Saturday, April 22, 2017

Two Sundays


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 (. )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.
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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"Get Out": a review


Another valuable resource...

An important resource in our ongoing conversation about white privilege is the new film Get Out by      Jordan Peele. As opposed to the traditional dramas and documentaries of last year's Oscar worthy films and the shimmering beauty that was Moonlight, Get Out breaks new  ground in the horror genre. More appropriately, like the classics Night of the Living Dead and Rosemary's Baby before it   (and TV's The Walking Dead), Get Out is better described as social horror. Like George Romero's Night Of the Living Dead in the sixties, Get Out holds up a mirror to the current state of interracial relationships in our society. And what the eye sees  is pretty scary.

From its cold open with a lone black man stranded in a white suburb, we realize that  the news over the last year or so has changed our idea of what scary is. You can't see this lone black man lost in white suburbia without thinking Treyvon Martin, and so the horror begins.

The basic frame is a visit to the white suburban parents by an interracial couple. From there it's a journey into the heart of elite white liberal land with occasional appearances by strangely docile African Americans. Part of the painful reality of the film is that the true monsters are not Deliverance style rednecks loosed by Trump's election.  They are instead white liberals, like the father who would have "voted for Obama for a their time." We're deep in Hilary country here.  And Get Out is brave enough to go there.

 Peele touches all the right buttons from the painfully hip father and his use of "My man" and "th
ang" to the old white golfer  who "knows Tiger" to the TSA black friend who humorously (and presciently) warns about going to "white girls' parents' houses" and "  the "sex slave thing." Even the psycho bro brothers' absent minded yet menacing play with his lacrosse stick has a resonance.

Get Out eventually earns its horror benefides by going all Grand Guignol in the last reel. I'm really not interested in going into detail or spoiler alerts at this point. You can find that elsewhere.  But before we get to the horror finale, we get schooled through brilliant metaphor as to the historic impact  and continuing deforming reality of slavery in the US. The bottom line is that after blood soaked struggle for survival, our hero sees what should be the salvific sight of police car lights. And our heart sinks. Because we know. You'll have to see the film yourself to see how it turns out.

To really understand this movie, go to an urban movie house. Maybe your closest Magic Johnson theatre. Let your body and spirit experience the sound of the reaction to the redemptive violence of the final act. Really feel that. That's where we are. One could say that this movie comes from an auteur who believes our situation is hopeless. Except that this movie was shared with us,

The ongoing work of deconstructing white privilege is a long and continuing project. Get Out is a valuable resource.....the most important movie yet this that project. Allow yourself to be shaken.