The luxury of disturbance: meeting God in the liminality

Like many of you, I’m a rhythmic person. Actually, my flow probably feels more polyrhythmic. I live with certain cadences – whether it’s having breakfast with my children, using my own bathroom/sleeping in my own bed, meeting at Franny Lou’s Porch with my cell on Thursday mornings, getting to worship together on Sunday nights as a Circle of Hope, or being near internet/cellular service. I had the luxury of disturbance recently and God met me in some outside-my-usual spaces.

My seminary program, the Masters in Intercultural Studies through the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS), has a flow. As a hybrid learning program, my cohort convenes online for discussions and then face-to-face for a week or two per year. This time Wheaton College hosted us in their kind of fancy facilities (very nice!). I took major components of two classes – Missional Leadership and Human Spirituality, taught by two brilliant Native women who held space for a co-learning environment with about eight of us.

I decided to drive to Wheaton so I could visit my good friends in Pittsburgh (BB, Andy, and the kids), one in Chicago (Colleen), and see Dustin and the gang’s permaculture design experiments on 30 acres of family land in Canton, OH. It wasn’t the fastest way to travel, but now the Graces are equipped with hybrid technology I spent about $100 on gas over the 1,700 mile trip. I got to listen to Dune on audiobook, some tunes, and lots of quiet. It didn’t seem convenient all the time, but I enjoy spending time on the road – even though about 1/3 of it was out of TMobile’s service area so I was in a sort of cocoon. I enjoyed driving through Midwest thunder showers, mountains of PA, and seeing the funny t-shirts for sale in Indiana such as “Hoosier Daddy.”

I had to leave right after the class so I could make it back in time to help out with my kids’ school in their production of Seussical, Jr – again feeling disrupted. Being back home after being gone requires a lot of catching up to communications and happenings in the community, and being less available than normal for a few days can throw me off.

I wish I could distill the whole trip into something readable, but I guess if you’re part of my faith community you’ll be feeling it through the next season. In Jackie Ottmann’s Leadership class, we discussed how leaders can make space so people can experience change – often helping to create ethical space where we usually taste liminality. I hope that’s not too expensive of an anthropological word – basically it’s a time/space where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. It can be that moment when the water is just about to/starts boiling…when it just became hot enough. Liminality is definitely disruptive to normal flow, but can be where the gritty grind of transformation happens.

This excursive week or so for me had it’s share of liminality and I’m glad that I was given the space to be able to get disrupted and be able to do something good with it. So often we as humans get stuck in patterns and pathologies that don’t experience disturbance outside of crisis. This break in my routine included enough time for reflection. I’m still digesting what God is saying – but I’ll say I’m grateful:

1.  to be part of a local expression of the Body of Christ – we can connect and work through stuff together and want to be directed by the Spirit. Lots of my friends don’t have it. So cool!

2. to have been raising my kids in a village of parents – whether or not one has biologically reproduced does not matter in village formation. As I see my creative middle schoolers rock their play, I can see the love and care poured into them by dozens of aunties and uncles in the church.

3. to have this luxury of disruption and the time to reflect about it – the flexibility in my schedule exists because of so many passionate and gifted leaders who also want me to grow and develop. Thanks for sending me to seminary and wanting to work out the disruptions I create because of it.

Ethnicity/Immigration blog #6

Happiness & Freedom vs. Imagination & Responsibility

(spoiler alert for the film Dirty, Pretty things that we had to watch in class).

I was in full agreement with Dr. Allen when he talked about the antagonist in Dirty Pretty Things, Señor Juan aka Sneaky, being the image of capitalism.  The most telling moment of this is when Señor Juan is trying to get Okwe to join his shady business dealings as he offers…
“You give me your kidney; I give you a new identity.  I sell the kidney for ten grand, so I’m happy.  The person who needs the kidney gets cured.  So, he’s happy. The person who sold his kidney gets to stay in this beautiful country, so he’s happy.  My whole business is based on happiness.”

This lack of imagination and responsibility is at the center of what keeps people perpetuating broken systems of economy, government, poverty, and violence.  This post by Ian Hanson captures a brilliant moment in Haruki Marukami’s Kafka on the Shore when one of the characters is musing about Adolf Eichmann. This Nazi mathematician later defended his lack of moral responsibility for his work not of not ethnic cleansing and enslavement but mathematical efficiency.  Perhaps that is because he lacked the imagination.

One hegemonic notion in the US is that “our whole business” is based on freedom.  The formation of the country, the foreign policy, and economy are based on freedom.  If you don’t like it, you must not like freedom.

How many times in your life have you heard a politician sound similar to Señor Juan,  spouting off about freedom while we spend a trillion  dollars on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?  When we talk about building a wall across the Mexico-US border?   When we try to move on after centuries of genocide and denial of reparations for the enslavement of Africans and their decedents?

I felt happy at the end of Dirty, Pretty Things because I was surprised by the poetic justice  for the villain and outright victory for the heroes.  I have a similar skepticism for the world we live in.  I carry it along with my hope to be surprised.

Ethnicity/Immigrant Experience blog #4

I was pondering this NY Times article about Americans and their fear of immigrants, specifically Muslims.  This connected in my mind to the developing story of internet-famous pastor [of a 50 person church] in Gainesville, FL named Terry Jones.  His foiled plan, however infamous still, was to commemorate the 9th anniversary of the attacks on the WTC by burning at least one Quran.

Allegedly on his website (which has since been pulled down by his web host) he listed 10 good reasons to do it.  I wanted to write something about it before tonight, but felt conflicted.  One one hand, I feel pretty strongly that it is a bad idea and a cheap publicity stunt that makes many of us look like fascists to the world.   On the other hand, I was hoping that the story was not going to be covered by any media.  Writing about how we shouldn’t pay attention to this man inadvertently might bring more attention to the moment.

Thankfully, now that the event is canceled, I feel released to say how ludicrous I think the idea was.  Nearly as absurd is Jones’ claim according to VOA news that he negotiated the change of venue for a proposed mosque two blocks from the former World Trade Center location.

In the VOA article, Jones is quoted as saying “The American people, as a whole, do not want the mosque at the Ground Zero location.”  I think that’s a pretty fear driven statement that has more to do with his own prejudices than reflecting either consensus of Americans or even American Christians.  It also seems like a convenient excuse to cover up whatever real reason there was to not do such a outrageous antic. Maybe it was pressure from the Pentagon.   Maybe it was the Mennonite Central Committee’s open pastoral letter to Anabaptist churches that did the trick.

Regardless of why it was kiboshed, it was a close call.

Ethnicity/Immigrant Experience class blog #2

Native Americans Used to Call it “white people.”

Facebook is a funny way to make huge statements.  When my friends join groups like “I bet I can get 1,000,000 to ______” I almost always wince.  A real life friend got me thinking about how these sorts of things are really effective for advertisers to mine huge groups of people, which is kind of creepy.

However, sometimes my friends “like” a statement that tickles me.  One interesting statement lately is “Illegal immigration is not a new problem, Native Americans used to call it ‘White People’.”  This is kind of clever.  I love the kind of thinking that this idea can get us doing and maybe even good discussion.  It immediately reminded me of the t-shirts worn of the Gary Ballard design featuring a picture of great Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo and company in 1886 with the caption “Homeland Security-Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.”

Geronimo!

I have a problem with the statement about so-called white people causing an immigration problem with the Natives.  I think the Europeans indeed caused problems, but they were not immigrants for a long time.  Groundwork was laid to come and to dominate, not to integrate, with a few notable exceptions such as the Roanoke Colony in Virginia (now North Carolina).  Immigration started when Europeans had effectively controlled enough natural resources and developed a common identity away from their countries of origin.  By that point in time, most Native Americans didn’t have a ton of input into the process.

It is wise for us when thinking about immigration in the United States to keep in our frontal lobes some people movements in the past 500 years rather than the past few decades.

Ethnicity/Immigration class blog #1

My prof for a class called Ethnicity and the Immigration Experience is having all the students write 2 posts per week about class topics.  I figured I might as well cross post to get rolling on my own blog again.

My father’s grandparents moved to the US from Eastern Europe around the beginning of World War I in 1914, identifying as Polish.  It was customary to treat immigrants according to ethnicity rather than country of origin.  Because of border disputes in the rise and fall of empires, Poland’s boundaries changed a lot between 1850-1950. My father’s paternal grandfather was given the name Szczesniak when he came through Ellis Island, likely because he was from the city of Szczecin.

My grandmother (whom we called Nani) Esther Pacynski lived on the same block on Clark St in the East Side of Buffalo, NY for her whole life.  She and my grandfather, Frederick Szczesniak (Dzia Dzia), met as kids in their local parish, St. Stanislaus.  It was one of the first Polish Catholic churches in the state of NY, founded in 1873. Both Nani & Dzia Dzia worshipped in Polish, went to Polish Catholic School (in Polish) and spoke to one another in Polish.  Although they learned some English in parochial school, Polish was more common to speak at home.
It was similar with their three sons, including my father.  They were tacitly encouraged to blend in and embrace the American identity.  Their neighborhood was still mostly Polish people with many Polish owned businesses but they spoke mostly English on the playground and in high school.   Outside of their little ghetto they only spoke English, dressed like Americans, and dated non-Polish women.  By the time they finished public high school, they had somehow become “more” than just Polish, they were white people.

Even though I lived on that block on the East Side until I was 10, I had a more “American” experience than previous generations on that side of the family.  I didn’t go to Polish school, Polish mass, or speak Polish beyond a few funny words to the old ladies.  It had only taken two generations for my brothers and I to have our primary identity become American, rather than Polish people living in the US.

end of semester, beginning of…

Lots of things coming to a good end lately:

The 2007 Frankford renovation.

The college semester (one more assignment and final).

Lots of good things beginning:

Wed night baseball

Shalom House Festival (May 13, 6:30pm at 2007 Frankford)

The Discerning Team has met twice about the next church plant.

Composting in the backyard, getting ready for our little garden (Japanese cukes, cilantro, some flowers already going)

I also managed to sprain my ankle during the first inning of the first game of the year.  I go to a specialist tomorrow to see how bad the damage is.  Today was the first day that the swelling went down, that’s encouraging.

Schoolly

When my teacher told me that Schoolly D was going to be coming into class, I thought it was pretty awesome and funny.  I had only heard of him because of PSK and by the word on the street that Ice T had stolen his whole deal.

Last Tuesday, Schoolly and some friends (including Umar from Street Fatigues) visited our class.  Schoolly grew up at 52nd & Parkside, and started playing guitar in a family band before he was 10yrs old.  He’s talented, personable, and hilarious.  Top moment of the day…

Nate:  “How would you describe your relation to so-called Gangsta Rap?”

Schoolly:  “I’m the father.”

Modesty may not be in the top 4 words to describe him.  Among other things lately, he’s been busy working on a new album.  You may know him also from Aqua Teen Hunger Force as he wrote the theme, most of the score, and the character Shake was loosely based on him.

Hearing him talk about hip hop was a privilege.  He still tries to do it “the old way.”  Recording, writing, and producing in-house as well as putting things out first on his own label.  It’s not made for mass consumption.   He told the kids in class about how important it was to be yourself artistically-don’t try to fit into a box that people (even you) think will sell before what you really care about.

I got to talk to him for a couple minutes after class.  I honestly wish I had brought my camera.  He’s a legend.

Writtenhouse

My Hip Hop & Black Culture class has been pretty great throughout the year, but the past week or so has been particularly cool.  Last week Chris Conway & Charlie K from the Germantown-based hip hop trio Writtenhouse were our guests.

Last tues, Chris gave the lecture about “finding the perfect” beat.  He taught on the progression of DJing and producing beats and development over time.  He pulled out some obscure clips to show how producers built up parts of songs.  I never realized Kweli’s Get By was built by Kanye using Sinnerman by Nina Simone-at 5:19ish, 8:29 in particular.  Both songs are amazing.

On Thurs, Chris & Charlie K talked about their creative process and Chris brought in the MPC to show us how he makes beats. The two of them and their 3rd member Kush have a lot of talent.  Chris & Kush do their beats and keys live-building songs and beats out of broken down elements of other songs and adding their own flavor…Charlie K is the emcee.

These dudes were really cool, and are playing on May 2 at Studio 34 in West Philly, or if you are rich you can catch them at The Roots Picnic this summer.  They are tentatively up for doing a show at circle of hope with psalters at some point!  We’ll see.

me 3.0

my brother Jeffrey (funniest of the 4 of us) made a couple cracks to me about 3.0 today.  He is not only funny, he’s right.  I’ve been getting ready for the next version of me, today is a good day to be feeling it.   I feel good.

Lots happening these days.  Last week I was in Michigan with psalters most of the time.  Next week FN Stakeholders meeting, more music, CoH Camden, saying farewell to my boy Clarence.  So much and so awesome.

Maybe different looks like:

1.  I cried while watching A Little Princess with my family last night.

2.  finishing the rehab at 2007 Frankford

3.  starting my Kodo training

4.  both kids will want to go to Phillies day games

5…other?

I used to love H.E.R.

I’ve never been a huge fan of homework.  But it’s not always doing math equations and reading 50pgs a day.  For my Hip Hop and Black Culture class part of my assignment is to listen to this song, watch the video, and read the lyrics to prepare for a class discussion.  Awesome!

Video, lyrics, then a couple of reflections.

This is Chicago-based rapper Common (when he was still Common Sense) in the 1994 song “I used to love H.E.R.” off the album Resurrection.

Verse One:

I met this girl, when I was ten years old
And what I loved most she had so much soul
She was old school, when I was just a shorty
Never knew throughout my life she would be there for me
ont he regular, not a church girl she was secular
Not about the money, no studs was mic checkin her
But I respected her, she hit me in the heart
A few New York niggaz, had did her in the park
But she was there for me, and I was there for her
Pull out a chair for her, turn on the air for her
and just cool out, cool out and listen to her
Sittin on a bone, wishin that I could do her
Eventually if it was meant to be, then it would be
because we related, physically and mentally
And she was fun then, I'd be geeked when she'd come around
Slim was fresh yo, when she was underground
Original, pure untampered and down sister
Boy I tell ya, I miss her

Verse Two:

Now periodically I would see
ol girl at the clubs, and at the house parties
She didn't have a body but she started gettin thick quick
DId a couple of videos and became afrocentric
Out goes the weave, in goes the braids beads medallions
She was on that tip about, stoppin the violence
About my people she was teachin me
By not preachin to me but speakin to me
in a method that was leisurely, so easily I approached
She dug my rap, that's how we got close
But then she broke to the West coast, and that was cool
Cause around the same time, I went away to school
And I'm a man of expandin, so why should I stand in her way
She probably get her money in L.A.
And she did stud, she got big pub but what was foul
She said that the pro-black, was goin out of style
She said, afrocentricity, was of the past
So she got into R&B hip-house bass and jazz
Now black music is black music and it's all good
I wasn't salty, she was with the boys in the hood
Cause that was good for her, she was becomin well rounded
I thought it was dope how she was on that freestyle shit
Just havin fun, not worried about anyone
And you could tell, by how her titties hung

Verse Three:

I might've failed to mention that this chick was creative
But once the man got you well he altered her native
Told her if she got an image and a gimmick
that she could make money, and she did it like a dummy
Now I see her in commercials, she's universal
She used to only swing it with the inner-city circle
Now she be in the burbs lickin rock and dressin hip
And on some dumb shit, when she comes to the city
Talkin about poppin glocks servin rocks and hittin switches
Now she's a gangsta rollin with gangsta bitches
Always smokin blunts and gettin drunk
Tellin me sad stories, now she only fucks with the funk
Stressin how hardcore and real she is
She was really the realest, before she got into showbiz
I did her, not just to say that I did it
But I'm committed, but so many niggaz hit it
That she's just not the same lettin all these groupies do her
I see niggaz slammin her, and takin her to the sewer
But I'ma take her back hopin that the shit stop
Cause who I'm talkin bout y'all is hip-hop

---------------
Besides this being a classic work it is one of the great hip hop 
parables.  This would be anexample of one of those songs that is 
all-too-easy misunderstood at face value.  You could listen
and even be offended because he talks of sex or lewd observations 
about the subject's new sexy style. When this song came out you 
gotta remember what was happening in the world-especially in the 
hip hopworld.  West Coast vs. East Coast and Gangsta Rap was c
oming up.  Hip Hop had gone through the folk and art phases 
and was now in the pop phase-it was being made for mass consumption.  

Common uses the woman he always loved as a metaphor for hip hop,
 showing him the way-going through consciousness and into a place 
that he did not want to follow-making money and being about sex,
violence, and drugs.  It had sold its soul, but hope remained for 
redemption.

H.E.R. means "Hip Hop in its Essence is Real."

Great song and this was when Common was still the man.  
His last 2 albums haven't quite lived upto his old stuff, imho.