Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thirteenth Day of Lent: Tomorrow night we will join them

Something between rain and snow today. Spring? March. A brand new pair of men’s checked pants, tag still attached. Completely soaked. And an empty paper bag. And some big new chunks of red sandstone from the building. And more red mud.
I welcome Emiko Iinuma into the church. She is the founder of the Harmonia opera company, the only Japanese opera company in the US. She is a dignified older woman with a look of deep pain. She has come to talk about organizing a benefit concert to raise money for Japan. 
Earlier today in my lectionary group, my friend Takako had spoken of the water crisis in Japan duel to the radiation. Babies and children under four not to drink the water. (But what if my child is four?) Ms. Iinuma takes it further.  Lettuce, spinach, broccoli, the rice fields, the whole vegetable  food supply compromised.  Tap water dangerous. She and her friends are gathering non-perishable food items to send to family. 
I think of the whole nuclear history with Japan beginning with the  horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A pacifist country under the nuclear shield of the US military. And now vulnerable nuclear power plants at risk of melt down. It’s a flashing warning light. Once again, the tsunami was nature, the disaster the result of human policy choices. 
We talk of her plans. She loves the acoustics. We agree to the benefit on June 3rd. It’s the kind of event we want to welcome. As we are talking, a young family enters the church and approaches. There’s a father and mother, a tow headed boy and a girl in a stroller. And of course, a story.
Come from Mt. Aerie, North Carolina (the real Mayberry)  for a new job. Presbyterian. (Of course.) Waiting for a money order at Western Union. Just need some help to feed the children. (He shows me hotel receipts.) Promises to pay me back. I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I still want to believe the stories I hear. I’ve been paid back, oh, maybe twice? I give him what I have. 
Bruce, Becca, Bryce and... Cammie. (OK, what happened there? I’m really an R, says Becca.)  I wish them well. See them out. This visit means we’re officially back.
At 1, I meet John and Ann Friedman from the Landmarks Conservancy. It’s time to start the plumbing and roof work. I have to run to be with  a member in housing court, again. Later, John will tell me that there’s multiple flooding in the building. A new leak. Emergency work needed. And John has neither hip boots or Wellingtons. 
Court is long. A judge who sincerely wants to help. Says my presence, in a collar, helps. (Always wear a collar to  court.) He’ll grant a delay. Can we do a concert? Raise some money? Keep him in his apartment? We have a chance. He’s a former Broadway star. Anxious to do  concert. 
Uli and I walk to the church in cold rain. He’s come from Germany. For over 10 years, he brought young people from Germany with the Fellowship of Reconciliation to stay at West-Park. To experience life in a truly multicultural, global city. To work in soup kitchens, homeless shelters. To worship with us and share our life. 
That relationship led to my visits to Berlin and later Duisberg. To the creation of a working partnership between church immigrant asylum workers in Germany and Arizona. No mas muertes in the desert, on the Mediterranean. An international day of commemoration for those who have died. (June 26). And ultimately to my son Micah moving from Edinburgh to Berlin. It’s part of my life. And the church’s life. 
Hope is there. We study the Belhar Confession, forged in the crucible of South African apartheidt in 1986. Now being voted on by Presbyteries for inclusion in our official Book of Confessions. It’s a powerful witness that cultures, languages, differences, are both opportunity and obligation for reconciliation and unity. That any practice that stands in the way of boundary crossing unity is sin. And that we have the mandate to pursue this unity, not just be passively tolerant of it. 
In its classic confession format of affirmation and rejection, Uli sees echoes of Barmen. That radical statement of the Confessing Church in the face of the Third Reich. And he’s right. Belhar is built on the foundation of Barmen. These reformed statements go to the heart of witness, of a social ethic, of lived faith.
As we leave, the combination of snow and freezing rain has made the streets treacherous. In the face of this weather, The Saigon Grill pickets are down to two Mexican and two Chinese workers. Hope has been walking the picket line with them. A movement is growing to get neighborhood stores and businesses to agree to an antisweatshop standard. To be a sweatshop free zone. There’s a meeting coming to plan a major rally for Saturday. Tomorrow night we will join them.
From the corner of my eye, I see someone approaching our steps. It’s our independent recycling entrepreneur. The one with the SUV shopping cart. When I go back to reclaim my cell phone, he’s all rolled up in a red down sleeping bag. Plastic bags of cans and bottles are piled to the top of the doorway. 
Esta bien? I ask. 
Si, he says.
Pero hace mucho frio esta noche.
Si pero estoy seguro en mi saco.
Bueno. Tenga cuidado, mi hermano.
I’ll look in on him tomorrow. 

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