Saturday, May 31, 2014

Easter 40 and 41: The joy of collaboration


Katie, Joe, RL and Pat: Stay Awhile

Steven S in again. Dividing up jobs with David S.

Pat has arrived for our weekly check in session. Update that to do list. We finish just in time for me to go meet Katherine and head to Williamsburg to see if I actually made it into the film part of the Representatives performance piece Tell. Took five hours to film one line.


I did. One line, 18 very dramatic seconds….

Outside on the steps, Keith approached me. All smiles. Tells me he’s in love. Needs to buy some roses. Some yellow roses of Texas  for his lady. He’s doing the This isn’t the marine, this is Keith routine. The marine was a warrior. But Keith just needs to love and be loved…

Well, all right then…

I am working real hard to finish my work promoting the Goodman 50th anniversary event. I’m anxious about this. Jeremy M walks in. He wants to know what I’m working on, so I mention Rider... and Jeremy walks to the piano and starts knocking out a rolling piano version of I know you Rider gonna miss me when I’m gone..and soon I’m singing and I just know I’m going to do that song tonight. I knew it all day. Like there’s a song and I’m afraid to try it and also know that I ultimately have no choice.

Jeremy’s  hungry. I’ve got a long night ahead, so we walk to the Gate together for burgers.  While we’re there, RL walks by the open window where we’re sitting and interrupts to say Hi. ( Actually he asks if he can buy two for the balcony…) And Jeremy and I spend an hour talking about Jesus and empire and East German author  Stefan Heym and his King David Report and Wes Howard-Brooks’ Come Out my People and how they’re making  the same point  about how much of the Hebrew Scripture began as a mythic apology for Solomon’s empire and Jose Saramago and all of  sudden it’s late and I’ve only got a little time to practice before Esther shows up to rehearse. But that’s part of why I love Jeremy.

Esther arrives and it’s my job to get us over our mutual shyness and start us singing together. I’ve been wanting to do this ever since I learned my soccer mom friend was a rock’n’roll back up singer. In a band with Katie R, from the old P&G music gang, now relocated to West-Park. We get through one of mine. And then Pat O arrives and we start working on Hank Williams. Then  David S tells us he’s not feeling well and that he’s not feeling well and Pat will have to cover for him on sound.  And perform. Whoa.

Pat goes to check that out and Esther starts playing a Bonnie Raitt Song. And then People Get Ready…she’s really good. But really shy. And then Katie’s there and we’re into Down to the River to Pray…And when we’ve got the 3 part gospel harmony down on  that, I go get Pat. And now we go to work on Rider and soon enough Pat is roiling and the harmonies are coming. And I get then into the a capella break., OK, we’ll do this thing. We go over my original one time. Katie says, You’re not looking t each other, you’ve got to make like it’s about you two…I know what she means. Someone long ago told that to me. Well I’m not making  googly eyes, says Esther. Nonono, I say, just watch me….

Open Mic is underway. There ‘s a young woman from the UK, Anastasia, who pretty much rocks.
Anastasia rocks
A young R&B guy who get lost until RL tells him, sing a sing you sing walking down the street, pretend we’re not here…

Dion and his inimitable stylings. (Congratulations Dion on your scholarship for continuing ed, by the way…) Soon enough, there’s no more avoiding it…we’re up.
There's only one Dion

Esther, Katie, Pat, Bob: So Lonesome I Could Cry
Esther and I open with my Well… song. Then we bring Katie up with her violin and Pat and his guitar and are ready to start So Lonesome…And the lyrics are not there. Katie and Pat riff while I do a quick search. Ah, no…So I say to Esther, just watch me…and we just kill it…She does the country serious. And Katie gets an surprise round of applause for her violin break before the final verse.

I describe how Rider goes back to the 30’s and the Lomax field recordings. Used to be woman blues. Or black woman blues. And there’s the sweet high voice Joan Baez preDylan acoustic version. The Byrds jinglyjangly psychedelic version. And of course the Dead. And Hot Tuna. String Cheese Incident. And this is ours. How I was in a folks duo in college and my partner Linda went away to San Francisco for the summer and came back and said we had to change. She’s been exposed to the Dead. And so she led me into Rider. And a band. And I was never the same again. Musically speaking. Yeah, lots of versions. This one’s ours. 
i Know You Rider....

Esther’s not ready to take the lead yet, so we do an a capella Down to the River to pray, following Katie’s lead. And one again, the harmonies are all there. I’d forgotten the joy of working ensemble. Two-three voices dancing around each other in harmony. Seeing what goes, what stays. Working to get it right. Having to watch each other. Move in rhythm and spirit together. I’d forgotten how good that makes me feel. And also forgotten to turn in the zoom recorder.  OK, another time, I guess.

It takes awhile to come down. I’m settling down to listen to Joel when Keith comes in and sits beside me. A few faces askance, remembering his banishment. So I take him outside. His woman has disappeared.Since last night. He keeps going over This isn’t the marine, pastor, this is Keith, he had to come out again…
OK, we’ve been down this road before. By the time he gets to the yellow roses, I’m wondering why so many time he sounds like a script from a TV show. An afternoon TV show. But that’s not my concern. I need to respond objectively to where he is. She’s been gone since last night.So why didn't you tell me that this afternoon?, I ask.
He looks at me.
I just didn't want to  believe it. Pastor, this is Keith, not…
Yeah, look you’ve got two things to do. Go home. Wait. If she doesn't show by midnight, call 911 and file a missing person;s report. There’s nothing else you can do.
But pastor…
There’s nothing else you can do. He nods. Keep me posted. He nods again. Walks down the street.

I make the end of Joel’s set. The there’s Joe. And Joe recites a poem. Jose Saramago. Damn. Second appearance today.  And Pat. Usual fine stuff.  And then  RL calls up Katie.
Katie and RL
She told me outside how when she’s there helping RL with Harvey, in the late afternoon, when the sun’s going down, she loves to listen to RL sing.He’s called her up for Rustling winds…a very romantic song. I loved you once….her violin weeps. And before he finishes, RL is choking up.

We’re outside talking when RL calls us back in. We have to hear this new guy. Sam. A tall drink of water folksinger who does these talking buses style early Dylan/ArloGuthrie style intros. He’s halfway through a song. RL walking up cane in hand. Startles Sam. Has him start over, so we
can hear the whole song. The last folksinger in New York…Once again, the weekly surprise.

The last act is the old cowboy, Country Joe. Who calls Pat, tonight’s go to guy, to accompany him for King of the Road and Kansas City. An then RL and Katie and Joe and Pat take us out with Stay Awhile. Like always.

We invite Sam to meet us at the Gate and e agrees. It’s been a  night of collaboration. And I feel very happy. Very happy. 
Pat...with Country Joe

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Easter 39: Don said, "Enough"


Everyone's beneath the trees
Feeding pigeons on a limb
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here, 
All the pigeons gonna run to him.
                  Bob Dylan

                                     * * * *

There’s Sergeant Keith walking up Amsterdam in his red marine t-shirt arm in arm with his new old lady, as he would (accurately) say. He looks up, nods, continues on his way.

The Session is getting  ready to meet. A young man comes in. Tells us it’s his second day on the street. Just got robbed. Steven S just put away all our recent clothing donations and we’re not sure where they are, but Leila locates a bag and we come up with  warm sweatshirt and some shirts. He’s very thankful.

The older man who likes to play the piano comes in. I ask what he might need. And he says, no, would you like some coffee? And I say yes. And soon hot coffee is on its way. At this hour of the day, it's what I need.

It is a long meeting. Much is on the agenda. Construction bids to consider. The ongoing discussion of Noche’s long term status. The interesting prospect of reGroup’s interest in doing their season here. But nothing is really as important as clarifying our mission and moving beyond survival to revival, revitalization. We’re looking for the snappy catch phrase but we know that it has to do with being change agents. For persons and the world around us. And that we want to help each person discover and use their own unique gift for the greater good, the good of the community. And that everything we do needs to make clear who it is we are and what we stand for.

We know we need to create activities and invite people to participate in them. And that we need to create solid initiatives in four areas: social justice, worship and the arts, fellowship and education. Exploring the intersections between beauty and justice, spirit and action.

Don is very contemplative. Finally he says, would it be too much to expect the church to do something about gun violence? Really? Enough is enough…

And we begin to explore this . Some recall how for years we had an anti-death penalty witness. Since we had no church bells, we would gather on our steps any day there was to be an execution anywhere in the US. With fliers with the name of the executed and ring hand bells until all fliers were gone. Several homeless people who stayed on our steps, especially the (in)famous Arthur Cafiero ( faithfully joined us in this witness organized by Kate B. (Who creates the amazing home cooked meals once a month for our night at the SPSA homeless shelter.) 

I mention that our friend Mark K at the UN helped to produce a video called Trigger on the issue. Speakers are named. Don thinks about how we could use the scaffolding or our someday to be painted walls. Marsha suggests an Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) assembly. A plan is beginning to take shape. Enough, Don said.

Someone recalls the Facebook posting that says one man puts a bomb in has shoe and now millions of people have to take off their shoes before getting on a plane. So many innocent children have been gunned down and …..nothing. Nothing.

As we’re wrapping up, someone asks Don about his shirt that says, Believe. It’s from his work at Sea World. With the whales. How the shows in different parts of the country reflected  that place. In San Diego, a kind of surfer dude attitude.Riding the animals like riding waves.  In Texas, that cowboy/horse type relationship with the whales. And in Orlando, an evangelical inspired relationship with the whales. But in every place, that was the key, relationship. Two species sharing an intersection of space and spirit. Until the tragedy that cost a trainer her life. And now a wall of separation has ended the relationships in the name of liability. Of course Don’s story was longer. More emotional. But the point was there. Marsha says, there’s a metaphor there…

We leave with a sense of hope. When everyone is gone, I go up to visit RL. Catch an episode of Leverage.... Sometimes bad guys are the best good guys…and then an old Twilight Zone from over 50 years ago that I still vividly remember. What if we  really could  hear each other’s thoughts?

Another day is done.

Don said, enough.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Easter 37 and 38; Pigeons redux


Memorial Day. Supposed to be a day off. But I’m in the office, meeting Pat O and Jerry the contractor who’s in to examine the building once more in order to create his quote for the work we need done. He’s in his old friend RL’s studio, visiting,  when we get there.

We tour the building top to bottom. Literally. Trying to discern all the work we need to do to get out from  under the critical and baleful eye of Department of Buildings scrutiny. Inside, outside,all around the church.

Jerry’s an obvious veteran at this. He tells me some of the churches he’s worked at, including my friend Elise’s Advent up the street and over several years ago. And including stained glass, Tiffany and otherwise. Everytime I do this, I wonder, why? No old building romantic on this tour.

The tour ends. Jerry knows what he needs to know. I’ll claim my half a day off. Head to Citifield to meet my friend Mark K and a doctoral class from Columbia in Georgia. To see the Pirates vs. the Mets. Mark, like me, grew up a Pittsburgh boy. As he’ll tell the class tomorrow, we bleed black and gold.


Get to the church after going to the UN Church offices to speak to Mark’s visiting doctoral class. With me was Marc G, the director of the Interfaith Assembly on Housing and Homelessness. We were there to talk about interfaith cooperation and collaborative action on social issues. (see #CTSatUN). 
Arrived to learn that RL had spent 45 minutes with his cane chasing an errant pigeon trying to convince it to leave. That sight alone is enough to ponder, but it gets worse. By the time Danielle had arrived, the pigeon had now gotten itself stuck on an anti-mouse glue trap so was no longer the speedy roadrunner character that eluded RL but now more like a battle weary veteran. This now would lead to an impromptu confab between Steve S the porter and David S the handyman which has its own interesting twists and turns as they discussed strategy. The  very thought of having to outsmart pigeons is depressing. 

Most annoying is that it all goes back to the architect with a paper hasmat over his business suit who came in to inspect the tower, albeit with comforting results, who was nevertheless unable to close the hatch in the pigeon tower resulting in a breach in our defense and a reopening of  the territorial battle with the pigeons we believed we had won.  This leaves me with a sinking feeling in my stomach I was unprepared for. I want to fight these battles once.

Pat O’s job today is to create a grid on which we can compare all the various bids we’re getting, apples to apples style. Danielle's job will be to lead the final tours of bidders and fill in the grid. All before writing the grant application for money from the Landmarks Conservancy. Deadline Friday. Not a moment to waste.

Danielle's parents are visiting from Iowa. just a bit early. No problem, they'll go out for coffee while we discuss pigeons. And grant applications. 

Off to Newark to teach my final class of the term at the Newark School of Theology. Another milestone in the year that’s moving all too fast. (

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The sixth Sunday in Easter: Memorial Day reflections


Stephen arrives and Samantha soon after to watch Steve’s son. Cute little guy. Dion and Deacon James helping  get everything set. Outside, Anna is there with puppy and Sergeant Keith disappearing up the street with an older woman. Apparently he’s doing OK.

It’s Memorial Day weekend so I know it will be a slow day.

We start with Acts 17: 22-31. We’re looking at Paul as a preacher. Paul, far from Jerusalem, meeting the Athenians where they are,.praising their religiosity. Riffing off of their altar to an unknown God. (23) he speaks of immanence… though indeed he is not far from each one of us (27) and finishes with that zen-like formulation, (28) In him we live and move and have our being. I say it’s like swimming in the ocean. We’re in it. We’re surrounded by it.  Sustained by it.

The  we read Psalm 66: 8-20 responsively. I stop with verse 12:
you let people ride over our heads;
          we went through fire and through water; 
which of course makes me think of James Taylor, Oh I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen
rain…and then  …yet you have brought us out to a spacious place….I ask how many have ever been to a Passover Seder. And how in Hebrew, the word for Egypt, for slavery, is mizraim, the narrow place. That’s where we live. Squeezed in. Restricted. Constricted. And instead God leads us out to a spacious place, a place where we can breathe. And I ask folks to reflect on what are, where are our narrow places? What would a spacious place feel like?

The Epistle lesson, from I Peter 3: 13-22, raises the idea of suffering for righteousness sake again….17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God….as Andre always reminds us, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s reference to the power of unmerited suffering.  And this very tactical advice, . Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. And Jeremy reminds us how the tactics of non-violence push the powerful to expose themselves. Like the firehoses and dogs of Selma. The Tiannamen tank. The bodies of Mississippi when searching for Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner. Gandhi took this as tactical advice from Jesus. And King took it from Gandhi. Circle complete.

Finally the Gospel, John 14: 15-21.  At this point in Eastertide, more than half-way through, Jesus is  preparing his disciples for life after he is no longer with them in the flesh.

He is sending another advocate. As Anna reminds us, in Spanish, abogado, attorney. How Satan is the accuser, the prosecutor,the voice in our head that tells us that we’re no good, that we can’t make it. And that it si the Spirit of Truth, the voice ta reassures of of our worth, our value, our belovedness. The defense attorney, as it were.

Then it moves to 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you which gets 
us back swimming in that cosmic ocean again. And if I could do  it , we’d go to
 I am he as you are he as you are me
And we are all together
You know, I am the walrus...
But no way even Jeremy and I could pull that off.

It’s Memorial Day weekend. I think of how my dad always wanted to put flowers on his father’s grave. And I wish I could be in Washington, Pennsylvania and visit my father’s grave. I see it in my mind’s eye.

John R remembers Vietnam veterans coming home to no recognition. I remember my steel town.Only 40 % of my classmates going to college, The disproportionate numbers who went to Vietnam. And the children of lower classes sent off to war without any notice by the rest of us. Somehow the major league baseball players wearing camo isn’t quite enough.

It is Fleet Week, Times Square and the tourist areas with sailors in their dress whites, Marines in their khaki and blue.I miss  the foreign sailors and ships.

Anna recalls how her father was a pacifist inside militarist japan. And I remember the man I met last week who was born in an internment camp. And took 20 years to regain hsi citizenship. We all have our stories. 

Or maybe Memorial Day’s just the day the beaches open. Where so many of our folks are. And I wish I was.

The service ends. We make our circle. .Go our separate ways. I'm alone .I’ll go see Rachel this afternoon.