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Doing the Gospel: “Beyond the Possible” by Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani A TLC Book Tour Review

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Beyond the Possible, 50 Years of Creating Radical Change at a Community Called Glide, Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani Harper One Books, New  York 2013 

“You never know when the Spirit will knock at your door…” 

I seldom read books by American pastors of any denomination. I have gotten over the cult of celebrity associated with most of our most esteemed preachers. Likewise, when I read a story about a church, be it a local church or denomination I am generally filled with skepticism and wonder when I am going get hit on for a financial contribution or political favor. I guess that I have seen the light in regard to how many church leaders run their business. Or maybe I am just a bit cynical having spent many years in the Mega-Church world and worked for a nationally recognized and now very politically active “evangelist” about 20 years ago.

When I received the note from the good people at TLC Book Tours to do a review on this book I almost turned it down but then thought well “what the hell? If I think it’s bullshit I can rip it apart.”

However I cannot do that, even after reading it. I had remembered the name of Cecil Williams from growing up east of San Francisco in the 1970s. At the time I thought Williams a bit too radical and not “Christian” enough. Of course I knew little of him or of Glide only what I saw on television news reports, many of which were not always the most complimentary of him. Since I knew little of Glide that impression was what I had for many years. However, over the years I would occasionally see Pastor Williams on different interviews and was impressed with him and what I heard. I didn’t necessarily always agree but he was impressive, not the liberal monster I thought him to be.

Of course the book is a memoir of Williams and his wife Janice Mirikitani and how their lives intersected with a dying church in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, a place ridden with drugs, crime and poverty. It was a place that most of the church members had departed from. It was a church, like so many that had seen better days. It was a church like the one that I was baptized in as a baby which as the neighborhood that it was located slid into poverty and change in ethnic composition saw the majority of its membership move away. Eventually, that Methodist church died and was closed. It was a fate that Glide Memorial Methodist Church was heading to when the last 35 members welcomed their new pastor, Cecil Williams in 1963. It was a moment of change. It was a moment when a fresh breeze blew through the church.

The book chronicles the stories of Williams, the son of a church janitor and his wife in Jim Crow San Angelo Texas and his early life under those laws. It tells of his struggles as a pioneer African American student at SMU’s Perkin’s Seminary and his part in the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, including time in a Birmingham jail.

It also tells the story of a young Japanese American woman, Janice Miritikani who with her family had endured the pain and humiliation of being incarcerated after the attack on Pearl Harbor simply because they were Japanese. It is her story as well, a story that was not only about the prejudice that she experienced the dehumanizing experience of rape and incest covered up by family and cultural pressures, the story of a woman who prayed for God’s presence and struggled as God remained silent.

It is a story of love, faith hope, purpose and the endless possibilities that exist when one sees that which is considered “beyond the possible.” It is a book that tells of struggle of a community which many people did not consider redeemable. It is the story of a church and of people, not just Williams and Miritikani but the people who in turbulent times launched a church that has become a bastion of living the Social Gospel, speaking prophetically to those in power and working for the benefit of the least, the lost and the lonely.

Glide, the community is a place of acceptance and love, a place which serves and empowers those without power, without a voice. Providing care to the homeless, the jobless, the needy, the HIV infected and those suffering from AIDS, those battling drug and alcohol abuse, those rejected for their lifestyles and a host of others. The Glide foundation, which Williams has headed since his “official” retirement from the church is one of the top philanthropic organizations in the nation.

Now there are some that would not agree with Williams and the message of Glide. It is a church that welcomes people of all walks of life and faith. It is a church with a door open to all, even those who would come to the church intentionally to cause trouble as did a number of White Supremacists attired in  White Power, Neo-Nazi and Neo-Confederate images, who ended up staying when their hate was met by love. It is a church where the rich and the poor worship together in a service called a “celebration.”

Glide is a strange animal. It is a by all definitions a politically and socially active Mega-Church with about 11,000 members. Those that know me well and read this site regularly know that I am not a fan of most Mega-Churches. To me most, regardless of their theological or political views seem to exist for themselves.  However, Glide is a place that thanks to Williams, Miritikani and those that over the past 50 years have sacrificed to build reaches out to redeem the community where it resides and does not exist for itself. It may not speak the same language as the contemporary Evangelical Mega-Churches but it is reaching those who quite often would be unwelcome in those churches. It is the embodiment of the love of God, an incarnation of the love of Jesus to those that would be, and were in fact the same kind of people that Jesus himself went to in his earthly ministry.

This book is inspirational to read for anyone who has a heart for those disenfranchised and uncared for by the church or the world. I found it hard to put down. The message “you never know when the Spirit will knock at your door” was real to me as I read this book during the Season of Lent. Indeed it is possible for God and the people of God to go Beyond the Possible.

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I highly recommend it to anyone and plan to visit Glide the next time that I go to San Francisco and hope that should I be involved in parish ministry after my Navy career is over that I can emulate the spirit and love that I saw described in this book.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, leadership, Pastoral Care, Religion

Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations: A TLC Book Tour Review

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Professor Charlene Mires’ Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations, NYU Press 4 March 2013 is the fascinating story of the competition by numerous cities in the United States to become the host of the United Nations.

Professor Mires’ account of the story of how the UN came to be located in New York City, over the objections of many members is highly informative, readable and enjoyable. It is about an America that once welcomed engagement with the world in the heady days following the Second World War before signs sponsored by the John Birth Society and others popped up across the country demanding “Get us out of the United Nations.”

Mires traces the stories of a number of major cities including San Francisco, Chicago, St Louis, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Detroit as well as the Rapid City South Dakota, Sault Ste. Marie Michigan, Niagara Falls New York, Stillwater Oklahoma and a host of other cities and towns that sought to host the UN.

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The story which includes the attempts of various individuals, politicians and civic groups to lobby the UN to become its headquarters and thus the storied “Capital of the World” is fascinating. Though the campaign to host the UN happened over 60 years ago and we know the history of its location in New York the back story to how it came to located there is worth the read. Professor Mires tells the story of how the United States became the chosen nation of the location of the UN based on the history of Europe and questions of the emerging Cold War.

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What I found interesting was how the members of the UN finally settled on New York, despite the fact that many did not wish the UN to be in the United States and if it was not to be in a major city. The story of how San Francisco, a city close to my heart which hosted the inaugural meeting of the UN in 1945 was cut out of the running when a UN committee decided that no locations in the western part of the United States would be considered. That decision, which was based more on European objections to the geographic location was difficult to read. I cannot think of a better city and thankfully the mistake was rectified by the late Gene Roddenberry in Star Trek when the United Federation of Planets located Starfleet Headquarters and Starfleet Academy in San Francisco.

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That aside the story that Professor Mires paints of how the committee and the UN decided on New York is compelling. The process which included geographic, political and social concerns. Politically the influence of the American government should the location be too close to Washington DC prompted conferees to seek a location at least 300 miles from Washington. The real effects of Racism and Jim Crow laws eliminated all Southern cities and towns south of the Mason Dixon Line from the competition. Issues regarding crime, graft and corruption eliminated Philadelphia as well as other cities leading to the eventual selection of New York as the location for the nascent United Nations.

Overall I enjoyed the book. It was a quick, informative and enjoyable read. As a person who genuinely appreciates the work and promise of the UN, despite its shortcomings and failures I found it a story that caught my imagination and made me wonder the “what if” scenarios and what might have been if…

To me those are fascinating questions. What would have happened had the UN been located in San Francisco? Could it have led to the emergence of a stronger and move toward the Pacific Rim becoming the economic and political center of the world? Could the location of the UN in a place like Rapid City brought Middle America more global perspective and perhaps a larger population and economy? Could the selection of a Southern city led to a quicker end to Jim Crow and beginning of equal rights?

Those are questions for those that write alternative histories. They are speculation. Professor Mires work made me think of all of the possibilities that did not happen.

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I recommend this book for those interested in the development of the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s as well as those that like to have their eyes opened to possibilities that they never before had imagined. Perhaps in an alternate timeline San Francisco not only has the Giants, but the United Nations. I would like to visit that city.

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Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History

Blowing out the Candle(stick)…Power Goes out During Big 49ers – Steelers Game

I hesitate to call Candlestick Park old. It opened the year that I was born just across the bay.  I have never been to a 49er’s game but saw the Giants a number of times at the venerable yard. However even in the 1970s it was cold and dank, especially during the summer.  Monday night however the old stadium lost power twice the first time just before kickoff and the second during the second quarter of the game between the 49ers and Steelers.

The stadium has been the scene of some of the most memorable moments in sports history. One was “The Catch” when the 49ers defeated the highly favored Dallas Cowboys on January 10th 1982. Tight End Dwight Clark leaped to grab a pass from Joe Montana in the NFC Championship game, a game which ended the decade long Cowboys dominance of the conference.

It was also the site of the 1989 World Series.  The cross bay Oakland Athletics had taken the first too games in Oakland and the pre-game activities were in full swing when  a massive earthquake, the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck Northern California. Measuring 6.9 (7.1 surface wave) the quake hit at 5:04 PM on October 17th 1989 and was the first earthquake ever recorded on national television.  I was a seminary student and I remember sitting in front of my television in our run down East Fort Worth home, a neighborhood known for its frequent appearances on the TV show COPS.  Judy was in the kitchen getting something to drink if I recall and I watched the event occur. It was surreal and being from California I knew that it had to be a bad quake.

The Giants never won a World Series will playing at the “Stick” despite having some of the greatest players to ever play the game grace the field.  Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bobbie and Barry Bonds, the Alou brother’s outfield, Felipe, Manny and Jesus who became the first “all brothers” outfield in 1963. Of course there were pitchers like Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry.  49ers greats Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and Ronnie Lott all made their names in the cavernous confines of Candlestick.

 

The 49ers moved to the Stick in 1971 from Kezar Stadium while the Giants moved to the new Pac-Bell or AT&T Park in 2000.  The Beatles player their last full concert there on August 29th 1966.   The biggest event I ever saw at Candlestick was Giant’s pitcher Ed Halicki no-hitting the Mets back on August 24th 1975.

The power outage was called embarrassing by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and the Pacific Gas and Electric had no immediate explanation for the outage. The fact that it happened on a nationwide broadcast of Monday Night Football gave it fare more attention than in might have received. Fortunately for the 49ers approval of a new stadium in Santa Clara are almost done and by 2015 the team should be in its new home so long as the ghosts and demons of the Stick don’t find their way south.

Blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, football