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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Bible study: finding a wife for Isaac and the death of Abraham


Dion, as every Monday, is getting the Farmigo food out. Up in McAlpin, the 3 day hangover company is working on their production of Dracula. And our Bible Study group is ready to get back into Genesis, beginning with Chapter 24 and Abraham’s determination to find a wife for Isaac. 

He’s pretty clear he doesn’t want one from the local Canaanites currently surrounding him. (This issue of who can marry whom is always there in these early stories…sometimes the other is needed, and the prohibition against incest is strong…He decides to send his servant all the way back to the land he originally  came from. (After having him swear an oath after putting his hand under his thigh..well, OK..) But he also tells the servant no matter what he does, not to take the son back there. And Abraham assures his servant that an angel will go with him.

He takes with him camels and all kinds of other gifts, heads for a well looking for a woman who will not only bring water to him but to his camels as well.  Now we begin to see well as places of courting, of encounters between men and women. Later Jacob will meet Rachel at a well, Moses will meet Zipporah. All this will be in the minds of people when Jesus meets a woman at a well.

The woman turns out to be Rebekah, grand niece of Abraham, daughter of his brother Nahor, Isaac’s cousin. The servant seals the deal  by placing a gold nose ring on Rebekah (I’m trying to imagine that…) and two bracelets. He repeats the whole story, in complete detail, to her brother Laban who accepts the engagement. Later, they want Rebekah to stay back another 10 days (just to make sure?) but agree to let her go, if she agrees to do, which she does, and so they are off.

She sees, Isaac walking at night, goes to him, and he takes her into his mother’s tent. And it says SO Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death..implying that after that terrifying incident with his father, he may always have needed comforting.

Our commentator Wes Howard-Brook makes much of the fact that Abraham never actually consults God but goes on ahead on his own. And that twice he has advanced God’s promise through the use of gold and silver. Seeing how things usually work out for Abraham, who’s to blame him? Is his agency really critiqued or is it complimented?

What follows describes Abraham taking a new wife, Keturah, and new descendants including a Sheba and a variety of Midianites. And the sons of his concubines, who he gifted and then sent away. Seems like he’s determined to fulfill God’s promise of many descendants single handedly, as it were.

The final scene we look at tonight is the death of Abraham.  Touchingly, we are told that Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham at the cave he’d bought at Machpelah, Hebron. I am fascinated by this. How did he know? Did Isaac send for him? What did Hagar say? What did the brothers say to each other? Remembering their childhood friendship…there’s a short story, a midrash waiting to be written on that theme. Even through the ages we feel the emotions….

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Living in the Spirit: What is your greatest need?


Jeremy, Andre and Pastor Bob preparing for worship

What an amazing week it’s been. I’ve lived through two pope visits here. But this one was truly special.  I followed on Facebook those of my friends and colleagues who were able to participate in various events.  Presbytery Exec Bob Foltz-Morrison. Sarah Sayeed (Muslim) former Interfaith Center of New York City staff person, now in the Di Blasio administration, Simran Jeet Singh, Sikh leader who visited with us and participated in an interfaith dialogue here at West-Park. This pope is helping us to  recover  the original meaning of catholicuniversal, all-inclusive….that is who this Pope Francis is…

And the message seems so simple…humility, compassion, true caring, ….and a smile….able to see connections between the environment and who truly suffers…but more than ideology or theology it is that human touch …those daily moments of choosing to connect…and how many of us need just to be touched.

It’s in that context I want to look at today’s passage in James…it assumes a community…perhaps a large congregation even,…

13Are any among you suffering?
They should pray. Are any cheerful? ( I’m thinking of our friend Stephen’s smile challenge, better than an ice bucket challenge…)[1]  They should sing songs of  praise. 1
4Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.  (Here we have lifted up the role of our elders and deacons)  About what we can do for one another.
16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  I’m thinking of  the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa. How it began with the telling of truth. Of people’s stories. Sometimes just being heard was enough. I’m thinking of reconciliation between people. The process it takes beginning with critical clarification of what caused the rupture and ending with reconstruction.

And I’m thinking of our friend Carman Moore and his work with Lotte Arnsbjerg in the Girl From Diamond Mountain  project.  Her song cycle about childhood sexual abuse and her personal healing. How healing begins  with the telling of the story.  And how their project is now reaching out to abusers because they were themselves invariably abused. And only speaking out, breaking the silence can break the cycle. (

In the end, the deepest meaning of confession is not a recitation of things we have done wrong so much as it is an open and honest statement of who we are. Our deepest statements of belief we call confessions:  the Westminster confession, the Barmen confession….

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. Never doubt the power of our prayers… remember the pope’s last words to us Pray for me.

19My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another,20you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. I believe that reconciliation, healing that which is broken, is one of our principle callings and that nothing pleases God more than reconciliation.

And so my question to you this morning  is ….what is your greatest need today?  Can you name it? Define it? 

This seems to be what Francis is asking of us…to share with one another our deepest needs…to be alert to what each other needs and to respond as we are able … be alert….let us be inspired …and  let us connect…and perhaps even smile…

And as Pope Francis said, Pray for me, and pray for each other…

preparation in black and white....thank you Stephen....

[1] Good morning!   Though we are not Catholics, we are people of faith and compassion. Honestly,  I was not excited about the Pope's U.S. And NYC visit, but I am truly touched by this man after a few days of 24 hour TV coverage, hearing his words, and  watching the grace that he shares with all of us.   I think  Pope Francis  truly walks in the footsteps of St Francis - preach the gospel and only use words when necessary.   He offers us a simple. powerful approach to life and our personal ministries - be compassionate, show your humanity, and smile smile smile.   When I went out for my daily walk this morning I made a point of having a smile the whole walk and not only did I feel better and happier, I found men, women and young people  smiling at me before I made eye contact, and many giving a nod of the head, or saying hi and good morning.   To consciously smile as I walked, and enjoyed the beautiful morning and the sweet character of my neighborhood, this truly simple change to my walk on my part gave me peace, lifted my spirits, made me feel God's grace, and most importantly to me, welcomed those  walking around me simple moments of fellowship with me.   I would like to challenge all of us in the West Park Community to  smile when you typically would not, to do it conciously, to do so with compassion, and to do so as a way to share your humanity.   Then, at service in the near future, let's share our experiences of this simple gift that we can give to ourselves and to those we encounter.   If you choose to take this challenge, I hope your experience provides you with the blessings and joy I am receiving from it.   Bob, if you believe this is a worthy challenge for our Community, please share it with everyone.   Enjoy your day - and smile .  All the best,  Stephen Webber 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A new idea...and an open mic


Mike Handelman and RL close us out with Stay Awhile

This morning the Pope spoke to the UN. And then to Ground Zero….

Martin has a brilliant idea about a program we can do while his company is here in December. Concerning the roots of flamenco in the golden age of 15th century  el Andaluz where Arab and Jewish, Spanish and gypsy cultures all converged.  Would like to do it in December before Antigona reopens.

I’m  treated to an hour of Alex Fry playing her music as she takes a break before heading to work.

I continue to puzzle about our two sisters and what to do with them. At least we’re working together with Reachout.  I have to  make sure that the sanctuary is completely empty during Open Mic. It’s making me anxious.

RL as always opens the night
RL opens
followed by a comedy set by Stephen Bea
Stephen Bea
who is a teacher in his day job. The first musician is pedal steel guitar virtuoso Michael Pfeiffer
Michael on the pedal steel
who has arranged some old standards like Blue Skies for his instrument. We’re excited to learn that John Holland
John Holland
has an upcoming gig at the Bitter End and that his Second Avenue song has been accepted for a movie. Michael joins me on 3 original songs on his pedal steel.
Bob and Michael
I struggle with tuning but am loving this. Blues Man Mike Handelman is back with his own interpretation of Aretha’s Respect (along with a tip of the hat to Rodney Dangerfield).
David Smythe
David Smythe
once again  leaves the sound board to do a set. Jessie and Jeremy share another original and a Dylan cover. They work really well together. And have a gig coming up at the Path in the Village. 
Jessie and Jeremy

And then Mike comes up to join RL on Stay Awhile and the night is over.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The holiest day of the Jewish year. And all that could go wrong....


Today is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. And a beautiful sunny day. I went down to the Village to the Bitter End to catch the (jazz) service of my friend Rabbi Steve Blane. I was honored that he introduced me as a clergy friend and as a singer/songwriter. The day felt good.

Jeremy drops in for a brief meeting planning this Sunday’s service music.  He’s got an Equinox gig happening  tonight in Brooklyn.

The insurance inspector has been there all day going over every inch and trying to think of every thing that could possibly go wrong.  Meanwhile the security camera people are back trying yet again to get all the cameras working and the buzzer system finally on line. Well there are kinks yet to work out. The magical from a distance system we thought would work on our cellphones ain’t happenin’ . The security system people and the insurance inspector make for an interesting combination.  (I was shocked to learn in our conversation that our friends at Liberty Mutual handle upwards of 100 child sex abuse claims a year…)

The steps have been hard all day. I’ve got to tell one of the sisters she can’t sleep there because an angry black man is asleep in the north doorway. Can’t be havin’ people sleepin’ there during the day. I call Project Reachout to talk about the sisters again. Get a voicemail. I ask Dion to please keep an eye on the steps while I’m out.

Pat O has stopped by just to make sure everything is going right with the systems people. The peace of the Yom Kippur service and warmth of the  sun in the village seems far away.


Sam G comes in  to talk about social media again. And a possible Grateful Dead venture and pulling all our artists together to create a shared artistic vision statement. They always speak of something special at West-Park. But what exactly is it? Let’s see if we can spell it out.

While Sam and I are talking, the Dzieci folks arrive in the darkened sanctuary and begin their warm up exercises. Jason is meeting one of the leading trans performers and activists to keep the conversation going.

Finally connect with Project Reachout. A plan is evolving. It will be hard but we need to move on with the sisters.