Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Unconditional affirmation


Mim brings Pipp by. Grew up in the neighborhood, just a block or so away. Trained in theatre and music. Just back from years in Paris. Interested in doing a theatre/music piece on a scene from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. Could this be the right place? We do the tour and look at all the possibilities.

While I’m finishing with Mim, RL pops his head in to make sure we know about his anniversary celebration tomorrow. Thirty-six years, I think.

Jane and Karen and Lynn are arriving for our sit down meeting. Jeremy will arrive shortly thereafter and Mim from the Center and Marsha and Hope from West-Park. Peter Matthews, a United Methodist (formerly African Methodist Episcopal) pastor from Cincinnati, and for just one among so many other things, most recently author of Dreaming With Audacity: King, Obama and Me, is joining us as a participant/observer to reflect on what he sees. He's committed to the uniqueness of urban spirituality, Thurmond, King. 

I set up the conversation. Ever since Jane first showed up here over a year ago, she has expressed a keen interest in the vision of the Center and a consistently expressed openness, desire, for collaboration. I have always felt that connection, but have been unsure what to do with it. And the congregation has not felt it, while liking the Sanctuary folk as people who share our space.

Mim asks the tough questions both about faith and function. As  I ask it, on what does Sanctuary hang together?  And what kind of organization, institution are we working with?

So we hear Jane’s journey. Raised Presbyterian. Left over PCUSA exclusion of LGBTQ people. (Though ironically, her brother Paul, openly gay ministry candidate, stayed.) Her life on stage and screen. Her journey as a white woman through the AME church, then Claremont Theology School and ultimately the United Church of Christ. LA. Coming to Sacred Center. Coming to worship and feel safe at West-Park. The end of Sacred Center, the birth of Sanctuary. Finding Jeremy at West-Park. (Still wish I had the money to keep him with us...)

And Sacred Center’s place within these new categories of Interfaith/Intrafaith, New Thought, Religious Science... all on the peripheral edges of our awareness, understanding. On that level, contemplating partnerships with Muslims is easier. 

Of course the by now usual discussion of religious vs. spiritual comes up and I share the roots of religion, in the word for ligaments. Religion is re-knitting the ligaments. We can  spiritual alone. But religion requires a community. And we all seem to long for community. Which I find the most sacred.  I also share some thoughts on the theology of built environment, the theological meaning of what, why and how we build. 

Somehow I left out what Sekou calls organic theology. Well, maybe only in word. I do talk about location, community as calling, not circumstance. And for all the Upper West Side gentrification, we are just around the corner from an SRO and there are public housing projects just up the street. The poor and marginal cannot be invisible. We have to a place where people meet, where paths cross.

Peter helps us find places of connection. The Center must get its 501c3 act together, for starters. But the common areas begin to emerge.

Martin has stuck his head in and out and now pulls me out to meet his friend Wendy, an actress, producer, entrepreneur and philanthropist. He’s led the tour. I give the Center vision rap. I can see something here is peeking her curiosity. What can we do to continue the conversation?

My friend Diana, a journalist with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has arrived with two friends from the  Lower East Side. We shared a circle in Tulsa, though not at the same time. She got me writing again with her 'zine, started in the midst of a newspaper strike, the Recession Supper Digest. (.,4530613 )
We share passions for the Pirates, good beers, Nicaragua and good soups in cold weather. (Not to mention she plays a mean set of spoons.) I do my tour then we retire to the B.

I carry with me our conversation about Dan Allen, the former priest who founded Neighbor for Neighbor in Tulsa. His contempt for liberals, unrequited passion for justice for the poor, making his place one where it was considered an honor to be accepted as a volunteer. And famous for the strategy of when resources grow short, increase services. His philosophy was imply stated: unconditional affirmation of the person and Give a damn.  It was my knowing him that made know that leaving the basement of SPSA and sweeping the steps everyday was the right thing to do. It’s a reminder to stay true to what is authentic and right. 

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