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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Living in the Spirit: What is your greatest need?


9/27

Jeremy, Andre and Pastor Bob preparing for worship



What an amazing week it’s been. I’ve lived through two pope visits here. But this one was truly special.  I followed on Facebook those of my friends and colleagues who were able to participate in various events.  Presbytery Exec Bob Foltz-Morrison. Sarah Sayeed (Muslim) former Interfaith Center of New York City staff person, now in the Di Blasio administration, Simran Jeet Singh, Sikh leader who visited with us and participated in an interfaith dialogue here at West-Park. This pope is helping us to  recover  the original meaning of catholicuniversal, all-inclusive….that is who this Pope Francis is…


And the message seems so simple…humility, compassion, true caring, ….and a smile….able to see connections between the environment and who truly suffers…but more than ideology or theology it is that human touch …those daily moments of choosing to connect…and how many of us need just to be touched.

It’s in that context I want to look at today’s passage in James…it assumes a community…perhaps a large congregation even,…

13Are any among you suffering?
They should pray. Are any cheerful? ( I’m thinking of our friend Stephen’s smile challenge, better than an ice bucket challenge…)[1]  They should sing songs of  praise. 1
4Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.  (Here we have lifted up the role of our elders and deacons)  About what we can do for one another.
16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  I’m thinking of  the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa. How it began with the telling of truth. Of people’s stories. Sometimes just being heard was enough. I’m thinking of reconciliation between people. The process it takes beginning with critical clarification of what caused the rupture and ending with reconstruction.

And I’m thinking of our friend Carman Moore and his work with Lotte Arnsbjerg in the Girl From Diamond Mountain  project.  Her song cycle about childhood sexual abuse and her personal healing. How healing begins  with the telling of the story.  And how their project is now reaching out to abusers because they were themselves invariably abused. And only speaking out, breaking the silence can break the cycle. (http://www.girlofdiamondmountain.com/)

In the end, the deepest meaning of confession is not a recitation of things we have done wrong so much as it is an open and honest statement of who we are. Our deepest statements of belief we call confessions:  the Westminster confession, the Barmen confession….

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. Never doubt the power of our prayers… remember the pope’s last words to us Pray for me.

19My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another,20you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. I believe that reconciliation, healing that which is broken, is one of our principle callings and that nothing pleases God more than reconciliation.

And so my question to you this morning  is ….what is your greatest need today?  Can you name it? Define it? 

This seems to be what Francis is asking of us…to share with one another our deepest needs…to be alert to what each other needs and to respond as we are able …..to be alert….let us be inspired …and  let us connect…and perhaps even smile…

And as Pope Francis said, Pray for me, and pray for each other…

preparation in black and white....thank you Stephen....








[1] Good morning!   Though we are not Catholics, we are people of faith and compassion. Honestly,  I was not excited about the Pope's U.S. And NYC visit, but I am truly touched by this man after a few days of 24 hour TV coverage, hearing his words, and  watching the grace that he shares with all of us.   I think  Pope Francis  truly walks in the footsteps of St Francis - preach the gospel and only use words when necessary.   He offers us a simple. powerful approach to life and our personal ministries - be compassionate, show your humanity, and smile smile smile.   When I went out for my daily walk this morning I made a point of having a smile the whole walk and not only did I feel better and happier, I found men, women and young people  smiling at me before I made eye contact, and many giving a nod of the head, or saying hi and good morning.   To consciously smile as I walked, and enjoyed the beautiful morning and the sweet character of my neighborhood, this truly simple change to my walk on my part gave me peace, lifted my spirits, made me feel God's grace, and most importantly to me, welcomed those  walking around me simple moments of fellowship with me.   I would like to challenge all of us in the West Park Community to  smile when you typically would not, to do it conciously, to do so with compassion, and to do so as a way to share your humanity.   Then, at service in the near future, let's share our experiences of this simple gift that we can give to ourselves and to those we encounter.   If you choose to take this challenge, I hope your experience provides you with the blessings and joy I am receiving from it.   Bob, if you believe this is a worthy challenge for our Community, please share it with everyone.   Enjoy your day - and smile .  All the best,  Stephen Webber 


Saturday, September 26, 2015

A new idea...and an open mic

9/25

Mike Handelman and RL close us out with Stay Awhile


This morning the Pope spoke to the UN. And then to Ground Zero….

Martin has a brilliant idea about a program we can do while his company is here in December. Concerning the roots of flamenco in the golden age of 15th century  el Andaluz where Arab and Jewish, Spanish and gypsy cultures all converged.  Would like to do it in December before Antigona reopens.

I’m  treated to an hour of Alex Fry playing her music as she takes a break before heading to work.

I continue to puzzle about our two sisters and what to do with them. At least we’re working together with Reachout.  I have to  make sure that the sanctuary is completely empty during Open Mic. It’s making me anxious.


RL as always opens the night
RL opens
followed by a comedy set by Stephen Bea
Stephen Bea
who is a teacher in his day job. The first musician is pedal steel guitar virtuoso Michael Pfeiffer
Michael on the pedal steel
who has arranged some old standards like Blue Skies for his instrument. We’re excited to learn that John Holland
John Holland
has an upcoming gig at the Bitter End and that his Second Avenue song has been accepted for a movie. Michael joins me on 3 original songs on his pedal steel.
Bob and Michael
I struggle with tuning but am loving this. Blues Man Mike Handelman is back with his own interpretation of Aretha’s Respect (along with a tip of the hat to Rodney Dangerfield).
Respect
David Smythe
David Smythe
once again  leaves the sound board to do a set. Jessie and Jeremy share another original and a Dylan cover. They work really well together. And have a gig coming up at the Path in the Village. 
Jessie and Jeremy

And then Mike comes up to join RL on Stay Awhile and the night is over.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The holiest day of the Jewish year. And all that could go wrong....

9/23

Today is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. And a beautiful sunny day. I went down to the Village to the Bitter End to catch the (jazz) service of my friend Rabbi Steve Blane. I was honored that he introduced me as a clergy friend and as a singer/songwriter. The day felt good.

Jeremy drops in for a brief meeting planning this Sunday’s service music.  He’s got an Equinox gig happening  tonight in Brooklyn.

The insurance inspector has been there all day going over every inch and trying to think of every thing that could possibly go wrong.  Meanwhile the security camera people are back trying yet again to get all the cameras working and the buzzer system finally on line. Well there are kinks yet to work out. The magical from a distance system we thought would work on our cellphones ain’t happenin’ . The security system people and the insurance inspector make for an interesting combination.  (I was shocked to learn in our conversation that our friends at Liberty Mutual handle upwards of 100 child sex abuse claims a year…)

The steps have been hard all day. I’ve got to tell one of the sisters she can’t sleep there because an angry black man is asleep in the north doorway. Can’t be havin’ people sleepin’ there during the day. I call Project Reachout to talk about the sisters again. Get a voicemail. I ask Dion to please keep an eye on the steps while I’m out.

Pat O has stopped by just to make sure everything is going right with the systems people. The peace of the Yom Kippur service and warmth of the  sun in the village seems far away.

9/23

Sam G comes in  to talk about social media again. And a possible Grateful Dead venture and pulling all our artists together to create a shared artistic vision statement. They always speak of something special at West-Park. But what exactly is it? Let’s see if we can spell it out.

While Sam and I are talking, the Dzieci folks arrive in the darkened sanctuary and begin their warm up exercises. Jason is meeting one of the leading trans performers and activists to keep the conversation going.


Finally connect with Project Reachout. A plan is evolving. It will be hard but we need to move on with the sisters.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Where the ancestors sleep



It’s the Jewish High Holy Days on the Upper West Side. These are the days where my neighbors at Barney Greengrass go through their annual avalanche of orders. He’s always got one round  the clock day filling orders from across the country getting ready for the trucks to arrive  early in the morning the day before Kol Nidre.  Gary sends his crew over on Friday to borrow three of our tables and this year has rented out the empty store room where Schatzie the Butcher used to be. After all these years, I still enjoy being part of this in some small way, classic Upper West Side, classic New York.

Tonight our gang gathers for Bible Study again and we’re looking at Genesis 22: 20-23:20. This section begins with a genealogy of the children of Abraham’s brother, Nahor. Not a guy we heart a lot about.  Other than liking the fact that he has a son named Buz, there’s a couple of things to note. This section is included (clearly) as a demonstration as to how Abraham will be a father of so many countless offspring. Also in this list we find Aram, the ancestor of the Arameans whose language was the lingua franca of this corner of the midEast from  911 BCE until 70 CE. It is an ancestor of both written Hebrew and Arabic and is the liturgical language of the Chaldean Orthodox Church, portions of the Jewish liturgy and probably the language Jesus spoke most frequently.

Next we come to the death and burial of Sarah. Abraham needs to seek out a place to bury his wife, but this will also afford him an opportunity to gain possession of land, a permanent holding, in the land that was promised to him. Abraham is a stranger and alien in the land as opposed to the Hittites, descendants of Het, who are described as the people of the land.

Abraham comes into this negotiation without many troops but due to his successful hustles involving his wife, Pharoah and Abimelech, a very wealthy man. What follows is a marvelous and richly detailed bargaining with Ephron, a leader of the Hittites, who apparently owns this cave at the edge of his field. The bargaining is so detailed and nuanced (and so familiar to anyone who has ever bargained in the Middle East) that it can only be an accurate account. Abraham comes out of this with his land, for the right price.

Our commentator Wes Howard-Brook notes that :
* There is no other land negotiation like this in scripture
*  Abraham’s acquiring this land through negotiation and purchase is in stark contrast to the later stories of Joshua who gains territory through sacred violence and ethnic cleansing.
* However, YHWH never appears in this story. Yes YHWH promised the land to Abraham but never said exactly how that was going to take place.
* Are there yet other ways to acquire land?

Our friend Steve continues to argue that these are stories with early and deep roots and that the traditional source argument for Yahwist (J) and priestly (P) origins still stands.

Marsha has her eye on Abraham the clever hustler.

Russ and I are reflecting how this the origin story for a very troubled place in Palestine, Hebron. Revered by Jews and Muslims alike  as the burial place for the patriarchs and matriarchs, some legends even  have Joseph there, and if you go deep enough, Adam and Eve. And is said to be at the periphery of the Garden of Eden.

The city of Hebron has a quarter of a million Palestinians in residence and a few hundred (no more than 850) Jews who control 80% of the city’s territory. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebron). I remember seeing both Muslim and Jewish prayers watched over by Israeli Defense Force soldiers with automatic weapons. Abraham’s ancient purchase continues to echo through to today’s mosque/former church/former mosque/former church/former synagogue and the automatic weapons. Orthodox Jews point out that Jews were forbidden from praying at  Hebron for over 700 years. And today Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. Occupied territory. 





Tuesday, September 22, 2015

We shall not be moved: Who do you rely on?

9/20/15








Jeremy and I had just led the congregation in  We shall not be moved, as a movement song. Thne we read the 1st Psalm,  peoples’ mic style which we hadn’t done in a long time.

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.


Then Jeremy picked up the guitar and we did it spiritual style, like Johnny Cash. 
Glory hallelujah, I shall not be moved
Anchored in Jehovah, I shall not be moved
Just like a tree that's planted by the waters
I shall not be moved
In His love abiding, I shall not be moved
And in Him confiding, I shall not be moved
Just like the tree that's planted by the water
I shall not be moved
I shall not be, I shall not be moved
I shall not be, I shall not be moved
Just like a tree that's planted by the water
I shall not be moved
Though all hell assail me, I shall not be moved
Jesus will not fail me, I shall not be moved
Just like the tree that's planted by the water
I shall not be moved
Though the tempest rages, I shall not be moved
On the rock of ages, I shall not be moved
Just like the tree that's planted by the water
I shall not be moved
I shall not be, I shall not be moved
I shall not be, I shall not be moved
Just like the tree that's planted by the water
I shall not be moved



I learned this song as a movement song. As an organizing song.  But like so many movement songs, it has its roots in  the African American religious tradition.  So you can find Seeger and Springsteen and Mavis Staples and the Seekers and Irish versions and Joan Baez in the farmworkers’ version, No Nos Moveran

…and I just found the religious versions by Johnny Cash and Mississippi John Hurt  accompanied by his classic Travis picking…(and with this Jeremy starts Travis picking  This song has DEEP roots…roots as deep as, well, a tree planted by the river…


So today we read the very first psalm. Along with the 2nd, it serves as an into to all that follows. Telling us it’s a whole book about a way, not a theology, not a doctrine, a way of doing things…the righteous way of doing things…

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

It says to go the way of the righteous is to be happy…It’s first explicit message is ….don’t sit in the seat of scoffers, or as it says in the King James Version, the seat of the scornful….

It’s not easy is it? Especially when watching a debate like we had the other night….this continues our conversation  about sticks and stones….it is so easy to scoff, to be scornful, to be cynical (Sharon Welch says cynicism is the prerogative of the privileged…) So easy. And so destructive.  It is so much harder to say something  constructive.

Back to those trees….those who delight in the law…think about that word delight…what does that feel like? 9Jeremy thinks immediately of the taste of ice cream. And Dion smiles..)

Meditate day and night…what might that feel like?  Maybe take one commandment and just reflect on it, just meditate….it’s that internal life that gives the tree its deep roots, it’s strength…and it is such trees that bear fruit…

That which is wicked…(no quick definition here, but you can  feel it in the scoffing…) has no substance, bears no fruit, withers , is easily blown away…..and they will not win in the end..
(Sometimes I believe that…and sometimes I don’t…)

Sometimes that river is a raging flood picking up everything in it's a path…a literal Katrina or Sandy….sometimes it feels like we’ll get swept away…even drown….

It’s not surprising that movement songs came from the African -American community because that is a community of struggle…of  survival…in the religious version, it’s Jehovah, it's Jesus who is the tree to hold onto. In the movement songs, it is in our collective shared humanity….in our solidarity…our mutual commitment to one another…and in the end, I’m not sure how different those two realities are…

So let’s think a minute… when the storm comes, the waters raging, who are our trees?  Who can we rely on? If you had one phone call to make, who would  it be? Relative? Friend? Who? 

(For some it’s a parent, for another her sister, for another his fiancĂ©…for others, friends…we bring their faces to mind..

Can we see them? Can we give thanks for them? Name them?

With them in mind, let us sing….

And we sing once more with full voice, We shall not be moved…

One of the sisters was with us today, fully participating. And some one who feels very but not quite familiar at the same time until I realize that it’s James from open mic, shorn of his Elizabethan hair, shaved of his beard.

After the service, he wants to marry his fiancee Hannah from Michigan who seems young. I ask if he has a license. A driver’s license? He asks. No, a marriage license.  He asks if they can run down town right now and get one. Well actually no, closed on Sundays.

I’m very uncertain here. Ask them to meet me in my office.

I think this through.  I can meet a pastoral need (which would take some serious exploration to understand..) which will have no legal implications whatsoever. James seems to be living in a very dramatic world at the moment. In which he leads a theatre company called Lord Essex’ men…

At his request, we go back to the chapel. I do a very traditional service. They seem happy.  I so want to know what Hannah sees, thinks, feels. I pray for them. Tell them if they want to to count, they’ll need to bring me back a license…What is the story?

We shall see. You just never know….. on any given day…


I leave them. Wait for the 7 bus to take me home. The African-American day parade will be in full swing marching up Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard.  And  will continue all day long into the night….