Blogger Meet Up – Albany Style, All the Way from New Zealand

If there is one thing I love, it is blogger meet up time. I have been very blessed to have met numerous blog friends over these past 3+ years. To see but a small bit of this chronicled, you can refer to this post from August.

When I first started blogging in May of 2007 I would write about my faith, but that was not really the focus of the blog. Mostly I blogged about politics back then, but I did find myself soon thrust into the midst of a wonderful world of Episcopalian/Anglican bloggers. So much of who I am and what I do out here is because of this diverse group of people. If you did check out that link from August, you will see me with a few of my Episcopal friends.

Yesterday I had the chance to meet yet another one of them, Brian Ralph, who authors the blog Noble Wolf. For those of you who do not know Brian, he is a retired teacher. He was living in the Blue Mountains, outside of Sydney, Australia, who recently moved to Dunedin, New Zealand. He is in the midst of a pretty significant around the world trip and his travels brought him through Albany for a day. Speaking of all of this, I do urge a visit to Brian’s blog to read about his amazing trip through Europe, including Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

Brian in Starbucks in downtown Albany, NY

It was a great delight to meet this lovely man!  After picking him up from the train station, we went to his hotel in Albany so that he could drop his bags and off we went on a sunny afternoon. I got to see parts of this city that I never see!

As with so many blogger meet ups, it was an easy connection to just start talking. We already knew a fair amount about each others lives, including faith, family and travel history! Brian has the most engaging smile and a very warm heart.

Our first stop (but of course!) was a church, St. Peter’s Episcopal. We walked all around the Capital, Empire State Plaza and in and around some of the city streets. This is The Egg, a famous Albany performing arts venue and visual landmark. We tried to see the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, but it is still undergoing renovations and was not open.

Honestly, I have spent almost no time in Albany – seriously. How sad is that!? I have not been to The Egg and I had never (hangs head in shame) walked around Empire State Plaza before. For the record, I have also never been to the Cathedral before either – I know, go figure!

So it took a visit from a gentleman from halfway around the world to get me there!

It was so easy to talk with Brian. We talked about many things – his trip, our blogging roots and connections, his recent move from Australia to New Zealand. We spoke of many common blogging friends like Grandmere Mimi, Fr. Bosco Peters, Doxy, Paul, Jack and Mad Priest.  We talked about people who don’t really blog any more but who we think so highly of, such as Alcibiades and Dan. (Dan’s blog  is not there anymore!)

Brian and I spent a lot of time talking about how important our faith is to each of us and how there are many challenges to our faith practices. I expressed how grateful I was to be here in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and how my current job and grad school pursuits are truly the work of grace. Brian talked about the hypocrisy he encountered and his experiences among the Sydney Anglicans and how different it is to be in Dunedin.  He also spoke at length about his work and how accepted he was among Catholics when he taught at a Catholic school in Sydney.

What a strange and wonderful thing this all is and I am very grateful for all the people that I have met via blogging and Facebook. The irony of all this is that I was supposed to have coffee yesterday with another person I met online and who lives in Albany, Maureen. I had to postpone that because of Brian’s visit. And I consider that I am still figuring out how to have a meet up (although we did meet briefly) with Mary DeTurris Poust who lives locally. And how that even though we have tried, Dan Sloan and I have yet to have a proper meet up… He lives 3 hours away, Brian lives almost 9000 miles away! Brian did not realize that Dan was in NYC or he would have tried to connect with him too.

Well I have rambled on and on here. In summation, a fine time was had and I continue to consider social media my mission field. I’m not here to convert you, but I will say, you – all of you – pretty much always convert me.

What a gift! Happy and safe travels Brian!

The Price of Complacence and Indifference, or I Hadn’t Even Noticed – A Reflection on the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

As most of you know, last week, the actor/comedian/satirist, Stephen Colbert, appeared before our Congress to discuss the plight of farm workers in our country.   What struck me after listening to him was the theme of complacence, which is something we are invited into in this week’s Sunday readings.

I like to think of myself as aware, but honestly, as someone who thinks that and who eats a lot of salad, I realized just how little thought I give to the people who harvest the food I eat. Interestingly enough, I am the first one to say that indifference is the worst offense… Indifference. Complacence. Basically – I hadn’t noticed.

Being against something – or for it, depending on the something, can help bring about a change of heart for ourselves and others. Complacence or indifference means not for or against, it means not really noticing. What change can happen there, what of the transformation we are called to in the Eucharist and life if we are not engaged in some way?

This is what the prophet Amos reminds us of in today’s first reading. The not noticing while others are in need. The price for this will be heavy indeed.

The Gospel from Luke relays a parable to illustrate the price of indifference. We have a rich man, unnamed, and we have a poor man, Lazarus, who is at the rich man’s door. Apparently the rich man did not kick Lazarus out… however he did not share the scraps “that fell from the rich man’s table.”

And here are many of us, who are not actively *not* doing something. However, I know that for me, I walk by many Lazarus people every day. I do it when I avert my eyes from a poor person walking down Route 50 in Glenville, near my workplace. I do it when I eat my lettuce, harvested in the fields of Southern California.

The lettuce, like the aversion of my eyes, comes with a price tag.

Now we can’t all solve every problem of the world; this we know. However, the Gospel reminds us to do something. And the Gospel at large reminds us how to live and how to live in community, following that most essential commandment – to love God and one another. In our tradition, salvation is not individual but communal. Communion. Common union. The shared table, becoming the Body.

Which brings me back to Stephen Colbert, who is a practicing Catholic and a catechist at his parish as well. He went before Congress, for good or ill, to make a statement to garner attention. His words can touch all of us in a different way, the point of his words, echoing the Gospel, are that we need to do something by how we live. I have a feeling that no piece of lettuce will ever be exactly the same for me. Let’s hope so anyway. Please pray for me as I do this and I will pray for you.  Such is our journey together in Christ.

All My Sons, Daughters… Brothers, Sisters – the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

(Cross posted from my parish blog.)
(monologue from All My Sons)

When I was in high school, I was very involved in our theater program. This would have been either in the fall of 1974 or the spring of 1975 specifically. My involvement trictly behind the scenes, I must add! In any event, our drama teacher, Mr. Nemeth, did not want us doing watered down, lighthearted high school fare, and this spring was to be no exception. We were presenting Arthur Miller‘s All My Sons, not exactly high school fare for that era.

The reason why our teacher was so impassioned about us doing this production was that he was obsessed with what would become of our generation. He truly believed that we were headed for some kind of banal, moral and social vacuity in our adult lives.

Now you have to understand, this man was no finger-wagging moralist in the sense you might imagine.  In fact, I believe that he may have been Jewish, I know now that he was gay and that he was simply a truly good man and teacher.

He clearly wanted us to understand that our every act resulted in something and that our hearts as well as our communities would be best served if we realized the implications of our choices, both great and small. I clearly remember his saying to a confused group of teenagers, “what will become of you?!” Not that I understood at the time, but I have thought of his prophetic speech many times since.

The play is about a man who owns a factory during WWII. His plant produces less-than-quality parts which cause war planes to crash, killing many pilots, possibly including his own son. The rub is that he knowingly did so, which seemed small at the time. He ends up lying about it and compromising his entire life over it. Small things and great things – we must act in honesty, prudence and communal concern.

Today’s readings remind us that we all must be concerned about such things, no matter what the era we live in. The opportunity for us to go astray is always present, no matter how good the good old days may seem. The theme of God calling us back is ever present.

In the first reading from the prophet Amos we hear this:

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy
and destroy the poor of the land!
“When will the new moon be over,” you ask,
“that we may sell our grain,
and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?

Amos is being  pretty clear in addressing those who trample the poor and needy! And yet, so much of society is set up to do that very trampling. The pyramid-like structure of capitalism is meant for us to aspire to more and greater. No – I am not saying capitalism is bad; I am saying that it might require the counterbalance of prophets and of moral acts, in order to make it function with justice.

We all trample over someone with our endless need for more and cheaper things. And we ourselves are trampled over by someone else.

In the second reading from St. Paul we hear:

First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity.
This is good and pleasing to God our savior,
who wills everyone to be saved
and to come to knowledge of the truth.

That we might live quiet and tranquil lives… and that God wills everyone to be saved. Everyone. That is something to bear in mind when we consider trampling and/or being trampled; we end up participating in both more often than we might imagine.

And then of course, our Gospel from Luke

Once again, we are offered long and short versions. This passage catches my eye and my heart:

I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones. 

Have we not just come through and continue to come through a period of dishonest wealth in our country and in the world? Well, if we think about it, all eras of history have this problem. If you don’t think so, please refer back to our reading from Amos.

This is exactly why I was reminded of the play, All My Sons and my teacher’s prophetic cry for my generation. How right he was!

I will focus on our current time but these things are sadly timeless… How do we not focus just on our own wealth and good? And how do we make sure that even a seemingly small “adjustment of truth” does not grow into a greater one, a truth that comes with a high price tag.

As Catholic Christians we live a faith based on our communal salvation. That is what St. Paul is pointing to and what this Gospel reminds us of. We are all sons, daughters, brothers, sisters. What happens to one, happens to all.

 We cannot serve two masters, yet most of us serve at least that many. How can we be more aware of what this means to ourselves and to one another?

The Gospel that we are called to live, meaning the Gospel at large, but this one in particular, means that we must find ways to be responsible for ourselves by first being responsible for others. Even, and perhaps even more importantly, starting with the small things.

I am reminded of how often I rationalize an act or a decision – whether it is to use a paper plate at the risk of the environment, to shop at a store or buy a product that I know marginalizes employees or those who manufacture. This is carried forth if I make decisions that impact my family and/or community by investing my time, talent and treasure in that which does not serve the greater good.

In acts small and large we contribute to the Kingdom, literally re-membering the Body of Christ. And in acts small and large, we might also be likely to do the opposite.

It is not a destination, this choosing, it is a series of lifelong acts and actions, both great and small. And thankfully we have God and one another to help us along this way, so that all might be healed.

Oh how I wish I could find my teacher again – and thank this most unlikely of prophets for something that has been seared onto my soul by him and brought forth in this Christian life of faith.

A Rare Political-ish Post… Why The Center Matters. It Matters in Religion As Well.

Yesterday I wrote the following as a Facebook update:

Many think I am to the left. My politics and my theology are similar; I don’t think you get much done unless everyone is at the table. I am a centrist at heart.

This went up in response to the post-election day talk about the Tea Party and more. Now let me clear – I am more to the left than not, but I am hardly far to the left if you actually understand me. That said, the important thing is not what I am – how very American-individualistic that is and for a long time, it was important to me. It still matters, but what matters more is what *we* are.

And yes – if I am honest, I will say that I think that Christine O’Donnell is truly nuts and that Carl Paladino is not so far behind. So much for “we.” Ah, we humans, such bundles of contradictions, one and all.

However, who we are does matter and it matters a lot. I am not an altruist, but I think I am a realist. If we continue to carry on in this “my side versus your side” way, where are we headed? National divorce court? Will the country split? It sure feels that way at times.

A friend of mine, whose identity is not essential to this and I will keep it private unless they wish to reveal themselves, wrote me a note about some on-going conversations we have had over these past two years, and this person had some issues with what I said in that update.

This is the note that I sent in return.

Dear *****,

As ever, I remain very fond of you, if not for the least thing is your passion. Your passion – not unlike my own – cuts both ways however.

To send me an email that includes SHOUTING and starts with what may not have been sent with the intention of a finger-wagging scolding, but certainly comes off that way.

Now I say intention, because I am not sure that is what you meant and I will venture that it is not what you meant at all.

If anything, these past 2 -3 years of blogging first and then FB, have made me far more centrist. When I say that I am a centrist in my heart, what I mean is that while my positions are possibly more to the left, I do not think that anything good or meaningful in the way of progress happens if only one side or the other gets their way alone.

These past 30 years have been nothing but that tug of war for the most part and it will be what splinters our land, if you ask me.

Which is why I say we all must have a voice- left or right. This whole “screw you – we’re taking back what we believe is right” message, whether coming from extreme liberals or tea partiers is obnoxious to hear and detrimental to all.

Another issue, a far more important one perhaps, is one I need to constantly re-listen to and adjust to… What does it mean when one is “left,” “right,” “progressive,” “orthodox,” “conservative,” or “liberal?”

We assess what we think, whether we think that is good or bad and we project that out onto that person, with all the benefits and detriments that brings.

What you refer to our disagreement that you refer to, you also remind me that, with all due respect, you hold onto it. I would be, no disrespect, to remember all the details. We are all different and I do not hold onto those things in the same way, with you or anyone. (In general at least!)

On Wednesday I got another comment, from a Roman Catholic sister, Rose Pacatte, FSP. It was on the thread that you are referring to and she said that we are all Catholic.

This is why my theology and my politics are centrist in the way that calls all to one table. We are all Americans, not one better than the other and we are all human, not one better than the other.

I am not so lofty that I can daily live up to my own ideals. I try not to call people stupid or crazy, but true enough, I do it often enough. You are one of the people who has (gratefully) helped me to do this.

Like anyone, all I can do is be in the present and look to the past for reminder or inspiration, but not to stay there. In this present I have only here and now and the future to ponder. A future that will not be made real until I live out of the place this moment puts me in. That is what I try – fail as I do and so frequently at that – to do every single day.

I wish you peace always. If I were to express a prayer for you it would be for you to be less reactive. If I am to be honest, that is my prayer for myself as well, every single day.

Thank you for remaining engaged in the conversation.


I am curious as to why people on either side of the divide, if they feel this way, why if “the other side,” (whatever that other is) is the problem, why they believe that having “their own way” will remedy anything.

Do others matter? What brings you to the table? What is the benefit of engaging with others? Even if they have seemed to disregard you? Do you disregard them in return or… I don’t know what the answer is. I am always curious about this. Today I am talking about politics, but faith matters are the same.

I feel like we as Americans are a bunch of immature toddlers who are screaming for their way and either they get their way or no one gets anything. I will break all the toys rather than share them with you is what it feels like. What is up with that? Although I know what that feels like. It is very alluring but I do attempt to resist.

The things that keep me up at night…

PS – I read this book when it was published in January 2008. It was not a great book, but it was a good book to read. I owe the author a debt of gratitude in helping me reshape my approach to so many things.

From the "Unlikely" Files – The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In another chapter of my life, one that took place during the time around 9/11, I used to live near NYC and I traveled for my job. A car service would take me to and from the airport, a common way for business travelers to get around.

The service I used was based in Connecticut and many of the drivers were retired executives themselves and they often had interesting stories. There was one man who had such a stately demeanor, one of real power, yet he was taciturn and officious except for one late night… I got in the car at Newark Airport, hoping to sleep on the hour long drive to my home, but he wanted to talk that night.

As it happens, he told me a story of his two sons, both were successful architects. One son was gay however and this man found that out, when the son was in college. The man believed that this was a sin against God and Church (he was Catholic) and affront to what his own family stood for. However, 15 years on, he regretted his outburst and wanted to reconcile with his son. He was afraid to make the first move.

Honestly, I thought that he was going to weep as he steered the black Lincoln Town Car along the New Jersey Turnpike. It was very sad to hear and I was not really sure of what to say.

So what does that have to do with this Sunday’s readings? Well, in today’s readings we encounter a God who seeks and pursues us with loving, persistent vigilance. It is all very unlikely. I mean, aren’t we supposed to seek God? Is it really a two way street? What would God want with us?

How about everything.

In the first reading, from Exodus, we hear about how God tells Moses to get back down the mountain and set the people right. Well actually, God was pretty ticked off, but Moses – being Moses (and what a good zayde image Moses presents here) reminds God that God has pursued his people, why burn them up? God then relents and Moses sets off to turn the people back to God. It is all very unlikely, isn’t it?

In our second reading from St. Paul in a letter to Timothy, we hear some of Paul’s most compelling words, in my opinion.

I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord,
because he considered me trustworthy
in appointing me to the ministry.
I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. 

He is very clear about the source of strength, it is Jesus! I actually think of the car service drive when I read the last 3 lines shown above. Then he goes on to add:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Of these I am the foremost.
But for that reason I was mercifully treated,
so that in me, as the foremost,
Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example
for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.

The essential words… Of these I am the foremost. Paul does not hesitate to name himself clearly and to say how that is a display of what is possible and in fact how it works for all of us. We are all perhaps, the foremost sinner and we are all mercifully treated. It seems so unlikely, yet that is what happened and what continues to happen.

Depending on where you went to church, you might have heard the long or the short form of the Gospel for today, from Luke. What I offer you today is based on the long form, so you might want to read it through before proceding.

The Gospel begins with:

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

This man welcomes sinners is what we first hear and then we hear that he eats with them. Both are considered heinous acts. As a result Jesus offers us three different parables, seemingly very different but all quite alike.

We are given three stories of ardent pursuit. The first is the image of one missing sheep and the shepherd that will leave the 99 in order to find the one that he must bring home. We hear about a woman who has 10 coins, but loses one. She expends money, via lamp oil and her time, via the search, to find that one coin. Ultimately we hear the familiar and powerful story of the Prodigal Son. Off he goes to pursue his wanton ways but when he returns, hoping only for scraps from his father’s pigs, he is welcomed as a king.

Shepherd. Woman. Wayward son. This man welcomes sinners and he eats with them, is what our Gospel tells us. Well, if there were some unlikely (translation: sinners) characters to make an issue of it would be shepherds, women and wayward sons.

Unlikely in what way, you may ask. When we read the Gospel we must always try to see it through how it would have been understood at Jesus’ time as well as in our own.

In Jesus’ time the lines of social conventions were drawn quite clearly. You were either “in” or “out.” Tax collectors and sinners meant the worst sort of people of that time. Today we see different people marginalized… It could be Muslims, it could be undocumented immigrants, it could be labor unions, it could be LGBT folk, it could be anyone.

If you think about it, whoever we as individuals or groups want to reject – be it a person or a group, that person or group is marginalized in some way.

It could also be our own selves as we reject the people we have become and inflict harm upon ourselves. Or worse yet, we could ignore the plank in our own eye and project that harm out onto others. (Hint: Find the person that annoys you the most. They offer you a gift through the invitation to see what might be the most annoying thing about yourself.)

Jesus has come to reconcile all unto God. All means all. Just as God did not really want to blaze his people who created the Golden Calf, just as God did not reject Saul but rather transformed him into Paul – we find countless examples of transformations of the unlikely.

Yes, that is just it, transformation of the unlikely. We are all the transformation of the unlikely, aren’t we? No one person is to be excluded, we must search for our sheep, our coin, our child or whatever is missing just as God searches, no matter how unlikely, for each of us.

No, I have no idea what happened to that man who drove the car and if he ever got to reconcile with his son. I had urged him to reach out at that time, but who knows.

Well, this is what we do know – as unlikely as it all is, God pursues and seeks us with tremendous ardency and love. This is what transforms us from lost to found and what should impel us to pursue with the same ardency and love.

Unlikely  – yes, but so very real. Is there a lost coin, a lost sheep or a wayward person in your life? Well, if so – start looking now.

My 9/11 Story – Part 3

If you read this yesterday or the day before, you saw this, if not… read on. I published this on my old blog, in 3 parts leading up to 9/11/2007. I have decided to republish them here. A few words on this… One, like much of my writing, this was an act of healing and catharsis. It is selfish. If you think that it is long, boring, self-focused, you may be correct. I wrote it for myself and put it out here. If you wish to read it, fine. If not, fine. Also, I wrote it at a different – very different – time of my life. Please factor that in when you read some of it and hear a certain tone. Your comments, as always, are welcome.

Finally, 124th Street and my destination appeared. My friend’s school offered an unusual and prayerful oasis. It was, as I mentioned a Catholic boys’ academy.

Many of the students were on scholarship, a great deal of them were there due to the hard work and sacrifice of their parents. It was quiet, calm, orderly- switching classes was in motion upon my arrival. There was no relationship to the madness and chaos, just 10 miles south.

The rest of the day was spent there- I guess I arrived about 1pm. While school carried on I sat in my friend’s tiny office, with its window looking southward, watching the sky. It was such a dissonant sight… Bluest sky- bright and clear; blackest smoke-thick and heavy. I surfed the Internet, listened to news radio, emailed friends from around the country and the world.

Clearly other than planes flying into the WTC and the Pentagon, then Flight 93 later in the day, much of the rest of the news was distorted and histrionic. How could it be otherwise?

My friend from London was emailing me quite a bit and I felt like it was so weird that she seemed to have more information than anyone in the U.S. I had a business friend from El Paso, TX who was definitely very conservative and very much in the “kill the bastards who did this mode”. We had a lively interchange that I think embarrassed us both in the end; me with my cries for peace and understanding and his for revenge and retribution.

Thoughts of the Oklahoma City bombing came to mind, when everyone figured that people of Arabic descent were involved only to find a true-blue American boy in Timothy McVeigh. Maybe this would be the same?

At some point however, the specter of fear returned and gripped me in a way that was both intimidating and intimate. That may have been the PTSD talking, but my shock slowly turned to a fear that had feet of lead. And those feet were planted firmly in my abdomen; its arms enveloped my heart and my lungs. Those feelings and their impact would follow me for the next few months in ways I could not imagine.

It was around 4pm, school was over and we had a brief prayer service with the Brothers who ran the school and a handful of teachers, a couple of students. We went back to A’s office and turned on the radio… The upper level of the George Washington Bridge was going to open very soon. We are out of here!

Making haste to A’s car, we got in and zoomed to the Harlem River Drive. Another TV movie moment while we were the first and almost only car on it. This road is never empty. Ever. And in an even more surreal twist, we were one of the first and only cars on the George level of the bridge. (The bottom level is called Martha, are you surprised?)

Please bear in mind; the sky is still the bluest blue, the clearest blue. We were giddy with excitement to be getting out of Manhattan, not knowing what would happen next; not really even knowing what had happened!

And then I glance southward… The sight of the Ground Zero was stunning. My friend almost stopped the car, which would have been fine, given how few cars were on the bridge. It seemed as if I was looking at the most beautiful vista with a huge whole blown through the center of it. That was what I was looking at. We fell silent, giddy no more and rode home without speaking another word.

Upon arriving at his house, we found A’s partner just home from school in Westchester. We all hugged each other and cried. We prayed. We prayed a lot; that was our life together, very bound together by prayer and what seemed like love. We ate dinner, we reveled in each other’s company, we watched TV, we discussed the madness of the day. Finally I went home; home to a house I had just bought and I wondered what would happen.

Things would never be the same again.


If you can believe it I followed through on having a planned housewarming the following Saturday. I wasn’t sure if anyone would show up and if it was even appropriate to have a party. However many people came and I think we all drew consolation from being together and having something to celebrate. One of my guests had lost a very close friend, but he came anyway. People were searching for connection, for meaning, for life.

There is a Temple near my house and in the coming days there were two WTC funerals there. It was alarming to see the many cars and attendees. This very real vision of the impact was happening, literally in my back yard.

Speaking of Temples, my cousin had just been installed as a rabbi in near-by New Jersey. I went to the formal installment services on a Friday night about 2 weeks after 9/11. This congregation (reform Judaism) had lost 4 people in the attacks. I couldn’t imagine how a new rabbi would cope with this, even one as good as my cousin. It marked his whole time there I believe. Watching all of this unwind was surreal.

My office building in mid-town Manhattan was plagued with bomb threats about 2-3 times a day. Me being me- even at the depths of depression realized it was not real, but it was really annoying. However it created an extra heavy layer of fear for so many. And having to leave your desk, walk 2-3 blocks away 2-3 times a day created problems of its own. Finally they let people decide to leave or not during the scares. I ususally stayed at my desk. That is one sanity point that I could grab onto. (It turned out to be a disgruntled mailroom employee at another company in the building.)

During the subsequent days, weeks, months – I became very physically ill with asthma and breathing problems. In my opinion there were multiple reasons for this. One was that my weight, which was very out of control at that time, got much more out of control. That is one of the worst things for asthma.

I was also an emotional wreck at the time. Ironically I had started with a new therapist on Monday September 10, 2001. Our work would be in a modality called EMDR in order to heal my remaining PTSD. What can I say- great timing indeed. Frankly, some weird karma had me re-open every trauma wound I ever had via 9/11, which I think facilitated real healing.

Why did I suffer from PTSD? As the saying goes, another story for another day, but the theme remains the same… no matter what happens, I lead the most graced life. All evil is counterbalanced by an abundance of good. What can I tell you? It is how it is in my life.

Additionally, I think and we know some of this to be true, the air was completely screwed up. No I wasn’t right there, but particles traveling 5 miles is nothing. It also did not rain for some time after 9/11, which no doubt added to what was blowing around.

As if that were not enough, I was traveling every week on business. It was only a fluke that I was not on a plane or somewhere else that day. I know people who were, as you might and their stories are remarkable. The stress of travel at that time was off the charts. I got so sick so often it was not funny. While it was not diagnosed at the time, I do believe I also had sleep apnea; again weight and breathing challenges contributed to this and stress, stress, stress!

I will add that my first travel after the event was on Monday and Tuesday, September 24-25. Flying over the then still-smoking ruins was horrifying.

If moved to do so, I could write a rather hilarious post about travel nightmares in the first 6 months or so that followed. Of course those days were nothing compared to today’s draconian lunacy of security. Everything from having my breasts seriously patted down by a zealous security guard, a woman at Tampa airport, to having my suitcase get opened after sloppy packing and having all of O’Hare see my dirty panties. It was a mess.

Easy for me to look back and laugh. I have a close friend who is Jordanian but has lived here for 25 years… His life has become a living nightmare and this man travels all the time. He is one of what are many stories of profiling and discrimination run amuck.

While I work less than a mile away from Ground Zero now, I can tell you that I have only been there once. That was in December of 2001; a friend came over to visit from London and she wanted to go. I felt like I was ready. As if one could be ready for such a thing.

It was very cold and bright that day, probably December 26 or 27, 2001. The sky was the same kind of blue as 9/11, which freaked me out. We got off the subway at City Hall and began to walk closer. I could feel my stomach contract in pain and fear. Uh-oh…

The closer we got to the area the more anxious I felt. We came upon St Paul’s Chapel, which was a place of refuge for rescue workers, who were still toiling. Seeing all the posted signs and pictures on the fence, brought me to tears.

Then I looked up and in the place where the Twin Towers had occupied the sky for many years, all I saw was clear, sparking blue sky. That same damned blue sky again! My soul collapsed in that moment; I fell apart.

My knees began to give way and I started to shake uncontrollably. I felt fairly certain that I would vomit or faint, although neither happened. The amount of people in the area alone was overwhelming, but I could not process the location and the information.

One feeling that overwhelmed me was a feeling that I had when visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich, Germany…. I pretty much lost it there- oh who am I kidding, I fell apart at Dachau. Anyway what I felt in Dachau and what I felt in lower Manhattan were the same… The oppressive weight of a place where many people died violently. That is how it struck me anyway and it felt more than I could bear at the time. The presence of souls not at rest maybe, I don’t know.

My friend wanted to get closer, but I simply could not do it. Off I went to nearby Trinity Church, a place where I had found comfort and silence before (I have a slight case of Episcopalian envy, all those velvet kneelers and pillows in the pews!) and fell to my knees. I heaved, I wept, I prayed. My friend came to find me a bit later; I had calmed down, but was not the same for the rest of the day.

Why haven’t I been back since? I just don’t want to go. From time to time I ponder a visit to the Century 21 Department Store, which is/was right across the street from the WTC site. However, I always decline. Is a bargain really that important?

The sky always seems empty when I drive downtown on the West Side Highway. Or when I look out the windows on that side of the building from my office. Very empty and strange indeed. It is a void. I never liked the way the buildings looked you know; however I do miss seeing them.

The thought often comes to me that someone who worked in that building may have been fearful and xenophobic, thinking that they wouldn’t travel outside the US, so that they could stay safe. And then the macabre thought follows that they looked up from their desk and before they could process it, a 767 flew in their window. A dark thought maybe. It is why I don’t want to live in fear; anything could happen anywhere, anytime.

From the second floor of my house I can see the Hudson River. For many months after 9/11 I felt tremendous bursts of anger when taking in the view. Yes, I hated the hijackers for using the river as a visual guide that they were on their way. They stole my river is how I felt.

From my front porch, I can always see the “Towers of Light” display that is done to commemorate the event. As you might imagine, I am not much one for this sort of thing, but this one is different for me. It actually looks amazing and no matter what, a lot of people died that day or thereafter, that did not deserve to. I stop and say a prayer for them. And think of all the people (have you seen Sicko?) who still suffer today after giving their all to try to help. Oh no, I feel an anti-Giuliani moment coming, I am moving on.

Somewhere in the spring of 2002 I very slowly started to come back from around the dark side of the moon. In its own crazy way, 9/11 was a gift. That gift was a key and the key unlocked the trauma that had dogged me most of my life. It hurts my heart to see that this is how the gift came, but I have had to make my peace with that. And I have been compelled to pass the gift on in the moments that I can. It has taken me to almost right now though, to be in a really good place.

Today I am about 50 pounds lighter, but still have weight to lose. (Special thanks to someone who is reading this and who helped me get started on that journey. You know who you are. Mwah, I love you , my ***-aleh.) Weight is a huge life challenge for me; luckily I am otherwise very healthy and try to keep it that way. The 50-pound reduction helped a lot though. I will keep at it.

Speaking of 50, I will turn that age in about 10 weeks. That piece of information delights me completely and I am grateful not only to be alive, but also to have the life I do. To me it is a remarkably blessed and graced gift, this life.

In April of this year I married a man I have loved in one fashion or another since 1978. We had a hiatus- say from 1980 to 2003. It is a great story about timing, fate and love. Or what is called in Yiddish, beshert. I could not be happier. I never had a child of my own, which was very much by my own choosing. That said, Mark has an incredible daughter whose life I get to share. When she tells me I am the best step-mom ever, tears fill my eyes. Frankly I never saw that one coming and I love it. What a reminder to keep the heart wide open.

In these years I have been able to travel to the Middle East not only once, but twice. Life has blessed me with great Muslim friends and I have a unique window into that world. For me it is all about building bridges. Reconciliation is my goal on many levels from the most personal to the most global. I struggle with my love/not-so-love relationship with Israel but I know I will return to that place, which is very special to me. In fact, if I could go to Israel tomorrow, I would go without hesitation.

The PTSD is pretty much behind me and I have been graced with healing that is so profound and deep that I almost can’t find words for it.

The words I do find relate holistically to my life, my heart, my spirit and the words are always exactly the same… Thank you God.

My 9/11 Story – Part 2

If you read this yesterday, you saw this, if not… read on. I published this on my old blog, in 3 parts leading up to 9/11/2007. I have decided to republish them here. A few words on this… One, like much of my writing, this was an act of healing and catharsis. It is selfish. If you think that it is long, boring, self-focused, you may be correct. I wrote it for myself and put it out here. If you wish to read it, fine. If not, fine. Also, I wrote it at a different – very different – time of my life. Please factor that in when you read some of it and hear a certain tone. Your comments, as always, are welcome.

Again, it is hard to recall with exactitude the order of things. At some point someone figures out that there is a TV in our CEO’s office and even though she is not in, a bunch of us find our way into her office.

The size of the group enlarges so that many of us are crowded into this rather large space. We are transfixed by what we see. It is clear that Matt and Katie, whom we have been taught to believe are there to entertain us, are upset and have no real clue what is going on. The only certainty is this- planes were deliberately flown into the Twin Towers. They keep replaying the video of the second plane over and over again.

There are helicopter video views being shown as well. It’s hazy and smoky and the video is all jerky. This can’t be easy to shoot no matter how you slice it- practically or emotionally.

Suddenly the “Special Report” is broken into with a new Special Report”The Pentagon has been hit. WTF? Am I screaming out loud now…  or just in my head? This is completely totally f**ked-bad, my stomach lurches and heaves, I begin to sob and almost in slow motion I notice that almost everyone in the room is crying. A room filled with men and women, many of them seemingly stoic senior management types; all in tears and anguish. And fear.

This may seem oddly distant to you, but please keep in mind, while not in the thick of it, it was a scant 5 miles away, with black smoke clearly visible in the sky.

Now I am truly, deeply afraid. It’s primal now. Yet somewhere, somehow there is a bizarre calm in the center of me. You can mock my spirituality (NB: I had not fully outed myself as a religious writer when this was first published, nor was it for a very churchy crowd at the time) if you wish, but I know it held me afloat that day. Call it magical thinking if that pleases you; it provided me with the sanity that kept me on course and kept me from tearing my hair out and collapsing.

These moments have a heightened clarity to them. I leave the CEO’s office and go talk to X, my co-worker and the supervisor for the area I manage. She has a sister-in-law down there in the Towers, but remains calm. I know her husband is a NYC detective and that if he’s not in the thick of disaster yet, he will be running towards the event, not away from it. She is like a rock. That is her hallmark, this one… cool, calm and collected at all times. We are co-workers but mostly friends through the ages. She is unflinching. She is staying.

I on the other hand, am intent on leaving. There seems to be no place to go, but I have a clear goal…I want to be with someone I love. There is a reason for this; I am fairly certain in a very calm, quiet way that I might die on that day.

Of all the memories that I possess of this strange and horrifying day, that particular one stands out the most. I was certain I would die and I did not feel in the least panicked about it. Oh trust me, I felt horribly sad that life should end like this. It occurred to me as well that lots of people would die this day and what would that be like in the Kingdom? I had a darkly comedic image (even at that moment! my humor works overtime!) of long entry lines at the pearly gates. It wasn’t even all that spiritual. It just was a real thought.

Mostly I decided that if I were going to die, I would do so with reverence and awareness. Somehow I got through on the phone to a close friend. Close friend? At that time this man and his partner were the two closest people in my life, bar none. (Yes you have noticed a theme- my friend and his partner, my friend in LA and his partner. There is a long and beautiful history of gay men in my life.)

My friend was a teacher at a Catholic high school in Harlem. He suggested I walk up there and we would figure out what to do. The only way to leave Manhattan was on foot and since we lived in the same town, 25 miles north, we weren’t going to try that route just yet. We would be in Manhattan, but we’d be together. I liked that.

It was a comfort to know I would go to be with someone I loved. While I was so grateful to be headed to be with A, I was so saddened that we were separated from B, his partner, who was teaching at another school in Westchester. All I wanted to be was with my closest ones, my dearest companions, that is all.

Ultimately my co-worker and I called our team together; some folks wanted to stay and they would stay with her. Others, like me wanted to go. We left.

Before I left I made sure that I went to my one friend – Z, with whom I had a long friendship. We are not the types to have this kind of conversation, but I was compelled and followed my heart. I walked into this office and he was upset – upset and deep into his “blast all the foreign bastards!” mode and I was appearing as calm.

So all I said was “Z, I must tell you this. I don’t know if I will ever see you again.” This really got him more agitated but I pressed on, “Z, you must know this. I am going to say something that if it doesn’t happen will make me feel like a complete asshole, but we can then laugh about it for the rest of our days. If it does, then I won’t be sorry… Z, you are a great friend to me and I love you very, very much.”

This elicits a torrent of tears from me and from him as well followed by a hug that we didn’t want to end. Let me tell you, we have both laughed and cried about this event numerous times since then. I will never regret having blurted that out either!

Down the elevator I go and into the street. Park Avenue is a river of people flowing north. The day remains gloriously clear and bright. The sky is so blue; a blue that denotes only calm and peace. However a slight glance to the south brings a view of thick, black clouds of smoke.

I enter the stream of northward voyagers. It’s a long walk from 48th Street and Park to Harlem. This whole new shoes thing isn’t working out so well for me. Then I am struck with the thought – you are alive and headed somewhere, be grateful.

There is a deli, I enter it and buy 3 bottles of water; trained from 2 years of living in Los Angeles with earthquake mentality… Fresh water is a must. There are black car service cars (does this term make sense to anyone outside of NYC? The cars are what is black, ok? Town cars that take you to the airport, etc) drivers parked along Park Avenue, all with their radios tuned to the all news 880 WCBS or to1010WINS. People stop and listen. There is no traffic. No cars can go anywhere.

Hundreds of people file their way quietly and calmly up Park Avenue. I snake my way over to Madison, then Fifth. It is the same on those streets. It’s rather like a parade, albeit a dark and onerous one. No clowns, no poop, no floats. Just people, lots and lots of people.

People are just very quiet and very intent on getting somewhere. As I move up through the 50’s, then the Central Park area, the crowd begins to thin. The 60’s seem to siphon off most of my fellow journey-people, then the 70’s swallows a bit more. A few hearty souls are with me in the 80’s and even less in the low 90’s.

Next thing I know I am at 98th Street and Fifth and nary another human in sight. It was weird and I felt as if I was in some old 1970’s era TV movie of the week, disaster genre of course. Great – the world has ended and I am the only one left! That fed more than a few abandonment issue fantasies for me. More tears. At this point I know that insanity is hovering and hovering close.

Oh and then the sounds… the sounds- how could I forget to tell you about the pervasive sounds? While the flood of humans moved silently, there were so many other sounds. And the sounds were not good to my ears. In addition to still hearing sirens, I heard something that was worse. What I heard was the sound of F-16 fighter jets swooping around the sky over my head.

It was entirely disconcerting. They were there ostensibly to protect me – but to me they emitted sounds of terror, of war, of death. And you couldn’t see them… Just the ever-present sound. It was awful for me. Even now I write this and I can feel the physical discomfort in my stomach that I felt on that day.

As I progress into the lower 100’s and am in Harlem, people start to reappear. This was slightly before the most recent Harlem gentrification, so the sight of a white woman in a business suit, and those blasted new shoes, carrying her briefcase on this strangest of days, was probably a bit of a sight. I pressed on. Having been a frequent visitor to Harlem for many years, the place never scared me.

To my recollection the walk was about 5 miles and took me about 2 hours, but I can’t be certain. It was strangely pleasant- noise not withstanding. I had some interesting conversations with myself and even more interesting ones with God.

The further I walked, the more I calmed down; it was entirely cathartic as I got closer to the school. The certainty of death that was locked in my heart a few hours before seemed slightly less likely. Although the way the sounds of the F-16’s punctuated the clear day swayed me a bit. Insanity is like that- abandonment issues one moment and an eerie calm the next.

My 9/11 Story – Part 1

I published this on my old blog, in 3 parts leading up to 9/11/2007. I have decided to republish them here. A few words on this… One, like much of my writing, this was an act of healing and catharsis. It is selfish. If you think that it is long, boring, self-focused, you may be correct. I wrote it for myself and put it out here. If you wish to read it, fine. If not, fine. Also, I wrote it at a different – very different – time of my life. Please factor that in when you read some of it and hear a certain tone. Your comments, as always, are welcome.

This is a chronicle of what happened to me on September 11, 2001. Please note that I was never directly in harms way, I was 5 miles from Ground Zero, I did not personally know anyone who perished there. Other than being in New York City that day and right after that time, I lost no one or nothing directly.

My heart goes out to those who lost friends, family members, loved ones, co-workers, business associates. These are wounds that may never be healed. I do know many people who did live through it and all of them have such remarkable stories from that day.

The days that followed were filled with anxiety and confusion. And the posters and pictures, all over Manhattan… “Have you seen…” It was at once, completely heartbreaking and compelling.

That day seems to be the defining moment in the contemporary history of the world. In an instant, the seemingly impenetrable U.S. was smashed and smashed hard. In another instant we had the support of the world. In yet another instant that was squandered, in my opinion, by a leader who is a weak bully with world dominion on his mind and some apocalyptic world-view.

Iran is on the horizon as a possible target of war and I am horrified to my core. I write letters, make phone calls, post blog entries and do what I can to keep my voice loud and clear. And yes, I pray. A lot. It is what I do. My commitment to life, freedom, justice and peace for all people and to this world is unwavering. With that in mind, here is my story.

This is written because I need to write it. If you choose to read it, I thank you deeply. If not, no harm done. It just has to come out of me right now.

My memories from this day actually go back to two prior events. One was in April of 2001. I had just returned from a trip to Spain; I was a chaperone with a high school teacher friend, to a group of 12 boys from a local Catholic school. That adventure may be fodder for another story on another day. Anyway, there is a photo from the Alhambra in Granada to the left.

Upon my return from this journey, a young man in my office had all kinds of questions for me. His questions indicated that he was raised to mistrust all foreigners, to believe that life outside our own borders was sub-par and that danger lurked in every corner, once you left U.S. soil.
Oh, and that there was no toilet paper! Since he was in his early 20’s and his parents were only slightly older than me, I found this deeply disturbing. That is how my mother was taught to view the world; I hoped I had broken the chain in our family, anyway. Clearly this family’s chain was unbroken. In fact it had been fortified. (Did people in 2001 still think Europeans had bad toilet paper?)

In any event, this led to a discussion of fear of terrorists, which for me at that time was a concept completely off the charts to me. Do I fear terrorists today? Well, let’s say I fear for the world and that a bunch of guys in Tora Bora aren’t what’s completely worrying me now. What I fear now I feared then – extremist, dogmatic ideologues that want me to see their point of view or kill me. That is what I fear, no matter who they are or where they are from.

So we ended up having a big history discussion where I recommended that he study some past events as related to Spanish and world history. I believe I introduced him to the word xenophobic. He seemed to view any idea that did not glorify America, as anti-American. We talked about the idea that fanatical behavior and extremism were the problem; not Islam. Spin the wheel of world history and find someone intent on going over the edge, add one despot and mix well. That is the recipe of violence, division, fundamentalism and extremism over time.

In 14th century Spain, for good or ill, it was Los Reyes Catolicos (aka King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella) that were of a more fanatical bend. It was the Muslim world of southern Spain, al-Andalus that was a light in the otherwise darkness of the Middle Ages in Europe. In this young man’s eyes, extremist and Muslim were of one definition.

As for me, I am always grateful to have been to Andalusia (as it is called now) in southern Spain two times. To experience what was once the civilization to be envied and admired and that shunted aside by despotic extremists with an eye towards world domination. Hey wait, that sounds familiar!

The other moment in time that was part of the definition of 9/11 for me was Sunday September 9, 2001. Shopping at the mall, I saw a display for a company that chartered a really small plane (2 passengers and a pilot) that was being advertised for “special occasions”. A rather large cardboard cutout showed a fashionably dressed couple getting into the plane and another image of the plane on a clear night, flying with the Twin Towers as a backdrop. “Happy Anniversary Honey!” – it did not appeal to me!

Fast forward to 9/11, Tuesday morning. It is a glorious day. I go to work in mid-town Manhattan wearing a new suit and brand new shoes. The day is really spectacular. I get to work around 8am, coming from my suburban home. While sitting at my desk, someone comes to my door and shouts, “a plane flew into the World Trade Center!” Immediately I clicked onto Yahoo (I am not even sure Google existed yet, if you can believe that!) and saw a photo image of the smoking tower.

My mind immediately conjured up an image of that tiny excursion plane, having somehow gotten off-course and hitting the building. Many of us had similar small-plane thoughts, but mine was tied directly to the display I had seen at the mall on Sunday.

As I tried to find more information about the event, my computer froze on Yahoo, so I just went back to what I was doing. Frankly I was not at all concerned. I mean – I felt bad, but…

Not too long after this, the young man with whom I had discussed Spain, xenophobia, toilet paper and history with shows up at my door. He is wild-eyed and clearly frantic. Practically in tears he says, “The other building… they flew into that too! It’s an attack! It’s an attack!”

Now I am preternaturally (still, I might point out) programmed to not react in that kind of fear. Actually if I am very honest, I am preternaturally programmed in a very fearful way, so as I result, I have tried to train myself to react otherwise. God has been very good to me in general, in keeping me on that particular path of openness. This is in direct contrast to having suffered from extreme PTSD at that time. And you wonder why I love God so? The reasons are many… Anyway, I digress.

Speaking of preternaturally disposed, I am very much hard-wired to sarcasm. We won’t even explore what that means in relation to my psyche right now; I have spent years on the couch examining that one. My immediate need was to say something to the effect of “yeah, right!” and to this day, I marvel at the fact that the words were in my throat. And they just stopped. Yes- just like that- I did not smart mouth him. I am grateful that I did not.

Now somehow, I knew that something was happening. And happening a scant 5 miles from where I was. Something was happening that I knew was very bad indeed.

The next few minutes are confused… People running in the halls, shouting different things, fear was palpable in the air. I tried to go onto the internet- it was jammed from before, still no access. Suddenly the phone was not working- I was trying to make phone calls. It was working and then not working. My cell phone was not working at all.

The order of all this will never be clear to me. I finally get through to a friend in New Jersey who is home on maternity leave… she is paralyzed with fear and can’t speak. All that she can say is that we are under attack. I finally hang up; she’s not making any sense.

My assistant is hysterical; her husband works at the World Financial Center, next door to the World Trade Center. My office neighbor is blank with fear; her sister-in-law is in the Towers. There are no shortage of stories similar to this. (For the record, those two people were both physically fine, although had to go through a lot to heal.)

Finally, I get a dial tone again and call my really close friends in Los Angeles; by now I am screaming, hysterical. One friend is an attorney in a big firm in a big tower downtown. My screeching and insane voice tells him not to go to work; I’ve woken him up, he has no idea what I am saying. He and his partner click on the TV while trying to get me take it easy. They see what is happening, they stop trying to get me to calm down. It is only a little after 6am in LA; I have warned them, I hang up.

All of a sudden I have this heightened awareness. Here I am on the 21st floor of a glass and steel tower – a place that no outside noise ever, ever permeates. Except for today- all of a sudden I my ears are filled with the sound of many sirens. It is surreal and otherworldly… You can’t hear the outside world here. Today you can. There must be some seriously very bad shit going down out there, is all I can think. Seriously very bad shit…

To be continued…

From October 2007: Ground Zero, If Those Who Died That Day Returned… iPods, Cameras, Cell Phones, Blackberries, Hate and Fear

I know that the story about the Park 51 Community Center and so forth has died down. That said, I decided to republish something from my old blog. 

This post was originally published three years ago, in October 2007. That was on a blog is no more. Bear in mind, that was a different time in my life and I was a bit angrier than I am now. However, I came across it and it struck me that I wanted to put it out there, better late than never, in light of all the sanctity of Ground Zero talk. 

In any event, October 2007 was my second visit to Ground Zero after 9/11, the first visit was in December of 2001. This was my reflection written nearly 3 years ago. 

In my workplace we have a “mobility program” which loosely translates into, you don’t have an office or cube anymore, you work from home a lot. Given my life in two cities, my job in transition and more, this program works for me. It was a little sad to give up my office recently, but not that sad really.

In any event, I have gone “mobile”. Which I suppose is better than going “postal”!

So while I worked from home during the day, I did head into Manhattan for dinner. My plan was to get to Grand Central Station at about 4:15 and walk down to just south of Union Square, where I would meet my friend.

As I waited for the train I had a little epiphany moment and decided to go to Ground Zero. If you read any of my 9/11 series of posts, you will know that I only went to Ground Zero once, in December of 2001. 

Anyway, I knew that this could not be ignored so when I got off the train at Grand Central, I whisked myself off to the subway.

It was weird to think about going and I wondered how I would feel. So imagine my shock and surprise when I got there and felt… (insert song from “A Chorus Line” song here…) nothing, I felt nothing.

Well, maybe that is not completely accurate. I felt ambivalent. Also I felt some anger at the fact that despite the proclamations of Rudy Giuliani, President Bush and myriad of other voices that “America would win!” (win what?) we still have not built anything there.

God knows the hole in the ground was filled with construction vehicles, construction workers and noise. There were security people posted all over the place. But what is going on there? Seriously?

I felt very sad about the dead and imagined them, prayed for them. My heart felt heavy over this place. It thought of how before, I had such a great sense of the deaths here and now, a void. At which point, this thought came upon me – what if the 9/11 dead could suddenly come back to life! What would they see here? What would they think or feel?

They would see what I saw- tourists by the busload. A group of what I believe were French-Canadian teenagers on a field trip who were busy goofing around and kicking a soccer ball around the platform where you can stand. The several teachers who seemed to be their chaperones… looking bored and chain smoking. A homeless guy was playing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on a recorder and begging for change. (now there is a metaphor for you!) And cameras… so many cameras! Lots of photo snapping -snap, snap, snap. People pouring into the PATH station, which lies underneath, as if unaware of the macabre location. Such is the life of a commuter.

The dead would see cellphones – so many more than were around when they died. They would see Blackberries in everyone’s hands as they walked and read. They would notice the ubiquitous white ear buds of a million iPods and other players, as we tune out the world around us.

They would notice that Manhattan was awash in 3 particular types of retail establishments… There are more Duane Reade Drugstores than ever, Starbucks on every corner and banks on every street. How many damn bank branches do we need? (2010 note: Banks, oh the banks, if we knew then what we would start to learn less than a year later…) Oh – and the nail salons everywhere.

We have become a city of Starbucks drinking, manicured, Duane Reade shopping bank people. Is this what the dead would see?

Sarcasm aside, what the dead might sense as they looked around, would be a mix of anger, ambivalence, hate, fear. That struck me as so sad. They died so that we could all be self-righteous and fearful? How pathetic is that?

The whole thing upset me so much, although in a very different way from being upset in 2001. 

Anyway, feelings flying, I did exactly what I did last time I was there in December of 2001. I fled, although with very different emotions, to Trinity Church, the oldest Episcopal church in Manhattan, a few blocks south of Ground Zero.

The last time I was down there – and filled with emotion from what was still so raw, I ran there in tears and feeling so much pain. This time I felt an emptiness that I did not know what to do with. So it was off to Trinity, to see if I could make some sense of this.

Ah Trinity, a beautiful place. It is very soothing to me. You’ve got to love that old “high church” feel… velvet seat cushions and kneeling pads. I spent some time there trying to reconcile the horror of that day and the lack of change at the spot and the whole spectrum of thought and feeling that have defined the subsequent years. It felt very hard to get clarity on any of it, so I just surrendered to my prayers and the silence.

In the end I said my prayers, left, walked up Broadway to get to 11th Street. It would take me awhile, but the walk would do me good.

As I proceeded by the WTC site, one block away on my left, I was struck with a familiar feeling from December 2001… Where there were once buildings and no light there was nothing but sky, blue blue blue sky.

There was nothing.

Easier Said Than Done – The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

It is all easier said than done… If there is anything I love to do, it is this… to write about my faith and my religion. My faith, which seems a total gift – because it is a total gift and not something that I “do” and the Roman Catholic Church are at the center of my life. So it appears, anyway.  The Church, warts and all, is much beloved by me and it is almost impossible to imagine a life without it.

That said, I really struggled to come up with something to write about our readings and Gospel for this Sunday, the 23rd in Ordinary Time. I have made an effort lately, to cooperate with grace and write some sort of homiletic reflection for every Sunday. This Sunday has been the greatest challenge recently; this morning I realized just why that is the case.

It is because on this Sunday we are challenged to consider just how we live our faith. To use language that Father Pat frequently employs, “it is much easier to be an admirer of Jesus than a real follower.” 

How true is that!

The first reading, from the Book of Wisdom reminds us of this:

Who can know God’s counsel,
or who can conceive what the LORD intends?

We would all like to think that we know, but honestly, we do not. That, in and of itself is reason enough for many to walk away from a life of faith.  Just forget about it, if you can’t know, why try?

Then we hear this:

For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.
For the corruptible body burdens the soul
and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.

Timid – check. Unsure – check. And the corruptible body burdens the soul; that rings pretty true to me after a summer vacation that was spent in Ellis Hospital. And earthen shelter weighing down the mind, without a doubt. I can think of a million things that this old house of ours needs but that we can’t really afford to do.

So who has the time and the will to follow this seemingly confusing and ambiguous God? It is exhausting and why bother?

However, what is the alternative?

In the second reading, we hear from St. Paul in his Letter to Philemon. St. Paul, by now an older man and in prison is writing to Philemon and making the point that we should be acting out of something far beyond a sense of obligation and just following along. Note the last line shown and underlined please.

I should have liked to retain him for myself,
so that he might serve me on your behalf
in my imprisonment for the gospel,
but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.

Finally, our Gospel, from Luke

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.”

OK, this is tough, Jesus is not kidding around. This brings my mind right back to the first Wisdom reading and the words “who can conceive what the Lord intends?” It is so comforting to think of God’s will and Jesus’ presence in ways that make us feel good, but what about when we encounter all the challenges of what does not “feel good?”

Which brings me back to the Letter to Philemon and the reminder that what we do not be forced, but voluntary.

This is why this work of being a Christian is so hard. It is not about obligation as it is about obedience. And obedience is more about listening and about freeing yourself to be in the moment, unlike obligation which is a duty and often a painful one, done without a free and open heart.

So no wonder I did not want to write about this, who can really do this? I know I usually can’t. Most of the time I actually do want to do what is required to follow Christ and I do so freely and with an open heart. Then the reality of our shared human condition kicks in. This means malaise, reluctance, an “everything but” mentality, or worse yet, me imagining I can truly understand what Jesus’ asks of me. Hah!

Reset. Start over.

The only way to “do” this, I think, is to stay with it and to admit my weaknesses, my failures and to constant cleave myself to Christ, which I do in community.  And I must do it over and over again… that is the “path” spoke of in the Wisdom reading, I believe and the community which St. Paul reminds us of always and of the sacrifice, the jarring sacrifice that Jesus speaks of in Luke’s Gospel.

Easier said than done.