Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Far and Away

Part two of three parts.  Part one here.

In which I leave the desert and fly to New York.

I got to the airport, after a great conversation with my Uber driver about fund-raising for non-profits, synagogue politics and bagels, to find that my red-eye was delayed a couple of hours. I hoped I would not be late for Revolutionary Love.  I slept pretty well on the plane overnight, but maybe not as well as I thought because I managed to get onto not one but two wrong trains from JFK into Manhattan.  
After realizing I was on the wrong train again,
and before being serenaded by the greatest train musicians ever.

That actually turned out to be really great, because if I had been on the right (faster) train I would not have seen three awesome subway performers - one of whom turned on some loud music and then did a kind of outrageous parkour up and around the poles of the car, the second one who sang a beautiful song and then told us that she had found her life's purpose and that it was singing to people on subway cars so they could be happy, and the third and oldest who looked like your average homeless dude but who played a fancy little concerto on his violin.

I just had time to check into my room and then walk from the Leo House in Chelsea to the Revolutionary Love conference site - Middle Collegiate Church. (I thought then, and I kept thinking the rest of the time I was there, that I could walk around in Manhattan forever and never get tired of it.)

Van Jones is very quotable:
"We have a common pain, but we need a common
purpose."  "I don't love Trump voters to change
them.  I love them so Trump doesn't change me."
"When it gets harder to love, love harder."
I arrived at Middle Church early Friday afternoon, just in time to hear the indomitable Valarie Kaur introduce and outline the three kinds of love we'd be exploring in our time together: love of others (in the movement for justice), opponents ( "we refuse to hate them because we refuse to be like them") and ourselves ("joy is an act of moral resistance").  

Later that night, Van Jones spoke.  I spent 90% of the speech being completely swept up in his message and 10% admiring his style.  He truly held the whole room in the palm of his hand as he detailed the moral challenge of all civil rights movements to love even, or maybe especially, those who hate us.  I admired his humor, his intelligence, his clarity of vision and his quotable one liners.   I guess that last one can sound kind of snarky, but I do mean that.  I'm not much of an elevator-speech-er.  I tend to "on the one hand..." this and "on the other hand" that, when I could say what I  mean in a short and easy-to-understand way (ahem, thisblogpost, ahem) and I'm always trying to learn more about how to do that.

Traci West: "I'm here to disrupt the assertion that
the assertion of love does not need disrupting."
You can see videos of Van Jones and Bill Moyers here and they were were both great of course.  But what made the conference so truly inspiring for me was the leadership and power of women.  Leadership especially by women of color too often seems like an afterthought in events I attend, but here it was clearly anything but. Jacquie Lewis Traci West.  Yara Allen.  Tracy Blackmon .
Tracy Blackmon: "If blackness is my weapon, how
can I ever be unarmed?"

I re-met Ruth MacKenzie who I knew  decades ago when I worked as an intern at Red House Records and she was one of the label's artists with the band Trova. Since the election, I've been listening regularly to their song Si Mi Voz, which just seems like the right song for right now. Anyway, when we went around in our breakout group and introduced ourselves, I recognized her voice right away. Also, she looks exactly as gorgeous and glamorous as she did 25 years ago and I almost shouted out loud. But I waited until the end and re-introduced myself and we had a sweet conversation about Red House, where we started, and ministry, which is where we both somehow landed all these years later.

So the inside of the church was rocking, was a peak experience pretty much every moment, connections were flying, it was (as someone said) like "drinking from a fire hose." And every time we had a break for an hour or two, Manhattan was RIGHT THERE out the front doors.  New York turns out to be a great biking city, so every chance I could I got on a bike - they are for rent everywhere.   And everywhere I was seeing examples of what we were learning inside Middle.  That our commonalities are much greater than our differences. That connection is moral choice and joyful connection is a spiritual one. That the way to love the Other is just to love every Other you meet, and there are lots and lots and lots of Others to practice on.  (Even if you are minding your business in the bike lane and a taxi is turning left in front of you?  Yeah, maybe I have some work to do on this one.)

Sunday morning worship was...well, I don't even know how to describe it.  Except to say that there was Gil Scott-Heron and dancing and Michael Jackson and prophetic preaching and West Side Story and a greeting time that went on and on and I was pretty much in tears for the whole thing. Sunday night, we ended with a rousing sermon from William Barber, who is a giant in every possible way.  

And I was feeling a little deflated that it was over and thinking maybe I would try to catch a show at the Gotham, but ended up instead drinking strong Spanish wine with a new buddy, and humming I Love New York In June all the way back to my room.

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