Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The 4th day of Christmas: Christmas unwrapped, Christmas leftovers


We gather on the first Sunday after Christmas. It’s good to see Aaron and Teresita, who were part of  the Sanctuary community that worshipped here for two years, back for a visit. Teresita has also become part of the Dzieci company and was a fool last week in their Fools’ Mass. Their voices ring clear and true. It’s a Sunday to share our Christmases, sing any songs we haven’t sung yet.

I remember the Christmas back in Oakdale when Christmas fell on a Sunday. I made it a come as  you are Sunday. We came casual, made hot chocolate, sang carols. A warm family feeling. Going for that today.

We open with the new words to Hark the Herald that came from a women’s liturgical group that Jeremy knew.

Our first lesson is ISAIAH 61:10-62:3. I lift up especially these words:
For as the earth brings forth its shoots, 
          and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, 
     so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise 
          to spring up before all the nations.
And then we sing the traditional Away in a Manger. Psalm 148: 1-14 is a celebration of creation and Jeremy has written a setting for a response: God reigns on high,let the heavens rejoice.

Our Gospel is Luke 2: 22-40, where Simeon has seen the child and can now go in peace. And Anna the prophet has her own songs of praise. We sing together the Song of Simeon to the tune of Land of Rest.

As a musical reflection, I sing John McCutcheon’s  Christmas in the trenches. ( and John R asks if that’s based on a true story and I describe the Christmas Truce of 1914 and that it is important to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the massive acts of human resistance whereby the soldiers in the trenches collectively willed a 48 hour truce up and down the trench line in France. There is McCutcheon’s song. And the French movie Joyeux Noel that tells the story from the French side.

 There’s even a surprisingly moving  shirt film by a chocolate company.  Most of the details come from the diaries of soldiers.  It only lasted awhile, nut as my friend Barney Oursler from Pittsburgh’s Mon valley Unemployed Committee said of the 9 days the Homestead strikers held off the Pinkertons, It was only awhile, but sometimes awhile is important. Maybe John Lennon was not so far off when he said War is over if you want it…

The Luke passage speaks of the circumcision of Jesus and his pinyat ha ben, IE,  the symbolic redemption of the first born, going all the way back to Abraham and Isaac. I remembered the 1980’s Art Treasures of the Vatican exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum and their reliquary of the circumcision of Jesus, apparently all that he left here on earth in a massive gold container. Somehow when Simeon sees  the child, he knows the victory is won. And so does Anna, the only female New testament prophet, perhaps dismissed as crazy. Something had changed and would never be the same…

And so we talk of our Christmases, what was good, what filled us, blessed us. We take requests for carols, We Three Kings (coming again  next week), Angels we have heard on high….

And for one last musical gift, Jeremy and I do our medley of Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming and Bette Midler’s the Rose . Jeremy remembers Lo how a rose ..from German in Switzerland and I recall how it was the opening  music for last year’s Bread & Puppet 50th Anniversary production, the Shatterer of Worlds..

Our closing song is the Taize nunc dimittis, Simeon’s words:

Let your servant now go in peace, O lord, Now go in peace according to your word.( )
We gather in our circle to sing Amen. Little Xavier has joined us. Somehow this has become an essential part of his week. And mine, too.

Let your servant now go in peace,

The 2nd day of Christmas: And we all join in...


Pat O, RL and Steve B Stayin' Awhile

The day after Christmas…Pat O checking up on  Jerry’s construction guys again. Our stalwart volunteer Thomas R in from Brooklyn to help out again, serving as David S’ right hand man…close up early so that I can meet family in Brooklyn before Open Mic….

The show is well underway when I arrive, Steve B at the piano. 
Steve B
Steve stays at the piano to back up Joel  on another improvisatory excursion. 
Joel Gold and Steve B
Then Mandola Joe turns in his usual solid set
Mandola Joe
and Pat O follows finding more mysterious places with his electronic pedal board.
Pat O finds some magic sounds with those pedals
I ask Pat to stay up for my set and try one last time to deliver Robert Earl Keen’s Merry Christmas from the family…easier with Pat O on guitar. I bring Steve B up for Blue Christmas and with Marie in mind, close out with Blue eyes cryin’ in the rain.  And as always, RL’s Stay Awhile closes out the night. And we all join in….

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas Eve: Shepherds lives matter


Charles and I go outside with ladders to hang Priska’s Christmas Eve posters in our outside display boxes. There is a certain Keystone Cops aspect to the effort but we get the job done.

Pat O wants me to come to meet with the Roto Rooter people and look at their screen. They have lowered a camera down the pipes to reveal major blockage. A giant roach and its family have set up housekeeping over one of the blockages. They have tried serious water blasting, enough to rip a man in half, but haven't managed to break through. They’ve got a plan. But Yaro, Jerry’s Ukrainian crew chief, feels his crew can do the job just as well. Now it’s negotiations to see who will do the job.

Dion is in the neighborhood and drops in just to say hello, and it’s good to have him there, just for his positive spirit in a tense time. Getting very close to Christmas.


Pat K is in to put in major time decorating and getting us all ready for Christmas.
Pat Klein decorating

Pat O tells me we’ve decided to close out the work of the Roto Rooter people and move ahead with Jerry’s crew.

A group is in looking to rent space for a children’s program.

Geoffrey is in every day, sleeping in the back of the sanctuary.

Marc S is working through details on our sound needs for Christmas Eve.

Rehearsing the Sky Singers
Carman has gathered his Sky Singers. My son  Micah is ready on bass. Jeremy has joined us as well. Rehearsals for Christmas Eve are underway. Just as I thought everything was well inn hand , things seem to be spinning out of control. Olivia can’t locate a cello. Neither can I.

I’ve been looking forward all day to a quiet dinner with a close friend. Carman’s rehearsal is running late. It finally ends. I’m racing to get to my dinner. Imagining candle light and a shared bottle of wine. Carman calls. He’s left his bag in my office. I have to go back. Turns out the bag was in the sanctuary after all. I now have to grab a cab. When I go to text my friend  that I will be late, I realize that I never hit send on my text to confirm to dinner. Knowing what that will mean, I almost lose it. Almost burst into tears.


Even on Christmas Eve, our reconstruction project continues. Pat O carefully supervising.

The fire alarm people keep calling at all hours. There’s a break in our system somewhere. We’ve got fore alarm people and phone company people allover the place.

A woman is in looking for her glasses. Yes we have  them. Being able to see is a good thing.

Our friends at New York Hair have sent over fresh flowers again.

Yesterday, Charles went across the street to look for a tree, but the best offer he got was for a discount on the $90 tree. This calls for a personal visit. The Quebecois tree people are old friends. The one with the dreadlocks tells me he actually came in to our concert for the homeless awhile. And heard my group. He offers me their biggest tree on the lot, as a gift. And will even bring it over personally, making my day easier. When I need it to be. He’s looking forward to heading home at 3am or so after they break down their operation.

And Gary Greengrass has provided our annual Christmas breakfast of pastrami salmon and sable. A traditional Upper West Side Jewish breakfast.

Time is running short. Anxiety running high. Time to meet my friend from the missed last night dinner in between her services for a glass of wine and a Christmas toast then on to my service.

Leila and I place the luminarias on the steps bringing a taste of New Mexico to the Upper West Side.  The rain is letting up. The Christmas Eve crowd is beginning to arrive. Olivia
Olivia and Carman
comes in and I give her a hug. Never could find her a cello but she’s here anyways. That’s the spirit of the place.

Home Band member Esther
Esther and family
has brought her family here instead of where they regularly go. Singing together means a lot. 

Soon enough the service begins. I feel a bit scattered. After year on the edge of survival, last year was magical. There’s a similar turn out this year. Somehow, I’ve got to adjust to the fact that we’re moving on. It is a new day.

Carman has his three new carols, one about Three Kings based on an ancient text. A Happy Birthday Jesus with a universal appeal.  And an Alleluia from his Mass for the 21st Century.

So what word do I have to bring to this Christmas Eve?

My first and last words tonight are wand will be  Do not be afraid… 
It has been difficult, stressful and worrying times. Mourning and protest and more mourning. Fear and anger and more fear. A day of drunks in Santa suits crossing paths with chanting protestors…
I heard  someone say this week, it’s not Christmas as usual… Yes, but… maybe it is never Christmas as usual.  We have  lived through Christmas in the wake of hurricanes, in the aftermath of 9-11, in the midst of war…Christmas always comes in the midst of….and that is the point…

The prophet Isaiah says:
The people who walked in darkness …..
          have seen a great light;
and we have been walking in darkness….
     those who lived in a land of deep darkness
— and  we don’t need statistics to know that for many this is a land of darkness and for some  its gotten darker…          
4   For the yoke of their burden,
          and the bar across their shoulders,
          the rod of their oppressor,
          you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5   For all the boots of the tramping warriors
          and all the garments rolled in blood
          shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 
The prophecy comes as if it has already been accomplished..
6   For a child has been born for us,
          a son given to us;
     authority rests upon his shoulders;
          and he is named
     Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
          Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7   His authority shall grow continually,
          and there shall be endless peace
     for the throne of David and his kingdom.
          He will establish and uphold it
     with justice and with righteousness
          from this time onward and forevermore.
     The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

The story is familiar…an unmarried young woman…pregnant…in a culture where that could be fatal…engaged to a working man…living in an occupied country…born where?  In a stable, among shepherds…
1.     Who were the shepherds? In their day, they were the only people who lived outside the walls of the city. Even farmers lived inside. They were suspect when they came into town. Ritually unclean. Literally outsiders. No more nostalgic, romantic David as shepherd image. Jesus referring to himself as the Good Shepherd was a statement filled with irony.
2.     So where did God come to visit? Who was the announcement made to?
a.     Not at city hall
b.     Not at the cathedral, or any other church
The announcement came to shepherds….
c.      Shepherds were othered…
d.     When they came into town, they would be profiled, stopped and frisked by those in charge of public safety
e.      The angels were announcing Shepherds lives matter…

So I ask….where are the angels tonight in New York City?

The child is sent as a sign… but a sign of what? A  sign of a world where black lives matter, where blue lives matter, where all lives matter…

Do not be afraid….
Lots of people are afraid…black people,parents in this congregation, even mayors, fear for the loves of their children…and now police,already afraid in communities alien to them fear retributive violence…  that explains the hunkering down war-like attitude of the police…

The shepherds were startled. Sometimes I wonder, what would it take to startle us?

But I want to make this personal as well…this is not just about our society…it’s about you…and me…where in your life do you feel walled out? Vulnerable? Or afraid?

The message of the incarnation is that the divine is born in human form….the most vulnerable…that the divine, the sacred, the holy …is revealed in the most vulnerable of humanity…and in the most vulnerable part of ourselves….we need to feel the divine inside of us and see it in the faces of others to the point that others are not othered….

I am not ignoring the necessity of systemic analysis and strategic response…BUT…on this night what we celebrate is incarnation, Immanuel..….EACH life sacred…including yours…that is what is born in us tonight…

And for this we give thanks….

As I delivered those words, finally I felt centered. Home. Centered. And as we lit our Christmas candles, I said that it wasn’t as of the world was dark and then Jesus came and presto changeo light came. The light was…and always has been here. Since creation. And the exodus liberation. And the prophets who spoke out against empire. And the subversive Gospel of Jesus. Sometime it gets dim, or hard to see. But the light is  always there…so take your light out into the streets and let it shine..that is wht we we are here…

Jeremy led us into an outrageous rockin Joy to the World. And Christmas arrived at last. 

Merry Christmas to all….

Andre Solomon-Glover, Jessica Crandall, Carman Moore and Pastor Bob Brashear