Sunday, August 31, 2014

A fan has something to do with it. And Jesus.


RL opens. And closes.

The fire extinguisher inspection guys came today.

Beppe stopped y last night, just back from Sardinia. We talked about his recent experience at a 3 day meditation retreat. About that shared sense of what is beyond us.  I talked about my feeling when my cat Troy climbs up on my chest, looks into my eyes and I can feel him breathing. This sense of sharing something at a deeper level of creation. The gentle steady lapping of the ocean. And the sea gull who walked over and stared at me on the Jersey shore. I’m thinking this is going to make it into a sermon somehow.

Ryan is in. Tonight is opening night for Cymbeline.

Jeremy M in to talk about our Sunday morning project. And rehearse for Sunday. We try Ripple, one of the most intriguing of Grateful Dead songs, lyrics by Robert Hunter. I’m hoping to do it tonight with Esther, Joe and Pat. I love Jeremy’s voice adding harmonies. Then he brings out an original, You’re going home, written for a dying woman. It’s painful. Poignant. And the harmony he has for me is sharp. And clean. Close. And plaintive. After a few tries, it’s there. And I feel something quiver inside.

Joe and I spend an hour or so working on the plan for revitalization of the congregation. I can actually see it working. If we can get people to see it, the step by step, maybe we can get past the history of missed opportunities, move to hope and possibility again.

A crew from BRC (the Bowery Residence, where Chris now lives…) arrives to move Sean. There’s some van problems, can we keep some of his stuff just a little longer? I’m happy just to see he’s got another shot. And that all my bridges have not been completely burned on his behalf. Sometime I feel Sean must have some angels watching over him, despite his losing battle with his body and lingering demons.

Kristen Leigh walks in and I’m happy to see her. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for some time. I admire her work as an artist. Her bringing the Collection here.  I enjoyed her part of the concert Songs to fill the air a few weeks ago at St. Bart’s featuring the songs of Jerry Garcia. (That’s what pushed me to tackle Ripple…) She shares with me a beautiful note she wrote the creator/producer/director of that event about the power of performing live music. It’s inherent imperfection as part of its beauty. The difference between the pursuit of perfection on a captured moment in time live recording and the you never know what might happen reality of live performance. (Her Songs in the key of redemption concert at West-Park a couple of years ago had to contend with a sudden snow storm.) She concluded with the audience is always right. And that, as my boys say, is word.

I appreciate her as an artist and as a theologian. I’m interested in the community around the Wild Goose festival. ( all honesty, she says,  a little too heavy on middle aged yearning white males…careful there…).How to be more diverse? And how much of the emergent movement is sill captive to the institutional church.

We agree how open mics can be like church. There is welcome. Acceptance. The chance to share. And grow. And become. And that the same could be said of followers of a football team or any other activity we do regularly. So what makes the difference?

It’s what’s there when then shit this the fan, she says. The need to go deeper. And find something, someone there.  I can’t even necessarily define it. But it’s either there or not. And too many mainline churches are like, well, clubs. But I don’t need that. I enjoy open mics more. Unless you’re going deeper, ah, you know?

She shares her own journey. And here’s the main take aways:
1.     You have to make demands. If it means something, it costs something. Not just tithing. Your whole self. Progressive churches can’t be afraid to ask.
2.     Allow for mystery and awe. Don’t need to explain the Bible or apologize. Burning bushes are burning bushes and virgins give birth. The question is not how, but why? What are they trying to tell us?
3.     It’s Jesus makes it radical. Move beyond that spiritual but not religious. It’s not even about belief. But it is about following.
We talk about the conversation we had with Mario and company about performance and the sacred. I wish she could have taken part. I wish she could stick around and play some music tonight. But she’s headed for her new cabin in the woods. His conversation will continue.
                                                                * * * *

I’m in a heightened feeling of inspiration when I return from my conversation to be confronted  by RL to deal with the front steps. And there I find Edward Green, like I do every August like clockwork.  The only person permanently banned from the steps.

He’s curled up in a fetal position. Head on a clear garbage bag filled with cans and maybe a clean shirt or two. Looking gaunt. With an unruly beard and Afro wild. Edward, I say..
My God, you know my name…
We have history. You know you can’t be here.
Please just let me get some rest…please…
He begins to gasp. Writhe. You want me to die? You want me to die?
Do I need to call 911?
Please.  PLEAASE….

So I do. And have to explain over and over why this is an emergency. They’re trying to talk me out of it. Look, I know him, OK? This is serious.
Soon enough they arrive. The EMT guy looks tired. Exasperated. Hey, I just took you to the hospital two nights ago. What’s up? He says to Edward.
Edward is crying. Tears streaming down his face. Gasping. Finally they pull out the stretcher. Get him up on it. Push him into the ambulance. My bag…he cries…my bag…the EMT guy picks up Edward’s Afro pick. Sticks it in his hair. We’ll take care of the bag, he says.

While the EMT guys are wrapping up, I go to the guy on the north steps. He’s lifted up his eye shade. A police squad car has arrived as well. He’s checking everything out. This might  a good time to leave, I say. He nods. Puts his shoes on, gathers up his bed things and takes off up the street.

I’m shaking as I go to dispose of Edward’s things. I’d wear gloves if I were you, says RL. Of course. There’s an empty St. Ides 40 in the corner. RL starts to talk to me about why brighter lights and a no loitering sign will take care of this. And I don’t really want to hear it right now. He’s in a self-admitted Jack Frost role right now. Of course he’s right, but…

Pat and Joe are arriving, ready to rehearse…

Edward challenges my whole theological system.  Somehow I can exegete Eric Garner. Ferguson. Gaza. Foley. But Edward? He’s been to rehab a dozen times. Given his life to Jesus Christ twice that. And he’s always back here dying a slow death without even the charm of Sean to draw angels near to him.  What do we say here, Kristen? What do we do?  What kind of music is this? It is. That’s all. Just is.

Joe, Pat, Bob
Time to go practice with Joe and Pat O. Ripple. Joe’s mandolin….If I knew the way, I would take you home…


A quiet night at Open Mic. Like family, says Rabbi Steve.
Steve Blane
+ Dion, fresh back from vacation. Ready to get back in the flow.
+ Warms my heart to see rabbi Steve back again an don the Beckstein instead of the honky tonk piano in the chapel..
+ Kieran’s here with some fans
+ An old peace activist from the outer boros, Gigi brings her poems of protest
+ RL tells her some of our history. Love to hear him tell it. And then in an atypical RL moment, questions why conservatives tell us that gun laws won’t stop gun violence but somehow abortion laws will. (Stop abortions that is, not gun  violence.)
+Joel is especially on tonight, inviting Steve to improvise with him. We could be in  the village 40-50 years ago. I could see the two of them together on the Steve Allen Show.
Joel, with Steve
Pat O
+ Pat O and Mandola each do solid sets. Scottish independence upcoming vote a theme.
Mandola Joe
+ And then after my ..Queen…song, they join me for Rider and Ripple, which I say is right there with So Lonesome…as a near perfect song…Playing with people is healing. Though I do miss the singing harmoinies…
+ Miryam has arrived late. Does a set, she says,  of one traditional, one original, one cover…Pat O singing along quietly to the McGarrigle’s Heart Like a Wheel…
+ And then it’s time for RL one more time and Stay Awhile…

….a very long day….

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Occupy where you are


There is a fresh bouquet of flowers on the steps. And also Geoffrey. Looking half- like his old sub-Saharan  prophet self and half like his newer cleaned up Geoffrey self. Long skirt and sandals, no straw hat.

Pat O is in to fill me in in yesterday’s meeting that took place while I was trying to make my way back from the beach and Alistair’s car broke down.

Trisha is in working on details of her upcoming new take on Othello.

Then my old friend from Occupy, Jason H arrives with his friend Frenchy. Jason H says to  Frenchy, I used to live here. And we tell the whole story of Occupy and West-Park, those crazy, heady, wonderful days.

Frenchy is a Dean of Students at one of the high schools with high risk kids in the Bronx. His roots go back to New Orleans, (hence Frenchy), and he’s still got family there. He’s also been a dancer  with some of the top shelf African-American dance companies in the city. Like Ailey. Bill T. Jones. He wants to use dance and other arts for the students to learn to tell their own stories. Ah, Freire, I say…becoming the subjects of own history…and he smiles. He’s got a special heart for queer youth and their double marginalization in the ghetto.And of course the conversation comes around to child sexual abuse. That hidden reality. Jason and I recall the number of Occupiers who had been abused. 

Jason lives in Staten Island and working with community groups on the Eric Garner choke-hold death issue. Almost lost in the Ferguson aftermath. I ask if he was in Al Sharpton’s march. He shakes his head disdainfully, I don’t do that, he says. Al’s in. And he’s out. I want to work with the people who stay. Who have to live there.

I give them the full tour, I want Frenchy to see all the performance spaces. He’s impressed. The back to the chapel for more conversation. Jason, as always, sees all the connections. He’s trying to connect Amanda’s  tower project to Frenchy’s work. And always, he sees the connection between everything and how it all fits together, how it’s a systemic, global problem. It’s what Occupy got intuitively. But he’s not sure what exactly to do except to keep bringing people together for conversations. To see what might come out of them. Frenchy listens to our global conversation for awhile then says, I don’t know man. I just think you gotta occupy where you are. That’s all I can do.

He asks what’s next. I say that I find you have to  let it simmer a bit, see what rises to the top. I feel the connection too. We’ll talk again.

Sam and Ryan and the  Cymbeline folks are doing their final run through. Tomorrow night is opening night.

I stop by to see RL. Watch another Leverage with him.... The rich and powerful take what they want. We steal it back for you. Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys. We provide leverage….Leverage got it. The system isn’t broken. It’s fixed. Occupy where you are.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Godwrestling 4: Gaza. Ferguson. Staten Island. And a challenge....


Witnesses: Stephen, Hugo, Arcadia, Lilly, Stephen, Samantha

The empty days of late August. And we gather for worship. Our 4th in the series on godwrestling.
Good to see Russ back again. And Stephen W. And Rachel, who always lifts my spirits. We use Lead on Oh King Eternal as a musical reflection. And our main scripture this morning is Exodus 1:  8-2:10, which we do as a reader’s theatre, different voices, different parts. The story of a new pharaoh who knew not Joseph, the quasi genocidal project against male children and the rescue of baby Moses.

This time I do more talk at the beginning than I usually do. Much on my mind and heart.
Talk about wrestling…There’s the continuing siege of Gaza. The murder of loosie salesman Eric Garner. The protest march on Staten Island. Michael Brown, shot down in  Ferguson. We’ve now added to our common language, I can’t breathe... (Garner) and Hands up, Don’t shoot…(Brown). Foley's brutal beheading by ISIS. Feels like a world aflame.

Did you notice that last Monday on Monday Night Football the Washington Redskins  secondary entered the field with their hands up? Did you notice that our friend Osagyefo Sekou was sent to Ferguson as a representative of the Fellowship of Reconciliation? ( He commented that in Ferguson he needed  a gas mask more than his clergy collar. Turns out Brother Sekou grew up around there and graduated from Ferguson high school.

Our PCUSA officials released a statement that urged prayer and calm… son Micah  saw this on my Facebook and commented …seriously?....Micah’s point was what is called for is not calm, but a loud cry of outrage....

So we turn to our story…

First…how did we get into this situation?
* Jacob settled where he wanted, not where God wanted…setting it all in motion. He chose the security of a gated community over the wilderness where reliance on God is the only security.
* Joseph, sold away by his brothers,  put his fate in the hands of pharaoh, not God. Served the pharaoh. Manipulated a food crisis to rob the people of their property, enslaved the country, the lower class Egyptians as well as the Hebrews.
* The new Pharaoh manipulated  up resentment against and fear of the Israelites to distract from his culpability. It’s an old common story…lower class whites encouraged to blame the blacks, not those who control the economy. Lower class whites blaming immigrants. Jews driven out of one country serving the rulers of a new country until the people arise.  An old story.

Now…a new pharaoh…who did not know Joseph…arises ….(and even if he did know Joseph, his strategy could have been the same…)

The message is simple: when you buy into the empire you are lost…

There is also the reality of the more powerful fearing the larger population, Pharaoh afraid of Hebrew demographics,  Israel fearing being outnumbered by  Palestinians…

There is new scholarship suggesting that revolutionary war was not just about self determination but also about slavery…That the British Empire was preparing to end slavery and the colonial economy was dependent on slavery and so the drive for separation…the roots of today’s trauma run very deep….

The story of baby Moses and the bulrushes   has a sense of Bible story nostalgia.., a gentle glow of memory. It’s easy to forget that underneath this story is a genocidal plan…

Again, familiar…Gaza,(shooting fish in a barrel, as one of us says…),mass incarceration, drug laws, (remember again our West-Park overture, the disproportionate rate of stops, arrests, incarceration…with about 12% of the population blacks are 65% of drug arrests and 75% of incarcerations…)  and now with these shootings, is there any wonder African-Americans feel like there’s an outright war on black youth…(Deacon James, shakes his head. Remembers serving his country in Korea. Why? he asks,  Just why? You pay your debt. Why do you lose your vote forever? Seems like a plan… )No wonder they call it the new Jim Crow…

And so our midwives, Shiphrah and Puah had to wrestle. Note they get names. Actual names. How would they respond to their commands? Would they risk their own security for their people? They resisted where they were….did what they could where they could. With cleverness they outsmarted pharaoh.

And so Moses is pulled out of the water…(in Cairo they’ll show you exactly where…) Thus setting in motion a new story…..

So for us?.... A world on flame. A time of reckoning… a time for us to discern what we can do where we are…

The church cannot just look outside and speak a prophetic word. We must look inside. As last summer’s General Assembly showed, as our struggles over lgbtq inclusion are resolved, the real struggle over race and class will begin to emerge. We in New York City Presbytery have already been wresting with that for awhile now.

What we can, where we can…that’s what we must discern…

Arcadia is moved just by the death of so many children. Others by the inequity of power in Gaza. Or the newly militarized police forces across the US…

We struggle. We wrestle. What we can, as we can, where we can

Today for our prayer preparation, Jeremy and I do Amazing Grace Hank Williams style. To the tune of So Lonesome I could cry…As his musical offering, Jeremy sings his original Walk with me on the winding road....a song written for a mother who lost a child. In honor of mothers and lost children.

Anna meets with the session to announce her interest in officially joining the church. She's dressed up for the occasion. And we are happy that she is ready to commit. 

                                                                    * * * *

The service ends. And then it’s time. Last week the West-Park Angels softball team did the ALS  ice bucket challenge and then challenged me. ( this is my time. I know about the push back. Wasted water. Shallow analysis. Viral video. All that. But I also have read the comments of ALS survivors and families and know that thee has been 5.5 million raised as opposed to 32000 during this time last year. So I’m down. I go to the steps, make my challenge. To Gale Brewer. Presbyterian colleagues, clergy colleagues. And from Samantha’s suggestion, Amanda in Oregon. People gather around. Including people in Barney Greengrass brunch line. I raise the bucket, feel the ice and water pour over. Catch my breath…and laugh….

the challenge