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Thursday, January 22, 2015

He was a good neighbor

 The day begins with a visit from Susan M from Goddard-Riverside and one of her colleagues..  She’s here to talk about our hosting an  event in  this year’s Big Read, where everyone in a community reads the same book and there are various events to explore the book’s themes and share our learnings.  This year’s book is The Beautiful Tkings That Heaven bears by Dinaw Mengestu. The book is a door to get onto other issues like gentrification specifically and  the immigrant experience generally . Of course we agree to host an event. Task is now, what would make that participation our event, expressing our own unique identity
Then day ends with the coffee and piano man bringing me a fresh cup and stopping for a chat before he begins his play. He’s got some ideas about selling air rights. I explain all there is to know about that idea. And he seems really taken buy the Open Mic,  but concerned abut his style. I explain that this is not something to worry about, just come on and join in. When  he’s finished and ready to go, he brings his wife in, introduces her. And then onto the cold.
Outside, in the freezing cold, waiting for a bus is my neighbor of 20 years, Stuart. He’s still at the old People alway moving  in and out, changing.Security guards changing,. He was a good neighbor. Never missed the annual interfaith Thanksgiving  eve service at SPSA
ETHEL’s music is  filling the sanctuary.                     
Thee are two people on the pews, praying. And of course Geoffrey snoring.
An Asian woman come s buy looking for Berik’s art show.Is she an aspiring renter?
Carman Mooors comes in, still buzzing about Christmas Eve (as are we). Lotte will be here February 1. For recording. And then later they’ll be on tour with Girl from Diamond Mountain, which they premiered here at SWest-Park. Can they do a 
And of course, Geoffrey is snoring.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend: Once to Every one and nation


Pat O, Marsha and I working in a budget. But in looking at expenses, there are too many unknowns. We need to have a conversation with Nan, and our new bookkeeper, Monica.

While we are meeting, a contingent of young Koreans are walking through the building, checking it out. They’re congregants of Pastor An.

AT 2 o’clock, I join my Presbyterian Health Education and Welfare Association friends from around the country in a goto meeting. Always amazes me to see all of our faces on the screen together when we can be as far away as Hawaii. PHEWA, despite all its work among networks in areas like Domestic violence and Disabilities and Mental Illness, Criminal Justice, Health, AIDS, is always right on the edge. Like almost every group I’m involved with. I swear it’s not me!

It takes me hours to work through Martin Luther King, Jr’s Selma to Montgomery How long? Not long…speech. Not nearly as well known as I have a dream or the mountaintop speech. I’m impressed with the word usage, the art of the speech. How it uses the Bible, well known hymns and spirituals. Courageous challenge to the status quo. Comfortable for some, unbearable for most.                                                                

 Not easy, but I manage to turn it into a liturgy. With music. It’s late when I leave.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday. Two visitors from the Korean congregation are with us today. We begin with the old movement song, Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around…then read 1 Samuel 3: 1-10 where  Samuel hear the word of God calling him to be a prophet and doesn’t understand it at first. God calls him three times before Eli is able to convince him that it is indeed God calling. And recall that Martin didn’t want to be a prophet. That he wanted to be an intellectual, a scholar, an academic. Saw his tradition as something he need to rise above until in his loneliest hour he found its deep spiritual strength to sustain him.

And them we read the entirety of the How long, not long.. speech.( And wherever Dr. King quotes from a hymn or song, we sing it.

We ain’t goin’ let nobody turn us around

Lift every voice and sing
We have come over a way
That with tears hath been watered.
We have come treading our paths
Through the blood of the slaughtered.
Out of the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam
Of our bright star is cast.
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
Up to the walls of Jericho they marched, spear in hand.
Go blow them ramhorns, Joshua cried,
‘Cause the battle am in my hand.

Once to every man  and nation
Truth forever on the scaffold
Wrong forever on the throne,
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.

And finally, the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which gives the speech it’s other name. Our God is marching on. …
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on.He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; (Speak, sir)
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat.
O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on.
Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!
Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
The power of those words still ring achingly present and true today.  We feel them as we enter into our prayers. At the end of the service, we sing Ain’t gonna let nobody….one more time,a and then, before a final Amen, We Shall Overcome.
Of everything we sang today, only Lift every voice…and We shall overcome have made it into the new Presbyterian Hymnal.  We shall overcome is a new addition, Lift every voice ….had made it into the 1990 hymnal.
What I’m especially taken by is the absence of  Once to Every Man and Nation and the Battle Hymn, which both had been historic mainstays in the older hymnals. Reflecting on this. Regarding Once…, James Russell Lowell wrote these words in 1854 (the same year one of West Park’s predecessors, Park Church, built its chapel on 84th street).  The tune we use was written in 1890, one year after the new sanctuary was built. Lowell wrote his passionate, apocalyptic words in protest to the US war against Mexico. And I remember both my college minister Ray Swartzbach and my Yale Chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Jr. using the hymn in anti-Vietnam war sermons. This is a kairos moment. You, we, have to decide.
The Battle Hymn, with its words lifted from the apocalyptic vision of Revelation 19, was written by abolitionist and suffragette  Julia Ward Howe in 1861. Once again, Howe viewed the moment as a decisive one with justice and truth hanging in the balance. She set it to an old camp song (also a tribute to radical abolitionist John Brown, who her husband Samuel secretly supported financially). It was intended to bolster the union troops.
O why were these powerful paens to justice banished? I suspect it happened as a misplaced understanding of  what  peacemaking in the church means. That is, militancy was confused  for militarism. Both songs have a martial air and a dramatic, apocalyptic, non-compromising use of language. The modern institutional church peace peacemaking project has often seen confrontation itself as problematic.
It is  hard to remember that the Presbyterian Church once filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of fundamentalist John Brown University. (No relation. At all.) and religious freedom and also provided defense funds for Angela Davis, an open communist. I can’t imagine that happening today. The only echo in a blunted time was last summer’s close vote to divest from 3 companies for their support of Israeli occupation of the West Bank. (Not insignificant.)
The taming of the hymnbook parallels the efforts to tame Dr.King, turn him into, in the word of Russ, a teddy bear. The Selma story shows just the opposite. King’s non-violence was a tactic to heighten tension, not reduce  it, not reduce it; until the basic demands were met. Active non-violence of the  movement drew violent response  to it, part of the tactic, to expose the brutality of those who  administer control and force a nation to face a cognitive dissonance between their stated values and their lived reality. And King’s action forced that dissonance to be resolved in favor of extending greater justice.  His use of non-violence was not only moral but strategic.
Thus we can not allow King’s memorialization to be used to avoid strong, even divisive action in this kairos moment. The young leaders of this movement  call for reclaiming Dr. King.
We people of faith need to play a supportive role. We will not be leaders this time. Our time has  passed. But we can be responsible. And responsive. And  advice when asked and when  it will be taken. We like Dr. King, can be militant without being militaristic. And perhaps sing and exegete some old songs while we’re at it. In this, another kairos moment.
Once to everyone an nation comes a moment to decide…..

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Yes, we do have holy water


Setting the stage for Allison

An interesting conversation about potential foreign investors. Involves trading jobs for green cards, eyebrow raising but apparently has the approval of Homeland Security.  Amazing what being a property owner brings you.

And more interesting, a theatre group from France wanting to build a stage in the sanctuary and test their play which involves divorcees and cross dressing and is apparently the longest running comedy in France. I remind myself  that these guys had a mad thing for Jerry Lewis that I never quite got.  It could  prove beneficial for other theatre groups and even Noche. We’ve had quite a group here all morning, Jamie, Marsha, Don and Pat O.

I break to run up to West End for a negotiating session with our local police regarding our upcoming march on Martin Luther King, Jr. day, Monday.

Swamini answers all the questions Charles and I have about the proposed shelter for homeless women. She came to us because of our Occupy residency. I’m convinced we can do it and I like the idea of being in partnership with an ashram.

When I return, Karen is playing piano in the sanctuary and Arcadia is signing checks.

Soon enough, I’m on my way to meet RL at his luthier’s, the cold outside still bitter. His (not) Christmas present will soon be complete. And my 45 year old Epiphone will be ready to plug in and play for the first time in public since I started playing again.  Another circle complete.

At the end of the day, a young Latino is desperate for holy water. I try to explain our reality, then give up. His eyes pleading  more than his words. I take out my bottle of water from the Jordan, pour some drops out and prepare to anoint him. No, gracias, que no…he says, Pa’ mi madre…So it’s for his mother. Another problem. All I’ve got is a paper coffee cup and lid. I go away, fill it with filtered water and some Jordan drops. Go back, bless the water, bless him, hand him the cup. Mil gracias, padre, mil gracias..
Vaya en paz, I answer.  And with happy eyes, he is on his way. We do have  holy water. If only all problems were so easily solved.


An interesting night of Open Mic lies ahead. One of those weird, wild and eclectic nights that just go on. After RL, the night opens with Victoria Levy, from Woodstock, who it turns out has had one of those just under the radar long  running journey(wo)man careers. Once again, Victoria, an honor to have you with us. ( A new album on its way.
Victoria from Woodstock
Ben Ringer is one of those accomplished young guitarists who quickly found himself playing with Victoria and soon in demand by others in need of a solid lead.  His own music was just as solid. 
Ben Ringer

David Lyons, would win our MVP if there was such an award. He tends bar, jumps  into sound if need be, takes photos, runs a facebook page and week after week keeps honing his songs until he gets them right.  Without guys like David outside of the spotlight,  the magic doesn’t happen.
David Lyons and Nick

I now see that Borscht Belt throwback Peter Pan is bringing his shtick back every week and it    is    actually    getting    better. Once can almost imagine him opening at some long shuttered Stephen Kingian Shining in the Catskills ghost resort.
Peter Pan

The real highlight to the evening  is the appearance of retired professional actress Allison H, known as Harvey by RL for her appearance in that play. She’s made it out for the first time this year for a throwdown  to Mandola Joe with the Shooting of Dan McGrew by one of Mandola's favorites, Robert Service And Mandola has dragged his own (self-described) weary bones out of the house to catch her performance. RL caringly sets the stage for her. And she does not disappoint.  Mandola’s combination of harrumph and smile the best review one could  ask for.

Joel of course..without Steve Blane on  a six week Florida  hiatus…takes us on another timeless journey through (at least) space and time with his own throwback (way back) spoken word improv.
Joel Gold
Pat O continues to perfect is set for his Great Open Mic Tour of 2015 learning more about his pedals every week.
Pat O on his pedals
Young Nick Lantigua and his banjo are back and we marvel at what its been like watching him grow in a circle of supportive mentors who love to have him play along  with David Lyons.
Nick Lantigua
Tall Sam Brian brings his aw shucks woodyarlodylan delivery to a poignant song involving a truck stop an waitress and a Super 8 Motel. 
Sam Brian

I plug in my own Epiphone and get two-thirds of a good set before stumbling on Ripple. Pat jumps in to save me, but I struggle to regain my musical feet. They deceptive not a simple as it sounds intricacy of Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia has defeated me, but I will be back.

David Smyhthe leads the soundboard to rock is back through the ‘80’s again.

Orisha Lucky is the last surprise of the night. Although RL tries  to link him with oddly named 3rd world dictators, (Goodluck Johnson), he’s got the name of an Afro-caribbean  Yoruban spirit. And it is his given name. He’s onto new school r&b and rap and has his new cd, Times Square Money. ( 
Orisha Lucky

Country Joe is back with his one-two punch of Roger Miller’s King of the Road and Goin to Kansas City. He’s got stories from the road and Pat O backing him and always looks like he’s on another stage somewhere else. 
Country Joe and Pat O

By the time RL brings us home with Stay Awhile with Pat O and Nick, and just for kicks with my old Epiphone back, I play along instead of my xydeco tie or my guacharaca. well by then we’ve been through a musical time capsule of many decades and come out on the other side.

All that’s left is to wake up Geoffrey and head to the Gate.

Reading back through all this, I hear RL in his best Jimmy Stewart voice,  Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.