Marching On


The crowd was spectacular: fathers donning pink hats with ears, women holding bright signs inscribed with colorful language, and little girls wearing t-shirts that said things like “Future President” and “My daddy is a feminist.” Last Saturday’s Women’s March on New York City drew over 200,000. Women, men, children and even some dogs started gathering at Columbus Circle and lined up all along Central Park West, reaching as far north as 72nd Street.

Going to the March was a last minute decision after receiving an invitation to go with a friend. I hadn’t gone to any of the marches last year, mostly because I am claustrophobic and can’t stand being trapped in a sea of people (the 8 am A Train is my living hell). This year I thought I would brave the crowds and see what this marching is all about.

After getting out of the oh-so-congested subway at Columbus Circle, we were greeted by law enforcement instructing us to walk up Broadway. We walked past the Trump International Hotel and Tower. We walked past Lincoln Center, home of The Metropolitan Opera. We walked past a number of male street vendors selling buttons that said things like “Stay Strong, Stay Nasty” and “Girls just wanna have Fun-damental human rights.” Just when it started to feel like we were journeying on a sexual assault trail of tears, we finally arrived at ABC studios, where we could cross over 66th Street toward the park.

“Is this the march?” I heard one woman ask as we turned the corner.

“No,” said her friend. “We are marching to the march.”

Right before we got to the end of the intersection of 66th and Central Park West, the crowd had come to a stand still. Police kept us from joining the rest of protestors. Stuck and frustrated on 66th, we followed the lead of an elderly woman holding a poster that read “My arms are tired from holding this sign since the 1960s” and busted through a side barricade when the police officer was looking the other way.

We were finally on Central Park West and headed north to find an opening that would allow us to cross the park side of the street. Once we crossed, I felt like I was able to breathe again as there was a bit of elbow room. Now that we were done marching to the march, it was time to stand in line for the march. It was tough for me to find the perfect standing and waiting spot. I needed a place where I could feel a part of the crowd, while still maintaining my personal bubble.

We walked down the sidewalk through the crowd and finally stopped by a stone wall that bordered the park. The journey from the subway exit to this resting place had taken us a little less than two hours. We finally claimed a spot and waited for the crowd to start marching.

As we waited, we took it all in. Looking at all the signs, the t-shirts, the various costumes of lady liberty and female genitalia, I was surprised by how many causes were represented: immigration rights, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s empowerment groups, disability rights, women’s reproductive rights, women’s and children’s healthcare, peace and reconciliation, environmental protection, science education, anti-human trafficking, domestic violence prevention, sexual harassment and abuse prevention, and children’s rights. There were so many voices shouting in the chorus, “We will not be silent, and we are not going away.”

The intersectionality of the Women’s March was undeniable. People of all races, genders, ages, sexual orientations, religions, education levels and apartment sizes came together as one group to say, “This Matters.”  Yet, in the clamor of it all, I felt lost.

I had journeyed for two hours to this place, only to feel empty. I felt like an outsider, a spectator. It didn’t make sense. I care about these causes. I, too, am angry with the current administration’s negligence towards human rights. I whole-hearted believe in the impact of organizing for social and political change. I am glad we live in a country that gives us the freedom to peacefully protest and speak our minds. But I wanted more. I wanted something that a march just couldn’t provide.

Last Sunday a group of parents got together at Plymouth Church to learn how to talk to our children about racism. This Sunday a group of Plymouth people will watch a documentary and learn how to end human trafficking in Brooklyn. The first Sunday of February, volunteers will pack food bags to give to hungry families through Brooklyn Delivers. When I think of these and the other Plymouth ministries, I realize that social and political activism doesn’t just happen in the streets. It happens in the pews, in the prayer circles, in the baptismal font, in the pulpit, in the offering plate, in Hillis hall, and in the Sunday School classroom.

Church isn’t just a house of worship. Church is an auditorium for the voiceless, an assembly of protest, an incubator for activism, a forum for forgiveness and a place of peace. The Church is continuously marching. There are no barricades to keep people out. There is no waiting around for things to get started. The march is here and now and always.



If “The Post” was a Church, We Should All Join

Here are 10 reasons to see The Post:

  1. You have already seen Star Wars.
  2. Films set in the 1970s make you nostalgic for better government.
  3. You want to see a movie with old people in the audience.
  4. You want to see a movie with old people in the movie.
  5. You like films that make your wardrobe seem up to date.
  6. You want to see if Meryl Streep can do an American accent (SPOILER ALERT: She can!).
  7. You are relieved that Tom Hanks has finally gotten a good role.
  8. Steven Spielberg needs your support.
  9. You love movies about Robert McNamara.
  10. You want to remember how good the church could be.

As a New Yorker for almost two years, I am happy to point out the movie begins with the Washington Post getting scooped by the New York Times.  (Our hometown newspaper is surprised that a movie about the Pentagon Papers is called The Post.) Daniel Ellsberg, a former aide to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, exposed the government’s decades-long history of lies about Vietnam by sending the long report known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. Each administration knew the war was unwinnable, but kept that fact from Congress and the American people.

After a court order halted the New York Times’ publication, the Post got its own copy and had to decide whether to step up, tell the truth, and defy the court order. Kay Graham, publisher of the Post, got the job after her husband’s suicide. As the movie begins, Graham is hanging on to a naïve faith in American leaders.

The newsroom is filled with idealistic reporters who smoke constantly, pound typewriters, pour dimes into pay phones, and send copy to the printer through those cool pneumatic tubes. You feel like there should be ink on your fingers at the end of the movie.

The old-school editor of the Post, Ben Bradlee defends the freedom of the press: “The only way to protect the right to publish is to publish!”

Ben Bagdikian, an old-school reporter, says, “I always wanted to be part of a small revolution.”

When Bagdikian asks Ellsberg why he is acting so courageously, Ellsberg responds, “Wouldn’t you go to prison to stop the war?”

Publishing the papers could land Bradlee and Graham in prison. The Post’s board of directors does not want to take on the government because they are afraid of losing money.

Graham argues for the board’s position: “We can’t hold [government] accountable if we don’t have a newspaper.”

Bradlee counters, “If the government is telling us what to print, then the

Washington Post has already ceased to exist.”

This would be an unpopular movie if Graham did not find her footing, courage and voice. Putting the good of the country before your own financial interest sounds corny, but it shouldn’t. The mission of a newspaper is the welfare of the people. The Post chose its mission over its security.

Churches should see themselves in this movie. The First Amendment is about a free press and a free church. The church, like the board of the Post, is tempted to focus on survival. When well-meaning Christians worry only about the budget, the church ceases to be the church.  Institutional Christianity, like a bad newspaper, is organized, conventional, and uninteresting.

Martin Luther said, “Churches that preach the gospel, except where it addresses the issues of the day, do not preach the gospel.”

The church has to tell the truth, be a voice for peace, and make it clear that our culture’s values are upside down. Every community has a story which tells them who they are, offers a sense of what made them great, and guides them in their decisions. Americans have the Constitution. Christians have the story of Jesus.

When the Post stood up for truth, they went from being a nice local paper to being an important national one. When the church is brave, the church attracts those who want to live with conviction.

In the Supreme Court’s response to the Pentagon Papers, Justice Hugo Black wrote that America’s founders affirmed freedom of the press “to serve the governed, not the governors.”

The church is to serve the world, not the church.



Prince Harry and Me

brett-harryWe questioned their judgment when the Coopers asked us to take care of Harry for a week.  We are good people, but we are not dog people.  I have not lived with a dog since my Chihuahua Catastrophe lived up to his name in an encounter with a brand new 1968 Ford Mustang.

Our only goal was to keep Harry alive until his family got home.  We were so afraid that something would happen, but Harry slept most of the time.  He disappears like Harry Houdini into blankets and pillows.

Harry is a combination of Harry Styles and Harry Truman—hip, but wise.  He’s a little Toto, a little Benji, and a lot Ewok.  He is nine years old, so if he was human he would be seven years older than I am.  Harry is a Shih Tzu, a breed not meant to hunt, herd, or protect.  If I fall into a well, Harry will keep the news to himself.

I want us to be Turner and Hooch, but Harry sees our walks as an opportunity to train me to take orders.  My attempts at “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Heel” are met with Harry’s you-don’t-know-what-you’re-doing look.  Several of our walks take place in freezing weather, but Harry likes being a chili dog—though he does not care for that joke.

Harry walks faster than I do so that he can pretend I am not there.  He is fascinated with finding the right pile of leaves, hibernating squirrels, and the backsides of other dogs.  Walking with Harry is interactive.  We speed up.  We slow down.  We move from side to side.  We get excited about parked cars.

New Yorkers ask, “What’s your dog’s name?” more often than “What’s your name?”  I wonder why these people did not talk to me before I borrowed a dog, but I like the subculture of dog people.  They may not speak to one another if they do not have their dog, but there is not a lot of judgment.

I assume Harry and I are friends after our week together, but he could be thinking Cujo thoughts and I would never know.  Though Harry seems unimpressed with me that does not keep me from being wild about Harry.  Petting Harry is like singing the blues.  You feel better though you are not sure why.

Hanging around Harry is good for my soul.  Politics is ugly.  Work is stressful.  People can be difficult.  Harry does not care about any of that.

I talk to Harry a lot.  He is not attentive, but he does not interrupt.  Talking to Harry is like talking to myself, which is just a little bit like praying.

Abraham Lincoln said, “I care not much for a man’s religion whose dog is not the better for it.”

Caring for animals may seem unimportant with all of the problems in the world, but the message of loving one another, loving animals, and loving creation is a hopeful word in a troubled time.  When good churches have food drives they include dog food.  They take pets to visit the sick and host adoption events.

When St. Francis talked to animals they talked back, but I can only imagine what Harry is thinking:  “You could learn a lot from me.  The past is gone.  The future isn’t here yet.  Enjoy the moment.  I appreciate what I have.  I don’t sit around wishing I was Lassie.  I don’t want to be a terrier or a boxer or a poodle.  I am fine with who I am.  Be happy with who you are.  There’s a reason all dogs go to heaven.  We don’t care about money.  We don’t worry ourselves to death.  Dogs don’t hold grudges.  We aren’t judgmental, like cats.  You are too easily frustrated.  You should chase things.  Jump for joy when you’re happy.  Get excited about whatever is in front of you.  Wag your tail because life is good.”

We grow in our faith in a variety of ways.  We worship.  We read.  We pray.  We listen.  We walk the dog.