Tuesday, April 30, 2013



Anna’s on the sidewalk with puppy as I approach the 86th street door. Talking with a woman at the bus stop. 
Anna, what’s up?
I’m just helping this woman. Telling her where she can get some services. Oh and I’ve got something for you....a whole bag of paper and other decorative items to dress up our advertising boards.
Thank you  Anna, as I enter. 

Lee Breuer

Stephen’s all excited to tell me about his afternoon with Lee Breuer and his rehearsal. Lee’s long known for his years with Mabou Mines Theatre Company, La Mama and his Gospel at Colonnus gospel music retelling of Oedipus. (I’d seen it in revival  the old Apollo on 125th a few years back...) He’s got a new project in development. Called in his collaborators from the west coast, the south, all over. Stephen says the music was off the charts. And Lee wants to come back again in  August. (

Martin and I trying to figure out if we have one more play to make. He’s got meetings. Then to Lee’s reading in Brooklyn. 

Cara helping clean up from the weekend before making a Brooklyn trip with Stephen.

                                                                 Harvey, the movie

I go off with Poet Tim and Mandola Joe and Katie to join in RL’s carefully choreographed welcome home for his wife Jean, better known as Harvey, after the rabbit, ( whose been sprung from the Big House, ie, Kateri Residence, for the first time in six months.  

When I get back, Dorothy and Ralph from the contemporary string quartet Ethel are here to meet with Ted and Mim and Danielle to discuss their group’s wanting to use the space, become part of the family.(

While I’m talking with them, Jessica arrives to help me talk through an issue with one of our people. We realize we’re not helping. He’s going to have to go, but he’s so far resisted any efforts at getting services that require an eval.  I go up and he’s not there, just three TV’s going on, one just static.

Jessica and I review the whole history of our experience with Occupy. The mental health war zone that came along with it. We talk about who made it safely out. And who didn’t. Who’s safe at home. Who’s recovered. And who just disappeared. Those heady days when whatever you dreamed of seemed possible. The time of hyper real presence at West-Park and how it consumed me and breathed new life into us all. Only last year. But seems longer. Jessica giving herself time to recover and redirect.

This is hard for me. I just don’t want to put him out on the street. I’ve got to be straight with him. Tell him I need a solution that I feel good about and that’s good for him. And I need his help to do that. And if he says  no, what then?

My friend John G. stops by to pick up tickets for tonight’s Yankee game. Not even enough time to talk church politics.  Or even gossip.

The Center Board is here for updating. Lots to be excited about programming wise. Lots to be discouraged about negotiations wise. Jamie joins us by conference and there’s no good late breaking news on that front. We  need to get moving on  the strategic planning and the Center can’t move forward until the church has gotten clear. And as always, just so much hanging in limbo. 

A woman comes in looking for a flamenco class but the 7:30’s been canceled as Soli tries to figure out what’s up with her knee. 

See Jane on 86th.
How are you feeling?
Shrug. OK
You're body language says something different. So hard to live with so many things in limbo. 
Out on that tightrope without any net.
God is the net.

It’s late as I’m finishing and Jay just looks in to see what’s going on. It’s just me. His plans for school in Colorado moving forward. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Is there ministry here?


Is there ministry here? At 11? An elderly man with a white beard is asking the question. Beside him, an older woman with a friendly smile.  Yes, I say. At 11, more or less. I explain that sometimes our people are a little slow in coming.

After I return from getting the Sunday bulletins from the Bangladeshi copy shop down the street, we sit and talk for a few minutes. They are from Zurich, Switzerland. The German speaking part. Swiss German, he tells me.  Visiting their recently married daughter in the neighborhood. Their first visit to the US. And he was a pastor. For 42 years. Ah, Calvin, I say. No, he was in the French part. I am of Zwingli, he says. I liked him better, I say. Especially his view on Eucharist. That it is we who are transformed into the living body of Christ, not the bread and wine. And from where come Presbyterian, he asks. Calvin, I respond. But through John Knox of Scotland. Yes, Scotland he says, and smiles. 

                                                                    Richie Havens

I start the service by playing Richie Havens singing Freedom. And give thanks for  the gift of his life, what he gave to us in his music. When I asked why I played that, Marsha is quick to say because he died this week. I remember hearing him sing for the last time three summers ago in Great Neck. Andrea’s Uncle David opened.

In our prayers we remember the families in Texas. Also mourning the same week as Boston, but quickly passed aside because it was just an accident, not a terrorist attack. Given the disregard for safety at the plant, the disregard for workers’ lives, once again the deaths of first responders, was it truly any less tragic? And we pray for Brother Sekou’s job interview, may it bring him back to New York and closer to us. 

I ask Cara to read Psalms 148 with its vision of all creation, every living creature, all creation singing God’s praises. Even creeping things and sea monsters. 

My question this morning is What does it mean to change your mind? To see something new? In a way you never did before?

It’s Peters’ vision that raises this question for me. (Acts 11: 1-18) The picnic blanket filled with all kinds of food. Animals and fish of every kind...And the voice that tells him kill and eat....(obviously not a vegan passage...) He sees all kinds of treif food...He’s been hanging out with uncircumcised people,  hanging out with people who eat unclean food .... and he responds, but nothing ever entered my mouth,  kind of like Clinton saying But I didn't inhale...

The bottom line is, of course, what God has made clean you must not make profane... It’s such an easy step to go from declaring people’s food unclean to seeing the people themselves as unclean.....If God gave then the same gift that he gave us when we believed in Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?

One of my big mind changes was the Vietnam War. I went from bitter arguments with my roommate to registering as a conscientious objector. Then in 1978, the gay ordination issue. I supported it as a confirmed liberal, but couldn’t see it Biblically. Until I began to study in depth. And also thinking about my friend from Yale, Chris Glaser. One of the best every sense there is...I knew. And while I celebrated my ordination, he was denied his. His ministry had already  been given by God, the only question was whether we would have the courage and grace to  recognize it or not...And we failed him for over 30 years.
I could say the same thing about marriage. Many of the lgbtq couple I have married have been together much longer than many straight couples. Their marriage already existed in the eyes of God. It was the state, and sadly the church, that refused to recognize the reality. 

I ask and others respond:
  • That the free market system works the best for all
  • That the government of Nicaragua had become hopelessly corrupt and the people you loved and respected were going a las montanas, yo eh mountains to fight.
  • That parents cold make mistakes....
  • The abortion debate

So if this is true, if we are called to be open to accepting and welcoming all, truly all, the question is....where is the line? What sets us apart, deifies us, one barriers break down

Calvin teaches us that God has sovereignty over all. If God is God,then  God is radically free to do what God wants when God wants, save, choose, whoever...God wants. God is not bound by our expectations.

The bottom line's about love....

But let’s set something straight... what we read in John 13:34, is NOT a new commandment. It was the heart of the tradition. In Leviticus  19:18, and 34,  love of one's fellow and the stranger are basic commitments. A contemporary of Jesus, Rabbi Hillel taught   Be of the followers of Aaron...loving peace, pursuing peace, loving your fellow human beings and bringing them to Torah....

Not a new commandment but It is part of the New Life to which disciples are called...Jesus said, Just as i have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have  love for one another... 

If we could actually do that, What would that look like?
What would that feel like?
A recent study said young adults are most concerned about what we do....What they are looking for is .radical discipleship...How do people know what that is? Well, you know it when you see it...

What would that take to do that, see that, be that here? What new idea, new thought? Might we be brave enough to explore?

Do you remember these words?

They'll know we are  Christians by our love

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity
May one day be restored

And they'll know we are Christians
By our love, By our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians
By our love

We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news
That God is in our land

We will work with each other
We will work side by side
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
And we'll guard each man's dignity
And save each man's pride

All praise to the Father
From whom all things come
And all praise to Christ Jesus His only son
And all praise to the Spirit
Who makes us one

In conclusion, Make us one, Lord!

We gather around the table. Our friends from Switzerland tell us how much they have enjoyed  the reality being better than the common misconceptions  about unfriendly New Yorkers. In  their experience everyone sought to help them whenever they needed.  People have been so kind that ...I explain that New York works because collectively everyday we have to  extend 1000 graces to each other.  It’s a collective act of will. We wish them well on their journey home.

The Session, as always, has a lot to deal with. Stalled negotiations. Daily new challenges. Upcoming events. Need for strategic planning. Almost overwhelming.

Later that night, I return after hearing Peter Galperin at the Bitter End.  I talker to him about bringing his new musical about Robert Moses to West-Park. And in the West 4th Street subway station, I saw a whole wall advertising the Red Bull Music Academy concerts and among all the other venues, West-Park. 

I need to tell Stephen about these.  How do we really get our resume out there? Have these amazing events we have hosted build to being a desired venue? It feels so close....

The home base


Mark, Cara, Stephen, John R

Stephen fills me in on the three current residents of the steps. The leader is an ex-marine sergeant dealing with PTSD. The one woman is also former marine. On the one hand...he’s wary of the shelter system (with good reason) and also of the Veterans Administration. Thinks they’re trying to get into his head and control him. On the other, the steps are immaculate every morning. I was thinking we needed to start developing a plan, but Stephen says that they’re very protective. This is my home base  says the sergeant. We always leave it cleaner than we found it. Marines and Boy Scouts. And the drug users have been moved out. They’re doing a good job, says Stephen. 

My friend Mark from the United Nations ministry is first to arrive for our work day to clean up the office, bring some order, make  it more professional. John R comes shortly thereafter, we can use his muscle. And later Cara joins us too. Although she also spends some time helping Martin set up for his daughter Stella’s birthday party. His studio is starting to look like a ’70’s disco club.

There’s junk to get out, papers to sort, bookcases to move and mopping floors. Good physical labor.

Cara and I go to the convenience store to get some coffee. Stop to talk with Marty. He’s a little taken aback to see me with someone.
Good afternoon, Marty, how are you this beautiful day?
He’s silent. For awhile. I’m trying to think of an appropriate answer, he says. Is that your wife?
No, that’s my friend, Cara. We’ve got a work day, mopping floors, like that.
I used to do that at the mental hospital he says. I volunteered for the fifth floor. The violent floor. Clara, did you say? 
No, Cara.
There used to be a 15 minute television show. There were a lot of them in the beginning. I think there was a Clara. No Cara’s though. He’s silent a minute. Bishop Sheen used to have a fifteen minute show. My father always had me take notes. See if there was anything he could use in his sermons. 

Then he talks about collecting donations for his father, naming Bronx addresses.The way he tells the story always makes it sound like an ecclesiastical protection racket. 

But there was no Cara. Quiet again. The best swimmer at our college was a junior. He won the eastern college championship. For the whole east coast. But when he went to the west cost for nationals, he lost. Santa Clara, he lost. That’s all I can come up with for Clara. Santa Clara. Oral Roberts had a 15minute TV show, too. He lived in an attic and got TB. But he was healed, And he built his own hospital. In Tulsa, Oklahoma....
I know, I lived there for 10 years. I knew him...
Tulsa, Oklahoma was known for oil. 
Oil and Oral I say.
He looks at Cara. He’s a comedian and doesn’t know it. But there was no Cara. 
We wish each other a good day and its back to work. 

Another prime number, Cara says. Her favorite expression for unique characters. I explain that Marty’s part of our Capital Hall family. How his father was  a famous rabbi. His brother an attorney. Marty got two years in at CCNY when it was the Harvard of  the working class. Before the bipolar got him down. I’m pondering how DNA typos lead to physical disabilities and mental illness. Not sure which one’s worse. Those thin lines that put him on one side of a line and me on the other. Yeah, thin, but there, but thin. I tell Cara life mystifies me.

Stella’s guests are getting a tour from Stephen. Including ghosts. At least two of the kids have  seen some. They’re not the first. Mark and I enjoy the kids. Later, when Martin brings us all pizza, I tell Mark that there are days when I really enjoy being a parish minister. 

Bob and Mark
We show Mark and John Angelo’s art. Time to finish up. We’ve done great work.It feels good. I feel more ordered already. Finish by setting up for tomorrow’s service.

I see David and Donna. Talk with them. They were occupiers. Then on the steps. Then thanks to Project Reachout, an apartment of their own. David tells me that by the end of the summer, they’ll have  saved up enough to head back to Florida. Another story from the steps with a good ending. 

I come  back after seeing Measure for Measure by  Frog & Peach at SPSA...More work to finish. Like my sermon. When I go back out, Anna and puppy are into heavy conversation with Sergeant Keith at the bus stop. Anna tells me she wanted to see what the Midnight Run would bring by. And besides, she likes the company. Introduces me to the Sergeant.

Tells me he’s from Texas. I tell him about my years in  Oklahoma. He tells me he’ll protect the place against knuckleheads.  I’ve got to take care of my home base, he says.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Art,911 and Korean tacos


Stephen catches me up on his latest work preparing promotional material for our upcoming events.

Martin and I talk once again looking for the elusive solution...

I know that Angelo is waiting for me to look at his art work, but first I have to stop at the bank and pick up some cash. On Broadway, I see Geoffrey, the Prophet. I say, Geoffrey, you left your hat at the church. He says Thank you sir, I know. I will go and get it...

When I get to Angelo’s place, it’s another of those moments. I thought I was going to look at his artwork. When I arrive, he’s got a lobby full of art waiting to go to the church. My Spanish fails me as I try to explain the misunderstanding. I tell him I’ll do my best to get some transportation. 

Cab back to the church. No one with a vehicle is available. Now everything else that was needing to get done set aside. I go to talk with Martin and Stephen. Want Martin to call and explain the situation. Tell him we have to have a plan. We call and there’s no answer. Clearly he’s still on the street waiting. Danielle comes in to tell me Nancy’s here to talk about real estate. Oh man...

I am trying to explain the situation to Nancy when RL walks in. Thanks me about my post on Lord Buckley. And Nancy says, ....the Nazz......Definitely a back story there. Nancy hears me out about Angelo and asks if I want her to come along. Well,uh, sure... So we cab to Angelo’s. 

And he is still there on the street, waiting. We struggle in our various languages, English, Spanish, French. Nancy looks at Angelo’s art and is blown away. The religious art work, the story of Don Quixote, faux Inca, surrealismo... This is classic naif genre, she says. And looking at what he’s done with found objects, and even outsider art.... I’ll tell you what, for a piece of art, I’ll get the van....

And while she hooks up the van, passers by continue to stop and engage Angelo in conversation, taking photographs of him and his art. We see the tree he has decorated. And his 9-11 commemoration. And to every passer by he gives an angelito.
Angelo's 9-11 tribute on 106th St.

Finally the van comes and we head back to the church. I call Stephen and he’s there when we arrive to help unload all the art. Danielle sees it coming in and shakes her head. Martin, too. We put it all in the old medical room to keep it safe. Stephen’s head already spinning as to how to publicize and build on Angelo’s gift. 

While we’re upstairs, a commotion has broken out downstairs. I’m informed the police  are there. And sure enough, a conflict has broken out between two of my people. And 911 has been called. The police are there. They have separated the two people. Different officers are interviewing them both. And a third interviews me. Shortly the chief arrives. Usually we get along and he is supportive, but he’s giving me this You again, I’m tired of this attitude. And I want to say, Dude, if that’s what you feel, how do you think I feel?

Slowly it quiets down. We keep telling one of the characters to leave but she wants to exonerate herself and keeps talking, upping the ante. When the mental health van arrives, she finally leaves. Which is too bad. But I also recall how easy it is to get out of mental illness detention. The system? Sucks.

I sit and talk with the other party. Just listening. The Boston attack has had its collateral effects. So I listen. And listen. 

I’ve had enough. I head to the Gate for mac ‘n’ cheese and Knicks-Celtics. The problem is, when you really relate to mentally ill people, you see the world through their eyes and the have to pull your self back. It’s exhausting. (Knicks up 3-0. Bring out the brooms.)

Back at the church, Stephen and Cara are headed out to eat. At the corner we see Rachelle with her SUV cart. And my heart sinks. How do I deal with this? It’s a cart filled with random trash and out of  date food. But it’s her life. Her mission. To confront her with reality would destroy her. Yet Capital Hall staff has been instructed to turn her away if she shows up with her cart. And she’s now facing eviction in housing court on Tuesday. If you’re evicted from Capital Hall, that’s it. Next stop, the street. 

Korean tacos at Oaxaca. Reminds me of Seattle. The spices dance on your tongue.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The piano is in the chapel...the prophet left his hat behind


the prophet's hat

The big move of the day is the piano. The piano that came from Andrea’s family home in Freeport, Long Island to our apartment on the Upper West Side. The piano all our children took lessons on. Where Micah composed music. It seemed headed for a piano graveyard. Andrea wished she could have had a picture of Micah playing it. After Piano Dan checked it out, we called Beethoven, but they weren’t interested.

So I reached out to the kids‘ former teacher, Javier. Now head of his own New York Jazz academy. Finally said he’d found a home for it. At his academy. At SPSA.  Today is moving day.

He meets me at our apartment. But when he sees the piano, it appears there’s been soem miscommunication. He thought it was the painted piano from Make Music New York he’d donated to West-Park in hopes of bringing some NYJA action down this way.  That explain s why he was surprised to come to our apartment, not the church.  Now we need some fast thinking.

Javier swings a deal with the movers. The family piano goes to West-Park. The painted piano to SPSA. While thos processes taking place, I introduce Javier to Stephen. And to Martin. Before its over,Javier is giving Stephen important information regarding online printing services. I’m sad to see the piano leave the house. But glad it’s now in the West-Park chapel. Though Danielle wonders how long that will last. 

Bread & Puppet comes into have another look around. Still planning on hosting their 50th anniversary this fall. 

A one o’clock conference call on progress leaves us all depressed. Road blocks. Unimagined issues. By the time its over, I feel I’m in quicksand. And moving in slow motion.

Rachelle has come in to sort, but is completely dispirited. Her cart was overturned. Well,actually she ran off the sidewalk. She blames it on Anna but clearly that was not the case. She goes in  to the sanctuary. Falls asleep.

Geoffrey, the prophet, has come in. Sits quietly on a back pew. Then enters my office. Good afternoon, sir. He says. Might I be able to have paper and a writing implement? I quickly get him both. He says, Godsend. Then, this is help. And he goes off. Later, while I am talking with Stephen, he comes back in. Returns the pen. Amen, he says. Would love to see what he wrote.

I wake Rachelle,tell her its time to go. A short while later, she’s back in telling me a very drunk woman was peeing on the door and your renter wouldn’t help and a  very kind gentleman had to help me.  I’m tired. 

When I check outside. She’s still there. Completely dispirited over her turned over cart, though I can’t tell the difference. It’s all out of order. All my work to no avail. What can I do? Starts in on Anna again. But the story eventually involve landlords, neighbors, city council candidates. It’s just not right. Something must be done. What am I gong to do? I resist seeing her turned over cart as a metaphor. 
i try to talk to myself as if I were one of my clients. You just have to keep on going, she says,
I see Martin. Go over to talk to him. Tell him  he’s got to keep thinking....

The piano is in the chapel. 

And the prophet left his hat behind. 





Anna arrives early with full reports of everyone’s activities the night before and recommendations of what they might need. The Mexican couple seems nice and Keith claims to be an ex-Marine. (Jay  could figure the truth of that out real quick...) She’s also carrying  a device that keeps her laptop from overheating. Again ,her knowledge and resources amazing.

Rachelle looks in, swathed in her layers of black, sees Anna and goes back out. As Stephen  is now that man, Anna is now that woman

Martin and I do a daily check-in. I’ve got an agenda for him. 

Angelo comes at his appointed time. Martin here to be my translator, just in case. And to also help get across the vision and mission of West-Park. We know he’s painted the welcoming virgin of Guadeloupe at Heidi’s Trinity Lutheran at 100th. He’s got a great permanent exhibition down the street at SPSA. Good auctions at their opening as well.Although he had not remembered before, being here awakens in him the memory of his exhibition here around 9-10 years ago. he remembers el reverendo brasiliero, namely Regi, who created that cutting edge concert series with El Taller.  

I want him to feel the spirit of this place. He has many stories he wants us to hear. Covers a lot of ground. Crosses many boundaries. I promise to come see his work. 

His special mementos are his angelitos. Hand painted on tile, they are simple. Naif is the PC way to describe his work. There are four colors, each symbolic:  white, purity, purple, wisdom and sprituality; yellow, power; red, energy and strength. They are talisman, with spiritual energy for everyone he encounters..He has now given away over 95000 angelitos. I will go Friday to look at his work. He is a truly one of s kind.   ( Cara playing piano. Angelo stops and gives her an angelito. He’s got one for Stephen as well before he heads out to  check out prices for various print jobs. 

I run off for an appointment. When I return, Martin and Stephen are in the chapel. Martin and I still looking for the answer we haven’t found yet. 

Rachelle is methodically sorting through her cartload of things..I give Danielle an angelito. RL drops by. We tell him about Angelo and the angelitos. he notices a Mayan symbol for the creator on every angelito. Plans for Harvey's return home are progressing.  I’m waiting for Jamie to go over where we stand in negotiations. She’s already at the B. There will be an angelito for Jamie as well. Still ahead meeting Nate and Andrea to see the Knicks and Celtics then back to finish the day.      

I chose yellow. Power. 

All these angelitos floating around can only help.