OCCUPY TRINITY WALL STREET

Writer and photographer Mickey Z-Vegan has a blog post on Occupy Trinity Wall Street

HERE

for those who are not trusting the spin from The Episcopal New Yorker “The Real Estate edition”.

And speaking of spin, has anyone seen the latest Episcopal News Service item in which the Episcopal Church takes credit for the hard work of one responsive priest (Michael Sniffen) in Brooklyn and the work of Occupy Wall Street when it comes to serving those who lost so much in Hurricane Sandy?

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Turn the other cheek…don’t look the other way

When I called on a friend to sing an original song for my wedding, he asked me about dress requirements. ” Oh…whatever. I trust your judgment.  You should know the Bishop of NY will be there and dressed like a bishop.”

“Should we all wear cardboard boxes on our heads as a show of solidarity?”

There is something inherently comical about bishops.  Their outfits are just the beginning.

Bishops become supremely comical when they take not just their outfits but themselves seriously. To observe the behavior of those with egos that put them in the delusional world – one in which they imagine they have authority outside the priests in their regional management districts—is classic comedy. Rudy Vallee in a Preston Sturges movie without the endearing charm.

The latest edition of The Episcopal New Yorker has one with a head scratch asking “Real…or Onion?” The issue,  released in this post-Sandy/Advent/wealth disparity-financial cliff/climate change crisis/people leaving TEC to find God elsewhere time was devoted to Real Estate!  And it’s not dedicated to actual real estate issues in New York, a city with home health care givers, families, and shop clerks living in shelters; a metropolitan area with a disproportionate amount of empty homes for every homeless family. No, the bulk of the issue is dedicated to diocesan real estate, the problems of its upkeep; the Bishop’s Message culminating with the observation that “the Church’s property can be a problem, but it is a nice problem to have.”

What a punch line! It’s one of those real-life instances that if you heard it in a movie about a clueless, quasi-villainous religious leader, you wouldn’t believe it real.

Coincidence?  On November 17th, I handed out broadsides at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine during the Diocesan convention that told the story of ongoing harassment on the steps of Trinity Wall.  In addition to shining the light on the spiritual sickness that has infected Trinity Wall Street and its staff, the intention was to initiate a horizontal discussion regarding the responsibility the church has when it comes to its properties.

The content of the broadside will be posted on this blog in the days to come. Until then, you can check out interviews with those who have been sleeping on the front steps of Trinity Wall Street HERE.

The broadside was written primarily to give voice to those who have been sleeping at Trinity Wall Street since June 8th and suffered harassment in the form of beatings, theft, verbal insults, and more from the NYPD and the Trinity Wall Street staff. Some have been put in jail at the insistence of CEO/Rector James Cooper. No one – and no one means no one – from Trinity Wall Street parish has offered so much as a glass of water let alone visited those in prison. These people are my friends and comrades. They are the friends and comrades of every person who leads a spiritually intentional life. Naively I thought that if Cooper’s and Trinity Wall Street’s colleagues and supervisors (i.e. bishops) were aware that there were homeless, hungry, troubled people treated like chattel on the church steps they would be held accountable in some way. They would have the opportunity to heal the spiritual sickness that for so long has infected Trinity Wall Street.

More importantly this is a time when the institutional Church has to evaluate honestly and quickly whether the way it maintains itself is sustainable or even Christian.  It has got to realize as so many of us have, that the Spirit-led life of commitment to Jesus includes finding the service on your doorstep. In Trinity Wall Street’s case and the Diocese of New York that is not metaphoric.

You can read the Diocese of New York’s puff piece here, keeping in mind George Orwell’s thought on PR – Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.

As you read, carry with you this protective amulet of The Word from John 18:37 – “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

To whom does Bishop Mark Sisk listen?  To whom does CEO/Rector James Cooper listen?

Jesus would have us turn the other cheek not look the other way.

Another person in prison courtesy of The Episcopal Church

The verdict and sentencing for the Duarte defendants came yesterday afternoon.  The day was marked by the completion of testimony from Bishop George Packard and the testimony of Rev. James Cooper, Rector and CEO of Trinity Wall Street.

I remember when the Anita Hill hearings were going on, Clarence Thomas would look from side to side during questioning – like someone behind a painting in a Scooby Doo episode set in a haunted house.  Thomas was literally shifty-eyed.

In downtown Manhattan yesterday, family and friends of the defendants were galvanized at the sight of Rector James Cooper on the stand. Wearing the vestments of someone who had taken vows for the priesthood, he visibly turned his head away from the courtroom. No eye contact.

Then came the testimony. I give Cooper the benefit of the doubt, he most likely has a bad memory. He couldn’t recall a petition in late 2011 with over 13,000 signatures on it asking Trinity Wall Street to give Occupy Wall Street sanctuary. Another petition -again with over 13,000 signatures on it- to ask for clemency and forgiveness when it came to prosecuting the defendants who would not be suppressed with ACDs.  He forgot about 15 additional phone calls between himself and George Packard . (Jim – we could really use some reimbursement for those calls. Happy to show your people the Verizon bill.)

There were many moments where Cooper was unsure and unclear. And that’s all right, really because he’s human. But he’s a human who gets an annual package of over 1 million dollars.  He sanctions teach-ins and gives lip service to the values of OWS. Is this how Wall Street and the corporate ethos has corrupted The Episcopal Church? I know of golden parachutes given to failing rectors, but are we seeing right in front of us the phenomenon exemplified during the administration of Bush 43 – that of  “failing upwards”? (Heckuva job Brownie!)

Cooper not only unleashed the brutal berserker of our so-called justice machine, he did nothing to stop it. He said nothing about the violence done to OWS nor about the violence done to people gathered around Duarte Square on December 17th. Beatings done in his name.
…or your personal benefits and perks.

The defense team – Paul Mills, Meghan Maurus, Gideon Oliver, and Martin Stolar – presented insightful closing statements. The heart of the matter is First Amendment rights. Does private property trump free speech? According to Judge Matthew Sciarrino, yes. Yes it does.

The first sentencing was alphabetical and the most harsh. Mark Adams, a sweet spirit, comrade of everyone in OWS got 45 days in Rikers. Forty five days for clipping a chain link fence and trespassing on property that never really belonged to Trinity Wall Street in the first place.

Sentencing statements were made by Bishop George Packard and Medic Ed Mortimer. Packard’s can be read on his blog Occupied Bishop. Ed’s statement and his humanitarian witness will be written about soon.

The trial transcript is a rich document.The morality play that is this trial, what it uncovered about The Episcopal Church’s collusion and adoption of the Wall Street/corporate culture will be unpacked and explored for years.

Most important now, is active support for Mark Adams through visiting, writing letters, advocacy, and prayer.  Parishioners of Trinity Wall Street – some portraits of the man Jim Cooper sent to the environment that is Rikers Island.

Good Friday 2011

My Lenten discipline for 2011 was to say “I honor the Christ in you” prayerfully, to myself, to everyone I encountered. I slacked off, but it was enormously helpful and humbling at those moments when I tend towards the judgmental and self-righteous. I am my own Miss Bossypants.

Starting with Shrove Tuesday, it became a Lent without a church building to go visit. The early church was comprised of spiritual communities, communities that held each other accountable in study, worship, and action. More of us are finding our community in other places. One from column a, two from column b, a little introspective dim sum and you have a meal. No longer content with the prix fixe banquet dinner choices – chicken, fish, or beef? – offered in the brand-name church.
I remember well the Shrove Tuesday pancake battles. Yes, battles, not batters. Everything cooked with that secret ingredient: resentment. There were years when the cook staff was manned by people who volunteered solely to stand sentry on the kitchen ramparts, ensuring the Mardi Gras and gumbo contingent didn’t pollute the purity of the Anglophilic pancake supper. There is the irony of extra pancake mix, syrup, and butter that goes home after a meal originally intended to clean out the larder.

Taking into account the real tradition of Shrove Tuesday, I made a supper of what was in the pantry. Half of those two-for-one purchases of red sauce, pasta, beans, and Costco discount quality grains, went to a food pantry. Such a simple resolution to the Shrove Tuesday wars. And we can’t all get together and do this in church?  If only….

In our home, Holy Week was marked by daily meditations. Each of us kept private counsel, pondering in our hearts the events that occurred in Jerusalem. We made it a focus to carry those meditations into the mindfulness of our days. The Holy Spirit will call your attention to what needs to be heeded if ye but have ears to hear away from the pulpit.

Today, at noon, we turned off the Internet, phones – even the washing machine – and began by reading the Passion according to John. It was followed by the BCP Good Friday liturgy. Mid way, I was affirmed that it was a good and wise decision to stay far away from church today.

Why? Because for the past two weeks, my prayers had brought me to a place where I wanted to know what Jesus would have me do – specifically – with his sacrifice and resurrection. I don’t think he would want me to leave it at the modern perfunctory equivalent of nard and tears. Facebook was filled with posts like “Good Friday service at noon, then on to MOMA and a terrific late lunch in NoHo!”

For a moment, I yearned to be part of a spiritual community where every Friday there was a liturgy for the social justice and human rights; where the faithful sit in discernment, worshiping with a call to action. If only…

I remembered the rector of a church I attended who did not want to go ahead with tolling the tower bells, prominent in the community, when there was a state-sanctioned murder (execution) without Vestry permission because the death penalty was “controversial”.

I remembered an Easter Eve walk with families when the brutality of the crucifixion was brought home not by words, but by the sound of a hammer on wood. An informal group of children and parents sang “Were you there?” and yes, yes we were. That year, the children from one family went home, retelling their visiting grandparents the most wonderful story they had ever heard – begging them to go to church with them on Easter morning so they could witness how their church made this story live! But Easter morning was the adult-oriented service and instead of parading with Jesus, chanting and drumming and waving palms; praying with him in the garden; standing next to him as he argued with the money changers and Pharisees; and hearing the hammer, there was a formal choir and a trumpet. They apologized to their grandparents during the Easter Egg hunt.  The candy paled when compared to the living story.

We know that 2,000 years out of the starting gate, this story still sets our hearts on fire. Roils our compassion, and opens our eyes to its reoccurrence all over the world. It calls to you – the loudest shout of the liturgical year.  If only….

As our family sat, listening to the prayers from Good Friday’s liturgy, we got to the part where priests, deacons, bishops, and the president were prayed for. Fortunately we weren’t silenced in church pews so we could offer up our own voices in the Good Friday litany:

for those in prison

for those with degenerative diseases who are frightened

for the caregivers

for those who sacrifice for the common good

for those who live with needless shame

for the lonely

for the hungry

for those being tortured – particularly on this day, Private Bradley Manning

for those who cannot tell their story of pain, whose very life narrative has been taken away

for the mothers and fathers who have lost children

for those who die publicly, painfully and without dignity

for those who die alone

for forgiveness as we allow these things to happen around us

On Good Friday, at least, can’t we ask the bishops, priests, deacons, and the president to pray for those who have no voice?   If only….

Happy Easter! Expect the Unexpected

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not yet understood. Henry Miller

My transition from sleep to wakefulness comes as a result of a solid internal clock –courtesy of age – and the ambient sounds of the world around me – birds, the Latino radio station from the man delivering newspapers,  the family stirring. On Easter morning the hotel alarm buzzes me awake at five in order for my husband and myself to attend a sunrise service.

The location of the service is St. Andrew’s by the Sea in Hyannis.   The staff at the motel can’t recall where it is located.  It’s not in the telephone book and online references are fuzzy.  Through the Massachusetts diocese home site we get a street, but no no parish profile or web site. Programming this spare information into the GPS we set out before sunrise on a literal quest for the sole Episcopal church in this town.

Navigating a warren of roads that pass darkened summer homes closed in off-season, we happen upon a police officer who escorts us, headlights on, past the skeletons of privet hedge to the dead-end street where St. Andrew’s stands high on a bluff next to a local beach and yacht club.

We don’t know what to take in first : the location of a church that must have a dramatic view of the Atlantic once the sun is up or the fact that there is barely a place to park.  The road dead ends at a local private club with a capacious parking lot but it is barricaded in off-season. And most likely barricaded in-season to the hoi polloi.

St. Andrew’s is closed as well. At least the doors to the building are closed.  There is a gathering of 60 or so eager to witness and reconstruct in our own humble way the event that shattered the world.  Easter fest 2010!  We wait on a small patch of ground next to the stone building.

The service begins with a lone trumpet leading the hymns.  Everyone sings along.  The invocation and prayers are direct – nothing precious or overly intellectual.  As I say the words out loud in community I feel changed, lighter inside, a greater sense of understanding which quickens commitment.  It is terribly cold on this bluff by the Atlantic and I am not dressed for it.  My husband takes off his jacket, wraps me in it, and holds me firm and strong.  We had argued on the way here. In his loving, intimate action, there is proof of resurrection and healing. I think – no I know – this one of the best Easters ever.

The homily is short and one of the best ones I’ve heard. Here’s what I remember: Expect the unexpected, particularly when the unexpected exposes Christ in others.

The prayer that follows the homily begins like this:
God of such amazing surprise, put a catch in my breath today. Put wings on my heart.

This Holy Week, on the dune and ocean landscape of New England, the site of new buds on thorny bushes has caught my eye. There are rows of these dotted about the small patch of ground next to the closed Episcopal church.  

The church building is still dark as the sun rises over the cold Atlantic. The Church turns to see the morning fog begin its dispersal, chatting about where to go for  a warm breakfast and cup of coffee. Continuing the fellowship.

This worship was hosted by a confederation of Baptist churches in surrounding towns.  The participating pastors will be going off to their respective churches for indoor Easter services. One announces that there will be six baptisms that morning.

In the light, it becomes clear why no one knew where the church was: those who attend it want it for themselves. It is a seasonal church, intended for the people with summer homes. Most likely it is a summer cure for a priest who gets a small stipend, a place near the beach, an honorary membership at the yacht-beach-tennis-dinner club, and regular invitations to cocktail parties.

Peeking through the front window we can see that it is well-appointed: crisp volumes Lift Every Voice and Sing side by side with the 1982 Hymnal.  Although it is possible the volumes look crisp because they are held for a few minutes each week, 4 months out of the year, by people who are used to taking care of nice things.

The week before Easter the House of Bishops met at Camp Allen in Texas. Part of their time together included two days spent on the Emergent Church.  From what I’ve heard there was an amusing awkward tone to all this as the Emergent Church is anti-hierarchical as well as anti-institutional.  The bishops listened to presentations and were given a book to take home so they could read about about the Emergent Church.  The book has two introductions: one by Katharine Jefferts-Schori and the other by Rowan Williams.  The other chapters are written by people who, while insightful about the enormous transition going on in Spirit and Faith as well as the dissolution of the institutional-hierarchical church,  rely on its financial resources for their livelihood.

The bishops were also given two CDs with examples of Emergent Church music.  The music, skillfully executed and even occasionally sincere, was intended for soloists and bands.  Not a single song that could be sung by a congregation on either recording.

The readers of this blog are too wise for me to have to explain the irony of all this.  But two caveats for any bishops or canons or program people trying to understand and evolve:  First, buying the program is not the program.  If you need this verified, ask the hard-working and resourceful director of your formation program.

Second, there is an army of clergy in your diocese deeply invested in the status quo of their seminary training and the reality of parish politics.  The House of Bishops may meet as an International Entity but church is local.

In a culturally synchronous moment, Holy Week was the week that Priest Barbie became a fetishistic fad among certain Episcopalians.  The Facebook page garnered thousands of fans.  Priest Barbie showed up with a bitchin’ liturgical wardrobe, including a miniature sacristy at her imaginary Malibu parish.  People thought a plastic priest with an anatomically impossible figure, the most hated and tortured toy in recent memory, was a hoot, a role model, and a signal of the The Episcopal Church’s “coolness”.

Can’t we stop pretending?

It is a natural human inclination to stave off the difficult but necessary aspects of transition with totemic figures, programs, and magic thinking. During Easter we not only honor Jesus, but the lifetime journey of mindfully, reverently nurturing the Christ in ourselves and others. Miracles not magic thinking. The truth – the Word – is so very near us.  It’s in night blossoms, and buds in thorns, the narratives of our prophets, matriarchs, and patriarchs, our relationships. There are portals of sacred transformation among us.

The Emergent Church has been around for two plus millennia. It is not “out there”.  Unless the leadership of The Episcopal Church considers a confederation of Baptist ministers leading the faithful to worship at dawn “out there”.

Holy Saturday 2010

I not only gave up Lent for Lent this year, I also gave up blogging.  There are times when the impulse to come to conclusions prevents living mindfully in God’s time.  Strict adherence to arbitrary calendars, deadlines, and relentless standards also prevents us from living mindfully and compassionately.

Yet another good reason not to attend church for Lent.  Jesus goes out on the desert to discern his life’s mission, and we’re asked to sit like cattle while the church staff tells us what this is all about.

We are poor little sheep who have lost our way…baa, baa, baa.

A while back I was at a staff meeting planning the parish events for the year.  The organist-choir director looked at the calendar sighing dramatically.  “There is absolutely no place for us to have a choir fundraiser for our trip to England!”

I pointed out a nice empty weekend in March – not a schedule conflict in sight.

“But that falls on the second weekend in Lent!”

“And the problem is….?”

“We want to have a festive atmosphere in order to raise money!”  There was scorn in his voice; you could hear the bumper “Dummy!” in his inflection.

I explained to him that some very great thinkers in the church had experimented with not observing Lent.  Holy Week, of course, but Lent was made from whole cloth. Just as New Year’s Eve is party night for amateurs, living a disciplined prayerful life for exactly 40 days seems to miss the point.  Moreover, hadn’t we all experienced people who gamed the system?  Those who conflate sacrifice with vanity or self congratulation, or those who are eager to drop their discipline on Sundays when it’s “technically” a mini-Easter? (40 days minus Sundays = piety.)

The implication that I was a dummy gave way to a look from the clergy and organist as if I was suggesting the sacrifice of goats to Baal on the altar.  The rector said that no weddings or baptisms would ever take place in “his” church during Lent.

Silly me! I thought that the church belonged to the Body of Christ, but it really belongs to the clergy collecting a salary from the Body of Christ.

And for those of us with birthdays that occur during Lent, I suppose this priest would have us wear hair shirts as we sup on soup instead of ice cream cake. Darn, if only I had been born during the season of Pentecost, I could enjoy my birthday in a festive atmosphere.

This is the week that we remember the most important part of Jesus’ story.  Even though we are intimately familiar with it, each day, each story has its own vibration. If we tune in, we will hear a distinctly unique pitch sounding from the past, present, future, this world, and the other world all at once.

The vibration on Holy Saturday sounds the story of the women waiting to honor in death their beloved friend and rabbi.  They ready themselves to prepare not only his body, but for the reality of transition that is sure to come.

Too bad so many miss this part of the story.  The church staff is exhausted from coordinating “correct” Palm Sunday processions, Tenebrae services, forcing people into ritualized intimacy with Maundy Thursday liturgies, (it took me years to really hear that foot washing in this artificial situation is indeed gross for the average citizen!), getting everyone on board for the ecumenical Good Friday service, hiring the brass ensemble to replicate the shadow of a joyous Easter morning…and I forgot to include the Great (or typically Not-So-Great) Vigil of Easter.

An elder in a church where I used to sing, called this the “hot dog cooker” service. Maybe she was on to something.

Exactly how the institutional church remembers this week is the topic of another post. And another, and yet another. The liturgical year is a teaching opportunity about the life of Jesus, not what we worship instead.

In the northeast United States – and possibly other parts of the country – no matter how honest and holy and well-intentioned the remembrances of Holy Week are, attendance is low. It is spring break in the public schools: AKA “Mud Week” because it’s like trying to get wheel traction in thick mud.

I can’t count the times I’ve worked with teams planning and executing great Easter Eve Walks, powerful Palm Sunday experiences, sincere Maundy Thursday meals, celebratory Easter mornings, and a fraction of the parish population has shown up. Or the ecumenical youth group has forgotten what they were supposed to do at the sunrise beach service because they took a red-eye back from a warm, hedonistic locale and are fried.

What are leaders supposed to do about this?  Condemn those on vacation?

Take a tip from the early Christian strategists and work with the culture.  Jesus, like the Queen of England, has two birthdays – a real one and one the public celebrates in December.

Palm Sunday

Yes, the liturgical year is a helpful way to frame time.  But when the consumer culture co-opts the Easter egg hunt so it is about competition, over-buying plastic eggs and other doo-dads from Oriental Trading, it’s time for the church to stand for something.  Putting on a lonesome high-church chant fest for 20 people on Holy Saturday with the hot dog cooker and singing the Exultet is fine.  But the next weekend – Easter 1 – when all the kids, families, DINCs, retirees, singles, and young couples return from a much-deserved break, tell the story again. Save breakfast on the beach reading for the summer by making breakfast on the beach!

Make it live for yourself and it will live for those around you.  An interesting side effect of  rescheduling is that we don’t have to live with the cognitive dissonance of pretending we don’t know about the resurrection.  What an interesting contemplation. We already hold the sad knowledge of Good Friday when we re-enact the Last Supper. What if we also held in our hearts the knowledge of the Resurrection?

There is a tale that the founder of Hasidic Judaism, when faced with a problem, would go to a sacred place in the woods, ritualistically light a fire, and say a particular prayer.  The rabbi would then gain insight. His successor knew the place in the wood and the prayer, but did not know how to light the fire.  He also, would come to a new understanding. With each succeeding generation, a bit of the ritual would be lost.  When Rabbi Israel of Rishin was confronted with a problem, he stayed at home. “The fire we can no longer light, the prayer we no longer know, nor do we remember the place. All we can do is tell the tale. And that is sufficient.”

Let us go on telling the tale, and to paraphrase St. Francis, sometimes use words.

More reason to hope: We are not alone

I have heard that Sidney Sanders, former bishop of East Carolina and much beloved faculty at Virginia Seminary, had written about the theology of the Broadway Musical.  Certainly Broadway has given us much more than jazz hands and emo singing cats. It embodies story, hope, social justice, reflection, epiphanies, as well as the glory of the human being fully alive.  Anyone who has been close to the theatre knows that there is no better community for accepting brokenness, and enveloping fellow seekers in the embrace of fellowship.

In the words of one of Sondheim’s most simple lyrics: No One is Alone

This blog began as a kind of personal therapy – a place to detox from the harshness of church work and disingenuous church community.

That season is done.  Today I had a wonderful conversation with Kenny Moore – aka Kenny the Monk.  His book, The CEO and the Monk carries high ratings on Amazon.  I’m embarrassed I haven’t read it, because a conversation with Kenny is a revivifying experience filled with insight, reverent irreverence, generosity, and lots of laughs.

So in the days to come, when this Hopeful Episcopalian reclaims the path of hope rather than its abstraction, look for the deletion of some of those more therapeutic posts, a revamping of  About this Blog, and a chance for the thousands of us out there to start calling out and finding each other.

After all, Anyone Can Whistle.