Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Reformation Sunday and a Winged Victory for the Sullen

Can’t find my broom or my dustpan. It’s cold. Andre arrives and I go out to get the bulletins. My Bengladeshi friend tells me that next Sunday, he’ll be closed. Muslim holiday. It will be Eid-al adha, the day that commemorates Ibrahim (Abraham)’s willingness to scarifice his son Ismail (Ishmael) in obedience to God. Traditonally, a lamb or goat is sacrificed. The family keeps a third, friends, relatives, neighbors get  a third, and the other third goes to the poor. There was one man, he was our father, he says. Abraham I think. So Saturday, I will stay open until five, just for you, OK?  I thank him, go off for coffee befoe back to church. 
On this cold morning after, people are slow in arriving. Amy plays A Mighty Fortress... I remind them that it is Reformation Sunday.  The day that Martin Luther  started something he had no idea how it would end. October 31, 1517....394 years ago...may we all be around for the 400th, God willing.....I ask if anyone remembers what this was about.  I get some good answers. 
Then I say it started with fundraising, something we know about. We need moneyfor a boiler (God knows we do). They needed money for a Sistine chapel. To pay Michalangelo’s bill. Creatively came up with the  selling of indulgences. Buying your loved one’s way out of purgatory.  This was at heart of Luther’s critique. You couldn’t buy your way into heaven. 
I don’t believe that Luther wanted to start a new church anymore than Jesus did anew religion.  But he opened the door to a revolution. 
In Matthew 23, we read  Jesus’ critique. Note that Jesus does not question the authority of the religious establishment leaders. He does question their actions, their performance. he laying on of heavy burdens. 
Burdens?  Yes, like the 33 years my lgbtq brothers and sisters were denied ordination in he Presbyterian church. Even this week, Pittsburgh Presbytery rescinded thier invitation to my seminary friend  Chris to speak. Because he is openly gay. No other reason. Not becuse he’s a skilled preacher, caring pastor, theologian, rertreat leader and Henri Nouwen student and interpreter.  These are hard times, they said, churches are threatening to leave, we can’t provoke them .The time is not right for this man.  I really can’t go home again. How I admire the courage of the saints who remain. The saddest thing was, Chris said, I was invited to speak about reconciliation. 
Burdens? Now the issue turns to marriage. Last week, I attended a workshop  on our ecclesiastical law regarding same sex marriage. It was sad. Our Interim Executive Presbyter had prepared a chart of different possible actions and their possible consequnces. Green, ok; yellow, caution; red, danger. Kind of like a national security chart. I heard all kinds of complicated gyrarations devised by my colleagues to avoid scrutiny. Like an ecclesiastical game of Twister. So thankful I am that West-Park’s tradition is one where Love is love. Marriage is marriage. Long before I got here. NO burdens on this account. 
Now about those phylacteries and long fringes..(Matthew 23:6). I confess I love fancy liturgical garments. I have to admit it was almost eniugh to get me to go Anglican.That’s tempting. (Although ultimately too much anglophilism.) One  of my favorite blogs is Uni watch, devoted to detailed scrutiny of sports uniforms. I’d like to start vesty watch, devoted to vestments. 
But the hard part comes with the banquets..Most clergy I know have been invited guests to bless  more than one banquet that made them uncomfortable. Do you know  who butters your bread? Literally? I have seen prophetic witness the awareness of who pays...often in the form of preemptory self censorship.
We in a sense are  in that  situation...We are part of the 99 potentially dependent on the 1....
I can only recall that what Luther did all those years ago led to Barmen, ( when Niemoeller, Barth and Bonhoeffer and others stepped away from the German Chrisitan movement and became the Confessing Church stating unequivocably that our only authority is Jesus. What sounds like a simple theolgical statement had profound political implications in Nazi Germany, 1934. And that’s what Matthew 23 is all about on the bottom line, authority. On this Refomation Sunday, 2011, in the time of Occupy....where is authority, who is the authority in our lives? 
With that question in the air, Andre sings I want Jesus to walk with me..We take up the collection and all sing.
After the service, the Session meets. And reaffirms our commitment to marriage equality. And extends an invitation to any clergy unable to celebrate in their own congregation the opportunity to celebrate here.   In our church. We review the boiler situation. And leave before it gets too cold. 
We fire up the temporary heater for Sanctuary’s service. I hear their spirited opening. And see that Jane’s brother Paul Mowrie, a candidate for presbyterian ministry, is preacher of the day while she's in California. No longer excluded, he will be accepting a call to a church in Sausalito, Caifornia. 
I’m off to Occupy Faith at Zucottii. (see                                      

                                                           * * * *

A Winged Victory

Tonight’s concert features Benoit Pioulard ( opening for Winged Victory for the Sullen. (

Benoit is a solo guitarist wondering from Indianesque drone to metallica to intricate smooth as silk neo folk singer song writer. The digital projecions on the walls and ceiligns take me back to the days of psychedlica. I’m surprised at how much I enjoy his music. 
What’s really surpising is Winged Victory... a string quartet, electric guitar, and piano keyboard, the new project of Berlin-based Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran. Neo-chamber neo classical Philip Glass/Erc Satie minimalism plus....well, you get the idea. They come righ to the edge of too-mellow meditation music then move away in surprising directions. 
All goes well unti 10:15 when I hear an uproar in the narthex. A very angry man is shouting and ranrting...You are breaking the law, you are being bad neghbors...trying to sleep ... having to listen to this crap for three hours...breaking the law...nice neighborhood...disturbing the peace..
Brandon and I try to talk him down. Tell him it will all be over in five minutes.  If he’ll just calm down.  I know the pastor of this congregation... (Well, apparently not) We finally get him to calm down. He leaves. The concert ends with a standing ovation. 
Brandon and I try to figure it out. Condo or Capital Hall? Clearly condo. At Capital Hall, they don’t argue, they just throw bottles. We’ve had concert shere thay lasted past one. Last nigh twe had reggaeton. What happened? Apparently the open window for the heater exhaust let too much sound out. But still... 
This much is clear: tonight there were at least 250 people attending a concert for neo-chamber nearing avant garde music. I loved seeign their tour poster with our name on it. Brandon has been thre most sicessful misic producer here yet. (With BIG help from Danielle.) Well managed, (a big challenge), within a year we could be  a landmark venue, a place you want to, have to, play. We could do that. But will this corner of the Upper Westside want that? A little piece of Brooklyn on the Upper Westside? BAM* Manhattan? We’ll have to see.
* Brooklyn Academy of Music

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