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.

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