Saturday, June 29, 2013

Waiting. And questions. And still waiting.


A day of waiting. And waiting. The waiting is wearing.

Sergeant Keith drops by. Offering to work when we need him. Not yet, not yet.

Cara and Stephen and I go for conversation. To talk about the Reformed tradition.Grace. How our decision making process is rooted in our theology.A theology that affirms the value of each human being. How all of us together are smarter than any of us alone.

The Noche crew is getting ready for their West Coast tour. And Martin is waiting too. We are getting weary of waiting.

RL calls. Somehow, the side door was locked. Not open for the sign up time for Open Mic. He’s weary. Ready to call it a night. But there’s a group of musicians around, ready to play. So Marc hooks up some sound. We sit around the room in a circle. Take our turns playing for and with each other.There’s a  friend of Pat’s. Hasn’t played with people in 30 years. He takes off on a fairly mean extended solo. It’s  chance to try out some new material.

Someone’s neighbor has shown up.

Cara does an impromptu poem. Mandola Joe has one too. RL has both a poem for his grandfather  and  a tender song for Harvey, back in the hospital. Try as he might, he can never fully hide his romantic, even sentimental spirit. He plays Stay Awhile, and we all join in, ready to call it a night. But we’e got more music to play.

I look up and see Marsha has walked in, quietly listening. After Marc finishes  with a Beatles’ medley, we’re ready to go.

Marsha has a lot on her mind. We go off to talk about the church. Big C Church and little c West-Park. How the world is changing around us. Like we’re in another kairos moment.  I learn more of her past. A whole background with  farmworkers. We can know each other for years and still not know each other.  The burning innate sense of justice that keeps her going. And very serious questions as to whether the fight for the building is worth it. Is it killing us? Even with its rich history? Wasn’t it the people who made that history? What would it mean to be truly radical? Be a pop-up church, springing up in coffee shops, restaurants, community rooms, gardens, where we’re least expected?

Of course that appeals to me. But I think of everything the walls have soaked up, everything that has happened. How every one always talks about what they feel here. Does a building have a spirit, soul? How do we afford it?

It’s late. The questions will remain hanging in the heavy summer air....


I go to remind our city council member of promises still unkept. In the midst of her new campaign, I have to keep reminding her. She owes us....Landmarking was her victory. For us, more like a sentence. I know she truly supports what we want. But where is the support she promised? Sometimes, I wonder why I haven’t followed the desires of several members to just start a direct action campaign. We are starving as we wait, even as we seek to remain faithful....She will try again...

Martin’s closing out the office before tomorrow’s trip west. We look at each other. News? News? Still waiting. 

On the edge


Walking down 86th to the door, I see Sean tucked under the scaffolding supports beside the wall again. I walk over, say, Sean, you’ve got to go...
Sure, sure, he says, just give me a minute...

I go back inside, but I can’t concentrate. Stephen comes in, ready to do business, but I keep thinking about Sean. So I call Reachout and they agree to send a team. 

I go back outside, and they’re arriving. They talk to Sean. Then come to me. He’s not going to move, they say. Then remind me that he’s a diabetic, an addict and at high risk and the heat...And then remind me that if we call 9-1-1 and he still refuses, there’s nothing to be done. Technically, he’s not breaking the law. I shake my head. Go back again, Please Sean, just help me out here...
Yeah,yeah just a minute. 

I leave. No movement. Look, Sean, if you don’t move, I’ve got to call the police. 
Just go ahead and do it, he says, just stop threatening me..
I’m not threatening you...
Just fuckin do it. Waste my time. Waste your time. Waste their fuckin time. they need to be stoppin rape,murder, what not, not dealin with some motherfucker with no feet...

So,just help me out OK?

With that he flip out starts hurling his food containers, rice flying all over the place..
Sean...I turn to go...
I don’t mean to disrespect you, but I got to piss so I’m gonna whip it out and piss all over you...

I turn and start back one more time, but Stephen and Cara stop me. Bob, take a walk, Stephen says. 

I think about it. Start to walk away. His voice rising...lots of devils and mothrfuckers flying my way. As I walk down 86th, the Outreach workers see I’m breathing heavy. Ask me what’s wrong. So I tell them. They’re going full social worker on me. 

Look, it’s hard. I want to be compassionate. Buy if he lays there with his cardboard, the neighbors call. People are too afraid to come for their dance classes.  The neighbors think we don’t respect our own property. I don’t know....

They remind me that they got him his wheel chair. Had him on his way to getting prostheses.Had him lined up for housing. Not shelter.  Real housing. But he refuses to cooperate.

I take my walk. Come back. Stephen and Cara still there.  It’s a sign of my worn state that I allowed myself to get drawn in to a fight with a man with no feet. A further sign that I find myself saying. Look, we can’t help him if he won’t help himself. He’s chasing to die and it’s killing me. OK,just not here, OK? Stephen points out that he’s gone.  And I’m sorry that I said that. I  know that he may not be even capable of making that choice to help himself. But not here.Not this way. 

I’ve made careful plans to help Christopher get housing. But while Stephen was giving a tour, he slipped out so I have to tell the housing team to cancel their visit. And I start to feel I’m losing it again. 

Martin and I look to each other for news. But there’s none. I remind him that Spain is playing Italy in the Confederation Cup semi. I need a break, so go visit Beppe and see Spain win after a valiant game by Italy on penalty kicks. 

Back again. Session meeting to work through wording on a resolution.Why so hard? Frustrating phone calls. Didn’t we talk about all this already? We’re finally done. I’m done.

Ready to leave, I see Soli in the chapel. With another woman. One of her students, a middle aged Hondurena, is with her. It’s been the last dance class of the season. The students brought champagne. They invite me to join them. And ultimately for a late, Spanish style dinner. 

When I get back to lock up, Marc is in the chapel alone, weaving long electric guitar solo line son his classic Gretsch.

Time to head home. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

The New York Times reviews the Australian Voices

                                                              the  Australian voices


Singing Nonsense, Singing Numbers, Singing Like a Didgeridoo

Australian Voices Focuses on Music From Home

It was hard to know what to admire most in the New York debut ofthe Australian Voices on Wednesday evening, the music itself often being the least of it. Six singers, representing the larger group based in Brisbane, performed at West Park Presbyterian Church in theCenter at West Park program, conducted and sometimes joined by their artistic director, Gordon Hamilton, in a fast-paced concert with a heavy representation of Australian and new music, some with the pages barely dry.
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Most of the new music and arrangements were written by members of the group or composers close to it, back home and in New York, with an obvious ear to the overall beauty of the voices and the specific talents of individual singers. The music played to their abilities — one singer using throat-singing, evoking the grumbly didgeridoo; another, overtone singing to produce two pitches at once, one of them an eerie but lovely whistling sound — and to the virtuosity of all.
Not least remarkable was that the performances were done from memory: this in works that had nonsensical texts or that set mere initials and numbers, as in Mr. Hamilton’s “Toy Story 3 = Awesome!” and “Initialize.” And some of the music had been finished just days before.
One composer, Ralph Farris, the violist of the string quartet Ethel, played in several pieces, including his own “Inner Landscape,” along with Dorothy Lawson, Ethel’s cellist. Another, Joseph Twist, an Australian living in New York, sang along in three numbers.
A segment of folk songs arranged by members of the choir included “Shenandoah,” a nod to America, segueing into “Waltzing Matilda,” a genuflection to Australia. Here, as everywhere, the performances were captivating, but the music was somewhat overarranged and somewhat denatured, the earthy tunes awash in ethereal counterpoint.
For the rest, the music was mostly entertaining on some level and occasionally edifying. But the evening rose to a different plane altogether at the end, with the glorious “Ave Maria” by the 20th-century German composer Franz Biebl.
Even here things were tricked up a bit, with a companion piece from Mr. Twist, “Ave Madonna,” setting fragments from Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” But when it led into the Biebl, it was as if the gates of heaven had opened.
And after this, you thought, no encore could possibly measure up. The Australian Voices proved differently with an equally stunning account of “Bogoroditse Devo” (“Rejoice, O Virgin”) from Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers.”
The group’s Web site ( is rich in performance videos, including one of the Rachmaninoff. Prominent there also is Mr. Hamilton’s “Nine Cutest Things That Ever Happened,” an Internet sensation built on another, Jack Shepherd’s photo essay on BuzzFeed, “The 50 Cutest Things That Ever Happened.”
With this group, it seems, for a little sublime, you get a lot of ridiculous.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Australian Voices and...


Welcome Australian Voices, Ralph Farris and Joseph Twist

Hours required dealing with Facebook. Even though I understand that this person’s response to feeling hurt is to launch a broad based public assault on virtually everyone connected with our building, it is nonetheless spiritually draining to deal with. It is so easy to use social media to attack people, so much more difficult to actually engage real human beings. The saddest of all is to realize the person doing this actually believes what they are writing. And that they are somehow righteously serving the public instead of realizing that what they are doing is seeking to hurt and embarrass innocent people. Publicly. With no proof. I’m breaking my number 1 rule, trying to have a rational engagement in an irrational situation. Makes me sad. Hurts my heart. There’s also know someone believes something bad about you, even when not literally true, hurts because the fact that someone believes it makes it true in at least one head. One place in the universe.  And that is draining. And sad. Got to disengage.

While in the sanctuary, the Australian Voices are filling the house with beautiful sound. ...and champagne...again. (

Lots to catch up with Stephen. But I need to go speak to RL. Again, his story is his to tell. But I again marvel at what each of us has to deal with. There is marriage. There is love. There is years. And  as Paul Simon sang,

This is a lonely-lone, lonely life 
Sorrows everywhere you turn 
And that's worth something 
When you think about it 
That's worth some money 
That's worth something 
When you think about it 
That is worth some money 

Jeremy can’t come to the concert so he drops by for the pre-concert rehearsal. Hears the earthy sounds of Kalkadinga Yurdu rooted in indigenous song and Lisa Young’s Indian based Other Plans. He nods in appreciation. It's been great,their living with us.

Back again. Time for the Australian Voices concert fast approaching. Time to run home, change my clothes. Run back. On a hot and humid night. 

On my way in, Sergeant Keith wants to talk. Wants to do a project. Still working in getting it together. 

The concert came up with short notice. Not much time for publicity. Still the turn out is decent. The Australian consul is here as well as a number of ex-pat Aussies and a New York Times reporter. Friends of the string quartet Ethel and musicians like Carman Moore of the Sky Orchestra, my friends Beppe and Ric and West-Park and Sanctuary NYC folk.

                                                     Toy Story 3=Awesome

I do a welcome. Introduce my friend Ralph of Ethel. And the concert begins. Conductor/director/composer/arranger Gordon Hamilton
Gordon Hamilton and Bob
has created a musical exploration of his country, covering every base. From indigenous to folk (Waltzing Matilda)  to pop (Joseph Twist’s decon/reconstruction of Like a Virgin, Ave Madonna) to sacred (Biebl’s Ave Maria) to social media digital age (Toy Story 3=Awesome and Initialese) he hits it all. Including throat singing and mulitnote overtine vocals. 

The night ends with composer Joseph Twist joining them for the encore. It feels good to have hosted them in their New York debut as we previously hosted guests from Iceland (Graduale Nobili), Japan (Renato Ito and Emiko Iinuma) and Serbia (Zeljko Mircovic). 

It’s been a good night. As Beppe and I prepare to go to the B, the lost boy comes up and offers to help. I direct him to Danielle. It’s been a long day.

Australian Voices and Ralph Farris and Dorothy Lawson

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

All the doors at the Baptist church were filled


Early part of the day spent in trying to figure out how to deal with a relentless assault on Facebook.  Underlying that of course, is the realization that some perceptions of reality can never be reconciled. As the day goes on, the postings get worse and more painful. 

Everything related to real estate is nothing but wait. Patience wearing thin.

All day long the sounds of the Australian Voices filling the sanctuary. They are keeping me going this week. 

Late afternoon, I invite RL to listen to the Voices. He does an Australian bit  or two with the word mate in there and somehow winds up with a story about Mane lobstermen. I got lost somewhere long the way.

Late at night, they’re all back...los Rodriguez, the lost boy, the others...seems that all the doors at the Baptist Church were filled.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Madness and sweet music


Being without a cell phone leaves one feeling cut off from the world.

Approaching the church, I see squad cars with their flashing lights parked in front of the church. I see Martin’s assistant Mitchell standing by the door. I ask him what’s going on. He seems quite distraught. Seems he’s had a run in with one of our people who came into his office, questioned his use of candles then began going through his work papers. After repeated requests for the person to leave, he had no recourse but to call the police. 

Now the Captain has arrived.  We go inside to have a discussion. Lots of issues here, including a pet that needs care. I talk with the captain. We negotiate an agreement. There will be two summons given. A court appearance. But if there is cooperation, release from custody. Mitchell agrees too. After some further conversation with our detainee, we’re settled. Cuffs off. Release. 

It’s all over except for Mitchell’s feelings of sadness and my complete frustration as to how to deal with someone who deeply cares about the church, has grown increasingly proprietary and continually crosses boundaries. I don’t know what to do. ( ....and the man was clothed and in his right mind.... how I wish I could do that....)

As the situation is calming down, Soli and Eric arrive also wondering  what’s going on. We see an
unknown person heading into the church and Mitchell and I jump to see what’s going on. Then we see another bunch of people arriving. They point to the poster on the door. That’s us, they say. The Australian Voices. A vocal group from  Australia here to rehearse for their Wednesday night performance. They point to themselves on the poster, switching roles with a sense of humor.

So I walk them into the sanctuary and give them the story of West-Park, the archo-socio-historical one and they feel excited to be here.  All day long their voices lift me. Ethereal and earthy. From pristine English style harmony to throat singing and indigenous sounds. Ralph from Ethel joins them with his cello for another piece. Everything that makes up Australia. Madness and sweet music.  That makes the day. 

Jerry is on the steps all afternoon. Sullen. Noncommunicative. When I ask if he’s OK, what’s up with Anthony, he shakes his head and says, If he wants to die, that’s his business...

Late in the afternoon, our Session arrives to make plans for our strategic planning session coming up Thursday night and also review our current real estate situation. We’re holding fast on that, despite the risk. As long as there’s a chance....

The context for strategic planning involves many things. The long struggle with the building has distracted us from the core or our being, the congregation itself. That’s where we need to begin. For Hugo, it’s about our testimony, our witness. When Stephen describes how the church’s response to #OWS moved him to want to come closer, how Marsha’s public thanks moved him, Hugo says, That’s it, that’s testimony. And Marsha wants us to begin by asking what keeps us here. This group that has endured so much...That is where we will begin....( )

I’m walking home late with the left over ice tea. As I approach the Baptist church, the lost boy appears. 
Pastor Bob, Pastor Bob...I'm thirsty...can you...I hold out the iced tea. Thank you, thank you..I'm going to the church, going to  clean up the steps right now...I say, It's OK, it really is...enjoy the iced tea. 

The night is very warm, It's summer,

Monday, June 24, 2013

A still, small voice and ...clothed and in our right mind


I hear Stephen playing the piano as I enter the sanctuary. It feels good to hear him in the semi-darkness. 
A woman from Brazil comes in looking for a service, but seeing things not quite ready to happen soon leaves. (I wish Junia were here....).

As always, it’s good to see son Dan here. His support means a lot. 

It’s a Sunday to gather in a circle of chairs. I feel what I want to say today is important and I’m anxious to get to it.

We’ve got two great passages today. ..First, Elijah and what we call the still, small voice passage.  (Still best in the King James Version..1 Kings 19: 1-4(5-7)8-15a)And the other, Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac. (Luke 8: 26-30)

First, Elijah. We’ve been following him around awhile. You may remember remember him from the throw more water on it contest with the priests of Baal.  His confrontation with Ahab the dogs will lick your blood...Now he's tired. He’s had enough. He’s ready to just lie there in state of depression, not even interested in eating.

First angels get him up again. Encourage him to eat...for the journey... so he 
Goes to wait for God. Another one of those 40 day situations. (Whenever you read that, it’s another way of saying feels like eternity..) He hides in the cleft of the rock, waiting for God to pass. 

He looks for God in all the mighty expected places....the  storm, the wind, the earthquake, the fire...but God is not in any of those. In the end it's a still, small voice---- encouraging him to get up and get going again....

We need to look, listen  for God’s presence in surprising, unexpected places. God is not always in the big and overwhelming. While we wait, we can be like Elijah. Waiting for the still, small voice...And even as we build new plans, let us not miss what God can say and do with us now,  just as we are.

Now, Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac. I just love the way that sounds. There is of course, the socio-political interpretation. The demon says its name is legion... like the Romans. Occupation,domination can make you crazy. Lose your identity.

Dostoevsky saw this story as a parable for what was happening to Russia in his day, the people plunging over the cliff like possessed swine following the rising tide of anarchic revolution. Camus in his dramatization saw it as a parable about the rising tide of nihilism.

But from a therapeutic perspective, this man was so possessed, he'd lost his own identity . My friend Nancy Lee Head of the PHEWA Presbyterian Serious Mental Illness Network..helped me to understand a lot about being bipolar...There were these moments when she would feel completely connected to all people, to everything, all creation. Felt so good she would go off her meds and then completely lose any sense of herself, lost in chaos..

Jesus drives demons into the swine, they hurtle over a cliff. And here's the best part... The next day they  find the demoniac clothed and in his right mind. And that's what scares people.

I’m reminded by what we have learned from family systems studies of the formerly incarcerated and their families. How families create a narrative with assigned roles. And changes in those roles are disrupting and painful, even if someone has regained their life. Unless a reentry process has been gone through helping the famjly to adjust, recidivism is soon to follow. 

Despite what people say, people getting healed is unsettling, disturbing and families, communities will actively or passively resist it.

What does it feel like to wake up clothed and in our right mind? If we are the person whose life has been reclaimed? The former demoniac wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus wants him to remain in his community as witness, as testimony

One of our former members told me that it was the custom in his tradition every Sunday for the preacher to say Thank you Jesus for waking me up clothed and in my right mind....Not a bad place to begin. 

We can help each other with that, like angels bringing food for the journey. Beginning with doxology, with thanksgiving...not a bad place to begin.....

We make our circle. Sing our amens. The Session meets briefly to reflect on the week ahead.

Later, I will notice Jane and Sanctuary NYC engrossed in deep conversation.

I will return still later trying to track down my missing cell phone. 

Only the lost boy asleep on the steps. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Solstice: Making Music New York


Early part of the day spent in getting ready for this afternoon and evening. In the midst of preparations, the mumbling man comes in. That needing look again. When I tell him I/we have no money, I wish he could actually believe it. They just assume an open  church keeps a stash of money around. He of course wants to show me the edema  around his badly swollen ankles. No money. No food. No metro cards.We end our conversation, our negotiation? by my giving him enough for one subway ride. (It was Danielle’s turn last time...) He asks for a Bible. And I give that, too. 

Andre arrives. Almost time for our Rush Hour Concert on the Steps to take our part in Make Music New York.  Jeremy arrives with his keyboard and mics. Aaron is here to sing, too. And also Teresita. I’ve learned to accept her for the authentic person she is. Her smile, her spirit, is real. 

Rush Hour Concert
Aaron, Andre, Teresita, Jeremy, Bob
So there we are on the steps. Deacon James sitting there for support.  Singing for those getting off the buses, coming home. Those walking up and down the street. Classic gospel songs. Sanctuary, the signature song we share. My answer will be yes.... Through it all.... This little light of mine..... We’re all taking turns taking the lead. Jeremy gets me to do my Rest awhile...Aaron leads on Any day now. Teresita with What if God were one of us? ( a stranger on a bus...) I take Pharoah’s army got drownded, with the Arlo Guthrie verse:
Moses was the first to get the notion 
That the world is safer with the army in the ocean.
Pharoah’s army got drownded....

And the Jeremy brings us home with And I bid you goodnight...

I’ve enjoyed the looks on peoples’ faces. The thumbs up signs. The child who is completely taken by Jeremy’s keyboard. The people who stop and stay awhile. people taking iPhone videos. Being in touch with the street. From the steps. Feels good.

And now, just an hour. Before open mic....but, then  I see him. Edward Green.(for Edward's story see On the steps. Got there while we were singing. I walk over, speaking softly. Edward, you know you’re not supposed to be here. He gives me a quizzical look. There have been issues, that make it impossible for you to be here. 
Ah man, what you talkin about, I’m just here to hear the people sing...
Don’t you remember, Edward?
Ah man, I remember everything....
I don’t think so. Two summers in a row, Five days each time. Cleaning his waste from the steps.  
...Just here to hear the people sing...
You can’t stay here, OK?
And I go back inside.

I hear Andre’s voice. Edward’s voice raised. Andre comes in. He says you’re persecuting him...And I tell Andre the back story. Well, you might be having to call 911. He seems adamant....I can’t be dealin with that up in here anymore...

I go back out. Edward is gone. I wonder what I would have to ask in order to re extend welcome. Some awareness, some understanding....

The chapel is all set for open mic. Martin has removed his construction materials. RL has done some redecorating. Marc has the sound system set up. Stephen the bar. A couple comes in, sees we’re not ready. Leaves. It may be a night of mainly musicians.

Before it’s over, Pat and Larry will show. My son Dan. And Damarius brings two friends. Who answer my question with the information that they are from a men’s cell group at a super conservative megachurch that causes name brand confusion.

Cara’s old friend Andy,
from Queens, opens with some decent songs. Then Jeremy. Who after his opening, moves over to our old piano. The one with the pedals not yet reattached. That has made its way from Andrea’s childhood home in Freeport to our home on 93rd and now to the chapel. It’s well worn. But still has a warm sound. He moves into his neo-Brechtian Let’s waste this year...And then invite me up for my new I’ve reached my limit with you...we just worked out this afternoon.

Then there’s Mandola. And RL in and out. David S has his set of surprisingly good originals. And Pat O’ playing his originals. I do a set of my own with Pat joining me on my Playing Marc’s electric Fender for a change.  Marc shows his accomplished skills on the guitar. And RL finishes with his Stay awhile...and we all join in....It’s been a good night.
Mandola Joe

Somewhere towards the end, Beppe comes in. Sits down, shares Stella and conversation. Good to have him there.

Time to clean up. And then it begins. Is it the solstice? Anna comes in with puppy to report on her rounds. Next comes the #OWS lost boy to complain ... that woman with the dog is harassing me.... I look at him square in the eye. She’s very protective of this place you know? You know the rules. Follow them , you’ll be OK.

Awhile later, I go outside. The suburban Samaritans of the Midnight Run have arrived. People are gathering around for the sandwiches. A smiling man approaches, Hello there, would you like a cup of coffee? A sandwich? I consider telling him I’m the Pastor. Don’t.  It used to embarrass me when the Midnight Run crew first showed up on my steps during the peek of #OWS.  Now I just accept it.

Then I look around and see George is back. I walk over and shake his hand. Hello George, it’s been awhile. He smiles, shakes my hand. The Samaritans approach. They seem to know each other. He is soon lecturing them on the state of the world. 

Beppe takes this all in. Amazed? Amused? Or just accepting. Must be the solstice.


No one’s around while I’m in to do my service. Or later when I come in to write. Outside, the steps are completely  empty for the first time in a long time. Walking up Amsterdam, I see los Rodriguez and the #OWS lost boy encamped in the semidarkness of Baptist doors. 

Thanks to Marc Stager for Open Mic photos