Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Different local, same union: Interfaith is not a strategy, it's a way of life

Large bundles of cardboard boxes flattened and bound with string. Some open, torn, laid flat in the north doorway. Did someone come here seeking shelter? In this 20 degree weather? And was taken by the police to St. Luke’s? Sometimes I feel like an urban version of a tracker, looking at clues to see what might have taken place while I was gone. What I’d see if there was a video camera recording 24/7.
Today, Steven is returning with more of his Woodshed Collective members. And John is bringing a director friend. It’s late afternoon and gathering dark as I lead the tour, beginning in the scariest part, the basement. As we go up and down back staircases to surprise arrivals in different rooms, the theatre folks have the delight of kids in a haunted house or on a scavenger hunt.  As we look at the semi-ruins of the chapel, one member says, “you’d normally have to pay a lot of money to get something to look like this.” We finish the tour. They will continue  to thjnk about “immersive possibilities.” John says to his director, “what could you do with a place like this?” She says, “What couldn’t you do.”
Earlier today I joined in  our annual neighborhood Martin Luther King, Jr Day march for peace. This year’s theme is “economic justice.”  Including a call for support of a bill to provide paid sick leave for city employees. As we march the streets , with police escort, going in and out of five houses of worship, pausing at each for a reflection, a song, an act, we weave a reality throughout the neighborhood. This  is a perfect example of what Bill Tripp spoke of in his presentation on Ritual Space. We have turned our neighborhood into living, breathing ritual space.
Walking from Holy Name to 2nd Presbyterian, I’m  joined by an older woman. She says to me, “I know you, you don’t know me,” her nam e is Ulla. She’s one of  the amazing group of septuagenarian/octogenarian committed members of Peace Action. She speaks of her many years of activity at West-Park. Wants to know if we’re finally saved from being torn down. So I have to slowly explain the realities  of landmarking.  She talks  about having  come to the Crafts Fair/Music Festival, how much it meant to her to be back inside after all these years. How beautiful and alive  it looked. She asks where the money will come from to fix things. And I say, “people just like you’." And she laughs. And then  I  say, seriously. And describe our step by step process.  
At the next stop, I’m disturbed when the pastor, after describing what an inclusive and multicultural place the school at her church was,  asks us to conclude  by singing “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, bearers of the cross.” Well bearers instead of soldiers certainly demilitarizes the old hymn. But doesn’t make it inclusive.
Out on the street, I join my friend Father Duffel,and Lutheran pastors Elise and Heidi. Good solid organizers all. Leaders in working for rights for homeless and for their issues. They share my concerns about inclusiveness. At the Franciscan church, the friar spoke of the God we call God, Allah, Adonai, Dios....Our Presbyterian hosts were Christocentric. That can’t feel welcoming when what you’ve come to attend is an interfaith witness.
I thought back to Thursday night’s event again. The imam calling us to King’s vision of ecumenicity. Rabbi Potasnik of the New York City Board of Rabbis said that we were in  “different locals, but all part if the same union.” Later, I spoke with my friend Rabbi Michael Feinberg of The Religion Labor coalition.  He shared with me his disappointment with certain leaders of this event. “I’m used to people who live interfaith as a way of life. Not see it as a strategic tactic. When they had a preservice ‘prayer huddle,’ I thought of joining in just to be there, but it felt like it wasn’t for me. I’m getting too old for this...”
Elise speaks of how one of our rabbi colleagues finds much of what we do not inclusive. FatherJohn and Pastor Heidi are in agreement. I talk about last Thursday and say, “interfaith is not a strategy, it’s a way of life.” We agree we have to make that more understood. On King Day, 2011, we should be further along than this. 
They want to know  about what we’re up to. Elise came to our Crafts Fair/Music Festival and was very moved to see life coming again. I talk about how we’re not looking for a real estate deal anymore, that it’s a new process. Hard for some to understand. How we tried to rebuild for rebirth but now know we must be reborn to rebuild.
I watch the line  of people winding its way through the streets connecting  our houses  of worship. The kind of ritual space Bill Tripp described for us goes beyond any particular tradition, is by its very nature inclusive. The immersive theatre experience being imagined by Woodshed, how it works, is yet another expression of Ritual Space.  That's the vision of the  Centre we are seeking to bring into being. A place for artists, activists, companion travelers of all kinds. This can be  our part of the emerging Beloved Community we can take responsibility to build.

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