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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.’

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