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This is Ben

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This is Ben. I met him this afternoon on my way back to my hotel for a siesta. I was tired as I had been walking all day, as is my way when in an incredibly vibrant city such as NYC. It doesn’t help that in haste this morning I hopped on an express train that took me way out of the way from where I wanted to go. I only mention this to note that I had walked far and hard and was so looking forward to taking a break. Anyhow, as I crossed Cooper Square I saw Ben and a smile came across my face. Without even realizing the words were coming out of my mouth I found myself saying, “Excuse me, can I take your photo?” Then I was even more surprised when he turned and said yes. 

Ben grew up in London but has been living in NYC for some time, he’s also dressed like this for as long as he can remember. We chatted about a few of our favorite British punk bands and both agreed that the Clash is one of the best bands that has ever existed. After  taking his photo he asked if I would take one with his phone. After looking at it he thought it was too dark, so we moved to a sunnier spot, you can see the difference in the two photos. I have always been drawn to people that live outside society’s norm (whatever that is), and it’s interesting that after talking with Ben for a few minutes I felt invigorated (but still took a brief nap at my room). There are people of all walks of life in this world, and that is such a good thing. Life would be so boring otherwise.

This is Denarius.

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Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks.”
~1 Thessanolians 5:17-18

If you’ve been to this blog prior then you know that on occasion I profile someone who is living on the street. I used to do this more often but haven’t in recent months simply because I myself have been broke and I usually give them some money—even if it is just a couple bucks—after speaking with them.

This said, I’m in NYC for the weekend and on my way back to my room last night met Denarius. I wasn’t going to stop but her sign caught my attention. It quoted a portion of one of my favorite Bible passages (which is above). So as I was walking I glanced at her sign then at her and as she looked up from a book she was reading our eyes met. Her eyes told me that she was a kind person so I stopped. After introducing myself I commented on her sign and she too agreed it was one of her favorites as well.

Denarius has only been in the city a short while, she took the Greyhound bus here from the west coast to escape a bad situation. That’s all that I know. After chatting for a few minutes I asked if I could take her photo, to which she agreed. She was also patient with me as I fumbled with the camera as I had forgotten I had it set for timed long exposure settings for photos I had just previously taken. We laugh a bit, then I snapped her photo. After chatting a bit more I parted.

The room I stay in in NY is a meager one…a room with a bed, table, and TV that rarely works, and a shared toilet and shower down the hall, but still it is grand compared to Delnarius’ accommodations. And on the way back to my room I kept thinking of the quote she chose for her sign, and the fact that she herself seemed as cheerful and thankful as it suggested. If I were o find myself in her situation I don’t know if I could maintain such positivity. My life is better because of meeting her, I pray she is well.

To read more in this series, Click Here.

Things that can be carried on a bike (#734), with brief commentary.

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Things on the bike…$62 in groceries, a bag with a change of clothes, a camera and an extra lens.

So this didn’t happen today, it happened last week and hadn’t happened in a while, but for whatever reason I was thinking about it as I loaded my bike with groceries today, and then was thinking about it still as I pedaled to the JCC to sit in the shvitz for a while. It’s something that will inevitably happen to a cyclist. It happens less that it once did, but still it happens. I’m talking about being yelled at out a car window to get off the road. There are, of course, endless variations of the statement with equally endless possibilities to insert various expletives. Sometimes I’ll yell back, stating that I have the same rights as them, but this time was different. This time they didn’t swear, but they ended the sentence with “snowflake,” and yes I am aware of its derogatory implication. “Get off the road, snowflake,” is what he said and it sort of startled me. This is what they assumed of me simply because I was on a bike.

I was so taken aback that I didn’t yell anything in return. But if I did I should have yelled something like, “Well if being a tree-hugging, climate-change-believing, bicycle-riding, Jesus-following, beatnik, hippie, women-loving/supporting, survivor-believing, black/blue/all lives matter-supporting, immigrant-loving, LGTBQ supporting, pro-choice, democratic-socialist makes me a snow flake, then okay. But I still have as much right on this road as you.

While this statement may sound a bit snarky on my part, and I suppose it is, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the Golden Rule lately. Especially as I scroll through social media where people can speak their mind or post nonsensical memes without being face-to-face to those they target (which, imho is a real detriment to society), it’s sort of like an electronic version of yelling out a car window, I suppose.

Mostly we think of the Golden Rule as spoken by the Jew from Nazareth who came to be known as the Christ, but it is mentioned by prophets before and after him in the bible, and in the sacred texts of most religions, for that matter. It’s the most simple concept but also the most difficult. What I am referring to, of course, is loving our neighbors as ourselves. This, I suppose, even means loving the guy who yelled at me, and also people who I don’t agree with. This is likely no more easy a concept now that it was two millennia ago. What came to me while sitting and sweating in the steam room is that while yes, I do have to love my neighbor (meaning everyone within the realm of my little life, both real and virtual), that I do need to treat them with respect and dignity as another fellow person on this third rock from the sun. But at the same time I don’t think I need to, or even think I have the ability, to like everyone. We can disagree but still treat each other with respect. We need to if we want our country to survive. I’ll get off my little soapbox now.


Urban Simplicity.

Fasoulia!

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So a couple things. One is that I haven’t posted in more that a month, one of the longest stretches since starting this blog. My apologies; it has been a hot and busy summer. Thus said, here’s a very simple but really delicious and nutritious recipe for a Lebanese-style bean stew. This normally does not have greens in it, I added kale simple because I like it.

It seems like every culture has some sort of rice and beans recipe in their repertoire, the Middle East is no different. This recipe is often eaten for breakfast (I am told) with a fried egg on top, not unlike Mexican huevos rancheros, I suppose. Tonight I ate this for dinner over basmati rice. Lastly, two words of interest here. The word fasoulia is simply the Arabic word for beans, and the word baharat, means spices. If you do not have or do not feel like making baharat, use what you like or have, and the beans can be interchanged to your liking as well. Enjoy.

Fasoulia
(Lebanese Spicy Bean Ragoût)

Serves 3-6

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon baharat (7-spice mix), see below
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable broth
5 ounces baby kale, washed

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy pot, then add the onion. Cook the onion while stirring for about 5 minutes or until it begins to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two while stirring. Stir in the baharat, soked paprika, and crushed hot pepper; cook for just a minute while stirring. Add the beans, tomatoes, broth, lemon juice, salt, and kale. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a very low simmer. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Baharat
Lebanese Seven Spice Mix


Makes about ¼ cup

1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container, or use as needed.

Life and Death in the Cemetery

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Only when you accept that one day you’ll die can you let go, and make the best out of life. And that’s the big secret. That’s the miracle.”― Gabriel Bá

So first a couple things to preface this post. One is that I really like cemeteries. Okay, “like” may not be the correct word, but I do enjoy them. I find them peaceful and soothing. This said, Buffalo has an incredibly great cemetery, Forest Lawn. It was founded in 1849 and covers a vast 269 acres. It is smack in the middle of the city but because of its vastness it is an unintentional wildlife refuge of sorts (hence the title of this post). I stop here at least a couple times of year to pedal and coast silently through, to stop and contemplate, and to take photos of monuments, gravestones and wildlife. 


Anyhow, I hadn’t been there in a while and thought I’d stop by and take photos. I always love when I see deer there. They are so graceful and there is something about seeing them walking among the gravestones that makes them seem even more graceful, it really is a surreal sight. 

Last year I had heard about an albino fawn that was seen in the cemetery, and on two occasions had gone there specifically to see it, but to no avail. To be honest I thought it may have been an urban legend of sorts. Today I didn’t go there looking for deer, I simply wanted a slow cruise through this shady sanctuary on this incredibly hot summer day (90f/32c). 

As I was coasting down one of the rolling curvy roads I caught a glimpse of a deer off in the distance between some of the stones (the photos above and below are chronological). So I parked the bike and grabbed my camera and began to sort of tiptoe up to it. As I got closer I could see there were a few deer, maybe four (turns out there were a total of six). They saw me but didn’t move. I walked very slowly and snapped a few photos. Then, wandering out from behind a stone comes the albino fawn. I’m pretty sure I gasped.

After snapping a couple photos and walking closer two buck came trotting in. The one was so large I actually heard him before I saw him (see the third photo below). He was definitely the alpha of the herd. It really startled me because I was pretty close, there was no one else around, and the animal was large. He saw me immediately and began to walk towards me then stopped, putting himself between me and his family. I did not want to even raise the camera because I didn’t know what Papa Buck was thinking. As graceful as they are they are prone to charge, especially if they feel their young are threatened. Anyhow, to make a long story short, I sort of backed away and Papa Buck led his family in another direction.

To see some previous postings of Forest Lawn Cemetery, with photos, click here.

 

Path of Trinity…a book review

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Path of Trinity
Journey into Christian Mysticism
By Travis Wade Zinn

But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the ages for our glory.
– 1 Corinthians 2:7

Before I begin this brief review I ave to offer full disclosure. While not having met the author in real life we are Facebook friends online; mystical kindred spirits are drawn to another. I had seen Travis’ posting for the book and it intrigued me so I requested a copy for review, and I wasn’t sorry.

Path of Trinity, Journey into Christian Mysticism is an interesting and important book. There is a lot of information packed into this slim volume, but at the same time it is not for everyone. What I mean by this is mysticism—as it’s title suggests—is a mystery, and for some this is uncharted and even scary territory. The idea that there is more than we can see and touch with our physical senses may be difficult for some to grasp. But I’m jumping ahead.

What makes this book truly interesting is that it not only discusses Christian mysticism, but it is autobiographical as well. The author openly reveals his personal journey, and some of it was very difficult. He frankly discusses his previous addictions, his bout with homelessness, and also his physical breakdown which almost killed him. But through it all he was connected to Spirit.

What originally drew me to this book, and the sections I found most interesting, are where Mr. Zinn discusses early church history and Christianity’s mystical roots, “Few people are aware of the pervasive influence that Jewish mysticism had on early Christianity. Christian mysticism did not have its primary origins in Greek thought but instead came directly from it’s Jewish roots” (pg. 17). To me this statement is powerful because in today’s Christian culture it is easy to forget that not only was Jesus Jewish—was was born a Jew, lived his life as a Jew, and died on the cross as a Jew—but also he himself was a mystic.

A theme throughout the book, as is common in not only Christian mysticism but also any mystical tradition, is the importance of prayer and meditation. While some may have difficulty and think that meditation is “un-Christian,” it is really part of our heritage not only through Kabbalism but also early Christianity, and the author delves into this and explains it well. He also does a good job comparing the similarities and differences with esoteric teachings of Buddhism and Christianity.

Path of Trinity is really a guide for people to be in relationship with the Spirit which dwells in all of us, and the author writes in a personal way as if he is speaking directly to you disclosing not only information he has learned but also his own personal experiences. For example, “In the physical realm, we are limited by preconditioned options, but if we operate spiritually miracles can happen that translate even to the physical realm. Christ was not speaking merely metaphorically when he said that faith could move mountains. The reality we imagine as fixed is more fluid, more interconnected than we realize” (pg. 69). He then goes on to tell how he healed himself with prayer while on missionary in the Amazon.

As aforementioned, the book is intertwined with historical and factual information but also the author’s experiences, but it also contains practical information as well. It concludes with the sentence: “Tear out the following pages and get to work” (pg. 115). The last pages contain graphically animated directions on how to meditate.

Mr. Zinn holds an honors degree in religion and specializes in Christian mysticism, he has also resided at Zen monasteries. Though the information in this book deep, it is written in a very readable way. This book is an example of the shift Christianity needs to make if we want it to survive. A shift back, in many ways; a shift to our mystical roots. But even more importantly, a shift inward. Path of Trinity, Journey into Christian Mysticism, is a book that can renew one’s faith in the Spirit that has been there all along.

The book is available in both print and electronic versions, here’s an Amazon link if you’d like to order it. 

Seeds of Love and Compassion…mille mercis

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Every moment and every event of every person’s life on earth plants something in their soul.” ~Thomas Merton

As I was walking home yesterday I saw a couple leaves blowing in the light breeze, then one came to a halt in front of me. My first thought was that it is too early for fall foliage. Then I was affected not only by its simple beauty but also the contrast in its metaphoric imagery…the beautiful and frail leaf with a backdrop of stark concrete. For some reason it reminded me of the fragility of life.

I’ve been thinking about writing a lengthy response to the outpouring of people who donated to my GoFundMe campaign which started a couple days ago but have decided against it. Instead I’ll get straight to the point. I am overwhelmed and grateful beyond words. I cannot say thank you enough.

People who analyze crowd-shared fundraisers (yes, there are sites) suggest that you re-post frequently and regularly to keep activity and traffic. I can’t and won’t do that. It was very difficult for me to start the campaign to begin with. While I will not be re-posting it I will keep it active, likely through the month of August as I am 1/3 of the way to the goal. Should anyone like to contribute, it can be found here. At the very least I do hope people continue to share the link for others to see and read my story.

Fr. Merton suggested that every activity plants seeds on our souls. This has planted seeds of compassion and love on mine and yours. My heart is cracked wide open. Thank you so incredibly much for not only supporting my campaign thus far, but more importantly being part of my life.

Peace,
Joe

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