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Friday, October 24, 2014

From other steps: Marquand Chapel, Yale Divinity School


Yale Divinity School

Random notes from Yale Divinity School 2014 Convocation and Class Reunions:

Peter S. Hawkins, Poetry and the Psalms: Singing a New Song
* King James has the poetry, the translation we carry in our bowels
* George Herbert’s 1633 lyric metric Psalm 23, the God of Love my shepherd is…unofficial Scottish national anthem. (
* Gerard Manley Hopkins created his own Psalms, like  Pied beauty: Glory be to God for dappled things…(

....and for a bonus, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah

Christian Smith Parents: the Real Pastors: The Absolute centrality of parenting in passing on religious faith and practice to the next generation
We have moved from religion as a communal solidarity project to a personal identity accessory

The Justice Imperative:How Hyper-incarceration Hijacked the American Dream by Marilyn Kendrix et al.
* We have 2.3 million behind bars
* We have more incarcerated than the top 35 eurocentric nations combined
* In Connecticut, there are 16,500 inmates, 46500 on parole, a total of 45000 in  the system
* Connecticut spends a billion a year on  Department of Corrections
* Even though we are a nation of 2nd chances, formerly incarcerated have penalties that go beyond time. Ineligible for public housing. Unrentable by landlords. Ineligible  for food stamps. Employment  discrimination is legal. Most rational thing to do is to reoffend and be sent back. 60% are back in prison within one year of release. Costs us 52,000 per inmate per year.
* We are the world leader in imprisoning our own people.With 5% of world's population we have 25% of world’s incarcerated.
And none can vote after felony conviction
Like a new Jim Crow (

 The Blue Note gospel: preaching the prophetic Blues in a Post-Soul World by Otis Moss III, successor to the controversial Jeremiah Wright at Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago
* The church is capitalism in drag
* Society of a neo-religious capitalism
* The blues expresses America from the underside
* The blues is catastrophe expressed quietly
* The blues expresses tragedy without despair
* The gift of the black church is joy in the face of desperate sadness, to express tragedy without ultimate despair, the ability to dance in the dark….

Giving the invocation at Woolsey Hall
My prayer of invocation at the alumni dinner:

Oh God, creator of the universe, of all that is, we praise you. We thank you for all around these tables. For the meeting of old friends. For memories of when ideas were exciting and study brought us close to you. Let these days rekindle the passionate desire to question, thing and learn. Help us remember all who brought this food to our table tonight. From planting to serving.  We thank you for the opportunity to renew our friendships and remember the times we spent together here. Let us enjoy this night together. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

And I guess that I just don't know

Closed all day Monday for a movie shoot.
Today….the sleeping man is out there under his white comforter between our steps and Barney Greengrass. Excuse me sir, but you’re going to have to....
Look I been respectin you by movin off your steps but you got no call getting hp in my face…
And I’m sayin you still can’t sleep here during the  day.
I’m off your goddam steps…what you’re problem…
It’s still our property..
Fuck your property and fuck you motherfucker. He gets up off the sidewalk, comes up on the steps and gets in my face. Raises a fist. Now you pushin it motherfucker..
Don’t think you wanna do that, sir. It’s not good for you. Not good sleepin’ on the sidewalk. Not good.
Fuck you motherfucker.
I go inside. Tell Leila the sleeping man is uncooperative and downright nasty. Turns out he was nasty to her too. So I call Project Reachout and they agree to stop by.
Pat O comes by to help put the week in order. To help analyze last week’s emotional meeting. Figure out what’s next. I tell him the good of last week’s Sunday service.
Karen is in the sanctuary, playing her music.
Stephanie comes in to schedule the rehearsal times for her choir.
Carman’s Danish artist friend Nanna comes in. Shows me her installation boats on the edge. Paper boats in the sea off Copenhagen. She’ll come back Thursday for a full tour.
I hear back from Reachout. They came by. Got the sleeping man’s name. He refused their offers of assistance. Refused even to accept their street sheets. OK. My way is clear. Our rules are simple. You can stay on the steps as long as you work with our partners to get housing. Otherwise, you got to go. Even still, I wonder. Wonder how Jesus’ parable would change if the man along the Jericho Road called the Good Samaritan a motherfucker. Called Jesus  a motherfucker.

Then thank God that I'm as good as dead
Then thank your God that I'm not aware
And thank God that I just don't care
And I guess, I just don't know
And I guess, I just don't know

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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


Victoire, Bob and Ryan 

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

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

And most especially:

Save us from weak resignation
To the evils we deplore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve had a very good morning together.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

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


Pastor Brashear at the Maitrya Loving Kindness Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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