Saturday, March 29, 2014

Roots and branches


So if last week’s open mic was a reality television show, this week’s was a seminar. An entertaining one, for sure, but a seminar nonetheless, one where various cultural root of Americana were exposed, explored, intertwined and came together in new ways.

There were two young rappers, Polite and Swagger Jack.
Swagger Jack and Polite
Polite clearly experienced with a smooth flow and Swagger just his second time on stage. Polite got the night’s excitement rolling by inviting  Pat O to come up and lay down a guitar
Polite and Pat O
line while he rapped over it.  And damn, it worked.

Rose and Josh had brought another Columbia grad friend with them, Hollie O
Hollie O
(which made RL think of Tallie Ho so he called her Hallie Ho….) who did her own self-ironic rap about wanting to be a rapper but still being a cracker. This gave Pat O an idea so when  he came on, he invited Polite, Swagger and Hollie up with him as he did a traditional spiritual, Ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down, with Hollie on harmonies and improvs and the rappers taking turns freestyling. Today’s urban hip hop connecting directly with one of the sources of  black popular music. 

This is  exactly the kind of thing  that almost always bring  RL tears. It's the collaboration of community versus competitive jamming. It's what live music means to him. It's a sacred thing. 
Swagger Jack, Polite, Hollie O and Pat O

Then Joel Gold blew the young wordsmiths away with his own timeless spoken word improv and they caught on to another source stream for their art. Later we’d hear Rel who came from a more traditional R&B place.
Josh and Rose
Josh and Rose did their set with her borrowing a page from Pastor Bob (she said) and doing an a capella song.

Mandola Joe took us deeper into Americana with his Brooklyn Dodgers 1955 World Championship jacket (the only real Dodgers, he said) and his proclamatory dramatic recitation of Casey at the Bat in honor of opening day.(
Mandola Joe in his Dodger jacket, Casey at the Bat

So, when it was my turn,  I did both spoken word, another acapella and closed with Leonard Cohen.

The coupe de grace however had to be RL’s closing Stay Awhile, (Rose earlier had sung her own Stay with Me) accompanied by Pat O and the two rappers. I never thought I would live long enough to see RL with rappers. In fact, the thought never ever crossed my mind.  

We’d had this night long odyssey through Americana popular culture where everything fit seamlessly together. As Dion, our stand up guy (in so many ways) said, You just never know. That’s why we come here.  In our house, you just never know…it just might be possible, something you never thought of just might happen

Pat O, RL, Swagger Jack and Polite

All theology has a context


Yesterday, Pastor Heidi hosted Mitri Raheb, Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. Pastor Raheb is also President of dar al-Kalima Univeristy College and President of the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. He is here for his new book, Faith in the Face of Empire: the Bible Through Palestinian Eyes. ( Pastor Raheb spoke of his own journey from accepting the theology he had been taught as objective and correct to understanding it as coming from  a particular northern European context. Even more, as a theology supporting an imperial view of the world, one which did not include his own people. He had come to see traditional theology as supporting a triumphalist view of Zionism over against the Palestinians.  And that to read the Bible through the eyes of his people, his own experience requires a reversal of the traditional narrative. This is a concept I am working on with my students in Newark, that all theology comes from a context. And it is our calling as theologians to work with those who are oppressed to discover within themselves the resources to become the subjects of their own history, to take their destiny in their own hands.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The solidarity continues


Gregory comes in with his oozy, overly familiar ain’t we just bros approach. Teases me about the Sixers scarf Dan brought me this week. I say, Hey, my son works for them. What’s up? And of course it leads to money. As I reflect on it, however, the routine may not be a play. It may actually be embarrassment at having to ask for money. I need to put a check on my annoyance, even when the accumulation of requests gets wearing.

Reminds me of what happened on the 2 train the other day. The third Please excuse me ladies and gentlemen…in a row just entered our car and started his routine. A scruffy guy standing near the door cuts him off, Dude, you’re like the third since the last stop. The last dude isn’t even out of the car yet! Move on man, move on…We’ll forego the confrontation that followed…

Mitchell comes in. Another electrical issue to deal with. No big problem. The Antigone work goes on. That same scene over and over. And an evolving fight scene as well. The chapel has been turned into a veritable costume shop, yards of cloth, a sewing machine and a tailor with flying hands. This will all be gone by Open Mic time tomorrow. 

Lupe from Dos Pueblos and her intern come in to check out our space for an event in May. Dos Pueblos had begun as a solidarity with Nicaragua group during the Contra war days. It has continued to be in solidarity with the community of Tipitapa through changes in governments over the last 27 years. ( This event will feature the just returned Youth Delegation. I’m glad to keep this connection to my years of work in Nicaragua during the ‘80’s and of course it’s important to Hugo and Arcadia, too. I give Lupe and her intern the tour, then Danielle will work out the details.

Karen has come in to play the piano again and talk cleaning supplies with Danielle.

Don is back from China and we’re going to the B to meet with Jamie and talk about our current options as well as just enjoying the time. As Don and I are leaving, Mario and Jeremy G are coming in for an Open Choir and Seed Group gatherings. When I return hours later, they are coming out. I look forward to meeting the whole group soon.

RL stops in on his way out after policing the building. As for me, more writing to do.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Question answered: is hell real?


Just a brief stop at the church after a day of the never ending job of trying to get the apartment together…looking for window treatments…with Dan home for spring break…then off to New Brunswick to teach.


I look up. Takes me a minute to recognize him. OK, this is not one who asks for money, this is one who asks me random theological questions.

Pastor, let me ask you a question.

All right…

Is Hell real?

What do you mean by that?

Oh, you know, some people say Jesus was just a good man…some people, an they ordained,and I say, how can you be a minister and…

You want to know if hell is real?


OK, here’s the answer. Yes. He looks at me quizzically. Look, if hell is separating your self from God, from others, then if you’ve done that you’ve already created hell. Remember the story of Lazarus and the rich man? And the rich man thinks even after death, he cam get Lazarus to serve him and there’s an abyss he can’t get across? If you’ve chosen to break your connection to others, you’ve broken your connection to God. And that’s hell. That’s all you need to know. Does that answer your question?

He nods. Tips his hat. Thank you, Pastor. And makes his way out the door.

I’m in the middle of a conversation and Nan drops by to deliver a piece of mail delivered to SPSA where we haven’t been for 3 years but I think just to check out how we’re doing. While I’m now having two conversations, Rudolfo starts to come in.

Rudolfo, un momento por favor. Estoy en la medua d’una conversacion.

He backs away, then comes forward again, sad eyes, palm extended. Un peso, he says.
Un peso?

Si, me quiero un peso, Quiero cafĂ©, muy cara…un peso…

So I reach in my pocket, find a dollar give it to him.

Gracias, padre.

Coje lo suave, Rudolfo.

And then finish my conversation.
Pat O has come to help me sort through all the swirling thoughts in my head as I try and come up with a strategy to share with my people. One without white knights. Soon enough, ideas start coming together.

Daniel arrives. Soon we need to head home to meet the man who will be measuring our windows.
Mario comes in to wait for Andre who is coming in to met with him. I introduce him to Pat O and Daniel.

Mario steps out and soon enough Andre is here. He goes into the sanctuary with his companion. Dan goes in to talk with him. A while later, Mario is back. So he never came?

No, he’s right in the sanctuary, waiting. And Mario smiles. Dan and I head home to deal with blinds.