Faith In Brooklyn for February 21
Ten Commandments Are Politicized Says Unitarian Church’s Pastor, Author of New Book, ‘No Other Gods’
Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons Was Guest Preacher At Neighboring St. Ann’s Episcopal Church
“The poor Ten Commandments. They are used and abused in so many ways for so many different agendas. You have conservative Christians like Westmoreland and Roy Moore who want to use them as a banner of so-called ‘traditionalism.’ And then you have Unitarian Universalists (my people across the street) and atheists like George Carlin who make jokes and wryly demote them to the ‘Ten Suggestions.’”
Thus spoke the Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons on Sunday, Feb. 18, as guest preacher at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. The senior minister of a neighboring congregation, First Unitarian Church, Levy-Lyons was at St. Ann’s to discuss her new book: “No Other Gods: The Politics of the Ten Commandments.”
The liturgy at St. Ann’s observed the First Sunday in Lent, a penitential season of prayer and personal sacrifices that reflects on being cleansed from sinfulness. During Lent, it is customary to pray the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. This part of the liturgy flowed well into Levy-Lyons’ homily.
Pastor Ana opened her sermon by relaying an occasion when former U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Georgia) was working hard to get copies of the Ten Commandments into courthouses around the U.S. He had agreed to an interview with Stephen Colbert. Westmoreland had said that it would be very fitting for the Ten Commandments to be placed in a house of law. But then Colbert pressed him with the question, “What are the Ten Commandments?” Levy-Lyons, who had watched that program, recalled, “Westmoreland looked like he had been hit by a 2-by-4: ‘What are ALL of them? You want me to name them all?’”
Levy-Lyons told the St. Ann’s congregation, “Obviously, for Rep. Westmoreland, the Ten Commandments are primarily a symbol. He wants the Ten Commandments in a public building because that would validate the values of a culture that are not necessarily the same as the values of the Ten Commandments. If the content were what matters he would know what the content was.”
During her homily, Levy-Lyons focused on meanings of the commandments to worship the one God who has no limit, and on commandment to keep a holy Sabbath. She outlined and discussed these and the other eight Commandments during a coffee hour forum that followed worship.
“But what all of these people, on the right and the left, are missing is the radical, countercultural message contained in the Ten Commandments. Remember that the Ten Commandments emerged out of an experience of slavery. In the Biblical story, the Israel[ites] are victims of systemic violence and cruelty,” she said, pointing out that next came the dramatic escape through the parting of the Red Sea.”
“So what next?” asked Levy-Lyons. “The newly freed Israelites have a unique opportunity to establish a civilization from scratch. How should they organize their new world? What will it take to create a society that’s free of the kinds of oppression, violence, cruelty and excess that had characterized the world they had just left? That story and the Ten Commandments are God’s first answer to that, and the first time that God speaks directly to the people.”
For readers who may have forgotten or who weren’t raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Ten Commandments cover worshipping one God, the prohibition against worshipping graven images and using the Lord’s name in vain or malice; honoring one’s parents; observing a day of rest; and the prohibitions against murder, marital infidelity, stealing, bearing false witness and coveting (desiring to possess) what belongs to another person.
Levy-Lyons pointed out that the tetragrammaton that God gave as YHVH means “I am,” which is the Hebrew verb “to be.” In other words, she said, God is saying, “I am BEING, your God.” And God’s existence encompasses “all the unknown and unknown. It is past, present future and beyond time. It’s infinite space and matter and energy. It’s all the natural systems of the earth. It’s all the people loved. This is a God without boundaries.
“The opening moment of this revelation God is identified as the starring actor in the struggle for freedom … The one defining characteristic that we have to know is that this is the God of liberation — the power of liberation itself that brings us from injustice to justice.”
The Sabbath provides for taking one day a week to rest from one’s work, she explained, yet observing it becomes elusive, even an impossible chore. “Squander one day a week,” she challenged the congregation. Pointing out that this Fourth Commandment also prohibits forcing one’s employees to work, Levy-Lyons charged that the endless cycle of consumerism means that someone is always having to work because the demand for productivity is constant.
“We find ourselves embroiled in the unending cycle of wanting more, getting more, consuming more if we can and then wanting still more. We work long hours, commute long distances and sleep way too little. Even for those lucky enough to be able to have a weekend, we spend it with frenzy of acquisitions, shopping, cell phone use. Every one of the products and services that we enjoy had their birthplace as some natural ingredient that was extracted from the land. The extraction never ever stops.”
Reading an excerpt from her chapter on Sabbath, Levy-Lyons shared the story of a family in her congregation who, thinking it harmless to buy some cinnamon — a key ingredient in their Sabbath meal — found themselves chipping away at their rest time: doing more shopping, chores — until by the end of their Sabbath they were tired, grumpy and frustrated.
She suggested that each person change this mindset and habits. “One day a week, I have enough. I am enough. I don’t need anyone to change. I don’t need to take anything more from the earth.”
Levy-Lyons will hold a book launch for “No Other Gods” on March 8. Stay tuned for more details.
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St. Ann & Holy Trinity Church Plans Memorial Concert for Organ Curator John Randolph
St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church is holding a memorial concert this Saturday in memory of John Randolph, the parish’s longtime organ curator who died last summer. A reception will follow the concert, which begins at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24. The church is at the corner of Clinton and Montague streets in Brooklyn Heights.
Randolph received his conservatory education at Manhattan School of Music, specializing in piano performance. While at conservatory, he spent an apprenticeship at the Hartman-Beaty Organ Company in Englewood, developing his deep interest in the pipe organ and learning how to build and maintain the instrument. He served as organist for several congregations in New York including, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point; Steinway Reformed Church, Astoria; Second Reformed Church, Long Island City.
In 1973, Randolph joined an established concern specializing in the tuning and maintenance of large-scale pipe organs in the metropolitan area, among them the Ernest M. Skinner (Opus #524) instrument at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church. During the ensuing years, Randolph learned the intricacies of tuning and maintenance, including repairs of aging systems and contributing to the ongoing restoration of major instruments. He eventually acquired the business and expanded his client roster. He also undertook such projects as moving entire organs from one church to another, building several new instruments to replace older ones whose useful life was expended, and establishing himself as an expert in tonal and mechanical matters available for consultation and guidance to churches and builders alike. He served as a co-consultant, along with McNeil Robinson, in the design, construction, installation and ongoing maintenance of the N.P. Mander organ at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Manhattan.
As the Randolph Organ Company grew in prestige, Randolph’s deep interest in the Skinner organ at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity persisted. Over the years, he would tend to the instrument even when the church’s finances could not support his fees. It was important to him that this organ be heard in its best condition possible, while holding out hope for a full restoration would one day. His acts of faith are on display today.
Some of = Randolph’s planned projects for St. Ann’s Skinner organ remain unfinished. He resurrected a set of pipes, which had been removed in the early 1970s to allow for the installation of a different set of pipes believe to be more useful at the time. He discovered the original removed pipes, called Quintadena, under the floor of the choir loft while refurbishing the console. Randolph took these pipes back to his shop, repaired them mechanically, corrected their sound characteristics, built a new mechanism for playing them and returned the entire system to the church at no cost. This stop remains in storage in St. Ann’s choir loft awaiting completion of its installation. Also awaiting completion are restorations of the Harp and Celesta unit, the Chimes, and myriad re-leathering projects.
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Milestones in Faith
Cuyler Presbyterian Church Now on National Register Marked 30th Year in 1916
The Feb. 19, 1916, the Brooklyn Eagle reported that the Cuyler Presbyterian Church at 358-60 Pacific St. in what is now Boerum Hill was set to mark the 30th anniversary of its founding. The Rev. Ralph Alden Waggoner, its pastor, was set to preach on anniversary night. Other guest preachers were also scheduled at special events such as Christian Endeavor Night, Sunday School Night and Old Home Night. The anniversary would become a community, and indeed a borough-wide celebration, with a group of guest preachers. Although the church was eventually closed, the building on Pacific St. was added to the National Register of Historic Place in 2001.
The Cuyler Presbyterian Church celebration seemed to refute the claim in an adjacent article that, while Brooklyn may be the Borough of Churches, “but sad to relate, it is no longer the city of church-goers.” Those were the words of the Rev. S. Edward Young, pastor of Bedford Presbyterian Church. He was addressing the annual dinner’s guests of the Bethany Bible Class of the Flatbush Christian Church. He claimed that while the borough’s population was growing, the number of church members was shrinking. “The church needs the man who will preach a sermon all the way from his home to the church, and all the way back again. The man who goes to church does preach a sermon — a sermon which says to all men and all women: ‘I believe in the church; I believe in religion,’ and he says it big and strong.”
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