Sunday, September 29, 2013

You take brothers where you can find them


Taking the cab back from a late flight from Louisville to La Guardia. Anxious to get to Open Mic. Reflecting on 3 days of national church work. The sadness of watching the life flow out of an institution I have loved. It is supposed to be a governing body, a body of deliberation, decisions. Yet most of the time is taken up with cheery presentations, videos, and applause. Someone (not me) said, We’ve left corporate and wound up North Korea. Could we please go back to corporate? Continued loss leads to fear and anxiety leads to seeking tighter control leads to squeezing the remaining life out of the body. Attempts to engage in substantive discussion are met with charges of micro managing. The twin bodyguards of legal and finance are always lurking in the shadows  focused on loss and liability, not facilitation of mission. It is soul deadening. Where is any consideration of the reformed theology of ecclesiology?

Make no mistake...good people are still doing good things on the ground ranging from heroic in Syria to strategic and effective stateside. Peace workers around the globe are doing good work and conscientious and committed faithful bureaucrats work themselves to exhaustion seeking to keep real witness alive. New worshipping communities are springing up all over the place like beautiful wild flowers. But something about the institution....The church I grew up with and committed myself to is gone. What will come will rise from the grass roots. 

              * * * * 

Walking down Amsterdam, I pass the ghetto burrito place. A guy spies my ’70’s era bucco hat and approaches, wobbly. We are famalee...he sings...holding up his hand for a high five...we gonna DO it....You take brothers where you can find them, I guess. 

           * * * *

Inside, the Mic is still Open. Glen is tending bar. I’m in time to catch the end of Pat’s set. He’s off to India tomorrow. Katie steps up, takes the mic.
Katie sings again
Piano Dan at the piano. And she winds her way through some Nora Jones and some old standards. 

Dan does his own set. So does Big Dave. RL invites me up and I talk about saying step on it cabbie, I’ve got an open mic to get to. And i do Louisville Blues, the story of a cabbie I met in Louisville. And two songs that mention or relate to  Pittsburgh in honor of the Pirates’ return to the playoffs for the first time since 1992. I’m hoping this is a good omen for this fall. (I wish I could bring this same ease to 78 Below...)

RL creates an impromptu band to close out with his Crazy Queasy and because we expect it, and can
sing along, Stay Awhile.

The night ends with Pat O and I talking with RL. Listening to his recorded narrative of the barqu barque. )With photos. A wonderful whimsical pushcart sailing ship voyage. And a metaphor for the beauty and sustenance of dreams in our lives. (I‘ll get RL’s actual quote some day...) Which inspires Pat to show a beautiful short movie called overview interviewing old astronauts as to how the world looks from outer space. And how we have to get that we are all connected, all one.( )

Pat O and I leave. RL has paperwork to finish. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Columbia Preservation Alumni back again


Columbia Preservation Alumni

Day filled with places to be. Late afternoon, stop by to visit with RL. Listen to some of his recordings, including One More Cup of Coffee. And talking about things that maybe don’t even need to be said but do. 

My big job today is to host the Columbia Preservation Alumni. I want to give them my usual tour of the church, archi-socio-historical. But I have another agenda. To remind them of their connection with this place. 

Back in December 2010, early. We were just in the process of coming back in. The big iron gates ordered to discourage the homeless were still up. We had to open them in order to squeeze into the sanctuary.  (

We had two events scheduled that month. First, Amanda would host an evening of ritual space with her friend Bill the architect and Matt the photographer and her own music. Later in the month there would be New York Creates’ Crafts Festival and the first Balcony Music Festival. But first....a day of work to get the building, closed for three years, ready to be open for the public again.

In preparation to host the Preservation Alumni and their work day,  the gates had to come down. Our
Welcome back Cristiana
friend Nazim from the  Belnord staff and his crew  brought them down and when Hope said Thank you for taking down our gates, he said, No God brought them down. The removal of the gates alone  was reason for celebration. (

Then the Presevation Alumni, joined by volunteers from Landmark West! and other community folk would come  for a whole days’ work. Amanda was our captain for the day. And inch by inch we began reclaiming the space. It was a beginning.

In between then and now, Cristiana worked for LW! and was always a true friend, always working to promote our events and keep public awareness up. In may ways she is a real example of the best of young preservationists coming onto the scene seeking a more holistic  urban approach to the process-- and business-- of preservation. 

She’s since gone on to a new job and we have missed her.  But keeps her connection to the alumni group. This is their annual fall party. We start in Mc Alpin for food and drinks, then I take everyone down to the sanctuary and do my rap.Then many follow me into the chapel for the continuation. And I point out the famous gates. By this point, I’ve got a pretty good routine down. They are bright and earnest in their questions. And what can they bring? There’s more than enough still to do. 

There was so much excitement back in 2010. Like an adventure being  undertaken. Sometimes, these days, we get a certain surprised annoyed response, like, oh you’re still doing this? from those who really have no idea what it takes. And it will stay that way until more choose to get involved. But a new adventure is just on the verge of beginning....

There’s still more than enough work to go around...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Deposed or I pick dem up, I put dem down. I do it all day long


Back to the office after a morning being deposed in a  trip and fall case. Strange word that, deposed. One meaning is a legal process where you are asked the same question over and over again for hours. In this case, about certain flags, or sidewalk panels  in front of the church. And as to whether the city or the church is responsible for them. The other  has to do with removing officials from a seat of power, through legal process or armed insurrection. At any rate, I have been deposed. An exhausting experience.

I hear Karen as I enter the church. Soon she comes into the office. With her usual litany of what do you think unanswerable questions. She does say, however, One of the scariest moments in my life turned out to be the best.

She goes back to playing the piano and I look down and see RL watching, listening, ready to offer her his usual experienced honest yet caring  critique. 

And Jon D and Ralph from Ethel are in to talk about collaboration. Getting Jon’s Very Young Composers  together with  Ethel’s vanguard chamber group. And ultimately composing for them. In an after school special as it were. We’ll invite the whole neighborhood. Begin to make that intergenerational education part of the center’s mission statement come true. When they’re gone, Danielle and I agree that meetings like this make everything else seem worthwhile . As he’s leaving, Ralph asks about Sean. He was there, by the door, this morning, when they arrived. They felt guilty entering around him. Not waking him. Not sure what to do. We tell him, it’s OK. It’s OK.

I’m off to see Michael, RL’s attorney. 

Next door, there’s a moving van. Workers with dread locks moving in and out. Furniture, boxes, large items. Lifting barges and toting bales as it were. One comes back. Mops his brow, says to his associate, in Jamaican lilting English,  I pick dem up, I put dem down. I do it all day long.

And I think, word. I know, I know....
78 Below will come  later. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fog lifted. Smoke cleared. Mist gone.


Shannon in our circle

The fog has lifted. Smoke cleared. Mist gone.
One of the first people I see is Jeffrey. Looking a bit anxious. Yes, it’s OK.

A distinguished African-American gentleman in a suit and tie waits for the service to begin. A couple waits too and then leaves. Our folks need to learn that when we get serious about expanding the circle, we’ve got to cover those 11 o’clock bases.

Special guest for the day in Shannon Beck, the PC(USA) reconciliation specialist. Once again a blessing to see Rachel here. Today I sing Jesus calls us o’er the tumult..had it give it a try. After the strangest of gospel readings, Luke 16: 1-13. I still don’t get the dishonest steward bit. We’d dig into that but...

My real agenda is to get folks to meet Shannon. Learn about her work. Hers is a new model for the church that is coming into being. Not a national program per se, not a top down implementation, but work rooted in listening. Trying to see what’s going on at the grass roots level and connecting people to people. (My mentor Philip always used to say that If God wants something to happen in this world, it’s already going on. Our job is to find it, call it forth, support it. That’s how he found me all those years ago in Tulsa. And what he did for me...).

She talks about the current focus on domestic violence and a nerve is touched. She has recently called together the folks in Louisville to see who’s doing what, including my community the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA), especially the  Presbyterians Against Domestic Violence Network (PADVN).

Yes,a nerve. I have a friend....And personal memories of abuse within the family. And stories of cries unheeded. Sounds we hope will stop. And cries answered only to have the violence turn outward. One of us was held at knife point for two hours last night. Had a computer,  lifeline to the outside world stolen. Can PDVN get me new computer?,she wants to know. Shannon gets that in this circle, domestic violence is not an issue, it is life lived. What connections can be made. 

After our dialogue, Shannon plays the same song she played for RL last night. Once she’s been on our circle, she’ll remain a part. Our prayers will go with her. 

Session meets after worship to review our various negotiations. How to keep all our family in the house. And how to manage all the work that needs to be finished before we can complete the deal. It’s hard. But the transition is beginning to be felt. 

It’s a bright,cool and beautiful first day of autumn.Fog lifted, smoke cleared, mist gone.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A wedding. Pushing back the darkness. And green smoke.


Quick stop at the church to put the finishing touches on a wedding ceremony. It will be a typical New York wedding, the bride from here, the groom from India and currently working mainly in Germany, his bachelor party in Munich. People will come from Calcutta, London and New Jersey. There will be turbans. The bride had met me at a wedding I did last march for a Turkish- German couple.
On the way back, i stop at the Gate and find RL and Thatcher there so we return to the earlier issue of reenvisioning and restarting our website and the prior concern of getting our pirated URL back from a collector in Colorado. It’s frustrating that a google search always leads first to, which is NOT us. Aargh,(Sorry,that was a leftover from International Talk Like a Pirate day. To which Dan said, does anyone know Somalian?)

Shannon Beck is in town. She is the new Presbyterian Church (USA) reconciliation catalyst. (Love that title...) Originally it was violence and reconciliation, but she didn’t want it to seem like she was a catalyst for violence. She is working to connect people working creatively to engage cultures of violence, including our own. 
Shannon and the house concert

I met her last year when my friend Mark from the PC(USA) UN ministry was looking to find her a place for s concert. Hurricane Sandy intervened and it wound up an intimate house concert at my apartment. Which led to live recording that we eventually added our Sunday morning church voices to with the help of Marc S. 

I’ve got an agenda that includes preparing for tomorrow morning’s service, figuring out exactly what her job is, trying to make some connections for Zejko’s Second Meeting film and Amanda’s Indian Summer cross country tour.

But first I want to show her the space. And walking inside, I find the sanctuary enveloped in theatrical smoke and mist and weird green lighting. What the...?But of course, it’s Ramon. A tech rehearsal for his appearance tomorrow afternoon. With Jeffrey from Sanctuary’s assistance. Well,alright then...

So we go up to visit RL. Tales of Washington State roots. Yakima, Spokane....And then the swapping of songs, Shannon with one about people she met at a shelter in Seattle and pushing back the darkness...And RL’s classic Pinto and of course, Stay Awhile...And the evening would not be complete with out a visit from RL’s western radio altar ego Dusty Withers.

We head to sit out side at Slightly Oliver’s and get into the agenda as soft then steadier rain begins to fall....

After seeing Shannon on her way back to Hope’s, I return to the church. Jeffrey has fans blowing full speed to disperse the smoke, the eerie light remains. Hopefully it will all be gone by tomorrow morning, he says.  I nod. Yes. Hopefully.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Destination wedding and ripple effects


Alex, RL, Marc
Why don't you stay awhile?

A crew of Irish construction guys in to do an evaluation/assessment of work to be done. 

Ramon is in again, dancing by himself, off in his own world. 

A woman comes in.Looking to do a two day wedding. One day for a Hindu ceremony and the other for a Christian ceremony. A destination wedding. (New word for me). In Cancun.

Have my talk with the precinct about the steps. More complicated than I imagined. Has to involve the District Attorney's office. Cops city wide concerned about ripple effects of the two year anniversary of #OWS. While some mainstream #OWS folks have narrowed foci and are working to promote issues like the Robin Hood tax proposed by mayor candidate Di Blasio, there are others lurking about as free floating bands calling themselves #OWS like gangs of Confederate raiders roaming the countryside long after the Civil War was over. 
I  head out to meet Zoran at an at opening and then to Milica’s season launch at her gallery. Later, I’ll come back to the church in time to catch Dion’s set and Pat and Piano Dan's and to do my own. Actually feels good. Two originals and finally do I still miss someone the way I want to do it. A new guy, Alex, here for his second time. RL calls up Alex and Marc to join him and finishes out the evening. Now can I catch up with Zoran on the Lower East Side?
                                   i Still Miss Someone

Recharging batteries


Two pairs of jeans.

Spend two hours with our insurance company preparing for Monday morning’s deposition in another trip and fall case. Our litigious culture is more than  depressing. Moving legitimate. moral/legal responsibility into the arena of opportunism in the hopes  that the other party (ies) will pay just to make it go away. Some values get lost along the way here.

Karen is in playing her music again. And gifting us with some cleaning supplies from her business. 

Sean is outside. His battery dead again. This time, I remove the heavy battery, bring  it inside. As he sits in his chair, covered by his blanket, I go get him a coffee and a bagel with butter. I hook up the battery to get it charging.

Jeremy drops in. Waiting to practice with Ramon the dancer. He sees Sean’s battery. Asks what I’m doing. Says, seems like that’s what the church has been doing for centuries. Recharging people’s batteries.

Later I see Ramon and Jeremy rehearsing. Ramon stripped to his waist. He seems to operate in a world all his own, disconnected from the rest of us. 
Marc brings the photos in that he shot last night. Super clear. Very high quality printing .I look at my face. Trying to feel like I don’t look old and scary. I can see in my own face that this has been a very hard year to live through. It shows. 
Dennis B and Shirrin from  the Assembly have been here all day interviewing potential candidates for the homeless life skills program. The group seems to be coming together.
Meet with Elise and Russ from Riverside and James from Broadway to discuss our Palestine film series. Hopes  to follow up. How to create a safe space to have a dialogue with our  more circumscribed colleagues as to how do we even talk abut an issue that is almost taboo in the US. How do we even broach the topic that the closer we reflect  on on it, it looks like the  day of the two state solution js past already.  And also where do we go from here? It is clear that i have no desire to be involved with the ubiquitous people to people programs that make no attempt to do socio-economic.-politcal-military  power analyses as part of the process. 

A guy comes in looking for Sean's battery. When I look outside later, he's motored off. 

RL makes his daily check in.

Recharging batteries.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Not even Agatha Christie. Did I tell you I have beautiful handwriting?


Nancy comes by. To check on the manse sale. And talk religion, philosophy, always. Time to look for  new apartment.

See Marty again. My father used to tell me to listen to the Fulton J. Sheen radio show and to take careful notes. For his own sermons. Did I tell you I had beautiful handwriting? I couldn’t keep up. He said make sure I got the beginning and the ending. I could fill in the rest later. 

Marc invites me into the little chapel. Bring my guitar. He’s got a new camera. Taking photos. Has taken some beautiful portraits of Martin’s daughter Gabriella and her boyfriend Ahmad. He shoots me with my guitar.

To Adent, Elise's church to review our Palestine Film series and to plan follow up. Can we ever create space safe enough to engage our Jewish colleagues in this conversation? Or even our sensitive Christian ones? One thing for certain, I'm nit interested in any people to people projects that ignore power realities. In the end, they only strengthen the dominant and make more vulnerable those with less power. 

RL comes in and finds me on the floor, in front of the safe. Are you alive? he says. I assure him that I am. Not sure even Agatha Christie could describe your body on the floor, he says. 

Later, at the Gate, inspired by great-grandfather’s obituary, we’re deep in a conversation about railroads, canals and barrel making when I get a phone call reminding me that a couple has arrived for premarital counseling.

A young serious Christian, seeking God’s plan, and a recovering Catholic. She’s a rare one who simply is who she  is without needing to judge others. embodies grace. And he, the most  forgiving man I’ve ever met, she says. She talks  about being a Christian in the fashion industry. At their core, they’re both into grace in their own way. They work.

And I’m soon off to see Katie and my old soccer mom friend Esther sing backup for old school rocker Cindy Thrall, the Reckless Abandons and the Reckettes. Piano Dan will be happy to see me and not have to share his table with a potentially dislikeable party.

Embracing the chaos. And that St.Patrick drove the snakes out of the Bronx


The day begins with a visit from a contingent from the Crenshaw Center East, a non-denominational church in the prosperity gospel tradition that has been holding forth in the old First Church of Christian Science building on 96th Street. I know the building well from visiting it for B’nai Jeshurun high holy day services back in the day.Crenshaw bought it from the Christian Scientists when their membership had dwindled to a couple of dozen.

The surprise here is that they’re looking for a new place. Seems like their landmarked building needs around 13-15 million in repairs. We tell them that not only are we not for sale, but even if they came here there’d be no bargain. One of their reps tells me that he was born and raised Presbyterian and his education was thanks to them. I think and where are you now? 

When they leave, Danielle and I have an extended conversation about Pentecostal vs charismatic vs prosperity. Look the same on the surface, but different.

Overly simplified, Pentecostals are a church of the poor. Or at least they don’t relate  wealth to salvation. The new charismatics in practice  tended to see wealth as proof of blessing. And the prosperity gospel takes it all the way. What Danielle calls magical thinking. I tell her about Rev. send your money to me and you’ll get rich Ike. And Jim PTL Bakker. And how Tammy Faye became an icon to the gay community and how what started out as gay ironic humor  became a true friendship and of her son Jay’s radical inclusive edgy tattooed bar ministry. And how I kind of liked Oral Roberts in his own crafty way because he never forgot his roots but how his son Richard was a self-entitled jerk. (There are other words I’d rather use, but...)

And how as much as I get the you get back what you send out message, like Oprah and the Secret,   it can lead to blaming the victim when things don’t go well. And how in the hospital people say to me I don’t know what I must have done that God would do this to me. That if they could answer that, there would still be order in the universe.

Is that how you’ve handled all this? She asks. I look at her puzzled. That you accept the chaos? 
Yes, I say, perhaps even embrace it.

Dennis B is in and I hear his voice get loud on the phone. Apparently one of the life skills mentors has issues with the building. How will this get resolved? It is what it is, we are what we are. 

RL passing through. Anna in for a chat. It’s the anniversary of the occupation of Zucotti by #OWS.

See Marty on the street. He speaks! First time in months. He was silent all summer. Is it cooler weather or a meds remix? I say Have a sweet New Year.
Marty says, It’s like the Jewish St.Patrick’s day. St.Patrick drove the snakes out of the Bronx.
I laugh.
See, made you laugh. I made your day. Were you ever a chaplain?
Not military,just police and fire.
My father had a friend who was a chaplain. Said he left part of himself at Flanders Field. It’s history. When I was at CCNY, my world history final, the professor told me if I’d written more, he’d have given me an A, not a B+. Said I had the finest handwriting he’d ever seen. I had beautiful hand writing. My father said, if you’ve got a problem, wrote it all down. Let it sit. Come back to it a week later. You’ll see the solution. I had beautiful hand writing.
Sweet New Year, Marty. He’s talking again.

Jeremy stops in. Just back from Switzerland. The conversation about chaos picks up again. I say that the Genesis creation story was based on the Babylonian creation myth. The world was tohu v bohu, without form and void, chaos. God brings order out of chaos. Tiamat, the sea monster, is defeated. But as my friend pastor Heidi says, yes, but Tiamat’s always there, just waiting. And despite our desire to believe all is ordered, we see her when  she lifts her ugly head.
I have trouble with the God’s plan business, he says. I think you guy have it right when you say, you never know for sure. Only God knows. His theology was Calvin’s way f embracing,accepting the chaos. Knowing that for all we know, we don’t.

We head down to Madison Square. Awaiting the #OWS march from Zucotti. They’re, of course, running late. Jeremy goes off to find and join the  march. I head to the Players’ Club to see Frog and Peach's  12th Night.

Chaos under control for the night.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Critical issues remain. And there are still inherent flaws in the lyre.


There’s a man asleep on the steps I’ve never seen before. I rouse him. Tell him he’s got to  go. Later, he’s gone, but there’s a mess to clean up. 

Stephen and Cara come in, Stephen playing the sanctuary Beckstein and Cara the chapel piano.

I see David S lugging six cases of Strongbow cider up Amsterdam for the next open mic.

Dennis B is back with two folks, Elaine and Shirin, to work out details for the soon to begin  Interfaith Assembly life skills program. 

RL and I checking out the steps. He spies two containers of Chinese food and plastic utensils. Asks, in essence, what’s up with that, and I say it’s obvious, some well intentioned person thought that leaving Chinese food on the steps for the homeless might be a beneficent gesture. Not taking into account  all the liability issues with that , etc. 

Adding to my afternoon sweep time. Complete with rubber gloves to pick up all the cardboard and scattered clothes. As I’m finishing, son Dan arrives and helps me finish up. And I take him to the Gate for food and to meet Paul.

The session arrives for an all important meeting. Even though things are moving forward, there are an almost overwhelming number of tasks to be accomplished before we can close a deal. An elevator to check out. Fire alarm issues. Leaking roofs. Pointing. Who’s going to collect the competitive bids? Who’s going to manage the process? It’s work that must be done. How do we pay for it before the manse sale goes through? What’s the timeline?

In the midst of all of this, Mr. Martin the piano tuner comes in. Much to Marsha’s chagrin. Not everyone understands his eccentricities. I walk out with him, he compliments  me on the timbre of my voice. 

When last he was here, the pedals were off the piano. Between Marc and Piano Dan, the old instrument is playable again. Mr. Martin comes back amazed. Someone has fixed it, he says. And done a good job. He pauses. But will it hold? There were, as I said before, inherent flaws in the lyre...( He promises to come back and check and we return to our critical discussion. Hugo’s experience in property management much valued.

All day long, the news has been filled with the story of the latest gun tragedy. This time, the DC Navy yards. It's almost too common place to be shocking. 

When we end, I’ll head down to 78 Below to meet son Dan. We’ll do the open mic. RL will dedicate his song Silhouettes to Dan. And we’ll watch the end of the Steelers game. Only one of these will end happily. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Political calculations


After my morning neighborhood lectionary meeting, to the church. I review with Danielle last night’s political visits. First, to Gale Brewer’s victory party. I go to her campaign headquarters just in time for her victory speech. Yes, we’ve had our differences. Yes, the as of yet unfilled promises still hurt. She had a chance to help us pull through the barren season of summer, but her campaign was her primary concern. We pulled through, as always, by the skin of our teeth. On our own. No politicians. No denomination. No philanthropists. On our own. Again.

Still, we made a political calculation. It is better to have her now in the position of Manhattan Borough President with the knowledge that there is still an unpaid debt, than someone we don’t know, have no relationship with. We found the old article from the Daily News reporting her vow to raise 10.5 million. We’re still waiting. 

Still, I looked around. Many of my progressive friends like Marc G from the Interfaith Assembly on Housing and Homelessness and other housing activists were there. A who’s who of liberal Democrats from around the city.And as always, the common folk of the district who always found her door open. Gale is not a charismatic leader or skilled rhetorical polemicist. BUT, she has been one of the hardest working and effective politicians in the city. Tireless. And usually on the right side. She entered late but played it smart, played it wise. Avoided taking sides in the divisive mayor’s race. And won. I get my face time. My hug time. She promises we’ll work together. Her people tell me how important we are to the community. I offer my congratulations. Sincerely. But we’re not going away.
Then hearing Helen Rosenthal was about to be declared the winner, down to her party at the Firehouse. Of all the contestants for Gale’s City Council seat, she was the only one to openly speak of how the community had let us down. And to promise to hold their (amplifying adjective here) feet to the fire. She was not the machine candidate. It was, as they say,  not her turn. But she ran  a strong and wise grass roots campaign. Hers is a younger crowd. A bright and idealistic crowd. Again face time, hug time, congratulations. Accountability will come later. We were with the winners this time. (Including come from behind furthest left -- relatively speaking -- mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio who Deacon Pat introduced me to weeks ago at a meet and greet where I pushed him on income inequality..)

Now for the general elections in November...

Dennis is in for logistical work  for the Assembly’s panim al panim (face to face) life skills program that we’ll welcome to West-Park keeping our long connection with the IAHH alive.

Mid afternoon I skype with Zeljko,still amazed at seeing someone a world away in Serbia on my screen  as we strategize how co connect with peace centers across the country.

Coffee with Jane to catch up with Sanctuary’s plans. And reflect on our two years of living together at West-Park.
Then to Mac's to talk with Michael S about securing a place for RL in the house long term.  We'll catch up with RL at the Gate.

Tomorrow, off to Pittsburgh.

Had to remind myself, today was the 12th anniversary of 9-11.