Saturday, November 30, 2013


Sigh. Back to normal.
David’s in, ready to do some work for RL. Who has made his way in as well.
Danielle and I beginning to face the current financial realities. Though the big, long term picture is now OK, the current existential reality will take juggling or what RL calls tap dancing. There are only so many balls Danielle can juggle at the same time and we’re all tired of tap dancing. It’s more like the dancing in an old western where a bully pulls out a gun and starts shooting  at a greenhorn’s feet while laughing and yelling out dance….
Like I said, back to normal.
Sonnie’s got all kinds of creative ideas for working with homeless people. He has been one himself.
At the end of the day, Daisy and her dad in for another English lesson. That’s part of what keeps Danielle going.
Don’t feel good about it but lost it with Joe late tonight. Was working in the office.  Keep hearing loud laughter outside on the steps. So I head out to the steps. And tell them it’s got to be quiet. It’s night after night the same thing. I tell him, again, this is about temporary sanctuary, not a permanent home. Not a party place.
And Joe loses it and starts yelling. And I yell, listen to yourself. He’s telling me that he goes after bad ones, keeps them away for me.
I tell him he doesn’t understand the pressure I’m under, the emails that come from neighbors who feel intimidated. And he says, Pressure? I got pressure. I’m homeless.
Yeah and over 80% of the homeless people who have been on these steps have gotten housed. You been out here for months.
And he yells, Keep yelling at me and I…I…I’m gonna call the cops…you assaulting me…
And very quietly I say, Joe, Joe, you don’t get it do you? You have no inherent right to be here. You call the cops, you’re looking at trespass…charges…
A guy who’s been hanging with them is trying to intervene. Tells me it’s on him. Tells Joe that I’m trying to do him a solid so he should chill. And he starts to calm down. So why don’t you tell that to Rob too? That’s as close to the racial card a we get…I do, Joe, I do…
And I know the stats on the increase of homelessness under Bloomberg. The lack of readily available work  for working class
And I walk away. Tired. Bullets at my feet. Dance…..

And then they were gone

Loading the bus

Get to the church early so that I can be there for the Bread & Puppet load out. Outside, the bus is open and a reverse VW clown show is in process, giant puppet after giant puppet making their way in. One has lost his head and will remain behind. Katherine has described to me the ritual burning of decommissioned puppets that takes place in Vermont. But this crew will be making their way to Boston for their January residency there.
I stand with Peter on the sidewalk, exchange a hug. We will be looking forward to their return. Peter and the van take off first.
The van
Finally, all is loaded and I say my goodbyes to Michael and Clare and Katherine. And the bus pulls out with her at the wheel. 
It is somehow fitting that before the van has left the island, someone discovers that a sousaphone has been left and a contingent of course ventures back for it. Like a coda. And then they are gone.
I look around the church. Except for a few  things in different places, it’s as if they were never here. I miss the giant looming puppets, the smell of their daily cooking, the buzz of people, the daily rehearsals with Peter’s latest changes.
A part of me would have very happily jumped on the bus and run away to join the Bread & Puppet life. 
The bus pulls out
Now Bread & Puppet has become part of the spirit of West-Park.

                               * * * *
Returning from a visit to Cara at the hospital when I get a call from Emily of Woodshed. They need to get some things out of the 4th floor storage space. For their upcoming fundraiser night. No one has been in that room for years. And the outer window’s been damaged. Hoping no pigeons have broken in.
I’m on my way. RL’s been wanting to help us get that Woodshed space emptied out. When I get there, he immediately reports activity on the 4th floor. And I tell him it’s Emily and Woodshed. I ask him to be gentle, since she’s not in charge of clearing out the space. I shouldn’t have worried. Before  the night is over, Emily and her assistant have been introduced to the Lost Episodes and initiated into the Dusty Withers Fan Club, badges and all.
I will later fill RL in on the amazing story of how Woodshed had transformed the church into an immersive exploration of Polanski’s The Tenant. Our first extended residency.
A nice arc, from Woodshed to Bread & Puppet…..

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Reign of Christ Sunday: Communities of resistance and new creation

Presentation from Bread & Puppet

Today is Christ the King Sunday. Or Reign of Christ Sunday. Or Reign of God Sunday. And the Sunday following the 50th anniversary of the assignation of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. And the Sunday before Thanksgiving. And we have so much to be thankful for.
Feeling blessed by the presence of Leslie at our service. A Presbyterian minister in her own rite and also wife of our new exec, Bob. And the presence of our Bread & Puppet friends one last time. And we worship with the full array of puppets filling our sanctuary.
Our first lesson comes from Jeremiah. And we talk of his prophetic witness, how his name came to be associated with unrelenting critiques of corrupt governments and institutions. (As in jeremiad.) Today he’s after bad shepherds, those who lead the people astray, who try to manipulate their fears and anxieties into supporting politics of power and domination. It’s almost too direct and apparent to warrant lengthy conversation.
We sing together the Benedictus, the song of Zechariah. And then a look at the Epistle,COLOSSIANS 1:11-20. So clearly we’re dealing with a cosmic Christ theology here. A theology with echoes of Gnosticism. But we’re not here to spend long time in discussion of theology. We are most drawn to this verse,
13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son
And there the conversation begins. We talk about how Christ the King Sunday became a day of resistance during the Hitler era in Germany. A catholic version of the Confessing  Church’s Barmen Declaration. If Christ is king, Hitler cannot be. If we live in the kingdom of Christ, we cannot give allegiance to the Reich. It’s that simple.
But transferred..what does that mean? Again resonance with B&P’s shattered world and parody of a customs officer interview. Many transfers are not voluntary. Where are we? It’s being able to envision the beloved community and live into it before it exists. To imagine a community of welcome, acceptance, inclusion living lives dedicated to justice and harmony with creation…to seek to live that even before to exists so that it can exist. Like worship gatherings of antebellum slaves. Tutus’s pre-fall of apartheid declaration that we have already won. King’s mountain top vision and speech.  That’s what it is.. Yes, and Bread and Puppet in their northeastern kingdom home. Communities of resistance and new creation.
Finally we come to the Gospel. And the greatest paradox of all. This  is the crowning moment of the church year. The moment when Christ is enthroned as sovereign of creation. And where do we find ourselves? On the cross.  In what was intended as a political execution of humiliation. And it is there where we find the triumph, as we discovered in our year long study of Mark. Not the resurrection. The resurrection is a bonus. It is not a proof. Perhaps a consequence. It is in the willingness to follow to the end, even to the cross, where the powers of death and domination are ultimately defeated. It is the ultimate defiance. It defeats manipulation, threat and intimidation. Robs the empire of any power at all. And in this is victory.
Is there not fear? Of curse there is fear. I recall Rabbi Marshall Meyer’s defiance of the Argentine junta. Standing naked in the police station until they gave in, turned over the one he came to find. They could have simply killed him. But his complete vulnerability defeated them. When asked if he was afraid, he replied, Afraid? I was scared shitless…But he stayed steadfast. And in that willingness to go to the end, the powers were defeated. They had nothing else to threaten. And in that we are saved. Delivered from the powers of death and domination.
The dialogue continues with our friends from B&P. Why are you part of B&P? What does it mean? And the answers all have to do with a sense of making a difference. Of  transformation.  Of self. And world. A relentless, tireless resistance. And the experience of joy that comes from community. Can we the church find that? Create that space? That is our challenge as we begin again.
In the offering part of our service, our B&P friends present us with banners to keep in a sign of our ongoing connection. And the proceeds of their passing the hat. (Over $800.) And we thank them for their gift of presence and for standing in solidarity when the chips were down. And Katherine makes a personal presentation. And we bless them as they prepare for their final performance and return to Vermont.
Katherine's presentation
We end with songs. And embraces. And then our session meets. Approves an overture for General Assembly regarding current oppressive drug laws. And work on our strategy for moving forward.
And so we come to B&P’s final performance. Another full house. Ted and Asya and Jonathan back one last time. My neighbor Ric. And Jeremy. And my friend Milica joins  me. And I see our new exec Bob and Leslie are here as well. I want it all to slow down. Not end. But it must.
And as soon as the standing ovation is  over, as soon as the final bows are done, the dismantling, deconstruction of the shattered world begins.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Paper mache religion

Bread & Puppet band

Keith comes in again. With his stories. Yarns. He tells them well. But he’s got to make a move. Towards supportive housing. Or towards home. If you really love your daughter, you have to give her a chance to see you. I don’t want to hear it anymore.
Talking  with Katherine of B&P about tomorrow. One last time to be together. They can say thanks, and so can we. Mark our time together.
Tonight is the next to last performance. The crowd is building really fast. Nancy and her family here.  Jamie has arrived. And Don. By now they’ve announced a sell out so I give up my seat for Don.  I will watch the show standing in the back. Danielle is here tonight as well and has brought a cake for the cast party.
As always, Peter has introduced more changes. Maybe the show is never finished. I’ve enjoyed watching these changes, small details, or major, every night. I spoke with Katherine about her character, played on her stilts, a sphinx like beast. Or like Yeats,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? (Second Coming, 1921)
Regaining humanity. Knocking down the false gods, or the gods of empire.
And now the cast party. After tomorrow night’s last performance, they’ll begin to knock down just as soon as the show is over. So the celebration will be tonight. Wondering what it will be. Seeing all these young people, I’m thinking recorded electronica? Maybe hip-hop? RL and I head up to the gym to find out. Danielle with us.
So…much to my surprise, what do I find? What Danielle calls a gypsy band.  Or whatever you’d call trumpet and sousaphone and accordions and drums and….playing gypsy and Balkan and klezmer and Weimar cabaret and…an in house B&P band….and people dancing ball room and swing. And well, when in doubt, twirl...
Peter toasts
And then Peter stops for his congratulatory toasts. And his thank yous. Still that sparkle in his eye. As he and RL and I gather, an impromptu chorus forms and begins singing sacred harp and baroque euro and other a capella 4 part harmony. And I say to RL, sometimes, I LOVE this (amplifying adverb) job. How could you not?
As I look around I’m thinking about connections between the B&P community and what we call church. B&P is already a self-contained spiritual community. There is a shared vision. Values. Commitments. Mutual accountability. Ritual. Tradition. Liturgy. And bread.
For all his militant anti-Christianity:
The bloodthirsty Greek gods or any wild gods of antiquity seem Christian compared with Christianity( Paper mache religion, Bread & Puppet, 2009)
Peter has done an excellent job creating a radical first century community. Complete with music. And bread.
RL and Peter
There is also this. Over 50 years, Peter has moved through avant garde, to that late century perjorative stuck in the sixties,irrelevant (bye bye Village Voice) to heroic. Just by refusing to change, to adapt, to be tamed. By staying where he is, the world swings round. Believe me, I’m watching. And listening.
And how do we as church relate? We stand in solidarity. We celebrate together. We laugh. We sing. And we eat bread.
And finally, papermache religion is a generic, all-purpose re-ligio,whiuch means a tying back to the origin, origin of what? Naturally of sky&paper orof puppetry & daylight, bravo bravissimo,hallelujah, amen, hooray forever& ever, hocus pocus                                                                                                     ta-ta-ta-tah! (Paper mache religion, Bread&Puppet, 2009)

Bob, Peter, Danielle
That says it all.