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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: I'm doing this because I follow Jesus, not because I think it's a good idea


1/16
The People's Liberation Army is highly disciplined; it is fair in buying and selling and is not allowed to take even a needle or a piece of thread from the people. 
Chairman Mao
          • + +
 I take Jeff and Danielle across the street for coffee and tea. There is a sense of sadness. And also relief. Maybe we all need, a breather, a break. I feel like I do.  Jeff has Stan looking for alternative housing. The move out is being organized. 
I’m getting ready for the 10th Annual Upper Westside Martin Luther King, Jr. March for Peace sponsored by Westsiders or Peace and Justice. This year’s theme is Occupy. Faithful. Dialogue. Bobby comes in and I direct him to the sanctuary to wait for Jane and the service. West-Park and Sanctuary NYC are co-hosting the stop at West-Park. The march will begin at Holy Name, go on to SPSA, then to West-Park,(for the first time in over five years)  then to Central Baptist (for the first time ever), then to Elise’s church, Advent, co-hosted by their partner Broadway Community, and then back to Holy Name. Lynnea walks in while I’m trying to pull things together to wish us a Happy New Year. I’m happy to see her,  but I don’t have time to visit right now. 
I get a call that the march has left SPSA and is heading this way. It’s brutal cold. We open the doors and welcome the marchers in. Jeremy and a bass player and a percussionist on a box are playing music to welcome them. I’m happy to see my friends Elise, Father Mike, Alistair and Tony. The sanctuary is almost filled.  I welcome everyone and introduce Sarah and Carlos from the Sweatshop Free Upper West Side group. They talk about the ongoing Saigon Grill picket and the citywide Dominos’ Pizza boycott. (Readers, feel free to join....) And pass out postcards to mail in. 
Tracy

Talking about justice

Then I read two quote from Dr. King:
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
and...
Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, "When God speaks who can but prophesy?" Again with Amos, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me," and he's anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor."
Then I introduce Jane and she and I lead a responsive prayer of commitment, the prayer of St. Francis of Assissi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
And then Jane leads us in:
If you miss me in the back of the bus 
And you don’t see me back there
Come on up to the fron to the bus, 
I’ll be riding up there....
And after a few verses, Jeremy takes the lead:
If you miss me in Zucotti Park
And you don’t see me down there
Come on up to the Brooklyn Bridge
I’ll be marching up there...
If you miss me on the Brooklyn Bridge 
And you don’t see me up there
Come on out to the whole wide world
I’ll be marching out there...
And as the marchers file out, the singers voices rise in a rousing gospel chorus. Out on the steps, Father Mike in his brown robe says My favorite prayer. He, of course, a Franciscan. 

Bob and Father Mike

I stay a couple of minutes to wrap things up, then hurry up Amsterdam to join the march. 
+++
I’m back at the church. Rafael and Susie the social worker want to talk with me. I was waiting for this ever since one of the octogenarian peace activists across the street, called to plead with me to let the ows folks stay because of the frigid weather. It was hard to stand tough.
They want to clarify exactly what I said. And I say again that I had given them until the end of Sppokes Council to receive  a coherent community response to what had happened. Rafael almost has tears in his eyes. He’s using all his networks, cops, drug dealers, fences, to try and locate the basin cover. They both want to know, if,....if....., they can come up with an answer, will I change my mind? I explain that I will not make separate deals with anyone. That I must stick by what  I said. It has to be a coherent community response. They say that they understand. 
Up in Mc Alpin, near chaos has  broken out. The disrupter that Jason had previoulsy had excluded is back at it. A circle has surrounded her. They’re asking me if they have my permission to call the police. I tell them that Rafae is in charge of secuirty. If he asks me to call on the poice, I will. 
I have begun to feellke I am simewher ebetweena revival of Hair and The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade ...
Carolyn, a volunteer chaplain has joined me. She works as a chaplain at St.Luke’s hospital. A CPE veteran. I know that I can count on her. Rafael has calmed the disrupter down. She is non-violent. The guy is amazing. 
Jeff asks me to address Spokes. I stand in the center. Begin to speak. There’s pesristnt whisltling an dI look u an dnotice it’s Noel the Rastaman. So I stop. And everyone asks him to stop whistling. When he’s quiet, I basically redo my speech from last night. And add a couple of things. That concensus only works among people who have agreed to where they are going and simply want to resolve differences over strategy and tactics in order to get there.  Wthout that, it becomes not empowering but disempowering and even oppressive and violent to the majority. I see the raised wiggling fingers for agreement. And then I say this is serious business. You have to be ready for the long haul. You are ready to take to ourselves out before the real struggle has even been engaged. And again, the wiggling fingers. 
I’m ready to leave. But they ask me to stay. A young woman asks me politely if they come up with a response, can they stay?  And i say, that’s my word. Then  I go out to catch my breath. 
Individuals keep asking to speak to me in private. I’ve got ths new congregation of the poverty diaspora calling me Pastor Bob. The darkened sanctuary becomes my confessional, my counseling office. One young man, almost in tears, asks if he can take a swing at me in public, just to force the community to respond. And we talk, and I explain why not. Another man with an eastern  European accent wants to give me his laptiop. I am very appreciaitve, but explain that this isn’t what this is about . It has to be a community response. Can’t be one person on behalf of the community. The one in tears takes notice. 
Personal problems.  Issues. Fears. The people keep coming. I find that Nathaniel, a veteran chaplain of the stay at Judson Memorial,  has arrived. I take him and Carolyn with me to the narthex.  And we talk. And talk. 
It’s nearing 11. Max from the central office, part CPA, part go to, can do techno hipster guy, approaches me. Look, he says, this isn’t getting anywhere. They keep saying, and rightly so, that they can’t make a promise to you they can’t expect to keep. i look at him as if today, so? He goes on,  But, look, it’s 19 degrees. It’s after 11. Is there someway they can stay the night? Just a select list? Somehow? I look at my chaplain volunteers. So, what do you think?
And they both weigh in. We look at it from all sides. So are we going go for concensus here? And they both laugh. Moral repsonsibility versus giving in after having made a firm statement. Maybe that would be for the best, says Nathaniel. I talk to Max about the breather I felt we all needed. The space. I agree, he says, they do need that. Maybe it’s best. But it’s 19 degrees...
Anf I thnk if th man with his six months pregnant wife. They shouldn’t even be here. But they are.  
Nathaniel looks at me. This is it, isn’t it? he says, the Jesus moment.
Yeah, I’m afraid so, I say. Max looks puzzled. Then I say, so here it is, anyone already on the list can stay until morning. Rafael runs securiry. Everyone out in the morning. No one comes back until we’ve resolved this. Max looks at me. Carolyn and Nathaniel look relieved. 
Max says, I’m taking that upstairs.  And I say, one thing, Max, I’m doing this because I follow Jesus, not because I think it’s a good idea. He looks at me, nods.
But before he can get back ustairs, we hear applause. I am called for . They have a plan. Continue  to search for  the basin cover. If not found, they will reach out to artisans and metal workers, create a new top. In future years, as the story of the church gets told again, the new top will be a symbol that #ows was here, back  in the day. That West-Park remained faithful. And they will create a two week exit strategy. Accept Rafael’s role as security point perosn. And they will speak directly to our congregation to make amends. What do I say?
Damn, I think. No breather. What will I tell danielle? Jane? Councilmember Brewer who’s got nervous constituents? Who’s support   I still need. I respect the hours of work you’ve put in, I say. And your creative response.  And caring response. And commitment to change. I can only say yes. But this more...when Danielle gets here in the morning, she won’t even know you’ve beenhere, ok? And there are hugs all around. 
I’m getting ready to leave. A young woman wants to speak to me. She had been crying earlier. Underneath the semi-shaved head,creative braids, nose and lip piercings and tatoos, I can see her basic beauty. And I always relate to someone with a guitar. So I sit with her. She shiws me he guitar. Her kong time uitar was destroye din te eviction. An older widow had given her her husband’s guitar. She shows me that it now has been broken.  She wants to organize a concert, a night for poetry, speak out, song, spoken word, healing. I affirm that. Talk to her about her guitar(s). Her music. She may be headed to Occupy Congress in DC. . I wish her well. 
Kanaska Carter, singer-songwriter

I am exhausted. Max and Carolyn are spending the night. Really exhausted. I have to go home. 
Heading up the  street, I see the Mexican with his shopping cart of bottles  and cans has returned. 

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