Saturday, April 30, 2011

Amharic maybe?

OK. Now we know. Officially. The boilers must be repaired by November 16 at the latest. Or else. 
Katherine and I give Cecilia Rodino a tour of the building. She’s a playwright. Just finished a run of her new play, From the Fire, at Judson Memorial Church, in the Village. A staged oratorio about the Triangle Short Waist fire. We meet with Ted, begin to explore what we might do together. The outlines of what could be an amazing summer or afterschool program begin to emerge. Could be a perfect match with the EVC program. But no kids can come in here in the current state. Much work would need to be done. 
Gary Greengrass is back from vacation. Looking tanned and relaxed. He’s put in a good word for us with Warner Brothers. They need more bathrooms. But they’ll make a donation to us, to keep the door open for the future. 
Danielle and I go to the Belnord  to bring large buckets and mops and a shop vac to clean Mc Alpin. Ibrahim helps us wheel them up the street. He comes into the church. Admires its beauty. I ask him about the mysterious sign. Not Hebrew. Not Arabic, he says. OK, Amharic maybe?
Stop in the church to get my black preaching robe for a memorial service at SPSA for Jed’s wife Celia. The postlude will be a note for note piano transcription of Jimi Hendrix’ Woodstock Star Spangled Banner. 

A bathroom, a Beckstein, and incomprehensible incantations

After leading lectionary and working with  John on finances, I head to the church to work with Danielle. She has found a large piece of signboard wedged into the door. Covered with looks like words in a foreign language. Arabic? Hebrew? Amharic? (For years the West-Park security desk was filled by the same Ethiopian family.)
Elle Newman passes by, concerned about my wife’s elbow. 
As we are locking up, we hear a noise at the door. It’s someone from the Department of Buildings. A piece of leader drain pipe has fallen into the yard next door. Over a week ago. Someone called 311. Annoyed they didn’t just walk over. Call. While the roofers were here working. We go down to the back yard to check out the  situation. Sure enough, there’s a pipe in the yard next door and a missing piece of our pipe and the remaining pipe dangling. 
The DOB man gives us 24 hours to correct the situation. How can that work out? Danielle calls the roofers. They’ll come back, first thing tomorrow. 
I show up at 8 am to let the roofers in. I’m getting nervous as my time to leave for court fast approaches. They show up around 8:45. I’ve got just enough time.
After a morning in the personal injury netherworld of the legal system, I return. Danielle has had an exciting day  with the roofers. She’s been through the crawl space and out the back to check out a leader. She won their respect by going with them to the roof, going up and over the peak. 
A pigeon somehow made his way in from the cordoned off pigeon room. We have yet to reclaim that space. He’s hidden out under a shovel all day. John the roofer is fascinated. 
The piano movers have moved the piano back from Leila’s fourth floor walk-up on 89th. After almost three years the Beckstein, the piano of Jens Nygaard of the Jupiter Symphony is back! A bathroom and a Beckstein, how cool is that?
Ludovica arrives for a look at her planned rehearsal space. Checks out the bathroom. Tells us what needs to be done. More than we bargained for. When she leaves, Danielle and I head to Mc Alpin. Drag the old gym mats out. Throw one out on the street. Take out an old twisted folding chair. Remove tables, junk. Empty the space.
As we drag the heavy gym mat out, as I think about  all that still needs to get cleaned out, thrown out, I realize that we ‘ve reached a critical point. The congregation needs to move beyond isn’t it cool to be back in the building and figure out  what it will take to make it real. And if they’re ready to make that commitment or not. This is it.

The prophet is on the steps, weaving his hands, rocking back and forth, incomprehensible incantations. Could he have written the mysterious words on the cardboard sign?  A van pulls up. A guy jumps out, picks up the mangled folding  chair, tries to stomp it back into shape, jumps back in the van, takes off. 

Archives, Eisenhauer, Bathrooms

Hope comes in early. We have found an old suitcase behind the pulpit. A veritable treasure trove of things. Original  music scores. Old bulletins, a lecture against isolationism and false patriotism, a protest against balancing the budget on the backs of the vulnerable, especially pensioners. A letter signed by Dwight  David Eisenhauer as president of Columbia University. 
Mim walks in. And we all agree we’re out of our depth here. Mim agrees to talk to the archival people at Union about what we should do. We’ve still got to find enough appropriate things  for Norm’s display.  But the project needs trained people, maybe students. 
Tom Vitullo-Martin drops by and we talk about work that needs to be done that the Belnord staff might help with. The Watson plumbers work all day and finish the bathroom. After almost four years, a bathroom works again!

Easter Monday: Easter, Luke Easter

Easter Monday.  Dressed in day after, should be a day off,   casuals. Marty looks at my cap. Asks what the M stands for. I point to the felt letters on my chest, Montreal Royals, I say, You know why? and point to the number 9 on my sleeve. Duke Snider? Roy Campanella?  he asks. No, Jackie Robinson, I reply, his last team before the Dodgers. He smiles at me. And of course, Roberto Clemente. That’s why I wear the Royals shirt.
And so we have our discussion of the Royals amazing string of International League titles. Do they still  have an International League? Marty asks.  Yes, I assure him. 
Jackie Robinsion
The Royals, the cream of the IL . The Dodgers  gave them an ultimatum, he says, give us your best players or...... 
And so we speak of Larry Doby from the Newark Eagles, the Negro League team from across the Hudson, the first  African-American in the American League; and Bobby Avila  of the Cleveland Indians, an early Latin American pioneer.
Larry Doby
So Father, he wants to know, your boys, are they as big a baseball  fans as you are?I shrug..
Do they know  what you know? Do they try and stump you?
Well, not so much I say.  
We talk colors, the Royals in Dodger blue and white. The blue, gray, white of the Toronto Blue Jays, recalling the back in the day Toronto Maple Leafs. He tells me of his old baseball card collection. Scuffed up from pitching cards on the streets. I still don't know why a Mickey Mantle ticket is worth more than a Wille Mays, he says. Mays was better. So, yesterday was Easter, right? I nod.  I got one for ya father, he says, the best baseball player for the season.
Oh yeah, who? I say. 
First baseman for the Indians, Luke Easter, he replies, and laughs. As I get ready  to go back to the church, he says, I have enjoyed out baseball talk. 

Oh, he says, remember Campanella, that great catcher? I was in the same ward as the kid who hit him with a car. They kept trying to prove  a conspiracy but it was just an accident. The kid couldn’t stop crying, kept blaming himself. 
Did he ever get better? I ask.
Don’t know, he says. I went in there as a volunteer committed. Left that way too. 

Willie Mays and Roy Campanella
Back at the church. Steve Goodman of the Video Education Center has arrived. He’s worked withTed, gone to Cuba with El Taller. We do the tour. He tells me about the Center. How they teach teenagers to use cameras. To film what’s going on in their own neighborhoods. Like right now, they’re working  on foreclosures. It’s absolutely the kind of education work we want to do. Seems like the perfect partner. So what's the next step? Get him to talk to Ted.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


A quiet hour in the church preparing for Easter. Open the doors, seep the steps. Putting the vacuum out of sight. Emptying the trash. And changing all the colors from Lenten purple to Easter white. Find my white alb. My wool woven New Mexico stole.
A couple from Michigan arrives first, then Andre. The Interim Executive Presbyter Tony de la Rosa. Who would know better bout resurrection than West-Park? he said when I thanked him for coming. Then happily more members, and more visitors. Our first Easter home in four years. At SPSA, I’d forgotten the pleasure of meeting people you’ve never met before at Christmas and Easter. 
Tony and Hope

As the people gather, I explain what we are, what we are not. Our first Easter here after three years.  No trumpets. No choir. Not even an accompanist. Just Andre and I. Not a full service operation. A resurrection not complete. But an opportunity to help create something new. Bring a church back to life in the resurrection season.
We sing Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia! And pray. Read the Easter story in Matthew. 
Easter has always been hard for me. As a kid, after so many hours in church that week, Maundy Thursday, three hours on Good Friday, the oppressive quiet that followed Good Friday, somehow Easter morning never brought the joy I wanted. Even with the eggs we dyed.  Even with chocolate eggs and bunnies. And the garden tools we received back at the old house on Park Avenue. Always second to Christmas. 
As a young preacher, never got to preach Easter. Maybe the Sunday after. Every Associate Pastor knows what that’s like. First Easter sermon was at a community service in a shopping mall in Pittsburgh. A macaw in a large cage giving me my amens. 
The Matthew story raises questions. 
There are two women. Like in the Park this morning. Not considered reliable witnesses. The first to see. 
Last Friday was not only Good Friday but also Earth Day. Any connection? I think of the earthquake that day. As if the very earth  trembled at Jesus’ death. As if a cosmic tragedy had just occurred. And woven into creation’s fabric. And today, another  earthquake, simultaneous with the angel. How do we even talk about earthquakes, in the context of Japan, tsunami? The very earth trembled...
The stone. The angel rolled away the stone: why do that? Not to let Jesus out, he’s already out. An then the angel sits on it. On the one hand, it was so people could look in and see what was not there. The stone was also the symbol of power of the state, of Rome. The state’s effort to express its dominance and control, it’s power to entomb, to wall up. By rolling away the stone, by sitting on it, the angel rejects its power. They even try bribing the guards to keep the truth hidden. 

And so the women react with fear and joy.  Why? Because often we can feel more than one thing at the same time. Because resurrection is not easy. Is scary. Easier to stay in the  tomb. Not come out into the aching light of day. Easier to stay dead than to risk life again. Risk life again. Risk love.

And then go to Galilee...what does that mean? That Jesus is always there, out there ahead of us. Waiting for us. Anyplace we ned to go, no matter how scary the path, Jesus is already there. Can we see that place Jesus is calling us to?
So, what happened? Something happened...something beyond metaphoric, something real. What do we believe? That there is something beyond death. Something in the circle of the seasons. In the heart of creation. Something we live through. Die through. And live again. Over and over and over again....
And so on this Easter, we are opening ourselves to resurrection...walking together towards life. Again.
We take up an offering. Sing the doxology. Christ the Lord is Risen Again. There are too many to  make our circle this morning. We step across the aisles. Say the benediction. Sing our amens. 

I walk around to meet the people. Young women with dreams. One musical theatre. From Oklahoma. Two older women. A famous singer. And the daughter of our former Hispanic pastor from 30 years ago. Whose daughter is an actor friend of Chuck’s who was at our artist gathering yesterday.

The Santiagos have brought baskets for the children. Especially Hugo’s grandchildren. The girls wearing,well, funny Easter head things. Andre and I close up the doors. Walk into the sun.

Easter girls

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Early Easter

Rachel and Amy

Easter. Early. I walk up 85th into Central Park. To the site  of Seneca Village. Where 300 homes, schools, three churches, stood until the city plowed them under to build Central Park. The first place where African-Americans owned property and therefore could vote. people with homes and families. Squatters and ne’er do wells said the newspapers of the time. Their village buried for almost 150 years. 
And here, in front of me, the foundation stones of the All Angels’ church emerging from the ground. Visible again. We come here every year to celebrate our early Easter service. Because the people who were here before were a multicultural faith community of African-American, Irish and German immigrants. Because you can’t keep history buried forever. The stones are rising again from the ground. And because sometimes the very stones cry out. 
Seneca Village, All Angel's Church: The very stones cry out

I wonder who will come today. When 8:30 passes and I’m still alone on the bench, I have an idea.  I pull out my Blackberry and begin to tweet my service to my Twitter followers. Then I look up and see Rachel making her way towards me. 
She comes and joins me on the bench. It’s a truly beautiful day. We talk about years past. She talks about Hannah. Worried that her phone is disconnected. Wonders about Jim W. I call him, his box is full. We remember Kate. The year we opened up a fence and walked into the church space and were chastened by the Park rangers. The years rangers and random runners joined us for communion. The first year we did this, Katherine said, and what will we use for a table? and I said, the people will be the table. 
I begin to read the Matthew gospel text aloud to Rachel. I see another woman walk up to the church foundation, look around. She seems familiar. Then she comes to our bench, asks if she can join us and I say sure then I realize that it is Amy S, whose marriage I performed here, over ten years ago in the the Shakespeare Gardens. 
We remember that ceremony. She remembers another year, walking over  this way, seeing Katherine in her white hamsa print stole and me in my Latin American woven stole. She watched us from a distance. This year she came intentionally looking for us. 
I finish the gospel reading and invite them to join me inside the church. We use Rachel’s walker as our communion table.Remember in prayer all who have been with us before. Invoke their presence with us. I say the words, we share the bread and cup. 
I feel good. Amy heads home. Rachel and I walk out of the Park together. Easter has begun. 
Alleluia. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. 
Rachel and Amy

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fortieth Day of Lent: Artists' Gathering

Easter eggs

Artist’s gathering. We’ve invited artists: musicians, actors, visual artists, to come to the church and learn of our vision for the Centre. Jane has brought a friend from her church and another member of the original cast of Vanities. John comes, this time in his role of founder of his Shakespeare group, the Dark Lady Players. Chuck has come with Leo and others from the 29th Street Repertory Theatre. There’s Andre. And Leila as a visual artist. And Rick as singer, songwriter, producer, playwright, auctioneer...Amanda. And Danielle as the  Centre’s Administrative Assistant. 
I lead tours of our various possible performance spaces, the old Papp theatre in the Balcony, Mc Alpin Hall, the top floor gym. And of course, the sanctuary itself. The idea  of urban homesteading in your home, of raw arts space in a gentrified neighborhood, the counterintuitive appeal of it all captures the artists imagination. 
The communion table is filled with wine and cheese and sausage and crackers and dried apricots and seltzer. As we gather in a circle to discuss the vision, Piano Dan, musician, arranger and piano tuner extraordinaire arrives. 
a song
We do introductions. Andre speaks of recovering from his brain hemorrhage. And Rick tells of his heart attack last week. I speak of the dream that became the Centre idea. Amanda of the  vision of the artists' fellowship. Intersecting circles of convergence and collaboration. Visions are shared-- everyone here has come with a dream. Models explored. And Amanda finishes with a song. 
As people are leaving, Andre has discovered the hard boiled eggs. And Danielle, Amanda, Leila and I decorate Easter eggs with crayons and dye. On the communion table. Amanda carefully wraps two to take back to her daughter in Portland.
Leila dyes an egg

I’m thinking of the night of ritual space that reopened our doors to the public. Today was another day like that. I’m thinking that tomorrow is Easter. 
Amanda dyes an egg

Good Friday. And Earth Day. Connections? The earthquakes in Matthew. How the very earth seemed to tremble at the death of Jesus. A cosmic brokenness. I’m thinking of Japan.
Amanda and I meet for coffee to plan the day. Shortly thereafter Rochone and Danielle arrive. Long intense work on the June concert series. Working on a name. Playing with the idea of bridge. Like a bridge on a guitar. Connecting things. Our concerts not just to present music but to link with groups and people transforming the world. 
I leave to visit with my friend Pastor Elise Brown, working in a plan to raise funds. I appreciate her taking time in the midst of a Good Friday to work with me on this. Rochone, Amanda and Danielle head to the "office." 
Marty is outside. He remarks that the weather is unseasonably cool. He speaks of median temperatures. How a woman in a gown used to deliver the temperatures inTV. Last name of Dollar. Which led to him telling me he watches Creplo Dollar and Joel Osteen on the TV. How his father, the Rabbi, used to ask him to watch Bishop Fulton Sheen on TV and take notes. Asks me if I use humorous stories or parables in my sermons. Repeats his favorite joke about the spirits in which the gift was given..Tells me about his days at a famous Bronx High School. And then City College, the Harvard of the Working Class, until he couldn’t continue. He’s in a good mood today.
Late  in the day we go to visit Rachel who makes it to church every Sunday, hip replacement and all. We were finishing a run  the park the day she fell. 
At 6, we gather for our annual Good Friday service led by the  youth. The first year this was planned, I was skeptical about the idea, Good Friday too solemn an occasion for youth. But when I actually went, I was touched and moved. They gathered around a rough wooden cross made by the Santiago family. Keeping  that part of the tradition alive. Holly and Pat worked with the children and youth until they knew their parts. And with grace and dignity the seven last words were simply presented. 
This year, Samantha is in charge. I hear the words again. we sing Sanctuary:
Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tired and true, with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living, sanctuary for you...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday: The street comes in

The roofing crew is waiting for me when I arrive at the church. Amanda arrives shortly thereafter and we head to Joe’s for coffee to plan the day. Danielle is there when we get back, ready to work, she’s anxious to close the deal on the bathroom. 
Up on the roof


We’re working on the June concerts. How they’re not just about fundraising or celebrating the past but about collaborative relationships that demonstrate what the center is supposed to be all about. Rochone arrives and the creative planning begins. 
On and off during the day, people come  in to sit quietly and pray. A German with a camera comes in to take photographs. 
The plumbers have arrived. Danielle and I go up to the bathroom with them. They have a plan. They’ll get us  a quote by 2 PM.  A working bathroom. With hot water.
Jane Galloway has come to meet Amanda. As I expect, they connect. The Pittsburgh/Portland/New York connections swirling around. The idea of a real collaboration seems like a natural.
The crew chief wants me to see the work completed in the scary pit in back of the sanctuary, but the time is not right. Amanda and I off to visit Bernardo at El Taller. 
Back at the church, the roofers have left. The plumbers have made a proposal. We accept. Amanda and Rochone work on the concerts. Danielle and I head down into the darkness to check out the work. Jim meets us there to deliver the bulletins for tonight, early Easter and the Easter service itself. 
Danielle and I make our awkward way  through the crawl space. Reach the door. Open it up. The drain has been found. The water drained. Months of standing foul water gone. The crawl space feeling drier already. Nevertheless, Danielle has no desire to come back here any time soon. 
Let’s see...roof leaks repaired. Drains reopened. Drain pipes replaced. Proposal on the bathroom accepted. Oh, and a contract to move the Beckstein piano back to the sanctuary. All good. This part of the day’s work is done.
                            * * * *
It’s Maundy Thursday. Jane has arrived first. Then Hope. If this is what it is to be, I’m prepared for that. But the people keep coming, the community is gathering. Just as we did on Sunday, the liturgy must begin with actual work. The setting up of the table, the preparation for the meal in the sanctuary. 
Four people have come into the church. Hope has invited them to join us. They are from Lebanon. The young man in graduate school at Columbia. They are Maronite Christians from Lebanon. It is their tradition to pray in seven churches on Holy Thursday. We are the first.
The table is prepared. The community gathered. I begin by reflecting on Maundy Thursday. The word, Maundy, from the Latin mandatum, as in commandment, as in Jesus’ “new” commandment to love one another. 
I share my memories. Of communicants’ class. Receiving our first communion on Maundy Thursday. How Holy Week depressed me as a child. All that time in church. The years we shared this night with the Good Shepherd-Faith congregation. With their special Maundy Thursday haggadah. And tonight,back in our own space. 
We all share memories. Of Jane’s doctoral project with a Maundy Thursday ritual. Of the tradition in our own Hispanic fellowship, back in the day of Iglesia Presbiteriana de West-Park, of their reenactment of the passion, the wooden cross they built for the occasion. The costumes, the carrying of the cross. 
Arcadia recalls the processions in Nicaragua. I recall my conversation with Bernardo today about the State Department’s disruption of their production of Carlos Mejia Godoy’s misa and the later threat to their 501 C-3 status for staging a political, not a cultural, event. Part of Reagan’s war on Central America. It took them years to pay off the fine. They are harassed still.  With Obama, worse than the Bush years. 
We share Exodus 12: 1-14, where the holiday of Passover is established. How our Jewish neighbors are in the week of Passover. The connections between Passover and the Last Supper. And we sing O Mary don’t you weep don’t you mourn..ala Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary; Springsteen, Arlo. 
We read together John 13 where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. My first experience with foot washing back in Bridgeport at an Adventist church. My discomfort. Recall West-Park’s first foot washing service, led by Deacon Ken in Mc Alpin Hall. Ken, an Episcopal Deacon in residence with us for a year. (Now living in Portland.) How until we left, it was an annual part of our gathering here. 
But tonight, I recall the Good Shepherd reflection on hands in the city. Our feet are covered. (Most of us, most of the time.) But our hands. What do they touch? The poles on the subway, the rails on the bus...and so we ritually wash each others’ hands. 
And then share a simple meal of tuna fish (it’s the Puerto Rican tradition to fast from meat, Alma says,) cheese, fruit, grapes, matzoh. 
In the midst of our meal, an Asian woman came in. Says that she’s with Military Families Against the War. They’re putting a sign up in front of the church. Wants us to know.  I say, God bless. That’s what I love about our doors open to the street, the street comes in. Feels like we’re in ministry with the city. This openness is a sign of what we want to be.  How was it ever ok, any other way?
And we share communion with matzoh and Kedem grape juice, reciting the prayers Jesus would have said. We sing  De rodillas partamos hoy el pan, let us break bread together...
And then we read Jesus’ words about loving one another. We reflect in silence. Hold hands for the benediction and then sing Amen. And to end the liturgy, we clean up.
For once, I allowed myself to experience the moment just as it was. And it was good. 
Maundy Thursday