Monday, September 19, 2011

God's economy, Shakespeare and Sikhs


The Nurse's Scene in Romeo and Juliet as a parody of the Annunciation to Mary

Andre is waiting for me at the side door as I arrive.  I need him to open the doors, since I can’t reach there right now. Amy texts to say that she can’t make it.  Andre and I will need to go it alone.  I ask him to keep an eye on things while I go to the  copy shop to pick up the bulletins.
I’m happy to see that Elder Maria who had left New York to return to Puerto Rico is here in the congregation this morning. P______ is here. During prayers, she sings in her high little voice. Says that last week she had prayed that God would be with her and that God had protected her and touched the three judges.
As the economy gets worse, not just here but gobally, as unemployment soars, I’m thinking about these things.   There are some interesting statistics in today’s New York Times. 46.2 million  Americans are now living in poverty. To put that in perspective:

25.2  million women and girls, more than the population of Texas. 
13.2 million  Hispanics, more than  Illinois
31.7 million whites, more than Pennsylvania and  Florida combined.
16.4 million under 17 years of age, more than New Jersey and Virginia combined
3.5 million over 65, equal to the population of Connecticut
10.7 million blacks, more than Michigan
1.7 million Asians, more than Idaho
21 million men and boys , more than  NewYork state
The poverty line is  now $22,314 for a family of four, about the cost of a Ford Focus.
Median household income is now  $49445 , down 8% from 1999. That’s about equal to cost of a year at Princeton, or an average  kitchen remodeling
49.9 million Americans are without health insurance. That’s equal to South Africa or South Korea. (The bill for just the surgeon in my recent surgery was $29,900. Where would I be without insurance?)
As for unemployment, there are now: 
14 million  unemployed
6.6 million women,that is more than Arizona
2.6 million Hispanics,  equal to  Nevada
3.1 million blacks,more than Iowa
.5 million  Asians, equal to Wyoming
7.4 million men, more than the state of  Washington
 The total of 14 million is equal to Illinois and Rhode Isaland combined
( Statistics from “The Impoverished States of America”, Tom Kuntz and Bill Marsh, New York Times, 9/18/11)
In our city, unemployment is now 8.7% . For Manhattan 7.1 %. The  Bronx 12.3%, highest unemployment of any county in the state of New York. The Bronx never has  less than 3 % points higher than the city as a whole.   Brooklyn’s rate has been higher than 9% every month.
For blacks the rate is 12.8 %, and for Hispanics it is 4% higher than whites. The average household income of Manhattanites in the top 5% of income bracket is $837,668, or 81 times that of lowest 20% ($10,328). Not surprisingly, the Bronx even worse at $ 6692.)
(“Steps Away but Worlds Apart”, Gina Bellafonte, NewYork Times,  9/18/11) 
So what does this have to do with scripture? Let’s take a look at what we might call  God’s economics. In Exodus16, the people are in the wilderness.They are grumbling against Moses and Aaron. Why did you lead us out of Egypt?  they ask, we may have been slaves but at least there we had 3 square meals a day...
So God sends quail at night and in the morning? Manna...a fine flaky substance that covered the ground. Literally, in Hebrew, ma na. What’s this?
So here’s the the point...there was  enough for everyone, including slackers. And even more, you couldn’t hoard it.  If you try to stash it away, it only goes bad on you.
Then in Matthew 20, the land owner and his day laborers. What kind of way to run a business is this? Everyone who works, regardless of the number of hours, gets paid the same...Obviously, those who worked the longest, all day long, through the heat of the day, are most upset. Still,they got what they had contracted for. There are feelings are not unlike those of the older brother  in the prodigal son story. What’s going on? Why so unfair? 
Consider this: If God is God, then God is radically free to do what God wants when God wants to do it and with or for whomever God wishes. God does not serve  at our command, comform to our expectations.  As it is written, the last shall be first, first shall be last...
Shelly Douglass has said  in God’s economy there is (always) enough. I loved that the Comfort ye! concert we did every year with opera singers from the Metropolitan and City Operas was based on the idea that we give from our enoughness, not our surplus, but our enoughness.
When we look at what others have, it’s easy to be resentful, envious. And God forgives our resentment, our greed.
In all fariness, Matthew’s story is also a parable about salvation. About how Gentiles, ie, you and me, we may get there late, but we still get there, by God’s grace. Not by merit, not by our works, but by grace.
Neverhteless, we can’t avoid the real world implications of God’s economy. It runs against all simple ideologies and policies. I’m not sure what was worse :  when a question was raised of what should happen to someone with a life threatening illness and no insurance. The  response by Presidential candidate  Ron Paul to  “let them die...” or the cheering of the audience that followed. I find that scary. What happened to us?
You read this story and you see them, the day workers, immmigrants, bicycle delivery people, laid off workers of every color collar, those who “wait by the phone”,  women who want to work to support their children but can’t find enough work or sufficient work to be able to afford child care and health insurance...
Does God's economy have anything to do with our economy? In a world where, as Julie  Polter says, we “sort and rank each other acording to employment status and  income?” Where  even churches are given value according to their number of members and money in the bank?
What do you think? What do you say? What do we do?  But to bear witness, to bring critical response to a culture of consumption, to seek to build, to be, a visible presence of the kindom of God, the beloved community....that’s where we begin.
After the service, the session meets to discuss an agreement with Presbytery over an old legal bill and also different options related to the boiler. That work must begin, has to begin soon.
                                                    * * *
The Dark Lady Players’ production of Shakespeare’s Gospel Parodies: A Medieval Mystery Tour is performed in several of the set rooms from Woodshed’s the Tenant. It’s built on the medieval mystery play tradition of different scenes on different carts. Only here, it's dfferent rooms.It also takes the form of museum theatre.  You are led by docents into different galleries where you are met with a tableau vivant, which then comes to life as the players act out different scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. The docents then explain the scholarly analysis of each scene connecting underlying Biblical backgrounds for each scene. The docents make what could be dry and boring entertaining and engaging.These exhibits, then are not only like museum exhibits, but also like legal exhibits, building up evidence for the argument about authorship that John Hudson and the Dark Lady Players are making. Namely, that Amelia Bassano, the dark lady of Shakepeare’s sonnet, was actually the author of these plays. Whether the argument is ultimately convincing or not, the prentation of the connection between the Bible and Shakespeare is the kind of program that represents what our Center is becoming. The challenge to traditional assumptions, the kind of questioning and dialogue that comes from experiencing the play is way of stretching, of growing.
                                     * * * * 
The day ends with the Center’s screening of Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath by Valarie Kaur and Sharat Raju. This is the first of the Center’s film series on hard questions. The film details the experiences of the Sikh community after 9-11. It’s a story most if us were unfamiliar with. It was a surprise to learn that within hours, before anything was even known about the attackers, bearded men in turbans and even women were already targeted. Among other issues raised:
  • How we assume that any attack must come from radical Muslims. EG, how until Timothy McVeigh was found to be the perpertrator of the Oklahoma City bombing, it was assumed to be  a Muslim attack. And with the tragic attack in Norway, radical Islam again was  blamed until it turned out to be a fundamentalist Christian.
  • The connection back to the removal of Japanese from the Pacific coast during Workd War II.
  • How long it took President Bush to condemn the murder of a Sikh in Mesa, Arizona
  • How those murdered across the country included Arab Muslims, An Egyptian Christian, a Latino and a Creek Indian
  • How the government’s profiling gives permission to the general public to profile. 
  • How stories help understand reality and how we need to chane those stories
  • The quote by one interviewee that Americans don’t wear turbans. 
  • Our need to have an other.
  • How we need to keep expanding our vision of who is American, of our understanding of who we are.
Katherine conceived of this idea for our first film. Sarah and Danielle produced it.  I led the discussion following. 
As one of the Center’s first non-musical, non-theatrical events, this opened another door to the kind of dialogue we want the Center to create. The discussion was good, sharp, focused. Each successive event defimes who we are and are becoming.

photos for the show in a few days.

Ophelia tells Polonius how she was interrupted in her closet by Hamlet; A parody of the Annunciation
The 3 murderers (one black) with gifts wrapped in a carol, and following a star to a new born babe. From Titus Andronicus.
The Conception of Virgo or Astrea in Heaven by an arrow. From Titus Andronicus
The Trial of Shylock as a parody of the Trials of Jesus
The Death of Bottom/Pyramus from Midsummer Night's Dream
The Last Supper from AYLI
The Tomb scene/death of the pregnant Virgin Mary from Othello

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Bob. Shakespeare's Gospel parodies has 3 remaining performances Monday and Tuesday at 7pm and Sunday 25th at 4pm

    John Hudson