Manual Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx

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Breathing Space is the story of a young woman, Heidi Neumark, and the Hispanic and African-American Lutheran church-aptly named Transfiguration-that took a chance calling on a pastor from a starkly different background. Despite living and working in a milieu of overwhelming poverty and violence, Neumark and the congregation encounter even more powerful forces of hope and renewal.

This is the story of a church and a community creating space for new life and breath in a place where children suffer the highest asthma rates in the nation. It's also the story of a young woman-working, raising her children, and struggling for spiritual breathing space.

Heidi Neumark - Wikipedia

Through poignant, intimate stories, Neumark charts her journey alongside her parishioners as pastor, church, and community grow in wisdom and together experience transformation. Planned Shrinkage. Lessons for Jonah.


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Summer Construction Reports. Theophany Part Two. Fall Construction Reports. Rizpahs Table. Feast of the Transfiguration. People in the Windows. TwoHeaded Monster. Lepers in the Bed. Soul Doors Breathing Space. Poppies On and Off Broadway. Gathering Resources. Pillars of the Church. Rest on the Flight to Egypt. Winter Construction Reports.

Soon and Very Soon. Spring Construction Reports. The Fall of Grit. We see this same thing in the issue of how sewage treatment, how waste is handled. All of this has health impact and consequences. Just intensified and concentrated. The system of education. And the schools in the South Bronx for year after year after year are consistently functioning on a very, very low level, and yet there is no administrative change.

And one of the things that we looked into was parents, as we began organizing was there was a system of school boards that was completely, completely corrupt. They were controlling millions of dollars. And the school boards near us were flying to Honolulu, Bermuda, for meetings. People were misappropriating money for special education to buy furniture for their homes, electronic equipment. At the same time that the schools were performing terribly, thousands, well millions of dollars were spent in building a prison not far from the church, for 10 to 15 year olds.

And it was said in studies that the prison was going to be put there because it would save money on transportation. It was built for children from all over New York City, but that most children would come from that neighborhood so it should be put there. And the study showed that children that were coming out of schools that were not, where children were not being educated, were more likely to end up in prison. So instead of improving the schools, the money went into building the prison, which is called New Horizons, which is really a sinister kind of irony. Yeah, yeah.

Well this is Dick Staub back with you. And that is that you want to be both a contemplative and an activist. But one of the reasons it spoke to me was that I was surrounded by so many people with asthma, and asthma that was due to dumping of garbage and incineration and waste transfer stations, all of these things dumped on people in the Bronx that was causing physical asthma and a physical struggle for breath.

And the more I saw that I kind of saw myself. And now I realize I just think the connection between those two things are absolutely essential. But the reverse is also true to me, that seeking my own spiritual life and breathing space without that being connected to breathing space for all people, for everybody, is not at all what God calls us to.

Our relationship to God draws us into relationship with one another. Somebody told me that once. And yet you quote this wonderful phrase from John of the Cross, you know, the poems that he wrote from prison which were just stunningly beautiful.

by Neumark, Heidi B

You know, meditative impact. And he wrote them from the least beautiful places, by outward appearance anyway. And that gives me a lot of inspiration. Now, you-you in your book, you talk about your own call. You talk about your experience in St. Johns Island, you were shaped in Philadelphia, experiences in Buenos Aires. How were you called to the kind of ministry that you have and have had in-in a place like the South Bronx?

How did that happen in your life? Well, I think it happened over a long period of time and with different experiences.

And she did. Why did Tracy have to die? And that stayed with me, that sense of injustice and a connection between what was happening in my personal life and what was happening publicly around the globe. It just made an impact on me and I felt like whatever I did I wanted, I wanted to be part of struggling for-for life, and for the gift of life that God gives us.

And you say something that I think is important for people of all different denominational traditions, and particularly perhaps among suburban evangelicals, that there is a danger of what you call kind of enamored of our miraculous charity, or to romanticize poverty.

How did you get beyond that? And how do you see that in the way we act sometimes towards the poor? And I guess, to me, how I came to a different understanding in terms of poverty is through first-hand contact not, I mean, recognizing in my situation I was choosing to be in the South Bronx where other people had no choice at that time. But when you live in that environment you quickly see it and learn that people there had tremendous strength and, in fact, were-were-were as we talked about earlier, all these public policies had-had really led to what was the devastation there.

She has been pastoring the South Bronx for over 20 years. Just before the break Heidi was telling us about the importance of understanding that we go to certain places thinking we are going to transfigure them and find ourselves transfigured, which is a wonderful counterintuitive nature of God. You talk about a lesson that you learned from Miss Ellie from St. Johns Island. And to me it was one of the most wonderful examples of-of how we, in the kind of modernized western high-paced, fast-paced world, have lost the nature of being human. And it had to do with something that you did for Miss Ellie that you thought was going to help her, and you came to learn a lesson.

It was you were going to transfigure her life, she transfigured yours. Tell us what happened in that story. That was early on, and that was the year I took off from college, actually. Well, and Miss Ellie lived on Johns Island off of Charleston, South Carolina, way out in an area without electricity and just dirt roads.

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And she lived out on her own. She was old, almost years old, cutting her own firewood.

ISBN 13: 9780807072561

And she had a really good friend named Netta that she would go to visit. But to reach Netta she had to walk miles through thick, tall grass and, you know, I used to feel really sorry for her. There were snakes in the grass and it was really hot, and I got all this poor Miss Ellie, she had to walk all this way. And she had to go pretty far to find a place where it narrowed enough that she could just actually go across.

So I came up with this great idea. I thought of building a bridge to make a shortcut for her. I got the wood and cement to build this little bridge. And I said, No, no, you know. I have this great surprise.


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So we went off and I showed it to her. And she just, you know, I had expected her to look all excited. And I said, This is a shortcut for you to visit Miss Netta. And then she just looked at me and said, Child, if you want friends in this world, if you want love, you know, there are no shortcuts. And that is a lesson that is difficult to learn, and you learned it because you, because you spent that time in-in St.

Now, when we get to how you were transfigured and the lessons learned in South Bronx, you tell the wonderful story of your own ordination which happened to be on Transfiguration Sunday. And the speakers were Rick, Evy and Lucy. Talk a bit about how they are kind of a cross section and representative of important lessons learned in a place like the South Bronx. The people that came to transfiguration really transfigured the church with their faith and their hope and their courage.

Lucy was someone who came to the church, who had been out of church for many, many years because of domestic violence, and having received a message that she should just stay married and forgive the person she was married to when she was at one point she was pregnant and she was pushed down the stairs and lost her child. And so she was very angry, angry at church, angry at God.

And yet one day she walked by the church and she heard the choir practicing, a youth choir. And you know, she heard this music and so she started just standing, listening in the back to this practice. But they were able to, Burnice was able to reach out to her and say, No, no this is different. And you talk about Burnice in your church representing the kind of women that are, you know, representative of people in whom and through whom God is really at work.

Yes, absolutely.

Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx

Burnice was somebody who came to church initially looking for simply a handout and was going to get some toys for Christmas for her kids, sell them for an overdose, sell them for drugs and take an overdose. And she, on Christmas morning came to get these toys, and a student, a seminarian took time, looked at her and just began to talk with her and listen to her story and pray with her. And Burnice asked if she could de-tox in the church. And then she began coming to Bible study.

She ended up becoming the president of our church council. And this was always a tremendous companion and witness to me.