Pages

Donate to our boiler restoration fund!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Today is Rosh Ha Shanah


9/29
Today is Rosh Ha Shana, the Jewish New Year. By tradtition, the birthday of the world. The beginning of the days of awe, an annual week of reflection on how one’s life journey has been going, what needs to be changed, the days when one’s fate for the next year is all written into the Book of Life, all leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  
I have enjoyed these days from my time at Bridgeport with David Leichman and Stratford Hall, 37 years ago, to my days in Tulsa and my friends at B’Nai Emunah and Temple Israel, my ten years in Pittsburgh and our time at Temple Emmanuel and with my own family, here in New York. Time that promises do-overs is always worth claiming.
It’s a moment to be thankful for Ted and Asya and Mim and Jon and Alice  who  have given so much to make the Center a reality.  And a sweet year to Katherine, to Marc and Sara as well . 

A call from Reachout. When they came by early this morning, they found four guests, three of whom were undocumented. A new high, in line with the city's growing homeless population. And the balding man (Paul?) continues to be non-cooperative and hostile.  They encourage us to call the precinct, he may be using, may be psychotic.  With these kind of numbers, they'll stay a little closer for awhile. 
Danielle and I working to move forward on the boiler plan. More publicity for the Forgiveness series. And then I’ll head out to Queens for a Rosh Ha Shanah luncheon with Ellen.

                                                                  * * * * 
Once more to see the Tenant, tonight hosting my colleague Alistair and his father from Scotland.  Tonight following the story of Maman and her disabled daughter. And once again picking up new information about other characters. I realize that for these two actors, it’s pretty close to a tour de force, no down time and lots of emotional peaks.  Ending with the daughter’s intense dance in the backyard. I look up and see someone in a room from Capital Hall looking down into the yard, watching, like a real life echo of what is being performed.

Alistair has enjoyed the play and its way of enveloping an audience member. But as a pastor, it's his first awareness of how much damage had actually been experienced by the building. 

 I’m talking with Aaron, who plays Claudia, in the bar after the show. The actors have been anxious  to  know what their colleagues are doing so they’ve decided to do for each other their various best scenes, greatest hits as one put it.  So when remaining audience members have left, cast members in thier street clothes grab drinks and head back to the courtyard to organize their performances for each other. 
It’s a real privilege.  Their scenes are played out with real professionalism and passion, their colleagues responding with laughter and applause.  And mainly mutual appreciation and respect.  I realize that almost every character has  been given their own monologue, their own aria, and that there is a quality to the writing not readily apparent on a first scattered viewing. Though as Aaron says, your experience is what the play is. 
I finally meet some people for the first time. And in the room for the Tall, Pale Man, the actor who  plays Alain thanks me and the church for giving them the opportunity to have this experience. And I am glad for their having breathed life into this space for awhile. 

As I head home, I see that the steps are empty. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A sense of urgency, a sense of crisis


9/28
Mim and Ted and Hope and Danielle and I are gathered in the sanctuary. Ted has called this meeting. There is a sense of urgency. A sense of crisis. The sense that the situation around the boiler has reached a critical stage. The clock is running. We are facing a city deadline of November 15th to get  a new boiler installed. But beyond that is simple practical concern. Living through one winter without heat was romantic and dramatic. The arts and crafts festival and balcony music festival was a bold demonstration of hope and determination.  

But there will not be a second winter without heat. All the programming we have planned will cancel. The dream, the vision will die.
Ted stresses again how much he believes in what the future can be. But it is time for the surrounding community to step up and truly show its support. There have been many expressions of support. Even promises. But West-Park has survived only by its own resources. (The generosity of the Ada and Stanley Halbreich Foundation has kept the dream alive.) There has to be a concrete plan to get a boiler in NOW. There will be  conference call this afternoon with politicians and community people. We have to express the reality of the situation. With no boiler, our board, our supporters, people who have given thousands of dollars and countless hours of time, of blood, sweat and tears,  will go away. And that will be it. Game over. Dream over.
Sarah has come in to work on publicity on the upcoming Forgiveness film series. She’s very excited about the success of the jointly sponsored concert by Hauschka that was an artistic and financial success. We are beginning to build a brand.  We talk also about wanting to keep Woodshed’s cafe at the back of Mc Alpin and reclaiming the Speakeasy space as a cabaret. 
The struggle with the balding man continues. His rather elaboarate bed with a velvet puffy pillow is now between the steps and Barney Greengrass. I’m on the steps, trying to figure out what to do. He looks up, sees me.What you lookin at? he says. Then he walks by, looks me in the eye and says, You will give me some respect, motherfucker. And I just look back. 
Teddy comes in and we talk about what we’d like to keep. And the whole strike process. It’s hard to think about them not being here. We talk about the sound check music, how he preferred Tribe Called Quest. He doesn’t know the new music either. 
The balding man is back on the steps. I walk over. Sir, it’s only 4 PM. We’ve talked about this. He rolls over, gathers up his stuff and glowers at me and goes back to the sidewalk. I’m annoyed that Reachout has not shown up. We’ve got no relationship happening here. No movement. 


Guillermo Esparza and his wife are in to look at the space again. He's looking for a space to install a cherub icon or a statue. I'd like nothing better than to be able to show one of his pieces. The spiritual content of his work goes far beyond any narrow ecclesiastical bounds. 
Time for the conference call. Councilmember Brewer seems to be taking charge. And not a moment too soon.  A lead gift, a challenge grant has been negotiatied. A challenge we can meet. Danielle wil close the deal with a company to do the boiler work. Councilmember Brewer will help ease Department of Building issues. Someone from the Landmarks Conservancy has donated the money to hire a fundraiser for one month. The fundraiser will begin work as soon as the contract is signed. An event will be scheduled for early October. This is tight. Very tight. But it is movement. It is possible. 

Tonight is Erev Rosh Ha Shana, the Jewish New Year.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The balding man has taken up position


9/27
Danielle and I are back to trying to figure out how to move the boiler business forward. It’s like Sisyphus and his rock.  Thankfully, we have had some work done on the outside sidewalk basement doors so that they are at least safer. 
We do some cleaning up from last night’s P&G’s event. RL will show up later to help finish up. Looks like we took in  a little less than $400.  We’ve also got one musician’s shirt and all of Dave’s sound equipment. We need to get this out since Woodshed has a special last week Tuesday night performance. Given the shortness of time for pr and preparation, RL feels good about the night, the sense of comunity, how people responded.
Out on the steps, the balding man is asleep in the north doorway. He’s stripped except for his shorts, his clothes spread around him. I rouse him, remind him that he just can’t be here like this during the day. He nods, gathers his clothes, starts to dress.  
Teddy comes in to see what tickets we might want for this last week.  And the complicated discussion of Woodshed’s strike and load out. And how to do that with our film screening of Forgiveness. And how to separate out what’s ours from what’s theirs in the various rooms. And how we want different spaces left when they’re gone.There will be a tag sale selling off what they won’t take with them. And they will take things down system by system, not room by room. It’s strange that this experience is coming to an end. They’ve been living with us since June.
Dave comes in to secure his sound equipment. A new song seems to have replaced the hip hop song that replaced Bon Iver as the 5 o’clock sound check music. As Danielle and I leave, the line is starting to form on 86th Street for this evening's performance of the Tenant. On Amsterdam,  the balding man has taken up position on the steps again as night is falling. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It's about community


9/26


Jeremy has come by. I wanted him to hear me play and see if we could work anything out for the P & G's  concert tonight at West-Park. I warm up with Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire, what I sang years ago with Jed at a special benefit at West-Park. Then I suck it up, take a breath, and start in on my own songs. The piano and guitar thing is not really working. He pushes me in some good directions. Especially on getting a groove and not swallowing punch lines. Its loosening up. I feel good, though my fingers hurt and I’ll be nervous all day. Jeremy tells me that my songs are good. Depressingly good.
Why depressingly?
Well, I work really hard at it, he says, I don’t like to think just anybody can write well. 
I laugh. I’m not just anybody, I say.
Deacon James stops in. He’s bothered by the effects of the chemo. Taking more out of him than he’d like. 
All afternoon RL and Dave are setting up sound, resetting lights, getting ready for the evening. For one night, we’ll recreate P & G’s at West-Park.
The doors open at 7. Deacon James has come to hear me perform.  RL will hold off starting until we’ve got at least three civilians, as he puts it. RL opens followed by a spoken word poet. And then he introduces me. I feel a bit odd that he calls me Church Bob, but I am accepting that this closeted singer-songwriter me and the pastor of West-Park me are the same me. 

RL Haney

I’ve got Amanda’s New York guitar. We found P & Gs together. That was where she first played in New York City. Open mikes and her afternoon showcase. And she used many of the P & G’s folks in her December Balcony Music Festival. Piano Dan and David and RL all P&G’s regulars. I plug in her guitar, take a breath and jump in. 
Doing this is a  bit like preaching ( at its best). You walk off the ledge and see  if you can get across to the other side without crashing. You can feel the rushing of the wind. I start with a New Mexico song. And a song about a well. And finish with my song about the old Greenwich Village club, the Bottom Line. 
I look out at the faces. There are smiles. Looks of pleasant surprise. When I finish, I know. I held my own. 
Over the course of the night, there are solo acts. Bands. Irish music. Sea songs. A woman violinist and jazz singer. The amazing Piano Dan. And Mandola Joe. And RL’s Western song stories. Classic rock. And many good shout outs to Steve, the man who made P&G’s what it was. Who welcomed them all.  
Hank from Coyote Love tells me my lyrics blew him away. Lots of folks have thoughts of maybe doing this again on a regular basis. Maybe once a month.  There’s a jar marked donations for renovations. RL’s idea. We collect almost $400.
Jeremy arrives shortly after ten. Does a mini set with a shout out to the late Jack Hardy who hosted a pasta and song writers’ night every Monday in the Village. He was friends with Dave van Ronk. Mentored Suzanne Vega, the Roches, Lyle Lovett. And Jeremy. RL’s wife is wearing a t-shirt from Jack Hardy’s memorial service. On the back it says Shut up and play the song. 
It’s past midnight. Still going strong. And in walks Jack’s old partner David Massengill.  Whose own writing far surpassed Jack’s. He playes his dulcimer. Sings Kill the Rich (it’s a satire, he says), his Orphan Train song, then Forever Love, and finally  his Great American Dream, which my uncle-in-law David Sear also once recorded. At that hour, at that moment, he was magic. 

The "Folk Brothers" David Massengill and Jack Hardy

So why did I want to do this? it’s about community. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that community was God’s love in action. It’s community that I find sacred, wherever it’s found. In church, in a cafe, in a bar, around a soccer field. Anywhere people accept each other as they are and offer care and support for each other. That’s what I saw at the Monday night open mike at P&G’s:  community, acceptance, mutual care and respect. And that’s why I invited them to West-Park. Makes me sad sometimes that community is found more at some other places than the church. But I believe God blesses it, wherever its found. 
If I, if we, together, could truly create, be a community, I would be happy. 
It’s late. RL wants to go off in search of a proper drink.  And i need to go home. 

                                          * * * * 

    The Great American Dream - David Massengill
    Excuse me sir... I am a foreigner I left the white sands of Zanzibar Where is this place you call free lunch bar? I am hungry and have overstayed my visa I'll work your farm your factory your pizzeria Is TV more beautiful than the Mona Lisa Someday my sons will I fight for the eagle My daughters will never be ashamed of me It is my dream... to be a citizen It's the Great American Dream It's the Great American Dream It's the Great American DreamExcuse me sir... I am a prostitute Just pretend that I'm a Playboy bunny For a Franklin I will tongue your tummy My body is a battlefield and a flower Four score and seven tricks by the hour O the many men--one might have been my father Gonna make my getaway in a zeppelin Take a bubble bath in the fountain of youth It is my dream... to be a girl again In the Great American Dream Excuse me sir... I am a writer Tho' the critics are jealous of my genius They say I'm writing with my penis Perhaps you've read my work in True Confessions It pays the rent and fuels my obsessions On the sly I give elocution lessons Someday I'll write the Great American Novel To be required reading in the Ivy League It is my dream... to die infamous It's the Great American Dream Excuse me sir... I am a carpenter Once I built a treehouse for Rockefeller Tho' now I've been laid off since December Someday I'll build a castle all my own In the den the best laz-e-boy throne In every room a different color phone These torn hands are skilled as spiders I hear there's work in Kansas building coffins It is my dream... to be cremated It's the Great American Dream Excuse me sir... I am an Indian O the white man is as greedy as fire His heart is wrapped around with barbed wire My father died of whiskey and religion But ghosts are cheap on the reservation In the summer we're a tourist attraction It is wrong to squeeze the earth like a snake A deceit to give a stone to the hungry one It is my dream... to skin a Pilgrim And the Great American Dream Excuse me sir... I am Everyman I'm the good thief of Jekyll and Hyde I'm the social climber on a mountain of pride I'm the deaf the dumb and the debonaire I'm the mouse the monk and the millionaire I'm the Great White Hope riding an old grey mare I'm the sad-eyed girl as young as the earth I'm the mother who died giving birth To the Great American Dream I love freedom I hope freedom loves me

Monday, September 26, 2011

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling


9/25
When I first get to the church, it’s very frustrating not to be able to open the doors. Or move the communion table.  I feel helpless. I think of trying to open the doors then realize that I just can’t.  So I go doen to the Bengldeshi copy store to pick up the bulletins. 
Deacon James is the first to arrive and opens the doors and moves the table. I’m feeling better. Andre arrives. then Amy, too. At least we’ll have music. I’m starting to feel better.
Lots on my mind today. It’s been an interesting week.  There was, of course, the execution of Troy Davis,with the  Supreme Court refusing to review the appeal.  It was the 8th straight day of protestors occupying Wall Street with virtually no mention of this occupation  in the news.  Palestine applied for official membership as a state in the United Nations. And yes, US soldiers are still in Afghanistan and Iraq. Young people continue to die. 
A number of themes emerge today. There are issues around faith and authority. In Exodus 17: 1-7, the people are grumbling again. The last time it was because of no food, this time, it’s  no water.  They are frustrated. They want to go back to Egypt. And of course, they blame Moses. And Moses has that classic pastor’s lament, "What shall I do with this people? They are ready to stone me" (Exodus 17:4.) Actually, the people are not so much whiners. With no water in the desert, they are actually desperate. 
God’s response is somewhat strange. God says to Moses, I will be standing there on the rock, strike the rock...Was God on the rock? How do you strike the rock without striking God?
I suppose it also raises for us the questiom of what is success? By earthly standards, Moses was a failure as a leader. He and the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Why? Was it just because the men didn’t want to stop to ask for directions?
We expect, we want, but don’t always get,immediate success. But maybe it took that long to get the pharoah out of the people. Like they say, it is easier to get the people out of Egypt than Egypt out of the people......what pharoah do we need to get rid of?  Nancy Sehested has said that true liberation delivers us from ALL that binds us, diminshes us, enslaves us.  We have to revisit what we call success or failure...free ourselves from any internal pharoah, any internalized Egypt. 
In the gospel, Matthew 21: 23-32, we are faced with the issue of  authority...By what authority does Jesus do what he does? He answers in terms of our seeing what it is that he does. The holy people miss it, but the tax collectors and prostitutes get it. Who are the  tax collectors and prostitutes?  They are moral outsiders. The unclean. Steroypical outsiders. (Who are ours? The people on our steps?) Is this  name calling on Jesus’ part or the expression of a preferential option? Jesus’ actions are their own authority. 
Then we have the two sons. The one who says says he’ll work is a no-show. The one who says no at first shows up, gets the job done.  Tax collectors and prostitutes again.   I’m remembering Chuck Mac Donald, my snow shoveling buddy from last winter. Who asked if I was the minister or just someone paid by the minister to be there. When I convinced him that I was indeed the minister he said, Well, then I suppose I have to help you. I don’t want to, but I’m going to. And for the next hour he and his son shovelled their way down 86th Street. (http://west-parkpress.blogspot.com/2010/12/third-day-of-christmas-snow-lay-on.html ) That’s what this is about.  
1 billion of us live in richest nations, 5 billion  in the poorest. How do we think of ourselves? How do we relate? And where are we in these stories? Who are we in these stories?
The answer, I believe is  that passage we read thismorning from Phillipians (2:13)  now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling
Yes, we must work out our own salvation in fear and trembling, living with passion, being willing to take risks, putting a stake in the ground, claiming our ground  and making our stand, but when we go to bed at night, be willing to  consider that we just might be wrong. 
Having the faith to step out, granting authority only to God, seeing the authority of Jesus in his life, not looking, waiting for miracles but working it out on our own in fear and trembling.
May this be our commitment, may we stand with one another on the journey.
Andre sings Come thou font of every blessing, take up our offering, sing a final hymn and gather in our circle for a blessing.  
Later today will be the last perfomance of the Dark Lady Players and the first concert in a new series. 
John (fistbump) closes the doors for us. Our worship has ended. Our service will continue. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Violinists play with anyone they want to


9/23
JiYoung comes in with her daughter Miranda looking for her check. We’ve transferred all of that business away from SPSA to West-Park.  I remember baptizing Miranda, over at SPSA. Helping Ji Young through a number of moves. The rough place she had to stay in Brooklyn. Her working with Holly. As someone who grew uo in the Korean middleclass, being a single mother has been a real challenge. I admire her tenacity in hanging in there, doing her best for Miranda. I look at her running her fingers over the keys of my computer and I remember  the Asian New Year when Ji Young dressed her in a traditonal costume and shared Korean food with us. 
A young woman walks in with a violin. Her name is Kate. She’s waiting for RL.  He comes in from the rain looking very late 19th century in his top hat and long duster. Looks like he’s wandered in from a movie set. It’s good listening to them rehearse, getting ready for Monday night’s P&G event. His dry Western voice going on and over the violin accompaniment. He stops by on his way out. I ask if he’s played with Kate before and he laughs and tells how he “stole” her from another musician.
Y’know,  your fiddle players have to belong to one musician or another. It’s just the way it is. But your violinist, why they play for anyone they want to. Anytime  they want, he says.  Not sure I understand, but it works for me. 
Late in the day, I hear a voice behind me. It’s Boxer Mike. Wants to know about my back. I tell him my story. He offers to work me out, get me back in shape. That’s gonna take awhile, I say. Then he tells me again all he needs is a place to hang his bag, do something for the kids. We talk about the gym and basketball again.  I remember back in the days before Rudy when my boys and their friends would play ball up there. Wonder what it would take to get the backboards and hoops back up.  

Hope,and others, aren't too keen on boxing as a sport for kids. I basically get that. Although in this week’s Sports Illustrated there’s a story about a program in Brazil called  Luta Pela Paz (Fight for Peace) where children in the favelas learn boxing, wrestling and capoeira, as well as computer skills and citizenship. It has saved a lot of children. Maybe Mike is not that far off after all. I’d like to know a little more about him before I make up my mind. He tells me he’s off to visit his girlfriend in Sweden and we talk of the back in the day Swedsish boxer Ingomar Johannsen and his clsssic fights with Floyd Patterson. I wish him well on his travels.

Floyd Patterson and Ingomar Johannson

That guy out there, he says, meaning Edward, I can get rid of him for you, but he says you let him stay there at night.
That’s right. At night. Only at night.
Well, I’ll keep an eye on him. He makes any trouble for you, you let me know, ok?
Thanks, Mike, I will. 
Danielle’s husband Nate has come to hang out awhile, see her home. I’ve got a wedding rehearsal to get to in Brooklyn. We’ve done enough for today. For this week. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cunning, baffling, powerful


9/23
A meeting with Mark. He has a lot of sound equipment he needs to store. If we can find space for him  to do that, he’ll be happy to have us use the equipment for concerts.  And if he’s free, to help us. We show him a room off of the sanctuary that looks like it should work. This could be  a good deal. 
Sarah has come to work with us on developing publicity for the series on Forgiveness. 
Jana comes in. She is visiting from Germany. She knows this church well.  She worked with Uli and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. She led at least three delegations of young people to New York.  They would come for a week or more, sleep in our gym, cook in our kitchen and learn about living in multicultural settings, organizing for peace and justice and would visit and work with groups like the Interfatih Assembly on Housing and Homelessnes, Westside Campaign Against Hunger and God’s Love We Deliver. She last visited here a year ago fall.  

Jana

 I ask Sarah and Danielle whether I should take Jana on a tour or let her be surprised when she comes  back  later tonight to see the Tenant. Sow her now wins out. The last time she was here, we were in ruins and had gates up on our doors and worshipped on the steps.  As we go from room to room, she’s amazed at the transformatiom the Woodshed people have created.  
Danielle has created a card just for the Monday night P&G’s memorial concert.  RL is pleased.  
Jane comes in with one of her people to show the building.The continue to want to come here. Restrooms continue to be a problem.  And Paula has raised some questions about air quality we need to resolve. 
Outside, Edward is asleep on the steps. Two 40’s beside him in brown paper bags. I tell him it’s too early. He knows the rules, that he can’t sleep here during the day.  He looks up at me blearily.   Shakes his head, nods off.  OK, so we’ll try Reachout again. After that, well, I’m not sure. I go in to talk with Danielle about this.
Jane and I walk out together. I share with her my concerns about Edward. She tells me three words used in AA to descibe alcoholism.  Cunning, baffling, powerful.
I’m off to go to an Interfaith Assembly meeting. 
Later that night, I take Jana to see the Tenant. Two of Micah’s friends, Tom from Edinburgh days and now Berlin and Marina, also from Berlin. Another young German woman from Brooklyn has joined them as well. We meet downstairs in the bar for preshow drinks.
This time I follow the story of Francois and Marie whose anniversary celebration has been taken over by Alain, Michel and Marie. It’s very Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf in feel and tone. Tonight Trelkovsky’s jump is as close to perfwct as it can be. People hold their breath as he leans out and the lights flash. Stunning.
In the bar after, Tom says it’s the most impressive theatrical experience he’s had. The space reminds him of Berlin. Jana is blown away and glowing. This place was so dead...and now, look, it’s full of life. That was so good. Doing this here is important. She's impressed with this as an example of adaptive reuse. She’s filled with creative ideas we could do to build on this. What we could do with the space. The kind of programs we could do. Teddy points out that the raised area in the hospital would make a fine cabaret stage. And Jana is spinning out plans for a cafe.
As we walk home up the street, Edward is still there, asleep on the steps. Cunning, baffling, powerful.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

At least the pieces seem to be there


9/20
Brandon and Kate have come in to discuss a series of music concerts, beginning this Sunday with Hauschka, who does some amazing things with a prepared piano. Brandon does the sound for Woodshed. We can work together to develop this part of the life of the Center.  Looks like we can begin with three concerts. It’s an expansion and extension of what we did with the Bridge concert series. 
9/21
Katherine and Sarah have come to work on advertising and pr for our series on Forgiveness. We will take two night to sceen the PBS film by that name, the second film in our Hard Questions series,  and then have four sessions of discussion. Eleanor will lead this program. I’m glad that she’s found something to do  with us.  
A conversation with Councilmember Brewer last night and with Jane and Peg from the Landmarks Conservancy and it feels like we’re making progress on the boiler issue. Some pieces need to fall into place, but I begin to feel like it might actually happen.  At least the pieces seem to be there.
Its strange being here this week since I intended to be in Lousiville.  I’m just not ready to travel yet. I’ve got a meeting then I’ll go to see my old friend Jack. It’s been too long since I’ve seen him while this back situation has kept me down.  His ability to passionately hold onto life no matter what always helps keep me going. I hope to be able to pass that gift on some day.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nothing about us without us


9/19
There's large black bag on the steps. I expect to find food or maybe clothing left for the homeless people. But it's just paper. Just paper. 

Mim has come to talk about the boiler. The temperature has become fall cool here.You can feel the temparature inside the church begin to drop. It’s a reminder of the long cold winter we spent here.  We can’t do that again. Plus there’s the pressure from the city.  Is it possible at all to get one of the old ones fired up again? Can we move fast and get green at the same time?
We also can’t figure out why we can’t get a definitive response from the politicians.  There seems to be a lot of talking going on about us,  but not much with us.  I think of the saying I learned from disabilities acivists:  nothing about us without us. It fits a lot of situations. It’s that situation of power and privilege again that devalues the competency, the very worth of the other. 
It’s getting  late as we finish. The Dark Lady Players are arriving for their evening performance.  Katherine has come to join Mim.  John is very excited about the good press this production has ben getting.  Much as I’d like to see it again, it’s time to head home. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

God's economy, Shakespeare and Sikhs


9/18


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