Tuesday, February 4, 2014

SIkhs. And gnostics. And ecstacy.


Simran, Bob and Christine

The steps are the worst I’ve seen in a long time. I get Joe and La Toya up. Point to how trashed things  look. He volunteers to take the broom and dust pan and sweep up. And I put on the gloves to pick up and remove clothes, bedding, etc. Then head to the side door where there’s another mess. Sand bucket turned over, empty bottles. Not the way to start my Sunday.

Andre shows up ready to sing. Points to Joe and La Toya still on the steps. Those two savory? He says. Well not exactly un, I say, but that’s a long story.

A Sikh film crew is already here setting up, ready to film today’s dialogue between Simran Jeet Singh of the Sikh Coalition and Christine Hong of the Interfaith Office of the Presbyterian Church(USA). Christine is also already here. . Waiting. As we wait for the congregation to arrive and my anxiety rises. To add to the stress, the boiler is still out and a chill is setting in. Just like those old days.

We have an abbreviated service. Then the dialogue begins.
Simran and Christine  in dialogue
The Sikh community sought out this dialogue as they continue to endure racial profiling and hate inspired harassment and even violence. They simply want to be known. We at West-Park are part of the first series of dialogues. Simran talks about how he had always been somewhat tangentially involved until his best friend was jumped  on and beaten by 5 young people yelling Osama as they kicked him and broke his jaw. Most upsetting was that the attackers were young African Americans. Simran had hoped that those who have experienced oppression would be more sensitive to it. But that’s not the way it goes.

He recalled growing up in Texas. Feeling very much unique. And different. But OK until 9-11. When his while community went on lock down as they became targets of a frightened and angry community.

He helps us understand some of the basics:
* The names: Guru Nanak, the founder, wanted to break through the caste system so every man had the royal last name Singh and every woman kaur, or princess.
* Likewise the turban. Was traditionally for royalty. Nanak declared it for all.  A strong sense of egalitarianism.
* Sikh means disciple or student, who follows a guru,an enlightened one or teacher. I tell Simran that it is like that with us…ministers are teaching elders, not priests.
* They have strong tradition of charity and military service. Strong tradition in the British Empire. But the US has instituted a policy against visible religious symbols that also excludes orthodox Jews as well as Muslims and Sikhs.
* Had to make difficult decision not to just say, hey we’re not Muslims and declare that any hateful acts and prejudice are never justified.
* When he came to New York, began to realize that all Sikhs were not like him. Not all Sikhs played pick up basketball...
* And all the frightening times being stopped and asked where he was from (Texas) Especially Ohio where they took his license. From the passenger side. 

From Christine’s side, we learn what it was like for her growing up as an Asian American. Being told that she was so articulate. Or that she spoke good English. Her transformational moment was seeing her grandfather being humiliated. And she asks us to think of our own moments.

To counter the cold, Jeremy brings out the long green scarves that used to go with the Sanctuary NYC choir. It means a lot to me that he is sharing them with us. They always used to look to me like stoles for the long green season, ordinary time.

After the  dialogue has concluded, we gather around  the piano. Jeremy has arranged a version of vehe guru, a Sikh chant. And then we finish with Gonna live so God can use me. And we note that this African-American song fits both Sikh and Presbyterian theology.
We gather around the piano

I was happy to learn  about a group I had only known as providing security services in New Mexico with turbans and long beards.  And to know that they are monotheists, just like us. Almost 24 million of them in the world. That’s way more than Presbyterian.

                  * * * *

Late Sunday afternoon. I have told Rachel her cart is blocking the doorway. Of course she has to come back and tell me about the difference between people. How these fine young people said it was no problem. And that she should come to their performance.

This performance by the Workcenter will be in the gym. The Hidden Sayings. Katherine and John have come. And Beppe too. Mario and his company are dressed all in white.
Hidden SAyings
And bare feet. Begins with a proclamation from the Gospel of Thomas. Much of the text comes from gnostic sources. And it’s amazing to hear the old Nag Hammadi texts run through a southern black gospel voice. And body. Somehow, or rather, of course, it works. Some stretches are mesmerizing. Felicita has fully embodied the soul of the music. Later John H will say it was not so much a performance as an ecstatic religious experience. I want to tell him that that’s typical of the Grotowski praxis…deeply spiritual, recognizing the power of ritual and archetypal meaning beyond any systematic theology. It’s an effort to recover the earthy deep rhythm of creation and wonder as a central focus of theatrical experience. (What we saw in the Dzieci Maraton…) 
Hidden Sayings

Clearly what Mario and the  workcenter do could be the basis of an ongoing community.

We’ve lived through another  performance without heat. Like the old days of 2011-12. Old people struggling with four flights  of stairs. Rachel making a late ..and grand…entrance. Mario taking  her hand at the end of the performance…sigh..for so many she is more symbol than reality.

It has been a good day….

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