Thursday, July 31, 2014

Work in progress


Day begins early with a meeting with a prospective architect for our reconstruction project. Jerry, a construction manager is here for us. And Marsha. And Jamie. And Pat O. And Don arrives, with a fresh pot of coffee and mugs. We do the whole walk through, looking at every place on our priorities list. Talk strategy on dealing with the Department of Buildings. We have a good feeling about this one.

Jeremy M comes in, fresh from his Lincoln Center success and getting ready for his upstate gig. But we want to talk about worship. We talk about the need for repetition and familiarity to build singing community. How our Jewish neighbors at BJ use the same songs every week, occasionally different tunes, but everyone knows them. How we can use guests, a feature every Sunday, same framing songs for a month at a time. And we talk about the Bible. How some passages are reminding people of why they left church. The pain of judgment and exclusion.  And we talk about maybe the harder passages are better for study sessions, for people who really want to go there. And maybe have a theme for a month at a time. Invite guests to make a contribution to that theme. We talk about how to draw in seekers, spiritual but not religious. And we keep working on Amanda’s idea of special guests every week and steps concerts every Sunday. I feel like we’re getting somewhere.

TK and Heather come in to begin to discuss the week of Hiroshima events we have scheduled. This is becoming a big event. Photos are being delivered for the exhibit. Having to work out between Mc Alpin Hall decorated for the Texas Trilogy like a Tulsa lodge hall and dramatic photos from Hiroshima.

A man comes in complaining that he can’t sleep. I can’t help him with that. But I can relate.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Performance and the Sacred: continuing the conversation


Sam, one of the young Dzieci comes in wanting to start some rehearsals for his late August Cymbeline with Ryan. No problem.

A woman is looking for the Seed Group meeting, but I think it’s not until tomorrow night. She sees the bowl with Angelo Romano’s angelitos, smiles, asks what they are. I point to the art work in the sanctuary from Angelo, explain that they are original pieces of art work and have spiritual power. And I invite her to take one. She smiles again. Holds it close. Thanks me. Goes to look for the group.

Priska found Woodshed’s storage room open and lots of valuable things vulnerable so closed the access from the  inside and her studio to keep everything safe. And expresses her thanks for RL  keeping an eye out for her and helping her out.


Jeremy G is back from a wedding in Nashville, Mario from upstate and Rishika has just been here. Time to evaluate last Friday’s conversation on Performance and the Sacred. Pretty well met expectations. We talked again about the difference between the Work Center folks interacting with existing congregations and the emerging community that comes for the Open Choir and Seed Group. People have historically joined churches out of a belief and Roman Catholic and Church of Christ churches do have a set of beliefs that define particular communities. People come to the Seed Group from many and no faith perspectives seeking a particular experience.

The question is, can that experience be the basis of building a community of mutual accountability and capable of reaching out to others?  That continues to be an open  question, but I want to explore it. And Jeremy G and Rishika are interested in seeing what will happen. We also continue the discussion of what it means to use words that you don’t believe. Mario says that there have been attempts to change words of songs, but that seems to change the song. And Mario talks about how each person is challenged to find their own song.  

And I continue to wonder how this all connects with West-Park as a church, and am willing to wait and see what develops.

Jeremy M and his band the Magi are in the sanctuary rehearsing for a big gig they’ve got coming up at the renowned Falcon upstate. Opening for Arc Isis. 

RL is in for a lengthy review of all current realities, concerns, open issues, etc. 

Time to leave for a gathering and discussion with Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase about Stony Point. (

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Faith: even a little


Jeremy at Lincoln Center

Steven S is late. I’m running around getting things ready for worship when Jeremy M arrives. Yesterday afternoon when the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra with Toshi Reagon and the inimitable Nona Hendryx rocked the Lincoln Center Outdoors stage, there was Jeremy at true keyboards. And today, he’s back here with us. 

We have at least 3 visitors with us. A young woman came early looking for the service and has come back. And two others turn out to be hiking friends of John R. One a Hindu from India and the other a Jewish woman, they’ve made an agreement to visit each other’s services so they’ve been to a Ganesh Temple in Queens, our neighbor B’Nai Jeshurun and today West-Park. I love John R for doing this, brings me joy.

I have Jeremy working on  some Freedom Songs. I want to bring some of that spirit in. Like Oh Freedom…and we’ll finish with If I had a hammer.

And then our first scripture lesson is GENESIS 29:15-28, a continuation of our study of the story of Jacob. He has tricked his brother for the birthright. He has tricked his father for his blessing and today, well, the trickster gets tricked as Jacob labors 7 years for Rachel only in the  light of day to wake up with Leah. It will take him another 7 years to gain Rachel completely. That is some love, And reminds us again of God’s blessing not always coming as we expect.

One line from PSALM 105:1-11, 45B underlines the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. It raises all kinds of questions about choseness, covenant and what does any of that have top do with a modern nation state except to support some who  believe that  God is on their side.

8He is mindful of his covenant for ever,
of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
9the covenant that he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac,
10which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
11saying, To you I will give the land of Canaan
as your portion for an inheritance.

We will spend most of our time with ROMANS 8:26-39. It is words I use every week in our time of prayer:

26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

There are [payers that go beyond words. To feel them is to feel the Spirit. And so this connects to our conversation from Friday night. It is where song and art and dance come from, they are their own expression of the sacred, open their own doors to that place beyond. They don’t need to be exegeted or explained, they just are.

28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Do we really believe this? We have to see clearly what it says and doesn’t say. It does NOT say that all things are good. That there is a reason for everything. . Some things are just plain bad and have no possible good, EG, dead children on a Gaza beach, a father choked to death on Staten Island. But in all things, we can work for good if we are of the right mind and spirit. I remember how we came together in the wake of 9-11,how we took care of each other without having to depend on the police or army. How our church pulled together. That’s what it is about.

It’s clear that I often have issues with Paul. His circular extended arguments, his spirit/body dualism that is more Greek philosophy than Judaic, his sometimes self-deprecation that comes off as being full of himself. (Like Jacob, blessings come from imperfect vessels.) But sometimes what he says cuts to the every heart of things and is perfectly clear:

31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That final line giving sustenance and support in the most difficult of times. That I can hold on to.

Finally, in MATTHEW 13:31-33, 44-52, another parable about sowing. This is the mustard seed story. When we get to the part about the pearl for which a merchant would sell all other pearls, I point to the first of our upper stained glass window, a gift from the Seekers for Pearls. I would love to know who they were, a Sunday school class? What was their history? What did that do? Our only other side window is from the Lightbearers Society. Six were planned. Only two were ever installed.

I just don't get the one about the treasure. Why doesn’t the one who found it just walk off with it? Why does he have to hide it and buy the field?

44The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

What it’s about is faith. It’s like you can’t be a little bit pregnant. Either you are or you are not. If you are, in due time something will be born. Even faith the size of a mustard seed is faith. Even that much, in due time, will come to fruition. Begin with that.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Performance and the Sacred: a living exploration of community and practice (in other words, what we do every day...)

Myrto, Bob, Mario and Katherine

We finally sit down and talk with the reGroup theatre folks to try and finalize their contract. There have been some bumpy places but I still have respect for what they are doing in trying to reclaim the legacy of the original Group theatre and I am anxious for them to have  a good run for their  Texas  Trilogy, which I haven’t seen since my Tulsa days.( There is enough shared culture on both sides of the Red River to have made a real connection with the Tulsa theatre community.

People from the Work Center are arriving and setting to work for tonight’s open conversation on the intersection between performance and spirituality.

Last night while they were singing, a couple wandered in and asked what was going on. I told them it was an open choir singing songs from the old southern black church tradition. They listen awhile, see the bare feet and the dancing circle and look as if they’re not quite sure.

Pat O in for our weekly meeting. We have to get Danielle’s job replacement description finalized. And keep moving towards finalizing our construction manager contract. And doing whatever’s necessary to expedite getting the stop work order lifted. But underneath it all, there is progress. We are moving forward.

Starting off with music
A crowd is gathering in Mc Alpin Hall for Performance and the Sacred: a living exploration of community and practice. The event begins with a round if singing. People drawn up and into the moving circles.  Jeremy G gives us an overall introduction and I set the context for West-Park as a sacred space.

There’s a lot to talk about beginning with the theme for the evening.
* I remember when we were working with the accordionist extraordinaire Bill Schimmel ( every Sunday. Other of our house musicians complained and said that it felt more like performance than worship. Katherine responded that all worship is performance,  it’s a matter of what kind of performance. So I argue that  there is no distinction between performance and sacred. 
Jeremy G welcomes us
* Jeremy M argues that for himself as a recoding artist, performer and church musician, for him there is a difference.
* Katherine says that ultimately it’s an issue of intention.
* The issue of repetition comes up. Mario talks about working on some pieces for 10 years before they are ready. I say that repetition can be an effort to recreate an experience. To do it so many times that it becomes embedded. Like a recipe. You may need to do it 10 times before you know it well enough to take it off in another direction. It’s when the word  is fully incarnated that the door to the deeper place opens.
* There are folks here from St. Augustine, a Roman Catholic Church with garifono members, women in African print and turbans. All you need for your church to grow, says one woman, is good music. One good singer. And feed the people good food.
Mario tells us about the Work Center
* We have good food, donated by our neighbor Barney Greengrass, arroz y habichuelas from Flor de Mayo, Mario’s favorite spot, and a giant pan of shepherd’s pie from our home base, the Gate.  Generous neighbors...enough to feed us all and more...
* There are people from the Manhattan Church of Christ, an evangelical break away from the Disciples. They have a strong program with the homeless. But what is their theology? Where are they vis a vis lgbtq? Women? That is important to me.
* The question of context comes up. The music Mario uses is from the American south. African-American Christian music. Some of the seed group members are Buddhist. Jewish. Hindu. Secular. They are wrestling with what does to mean to sing words they don’t believe and still feel moved? Is thee something inherent that in the music that has meaning deeper than the words?
* I press the context discussion in an other direction. The music they sing comes form a  context of struggle, From a project of creating liberated space in the midst of slavery. Oppression. That sustained people in the struggle to make that liberation concrete. What does it mean to remove that music from that context?
Myrto makes a point
* Mario suggests that we are all involved in some level of struggle, even if personal and internal. That’s not enough for me. We live in the midst of the agony of Gaza. Of tens of thousands of children crossing the US-Mexico border. Of a black man on Staten Island choked to death for selling loose cigarettes. Does this experience of singing and/or performance challenge one to engage? I recall that Thomas Merton said that when one begins in true meditation, one ends in revolution.
* Also at stake is community. At last week’s Petefest, in honor of Pete Seeger, I finally got it. When I was an early folk-singer, I hated sing-alongs. I wanted to slay you with my songs. But I realized that Pete had an intention. (That word again) to create a sustaining community of struggle through shared song. That his sing-alongs, the very act of communal singing, had concrete political content.
Katherine does too
* And I pushed the community question further. As I see it there are two agendas. One, the relationship with St. Augustine, the Manhattan Church of Christ, existing faith communities, is dialogical and dialectic in nature. The other has to do with creating new communities. To ask those who have been attracted to the weekly practice of singing what the next step would  be. What would it taken to make a commitment of mutual accountability to each other? To become  a community that would reach out in service, in struggle? I offer to assist that process for anyone willing  to undertake it.
* For me, I now that the church as I have known  it is over. Something new must be born. I want to help midwife that new reality. Is something here part of that new birth? Is there a new community waiting to be born? We’ll review it all next week before Mario returns to Italy.

Saying goodnight after a great conversation


Open mic starts late out of  courtesy for the discussion going on upstairs. There’s at least one new singer-songwriter named Jesse.
I do a late set after Joel, Pat O and Mandola. But the real moment of the night is Alex,
back again. Getting ready to head back to northwest Arkansas, territory  knew well in my Tulsa days, to record her first EP in Kansas City. She wants to play some songs. Get some video. For her kick-starter campaign. I’m elected to take the video, which I do until her battery runs out. There is something raw and untouched in her voice. I look forward to us being  a community of support as she ventures out. We’ll publicize the campaign as soon as it is on. RL invites her to join him on Stay Awhile. And she does. Smiling all the while.

Stay Awhile