Monday, June 3, 2013

Put some more water on it: Thoughts on authority and prayer


The steps are a mess. I’ve got to do it by myself. The long handled dustbin is missing. Open the doors to the dark sanctuary. I hate doing this by myself. As my folks arrive, we make the circle again.

We review the concert,  complete with pictures,  with Don, the last one to make such an amazing transformation of the sanctuary. And I share my latest homeless statistics with my friends. The 55000 in the shelter system, the 23000 children. And that it would take Habitat 5500 years to build enough houses to take car of the homeless of the world.  

What's in front of us today is question of authority.....With a look at prayer as well. 

We begin with one of my favorite stories, 1 Kings 18:m20-21(22-29). Elijah and the priests of Baal in the days of Ahab. Seems like almost everyone as gone over to the worshipping of Baal. Including King Ahab. Elijah feels like he’s the last prophet standing. Time for drastic action.

I love the way he plays it. The contest is to see who’s God will send fire down to consume the sacrifice. After doing their wailing best, including lashing and cutting themselves, while having to endure nonstop trash talk from Elijah, nothing. Nothing happens. 

Elijah comes at it like an NBA all star in a dunk contest. Or a David Blaine. He soaks his altar with water. Three times. More water, more water..and.put some more water on it, he says. And God sends down fire to the altar. 

One of those Our god is red hot, your god ain't doodely squat moments.

With Paul, we’re dealing with authority as well. (Galatians 1; 1-12).  There is no other, no other gospel, he says.  We think of Paul as the great rule maker, because that’show he’s used today. (Ask the lgbtq community. Women...) But what he’s really about is freedom. Did you notice what happened on May 22nd? Pope Francis said all who do good are in-- The Vatican had to , as my friend RL would say, tap dance around that one. Like, well, they must know Jesus in their hearts, even if they don’t know it. Those who seek to use Paul to restrict people, not set them free, miss that for Paul, the Gospel is the PERSON of Jesus, not any systematic doctrine.

Luke (7: 1-10) is dealing with the same issues. There is the faith of of the negative collection of occupiers. Who do so in service of the empire. He is a man of authority. And recognizes in Jesus another man of authority. For the centurion, Jesus doesn’t have to come,in person, just his word is enough. (An in the end, it doesn’t even take his word...)

As for prayer, my colleagues wanted to know, Can we pray like Elijah? Could  we pray with that much confidence in a contest  between our God and modern day Baal worship?... Could we go to Times Square?

And then What do we pray for? Elijah wanted God to show God’s self. The Centurion wanted his slave, who had performed honorably, to be healed. What do we pray for? I remember my years at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. Where they have Expect a Miracle written on the basketball court. My friend Dewey. Born with a withered leg. How his fellow students circled him in prayer for his leg to become whole how they blame dis faith for making their prayers not to be answered. How old man Oral himself had to tell them to lay off. You have to be careful not to go there. 

And I know you have to be able to visualize it for it to be possible. As Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves says, only presenting images of misery disempowers people. If we want people to fight for a better world, we have to create images of beauty so that they can imagine it. 

The Psalms tell us to be explicit and totally honest in our  prayers. emotionally honest . 
But in the end, Gethsemane is the model. Let this cup pass, my God let it pass...but in the end, Not my will, but yours
Complete honesty,  complete acceptance, complete courage....

It is not easy.....

We spend some time around the circle talking about our own experiences. With prayer. Then Leila and Pat assist me in the serving of communion.

After worship, the session meets to plan next week’s annual meeting. Jamie updates us on our ongoing real estate issues. Even with so much unsettled, we need to move ahead.

It’s late afternoon. Edward Green has appeared again. Edward, you have to go. Again the sullen resistance. Sorry, you’re just not welcome here. A young African-American woman is observing this. Looking askance at our exchange, accusingly at me. How could she know the back story? Our history?

And ironically, inside, Sanctuary NYC is ready for the next of their Hear it Out! series. Every two weeks our friend Pernell Walker is bringing us the est of emerging African-American playwriting with topics that cover the complex  holistic breadth of living black in the US today. 

Today’s offering, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, by Kevin R. Free, begins with a popular singer going home to sing at a Marriage Equality benefit and spins out from there. It’s one of the hidden gems of West-Park,this series. 

Don’t stay for the Q and A. Need to get to SPSA for our night at the homeless shelter. The guests look forward each month for the first Sunday night. West-Park night.  Because of Kate and her gourmet meals prepared with loving care. Tonight it’s shrimp and skirt steak and root vegetables one else does this...only Kate...the food, the conversation, an extension of our communion.


  1. there are 6 times more foreclosured apts and homes than there are homeless families/individuals. would be cheaper to buy them than to warehouse people in shelters. and then to provide supportive services. nationwide its abotu 13 homes empty or pre-foreclosed or bank-owned to every homeless family/vet/individual.

    greed is not good. oh yeah. all the homes not on the market because the banks and vulture capitalists have bought them up and kept them empty to create a false scarcity and recreate the housing derivatives bank bubble so they can churn more empty paper. um sooner or later the circus barkers will lose their voices. sooner or later the tents must come down.

  2. and time to start junior-achievement styled how-to entrepeneurship classes for the less privileged and provide seed money to setup spanish-style cooperatives and market the cooking and sewing and design and carpentry and automotive-design and motorcycle-design and repurposed-goods design talents of those of us who are less than well-educated and less than well-privileged. from all spheres. there are soo many talented peopel in the projects here at wise from all over the world and every floor smells like a gourmet restaurant. and the music too. economy is about living and doing not speculating and decimal-pushing. economy is the management of life and the hosuehold and people and kids and the future and the present.if the one percent took one percent and put it in a fund to finance cooperatives the economy would grow. instead of taxes, transfer the wealth a bit of it into worker-owned and managed cooperatives and tax the companies who hide and flee their production and profits exorbitantly to that effect. or not. we are useless eaters for a reason--because come the reascendance of the quadropeds everyone goes well with mango chutney!

  3. time to spatially-deconcentrate the yuppies and the cultural institutions and the fancy hi-priced restaurants and hosues of worship.

    time for nycha to build subsidized performance spaces and program spaces and galleries for non-profits so they can expand their missions and not spend so much on commercial private rent and also to improve the quality of life of the peopel living in the developments. and also gymnasiums and such and spaces for the seed companies and kitchens and such. time. generation after generation forced into poverty and drug dealing and prostitution because nycha provides no way out or up is not a good thing and then to try and place hi-rent slivers in between the buildings and block the sun and engender envy is folly and demoralizing and clearly is a first step to fuerther marginalize the poor and disabled adn elderly. has nycha lost its soul? has nyc? hope not.