Category Archives: Christianity


I’ve posted this Christmas prayer/mediation by Paramahansa Yogananda for the past few Christmases. I find it so beautiful that I thought I would post it again. But the difficult part, the nearly impossible part (at least for me), is living up to it…but it’s good, I think, to have something to aspire to. Merry Christmas. Peace. 
A Christmas Vow

I will prepare for the coming of the Omnipresent baby Christ by cleaning the cradle of my consciousness, now rusty with selfishness, indifference, and sense attachments; and by polishing it with deep, daily, divine meditation, introspection and discrimination. I will re model the cradle with the dazzling soul qualities of brotherly love, humbleness, faith, desire for God-realization, will power, self-control, renunciation, and unselfishness, that I may fittingly celebrate the birth of the Divine Child.”
–Paramahansa Yogananda

Urban Simplicity.

Positive Scripture…

So first…a couple of things. One is that if you’ve been to this blog you know a few things about me. I like bread, yes; I prefer to ride a bike rather than drive a car, yes; but also that I–like so many others–am on a spiritual journey (but we all are whether we admit it or not). And you also know that I enjoy series of things on this blog…my oldest and most popular is Things that can be Carried on a Bike, but there is also the Five Quotes series, the View from My Handlebars series, and the brief Past and Present series. Today I am beginning a new series on positive scripture passages. I’ll likely post it sporadically or whenever the spirit moves me to do so. While I do believe that there is only One Source of us all, the religion of my birth and the one which I most closely identify with is Christianity, so for this reason I’ll be posting selections from the Bible; mostly the New Testament. The Bible, for some (myself included) carries so much baggage, and there are sections that can be twisted to mean truly bad stuff. But I personally do not feel that is why it was written…the word Gospel, of course, mean Good News in English, and thus I feel it was it’s original intention….to bring good news, not law or oppression. Anyhow, I am not a fundamentalist, nor am I a literalist…I tend to read the Bible mostly as metaphor (to read more about “where I’m at” click here). The reason I mention this is that my intention is not to offend anyone by what I post in this series or the commentary (if any) I accompany with it. If I do add any thoughts they are not intended to tell you how you should feel, nor are they intended in any way to “convert” you; they are simply thoughts on how a particular passage speaks to me. You, in turn, are welcome to comment, but please no negativity. And please do not send me hate mail or try to save me; in my view no saving is needed as we are all children of the One Divine Source. With this said, here’s the first Positive Scripture.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
~Philippians 4:8 

I chose this as the first in this series because I believe this to be so powerful, and is fully aligned with the New Thought Movement. The only thing that I’ll add is that I can personally attest that in my life when I think of good things apposed to negative things, then good things happen. But even if they don’t, life is much better. It has taken me many years to do this–and I’m not enlightened yet–but it’s true, light overcomes darkness. Thinking good thoughts really does–to me–have positive results, even when things are not going as planned.

Urban Simplicity.

Where I’m at…

Image Found Here.
Oh no I’ve said too much; I haven’t said enough…”
~Michael Stipe, Losing My Religion
This is a bit of personal stuff but I feel like I have to say it. There are a few people that know me that read this blog, and a number that I feel like I know—to a certain extent—simply via correspondence. And there are still many more that I don’t know but am grateful that they visit this humble page.
So for those that know me this is not new information, but to some it may come as a surprise (or maybe not) that after a lifetime of facing a stove I have—at midlife—decided to go to seminary. And over the past year or so I have understandably been asked questions that seem—at times—a bit awkward, uncomfortable, and even confusing (to me anyway).
It has taken me many years to fully accept and ultimately embrace my somewhat idiosyncratic INFJ personality type. And in doing so one of the things that I’ve learned about myself is that words—words that I actually mean, not those that often simply spill out of my mouth—usually come much easier when I write them than when I speak them aloud. So for this reason, and after some deliberation, I thought I’d answer a few questions that been asked of me when I mention that I am attending seminary.
So here goes…
Are you going be a pastor or lead a church?
Um, no. This question is one that I am most sure of the answer…no, likely not. That’s not why I am doing this. And honestly, I don’t believe this is the type of seminary that trains clergy to lead churches, at least not in the traditional sense.
What type of seminary is it?
It is a part-time interfaith seminary located in NYC. Though I am registered as a distant learner I attend as many classes as possible in person (which was about 80% for my first year). Here is the website to the school; here is their mission statement.
Then why are you doing this? Are you planning on leaving the food service industry?
Ahhh…the million dollar question. To be honest, I am not entirely sure why I am doing this. But it truly is something that I feel called to do, and it feels right. And no, I am not planning on leaving the food service industry (I enjoy it too much and I enjoy my job). This is not instead of what I do, it is in addition to what I currently do.
What will you do once graduated/ordained?
Again, I’m not entirely sure. But I do know that I want to feed people. And I’m not exactly sure what I mean by this either (but I do know that it will work itself out). This may take the form of working in a food pantry, delivering food to the needy on my bike, or teaching disadvantaged youths how to cook for future job skills.
So this is an interfaith seminary and you will be an interfaith minister, what does that mean? I know that you were raised a Christian, are you still a Christian?
The word Christian and the very name Jesus seem carry so much baggage today, but if I had to answer this question in a single word I would without hesitation say yes. If I could answer this with a sentence or two it would be this: Yes, I am a Christian in that I try to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth the best I can (which I usually fail miserably), but I would have to deny this if it meant to take the Bible as the infallible word of God and the resurrection as a literal event. The Bible, to me, is a sacred text, but I believe it is to be taken almost entirely as metaphor, and I am fully aware that it is a book written by men and for men. (Please do not send me hate mail or try to “save” me.)
If I had to sum up in just a few words what it means to me to be a Christian it would be this: love, justice, peace, community, and inclusion. And this seems to be the same message of all the major religions. In fact, what drew me most to this particular school is that it is an interfaith school. They believe, as I do, that there is but One Source for us all. Christianity is just one of the ways, not the only way. My faith has also been deeply influenced by Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sufism. This said, I am an ordained deacon and an active member within a Christian church (Pilgrim-St. Luke’s/El Nuevo Camino UCC).
So, can you tell me again why you are doing this and what you will eventually do?
Again, I’m not entirely sure. But I do know that I am in the right place—spiritually and mentally—and that this feels like the natural path which I should be taking right now. I have a vague plan of continuing on to a degree in food studies and spirituality. After all, what is more spiritual than feeding people? I’ll keep you posted…
The kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and people do not see it.”
Image Found Here.

Urban Simplicity.

Five Quotes from Søren Kierkegaard

  5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855

Yes, I know I said five quotes, but here’s ten. Could have gone on much longer, really inspiring…

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”  

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” 

“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” 

“Once you label me you negate me.”  

“If anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to the outcome, he would never begin.”

“If you want to be loathsome to God, just run with the herd.”

“A man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him.” 

“The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.” 

“It’s better to get lost in the passion than to lose the passion”   

More Five Quotes.

Urban Simplicity.

Three Quotes and a Short Video from John Fugelsang (for Easter)

“The only way you can cling to both a Bible and a gun is by ignoring Jesus.”

“Obama is not a brown-skinned, anti-war, socialist who gives away free health care. You’re thinking of Jesus.”

“Only in America can you be Pro-Death Penalty, Pro-War, Pro-Unmanned Drone Bombs, Pro-Nuclear Weapons, Pro-Guns, Pro-Torture, Pro-Land Mines, AND still call yourself Pro-Life.”

Here’s another contemporary quote, but this one is from the actor, John Cusack. When asked who his heros are, he responded…

“Let’s go with Jesus. Not the gay-hating, war-making political tool of the right, but the outcast, subversive, supreme adept who preferred the freaks and lepers and despised and doomed to the rich and powerful.” 

Urban Simplicity

Thoughts on the Parable of the Leaven…a story within a story

So if you’ve been to this blog before you know that I like bread. A lot. I enjoy eating it, of course, but I also enjoy making it. I’ve often said that bread makes itself, that we merely provide the correct conditions and guide it along; I am really fascinated by its process. I’m also really interested in the history of bread and roles it has played throughout civilization and especially religion. Bread is in fact mentioned hundreds of times in the old and new testaments. But what I’d like to touch on here is the Parable of the Leaven (sometimes called the Parable of the Yeast). This is mentioned in both the Gospel of Matthew 13:33, and in the Gospel of Luke 13:20-21.

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty poundsof flour until it worked all through the dough.”

But before I go any further let me say this (as I’ve said on a few occasions)…I read the bible as almost entirely metaphor. I believe there are stories and teachings in it that can aid us even today in 2013 if we look close enough, but sometimes it is a difficult process…I know it is for me. I am not here to try to preach or tell you what this means, just simply to say what I feel (because I can guess, but I do not know what it means…I can only guess and translate it to my life).

This said, lets look at the word parable. It comes from the Greek, parabolē, which we’ve interpreted as a sort of story or analogy. But it’s original meaning is a bit different. The word parabolē is actually a phrase; two words, meaning to “throw” or “toss” (bolē) “next to” (para), so loosely this can be taken as the story or meaning is next to or within the story. Hmmm…

Now lets look at the leaven itself (this is where it gets really interesting). But first I have to say a few things about yeast. It is a naturally occurring living organism; a form of fungus, actually. It is relatively dormant until provided the correct conditions. Mainly, the correct temperature, moisture, and food (the carbs and sugars in flour). When it has these three conditions it eats. More specifically it feasts, and on a biblical scale (yes, I see the pun here). As it feasts it gives off gases (don’t we all), mainly carbon dioxide but also ethyl alcohol. As these are released they form pockets of air or gas in the dough, and as the yeast continues to eat and give off gas these pockets or bubbles grow, sort of inflating the bread. This is how it rises. But ok, enough about the science of it, back to the leavan…the biblical kind.

In biblical times yeast did not look like the spoonful above. It would have been more like the spoonful in the first picture (which today we call a sponge, starter, poolish, or preferment), or the next picture of the ball of dough (which today is sometimes called a biga or in French, pâte fermentée ). Commercial yeast–as pictured in the spoon above–was not available in biblical times (it’s not like they had a supermarket to go to), in fact it was only invented in the last 120 years or so and was likely not readily available for decades after.
Now here’s the fun stuff. The English word leaven comes from the French levain. The French phrase for sourdough is pain au levain (bread with [natural] leaven). This is also where we get the word for the region of the Eastern Mediterranean (where of course, most of the biblical stories originated), the Levant, which means “rising” in French and is used thus because the sun rises in the east. But the word goes back further; it comes from the Latin word levāmen, which in addition to “raise,” it can also mean , relief, alleviation, consolation, or solace. Knowing this–and the meaning of the word parable–offers an entirely different view of this particular parable for me. Lets read it again.
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty poundsof flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Some translations say that the woman mixed a “small amount” of yeast (or leaven) into a large amount of dough. And this is what is often cited when this parable is discussed. But look at the parable again, only this time where it mentions yeast (leaven) replace it with whichever of the original meanings you like…relief, alleviation, consolation, or solace. And she worked it all through the dough.
While you’re thinking about that, I’m going to keep typing. I wanted to try this for myself. While I do consider bread making a form of solace for me I wasn’t sure how to mix solace into the dough, so I used yeast instead. And as the parable insinuated, I used a small amount  and let it work (itself) throughout the dough. And in this case, the word yeast could be replaced with faith, I suppose. A small amount of faith, solace, relief, etc can go a long way, and in fact, can work their way through us, sort of creating a heaven-on-earth (ok, now I’m stretching it…but I got you to think).
Anyhow, I did use a really small amount of yeast to make the loaf of bread pictured…I used 1/24th of my usual amount (which was 1/8th teaspoon opposed to 3 teaspoons). It rose, as I knew it would, it just took longer. I mixed it before bed and let it rise over night. After waking and preheating the oven, it probably fermented and rose for about 10 hours…sort of like a sourdough (but not really). Anyhow, there it is below, before risen and after.
I’m going stop now because this is starting to make my head hurt a little. But I can’t halt without one more observation. I really love how Jesus’ parables are spoken in such basic terms and using analogies of such common things of his day. But there is always more within (within us and within the parable). What if the women in the story was our creator and we were the dough…Mother Universe kneading a small amount of consolation, relief, and solace into us and she/he (our genderless Source) wants it to grow and raise (leaven) us up to be full of compassion for one another. What it it’s already within us and we just need to acknowledge it…to allow it to foster (ferment) and grow (rise). Just a thought. Now the difficult part is to let it happen. And that may be the story (each of our own personal stories) thrown next to the story or the story within. At least it’s something to think about.
100% Whole Wheat Bread
Makes 2 loaves
6 cups whole wheat flour, divided
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
3 cups water, divided
4 teaspoons instant yeast, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
Separate the ingredients in two bowls using this ratio: In one bowl combine 4 cups of flour, the vital wheat gluten, and 2 cups of water. Stir it just until combined; cover with plastic wrap and set aside. In a second bowl, combine the remaining 2 cups flour and 1 cup water and 2 teaspoons of yeast. Stir it just until combined; cover with plastic wrap and set aside. Allow the bowls to rest for at least an hour. After the ingredients have rested and have begun to ferment, combine the contents of both bowls to an upright mixer that is fitted with a dough hook. Also add the remaining ingredients: the salt, olive oil, honey, and remaining two teaspoons yeast. Knead the dough on medium speed for about 8 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for one hour. Transfer the dough to a work surface, cut it into two pieces, gently shape it into loaves, and place them either on a baking sheet or in loaf pans. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 45 minutes. Preheat an oven to 425F/218C. If making free-form loaves, slash them with a razor just before they go into the oven. Bake the bread for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on. As the bread bakes roate the loaves in the oven once or twice to ensure even baking. Remove the bread from their pans and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

Merry Christmas!

Photo Credit: Filipe Dana

I came across these two photos yesterday and they inspired me to post them for Christmas. The above photo is of the Christ Statue, in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in front of a full moon. And the below image is of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama praying in front of an image of Jesus the Christ (this I find particularly moving).
Whether or not today was the actual birthday of Yeshua ben Yosef (Jesus’ original birth-name: Jesus, son of Joseph), this is the day it is celebrated. Today, of course, is a day of refection and personal re-birth for Christians around the globe. But I have to admit that with recent events as I look inward I am having difficulty finding peace. But still I try, and still I hope. I’ve posted the below prayer for the past four Christmases, but I find it inspiring enough to re-post it again. Personally I know that I can use to re-read and reflect upon it. It is a Christmas vow written by Paramahansa Yoganada and it can be found in his tiny book, Metaphysical Meditations. Merry Christmas, brothers and sisters, wherever you may find yourself at this time. Peace.

A Christmas Vow

I will prepare for the coming of the Omnipresent baby Christ by cleaning the cradle of my consciousness, now rusty with selfishness, indifference, and sense attachments; and by polishing it with deep, daily, divine meditation, introspection and discrimination. I will re model the cradle with the dazzling soul qualities of brotherly love, humbleness, faith, desire for God-realization, will power, self-control, renunciation, and unselfishness, that I may fittingly celebrate the birth of the Divine Child.”
–Paramahansa Yogananda

Photo found here.

The Longest Night…

Today is the winter solstice, which of course is also the longest night of the year. But it doesn’t have to be the darkest. From this night on, until the summer solstice, the days grow longer and the nights shorter. And I’ve used this example very recently (about light overcoming darkness) but I will again…when light is brought into a darkened room the room becomes light–overcoming the darkness–but darkness cannot be brought in to make the room dark. I suppose the same can be said of a person’s heart…

“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”
John 1:5

Five Parallel Sayings from the Christ and the Buddha

Image found here.

I personally have always found the parallels between many (most) of the major religions fascinating, and these few sayings are just a very small example. Many more parallels in the sayings of these great teachers can be found at the World Peace Page. To read more in the five quotes series, click here.

Jesus: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31
Buddha: “Consider others as yourself.” Dhammapada 10:1

Jesus: “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” Luke 6:29
Buddha: “If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon any desires and utter no evil words.” Majjhima Nikaya 21:6

Jesus: “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Matthew 25:45
Buddha: “If you do not tend to one another, then who is there to tend you? Whoever would tend me, he should tend the sick.” Vinaya, Mahavagga 8:26.3

Jesus: “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Matthew 26:52
Buddha: “Abandoning the taking of life, the ascetic Gautama dwells refraining from taking life, without stick or sword.” Digha Nikaya 1:1.8

Jesus: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Mark 8:35
Buddha: “With the relinquishing of all thought and egotism, the enlightened one is liberated through not clinging.” Majjhima Nikaya 72:15

Urban Simplicity.

Five Quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was of course a German theologian and pastor who was anti-war and anti-Nazi and ultimately was executed by the Nazis for his involvement in the group known as Abwehr. I’ve read that in a last act of humiliation he was forced to walk entirely naked to the gallows, which was nearly a mile away. Here’s a moving account of his last hours as recorded by the doctor who was present:

The camp doctor who witnessed the execution wrote: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” 

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” 

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” 

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” 

One More…

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” 

To read more in the Five Quotes series, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

Good Friday Moon

The moon is amazing tonight. I was out on my bike and couldn’t take my eyes off it as I pedaled and coasted. The above image I took from my backyard (not bad for a point-and-shoot camera), and the below image is the Liberty Building with a low lying moon to its right. And if you’ve ever wondered about why the date of Easter changes each year it is because of the moon cycle. Easter takes place on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (sounds sort of Pagan to me). If you want to learn more follow some of these links. And it’s interesting–I think–that in the Christian calendar, tonight being a night of darkness it is also a night of such immense light; literally and metaphorically. It’s as if there is a large nightlight showing outside illuminating the earth. While I consider myself a practicing Christian, I also believe that all major religions walk a similar path. That being said, I also consider nearly everything in the Bible a metaphor–to help each of us to discover our own inner truth–and right now I cannot think of a more direct physical metaphor than that incredible moon shining in the darkness like a beacon of hope and newness.

Urban Simplicity.

Five Quotes from Thomas Merton

Monk, activist, writer, poet, and artist, Fr. Merton was a true renaissance man. He was friends with Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama, and a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Before his untimely death he penned a huge number of books pertaining to spirituality, poems, artwork, and an incredible and moving autobiography. His work continues to touch countless souls…including the one typing these words. To read more about Thomas Merton click here or here.

“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”

“Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how.”

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”

“A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.” 

OK…I said five quotes, but here’s five more. 

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

“I cannot make the universe obey me. I cannot make other people conform to my own whims and fancies. I cannot make even my own body obey me.”

“We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen.” 

“The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a man of faith.” 

“Perhaps I am stronger than I think.”

Urban Simplicity.

Five Quotes from Jesus of Nazareth

This is another in the Five Quotes series on this blog, but I first have two preface the quotes with a couple comments. Firstly, I just wanted to say that I found the above photo at St. Francis Place. I chose the photo because I do believe that Jesus meditated (there are plenty of resources for this but the post at St. Francis Place is a  good one). I also believe that Jesus studied in India with the spiritual masters of his time; many refer to this as the Lost Years, or more specifically, the years which the Bible is silent on the life of Jesus. It is also likely that December 25 is not the actual birth date of Jesus, but as Christians this is the day we celebrate it. At any rate, whether you are a Christian or not, you have to admit that if more of us (myself included) followed the teachings of Jesus–lived them–the world would likely be a better place. Anyhow, these–in no particular order–are just a few of His words that inspire me.

Merry Christmas!

Love your neighbor as yourself.
Mark 12:31 

 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
Matthew 7:7

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 
Matthew 6:25

The Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, but men do not see it.
The Gospel of Thomas 113

 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
 Mathew 5:9

To read more in the Five Quotes series, click here.

Urban Simplicity.