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Synchronicity on 72nd Street.

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Synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers.” ~ Carl Jung

I was in New York for an extended weekend last week. That’s not unusual, I try to get there at least once but usually twice a year. What is unusual is an idiosyncratic experience I had, and for reasons I am not entirely sure, feel the need to share it. So here it is.

As per usual with me these days, before I travel to NY or anywhere I jot down a few or more places I want to photograph. I’ll do a bit of research prior and then plan my days around it. Two of the places I wanted to photograph were the 125th Street Viaduct (pictured above) and Bethesda Terrace in Central Park (pictured below). I’m more of a “downtown guy” and hang out in the east or west village, so it was sort of interesting for me to travel that far uptown.

On my second day there I took the train up to 72nd Street and walked the short distance through the park to the terrace. It was beautiful, but being nice out and also a Saturday it was packed. I wanted to get a shot of of it with few or no people. So I decided to come back the following day. I also decided that I would not travel to 125th Street to photograph the viaduct simply because it took time and my time was somewhat limited (as I wanted to visit a few other locations).

So the next day after lunch I took the train from 14th Street, which is close to my hotel, and headed uptown. After the train started I could hear the conductor announce something but couldn’t make out what he was saying. The person next to me told me this train which is usually a local is now an express, which means they only make a few stops. The next stop was 42nd Street; there normally would have been 2 or 3 stops before that. No problem, I thought, as most trains—even express—seem to stop at 86th. Worst case scenario I’ll either hop a local the 14 blocks back or walk (which is something I love to do).  As it turns out the train didn’t stop at 86th; the next stop was 125th Street, the very place I had decided not to go. Okay then, I guess the Universe wants me to take a photo of the viaduct after all, so I did. Then I hopped another train back to 72nd Street, where it did stop this time. And this is where it gets a little strange.

I have to preface this next part with a few things. Firstly I’ve had some things that have been weighing heavy on me lately and was thinking about them as I walked. Secondly, and this is where some overt religious speak comes in, I also have to qualify the next few statements. I am a person of faith. Meaning I believe (know) that there is something greater than I. Name it whatever you like…God, Universe, Spirit, Divine; I use them all interchangeably. What I don’t believe is that God is an old white guy sitting up on a cloud looking down and judging. Quite the opposite, actually. My belief is that God/Universe/Spirit is all that there is…that we live within Its presence.

This said, I also consider myself a Christian. Meaning that I follow the teachings of Yeshua ben Yosef (Jesus the son of Joseph), the poor Jew from Nazareth who latter became known as Jesus the Christ. And this is where it gets a bit tricky for me. What I mean by this is that I question things. So many things. I’ll just say that I read the bible as metaphor more than anything, that it is meant as an inwardly spirit-pointing book to guide and change us. Reading it literally is where many problems arrive. These of course are simply my own humble opinions. Now I have to qualify these statements with a request…if you do not share the same views as I this is fine, but please don’t try to save or convert me or send me hate mail.

Anyhow, There I was walking down 72nd Street on a lovely warm NY spring evening and thinking about these things that were weighing heavy on me. In fact, I was praying. Not aloud, of course, but to myself. I wanted some things to change and I knew that I couldn’t do it alone, in many ways I was surrendering to the Divine as I walked down the street. As I walked I was speaking (mentally) the Universe and thinking how maybe it would be better if I prayed to Jesus like a “good Christian.” The problem was that I have problems with that. This is actually what I was thinking when as I walked and saw something etched in chalk which is pictured below. It stopped me in my tracks. “Are you fucking kidding me?” I questioned (aloud this time). Passersby looked at me as I repeated myself.

Now if you are not familiar with John 3:16, it is one of the most quoted bible passages, especially by evangelicals. This is why I have a problem with it. For me it sounds exclusive rather than inclusive to other faiths (or no faith) and this is where (one of) my problems lie.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” ~John 3:16

So what’s to make of this? Is it just silly mumbojumbo? Maybe, but I do think there is something to it. At the time, as I do now, I felt the Spirit was sort of giving me a shake to wake me up and remind me that everything will be fine.

I relayed this story to a friend this past week and he commented how it’s not uncommon to see people write biblical passages around. True, I suppose, but what are the chances that I would be walking down a street in our country’s largest city when I saw this. That I came from an opposite direction because of the train mishap; I would have been on different part of the street and not seen this if not for the express train. Though more importantly, what are the chances of me coming across this while I was actually thinking the inverse of what this passage has to say? Slight at best. Anyhow, this is something that happened to me the other day which I felt compelled to share.

Synchronicity: A meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved.”

~ Carl Jung

The Second March Moon…what’s in a name?

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Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.
~ Mark Twain

The above photo is one I shot last night from the sidewalk in front of my small and disheveled Allentown (Buffalo, NY) home. The moon was 99.7% full last night and tonight it will be 100%. I took the photo last night while I had the chance as it is supposed to be overcast this evening. 

Anyhow, this is the second full moon this month, which makes it a blue moon. Some Native American tribes refer to this as the worm moon because it is the time of year that the ground softens enough for earth worms reappear, which then brings birds. The early American Colonists referred to this moon as the sap moon because it was at this time of the year that maple sap really began to run. It is also sometimes called the Lenten moon, because it signifies the end of the Christian period of Lent.

This brings me to the next brief topic, and some of you may already know this, but this moon is also the reason that the date of Easter changes each year. Easter is always on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, which of course shows the early Pagan roots of Easter and Christianity (please don’t send me hate mail or try to “save me,” this is fact-based information).  Anyhow, this is pretty interesting stuff, I think. But I’ll get off my little soap box now.

Urban Simplicity.

Remembering the Mystery…

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So I posted this on my Facebook Page a few weeks ago but it being Christmas thought would re-post it here. This truly is beautiful…an Iraqi-Syrian choir chanting the 53rd Psalm for Pope Francis in Aramaic, which of course is the language that Jesus spoke. I won’t get into my philosophical approach to religion here, as I have before, but simply say that I am the opposite of a literalist; I suppose one could refer to me as a metaphorist (if that is even a word). Meaning I take it all as metaphor, and that it (religion) is designed to make us think and grow. Christianity began as a mystery religion but through the years became sidetracked and in recent years downright hijacked. Okay, sorry for veering off course. Anyhow, I hope you watch this video. It is beautiful. Peace, salaam, shalom.

I went to church today, but Jesus was outside.

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 “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”~Anne Frank

So first a couple things. The above image is of of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral here in Buffalo. It’s a beautiful and welcoming space. And below is the life-sized Homeless Jesus statue that lies outside the church facing Main Street. The statue was sculpted by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz; he also has a Begging Jesus statue outside the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, in NYC. I would walk past it on 31st Street (I think) as I walked to my hotel when I was studying there a couple years ago. What I found interesting about the Begging Jesus statue is that people would leave money in his outstretched hand and no one (that I saw) would take it. The Homeless Jesus statue pictured below is rather controversial (click the above link or google it), and I am really proud that it ended up in my hometown and at St. Paul’s. I have to add that I have no affiliation with St. Paul’s other than they are nice enough to leave there doors open throughout the day and maybe once a month or so I stop by in the midst of a busy day for some quiet time in their beautiful sanctuary. And I’d be remiss if I also didn’t comment on the fact that it is a rarity that a church’s doors are left open other than during formal service/worship time. Thank you St. Paul’s; you have, on certain occasions (such as today) been an oasis for me.

The Homeless Jesus statue arrived in Buffalo last spring, March I think, and that’s around the time the above and below photos were taken. To see it in person really is moving; it’s life-size and at first glance one may think it is a person lying there. But then you notice the scar on his feet. Right from the very beginning people began leaving things for the homeless…articles of clothing, sundries, food. Some people came to pray.

While the above set of photos were taken last spring, the below set were taken today. And now I have to tell you a bit about my day, without getting too personal. But before I do I have to add that I’ve heard recently that more and more people have been leaving things at the staue for the homeless that the church has built a small structure behind it (pictured below) onto which things can be hung. I went there to see that today, but I’m jumping ahead.

Last night I had insomnia. I’ve been prone to it most of my adult life, but last night was bad. Birds were chirping when I finally nodded off. My alarm was set for 5:30am; I ended up calling in “sick” to work today because of lack of sleep. I fell back to sleep and awoke around 11am. Feeling in a grog I went out for coffee. While sitting there, and feeling somewhat bad for abandoning my co-workers on what I know was a very busy day, I thought of St. Paul’s and wondered if it was open as usual (thankfully it was). I simply wanted a place to sit in silence; a holy place.   

It was/is an incredibly beautiful day today. And as I approached the church I came upon the scene below. There were two or three women placing things on the statue and offering them to people as well. As I got off my bike I could hear the one woman say, “Take what you need; that’s why we are leaving it here.” Tears welled up in my eyes. I snapped a few photos. And before leaving (to go around to the front of the church at the sanctuary entrance), I approached the women who where now talking to someone else. I gave them my card and asked if I could post pictures on my blog later. I also asked if they were affiliated with any group or organization. The one women didn’t here me and asked what I had just asked, so I repeated the question. Then she smiled, “No, it’s just us.”

When I went into the sanctuary I was the only one there. It was just what I needed; I sat there for probably a half hour in the chilly stillness. Though I am a Christian it is rare for me to write strictly from a Christian perspective as I feel that the omnipresent consciousness that we call God transcends all religions and is equal to all (and equal to all in non-religions, if that makes any sense). 


And as I sat there in the quietness of this beautiful sanctuary in the heart of a city at lunchtime, I couldn’t help but stare at the altar and the windows behind the altar. Because just beyond those windows–in the rear of the church and facing downtown–was where the statue of the Homeless Jesus lay. Yes, of course I realize that it is only a statue in the same way a church is only a building. But I also believe that material things can be manifestations of the Spirit. If, for example, that statue were not there people would not be bringing things for the homeless; people would not be standing on a city corner and praying. And yes I also realize that people would be caring for the homeless elsewhere, but because of that statue they were caring for them right there; right now, on this beautiful day just a few weeks before the day we celebrate the birth of the light that shines in the darkness. 


As a Christian I would not be telling the truth if I didn’t add that I really am not sure what to think about Jesus. Was he truly the Son of Man? The only begotten son of God? I have a difficulty believing that (literalists, please do not send me hate mail). More so, I believe he was one of a handful of enlightened masters (messengers or teachers) that came to help us learn and grow…how to be fully human. And on this day people were following his example, they were outside doing his work. I think we all can learn from the actions of others. And on this day I learned what it meant to offer selfless service–selfless love–to strangers on the street.


I was sitting in a comfortable pew, but Jesus–or at least the spirit from whence he and we all came–was out on the street, working through common souls like you and I. Even in the midst of the confusing world in which we live today, there is still good. So much good. I just have to look for it sometimes.

And this is what I thought as I sat alone in a pew in a really large and ornate but chilly and incredibly silent sanctuary today.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

~Matthew 25:35

Urban Simplicity

But who is my neighbor?

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Photo taken from the Brooklyn Bridge, June 2014

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The above words are what is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. It’s a portion of the poem, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus. I’ve been thinking about these words a lot lately. Mostly, I think, because of what has been in the news, and by this I really mean some some of the things spoken by people “in power” with hardened hearts that can’t seem to see beyond their own egos.

Some weeks ago one of these–I shan’t glorify him by mentioning his name, but you know him…the brother and son of former presidents and is in fact running for office himself–referred to first born immigrant children as “anchor babies.” Meaning, I suppose, that the American born baby can anchor it’s immigrant parents here without deportation.

And then just this morning I saw a video clip of that other guy–you know, the one with the fake looking hair who is always yelling–where he said if he wins he will deport every Syrian immigrant because they don’t belong here and they can’t be trusted. What really broke my heart, though, was when he said this the crowd to which he spoke broke out in applause.

And correct me if I’m wrong, but both of these guys–among countless others–would like to “build a wall” to keep immigrants from coming through our southern borders.

If you are like me, and countless other Americans (including the two guys I just mentioned), ancestors on both sides of my family came through New York harbor as they entered this country for the first time. It is doubtful that, even if they could see it, they could read the inscription on the statue because it was written in English, but she is likley one of the first things they saw…welcoming them.

I’m the son of an “anchor baby.” And my anchor-baby-daddy fought in the second world war, and in fact lost hearing in one of his ears defending our country. Two of his brothers (also anchor babies by that politician’s definition) also fought in the war.

I just can’t help but wonder if people (not just the two mentioned above) who are so afraid of others coming to this country (who may seem different than themselves) ever consider what the words on Lady Liberty say, and the fact that our country was founded and populated by immigrants.

And on a different slant, I also can’t figure out how so many of these people, who like to quote the bible (yes, I’m aware that I’m generalizing), don’t see that the very message of Jesus was not segregation, hate, or exclusion, and that his entire short ministry while on this earthly plane can be distilled down to one word…Love.

Some of my favorite passages in the gospel are the parables, which are told in such a way that makes you think but are also meant to be so simple that anyone can understand them, if they listen. And one of my favorites is the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

It begins by an “expert in the law” (today, could this be one of the men aforementioned?) asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. And by this, I take it as not so much in the next life but this one, what must he do to be free, or to use other terminology, enlightened. And clever as he was, Jesus answered the question with a question, to make the person think for himself. He asked him, “What is written, and how do you read it?” The expert of course was able to recite the scripture exactly…”Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength of your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You answered correctly,” Jesus told him, “do this and you will live” (do this and you will live…let those words sink in for a moment).

But the expert needed to justify himself, so he asked, “Who is my neighbor?

And this time Jesus answered him with a story (parable), and I am paraphrasing…it began with a man who was walking down a deserted section of road where he encountered thieves. They stripped him, robbed him, beat him, and left him for dead on the side of the road. As people passed the dying man they crossed to the other side of the road and looked the other way. One of the people was a priest, the other was a Levite (I may be wrong, but I believe the beaten man was also a Levite). Anyhow, finally a Samaritan came along, and correct me if I’m wrong again, but I believe during those times a Samaritan was not supposed to socialize with, let alone physically touch, a Levite. But the Samaritan, being filled with compassion, cleansed the man’s wounds with oil and wine and bandaged him. He then carried the man on his own donkey to an inn, where he paid the inn-keeper money to care for the man, and even went so far as to tell the inn-keeper that he will return and pay additional money if needed.

After telling this story Jesus then posed another question to the expert…”Which of these men do you think were a neighbor to the fallen man?” He answered correctly again…”The one who had mercy on him.”

To which Jesus replied simply…”Go and do likewise.”

Our nation was founded and populated by immigrants, yet there are many who forgot this (or choose not to remember or acknowledge it).

And there are some who hold the bible as a shield and claim (incorrectly) that we are a “Christian nation,” yet fail to show compassion, or to quote directly…”Go and do likewise.”

And yes, I know many of these statements (my personal statements) are rash generalizations, but it seems (to me) that somewhere along the journey–with all of our technology allowing us to be connected 24/7–we have become less connected than ever before. In many respects we have lost our way. We as a nation have become more about “I” than “we.”

The fear that I have is not of being over-run by immigrants, my fear is that one of the men previously mentioned actually wins the presidency.

Sorry for my mini-rant; I’ll get off my soapbox now. But before I do I have to pose this question that was spoken more than two millennia ago… Who is my neighbor?

Urban Simplicity.

Thoughts from a pew…

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My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.

~Jimmy Carter

I sat in a pew this morning, the first time in more than a month. I’m not sure why it’s been this long without attending the church which I love, but it has. But it doesn’t mean I haven’t been to worship since then. I like to think that I worship the Divine (or God, or Universe, or Spirit, or whatever name you feel most comfortable with) on a daily basis. I worship this Presence when I ride my bike, for example, and when I take photos, and when I have a meaningful interaction with someone, be it a friend, family, co-worker, or complete stranger. I also worship this Presence when I lay in bed in the morning just after the alarm goes off and it’s the beginning of a new day. Because, to me, God is in all things (including you and I) and is, in fact, what makes each one of us connected to and inseparable from not only each other in some indescribable way, but also the very source (or consciousness) from which we came and will return. So today I worshiped the Divine more formally, in church. And it felt good.

The guest preacher spoke on the Epistle of James, which is one of the oldest books in the New Testament and is attributed to James the brother of Jesus. It’s a somewhat small book but has a powerful and straightforward message. Some say it is a blueprint for daily living. Personally, it has had a profound effect on me and I return to it often. To me, the book is a synopsis of what Christianity at it’s core is about…not just having faith in a Higher Power, but having action as well.

Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.”

James 2:17

This morning, before leaving the house, as I was having coffee and scrolling through Facebook I came across a photo of Hungarian citizens lining a highway with crates of food and other necessities. They were just average citizens and not affiliated with any government organization. They were lining the highway with food because they knew that soon, very soon, there would be thousands of refugees walking that road. The image was so moving that it brought tears to my eyes.

Humans helping other humans is faith in action. But it goes beyond that, I think. Because this is something that is written on each of our hearts, whether or not you have faith in anything, or whether or not you care to admit it. Deep down each of us knows this.

Inversely, a judge denying other humans of a very basic right because of “her religion” is not faith at all. And deep down—somewhere beneath the crust of her hardened heart—she knows this too. But she will not allow herself to see it. If she did read the scriptures of her so called religion she would see that Jesus spoke of inclusiveness, not exclusivity.

Prior to the preacher’s sermon this morning, a deacon read from the Book of Matthew…

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.

Matthew 7:12a

What’s interesting, I think is that this statement—which is commonly referred to as the Golden Rule—is stated in many variations in nearly every major religion and spiritual movement. Jesus himself says this rather bluntly at the end of the statement…“For this sums up the law of the profits.” Matthew 7:12b

Here’s a few examples…

Judaism: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Hinduism: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.

Taoism: The sage does not dwell on his own problems. He is aware of the needs of others.

Islam: None of you has faith until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

Native American: Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself.

Then, during worship this morning, as the congregation stood and recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison, it moved me as it often does. The words themselves move me, but so does the thought of so many others around the globe saying this prayer (possibly at that same moment). I hope that some of us—myself included—listened to what we were saying, letting the words sink in and take root.

Last year when I was in NYC I witnessed something I will never forget. A homeless man asked a person to buy him a hotdog from a street vender because he was hungry. The person he asked (wearing a suit) not only bought him food, but he bought himself some as well and then sat on the sidewalk and ate with the man. To me that was not only worship, it was holy communion (Namaste…the soul within me acknowledges the soul within you).

Just being nice to one another—and seeing each person as an equal—can make such a difference in someone’s day (including your own). It’s not always easy but it is possible. When I write these things I am doing so because sometimes they just need to come out, but mostly because I need reminders for myself. And in a way, this in itself, I suppose, is a form of worship, and when you read this we are in sanctuary together.

And this is what I was thinking about as I sat in a pew on a hot and humid Sunday morning in September.

My religion is very simple, my religion is kindness.

~The Dalai Lama

Fifty years ago today….

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The above image is of Jonathan Myrick Daniels (and unknown girl). I had just recently learned of this brave man’s story and was moved to post about it, and it happened exactly 50 years ago today. He was an Episcopal seminarian and on his second march in southern Alabama for Civil Rights. He and other protesters were picketing a week prior and arrested. The were held for a week in a hot, crowded, and primitive jail. When they were released they were provided no transportation back to Selma so they had to walk. The southern Alabama temperature hovered near triple digits and they went to a local store to purchase something refreshing to drink. They were met by a man with a shotgun and gun on his belt and were not allowed to enter because some of the protesters were black. The shooter (I shan’t glorify him be mentioning his name) raised the shotgun at Ruby Sales, who was 17 at the time. Jonathan Myrick pushed Ms. Sales out of the way and took the full blast from the gun himself. He died on the spot. The shooter went on to shoot another protester in the back but thankfully he survived, as did Ruby Sales. She went on to study at the same seminary as Myrick, and started a foundation in his name.  This…this is what should be in the news about Christians in action. I can only imagine what good this man could have continued to do if not for his life being cut so tragically short. Rest in peace, brave Jonathan.

To read more about Jonathan Myrick Daniels, click here and here.

To visit the website of the foundation that was founded by Ruby Sales, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

A dream I dreamt…

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“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

~Mark 8:29

So a few things. One is the image above. It is one of Rembrandt’s Faces of Jesus. This is one of eight in a series, I’ve read. I’ve also read that the artist only kept two of his own paintings in his bedroom, and this is one of them. He depicted Jesus wearing workman’s clothing of the day. Beautiful. Moving. But what does this have to do with a dream that I dreamt, I’ll talk about that in a minute.

I also find it interesting that in this day if a person mentions that they are “spiritual” it can be considered cool, or if they say they are a Buddhist it doesn’t raise many eyebrows. But if they say they are a Christian they are often associated with the right wing (and I couldn’t be the farthest thing from it). But this doesn’t actually surprise me given the so many actions that people sometimes do. But to me Christianity is so deep and it’s breadth so rich; to me it goes far deeper than the children’s Sunday School stories that are still often taught to adults. To me Christianity is a movement of the heart, a way to live…it’s a mystical religion. And while I really am fascinated by most of the major religions, Christianity is the one I was raised in and the one I am most comfortable with. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to see the Dalai Lama speak and one of the things he said (and I’m paraphrasing) was to stay with the religion of your birth, that they all speak the same truth. He went on to say that if you don’t see it simply look deeper and you will find it.

With this said I have—as an adult—often struggled with who Jesus actually was/is. I won’t expound too much on this at this point—because I could go on for many boring pages—but I will just add that the original Christianity was all inclusive, not exclusive. It was, and still is, about changing ones heart and mind—looking inward then reaching outward—to connect with God and your fellow human, which are one in the same. On a bit of a side note, one of the original definitions of the sometimes scary word “repent” was to “turn around” or more loosely, to have a change of heart and look at life differently, more compassionately. But a compassionate mystic is difficult to control, thus the reason for the invention of hell, damnation, and needed salvation (which is all an invention of the early church in my opinion). Oh geeze, sorry, off on a crazy tangent. Maybe my current week-long summer respiratory/head cold (which is on it’s last leg) and the fact that I’m sitting in a cafe having a beer has lead me to this point. Anyhow, I digress. I’ll finish this brief section with this…I call myself a Christian in that I attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth, the best that I can (of which I usually fail miserably each day but tomorrow is a new day for improvement). I don’t believe in hell, damnation, or any of that scary stuff…it’s all metaphor and it’s all Good (yes, the “g” in good is consciously capitalized). But, before I finally get to my dream that I dreamt, I have to offer this disclaimer that I usually do when I write about my beliefs…if you are a literalist or someone who takes the Sunday School stories as truth, that’s fine, but if you are feeling the need to save my soul or send me hate mail please don’t as I am just fine. Thank you. Now here’s my dream (finally).

Like everyone, I suppose, I’ve had intense realer-than-real dreams a few times in my life—to the point that they seem prophetic (one which I had some years ago was, I’m convinced, a vision of sorts, but is too personal to share here or anywhere; it was just for me). And why do I write about this? I’m not sure; it just needs to come out. Anyhow, here it is.

I “awaken” into the dream standing on the edge of a small crowd of people. We are outside, maybe in a garden or low-growing orchard; there’ a stone wall to the right. And sort of in front of the crowd is a man carrying a sign; it’s a portrait, maybe a painting. I didn’t initially recognize the portrait the man was carrying but the look in his eyes (on the portrait, not the man carrying it) was compassion. So much love and compassion. I ached, that’s the only way I can describe it. Though that is not accurate enough. The man that was carrying this portrait was saying something but I couldn’t hear him. And at one point he turns his back to the crowd and looks at me. Our eye’s lock and he’s still talking but I still can’t hear him, or maybe I just don’t understand. We seem to recognize each other but I’m not sure from where. Then he turns to face the crowd again. And now, with his back to me, I hear him (which I thought was odd). And he’s saying…”This is Yeshua. No matter what your beliefs they are not right or not wrong. Know what’s in your heart. Yeshua’s life is his message.” And then it occurred to me that the image he was carrying was that of Jesus (Yeshua, of course, is his name in Aramaic).

And then the man that was speaking and carrying the image of Jesus, who still had his back to me, simply said, “Know the truth.” and with that he turned around and faced me again. And this time when I looked at him I could see that the person holding the sign and speaking was in fact me. And with that I awoke with a start, gasping—slightly—for air, from the summer upper respiratory cold, but also from the dream I just dreamt.

Our Lady of the Blessed Cupcake…

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It’s Easter Sunday and I didn’t go to church today, but I did last night. I along with a small group of people stood in the snow and passed out cupcakes in front of gay bars. But I’m jumping ahead, which I sometimes do; I’ll begin again.

I first heard of this event when it was posted on Facebook a few days ago; It was called the Christian Cupcake Mob (and was picked up by local and national media). It was spearheaded by Rev. Drew Ludwig, pastor at Lafayette Presbyterian Church, and backed by Rev. Kirk Laubenstein, Executive Director at Coalition for Economic Justice. It was their natural response as Christians to do something when they heard about the “religious freedom act” in Indiana which makes it legal for businesses to refuse a person solely on their sexual orientation. And I believe it began when a bakery refused to sell a gay couple a wedding cake, that it was somehow “un-Christian.” So last night—in a show of solidarity to our LGBT brothers and sisters—we stood in the pouring snow and handed out cake. No preaching. No attempted conversions. No strings attached. Just humans offering free cake to other humans (and laughs and conversation as well).

The event was filled with love and laughter (we had to have a sense of humor given the sudden incredible snow). This was a perfect example—whether certain people care to acknowledge it or notthat we are all children of the same divine source, and in fact connected to one another in some incomprehensible and unexplainable way. The lives of the LGBT community are just as sacred and equal as everyone else’s. And for the literalist out there, Jesus never refused anyone; he was about welcoming, not turning away. Christianity is based on inconclusiveness (no matter how it may get highjacked at times).

And so last night this was our church. This is what I thought as I looked around at all the shivering but smiling faces. What could be more sacred than the joyful acknowledgment and worship of the equal divinity in each other. So that is what we did…stood in the snow and handed out cupcakes. We talked, laughed, and a few hugged. But I couldn’t help think, as I watched the cupcakes being passed out, that in some casual way this in itself was some sort of Holy Communion. Instead of thin flavorless wafers that suck the spit out of your mouth, or even a loaf of bread, the Host on this night was a simple cupcake. If Jesus could ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (which was a political statement in itself), then his loving consciousness could be manifest through cake in front of a gay bar on a really snowy night. And the street was our altar.

“For where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst.”

Matthew 18:20

The Paschal Moon…

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Today is Good Friday and it also coincides with the beginning of Passover this evening. I shot this last picture two nights ago from the sidewalk in front of my house while drinking red wine (it was such a lovely evening)…the Paschal (or Passover) Moon, which determines the date of Easter each year. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. Anyhow, it is only about 80% full in this photo. It’ll be full on Saturday but it looks like it will be cloudy so I took this photo when it was perfectly clear, and here it is. Click the image for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Five or ten (or eleven) quotes from Thomas Merton…

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Image Found Here.

Thomas Merton, January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968

Priest, mystic, 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. I love the opening line to his autobiography, the Seven Story Mountain…“On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadows of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world.”  Thomas Merton was born 100 years ago this month; to read more about him 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.” 

“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.”

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

Urban Simplicity. 

Paramahansa Yogananda’s Christmas Vow…

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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. 

Another face, another very real story…

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For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Matthew 25:35-36

This post is a continuation of one I wrote nearly a month ago regarding the homeless in our city (click here to read it). In that post I mentioned witnessing a women being verbally abused while asking a group of young party goers for some spare change, and also of a man I spoke with who asked me for money on a sunny Sunday afternoon. He told me that he worked full-time (for minimum wage) but still had to beg on the street to support himself. The image above is of Sarah. I met her today while out on my bike. When I saw her sign it was as if my bike stopped itself. After giving her some cash she seemed a bit apprehensive when I asked her if I could take her photo. I told her that I have a blog, work as a chef, and am also an interfaith minister…she then looked at me like I was a bit crazy (and rightly so). Anyhow, we both relaxed and we had a nice but brief chat, this is her story. She’s a single mom just as the sign reads. She and her daughter are currently squatting in an undisclosed vacant house with a few other people. They eat mainly at food pantries and with money she earns on the street. She became homeless after her father–in an alcoholic rage–through her and his grand daughter out in the middle of the night. She has had difficulty getting/holding a job because she suffers from crohn’s disease and is concerned about her daughter’s safety. I have always been moved by seeing people on the street. And as a person of faith I literally cannot help but respond. But in my own personal view I am not doing enough. While I believe that all faiths speak the same truth, I call myself a Christian. And to me, being a Christian is not just about going to church on Sunday mornings, it is a call to action. If I truly were to live out the gospel I would have emptied my wallet to Sarah (OK, I nearly did…but trust me it wasn’t much; I rarely have more than a few dollars on me), or I would have helped in other ways. Tonight when I lay my head on my pillow in my own home with a full belly Sarah and her daughter will be in an abandoned home somewhere. And yes, I am fully aware that she and others I have spoken with and given cash to may be making this all up, that they may in fact be asking for money to support a drug or alcohol habit. But then again, maybe they are not. And if they are not I can’t he;p but wonder how I couldn’t be doing more. Because seriously, as you read this, think about it…what if their stories are true. I’ll get off my little soapbox now, but not before I ask you to watch the below video (it’s only a little over a minute long).

Urban Simplicity.

Where I’m at (partie deux)…

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Yours truly on the night of my ordination.

Photo credit: Sandy Chelnov

 

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

This post is really a continuation of a post that I wrote last summer, just after completing my first year at seminary. I wrote it at the time for a few reasons. The first was a sort of spiritual “coming out,” if you will. And another is that people are—still—sometimes flabbergasted when they hear I went to seminary…”But Joe, you’re a chef,” they say….ok, yes, even if you don’t actually say it I can see it in your eyes. Not to worry, I am not stopping being a chef, but more on that in a minute. Anyhow I often find it easier to say things in the written word than I do the spoken one (and this is an example of my fully accepting, and finally embracing, my INFJ personality), so it is easier for me to blog this than speak it. So now, two weeks after being ordained I’ve decided to post this followup. Like the original post, I’ll pose this as a series of questions that have been asked, or those that I think you want to ask but haven’t (to read last year’s post on this topic, click here).

I’ll get the big question out of the way right away…

So what’s the deal, why did you go to seminary? Are you going to be a pastor, work at a church, or be some sort of preacher?

The older I get the more I realize I do not know much about anything. Seriously. But the one thing I do know for certain is that I did not go to seminary to become a pastor of a church. I do not believe I would be good at it, nor do I think that is what I am here for. While I can now legally perform weddings, blessings, funerals and the like I am not going to seek this out. But, on the other hand, I do think it would be beautiful to perform weddings, especially to people I may know, and also to same-gender couples who may have difficulty finding someone to do it. And being an animal lover—and knowing how dear they are to people—I have entertained the notion of offering pet funeral services. But these are just thoughts at this point.

And to answer why I went to seminary….that’s not easily explainable. I’ll just say this, that it is not something I did on the spur of the moment, and that I did consider it for a couple years prior to enrolling. One of the things that gave me the courage to do it was that I was approaching my 50th birthday. And no, I do not mean I was going through a midlife crisis…some of you that know me also know that neither of my parents made it to the ripe old age of 50. This is something that I think followed me—and possibly my three sisters—like a shadow from an early age. In some ways, I suppose, the early deaths of my parents shaped my life. So for my 50th year I wanted to do something for me, as a celebration of life. And this was it. I have always been a spiritual person so this was just a natural choice. Time goes so fast, and I thought why not? I really want to do this, so I did. And I am really glad that I did. The quote at the top of the page by Mark Twain exemplifies this a little better.

Okay, so you went to seminary and you are an ordained interfaith/inter-spiritual minister—you officially have the title Reverend—but you say you are not going to be a pastor and still want to cook, what’s the deal? What are your plans then?

Ahh…another big question. Well, I could easily answer this question by simply saying I don’t know. And I am actually getting much more comfortable with saying this. But this never seems to satisfy the person asking it (and this is the question I get asked most often). So I’ll have to answer this in a sort of cryptic/metaphoric way…to use the phrase from Parker Palmer, what I am attempting to do is live an undivided life. But to be honest I’m not entire sure how to do this or what I should be doing to do this. But I do know that I am the right path. What I mean by this is that I eventually want to use my cooking skills with ministry training with writing skills and maybe even photography to create some sort of personalized ministry…creating something in some way to give back. I do not have any money to speak of to be a philanthropist but I do have myself to offer and that I think is enough. So how is this going to take shape? I have no idea, and I mean this honestly and literally. I heard someone say recently (not to me directly) that the job you are trying to get does not yet exist, that it has to be created or manifested. I believe this to be true for me as well and I find it very exciting. This said, I am not planning on leaving my current role as chef, nor am I planning on leaving my current job, this is something that I think will develop slowly and in addition to what I already do. My ordination is in addition to what I already do, not instead of. Cooking has been the aspect of my job as chef that I have always enjoyed (cooking, at times, is just a small part of being a chef), and it may sound odd, but going to seminary has made me really appreciate my craft again…personally acknowledging that I am really good at it. For a brief moment I actually had a daydream of opening a restaurant, but then I realized it wouldn’t be open long as I would be giving away much of the food to the poor.

So tell me about this seminary…and what is interfaith, is that the same as interdenominational?

The seminary—One Spirit Interfaith Seminary—is not what one would call a “traditional seminary,” nor is it specifically a Christian seminary (I only say this because if you haven’t asked me yet I know you are wondering it). It is located on 36th Street in NYC (here’s a link to their website which has tons of info). It is a two-year, part-time seminary that studies the worlds religions but doesn’t focus on any single one, and also trains its students brifly in counseling and ceremonies. As the name suggests, their premise is that there is but One Spirit (or God, Universe, Source, or whatever name you care to name It). In the last two years I have commuted to-and-from NYC twenty times, only missing two classes in person each year (which I then attended via Webinar). Attending this program stretched me in more ways than I could imagine or that I could explain in this post. But it was truly a beautiful experience and I am changed because of it.

Okay. So you’re losing me a little. Do you abide to anyone faith? Are you, for example, a Christian? And if so, how can you believe in all that other stuff.

Well let me begin by backing up a little and saying this…just because we studied all the religions does not mean that we are masters in any, I feel this about myself and especially about the faith that I most identify with, which is Christianity. But if what you mean by “being Christian” means going to church on Sunday, saying all the right prayers, and saying that Jesus is the “only way,” then no I suppose I would not be (please do not send me hate may or try to “save me). To me, being a Christian is not about “believing” in Jesus but more so about following his teachings and modeling my life after him…of which I usually fail miserably on a daily basis (but there’s always tomorrow to begin again). And to address the other portion of the question, I believe all that other stuff because I really do believe—know—that there is only one Divine Presence from whom we are all derived. And to me this is not an old white bearded man in the sky judging us all—to me God is not “up there”—but more so the Reality in which we live and move. I believe that He/She/It is in all things, living and not, and including ourselves to…that we are all an extension of of this Omnipresence. This said, I am an active member of a Christian church (Pilgrim-St. Lukes/El Nuevo Camino UCC).

So you still haven’t said what you are going to do as your new ministry.

That’s because I really don’t know yet. But I do know that I am on the right path, and in certain ways I am already doing it. Maybe I’ll get a clearer picture in a dream or meditation (hopefully sometime soon). But if you are a person of faith I ask that you say a prayer for me, or at least send kind and hopeful thoughts. And if you think this is all hogwash (which is unlikely or you wouldn’t have read this far), still send your kind thoughts and prayers…it would do no harm, after all, but only help all of humanity. For we are, in some unfathomable way, all connected to one another. But that is a topic for another post…

The Reality [behind all religions] is one and the same; the difference is in name and form. It is like water, called in different languages by different names, such as ‘jal,’ ‘pani,’ and so forth. There are three or four ghats on a lake. The Hindus, who drink water at one place, call it ‘jal.’ The Mussulmans at another place call it ‘Pani.’ And the English at a third place call it ‘water.’ All three denote one and the same thing, the difference being in the name only. In the same way, some address the Reality as ‘Allah,’ some as ‘God,’ some as ‘Brahman,’ some as ‘Kali,’ and others by such names as ‘Rama,’ ‘Durga,’ ‘Hari.’

Tomorrow will worry about itself (because a little bird told me so)…

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So this is interesting, or funny, or coincidental, or whatever. Without revealing too much personal information, these past few months have been difficult for me financially. And yesterday I was stressing about money (but what is money…just pieces of paper, right?) so I did what I often do and took a long walk with headphones and music. This usually helps. It did for the most part (I also stopped for a beer). Anyhow, on my way home I passed a bank that had recently closed (it seems weird to see a bank close; I didn’t know they did that) and the place where there was once an ATM machine was covered with plywood and had this graffiti on it. I laughed aloud to myself; I’m sure I looked like a crazy person to passersby. Anyhow, I thought I’d share this and a bit of scripture which came to mind as well.


 “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 than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

Urban Simplicity.

 

Five photos, two scriptures, a song, and a bad day made good…

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So I had a “bad day” today. I know it sounds silly, but I did. Everyone has them from time-to-time, and today was my turn. It’s a very busy week for me at work and in my personal life and stress can really affect me in a negative way. I tend to internalize things. The thing is that I am fully aware that a person can choose how they want to feel. Yes it is true, and I fully believe this. But sometimes when I’m in the midst of stress and chaos I forget. All too often I forget. And when I left work today it was beautiful outside…still cold but the sun was out and the sky was blue. And I’ve mentioned this before but photography can, in a way, be a form of personal therapy for me. So I heeded my own previous advice and took a few photos of our Creator’s miracles that are right in front of me. But I have to say, and I even chuckled about it to myself (and that’s a good sign) that as I was removing my camera from its bag a lyric from the R.E.M. song, Bad Day, rang in my ears…”It’s been a bad day, please don’t take your picture.” (click here to watch them sing it live on Letterman) 

Anyhow, staring through the lens and really focusing on something has a calming effect on me. It really does. I’m sure it lowers my blood pressure. And as I took in the sights and sounds around me I couldn’t help but think how I had a change of mind. And that’s really all it takes sometimes…change your thoughts and change your world. And as I rode home feeling the cool air (cold, actually) on my face and taking in all the greatness that was right in front of me, all around me, and in fact within me, I felt grateful. And these two scriptures come to mind when I think of this.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Romans 12:2
“Be sure to fix your mind on Me and to apply your intelligence for Me and you will live in Me for certain and never suffer any doubt thereafter.”

Bhagavad Gita 12:8 

And then later in the evening–just a few minutes before writing this post–I had a text conversation with a very dear friend of mine. A friend whom I treated poorly earlier in the day. We both forgave each other. And it made me remember what is truly real and what matters to me in this lifetime. People matter. So does beauty. So does love. Stress (fear) is unreal and something I fabricate myself. So if I am able to choose my thoughts and feelings, then I choose love and compassion. This is what I choose to start my day tomorrow (and to end my night tonight). It’s not always easy, but it is possible. Tomorrow is another day, and another very busy day for me, but it’s okay…I’ll view it as a challenge, one which is able to be overcome.

Urban Simplicity.

A sort of churchy sort of environmental post (but not really, but maybe)

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Okay. So if you’ve been to this blog before then you know a few things about me. One, of course, is that I like to ride bikes, a lot. Another is that I like to bake bread. And likely another thing you know about me–though it may not come across quite as overtly–is that my spiritual life is very important to me. I am a deacon in my church and am in fact attending a part-time inter-faith seminary and, if all things go as planned (fingers crossed), I will be an ordained interfaith minister this coming June. The reason I mention this is that I recently came across this suggested carbon fast for Lent, which begins next week. But I’m jumping ahead as I sometimes do. I really believe that if you are on a spiritual path (or not) it is nearly almost impossible not to care for the planet. For me spirituality and environmentalism are inseparable, as is the care for our fellow humans…no matter what background, skin color, gender, or sexuality preference. We are, in my eyes, all one people. It’s for this reason I am proud to be a member of the denomination, The United Church of Christ (UCC), which is in fact one of the most liberal and progressive denominations, if not the most. Anyhow, as Lent approaches I have been thinking of what discipline I would take up (I am not in the mindset of just “giving something up” for the sake of giving it up, I’d rather add something in return, such as an activity or spiritual discipline that can enhance my inner life). Anyhow, I came across this carbon fast and thought it was a pretty good idea (though I do some of these things already). Here’s an excerpt from the post…

“During this year’s Lenten season, members of Honolulu’s Church of the Crossroads United Church of Christ will leave their cars at home and instead walk, bike or use public transportation one day per week. They will pledge to start a garden or shop at local farmer’s markets more often this spring. They will wash the majority of their laundry in cold water, and advocate on behalf of energy conservation and renewable energy policies.”

Anyone, of course, can take this personal pledge. If you sign up you will get an email every day offering small suggestions to lower your carbon footprint on this planet that we all call home. Anyhow, in the event you missed the link, here it is again

Urban Simplicity.