Thursday, January 29, 2015

An afternoon conversation

Kristen Leigh has driven down to the city from her place in the woods an hour outside of Albany. To take care of some business and to continue our conversation. Living in the woods in  winter has made very elemental concerns…is there enough propane ? how much snow can the front porch hold? How will I  survive if my car gets stuck in the snow? Do I have enough food if I get snowed in? ….the highest priorities. And the fact is, that is where most of the world lives its life…struggling to get by for the next day, the next moment..
Her thesis Finding God in the in –between: A Post Modern Approach to Sacred Music and Art in Contemporary Western Culture tackled a lot of subjects, important for me was her critique of the institutional church for viewing music and art as illustrative or didactic exposition of the word when in reality, artistic expression is a word of its own, its own meaning inherent not derivative. The songs sung in  the Saturday night bar or cafĂ© just as much to God’s glory as a Sunday morning offering. On this we totally agree. In my own dissertation, I had written that in a post 9-11 world, creation itself was an act of defiance and resistance against the forces of non-being, an act of partnership, co-creation with the creator.

In her post-graduate travel to Bali, she had learned that for much of the world , the distinction between sacred and secular doesn't exist. It's just life. the separation is a particularly western enlightenment late development. Likewise, the concept of art as a separate category is itself also a western concept. All to be taken into consideration as we consider art and the holy.
She also critiques so-called art for art’s sake, looking for a connection between beauty and truth as I look for the intersection between beauty and justice.  She is helping me fill out what I had intuited when I saw this intersection as a vital part of an urban theology. Reading her thesis inspired me to go back and reread my dissertation which left me with ambivalence. On the one hand, ten years ago I had clearly seen what was essential coming down the road. And the plan that I had developed had already started to show success…23 new members in one year. But the intervening landmarks struggle, building struggles and resulting conflicts plus an economic collapse had drained our energy. Is there still time?
I had heard her say that church is needed for when the shit hits the fan, but she pushes me further on that.  Not church, but something deeper, God, Jesus , the source. Ultimately, church has to be not about us, but God.
In the meantime, we share our sense of the demise of the church as we have known it.  Yes, there are congregations with enough resources to keep on living the present reality into the future, but in the bug picture, we are already in the postlude.  In her view, church is there wherever there are two or three gathered…and that can even include a work of art, so there will always be church. But my question is what does that mean for small churches like West-Park who have to find the funds to support a creaky behemoth of a building? Is Sunday morning still as possibility for the community I see coming into being?
She’s also faced the reality of churches concerned with safety in downtown settings behind security systems like I encountered when I first came to West-Park. Our front doors, open to the street, move her. And there is the experience of liberal compassion from position of privilege combined with judgment around drug use, etc. What we’re called to, she agrees, is vulnerability.
We talk about roles. What I learned in Occupy. And the current Black Lives Matter movement and the emerging spiritual communities that are forming themselves. We (well at least me, she’s younger) are not going to be the leaders. (Sorry Union Seminary, not you either…) That day is past. We are viewed with suspicion as if we think we know better and are going to tell them what they should do. Which is frankly what a lot of us still want to do. But if we listen closely, stay present, earn trust, we will be given our opportunity to reflect, advise, exegete, share language and structure and strategy. It is a ministry of radical accompaniment.
The late afternoon sun is shining through the windows at the Gate. I’m looking forward to making music with her tonight.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

People take care of you

RL welcomes Kristen-Leigh

Our new bookkeeper, Pat O and Marsha and I start the day with a conference call with Nan to answer questions about the year end 1024 financials so that we can set an appropriate budget for 2015.
Boxer Mike with his Dalmatian, Blueberry,  has finally written up a proposal requesting just a space to hang up a bag to do something for the kids. He’s been asking to do this for years. He does have an out door informal program for the kids. I wish it were that easy. But an official program for kids and boxing, even without actual punches being thrown at each other, gets into issues of liability and security clearance and…especially with kids.. There’s also the issue of the demand for space use. Hey I know about how you need money, he says, but believe me, I know. But word gets out, you doin something good for the kids, people take care of you…you’ll be ok… I wish it were that easy…Mike’s a two time golden glove winner, taken a lot of punches but generally respected in the neighborhood. Another of our Capital Hall contingent.
Ann F of the Landmark Conservancy and Dan A our architect are meeting with us to determine what part of our project and how the conservancy can help us. Looks like we’re talking about a study to see what it would cost to get an alt1 status, that is beyond the grandfather clause we live under and  move to a higher level of the DOB. Ann and  the Conservancy have been supportive since  the start.
TK has brought an artist, Marco, to discuss a performance in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Beginning in May.   I’m glad that we’ve become a center for this. A good follow-up to last August.  
Good conversation with Sam G…the Shakespeare Jam guy… about helping  us produce a Shakespeare’s sonnet marathon at the end of his 450th birthday year. We’d get every group who has performed here   to join in in whatever way that made sense to them.
Great conversation with Kristen Leigh—(separate post coming.)
Dion stands up
Another good Open Mic night. Newcomers Tom Di Mena
Tom DiMena
and  Joe’s friend Adam Silver
Adam SIlver
deliver solid sets. Peter Pan still working on his neoborscht belt shtick.
Pater Pan
Mandola Joe with an acapella night with a shout out for Robert Burns, two nights before his birthday,
Pat O is sharpening his act for the next stop on his Great Open Mic Tour of 2015,
Pat O'Connell
and of course Joel Gold,as always opens the eyes wide for anyone who’s never heard him before. And Dion opened with his own warm hearted standup. 
Joel Gold
Regular Davids Lyons
David Lyons
and Smythe back and the brilliant young Jeremy Parker is back again as well. 
Polished Kosi is back to work on some new material for her upcoming shows. ( She’s got some serious touring ahead.
Kosi sings
My greatest pleasure  I shaving Kristen Leigh with us.
Kristen Leigh 
She was part of Amanda’s Bridge concert series back inn2011 ( and then the Balcony Music Festival then her own Songs in the Key of Redemption concert on a snowy winter’s night. ( She does a solid set on guitar and piano.
..and the piano
Then joins me and Pat on my Queen... song and Ripple.... It’s a joy to share music with her.
Bob and Kristen Leigh

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Creativity and a leg up

Jed Distler is a long time friend. For a solid year, back in the day, he was in residence at West-Park with Katherine and I turning out amazing liturgical explorations, especially with texts from the so-called gnostic gospels. And when we reopened, he was a major player in our concert for Andre, June of 2011.(Read this, it's important to remember: ) He’s part of the new music scene, colleagues with Milica, Carman, Jon Deak and Ralph. He’s ready to do a series here again . And interested in something special for Make Music New York. It’s great to think about working with Jed again.
Just as Jed was entering, a tall lanky guy, from  Texas, he says, comes looking  for help. Was here for his mother in the hospital. Has teeth issues (I can relate.) And starts rolling up his pants to show me his leg. Why, oh why do they do that?  Been to other churches. They tell him to come see us. I sigh. Say none of us keep money. Just can’t. Anything you get is personal. Just need $15 for my ticket , he says. He reaches for his pants leg again. I give him all I’ve got. Now I’ll have to go beg some more…he says. I say, Look at me…that’s all I’ve got…Bless you, man…that is all…
Thank you, God bless you, he says. And God bless you, I say.
 David L and Rachel are in to check out Mc Alpin. She’s got a birthday party scheduled for Saturday night. They come back amazed at how much work has been done up there. Amazes me, too.
Ryan is briefing me on social media. He’s worked out a pretty good strategy. But unfortunately is working full time and no table to do it. His partner Sam, however, just maybe…
The Dzieci are gathering in the sanctuary. The Open Choir heading to the gym. I’m on my way downtown to see Russ’ play at La Mama, Cedars…all I know is that it has a Native American theme. Even though I give myself an hour for a 30 minute trip, two unexpected subway delays leave me 15 minutes late. No late seating. None. So I’m screwed. Make the long trek back from the East Village to the Upper West Side.
There’s a Grotowski confluence of Dzieci and Work Center Open Choir people, all leaving the building and out to the sidewalk at the same time. Mario, as always lingering for conversation inside. Time to wrap up. Close the doors. Go home.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

He was a good neighbor

 The day begins with a visit from Susan M from Goddard-Riverside and one of her colleagues..  She’s here to talk about our hosting an  event in  this year’s Big Read, where everyone in a community reads the same book and there are various events to explore the book’s themes and share our learnings.  This year’s book is The Beautiful Tkings That Heaven bears by Dinaw Mengestu. The book is a door to get onto other issues like gentrification specifically and  the immigrant experience generally . Of course we agree to host an event. Task is now, what would make that participation our event, expressing our own unique identity
Then day ends with the coffee and piano man bringing me a fresh cup and stopping for a chat before he begins his play. He’s got some ideas about selling air rights. I explain all there is to know about that idea. And he seems really taken buy the Open Mic,  but concerned abut his style. I explain that this is not something to worry about, just come on and join in. When  he’s finished and ready to go, he brings his wife in, introduces her. And then onto the cold.
Outside, in the freezing cold, waiting for a bus is my neighbor of 20 years, Stuart. He’s still at the old People alway moving  in and out, changing.Security guards changing,. He was a good neighbor. Never missed the annual interfaith Thanksgiving  eve service at SPSA
ETHEL’s music is  filling the sanctuary.                     
Thee are two people on the pews, praying. And of course Geoffrey snoring.
An Asian woman come s buy looking for Berik’s art show.Is she an aspiring renter?
Carman Mooors comes in, still buzzing about Christmas Eve (as are we). Lotte will be here February 1. For recording. And then later they’ll be on tour with Girl from Diamond Mountain, which they premiered here at SWest-Park. Can they do a 
And of course, Geoffrey is snoring.