Maybe you did not go to church because God lets crazy people shoot fifty strangers.  I have not been going because God has ruined my life in other ways.


I walked into a church, a church where no one knew me, so maybe I would feel different, and an usher told me not to sit down because they were in the middle of reading the lesson.  Wouldn’t it be much less disruptive to let me sit down than to tell me not to?  What kind of person tells people not to sit in church?  It wasn’t even the gospel.  I was going to leave.

I wasn’t going to leave.

The lesson was about Ahab and Jezebel and a garden, a long lesson no one would want to talk about.  I had to confirm it was really about Ahab, and I didn’t just have Ahab on my mind, the way I always do when I am downtown, in Melville’s neighborhood.

I sat.  On one side of me, a woman who also was doing the whole thing, on the other, a woman who didn’t seem to know the drill.  In front of us, three people who were Asian and  just sat.  It’s a funny phenomena, here where churches are tourist attractions, so that church, and the big cathedrals, are both holy places and places people come to see holiness played out.  Through the whole service, there was a group of people in back taking photos.  The woman next to me was texting someone.

This is all fine, it’s just weird.

Why were they there?  We were animals in the zoo?  In Asia, we would go to temples and take photos and not pray.  Why was I there?  To feel better for a minute, to feel not trapped in being angry the church I had joined, that no one might notice I was gone, so petty.  Or I was there because I had several times hit this church after a bad day, it was on my way home from my Manhattan job, and the side chapel is small and sweet and quiet, and the subway is right there, and it was bigger and more fancy town than my church.

The priest had to talk about the shooting.  I had heard something bad in a minute of NPR.  I am in full self-protection/healing mode, which means No politics, but still I had heard that.  I hadn’t heard it was a gay club.

I’ve spent some small happy times in gay bars for the dancing or the singing.  The reason a gay bar feels so safe is that I figure everyone there is at peace with him/herself, they had to work harder to become so, and they value tolerance more than other people, so I feel safe.

Like people should feel safe at church, but then, it’s been a year since another lunatic shot up a Bible study.

I got communion. I got to sing.  I didn’t feel particularly better about God, in a narrative sense, but I did feel that things that hurt me were like pieces of armor or extra bones that I could shake off, rather than a part of my structure.

I was not feeling brave enough to go to doughnut time afterward.

I went down to the water.  I am preparing this costume for the Mermaid Parade next week. I am going as The Sea.  So it was research.  What is water?  It has four or five inch ruffles of white foam from the wind and the passings of the jet skis and the ferry and the Statue cruise boats, which could be rendered with white acrylic paint and dabbing with a bristly brush.  I was watching the happy painter earlier in the week.  His technique could help me.

Monday I went to the East River and looked out at it for a while.  My anxiety brain cloud has been reactivating ferociously, so I was looking at the East River and waiting for my good drugs to take effect.  It was windy that day, walking out on a pier to be surrounded by water.

It was so windy today, I lay back on a bench, with the Statue of Liberty to my left, and even though I was holding it down, the wind was so strong, my skirt a sail, it blew up and I was glad I wore clean and uninteresting underwear.

I don’t think a single soul noticed.

The priest said we can’t let people who use freedom another way take it away from us.  What freedom really means.  FDR’s four freedoms: of speech, of worship, from want, from fear.  Why does God let people do that, frighten us for their freedom.  Why do we let them?

I am used to wind.  I don’t know why now I need water, water does scare me, big quantities of it seem like too much, for this midwesterner.  It never scares me as much as buildings too big or too much sky, though.  I was always a good swimmer, in my dreams, I can always breathe underwater.

Image: “Evening Wind,” Edward Hopper, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Hook


2001_433_158_O1 (1)If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace. – Martin Luther

I should not watch so much television.  Like, not two or three hours at a time.

I should not use television as a crutch.  Like, take laptop into the kitchen while I do the dishes.

I should not have to listen to podcasts to fall asleep.  I should leave the big open quiet space to fall asleep in.

Today is the feast of Martin Luther.  Luther fought so hard to get people off the hook, to insist that God loved people and wanted them without any cause, and he simultaneously put other people firmly on the hook: himself, and people who were Jewish.  All his life he struggled to believe God could actually love and forgive him.  And one of his works, famous even among the ample literature of anti-Semitism for its venom, was entitled, “On the Jews and their Lies.”

Does someone always have to be beaten?  Christianity tries to get past that, in many ways moves past the idea of a scapegoat, in its more mystical theologies.  It wasn’t that Jesus had to die, it was that everything dies, and the way people believed that life was still real, and encouragement and mercy were still real, even after their hero died, that was resurrection.

Letting shit go.  Letting you be yourself, no matter how much of a mess that might be.  Not yourself after a long walk or paying the bills.  Letting things go hopefully.  Maybe if you let things go it would be all right.

For Lent I am giving up nothing, but trying regularly to let myself off the hook.  To find comfort where it is safe and petty, and be satisfied with my weakness.  To do some of the 30 days of yoga series I found and liked online, but also be completely fine with not doing them all, not doing them every day, and maybe dropping it entirely if it starts to feel wrong.

For Lent to let it be winter, it is, and to be aware of, but not grabby about, spring.  A true grace.

Image: Hook, bronze, 500 BC-300 AD, Metropolitan Museum of Art.


photo-4From an interview with James Baldwin, just after the death of Dr. King:

Baldwin: It is not the black people who have to cool it, because they won’t.

Interviewer: Aren’t they the ones getting hurt the most, though?

Baldwin: That would depend on point of view.  You know, I’m not at all sure that we are the ones who are being hurt the most.  In fact, I’m sure we’re not.  We are the ones who are dying the fastest.

Yesterday I took this long walk in Manhattan from Chelsea to Chinatown, not because they both start with “Ch.”  Purple tulips, one lady with purple hair, one sign with a curl as one of its letters.  The townhouse Edward Hopper painted in, it is on Washington Square Park.  I climbed the steps to see the plaque that explained this, and stood on his stoop a minute.  I planned only to see things I hadn’t seen before, which was more difficult than I thought it would be.  I accidentally walked by the same pharmacy that always makes me think, what a fancy pharmacy, my doctor’s office, and a restaurant I ate in 1996.

Interviewer: Let’s talk about the average citizen, the white man… what should he be doing?

Baldwin: If he feels he wants to save his country, he should be talking to his neighbors and talking to his children….

Interviewer: What should he be telling his neighbors?

Baldwin: That if I go under in this country, I, the black man, he goes too.

I asked three of my students what they thought about the trouble in Baltimore.  Two of them had opinions.  One of them knew someone in Baltimore.  One was like, what?  I told him to look it up.  I printed off that interview with Baldwin, and an excerpt from The Fire Next Time, and I sat and read both with a pencil in hand.

This is from The Fire Next Time:

Neither civilized reason nor Christian love would cause any [white] people ot treat you as they presumably wanted to be treated; only the fear of your power to retaliate would cause them to do that.

Five Bradford pear trees are blooming just outside the school, every time I go out they are there, a white not of purity or emptiness, but of unsplit light, these bloomed branches pressed against the sky so blue it is almost pink.  I walked under them, looked up at them, on my way to buy lunch for myself and a friend.

White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this– which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never– the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

“It looks like it’s gonna rain,” one of my students said.

“No, it doesn’t,” I said.

“No, it doesn’t,” another kid said.

She looked again at the pink-blue sky.  “Oh, I guess not.”

Something very sinister happpens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become.

The thing right now is “deez nuts,” that is what the kids are saying, pretty much every day, someone, and today I said, “That’s so last week,” and a kid considered, accepted that perhaps this was true, the saying was worn out.

Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.

I saw also that my heart was full of little holes, pinpricks, and this is why it has trouble holding things, sometimes.

If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving.  If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.


photo-3The carpet and the kneelers are red.  The Christ holds a big blank ball.  Presumably, the world.

One of the graves in the Trinity churchyard is for a fictional character.  “Charlotte Temple” was a character in Charlotte, a Tale of Truth, published 1791.  The sign says, “Legend has it that the name…was carved by a bored stone cutter while working on the church.  It is unknown if anyone is interred in the vault beneath the stone.”

The subway preacher begins in Manhattan, singing of the glory of God, but by Brooklyn God will punish both you and your enemies.  In the most amazing way, everyone is listening yet only one person shows it, one responder to call.  I stand.  I think about his arguments and my thumb plays swap the colors on my phone.

The spring means you can see the graveyard.  The cemetery was founded in 1697. My ancestor, Harmen Schurman, died in New Amsterdam in 1649.  In spite of the great age of the stones in the place, the first Schurman in Manhattan had already been dead for more than forty years when the first grave was dug.  They have those kindly skulls, the inscription “Here lies the body of…” as if you weren’t sure what might be buried in a graveyard.

One of them has a wholesome warning about how even you, dear reader, will die.  That is William Bradford, publisher.  Bradford knew Benjamin Franklin.  Bradford lived on Stone Street, which is where I had lunch today.  He printed the first book in New York City.

Last night I read one of the stories of Christ appearing to the disciples after the crucifixion.  It says that they thought Christ was a ghost, and he had to prove he wasn’t.  Thus, ghosts are real.  No one said they weren’t.

The graveyard has free wi-fi, so a woman was holding up an iPad and having some sort of work meeting on a bench.  A tree with white blossoms was blossoming.  Tulip arms were up, but not heads.

I ate lunch with my colleague and we told stories and we really enjoy each others’ stories.  When we came out of the restaurant the brick street was full of not just tables and awnings but everyone at lunch and free.

When you see the Christ with the world, you might recall he said, “My burden is light.”