Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The fifth day of Christmas: Holy Innocents


The first Sunday after Christmas. Holy Innocents Sunday.

I left my keys in a cab last night. So I call Marc to meet me. I find the 86th street door unlocked. So I go in. Take a quick check of possible doors. No easy entry on main door. The balcony seems closed tight as well. Marc has now shown up. Good clothes and all I enter the bowels of the church, Marc following close behind. I’m looking for the door that opens up through my office. But find myself completely confused. And there is still that inexplicable doll sitting on a tiny chair down there. Probably some things its better if we don’t have an explanation for them.

So that’s it. We make our way out. Only one shot left. Marc has to pop the lock. Which with a hammer and screwdriver he does with only minimal damage.

Deacon James has arrived. And a woman who looks familiar. It’s Kia. Her mother Nora was a long time member. Now I remember. Kia is taking cell phone photos for her own memories.

Soon the others begin to arrive in by one, including my new Pittsburgh friend Wayne.

We start with Isaiah 63. And this is what we focus on:
and he became their savior 
9  in all their distress.  It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them

All their distress…all our distress…he is with us…
No messenger or angel, nothing supernatural…his presence..his right there, right now, human presence…

And that is what the incarnation is all about…God present in human flesh…in human form …in  the midst of humanity…

We continue with Hebrews 2: 10-18.

10It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12saying, I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,  in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.13And again, 
I will put my trust in him. 
And again, 
Here am I and the children whom God has given me.
14Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Lots of  thick theology there, but we note that:
* He is perfected through sufferings. (And we know from our own experience that sufferings do not always perfect us. What we also know is that God is present in the flesh in our sufferings.)
*  Jesus’ victory was in  going to the cross, not the resurrection. That was the cherry on top. The real victory was going to the cross,  being willing  to go all the way. Nothing  more could be done to him. As we discerned in Bible Study, that is what defeated death. Broke its tyranny of fear. We have nothing to be afraid of. My friend  Father Earl, when he was at St.Mary’s in the Bowery, called his church the we are not afraid church. 
* He became like us in every respect. Our most real relationship wit him is brother  and sister. Relationship.
*He was tested in ever way that we are. If the resurrection is to mean everything, he must mean at his deepest being every word of my God my God, why hast thou forsaken me. When we are tested, we know God knows what it is like.

Finally we finish with Matthew 2 13-25:
13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, Out of Egypt I have called my son.
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 
18  A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation,  Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead. 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, He will be called a Nazorean.

This is what we note:

* Joseph in a dream again. Matthew trying to have Jesus relive the story of the people of Israel. As old testament Joseph was communicated to in dreams, so too is this Joseph.
* As the people of Israel had to sojourn in Egypt, so to does Jesus have to spend time in Egypt.
* As Moses was threatened, so Jesus is threatened.
*There is a whole extracanonical narrative of the Holy Family’s time in Egypt, found in places like the Thomas infancy gospel, the Arabic infancy gospel and the Syriac gospel. Plus Coptic traditions. I’ve seen the site where the Holy family lived, a few blocks up the street in Cairo from where Moses was pulled from the bulrushes. And the story of the Holy Family being set upon by thieves and Jesus turning them away. The one thief will reappear at the crucifixion as the good thief.

But our real focus is the Holy Innocents. Wayne focuses on Rachel’s weeping for her children, the pain of my mother’s loss. And I know what Arcadia must be feeling.  And we reflect on the father last week who threw his three year old son of the roof then jumped himself. What the mother must feel.

And we note that Jesus and his family were undocumented asylum seekers. Immigrants. Today’s front page Times had a story about a civil official in Mexico giving countless people documents that would grant them legal asylum status in the US. And I think of the border territory in Arizona. The childrens’ shoes and dolls found in the desert. And my friends in Germany working with those who flee across the Mediterranean, and all those who perish.

Jose Saramago in his the Gospel According to Jesus Christ, had Jesus know of the slaughter of the innocents and that this haunted him and shaped his life and destiny.

And we talk of child soldiers. How the creator of the Kalashnikov rifle was proud of his invention  but haunted at images of children carrying his weapon.

And in the end, that is what this day is important. Christmas never happens like a Hallmark card or a Radio City Music Hall live tableau with swelling orchestra flourishes and organs. It happens in the midst of. In the midst of Rachel’s weeping which has political content but is always personal. It is in the midst where God becomes flesh and blood. And that is what we celebrate. What gives us hope.

Wayne shares another musical reflection for us. We make out circle. Bless each other.

The session reviews the recent events that are pushing us forward into a New Year.

Christmas happens in the midst of….

Marc is fixing the lock and door.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The fourth day of Christmas: And just like that, he is gone


Have to move Joe and his girl off the steps in order to get in. But George is still there. Which raises questions. How do I require some like Joe to leave and allow George to stay there 48 hours without moving?

Jeremy G arrives with Mario Biagini, who turns out to be not just another one of Grotowski’s children, but actually an heir.( He was with us for Christmas Eve and wants to explore  an extended residency that would leave something behind when he leaves. Perhaps a choir. As well as several performances. And he’s very interested in how to bring into the same space the new gentry of the neighborhood with residents of the public housing projects. It’s typical of Mario’s work that he does high end performances in Dubai to fund work with people in the South Bronx. And I’m especially interested in his work around the Gospel of Thomas and the connection between the music of the black and white south and the poetry of Alan Ginsburg. This could be good.

As we finish, the strange young woman with the large back pack and the larger eyes is on the steps. Donuts? She says imploringly. No, I say, no donuts. Donuts? she repeats. No I repeat. An she turns and goes. 

Now here’s the issue with George. He’s not actually homeless. He’s got an apartment in the Bronx. And he just doesn’t sit there, he hangs bags from the door, surrounds himself with crates, looks like he’s moving in. It’s the kind of thing that encourages people to leave bags of clothing and food on the steps.

I’m trying to imagine how I can tell him that we’re trying to revive this place, bring it back to life, and his presence frightens people. That it looks like permanent homeless encampment, in city parlance. And I continue to reflect on how we remain open and welcoming and accepting and build a critical mass great enough to support and sustain that openness. And I don’t yet have an answer. Although RL posits that it involves spotlights.

And of course Rachelle is back working on her project that will never end. She will never get through her carts. She has probably worked on them 24 hours or more already. We will simply have to set a deadline and be prepared for a load out on a big stuff collection day for the city.

She wants to help me get ready for Sunday. It's not fair, you’re here all alone, she says, let me help. I try and remind her that the only help I really want is to get her things in order and out.

I ponder the fact that in this holiday season I have  spent more time with her than my family and shake my head.

Eldridge is back again, mumbling and with an extended and expectant hand at the end. Happy holidays, he says as he leaves.

I need to leave and meet Nancy for a marathon of apartment searching.

It’s dark now. A neighborhood rabbi has just walked in. Looking for Stephen as a possible post Shabbat party player. I’ve got some other ideas. But how did he get in? When he leaves, Rachelle goes with him.

I’m now ready to face George. But when I go back outside, there’s nothing there. Just like that, he is gone, as if he were never there.

I come back inside. Do some more work. Look up, and am startled by Rachelle, back inside. We must fix that door

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A small gallery from Freedom of creation, 12/27

Based on a true story.  There was a car crash. there are bits of broken glass. 

A sculpture

A sarcastic dragonfly floats above the city

a visit to a small chapel int the woods for a prayer service

The third day of Christmas: an art show, an open mic and an expanding fan base for the Knicks


Another  quiet day. Rachelle still on her endless work of sorting through her stuff. She comes to Dan and I and says Who’s an NFL fan? With a never been worn New York Giants hat. And then begins an extended conversation about the New York Knicks. So…Rachelle is a die hard Knicks fan? I remind Daniel that his mentor with the Sixers told hm the Knicks have the best fan base in the NBA. Were they counting Rachelle?

Outside, George hasn’t moved. Soon I’m going  to have  serious discussion with myself about George. I go out to speak  with him, and he begins with So you hear about UPS? And George tells me all about how the delivery service has been so overwhelmed, that it has  has failed in its delivery by Christmas promise. So that explains why my present for Nate hasn’t arrived. And Dan’s for Nate. And Andrea’s for me.  I heard it from George 24 hours before I read it in the Times.

Dan spends two hours with me developing move out/move in to do lists. An then goes home for dinner with his brothers and mother. I’m getting ready for open mic.

Bobby and Kristin stop by. I married them in Hoboken. With  New York City license. So now we need to redo the papers and the church is their official wedding site. Their parents will sign again as witnesses tonight. Good to see them. Never had that happen before.

Berik and Leila
Berik and Leila
have a new show, Freedom of Creation. They’re attracting a growing number of young artists and their openings are beginning to have the feel of events.Tonight there is even a full bar. And some crossover with the open  mic. Though the floor is thin and the projection with music has to tone down after 8PM.

When Leila sees that her collage with rice has been attacked by mice, she repeats what I already know…Rachel and her carts need to go.
Young artists

Tonight’s special guest is a singer name Eitan who is coming up at a performance at the Bitter End.

Joe regales us with a recitation of Robert Service's the Cremation of Sam Mc Gee. Strong stuff well done. But I still am in awe of his recitation of the Ballad of the Black Fox Skin that he delivered from the pulpit in the darkened sanctuary for an audience of RL and I. It will take it's place in the declamatory recitation and reading hall of fame along with RL's original Red Ryder and the Fat Lady (And that is the actual title...I had it right back in 2010...)

I’m happy when I see Nate and Kisenya and Dan and Micah arrive. And even happier when Micah joins me for Merry Christmas from the Family by Robert Earl Keen and Hank’s So Lonesome …along with Pat. Merry Christmas may be my favorite Christmas song right now. It goes to the heart of the non-romantic, even humorous reality of families and Christmas without condescension and ultimately care. And of course, So Lonesome….is one of the all time  greatest written songs. Only sorry I missed some lyrics.

Hallelujah, everybody say cheese  
Pat O, Bob and Micah
Merry Christmas from the family.