Recently in the city Category

The Next Step...

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As we continue along the societal path leading us further into the "Post-Constantinian-Era" of the Church and society in the West - and I'm thinking primarily of those in the U.S., in more urban areas, and substantially those under 30-years of age - the way we go about doing church, the way we go about influencing society for the good and the beautiful, the way we go about the doing of Jesus' two Great Commands, and particularly the way we go about evangelism/witness - by necessity will and must adapt and change.  This isn't change for the sake of change, change to attempt to be all hipster-like, change to be on the presumed cutting-edge, or change to accomplish personal or group agendas, but rather change that should naturally come from careful observation, study, participation, and discernment with regard to the dynamic morphing of generational, cultural, perceptual, and/or ambition-al sensibilities and understandings we have of ourselves, our cohorts, and our world. After all, while we are called not to be of the world, we are certainly not called to be other than or out of the world!

So, what does this all mean?  Since we have entered into the cultural milieu where a Judeo-Christian understanding of humanity, our world, and our place in it is no longer the foundation upon which our society revolves with regard to so many things - ethics, morals, sense of purpose, how we relate to other people(s), concepts of freedom and integrity, material things, and our inner-selves - let along God - we must understand and re-engage the central purposes of the Church - the institutions that embody the Mystical Body of Christ in the world.  What are the purposes of the Church to be re-engaged?

I posit this: to begin, that which has endured through the centuries of testing - there is gravity here.  What purposes have been tested and shown to endure? The primary purpose of the Church is to worship God and be present with God in His desire for the good of the created order.  Secondly, the Church is to be the primary conduit through which people come into a salvific relationship with God through Jesus Christ, period.  Thirdly, the Church is to be the place where people are formed and re-formed into the Life-in-Christ by way of the transformative working of the Holy Spirit in our individual and collective lives. This happens as we give ourselves individually to the practice of the enduring Christians Spiritual Disciplines and as we collectively provide place for the learning of, the habitation of, and the practice of such disciplines. The Church provides for the practice of these disciplines. Once these three enduring proposes of the Church are engaged heartily, even if imperfectly (which is inevitable), then we become the image of God and go about being a witness for Christ's desire among the people we engage every day.  The way we are a witness - doing evangelism - changes, naturally.  The way we care for the poor and needy will change, organically.  The way we campaign against injustice changes, fundamentally.

The authentic Christian response to the profound needs of the outcasts and marginalized and the way to come against injustice can only happen after we come to love God with all of our being - then we are able to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The central purposes of the Church are not social work and political activism - sorry.  Those things are born authentically for the Christian out of worship, formation, and self-denial. Frankly, the world does not need the Church to care for the needy or to champion justice.  There are plenty of NGO's and non-profits (religious or secular) that are very good at this. The world does need the Church to know God and to be transformed for living "life to the full."

Worship/Prayer, Formation/Discipleship, Selflessness/Self-Denial, Witness/Evangelism are the watchwords, and IMHO the more helpful progression for action.

I am convinced that once we re-engage the core practices of the Faith, we will realize again the Church's positive influence for the shaping of the world by God's design, which is good, beautiful, and peaceful. Although, for the time being as we rebuild trust and authentic alternatives to the prevailing world systems to which we have become beholden, growth will be small and under the radar (because we need to regain our sense of purpose, value, and worth not born out of the seeking of societal approval and affirmation).  For those of us who are after such things, we will need to stay under the radar to a degree because such challenges to the status-quo always gather together those who oppose and resist.  So be it. We work with and along-side all who wish God's purposes to be realized, but the next step in the reshaping and reforming of the Church will take place with or without us - I want to be part of the reshaping!

I think here, in this messiness, is where I want to find situated the Imago Dei Initiative!

Yes, it is true, this is what many a New Yorker says.  I have to admit, I say these too many of these very things and too often!  This is one of the best "Sh*t [people] Say" videos!

A Year in New York

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The New Black

I posted an observation on Facebook early in the spring and asked whether "Pink" had become the new "Black" for guys in New York City. I didn't really get much of a response.

Well, last week my question was answered. One day last week, from the subway to my office (a block and a half), going out to eat lunch in the area (around 75 minutes), and walking back to the subway after work I counted 12 guys in pink shirts - t-shires, Polo's, Oxfords, and dress-shirts - 4 guys in pink ties, and one guy with muted pink lipstick (it is New York, after all).

So, I will declare that "Pink" has become the new "Black" (as much as that really means anything at all) for guys in New York. After all, "real men wear pink." That, of course, was conjured up by some die manufacturer that had an overabundance of red die, I suppose.

The City #28

Language in New York is, well, colorful. The F-word is a common as, well, "like" in some other parts of the coastal-country.

This morning, as I was walking from the subway to work, on 37th St. I passed by a construction site with two brawny construction workers standing in the street, one yelling into his cell-phone. It's kind of funny to see a skyscraper going up on a plot of land no larger that a little gas-station in the rest of the country, between other tall buildings. It's kind of indicative of New Yorkers' concept of personal-space.

Anyway, this is what I overheard as I walked through the sidewalk maze.


"That f**king, head-ache-*ss, bullsh*t."

What did he say? That's all he said. Now, that's all I heard and I've no clue of the context of the conversation, but other than conveying that he was a bit miffed, what in the world did he actually say? Might he have said something like, "I'm a bit angry right now and what happened wasn't at all helpful!"

Yes, he could have, but it wouldn't have been nearly as colorful.

The City #27

When winter rolled around my first year in New York, I noticed that when it began to snow people pulled out umbrellas. They looked funny! Walking along as fluffy snowflakes fluttered in the air, pushed along by the wind, slowly descending and landing on the dog poop left on the sidewalk by an obnoxious, irresponsible, degenerate dog owner with no consideration for anyone else. Snow is white. Dog owners that leave their dogs' poop for everyone to marvel at, well, they are black. (How is that for dualistic thinking and self-righteous judgmentalism?) People in New York don't like deposits left on the sidewalk - really, really don't like them.

Anyway, snow, winter, and umbrellas.

Growing up in the mid-west along a Great Lake, we had lots of snow during most of the winter. In places where winter is truly cold and snowy, well, people just don't do something as droll as use an umbrella during a snowfall. Why would you, really? Half the time snow is falling sideways, anyway. What good is an umbrella during sideways snow flurries? What about blizzards? Useless.

I suspect it really does make sense, in a way. In New York City, 60% of the population come from somewhere else, and many of that 60% come from warm climates that rarely ever see snow. So, for those people, when water falls from the sky in whatever form, well, an umbrella is an appropriate response.

They're wimps! They look funny.

This morning, I found an open umbrella just rolling around on the sidewalk as I headed to work in Manhattan. It had just started to snow a little (it had been drizzling rain, earlier). Who was the owner of a working umbrella? I went and investigated this bizarre occurrence only to find out that while the umbrella had wonderful spring-action-opening capabilities, it would not remain closed. A death sentence for an umbrella! There was a woman standing by me who said, "I'll take it!" She was one of those that use umbrellas when it snows. Oh, well; I gave it to her and she was thrilled. Good deed for the day - besides, I was wearing clericals and it is always good to dispel those negative stereotypes applied to priests. Now, all that water falling out of the sky won't muss her hair.

If I were back home, using umbrellas during snow is considered a bit weird. No one does it, except for those who happen to migrate from warmer places. I just looks funny.

UPDATE: Okay, okay, okay... Freezing rain. That might well be an appropriate time for an umbrella during winter. The stuff hurts! Freezing rain, but not for snow!

The City #26

The morning after a historic event, riding on the subway to work, dead tired because I was up too late last night. On the subway, an African American woman heading for work, a T-shirt with "Brooklyn" written across it in white letters. Her young daughter sitting next to her, pig-tails, back-pack, all coordinated in pink. An expectant look. Not rich, not poor - I think. Mother quietly reading to daughter from the beginning pages of, "The Dreams of My Father, " by Barrack Obama. That's PRESIDENT Obama, to you.

My church of preference - that would be St. Paul's Church in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, where I serve (okay, I'm biased) - has played host over the last few years to a myriad of musical recordings, mostly from people who attend St. Paul's.

More recently, one of that group of performers/singer-songwriters/producers yielded an article in The Village Voice where St. Paul's is mentioned.

I guess I now live in a hipper, cooler area of New York City - BoCoCa! Go figure.

Here is the story in The Village Voice.

Here are photos of my church of preference, during Lent:




The City #25

Well, it is coming to the end of August, and, well, the City is empty! I've spent 5 summers in New York City and it seems to be that this month is the emptiest of any I've experienced. Now, I well know that when I write, "empty," that it is an exaggeration, but getting a seat on the subway, taxing around in slight traffic, quickly finding a parking place, walking along and not bumping into as many people makes it seem "empty."

My doctor even said he has no idea to where all the people went.

In a couple of weeks, however, schools will have begun and most people will have returned from their vacations. Once again, New York life will return to "normal."

The City #24

Okay, I'm getting to work a little late today because of a blood test (cholesteral). Coming out of the subway on 6th and 40th, by Bryant Park, suddenly the line up the steps stop. There is a crowd, and I think, "What is going on?" Finally, I'm getting closer to the top and I hear all kinds of screaming and hoards of people. Then I though, "Oh, yeah, its the Good Morning America Summer Concert Series in Bryant Park - they do this every Friday.

There is a cop right there at the subway exit blocking entrance to the sidewalk leading east along 40th St., across the street from the park. I had to actually show my work ID to get through the barricades.

Swarms of pre-pubescent girls everywhere - all texting like mad, all taking photos of themselves and their friends with their cell phones. I guess they started lining up last night. They had sleeping bags. I wondered why, on the way home last night, GMA and Bryant Park had all kinds of extra barricades and "General Admission Signs" all over.

It's the Jonas Brothers! Damn Nickelodeon, or is it Disney?

Overheard: "I've got to get home. I've been up 24 hours." That isn't so bad, but as I turned the corner onto 5th Ave.... Okay, I'm four stories up in CPG and on the other side of the block and I hear them screaming... anyway, I turned the corner and there was a bus for, I guess, the brothers, girls everyone. They were kissing the bus. They were actually kissing... the... bus.

Well, there you go. A "typical" day in the City. By the way, Feist certainly didn't get this kind of attention. Hum....

The City #22

I got off the subway returning home a little bit ago after having dinner with a friend in Central Park (the trains were slow - took me an hour to get home). It had just stopped raining - the kind of quick downpour that leaves everything soaking wet, but the clouds part and the sun starts to shine as water drips from everything. A cool breeze, and the air smelled good.

As I was walking down the street a few brave souls resumed playing in the park, but instead of the voices of the kids playing catching my attention, I heard someone singing. I figured up ahead there was a car with someone sitting with the window opened listening to the radio, but I passed car after car and no radio playing. So then, I thought perhaps someone had a radio playing loudly in their apartment, window opened.

I started looking up at the brownstones, listening. The singer had a very nice voice - it sounded familiar, kind of a young, pop ballad kind of voice. It was nice. Then on the third floor of an old brownstone in the bay window I saw a girl with a microphone and another girl at an electric piano, barely noticeable. The voice I heard was hers - live.

I looked up and watched them through the window as I walked by. I decided to turn around and go back to listen a little more. I tried to be inconspicuous. I passed by, backtracked, but no where to hind. I just turned around again to continue home. At this point, looking up at the window, she saw me and smiled. I was caught. She was caught, and stopped singing for a New York minute. I don't know whether she was caught off guard - not expecting anyone to see her or pay attention to her singing. Perhaps she was embarrassed. I don't know.

The City is full of these little kind of things. So often they are lost in the noise and busyness of the City, but after a quieting rain a voice carries and I just have to pause and listen. I am fortunate when these little moments get through - kind of like stopping and smelling the flowers. I wonder what was going through her mind when she realized that someone heard her, someone was listening, someone discovered her and her friend practicing.

This neighborhood is a little too expensive at this point for struggling artists, but there are still some and the ones that have a little luck in their careers move here. I love this neighborhood and this City in all its dynamic craziness. Perhaps some day, this women will be famous and I will remember back to one rainy day when I heard a voice coming from a third floor walk-up in Brooklyn and think, "I saw her..."

A new Ikea just opened, yesterday. It is a 20 minute walk from my apartment. An Ikea 20 minutes away. Lord. Red Hook will never be the same. The Queen Mary docks, an Ikea opens, what's next?

The City #21

Riding the subway this morning, I had a feeling of dread thinking about the verdict coming this morning concerning the Shawn Bell trial. I'm worried about the outcome.

Update: The verdict is in and all three policemen were acquitted. What happens, now?

This morning I debated wearing clericals at the last minute before I left for work. Friday's are "business casual" at CPG, and frankly I didn't want to wear anything around my neck. Sitting on the subway, I wish I had.

There were a couple black people sitting around me, and I wanted to ask them what they thought would happen this afternoon. I wanted to know what they were thinking and feeling about all this. I didn't because I am a "white-boy asking stupid questions," someone intruding upon personal space. There comes a point when a person just doesn't want to try to explain a lifetime of experience to someone they know they will never see again - especially someone they think cannot understand to begin with.

Wearing a collar, well, there is still an identification with something more than someone who just can't understand and who won't do anything anyway. (Don't laugh.) With a collar, there is a generally understood justification for asking such questions. People still recognize a "something more than self-interest" - a concern that goes beyond the individual, beyond race, beyond being worried about my own lily-white behind.

The other thing is that the collar still gets a priest into places a "regular/normal" person can't go. The collar still gives me an entré into people's lives (strangers) that I can't enter otherwise (and of course the opposite can be true, too). There is still, remarkably, a respect for the collar. It's also becoming a curiosity.

Anyway, I wish I would have gone with my instincts and worn clericals. My soul is heavy, right now. There are no easy answers, and too many people will be terribly grieved this day. Was the judge right in his decision? Hindsight will tell us, but right now it doesn't make a difference. People are functioning on emotion and not rational thought. Tomorrow and the days ahead, hopefully we will be rational.

The City #20

Today is a day! This is the first really warm day and the streets are packed. I walked over to the Library at Bryant Park to eat my soup. Walking through the park afterwards in a sea of people. People eating, people reading. People talking, people starring. Eye Candy! Chess played, stone laid, children whirling, long lines for sandwiches. Balls rolling on the Boule courts, cameras pointing in every direction.

A guy talking excitedly to female table mates, "There is no city like New York. No city like New York - let's just get that straight!"

Fountain spraying, cutest-in-the-world puppies roaming - women watching with big smiles. Pope at the U.N. and Yorktown, a 15 minute walk from here. Germanic evangelist talking about Jesus to "Savvy Americans." Every shape, every color, every sound imaginable - all packed together. The lawn rests, this day.

This kind of day makes me thrilled that I live in New York City, "No city like New York..." Makes me want to not just live in Brooklyn, but in Manhattan. (Okay, I really like were I live in Brooklyn, but there it is different.) Makes me not want to leave.

This is a day in the City!

The City #18

Sometimes, walking around the City I get a small, short glimpse of life - a snapshot, a moment in the lives of a few individuals. Sometimes, these snapshots are vividly embedded in my mind and remembering them seems as real as when I experienced them.

The other day I was walking from work to the subway. I crossed the street and walking to the intersection I saw a father with his young son in hand. The father, perhaps the boy's grandfather, was bending low as they walked and was talking earnestly to the boy, about what I'm not sure. The little boy, who was probably an older-three or four years old, was looking up into the sky or at the buildings and was just doing "raspberries."

Just that moment - the earnestness and seriousness of aging men and the frivolity and carefree-ness of little boys.

I've been in a "people are just plain idiots" phase over the last couple of weeks. This glimpse of joyous life brings me back to reality and balance and the realization that I do love God's brazenly chaotic Creation.

The City #17

Recently in New York (hat-tip to T19)

Too funny!

The City #19

Just a couple random observations...

#1 - I was waiting in line for a coffee at "The Tea Lounge" in Cobble Hill (just north of Carroll Gardens) - this is my preferred coffee house hang-out when it is not just completely packed with people. I normally show up on Saturday mornings before all the stroller pushing mothers (sometimes with fathers) show up.

Anyway.... I was waiting in line for coffee and just happened to notice the number of laptop computers. I was waiting in line for a to-go coffee because there was no place to sit. There were around 23 people sitting around. A few reading newspapers or books or talking. So, I counted the laptops. Out of the 23 people sitting around, 17 were using laptops. 17! There were about evenly divided between Mac users and Windows users (normally, Mac's win).

Now, this scenario is repeated at Nadras (most exclusively Mac territory), another favorite coffee spot, and at The Fall Cafe (tends to be more Windows people - too bad). Now, at Georgia's, where I go Sunday mornings before mass, and which is definitively of the Old Neighborhood (working class Italians), there is nary a laptop in site. Of course, they don't offer Internet access, either.

#2 - It's interesting to watch people watch people. I was doing this on the subway train yesterday. A young woman was sitting down, the train was full, and I watched her as she watched the people around her. She was intent, seemingly interested, consistent, varied in who she watched, and I really wonder what was going on in her mind. What was she thinking?

Was anyone watching me watching someone who was watching people?

#3 - It is certainly easy to fall into the stereotypic New York City sense that there is little consideration for the rest of the nation. I was walking down the street last Saturday, coming back from The Tea Lounge, and thought, "It can be so easy to never think about the rest of the country. And, how easy would it be to just not care? I don't think it is a matter of not recognizing the importance of what goes on in the rest of the country, but that everything is available here - first. So much starts here and goes around the world before it comes back around. It seems that the rest of the country could go away and New York City (along with perhaps Long Island, parts of New Jersey, and parts of upstate where all those second/vacation homes are located) would be perfectly okay and may New Yorkers might not even notice.

The horns blow in the City

This is another one of those cool, foggy mornings. As I sit here and write about questions concerning the effects of "constant change" (my next post), I hear the fog horns on the bay and East River. I feel the closer one in my chest. One calling to another, "I am here. Be careful." The other calling, "I hear you. Hear I am, be careful." One after the other, the horns blow. One to all the others. One closer than the others.

It's funny to think of this kind of thing in this kind of City. Perhaps I expect to hear old fog horns only in small fishing towns, but New York City? Sometimes, it is hard to remember that this place sits on the ocean, surrounded by two rivers, a bay, an ocean. The sound of fog horns just doesn't jibe with the notion of modern New York City, for some strange reason. I like it.

Go Tribe!

The City, but not #2

Now, I know Provincetown has a lot of characters as full-time residents. I love them, even though I know I love them as one who is visiting. Yet, with these characters I sense among those who are here all season or all year that they get along and that they are appreciated. More about this later...

Now, there is another group of characters that fall in with the tourists. Of course. There is one segment, however, that I don't think I can handle! I have seen more dogs in strollers (yes, baby strollers) being pushed along by women (and yes, they have all been women) these past few days then ever in my whole, entire life.

What? Frankly, this is not just too much. I've heard several women this week speak of themselves to their dogs as "mommy." I was sitting in my room the other morning watching people come in and out of the coffee house across the street and checking e-mail. A woman comes out with three coffees in a carrier and says to her leashed dog, "Now, don't pull mommy. I have coffee." I'm afraid, truly, that these women are not just jokingly referring to their pets as "children," as I know some do, but I think there is a misplaced maternal instinct going on and there is a confusion of what is an animal and what is a human baby/child. Intellectually I suspect they all know the difference, but emotionally, well, something is going on and I don't think it is healthy.

Call me a misogynist if you must; call me a "humanist" if you must, but this just ain't emotionally healthy. It is strange-funny how in a "therapeutic society" that it comes down to the norm being to not work through our problems so that we can come out the other side more healthy and free from the emotional ordeal, but that we revel in our psychoses and demand that everyone else call them good so that we can feel better about ourselves. We are truly a mixed up lot!

The City, but not

This could have been another "City" post, but I'm not in the City right now. I haven't had a real vacation in a long time, so I am taking one and spending a week in Provincetown, MA. I've had friends who have come here regularly for years and love it, so I thought that since it is a bit post-season and quite I would see what it is like.

It is full of bus loads of senior citizens on bus tours with nametags, that’s what it’s like. Not quite what I was expecting, but it is quiet right now. I've been the only one in the quest house for the past two nights.

Anyway, I was supposed to be going on a sunset sailing excursion this evening on the restored, oldest schooner still operating. It's a great boat. There is no sun today, so I swung by the dock to tell the captain that I'm going to wait until tomorrow. He is a great, gregarious guy who loves to talk about what he does and tell stories about his lifetime of sailing. So, his schooner is named, "Hindu." The original owner imported spices from India, thus "Hindu." The original owner spelled it “Hindoo” which, according to the captain, many Indians find offensive.

A group of five decided to still go out on the excursion and the captain was explaining to them how so many Indian tourists come up and ask about the boat and why it is named "Hindu." Then he said this, which is why I'm writing:

“You have to understand about the Indians and Hindu." He tried to explain, "Hindu is like, well, like Irish. No, that isn't a good example,” he said. "Hindu is like Jews. You know, it's everything; it's a religion; it's a way of life. It's everything about them. I was going to say like Irish Catholics," he went on, "but, well, that religion isn't everything to them - not something they do every day. Not like the Hindu's or the Jew's when it's everything for them everyday," he finished.

Isn't that something? This could reveal a whole lot about Christians in general and Irish Catholics in particular (well, honestly, just about this person's impression of Irish Catholics). I don't think this guy is religious (although probably raised Irish Catholic), but his perception of Jews and Hindus as a people who truly live their faith (and culture so influenced by their faith) is far different from his impression of Irish Catholics, or Catholics, or perhaps Christians in general. I suspect this is the impression of too many non-religious folks or too many non-Christians.

I really think that most of the people in this country view "Christians" as not particularly committed to their faith - primarily because I think too many people see the rank hypocrisy and materialism of those who love the limelight and demand that all accept their version of what the Faith must be. And let’s face it, average American Christians sitting in pews and behind pulpits don’t do a very good job, either. The recent findings of religious literacy even among the born-again crowd show an abysmally low level of understanding of the Faith and the Bible.

Now, Mother Teresa or the Amish in the aftermath of the school shooting tragedy in Pennsylvania are different matters. There are good examples everywhere, even if they get little attention. But the Religious Right or the Religious Left? Nope. Both camps love to claim the mantle of the true expression of the Faith, but rarely does either live up to even the most basic of the ideals set before us by Jesus - or, at least in those who we readily see in the media and popular culture. “Power tends to corrupt,” and all that.

Frankly, and I've said this before, I do believe that there are less and less people in the West committing themselves to the organized Faith and intentionally striving to live by the teachings of Jesus (with the help of the Holy Spirit) because those already Christian do such a piss poor job experiencing the Faith themselves. We are living a deficient form of Christianity. There is little verifiable “difference” between the lives of self-professed Christians and those who aren’t, and too many self-professed Christians don’t see it.

The “difference” is found in the everyday life, the everyday interactions, and the change that is wrought within us when we truly turn our lives to the Light of Christ. It should be that the captain could say "Irish Catholics" (or any group of American Christians) and everyone could shake their heads because of the witness of the faith that exudes from their very being. (And yes, I'm sure the captain has a less-than-accurate vision of the faithfulness of those who practice Hinduism or Judaism.)

He asked me where I was staying. Then, before he got on his schooner he asked me whether I drove or not. He said, “If you didn’t, I have a car I was going to tell you that you could borrow.” That’s something.

Tomorrow, the American House of Bishops begins to meet. Let us watch and see whether the various interest groups world-wide and their media-hound leaders might provide for this captain a good and positive vision of what Jesus calls us to through their words and actions. Wouldn't that be something?

The City #18

A Tribute in Light - this morning, I went up on the roof of the Rectory and looked into Lower Manhattan. From where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood, two powerful beans of light shoot into the sky.

What powerful lights they must be! Two beams streaming up; they merge at some point and look as if they bend towards me, somewhat like a rainbow bends, but before it can come back around (which I know it wouldn't) the beams disappear high, very high, in the dark, morning sky.

It is a striking tribute. It is a striking sight in the City.

The City #17

I'm getting ready to run this morning. I look outside and the streets are full of fog. Whitish gray light in these morning hours. Everything is still and quiet.

I can hear, can feel, the sound of a fog horn blowing. Now two. Low rumbling fog horns from the bay and the East River - the atmosphere and the sound could be from 100 years ago.

This is the City, even if only rarely experienced these days.

The City #16

What's the difference between walking to work in New York City on Wednesday, August 8th and swimming?

Swimming is pleasant!

My gosh, the humidity and heat after the storms this morning where horrendous. You get wet not because of rain or sweat, but simply because of the humidity in the air. I found out once I finally got to work that there was a tornado warning for Brooklyn until 7:45 am. In Brooklyn? There was a lot of thunder and lightening and lots of rain, but a tornado in Brooklyn?

Of course, the amount of rain that came down in such a short period of time flooded a lot of the subway tunnels. This is not the beginning of a pleasant day in the City.

The City #15

On Tuesday, two days ago, we had to evacuate our building. This was not a drill, however, but the real thing. As we made our way to the common meeting spot, we found out way we had to leave. There was an unattended suitcase left on the sidewalk in front of the building. The police evacuated about a three block radius around the suspect suitcase.

We spent about an hour or a bit less and it all ended up to be much ado about nothing. As one of the cops said when asked what was going on, "New York post 911." I guess they do have to be vigilant. When, however, we honestly come to the point when all of "normal" life is disrupted and our responses and reactions are borne of paranoia, free, and distrust they have won.

I recently heard a guy, an expert in something or another, talking about our reaction to terror threats. He said that our best response would be to get back to normal as quickly as possible after an attack. "Terror" as a weapon of choice would soon stop being an effective way to force opponents to bend to terrorists' demands.

We will not win this thing through force, no matter what the neo-hawks on Capital Hill or the White House seem to insist upon. Diplomacy will not stop this sort of thing, either, although in the long run it is the best path to pursue. The "true believers in the cause" will stop at nothing. If, however, they realize that terrorism will not force a society, a people, a system into submission, they will turn to other means (perhaps more terrible, perhaps for civilized).

In the City, we played our little part this week. To what end?

The City #14 & Thoughts

I was getting ready to exit the subway this morning on 32nd St. A small crowd of people was waiting to get into the train car, but instead of standing back and waiting for everyone to get off and then getting on, they held back for just a moment and then began to push their way in.

Entering and exiting subway trains has always been problematic, but the problem is getting worse, particularly as the population increases and more people ride. Unless there is a return to a common sense understanding that all things will be much more efficient and expedient if those wanting to get on the train wait until all those getting off are in fact off. As it stands, the chaos and gosling that results from everyone trying to do their OWN thing all at the same time accomplishes nothing but frazzled nerves and longer waits. (Just to let you know that I am not venting because I feel put upon, this incident really didn't effect me. This is just an observation.)

Here is the problem, and the worst is yet to come. As the result of the drive for rabid individualism marches on in this country, ideas of the common good and a community sense are lost. Selfishness, self-centeredness, personal greed, narcissism, and the loss of concern for anyone else are the outcomes of hyper-individualism. Much of our pop-culture, including the almighty advertising dollar, have encouraged hyper-individualism for the past 35 odd years. Get what YOU can, get what you DESERVE, YOU can have it ALL and to hell with those who don't, these ideas represent the mantra of the past few generations. We get what we deserve.

There comes a point where the common cultural understanding of the common good, of altruism, of concern for the welfare of the other person becomes alien - this common sense has been breed out of us, so to speak. The outcome is chaos and a world that will not look much different than the Mad Max movies of the 1980's.

I know that people not waiting for others to get off a subway car is a minor kind of incident, but it represented to me this morning the outward manifestation of the virus of hyper/rabid-individualism. This virus will destroy our ability to function as a civil society all being together under the rule of law, common decency, and life-sustaining community.

What will happen? A loss of personal liberty - it has already begun (the Patriot Act, for example). When we no longer know our neighbors and when our personal, individual safety is threatened without a strong, inbreed culture sense the wellbeing of the whole community rather just the self, everyone becomes suspect. Well, we won't abide chaos for too long. What will happen is a clampdown on "rule breaking" and personal liberty. The end result will be far less freedom than when the whole "libertine" movement escallated beginning in the 1960's. They thought the 1950's were oppressive, just wait!

I thought this morning, "each subway car has a few burly men standing at each door. When the doors open, these men form a barrier to open a path for everyone to get off the train. Once everyone is off, then they allow people to get on. Now, some hyper-individualists will balk and try to fight their way through, but these burly men will have to basically beat then down. Taser, anyone? Kick in the groin?"

A far-fetched scenario? Perhaps, but in order to restore a sense of order intense means will have to be employed. We loose our liberty. We lose balanced individual expression, because during such times conformity becomes paramount. We lose it all in the name of hyper-individualism and the encouraged selfishness and greed that has always plagued humankind, and of which the zeit-qeist strives to deny the outcome.

The world changes, yes. Change is not a bad thing by any means. Yet, we have to be honest in perceiving and discerning the direction in which change is moving and whether that direction is beneficial or not. The end result is not guaranteed.

The City #13

It is 68 degrees this morning and the humidity is so high (and thick) that I'm sweating! Yuck.

So, I was on the subway going home last night and a new crop of people came into the car. I was sitting and reading and noticed a youngish woman caring a couple things. I looked up and thought, "Is she pregnant?" Well, being the chivalrous person that I am, I would certainly give up my seat to a pregnant woman! I started to get up and she said, "No, I'm not pregnant." Ouch!

I am amazed at the number of Russians in this country (or at least in New York City). I think back and remember growing up in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. I think about the fall of Communism and the rise of the various republics that made up the Soviet Union, and then there is (or was) the East Block, the Iron Curtain, and can't remember what the "alliance" was actually called.

What must these people think? Here they are living and working in their formerly sworn enemies and amongst the capital pigs. Of course, I'm thinking of the truly devoted Marxist/Leninists who still protest in Russian and call for the return of a Communist Russia. The place I get my hair cut is run by Russians, as are a number of other hair cutting places.

I remember stepping into the grand plaza in East Berlin right as the Wall was falling. This was the equivalent to West Berlin's main plaza and there was no comparison. I know of East Berliners who first stepped into West Berlin when the whole in the Wall finally appeared and saw first-hand the vast differences between the two societies. They were shocked to see that the reports of Western prosperity were true, after being told time and again that it was all Western propaganda. They realized their whole system was a lie and their government deceived them from the beginning.

Now, the try to come to the West, even as the Russian rulers are stepping back from democratic systems. Where will it all end, I wonder?


I was walking through Red Hook on Saturday to a new garden center on the tip of the Island called, Liberty Sunset. Why Liberty Sunset? Because the place has an incredible view of The Statue of Liberty and sunsets, that's why. Anyway, this place is incredible (don't think typical suburban garden center). So, I first walked to my new favorite little cubbyhole restaurant for a bit of brunch (if brunch can be had at 2:00 pm, rather than just having breakfast at 2:00 pm).

Oh wait, it wasn't at the restaurant. Okay, so next I walk to the garden place that is owned by a couple people, one of whom is from Hungary. Since he is from Hungary, his partner told me on their grand-opening, he is really into hospitality. At a certain time on the weekends, they fire up the incredible grill in their amazing kitchen that is part of a huge warehouse room where they have waterfalls and grow lights and photography space and an enormous table in the midst of pots and scattered plant projects that was salvaged from some place, but is a horizontal slice from an ancient Redwood. They have like twenty chairs around this table. Mind you, this isn't the tourist destination kind of disneyfied mega-garden center. This is the place of work of some unique people! So, since the Hungarian co-owner is really into hospitality, they cook up some food and open some bottles of wine and invite anyone shopping or looking around to have a snake (or a meal, depending on how hungry you are). People just grab some stuff (the day I was there it was Hungarian specialties of sausages, and the like). I didn't eat, but thanked the other co-owner when she offered me some food and wine.

That's hospitality!

But, it wasn't at the garden center, either. This building used to be a warehouse. Red Hook is a port area of Brooklyn. The very modern Queen Mary II docks there now whenever it sails into New York City. I can see the smoke stacks from my living room window, and pretty much the whole thing when I'm on the roof. On one of my few runs these days, I ran through Red Hook and down by the dock to see the Queen Mary II in all its glory. (A bunch of us from General saw it sail up the Hudson on its maiden voyage along with a few thousand other people standing along the river at 6:00 am.) Anyway, I ran down by the docks and noticed a ton of police everywhere. I guess to guard against potential terrorist attacks. No problem. Well, until I ran down a deserted road that dead-ended on the bay and gave an incredible view of the front of the ship. I don't think they trusted me. A cop car followed me all the way, sat there while I look at the boat and the Statue of Liberty, and then while I ran away.

Okay, so this garden center is in the warehouse building along with a few other business whose proprietors seem to be equally unique (don't think hippy type, but just industrious, do your own thing, live a good life, hip-cool kind of people who are at stages in their lives where they can afford to do this kind of thing). Around the corner of the building is a Key-lime pie bakery. The most authentic key-lime pies in New York, its truck proclaims. After my breakfast at 2:00 pm, a nice little personal key-lime pie was in order. Refreshing on a hot, sunny day, before buying pots at the garden center. It was here that I saw it.

One of the owners of the garden center, I guess (I think they are all in cahoots with each other) fired up a new waterfall into a huge above ground custom built wooden pool that will be used for marsh plants right outside the door of the pie place; so one of the owners had on a t-shirt that had printed on the back P.E.T.A. I thought, great, it figures that one of this crew was a PETA member. But wait, I read on.

P.E.T.A, for this guy, meant, "People who Eat Tasty Animals!" I had to crack up. The shirt was from some b-b-q place in the South. Eating my little, personal key-lime pie, I thought, "This guy fits in perfectly with a garden center that serves up sausages and wine to his customers." That's the kind of place I would like to work. "People who Eat Tasty Animals." Just too funny.

The City #12

Here is a nice review of Into Great Silence from the Washington Post.

I was talking to some seminarians last week who went to see the movie. The movie has been held over three times now. Anyway, they said in a full theater the movie started - silence. Silence continued. And more silence. When the movie ended and as everyone filed out, suddenly someone realized as they were talking to a friend who was to see the next showing that.... wait for it.... wait for it... the theater never played the soundtrack!

The entire theater sat through the whole movie in shear and utter silence - nothing. Well, you can imagine, especially after reading the review from the Post, that the theater goers were a bit upset. They complained to the manager. They requested compensation. The manager basically said, "If all of you sat through an entire movie with no sound and didn't tell anyone, you're all idiots and don't deserve a refund!"

Now, generally, I would agree. However, this movie is entitled "Into Great Silence" and it was playing in arguably the most "art-house" theater in New York City. It is not unreasonable to think a silent movie was simply an artistic trick.

Too funny.

The City #11

After getting off the subway and walking to my coffee & pastry place before work, I saw a black car-service pull up to the curb. New York car-service cars are almost always black, Ford, and have darkened windows.

A man and a woman step out, dressed in jeans. They embrace for a good bit, kiss, and continue.

He gets back into the car and she hurries off with shoulder bags and a pony-tail. As the car slowly pulls away back into traffic, it comes up beside her.

Her head turns, oh so slightly, as she glances back to the car and her beloved within. She probably could not see within, but I suspect he turned his head, perhaps ever so slightly, to see one last time his beloved.

A romantic notion, I know. But, why not? Day-in-and-day-out, we pass through this world. We perceive and we believe. Love, real love, still abounds.

The City #10

It is 11:44 and Jody Foster is coming to the podium. I look out the window and huge snow flakes are falling. Looking out the window, looking at this side of St. Paul's, across the street to Guido's Funeral Home, and looking down the street at the steeple of the Roman Catholic Church, it really is magical.

There is something about a snow fall in the city.

The City #9

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I walked out of the Rectory this morning and onto Carroll St. and there it was, snow coving tree limbs, gates, banisters, cars, and it was wonderful. The snow was falling very lightly, almost done. The snow didn't really accumulate on the sidewalks or streets, but just enough to give the streetscape a nice snowy, winter feel. The air was still, brisk but not cold. The sky was gray and the "air" was just a bit misty, but not really foggy. Anyway, it was very nice.

Getting out of the subway at 42nd St., I noticed how quiet the station seemed to be. I don't think I ever remember that kind of quiet in such a busy station. No other trains were there at that moment. No sound of equipment humming or screeching, just still quite. The faint sound of the conductor's voice announcing "the next stop is Rockefeller Center" could barely be heard. It was the kind of quite that in New York you only "hear" in large stone churches or when a heavy snow is falling.

The City #8

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As I waited for the cars to pass and the light to change on the corner of President and Smith streets this morning on my way to the subway, I heard a mother say to her son as they parted ways:

Mom said, "I love you."

The son of 7or 8 years of age replied, "I love you, too."

A nice beginning of the day!

The City #7

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I was walking to the subway the other day after work. There were a lot of people on the street and Lord and Taylor just completed their Christmas decorating, so lots of tourists were out and about in the area. Of course, I work only a few blocks from the Empire State Building, which creates its own world of tourists along the block on which it sits.

Anyway, as I was passing DataVision I sensed this moving object on my left, just behind me. At first I thought it was a little kid on a scooter or skateboard rolling along with his parents. The object, or kid, just kind of stayed there as I walked along. Finally, I slowed down and let them pass.

Well, it wasn't a kid I noticed rolling by. I though, at first, why is that grown man sitting on his skateboard? Then, I noticed that he wasn't "sitting." He had no legs.

This young, good looking, well dressed in a sweater and scarf guy rolled by me on his skateboard with camera in hand. I was amazed. He used his white leather clad hands to push himself along, agilely weaving through the crowd. I don't really know how to describe him. His torso, covered in what looked like a woolen "sock" covering his lower body that sat upon the skateboard. I don't know where his torso actually ended - whether he had lower parts or whether he may not have been born with legs at all. This may sound insensitive, but he looked like a wooden stump plopped down on his skateboard.

I followed him the block or so to the subway. I was amazed at what I perceived to be his sense of comfort and ease as he pushed himself along. I don't know whether he was a tourist or a native. His shoulders were broad, probably because, I suspect, he used them as his sole means of transport and support. Truly, this guy was not "handicapped," despite missing his whole lower body.

I watched other people as they passed him by. Some heads turned, some never noticed him, and others simply glanced. I was particularly interested in how those standing up against the buildings, not walking, responded to him. Again, most just looked and watched as he passed by.

This brings to mind all the other young people who are around the city begging for money or food or some other thing. Discounting those street people who truly have mental and emotional disorders (there are a lot of them) and those why may truly find themselves in a bad sort for a time, I still see a lot of younger folks sitting out on the sidewalks begging. This one couple sat for almost an entire year in one spot upon a large pile of blankets and sleeping bags with their dog by their side. They begged, had signs requesting help, and down-and-out stories. They sat there for almost a year reading books. They sat on the same corner as the building around them was torn down and construction on a new one began. I suspect they were finally forced to move.

I have a hard time with some of these people. I give money to street people, but I've come to the point where I give to those who are obviously mentally problemed. Many younger people I see, and it is only my initial perception and gut instinct, could easily work. They could find work in the City, but I suspect the kind of work they would initially find would not be to their liking. So what!

And then, I see this guy on his skateboard. What am I to think of those able-bodied people, now? "Get a job." I know that there are a myriad of reasons why people do what they do, but I can't bring myself to feel sorry for those street folk begging for money when I see this guy. He, truly, is one who must overcome tremendous obstacles in his attempt to live a normal life. I noticed him holding back as the light changed waiting until it seemed that all the cars that were turning had done so. It would be frightening to simply cross the street. Cabbies and truck drives, really anyone, could easily miss him as he crossed the street. Yet, he continues, he travels, he overcomes his problems and lives. He isn't begging for money. I doubt he is feeling sorry for himself.

I don't know. I've worked multiple jobs at one time trying to support myself in years past. I know I could do it again. While I may find myself at some point in the future being brought low and having to beg for money, I just don't think I could be a "beggar," particularly when I see people like this young guy making his way through the streets of New York City.

The City #6

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This morning as I was sitting in my chair for morning devotions and looking out the window at a large bell tower/clock tower/steeple of the Roman Catholic church down the street, I was struck by the sight of the cross atop the steeple as it shown brilliantly of fiery gold. The clouds were moving quickly across the Brooklyn sky and the reds and pinks of the morning sunrise were fading. At one moment in time, the clouds must have parted just the right way to allow a ray of sunlight to fall luminously upon the cross, but not the rest of the steeple. It was a wonderful sight for a moment or two.

The City #5

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So, last night some of our Home Group (St. Paul's) went to see one of our group members, Kelly Upshaw (The Hope Trust), perform at Union Hall in Park Slope. He did a great job!

On the walk back home, Fr. Cullen and I were passing by Carroll Park when suddenly these three guys suddenly start running, one falling and getting back up, then right behind them came this cop, radio in hand, followed by a police van with lights aflashing.

The three guys ran into the park, and the cop is shouting into his radio that they are going into the park. The park is a full NYC block - quite nice actually, but not big. Suddenly, all these sirens and lights converge on the park from all directions. One, two, and then three policy cars, another police van, and then an ambulance came into view, wheels screeching. Two more out-of-breath cops run from around the corner as pedestrians pointed and shouted to the police that the guys ran "that way, that way, that way."

We just kept walking and watching. What more could we do? Cop cars were whipping around the streets in every direction. Then, we heard this crash and I thought for a moment that it was a gun shot. I think one of the cop cars, going backwards very quickly, sideswiped one of the cars parked along the street. The smell of burning rubber started to fill the air.

As we got to the opposite corner of the park, heading for the Rectory, a few of the cop cars and policemen converged on the next block. We noticed that they got one of the guys, pushing his hand-cuffed, bad-boy self into the car. This morning after Morning Prayer, Fr. Cullen said he walked his dog afterwards and a couple streets down they had apprehended one more. He said, "He was just a kid. He had no look of anxiousness or fear..." The cops stayed around for around 45 minutes.

Drama in Brooklyn.

The City #4

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Well, Lord & Taylor is getting ready for Christmas, already. The lights are going up outside their main mid-town story. Time continues on...

This morning, I can say is the first time someone on the street has called me a "fucking pervert!" Pardon my language. I was walking along and saw this youngish lady walking briskly towards me. Nothing unusual about that. I noticed that her face looked hard; hard in the sense of someone who isn't happy unless they are complaining or perceive themselves to be unhappy - ya know what I mean. Anyway, she was nicely dressed and all-things-considered not bad looking.

So, as we passed each other the coat (I presume) she was carrying and slightly flinging by her side hit my leg. No big deal, right? Well, all of a sudden I hear, "Watching it you fucking pervert."

I just ignored her and walk on, but I thought, "If she only knew." Frankly, if she did know that I would be almost the last person who would be acting perversely towards her, she still would have hurled some sort of invective towards me.

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