Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Days 9 and 10 of Easter: Communists. Landmarking. Homeless.

A very quiet day. From the sanctuary, I hear Karen in deep concentration as she plays the piano, singing her own songs. She is not conscious of anything else, her voice rising, dancing with the notes flowing from her fingers.

On my way to midtown to experience Jane’s new venture, T.R.I.B.E.: Transformation, Realization, Inspiration, Belonging, Expression. (


Haven’t seen Jamie in a long time. She’s in to see Danielle with another possibility. She doesn’t give up. Even when she feels like it’s long past enough. It’s been over a month. I don’t have much time. Conversation not easy.

The Revolutionary Communists have been all over the place all day. Planning, strategizing their upcoming event. Very particular, middle aged, fastidious women. Media people come later. They’re negotiating a deal with Marc. Their program will be where we are in the Revolution. They could be a subcommittee of the Landmarks activists or the Central Park  Conservancy though they sincerely believe themselves to be the vanguard of the coming Revolution.

Clergy friends gather to meet with city council member Helen Rosenthal and enter into a dialogue around landmarking. Something downtown has necessitated her having to cancel. Some of my colleagues have a cynical response to this news.

Even though he’s been here 5 years, Father Larry from Holy Name has not heard all the stories we have about landmarking. All I was told is that councilmember Brewer made promises and you got landmarked and the money never came, he says.

Long story short. I say. Then I  tell him the long one.  Pastor K from SPSA has his story to. His journey went all the way up to the Supreme Court who finally decided not to hear the case. Their vitality and presence is both a tribute to their creativity and passion and the presence of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in their building. And Pastor Alistair and Rev. Peggy now feel themselves in the crosshairs.

Our conversation soon turns to our relationships with the homeless people of our neighborhood. West End has no issue, they are surrounded by iron fence and gates.  Holy Name has recently closed their steps after a slashing incident. There has been increasing violence. But the chains across the steps bother him deeply. Pastor K closed his steps after someone tried to set fire to the church doors.(They've left their affidavit that allows the police to move people on lapse. Must be renewed with the attorney general every six months.)  Good to know I am not alone here. We all agree that in the late years of Bloomberg’s luxury city, things got rougher. More violent and intransigent. We all, however, are boundlessly thankful for the work of Goddard’s Project Outreach and their success in getting people housed.  We couldn’t do it without them.

On the other hand, I am comforted to know that Father Larry has had his own confrontations with the Midnight  Run folks who for all their good intentions  don’t realize that they often create scenes at the churches they visit that they leave for us to deal with. Father Larry has permanently banned them from Holy Name. If only they’d consult with us, have some  dialogue, work with us, not think they know it all because they deliver clothing  and sandwiches. They don’t live here. With the homeless. We do.

Liberal romanticization of homelessness does little to change anything for the individual homeless person/object of charity or our city in its failure to respond politically. Yes, they bring a sense of cheer, of caring, of compassion. But action without reflection is ultimately an exercise in self-gratification.  

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Second Sunday in Easter: Doubting Thomas


 Two brown shoes. And a half-full iced coffee.

Start my Sunday with a serious sweeping of the steps and sidewalk. This exercise always takes me back to when I first started to reclaim the steps. The folks from last night left things in pretty good shape.  Set up comes next. Deacon James arrives in tie to help me with the chairs.

Our  friends Carman and Lotte are here this morning. She’s back from Denmark for another performance of her 14 song cycle about child sexual abuse, The Girl from Diamond Mountain. She has another Danish friend with her. And there’s Debra, a woman from the neighborhood.

This is one of my favorite Sundays of the Easter season. Today’s gospel reading is doubting Thomas. (John 20: 19-31). It’s starts with the disciples behind locked doors. For fear of the Jews.(19) Though of course, they were all Jews. Even though they have already had an experience of the Risen Christ, even though we’re in post-resurrection time, they are still afraid. It is as if they are dead, still in their own spiritual  grave.

After Jesus gives them some visual I.D., like the marks on his hands and side, they rejoice. But it’s not enough. To bring them back to life, Jesus must breathe into them, must breathe into the them the Holy Spirit. Ruach in Hebrew, pneuma in Greek. Breath, spirit, all the same. Like God’s spirit blowing across the water separated the dry land from the sea, brought the first human to life, breathed life back into Ezekiel’s dry bones, Jesus breathes into his disciples to bring them back to life. When he says, As the Father has sent me, so I send you. (21) he’s saying it’s time to come out from behind those closed doors.

As John R points out, this is John’s Pentecost story.

Sometime later, our friend Thomas enters the scene. He will not believe unless he sees, touches the wounds. Hence, doubting Thomas. And someone says, so that’s where that came from.  (It’s also true that since the gospels of John and Thomas were in some respects rivals, this may have been John dissing Thomas. John made it in. The Gospel of Thomas did not.) Jesus is ready to show him the marks and Thomas answers, My Lord and my God!

So here’s what interests me. Jesus is resurrected. You would think in resurrection, he would be perfect. Made whole and new. And yet the wounds remain. It is the wounds that identify him as who he is. His experience on the cross integral to his identity, even in a new life.

Likewise for us. It is our wounds that make us who we are. Even as we come out from behind the doors we have locked, we need our wounds. Not to ignore them, cover them over or hope they go away. But to own them and allow them to be transformed both for the healing of ourselves and others. I look and see heads nodding around the room.

Debra says that this brings to mind two songs for her, one is Gillian Welch’s By the Mark. The other is Spirit, which just happens to be in our hymnbook, so we open up our books and sing.  John R tells her, you need to come here every week. 

When it’s time for the offering, Andre sings He looked beyond my fault, not remembering immediately how high that Danny boy tune goes. I wait breathless and his fine baritone voice reaches up and hits it.  And we all say Amen and applaud.
The Midnight Run people left a box of sandwiches and other food and another with clothing here last night, so we see that they are distributed.
As I’m leaving, I see the shoes are gone.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The 7th day of Easter: Birthday parties and another opening of another show


Another opening

Working on getting ready for tomorrow.

By late afternoon, the place is a veritable beehive of activity. Love it when that happens. In the Noche studio, Martin’s younger daughter is having a birthday party. In the sanctuary, transformative preparations are underway for a former Sacred Center member’s 40th birthday party. The columns of the sanctuary bathed in purple and blue. And upstairs, in Mc Alpin, Berik and Leila getting ready for another opening.

Looking at Leila's collage
When I stop in, it’s another successful night for them with another eclectic group of international artists. They have discovered a good formula for their work and the turnouts are always good and artist happy. RL stops by to check things out.

The sound of drums brings me downstairs. It’s a Korean drum corps. Now that was unexpected. And sure enough, it draws a visit from a neighbor wanting to sleep. That problem soon resolves itself. There will be a sing along with new thought gospel music (don’t ask) a video tribute to the birthday girl, a choir and a live band.
Rl, Berik and artist

It’s getting late. I need to go home. RL will keep an eye on things and make sure the place is safe and secure and party over and cleaned up before he leaves.

The 6th day of Easter: Good to be back


Back from Louisville.  Meeting of the national Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. Sad. So much good is still going on. My friend Shannon off to Bangkok  and the Philippines to work on child sex trafficking. My friend Mark’s work at the UN. Bill and his important…and controversial… work moving divestment forward. Creative new worshipping communities emerging all over the country.
But…once again we go through the biennial blood letting as staff are riffed, cut, due to falling membership and decreased revenue. It’s become so much an expected, predictable, normal part of our life that it’s become ritualized. Almost liturgical. It should be on our planning calendar.

The board deals with general numbers in generic categories. No sense of the people in those numbers. The anxious waiting. Friends sitting vigil with vulnerable staff at their desks. The sigh of relief or feeling of despair when announcements are made. The two o’clock staff prayer service.  And again, good faithful people, many who have given their life to the church, are let go. More often women, too near to retirement to have good job prospects but too far off  to cash in. I waiting for a voice to say, maybe this model isn’t working.
                                                       * ***

Barbara Mood Indigo
Back just in time for Open Mic.  Even with a small turnout, the performances are still worth it. The ageless Barbara Como gives us some Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald tonight. The banjo phenom Nick Lantigua has a couple of originals and a banjo version  of a Led Zeppelin number as he continues to explore the limits of his instrument. But the night’s feature had to be Mandola Joe’s rendition of Dylan’s Desolation Row. Bringing Pat O up to join him, recalling their days as the Original Buskers.  With at least a thought that Nick could be an Original Busker, too. It’s great to have Joe back. And I’m happy to be back home..
Desolation Row as only Joe can sing it