Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dear God,
I'm angry at you tonight. And I think being angry makes perfectly good sense. My mother is obsessive compulsive, bipolar and right now struggling with a skin disease all over her body. My sister is in rehab, and miserable towards me very often. I no longer wish to be living here, nor to be doing the work that I'm doing. And I am only getting by sometimes through perseverance, through grace.
I feel like I fucked up my life by going to NYU and taking on loans my second year. I'll be in debt over 30,000 and climbing for years. Sometimes all I can see is the down side, the deprivation, and my so-called mistakes.
What was funny about tonight's candlelight service was that at first I was enjoying it. I was inspired by the Christmas music and reveling like others in the congregation. But when the pastor, Rev. Brewer, got on the pulpit and started talking in his usual sensitive, loving, surrendering, submitting, open, vulnerable, generous peaceful voice about opening ourselves to the love of God, I found myself wanting to choke him. Because right now life is hard. It feels like the way I'm surviving from day to day is just by building a thick skin.
I don't blame God for what's happening to me now. I don't. But I also don't claim there's a purpose to it, or a reason. I believe God can help us make something good out of the situations we find ourselves in. And I do believe in submitting. But I also think that for a savior, he falls far short of my expectations on a regular basis. It's like that Tori Amos song, "God, sometimes you just don't come through."
In this season, the thing that gets to me most is the talk of Jesus as Savior. I think that title is the most annoying one of all of them. I can accept Son of God, but Savior at times annoys me even more because I don't see the evidence of his salvation. I think I've seen it in the past, but lately in my life, I have not seen it. Maybe that's the first part of the problem- my separation from the evidence. There may be some good evidence of where God's grace has indeed saved people. I wish somebody would show me the evidence.
I said it once before when I was living in DC, struggling with my faith. There was a song that came on with the lyric, "What I need to see is Jesus in the real world." Lord, give me eyes to see and ears to hear where you are making a difference, not just in charity but in justice, not just in words but in deeds, and not just in hope but in change. For I am impatient, justifiably so, given my short life. Give me reasons to believe, besides beautiful music on Sundays. Show me that that homeless man I see on 42nd Street every morning is going to be fine, and that predatory lending agency will be shut down. Show me your justice. And yes, please make me a channel of your peace.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Happy returns

For the last few weeks, I've been finding myself a church home at Calvary Church, the Episcopal Church on Park Avenue, where I've found a good group of young Christians, compassionate, energized and open-minded. There was something else about today that woke me up from the slumber of "I want to die, I want to die..." I found myself seeing the pain of the homeless, but also the fact that there are many people passionate about being servants of the poor, and hopeful that there is a way to truly end poverty, or at least reduce it. There are those who realize that injustice need not be tolerated, and that there is a better way to live.
When I worked for St. Charles, it was partly about this wish to do justice and to live in community. And the ability to stand up for justice, even when you fail in your efforts, at least keeps you aware of where you stand. Lately, in trying to keep my job and my worries about my finances, I have not had time to even think about the fact that one of my greatest joys comes in service and working for justice.
All that Gospel talk penetrated, I guess.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


This evening, I returned to church at Church of the Ascension. It's only been three months since my last visit, but this summer has seen enough change that it felt like an eon. The Gospel tonight was Jesus’ advice to the disciples that they should “cut off” any part of them that causes them to stumble, whether an eye, a hand or a foot. It spoke to me about how important it is to Jesus that we learn to shed that which holds us back in our journey. There’s a real ruthlessness about that in the Gospel; he tells us to leave our possessions behind, take only the one cloak and walking stick, and “hate” our own families in order to follow him completely.

I used to mock the Catholic fasting during Lent: I felt that if something was worth giving up for Lent, then why not give it up permanently? However, there’s something to their practice of sacrifice. We can’t be everything to everyone. And I do wonder what it is that might be holding me back from being completely loyal to my faith. If there was one thing I wish I could cut off, it would be my own anxiety and worry, which I believe causes me to stumble in my faith.

“Be still and know that I am God,” I have heard, and I repeat that advice so often to myself when I am troubled. If I could cut off or shed any one thing, it would be that anxiety, and tendency towards easy distraction. I would pray that in learning to be still, I would find myself talking to God less and hearing Him more.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Faith in troubling times

I seem to be dropping off the mark recently. I apologize if this blog is turning into more of a diary, but I don't think it was my objective here to just be talking about faith issues in some academic/abstract sense. I meant to engage the stuff of staying alive in our faith, and living our lives with the strength and grace of God in us. So I consider my difficulties in doing that as important as my insights.

I seem to be in a bit of a draining situation right now, where the job that I have satisfies me little and my home situation is rather isolated and often tense. I've worked since March at TeleNoticias, a Spanish-language PR firm, and I moved home to Hastings, initially in prep to leave the city for an internship in San Francisco. After realizing I had to turn that internship down because of its low stipend, I found myself in the uncomfortable situation of living at home with no sense of when I'd be out, while being at a job I wanted to leave.

Since then, I've gotten significantly more depressed and tense, especially after my sister suffered another manic episode and was rehospitalized for the fourth time for her bipolar disorder. Since her release, my family's often been a battlefield between her need to be treated like an adult at 23, and my parents' desire to make sure she's not going to do herself any damage through excessive drinking or drugs. I've been in the middle of it, trying to be on everyone's side, which is kind of tough.

Where is God in this? I reached out to NYU's Episcopal chaplain John Merz last Friday and we spoke about it. He's actually been in a similar situation in his own family: his older sister is bipolar and his anger/pain with her and his parents is very similar to my own, and more intense than mine. Merz suggested the important thing for me to do was to find a way to move out of my home. That's actually the same suggestion given by my priest, and my boss.

I'm doing what I can in that regard, and in the meantime, trying to make sure I'm not getting fired from my job. It's very isolated work for me, being in an office all day by myself. My boss is helpful, but I can see he's growing frustrated with me as my questions are often vague. I think I'm giving him the impression that I don't understand very well what I'm doing, and that's often very true.

Today, he told me that I needed to become more of a self-starter and if I see projects going on, not only ask if I can help, but know the details of projects from the checklists I've got and ask where he is on steps A,B,C and whether I can help on them or steps D,E,F. David very much wants detailed questions and detailed informed offers to support him. It's stressful for me, but I'll work to get better.

I think God comes in forgiving myself for not being perfect, for being stressed, for being frustrated, and perhaps unprepared. God comes in helping me see that my work performance does not reflect my value as a man, and in remembering that my tense state of mind does not have to take over my soul as well. It's a damn tough thing to find balance when both work and home have the potential to drive you crazy, but I'm working at it. And I know that every glimmer of strength that comes through me is a gift from God.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Trials and troubles

Ever feel like you're just beset on all sides? That's how I'm feeling recently. My sister has been released from a mental hospital for the fourth time. My mother continues to be one of the most difficult people I have to deal with, especially because of her bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses I do not have the strength to go into here. My father suffers from depression, and now in the midst of my sister's illness and my mother's illness, and his own relative lack of work, he has been sinking. And I am only a man, able to do only so much without cracking.

Now as my loans from grad school begin to mount up and I see the damage that I have done to myself, the debt I've accrued, I feel increasingly trapped. I will no longer be able to afford my health care that I just got, because thankfully my boss seems willing to increase my hours. Meanwhile, I'm not sure I can afford moving out of my parents' house because of the payments I have to make for my lonas, plus whatever health care I'll need to get. And even if I can move out, I don't think I'll be able to save too much money.

Meanwhile, the job still sucks and I am sick right now, though it's just a minor head cold brought on by excess stress, lack of sleep, and bad air quality in my room.

It is so difficult for me to move through the ordeals with any sense of peace. It is more like I try to escape the ordeals, get a momentary reprieve, and then feel like I'm right back in hell again. I so want to feel free, but living at home, working a job I don't like, and being in debt makes me feel so trapped.

Every time I stop to pray, I don't feel like I'm doing it right. Or rather I feel it's not enough. And I honestly feel so overwhelmed by the burdens that I don't believe faith is enough. For I feel I lack some kind of wisdom about the world and how it works, and have made too many mistakes.

Yet I'm only 30 years old. I wish I was feeling like my life was just getting started. I do not feel that sense of possibility and potential. I am more living in a state of regret, resentment, anger and pain, and I wish I could find relief.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A new opportunity, a new challenge

Dear readers,

This week has presented me with a change in a once essential routine in my life: though I remain cautious, I'm also feeling optimistic about what might come next.

Since 2005, I've been on medication for obsessive compulsive tendencies. Though it may have been lifelong, my OCD began showing itself more obviously back in 2002, after my sister had a nervous breakdown, was hospitalized and then diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It was a nervewracking experience for me: at the time I had recently moved to DC, was living on my own and knew very few people, while she and my family were here in NY.

I entered therapy then and a lot of the talk was about feelings of insecurity about my identity and my future, and my family. Then in 2004, a college acquaintance of mine, Leah Deni, contracted a fatal staph infection, and despite weeks of prayer by me and many of her friends, she died within a few months.

Leah's death began a new worry for me about germs and the prospect of dying young. I worried about not accomplishing everything I wanted to, and became increasingly paranoid about food surfaces, handwashing, stove burners, unlocked doors, germs from poor people (at the time I was doing social work), and contracting STDs and AIDS.

In 2005, I finally accepted that medication could help me cope better, and I began taking Paxil. Over the years, it helped me let go of my worry, and surrender the need to be sure about things, to move forward by trusting my decisions and hoping for the best.

This worked for years, despite tough times economically and socially.

However, this year since getting my current part-time job and graduating from NYU, I began to find myself in a depression. I'm 30 years old, working part-time, living at home, and still often split over which of my passions is the one to go after. I know reporting is my biggest interest, for example, but I still can't figure out whether the arts or local reporting is a better fit.

This summer, I entered a dire obsessive thought process often thinking, "God, I want to kill myself," when leaving work. These thoughts kept on repeating, as often happens with OCD. So my psychiatrist switched me to a medication called Zoloft, a similar anti-anxiety drug but one with more anti-depressant force. Zoloft helped at first, but when I recently got a virus, I found all it did was make my heart beat faster while I remained tired and out of sorts.

And so last week when I got my antibiotic and meds for my infection, I got an odd piece of advice from my psychiatrist: stop taking the psych meds altogether for now. In his words, "Go back to NOTHING."

This is the first week since 2005 that I haven't taken a single psychiatric medication to maintain myself, and overall, I feel damn proud and happy. While I was ashamed at first of taking psychiatric medication, that eventually just became a wonder on my part as to if and when I might be able to no longer need them. The only answer that ever made sense to me came from my friend Katie who said it would probably be when things were "stable" enough in my life. That's certainly not the case now externally, but maybe it is the case for me internally.

So, I have an appointment with my psychiatrist this Thursday, and I'm planning to ask to remain off medication. This week has made me believe I'm ready to give it a try.

I ask for your prayers for that meeting. And meanwhile I give thanks to God, because this week has given me a new sense of inner confidence.

For some of us, psychiatric medication may always be a necessity, and there is no shame in that. However, if I am able to live my life without it, I am all the more grateful.

I'll let you know what happens, and in the meantime, I wish you all the best.

God bless,

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Back to me

Dear readers,

For a while now, this blog's been on hold for a few reasons. 1.I didn't feel I had anything to add about Christian thought. Lately my mind's been on a lot of other things.
I was planning to move to San Francisco for an internship with a television station called LinkTV, but I cancelled it after I budgeted and realized I wouldn't have enough money to support myself and there were too many variables for me to take the risk in a city where I hardly knew anyone.
Then there's prescriptions. Last month I grew increasingly depressed at my part-time job with Telenoticias USA. It's a desk job with a Spanish PR company, and though my boss is nice, I'm alone, there's little work, and I feel meaningless when there. It led me into a nasty depression, and my psychiatrist switched me to Zoloft, a pill which helps with anxiety but also is an anti-depressant.
With that, my continuing job search and my move back home to save cash, I haven't been thinking much about God. But I think I made an error in conceiving this blog as only being thoughts about him: lately I have been struggling for faith in myself and my future, and that struggle is as relevant as the search for God, as well as linked to it.
I have become increasingly cynical and hopeless about my future, and ambivalent about the best road to take when it comes to my career choices. Although I know journalism is still my favorite subject, I can no longer figure out whether it's entertainment journalism or social issues journalism that I should go after.
In the meantime, I have hardly gone to church at all. I've tried a new Episcopal church in the city called Calvary Episcopal which has drawn me in, but their services exhaust me, with long 20-minute sermons, long chanting and singing sessions, and an emphasis on personal devotion that's been draining. There, it seems that I found almost TOO much Jesus, where in other churches I'd been struggling to find enough.
I'm thinking about going back there this evening, and in the meantime, I have been considering moving into a Christian intentional community called Radical Living, in order to be closer to my faith and to live in community. Living with my parents in the suburbs is isolating and stressful for me, even though the scenery here in Westchester is lush compared to the Brooklyn streets.
I'm longing these days to feel close to God again, but lately when I feel most at peace, I find myself most at odds with my current environment. I find my parents' bickering painful, and my sister's on-the-go sass stresses me out.
The struggle for me is to remain hopeful as things stand, and to remember how blessed I truly am. Slowing down and accepting things as they are takes work, but that is exactly where God, my Lord and Savior, comes in. I do not need to do this work alone, and I ask not to have to. The book of Matthew reads, "Come to me all who are weary," and tonight I will come to Him and hope to begin to be renewed.
As the weeks go on, I will treat this as much as a journal of my struggles towards hope and faith as a place for thoughts on God. I welcome your feedback and would love to share your journey as well. Take care, and God bless.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

To what degree do we let go?

I was reading a New York Times article a while back about Suze Orman, and while I enjoyed a lot of her advice, her thoughts on the importance of money above all else seemed quite at odds with my Christianity. Orman tells the story often about how their house was burning down and after getting them all out, he ran back in to grab their money. He came back out with a metal chest and the skin on his arms had grafted onto the sides of the chest. Orman said the lesson she learned was that money, making it, having it, taking care of yourself financially, was as important as life itself.

Then I think of the Sermon on the Mount (a paraphrase):
"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what you
shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you
shall put on...
Consider the lilies of the field; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you that Solomon in all of his glory was never clothed as richly as one of these. Therefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"

In our economic crisis, Jesus' promises seem a bit hollow. Maybe if our society had followed a more Christian economic model rather than giving massive sub-prime mortgages, we wouldn't need to worry and could trust in God to keep us stable.

But we live in a capitalist economy, run by many who misheard Jesus as saying, "Seek ye first the kingdom of Gold." As for the rest of us, society demands we work, but often neglects many who do their share, ending up without healthcare, shelter, food, security, in spite of hard labor. And to add to that, sometimes even the work we have is not guaranteed.

So can I or any of us really surrender completely and expect God to clothe us, shelter us and feed us? When we know homeless shelters have to turn people away, and food banks often shut down? The current climate seems more to call for vigilance, the same vigilance towards money that Jesus called for towards the day of judgment. We must be on watch, ready for our job to end, our bank to close, or our savings to disappear like a thief in the night.

I personally don't trust Jesus to calm all the storms alone: I believe it's up to me too. I have to work and watch how I spend my money, and maybe take a second job that would end up giving me less time to be with family and friends or pray.

Yet at the same time, part of my struggle is based on a vision of my life, set by this same worldly society : I want to be a successful well-reputed journalist, living in a place of my own, with savings, the ability to travel, the occasional luxury, and a way to support myself, along with maybe a partner and kids someday. If I was willing to surrender those ambitions for the kingdom of God, perhaps I could trust the Gospel's words.

I would never surrender the call to be a journalist or to explore and travel. Those are passions that I believe God has given me. Many of the others though have been given me by society as definitions of success: maybe shedding that is what Jesus was calling for when he talked about not worrying about our lives.

I don't think God is calling for me to be miserable either. Jesus lived amongst the people and enjoyed their company: he drank the fine wine, healed on the Sabbath. He lived life richly. Perhaps it's holy to seek that, while rejecting the notions that the only way to that richness is through money.

I wish one of the Beatitudes said, "Blessed are those who seek a rich life rather than a life of wealth, for theirs is the kingdom of God."
Or that there was a commandment like "Boast of no financial success, and seek only to take care of yourself, your loved ones, and those in need."

I guess it comes down to how much I'm willing to let go of to bring Christ in, if I truly believe that he can work in my life when I let him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is anger at panhandlers justifiable?

Dear all,

Lately I find myself getting fed up with panhandlers, not with the act of panhandling itself but with their pleading. There's an old black man outside Grand Central every day who sits curled up on a bucket, hunched over and shaking, pleading "Pleeease! Pleease!" like a freezing man begging for shelter.
I help him sometimes out of guilt, but yesterday after putting some change in his cup, I said, "You're out here EVERY SINGLE DAY like this!" He told me that he couldn't get over his mother's death and that all he wants is to really go back to work. I didn't really buy it honestly. I think for me the pleading eventually feels like the boy who cried wolf: a constant emergency begins to feel like no emergency at all. And if every day is the same, then what's the sense of helping him at all?
I don't know how Jesus would have responded to this: he was great at healing people and calling for support to the poor, but I don't remember many instances of him helping beggars financially. Heck, he didn't have a lot of money to begin with!
I always remember that moment when the woman spent her money to make him (perfume? was it?) and the disciples protested that the money could have been spent on the poor. Jesus said "The poor you will always have with you," but that he was only going to be there for a while. Some might use that phrase to dismiss working for the poor, but I think it was just meant to say that worship of God and Jesus must come first in all our endeavors.
My anger towards that man begins with the fact that he is breaking my heart and the sneaking suspicion that he is taking advantage of my compassion. Perhaps, there is no way around it but to admit that anger and help anyway. Or perhaps it is better to give my money to a cause that makes a bigger difference and then give the man a referral to it: maybe that'd be a bit more of the "arise and walk" response, leaving him the choice to make himself well.
I welcome your thoughts.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fire and glue

Dear all,

Last Sunday, I slept in and missed the 11 am service at Judson Memorial Church, a church I had tried down by NYU. After waking up at noon, I headed to my sister's improv performance downtown, and afterwards my family and I had an early dinner. After leaving the restaurant, I began the walk home and on top of feeling achy, I began feeling a desire to be in a church, to pray and connect with the presence of God. Luckily, I found Calvary Episcopal, a church in the Flatiron District that was perfect. The 6 pm service was just getting out and there was time to relax, and spend some time praying.
I have a lot on my mind now as I prepare to move to San Francisco, to leave my family, the small group of friends I've made, my church group, and other support networks, therapist, gym, etcetera. I can feel the tension rising in me quite often. In these moments, prayer truly does settle me.
I've gone back to reading Ronald Rolheiser's book "The Holy Longing" a kind of how-to about preserving a Christian spirituality in modern America. It's a good read and one of the things Rolheiser says that's really stuck with me is that the soul is both fire and glue. It is what inspires us to action and what holds us together in chaos. As I get closer to leaving, I keep on thinking about that balance, keeping life both on fire and glued, stable but inspired. I'm someone who tends to overthink things, so I could analyze that idea for days. Yet, it's still worth keeping in mind.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"A Life Apart: Hasidim in America"

Dear all,

Over the weekend I went cycling in my area of Brooklyn. The weather was wonderful, 70 degrees and sunny, a light breeze floating through town. I took my bike down through Greenpoint and criscrossed Williamsburg from north to south, ending in Clinton Hill. On my way there and back, I entered the Hasidic neighborhoods of South Williamsburg a few times.
The Hasidim here seem to live in an enclave: one street I went on near Clinton Hill was a one way street flanked with matching apartment buildings, all belonging to Hasids. The kids played in the street, usual stuff, bikes and balls, while the parents watched them from their apartments. They almost all spoke in Hebrew, not English.
At one point, being my gregarious self, I passed a Hasid boy on a bicycle, and I said, "Hey there." He looked at me a bit like I was from outer space. This is a reaction I'm not unfamiliar with: there seems to always be a bit of distaste, resentment, or maybe fear when it comes to interacting with us goyim, especially the goyim in shorts and T-shirts riding through their enclave, breaking so many taboos of modesty in our dress.
That night after riding home, I watched a documentary from the 90s on Hasidic life in America, called "A Life Apart," which mostly looked at Brooklyn's Hasidic tribes. The doc noted about 5 main tribes in Brooklyn, the Lubavitch (many in Crown Heights), the Satmar, Bobov, Skver, and one other I can't recall...
From what I gathered, the Hasidim are separate from the rest of orthodox Judaism in that they have put study of the Torah above all other things in their lives, rejecting university and college studies because they would challenge and poison their spiritual practice. Hasidim can pursue careers in business, or in teaching at Orthodox schools, but not in any field that requires professionalization like medicine, law, or politics.
I don't know what the Hasidim think of Matisyahu, or Matthew Miller, the Orthodox Jew reggae singer from Crown Heights. Apparently, Matisyahu still makes his home there among the Hasidim with his wife and child even though he's confessed to feeling "boxed in" by Hasidic enclaves. In 2004, when asked about how he viewed his music in light of his religious practice, Matisyahu said, "The rabbi would like me to be in Crown Heights, sitting in yeshiva and learning more," Matisyahu confesses. "But right now my energy is in music. I have a way to affect people and uplift them. To give that up is to go against what God wants."
The funny thing is that the documentary talks about how joy is at the core of the Hasidic lifestyle, yet that joy is seldom evident when the Hasids see us goys. Whether it's their disgust at our lifestyle, fear that they'd be tained with interaction with us, there's very often a sense of just barely tolerating us. Yet if their lifestyle is all about joy, why shouldn't more of them be expressing their differences with us through joyous prayers, like the Hare Krishnas or the Mennonite choirs I see in Union Square? Strange that the Hasidim keep that joy locked inside the closed doors of their synagogues...the documentary reveals them in song and dance, loving their children, dancing like fools and madmen (in a good way), and yet in public life they seem all business.
I guess I wish the Hasidim didn't see me and the rest of America as part of the big "treyfe medina," a land of defilement, inhospitable to people of faith. Until then, I'll continue riding my bike through their neighborhoods, with a smile on my face, despite the blank stares and downcast faces that often greet me.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

For tomorrow

I will make my weekly entry tomorrow morning. I have pushed my wrists too far tonight clinging to my bike handles through my rides in Brooklyn, and need to rest them up. But tomorrow I will write of my impressions riding through the Hasidim community of South Williamsburg.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The will of God is a tough nut to crack, or is it?

Dear all,

I was working on a post about sheep vs. our intellect, and the more I got to thinking about the will of God and how to interpret it, the more difficult it became. I started out talking about how the will of God is vague when it comes to instructions for our everyday lives, issuing out instead broader strokes for how to live an ethical life but not specific about what to do in our careers, marriage, our finances, et cetera.
Then I thought perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps I'm avoiding the idea that really I and all of us have been called to surrender all our money, our ideas of job security, healthcare, comfort and careers, and live like Christ did, in voluntary poverty, serving the needy. And that's a scary thought.
I remember trying to read some of Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation, or worse Thomas A Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, and I found myself often not being able to take it because there was such a rejection, bordering on loathing, of the self and the joys of this world, versus the joy of Christ. I LIKE myself. I LIKE my desires. I LIKE my goals, my ambitions, my passions for things other than God. And for these texts to call me to shed that existence is a hard pill to swallow.
Sometimes I feel like you can't commit yourself to following Christ's words to the letter while also going after a successful career and raise a healthy secure family. Christ rejected his family and lived his life as a nomad: I do not long for that existence.
So to what degree are we called to follow absolutely in his and the apostles' footsteps, and to what degree are we called to do as they say, but not as they do? And do I have less faith if I say "No, I'm not going to give all my possessions to the poor and go around with only a robe and walking stick, thank you very much"? Am I ignoring the will of God? Am I a lost sheep, no longer following my shepherd?
All I can think of are questions for now. There's a book called "The Year of Living Biblically" which seems to apply to my predicament. I think I'll look it up.
Next up...a look at Suze Orman's teachings vs. the Gospels on money.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Working on post, re sheep and intellect

You caught me at the end of a very busy week: after finishing my last paper Wednesday morning at eight, I had two video projects to complete for freelance work before a trip to Albany with friends. Now that I'm settling back, I haven't got much to say except I could use your input on an idea for a post.
Earlier in the week, I was on my prayer site, Sacred Space, and came across that passage from John 10: "I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and they know me." It's interesting that in our culture, being called sheep is somewhat derogatory- it usually brings to mind subservience, blind faith, a lack of intelligence. It robs us of our intellect and makes us into creatures governed by instincts and trained reactions.
What are your thoughts on the shepherd-sheep metaphor? How do you get around it?

Sunday, May 3, 2009


It's so easy to lose perspective and gratitude in the midst of illness. I was down with the flu all week, and every day I was irritable, grouchy, and feeling sorry for myself.
Then I went to the doctor and she asked me to rank my pain on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being next to none, 10 absolutely exruciating. On the wall was a scale with a happy face next to #1 at the bottom, and at #10 the face of absolute friggin' agony, the tears pouring, the mouth stretched down to the edges of the chin. I don't think even Christ had it as bad as whatever happened to #10 face.
So the doctor asked "Where would you say you rank?" And I said "4." Then I thought, "4? After all this grouchiness and wallowing, I'm only a 4?" And I realized my perspective was as much in need of healing as my illness.
At my church group this Friday, we talked a bit about what brings perspective and emotional healing in the midst of suffering. One of the biggest needs is to just let people in. My friend Paul talked about a surgery he'd had around Christmastime: a group of carolers was making rounds at the hospital and wanted to stop by his room. At first, he told himself, "Screw them. I'm cranky. I don't want to hear any Christmas music." But he yielded to it and actually got into their rendition of "Jingle Bells."
My friend Isaac had my favorite story. He was about to go into the hospital for kidney stones, and he was in wrenching pain, crying his eyes out. Before he left the house, he stopped in front of the mirror and thought "If I'm going to go outside a crying mess, I'm going to at least keep some dignity." So he stopped, and went into the bathroom and applied some hair gel. And before he headed out to the e.r., he looked at himself in the mirror with his good hair and it brought a smile to his face.
Being sick can be a great opportunity, as much as a burden. And I believe God can bring good out of the hardship. I can't accept that God causes our illnesses and disease, but I believe we can grow closer to him through these experiences. Psalm 18:28 says, "You O Lord keep my lamp burning; my God can turn my darkness into light." The God we believe in can turn this life's lemons into lemonade.
So, I wish you health, but more importantly I wish you faith, despite whatever lemons may come your way. Have a great week.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Saying "So long, self"

Not much to say this week. I've been sick today, feeling quite depressed and tired. However my service tonight did me good. Our pastor, Rev. John Merz, spoke of the experience of the holiness of God in our lives as the "I:Thou" moments, a concept he learned from Martin Buber. Buber's idea was that there are two modes of daily living; "I-It" and "I-Thou." "I-It" is the way most of us function day to day, at a semi-unconscious mode of living. The way Merz put it was that in "I-It" most of the outside world is objectified, deadened, except for how it figures into our purposes and goals for the day.
Then there're the "I-Thou" moments where something happens that takes us completely out of our routine, out of our habitual responses, and brings us a connection with someone or something. A piece of music that flutters in from nowhere, a baby that starts laughing and jumping as busy business people walk by around him. Moments where we experience the miracle of creation itself, where we abandon ourselves to it.
Some of the happiest freest moments of my life have been when I no longer worried about myself, when I could step outside myself completely. And these days, I am in the exact opposite position, worried about my job, my finances, my future and this weekend, my health. I pray that this week for a more healthy balance, and more moments outside myself.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gay marriage: yes or no?

1.Okay guys-it's all over the papers, and I think it's time we talked about it.
I'm for it. I think that churches have the right to oppose it, but I don't think that individual churches and denominations should hold sway over state and federal policies. If two consenting adults want to get married, it's not the state's job to protect the sanctity of sacraments, just the freedom of the church to practice those sacraments.
I also strongly reject the idea that gay marriage is a threat to marriage. Any couple that can provide a good example of a monogamous commitment should be an encouragement to the rest of us that marriage CAN work.
Heck, if the churches really want the government to defend marriage, shouldn't we ban divorce? 50% of marriages end in it! It's the #1 marriage killer, I would think, after death!
Okay, enough of me talking...TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK!
Love ya all. -Dan

It's good to know what you need

I believe today was my last day with the Unitarians. After trying a couple of services, I’ve found that I need a bit more of Jesus in my church than what they have to offer.
I came to the Unitarians because I questioned my faith, and still do. I question whether Jesus is the son of God, whether there is a heaven or hell, whether my prayers do any good for anyone but me. And I sought them out as a group that saw skepticism as healthy,and inquiry as a twin of faith.
Yet I also realized after just a few Unitarian services, that although I question my beliefs, I still thrive on them. I still need to hear Christ’s words on a regular basis, in a community of the like-minded who are looking to him for guidance. The Unitarians left that part of me cold with intelligent but somewhat more watered-down generalizations about the human spirit and the sacredness of everyday life. The messages were lovely but a bit too general for my needs.
Thankfully, I have found communities over the last months that are both Christian and healthily skeptical. Both Transmission and the NYU student Episcopal group have provided a space where doubt and even dissent is welcome, yet faith in Christ is also multiplied.
However, I don’t regret trying out the Unitarians. As I walked out of the service today, I had a wide smile on my face. I felt revived: realizing I actively DESIRED more Christ was kind of liberating. I think it’s a gift in this life whenever we can put our finger on exactly what it is we yearn for. Thankfully, with Christ, the access is pretty easy, and the supply never runs out.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Learning from hunger

Dear readers,

Today I've been fasting for Good Friday. No food at all, and nothing but water, tea and lemon juice to drink.
I wanted to deepen my experience of the day by replicating some of the suffering of Christ, even though part of me thinks it silly to impose suffering to grow in faith. Part of me equates fasting with self-flagellation, vows of silence, celibacy and other restrictive disciplines we impose on ourselves to get closer to God. I have an instinctive resistance to that brand of religion. Jesus spent his life simply yes, but he enjoyed life amongst the sinners, doing good in the public square, not hiding away in asceticism burying his appetite for life.
Another part of my resistance to fasting is that I've seen it used to get attention. One weekend when I was in college in the late 90s, a student group set up shop outside the student center to protest the U.S. embargo against Iraq, citing the deaths of children.
Their form of protest was to sit out on the steps of the center for three days, fasting. There was singing and giving out information, but their biggest signs declared that it was a "Fast for Iraq." For some reason, I thought it ridiculous that their form of building awareness was to make themselves suffer.
I'd think anybody who didn't give a damn about the issue would just look at them and say, "Ha! Let 'em starve! Those self-righteous bozos!"
Looking back at it, it wasn't the fast itself I was opposed to, but the demonstrative nature of it. Perhaps the advocacy statements made sense, but the fact that they made their fasting so public got to me. Perhaps I have been affected by that old advice, "Do your good works in secret."
Initially today, I wasn't sure if my little fast would have any effect on me. I moved through the day a little grumpy, but clearheaded. Then came the evening and a test: forgetting my fast, my roommate invited me out to dinner with his friend. Should I deny myself the pleasure and stay home, or take it as a sign to go enjoy the company of friends and break bread? WWJD?
I decided to combine my two interests: I went to dinner but denied myself food, and this was when the fast got interesting. My roommate and friends got a prix fixe three-course meal, appetizers, entrees, beers and dessert. I sat there with a cup of green tea and watched.
First, I felt like an outsider, and that's when the fast first began to hurt. I was going through the day just fine in my own private discipline, but discipline becomes less enjoyable in the midst of those enjoying freedom. In the same way, I think it's easier to be poor when you're not right next to wealth: you may not be aware of how bad you've got it and see the little that you've got as enough.
But when you're poor and surrounded by the well-off, the same drive that could help you survive could turn to resentment, and perhaps then violence.
This came to mind, and other things popped up as they moved from appetizers to entrees. I began thinking about how hard it must be for somebody on a strict diet to be in group situations, the discipline to be out with people who can eat whatever they want, the control it must take. I imagine family and friends try to be considerate, but when a group goes to an Italian restaurant, I'm sure a dieter sees stuff going around the table that they ache to eat. No wonder so many fall off.
As they moved towards the end of the meal, I thought about that old weird piece of advice every mom used to give their kids to make them finish dinner, that guilt-laden news flash "There are children starving in Africa." What was the logic of that? I guess if children are starving in Africa, then I should shut up and be grateful I have any food at all, and should eat every bit?
I never got this: if I have extra food and there are children starving in Africa, then shouldn't they be the ones eating it? Why am I overfilling my belly while these kids starve? And furthermore, if you're really concerned about me understanding starvation in Africa, wouldn't it be better to DENY me an occasional meal, rather than guilt-trip me into eating more?
By that logic, it's like filling the belly is a salute to the fact that by the grace of God, I'm not like them. I guess for any family that's escaped poverty, that's a natural thing to enjoy. But it's also rather hedonistic and self-centered. "I'm going to eat up, because I thankfully am not in your shoes." If I heard that and was on the other side of the equation, I'd want to cut you open and enjoy my meal.
As I recall, Jesus rarely complained about being hungry. He got tired and angry, and even thirsty on the Cross. However, he didn't complain a lot about poverty and hunger. Sometimes, I almost think that that lack of complaints, combined with his love for the poor, has made it easier for us to excuse the existence of poverty.
We do charity like Jesus did, but I think fewer of us see starvation, especially when others are feasting, as the same intolerable hell as genocide or the AIDS epidemic.
I wonder if Jesus had talked more about the cruelty of poverty, maybe things would be different. But then again, we've selectively ignored and heeded Jesus' words for centuries.
The fast has clearly done me good, since it's got me thinking, but I don't quite feel like I've hit rock bottom yet. I wonder how far I should go. Should I take myself to the point of physical pain, or stop now that some awareness has come of it? Your opinions would be welcome.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Going where the spirit leads you

"The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So is it with every one who has been born of the Spirit." John 3:8 (Weymouth New Testament)

Sometimes I just don't feel called to going to church on Sunday. For years, I thought that was just laziness or depression, and that I had to force myself to get out the door and go. Somedays, I turned out to be right, and getting out helped me escape a rut of some kind by seeing friends and finding solace in a lively worship.

However, when I woke up today, my resistance to going to church was less about depression than exuberance. I woke up with the sun today (completely by chance, having fallen asleep at 10 last night) and then sat on my rooftop enjoying the wind at 7. I began looking along the Brooklyn horizon and thought of going to Prospect Park. I've been living in New York over a year now and I'd wanted to see it for sometime.

I knew though that I'd likely to miss the 11 am service at the Unitarian church, so I was torn. Then I read my spiritual passage for the day, from Garry Wills' "What Jesus Meant." The passage spoke of how Jesus cared far more about the state of our spirits than our rituals. I could tell my spirit, which I usually equate with my greatest joy, wanted to visit the park.

After a relaxing long walk, I made my way back to NYU and stopped in a new church, Judson Memorial, for their Palm Sunday mass. The service was nearly over when I got there, but I at least had the chance to rest in the house of the Lord for a few minutes. It was a great relief.

Now over the last months, I've spent my Sundays at several different parishes, and so far I haven't settled on one. Some people might fault this: my mother used to have a school of thought that you go to the parish you have, not the parish you want. I think she took going to our local parish even with boring sermons and funereal music as a selfless way of putting her faith before her own tastes. There's definitely a praiseworthy commitment there.

But to me that kind of forced parish loyalty goes against how Jesus moved through the world, how he encouraged us in John to follow our nomadic spirits. Jesus was a wanderer, always on the move. So to make sticking to your parish part of being a good Christian seems a bit off to me.

There are some weeks when the Spirit calls me to services, and others to fellowship, or some kind of journey like today. I may seem irregular or erratic, but I am constantly, consistently working to listen to the Spirit. And to me the most organic encounters with the divine are when we go beyond our routine.

Would love to hear from you.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Making myself vulnerable

It's been a tough week for me. In a meeting with my supervisor at my part-time internship, I was given some tough critiques. As he went on, I began feeling insecure, a bit humiliated and quite vulnerable, like a child being disciplined by his father.

This kind of vulnerability can be a very physical experience for me. My pulse quickens, and sometimes I tremble or get cold. In some cases, my eyes water up. And at these moments, I lose the guards I've put up to efficiently tackle the mad crowds of New York and the search for success. Of course, that loss feels awful.

But I also believe that vulnerability is something God wants for us. I used to go to a Wednesday night service at Manhattan's Riverside Church, a Gospel-style service called "Space for Grace," with gospel hymns and clapping, frequent cries to God, and tons of "YES, JESUS!" shouts and "MM-HMMs!" coming from the Harlem audience.

On several Wednesdays, I would come in tired and irritable. I would read the program and sit there watching, usually impatient for the sermon.

Usually, though, I arrived when the ministers were passing mikes out to the crowd for them to offer praises and prayers to God. Sometimes a member gave praise for a marriage or a graduation, but more often it was a prayer for the sick, the dead, or the mistreated. I would get irritated after hearing a few of these, perhaps with the thought that the ministers were letting the crowd take over the show: when were we going to get back on schedule? But usually the ministers went on until every raised hand had been given a mike.

Now I had nowhere I had to be after the service was over. What was really happening was a resistance to being vulnerable to these people's experiences, especially to their pain. I came in wanting learning and inspiration, but not wanting to be vulnerable.

And yet I don't think we can get too far in our maturation without allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, and I believe God treasures vulnerability. I believe vulnerability is divine.

In fact, that is for me the height of sexual intimacy: the moments where you and your partner are completely vulnerable to each other, literally naked and staring each other in the face, with no place to hide. And hopefully no reason to either.

Last night, I was reading one of my current self-help books, Taming Your Gremlin, by Rick Carson. In it, he has a 15-minute meditation where I was supposed to sit silently and imagine a person I loved deeply and a conversation we would have about our opinions of each other.

As I began, my mind was off in other places, and part of me was thinking the exercise a waste. Carson's book was asking me to be vulnerable, to open myself up to possible pain. And the part of me that's learned to protect myself from feeling weak and vulnerable was trying to blow him off.

However, I managed to do it: I imagined a conversation with my father in which we talked about how we really felt about each other deep down. It made me sad and grateful and ultimately very at peace. Afterwards, I saw my Dad had called me and on my call back, I told him about the exercise. He laughed and we had a great chat. None of that would have happened if I hadn't let myself be vulnerable.

We're taught that only the strong survive, but to me, true growth in life demands we learn to be vulnerable. I don't even like the word "weak" here: to me, it takes strength to put your guard down and be open. Our daily lives can feel like a boxing match, where we face an opponent and have to dance around danger and keep our fists up in order to succeed.

But to thrive as children of God demands a different approach at times. Though it may seem foolhardy or dangerous, we've got to learn how to stop dancing, take off our gear and be open to punches. After all, as they say in the fitness world, "No gain."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A notion on faith

I read a quote yesterday on Sacred Space, the Jesuit daily prayer site I often visit, that said something akin to faith is more God's contribution to us than our contribution to God. It's by His grace that we're able to stay faithful, and he doesn't really need our faith or our praise. One thing I remembered in the Grand Canyon was how small I am in the vast scheme of things, seeing rock formations that have been there for a million years, reflecting the power of nature and the antlike smallness of our individual lives. Not to say that our lives are not important, but it's hard to boast about my life before sights like the Grand Canyon.
I had another divine inspiration in the Canyon: I was inspired to dance. I woke up at 5 am my last morning there and went to see the sunrise with a tour group. At first, I listened to our folksy tour guide telling about Canyon lore, but as the sun rose, I wanted quiet...or so I thought. I left the tour group and walked along the rim, and as the morning wind hit my arms, I felt this wave of joy rush inside me. So I turned on my IPod and jammed: the song was "I Grieve," by Peter Gabriel, which has an excellent upbeat jam at the end about life's richness in spite of our mortality. It was perfect for gettin' down at the Canyon.
I promise I'll have photos up soon. Hope to hear from you all. God bless.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Dear friends,

Nothing much to report this week on the religious end. Last night my roommate took me out for a night of African dj dancing, so I missed the Unitarian service this morning. And unfortunately with spring break now going on, there were no services going on. However, that did give me a chance to apply to the International Women's Health Coalition for communications work with them.
In the meantime, I finished reading Shane Claiborne's book Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, which I thoroughly recommend for any Christians who have a burning desire to put their faith to action. Too many times we're encouraged to concentrate on our own lives: Claiborne examines well how our faith calls us to do justice in the world. And thankfully he does so with a focus on justice for the poor above all else.
I'm now reading Amy Orr-Ewing's Is believing in God irrational? which may be the first apologetics text I've ever looked at. I'm not so sure how I'll like it, but the intro certainly spoke to me, with the author talking about her changing attitude towards God in the years she struggled with cancer as an adolescent. She's an emotional reader: we'll see about her arguments.
I welcome any recommendations from you-basically, I try to start off my day with about 10 minutes of spiritual reading, so as long as it's the kind of book you CAN read in bits, I'm into it.
I wish you all the best this week. I'm off to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon: I'll make sure to put together an online photo album and provide a link. Take care!

Sunday, March 8, 2009


A nine year old girl complains to her mother of stomach pains. Mom takes her daughter to the hospital, and they find out she's 4 months pregnant with twins. How? The girl reveals that her stepfather has been sexually abusing her for years, along with her 14-year-old sister. The stepfather is arrested, while trying to get out of the city. The hospital says that as the girl weighs only 80 pounds, the pregnancy could be dangerous. As it's a case of both health risks and rape, it's a perfectly legal abortion, and Mom decides to let the doctors abort the twins.

Somehow word gets out to the local Catholic church. The next day, the mother and the two doctors she worked with are excommunicated. The stepfather though is not excommunicated. The local archbishop says that even though the stepfather committed a heinous crime, "the abortion- the elimination of an innocent life – was more serious."

This happened in Brazil this week, but it feels like it could have happened anywhere. The Vatican got involved yesterday and affirmed the decision of the archbishop. Cardinal Giovanni Re said, "It is a sad case but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated," he said.

The real problem. It boggles my mind and infuriates me as a former Catholic to see my church now so focused on abortion that the rape of a 9-year-old girl by her stepfather is less of a problem than the removal of his seed from her body. His rape is less of a sin than allowing her to return to her childhood without his children inside her.

The Catholic Church doctrine on dangerous pregnancies is that a Caesarean section is always an alternative to abortion. However, C-sections are healthiest at full-term pregnancy. So, in effect, the church was suggesting that the nine-year-old should have borne her father's seed for another half a year, and for having not chosen that, the mother and doctors are greater condemned than the father.

The church's decision is madness shrouded in logic, absent of any compassion for human beings dealing with horror.

It's not clear how far this case will go. No article I've read so far speaks to the nuances of excommunication. In one story, one of the doctors said that he would continue going to mass afterwards, but going to mass is usually not forbidden by an excommunication. Usually, excommunication forbids you from taking part in sacraments except for Reconciliation, but you can still attend Mass. In fact, it's encouraged. Only in its more extreme versions does the church completely shun the excommunicated.

The next question becomes what kind of reconciliation the church will demand. Should these people say that what they did was wrong? That they should have allowed the nine-year-old to carry twins for another five months? And what of the father? What will be demanded of him by the church? The Vatican says that rape is inherently evil and incest even more so. Yet the father will be welcomed to Communion in his Brazilian jail cell, and the mother turned away.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Here the threat is not only to justice, but to common sense and compassion. What happened in Brazil was the destruction of both a family and a child's innocence, and the church's actions have only made matters worse. Our duty is to heal the broken before we judge them.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


I talked to my counselor this morning about how it felt having Luv with me at the ceremony. Here was a guy who had no experience with Christianity, barely any experience with New York at all, and it was my opportunity to introduce him. I was thrilled, and he was wide eyed asking all sorts of questions. When I told him, "Well, the priest puts the ashes over your forehead with his finger and makes a sign of the cross, much like in baptism," he looked at me and said, "What's baptism?"

Then there was the church. The place seemed like an exact replica of Holy Trinity.
Here's St. Joseph's outside:................then Holy Trinity:

St. Joseph's inside.................then Holy Trinity:

I felt like I'd come back home.

And the service was just the same as Holy Trinity, a young choir, a hopeful and eloquent priest, great songs, and a sense of peace. Luv sat there and asked if he should come down with me when I went for ashes, but I said they preferred you at least be Christian before you do so. I wonder if that was the right thing to do, but I suppose it'd be better if he at least knew what the ceremony meant before he joined me. As it was, he was only just beginning to understand.

I gave up something for Lent that I've been wanting to give up, which is looking at little YouTube clips for the over-18 crowd, clips of actresses like Alyssa Milano or Drew Barrymore in some B-movie about the naughty babysitter or the innocent art student seduced by vampires. Though I'd only watch this schlock for 10 minutes or so on a given night, it hasn't felt right, and shedding that for Lent feels like a step in the right direction.

I pray that you are also stepping in the right direction wherever it is you wish to go.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I went today to St. Joseph's Church in the West Village for Ash Wednesday service this evening. It wasn't my original plan, but the more I saw young people walking by with the ashes on their foreheads, it made me feel like I wanted to be a part of it again. I wanted to get back in that spirit of penitence, and I think I also liked the idea of making my faith visible. Ash Wednesday seems to be the one day of the year when we wear our Christianity on our faces, and what's more it's perhaps one of the most Christian ways of showing our faith. It's not like carrying some t-shirt that says "Jesus Loves You" or reading the Bible on some street corner: this is the kind of sign I like-the kind that makes people squint their eyes and wonder what it's all about. Because the jesus i understand wasn't about blasting his message out on loudspeakers. He was more interested in washing people's feet. So seeing our faith in the ashes we wear seems more in line with the strong silent type that Jesus often was in his message.

Even though it was being done in a Catholic church, I felt I could return to the Catholics for this ceremony. And so I planned to go to St. Joseph's Church. During dinner beforehand, I was sitting with my Indian friend Luv, a Hindu with no knowledge of Christianity whatsoever. When I told him my evening plans, he asked for an explanation of it. So I invited him to come along and see for himself...
More tomorrow.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I read from the Shane Claiborne book "Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers" this morning. It was one of the first times in the last few weeks that I have felt like my search for faith had found the right leader. The right guide. Reading Rick Warren, I felt there was too much certainty about God. Reading Thomas Merton, I felt put off by the degree to which he identified passion and desire with selfishness. Reading my passages of the Men's evangelical Bible, I felt that I was just retreading territory I'd already visited before. Claiborne's book unlike any of the others emphasizes the things that used to really bring to me close to God in everyday life: attempting to help people, to be present with people in need, to see injustice and how we can work against it, to see isolation and try to heal it.

Here in Greenpoint, I wake up every morning and see these old Polish men with dirty wrinkled faces, sounding drunk and standing in a stupor next to the corner liquor store. One yesterday had his nose cut open, with blood caked from his eyebrows down to his lips. I stopped momentarily and said, "Are you alright?" But there was little I could do-I didn't know him. I didn't even speak his language. That to me is tragic.

Sometimes I feel like God overdid it in that story in Genesis where he punishes us for building the godless tower into the skies by confusing all our languages. It makes showing his compassion so much more difficult to our neighbor. Yet one more sign of my growing conviction that God does not always act rationally or for the best of people, if indeed he does exist. But spirit-spirit I believe in, and if we can get in our spirit, THAT does usually have some logic to it, and usually means the best for us.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What you don't know can hurt you

Lately I've been spending my money without much regard for how. I try to be thrifty where I can, but ever since my counselor told me that saving up money wasn't something most grad students are able to do, I stopped paying as much attention to my budget. To my own detriment. Even if I can't save a huge amount up, I can still watch my spending. Besides, it at least helps me have a local perspective on the economy.
I noticed last night that Trader Joe's at 14th Street again had a line going out the door and down the street past some four other storefronts. They're huge now. How can it be that there's only one of them in the city?
For my part, even if the deals are good, I can't stand waiting in lines that long, especially when it's just to get in the door!
Got my food shopping done tonight at the Polish Associated Supermarket on Manhattan Ave. I asked if they had coupons. The Polish checkout girl gave me a weird look and said, "No, no coupons. If there is discount, we have it all in our heads." Good to know.
$41.37 spent altogether, mostly the basics:
$8 for two loaves of bread, Arnold $ Stroehmann-where are they coming from?
$4 on soy milk (gotta have my Silk)
$8 on chicken - trying out breasts and ground chicken, which was cheaper
$5 on cold cuts (got a lb. of the cheapest available...)
$4.79 on a 20 oz. box of shredded wheat. Cereal prices are so damn high. I've been told getting high fiber in the morning makes for a healthy breakfast. So that should help.
$3 of orange juice on sale,
$2 of eggs,
$2 on soap,
$2 on paper towels,
and $2 of some unintelligible Polish snack food that looked like it had honey- tastes darn good.
I guess the rest was tax.
I know that when it comes to following my spending, I need to adopt LITTLE habits that I can begin to accumulate.
I can start to write some of these purchases down, at the very least. I don't want to be paranoid about it, but I do want a better idea of where my money is going. It's easy to ignore this stuff, but sooner or later the money will ignore you back.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I was once told that one big difference between Americans and Europeans is that Americans live to work, while Europeans work to live. While there's probably just as much bull in that statement as any other, there's also a kernel of truth. My father said that when I come to the end of my life, one regret I probably won't have is "I wish I had spent more time at the office."
I just thought about this because I feel like I spent the week busily working away, then came to the end and had very little planned for the weekend. I'd like to balance things out a bit more, put the same value, if not more, into my life as into my work.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Groaning for grace

Lately, I've been trying to get back to some good spiritual habits, like writing down the five things I'm grateful for each day before I go to bed and 10 minutes of prayer at Sacred Space. I've also tried to begin reading something spiritual every morning: I used to read a Bible reflection from this Men's Devotional Bible I had, but I finished that a long while back.
I'm now reading passages from Shane Claiborne's upcoming book Becoming the Answer To Our Prayers, a look at how we pray and how we can turn our prayer life into fuel for engagement in the world. This morning, I read this passage that really hit me:
"Christianity can be built around isolating ourselves from evildoers and sinners, creating a community of religious super-piety. It can also be built around joining with the evildoers and broken sinners of our world crying out to God, groaning for grace. That's the kind of Christianity we have fallen in love with."
Groaning for grace. Absolutely. I am longing for it. Amidst all the hustle and bustle, I am yearning for a faith community that truly affirms the presence of God in my daily affairs, despite all the ambitions and urgencies that drown his voice out.
I've been doing yoga, and it's been great for becoming more meditative. However, nowhere in the practice has there been talk about gratitude to God or to a higher power. It's all been about us, and our personal energy. I want more.
I want to re-enter a spiritual community that builds me up. The group I meet with every other week is a great respite from the rest of life, but I need something with more constancy as well.
I once started writing a song called "It's hard to see the face of God in New York City." The chorus ended with the line, "But to this very mission, I am sworn." That was back when I was working for Rick Warren's magazine and struggling with his brand of Christianity. I need to remember how much I yearn for God: when I lived in DC, I used to meditate on the phrase "God is in me and around me." And often I believed it. I'd like to believe it again.
God is in me and around me, in me and around me...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Post of the day: question

Hey guys, do you find that you spend more or less time with friends in person since you started using Facebook? There's an article I'm reading tonight on the website about this. Take a look and give me your opinion, please.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A digital confession

I've started a web journalism class called "Beatblogging" that's about beat reporters who are using blogs and social networking tools to enhance their reporting. Our work in the class is to research reporters around the country who are using the Web in such ways. I'm fascinated by the topic honestly, but whenever I hear about reporters using these live blogs at events or doing their weekly blog posts and building an online community, I can't help but have one nagging thought: who wants to spend that much time on a computer?

I've always been a very active guy, enjoying traveling, athletics, running and wandering around town. One of the things I enjoy about reporting is the opportunity to explore and the rush of going out to cover a story. Somehow, the web work seems a bit anticlimactic.

However, I also know how difficult it can be to keep finding a good story, and to keep fully abreast of news stories when there are those in authority who prefer you out of the loop. So, if this technology can be used to enhance the other reporting skills I've got, all the better. I guess I just fear that the web technology will come to replace going out into the neighborhoods, walking beats, meeting random people. I got my first story in a local paper because I caught an ad on a telephone pole in Washington Heights.

I guess it also depends on your beat: if you're working with the homeless, chances are most of your clientele aren't on Twitter. However, if you're a tech, science, politics or arts reporter, you've got a better shot of getting some scoops through this stuff.

So, a mix of emotions continues as I delve deeper. At the very least, I now have set up some RSS feeds on topics I enjoy.

When I was doing my story on the fall of the Greenwich Village folk scene, Robin Hirsch, the owner of the Cornelia Street Cafe, said that he felt the Internet was hurting the independent art scene, because people were more likely to search for events they specifically WANTED to see rather than just showing up somewhere and seeing whatever show happened to be playing that night. Similarly, one of my reporting profs felt the danger of reading news on the Web is that you can easily cut to the stories you want, rather than reading through and maybe noticing something unexpected buried deep within, as you would with a newspaper.

However, I also remember that Geoff Wiley, the owner of Jalopy in Red Hook, said the Web presented incredible opportunities for discovering the history of folk music in ways that he had never had as a kid.

So, there's a tossup perhaps between a sacrifice on the breadth of news one may get, versus an increase in the depth of intimacy with certain topics.

What do you think? What have been the effects of social networking for you: has such software enriched your life or mostly been a fun waste of time? Is it important to you that this software exists, versus using e-mail or phones? And do you see a difference reading your news online versus in print?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Obama says hello

"It's been a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come," sang Sam Cooke, back in the early 60s. Sam was talking about a change for oppressed black Americans, and Sunday in Washington, you could feel that change had arrived. I stood on the National Mall with hundreds of thousands Sunday watching "We Are One," a pre-inaugural concert welcoming Obama, performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. President Obama was there along with Vice President Biden, their families, and visitors from all over the world, filling the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument.

Here's my video segment on the concert- merchants, travelers, and performers galore!

The concert was full of cameos from the stars: Tom Hanks, Denzel, Samuel L. Jackson, Ashley Judd, Forest Whitaker, Jamie Foxx and scores of others appeared. Sometimes, the lesser-known celebrities seemed to have been chosen specifically for their racial identity, such as Indian-American actor Kal Penn of the "Harold & Kumar" movies, or Latino comedian George Lopez. Each read the words of famous presidents and contributors to the civil rights movement. Samuel L. Jackson did a lovely reading of Rosa Parks' words on her historic protest. Tom Hanks on the other hand seemed off reading Lincoln's words, while a symphony played in the background. Jamie Foxx pulled off a fun and yet stirring imitation of Obama reading his election night speech, capturing Obama's cadence and tone just right.

Along with movie stars was an incredible musical line-up: Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Josh Groban, Herbie Hancock, Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp, Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, U2, and to top it off, Pete Seeger, singing this Land is your Land with Bruce and James at his sides. Seeger had on a knit green and red winter cap that made him look like everybody's favorite granddad. He seemed to be having the time of his life, and he even jogged off stage at the end!

Of all the performers, though, Garth Brooks got the crowd the most rollicking, leading a Gospel choir through a gutsy "American Pie" and a rousing "Shout." Brooks was about the only one that made it feel like a real party.

In the end, none of them though could top the crowd's reaction to Obama: every time the camera flashed to him bopping his head to the music, singing along with the lyrics, or flashing that perfect ear-to-ear white-toothed magical grin, you could hear the crowd swooning.

The excitement about our new president is electric right now. However, it'd be short-sighted to see this energy as being just about having a black president, or even a Democrat: from what I have heard from everyone I talk to, this victory is slaking a thirst in this country to believe in our leaders again.

I remember the day Bush v. Gore was decided, and I felt that day like I had lost my faith in politics. I'm not sure what Obama will do to heal the economy and this country, but I believe with others that he will honor his office and the country that entrusted him with it. That alone gives me hope, and from the energy in the crowd today, I know I'm not alone.

Here's my video! Merchants, kids, travelers from around the world!

All the best, Dan

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bush says farewell

After Bush's farewell address, the first thought that came to mind was a quote John Oliver once delivered on the Daily Show, "President Bush is exactly the man this country needs-- to pull us out of whatever horrible mess he gets us into next." Oliver delivered it with the same kind of assurance that Bush had on his face tonight. As he talked about the triumphs of the administration, standing for freedom, standing for human rights, I wondered whether where he was getting his information.
It doesn't take liberal bias to see that this country's image took a real downturn in the world's eyes during the Bush administration: that image has only recently begun to recoup itself, perhaps now that Iraq seems to be improving and Obama's been elected to take over.
Bush called these last eight years a "period of consequence, a time set apart"- rather hollow rhetoric. Like the eight years before weren't important times for America, or the eight years before that. What really got to me in his address was his inability to address openly the damage that the war in Iraq did to the country. I think he truly believes what he did was right, despite the hundreds of thousands of lives lost.
Iraq might have lost Saddam Hussein, but I think in many ways our image in the eyes of many in the world was irreparably damaged by our invasion. Just like the Supreme Court's stopping the Florida recount, I see the Iraq war as having been an unnecessary intervention, one that likewise caused and me and many others around the world to lose faith in the American government.
I don't care frankly if Obama lives up to all of his campaign promises: what I do demand is that he conduct the office with a greater respect for the intelligence of the American people, for national sovereignty worldwide and the lives and dedication of the people who serve this country, whether it's as a soldier or a citizen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The job search routine

I spent today at the NYU Career Resource Center on 14th Street trying to find a job. It worked out well: I applied to two temp agencies and sent a ton of letters to contacts I've made, friends and employers from recent times and years ago.
This place is excellent for my productivity. It's comfortable, spacious, quiet, and there are plenty of students doing the same searching I am. The computers have complete MS Office suites and free printing. I can even catch CNN playing on mute in the corner.
So, for now, this place can be my workplace, which I need. I realized my biggest depression in being unemployed comes from being at home in the morning after others have left for work. I'm much better off leaving with them and heading here, rather than stay at home.
There are three devils I have to fight in searching for a job: depression, distraction, and impatience. I think I can conquer the depression and distraction just by coming here. As for my impatience, it's just a matter of breathing, writing down my tasks and going easy on myself. I was searching online for some tips, and after reading many useless webpages, I came across the Goals To Action blog. Writer Rodger Constandse, from San Diego, put up this blog on productivity back in '07 and though it seems to have stopped running, the old posts are still worthwhile: try for an example.

So for tonight, I'm thinking boil it down to the basics: exercise, a simple dinner, and then hopefully prayer over at Riverside Church. Sounds healthy, and hopefully it'll give me some inspiration.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I watched Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige” this week and loved it. Ever since 2001’s “Memento,” I’ve sought out Nolan’s films, and every single one has impressed me. He’s got this ability to create an atmosphere of suspense, combined with real feeling and empathy for his characters.
He also seems to be constantly examining men either on the verge of madness, or deep in the throes of it. He brought us Guy Pearce as a man sunk in rage and confusion as a widower trying to avenge his wife’s murder in Memento. Then he remade “Insomnia” and turned the rather slimy cop that Stellan Skarsgard played in the original, and turned him into the haunted cop trying to redeem himself played by Al Pacino. Likewise, in the two Batman films, Christian Bale has played Batman as a man driven by rage, ego and a pained hope for a better Gotham: Nolan’s films have been far more psychologically complex than the “Batmans” of the past.
The great thing is though that despite the psychological complexities, Nolan’s films never fail to be entertaining, suspenseful, and incredibly atmospheric. I still can’t get the score from Memento and The Dark Knight out of my head sometimes, and he has an ability with both elaborate chase scenes and intimate monologues that’s incredible.
So far Nolan isn’t a household name like Spielberg, Scorsese, or Tarantino but with a few more films of the quality and commercial success of his past work, he should arrive there. In my view, Christopher Nolan is already this generation’s Hitchcock.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I read the headline stories from the Times today and then listened to a podcast of a reporter stationed in Gaza City. It's horrifying. I read a bit earlier this evening about the history of Israel on Wikipedia. I know it's not the most reliable source, but I started reading a bit about the Balfour Declaration. Balfour was a prime advocate for the creation of the Jewish state during World War I. I read a statement from Balfour that just shocked me: despite the fact that the majority of Palestine was Arab, Balfour wrote that the establishment of a Jewish state there was valid because "Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, and future hopes of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land."
How horrible. It's the same logic that has driven us to drive out "inferior races" in the name of our own manifest destiny. Perhaps that's what will become of the Palestinian Arabs, something akin to our system of reservations after occupying the Indian land and moving them out. This has been done so many times by colonial powers, and yet it never fails to shock me.
I only bring this up because I'm searching for some kind of origin point, some kind of patient zero for this madness. Blaming colonialism doesn't make things any easier now though: what appears to be happening is an organization deciding to fight a guerrilla war from a residential area, and the civilians suffering more than anyone as a result.
The other thing that always amazes me is the air strike campaign that aims to win the hearts and minds of the people bombed. We did it with Iraq: "Blame Saddam!" Turn against him! We did it with Milosevic in bombing Serbia during the Kosovo conflict. This strange idea that we can turn the people against their own while bombing them. Admittedly though, Hamas is using the city centers for their fighting, provoking the targeting that Israel's engaged in, but as the Times reporter said, ultimately the bombs that kill the families are being dropped by Israel. Can the Israelis really imagine the people will find them blameless?
No matter what the demands of war are, that blood remains on their hands, just as the Israeli victims' blood is on Hamas.
God help us all.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

More on searching

  I felt like breaking down today at my friend Bowie's wedding at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Though I was happy for her, part of me felt sick from the wanting of the kind of happiness and fulfillment she seems to have found.
  Bowie and her conductor husband George were married in April in India, but they decided to do another ceremony for their American friends and their families.
  St. John is a huge Gothic cathedral, just recently reopened, and our group of about 100 guests sat right next to the massive altar. The service was a high mass with a white-robed choir singing in Latin, and a feverishly hardworking classical organist. It all felt very stately, with us sitting on a marble floor in this huge echo chamber of a cathedral. I wish I had felt more of a sense of wonder about the place, and at times I did.
  But most of my mind was on my loneliness, and on the feeling that I wanted to no longer be the guy out at bars with friends, but the guy on his way to a successful career and a marriage and children.
  After a few songs, the lector brought out the first reading of the service, the story of Adam and Eve. Genesis speaks of Eve being created as Adam's helper, and being in one flesh with him. As I heard these familiar words, I started to cry, and I headed to a 40% joy, 60% pain feeling for the rest of the service.  Afterwards, I was too down to mingle at the crowded reception and left after a quick bite.
  This pain's been gnawing at me a lot lately. Whether it's being envious of the happiness of my roommates, a couple named Brandy and Lewis, or even just of random couples on the subway, pain seems to be hitting more consistently. I wonder if I'm starting to lose hope: I know I'm losing patience.
  I spoke to my friend Katie tonight who suggested the best way to fight this yearning is to work to feel complete inside myself. She said I'll most likely do best in a relationship when I don't actually NEED one to be complete. That seems backwards to me. I always liked how Rocky Balboa said that the thing about him and Adrian was each of them had "gaps." "I got gaps, she got gaps," he said. "Together we fill the gaps." Is it even possible for me to fill my own gaps, and be complete without a partner?
  Maybe I should at least begin asking what are my gaps that need filling. What is the completion that I need to give myself to make the pain a little more bearable?

Thursday, January 1, 2009


It started with a simple mistake anyone could have made. I left my keys on my bed before I left my house. At 4 pm, I left for yoga, went through my class, then out to Washington Heights for a New Year's Eve party, and got all the way back to Brooklyn at 3:30 in the morning only to discover that my keys were neither jangling in my pocket, nor were they anywhere in my gym bag.
The roommates were out cold after their revelries at another New Year's Eve affair, neither answering the phone nor the doorbell. I called other friends and none answered while I waited 15, 20 minutes. Curiously, I did not think to call my home in the suburbs and ask my sister, Kaitlin, to come get me: I guess I assumed she'd be just as asleep and unresponsive as everybody else, and farther away at that.
I stopped in at a local deli and asked a customer if he knew any hotels or motels in the area. He wished me the best of luck: he was staying at one nearby, but it was $250 for the night, being New Year's Eve. There was no way I'd be doing that.
I began considering just waiting it out until the morning. Find some all-night diner to crash in, read a book over an early breakfast, and wait until a proper hour to begin ringing every doorbell in my brownstone till someone let me in.
I found a late-night coffee shop with a few counters, but it was more of a take-out joint than a restaurant: my body was starting to give out and asking for a bed.
I saw a cop car on the corner and flagged it down, asking the cops if they knew any low-cost hotels or motels. They said the Y was right around the corner.
The Y! My mother had stayed at the Y when she was going to school. I'd heard about it as a place to stay, but not for years. My sister's first question when she heard I'd stayed there was "Were there a lot of skeezy people there?" Another person asked, "Do the homeless stay there?"
Well, I guess if a homeless guy can pay the $68 for the night, he can stay there too. I arrived there at 4:30 am, and the clerk told me I was lucky there were two rooms available: the place was nearly full from New Year's visitors. I got my own room with a twin bed, with two towels,and a bureau. It was a room made for a comfortable night's sleep and an exit: it reminded me of Jake & Elwood Blues' apartment, the one Carrie Fisher blew up with the rocket launcher. Cozy and perfect for an emergency crash. I got six hours sleep and got ready to check out.
As I washed up and left, tons of young people and tourists were in line at the bathrooms and the lobby. A trio from China stood ahead of me on the checkout line: I suppose some have realized the Y is a smart way to save money on coming to NY to celebrate New Year's. A kind of international hostel that no one really thinks about anymore.
Walking home, the wind was the only thing breaking the silence: I wouldn't have been surprised to see a tumbleweed rolling on the road. No cars, closed stores, and just a few pedestrians stumbling down the sidewalks, hopefully on their way home.
I got home, rang the doorbell for our 3rd floor apartment, and waited.
No answer. Fear. I rang again. Counted 15 seconds. No answer. Rang again. Waited. Nothing. Doubt coming in: maybe they can't hear the doorbell from their bedrooms?
I started ringing all three apartments: there had to be someone awake and able to hear it. 1st floor, 2nd floor, 3rd floor. Waited 15 seconds. Not a sound from inside. Rang all three again. Nothing. I had no idea what to do.
And then I heard a sound, and a young Asian man opened the door and squinted at me in confusion.
I was ready to be whoever the hell he needed me to be... The man was a houseguest who'd stayed with my roomies after their party and slept right next to the doorbell, luckily for me.
When my roommates later woke up and heard my story, they expressed their sympathy and apologized for not being there for me earlier. However, the more I think about it, I'm not at all angry about what happened, nor did I see it as suffering. I had a good place to lay my head, and good cops who led me there.
In the end, the Village People were telling me the gospel truth all along:
"No man does it all by himself
I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf
And just go there, to the Y.M.C.A.
I'm sure they can help you today."
Amen, brothers. Amen.