Saturday, August 31, 2013

In which we discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ultimately Hank Williams


Stephen and I are still pondering last night’s film, Roadmap to Apartheid. ( Leaving aside the fact that the film is obviously has an agenda, it makes it’s case well. When you see the actual amount of space now cordoned off, the actual lines of the wall of separation, it raises serious questions about whether a two state is even possible anymore.  And that ultimately Israel will need to decide whether it is a Jewish state or  democratic state. Being both will not be possible under current realities. We also know that to say this is to say something virtually unspeakable in the current  American political reality. Not to mention an ecumenical or interfaith setting. But it’s a dialogue that must take place.
Simply showing the film to those already convinced informs and educates but doesn’t move the issue forward. Could we create an environment where our closest friends could feel safe to discuss this? Analytically? Critically? That’s the question. We need to get those who worked together on this to do a critical review and see what we could do next. 
I share the story with Stephen as to how shortly after the Iraq war began, we had Jeff Halper of the Israeli Anti House Demolition Coalition here to West-Park to speak. ( How do we get Americans to deal with the consequences of our aid? Or denominations...and deal with the consequences of our investments in companies like caterpillar? How hard that has been for us Presbyterians (
                                                * * * * 
RL’s crew scrambling to get ready for tonight’s Open Mic. 
I join Jamie for mussels at the  B. Then come on over. Our largest turnout yet.  A new young African-
Piano Dan Jessie and Katie Rowell
American singer named Avery. Katie doing the jazz standards with Piano Dan who does his own Mack the Knife. All the regulars. After Dion does his weekly comedy set, it’s my turn.
I do two originals. Then Pat joins me. I take a deep breath. And sing Hank Williams’ So Lonesome I Could Cry. Like I said to my old friend Jack this afternoon, one of the greatest all time American songs. It’s lyrics tight, compact,evocative, damn near perfect. Felt humbling, but good, to give it a try. (Thanks Pat)
                                                             Hank Sr.
Thanks Pat
Hear the lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry

Ive never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind a cloud
To hide it's face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die
That means he's lost the will to live
I'm so lonesome I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I'm so lonesome I could cry

Bobby T plays some originals backed by Tim with his looping garciaesque licks. And then the jam begins....
Bobby T and Tim

Later I realize that this Friday night session is becoming a community. A congregation of sorts. With a different kind of worship. But caring, supportive, nurturing growth and exploration. Yeah, why we’re here. (Thanks RL...)

Searches and mysteries

Looking back, yesterday had a recurring theme. Andrea called because someone doing genealogical research on her family has a partner with my family name. Was wondering about the research my father had done years ago. So I call my mom and we’ll look for it while we’re there.
Get a call from an older man in Maryland trying to find information on his grandmother’s marriage in 1905. Something he wants to clear up before he dies. Would we have a certificate? Well, no, our records have suffered the ravages of neglect ( Oh the ‘70‘s-‘80‘s, long before I got here..) and water damage. I try and direct him to the New York City Marriage Registry office. If anybody would have it, they would. So I wind up going on line and finding a New York Times wedding announcement. Took place in this sanctuary while it was still Park Church in 1905. The Rev. Dr. Anson Attenbury presiding. That is what our records would  show. But he thinks there  are also records under another name one year earlier at an Episcopal Church. Ah, a mystery I can’t solve.
And then I’m drawn into a person/background check. Online. A fascinating and costly process. Questions answered, or more mystery? 
Feeling a bit like a detective....
The mumbling man comes in, I know what’s coming. His large hand held out...I do what I can. We talk a little about Capital Hall and then he quotes to me from Psalm 21 and 34.
A man from a construction company comes in looking for Stephen to talk about some renovation work that needs to be done. 
Gregory comes in, that ingratiating, presumption of intimacy look on his face. He’s supposedly working. Supposedly OK. And yet, here he is again.
Stephen, Cara, RL and I all pitch in to drag the trash bags out to the curb, hoping they’ll take them this time. Sanitation does not seem excited about removing Bazarov’s Russian forest, even now broken up and bundled like a serf’s bundle painted gold. 

Yossi Tamim

Yossi the jazz musician drops in to see all our performing spaces.  Met him last week at Bonnie’s concert at Milica’s gallery. (So the connection line runs from Yossi to Milica to Zoran to Zeljko...) I Show hom the sanctuary, the chapel, Mc Alpin and the gym and the Papp theatre. As I expected, he’s blown away. Wants to play here. He’s mixing jazz improv and chamber quartet. I tell him about Ethel. And Carman Moore. He’d fit right in here. ( ,  So he’ll talk to Danielle and we’ll see what is possible.
Stephen and Cara join me as we head to Riverside for the last of the Palestine Film Festival. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Carman Moore, the eclectic free spirit that he is, come son to talk about his fall ccner5s coming up. I mention our developing relationship with Melica Paranosic. And the Composers’ Concordance. Carman smiles. OK, something could brew here. 
David S in t work with RL. The project is top to bottom. Clean it out. Get it clear.
Damaris and his friend Kim are back, under RL’s direction. The sanctuary emergebcy lights need to be reset.    Other work to do.
Reach up an agreement with crew as to work to be done. Cue up and all up WNYC’s streaming of fences by August Wilson. They’re doing allten of his plays in the American century cycle. A perfect play to watch on the 50th anniversary of King's speech. Wilson is one of the best if not the best voice in American dramatic tradition. And its about my hometown, seen from the other side of the street.  If you missed it, 8 broadcasts to go, check it out....
Good play. Done for the day.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Semi-havoc. And Danielle is back. (Unrelated)


Bad start to the day. Martin enraged at what he found when he came in. Beer bottles strewn around. Broken. Beer spilled in the  chapel. Garbage bags in front of his studio. Fed up, he’s left. Stephen leaves work to come see what’s up. And I’m in shortly.

As I sort through things, some things don’t make sense.  When Matt and Stan left last night, only Dorit and Ben were left outside. When I came back to my office, things looked OK. Talk with Marc who was here later. Things wee fine when he left as well. Martin thinks he saw two people leaving the church as he arrived. We check and the door was left unlocked. Theory? Two people came in and wreaked semi-havoc. 

RL’s crew comes in but now they’ve got to be diverted to clean up duty. I’ve got to send Cara out for new mops. And Mr. Clean. And bleach. And gloves. 

(Glen thinks he has spotted our stowaway in a darkened corner of the basement. But on closer examination, probably not....)

A woman comes in looking for school supplies for her children. But we don’t have. 

Courtney is in to pay for the first week of rehearsal for his new play, Le Chateau. It will be a fundraiser for the Paul Robeson theatre. They’ve been rehearsing in the gym. 

Late in the day, Matt and Stan and Ben are in to finish their load out. They promise the gym floor will be clean enough to eat off by the time they’re done. 

I’m off to play at 78 Below. Stephen and Cara will be long later. 


Danielle is back today! And I’m aware that the summer is almost over and I’m still here. Almost like it never happened. Sadness around that. It will take time to catch up, get priorities figured out. Get moving forward. 
Stephen and Cara in again. And RL’s crew working away.
But the thing is, Danielle is back today!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bazarov finale


Matt, Bob and Stan

Make it back to he church just in time for the last act of Bazarov. What amazes me, as we near the play's conclusion, are the  number of people in my row who are sobbing, crying. Matt’s final soliloquy  leads to, well,  actual weeping. 

As to my question about dramatic decisions,  I get my answer from conversations with Stan and Ben. At the point in the last act  where it moves into a readers’s theatre style ...ok,  typical  Brechtian alienation... it's like neon lights  that say , this is is a play!!!.It turns out that this was not not Stan’s wrIting  but   Ben’s directorial choice. Both pragmatic and dramatically aesthetic. 

a champagne toast
A champagne toast is lifted for everyone who has been part of this month of residency. There is  a sense of accomplishment, of success. Following the toast there is a gift to me for our involvement. The Represntatives  have truly become part of our house. 

 The party continues. As do the conversations. This is exactly what is supposed to happen here. Thanks to the Representatives for joining our family. 

By the way, I think I finally got the meaning of The Represntatives. In the hip hop sense of represent, Stan and Matt represent us, at least their generation of New York us. Keep watching to see where this will lead....

8/28/63 remembered


                                          Martin Luther King, Jr. 8/28/1963
Do you remember me? the person asking looks familiar. And then simultaneously we say Sarah...It’s been many a year. I ask where she’s been. Living five years in  Nyack with a new husband. In town to visit her son, same age as my Nate. We exchange the sons news reports. Ask if she’s still singing. No, more writing music and children’s books. Had warm memories of being here. Wanted to check in.
And the memories come flooding back. Bittersweet. Her coming to us years ago was special for me. She brought her son who hung out with Nate. One of those who was slowly, cautiously trying to find her way back to church. Wanted to share her voice. Had been a singer-songwriter for awhile. And she did. Singing in the choir. And then most special of all, she made liturgical  stoles for Katherine and me. Matching. With special scraps from her sewing box and pieces that had been with her for a long time. Even from home. And she wrote a beautiful letter describing what she had done, where the pieces came from. 
Sadly, it came to an end when she was accidentally copy-alled into what was one of innumerable West-Park squabbles carried out via e-mail. Someone making their way back in doesn’t want to find the stress and tension, meanness, that drove them away in the past. Or that they want a break from in their regular life.  A key to a church being able to grow is not getting sucked into drama. Much as those already in seem to enjoy ..or even want that, anyone new will be driven away. .
                                                      Bob Dylan sings Blowin in the wind

We’re remembering the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington today. I pull out my guitar. Sing blowin’ in the wind...a song of the era...and people sing along. We read our scriptures, starting with Jeremiah. Who protests about his youth, remembering that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a young man in 1963.  Only 43. And we can see the connection to Jeremiah 1: 9  Now I have put my words in your mouth. Hebrews 12 speaks of ...a voice that shook the earth...(25) and how it was was that kind of power that came through Martin Luther King, Jr. on that day. A nation was shaken to its core. We recall how it was the dogs of Bull Connor  that convinced the Civil Rights establishment to commit to the march. And a few weeks later, the bombing of the church in Birmingham. And the next summer, Freedom summer...and the murder of Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner. Earth shaking indeed.   Maybe even heaven shaking.
And finally Luke 13:10-17 with its exploration of the law and breaking the law for the greater good. We talked about the whole use of civil disobedience in social change. And how every time I’ve been arrested, judges were willing to consider the duress defense, that is, breaking a law in order to prevent something worse from happening, and every time found not guilty. 
Then we watch the video of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech that day in Washington, DC at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. What some have called the second greatest speech in American history. Second only to Lincoln himself. And then we reflect. How King’s speech was rooted in the American dream. Calling America to its best sense of itself. Granting it the trust in its capacity to be true to its ideals. With the  use of the words of My Country ‘tis of thee...let freedom ring! and use of the prophets Amos and Isaiah. 
I’m one of the few who actually remembered seeing it live. How it struck deep into my heart. Brought tears to my eyes. (Still does.)  Deacon James remembers growing up on Long Island, Freeport. (Where Andrea grew up, and my parents in law..) And serving in the Korean War. How King helped him transform his anger into something else. We all have our own reaction. Some remember the  assassination of Malcom X and that the two were moving closer together .
So where are we today? So much left to do. Some ways better. Some ways worse. I remember when my friend Uli from Germany was with us when we poured into the streets to  celebrate Obama’s victory. Broadway closed. Celebration everyhwere. Uli said it reminded him of when                                                                     the Berlin Wall fell. I said that today for us another wall had fallen.
Disappointed though we are, a page had been turned. There would be no going back. The voices of that day in Washington, DC echo still.
After services, a family from Spain has com into visit.  I greet them in Spanish and Arcadia comes up to greet them with her usual grace and hospitality.
Later, Session will approve a term sheet. Next week we will begin actual leas negotiations. I think I can see light ahead....I want to believe it...

Blowin in the Wind
Bob Dylan

How many roads most a man walk down
Before you call him a man ?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand ?
Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned ?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, how many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea ?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free ?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see ?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky ?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry ?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died ?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

America Lyrics (first verse)
Katherine Lee Bates
My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims' pride,
From ev'ry mountainside
Let freedom ring!



So what specifically are you going to do?

The day begins with Lindsey and Brett coming to talk about getting married. As my son Nate is moving into Flatbush, they’re now ready to move up to Williamsburg. Mixtures of Detroit midwestern Catholic and new evangelical Christian but with a firm commitment to marriage equality, they want a gender neutral ceremony. As do most of the young couples I see. Gender neutral language, at least here, is becoming the standard ceremony.
Three Russians come in looking for the work if a particular artist. So I get Berik on the phone and listen as they talk in Russian. Two of these three are artists as well. One very much wanting me to appreciate his replication of the Mona Lisa. I’m not sure I quite understand. 
I look outside and city council candidate Ken Biberaj is working the crowds leaving synagogue service. Right at the corner of 86th and Amsterdam. I wait for the right moment and walk over. I takes a minute but he recognizes me as the pastor. I ask him what separates him from the other candidates in contest of likable liberals. He describes himself as an outsider. Not blessed by the  machine. Not the one whose turn it is. Therefore accountable only to the people.
OK, but, what about the specific situation here at West-Park? The unfulfilled promises?
He speaks of public-private partnership. I say, Of course, but specifically...
And he actually has thought out a plan to propose an Upper West Side Zone like the Times Square Zone that would allow for transfer of air rights to anywhere within the zone, not just adjacent. The value of our landmarks blocked air rights would be returned. Plus it would create a process of review and accountability for developers not now in place. OK, that’s good.
And then he talks about finding ways to get money to non-profits who could then use that money to
The youngest campaigner
rent from West-Park thus breaking through the church-state barrier in a creative way. OK, the guy is thinking. He tells me West-Park has become an example issue in his campaign. With the primary a winner take all, most votes win, unlike the mayoral primary whee a 50% majority is needed to win, in a field with seven candidates all with their own loyalty, anything can happen. Hadn’t looked at it like that before. OK, so that’s Rosenthal and Biberaj. How do we get the others on record?

Zoran can’t make it in  today, so I’m off to Milica’s gallery event on my own.

Monday, August 26, 2013

West-Park: mixing and sampling


Last night, after the screening, Marc puts on first a video of the erstwhile journeyman guitarist Carl Perkins with Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton sitting in. Followed by a Roy Orbison Austin City Limits performance. Roy of course with that aching romantic operatic voice.  Somewhere I have a picture  of h9m singing at the 1983 New Orleans jazz festival. All in black. Barely moving. And that voice. Soaring.
Out on the steps. Oh no. Edward and Charlotte. Stephen is with me. Edward, you have to go. 
Alright, alright I’m goin.
Charlotte breaks in, No,no you fuckin go. Go the fuck away.
Edward says, Hush, hush now. 
And then Charlotte starts coughing uncontrollably. Gasping for breath.
Do I need to call you an ambulance?
She got the asthma attack says Edward.
Don’t need no fucking doctor. Doctor give me this motherfucker, and she waves he inhaler. 
Stephen tells me, that's the wrong medication.
Edward says, You don’t need to be lookin at me. I’m a fuckin 55 year old man. Dob’t need no father. You quit lookin at me. Hope cone you let these other motherfuckers stay here? 
That’s nighttime, Edward.
But they bad motherfuckrs. 
It’s not about them, it’s about you, I say.
Charlotte says, Alright then. We goin then. They gather stuff up. And as they begin to leave, she looks over  her shoulder and leaves me with an emphatic fuck you.
Stephen and I watching  as they set up across Amsterdam at the CVS. He challenges my theology of hope. I tell Stephen.  He’s been through every rehab program. Knows how they work backwards and forwards. Says he gave his life to Jesus three times  and nothing works. Kills me. We look t gem across the treet. And the thing is, strange as it is, what you see there is love,..
AS neighbor from next door comes in to talk about Marc’s continued concert last night. We talk. All ends up well.
Nancy stops i just t see how things are going. 
R and his attorney Michael, a decent singer/payer in his own rite, fe in to work together to preserve a future for RL here no matter what else happens.  While we’re talking, the man who wants ot kno what its to be holy drops in again. I point that i”m buy. he’ll have to come back later. her smiles and ambles off.
A German couple comes in. Asking about a play. The had been here to see the Tenant two summers ago. What’s going on now? i tel them about the Representatives. And talk about my s who lives in Berlin.
Two representatives of the Gottbaum campaign come in. Just to leave literature. Originally he was to have an event here, but it git cancelled. Even though he presents himself as the farthest left of the candidates,  wan to see where he stands on West-Park and unfulfilled promises as an issue. 
Late in the day, an old man  walks in. Clearly educated. Turns out he’s a retired professor. From Ethiopia. He shows us his campus ID. We google him. My God, you’ve written books, I say. And on the horn of Africa...A divorce bankrupt him. He’s lost his green card. Has been sleeping in the subways. Something terribly wrong here. I use the Intefaith Assembly street sheets and give him the number and location of a safe haven as a last resort. Direct him to WSSFSH. He’s a perfect candidate. And Goddard -Riverside. Give him my card to carry with him. Stephen says it breaks his heart. Word.  Just not right.

Berik's painting
Berik and Leila setting up for tonght’s art opening in Mc Alpin.
I meet Katherine at Popovers for dinner. Just back rm Sri Lanka. She’s brought me a small creche and figures. She’s seeing Bazaorv with me tonight. But jet lag brings her down at intermission. Stephen and Cara watching tonight as well.
At intermission, after saying good night to Katherine, and seing her out  I check in on the Open Mic. Glen and Kim and Damarius have been working with RL all day. Damrius tending bar in a shirt and tie looks very classy.RL tells Damarius he’s glad he’s made parole. Damarius cocks an eye and laughs.  He  has a story with the punchline, will the defendant please rise, but we’ll let it go at that. 
I decide to stick with the open mic. Leila and Berik have  come in too. I do two emotional songs. things ar ebreaking up.
Stephen, Cara and I stand a longtime fetafter talking with Roger about the whole story of West-Park, especially the #OWS days. The craziness and richness of those days. Other listeners want all the details.
It’s been one of those times that                                                                                                           makes sampling me happy we’re here. Open Mic downstairs. Art show in Mc Alpin. Good play in the gym. Crowds moving back and forth through the building, Mixing and sampling in addition to who they came for.  Teddy loved these nights. He understood whawhat theythey mean to me. It's why we are here.
checking out the exhibit

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bed bugs. And the "Gatekeepers." And what we have to deal with.


I come around the corner and see Sean in his wheel chair and my heart sinks. He’s talking to Stephen. Bums a cigarette from him. They’ve got a place for him to stay, but it’s at 28th Street. Issues about his wheel chair. And it’s  room for 8 people. How can he do that? I look at him. Don’t know what to say. And this wheel chair’s ‘bout done in he says. And I look and he’s right. It’s falling apart. He’s got to stick with this. Has to keep trying. The wheels have big empty spaces in the rubber. He asks for his poncho. So I go into the church, find the saddle bag we’re keeping safe  for him, find the poncho and bring it back  to him. I’m always uncomfortable going into his stuff. Its like all he’s got, his life. As he begins to wheel off, he turns and says, I got to say thanks, man...I know I made messes for you. I know that. And i”m sorry man. But you did me a solid. Charged me up. Keep charging me up. I mean doin me solids. Thanks. And he wheels  off in his rickety wheel chair. 
RL comes in and reports that his crew can’t make the scheduled couch pick up today because of the rain. Wait a minute, couch pick up? Marc has it set up. A very wealthy person. Stephen reminds me that Session has instituted a no furniture that isn’t wrapped or with cushions or...We survived the worst of the #ows onslaught with no bed bugs. Do we want to risk it now? RL assures me that he has a nose like a dog and can sniff them out.
Later, Marc will come in very upset that I would even question it. It’s from a fine family.A fine apartment.A wealthy apartment..I remind  him that my next door neighbor’s apartment is worth over a million dollars and they had bed bugs. In New York City, bed bugs are no respecters of persons. It’s very democratic. Rich or poor, there they are. I hate these situations. Absolutely hate them. Everybody is so convinced they are right and offended that I would even consider the other position momentarily. 
Stephen has been working the negotiations. We may be approaching an actual term sheet. Don’t want to get my hopes  up, but...
Cara helps with sweeping for awhile. Then goes in to play the piano. Hasn’t had the chance to do this for awhile.  I listen as her improvisation fills the sanctuary.
Glen and Kim and David S are all on the case today, too. RL’s crew of the day.
Tonight is our screening of The Gatekeepers. We’ve got it downloaded and Marc and Stephen and I are working to figure out how to get it onto the big screen. So much easier with a DVD. But we get it figured out. We give it a test run. It’s working.
Once again, a good crowd gathers.  This is the Academy Award nominated film for best documentary. Interviews with retired Israeli Shin Bet, secret service officers. 
I don’t know what to expect. But I am profoundly moved. What I see most in these Shin Bet officers is integrity. A love of their people. And country. A desire  to do their work honorably. And right. And an awareness that it isn’t possible. Their efforts to track down and capture Israeli terrorists planning to blowup the temple mount only to see them released. Our own flesh and blood say the politicians. The tragedy of Rabin’s assassination. The pain and anguish is palpable. As is their ability to identify with their enemy
And of course when I say this in the q&a, an ideologue will say, But it’s all because of the occupation. And they are guilty too..
Of course they are. But few of us choose the situations we enter in to. We come with our own values loyalties, prejudices and do the best we can to do our work honorably.  To do what we can. And then leave a situation for those who follow next to deal with.As each successive week’s films roll by, I get progressively more depressed. 
These Shin Bet officers remind me of Israelis I have met. Mainly through Andrea. In 35 years of  personal engagement with this issue. Good and decent men. Trying to do the best they can. As the evil of the  occupation continues to devour the country both outside and in.
We need to continue this discussion. But I’m not sure where It leads.
I sometimes think that I should just focus on one thing like the movie in my blog. Leave out the mundane. The daily urban chaos. But it is the context within which this work is done. I’ve already said context is calling not circumstance. Me and the Shin Bet guys. We didn't create he worlds we live in. But we have to deal with them. Maybe that’s the connecting piece.