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Friday, June 16, 2017

Update: So... what's up with West Park? This blog?

1/16/17





Pastor Robert Brashear

Update


The West Park Press began seven years ago as a way to track the daily progress of the project of bringing an (essentially) abandoned building and exiled congregation back to life. For at least five years we tracked the daily ins and outs of a classic urban ministry and an ever shifting cast of characters. From Occupy Wall Street to performances of music and theater of awesome creativity and beauty (cf. Woodshed Theatre Collective, Noche Flamenca....) to the struggles of a small community and all the crazy and wonderful people who came up the steps and into the church.  Over the last year or so, we’ve gone more weekly and focused on theological reflections. It has been the story of one church…one building…as seen through the eyes of one pastor.

Close readers may have noticed another shift. On March 1st, I officially retired from West Park as pastor and my 22 years of ministry there were celebrated on March 23rd. I continue to lead Bible Study on Monday nights and continue to advise the program committee of the Center at West Park, a center that grew out of my vision. (And the inspiration and work of Amanda…and Katherine who brought Mim and Ted and Asya….and so many others…). And of course continue to play at the Open Mic. 

We are now in a new place. The building has, for all intents and purposes, been saved from threatened demolition. Over half a million dollars of internal repairs, mainly of water damage, have been accomplished. No longer do we have the feeling of being somewhere between Berlin and Brooklyn, or even Havana. That is both an accomplishment and also an occasion for some sadness because as the renewal continues some of the funkiness and openness goes away. The more there is to protect, the more important money becomes. And voices of caution grow louder. There is still much to be done on the exterior and that still requires the active  involvement of the community. An ownership of its preservation as an integral part of the community’s cultural heritage as a collective responsibility is necessary. 

The Center at West Park is now up and running. It exists to inspire the transformation of the individual and society through arts and culture, social action, intergenerational education and spiritual exploration. Community preservation of the building is also part of its mission. And the center has an Executive and Artistic Director, Zach Tomlinson, whose wedding I will be doing next week,. Zach was ataracted by my vision. He’s marrying Sarah Zapiler (who authored the all time most read post on this blog). And who created and curated our 100th anniversary celebration and taught us to Dream.Real. Hard.  The Center is in good hands.

The congregation of West Park is still seeking its future. It does intend to be small but fierce. In light of the current reality of old mainline denominations,  it also seeks to find a sense of stability and sustainability independent of a professional pastor. It desires to be a community that would covenant to:
  1. Be there for each other. Especially when it hits the fan.
  2. Engage in disciplined study together.
  3. Worship together, without regard to where or when but with regard to real sharing of one with another.
  4. Act together for justice.   

The ideas are right. Making them real will be the challenge.

I come to this time with a sense of accomplishment. But also regret at what hasn’t happened. The missed opportunities, lost chances. Some don’t return. The times I  failed to follow my inner voice and listened instead to experts. 

As for me, I will  continue to explore the world of urban ministry, especially along the intersection of beauty and justice and ethics and esthetics with a special commitment to exploring creation as resistance.  Based in New York City but other places as well. I will continue to tell the West Park story but other stories as well.  Therefore the name will inevitably, sooner than later, change. Keep watching the space for more updates. And there will be forwarding in the meantime. 

This has been an intriguing venture. Sometimes our readership has reached over 19000 a month. We’ve had readers from around the world, with large numbers from France and Russia and China, but many other countries as well.  I have always wondered who you are and why you check in. As I move forward, I would sincerely appreciate hearing from you about what drew you to this site, what has kept you coming and what would ket you reading in the future. I would lobe for this  to be an ongojng conversation.

Over the next few weeks, I will do several articles wrapping up my “official” West Park time and also continuing some other explorations we have already begun.  I look forward to your being with us on the journey.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Break the Walls


6/6

The Wall



So what can I do? is a question artists often ask themselves related to the difficult social issues of our time. Especially with a seemingly intractable issue like the Israel-Palestine conflict, or more appropriately, the struggle of the Palestinian people for justice. Last night at the Lark Theatre Center in New York, the Break the Wall Theatre Project provided one valuable answer to that question. 

Inspired by the controversy around Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Jewish_Children), and Churchill’s making the play available for free for performance by anyone (you can read the whole text here: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2009/feb/26/caryl-churchill-seven-jewish-children-play-gaza), Ismail Khalidi and David Zellnik have conceived and produced their own project, Break the Wall.

Conceptually, BTW refers both to the wall of separation built by Israel but also the fourth wall between stage and audience. BTW  intends to break through these walls. 

It’s first stage, celebrated by the launch, invited a variety of playwrights to write short plays on the struggle. All the resulting plays will be made available in an online archive for any who would like to perform them. The goal is to gather 50 plays within a year.

The plays presented Monday night were illustrative of the values that drive the project. There were common threads that run through all the plays. Among these is  the importance of approaching the issue through interpersonal relationships. Each play  (with one exception, Yussef El Guindi’s the Monologuist), is essentially a painful conversation about the issue between people who care about each other. The plays suggest that it is in the intensity of these conversations, as opposed to dialectical debate, that some understanding might come. 

That of course, is another recurring theme. The ongoing struggle of Palestinians to even be heard, let alone understood, even by people who are emotionally involved with each other at one level or another flowed through the plays.

Perhaps most importantly, the plays demand that we give up a balanced view. That in a situation with such an overwhelming imbalance of power …military, economic and political….a balanced view is morally untenable. It is to the credit of these artists that this point is made through the art, not through didactic moralism. You understand by being drawn into the relationships. 

While all the plays are of comparable quality, I went because of a long relationship with playwright Stan Richardson (co-founder of the Representatives .. http://therepresentatives.org/). Several of Stan’s plays have been produced at West Park, including the recent Edinburgh Fringe festival bound production of Private Manning goes to Washington.) Stan’s contribution, the Montagues, uses his typical command of relational conversation and the connections and gaps between us ending in his two characters’ passionate plea for help. In other words, exactly where we are. And  he doesn’t tell us what help means. We’ve got to figure that out. 

(It was also good to see longtime West Park friend Lynne Marie Rosenberg in several plays. She was a key cast member of the Woodshed Collective’s ground breaking immersive production of the Tenant that helped reopen West Park. http://www.woodshedcollective.com/the-tenant/)

Thanks to BTW for this demonstration of what artists can do in the struggle for justice while staying true to their art. The plays are there to read…and perform…in the theatre, in homes, in church, in the street…

For information about Break the Wall...and scripts...go to http://www.breakthewallproject.org/



Monday, May 29, 2017

What do we do now?

5/21/17





Historic note…Good Shepherd Faith Church started as a mission project by West  Church. It’s original property was bought from West Church for the sum of $1 and the first service in the new building came in 1887.
The Good Shepherd
Today it is the last non-Lincoln Center or Julliard building on the block…There has always been a close friendship between West Park and GSF so it was a fitting place for my first sermon after retiring from West-Park…
Guest at Good-Shepherd Faith
Christ the King

Here’s what I  had to say:

Well,I think we could all agree that we live in….different times….they are unlike anything I have lived through in my lifetime before. A bit like living in an alternative reality. With no clear idea of what is going to  happen next.  
Looking up from the altar

So what then are we to do? I’m not going to say a whole lot about the political work that may need to be done beyond a reminder that in our tradition, no political candidate or party can ever be the full expression of the will of God. Every government needs to be  held accountable. It’ sour traditional Calvinist understanding that none of us is perfect, that we all fall short.  And that we need the shared collective wisdom of all of us to figure out our path. And that all of us together are smarter than any one of us.  That’s the Presbyterian way of doing things. And that our American republican form of government was inspired by Presbyterian polity. 

I believe that more than ever we need to be building and strengthening Christian  communities. Communities of people committed to following Jesus.  I was developing a seminar and used the phrase “…in the age of Trump…”. And my partner corrected me, “No…this is the age of Jesus…and will be…”  It’s a matter of where we see the ultimate authority.  

Our former Presbyterian Church (USA) moderator Rick Ufford-Chase has said that our communities need these marks, or commitments:
  1. That we will be there for each other (when it hits the fan…)
  2. To engage in disciplined study together
  3. To worship together (sharing at the deepest level)
  4. To act together

So…in the church year we’re in the season of Easter, almost to Pentecost. Jesus is talking to his disciples as to what to expect without him physically present. it’s kind of like that for us. He says this at the Last Supper.  So we’ll see what he has to say, how it might relate to living in Christian community. 

It begins with LOVE…so easy to talk about….

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments..” It’s pretty clear…that conditional IF…if we love him, we will keep his commandments…There’s  a saying among my Jewish friends that it’s more importing to obey God than to believe in God.  (Last summer at the Wild Goose Festival I heard someone say, “I don’t believe in God, but I love His with all my heart…” I’m thinking of Simone Weil, the French philosopher who once lived on the Upper West Side. 


At 549 Riverside Drive the plaque says:

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. It is given to very few minds to notice that things and beings exist. Since my childhood I have not wanted anything else but to receive the complete revelation of this before dying.

She also said, “Love is not consolation, it is light”


 She said that in society, we are wrong to focus so much on rights. What we need to focus on is obligations. It’s interesting that as anti-Judaism as she was, her approach to ethics is so within the tradition. And of course, for Jesus, the two most important commandments, “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and to love you neighbor as yourself.”

Now it gets more interesting.  He will leave us another Advocate…not sure if you know this or not, but for Jesus, Satan, the one he knew as tempter, was like the prosecuting attorney. For me it’s like that accusing voice oil your head that never lets up. I think it’s like that for most of us…with the exception of say, Bernie Madoff…the voice that questions you, fills you with self doubt…

So the Advocate…is the defense attorney…Jesus uses this wonderful phrase “…the Spirit of Truth…”  I have a friend who says one of her problems with liberal Christians, liberals in general, is the constant relativity of truth…as an artist (and a Christian) she believes her work needs to be true…for me it’s like when you hear a piece of music, or see a performance and everything inside of you goes YES…

I’m thinking Jesus was like that for people…they saw him in action, and everything inside said YES….none of this Pontius Pilate,”what is truth?”  

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” There is no separation between love and obedience….Ofelia Ortega, a minister from Cuba, once came to a Presbyterian General Assembly whose theme, based on an old hymn, was LOVE SO AMAZING……In her assembly sermon, she's said No me quire amor maravillosa pero amor eficaz…that is I don’t want love amazing, I want effective love…

The image Jesus uses is that we will not be orphaned…in his day, that also meant not only without parents, but without resources…that’s why throughout the old testament we hear the phrase “widows and orphans…” the most marginalized and vulnerable..and for some of us today, that being without parents, children or relatives…that feeling of a-loneness..is not uncommon in this city…

you in me and I in you….he says….

It is we who need to be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus now..to hold each other up, to heal hurt, especially the aloneness, to be there for each other. The reformer Zwingli always said that in communion, it is not the bread and wine that is transformed, but it is we who become the body of the risen Lord

Let me make it clear here…we are entering into…already are…in a time when being a Christian is not so much a system of beliefs but a way of life….to love Jesus, in his terms, the true leap of faith is obedience….

We are also entering into a time when more and more  churches will not be able to afford full time pastors. (More than half of New York City Presbytery…) That means to me that we need to create communities that have cohesion and coherence and sustainability even without a regular pastor. 

You are to be commended for the community you have and are creating here…

I will close with these words…

They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”


Following the service, a visitor said that Simone Weil was very special to him and that he appreciated the reference to her.  It felt good to preach again….it was a good Sunday morning…

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Looking for Jesus with Reza Aslan

5/18/17






In 2013, Reza Aslan was at the center of controversy and  popular media attention with the release of his book, Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. What really put Aslan in the public eye…while greatly boosting his book sales..was an over the top hostile interview by FOX TV’s Lauren Green. Critics had a field day writing with the thinly veiled condescension of his lack of scholarly credentials, lack of awareness of most recent scholarship, and the validity of his conclusions. At the end of the day, Zealot did not really deserve the criticism or the controversy. It is a good book, extremely (and entertainingly) well written, and with source validation. (Aslan does his notes as essays at the back of the book..)It does not break new ground in the search for the historic Jesus nor are its conclusions particularly radical. It was written not for the  academy but for the general book buying public.

Raised as a Muslim with a brief experience as a “Born again Christian,”  Aslan felt drawn in to his own search for the historical Jesus. (A search I might add that seems less important as time goes by except as curiosity..) After a vibrant and detailed description of first century Palestine, especially Jerusalem and the Galilee, perhaps the best part of the book, Aslan then describes the world of First Century Judaism in which Jesus’ life and ministry will be lived. For anyone who has ever made their way through the intricately detailed descriptions of the Temple and its practises in Leviticus and Numbers, Aslan brings it into life with all its sounds and smells earthiness and wonder. That alone makes the book worthwhile.

After examining  his evidence, Aslan concludes that Jesus was a charismatic working class Jewish activist (with skills in healing arts, magic and exorcism) but mainly a firebrand who was dedicated to ending the shared hegemony of the Roman empire and their ethno-religious elite Jewish collaborators. (Aslan draws heavily from John Meier's A Marginal Jew..) Jesus’ understanding of his own Messianic role remain somewhat uncertain.

He then has the task of trying to determine how this one particular zealot managed to break beyond his own timeline and inspire the creation of a global religion. And here Aslan must explore the difference, and the gap between, Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus the Christ of the Church. And for all his clarity of the compromised nature of much of scripture, he nevertheless draws much of his information from them. He ultimately finds the church with two realities, one still connected to the Jewish community ethnically and religiously, led by Jesus’ brother James, and the other the global universal missionary religion primarily founded by Paul of Tarsus. And this is the version that will ultimately win out.

In the end, where does this leave us? For Christian social activists, if Aslan’s portrait of Jesus is right, we should spend some time in reflecting on what it means about our commitment to pacifism and non-violent social change. If the “real” Jesus was open to change by any means necessary, what does that mean for us? To the extent that Aslan brings the historic context of Jesus  vividly alive, it’s a call to having an equally detailed understanding of our own context into which we bring our reality of Jesus. it It’s worth spending some time on these questions, even if the truth is that more important than the historic Jesus is the Christ of the Church as he has come to be understood, and known, over all these years.

It is the Jesus of Gandhi and King and the Trocmes and  Dorothy Day that will be definitive for the new radical emerging communities dedicated to Christianity, not as a belief system but as a way of life that demands mutual accountability, discipline and love. A new kind of zealot, if you
 will, informed by the Jesus of history but sustained by the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. 

Reza Aslan’s is a good read and worth your time, if only for the graphic experience of Jesus ‘ context. 

As one final note, Reza Aslan is one of the advisors and producers for the apocalyptic HBO speculative drama the Leftovers…a show that takes loss and mystery and faith seriously. One more reason to watch….






Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Health Class

5/8

Health Class

By now, most reasonable Americans are raging with anger over the new American Health Care Act passed by a pusillanimous House that will put health care our of reach for tens of thousands. In reality, even before this legislative fiasco, health and class in the US have been tragically linked. Even myself as a middle class Protestant pastor has not been exempt from the vagaries of the system.
Last year, through a series of bureaucratic errors and personal misunderstandings as I entered into the status of senior citizen, I had the misfortune of falling out of my system for awhile. Long enough ( a few months) to have to make a special appeal to be let back in despite over 40 years in the program. Thankfully, grace prevailed and I am now insured. Well, with two glaring exceptions.

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with depression  and ADHD. I was lucky enough to get in to the premier ADD clinic in the US. Even with its ever rising fees, I stayed with them for my med psych needs with 50% reimbursement from my program as an “out of network provider.” But in my senior program, that is no longer possible so I have been off my meds for awhile. 

Then for an issue that really enrages me, there is no more dental coverage offered, It is infuriating that in this country teeth are a class privilege. The wealthy have teeth. The rest, dentures if we are lucky. With a history of peril disease and tooth loss, I am aware of imminent problems that will for the first time be visible, and for me, humiliating. And I have no extra money, savings or credit.

So I Asked my friends. Some have plans, Some go to dental schools. Some go to the Philippines. Or Mexico, I go to Google in search of free clinics and come up with one not too far away in Harlem. Nevertheless, as the day and time approach, I am increasingly anxious. Is it wrong for me to go to  clinic? An I taking someone’s place? That’s the altruistic side. The other side is less noble, as in will I be embarrassed to walk into a clinic? Ultimately necessity sends me on my way.

The clinic is at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary’s, long a beacon of hope in the Manhattanville section. A church where I have spoken, heard Hilary Clinton and met with mourning union members after 9-11. They have an interfaith urban food garden. And a full service clinic.

I walk in and my anxiety quickly disappears. It is bright and cheerful. Open with many round tables for consultations and conversations. The intake volunteers are welcoming and respectful of each person’s privacy and dignity, I discover that not only can I get my teeth looked at but get a psych eval as well.

After a short wait, I’m taken in by a team of two dental students and a supervisor. They take a close look and leave me with a sense of hope. My hope to avoid noticeable gaps is possible. And even affordable. Preserving most of the teeth I still have is also possible. Though I will need to go to a higher level facility for that work. They leave me with a list  of affordable options near where I live. There’s more work ahead for me, but I do feel hope. 

After a few more minutes waiting time, two attractive and warm young psychiatric medical students sit with me at a table and do a full psych eval. I’m amazed at how easy it is to talk with them. I can even smile sometimes talking about depression. My critical and philosophical thoughts about suicide. They ask if my faith helps me in those moments. And I describe how its more not wanting to hurt my family or burden then with having to clean up all the messes I’ve left. I’m aware of how anger ultimately overtakes the sadness. (Not sure what I’d feel if I was alone.) I remember my architect friend of years who leaped off the George Washington Bridge. And my love of how people get through struggles, The beauty and courage if that. Eventually I turn to humor. Here are surprisin  tests like naming presidents. Or counting backwards by 7. They go off to consult with their supervisor. And return with my prescription. And an invitation to return. I am very satisfied.

I learn that while not an official program of Columbia University Medical School, all the volunteers and supervisors are from Columbia. They are all fresh and eager to help and make you feel good about this experience and they are the future cream of the crop of doctors and dentists.

I walk home feeling relieved. Happy that such a program exists, ready to recommend it to to friends who may need to recommend a member. Or even go themselves. Like me. And I am still enraged that my health has ultimately to depend ton the altruism of volunteers, not the obligation of the society I live in. We have a difficult road ahead of us. 


For more info go to : http://chhmp.org/

Monday, May 1, 2017

"Judas" by Amos Oz: traitor? Or?

5/1




The writer Amos Oz has been a constant and consistent voice for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict speaking against occupation and for a two state solution since the 1967 war. He has steadily moved left…from Labor to Meretz…while always remaining an unapologetic Zionist. He has frequently supported what he views as “acts of selfdefense” only to quickly move towards opposition as the death toll rises. And he has a history of taking risks to establish and maintain connections with Palestinians, even at personal cost. He is a classic left Zionist with what appears to be a voice that grows ever weaker. And his weariness and frustration shows through his writings. 

His latest novel, Judas, is  an important and valuable resource for a number of critical conversations.  Perhaps the deep question being posed by Judas is that of the nature of betrayal…what does it mean to be a traitor? And is it possible that one who is commonly perceived to be  a traitor may actually be closer to the truth?

Judas tells the story, set in 1959,  of  Shmuel Ash, a Biblical scholar who comes to be a companion to the elderly Zionist Gershom Wald and a mysterious middle aged woman, Attila Abravanel, his widowed daughter in law and daughter of a deceased early Zionist leader, Shealtiel Abravanel, who argued against the creation of the state. 

In what is on the surface a classic coming of age story, Oz can use his characters to explore ideas that are generally taboo. For example, Jewish fascination with Jesus, as a Jew. Oz’ fictional student gives a pretty thorough overview of historic Jewish reactions to Jesus. But Ash has his own fascination centered in the character of the most profound of traitors, Judas Iscariot. For Ash, Judas is “..the first, the last, (perhaps) the only Christian…”. Ash argues that there would have been no Christianity without Judas, the only disciple Jesus could truly trust. ( The gnostic  “Gospel of Judas” published in 2006 makes this same argument.) Oz thus adds his voice to the popular and culturally ambivalent attraction to Judas from Kazantzakis to Jesus Christ Suoerstar. 

Interwoven with the exploration of  Jesus and Judas is the story of Shealtiel Abravanel who believed that the idea of a Jewish state was inherently flawed and wrong from the start. That only a multicultural, multi-religious  community could survive, Any other solution would be doomed to continual bloodshed. For this, Abravanel is branded a traitor and forced to leave the leadership circle. (For his efforts to retain relationships with Palestinians, Oz, like Abravanel has also been labelled a “traitor.”) Through Abravanel, Oz is able to express what he may feel but not be able to say on his own.

The cynical Wald, meanwhile, in yet another voice, perceives any effort to “reform the world” as doomed. …”whoever comes along to reform it soon sinks in rivers of blood…” Wald does have a word for dreamers, however. 

“…blessed are the dreamers and cursed be the man who opens their eyes. True, the dreamers cannot save us, neither they nor their disciples, but without dreams and dreamers the curse that lies on us would be seven times heavier. Thanks to the dreamers, maybe we who are awake are a little less ossified and desperate than we would be without them…”

One wonders if this may be Amos Oz’ best self-understanding at this point of his life?  With both its longing and its cynicism.

Judas would appear to be a great book for a neighborhood  interfaith conversation of rabbis and ministers, the arguments at a one-step away literary distance but still clear. The questions he raises are well worth exploring.



Saturday, April 22, 2017

Two Sundays

4/21

The Rundetaarn


It’s Palm Sunday. For the first time in 22 years, I’m not in New York City. I’m in Copenhagen for a two day Transformation Symposium (.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMtd6CxmXbk&feature=youtu.be )But it’s Palm Sunday and I want to be in a church. Just up the street from the Symposium is the Rundetaarn (Round Tower) home of Trinitatis Church. It was a 17th Century astronomical observatory with an equestrian staircase to take  the the king to the top in his carriage.

I’m hoping that they’ll  be passing out palms, but not so. The young man who is at the door tells me that there’s a worship service starting in 5 minutes. I tell him that’s why I’m there. I open the pew gate and take a seat. Far to the front I see the altar against the front wall.
Altar Trinitatis Church
And half way up one side, an ornate pulpit. I’ve not seen that arrangement before. I notice the light streaming in and that there are plain glass windows, no stained glass. 
Pulpit Trinitatis

There is seating for maybe 900 people or more and on Palm Sunday, there are are maybe 50 people in worship. The music is beautiful. There is a full choir in the loft behind us. As the pastor approaches the pulpit, I notice he’s wearing a black robe and a distinctive crown-like white ruff around his neck. He preaches for about 10 minutes. Then exits the pulpit, goes to the altar for eucharist. When I get to the rail, I see there is a small cup for each person. I take the wafer, the cup, that familiar taste of tawny port that reminds me of the Episcopal Church I worked at in New Haven. The perfect wake up jolt for a Sunday. And I feel for a moment connected to my friends back home. When the service is over, there is coffee and cookies in the back. I take my coffee, shake hands with the pastor on the way out. 

At the Transformation Symposium, I will speak about the difference between forgiveness, which we do for ourselves, and reconciliation, which restores a relationship. But only after a process of acknowledgment and reconstruction. Vaar tells me of a church I should see and I invite her to take Carman and I there and she agrees. 

So we walk down the street to the Our Lady Church …again the simple sun light through plain windows, the altar against the wall, the pulpit on the side.
Our Lady
But this church is neo-classcial filled with the statuary of the famed Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldesen. Vaar walks Carman and I to the front. To see Jesus. Freed from the cross. Seemingly floating. Not in agony but welcoming. it’s an image she likes.
Jesus at Our Lady
She shows us the candles where the Taize group meets on weeknights. I can imagine being here, the repeating chants, building harmonies, glowing candles at night….here’s a spirituality that is living and growing even as traditional church languishes. 
Carman and Vaar

We will go outside, get hot dogs, sit in the sun and talk about transformation and spirituality. Mainly enjoying the feel of the sun. 
On the steps

Kimmo comes and we take a long walk to Christiania, the “free town of Christaina.”  "Now leaving the EU " the sign says as you enter this autonomous anarchy hippy cooperative community.  
Welcome to Christiania

Almost like you froze Haight Asbury around 1973 and it was still there. Psychedelic art and tie dye, arts and crafts and open tables selling weed and hash. I don’t know of any other place like this. (Except maybe the whole city of Portland, Oregon..insert ironic smiley face emoticon here..)  In the Woodstock bar there are a few folks who look like they haven’t moved since1973, still at the same table…after decades of struggle including at least one effort to shut down the trade, accommodation has been reached with the government and the place is quasi-legally owned and organized now. There’s a kindergarten.
Kindergarten
We stop and listen to a jazz trumpet player form Baton Rouge, David Dunlap.
Carman and the trumpet player
Carman strikes up a conversation, and the drummer, a New Yorker, comes over. 

On the other side of the bridge, a kind of gentrification is taking place. Old DIY houses, some beginning with shipping containers, grow, expand, adding floors, levels. The architectural jazz, funk and improvisation is in stark contrast to the architecture by Ikeaness  of many modern Danish homes. 
Carman at the bridge

Kimmo seems to know everyone. There are second generation dealers. We meet one’s father, an original founder, and visit his kiosk of t-shirts and curios and Third World crafts.They’ve survived government efforts to shut down or evict, organized crime efforts to take over or introduce hard drugs, against which a hard line is held. It's not so much  a vision of the future as it is a living tribute to an idealistic past. On our side of the  Christiania gates, it's a lot of broken dreams since its founding. 
Jazz ala Django

I would later learn that when the city believed it was ending the “free town,” the National Museum created a commemorative exhibit complete with hash table. When the exhibit opened, dealers complained that they got it wrong and volunteered to fix it. They’ve been a kind of advisory committee ever since.

Dinner in another neighborhood of DIY houses awaits.

Palm Sunday is almost over…

                             ****


Uli and Bob on Easter. Niemoller House in background.


 Easter. Berlin. I traveled here by bus and boat. Celebrated a Passover dinner with my family and Israeli friends of my son. Lamb from a Georgian cookbook and pomegranates. And now it is a cool and rainy Easter morning. My son Micah travels with me to the little St.Annen chapel in Dahlem.
St. Annen Chapel Dahlem
Like New York City, the boundaries of Berlin expanded to incorporate smaller villages and towns. Dahlem, home of the Free University, is one of these. There’s an urban farm museum across the street. There’s been a church in this site for 700 years. The walls show the different ages of construction in patchwork masonry.  I preached here once, when our neighborhood clergy group came to visit with Uli.

There ’s a good crowd, older, but I recall a family service and egg hunt will come later. Again, a service in a language I do not understand.
Inside St. Annen
Uli tries a simultaneous translation, but someone behind us shushes him. And so I listen. Later I will learn the pastor spoke of the importance of story. The difference between the various gospel writers. The need to find little resurrections of our own lives. My son Micah, a philosopher by training, said he would have liked a little more awe and wonder. I was missing the traditional opening song ‘Jesus Christ is risen today” and the "Alleluias.”

Following the service, Micah heads home. I stand in the churchyard with Uli. On the other side of the little cemetery is the Martin Niemoller House, surrounded in scaffolding like West Park. He was pastor here in the 30’s. We remember his famous quote:
First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Communist.
 
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I remember the times I stayed there before Micah moved here. The reunion of all who had been part of the many groups Uli brought to stay at West Park and explore what living in a multicultural city meant to us. I remember sitting in  the room where young Bonhoeffer watched as Niemoller was taken from his garden by the Gestapo. We greet the pastor.
Greeting the pastor
And another  man who works with refugees. Other friends. 
As we walk down the street in a steady rain, towards a Dahlem coffee shop, for one more coffee before I leave, I am wondering how near we are to our own Niemoller moment. 

By the time we finish our coffee, the sun is out. It is Easter.
Uli and Bob