January 15, 2018
Dear Pastor Kenny:
Long time no write, but I thought of you a great deal yesterday and wanted to tell you all about it. For an Atheist like myself, it was certainly a very religious day.
However, first let me share some amazingly weird news, so the following makes more sense. Last year I blurted out to Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell, a gent I have come to know over the last few years, that I loved his life story and wanted to be the one who writes it. He didn’t laugh.
We started kicking around a few ideas for a book — he shot down my original thought that we alternate chapters with “If you’re waiting for me to write something, you’ll be waiting forever.” — and finally came to an understanding: I’d write the whole damned thing. However, he agreed that it would be warts and all biography and I would have a free hand.
Then he announced he’s running for Congress in Florida’s 27th district, now considered one of this country’s districts to watch swing BLUE in 2018.
So, back to yesterday: Once a week — on the Lord’s Day — I meet with Ken and grill him on any topic that appeals to me for the book. However, yesterday he had a full day of ceremonial events, as well as looking after his 2 girls, something he does every Sunday while I interview him around their interruptions. I asked whether I could tag along and embed myself with him for the day. And, we’re off at the races.
First up was Three Kings Parade through Little Havana. I know you’ll get the reference, Ken, but for anyone reading over your shoulder, those are the 3 kings that brought gifts to baby Jesus. [I needed the explanation.] It’s one of the biggest parades in Miami.
Double parenthetically: If you don’t mind me saying so, those were very impracticable gifts for a child. Why not a rattle? Or, a brightly coloured mobile to hang in the manger?
Where was I?
I rode in the Commissioner’s car with his girls while he jumped in and out of the car to press the flesh. [Videos can be found on my Facebookery.] While the parade commemorated a religious event, there was little religiosity from out perspective, riding in a brand new Mustang convertible near the head of the parade with the other dignitaries. Although Ken’s girls got to see the 3 camels when they went for a walk with Dad before it started. We never saw the parade.
As soon as we got to the finish line there was just enough time to find an Uber, find Ken’s car [made more difficult because the parade along Calle Ocho cut off the way back], drop off the girls at the babysitter, and rush back to Coconut Grove to attend the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, the oldest Black church in Miami. It was sponsored by the Coconut Grove Ecumenical Network and the Commissioner had been invited to speak.
The church was filled, with an overflow crowd watching on a monitor in the community room in the basement. As people filed in a piano player quietly tinkled some Gospel. Occasionally spontaneous singing would break out from one end of the room to the other as people recognize the tune. Then it would die down again.
Once the official program started, it was like a locomotive that just picked up steam as it approached the end. There was song, humour, several sermons, and the sound of Gospel and the message of Dr. King still fills my ears.
Brother Edward Leonard read the entire “I Have A Dream” speech. What a hard act to follow, but Mr. Leonard made every word sound new and important. Furthermore, it was amazing how much Dr. King’s words rubbed uncomfortably against some of the recent news events out of Washington, not to mention the comparative poverty of the West Grove.
However, I was most impressed with the final Message, delivered by Reverend Nathaniel Robinson, III. He used the Bible story of the lepers to make a connection with present times. “It was a skin problem” he said. The comparison to the colour of people’s skin and Racism was not lost on the congregation. “It was a skin problem” and they were not letting the skin problem define them.
I won’t even try to paraphrase the Pastor, because I would never do him justice. [I’ve looked for a video online and, believe me, Ken, if I find it I’m going to share it.] However, it was rousing enough that more than once I was on my feet applauding and shouting along with the congregation. I felt the dream.
I was so awestruck that I took no pictures or video. I became a participant, no longer a disinterested observer.
No offense, Ken, but you could use a little of that fire and brimstone in your sermons. Your sermons are pretty calming. Pastoral, if you will. There was nothing calm about Reverend Robinson and the congregation reacted appropriately.
Having said that, I have to commend you for your sentiments on the very same day. My Uncle Harry was Pops.
I’m also so very proud of the political positions you’ve taken and how you’ve been encouraging your congregation, and your facefriends, to hector their elected representatives. I also like how you don’t tell them what position to take. Despite the simple fact that you believe in God and I don’t, our politics align almost perfectly.
All told our service lasted 3.5 hours, much longer than your’s. Nyah, nyah.
Just before it ended, I quietly slipped across the street to the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery. This is a place I have visited at least a hundred times. I’ve taken thousands of pictures of it all all hours of the day and night. At one time it was the only place that Black folk could be buried in Miami. The last time I visited the cemetery was in terrible shape. The grass had not been cut and was 3 feet high. Branches broken off by the fury of Hurricane Irma still littered the ground. After a small, quiet cry I sent out a video showing the disrepair the cemetery had fallen into.
You might call this a miracle, but I just call it good citizenship: A woman saw my video. She just happened to work in the Commissioner’s office and jumped onto the problem. She organized a crew of volunteers to get the cemetery cleaned up and now it looks as good as when I first discovered it almost a decade ago.
I never did publish your response to my last Pastoral Letter, even tho’ I promised I would Apologies. Here it is:
Marc, I read your pastoral letter on sin. But I can’t comment on the blog. can’t seem to log in the right way. Nothing unusual there. Couple of comments. I could stand to lose a few pounds also I look older than i think of myself on this side of my own eyeballs. So I guess my sin is vanity. But i think envy is the one most of us can cop to. Me for sure. It’s funny, I think I pretty much agreed with all your comments on sin. Either you’re a crappy atheist of I’m a crappy Christian–as we’re supposed to have big disagreements on sin, right? I think the traditional Christian emphasis on sin is all messed up and serves interests other than God’s or most people. It’s like Trump getting us all focused on something else so we stop paying attention to what matters. I’m guessing most of the things I might tend to feel guilty about aren’t that big a deal but the guilt distracts me from paying attention to things that are. I still eat meat knowing how much chickens and cattle suffer in the agri-business world. Why? Because I like the taste and can easily ignore their suffering. I thought you had a characteristically Jewish approach to sin which I generally trust more than the Christian approach. It’s more sensible, more human. But I’m just blathering now.
It’s never blathering, Ken. I’ve missed our communication. The book project has kept me from updating our Pastoral Letters. Hopefully, I’ll see you during what has become our yearly get together in 2018. Yet I know the primary season is going to be pretty hectic as I embed myself with the subject of my book. And, if the Commissioner wins the Democratic primary, I’ll be up to my ears in writing for the general in November.
However, we must catch up. The invitation is always open for you and your family to have a few days in the sun, but otherwise I might be in Motown in April. Let’s plan to hook up then.
Your childhood friend,