“FAITH IN NEW YORK?”
Ah. You who make iniquitous decrees,
Who write oppressive statutes,
To turn aside the needy from justice
And rob the poor of my people
Of their right,
That widows may be your spoil,
And you may make the
Orphans your prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
In the calamity that will come from far away?
To whom will you flee for help,
And where will you leave your wealth,
So as not to crouch among the prisoners
Or fall among the slain?
For all this his anger has not turned away;
His hand is stretched out still.
The poem from the Prophet Isaiah 10.1-4, offers the voice of G*d’s wisdom delivered to a misguided leadership who legislate what they may perceive as good, but yet remains bad for the vast majority of their people. The prophet reveals to them that their policies have not diagnosed, nor altered the harm done to those “whose backs are against the wall.”
Isaiah understands this violation of Torah to be a violation of the very soul of the people. The biblical reference to those harmed is “widows, orphans, and sojourners.” Yet, today, this nomenclature is expanded to include the unauthorized migrant, the dreamers, the imprisoned, the underfunded students, the working poor, and in NYC, the 47% who are either in the midst of economic catastrophe, or are unable to dream a sustainable future for themselves or their families.
The Prophet reminds us that when we voice our prayer G*d listens to the suffering. When that struggle joins with others who place their faith into public action the struggle becomes majestic. Hope cannot be extinguished.
Over the last several months many faith leaders have learned that, “fear is the emotional plague of our planet.” Yet, as people of faith each of our traditions hoist the voice of G*d that says, “Do not fear.” Prayer and a public faith sustain our courage. As Mahatma Gandhi reminded us decades ago, our “soul force” seeks to take away the “brute force” of our surroundings.
Today we experience a brute force through mean legislation and political policy that is racialized or is marginalizing many from participating in democracy. The voices of our families are silenced by the overwhelming needs of their every-day lives, and for many Christians daily prayer is literally “give us this day our daily bread.” Our communities suffer from the aggravation of making it from day to day. We live in a debt-riddled society, yet the prophet Jesus taught, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” He remains a voice toward the reconciling of an economy for the whole of the nation and not just for the few.
Prophet Isaiah reminds us that when wealth is hoarded and mindlessly separated from the common good G*d is angry; “G*d’s hand is stretched out still (v.4).”
People Improving Community through Organizing (PICO) activates faith into public action. The spiritual integrity and the ability to act through our spiritual traditions build healthy community. This remains valued and true.
As we continue to be challenged by the prophetic voice deep in our traditions, we have learned from our neighbors that our power rests in the integrity of our local action. Our people trust one another through the art of one to one meetings. However, we have also come to realize how interconnected we have been and remain.
Neighborhoods are the tapestry of our city.
We have five interconnected interrelated boroughs. For decades, we have competed with each other for certain resources and policies of our Board of Estimate, City Council, and Mayor. Yet, we also know that our urbanized suburban villages and rural life all intertwine through the policies that affect our well-being either positively or painfully. The lingering affects of Hurricane Sandy continue to remind us of that political reality.
This relational, organized, spiritual power has nurtured over 70 clergy from within our five boroughs of NYC. There are over 70,000 faithful in our ministries who are prayerfully tied
together in “the single garment of destiny caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” That garment is called Faith in New York. National PICO has been assisting us in developing this soulful venture. Leaders from our former organizing efforts in Queens and Brooklyn (QCUA and BCU), together with new powerful relations in The Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island see a fearless future strengthened by our shared stories of faith.
Faith in New York is a citywide PICO affiliate that seeks three things: the building of relational power, coalitional power, and missional power. It is a trained power that understands how to be strong and faithful at the same time. That is the delicate walk of faith along the line of separation between what Americans have named, “Church and State.”
Our shared purpose is to weave the public tapestry that already manifests itself in neighborhoods in such a way that the wisdom of Prophets, such as Isaiah 10, is heard before catastrophe whirls through our city and nation. Clergy are eager to share this spiritual journey of public faith across the boroughs.
We see no other way than to build congregations dedicated to the “inescapable network of mutuality.”
Rev. David H. Rommereim
 This phrase comes from Dr. Howard Thurman in his masterpiece, Jesus and the Disinherited, Abington Press, 1949. The phrase crystallizes the ministry of Jesus focused toward those who are severely challenged in our, and any, racialized culture.
 Philosopher Patrick Viveret quoted in an article from Frances Moore Lappe.
 The phrase, “ability to act,” is common among organizing faith communities. It is understood as “power.” It is best understood in the Spanish word, poder. Poder refers to the nature of “to be able.” Faith Based Organizing leaders are not afraid to talk about power, poder/ability to act. Power is best understood in terms of one’s ability to act. One’s power is limited, and often destructive when acting alone, or over-against another person or group. One’s power is increased as individuals develop their commonness with the larger community. Power, then becomes a healing potential rather than a zero sum game of winners and losers.
 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution” quoted in John a. Powell, Racing to Justice, Indiana Press, 2012.
Faith in New York clergy and Senator Schumer, May 2013
by David Rommereim
Many of you remember the hard work of Brooklyn Congregations United (BCU). We were key leaders in that effort to join with congregations and synagogues from Bay Ridge to Flatbush to activate our faith into public conversation. I loved it because it helped us as a ministry walk that fine line of distinction between "church and state" in the art of democracy.
Due to a funding crisis, last August the Board of Directors of BCU decided to close its doors and go on hiatus. The purpose was to pray, think, and search for our calling as faith leaders in an age where serious social predicaments face our neighborhoods. From September through January, I have been practicing the art of the personal one-on-one conversation through interviewing clergy from across our city. Since I have ministered in The Bronx, Manhattan and now Brooklyn, I have strong relations throughout our city. Every clergy I spoke with said something similar. "I need a place to work in community that works from my faith." We spoke about public spirituality and social engagement.
During that hiatus, Hurricane Sandy moved in to stay for a long time. Lives were altered. Relations were challenged. Souls were strengthened to assist wherever necessary in both responding and rebuilding.
I am proud of Good Shepherd leadership for allowing this place to be utilized to assist wherever possible; from the powerful little acts of kindness to the organizing for remedial recovery and restoration.
Through the Sandy Recovery, we have directly involved our office in the love response efforts in Coney Island and Staten Island. Our Administrator, Donna Lubrano, developed "Hearts Connected." This effort continues to bring necessary gifts to needy families.
I have also been intimately involved with the organizing efforts in Queens and Far Rockaway through the sister organization called, Queens Congregations Untied for Action (QCUA). QCUA is built on the same faith-based organizing principles of our effort in BCU. We are also related to PICO (People Improving Community through Organizing). PICO connects faith efforts in public life in over 17 states. Over one million leaders share the same principles that is seeking to put faith in action through effort in rebuilding strong neighborhoods and a democracy that is fair and just.
Since January of 2013, over 60 clergy from around the city agreed to move into a citywide PICO called Faith in New York.We are working with our lay leaders and expect to have organizing efforts in each borough. We want be able to have a voice in placing the values of our faith traditions in the mainstream of city policy. That refers to a public voice that works with everyone in the city, those whose backs are against the wall and those who are redecorating their walls.
Our first public action took place this past Monday in a face-to-face meeting with one of the architects of the National Immigration Reform Bill - our very own Senator Charles Schumer. Together we spoke about the fact that many of our members and neighbors want a just, a humane, and a fair bill. We spoke of one congregation in Corona Queens which celebrate Mass every week with 8,000 almost entirely first and second-generation immigrants. They will celebrate a First Communion this week with 500 3rdgraders. One half of the 500 are legal American kids, but kids whose parents are not properly documented. Faith in New York Clergy were encouraged by the Senator's efforts to listen to our concerns, and to bring to the narrative that many of the undocumented have economic lives that are near catastrophe.
As Lutherans, and as a congregation which seeks to practice the concrete nature of resurrection, I invite each of you to place in your prayers the divine guidance of our elected officials as they fight to make a bill on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Our own members' families and lives are at stake in whether this reform is humane or punitive.
As a Christian, I believe God commands us to place our love where it really counts. "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." It cannot get any clearer than that.
by David Rommereim
I love words.
When used well words become moments for health and healing. When used poorly, Kurt Vonnegut said, "So it goes." Poor uses of words tend to produce badly. From a bad attitude to bullying, they perform poorly.
When used in verbal conflict the words position for power. When used to share ideas they build community. Perhaps that is why Jesus used that biblical formula and commanded that we "love the neighbor as you love yourself." How hard would it be to "love your self" so that you could accomplish the command and "love the neighbor?" That is the core of what we teach, good words lead exemplary action.
The early Christian desert monks in the first and second century (CE) rarely spoke about "sin." That three letter word became common liturgical nomenclature when the priest became the one to announce absolution. He said, "Your sins are forgiven." However, it was the desert monks, who worked hard at simply keeping from "bad words." The more they tended their gardens, worked, and prayed, the less they strayed from the good. It is, after all Christians who are challenged to "keep Jesus' Word" (John 14. 23-24). The focal point of that Word is a simultaneous exchange between (1) God, (2) yourself, and (3) the other (neighbor, friend, loved one, or any part of the earth). The exchange is called agape, or divine love. That love means doing good will.
From day to day, that form of love does not seem possible. You say: "There is a bottom line." Or, "We live with the zero sum game ~ winners and losers." On the other hand, "I have to be as tough as the next guy. In such a world Jesus' Word agape sounds naïve. However, once you spend time meditating on the Word of Jesus (doing good will) a whole, new world order opens.
From the minute details of the butterfly in your back yard making her way to that mountain in Mexico where all east coast butterflies nest, or the stranger that crosses your path with a frown on his brow, or even, the beloved who needs to hear you say, "I love you" lets souls touch. Boundaries, barricades, walls, protective machinery from guns, knives, drones, or surveillance cameras are no match when souls touch and Jesus' Word becomes the order of your world.
I was struck by such a new order when, last week, I met with 30 clergy from Queens and Far Rockaway. We deliberated on the lingering residue from Hurricane Sandy. Pastors reported that the remnant tended to produce bad thoughts caused by finger pointing, name calling, and hot anger left because the poor remain in harms way through a storm who's wind died, but affect persists. People remain in harms way, while our city talks about rebuilding that four-mile boardwalk by Memorial Day 2013.
The clergy spent time speaking about a post-sandy-experience while we also began planning our collective contribution toward recovery. One preacher from Far Rockaway spoke about his experience. He said, "Sandy is like salt. That is, salt has no real taste, no flavor. Its only purpose is to extenuate what's already there."
His courageous, agape words, sounded like they bounced off a mirror. Through his words I could see the poverty before Sandy lingering around my face. I could see my own inability to pay attention to the neighbor "whose backs are against the wall." As I looked in the mirror, I noticed the room way in the back where decisions are secretly being made. I noticed everyone, especially those who remain in harms way (in the Rockaways, Coney Island, Staten Island, and Red Hook) are not at that planning table.
Agape, the Jesus Word, and the world order based on "doing good will," now implicates the people of faith. With this Salt of Sandy, we are challenged to keep Jesus' Word. Keeping means I stare at the mirror and see around me what has been there from the beginning: God, Self, neighbor, and Gaia/Earth.
The means and ends of our decisions and actions as participants in communal well-being are vital to the good that we do as a people of agape. If we recover without listening and working with those whose backs have been against the wall for a long, long, time, then we have failed to do good.
As the Clip Turns
by David Rommereim
Sounds like a disease,
And, perhaps it is
Related to soul sickness
Where heart songs
In the chamber of a magazine
Faster than the heart beats,
When running for your life.
My shelf has a book
On violence and the end of war.
I liked the title,
End of War.
But, it wasn't about peace
Nor ending Noble's
It was about the clip,
And the pointer finger
Flipping the trigger
To let death fly
Without touching terror,
It is the end of war
Where fear keeps you
From lunging forward
Without any sense
That another life
May truly not
Be an enemy.
The end of war
Is a distant battle,
Fought with a drone
In a combat
From a North Dakota bunker
Where warriors could retire
To 3-2 beer and country rock.
Perhaps the clip
Is a disease
Since death has no meaning
Has more to do with an
Than troubled brains caught
In a screening
Of night glare gone mad.
The clip has become
An American icon
And an enterprise of lobbyists
Who fear integrity and responsibility
Will never end the madness.
So let me return
To the memory
Refers to defending the other
From molesting the self.
Written after a public conversation on gun control, drone warfare, and raising children in a violent world.