and those playing the invaluable role of cultural  mediators, those selected to act as connectors between their own community and the surrounding social, political and humanitarian communities. 
migrant panel


One of the learnings from the conference was that it is time to move beyond the dichotomy of the for /against debate. Which is to not be for immigrants or anti immigrants but with immigrants, developing a culture of solidarity.
in conversation


At the end of the conversation, these thoughts were clear:
1. Regardless of location, the issues and challenges of this crisis are similar in nature and content. 
(For those of us who work in urban ministry, one simply cannot be engaged in urban ministry without having to face the issues of the global migration crisis in our own cities.)
2. There needs to be enforceable international protocols on the treatment of migrants within a country's borders. 
3. There needs to be enforceable international protocols on the humanitarian rescue of people in motion, especially those imperiled crossing seas or deserts. 

Finally, there can be no resolution of the global migration crisis as long as international predatory capitalism controls the world. No wall, steel or concrete or policy, can hold back people who simply  want to live.

"If you don't like refugees, stop creating them" Hamburg graffiti

Two of our International Sanctuary Declaration work group,  Susan Smith of the Muslim Peace Fellowship
Susan Smith
(https://mpf21.wordpress.com/)and Jenn McIntyre of Toronto's Romero House(https://romerohouse.org/spoke on a panel on 'Strategies of Welcome." 
Susan and Jenn on the panel
Together  we have been working on a declaration that begins to frame such protocols and building a growing international base of solidarity and support. (Any interested groups are invited to sign on.. see below following...)




                                              ****

In a union gathering place, there was a concert/party featuring Ciauda and Jhonny's Family Project. Ciauda
Ciauda
featured a spoke word artist who did long piece that sounded like an Italian immigration officer talking about Africans. In the end , it was a 19th Century American official talking about Sicilians.  Jhonny is a charismatic Senegalese singer with a band of Africans and Sicilians. His music is of the day..West African pop, reggae, Euro..with a rolling flowing rhythm. At one point he chants
Jhonny
'I am Sicily, you are Africa..."  The crowd is an eclectic mix of Africans, Sicilians and others. I was reminded of such a night with young Germans and Turks in a waterfront Berlin abandoned warehouse...As you watch the crowd, you know the young (er) people are already living ..and dancing... in the  world to come, that's already here.  The reactionary forces seeking to turn back the tide of history will not succeed. But they can do a lot of damage in the meantime. Our call is clear. 


                           ****
I am aware that this blog has many readers from Italy..please share this post with friends and feel free to comment....


INTERNATIONAL SANCTUARY PRINCIPLES STATEMENT CALL FOR ENDORSERS
The following statement sets forth five principles of sanctuary that can be used to guide grassroots and governmental response to the global escalation of displacement. It is in conformity and solidarity with the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951, a multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum. To sign as an individual or organization, please contact globalsanctuarymovement@gmail.com
We express ​​our deep concern for the well-being of the refugee children, families and all migrants currently arriving at our borders, as well as those struggling to live within our borders. In response to the increased numbers of people around the world who are being forced to leave their home countries, and the simultaneous increase in punitive enforcement in many receiving countries, we affirm the following principles to guide and inspire our efforts to respond:
  • ●  Compassionate Response: ​​We care deeply about refugee children, families and all migrants, and we urge our countries to have open arms to protect them and preserve their human dignity. We reject detention of migrants as a violation of human rights and dignity.
  • ●  Due Process: ​​We advocate for fair and timely legal proceedings, competent legal representation, and due process for children, asylum seekers, and all migrants.
  • ●  Family Unity: ​​We uphold and respect the unity of families as a basic human right.
  • ●  Restorative Justice: ​​We desire revitalization and healing of our borderlands, not militarization.
    The only long-term solution is a holistic approach that prioritizes safety and opportunity for
    migrants and addresses root causes.
  • ●  Civil Initiative: ​​As long as our governments are not adequately addressing these humanitarian
    crises, citizens have the right and responsibility to respond with an approach that follows the mandate to provide sanctuary when needed and, above all, to love our neighbours.
    Based on these principles, we covenant with one another ​​to work together for just and humane response to all migrants both at our borders and within our countries. We call on our governments, and the governments of all countries receiving migrants in response to the current and ongoing international humanitarian and refugee crisis to embrace these principles.
    Organizational Endorsers:
  1. Asyl in der Kirche (Asylum in Church), Germany
  2. No More Deaths, Arizona
  3. Community of Living Traditions, New York
  4. Presbyterian Church USA
  5. Canadian Sanctuary Network
  6. Muslim Peace Fellowship
  7. International Fellowship of Reconciliation
  8. Burma Task Force
  9. Our Common Beliefs, New York
  10. Coalition for Peace Action and Peace Education Fund, New Jersey
  11. The Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE)
  12. Peace Action New York
  13. International Qur’anic Studies Association, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
  14. Westchester Peace Action Committee Foundation (WESPAC)
  15. Books Not Bombs
  16. Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV)
17. Muslim Jewish Solidarity Committee 18. Interfaith Network on Drone Warfare 19. Action Corps NYC
20. The Message Islamic Center, Berlin 21. Jewish Voice for Peace

22. Interfaith Center of New York
23. Comboni Missionaries JPIC North American Province
24. Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement
25. Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition
26. House of Peace, New York
27. Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
28. The Alliance of Baptists, USA
29. Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (Muslim ARC), USA
30. The Muslim Network, New York
31. Fellowship of Reconciliation, USA
32. Ambazonia Prisoners of Conscience Support Network, USA and UK
33. African Women and Children Empowerment Initiative
34. Church World Service
35. Hope Border Institute, USA and Mexico
36. International Tribunal of Conscience of Peoples in Movement, Mexico City, Mexico

Individual Lead Signers:
  • ●  Hanns Thomä, Asyl in der Kirche, Berlin, Germany, hari.thomae@t-online.de
  • ●  Rev. John Fife, No More Deaths, Arizona, jfife666@aol.com
  • ●  Juergen Quandt, Former Pastor, Holy Cross Church, Berlin, j.quandt@evbs.de
  • ●  Rick Ufford-Chase, co-moderator, Presbyterian Church USA, rickuffordchase@gmail.com
  • ●  Rev. Dr. Robert L. Brashear, Pastor, West Park Presbyterian Church, rlbrashear@gmail.com
  • ●  Susan Smith, Muslim Peace Fellowship, susanhsmithmsed@gmail.com
  • ●  Ulrich Sonn, Internationaler Versoehnungsbund-Deutscher Zweig, International Fellowship of
    Reconciliation–German Branch, ulisonn1@gmail.com

Thursday, January 10, 2019

RIP Amos Oz

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I've been wanting to  say some words about Amos Oz, who died last month. Some have said he was the last left Zionist. He was always a writer--and man-- of contradictions. Unapologetic Zionist, yet adamantly opposed to occupation. A supporter of Israeli military actions yet almost always  changing his mind as those actions continue. Criticized -- and worse-- by both left and right with an undying longing to see peace between  Israelis and Palestinians as neighbors in adjoining states. 

( A short story, "All Rivers," is published for the first time in English in this week's New Yorker.. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/01/14/all-rivers)

He was an author who wrote with a sense of existentialism, beauty and an underlying sense of melancholy.

His last novel, Judas, in 2014,(https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01912QAJM/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1) was both an intriguing look into his innermost thoughts and also a very valuable resource for interfaith dialogue and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (see https://west-parkpress.blogspot.com/2017/05/judas-by-amos-oz-traitor-or.htmlm)

The main protagonist is Shmuel,  a young scholar working on producing a Jewish understanding of Jesus. An important issue for the scholar becomes the person of Judas. In the novel, Oz summarizes an overview of scholars on these issues and takes a position that would later emerge when the actual "Gospel of Judas" would be translated and released. That is that Judas was necessary to Jesus' mission, his closest friend, and the only one he could trust to help him live out his narrative. 

The  scholar works as a live in assistant to a man, Gershon Wald, who was the father of  a son who died in the war of independence. His son's wife, Altalia, was the daughter of Shealtiel Abravaniel, an idealistic member of the First Zionist Executive Council who passionately argued against creation of a Jewish state and died branded a traitor, like Judas.

Through Wald and Abravanel, Oz could voice his own internal argument as well as articulate his deepest misgivings about the reality of Israel, something he wouldn't do directly in his own voice. Certainly he sees himself reflected in the traitors Judas and Abravanel. He makes clear that sometimes it is the one who is branded a traitor who is closest to the truth and most loyal to his people. 

In the end, Amos Oz lived out this unresolved tension in his own life. Sadly voices like his are disappearing. As the two state solution recedes into the rear view of history, Amos Oz will be sorely missed. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

The 12th day of Christmas: Epiphany

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Nativity scene at Beverly Church


Today it takes me almost as much time to get to Beverly Road Church in Brooklyn as it usually does to get to my mom's place near Trenton, New Jersey. I'm a little anxious about being late as I walk up Beverly Road from the subway station. But I have to stop.

I walk into the Panaderia MJP, a Mexican bakery where I like to get a  cafecito and a pastel or galleta on my way to church.  And today, the little shop is filled with tall stacks of freshly baked rosca de reyes, the traditional Mexican bread for el dia de los tres ryes magos, Three Kings Bread.
Rosca de reyes
It's shared with friends and there's a baby Jesus hidden inside.
Baby Jesus
And whoever finds one, by tradition, has to host a party on Candelaria (Candlemass) forty days after Christmas. 


When West Park was at its multicultural peak, we shared a rosca every Epifania. And actually did have our parties 40 days later. We would send someone to the Bronx or El Barrio to bring one to our service. But here I found las roscas right on my way to church. It was very clear...I needed  to take one to the Beverly Road Church. The storekeeper smiles as I try to balance my cafe, my rosca, my bag and my guitar. 

Geraldine smiles when I present her with the rosca and tell her the story. And smiles again when she sees I've brought my guitar. 

We begin the service with praise songs and a new Epiphany hymn and soon enough it's time for my reflection....

Since this is our first time together since Christmas, Happy New Year! SO...it's the 12th...and last...day of Christmas. Also called Epiphany. For our Latinx brothers and sisters it is el dia de los tres treyes magos,Three Kings Day...and they'll be parading through el Barrio today. Live camels and all. And by tradition, these were the guys who bring the gifts, not Santa. And tomorrow is Russian Christmas. So here we are...

I always loved 3 kings day.  That 12 days after the 25th we had one last opportunity to celebrate Christmas and to sing "we three kings" and that they get a day all of their own. It does get confusing. Our manger scenes tend to be mash ups, we  put everyone in there together. Or if you've ever been to Radio City Music Hall, the live camels walk right up onto stage along with the shepherds and angels and donkeys and....But in the Bible they're two separate stories.

The details for Matthew come from the Old Testament.  From Psalm 72:
10  May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles 
          render him tribute, 
     may the kings of Sheba and Seba 
          bring gifts. 
11  May all kings fall down before him, 
          all nations give him service.

And from Isaiah 60:6:
6   A multitude of camels shall cover you, 
          the young camels of Midian and Ephah; 
          all those from Sheba shall come. 
     They shall bring gold and frankincense, 
          and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.


Notice only gold and frankincense....myrrh to come later....

One of my favorite experiences this holiday season was getting to see Amahl and the Night Visitors  again.  From 1951-1968 it was on NBC every year and my family always watched it. It was part of our annual Christmas. It's an opera by Gian Carlo Menotti about the kings stopping along the way on their journey at the cottage of a poor woman and her son who has a crippled leg. Over the course fo the night, a miracle occurs and the now cured boy leaves with the kings who are very clear that this new king has come for the poor.

This was a special production because it took place in a soup kitchen and the chorus included present and formerly homeless people. 
And the kings were dressed like eccentric street people, one with his valuables in a wagon, another a shopping cart and another in a baby stroller. They reminded me of people I regularly encountered in my ministry. 

And it was all fitting. As it said in Psalm 72 after the kings, 
12  For he delivers the needy when they call, 
          the poor and those who have no helper. 
13  He has pity on the weak and the needy, 
          and saves the lives of the needy. 
14  From oppression and violence he redeems their life; 
          and precious is their blood in his sight.

Matthew is clearly telling us this new king would have special care for the poor. For those who have been left out of so much of the celebration of this season. There's another angle here as well. That's the myrrh. It's added to the story because it's an embalming spice. That Jesus would suffer and die...

Scholars think that these three gifts were chosen for their special spiritual symbolism about Jesus himself—gold representing his kingship, frankincense a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh a prefiguring of his death and embalming

(They've now discovered that frankincense can also help with arthritis...)

At any rate, the gifts say something about who Jesus is...

SO Herod knows this child is a threat and tries to trick the magi. But they go "home by another way" to avoid him.

James Taylor wrote a song about the Wisemen and it finishes....

Well it pleasures me to be here
And to sing this song tonight
They tell me that life is a miracle
And I figured that they're right
But Herod's always out there
He's got our cards on file
It's a lead pipe cinch, if we give an inch
Old Herod likes to take a mile

It's best to go home by another way
Home by another way
We got this far to a lucky star
But tomorrow is another day
We can make it another way
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
And go home another way

                                                         "Home by another way"

Epiphany is from a Greek word meaning manifestation or appearance. And by extension,  a sudden appearance in which all of a sudden you get it. (As in I've just had an epiphany....)

So what are we getting



Herod IS always out there, trying to trick us. And as James Taylor sang, give an inch he'll take a mile...

Herod is so many things...for us, it's that seductive or manipulative or even  coercive power that tries to take us off of our path. And in the process, betray or abandon others. Or even ourselves. 

So we need to go home another way.

Maybe there's another sense about that as well...
so often we keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. And of course it doesn't happen. 

We have a new year ahead of us. An opportunity to "start over" if you like. Maybe a time to look at how we've been rolling and think about how we might go home by another way. It's your choice, if you want it...

Let those with ears to hear....

I share how I first encountered Epiphany when I worked at St.Paul's Episcopal Church in New Haven and returned from Christmas vacation to find yet one more candlelit service. And about West Park and the rosca. And how I had brought one to share and that it was waiting downstairs. 

And then I sang for them "Early on one Christmas Morn" by Frankie Jaxon and the Cottontop Mountain Sanctified Singers...and they even sang along!

                                                       " Early on one Christmas Morn"

We shared the bread and cup of communion. And our prayers. Now just time to sing "We Three Kings" and "Joy to the World."

This Sunday, there's spaghetti and meat balls to share. And homemade ginger beer from the Virgin Islands. And homemade cakes. And of course, the  rosca. And this one has three Baby Jesus.' 
One of the baby Jesuses
They can help each other host.


Eugene (Evgeny) is sharing pictures from the Christmas party. He had taken it on himself to create a virtual winter wonderland in the social hall downstairs just as he had created the barbecue last summer. He is engaged in many repair projects and is documenting the life of the congregation with his photos. People are excited because the photo displays on the walls documenting their life have lain dormant, not added to  for years. There is a stirring of new life here. And like so many other small churches, it is lay led, not clergy driven.

I have no idea who Eugene was back in Russia. But here in Beverly Church he has become a valued member of the community doing all he can to bring life. As I get ready to leave, he is at a back table, cutting and trimming photos. 

I tell them I began the season with them the first Sunday of Advent so it is good to end the season with them as well. Geraldine says she could really feel the spirit today. Yes. A new year is underway.




Gospel Matthew 2:1-12

1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 
6   ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, 
          are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; 
     for from you shall come a ruler 
          who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

1   Give the king your justice, O God, 
          and your righteousness to a king’s son. 
2   May he judge your people with righteousness, 
          and your poor with justice. 
3   May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, 
          and the hills, in righteousness. 
4   May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, 
          give deliverance to the needy, 
          and crush the oppressor. 
5   May he live while the sun endures, 
          and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. 
6   May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, 
          like showers that water the earth. 
7   In his days may righteousness flourish 
          and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

10  May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles 
          render him tribute, 
     may the kings of Sheba and Seba 
          bring gifts. 
11  May all kings fall down before him, 
          all nations give him service.

12  For he delivers the needy when they call, 
          the poor and those who have no helper. 
13  He has pity on the weak and the needy, 
          and saves the lives of the needy. 
14  From oppression and violence he redeems their life; 
          and precious is their blood in his sight.

First Reading Isaiah 60:1-6

1   Arise, shine; for your light has come, 
          and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 
2   For darkness shall cover the earth, 
          and thick darkness the peoples; 
     but the LORD will arise upon you, 
          and his glory will appear over you. 
3   Nations shall come to your light, 
          and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

4   Lift up your eyes and look around; 
          they all gather together, they come to you; 
     your sons shall come from far away, 
          and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 
5   Then you shall see and be radiant; 
          your heart shall thrill and rejoice, 
     because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, 
          the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 
6   A multitude of camels shall cover you, 
          the young camels of Midian and Ephah; 
          all those from Sheba shall come. 
     They shall bring gold and frankincense, 
          and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.


Monday, December 31, 2018

El seis dia de navidad: una refleccion breve con Ecclesia

12/30


Hoy es el seis dia de navidad. Y yo creo que es importante a celebrar todos de los doce dias de NAvidad, en el camino a el dia de los tres  magos.

Hoy tenemos la historia de Jesus y sus padres. La sola historia de Jesus como un nino en las escrituras. Despues celebrando el pascua en Jerusalen, ellos van en el camino a Nazaret. Cuando despues un dia, no pueden encontrar Jesus, con mucho angostia ellos regresan a Jerusalen a buscarlo. Cuando lo encontran, se tengan enfado.

Al momento estoy pensando no de Jesus pero de sus padres. Que les piensen. Y les sienten. Y yo pienso de otros padres:

+ Caal Cruz....padre de  Jakelin qiuien murio en el costodio de la migra despues su camino largo de Guatemala.
+Ali Hassan ...padre del pequeno Abdullah, de dos anos...y muriendo. Y sus madre en Yemen sin permiso a visitar su hijo.
 + Jazmine Headley, su bebé arrancado de sus brazos por el  NYPD.

Es natural estar preocupado de sus ninos.
Tengo tres pensamientos:

1. Nosotros todos son ninos de dios.. Nuestro padre en el cielo nos ama.
2. Alguna vez, como Jesus, estar fiel necesita escuchando al autoridad mas alta.
3. Como ninos de Dios, tnemos responsobilidad para todos los ninos de diosy la politica que  les afecta.

Nosotros estamos en la puerta del nuevo ano...como Jesus dejenos mejorar en sabudaria...y usar la oportunidad por un nueva comienza.....




Lucas 2:41-52 La Biblia de las Américas (LBLA)
El niño Jesús discute con los maestros

41 Sus padres acostumbraban ir a Jerusalén todos los años a la fiesta de la Pascua. 42 Y cuando cumplió doce años, subieron allá conforme a la costumbre de la fiesta; 43 y al regresar ellos, después de haber pasado todos los días de la fiesta, el niño Jesús se quedó en Jerusalén sin que lo supieran sus padres, 44 y suponiendo que iba en la caravana, anduvieron camino de un día, y comenzaron a buscarle entre los familiares y conocidos. 45 Al no hallarle, volvieron a Jerusalén buscándole. 46 Y aconteció que después de tres días le hallaron en el templo, sentado en medio de los maestros, escuchándolos y haciéndoles preguntas. 47 Y todos los que le oían estaban asombrados de su entendimiento y de sus respuestas. 48 Cuando sus padres le vieron, se quedaron maravillados; y su madre le dijo: Hijo, ¿por qué nos has tratado de esta manera? Mira, tu padre y yo te hemos estado buscando[a] llenos de angustia. 49 Entonces El les dijo: ¿Por qué me buscabais? ¿Acaso no sabíais que me era necesario estar en la casa[b] de mi Padre? 50 Pero ellos no entendieron las palabras que El les había dicho. 51 Y descendió con ellos y vino a Nazaret, y continuó sujeto a ellos. Y su madre atesoraba todas estas cosas[c] en su corazón. 52 Y Jesús crecía en sabiduría, en estatura[d] y en gracia para con Dios y los hombres.

Footnotes:
Lucas 2:48 Lit., te buscamos
Lucas 2:49 O, los negocios; lit., las cosas
Lucas 2:51 Lit., las palabras
Lucas 2:52 O, edad

On the Sixth Day of Christmas: with Ecclesia

12/30


preparing to share


The congregation for Ecclesia in Marcus Garvey Park has been smaller each week, Clyde tells me. Seems the NYPD has been doubling down on the drug business, pushing dealers into the park and then harassing anyone they find here. Busting people for minor infractions like feet on benches or open container. Feels like broken windows redux. (The Giuliani era policy of strict enforcement of minor infractions in order to prevent major crimes.  As in Fix the first "broken window" or they'll all get broken...) Anyways, people have been staying away.

Lucy, a long time volunteer at the  Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen Clyde used to run is in town for the holidays  and has  come looking for Clyde and Ecclesia.
Lucy and Clyde
Others will arrive one by one. 


When it comes time for my homily, here is what I share:


Welcome to the 6th day of Christmas....we're halfway through....six more days to go..since the secular world has been in holiday mode since the day after Halloween, they're ready to be done. All the more reason for us to hold on to the religious/spiritual celebration all 12 days. 

(On the 3rd day of Christmas, there was no star but the sky turned blue over Queens. Some thought it was aliens. Other terrorists. Some thought Jesus was coming back and tried to break into a locked church. And when Con Ed announced it was a transformer issue, some believed that changeling warrior robots were walking the streets. And so it is...)

Our gospel today takes us out of the Christmas narrative and into the only scriptural account of anything in Jesus childhood. His parents go to Jerusalem for a festival, head for home, after a day, figure out he's not with them, panic, go back to the  Temple and find him engaged in dialogue with the Bible scholars. His parents are obviously upset. And his response is that he's in his father's house. (Sorry Joseph)

Usually when we read this story, our attention is on Jesus. (Naturally) At his  wisdom. And self awareness of his mission.  But this time I want to look elsewhere. And that's his parents. Let's leave aside for the moment why they would  assume he was with relatives and not worry about his whereabouts  for a day. 

Let's think about how they feel when they can't find him. 
So I'm thinking about other parents .(Thanks to Jill Duffield for this...)
+ Caal Cruz....29 year old father whose daughter Jakelin died in the custody of the Border Patrol after they had travelled from Guatemala and crossed into the US.
+Ali Hassan ...father of 2 year old Abdullah who is terminally ill whose mother, after having twice been denied a visa because she is from Yemen, has finally been allowed in, thanks to public pressure and Save the Children
and + Jazmine Headley, who we all saw have her toddler torn from her arms by the NYPD when she sat down after hours of waiting.
Parents worry about their children.

Well, Ok, not all parents. Some children are tragically left on their own. But no matter where we are, parents worry about us.

And so it is with Mary and Joseph. Jesus may be the son of God, but to them he is a vulnerable child they have been entrusted with for care and nurture. No wonder they are angry when he turns up...it's a sign of their care. Anger. And relief. 

This story suggests several things to me.
1. We are all children of God. Even if our own parents left us or we left them or communications have broken off, our heavenly father (or mother) cares about us and worries about us, wants the best for us...loves us.
2. Like Jesus, sometimes being faithful may mean having to listen to a higher authority. And that is not always understood. (HInt: that's why communities are helpful...to help us figure that out...)
3. As God's children, we have a responsibility for ALL God's children. We are responsible for the Caals, the Hassans, the Jazmines....and the policies that affect their lives and their children's lives and put them into jeopardy....we are responsible to work to change those realities..

The Gospel tells us after this he went home and was an obedient child. And like a good mother, Mary keeps these things in her heart. And it tells us that :
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

We're also poised on the edge of a New Year. Another opportunity for a fresh start....yours if you want it ...and I don't say that casually...

In this new year, let us increase in wisdom and so may it be for us. 
at Marcus Garvey PArk


We share prayers together. For the two community members who lost their long running struggle to survive this year. For a man seeking stability and connection with his daughter. For other concerns. And we share Eucharist together. 

And as always, we share a meal after. This week provided by Broadway Presbyterian. Lucy laughs when I say It's colder than it seems. Basically meaning we won't be hanging around much longer today. We're poised at the moment between the year almost finished and the one not yet begun.





Gospel Luke 2:41-52

41Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." 49He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Christmas Eve 2018 at West Park Church

12/24


Christmas Eve at West Park (thanks Russ!)


It's a real honor to be invited back to West-Park church to lead the Christmas service again. After a year's absence. And  service at West Park. I arrive to find the church beautifully decorated thanks to Dion, Marsha and Leila.  
Marsha, Pat and Martin

Dion and Leila
Every pew candle (electric) lit.  A beautiful tree center stage. 

Food is being laid out for the post-service pot luck. Martin has brought a case of wine to ad to the festivities. Dion has brought a pan of shepherds'pie from St.James Gate. More is on the way.

John Roggie, who was our last accompanist before I retired, has com back for the evening. As I rehearse the two songs I will sing with my homily, I see my old friend Andre
Pastor Bob, Andre and Steve
walking down the aisle and my heart skips a beat, so many memories, so good to see him. He agrees to sing for us. As we finish rehearsals, it's almost time to begin.

I look out and feel overwhelmed. There are clergy colleagues. Musicians. Members of the Center Board. Church members. Families. Friends. People who attracted by the luminaria on the steps have been drawn inside. Community people. Homeless. So many faces from so many relationships. It is profoundly moving. 
Soledad, Luli and Martin



Christmas in the Trenches

Just before my homily, I sing "Christmas in the Trenches" about the World War I Christmas truce. And then shared these words:

So it's here. Again. After 4 weeks of Advent...and after over 7 weeks of shop decorations ....finally Christmas is here.

It's good for me to be back here again.  So many memories...On this night I've seen the sanctuary nearly filled....and I've seen it with only me and my boys and 2 or 3 homeless people...and of course the year we gathered outside on the steps with the gates barring the doors and we lit candles and sang carols just to show we were still alive....and still here...and then returning and celebrating Christmas with no heat ...and no restrooms..yes, we have had Christmases....

And so we come to this Christmas....truly organized by the people....and we will celebrate together....
Look again at these scriptures:

Isaiah 9:2 King James Version (KJV)
2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

John 1:5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

That's why  we are here...

I don't have to tell you, it's been a rough year...

We learned we live in a country that will separate parents from children and put children into cages and detention camps.
A country that turns tear gas on asylum seekers
And we're not exactly sure what to do about it.

There are more people in motion in the world today  than ever before and borders are closing down...tens of thousands are stranded on islands in the Mediterranean ...and more continue risking their lives at sea or in the Sonora desert....

Do we remember that in our story there was no room at the inn? or that shortly after Christmas the Holy Family had to flee into Egypt as undocumented persons seeking asylum?

Our brother Hugo's country faces repression and persecution and tens of thousands are in exile...and former solidarity friends stand by...

In our own city, the homeless population has reached a record 68000 in this global center...nearly 115000 of our public school children are homeless....and we have to work to press a "progressive" mayor to live up to his promise of 10% of new units for homeless...

We could each add out own words to the litany of lament and intercession...

BUT part of the point of Christmas is that so it always is....Christmas is about incarnation... God in human form...or God in the very midst of humanity...God dwelling in the midst of humanity... in each generation...

(we recalled earlier the miracle of 1917, when soldiers on both sides of the trenches created a Christmas truce. As John Lennon said, "War is over, if you want it.."...)

In our traditions, light is important...
At this time of year, the Buddhists fill their ritual space with light passed one to another as they welcome the coming of the light...I've celebrated this with my brother TK in a Riverside Church filled with monks and lotus blossom lights..

Jews celebrate Hannukah..a struggle for cultural autonomy and freedom of religion...and the light grows day by day and candle by candle because the light must always grow...

And we too in our Advent season of waiting  add a candle each week...because the light must always grow...

We are hereto be light for one another....

Hear this...

Isaiah 9:2 King James Version (KJV)
2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

John 1:5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The darkness has not overcome it ...and the darkness WILL not overcome it....that is why we are here...let the people say, Alleluia! Amen!
                                                           Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming

                                                                      The Rose
                                                            
And I closed my reflection by singing . Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming and the Rose..flowing in to each other..

I spoke of memory...of our ceramic Advent wreath made by a Latvian potter in Pittsburgh....my stole of sheep's wool and natural dyes from the  weavers of Chimayo, New Mexico. The unavoidableness of Christmas memories. And the importance of sharing our gifts. And Andre sang "In the bleak midwinter.."

                                                              "In the Bleak Midwinter"

Candles. Sharing the light. I reminded the congregation that it wasn't like the world was dark and then Jesus came and prestochangeo, light. How the light has been there since creation. Sometimes obscured. or hard to see. But always, always there. And it's our responsibility to share it and help it grow, And so the light passes, person to person as the sanctuary fills with candlelight as we sing Silent Night. 

We sing "Joy to the World" and the service has ended but the night just begun. Several people tell me they had been moved to tears. Many warm hugs.
Steve Phelps family


Our shared meal has Kazakh dumplings and Texas empanadas and a delicious banana pudding. And more. A reflection of who we are.

Then follows a kind of open mic. Another sharing of gifts. My good friend (and Rabbi) Steve Blane opens and then accompanies me on one of my songs. And there are performers from Ireland
With Pat O'Connell
and Central Asia and China and Africa and the  Bronx and Queens and...yes, a comedian or two including Dion, our host, and James who shares that he is an Orthodox Jew. 


And of course there's a woman who keeps yelling "Hallelujah! Hallelujah" louder and louder. As she responded to Kosi's "Hallelujah," Kosi said "You remind me of the entirety of my mother's family..." Of course, we ultimately have to escort he rout. And this brings back so many memories...
Our hoat Dion closes the night


We go on well past 11. I am profoundly moved. A year and a half after my retirement, this dedicated and determined band of folks with no help from Presbytery or anyone else continues to have the capacity to create a night like this that truly reveals the incarnation, truly God in the midst of humanity. And out of this diverse, even motley collection, create community. For this I give thanks. And I love them. 

Merry Christmas