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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

Thoughts from a pew…

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

~Jimmy Carter

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

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

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

James 2:17

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 7:12a

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

Here’s a few examples…

Judaism: Love your neighbor as yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My religion is very simple, my religion is kindness.

~The Dalai Lama

An Ode to Dr. Wayne Dyer, plus Three Quotes and a Brief Video…

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“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.”

An Ode to Dr. Wayne Dyer

I’ve read a few of your books,

which I first stumbled upon some years ago

in a used book store.

Your work,

along with Deepak and other contemporaries,

changed me.

For the better.

Your voice and face seemed so familiar,

on TV.

I saw you speak in Toronto,

at an “I Can Do It!” conference.

I had plans on seeing you again,

this time in New York,

this fall,

ironically, on my birthday.

Another “I Can Do It!”

Well you did it, Wayne.

You inspired countless people.

You’ve changed lives.

You, yourself overcame adversity.

And now you did it again,

you made the great transition.

So on my birthday this fall,

I will think of you,

I will thank you,

as I do now.

Godspeed Wayne,

you did it.

Fifty years ago today….

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

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

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

Urban Simplicity.

A few more.

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Here’s a few more photos of my ongoing “Waterfront Series.” These were taken the evening before last. Click any for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

A quiet man on a really cool home-built trike…

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So I wish I could tell you this nice man’s name on his home-built trike, but even though he obliged in allowing me to photograph him he didn’t tell me his name. But I’m jumping ahead. It was two evenings ago and I had just gotten out of work. I was unlocking my bike when I saw him quietly pedal past me. I was on my way to a second job and he was heading ahead of me down the same side-street as I. He had stopped; he was collecting bottles and cans. I stopped and was admiring his bike while he went between two houses in search of his bounty. The trike, I could see, was obviously home-built. But what was really impressive was that it wasn’t originally a trike, it was an old mountain bike fitted with a wide axle and a shopping cart basket welded onto it; it also pulled a homemade trailer. When he emerged from between the houses he looked startled to see me there on my bike. I introduced myself and told him I was just admiring his bike. He then motioned to his ears and mouth in such a way that told me he could neither hear or speak. I gave him my card and made a motion like a camera and pointed at him, asking if I could take his photo. He immediately hopped up on the bike and struck the pose you see above. After a few more hand gestures on both our parts, he conveyed to me that he indeed build the bike himself. Really really cool, such ingenuity. After a few more gestures we shook hands and parted. If you my silent friend are reading this I just want to say thank you. Thank you for meeting me, and also for allowing me to take your photograph.

Urban Simplicity.

A dream I dreamt…

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

~Mark 8:29

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the waterfront (bis)…

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Okay. So sorry about the multiple pictures of Buffalo’s waterfront. I have posted from this same vantage point on numerous times prior. But I just find it so fascinating. Every time I go there for a couple beers (there’s a beautiful outdoor bar) and to take photos I see something different even if looking at the same scene as before. I shot these a couple evenings ago. I really like them all but the most dramatic, I think, is the one pictured above. I saw this when I first arrived…this crazy turbulent low-lying cloud just sort of rolling across the lake and above us. And rolling is a good description because I later found that it is actually called a “roll cloud” (or Arcus cloud). Shortly thereafter there was lightening and rain; this cloud was a sort of precursor. Anyhow, and I apologize in advance, but there will likely be more waterfront photos before the summer is finished…

Urban Simplicity.

One pic and two quotes…

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So a couple things. One is that this photo and the quotes below have nothing to do with each other except that I find them truly inspiring (so in a way I suppose they do have something in common). Anyhow, the pic above was taken yesterday just after it rained…I was on a walk and looked up and there it was. The only camera I had with me at the time was my cellphone. And here’s the photo.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

~Mahatma Gandhi

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

~Mark Twain

Urban Simplicity.

Explosion of Colour…

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As I had mentioned in a previous post, I was in Toronto this past weekend. Over the past few decades (eek…I can actually say it’s been decades) I have been to this vibrant and inspiring city hundreds of times. And over recent years I have been hearing about Graffiti Alley but have not been there, so on this weekend I dragged my sisters with me (that’s a rare selfie with my sisters below). The alley–which should more correctly be called “alleys” as there are many off-shoots–runs parallel to Queen Street West (here’s a map). And upon entering the alley all I can say is that it is a veritable explosion of colour [sic] and talent. Some entire buildings were covered and it became overwhelming at times…a sort of Sistine Chapel of street art. I have many many photos of our walk down the alley but narrowed it down to a little over a dozen to post here. Anyhow, if you are planning a trip to Toronto I highly recommend a walk down this free and outdoor gallery of street art.

Urban Simplicity.

A few photos, a couple (nonsensical) thoughts, and an inspiring conversation

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I have a long story (regarding the bottom photo) which I’ll make shorter, and I originally posted this–or at least a portion of it–on Facebook so if you’ve read this already I apologize for the redundancy. This is a fire alarm call box on the corner of Allen and Elmwood in Buffalo (it’s also visble in the top photo on the right-hand corner). Relics from a bygone time, I suppose…here’s images of others and they are even available on ebay as collectables). At one time there were many of these around the city, I remember them from my youth. Now there are only a half-dozen (I know this because I saw a city-worker inspecting it one day and he told me so…and yes, this still works). Anyhow, I was talking with a couple youngish co-workers the other day regarding an incident that happened on this corner and they used this as a point of reference but were unsure of what to call it…they didn’t know what it was (“It’s not really a fire hydrant but it has something to do the the fire department,” one said). I mentioned to them that it was a fire alarm…that in the event of an emergency one would break the glass and pull the lever and help would arrive. And then after a somewhat long and uncomfortable silence and perplexed looks I also mentioned that there were not always cell phones available. 

Anyhow, that story aside, I was out taking photos in my neighborhood a couple evenings ago as it was such a nice summer night. And after taking the above photo I began to walk down the street when I was stopped by the couple in the above photo; they asked me for spare change. After giving them what was in my pocket I asked if I could take their photo. “You’re not with the mafia or police, are you,” the woman questioned? I’m still not sure what she meant by this, but after assuring her I was not with either organization they both readily agreed. The woman rummaged in her bag for some lipstick and then quickly fixed her hair before throwing her arm around her friend. They wanted to know why I was taking pictures. I told them I just enjoy it and that I enjoy meeting people. After introducing myself and shaking hands all around, I learned the woman’s name was Rosemarie but goes by Rhianna. Her friend simply told me, “They call me D.O.D.” At any rate, we chatted for a few minutes and they actually thanked me for taking their photo. This sort of surprised me but I thanked them in return for allowing it. By stopping to talk to people, I find, that the invisible barrier is broken…instead of two street people and a guy with money in his pocket, it became just three people. Simple as that. But why am I sharing this? Honestly, I am not sure, but I felt I should.

Urban Simplicity.

A Poem by Edwina Gateley…

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 Photos taken at Buffalo Harbor 7.12.15

Let Your God Love You

Be silent.

Be still.
Alone.
Empty
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Quiet.
Still.
Be.

Let your God
Love you.

Urban Simplicit

Tony and his really groovy bike…

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So this is Tony. And that’s his really groovy bike. I was riding home today on a particularly hot and humid evening after a bustling day at work when I noticed him in front of me. He was riding somewhat slow and with headphones on, so I pulled up next to him and had to yell to get his attention. I asked if I could take his photo and he said yes. I started to pull over but he pointed to a sunny spot at the next corner. Tony is proud of his bike, as he should be. He built it from the ground up. I asked him if he minded if I took a few photos and he obliged, but with the caveat “don’t forget the hog” (which is in the bottom photo). That is one cool bike, I told him. Thank you was all he said. And then we rode our separate ways.

Urban Simplicity.

Five or eleven quotes from Alan Watts…

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Alan Wilson Watts
6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.”

“Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”

“You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”

“You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.”

“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.”

“Try to imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up… now try to imagine what it was like to wake up having never gone to sleep.”

“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”

“When we attempt to exercise power or control over someone else, we cannot avoid giving that person the very same power or control over us.”

More Five Quotes.

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.

This is Bob…

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This is Bob (Bob Dendy to be exact…sorta like dandy only with an “e,” he told me). Just when I thought I’ve met every eccentric person in Allentown along comes Bob…wearing striped shorts, wide tie, suspenders, colorful sneakers, and socks pulled up tight. I was out doing one of my favorite pastimes (though I haven’t in a while)…going out for a few beers and taking photos of my eclectic neighborhood. Anyhow, I had a beer and was waiting for the light to change as my favorite time to take photos is but there is still light in the sky which gives it a lovely blue hue (hence it’s designation). And there I was, a pint of beer in my belly and feeling somewhat stunned from lack of sleep, setting up my tripod, when I hear, “Hello…hi…what are you doing?” It was Bob. He was carrying a milk-crate full of stuff and told me he was an educator. When I asked who he educated he told me anyone who would listen. So I listened; I love to hear peoples stories. It turns out Bob is from Toronto; apparently grew up there and here. When I asked if I could take his photo he darted in front of the camera, “Well if you want to. Just tell me what to do.” And when I asked him if he would hold his crate of stuff he grabbed it and said, “Oh, now you want to make it real.” We talked for about 20 minutes, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It turns out there are a lot of coincidences in our lives. When we parted and shook hands I could tell by the callouses on his hands that he has lived a life of hard work. He never did tell me what he taught, but I learned a few things from him. I learned (or at least remembered), that everyone has a story, and this is what I find fascinating. I declined his offer to stop by his place for a beer (turns out I know the person that owns the house he lives in), but nonetheless, people like Bob are what keep life interesting, at least for me.

Urban Simplicity.

Words, titles, and sounds…

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Oh no, I’ve said too much.

I haven’t said enough.”

~Michael Stipe

Losing My Religion

So these writings (ramblings) began sort of as notes to myself…a way to record, aknowledge, and even monitor myself as I attempt to simplify my life. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I should share what I do…if my sometimes seemingly aimless and meandering words will be of interest or even any meaning to anyone but me. But still I do it, and I’m not sure why. Sometimes it just has to come out. Anyhow, here’s another story, and a rather personal one.

One year ago today I was standing in front of an altar and in front of about 1500 people, along with 60 of my classmates, at Riverside Church in NYC. We were graduating from a two year seminary program from One Spirit Learning Alliance. The director of the program announced each one of us to the public, and when she said my name it gave me goosebumps; it was the first time I heard someone say, the Reverend Joe George. I can still feel the moment deeply when I recall it.

I recall the moment so deeply not because of the title. I’ve always found titles a bit silly, and have in fact recently taken a job where for the first time in 26 years my job title is cook, not chef (but more on that later). The reason I was so moved at that very moment is that I was so proud of myself and my classmates for having completed the program. Many of the students lived in the NYC area, some attended class part-time and via webinar, and others—like myself—commuted to the city for one weekend each month.

Mostly I entered seminary for personal reasons and being an ordained minister was not the main reason. I was so proud of myself because I had managed to do this while working full-time as a chef. I almost didn’t enroll and flip-flopped about it for a couple years before actually doing so. And I can still remember the day when I sat in meditation questioning it and was told (not through a voice but intuition…an inner voice) that if I really wanted to do this I could, that doors would be opened. And they were.

And so, as I stood in the front of that incredibly awe-inspiring church one year ago today I was both exhilarated and exhausted. Twenty-two trips to NYC (mostly by train) in twenty-four months had depleted me financially and exhausted me emotionally and spiritually. The inner work that was required of us had quite literally turned me inside out. I was raw. And while standing there hearing the director announce each one of us, and as she came closer down the row of people towards me, I glanced around at my classmates and some had tears trickling down their cheeks but we were all beaming; we were glowing.

I’m not sure what I expected after graduation. I was already middle-aged and three-decades into a culinary career when I entered the program. Did I want or expect to work as a minister in the traditional sense? No, of course not, I knew that. But I wanted this to change me and open me to new possibilities. And in many ways it has. As I’ve gotten older my priorities have changes, but I suppose this is common with a lot of people. Still though, this past year has been difficult financially, spiritually, and emotionally. But the one thing I have learned is that most things will work themselves out and that everything really will be ok, even if it doesn’t seem it at times. I’ve also come to realize that “things” mean less and less to me, but experience and relationship means more (and more and more). But now I’m rambling so I’ll try to tie this together with some relevance to the above note.

The day we stood in front of everyone at the church was our graduation, but we were ordained in a private ceremony at a retreat center upstate along the Hudson two nights prior. One of our ordination requirements was to write our own vow which we would take and say aloud. We were asked to make them brief. I wanted to make it as personal as I could and my initial one was about three or four sentences, then we were asked to condense and distill them down to one sentence, two at the most. I found this to be more difficult than writing the original version. But I digress.

Two days ago I was having a rough day…nothing major, just “one of those days.” Everyone has them now-and-again, I suppose. I had gone up to my room to do a few basic asanas, which I do as a spiritual practice but mostly to relieve lower back pain. It was warm outside and I had the windows open and a fan on to create a cross-breeze. And as I was preparing for my stretches the breeze blew a piece of paper across the floor directly in front of me. I’m not sue where I came from exactly (probably from on top of one of my messy dressers) but I am convinced it was something I needed to see.

At the retreat center we were required to stand in front of everyone and speak our vows aloud to the class, our deans, and into the universe. We had to speak into a microphone, which always makes me nervous. So I wrote out my vow on a little scrap of paper so I wouldn’t forget the words out of stage fright. Words, I’ve come to think, carry so much weight when spoke aloud. The most obvious Christian example of this comes from the Gospel of John…”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and Word was God. In Hinduism the word (sound) Om is considered the original vibration sent forth as the beginning of creation. But again I digress.

So on this recent day, as the scrap of paper rolled in front of me I picked it up and threw it in a small trash basket nearby. But as I did I noticed my own handwriting on it, so I retrieved it to see what it said. When I opened it I shivered. To my surprise it was the very note that held the words that I spoke aloud to the universe on that very day one year prior. Was this just a coincidence or a Jungian synchronicity? Who knows, but it certainly was something I was meant to (re)see. This scrap of paper likely sat on a dresser for a year. I’ve had the windows open and fan on many times since then, but it was at this time that it was redelivered to me. I spoke those words aloud and one year later they came back as a reminder. A reminder of so many things. But mostly, I think it was meant to remind me that things do work themselves out and that everything is okay and that I (and you and all of us) are in the very spot that we are meant to be, even if we don’t realize it or if it doesn’t feel “”right.” I’ve also come to think of life as a sort of journey—sort of like one lesson stacked on top of another—and today, just like tomorrow and the day after and the day before, are all part of that journey.

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

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.

 

Seven fading flowers and a quote…

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As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.

Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.
The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slaves of permanence.

~Hermann Hesse

The Glass Bead Game

Urban Simplicity.

A simple but powerful prayer…

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This is a prayer I carry with me in my wallet, I have for a couple years now. It’s so simple but at the same time so powerful…a prayer of transformation and service. It helps center me and remind me what is real and important. You’d think by now I’d have it memorized, but I don’t. Thus every now and again I take it out and read it. And sometimes it’s just what is needed…

Urban Simplicity.

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