Elderly patriarch, Young Lords, live TV

tumblr_m6utkpUXYG1qjeot1o1_r1_500I was honored to be a guest on Democracy Now!, meeting anchors Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez and amazing fellow guests.  I also got to do News 12 Long Island with Elizabeth Hashagen, though briefly because the Pope spoke to Congress at such unexpected length.  Three quick observations.

One.  Live TV is choreography and these anchors are dancers of awesome skills, coordinating bodies, ears, eyes, hands and words to make it work.  They improvise on split-second notice!

Two.  The best part of that Democracy Now! episode was not the Pope but rather the Young Lords — a segment on the little-known, short-lived but hugely influential and effective Puerto Rican radical movement of New York City founded in 1969.  They occupied churches; they had women leaders; they had a bureau for gay and lesbian affairs from the start.  The picture here is of anchor Juan Gonzalez himself (in the sweater) when he was Minister of Education of the Young Lords.  If you watch the show’s second half (linked above), you can see a clip of fantastic Christian pedagogy.  You sound like Pope Francis, Amy Goodman says.  No, I just paid attention in church, Gonzalez replies.

Three.  The best part of Pope Francis’s rich speech to Congress was, for me, the call to avoid “simplistic reductionism” and “fundamentalisms of any kind.”  It encouraged me to get more publicly nuanced (even in sound-bite media) about my reserve about the pope on African and Native history in this land, and my stance on women’s ordination.  That’s all on Twitter for now.  Stay tuned for more later, maybe.




The soundtrack of enclosure


There is a community of Discalced Carmelites that lives up on Highland Boulevard.  This road is “high land” indeed, looking over Brooklyn from a crest where you can see southward all the way to Jamaica Bay.  The back of the property abuts Highland Park, where old-growth trees and runaway vines change city air into forest sweetness.

The park is not quiet, though.  On Saturday there were a live band and traditional dancers under a canopy playing for a small crowd.  More “high lands”–melodies from Guatemala.  On any given day the park hosts dozens of family barbecues and serious sound systems, usually playing salsa, merengue and other genres I’m still learning to distinguish.  Occasionally some Marvin Gaye, some Marley.  “One love …”

All you can see of the sisters’ home is a wall and a statue of the Virgin Mary opening her arms to picnic tables and volleyball nets.

But I doubt there is even one hour of the sisters’ chanted Divine Office unaccompanied by distinctly un-Gregorian sounds.

The best part of the vow of stability taken by the enclosed communities has always been about stewarding the land, witnessing the place, praying upon the locale.

Being there for what’s there.

I’m far from a nun or enclosed.  But the teaching-and-writing life sometimes makes me feel like what a friend once dubbed a “monkette in the city.”  Ritualized interior life is a comforting touchstone in a family that might be more monastic than Catholic.  A sister danced years of “Weekly Rites.”  A brother does freelance cenobitism and builds pine coffins, monk-style.

I like the angels along the wall of the monastery.  This wall marks a real “in” and “out”: a thousand pieces of broken glass jut up between the angels.  Stay in.  Keep out.  But walls also have witnesses.  Which is sort of what the sisters are doing.  Being there for what’s there.  Marking betweenness.  Noticing seepage.  There’s a “natural mystic” in the park.  Nothing stays all in or all out.

Maybe on this side, that’s the most “one love” it gets.

Sunday dinner


IMG_1074The Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life recently added exponentially to our knowledge of ex-Catholics, which in the U.S. is one in ten.  Its latest survey also helpfully teased out insights about a full 45 percent of Americans “connected to” Catholicism in some way, “in,” “ex” or “other.” A family dinner last Sunday got me to thinking about Catholics not easily categorized as in or out — or ex or other.  I’ll let you know as I ponder it more.

This Sunday is another open house for festivities surrounding West Indian American Day Carnival in Brooklyn.  Welcome T&T and all the islands to the next-biggest Caribbean-populated spot in the world!  The love goes both ways.  Check these Brooklyn-laden shout-outs from Mighty Swallow and Calypso Rose.