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This Too Shall Pass…

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So I’m in NYC for a few days and staying at my usual place just off Union Square. Yesterday afternoon aa I was heading back to my room I came across this art installation by David Datuna. The reason I know who the artist is because as I was photographing the instillation a young woman who helped install it came up to first t ask if I was with the media, and then to tell me a bit about it. The instillation is made of blocks of dry ice which spell out the word Trump. It is the artist’s response to Number 45 pulling out of the Paris Agreement. What’s interesting is that the artist used dry ice, which is a frozen gas (carbon dioxide), rather than regular ice (which of course is frozen water). The instillation, as it melts, doesn’t leave a puddle. It simply dissipates into thin air…

Urban Simplicity.

Meet James…He’s Walking for Water

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It’s interesting, the people one may encounter when walking or biking and not rushing by in a 2000lb shell, otherwise known as a car. Such was the case when I was pedaling home from a coffee shop this morning. I noticed this guy walking with a trailer attached to his waist. That’s interesting, I thought. Then I see a newscaster getting her gear set up to interview him. So I stopped. It turns out James is walking across the country, from Princeton, NJ to San Jose, CA to raise money and awareness to the inaccessibility to drinking water in Africa. He was passing through Buffalo today and on to Canada tomorrow. Here’s some info from his website:

“Hi, my name is James Leitner. When I was seventeen, I was completing a project for one of my high school classes and searched for “water issues” on Google. What I wanted to do with my life changed with that simple search. I learned that 1 billion people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water. At that moment, I wanted to dedicate my life to helping people gain access to this vital aspect of life. Since then, I have helped various nonprofits raise funds in order to build wells in the Central African Republic and Tanzania. I have provided technical assistance to villages in Tanzania and assisted them in maintaining their wells.”

 

With so much negativity in the news these days it is really refreshing to see the good work so many do in our world, such as what James is doing. To donate or read more about his mission (there’s tons of information), visit his website or Facebook page.

A Day in a Life. Journal entry 5.14.17

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“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”

 ~Allen Saunders (but often inaccurately attributed to John Lennon)

Sunday.

I wake before the alarm goes off,

and I lay there for a few minutes.

Thinking.

When I go downstairs I turn on the coffee maker.

The dogs scurry about.

They act as if they haven’t seen me in 8 years instead of 8 hours.

I feed them.

Franklin, the finicky one, just looks at me.

I have to feed him a couple pieces of food by hand to get him started.

Coffee ready and dogs in the backyard,

I check emails, the NY Times, and scroll Facebook.

Looking at the clock I realize I’m running late for church,

and I’m scheduled as head usher.

Showered, I wheel one of the bikes down the plank on the porch,

and when I do I notice a tulip in a neighbor’s yard.

It’s withered.

Just yesterday it was in full bloom.

Nothing is permanent, I think to myself.

I snap it’s photo.

As I pedal to church the air feels good.

It’s chilly but the sun is out.

It’s Mother’s Day, and during worship the pastor speaks of mothers.

I think of my mother, who left us too soon.

I think of a specific time and tears well in my eyes.

I hold back tears as I ready myself for collection.

So many years later and I still feel.

I am grateful.

On my way home I stop at a coffee shop,

to read and write.

But it’s crowded and I can’t focus,

so I leave.

I have an egg sandwich for lunch and feed the dogs pieces of the crust.

I lay down and am surprised that I fall asleep for just a few minutes.

After a few stretches I sit on a cushion in front of the small altar,

which is off to the side of the room.

I pray, asking mostly for guidance.

Then I meditate for a few minutes.

I have to pick up photos from a show that came down last week.

But it’s raining, so I make coffee and scroll Facebook,

and wait.

I use my large bike, and a trailer, to retrieve the photos.

The gallery is about two miles away, and I push hard into a strong headwind.

I huff and puff but know that the wind will be at my back on return.

The reward.

Pushing the bike up the plank I notice the tulip again.

Now is all we have.

I switch bikes,

To a shorter one,

then head to the JCC for a steam and swim.

I love riding this particular bike,

but there is an incessant click in the crank,

and it’s gotten louder.

The street is slow and crowded,

I keep pace with traffic,

but I pull over to the side to inspect the sound.

When I do the person behind me beeps

and yells an obscenity out their window.

I make eye contact as they pass and say nothing.

I feel sorry for them.

Angry and saddled to their car.

When I swim it feels good.

In the buoyancy of the water nothing aches.

The steam room feels even better.

I have leftovers for dinner.

Rice-and-beans with roast vegetables.

My dogs stare at me while I eat.

I don’t give them any; they’ve had their meal.

It’s still early so I decide to stop out for a couple beers.

As I pass my neighbor’s I notice the tulip again.

It’s beautiful, even in its weathered and wilted state.

A snapshot of life, I suppose.

Real life.

I walk to the tavern.

It’s still light outside but dark inside.

The first sip of beer tastes good.

If fizzes across my tongue.

When I return home my dogs greet me as if I’ve been gone for two days.

I sit on the floor and let them crawl all over me.

This is now, I think.

Now.

Tomorrow is tomorrow.

Another day in a life.

But now is now.

And it’s beautiful.

But sometimes I need reminders.

To remember.

To return to now.

And that’s okay.

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

~Fr. Thomas Merton

This is Mark.

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This is Mark, Mark Buffington. Like Washington only with Buff like Buffalo in front of it, he told me. I had stopped out for a couple beers tonight and was on my way home. That’s when I met him. The tavern I had gone to had an open mic and I was enjoying the impromptu musical creativity. Then when I left and began to cross the street I heard another rhythm, a sort of tapping. So I went over and met Mark. He was “playing” all these random things. The only actual instrument was a harmonica. Resourceful, I thought. He’s been on the street “for a while,” he told me. Ever since his girlfriend kicked him out. “It doesn’t make me a bad person, I’ve not done anything bad,” he also added. And I concur, being on the street doesn’t make you a bad person…things happen. He told me he felt things will get better soon, that he’s okay. I asked him about his health (because I could see that his one hand was crooked), and he told me that he was doing okay, that the doctors at Roswell (cancer institute) are giving him a clean bill of health. We talked for a while, and he played me a couple numbers on his stuff. Never once did he ask me for money. When I offered him a couple dollars worth of change he took it. And when he did he shook my hand with his bent one and said “Thank you brother; God bless you.” Then we parted. As I walked away I could hear his tapping…on an old tire, a wooden crate, and also I heard his harmonica. A couple blocks later as I put the key in my front door I felt grateful. Not only for my ramshackle house I call home, but also that my path crossed with Mark Buffington this evening. My life is enriched because of it.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

~Mark 12:31


Urban Simplicity.

Mystery…two brief stories about the same thing

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The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

~Albert Einstein

I have always believed in the mystery of the unseen. No, I am not referring to ghosts, but simply that there is more to this life than we can see. What is reality, after all? Science will tell you that everything we can see and touch is not actually solid but is moving and vibratory (Google string theory as one example). But I have to restate my opening sentence, or at least amend it.

I have always believed in the mystery of the unseen but don’t always remember or know it. By this, I mean that I am not always open to it. Such has been the case these past few months. Trying to manage a full-time job, a part-time job, and 8 credits of schooling (and trying to have a life) has been trying to say the least. So I just shut things out and live in the material world, which isn’t always my favorite place. The irony is that some of the credits I’m taking, and the class that has been most challenging for me, is a religious studies class. The reading and writing required for the class is approached academically rather than theologically or devotional, in short in my head not my heart. When I get like this I sometimes need a slap in the face to wake me out of my slumber so I can again see the incredible mystery that is all around me. And this is what happened a few days ago.

As with all of us, there are certain dates of the calendar year that have great significance to me. I’m not referring to holidays, but personal dates we remember each year. There’s one such date that I remember each year and on that day take a sort of pause, to remember. What the date means to me is something I’d rather not share in this public forum other than it is very personal. It has had life-altering significance and on that day I simply remember. But this year I didn’t remember; I forgot. I didn’t realize I forgot but I did. Then, out of the blue, I received a text from someone who made reference to the date. 

Slap! Wake up, it was telling me. When I read the text I felt like I was in a movie…reading it but not really able to comprehend. I was groggy from being woken up. My skin tingles now as I type these words.

There is so much mystery around and it is so easy to see and feel but when I am so engulfed in my own issues it’s as if I shut everything out and live externally rather than internally, which for an INFJ can be a very scary place. The text reminded me to stop and remember not just that particular day but life, each and every day. The difficult part—the real work—is to keep it going.

The day after I received the aforementioned text I had the day off. It was early and I was heading out to a coffee shop. As I rolled my bike down the plank on my front porch I half-expected a squirrel to run up. No I am not crazy (okay, maybe a bit), there is a squirrel that lives in the eave of my neighbor’s porch and in the spring and summer it runs up to you as you leave the house. My neighbor named it George but we’re questioning whether we should rename him Georgina because he may be a she. But the squirrel didn’t show.

When I bring my bike down the porch I have to set it on its kickstand so I can go back up the porch to lock the front door. It, being a rather large bike, has a rather large kickstand which makes a sound when unfolded. Anyhow, when I set the bike on it’s stand and it made it’s predictable sound I heard the sound of feathers being ruffled. It came from the direction of my neighbor’s porch where George/Georgina resides. I look up to see a peregrine falcon perched directly above the squirrel’s hole, which is only about 15 feet from where I was standing. Holy shit!, is what I’m pretty sure I said aloud. It was waiting for George/Georgina. Did he/she have babies in it’s nest, I wondered?

Then the falcon flew to a tree branch, which was actually closer to me but higher. And for another few seconds it looked down at me then flew away. I tingled. The cycle of life I thought. Even in the city these wildlife things happen.

I hopped on my bike and rode to the coffee shop, and as I did I thought of how incredibly strange life is and what was real. Both of these stories are really about the same thing, the mystery of life.

After a lifetime of working in kitchens I don’t have any money to speak of and have (mostly) stopped worrying about it. I really don’t desire things any longer. Experience is what excites me, and life is about experience. That, to me, is reality.

As I pedaled I thought of the famous conversation Buddha had with his disciples, as recorded in Dona Sutta. I’m abridging and paraphrasing, but it goes something like this. He was first asked if he was a god or messiah to which he answered no. Then asked if he was healer or teacher, also no. Then what are you, he was finally questioned. To which he simply answered, I am awake.

I need constant reminders in my life to stay awake. The text was one—that really was a slap—and the falcon another. I need them constantly, we all do I suppose. When I came home this afternoon George/Georgina came running up to me, as usual a bit too close for my comfort, so I stomped my foot for him/her to stop. And when he/she did I told him/her to be careful, to stay awake, that the falcon knows where you live. I don’t think he/she understood me.

In a way, I suppose, when I warned George/Georgina I was really warning myself. Stay awake, because the falcon (ego) knows where you live. Stay awake lest it plucks you away. Next year, I’m sure I will not forget the date.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

~ 2 Corinthians 4:18

Sacred Ground (words and photos)

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Do you remember Moses at the burning bush?  God had to tell him to take off his shoes–-he didn’t know he was on holy ground. And if we can just come to see that right where we are is holy ground–-in our jobs and homes, with our co-workers and friends and families.  This is where we learn to pray.” ~Richard Foster


So last week after having breakfast with my sisters on a crisp winter’s day I rode my bike to the cemetery. As odd as it may sound, I find cemeteries beautiful. Peaceful. I find its sacredness calming and in a way connecting. I had some things on my mind and needed the calm.

Sometimes if I’m feeling stressed or disconnected I have a practice which I do. I think to myself how in some time (hopefully later than sooner) I will no longer be here. I will cease to exist in this particular bodily form. I do believe I will exist in some type of consciousness but cannot fathom what that may be. At some point I (my soul)—which is eternal—will shed this body like an old coat and move on to whatever there is beyond. We all will.

When I looked around at the monuments I thought of how each person had their own worries and stresses but in the end none of those worries matter. Some of the graves have large monuments built to honor their loved ones, but they are no more important than the smaller ones or even those unmarked.

I know this may seem a bit dark and even morbid, but it’s not. To me it is inspiring because it makes me remember what I have right now. Because that of course is all we really have…the now.

Thinking in these terms also helps me remember our connectedness and the holiness of everyday life. If, for example, there is something greater than I, a higher power, which I believe there is, then wouldn’t this source shed the same light on you and I and everyone equally? So if this is true wouldn’t we each carry a spark of light from this source within us, no matter our circumstances? And if this were true wouldn’t each of us be not only connected to one another in some mysterious way but also precious to this source in some unfathomable way? And if this were true would each interaction, each step we take, in some way be holy, sacred. The very ground on which we walk sacred.

I’ve come to this cemetery for years, for solace and photos. And I remember a while back, in the summertime, seeing a group of teenagers lying on the grass as if it were a public park. They seemed harmless enough, and happy, but inadvertently they were lying on a person’s grave. A cemetery worker saw them as he drove by. He stopped and I was close enough that I could hear what he said. He told the teenagers they were welcome to stay so long as they stayed on the road or benches or other public areas, because where they were currently sitting was sacred ground.

As I rode my bike through the paths of the cemetery last week, on a crisp winter day, I would stop periodically to snap a photo when something caught my eye. And when I did I would hear the sounds of wildlife as the cemetery is an unofficial animal sanctuary in the city. At one point a family of deer gracefully meandering through the gravestones. The sound of geese is always present as they squawk and cackle near the lake and stream. And circling above were a couple falcons searching for prey. The cycle of life, I thought. And I also thought of the irony…so much life in this place of graves. So much beauty.

Years ago I happened upon a book by the spiritual writer, Ernest Holmes, at used bookstore. The bookstore has since closed, and the owner himself has made his transition, but I still have the book. It’s simply titled, Practicing the Presence, and is the first book of New Thought I had read, which eventually changed the way I view things. When I first picked up the book I opened it at random and the first words that I read were, “The very place on which you stand at this moment is holy ground.” Chills ran up my spine as I read it and they do again as I remember this and type these words.

So as I stood there straddling my bike, my breath visible from the cold, I thought about this. It is true that nothing matters but now. The connections we have with one another and how we interact in this particular time we all happen to be passing through are all we have. Money worries are nothing. Annoyances at work, ditto. None of it means anything. The only thing that matters is love. For one another and all things. And as I stood thinking these things, for a very brief moment, the veil was lifted ever so slightly and I caught a glimpse of this. And at that moment I was standing on holy ground, and realized that each one of us is sacred. To each other but also to our source from whence we came and will ultimately return.

As I pedaled and coasted home I had a full belly from brunch, but also a full heart from my
contemplation in the cemetery. Now I have to remember to carry this with me throughout my days. And that will be the most difficult part.

 Urban Simplicity

What is it?

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Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

~Desmund Tutu

So today the local Jewish Community Center had a bomb threat. It was one of 10 JCCs across the country today, and dozens in the past few days, that have had bomb threats. I’ve been a member of this JCC for the past 15 years. I was there swimming yesterday. They–the workers and the members–are incredibly beautiful people. Over the years I’ve made friends with many.

Two nights ago, on a corner that is just one block from my home and next to one of my favorite watering holes, two young men were beaten simply for being gay.

Islamophobia is on the rise, this can not be denied. I work with a few Muslims and they are hard working and so very friendly. I cannot imagine having hatred towards them simply because of their faith.

What is it? This hatred. Where does it come from. People are not born hating, they are taught it. But why? What is it? It stems from fear, I am convinced of it. We are all just people. No matter our color, faith, or sexual orientation, we are just people.

The above photo was taken at dusk this evening from my front porch. A beautiful evening. The temperature today hit the upper 40s Fahrenheit. It’s supposed to be like this all week. By the weekend it is supposed to hit 60F. This is Buffalo, NY in February where it is normally frigid and snowy. But it’s the hate that occupies the news. Climate change does not know borders, race, or religion, but it is happening.

I can’t change the big stuff but I can do small things. We all can. And that’s what I need to focus on. The good stuff, no matter how small.

To answer my own question…the good stuff. That’s what it is. Because light and good always overcomes darkness. But I’m rambling now. Anyhow, this is what I was thinking as I stared at the sky on an incredibly beautiful yet really unseasonably warm February evening. I’ll get off my little soapbox now.

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

There are reminders everywhere (and I need constant reminding)

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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

The above Bible quote is one of my favorites. And yes, I am a crazy leftist liberal who reads the Bible (occasionally). I find inspiration in it in the metaphoric sense, not literally. But as is often the case when I start typing, my mind is ahead of my fingers and I jump ahead. Let me start over.


The above photo was taken last evening, I saw it at just the right time. I was on my way  home from my second job and feeling depleted physically and spiritually. Physically from working too much, not getting enough sleep, and having a cold; spiritually from the uncertain times in which we live. If you are on Facebook then your feed, like everyone’s, is likely filled with mostly posts about politics. And the negativity after a while really wears me down. It helps when I focus on good (hence the above quote).

I of course am not immune to the negativity. While I’ve made the personal commitment to not join in with the onslaught of it on Facebook, I still get caught up in it in conversations at work and else-wear. The fear turns to anger, but it is still fear. I am convinced of this. But there are reminders everywhere, all we have to do is look. And sometimes I believe they are placed right in front of me just when I need them most, such as the above sign attached to a fence on a building I passed last night. Do you have an extra coat? leave it here and we will give it to someone in need. Simple, right? Isn’t that what life should be about? 

Focusing on the anger is the easier path, I think. At least it is for me. Being angry is not fun, but it is easy. Focusing on love (for one another) and having compassion for all of humanity is more difficult. But that’s the path that I choose. Do I stray from the path? Yes, of course…daily, hourly, by the minute. So I draw myself back. And sometimes I simply forget. That’s why I need guideposts and reminders. People are good and there is good all around us. But we need to look, all the time. Here’s a few more examples:


The photo just below is the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, which cooks and feeds people for free twice a week year round, no matter the weather. The second photo below is a building I pass a few times a week on my way the coffee shop (where I type these words). They have a table outside on the sidewalk and offer free things to whoever wants or needs them. The next photo is the Homeless Jesus statue in downtown Buffalo. People leave clothes, sundries, and food for the homeless year round. And my personal favorite is the bottom photo. I was walking to the corner tavern one evening last month when I saw the note taped to a gate in front of a neighbor’s house. Someone had apparently dropped one of their bags and it had a loaf of bread in it and the neighbor held it for return. Simple acts of kindness with profound results.

There are countless other examples of good happening all around us, these are just a few. And while I post these as a share to you, they are really (selfishly) for me. I have to remind myself to focus on the good (and I need constant reminders). Light always overcomes darkness, we simply need to seek it…to become the light.


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

 ~ Anne Frank

Urban Simplicity.

And then I stumbled upon a protest…

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So I had the day off today and was on my way to a coffee shop this morning when I came upon this protest. I wasn’t sure what it was at first so I stopped to read some of the signs. Then I hear someone yell, “hey Joe,” from across the street. Of course I’d know people at this or any protest, right?  Anyhow, this protest was in response the the arrival of Kellyann Conway and her $5000-a-plate luncheon/fundraiser for Trump. And in many regards this is also, by extension, a continuation of on-going protests regarding our own local racist, Carl Paladino because of his recent remarks that made news around the globe. I suppose the highlight of the protest was when the above banner was unveiled off the roof of the coffee shop directly across the street from the hotel where the fundraiser was being held (it’s also directly under a billboard for the said hotel; see below). My only hope is that the luncheon took place in the windowed atrium so all attending would see not only the protest below but also the banner directly opposite them. I have to add that these were some mighty hearty protesters. After I snapped some photos I went and joined them but I was only out there a fraction of the time as most of them…the high today is 20f/-7c. Anyhow, it really is awesome to come across something like this while riding my bike on a really cold day to a coffee shop. And lastly, there’s that guy in the coffee shop window (bottom photo).

Urban Simplicity.

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

Peace. Free Stuff.

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What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding.”

~Nick Lowe

Precarious. That’s the word that came to mind this morning when thinking about the times in which we live. That could also have been a good descriptor of my emotional state as I rode my bike to a coffee shop. Has the world and everyone in it gone insane? There is just so much darkness. So much disconnect. Yesterday’s shootings are just the tip of the iceberg; just one in many destructive things that are happening as I type these very words. And then I came upon the scene pictured above. An apartment on South Elmwood Avenue here in Buffalo with a table out front on the sidewalk. A few odds and ends; nothing of any real value. But rather than throw them in the trash they took the time to set up a table, lay the items out, and make a sign…Peace; Free Stuff. They took the time to offer this stuff to someone who may need it. It brought a smile to my face then just as it does now. And it made me remember that there is still good.

With all the recent events I will be honest and say that I feel somewhat helpless. How can I possibly make a difference in this world. A difference in anything. And then I saw this and it made me remember. It made me remember that goodness can happen in really small steps. The words of a local and inspiring retired clergyman, the Reverend Phil Smith, came to mind (and I’m paraphrasing)…”America is really good at waging war, the best in the world in fact, but what we really need is to wage peace.”

Our society is seriously broken. And by “our” I don’t just mean American. We really need to do something, but what? What can we as individuals do to make a difference? What came to me was that we as individuals do need to wage peace at a personal level. Simply being nice to people in your own little world, regardless of their gender, skin color, or religion. Help people whenever you can. Maybe it can have a ripple effect.

I really do worry about the next generation, my son’s generation. And his children’s generation after him. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am waiting for the next MLK or Gandhi to appear to inspire us into a revolution, to change things and turn us around to face things differently…to wake us up. Though I’m not sure we’d recognize the next prophet if they did appear on the scene…we don’t have enough space for them. But I also think how it can be us. It can be us to make small changes each day to make ourselves as a society that much more…well, societal.

If we did this maybe it would stop that one person from doing something terrible. Maybe it would stop that one single person and make them think that they shouldn’t do the terrible act they had in mind. Maybe it would soften their heart enough to see the consequences. Maybe it would make them realize that they are loved and they themselves can in fact be love. And if our kindness changed even one single person that would be enough. But then maybe it would have a ripple effect.

We, as collective consciousness, really need to look within. It’s not us against them, or vice versa. It’s just us, the people of planet earth. We really need to do this if we want to survive.

And this is what I was thinking when my heart was warmed when I saw a little table of things out that were offered free for the taking as I was riding my bike to a coffee shop on a grey and chilly December morning.

This is my commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you.

John 15:12

Urban Simplicity

This is Sly…

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“Hey Allentown!” That’s what I hear frequently while on my bike in the Elmwood Village. That’s what Sly (pictured above) knows me as. He used to panhandle in Allentown but as he put it, “I’m not allowed in Allentown anymore.” But that’s an entire neighborhood, I’d think to myself. He does have a rather gruff appearance (and that’s putting it mildly). Some are afraid of him, some–with closed minds and hearts–get angry with him. Once I saw a couple collage boys threaten him physically when he asked them for money. This, I’ve heard is also the reason he’s “not allowed” in Allentown any longer. I was told he was beat up by someone there a couple years ago and told it will happen again if he returns. But nonetheless, he is a fellow human on this rock we call earth, and at times–when he is lucid–a very friendly and coherent one at that. Such was the other night when I ran into him while exiting a bar on Elmwood. I was walking to my bike when I hear his familiar beckon, “Hey Allentown,”  and I turn to see him with his distinctive hobble coming over to me. I gave him a couple bucks and asked how he was doing. “Oh you know you know.” Where you staying I asked. “Right here, man, right here on the street.” How about winter, like last winter, I questioned. “Oh you know, hospitals, churches, and other places.” He has a mental disability, and I’ve heard he spends winter nights at the psychiatric hospital, but I don’t know if that is true. I’ve also heard that he is a Vietnam vet and had an emotional break during the war. I don’t know if that is true either. But what I do know is that he is a nice guy and interesting to talk to at times. And it’s interesting, I am finding out that when I ask people if I can take their photo most people say yes right away. This was the case with Sly the other night. He commented on my bike, “Hey man, that’s a nice bike, you didn’t tell me you got a new bike.” Would you stand in front of it while I take your picture, I asked him. He immediately stood in front the bike, flashed a grin from ear-to-ear and held out the peace sign with his right hand (and, FYI, for those who may make the sweeping rash judgment of street people, that’s a soda in his left hand, not a beer). Personally, I feel the world needs more Slys and less “Donalds” (sorry, there’s my judgment). When we shook hands I noticed, as I have in the past, how calloused his hand was; likely from the hard life of living on the street. And as I pedaled away on a really lovely summer night I saw him make a b-line towards a group young college girls and could hear his familiar mumble, “Hey can you help me out with a little something, I’m trying to get something to eat.” When they turned him down, or more specifically ignored him and kept a large distance from him as they passed, he moved onto the next group of people coming down the street. Thankfully I do not know this personally, and contrary to what a lot of people think about the homeless (another judgment, sorry), is that one can not be lazy or stupid to survive on the street. As the summer ends and the cold months loom closer each day, I pray that Sly makes it through, because he makes this world just a little bit more interesting. And that’s what I was thinking about as I pedaled and coasted home on a warm summer’s night with a few beers in my belly.

Urban Simplicity

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.

e·qual·i·ty

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 e·qual·i·ty

əˈkwälədē/

noun

noun: equality

the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.

So these are a couple photos I took yesterday on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. I happened to be in NYC when the marriage equality act was passed and had heard that there was a gathering down there so I went and took a look. The “gathering” turned out to be thousands. It was in front of the historic Stonewall Inn. And it was really moving. People were crying, people were smiling, people were congratulating one another. There were local and state media speaking. And in the air there was hope.

I mentioned this earlier on Facebook, but I have to tell this brief story again. When I first got there I—being a somewhat smallish man—couldn’t see because of the crowds. I held my camera in the air above my head but still couldn’t get a good shot. I saw a guy standing on a wrought iron fence nearby, so I hopped up as well. I was just about to snap a photo when I hear, “Hey…you can’t be up there. Ya gotta get down.” Turning, I saw it was two NYPD. Somewhat intimidated I jumped down and apologized. I told them I was trying to get a good photo. “Well, did you get the photo,” one of them asked? Nope, not yet, I told him. He then told me that I could get up there to take the photo but then I had to get down. I snapped a couple photos. And when I got down I thanked them and they both shook my hand. I found it very moving and it only added to the positive feeling of this historic event.

 

 

Urban Simplicity.

Mad at the Universe

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The person of faith who has never experience doubt is not a person of faith.”

~Thomas Merton

I’ve been in small group meetings where as an introduction or an ice-breaker we would go around the circle and say what the weather was like in our world, metaphorically… “slightly cloudy with a bit of sun,” someone might say. Or, “sort of stormy.” Well the weather that is happening in the real world outside my doors as I type these words is fitting for me today… unseasonably cold, gray, and almost constant rain. It has been raining all day. Today, you see, I woke up mad at the Universe. Pissed off is more like it. And by Universe I mean God (or whatever name you choose to call It). This has happened before, but not in quite a while. Though I’m jumping ahead as I often do.

A child died yesterday. A toddler. He was three years young. And his sister is critically injured; she’s five. Both of them right in front of their mother. The day was unlike today; it was warm and sunny. The young family was walking in a park when a car traveling more than 50 mph jumped a short grassy median and mowed them down. It was lunchtime on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a beautiful city park. How could this possibly happen? How can this even be real?

As of right now no one is saying why the driver did this, but apparently impairment is being ruled out. Some speculate he was texting. It was a young male, and witnesses say he could be seen kneeling and weeping beside the stopped car before police took him away.

This happened in a crowded city park in broad daylight. Walking also close by at the time (but separately) was an emergency room doctor and a nurse. They both rushed to the family’s aid but they could not revive the child. The doctor said that she probably only worked on the toddler for a few minutes before other help arrived but she lost track of time; she couldn’t really tell how long it had been because time had stopped.

Time had stopped.

A witness described seeing the children rolling out from under the moving car and then hearing the mother’s scream. A scream she will never forget. She (the witness) fell to the ground herself.

How could this have possibly happened? This happened yesterday, and that is the question I asked when I woke this morning, and it is the question I ask now. And it’s a question I didn’t arbitrarily ask myself aloud (as I sometimes do), this is something I asked God. Aloud. What kind of God are you that would allow this to happen?

Now I certainly do not believe our higher power to be an old man sitting on a cloud watching over us, but more of a presence. We—I truly believe—live in It and It is in us. It is all there is. But of course I really don’t know because it is incomprehensible; the minute I try to put it into words or thoughts it seems and sounds trite. But I also believe It (God, for the sake of terminology) is all good. And if this is true then how can such a horrific event take place.

I of course do not think that a giant ghostly hand should have come down from the sky and swooped the children out of harms way like superman. But why did it have to happen that the lives of this family and the driver of that car had to converge at that very second. The mother told the media that she had stopped for a moment to let her children change places as they walked. Why couldn’t they have stopped ten feet sooner. Or why couldn’t one of her sweet children have seen a butterfly or a cat or a bird or something else and ran after it. And if the driver was texting, why at that very minute. Why didn’t he get stopped at a traffic signal for just a few seconds longer. Why didn’t one of them get delayed by just a few seconds to throw this convergence off kilter. Why did all this happen at that very second in time. What are the mathematical odds of these four lives coming together in that very spot in that very second in time? These are the questions that I asked God today. I’m still waiting for a response.

Earlier today while doing a few basic yogic asanas and other stretches to relive pain from my lower back I listened to Ram Dass. The way he chanted Hare Krishna made me think that’s what it must of sounded like when the old testament prophets and psalmists would chant and call out to Yahweh; cry out to God. And that’s what I found myself doing as I sat for meditation unable to concentrate, albiet in a more modern and undignified way; almost accusatory…“What the fuck kind of God are you that would allow this to happen,” I questioned aloud. Still no response.

And now on Facebook and elsewhere it has turned into an internet argument. People on one side calling to remove or alter the stretch of highway that runs so close to a popular park, and on the other some are concerned about traffic flow. Meanwhile this mother’s toddler son lies in a morgue and her young daughter is in a hospital bed.

Without going into too much detail I’ll say that I have heard God speak before. And by this I don’t mean a voice in my head, but through people and things and experiences. But right now He/She/It is silent. Maybe I need to open myself/my heart up to Her. But right now I cannot. I am just so pissed at Him.

I mourn not just for the family but also the family’s family. I also mourn for the driver of the car and his family. All of their lives are forever changed. And also I mourn for us as a society, where such a tragic loss can be turned into an internet argument. But mostly I mourn for the poor mother, I literally cannot fathom what she is going through.

And for me, right now, I am still waiting for answers.

“Speak, for your servant is listening.
~ 1 Samuel 3:10

Five or Eight Quotes from Harvey Milk…

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May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978

“All men are created equal. Now matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about.”

 “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you…And you…And you…Gotta give em hope.” 

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”

“Politics is theater. It doesn’t matter if you win. You make a statement. You say, “I’m here, pay attention to me”

“Hope is never silent.”

“The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion!”

“Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.”

“Let me have my tax money go for my protection and not for my prosecution. Let my tax money go for the protection of me. Protect my home, protect my streets, protect my car, protect my life, protect my property…worry about becoming a human being and not about how you can prevent others from enjoying their lives because of your own inability to adjust to life.” 

Urban Simplicity. 

More in the Five Quote Series.

 

Mului…and a few other people

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So first some brief introduction. Pictured above is three-quarters of our motley kitchen crew. From left-to-right: Adam, Elizabeth, myself, Mului, and Senait (absent are Dylan, Mohamad, and Leterbrahan). And even though this post is essentially about Mului, it is really–in the broader picture–about humanity. But I’m jumping ahead.

You may remember Mului from this Go Fund Me campaign I posted a little more than a year ago. I was trying to raise money to get him a bike. I had anticipated the campaign to take about a month…it took 20 minutes! No joke. I had to cut it off. The outpouring of human gratitude at the time quite literally brought tears to my eyes, and as I recall it now it still does.

I first met Mului through the International Institute of Buffalo when they assisted him in securing a job. Mului, along with Senait, Mohamad, and Leterbrahan are all from Eritrea, that small country just above Ethiopia. Over the years we’ve also employed people from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, the Congo, and Tanzania. As far as I know all of them had been refugees. And their personal stories are incredible moving. It took Mului, for example, 5 attempts to cross the barren Sahara before he finally made it to a refugee camp in Israel. He nearly died and indeed lost family members along the way, either to the harsh dessert conditions of land pirates.

When Mului started with us he barely spoke English, but over the past year-and-a-half this has improved immensely. And during this time he has–on a dishwasher’s salary–supported his wife and two children. Over this time he had really become part of our kitchen family. So it was bittersweet the other day when we snapped this photo…it was on his last day of work with us. He has recently landed a factory job which nearly doubled his hourly pay. Before leaving he gave us plenty of notice and even found us his replacement and trained her.

Coincidentally, the factory in which Mului is now employed is also the same factory that for a while employed my father, who was the eldest first born son to immigrant parents. That was more than 40 years ago and, on the weekends when my dad would work extra hours cleaning, he would bring me with him on occasion to the factory. I have vague memories of following my dad around the stuffy factory offices on hot summer Sunday afternoons.

The reason I mention this is that we as Americans are often proud to proclaim our ethnicity and our family heritage–romanticizing what our parents and grandparents went through and where they hailed from–but at the same time sometimes shun the current wave of immigrants. Most American cities have ethnic neighborhoods and in Buffalo the most diverse these days is the West Side…Grant Street, for example, is lined with shops and restaurants offering goods and foods from the Far East and all points in Africa, and English certainly is the “second language” at times.

Ethnically speaking, I myself am Lebanese and German (with some French, I recently found out). But it is the Lebanese side that I have often Identified with. Mostly I think, because when I was a kid it was like something out of the movies (of course I didn’t think that then, but now I view it through Rockwellian rose-colored glasses). My dad and his brothers and sisters and all their families would congregate at our sitti’s house (grandmother’s house). There were tons of kids, my aunts were always in the kitchen, the table was always full, and the adults spoke Arabic more than they did English.

And this is what I see when I look at these newly arrived refugees. All that I have met and employed have been hard workers and extremely polite. They all are family oriented. They love to talk to me about their food. And they are all striving to earn American citizenship that I myself arrogantly take for granted. A simple Google search will reveal the very real reasons why they risk their lives to get inside our borders. In parallel, I suppose it is not unlike the reasons my family did the same thing about 100 years ago when the border was finally opened after the Famine of Mount Lebanon.

This–the current wave of immigrants–is being called the “browning of America,” and I personally find the diversity exciting. And I know right now there is some white guy reading this and getting a little nervous. Ok, here’s something else…it’s predicted that within less than 30 years white folks will be the minority in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Yup true. And I also find this inspiring. I’m inspired when I look at the people, and talk to them, and hear their stories. But mostly I am inspired by their work ethic and family values. These are the faces of the future Americans. Mului tells me his older daughter already prefers to “speak American.,” even to her parents.

And so, while this post is about Mului, it’s also about humanity as a whole. We are one people, and whether we all like it or not, we also come in all different colors and speak many different languages, but we are still part of the same human race. So on this day, the day that this photo was taken, it was bittersweet. We were all happy for Mului because of his financial advancement, but we were also sorry to see him go.

Urban Simplicity.

Weapons of Mass Instruction…

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So this is pretty cool. And though the story is more than a month old I just came across it and had to share. The Argentinian artist Raul Lemesoff was inspired (for World Book Day) to modify his 1979 Ford Falcon into a mock tank-like vehicle, but the weapons he carries are books…900 of them! He calls the books his Weapons of Mass Instruction and cruises through Argentina’s urban centers offering free books to anyone who wants one. The only requirement is that you promise to read it. This, to me, is really inspiring; it made my day. To read the full article and watch a short video of the artist click here (this is also where these photos were borrowed). If you’d like to read about other inspiring people that distribute books–but by bicycle–click any of the links on this page.

Urban Simplicity.

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

Food Not Bombs!

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As I rode my bike through downtown this morning I passed the good people from Food Not Bombs offering a free hot meal and free produce to anyone who needs it or would like it. They are in Lafayette Square every Monday and Saturday no matter the weather. With all the negative news in the press these days it is really heartwarming to see good people doing good (and asking nothing for it). For more information about Buffalo Food Not Bombs, click here or here.

Urban Simplicity.

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