let love be genuine

My dear friends and family,

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

I’ve just returned from a wonderful weekend retreat away in a quiet town on the Hudson with my church St. Lydia’s. We’ve been reading and learning from Romans 12:1-20 where Paul exhorts his church to live in this world and love it, even when it is hard.

Love one another in mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

St. Lydia’s has been my church home and spiritual community since I moved to New York in May 2012. I must admit I’ve had a tentative relationship with this community: They just seemed too nice to be trusted; too easily pleased, too quick to laugh, too willing to help. It didn’t make sense to me in the context of cold, hard New York City.

Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

St. Lydia’s is organized around “dinner church”, i.e. church that is done over dinner. Sharing a meal is one of the fundamental tenets of St. Lydia’s, along with telling stories of our experiences and working together. Each time we gather, we cook the food, set the tables, sit and eat over food an dialogue, pray, and then do the dishes and clean up – all together as a community. It’s pretty simple – and pretty beautiful, actually.

Well, I guess after two years, countless meals, working, praying, and laughing together, they’ve slowly won me over. This weekend I found myself resting into this community, letting go of my cynicism and distrust and embracing the genuine love I observed and experienced in every interaction.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

St. Lydia’s is a small but rapidly growing community. We are musicians, journalists, and engineers. We work in the tech industry, study in seminary, and teach yoga. We are children, adults, and seniors. For the past 3 years, we’ve been meeting is the Brooklyn Zen Center, where we sub-let space 2 nights per week for dinner church – but now our little church has outgrown the Zen Center and needs a space of its own.

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

So we’ve taken on the challenge of renting a new space, where we can live and work and share in a meal together any day of the week. The new space is in Gowanus, a neighborhood better known for it’s superfund status than small church start-ups. It is also home to a wide variety of Brooklyn residents and businesses, representing a diverse slice of Brooklyn. Our hope is that our new home will give us the opportunity to participate in the diverse and changing ecology of Gowanus, supporting that community as it gentrifies and encounters issues around justice, race, class, commerce, and culture.

All that to say… we need help to get there. Between navigating the New York real estate market and start-up costs of outfitting a space to call our own, we need to raise some serious funds. For more information on the nuts and bolts (and pots and pans), check out the video at our Room at the Table fundraising page.

While I’m always reticent to ask for money for anything (no really, this is hard for me), I think and hope you’ll consider helping St. Lydia’s out for the following reasons:

  1. This place and these people are my spiritual family in New York and I could use your support.
  2. St. Lydia’s is a new kind of church that meets people where they are at over the simple act of feeding them.
  3. Our new home will give Lydians space and scope to genuinely love on this cold, hard, diverse, beautiful, ever-changing city.

And even if you are not in a place to give money, I am grateful and honored that you have chosen to read this long, rambling message to the end. It has been an opportunity to write about something important to me, which I rarely have the time or energy for these days.

Do no be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

It is a simple message – I just pray for the strength to live it.

God’s peace and blessings to you all,

Sarah

Link to Room at the Table campaign page: http://www.stlydias.org/ratcampaign.php

what is masculinity?

To follow up on this weekend’s post, I am realizing that my interest and passion for this subject is growing the more I learn. I’ve gotten some very thoughtful responses and want to keep the conversation going.

And the conversation appears to be going in a number of directions. Guns are obviously a big deal. Violence perpetrated by men, both in general and towards women is also fascinating. Then there is the link of violence (and all the other fun things that go with it, like control, power, sexual drive, etc) that are linked with masculinity. And that, of course, leads one to wonder about the definition of femininity and the portrayal of women.

What most interests me right now is the question of masculinity. What is it?

Masculinity: Is it this?

Masculinity: Is it this?

Thanks to smart friends that know stuff, some interesting articles on the subject have strayed into my radar on the subject, specifically about the link between masculinity and violence. Have a read:
http://ideas.time.com/2012/07/24/the-overwhelming-maleness-of-mass-homicide/
http://jezebel.com/5969023/have-you-noticed-that-white-dudes-keep-mass-murdering-people?

So, dear readers, what do you think masculinity is?

***
And with that, I leave you with this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_Laws

No baking on game days!

guns don’t kill people, men kill people

Ever since the fatal shooting of 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown before Christmas, something has been bothering me. (Well, let’s be honest, there is a lot about that that bothers all of us.)

The comedian Eddie Izzard once quipped, mocking the NRA’s stance on guns, “It may be that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’… but guns help.”

Yes, guns help – a lot. There is no way that troubled young man in Newtown could have killed 26 people in that amount of time without the guns he carried. But that is a subject for another blog post.

What has bothered me is that the pattern seems to be as follows: guns don’t kill people, men kill people.

Seriously. Does NOBODY care or notice that all these mass shootings are perpetrated by men? “But that’s old news, Sarah,” you say, “of course it is by men.” It seems common knowledge, a foregone conclusion that mass shootings are by men. Duh, it is just the way things are.

We’re not just talking about mass shootings anymore, either. We’re talking about violence in general. The fact is, men commit the vast majority of violence in the world – pinning a statistic on it is difficult, but I don’t think anyone, male or female, would argue against me estimating men probably commit more than 90% of violence in our world, from beatings, to rapes, to murders, to war.

Then there is violence against women. What is the psychological stimulus that motivates a man to rape or abuse women? I know the answer is mostly to do with power and control. But here’s what interesting (and also uncomfortable to talk about): How is a man aroused by that? There is a psychological-physiological link there that is utterly foreign to me, but appears to be almost universal to any man feeling the need to dominate.

And you know what? I’m angry. Why is this reality? Why, why, WHY?!?! Why is this a reality of my world that I have to accept? Why is it that apparently 50% of the population are less able to control themselves and more likely to respond violently than the other 50%?

Last summer, when there was the shooting at the Sikh temple in the Wisconsin, a non-white friend of mine posted something on Facebook suggesting that white people need to take responsibility for the racism that caused that shooting. My reaction was defensive and angry. I was angered that I had to be grouped with this white-supremacist man just because I was white, but also frustrated and sincerely at a loss as to how I was to have any impact on someone else with such wholly different beliefs and values than my own.

And yet, I do not disagree either. White people do need to take responsibility for and work against the structural racism of our society. (And it does not escape me that what I was angry about, being held responsible for all people of my race, is exactly the same reason all people should be angry about enduring racism.)

But I digress – stick with me, I’m almost there.

It may be true that a small minority of violent men are making the majority of perfectly nice, compassionate men look bad. Still, I think it is time for all men to take more responsibility for their gender. I think it is time for men to ask themselves why it is that the overwhelming majority of our world’s violence is caused by their own. And then it is time for them, and all of us, to do something about it.

***

For more thorough, better researched, and probably less emotional writing about this, I encourage you to read the following excellent article by Rebecca Solnit:
http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175641/

Also, I welcome any responses and (respectful) dialogue this may trigger. I acknowledge that this piece is emotive and needed to be written for cathartic reasons, but I would also like to promote more dialogue about what causes violence and what we can all do to reduce it.

lessons 2012

This Sunday I decided to dedicate my afternoon to conducting a personal Annual Review.  I derived the idea from my friend Chris at the Art of Nonconformity.  He is a self-employed creative and spends about week every December reviewing his year and planning for the next one.  I don’t happen to have a free week between now and then end of the year (surprise), so I decided a Sunday afternoon would have to do.  It is a great exercise and I highly recommend it, though!  See Chris’s outline here: http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/how-to-conduct-your-own-annual-review/.

I hadn’t done anything like this since the beginning of 2011, so I decided to do a 2-year review.  For those of you that don’t know about my last couple of years, a lot has happened.  As I worked my way through my old journals, reviewing past goals and defining new ones, there were a few lessons that kept popping up.  This isn’t in Chris’s outline, but I found it really helpful to write them down.  And I wanted to share them.  Some may be paraphrased version of something you have already heard, but I learned them nonetheless.  So here they are:

Goals need to be measurable and actionable, otherwise it is hard to know your progress.

Even so, even when goals are vague, it is amazing what happens when you write down a goal = your subconscious does the rest, even if you aren’t consciously tracking the goal.

Most (or all) difficult decisions mean saying no or letting go of something so that you can say yes to something else, something new.

The courage to take risks doesn’t mean not being afraid, but being afraid and doing it anyways.

Taking risks or trying something new doesn’t always work out, but that doesn’t mean you’ll ever regret it.  (And btw, taking risks often does work out.)

Success is not a measure of how much you’ve done, but of how happy you are with what you’ve done.  (Credit: A wise friend told me this.)

Fear is a waste of Gods grace.

Fear and guilt are never productive… or pleasant, for that matter.

Value and recognize what about your life is epic and wonderful.  Do that more.  Don’t hide from it.

Then take time to notice the small, beautiful, every-day moments in your life, for that is what life is made of.

best life

A few weeks ago I was on my way to work one brisk fall morning.  As I made my way I saw this:

A middle aged man in a full three-piece suit plus scarf, pushing one of those large off-road scooters as fast as he could along the Brooklyn sidewalk.  His pre-teen daughter stood on the front, holding tight to the handlebars.  He had a huge smile on his face and they were talking energetically as they scooted their way to school and work.

It occurred to me that that guy is living his best life ever.

storm stories, part 3

Then there is Occupy. As in Occupy Wall Street. My impression of them was as a disorganized, rag-tag group of activists, anarchists, and who knows what else – but a group that I have admired for their courage and conviction to really take on the MAN for what they believe in. However, instead of kicking Wall Street while it’s down (and it is DOWN), Occupy Wall Street has morphed in a kind of magical caterpillar-to-butterfly way into Occupy Sandy. Occupy Sandy is turning out to be the largest, most effective relief effort in New York City. It is all the same people, but with a new mission sprung from a new catch-phrase: Mutual Aid. Instead of charity or hand outs, OS runs on the belief that we will all be better off, more free, more secure if we mutually support each other as a community of equals instead of patronizing charity handouts or government aid. For Occupy, the whole things is still couched in the principles of anarchy and anti-establishment, but the concept of Mutual Aid is not exactly unique or new. Most people of any kind of faith can tell you that.

Scribbled photo-copied signs inviting volunteers to help OS started popping up all over my neighborhood. I was wary, unsure of their intentions at first. But the address on the sign seemed awfully familiar, really close to my house. Then, after walking by one day, I realized OS was actually headquartering all operations out of this beautiful, huge, and amazingly welcoming episcopal church I had been attending off and on – only a 5 min walk from my house. So I decided to check it out. The first time I went, I registered into OSs online volunteer database and then was required to join the short orientation – about Occupys principles and covering their operations. Not exactly the disorganized crew I was expecting. The church was absolutely OVERRUN with Occupy – they had given them full access. It was both incredible and beautiful. Trucks were coming and going full of supplies. People were dispatching and hauling and sorting. Every pew in the sanctuary was full of boxes of all sizes – sorted by clothes, toiletries, medical supplies, cleaning equipment, and on and on. And the delicious smell of hot meals being cooked and pack was wafting up from the basement parish hall. In the last few weeks, Occupy has been cooking and delivering 3,000-5,000 hot meals a day out of this church. They have registered 60,000 volunteers. There is no plan to stop.

Since I was going to be gone for the holiday weekend, I decided to stop by to lend a hand last night for an hour. It was a quiet night before Thanksgiving, but there were probably still a couple dozen people onsite, putting the finishing touches on Thanksgiving dinner preparations. I spent an hour creating an inventory of 3 pews worth of medical supplies.

Afterwards, I wandered down to the pub on the corner to meet up with some of the church people I thought were gathering there after evening prayer. I waited, but didn’t see anyone I recognized. Instead of giving up and going home, I decided to just have a beer and enjoy the fire pit they had on my own for a while and enjoy the moment.

I was sitting on the picnic bench drinking my beer, half-listening to the conversations of the other couples nearby, when Mac showed up with a BBQ sandwich. He said something apologetic about working with people that smelled like they were homeless (many Occupy people are) and sat down next to me. I recognized him as the medic that had been introduced to me just an hour earlier. We started to chat.

He is an army combat medic-in-training stationed somewhere upstate. He was taking his one week Thanksgiving leave to come to New York City and volunteer with Occupy. Mac is a young kid of 23 from Kansas. He got his degree in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Math and Physics, but didn’t know what to do with it or how to get a job after graduating. He seemed to feel that the military played an important role and saw it as an opportunity to serve. He told me a lot about his training, about levels of care, about life on base. I learned a lot about tourniquets. We talked about Occupy and his view of things versus there’s. He told me about some of his experiences in the city so far, helping set up medical clinics at housing projects in the Rockaways and seeing families working on their destroyed homes in Staten. He defended the military as a good opportunity for growth and advancement for poor kids that don’t have the role models or resources to do something with their lives. He told me that all guys called him Doc, which he felt was undue respect – till his commanding officer told him that it helped them all build a sense of trust and reliability in him, which they need to have in the person that may one day save their life. He talked about how as a medic, he can never show fear or emotion while on the job, but has to hold onto it till he can constructively release it later. We talked about his hopes and dreams for the future.

He is being deployed to Afghanistan in January.

This young guy was spending one of his last few weeks of freedom serving the poor in a city he had never even been to, and then going into combat to serve his country. My prayers go with him, as do my hopes for his safe return.

And with that, I sign off and wish all my family and friends around the world a safe and blessed Thanksgiving. May we all be aware of and thankful for the many blessing we have and those that make them possible.

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storm stories, part 2

My office is located in the Financial District, near the corner of Wall Street and Water Street.  That’s right, Water Street.  It was in the evacuation zone.  When I stopped by on the Sunday before the storm to pick up my computer, they had sandbagged the perimeter of the building up to about 2 feet.  Turns out, that wasn’t enough.  The wall of water, aka the Surge, tumbled up and over the banks of the East River, up and over curbs and barriers and sandbags, and down, down, down into the basement of my office and every high-rise office building on the street, destroying all the building systems and electrical equipment in its wake.

I continued to work from home, but the lines of communication were very, very quiet.  Coworkers that are always on and available were silent – in cold homes without power.  There were no updates from company leadership.  Nobody knew anything.  So I waited.  And worked a bit.  A few days after the storm, the emails and phone calls began to trickle in – we couldn’t go back.  Like dozens of other buildings on Wall Street, our fancy high-rise office was rendered uninhabitable by Sandys waters.  It took weeks to be able to enter the building again, and even then the building was running on a generators, half the IT systems were still down, and the heat was off.  To this day, the streets of the Financial District are clogged with generators and air with diesel fumes.  The sidewalks are covered in piles of molding, hazardous debris and equipment, all being extracted by men and women in tyvek bunny suits and respirators.  All we need now is zombies.

Meanwhile, one of my closest friends in New York, a conceptual artist here on a fellowship, had an art studio in the basement of a gallery in Dumbo, an artsy neighborhood in Brooklyn on the waterfront facing lower Manhattan.  Apart from the finished work she managed to move into the gallery upstairs, she lost everything: equipment, tools, materials, books, furniture – all soaked with brackish, sewage-y seawater.  Where to go from here?  How to recover, when you’re already in a field, your life’s passion that leaves you financially vulnerable and constantly struggling?

storm stories, part 1

As I am sure you all know, on October 29th a hurricane came through and wrecked my new home city, New York.  It was a weird, surreal experience.  This is the city that never sleeps, never stops, never misses a beat.  There were joking rumors of the impending Frankstorm the week before, but I don’t think anyone really took notice – too far away, too uncertain.  Then, the Friday before, at work they told us to take our lap tops home just in case.  I dismissed this and proceeded to leave to enjoy the weekend with friends in the PA.  Then the news reports and emails started rolling in:  A hurricane.  Events canceled.  Mandatory evacuations.  Shutting down the transit system – a full 24 hours ahead of the peak of the storm.  In a place like New York, made up of inlets and islands, you shut down the subway and you shut down the city.  I decided to come home early that Sunday from my weekend away, dutifully picked up my work computer and went home hoping, believing the overly-prepared-for, uneventful storm to blow over and things to be back to normal by Tuesday.

That didn’t happen.  Sandy hit New York, New Jersey, and many other states with a force that no one could have been truly prepared for.  Don’t get me wrong, the authorities did all the right things: by shutting down the city and enforcing mandatory evacuations, they did their best to make sure people were, mostly, out of harms way.  Considering the extent of the damage, remarkably few people lost their lives, which is a blessing.  But no amount of preparation could stop the 10-12 foot wall of water that surged into the harbor, overwhelming every bank, every basement, ever utility trench and every tunnel that makes this city run.

Millions upon millions have been affected.  Some lost everything: their homes, their livelihoods, entire neighborhoods.  Some lost power for days or weeks – and tens of thousands still don’t have it back.  Meanwhile, I cozily sat at home in my neighborhood, Prospect Heights (note the word Heights – no flood problem here), watched the news, tapping away on my computer, while gusts of wind blew rain and leaves around outside.  Not even a blip in power or internet.

The storm blew over and New Yorkers began to emerge.  No one had any idea what to expect.  Prospect Heights got away with a couple of downed trees and smashed cars.  But then there was Red Hook, the Rockaways, Howard Beach, Dumbo, Breezy Point, Staten Island, and the lower third of Manhattan – all royally screwed.

Reduction

This is what was left I over after I taped a poem to my wall and the certain words popped off. Read what you will.

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things i am afraid of

A while ago I listened to a This American Life story on a developmentally delayed man who got into the habit of writing down his fears. As they shared his story and some of his fears, I was completely struck at the impact of writing down your fears: By writing them down, to some extent, you take ownership of them and in the process they lose some of their power over you. I highly recommend listening to the episode or at least reading the transcript.

In the spirit, I decided to write my own list:

Things I am Afraid Of

Making the same mistakes again
Falling in love
Not falling in love
Calling my boss “dad”
Making decisions
Looking dumpy
Not living to my potential
Living a mediocre life
Not being taken seriously
Telling people what I really think
People being freaked out b/c I told them what I really think
Selling out
Violence
Being manipulated
Losing my family
Growing old alone
Settling for comfortable
Stepping on slugs
Stepping on slugs barefoot
Being a one-note act
Talking to myself without knowing it, especially at work
Having my blood drawn
Getting attacked by mosquitos while I sleep
That I’ll forget to lock both doors in a bathroom with two doors and someone will walk in on me

Yes, those are the first things to come to mind.  I will probably append more items to the list as things come to me.

What are you afraid of?