Tuesday, July 31, 2012

From our enoughness

Everything feels out of sync. Off to a slow start.  Both copy shops on 85th are closed. Both the Bangladeshi and the Israeli. What’s up? Some Ramadan/Tish’a bav convergence? Too late to go to the shop up on Broadway. Too late to call Teddy. We’ll have to do them in house. Call Danielle to walk me through the copy process. Run out of paper.  People will have to share. I’m actually hoping not many will come. But they do. Including a couple I’ve been counseling. Damn. None of my music people, including one I was counting on, show up. Dan arrives, looking at me expectantly. I really appreciate his coming. Got to get it together. Some Sundays are like that.
The first lesson is one of my favorites, 2  Samuel 11: 1-15. Where David first encounters Bathsheba. This is part one. The real payoff comes next week.  The Gospel is John 6: 1-21. The first of a long stretch on the Bread of Life.  Maybe too long.  
It’s the of the feeding of the 5000. Usually we think of Jesus and feeding in relationship to communion. This is my body...Jesus laying down his life. We’ll celebrate that next week.  But here, we have feeding in the midst of his life..., in the midst of his ministry. 

In other gospels' telling of this story, Jesus is responding to his disciples' concerns. How are we gonna feed all these people? And he responds, you feed them . But here, Jesus  is setting this up. The disciples respond, ...why not even six months  wages could feed all these people.....we just don’t have the money, it’s not in the budget....
This is where we live. We think in terms of scarcity, not abundance. Who was this boy?  Was this his  own lunch?  Was the boy a vendor? A young independent entrepreneur? Like the guy at the philharmonic in the park with his red wine, white wine?  (In that crowd, he would  have done better with pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon...)
What happens here?  We have learned, for example, that in the concentration camps, it was those who shared the little they had who survived. Not those who thought they had to preserve themselves above anyone else.  I’ve had the experience of hospitality and poor communities. Always the sharing of food.  The greatest charity comes from those who make under $40000 a year.  Per capita congregational giving is highest in neighborhoods in the Bronx, Harlem, East Brooklyn....not the Upper Westside. 
When this five barley loaves start getting shared around, something happens. Maybe people went out and brought more food back. Maybe they just brought out what they already had and were afraid to share. Maybe....anyways, there was enough. More than enough. Twelve baskets left over. And gathered up so that nothing would,be lost. Enough for left overs...
Then immediately after this we find Jesus walking on the water....???
With God, anything is possible, says Luisa. 
We have to start with believing that we have enough. And offer it.Like in our old annual Comfort Ye! concert for the homeless where we always talked about giving from our enoughness... We sustain each other from our enoughness... Be brave enough to step out on the water. And be ready to see what happens...
I got through. It was ok. Not my best. Remind  myself...there is always enough....
Sanctuary NYC has invited us to join them for their service. Today they have the In Performance Music Workshop directed by Sean King. A very tight (basically) youth jazz band from Brooklyn with Jane’s old friend JD sitting in. Their classic jazz itself an expression of the freedom that has been SNYC’s theme this week. Jane invites me to speak and Deacon James gets up with me,too. That freedom begins in our heads and hearts, even before our bodies, our external realities have achieved freedom. 
(How I long to have a consistent music program, the resources to do what I really want to creatively...)
We gather for (rapidly melting) ice cream in the Session room.
It’s the final performance of The West-Park Theatre Workshop’s Dem Dahk Days Down South. I think back to Glen’s first gatherings, the auditions, the casting, the script coming together...the sense of community that has grown in the cast. 
Lilly, Samantha and Jamie have all come to volunteer. I sit behind Jeffrey from SNYC who has come to show support. And I can see that he is moved by the telling of the story of one slave family. 
The cast

The cast gathers in Mc Alpin for its party. This is exactly the kind of coming together that we seek to be. Chris the playwright  saw his play come together. We got to experience Jennifer’s solo voice. Steve overcame his nervousness and handled the piano.. We’ll do an evaluation. Got to get the publicity part down....

At the risk of seeming ridiculous

at the Minimum Wage Rally
Marching to raise the Minimum Wage
Days don’t always go the way you think they’re going to. They can  be carefully planned, then something else happens. Tracy and Hope come in and the conversation began with my running into my old friend Father Earl at the rally for a higher Minimum Wage yesterday.  (Tracy points out a lot of her workers don’t even receive that.) How Earl’s one of those 4-5 people who if they call me and ask me to be somewhere I’ll go, no questions asked. Because I know he respects my time and commitments. And will only ask when important. Some of that comes from going to jail together. 
How Earl’s married to the daughter of my first religion professor in college. (And Hope was her babysitter.) A professor who pushed me to deconstruct the religious beliefs I’d grown up with. Introduced me to the world of Tillich, Niebuhr. In some ways set me on the course to where I am now. 
And we talk about ideology. Discipline vs. rigidity. Who gets to determine where the line gets drawn. Getting kicked out of organizations, jobs,for ideological reasons.  I remembered the communist group back at the University of Bridgeport in the early ’70’s.  My role as a chaplain of sorts. How ideology could serve as a cover for all kinds of personal agendas. As bad as the church.
I told her how in the early ’70’s all kinds of communist faction groups brought young people in to work in the steel industry, to industrialize themselves, to become one with the workers. (Props for that....much of the peace movement really had no capacity to relate to the working class, to unions...) Then when the steel industry collapsed, parties began to pull people out, wanted to redeploy.   But some stayed. Those who stayed had truly come to love the city, the community. Had developed personal relationships. And it was the community that now held their allegiance, not a party or ideology. And so they took on all kinds of various roles, different jobs, still committed to economic justice.And over the years, they have made a difference. 
We have to be flexible, I tell Tracy. No permanent friends, no permanent enemies, as Alinsky said. Relationships. And as Che said,  At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality... We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.  
When vanguard groups start to lose touch with the people, when they act for, instead of with, great danger can follow. 
It’s been a good talk. 
RL comes in to talk about his office/studio. Karen has been playing her music in the sanctuary. She has some theological questions. I need to open some space to talk with Martin.
He’s run into some issues at the studio he’s lined up. Needs to make a quick arrangement to get ready for Noche’s fall performances. Time is short. Can we make a deal? This will tae some work. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

It just doesn't work


The place is buzzing with a film crew shooting in the church. I’m late for my appointment and find we’re being held outside while a scene is finished. Teddy’s talking with the film crew and Allegra who’s come to see me. She’s a Princeton student doing a summer internship with the Interfaith Center of New York City. My friend Matt, now a dean at Princeton has sent her my way to talk about interfaith. And my experiences with Occupy. 
I say how for me interfaith is a way of life. All of us only get a glimpse of what’s behind the door. How we learn through dialectic discourse and beyond dialectic to multilectic. 
Why did I welcome Occupy? My lifetime of commitment. The heritage of this little church. The opportunity to participate in an historic moment. As part of the struggle that goes on before us during us and after us. To be in our moment. To engage in discourse with people around the spiritual issues that were being raised by the Occupiers, even while they were militantly not religious. 
Allegra sees a spiritual content to what’s happening globally that wasn’t there before. I talk about the move from the discourse of liberation to transformation, materialist analysis to holistic. How the arc travelled by Rubem Alves has resonated with me.  My call to the intersection of beauty and justice, ethics and esthetics. 
And I finish with my sense of the death of the church as we have known it. My desire not to waste anymore  time trying to save it but to be involved in the ministries  that are seeking to give birth to something new. 
She’s going to bring some students back in the fall. I walk outside with her. I hear my name and am surprised to see Vivian, one of the longtime Frog & Peach Theatre Company members, in a nurse’s uniform. She’s got a role in the movie. I remember her in Macbeth, Hamlet. Her favorite was Richard III.  Simon who was in their Midsummer Night’s Dream is with the movie, too. The frenetic, creative energy is easy to feel and Teddy’s totally taken by it. 
I take a break to see Landmark West!'s  screening of Vanishing City by Jen Senko and Fiore De Rosa (  It’s a searing exploration of the effects of Bloomberg’s Luxury City Development model and the elimination  of affordable housing. The effect of 2.3 billion dollars in tax abatements for luxury buildings. The 421a program (that was going to fund West-Park’s development project) saw 96% of its tax credits go to luxury developers. How single family conversion becomes a ruse to nullify rent stabilization. And the city’s removal of rent subsidies hurts the small, neighborhood based landlords.  For the first time, I see a place of coalescence between the preservationists and housing advocates.  The luxury model destroys neighborhoods. In forty years, we‘ve gone from a city that was 41% blue collar to one that’s less than 11% with the largest increase in the low wage service sector  that the luxury sector requires.  One of those interviewed in the movie is Fred Siegel, who I know mainly from a friend’s Hanukkah parties. His analysis was striking  as I understood how the luxury model doesn’t even work for old school capitalists, because, well, it just doesn’t work.  

Dem dahk days down south

get back in time for the opening of Glen’s play, Dem Dahk Days Down South, which grew out of his summer Theatre workshop. Marsha is handling the ticket sales, Max and Jason are running the bar. It’s a story of an African-American woman from Harlem who goes down to the south to rediscover her roots at the beginning of the Civil Rights era. I’m happy to see a cast of mainly African-American actors in a project that was born here. And happy to see that Steve dug in and learned the music and is the accompanist. And to see Jennifer in the cast. Just wish more people were here. That old pr issue again. And I wish Glen were here to see it. Look forward to his return from Birmingham. This is good.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Can't cancel a 911


Max, Jay, Steve

Steve calls to tell me that someone from the fire alarm company is there about a problem with the phone lines and the fire alarm system. Didn’t see that coming. Have to hustle down there.  
My favorite counter guy from Barney Greengrass is sitting on the  steps with a basketball. He’s moved on with his life.  Is in the hood to play some ball wit some buddies.
Nan stops by with some checks. Christopher just wants to see what’s going on. 
Rudolfo comes by. He’s got a new haircut. Que guap’ esta, I say. And he smiles. Sus pelas ‘stan muy cortes....He’s looking good. 
Melisa comes by. For coffee. Despite our pursuit of a serious equity partner, we still have a desperate need for production work. The very kind of work she ca do so well.  It’s good to connect again. To see the possibility of working together.
Ludovica comes in to discuss her new play rehearsing. Melisa had come to see her production of Final Analysis. 
Max,Steve, Jay and Bob
(thanks Marc)
Out back, Steve and Jay and Jamie’s son Max and Marc are hard at work in the yard. Dismantling worn out rotten furniture. Picking up garbage. Trying to get the space back to what it was when Woodshed was here. It’s been awhile. 
On the steps, Edward is asleep with an open bottle behind him. I try to wake him. Edward, Edward, you can’t be here with an open bottle, I say. You can’t tell me what I can or can’t drink he says with thick, slurred speech. Well, yes I can, I say, I’m responsible for these steps. 
You’re not responsible for me, I’m responsible for me. 
But I am responsible for the steps. 
I was responsible for me before you was born.
(well not exactly) We’ve been through this again, I say.
And we’re not fuckin going through it again, he says, fuck you. 
You’re right, we’re not goin through this again...and I go inside to talk with Steve who’s getting ready for the dress rehearsal for Glen’s Dem Dahk Days Down South... He agrees to come out with me. 
I try rousing Edward, he waves me off.  Listen, Edward, you have a choice, you go now or I call the police...
So go ahead an fuckin call em, he says.
And I do. While we’re waiting,he gets up, unsteady. I be gone before they get here, he says. And as he’s leaving, You just wasted phone minutes, ha...
So now I have to wait for the police. Can’t cancel a 911. If he can’t get me one way, he’ll get me another. 
When he’s sober, he’s not a bad guy. Where’s he been since last August? What happened to his hook up and crib at Capital Hall?  It’s painful to see him back here again. He’s gone.
Pushing midnight, after a meeting at the B, he’s back again. Sprawled over the steps.  Garbage strewn all over the place. Not waking him now. Give Teddy a call to give a head’s up as to what he’s facing when he gets back from City Hall in the morning. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Sentinel's name is Gregory

The Sentinel’s name is Gregory.
On my way to church on Columbus, I run into Norma on the street. She’s been a long time housing activist. She’s lost two children tragically to cancer. Her daughter Kelly was the first person I ever administered last rites to. It’s not about Catholic. We’re Latinos.  My friend Father Duffel told me what to say. I think of the sweet rich, creamy taste of coquito during Epiphany at her apartment. 
As I arrive, I find Danielle sweeping the steps. It was pretty bad out there this morning,  she says. 
Teddy comes in to sign up for the weekly responsibilities we’ve agreed to in our community meeting.  He’s the  first. We talk about people on the steps. There’s a guy he feels for he’s trying to hook up with Reachout. Dave and Donna seem to be OK in Harlem. We talk about how to get accountability in a community. Still working on that. 
Steve and I have a long conversation about enhancing the  church’s capacity in social media. This needs to be  taken seriously. and needs a real strategy. He agrees to put  together a plan. 
Bethany and Alex come in  to talk about their upcoming:marriage. We’ve still got details to work out to give them the unique interfaith marriage that they want.  They are the first couple I’ve met with to request, out of respect for marriage equality, to drop references to man and woman and simply say two people. I like that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Clothed and in his right mind: Dostoevsky, Camus and Teddy

RL comes by to work on his rehearsal and recording studio. Ready for his next installment of Dusty Withers. Jamie wants to make sure that he understands the uncertainties ahead so I walk down the street to his office for a conversation. Help explain the big picture. He’s been a good friend of West-Park. Need to make sure he's informed and protected.  Just to make sure everything's clear, we’ll make a memo of understanding. 
I return awhile later. After talking about everything from watering John Lennon’s pianos to how I’ve got the same eye doctor that did Lennon’s glasses  to phenomenology of friendship and the ontology of love. RL can do that. And he is a romantic at heart.
Time to run home and make the boys dinner before Bible Study. 
Tonight we explore the fifth chapter of Mark, the Gerasene demoniac, one of my favorites. The wild and strong man who lives among the tombs. As always, there’s so much here:
  • John R acknowledges as to how there’s more here than  we can understand and believes in the real  possibility of demonic possession
  • Luisa surprises me. She went to a conference where the speaker referenced Franz Fanon and the Wretched of the Earth (which she ultimately read in Spanish translation.) How colonial oppression can lead to serious mental illness, even self-injury.
  • Someone else has a child who cuts themselves
  • I remember being part of the counseling center at the University of Bridgeport. How the minorities counselor rejected the idea that our job was to help students cope. That sometimes their feelings were appropriate and the situation was crazy. Our job was to help them develop strategies of resistance and liberation, not coping. 
  • Teddy explores his thought that since the madman identifies himself as legion, as in Roman legion, he may be an occupying  soldier driven mad by what he has done. Like Vietnam. Afghanistan. Iraq.  
  • We compare this story to the previous exorcism  story in chapter 1 which took place in a synagogue. One in Jewish territory in the heart of establishment religion. The other  in Gentile territory under Roman military occupation. 
  • Junia notes the strangeness of Jesus, a stranger as it were, engaging in this work in ethnically different territory. Like an Italian trying to organize el barrio.
  • I point out that legion does refer primarily to Roman legions. That the word for herd is the same word used for a company of recruits and the word used to describe their charging  over the hill commonly used with army charges. And as they plunge into the water, everyone thinks of Pharoah’s army. 
  • Unclean and all, everyone is sympathetic with the swineherd. All that lost meat. What a waste.
  • That terrifying moment when the madman appears clothed and in his right mind. That’s what frightens people...the healing, not the madness. Throughout Mark, here, when Jesus stills the storm, the empty makes people afraid....And we talk about how families have a hard time adjusting when someone returns from prison. The family narrative, structure has to be rewritten or return to prison will be imminent.  And how addiction, especially alcohol can be like possession.  I become not me. But, though I  may not be responsible, but I am accountable. 
  • Teddy says that the swine rushing over the cliff made him think of lemmings and I told him that that’s what Dostoevsky thought when he wrote his play the Possessed (or the Demons, or the Devils...) describing pre-Revolutionary Russia about to go over the edge of the political cliff plunging into the abyss. And how Camus used this very passage to open his dramatization of Dostoevsky’s novel. Told Teddy he was in good company. Dostoevsky, Camus and Teddy. 
  • As for why the former madman couldn’t come with Jesus on the boat, perhaps because he wasn’t ready yet to launch a multi ethnic, multicultural liberation movement. Or perhaps as Junia said, he needed propaganda. (My Latin American friends understand the need for this in way the rest of us don’t....and they’re right...) 
Philip used to tell me that in the Black church, it was common to pray to thank God for getting us up clothed and in our right minds...not a bad place to start. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

And rest awhile

Teddy is the first to greet me as I arrive. Steve is practicing the piano.
In our prayers, the families of the victims in Colorado are lifted up. And Luisa lifts up the family of the accused shooter. And the young man himself. 
John reads the first lesson, 2 Samuel 7: 1-14a, where David wants to build a fancy house for God and God makes it clear that God lives in the midst of the people. And will build a house for them. 
We read Ephesians 2: 11-22, where Paul speaks of those who are near and those who are far away, the circumcised and uncircumcised. 
And finally Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56 where Jesus keep trying to get away and the crowds keep following and he advises his disciples to rest awhile. And those crowds, not like the crowd on the Great Lawn last Monday for the Philharmonic with picnics and chilled wine. No. Every one in these crowds had a pressing need. 
There’s lots to talk about. Ramadan  began Friday. I really experienced it for the first time two summers ago when my wife and I went to the Middle East. Jordan, Ramallah, Jerusalem. The quiet days. Watching the world come alive after dark. Especially in Ramallah where we saw the Ramadan lights on houses in town squares. Children and families walking. Street corner carnivals with rides.  Watching old men smoking hookahs as big screen TVs  showed  Ramadan soap operas. 
It’s the month in which the Quran is revealed to Muhammad. Down through the lowest heaven  through Jibraeel, who we know as Gabriel. The one with the trumpet. And also during  this month, the Torah was delivered to Musa (Moses), the Psalms to Dawoud (David) and the Gospel to Issa (Jesus). And so we wish our friends Ramadan Mubarak. 
And lifted the victims up in prayers.  I went  happily to the movies with my boys last Thursday, a midnight adventure,  only to wake up to a horror. How life goes on and then all of a sudden out of nowhere the world is turned upside down. And its part of the job of the preacher to try and make sense of things. But sometimes there is no sense. There is  no explanation other than recognition that it is human, part of life...we don’t dwell there, but we do acknowledge..
Final Analysis, the new play that was prepared here at West Park, explores that reality. Destruction the other side of creating beauty. And our experience after 9-11, touring the smoldering 17 acres of death. Seeing the faces of thousands of true heroes, doing their own part. That is the affirmation.Just like like the heroes in the theatre in Colorado, giving their lives for others. ..And how when we create, we are partners with God in the ongoing work of creation.  Creation is resistance, resistance to all that destroys, denies,  negates, resistance to death .Yes, creation is partnership with God.

It's always important tp know the difference between what we can do something about and what we can't.  And there is something we can do something  about.  The accused shooter amassed a lethal arsenal all with legally bought guns and bought over 6000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet. That is something  we and do something about.  
So I have a number of ideas this morning...
We don’t build  house for God, God builds a home in a congregation,we have spent so much time consumed by this building. I truly believe that now, as a congregation our focus has to be strengthening the body....that if we care for this body of people, this community, so that God lives in us building or no, the building issue will be resolved. God will build  a home in us.
So what’s involved? What Paul called the near and the  far...(the circumcised and uncircumcised, no longer the issue...) Jew and Greek , no more strangers and aliens but citizens..Think of that word, ET or a Ridley Scott monster. There are no aliens. There are people with papers and people without. Our Sweatshop Free friends, the restaurant workers, kitchen workers, delivery people....nail salon workers... people...They are members of the household... with them, as Paul says, the whole structure is bound together. 
The old tradition was, of course there is unity, red and yellow black and white they are precious in his sight... if everyone would just believe in Jesus we’d  all be one...Well that’s not the way it is. You see the same diversity in Mecca. The world’s largest population of Muslims are Asians, not Arabs.  Doesn’t work that way. Not why Jesus came. 
In Mark, the sick are brought to Jesus  on mats....I got an insight into that while I was in Pittsburgh. There’s a church called the Hot Metal Bridge Church. Started as a Bible Study in a  tattoo parlor. (I love that.) Moved into a bar. Bought the bar. They have a drama group. Did a play about the welcome mat...An older member trying to let only the right people in. Finally gets so frustrated she falls on the mat, paralyzed. They pick up the mat, carry her to go see Jesus...(I don’t have time to see Jesus, I’ve got to get to church...) They find Jesus,under a bridge with the homeless. Jesus is a woman. Jesus explains how the mat is a welcome mat. And says, pick up your mat and walk. Welcome is the door to healing. To wholeness. 
Jesus death and resurrection....just like it defeated death, just like Tutu said we have already won, going to the cross breaks down the wall .....once and for all....Jesus has already broken it down, broken through....all we have to live into it.
And my final word, Jesus says Rest awhile.  Years ago,that was one of my best sermons. Rest awhile. We need to hear that. It’s there at creation when God rests. Heschel says we’re working on a painting. At least once a week we need to step back and take a look from further back. The big picture, so to speak. Only possible if we stop. 
Rest awhile. 
Even harder to figure out how to rest awhile,in the midst of it all. I find it in 7 AM swims. Maybe its a walk on the High Line. An hour in the Met.  Watching a sunset on the Hudson. Find what you need. Rest awhile. 
We’ll get there. 
We sing a song about finding the quiet center. We gather around the circle. Alleluia! Amen!
At Jamie’s recommendation, I don my green stole and head to the door, being a presence on the street. Greeting the people. The passersby. Community people like Rachelle. Neighbors like Elle. All with ideas. 
Its a beautiful day.  Rest awhile. 

A particularly American kind of tragedy

Scattered Skittles.  Think of Trayvon. 
Ramadan has begun.
After a great night going  with my boys to the opening of Dark Knight Rising we awake to the news of yet another shooting incident only a few miles from Columbine. My Italian friend Beppe notes that this seems to be  a particularly American kind of tragedy that occurs with shocking regularity. With few exceptions, just doesn’t seem to happen elsewhere. Political terrorist violence in Europe, yes. Ethnic cleansing and even genocide in Africa, Asia. But this of random, nihilist outburst of gun murder is part of our culture. Almost always white, frequently suburban settings.  It has happened enough to always be a possibility. Not exactly sure what to make of that.
RL comes with Clifford and Teddy to work on fixing a space for RL to rehearse and record. Make his next CD.
Ludovica comes in to report three new leaks in the gym ceiling. I’m going to ignore that for now. And the need for a wastebasket in the women’s room. That we can deal with.
The Prophet has returned. He and the Sentinel sit on opposite ends of the steps keeping silent watch. 
Returning home after seeing Ludovica’s play, I stop by the church. To finish the Sunday service. George is on the steps. A dozen half-empty coffee cups and  a take out bag from one of the neighborhood restaurants.  He’s the only one there. I feel happy to see him. 
George, good to see you. What’s up?
What you see. What’s up with you?
Done with work. Heading home.
Your hair’s different. You got a haircut.
Yeah. Summer. Short. Looks like you, too. 
Nah. Don’t grow in the summer. Just my genes. He laughs. What’s up with OWS?

Only a few left. People doing work. 
We have our usual conversation. Tonight  focusing on housing. He’s OK for now. Until those right wing assholes take over. That Orrin Hatch can’t wait to take us out. They gonna do it. You’ll see. Can’t make it without my subsidy. 
George and about 6000 others on the verge of eviction due to the Bloomberg administration’s ending of the housing subsidy program. First time in decades. And there are now 43000 people in the city’s shelter system.
That councilwoman. You know, the chair? What’s her name, Quinn? That’s it. The Mighty Quinn. Ha. Quinn the Eskimo. Ha. She wants to be mayor so bad, she the handmaid for Bloomie. Just do what he want. Just cause you a lesbian don’t make you cool, don’t mean you right....
I know what he means. The conversation could go on. I tell George it’s late. I need to head home. 
You keep an eye on things, OK?
He chuckles. Ha. And nods. I head up the street towards home.