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A Poll About Transportation…

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Q Train at Coney Island, Summer 2016

 

So the next paper I am currently working on for an ethics class is regarding transportation. Please, if you wouldn’t mind, take the poll to the left of this post. It is anonymous (I cannot see who clicked the boxes). No judgement, just research. I am very grateful you’ve taken the time to not only to read this post but also to click the boxes. Click as many that apply to you, if you’d like to add comments do so in this post. Thanks again. Peace.

(Unfortunately, the poll will not show in this blog, which is the mirror blog of Urban Simplicity. To go to that site and take the poll, click here. Thank you!)

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Exploring The Morals and Ethics of Eating Animals

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“People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times.”

~ Isaac Bashevis Singer (née, Izaak Zynger)

This is the first of three papers written as a project for Intro to Ethics class. I’ve chosen to investigate and research what it means to live ethically and how our actions affect others. In this preliminary paper I’m exploring ethical eating, mainly: Is it ethical to consume meat in our modern society?

It is no surprise that when reading The Craftsmen, by Richard Sennett,  I was drawn to the chapter, Expressive Instructions (Sennett, 2009). In this chapter Sennett profiles the work of not only some of my favorite food writers but also those that have influenced me the most. When I was a young chef fresh out of culinary school I was enamored with French cuisine and collected cookbooks the way a sports fan may collect baseball cards. When I traveled I would seek out bookstores that had great cookbook sections. What really interested me were the food writers that didn’t simply publish recipe books, but those who wrote about food. So it’s easy to see how I would have been attracted to such luminaries as Child, Olney, and David.

Once, when in a used bookstore in Fort Erie, Ontario, I came upon a second edition of the two-volume set, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Child et al., 1963). Wrapped in brown paper, the way Canadian bookstores once did, I carried them the two mile walk home and across an international border like sacred texts; the customs officer at the Peace Bridge jokingly asked if they were bibles.

Richard Olney’s recipe for Gigot D’Agneau a la Sept Heures (Seven Hour Leg of Lamb) was often on menus at restaurants at which I presided the stoves (Olney, 1985). It was Elizabeth David’s books that influence me most as I began to write about food. I have every book she has written but it is the first that I came upon which still influences me to this day, A Book of Mediterranean Cuisine (David, 1968).  She writes both with ease and also authority. This is apparent in the very beginning of the book, “The cooking of the Mediterranean shores, endowed with all the natural resources, the colour and flavour of the South, is a blend of tradition and brilliant improvisation. The Latin genius flashes in the pan” (David, 1968).

It’s also interesting that Sennett cites the work of Antonin Carême, whose recipe in the book is the focus of the writers that follow in the chapter. Carême, of course, is the chef who is credited with codifying modern French cuisine; he was also the predecessor of Auguste Escoffier, who streamlined Carême’s methods further and developed the brigade system in the kitchen, which was the forerunner to what we now call “line cooking.”  Escoffier was also the author of a few books, including the seminal, Le Guide Culinaire (The Culinary Guide), in which he devotes no less than fifteen pages at the very beginning of the book to fonds de viande (meat stock). He put them in the beginning because he felt it was the very foundation (fond) of cooking (Escoffier, 1941).  Le Guide Culinaire was bedtime reading for me while in culinary school.

Some years ago while on sojourn in Paris, I enrolled in a four-day class at Le Cordon Bleu. On the first day I remember watching the chef as he slipped slivers of truffles and cold butter under the skin of a Bresse chicken with the tip of his small knife with such articulate precision the accompanying translator was not needed.

So, what, you may be wondering, does this have to do with ethics? The correlation is not only to the books which we are reading, regarding pride and craftsmanship, but also with the subject of the recipes themselves: Meat.

While I have flirted with vegetarianism for years, I have to qualify that I am not a vegetarian. Though I do plan on abstaining from meat for the duration of this course and likely thereafter. When thinking about ethical and altruistic living, this is one of the first areas that comes to mind. The world has changed since the I first read the aforementioned books, and in many ways I have also.

It’s interesting that when I read the recipes in Sennett’s book, whereas once I would have been smitten by them, they now seem more like the description of a surgical procedure, “Sever the attachment of each shoulder blade at the wing joint and, holding it firmly between the thumb and the forefinger of the left hand, pull it out of the flesh with the other…Force the flesh loose from the breastbone, working along the crest with the tip of a knife and forcing that at the sides loose with fingertips” (Sennett, 2009).

Now I’ll get straight to the point: There is no reason we need to eat meat, we can easily consume all of our nutritional requirements with a plant based diet. We simply eat meat for our own pleasure, and in doing so we kill a living animal which was likely raised in horrendous conditions for its entire life.

According to Peter Singer in his book, The Most Good You Can Do, How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, in 2012 there were 164 million dogs and cats as pets in American households (Singer, 2016).  I personally am a dog lover, and have been my entire life. Currently two beautiful pugs cohabit my home with me. I bring this up because it was while thinking of my pets that that I first began to correlate the absurdity of eating some animals but not others. I was on a silent retreat at a center in the Hudson Valley and they raised animals. Passing the animals one day little piglets came rushing up to the fence to greet me. I was struck at how much they resembled my pugs.


Singer goes on to say that the amount of personal pets in the United States is dwarfed by the number of animals that were raised and then slaughtered as food; in 2012 this number was 9.1 billion (Sennett, 2009). Mylan Engel Jr., in his paper, Between the Species, The Commonsense Case for Ethical Vegetarianism, states that not only is the number of animals raised and slaughtered in the US closer to 10 million, he also goes into detail of the horrific lives 95% of them lived, from birth to slaughter (Engel, 2017). While the images I’ve read about how the animals are kept is terrible enough, it’s the descriptions of the slaughterhouse that are straight from a horror film.

“Once inside the slaughter house the animals are hung upside down [pigs, cattle, and sheep     are suspended by one hind leg which often breaks] and are brought via conveyor to the  slaughterer who slits their throats and severs their arteries and jugular veins. In theory, animals covered by the Federal Humane Slaughter Act are to be rendered unconscious by electric current or by captive bolt pistol (a pneumatic gun which, aimed properly, renders  the animal unconscious by firing an 8-inch pin into the animal’s skull). Chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese are not considered animals under the Act and receive no protection at all. In practice, the Act is not enforced, and as a result, many slaughterhouses elect not to use the captive bolt pistol in the interest of cost efficiency. A consequence of the lax of  enforcement of the Federal Humane Slaughter Act is that in many cases (and all kosher cases), the animals are conscious throughout the throat-slitting ordeal” (Engel, 2017).

If this weren’t enough, Peter Singer states that hundreds of millions of animals never even make it to the slaughterhouse because they simply suffer to death (Singer, 2016).  In other words, there are multitudes of animals that do not get the “benefit” of humane slaughter because they parish before it is granted. Some succumb to there own species aggressive behavior, which is likely the result to their captivity, others (chickens mostly) are said to collapse under their own weight because they were bred to grow so quickly that their immature legs cannot support their full-grown bodies, others unable to reach their feed in the overcrowded conditions simply die from starvation or thirst. Many more parish en-route to the slaughterhouse because of the magnified conditions they’re exposed to during travel.

So with the above graphic descriptions, this question is the elephant in the room: If we could not consider our own pets enduring this horror how do we justify it to other animals simply for our own satisfaction? At this point I have to reiterate that while I haven’t eaten meat in a couple weeks I do not consider myself a vegetarian, so I ask myself the question just posed.

If you’ve ever had a beloved pet injured in most cases you would do anything to alleviate their suffering. Peter singer takes this to the next level and equates animal suffering with human suffering, “In Animal Liberation (Singer, 2009) I argue that to give less consideration to the interests of non-human animals, merely because they are not members of our species, is speciesism and is wrong in much the same way that the crudest forms of racism and sexism are wrong” (Singer, 2016).

It’s easy to disassociate the meat that you cook with the living animal it once was, to forget that the neatly wrapped cellophane packages in the supermarket were once sentient beings. Here’s where my own ethical dilemma comes into play. Even if I don’t eat meat I still cook it every day, my occupation dictates that I must. For decades I have worked as a cook or chef, and currently as a supervisor in the commissary kitchen of a school district in the second largest city in New York State. I see the end result of factory farming everyday as chicken nuggets, beef riblets, and cooked ground beef comes through the back door by the truckload. Sometimes I’ll look at a pallet of cases of pre-breaded and fried chicken legs and try to imaging the room full of live chickens they once were. At the very least, I’ll say a silent prayer, both for them for them and me. Until I choose another occupation or find work in a vegetarian restaurant, this is my cross.

There are, of course, many arguments against vegetarianism. One of the most common is that we as a species have always eaten meat. I’ve heard people cite passages in the bible where there are descriptions of slaughtering meat for food.  There’s also the argument that not all animals are factory farmed, that some are raised in humane conditions and “slaughtered humanely.” My response to the historical aspects of humans being carnivores is this: It’s only been in the past century (or less) that there have been large supermarkets packed to the hilt with foods. In ancient times, such as those biblical, eating was a very different thing; people ate what they raised, including meat. Likely it was considered sacred and a gift from God. In regards to the argument of animals being raised/slaughtered humanely: Yes, this is better, but in my view their humanly lived lives still ended with their throats being slit simply for our dining pleasure.

There’s yet another, if not extreme, side to this argument as well: That plants themselves are sentient. According to Andrew Smith, assistant professor of English and philosophy at Drexel University, this is true. In an interview at the website, Munchies, he discusses his book, A Critique of the Moral Defense of Vegetarianism (Swerdloff, 2017). When asked if he felt why there was a disconnect between plant-based life and sentience, he responded:

“There are historical reasons, cultural reasons, and philosophical reasons that go all the way back to philosophers like Plato and Aristotle—particularly the way they classified animals, plants, humans, and the gods. Today, that still reverberates. We look at the grass of our lawn and the trees outside our windows and we see beings that are clearly alive, but passive and largely inert. That’s simply not the case. These beings are aware and very active in their environment. In some respects, they are far more aware of their surroundings than animals are.”

Despite his critique,  professor Smith has been a vegetarian for more than two decades and a vegan for more than 6 years. His reasons, he says, are complex but largely philosophical and emotional (Swerdloff, 2017).

Another argument against vegetarianism is that it is elitist and arrogant. Examples are that, according to the website of World Hunger, of the 7 billion people of the world 800 million, or 11 percent of the world’s population, is hungry (World Hunger, 2017). On a smaller scale, there are food deserts in every major American city where the residents of such neighborhoods do not have access to fresh produce (American Nutrition Association, 2017). Yet, I can pick-and-choose as to what I want to eat.

In this paper I’ve attempted to cite arguments for and against vegetarianism, but I would be remiss if I didn’t admit I am more than slightly biased for a plant-based diet. My views can be mostly summarized by the Russian writer-philosopher, Leo Tolstoy, “A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral” (Tolstoy, 1987).

In conclusion, more questions arise: Will I continue to abstain from meat? If so, why? And also, how will I reconcile the fact that I cook it daily on the job. To this, I respond yes, I plan on abstaining from meat consumption, for ethical, philosophical, but also very personal reasons. As far as cooking it as a source of employment? This will be an ongoing struggle, and one to which I currently have no answer.

Peter Singer, in his paper, Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism, published in Philosophy & Public Affairs, offers another view of this quandary, “The utilitarian vegetarian is on strong ground in arguing that factory farming and other cruelties involved in large scale commercial animal production should end. The final problem is to establish the link between this goal and the obligation to become a vegetarian” (Singer, 1980).

This said, I’ll finish with a simple recipe for a delicious meal which can be made in minutes and does not harm any animals. This is my “go-to” recipe for a quick and nutritious meal and can be made with nearly any vegetable. Though I have to admit, after reading Andrew Smith’s view of sentience, I’ll never look at a stalk of broccoli the same again.


A Recipe for Spaghetti with Broccoli, Garlic, and Olive Oil

For a recipe to serve two people you will need the following ingredients: One head of broccoli which was grown in your garden, or lacking this, sourced locally from a farmer’s market or food co-op. Two cloves of garlic (or more if you’d like), which is neither too green nor too dry. Three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with an acidity level no higher than 3%. An couple ounces of Parmigiano Reggiano, which should be hand-grated just before this preparation. One-quarter teaspoon each of gray sea salt and crushed hot pepper. A half-cup of vegetable broth or, lacking this, a half-cup of water reserved from cooking the pasta. And lastly, 4 ounces of whole wheat spaghetti which contains one ingredient: whole wheat flour.

Begin the recipe by preparing the ingredients: wash the broccoli and cut it into florets, peel and mince the garlic, boil and strain the pasta (reserving ½ cup broth if needed).

Pour the oil into a cold skillet and add the minced garlic and hot pepper. This is an uncharacteristic way to begin a recipe (in a cold skillet), but there is a specific reason for this: To slowly draw the flavors out of the garlic and hot pepper rather than sear them in.

Place the cold skillet over a medium flame. Wait a minute or two until you notice movement in the pan as the garlic begins to sizzle. Slowly swirl the pan with one hand while stirring with a wooden spoon in the other. When the garlic is light golden, and the aroma of it and the olive oil perfumes the air while the hot pepper tickles your nostrils, add the broccoli and stir it into the oil. After just a few seconds add the vegetable broth or pasta water, which will release a puff of steam and also act as a vehicle of flavor. Add first the salt and then the cooked spaghetti. Stir it until is is hot but not over cooked, then remove the pan from the heat. Add the cheese to the pan, stirring and tossing all of the ingredients.

Serve while hot or at room temperature.

Works Cited
American Nutrition Association. (2017). USDA Defines Food Deserts | American Nutrition Association. [online] Available at: http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017].

Child, J., Bertholle, L., Beck, S. and Coryn, S. (1963). Mastering the art of French cooking.
2nd ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

David, E. and David, E. (1968). A book of Mediterranean food. London: Cookery Book Club.

Engel, M. (2017). “The Commonsense Case for Ethical Vegetarianism” by Mylan Engel Jr.. [online] Digitalcommons.calpoly.edu. Available at: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/bts/vol19/iss1/1/ [Accessed 18 Oct. 2017].

Escoffier, A. (1941). The Escoffier Cook Book. New York: Crown.

Olney, R. (1985). The French menu cookbook. Boston: D.R. Godine.

Sennett, R. (2009). The craftsman. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Singer, P. (1980). Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism. Philosophy and Public Affairs, [online] 9(4), pp.325-335. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2265002? seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents [Accessed 17 Oct. 2017].

Singer, P. (2009). Animal liberation. New York, N.Y: HarperCollins.

Singer, P. (2016). Most good you can do. New Haven and London: Yale Univ Press.

Swerdloff, A. (2017). This Vegan Professor Says There’s No Such Thing as Real Vegetarians. [online] Munchies. Available at: https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/jpkk4d/this-vegan-professor-says-theres-no-such-thing-as-real-vegetarians [Accessed 18 Oct. 2017].

Tolstoy, L. (1987). Writings on civil disobedience and nonviolence. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.

World Hunger (2017). How many people are hungry in the world? – World Hunger News. [online] World Hunger News. Available at: http://www.worldhunger.org/hunger-    quiz/how-many-people-are-hungry-in-the-world/ [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017]. 


Urban Simplicity

The Goodness of Others…

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There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Last night I was supremely humbled and nearly moved to tears. I have never been one to use the phrase, God works in mysterious ways, nor do I even like it. It seems too hokey to me. But here I am thinking it is appropriate to my experience last night.

It was Friday evening and I had planned on going out by bike to feed and converse with the homeless or street people. As you likely know, if you’ve been to this blog prior, I do this on occasion but lately I’ve been doing it more intentionally as part of a project for a course in which I am currently enrolled. With this said, I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling it. That’s okay, I suppose, but it is the truth. For a variety of reasons I simply felt spent, as if I had nothing to offer. Nonetheless, I loaded my bike with some bottles of water and bags of chips and headed out.

I pedaled and coasted slowly downtown and stopped at Fireman’s Park, which is a small patch of greenery near the bus station and Cathedral Park. When I arrived there were people on many of the benches, and most looked as if they could be homeless or on the verge of it. Not speaking with anyone, I stopped at an empty bench, parked the bike, and pulled out a book to read. The book, Instructions to the Cook, A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a life That Matters, is about a Zen community that started a bakery, among other ventures, in and around New York City as a way to serve the homeless. But, as the subtitle suggests, it is also advice on living a life that matters.

Reading was inspiring me, and glancing up from my book I noticed a guy sitting opposite me, maybe 20 feet away, was reading also. Just as I noticed this a woman approached him. I couldn’t hear their conversation but she had animated gestures and I’m assuming she was asking him for money. He didn’t give her money but instead handed her his book. It wasn’t until then that I noticed he was reading a bible. They talked a couple minutes longer and she walked away looking at the bible in her hands. I wondered if the book would offer her any solace.

Then a few people got up and started to walk past me. I turned to see where they were heading. There was a car parked with its trunk opened. Two guys were handing out plastic bags filled with something. A woman passed me and as she did I asked what they were handing out. “Food,” she replied. “Come on, hun,” she added, “they won’t stay long.” She thought I was homeless and was helping me get food.

Wanting to speak to the people handing out the food, I packed up my bag, strapped it to my bike, and began to walk towards the car. It’s interesting, I thought to myself, I’m a city guy who seems to blend in easily. Whether I’m in NYC, Toronto, or even Paris, people seem to assume I am a local and ask me for directions. It was at this point when I looked at my bike with a bag of my personal stuff strapped to the front and chips and water in a basket on the rear, that I realized how I could be mistaken as homeless.

When I approached the car I stood to the side of the line, waiting for everyone to go through so I could speak to the two guys. As I stood there another woman, who was now at the head of the line, looks over at me and says, “Are you a first timer?” A bit taken aback, all I could stammer was, “Yes.” Then she looks at one of the guys handing out food and says, “Give him some first, he’s new here.” Holding up my hand in a sort of protest, I was handed a bag of food, “Here you go, brother,” was what he said when he handed it to me. I thanked him and the woman, who now took her share and began to walk away, and I stood there waiting for the last of the people to go through the line.

There was no longer me and them, it was just us, and it felt odd—but extremely humbling—to be on the receiving end.

Just as the last person went through the line, and they were starting to pack up their things and close the trunk of the car, another person came up. He must have been a regular because they spoke to him by name and apologized that they did not have anything left. Awkwardly, I handed him my bag which he readily accepted.

After introducing myself to the guys I found out that they are with a group called Buffalo’s Good Neighbors. There’s a variety of people who help out, they told me, and they are there once or twice a week. They just want to help people out, he added. I asked if I could take their photo and they reluctantly agreed. I gave them a card and shook their hands before I parted. When I asked them their names, the one whose hand was still in mine at the time, looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, “My name is Anonymous.”

 

When I walked my bike back through the park and approached the opposite side, I could see some sweaters laid out on a bench and a guy holding one up to his chest to check the sizing. I asked him where the cloths came from and he told me, “Church people bring them.” I looked at them and could see that they were new shirts. “Go on,” he added, holding the sweater towards my chest for sizing, “they’re free, one will fit you.” I thanked him and hopped on my bike and rode the short distance to Cathedral Park. This is the park which is home to the homeless Jesus statue.

 

There were three people in this micro-park and the first that I noticed was a man sleeping on a bench. It would be impossible to miss the similarity to the sleeping man to that of the Jesus statue which were only a few yards apart. I pulled up to the other two people and asked if they wanted some water and chips. “Yes, please,” they both seemed to say in sync. After handing them each bottles of water and rummaging in the bag of chips to find the type they liked I could see that the sleeping man was awake and now facing me, so I called over and asked him if he, too, would like some water and chips. He didn’t look great as he approached so I asked him how he was doing. “I’m okay,” he said, “but I’ve got a summer cold that’s kicking my butt.” This is probably why he was sleeping covered up on such a warm evening, I thought. I can’t imagine being homeless and sick. When I’m sick all I want to do is lay in my bed or couch. This guy had a bench. 

I sat down on one of the benches and talked with the other guy for a few minutes, just chitchat about the weather, etc. Then as he was finishing his bag of chips he holds up the remaining two, crumbles them in his hands and sprinkles them on the ground for the birds. “They gotta eat, too,” he said with a gleam in his eye as he looked at me.

When I began this evening I was tired. I had been up since 4:30am, it was the end of a long work week, and I was not feeling particularly compassionate. But the series of events that transpired changed things, and in a way changed me. There was the woman who encouraged me to get in line for food, the other woman who let me go ahead of her because I was a “first timer,” the guy who was helping me pick out free clothing, and now this guy sharing his food with birds like some modern day St. Francis. My heart, which in some ways was hardened earlier, was now malleable and split wide open. The light, which is always there but sometimes difficult to see, burst forth and shone not only in the cracks of my own heart but also in those who I met this evening. 

So this is what happened on a particularly humid and windless spring evening in two downtown parks, which in many ways, woke me up to life right in front of me.

It is in giving that we receive.”

~St. Francis

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.

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

W.I.B.

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Silence can be so powerful. These are just a few of the Women in Black (click here or here). Every Saturday they are there. Rain. Sleet. Snow. Bitter cold. Hot sun. They are there. 

And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence.
  

Simon and Garfunkel

The Sound of Silence


Urban Simplicity.