Friday, January 27, 2012

Fisher's Web

In last week's lectionary, Jesus tells the fishermen Simon and Andrew that he will make them fishers of people.  So Simon and Andrew abandon their nets and follow Jesus.  Bad move, Simon and Andrew! As a "fisher of people," let me tell you, those nets could have come in handy!  I could set up a couple of giant fishing nets in Times Square and have a boatload of people in no time.  People there are already packed so tight half of them wouldn't realize they were caught until I dragged them into the nearest subway.  This brilliant plan is only foiled by the fact that giant fishing nets are really expensive, and the bishop's office is unwilling to give me funds to buy one. So instead I'm forced to wander around from place to place trying to meet people who'd be willing to talk and listening what their lives are like and learning from them what they want and need from a spiritual community.  I've ended up in coffee shops, theatre workshops, police precinct meetings, parties, races, basement concerts, protests, and more coffee shops across northern Brooklyn and Manhattan.  To  illustrate how much less efficient this is, here is a map of northern Brooklyn (in the southeast corner) and Manhattan (in the northwest corner).
Now here is a map of my meetings for two weeks of January (the black box at the top represents uptown Manhattan).

Each color line represents my movement for one day. Each corner/bend/end of a line represents a meeting (my goal is to someday have two meetings back to back in the same location). I include the initial trip from home but I do not include the return trip home. Looking at the map, I realize that I am creating a net of sorts. It's a web of relationships, woven out of conversations and shared hopes, a web in which hopefully people will find they are meaningfully connected to each other and to God. Still...if anyone has a giant fishing net, let me know.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Games to be Heard

As a Lutheran pastor, I am called to help encourage faith.  Not just any faith.  I am called to help encourage a deep conviction that each and every person is unconditionally loved and valued by God.  While this is a very simple idea to state, it is surprisingly difficult to believe.  We are constantly surrounded by advertisement, social cues, and organizational structures which insist that our ability to be loved and have worth is dependent on how much money we make, what we look like, what groups we are identified with, and endless other criteria.
So how do you help people hold to the belief in their unconditional worth despite a society of evidence to the contrary?  Well, Christians have for 2000 years shared sacraments, liturgies, and prayer practices to this end (the least we could considering how often we are the ones who make people doubt their self worth).  But I'd like to share three structures for communication that I've run across since arriving in New York City that emphasize the worth of each person by affirming each person's self-expression.

The Chord Game

Group singing has long been used to create a sense of community and belonging from churches to protests to music festivals.  But if people don't know the words or the melody to a song (or are just self conscious about their voice), they can often feel just as excluded by singing in a group.  From the folks at Living Theatre I learned a simple game that circumvents this problem.  Everyone stands in a circle with their hands on the backs of the people to either side of them.  Slowly they breath in and out, paying attention to the rhythm of the people next to them in an attempt to match cycles.  As people breath out, they very quietly breath out on a note, any note that they choose.  Gradually, people breath out a louder and louder note, until the whole circle breathes out a chord as loudly as it can.  Then, just as gradually, people slowly breath out a softer and softer note, until the whole circle returns to breathing in near silence.  It is an incredible experience that made me feel intimately connected to the people around me and empowered to share with them of myself; yet it required absolute no prior skill or knowledge 

Before I Die

Everyone has a dream.  Not everyone feels like they can achieve their dream.  But what is truly sad, is when people don't feel like anyone even cares what their dream is.  Civic Center creative studio has found a way to empower more people to share their dreams.  It's the Before I Die Toolkit.  

The toolkit consists basically of colored chalk, a stencil of "Before I die _____," and an instruction booklet for how to turn an unused wall in your community into a giant canvas where anyone can share their hopes and dreams with the world.  The idea was originally developed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but it has been repeated all over the world, including right here in Brooklyn.

The People's Microphone

Taking a page from the books of previous protests, the folks down at Occupy Wall Street have taken the affirmation of self expression to a new level.  Out of a need to communicate to a large crowd without a permit for amplification came the People's Mic.  The concept is simple:  a speaker addresses a crowd slowly and in short phrases, the crowd in turn repeats everything that the speaker says so that everyone can hear her or him.  As a result, the speaker receives the ultimate experience of "being heard"-- an entire crowd repeating back the very words that she or he just spoke, regardless of whether or not they agree with what has been said.  
It may not be the fastest way to communicate, but it is one of the most affirming.

These are just a few activities that I run across in my first month in NYC. 
What other activities or practices affirm each person's value and the worth of their self-expression?