Friday, February 28, 2014

You looked like you could use this


Martin is sitting with a copy of Berthold Brecht’s translation of Antigone
I see you’ve got the right one, I say.  
This thing is amazing, he says. And tells me the story of Antigone again. He’s working on a song of the priests of Delphi who are basically singing, whatever little joy we have in this world is just the gods messing with us. (Word that.) He’s translating that into flamenco. I love it. Sophocles to Brecht to flamenco. This is West-Park. He looks at me intently. This is the Jesus story, you know? But with a woman...
Yeah, I say, same thing. We’re talking archetypes. Deep stuff, at the core. (There’s Grotowski, peeking out again.) What I saw at Joe’s Pub was like no flamenco I’d never seen before. 
Martin responds, It’s we gotta stop hating, you know, stop the cycles. Say no. Only love, you know?
Funny. We were talking about the same thing at our clergy group this morning. With a variation. I’d mentioned that there was something  worse than hate. Hate is still engaged. Connected. Even if destructive. What’s worse is invisibility. Not to be seen. Not to be noticed to all. As if humanity, existence itself is denied.
Nan comes in  to see if there are any checks to go out. Her work as bookkeeper is much easier with some money in the bank. We talk about the issues involved with going for city money and she speaks from her own time also working for SPSA who lived through the experience of landmarking then the nightmare of promised city funding not arriving. They are still recovering financially from that.
Jason W drops in. He’s working  two jobs, as a bike messenger and as an ice cream delivery guy. Long, hard hours. We’re working on finding him housing. While we’re talking, Peter M from the Interfaith Assembly Board stops in.  He’s got a project of looking into various programs. Seeing what they have to offer. I explain that we don’t have programs per se, but ministry. He’ s surprised when he discovers that Midnight Run stops here regularly. It’s not their appointed stop, he says. They’re supposed to stop at SPSA.
But they come here because of the people on the steps, I say.  They’re not on the steps at SPSA anymore.
That’s because someone tried to set the church in fire! He says.
But, point is, they come by almost every Friday. I even got a stocking cap from them before I get my own winter clothes out of storage.
Peter will see if he can help Jason W, too.
Cara is here, working, and she and Jason find it tragic that virtually all the other church steps have been closed off. No temporary sanctuary. Though I’m always on the verge of going there.
Peter leaves and Jason and I finish our exploration. There are possibilities.

Cara returns with a young blond woman. From the Midwest.  Wants us to post announcements for auditions for a Christian youth theatre. That seems to present straight up plays, like Seussical. And summer camps. She’s been looking for a church. While Jason and I were talking, Cara had given her tour, making sure that she saw the rainbow flag. She still seems interested.  We invite her to come Sunday.  We’ll see what happens.
There’s no get acquainted meeting this afternoon with a proposed anchor tenant. Not going to happen. Speculating why is not helpful.  It just is. We’ll deal with it. Sigh.
Late in the day. Priska comes into my office with a cup of coffee. I saw you in here, she said. You looked like you could use this.

Some basic rules


A day slow in beginning. And all day through.
David S is in the chapel, playing music by himself.
A lone person wanders in looking for a Noche class but they’re on a day off after their boundary breaking performance at Joe’s Pub.
I step outside and Marsha’s passing by. Was looking for me. Wanting to know how I was doing. I’m ok. Anxiously awaiting a response to our work. All you can do is do what you can do and give it up to the universe. There are rough edges, disappointments around my move. I’ll deal with it. I’m OK.
RL is basically walking around taking stock.
Marc is in the sanctuary trying out a new projector with a Carl Perkins rockabilly concert that featured Eric Clapton on guitar and Ringo on drums. And so it goes.


I hear familiar sound son the piano. See an older woman and a younger woman. I stop by and it’s Grace from Shanghai. Three years ago she was here for a competition at Mannes. The lines to wait to practice were very long and she just found us(. ) Now three years later, she’s back. Ready for college. Auditions for the Royal Academy in London.  And Julliard.

Meanwhile, Jeremy is upstairs in the gym rehearsing with his African/world group.

I step outside. See an old man walking down the street. Look closer and it’s Philip. My mentor. My friend. The man who married us 30 years ago. He taught me the basics:
* Our job is to help people discover within themselves the power to become  the subjects of their own history, agents of their own destiny.
*Everything begins wit relationships
*Never trust liberals.
*The problem with liberals is they don’t count the votes.
*Leaders are people who have followers.
* You can be an organizer or a leader. You can’t both.
* If God wants something to happen in the world, it’ already being done. It was his job as a bureaucrat to go out and find it and put money and resources behind it.
That’s how he met me. He was looking for what God was doing and found me in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He embraced being a church bureaucrat and was the most creative national staff person I ever met. He could go on a consultation and in five minutes have a key person confident enough to share their inner mosts with him. He was  classic Alinsky. And shared Ignacio Silone with me, Bread and Wine.
He brought me to New York for the first time as a consultant from 1982-3.  And was responsible for getting me to West-Park. I win when I follow what I learned and lose when I ignore it, which has been way too many years.  When he recognizes me, he gives me a big smile.  I’m 86, he says. We’ve been married 30 years. I’d forgotten  that he married M the same year he performed my wedding. His has lasted well. Third time’s a charm. My kids say she’s their best insurance policy.
I ask him where he’s going. He tells me he’s got a doctor’s appointment two big blocks down the street. I check my watch. Well you’ve got half an hour, I say. He smiles again. I walk very slow.  As he walks on, he looks back over his shoulder and says thanks for the call. After we’d won the big vote at presbytery, I had called him to say thanks. I had finally used all that he had taught me. I stay in this work because of people like Philip. I feel I owe them something. And need to pass some things on.

Pat O comes in to show me a new program. Called mind manager. First time I’ve ever seen a program that functions like my brain does. I work best with black boards or white boards making visual maps. Problem is, you have to erase things. With this program, Pat has mapped everything in front of us right now.  That’s exciting. There are meetings to prepare for. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's been five years now


We remember Adham

As I approach the church, I see that Joe and La Toya are gathering up their things, ready to go.  Good morning, I say. How are you?
Fine, says, La Toya, how are you?
Fine, too. I want to thank you for being up and getting ready. Makes my day easier.  Joe just stares at me. I appreciate it. I go to get my coffee. Days going to be easier all ready.

I go about moving the communion table. Getting the green cloth, the offering plates, the Colombian Cristo Rey with the damaged hand we place on the table and a few candles. Arcadia’s sisters and other friends and relatives are arriving with food to set up for the reception after  the service. Today is the 5th anniversary of Adham Brenes’ tragic death on the train tracks near the 125th street station.

Jeremy arrives and begins preparing for the service. There are so many people, we will sit in our pews and not make our customary circle.   I do incite everyone to come up front however.

We begin with Adham…and a generation of West-Park kids’….favorite church song, Sanctuary.

Or first lesson is Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18.  An explanation of what it man to be holy. I ask what people heard. Someone says, Obedience.  

We look again at these words:
9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.

And we notice that even here, in Leviticus, God is already demanding care for the poor and the alien, demanding that we not consume all but leave some for those in need. Not as over and above charity, but just because. No paying farmers not produce.  No destroying food that could be eaten to keep prices high.

And we read these words:
15You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

Anna reminds us that there is no such thing as victimless crime. Prostitution connects to human trafficking. And if you trace the money you pay for drugs back, it winds up with the deadly drug cartels in Mexico that have made life along the border a living hell.
And I talk about how the Presbyterian Mission Agency will be sending to this summer’s General Assembly a motion to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlitt-Packard because of their involvement in supporting the violent and repressive occupation of Palestine. … you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor

And then in conclusion:
17You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
We use as our refrain for the Psalm:  
…in your righteousness give me life.

Our second reading is 1 Corinthians 3: 10-11, 16-23. If we’re going to  build, we must be clear about a firm foundation. And that foundation must be Jesus Christ. None of our plans for rebuilding will succeed if we do not have the right foundation. And then we read:
16Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
That’s what we’re talking about when we sing, Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true, with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you. That is the incarnation. We are the dwelling place of God. If we can believe that, truly believe that, how does that change how we treat ourselves? And if we see others as the dwelling place of  God, how does that change how we see them? Treat them?

Finally, Arcadia reads the Gospel, Matthew 5: 38-48, in Spanish. And I in English.
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ I point out that this law was intended to limit vengeance. To seek equivalence. And if even that could be applied to us to day. How many multiples of 9/11 have the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost in human life? How many times over have the Israelis taken life to exact vengeance for terror strikes? If only  an eye for an eye.

39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. What exactly does that mean? But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; which is exact what Jesus did on his way to the cross.
Then there is this:
40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;  In those days, anyone only had two garments so to take both off would make one naked and thus shame the other. And I recalled again Rabbi Marshall Meyer stripping naked in the Buenos Aires police station to free his congregants.  
  41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. The first mile was oppression. The second mile a declaration of independence, an expression of indomitable spirit. These statements of Jesus are as much, or more, strategic and tactical than moral.

42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Really? In New York City? Really? One of our members says, You do what you can when you can.When I first came to New York City I’d never experienced so much begging. My children were frightened. I asked my friend Marc Greenberg of the Interfaith Assembly on Housing and Homelessness what to do. He said that giving money was not required. But acknowledging the others’ humanity was. It is becoming ignored, invisible, that causes people who are homeless to lose their sense of their own humanity.  And each a temple, a dwelling place of God.
And then finally,
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I recalled how hard it was in the 1980’s when I went to my neighboring Episcopal Church and had to pray for our President Ronald, after what he was doing in Central America.  Or how I told my boys that if they ever go anywhere and there’s someone there they see and are afraid of or have something against or are made uncomfortable by, first thing, walk across the room and offer your hand. It breaks the spell, the power that grabs and holds you. It puts response back on them . And how in the midst of our Presbytery struggles, Jamie recommended that I pray for our most virulent opponent. Again, that broke the power. And this time as much strategy and tactics as spirituality.

We finished our prayers. And then the passing of the peace. And then paused for the breaking of bread. A stretch for coffee. And pastelitos, and bunuelitos, pudin de arroz and pastel de manzana.

And them we gather for our time of memory. A tale has been created with photos and other objects of memory, including the dragon flies that became so symbolic for Arcadia. As she speaks, alone at the podium, it’s clear that even after five years, the wounds are still raw. And some wounds will never heal. I have the deepest respect for the way she has held onto life, has continued to smile and laugh and love and have a home of hospitality where all are welcomed. All fed, all nourished. She s then joined by Adham’s two closest friends, a young woman an d a young man, who share their own remembrances.

Sharing words of remembrance

Deacon James shares a passage

Arcadia’s retelling of the  story of those days, that time out of time, bring back my own memories. The bus ride back from DC where I was with my family. The searing, wrenching visit to the morgue to identify the body, Hugo and I while Arcadia waited. The endless lines at the Ortiz funeral home. The overflow crowd in the basement of St. Paul and St. Andrews for the memorial service.

Arcadia smiles as she tells how so many US friends of Adham ask to visit his grave while on tours that the cemetery workers think he  must have been a rock star. This year, his sneakers finally came down from the telephone wires. Urban shrine gone.  And now after five years, she s ready for this to be the last public memorial.

Deacon James steps forward an shares these words from Revelation 21:4

One love
We gather. Jeremy plays, and we all sing, One Love…by Bob Marley. Then I ask everyone to make a circle. A very large circle.  Before she joins the circle, I ask Arcadia to look around and see everyone. All the faces in the circle.  And remind  them, as my Native American friends once told me, once a circle has been made, it exists forever. I repeat my traditional benediction. And then one last chorus of One Love….and  then the memorial is over.

Afterwards, Hugo shares with me how fitting the Bible passages and how hard, yet important, forgiveness is to keep moving forward. 

                                                       * * * *

Our session meets to review our situation. And we remain  calm. We will do what we can do in our own integrity. And then wait and see what will happen. That’s all that we can do.