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AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

A New York City Police Department officer work a crime scene. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Metro Minute

Death on the streets and on the screen

Murder and cancer deaths are real. So is resurrection

A New York moment: Late last week I was on a corner in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, where a man had just been shot and killed. Someone had washed the man’s trail of blood off the sidewalk. The family wept, while neighbors came by to light candles and offer condolences to the man’s mother. She sat stricken on a beat-up office chair on the sidewalk next to the candles. Police sat in a patrol car on the corner, keeping a distance. One man came by, bent over with anger and grief, and muttered, “Someone will have to answer for this.” 

Neighborhood pastors and others urged the man to think about how a revenge shooting, in addition to being wrong, might hit a bystander, like a child. The spike in New York City’s shootings, which mirrors other cities around the country (including Republican-run ones like Tulsa, Okla.), appears to be partly gang-driven. Shootings beget retaliatory shootings. 

I thought about the man’s comment over the weekend, as the news came in about another death, that of actor Chadwick Boseman, who embodied the royal dignity of King T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther. Boseman died from colon cancer at age 43. The man killed in Brooklyn was 41. 

Someone has to answer for the deaths of a man who died too young from colon cancer and a man who died violently, whatever his backstory was, because death is wrong. At the site of the Brooklyn shooting, local pastor Charles Galbreath said: “We’re here to declare that this is not normal … that we all have worth and value … that our young people are kings and queens.” He prayed for young people to know “who they are and Whose they are.” 

Regardless of the circumstances of the homicide—police said it was gang-related—it brought pain even to people unconnected with this man. I was walking the block with other Brooklyn mothers who had lost sons to gun violence. After they bear-hugged the mother of this most recent victim, one of them, Pamela Hight, was so overwhelmed she walked away and had to stop in the street and bend over to catch her breath. 

“Why, every time I hug a mother, I feel the pain?” said Hight, who lost two sons to violence. “That’s a feeling you don’t want to feel.” Without knowing the details of this man or his story, the moms could feel the wrongness of it.

After Boseman’s death, people widely shared a video on social media of him on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where Black Panther fans talked about what the superhero meant to them, and then Boseman would step out from behind a curtain to surprise them and give them a hug. I think part of the power of that video, after Boseman’s death, is the hint of resurrection there. People thought they were just talking to a poster, and then: Look! The real, live King T’Challa is right there, stepping from behind a curtain. 

Only Jesus provides us both with someone who will “answer for” deaths, violent or otherwise, and with resurrection life. The dark things of the world are not all they appear to be. So as we weep and long for better things, we also can know that Christ will surprise us with justice, and he will surprise us with resurrection. And those in Christ will one day step through that curtain, surprised by joy. 

This week I learned: The New York Police Department has 37 full-time scuba divers who conduct rescues and search for evidence and bodies in the waters surrounding New York City. Apartment-bound New Yorkers, including myself, can sometimes forget that they live on an island.  

Culture I am consuming: Lenox Hill, a new documentary series from Netflix about a hospital in Manhattan. Having done reporting in hospitals and having visited this hospital recently, I found it to be a very realistic portrayal of the daily chaos and drama that doctors live through. There’s some cursing, but otherwise, it’s a series I would highly recommend, with a rare fly-on-the-wall look inside operating rooms, emergency rooms, and patients’ bedsides.

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Jamison Galt (right) leads a church service before the coronavirus. (Handout)

Metro Minute

How to run a funeral in a pandemic

A Brooklyn pastor says trying to help grieving congregants in the middle of the pandemic is an excruciating experience

A New York moment: 

Jamison Galt is the pastor of Resurrection Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, and in late March he heard a parishioner’s dad had COVID-19. He and the church member, Jeremy Caliz, prayed and went over all the potential scenarios. Galt was frustrated that he couldn’t go to the hospital or to Caliz’s house to support him.

“The whole experience is kind of anti-good news,” he said. “At first it was: I have to distance myself from my neighbor out of fear of them. And then the next thing is: The creation is not good, I can’t touch these good things, because it might have [the] virus on them. I might myself be a weapon, my body has become weaponized.”

Caliz’s father died in early April (see my story about it). 

Information on funerals and dealing with death during the pandemic was “not info anyone had prepared,” said Galt. New York is only allowing in-person funerals of fewer than 10 people at a graveside, and the various systems for handling remains were so backed up that Caliz couldn’t arrange a burial in the near future. Caliz and Galt planned a virtual funeral.

“Going through this entire crisis in New York City as a pastor has been excruciating—as it has been for everybody—but excruciating in the manner in which you’re unable to do anything that you’re trained to do,” said Galt. “I ask myself every morning, what does love require, and what am I actually able to do today?”

Galt had to learn to use Google Meet for the funeral. Normally after a death he would sit with someone and cry, not saying much. But as a pastor in the pandemic, all he has are phone calls. So he has to talk.

Galt led the funeral service from an empty apartment above his own, since his wife was working and their four kids were running around. At least twice during the service, audience members accidentally took over the screen on Zoom by sharing their own screens.

“You’re working up the preacher-ly energy, and it’s like, ‘So and so has taken over your screen,’” he said. Tech problems were a small factor in the difficulty that not being able to “come together and grieve properly” presented.

Another pandemic challenge for Galt: a church birth. Some Resurrection parishioners had long struggled with infertility, and after years of prayer they had a baby during the height of the pandemic. Galt couldn’t go to the hospital or see them. They Facetimed him to tell him that they named the baby after him.

This week I learned: 

After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced drive-in theaters could operate statewide, one diner in Queens turned its parking lot into a drive-in theater. Its initial showings sold out, and it appears this is now the hottest ticket in town. 

A court case you might not know about:

A federal judge ordered the New York Democratic Party to un-cancel the state’s Democratic primary set for June 23. The judge said the party’s cancellation of the primary was “unconstitutional,” even with coronavirus concerns.

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, a New York resident, brought the lawsuit, which former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders joined as well. Though Joe Biden is the sole primary candidate, the vote could have apportioned delegates to other candidates that would influence the party platform. 

Culture I am consuming:

A Hidden Life, another masterpiece from writer/director Terrence Malick, which tells the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian who refused to swear loyalty to Adolf Hitler in World War II. 

I didn’t realize until seeing the film that the title comes from one of my favorite quotes from my favorite novel, George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Eliot concludes the book: “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” 

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Yuki Taguchi/WBCI/MLB via Getty Images

A player from Team Israel is greeted by teammates after scoring a run during a game against Team Cuba at the Tokyo Dome in 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. (Yuki Taguchi/WBCI/MLB via Getty Images)

Metro Minute

Baseball and banking

Meet the New York analyst who will be a baseball pitcher for underdog Team Israel at the Tokyo Olympics

A New York moment: 

I had lunch with Eric Brodkowitz, 23, who by day is an analyst at Goldman Sachs and by night is preparing to be a starting pitcher for Israel’s Olympic baseball team. A Jewish New Yorker, he has taken on Israeli citizenship to join the Israeli team and helped lead it over the last year to one of the six spots in the Olympic baseball tournament. 

Brodkowitz sprinkles training into a high-stress, 60-hour-a-week, finance job. He keeps dozens of baseballs at work and takes an hour at 2 p.m. every day to sneak out to a baseball field near the Goldman Sachs offices, just in the shadow of the World Trade Center. 

“I don’t know how I got so lucky,” he said about having a baseball field near his office. He works until 7 or 8 p.m., and then does yoga. On weekends he and another teammate drive north of the city to train with their coach.

Though baseball began in the United States, the American baseball team has not yet qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. So far Mexico, South Korea, Japan, and Israel have the slots. Almost all of Team Israel are Jewish Americans by birth, so they’re encouraging Americans to root for the underdog team if the United States doesn’t make it into the Olympics—and if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t halt the games.

The coronavirus outbreak caused officials to postpone qualifiers for Team USA.

Major League Baseball—which canceled the rest of its Spring Training Thursday and delayed its opened day because of the coronavirus—will not allow active players to go to the Olympics, which derailed Team USA’s prospects at the last summer games. South Korea (the previous gold medalist) and Japan are allowing their professional players to represent their countries.

“The caliber of talent is very high,” Brodkowitz said of facing South Korea and Japan’s top players. “But the Jewish spirit is there!” 

Yale University recruited Brodkowitz as a starting pitcher, but after four years of pitching he didn’t think a professional team would draft him. He focused on securing a job. But between graduation and starting his job, the Israeli national coach called and asked him to join the team. His new bosses at Goldman-Sachs assented, though Brodkowitz assured them the team had a “very low probability” of making it to the 2020 Olympics. 

He was wrong. The team went 17-4 in international tournaments over the summer to win an Olympic slot. The upstarts have been fundraising from American synagogues and groups like the Jewish National Fund to support their Olympic journey. 

Brodkowitz grew up a Yankees fan, and his dad is from the Bronx. 

“Baseball had been my entire life for 20 years,” he said. But playing for Israel felt more meaningful than playing “for me,” he said, especially when he hopes team sports in Israel will help heal divides between Jews and Arabs. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to July in Tokyo, and hoping the coronavirus doesn’t cancel the games. 

This week I learned: 

It’s popular for New York politicians to go after big developers constructing luxury buildings. But new studies find that as high rises go up in a city, housing prices go down, although middle-to-high income residents tend to benefit from the price decrease. 

A court case you might not know about: 

A blockbuster trial in Manhattan ended with a conviction of former CIA coder Joshua Schulte for lying to the FBI. But the jury deadlocked on whether Schulte leaked information to Wikileaks, in what the agency says is the largest loss of top secret data in its history. 

Culture I am consuming: 

The Possibility of Prayer, a new book by John Starke, my pastor! I’m biased but I think it’s good. 

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