Tag Archives: religion

I went to church today, but Jesus was outside.

 “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 their 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, during the month of March I think, and that’s around the time the photos above and those directly below were taken. To see the statue 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 scars 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 statue for the homeless, and 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 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 woman didn’t hear 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

A Christmas Message from Paramahansa Yogananda (for the first Sunday of Advent)

Paramahansa Yogananda at Niagara Falls 

A Christmas Vow 
“I will prepare for the coming of the Omnipresent baby Christ by cleaning the cradle of my consciousness and sense attachments; and by polishing it with deep, daily, divine meditation, introspection, and discrimination. I will remodel the cradle with the dazzling soul-qualities of brotherly love, humbleness, faith, desire for God, will power, self-control, renunciation and unselfishness, that I may fittingly celebrate the birth of the Divine Child.

(MetaphysicalMeditations) by Paramahansa Yogananda

Urban Simplicity.

Thoughts from a pew…

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

Thoughts from a pew…

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 

Urban Simplicity.

A dream I dreamt…


“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. 

Urban Simplicity.

A Poem by Edwina Gateley…

 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

A Poem by Edwina Gateley…

 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 Simplicity.

Words, titles, and sounds…

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 changed, 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 okay, even if it doesn’t seem it at times. I’ve also come to realize that material 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 sure where it 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. 

Soon 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 delivered 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 

Urban Simplicity.

Our Lady of the Blessed Cupcake…

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 personsolely 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). Thiswas 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 literalistout 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 acknowledgmentand worship of the equaldivinity 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 suckthe spit out of your mouth, or even a loaf of bread, the Host on this night was a simple cupcake. If Jesus could ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (which was a political statement in itself), then his loving consciousness could be manifest through cake in front of a gay bar on a really snowy night. And the street was our altar.
“For where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst.”
Matthew 18:20

The Paschal Moon…

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

Urban Simplicity.

The Paschal Moon…

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

Urban Simplicity.

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

Image Found Here.

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

Priest, mystic, monk, activist, writer, poet, and artist, Fr. Merton was a true renaissance man. He was friends with Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama, and a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Before his untimely death he penned a huge number of books pertaining to spirituality, poems, artwork, and an incredible and moving autobiography. His work continues to touch countless souls…including the one typing these words. I love the opening line to his autobiography, the Seven Story Mountain…“On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadows of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world.”  Thomas Merton was born 100 years ago this month; to read more about him click here or here.

“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”

“Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how.”

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

“A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.” 

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

“I cannot make the universe obey me. I cannot make other people conform to my own whims and fancies. I cannot make even my own body obey me.”

“We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen.” 

“The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a man of faith.” 

“Perhaps I am stronger than I think.”

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

Urban Simplicity. 

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

Image Found Here.
Thomas Merton, January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968

Priest, mystic, monk, activist, writer, poet, and artist, Fr. Merton was a true renaissance man. He was friends with Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama, and a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Before his untimely death he penned a huge number of books pertaining to spirituality, poems, artwork, and an incredible and moving autobiography. His work continues to touch countless souls…including the one typing these words. I love the opening line to his autobiography, the Seven Story Mountain…“On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadows of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world.”  Thomas Merton was born 100 years ago this month; to read more about him click here or here.

“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”

“Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how.”

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

“A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.” 

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

“I cannot make the universe obey me. I cannot make other people conform to my own whims and fancies. I cannot make even my own body obey me.”

“We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen.” 

“The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a man of faith.” 

“Perhaps I am stronger than I think.”

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

Paramahansa Yogananda’s Christmas Vow…

A Christmas Vow

I will prepare for the coming of the Omnipresent baby Christ by cleaning the cradle of my consciousness, now rusty with selfishness, indifference, and sense attachments; and by polishing it with deep, daily, divine meditation, introspection and discrimination. I will re model the cradle with the dazzling soul qualities of brotherly love, humbleness, faith, desire for God-realization, will power, self-control, renunciation, and unselfishness, that I may fittingly celebrate the birth of the Divine Child.”  —Paramahansa Yogananda

Urban Simplicity. 

Thoughts on the 23rd Psalm…and what it means to me.

So I’ve been thinking about the 23rd Psalm a lot lately. I go through periods where it seems to bubble up from my subconscious. I’m not one to know bible passages by heart, but this one I do. Over the past decade or so it has, on various occasions, helped me a great deal.

This psalm—as with most of the bible, or any sacred text for that matter—I take as metaphor. I like to see how it translates to my life in this time in history, not what it may have meant two or three thousand years ago. This said, before I speak directly of this psalm I have to mention my views on who (or what) I think God is. Yup, I said the G-word and with a capital G.

My views are very personal (but aren’t everyone’s?) and may be out on the fringe for some, so if you are a literalist (meaning, you take the bible as the inherent and unfailing word of God) or if you have religious views that lean decidedly to the right, you may want to close this page right now and not read any further. But if you do continue to read on please do not send me hate mail or try to “save me.”

Ok, so I’ll get back to the big G…who, or more specifically what, God is to me? Well, I certainly do not think of Him as an old man with a white beard sitting up on a cloud somewhere looking down. And I’m conscious that I just used the gender-specific “Him” in the previous sentence. I do this out of habit, I suppose, just in the same way I use the word God for what I consider to be the Ultimate Reality. To me—in my heart—the word God is also interchangeable with Spirit, Divine Source, Universe, Indwelling Presence (just to name a few)…the list could go on. I really believe that the concept of God is incomprehensible to our human minds (though not necessarily our hearts) but at the same time It/He/She is all that there is. I believe this Ultimate Reality is in everything and is in fact everything and we are part of It and It is part of us and in some unfathomable way we as humans live and move within this Reality and are connected to each other and everything and everyone is connected to us and everything in It. In short, I believe there is nowhere we can go where this Reality is not.

Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift up a stone and you will find me there.” 
Gospel of Thomas, saying 77

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” 
Psalm 139:7-8
For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” 
Bagavad Gita 6:30
And how do I personally know that God exists? I see It/He/She reflected back at me when I look in the eyes of another fellow human. I feel Her when I see a person moved to tears…I know It when I am moved to tears. He is present in my heart when I help another person or if I see another person helping another. The Universe speaks to me when I feel a gentle breeze or rain on my face as I ride my bike, or when, amazingly, plants push through the spring soil after one of the harshest winters I can remember. And I even know this Reality when one of my beautiful dogs looks up at me with unconditional love the way that a canine does. I could go on, but you likely get the picture. Do I feel or know this Presence in my life all of the time? No, of course not. I’m a work in progress (but we all are). And that’s why I need helpers like this psalm to remind me.

And one last thing before I talk directly about the 23rd Psalm…I have to mention the J-word. Yup…Jesus. Because I know that if I’ve kept your attention long enough to read this far then there are at least a couple of you who are wondering what my views are on Jesus. I will only touch briefly on him because I have thoughts in my head about what I’d like to write and it could go on for pages and I don’t want to bore you with it now (but probably will in a later post). And another quick suggestion…if you are a literalist and you made it this far this may really be the time to click another link and get out of this page.

Firstly I would just like to say that while I believe that the Divine Spirit is part of each one of us and that we are part of It in equal measure, no matter what our race, religious background, gender, sexual orientation, etc….there is One Spirit that permeates all things, but at the same time I consider myself a Christian. And by this I mean that I try to follow the teachings of Jesus the Christ as best I can (but usually fail miserably on a daily basis). Do I think he was the only begotten son of God…no. Do I believe he died for our sins…nope. I’m not even convinced he died a physical death on the cross. Then what do I believe, you may be wondering? I believe that he was a divinely-inspired teacher who was trying to tell us how to live and that the life he lived was an example…pure love and compassion. He was truly enlightened in the same way that the Buddha was, and that he was telling us that if we did what he did we too could find heaven in this lifetime. So there it is.

Sorry for the long ramble, here—finally—is how I view this psalm, and what it means to me. To sum it up in just a sentence, this psalm makes me remember what is real and important in life, and that even when things seem hopeless I still am connected to and inseparable from the same Divine Source as you and the next person, and that I have this Source within me to know that deep down everything is just as it should be. The psalm is in bold and my thoughts/interpretations are in italics, and I have to emphasize that these are simply my personal thoughts. I am not trying to force them on anyone. Thank you for reading this far.



Psalm 23 

The Lord is my shepherd,

(The Divine Presence is all that there is. It dwells within all things including myself, and it guides me.) 

I shall not be in want.

(I have everything I need in life, including more food than I can eat, clothing to wear, a house to live in, and the love of family and friends.) 

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,

(Even though I am often tired and overworked and feel like there is no end in sight it is often an illusion, because I am allowed to take rests whenever I need to…sometimes it’s just a matter of turning inward. And when I do, through prayer, yoga, and meditation, I realize that I am on the shores of quiet waters.) 

He refreshes my soul.

(When I am at my most tired and stressed, when things seem hopeless, all I need is to remember the above three things and I can be refreshed. Turning inward and to remember what is really important in life.) 

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

(I am guided by intuition, or “gut feeling,” the goodness that each one of us has written on our hearts. All I have to do is listen. And little by little It guides me to become the person that I was meant to be.) 

Even though I walk through the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

(Everyone has dark times—and I could write a book here, right?—but knowing that our Divine Source is with me always reminds me that there truly is nothing to fear. This, and the fact that I know I am in some sometimes incompressible or unknowing way being guided, comforts me.) 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

(The table is my life spread out before me—where I truly do have everything I need—and my enemies are internal (fear, selfishness, envy, etc), and these can be overcome.) 

You anoint my head with oil;

(Because I, like each one of us, is a welcome guest at this time allotted for me on earth.) 

My cup overflows.

(I may not have everything I “want” but I surely have more than I truly need. My cup (life) is literally overflowing with goodness.) 

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

(Life really is what you make it. If I offer goodness and love, then goodness and love are returned to me. All I have to do is be open and allow it to happen). 

and I will dwell in the house of the Lordforever.

(Yes, I am a Christian that believes in reincarnation. Thus, I have been connected to this same Source—and probably you too—in previous incarnations, this current one, and those to come. And I could go on about this, but I won’t) 

Amen.

14 Quotes from the 14th Dalai Lama

 

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.

Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.

We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

“Silence is sometimes the best answer” 

“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” 

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.” 

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” 

“If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.” 

“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.”

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”  

Click here to go to the Dalai Lama’s website. 

More in the Five Quotes series.

14 Quotes from the 14th Dalai Lama

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

.

“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”

.
“Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.”
.
“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”
.
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
.
“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
.
“Silence is sometimes the best answer” 
.
“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” 
.
“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”
.
“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.” 
.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
.
“If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.” 
.
“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.”
.
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”  

Click here to go to the Dalai Lama’s website. 

More in the Five Quotes series.

Where I’m at (partie deux)…

Yours truly on the night of my ordination.

Photo credit: Sandy Chelnov

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where I’m at (partie deux)…

Yours truly on the night of my ordination.
Photo credit: Sandy Chelnov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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