Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pentecost: Hope in the Spirit


Back to Oakdale

Oakdale Presbyterian Church is a congregation in a small town that is part of the fast growing expansion of the airport business, commercial and residential development.  

Time for my  annual  visit to the Oakdale Church where I rediscovered my call to parish ministry 14 years ago. It's hard to believe it was that many years. But visits these last three years have renewed my relationship with this resilient community. I am profoundly moved that they have weathered the storm of theological ideological controversy and division  and have come out the other side with new spirit and hope. Their feeling of community and acceptance is easily felt and the congregation is visibly growing in its diversity, a true expression of God's embracing love.  I'm also glad that I have another chance to play and sing with my friend Dan Hanczar who helped me bring music back to my life again during my time there. A new set of guitar strings was his gift when I left for New York City. 

I look out at many congregants wearing Pentecost red. 

After the reading of the scriptures,(see below)  Dan and I play "Blowin in the Wind" and I said that when I was in high school, my pastor had explained that the song was a good expression of the Holy Spirit and Pentecost. That has always stayed with me. (Though my pastor called him Bob DY-lan.) But as I have been doing since the Parkland shootings, I pause at the end to say that the students have shown is that maybe Blowin in the wind isn't enough. Maybe it has to be the answer is not blowin' in the wind, but the answer is in our own hands...and so I have us sing that together.

And then it was time for my reflection...
Red is the color of the day...

It's great to be back here again.  Especially on the Sunday of Pentecost. Which is ,you know, the birthday of the church. (Not you Oakdale guys, I mean the church.) One year the Presbyterian Church (USA) tried to make it a big event--called it the party. Sent out packages with noise makers and decorations and...well, it didn't go over so well. Presbyterians don't really roll that way much.

This year's' kind of special because we have a convergence of the Christian Pentecost, the Muslim Ramadan and the Jewish Shavuot. (Now Shavuot and Pentecost are always connected because Shavuot is the original pentecost...what everyone in Acts was coming to Jerusalem to celebrate. Shavuot...the feast of weeks.(7 weeks +1 day) ..50 days after for us, Pentecost is 50 days after Easter.  Shavuot was at first an agricultural holiday.  Then later became a celebration of the giving of the law on Mt.Sinai...and for us, the visitation of the Holy Spirit...we might want to reflect a bit on why God (or Luke?) chose to bring in the Holy Spirit on the day that was set aside to  celebrate the giving of the law on Sinai. In both cases, we have this fire and smoke imagery...BUT...the Law, the Holy Spirit, how are they connected?

The last several days have impacted my sermon. I mean we always preach in the context of what's going on in the world around us.  And this year's Ramadan was ushered in with the US moving its embassy in Israel, massive protests in Gaza, at least 60 dead and hundreds wounded. That was on  my mind.  Then after an all night bus ride to Pittsburgh, the TVs in the Greyhound Station greeted me with the news of yet another school shooting.  The 22nd this year. Think about that. 

I was so angry. Like why even bother to report this? It's not really uncommon anymore. It's not like anything is going to change. By now we can all almost write the script. Starting with "thoughts and prayers." 

And then yesterday, to my surprise,  I found myself mesmerized by the Royal wedding. And I wondered, whoa, what's up with that? And wondered why Americans got so involved with this event in England.  Is it old memories of where we came from? (I remember Ruth Gordon in Harold and Maude saying, Oh, I don't miss kingdoms so much, but oh, the kings....)

Bishop Michael Curry's sermon blew me away....he truly spoke of the power of love...both interpersonally and societally...

He said:
When love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive, when love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the Earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more. When love is the way, there's plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of god's children because when love is the way, we actually treat each other well, like we are actually family.

And he spoke of Jesus' response to the question as to the most important commandment; to love God with all your heart soul and strength ...and to love your neighbor as yourself..

NOW...this leads me back to my main concern today...HOPE...certainly the Israeli -Palestinian conflict and gun violence challenge our sense of hope. But to be honest, I don't think too many of us spend too much time each week worried about issues like that. Most of us are just trying to do the best we can to get by the best we can and be decent to others in the meantime...

I love that image in ACTS that creation has been groaning with labor pains. That the stressful and painful things we see around us are the birth pangs of something new coming into being, being born . Even if I can't see it. Jim Wallis always said that hope is believing despite the evidence and having the courage to work to make the evidence change. 

And I was moved to learn that those Parkland students have accomplished a lot in Florida. New minimum age, requirement to buy from a licensed dealer, etc. It's a clear sign that things are not always as hopeless as they seem. 

I've come to believe that hope is one of the two most important spiritual qualities, the other being joy..but that's another sermon....

Look I know that usually  when we use that word its like this...
At lunch yesterday, I said, I want to go to the Pirate game...I sure hope it doesn't rain
Do you think they'll win?
 I hope so...

But hope so much more profound. It's not optimism, like everyday in every way everything is getting better...because you know what? It's not...Hope is an active commitment rooted in your willingness to believe that you know in whose hands lies the future...

Hear Paul again because this is what I'm after...

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We all know what that's feel we have no words sufficient, but only sighs. And sometimes even moans. That's where the Holy Spirit is, alive within our deepest emotions. 

And I want you to see the Holy Spirit as our agent of  hope, as our defender, our advocate. By Biblical tradition, Satan is the accuser, the prosecuting attorney, the one who tells you you're no good, you can't make it, so why try?..The Holy Spirit is our advocate, the one who stands up for us, strengthens us, sustains us. 

When I lead worship, I use those words about prayer every time...sighs too deep for words...friends, yes most of us do know sighs like that....

The fifty days of Easter are about the Risen One's presence with us between Easter and Ascension. Pentecost is all about  What do we do  without Jesus' physical presence...
Today we celebrate Pentecost...the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, not just to inspire, but to sustain us...

I remember the words to this old hymn...
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
  On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
  All other ground is sinking sand.

So today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and give thanks for the Hope we bear, the hope we share...And for this we say, Amen.
Love to play with Dan and Jamie

Following the sermon, Dan and conga player Jamie Frey and I do Eric Bibb's "Don't let nobody drag your spirit down..."

There are hugs. And good words. Enough to last until the next visit. And then the gift of tickets to the Pirates. An opportunity to practice hope. (Insert smile emoji here.😄)

It has been good to  be always....


First Reading Acts 2:1-21

1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes 11Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 
17  ‘In the last days it will be,God declares, 
     that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, 
          and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, 
     and your young men shall see visions, 
          and your old men shall dream dreams. 
18  Even upon my slaves, both men and women, 
          in those days I will pour out my Spirit; 
               and they shall prophesy. 
19  And I will show portents in the heaven above 
          and signs on the earth below, 

Second Reading Romans 8:22-27

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The sixth Sunday in Easter: Abide in Love


On the way to church Sunday along Beverly Road

Back to Beverley for the first  Sunday in May....

SO finally, it feels  like spring...we're now six Sundays into our Easter journey....a journey I am so happy that we began together...a 50 day exploration of what it's like having the risen one, the living Christ, back and present  with us once again. As we get closer and closer to how we're going to have to go on without his physical presence  with us, Jesus keeps bringing the message closer and closer to the bottom line.   And for Jesus, the bottom line is LOVE, that we LOVE one another.

Hear that.  It's not about your theology, what doctrine you adhere to, what church you belong to or even what religion you follow. Do you love? That's all Jesus wants to know....

But it's not enough to speak of love...we have to do it....and we have to figure out what that means...I remember when our Presbyterian General Assembly many years ago in Hartford, Connecticut.  It's theme was Love So Amazing ( from the old hymn  When I survey the wondrous cross...) I remember the representative  from the Presbyterian Church in Cuba, Miriam Ofelia  Ortega, said No me tengo interes en amor increible, yo prefiero  amor which she was saying  I prefer love effective...or like that hymn based on a Native American song, in the chorus it says, They'll know we are Christians by our love.

Now that puts a little catch in's kind of  like this...if someone came in here this morning, for the first time, unannounced...would they know we were Christians by  our love? What would that look like? Feel like? 

He wants us to love each other as he has loved us. And at the center of that love is laying down one's life for one's friends, exactly what he did for us.  And he tells us we are his friends...Think about that for a second...the usual and expected relationship between a human and a divinity would be that of master and servant...but Jesus wants us as, you know, What a friend we have in Jesus. We can live without lovers...some of us do that for years. But I can't imagine living without friends...

He chooses us...not the other way around...and it's all to the end that we love one another..

I find it very interesting....and very we act and treat each other sometimes...some of the meanest,nastiest fights I have seen anywhere have been in churches...I was asked by Presbytery to help resolve some problems in a church. And it's like they want the problems to be unsolvable. I said to them we're watching pictures of Presidents Kim and Moon holding hands and you're telling us this can't be taken care of? 

When planning a funeral yesterday, and this happens all the time, I heard of family members who might not come because they hadn't spoken in years. How crazy is it that we can pray for peace between Israel and Palestine and a brother and sister don't speak for years? If there's someone you haven't spoken to for years, speak to them!

Love. It's about love. And it's not a just a warm and fuzzy emotion.  It's Gandhi, inspired by Jesus developing satyagraha, soul force. And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired by Gandhi and following Jesus, who brings it back to us again. 

I spent a whole day last week in a training session for non-violent direct action as part of the Poor Peoples Campaign. It's named for the campaign Dr. King was planning when he was taken from us. Organized by Dr. William Barber from North Carolina, the Moral Mondays Campaign. I believe that the only kind of mass based movement that has any possibility of succeeding has to be one motivated by love and carried out with non-violent means. 

Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us that a prophet must come from a people and speak to that people and must be motivated by love. That was the beauty and power of Dr.King's work...he acted as if our country were capable of better, could be better, was not hopelessly evil by nature. Dr. King believed in us.  Just as Jesus believes in us and expects us to do better. 

That is the love he calls us to and wants us to abide in. And here's the truly amazing that our joy can be complete...I have learned that the two most important spiritual qualities , the  two most radical qualities, are hope and joy. And man, joy seems hard to come by some times.  If you want to know what joy looks like, remember the joy of Archbishop Desmond the face of the most outrageous oppression of apartheid, he smiled with joy because he knew whose he was and in whose hands lay the future. He knew he had already won. I am convinced that it was that power that finally defeated apartheid. 

(“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.” ― Ernesto Che Guevara · )

Loving one another is both the easiest and hardest of commandments.
Couldn't Jesus  just ask us to believe three unbelievable things? 
Or say so many hail mary's or our fathers?
Or fast for 40 days? 
Or stand on our head or...

NO. Just love one another. Even as he has loved you.  And abide in that love. 

As always we shared our prayers with each other, This week including a disappeared child. We shared communion. We greeted a man in the Navy whose mother lives nearby and who drops in when he's in town. There were grandchildren. It was another Sunday in the season of Easter.

Beverly Road

First Reading Acts 10:44-48

44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Gospel John 15:9-17

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Worship with Ecclesia in Marcus Garvey Park


Dr. Brashear and Father Clyde

On the 5th Sunday if April, a mild spring day, I came to lead worship  for the Ecclesia congregation in Marcus Garvey Park.  Ecclesia worships outside every Sunday in three parks around the city. The word is broken, Eucharist celebrated and then a meal served on the altar on which communion was shared. The service begins with my friend Father Clyde consecrating the ground with holy water as he does every Sunday.
Consecrating the ground
Hymns are sung, the gospel read. Then it's time for my sermon:

You ever encounter those  people  who  want to know if you are saved? You  see them on the street, on the subway, any public place. And I'll be honest..sometimes it can worry you, right? Do I believe the  right thing? Am I going to get into heaven? How could God possibly love me? It's easy to feel that way.

I'd like to share two words of "Good News" with you today.  First from the First letter of John. (This was a really important verse to me...) When I was young and wanted to get married, I was in love and going to marry a young Jewish woman. I was a little worried about this and asked a minister friend about this.  And his response was these words:

Love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God
and...God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.  

So I want to make sure you heard that and got that straight...if you can love, if you love, you are born of God and know God and you abide in God and God abides in's that simple. It's not about what ideas you believe or with what words. Or what church you belong to or even what religion. The bottom line is  love....

As for worthiness, that story  in Acts  of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is one of my favorites.  Now on the one hand, he was doing pretty well. He was a court official. In charge of the  whole treasury of the Ethiopian queen. He came to Jerusalem to "worship", so he was already looking for something. 

BUT from Philip's perspective, the guy had 3 strikes against him already.  First, he was not a Jew. Not only that , but he was a eunuch. Which meant under their law, he was permanently being gay or trans today in the eyes of some church people, and to top it off, he was BLACK. So when he asks Philip sincerely if he can be baptized, Philip's got to cross some boundaries.. And he does. And the Ethiopian eunuch is baptized and becomes the first non-Jewish Christian.  And the whole thing is so amazing, Philip is blown away. So blown away, he wakes up the next day in Azotus. (Which always sounded like one of those New Jersey towns to me like Paramus or Bogota or...)

Anyways, the point is...there are no bounds to God's welcome and embrace. It's about one thing and one thing only...LOVE...

When we come to the sharing of bread and cup, we all, ALL of us are invited to share in this holy meal together. As brothers and sisters. Fully welcomed. Fully accepted. And fully loved. As together we share in ....and become...the body of the risen Christ.

After the eucharist is celebrated and we have our prayers and sing more hymns and pass the peace, the service is over. Oh, there were prayers for the recently fired House Chaplain Father Conroy and Paul Ryan who fired him. The homeless people thought it might have something to do with them. It's time to share a meal (provided by my friends from West End Presbyterian).
sharing another meal
Then again, maybe sharing the meal is a continuation of the service. 

One by one the people go off in different directions...

the peace of the Lord be with you...

First Reading Acts 8:26-40

26Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: 
     “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, 
          and like a lamb silent before its shearer, 
               so he does not open his mouth. 
33  In his humiliation justice was denied him. 
          Who can describe his generation? 
               For his life is taken away from the earth.” 
34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” [37And Phillip said,“If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Second Reading 1 John 4:7-21

7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Sunday afternoon. Harlem. Spring.


Global women leaders mural

Sunday afternoon. Spring. Harlem.

It's the first day that really feels like spring. Like it actually might finally be here. Walking up my street towards the Boulevard, the neighborhood craps game is up and running again. Fists filled with dollar bills. White basketball shoes. A whiff of weed. The sound of dice as they rattle and bounce off the corner where the stoop meets the wall. Sure sign of spring.

The store front apostolic holiness church on the corner is in full tilt rockin mode the with rising vamps of organ and drums and an almost Tina Turneresque gospel singer, the sounds spilling  out into the street.I look inside to see the women in their white hats and dresses bouncing in a dance of joy. A woman in a wheel chair sits outside and is occasionally graced with plates of food. Two deacons/bouncers, meticulous in 3 piece suits and medals,  are stationed outside, just in case....They're talking about the passing airplanes above. And drones. "See that shiny light there? That's a drone. Keep them away from me. Don't want no drones looking down on me." 

The outdoor tables of the cafes are filled with the brunch crowd. Prices clearly set for black professionals and Harlem's new white emigres. 

The African men in their long flowing robes are out strolling the street.

At the Harlem Tavern, anticipation is rising for LeBron's game later tonight and on the side wall, a new street mural is being painted to honor global women, and of course, prominently featuring Michelle Obama.

A salt and pepper matched set of Mormon missionaries walk down the boulevard, confidence in their step and earnest purpose in their faces. 

It's Sunday afternoon. Spring. Harlem.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Bread & Puppet Theatre Company: Puppets of Resistance


Bread & Puppet "Cheap Art"

When Bread and Puppet Theatre Company began in 1963, it was a visionary amalgam of medieval street theatre, European avant garde and nascent hippie esthetic.  To this founder Peter  Schumann added his own love of bread and baking with the quasi liturgical sharing of bread that takes place at every B&P performance.

Over the  last 55 years B&P has gone  from cutting edge to dated and stuck in the sixties to being all but forgotten to now being seen as a unique artistic expression of theatre, all without ever changing their esthetic or ethos. Which, as one observer said, was probably Peter's vision all the time. 

Over the years, other troupes with their roots in street performance have taken other paths. (Viz. Cirque du Soleil) One can chuckle imagining a B&P show in Vegas. Peter Schumann has managed to somehow survive this half century without changing his rigorous artistic ethic. You can call it persistence, stubbornness or just commitment but he has remained true to that vision.

Bread & Puppet eschews corporate patronage or traditional grants. They survive on voluntary contributions one is ever turned away from a performance...and the sale of their "cheap art."  They live as a community in Vermont and travel in the same way, cooking, eating, celebrating forever with an ever changing cast of characters. Their summer interns come literally from all over the world. It is an experience one lives through and then then moves on in an ever expanding community of support. Every performance is made possible by local cadres of volunteers where they visit. 

In the end, it is the performance that keeps drawing people back. From the start, B&P has always been about analysis and critique of the present moment. They were a constant presence in the anti-Vietnam and anti-nuclear protests which helped bring them global visibility.  Much like Grotowski, there is a deep understanding and use of ritual along with their own archetypal lampoon. The voice of protest shifts between almost didactic declamation to deeply moving inference. There are always complicated Rube Goldbergesque instruments and devices. And as much as Schumann is a committed humanist, his music always goes deep into traditional hymns and church music. Their 50th anniversary production, for example, wove the 1599 German "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen" throughout. The current production, The Basic Bye Byes Show, uses the late 16th century Tallis Canon, first with a song written shortly after Trump's election, but in many other ways as well. 

The Basic Bye Byes, now on tour, is classic B&P. The topic is all that we are called to bid "Bye Bye" to if we are to survive.  In their own words, "The Basic Bye-bye Show – a manifesto on transformation, inspired by Albrecht Dürer's apocalyptic woodcuts, Brahms 4 Serious Songs, and the daily news. BREAD & PUPPET PRESENTS: THE BASIC BYEBYE SHOW." The various scenarios reference the climate crisis, the international capital system, the newly heightened anxiety over nuclear apocalypse and in a final devastating scene, gun violence.

A giant James Madison impregnates a "Holy Cow" (read Sacred Cow) which gives birth to the Second Amendment. At one point, small school chairs are turned over, one by one. The effect is emotionally devastating. At the final conclusion, the cardboard guns are gathered and tossed in the trash. I write this only to give a slight impression  of what you see. 

Having Bread & Puppet live at West Park for a month or so in 2013 celebrating their 50th anniversary was a true experience of community. They have continued to return West Park as one of their New York City homes, the other being the East Village's Theatre for a New City, in a nod to their Village roots. They are yet another expression of what the Center at West Park seeks to be. (And already is.)

If they come your way, join in. And break some bread with them.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Erich Kastner's "Going to the Dogs"


I always thought that if lived before, it was in Weimar Berlin. Or maybe I was a New Yorker hanging out there Isherwood style. It feels so familiar and at home to me. I also have always felt that if we could somehow come to understand late Weimar, we could understand how it happened, that is the hijacking of  one the world's most cultured societies and its descent into genocidal madness. I may have finally given up on that thought.

However, I have just finished Erich Kastner's Going to the Dogs: the story of a moralist. Like a 1936 instagram from Weimar Berlin right before the Nazis took over. (Not translated until 1990 as Fabian.) . Although covering much the same territory as Isherwood (and the musical incarnation Cabaret,)  Kastner's postcard arrives to us from an insider, one whose own culture is being transformed. In it's own day damned as "improper," Kastner's book brings us an objective description of a  culture "going to the dogs." Kastner objectively describes long journeys into Berlin nights through a world of the 30's version of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. It's interesting that even as Kastner's Fabian describes himself as a moralist, his participation in this world is basically described without judgment. In the early scenes, it comes off more as amoral than immoral.

That is until Fabian becomes emotionally involved with an aspiring actress who has her own Weinstein moment and chooses to enter into a relationship with a manipulative and predatory filmmaker. Their love cannot withstand this corruption. There is a clear economic base to late Weimar capitalism as a fatally flawed economic system destined to dehumanize and debase  its participants. Looking deeper, however, we see Kastner is clearly pointing to a spiritual failure, a spiritually empty society with no redemptive resilience in the face of a dehumanizing system.  It is that spiritual failure that may come as close as we can to understanding not only what happened but why it happened. 

As we look at our own late neo-liberal society, we can find the connections with Weimar. A veneer of moralism  covers over a spiritually deadly culture. Anger against perceived cultural liberal elites rages within marginalized white working people and sustains the President's base even as his own behavior runs counter to all professed values. 

In the end, without spoilers, the fate of our Fabian may be a metaphor for the society. If we are going to resist a slow but inevitable slide into an American form of fascism, we will need to be always alert as to what is going on around us.  And this much is clear...we have to be creating a sustainable spiritual core to keep us alive in the struggle. This short but powerful novel is yet another resource in that ongoing project.