Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Not the city. But the country, you know?


Our circle

One of those days you want to remember. And give thanks.

It’s Sunday. Friends start to arrive. And arrive. We create our circle. Bigger and bigger. Until it can’t grow bigger and people move to the nearby pews.

Six of the Bread and Puppet cast members (that doesn’t sound right…family members?) have come and share songs from the Sacred Harp book of shaped note hymns. Earthy. Early.American.

We’re waiting for the one who may come to see us. To judge us. To find us non-existent or non-sufficient and report this at the upcoming meeting.

Our first reading is Isaiah 65: 17-25. We talk about New heavens and new earth. About the world after being freed from occupation. When we speak of dying at a hundred years, remember our sister Gertrude who just died at 103. I remember how I used to visit her at her senior citizen section 8 building until it went market rate and she got forced out. Her years at the independent living facility in Hell’s Kitchen, the weekly Friday  afternoon happy hours where the women flirted, the men enjoyed their scarceness and when dancing the years disappeared while Gertrude had a glass of wine and we watched and  laughed and talked. Her hundred year  birthday party and then finally moving to a remote nursing home facility in the Bronx two hours away by public transportation. Too long since I last saw her…

We read:
 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
    they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
    and my chosen shall long enjoy[a] the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain

And ponder what it means to live under occupation by another power. To return from exile, from occupation and once again enjoy the fruits of one’s own labor.

And finally,
The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
    the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
    and dust shall be the serpent's food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain,

A verse beloved by my Quaker relatives. Another of those peaceable kingdom images typical of later Isaiah.

the peaceable kingdom
I mention the famous paintings by Jonathan Hicks, the peaceable kingdom series. So very much Pennsylvania Quaker. Reminding me of my Uncle. My aunt. My cousins.

The Thessalonians passage raises another issue.
If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.

Said to  be Captain John Smith of the Plymouth colony's favorite Bible passage. These can be very dangerous words.    Sound like Tea Party republican ideology. Until you realize they are in the context of community. How in community, we all have to do our own share. And we recall issues in the #OWS West-Park coop when people would not do their own share.  

And I do like the criticism if the busy bodies.

And we end with the Gospel, Luke 21: 5-19. It’s end of the world apocalyptic nature.  The prediction of the fall of the Temple. How people are always trying to say, now is that time. They’ve been saying that for 2000 years and we’re still here.

But maybe it is the end of the world if you’re in  the Philippines and a tsunami wipes you out. Or airplanes fly into your towers. Or US/NATO bombs you for 78 consecutive days. Or your best friend dies snorkeling off Mexico.  

The end times visions remind me of Bread and Puppet and their Shattered world. It’s visions wind in and out throughout my service.

And then there is this….

12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. 13 This will be a time for you to bear testimony. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; 17 you will be hated by all for my name's sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish.19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.

I read  church councils instead of  synagogues. We know what that is like. It's what we are facing. As we approach Tuesday’s critical meeting, we know betrayal. And that when we come to bear testimony…word will be given us. We do not need to worry. Do not need to prepare. Well….
So …not a hair of (our) head will perish….and by endurance we will gain (our) souls.
 Sounds pretty crazy to me.
Yes but it is us. We have endured. And we will prevail.
All the bad places of this Gospel passage…are familiar to us…
I look around the room. The circle. Our West-Park core. Friends from the Center board. Friends from the neighborhood. Sonnie from Open Mic who sings the Messiah song he wrote and performed last Friday night. All our Bread and Puppet friends. Danielle. All who came out to stand with us in a time of test and trial. Our anticipated guest never shows. But it doesn’t matter. Because we are here together. This is who we are. What our ministry is. Not about rentals or performances. But relationships. Too bad he doesn’t see. Doesn’t know.
We do some quick interviews for our presentation. Who are you? Why did you come here? Why are you still here?
And then the Session stays around for one last strategy session. Getting ready. It’s getting  closer..
I’m off for my wedding in Hoboken. My Chinese-Puerto Rican  EMT Spanish Harlem wedding. Back in time for another B&P performance.

Berik and Leila have come tonight. Berik has the best review yet. He is very impressed. It is very realistic just like my paintings. Surreal realism. Exactly like life in Kazakhstan. I know those puppets. Look like people I know in Kazakhstan. Not the city, but the country, you know?
It was good to remember. Who we could be. Who we already are.  And how many care about what happens. Who stand with us.
The anxiety runs deep.But our, my, spirits have been lifted. Thanks for all who came.


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