Souls on ICE

I don’t adhere to any organized religion but I admire any church that helps others in the community and welcomes  people who might feel less welcome elsewhere. The Reformed Church of Highland Park, N.J., fits that bill, with a membership that reflects a real cross-section of that New Jersey community — gay and straight, white and Asian and black and Latino, young and old, affluent and poor.

For instance, the church runs a cafe where patrons pay whatever they can afford to pay — if people eating lunch at the Better World Cafe pay a little more than the listed price for a meal, that helps subsidize meals for those who can’t pay for lunch that day. The church also spearheaded a successful effort to convert a former church building in town into affordable housing for veterans.

And, most recently, the congregation and its young pastor Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale have taken up the cause of a group of Indonesians who face deportation back to their homeland — forced to make a choice between leaving their wives and children behind in America or uprooting their families and taking them to Indonesia to face Christian-Muslim strife in their native country.

These are people who have worked hard to be contributing members of the community and society. Their kids go to public schools, including some who are already in college. They are not terrorists. They are not stealing jobs. They are not soaking social services. They like it here. They want to stay, but their visas have expired.  The only obstacle in their way is a rigid and dispassionate bunch called the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

And so this church in Highland Park has taken the remarkable step of offering and providing sanctuary to a half-dozen Indonesians who are actually living in the church. Church members serve “sentry duty” every night and day (I gladly joined the effort in a very small way a few weeks ago, staying overnight at the church) watching to see if ICE agents show up to try to round up the Indonesians — some of whom have been ordered to wear ankle bracelets equipped with GPS devices.

The church and its pastor, meanwhile, have been lobbying lawmakers to support and pass HR 3590, a bill which would allow the Indonesians to stay in this country while they seek asylum from religious persecution.

How does it feel to be on your own? A complete unknown? No direction home? Like a rolling stone? I heard Dylan’s classic song on the radio today and it made me think about the plight of these Indonesians, labeled as fugitives and illegals.

I’m glad that at least one church is practicing what Jesus preached: “I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

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Black Angel’s initial flight

That's novelist Steven Hart (rear) during an event held at his Highland Park, N.J., store, Nighthawk Books, where a book-publication party will be held Thursday, July 14, marking the release of the first three books issued by Steve's Black Angel imprint.

Find your way to Highland Park, New Jersey, on Thursday, July 14, and you’ll find me at the publication party celebrating the publication of friend and colleague Steve Hart’s first novel, “We All Fall Down.”

Steve’s new small-press imprint is based at his used-book and films emproium Nighthawk Books on Raritan Avenue in Highland Park, where the publication party will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. – with the added attraction (as if you needed more reason to attend than the opportunity to buy a signed copy of Steve’s novel) of music by the talented Matt DeBlass.

The new literary enterprise, called Black Angel Press (www.blackangelpress.com) is making its debut with three books: Steve’s novel “We All Fall Down” (which just got a thumb’s up in the book-review column of the New York Post); “Blips,” a collection of well-wrought poetry by John Marron; and “19th Nervous Breakdown: Making Human Connections in the Landscape of Commerce,” a provocative and entertaining book by Joseph Zitt, a work based on his experiences working for the Borders bookstore chain.

Take time to welcome this new literary enterprise — which, if all goes according to plan, will soon be publishing one (and maybe two )novellas by Nicholas DiGiovanni. It’s true! There’s even a very talented artist already working on ideas for the covers of planned editions of the novellas “Rip,” a modern-day tongue-in–cheek retelling of the Rip van Winkle story, and “The Dogs of Arroyo,” a spooky parable set in Puerto Rico complete with santeria gods who hold sway in the rain forest at night and are not happy that the island has become an economic colony of that big country to the north.

But that will be then and let’s get back to now: Thursday, July 14, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Nighthawk Books in Highland Park, N.J. a party celebrating the release of the first three books by Black Angel Press. I’ll be there and I hope you’ll all try to be there too.

The naked and the read

Wear a tuxedo. Wear jeans. Wear a formal gown. Wear a house dress. In other words, come as you are. Maybe even arrive, um, unclothed.

There’s no way there will be a dress code on Saturday, May 14, at my friend Steven Hart’s Nighthawk Books in Highland Park, New Jersey, when another friend — novelist Bathsheba Monk — reads from her newly published novel, Nude Walker.

Bathsheba Monk

Steve promises live musical entertainment, starting at about 2 p.m., followed by Bathsheba’s reading at 3 p.m. Copies of the novel will be available for purchase, as well as copies of B. Monk’s first book, Now You See It: Tales from Cokesville, a wonderful collection of linked short stories set in Pennsylvania coal country. After the reading, Bathsheba will gladly sign copies of her books.

Bathsheba’s a wonderful stylist and a witty storyteller. The characters in Nude Walker are colorful and engaging. And the novel’s theme, plot and setting are gratifyingly ambitious, with a story that ranges from an U.S. military base in Afghanistan to a left-for-dead Pennsylvania coal country town where foreign-born entrepreneurs and economic outcasts are the new “locals.”

It’s a really good book (which will someday also make a really good movie). Bathsheba Monk’s a really good writer and a really good reader. And you’ll have a really good time – so, on May 14, walk or run, dressed or not, to Nighthawk Books in Highland Park, N.J.