Monday, November 14, 2011

The parable of the talents, community, regentrification


I  venture into the boiler room to see what needs to be removed before work can begin. There are tables and chairs, an old tool chest, a snow blower, paint cans, empty oil cans...pretty scary. It’s all got to go before the work can begin. Who’s going to do that? The Halloween decorations need to be removed. And there are all these boxes of invitation cards to be mailed out for the benefit...daunting.
The first person to arrive is an Asian woman visiting from the neighborhood. And a psychotherapist who has heard me speak at workshops sponsored by the Institute on Psychotherapy and Spirituality. Where are my people?
A young man approaches me. It’s William. He grew up in the church. Spent years in the gym with Rudy. His mom was the first I ever did last rites for. His grandmother Norma lives right around the corner on 87th. Little sister living with an aunt in Teaneck. Big sister back form the service in Virginia. He’s on the gymnast/acrobat spirit team for the New Jersey Nets and waiting for the lockout to end. If there’s no agreement by Christmas, ther’ll be no NBA season. He’s working at a gym in Harlem. Come by to see how everyone is. But everyone’s not there. Well,yet. We talk. He’ll be back later. But as I was afraid, that was his visit for today.
Eventually the folks arrive. Amy’s stuck on the 59th Street Bridge. Andre not there. As Hope takes the children for Sunday School, I lead a conversation on Matthew 25 where Jesus tells the parable of the talents. You know, the  master gives them talents, one doubles his five, the other his two and one poor guy out of fear just buries his and winds up being tossed into outer darkness,the weeping and wailing and gnashing  of teeth place. Two get called good and faithful servants, one wicked and worthless. Should’ve invested it with a banker. (Obviously from pre Ocuppy...era.)
We talk about it.  It’s about use it or lose it, says Kamini. It’s about using what you have for the good of others, says Arcadia. I explain that traditonally, it’s understood to be about indeed, using what God has given you. Someone says it’s about not being afraid.  
Some of my clergy friends take another point if view. The idea that you take from the one who has one and give to the one who has ten doesn’t sound like the God we’re supposed to know, doesn’t sound like God’s economy. Especially not the casting out part. Maybe Jesus goes out wth the one which is cast out. But Marsha disagrees. No, she says, maybe God is saying that’s the way it is. It’s not going to change. That’s the way of the world. Rememeber who wrote that, a tax collector. 
It is true. There are white papers that say that we need to rebuild the (presbyterian) establishment. That those who have succeeded should get to decide. That small churches should be closed. Their buildings sold. The proceeds go to the ones who know what to do with money. The tall steeples. Well, the one percent. 
Eugene Peterson says that its about the willingness to take chances, risks. That the one who risked it all is the one who is rewarded and the play-it-safe, the one who won’t go out on a limb is the one who is cast out. I know now which is the story for us. Becasue we have gone out on a limb with this boiler contract. Hell, we went out on a limb with this whole project. We have, almost literally, risked it all. 
Well, so as part of our worship, our liturgy, remembering that laiturgia meant work of the people, we do work, putting labels on the cards for our gala event. As the work goes on, there is laughter, which pleases me.  And I’m playing some of David Bailey’s music in the background, that singer song writer who died too young from brain cancer.
Later, I get a box of Joe and a dozen donuts at Dunkin’ Donuts and we meet with representatives of Trinity Grace Church, who, too, are looking for space. As near as I can tell, they are one of the non-denomiantional, emergent, missional churches with open evangelical roots. How woud we live together? There seems to be  an opennness. They seem to have a serious commitment to social justice. 
Our conversation related to Jane and the Sanctuary community continues as well. And we’re still pasting labels on cards. Luis and I go down to check out the basement.  He will put together a team to clear the boiler room.  It’s time for me to go to the istallation for my former intern Chris at Broadway.
When I get back, I’m pleased to see a good crowd has gathered for the screening of Josh  Pais’ movie, 7th Street, the story of his home street in Alphabet City, el loaisaia, the East Village. But it’s the story of most of our neighborhoods. From Jewish immigrant community to the projects to the sixties to the squats to the crack epidemic to regentrification. We been there. Or are going there.  The drug dealers were gone but now there were real estae dealers....
And the old sense of multi-cultural, eccentric, accepting  urban community is gone. And maybe there’s a hint there why some of our friends were upset by what they called making a deal with a developer.  
Josh himself is there. Star of Law & Order and Sex in the City, not to mention Raphael in Teen Age Mutant Ninja Turtles. And it’s an interesting crowd, including many from the old neighborhood itself.  The discussion about urban living, how to bring safety to neighorhoods without driving out their people...and as Andrea pointed out, the privileges educationally and otherwise that Josh’s friends did not have.  This dialogue, this exploration is what the center is all about. Even at this time of vulnerability, it exists already. 
Katherine’s film series, Divided We Fall, Forgiveness and Seventh Street, well done. 

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