Thursday, July 30, 2015

Living in the Spirit: How much is enough, or can you see beyond?


We’re waiting for Martha, who’s playing for us this Sunday to arrive on the much delayed train. The subway’s been crazy for weeks now, always overcrowded, always late, never sure which train is running on which route. I’m happy to see Noche’s ballet instructor Eric with us this week. This Sunday in our series,
Life in the Spirit: our theme is So that nothing may be lost and our question starts out to be
How much is enough?

Once again, we begin with Every time I feel the Spirit. And our opening hymn is  There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit, which I can’t hear without thinking of Andrea Bradford who opened every service with this back in the Larry Woodard days. Our Psalm is number 14 with the sung response, God is our refuge, God is our strength. And the Gospel, John 6: 21, which because it ends with Jesus walking on the water, I follow with my own

Rest Awhile, which I also sang last week. And now time for reflection.

I’m sorry. But I  can’t help but keep thinking about Sandra Bland. I’ve seen all the videos. Her Facebook postings. She was so full of life and passion. There’s no reason this vital young  woman should be dead. Why does this keep happening?

OK, so our question this morning is… much is enough? How many of us feel like we have enough? Honestly?

This week, our story is the  feeding of the 5000…It’s what’s left out of last week’s story. This story appears 6 times in 4 Gospels. It seems important to the Gospel writers. And since it appears so much, it suggests that maybe something like this actually happened.

It’s late in the day. There’s an issue about feeding all these hungry people. Jesus asks Philip. Why Philip? They were near his home town. He would know all the shops . Maybe he could get a deal. But he responds there’s not way not enough money available.

So we get Andrew’s answer..well, there’s a boy with 5 barley loaves and two fish

So  that answer raises another question…can you see beyond? Beyond what’s right in front of you? What seems to be all there is?

And then what happens? Jesus gives thanks. It always begins with giving thanks. It’s an almost Eucharistic moment. Giving thanks for what you have opens up new possibilities…

And all are satisfied…And Jesus instructs them to gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost….and there is enough for 12 baskets…When I was at Yale Divinity School, our urban core group would meet every Monday for reflection and study and Eucharist. After sharing, Our episcopal co-leader would always smile and say gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost encouraging us to share the leftovers.

They wanted to make him KING….(they couldn’t think of anything other than a standard empire response……but he withdrew by himself

There’s something here about imagination…..I was struck by the PLUTO space expedition….all the years of planning, all the millions of light years travelled…and the space ship makes its pass around, cameras taking that far away (used to be) planet all in, …and it’s all over already….

And we can go from imagination to John Lennon’s IMAGINE

I think of Rubem Alves saying that if we want people to work for a better world,  we can’t just create images of human suffering. That only deadens the spirit. We need to create images of beauty to inspire imagination. And not jump too quickly to the North American Christian’s happy ending but to explore human life in all of it’s Perplexity, paradox and profound beauty

Harry Emerson Fosdick, for whom Rockefeller built Riverside Church after he got forced out by the Presbyterians, had this to say about  great minds and unexpected possibilities.. The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.” 

 Last week in our clergy study group, one of my colleagues brought a song I would  like  to learn, God is God..written by Steve Earle, also covered by Joan Baez.

I believe in prophecy.
Some folks see things not everybody can see.
And, once in a while, they pass the secret along to you and me.
And I believe in miracles.
Something sacred burning in every bush and tree.
We can all learn to sing the songs the angels sing.
Yeah, I believe in God, and God ain't me.
I've traveled around the world,
Stood on mighty mountains and gazed across the wilderness.
Never seen a line in the sand or a diamond in the dust.
And as our fate unfurls,
Every day that passes I'm sure about a little bit less.
Even my money keeps telling me it's God I need to trust.
And I believe in God, but God ain't us.
God, in my little understanding, don't care what name I call.
Whether or not I believe doesn't matter at all.

In every telling of the story (except in Luke), the feeding of the 5000 is  followed by  Jesus walking on the water..troubled waters following success, fear…our successes can make us feel that way…but it all begins by giving thanks for what we have and allowing ourselves to see beyond…to imagine…

Before our prayers we sing Be Glorified:

In my life Lord
Be glorified be glorified
In my life Lord
Be glorified today
In my song Lord…..
In Your church Lord….
In our home Lord….

And then after, Dona nobis, pacem, in Latin, Hebrew and Arabic:
Dona nobis pacem, pacem, dona nobis pacem
Sim shalom, sim shalom, sim shalom, sim shalom, aleinu.
Rabu habna slamann tamman, rabu habna salamann.

We close, as last week, with the Tallis Canon and Go With Us Lord….and of course, Amen,

Late in the afternoon, I come back to work on some music with my friend (and Rabbi) Steve Blane. The francophone African service is in full swing. I’m working in a song about North Carolina. And summer in New York City. When we finish, I may have just enough time to get to Lincoln Center to hear Judy Collins.

  PSALM 14
1Fools say in their hearts, "There is no God."
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good.
2The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
3They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
4Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon the LORD?
5There they shall be in great terror,
for God is with the company of the righteous.
6You would confound the plans of the poor,
but the LORD is their refuge.
7O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.
1After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?"6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9"There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" 10Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."
15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
16When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Another Saturday afternoon conversation...


I’m at the church after being at a presbytery meeting across town at Jan Hus. Getting ready for tomorrow. Jason stops in for conversation. Jason is one of my long remaining friendships from Occupy. He’s now deeply embedded in Staten island, becoming  part of the community. Staten Island, where Occupy Sandy played such a creative role. Staten Island, where Eric Garner was choked to death, crying I can’t breathe…

Every conversation with Jason is both exciting and challenging. Back during the crazy days of Occupy West Park, I often helped him work his way through some of the madness around him. I appreciated both his intuition and critical thinking. But I suspect with healthy doses of ADD on both sides, it’s not always the easiest conversation to track.

Right now, we’re trying to see how our work connects. At the end is an idea that something about all this eventually leads to the beautiful tower project that has been sitting there waiting to take shape all these years. But the dots are all over the place and not so easy to connect.

What Jason does …and this is important,…is to have conversations…with workers, with regular Staten Island folks, with alienated and exiled queer kids…and frankly, the most revolutionary thing any of us can be doing right now is listening. And some of the listening inspires Jason and some makes him angry. And makes it hard to keep silent in meetings where what he says is not necessarily welcome.

In a city in turmoil, in a country where there are almost daily instances of police violence against black people, a lot of Jason’s anger goes to what might be called the professional activist sector, those whose full time jobs are involved with organizing around issues of the day.

Back in the ‘60’s, those of us in the urban business used to talk about poverty pimps…those who may have entered the work with all good intentions but who ultimately had a vested interest in the status quo remaining status quo in order to keep their jobs or sense of meaning. True transformation was not on the agenda. In the church business, we talked about the mission derby where the best slide shows (now videos) of misery would win the brass ring. Something like that.

I shared with Jason my experience of speaking to a panel at Yale on the theology of Occupy at the peak of the occupy moment. I was one who had actual experience of the beautiful and maddening reality of what Occupy was and who the Occupiers were. I was not romantic. I ended my talk by saying at the end of the day, the real problem was liberals. At the break, I was quickly surrounded by people ready to tell me how without liberals, I would not be at Yale saying what I was saying and there would be no YDS. (Jason said, maybe that’s not such a bad idea…I stopped before saying, but it’s more complex than that

At the end of the day, liberals get to enjoy the fruits of the empire without guilt because they are after all, liberals. And in the tweedy northeast, they are the establishment. With a sense of moral superiority, especially vis a vis working people, southerners, red necks and other ignorant masses. And who ultimately know what’s best for everyone else.

What angers Jason is that he sees the interconnections. Between police violence and stop and frisk and mass incarceration and unemployment and gentrification. It’s what Occupy saw and felt and intuited and refused to produce definable goals to negotiate because at stake was the totality of reality.

It’s difficult because sometimes all a community wants is another stop light, garbage be picked up regularly and maybe fewer guns. Meanwhile back at the empire…

Through Occupy and now Black Lives Matter, the leadership has come not from the professional activists but from uncontrollable grass roots accountable to no one but each other. For the first time, queer kids are on the frontline arm in arm with their brothers and sisters and no one’s looking for cheers, it just is, radical inclusion. Jason has  a special heart for their life experiences, for their vulnerable, even exploitable life in the margins, often at  great physical, psychic and spiritual price. They are already here.

I’d like to get Jason to connect with Stephanie and her….rest of us…project. Just share thoughts, a conversation. One of a lot of conversations that need to be held. Let’s have them at West Park. Let’s see where they lead.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

....and still embraced by grace....


Martin and I sit down for a long conversation. He has time for a breath before tonight’s  Antigona  performance. It’s been quite a few weeks. Now that the reviews are in, tickets are starting to fly. We think back to our first meeting 3 ½ years ago when he was first relocating from Spain. Looking for a home for his company. The ups and downs and times of being close to making it and when we thought the doors would close but we kept on anyways. We both remember Teddy (Mapes) and how he would have loved this. Martin more than anybody understood the vision of what this place was supposed to be. He tells me that Antigona is here because of that vision. We both take pride in the New York Times reference to downtown vibe. It’s been that way since Woodshed walked in here in 2011 ( ) But we're still just under the radar.  That was our first Times review… )

The question is of course, how do we keep the momentum going? To have the quality of event and programming that keeps the vision alive and fertile while still paying the bills? Explain how it’s the interaction of space, performer and artist here that produces what gets created here…And how difficult it is for me to explain sometimes how this is ministry, in the meta sense, and that this is not space rental but relationship and out of that relationship magic can happen that has intersection with spiritual and political realms. Which is what art does. Which is, in the end, sacred.

Martin paid me a compliment when he said that after meeting me, Carlos, who plays Oedipus, said El pastor Bob es Tiresias….el ve todo…I appreciate that.

We will see.

A special guest pianist for ETHEL is rehearsing in the sanctuary on the Beckstein before their performance tonight at the Met. Alex F is in the chapel preparing for her gig. Later Mr. Martin  arrives as out of thin air to tune the chapel pianos. Like the work crew arrived unannounced to repair the Mc Alpin Hall floor. So David and Dion are now telling me that there will be no open mic tonight because of the fumes from the glue. I print up signs for RL that say OPEN MIC CLOSED TONIGHT DUE TO CONSTRUCTION…..                                                                                                   

As I’m dealing with that, my guest for the night Junia, from the Brazilian consulate, arrives. We’ll have time for dinner and a chance to catch up before the performance. She goes back to the days before closing when my associate Regi was still here and we had an afternoon multicultural service, Enlace de gracia….(And she's a flutist who played in our Shakespeare Sonnets event which she hopes we can do agin next year.

There will be other guests, clergy friends, others from my writing group…

We still are embraced by grace…

Friday, July 24, 2015

Only one more block to the church


Crossing Broadway, a neatly dressed older woman with her husband following behind. Approaches me. Birdlike. Sir, do you have any change?
What? I look in disbelief. Do I have change, why?
Well, I’m a little short, that’s why. She says. Insistent. I check my pockets. No, no change.
Well then do you have a dollar?
Still in disbelief, I look until I find a dollar and give it to her. They make their way across the street, him a step behind. 

A man comes out of the subway saying firmly, loudly, but not shouting, Jesus is coming back. Get right with him, repent…Jesus is…Only one more block to the church.

Come to church after the monthly Micah Faith leaders luncheon. Building towards an October meeting to begin the push for a real living wage. Meanwhile there is celebration of the Governors’ endorsement of a $15 an hour wage for fast food workers, a victory they never thought they would win. The mayor has created a new clergy council and appointed a staff person to work with it. And a judge talks about his struggles in mediations around the whole frustrating stop and frisk issue, though change seems to be underway.

Phil is in for a conversation. Former pastor with a lifetime committed to the struggle.  Currently part of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, that meets at West-Park every Sunday, they’re currently planning a march against police violence for October. I’m wondering about coordination with the Black Lives Matter movement.  And we’re talking about how to make clergy connections, like with the broad based representation who come to the Micah meetings.

Our conversations are interrupted by a steady stream of people walking in wanting to buy tickets to Antigona. That New York Times review has had an impact. I keep directing them to the Noche office inside the 86th street door.

The sisters still on the steps.

Dion has been bringing Krispy Kremes, which is both a blessing and curse.

I’m surprised to hear the sound of an ambulance siren and then have two EMT personnel walk into my office. Did you call 911?
It came from inside the church..

So I get up and take them into the sanctuary. One of Noche’s key crew people is on the floor, surrounded by dancers and singers and Martin. Seems he tried to lift a massive light and heard something crack. Then his legs went out from under him. We all hold our collective breath. But he seems OK. Maybe a pulled muscle, maybe a hernia. He’ll know in the morning. So it’s all back to preshow preparations.

The box office is open and the line forming as I leave to meet Beppe for conversation.