10/12 an unabashed love letter to the people of Saint Ann’s

Its two main steeples reach majestically into the sun-filled Buffalo sky. Well, actually that’s not entirely true, seeing as its two main steeples are no longer there. And haven’t been for quite sometime – lost somewhere along the way from some previous snow-filled Buffalo sky, i’ve been told. So the final effect is that somewhat of a decapitated house of worship, one that begrudgingly admits its shortcoming, but still refuses to fall.

The steeples haven’t been replaced simply because this particular church happens to reside in inner Buffalo, a down-trodden area that hasn’t seen anything even remotely resembling wealth in many a year now. And while the Roman Catholic Church talks a pretty good game about feeding its flock, apparently it walks a much better game in neighborhoods where the flock is pretty well-fed already. Which is sad, considering the diet of this particular flock – but more on that later.

Upon entering the church, you see a past glory, slowly crumbling under the grip of time and weather. While most of the ceiling remains intact – in glorious hues of blue, gold and salmon – in other areas massive bubbles are visible through the paint where previously, rain water on the exterior side lead a recon mission through cracks in the building’s defenses towards the inside. In other areas, the rain was wholly successful in its mission and whatever section of ceiling used to be there is now totally absent, save the wooden skeleton of the roof proper. The myriad of statues throughout the building are mostly looking skyward, but whereas i’m sure the original intent was to show these saints as being “heaven-bound”, in its current condition, they look much more like worried home owners waiting for the roof to cave in. As to the accoutrements, easily half a forest was lost in the construction of the various wooden latticework, railings, doorways, crucifixes and pulpit – never mind the ornate and almost inhabitable central sanctuary at the back of the altar. All carved with intricate expertise, and for now, all safe from the weather. And while children may be prone to scratch their names into pews elsewhere, in this building every one of them seem to be safe from such juvenile branding activities. The floor is a combination of hard wood and ratty carpet – the orange variety that everyone in the seventies felt was all the rage. Fortunately, the carpet is so worn down as to now look far more “historical” than “dated”. Unfortunately, the carpet is so worn down as to look like it belongs to a long-dead building, instead of a living one.

So all said, a church that used to be mighty, glorious – and possibly even a bit arrogant – now sits humbled by time, neglect, suburban sprawl, and a religious hierarchy that sometimes finds it hard to practice exactly what it preaches so loudly to others. But just before you call the wrecking ball and start digging a grave for this once impressive monolith, let’s take another look, seeing as mass has now started…

The choir is small, unorganized and not very well trained. Many of them seem to have never used a microphone before and others simply ignore its existence altogether. They are a mixture of race, age and sex, all led by a doddering old man at a tiny electric keyboard, and when all is said and done – they sing like angels. With sincerity, with faith, and with communion. The congregation is likewise small, especially when considering how large the building is, and much like the choir, a blend of age, sex and race. In fact, to look at them objectively, you wouldn’t see too much that these people would have in common with each other in their daily lives – and maybe they don’t. But when they come together here, they become “One” – again – with sincerity and faith. During the Lord’s Prayer, the entire group becomes part of one long web, strewn throughout the church, with only the very first upheld hand in the line and the very last not being grasped by another. And at the “sign of peace”, it would almost appear to be much more a game of musical chairs than it would a simple gesture of good will. The entire process can take up to five minutes (quite a long time by Roman Catholic standards) and no person is left unnoticed, no extended hand left untouched. It’s the type of environment that would drive someone who suffers from mysophobia simply mad. It would also put a kink in the armor of anyone who happens to be racist or judges others based solely on their appearance as well. In this place, however, faith overrides all of that. And it’s not something that is sleeve-worn or in your face. Nor is it something that you must accept upon entering, or take with you when you leave. It’s not even something that is spoken. It just IS. It’s visible, tangible, breathable even. This small group of individuals create a force so strong that it can not only be felt, but it actually invades your own senses as well.

Heaven bound...

Now, lest someone think that this will become a slippery slope as to my trying to prove one faith superior to another, let me be clear that this is not the intent of this post. And it’s not the intent of the congregation either, i don’t believe. And maybe that is why they can create a force so strong that it almost hugs you upon entering into it. They seem to be focused only on their faith and on each other. It would appear that they have no real desire to shove their beliefs down the throats of others, but you’re more than welcome to join in if you’d like (to clarify an earlier statement, they are very cognizant of possible mysophobia sufferers and don’t grab for hands unextended). It is also clear that instead of focusing on any misperceived superiority towards the faith – or lack thereof – of others, they are focusing only on theirs alone. And when “Mother Church” held back its wallet, these parishioners – many of whom can ill-afford it – started to self-fund the church just so that they could keep it’s steeple-less doors open.

In short, they’re good people, who are quietly living their own faith – for themselves and their God alone. They have found their community, their purpose and their home, resulting in their spirits being well-fed and contented. Not because of some outside benevolence, but as a result of their own hard work. They have a living Strength within a dying building. One that is refreshing to see, and i just thought you might like to know that pockets of humanity like this still exist.  i also think it would be very nice indeed if a whole lot more of us could live the same.

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9/28 random thoughts about angels, dogs & The Doctor

i have a confession to make. i believe in angels, just not the kind that most people think of when bridging the subject.

Nope...

To me, the angels C. S. Lewis envisioned are much more probable than the popular variety. The type that are so far removed from us as we’ll never understand them – nor they us. The type that are so incredibly “other” as we’ll never truly be able to connect. What i mean, i suppose, is this: how could one being, who is thinking that there might be a God ever connect in any meaningful way with a being who not only knows that there is a God, but actually spends quite a bit of time with Him?

And how could we ever become one ourselves? An angel that is. i know that that’s become a popular idea used when describing the death of a loved one, especially when it’s a child. i also see it used quite frequently when a person (in my experience, usually a woman) is trying to describe their inner divinity or express their ability to overcome some hardship (but oddly enough, hardly ever in an effort to show any type of kinship or devotion to God). And i think this is kind of insulting to do so – to both the angels and us. i mean, i love C – adore her in fact (“Yes!  We get it already… move on with it, would ya???”) – but she will no more ever become an angel than my stupid, yet singularly beautiful, dog would have ever had a chance of becoming a human. Make sense? People can be beautiful people – but they can’t be angels as a result – much like dogs can only be man’s best friends precisely because they’re not men.

Not this either...

Here’s the tradeoff – the angels get to actually know that God exists, and they get to serve him. We, on the other hand, don’t know – supposedly – and as a result, get to choose whether we’ll serve or decline. Where that puts us in relationship to each other, i’m not quite sure. But i suppose if i was forced to come up with a (very weak and upside down) analogy, i guess you could say that the angels are very much like older children who know that the whole Santa thing is a scam, while humans are the younger ones who are still in the dark about the whole thing. In short, they know the truth of the matter, and we’re left guessing.

So, do older children take care of their younger siblings? Yes, but not always out of “love” per say, rather simply because “Dad said so”. And again, here is where my opinion of angels probably varies from the norm (but i believe i still have C.S. Lewis on my side, so there!). i’m of the idea that while the angels do help, it’s much more about their aiding God than us. And i don’t think the assistance they give – as an old commerical once proposed – is anything as simple as stopping that car from hitting us by throwing their angelic body in front of it instead (not to get off topic – whatever topic we’re actually on at any rate – but i don’t think their angelic bodies could even fit into our plane of existence, let alone stop a car). So, how do they help? i have no idea, but i’m pretty sure that whatever it is – had they their druthers – they’d much prefer not too. And i’m not being mean in saying that. i’m just thinking that if i were in heaven, i’d sure prefer to stay There than to have to come Here just to help out some former monkees who just never seem to get it right.

And since we’ve landed here quite unexpectedly, i might as well also add that while i believe in evolution, i refuse to say that humans were ever anything less than just that. Much like we’ll never be angels, we were also never primates. Oh, we might have looked the part when we first started out, and act the part still, but that doesn’t mean that we were ever anything else besides humans – monkey or otherwise. But there i go digressing again.

i did want to back up though, to a point i made earlier and incorrectly. i had mentioned that whereas the angels had to serve, we were able to choose. This was quite obviously worded wrong, when considering the idea of the “Fallen angels” (another concept i happen to buy into). What i should have actually said is that we both have the choice to serve – but what humans have also been gifted with is the very idea as to whether to believe or not. For the angels there is no choice, they see God. There is no belief, He’s right there. Probably stealing the comfy chair. As always. Humans however, can choose to either see him in that chair or not. We basically have the ability to tell him whether or not he exists. And he gave us this power. Again, as with so many of the ideas in this post, i have no earthly idea as to why he would do that, but there you go. As a human, i have the ability – nix that, the right – to look God square in the face and tell him he doesn’t exist. And then he won’t. For me at any rate. On the plus side, i then get to pretty much do whatever i want. On the minus side, when i die. i really die. And should i live on, i will need to go to the place where God is not. Simply because he doesn’t exist for me. Bummer.

“Wait, what did all that just now have to do with angels?”  Nothing i suppose, but i thought i might as well throw it in there. No need to waste a good pontifical session on only one subject.

Now, i know my family and a great number of friends would be quite upset if i left this topic without ever bridging the subject of the “Weeping Angels” of Dr. Who fame. And to this i must say that while it’s a really cool idea, it really has no merit. Especially when you consider that all they had to do to defeat this variety of angel was to give them a good and proper knocking over. On the other hand, i do sort of feel as if the angels portrayed in the show are somewhat closer to the real thing than we would like to think. They’re much more about “getting the job done” than all that fluffy, feel-good, “white sheet and blond bob” stuff we’d like to envision when we dream of angels. And they’re more about using their glorious power – power they obtain from God – for His good, rather than they are about throwing themselves in front of cars just to “serve us”. In short, much like my stupid, yet singularly beautiful dog, angels “serve” us only because they know that God exists, and while they may not understand it, they know that he loves us. They in turn, love him enough to get past all the reasons not to lend us a hand – and do. But as angels, there’s no way their going to fake being happy about it.

...and i pray to God, not these!

i have one last confession to make. i have always secretly wished i could be visited by an angel. i’ve believed and respected (and been jealous of) certain others who say they have – and while it sounds stupid – for me it would almost be like a sign that i somehow “counted” in some special way. And maybe, for just that reason, i’m also a little scared that someday my wish might come true.

8/29 a rather utilitarian view point

My best friend is an atheist (he’s also gay, but that has nothing to do whatsoever with this post, unless of course it might at some point. We’ll have to see). He and i never talk about religion.

We never argue about which one of us is “right” and we never exchange ideas in the hopes of convincing each other to “switch teams”. We don’t, because we know it’s pointless to do so. We don’t, because we love each other for who we are versus who we could make each other into. And we don’t, because although we may feel differently about whether or not there is a God, we totally agree that each person has their own journey to make, their own road to walk. And regardless of whether the task was handed down to us on high by some Superior Being or simply by Chance – in the final analysis, each person must take full ownership of their own journey – a journey that they began, and will end, alone.

i mention this simply as proof that it can happen. There can be instances wherein two or more people with widely different ideas about life, the universe and – well, everything – can get along quite well, even to the point of being best friends. As such, the question i have is why can’t this simply be the norm? Why can’t we all take up on our own journeys without feeling the need to bump into each other so often along the way?

From the point of the religious, i understand that many feel they have a certain “calling” from their God to “spread the word”, and since my only real knowledge and experience is that of Christianity, i’ll keep my comments confined to this particular ideology. Understanding that Jesus said to “Spread the word”, i don’t recall him ever saying that anyone was supposed to “beat the word” into the head of every living soul who decides to not believe it. i also don’t recall him saying anything about taking unbelievers, kicking and screaming to the altar, for a redemption they didn’t ask for and don’t believe in.  i DO recall however, his being pretty specific about people staying out of other peoples business (yes, i’m alluding to that whole “judge not” deal – possibly his most ignored teaching). i also seem to recall his mentioning that to gain your life, you first have to lose it. i wonder how many wealthy Christian suburbanites are willing to stop beating atheists over the head long enough to take that particular challenge?

To my mind, “spreading the word” is much more like an invitation to believe than it is a mandate. And as with any invitation, you have the right to say “yes” or “no”. Should God exist, would they really want a relationship with someone simply because that someone fears punishment otherwise?  I can’t imagine so. Sort of negates the whole point of “Free Will” if you think about it.

Now if the followers of Jesus are working from somewhat of a misunderstanding regarding instructions he left, then i’m even more perplexed by the atheists. For in their instance, there were no instructions given, and no God to promote. But to listen to some of them, you’d swear that atheism almost is a religion itself.  While there is no bible in hand, there sure is a lot of thumping to be heard. And why?

As i asked another not too long ago, if i do believe in something that doesn’t exist, then what’s the harm in that? Why do you feel you need to make me believe otherwise? What drives you to force me to see your Light? As long as i’m not hurting anyone in my belief, why not just let me wallow in my ignorance? We’re both worm food at the end of the run at any rate, so what difference does it make if one of us will be totally surprised by the fact when it occurs?

i understand that religion has caused much pain on this world. But no more than money has. Or political beliefs. Or hunger. Or power (the lust thereof at any rate). In short, almost everything humans get their hands into ends in some sort of damage. Do the atheists who try convert the believers work as hard at convincing the rich that they need to share their wealth? Or those with an abundance of food that they need to share too? i don’t know, maybe they do. i’m really asking (seeing as i’m likely never to be on their radar in these regards if they do…).

Now i’m trying desperately hard not to use any Rodney King quotes in this, but it really is boiling down to exactly what he’s most famous for saying. And i too wonder why it is that we can not simply agree to disagree on certain things. Not all things mind you, just the ones that don’t matter in the larger picture. For instance – we should be spending much more time working against world hunger than arguing about whether its existence proves or disproves God’s as well. But as for the rest, we need to keep in mind that we each do have our own unique journey. And it is ours alone to make and we need to get there, not as others would have us go, but in best way that we see fit.

(to those on both sides who will now decry my line of thought as being too simplistic, naive or ignorant, i have good news – you’ve more in common than you know in that you’re both angry with me for the very same reason. i recommend you make use of that commonality to better understand each others stance on other matters. It still won’t sway either sides beliefs – and that’s quite alright – but hopefully at least a mutual respect of ideas other than “our own” will begin to grow.)

i’ve told my children that when i die, Jesus is going to have a LOT of questions for me, but none of them will have to do with what others did or why. I will have to answer for myself and only myself. And for the atheist, no one is waiting to judge or question whatsoever. In the end, one of us will have ended up being right – or both of us will have ended up being slightly wrong – and we’ll both be dead regardless. So until then, why can’t we be a little more utilitarian in our thinking? Until then, why can’t we love (or at least respect) each other for who we are, versus who we wish we could make each other into?

8/17 of pets and children

So, what is it that children and animals (besides the obvious of playing, eating, pooping and sleeping) actually need to do over the summer?

Now of the former, make no mistake – i will not go into a blustery blurb as to how much i wish i could relive those days. True, i did enjoy them greatly while i had them, but to revisit them now i feel might be a bit taxing. Of the latter, i have an idea. A really stupid and naive idea, but an idea none the less.

My youngest (by 11 years and 2 months) isn’t your average Christian (well, he’s not an average Anything really, but that’s a whole other tale). You see, while he’s down with the whole God/Jesus/Peace & Love thing, he also believes in reincarnation. I’m not quite sure how the two can coexist, but it’s not my faith – it’s his. He’s really the only one tasked with figuring it out in the end, and i can see that i’m quickly digressing to the point as to losing my point altogether…

His belief, combined with my almost aching desire to lead a “dogs life”, provided me with my idea, which was this. What if, when we die and go to heaven and are judged, God gives us one last “bonus round” on the earth – this time as the house pet of our choosing? i mean, it would seem viable from a numbers standpoint at any rate – there sure are a lot of house pets – almost as many as there are pet owners i would assume.

But you might be asking – how about those pets that are abused and mistreated while having their time on earth? How could that be considered an award of any kind? And you’d be right to ask (i know i did), but please keep in mind, when i said “judged” i was not implying “found worthy”. And it could be that a particular soul is very much in need of receiving a bit of their “own medicine” prior to being admitted into paradise.

Now before you come back screaming at me, please keep in mind – this is just a theory. A stupid and naive one at that. And i am not hoping to open any doors that would justify animal cruelty with it. But i also know that humans are cruel. To other animals and to each other. Instead of justifying it, we should be rectifying it. And screaming won’t help the process along.

So, the “dogs life” could be reward or punishment. Purgatory or – well – whatever the opposite of purgatory is. Or simply a chance to live life one more time – without worries. Without concerns. A chance to finally see the world, not through your eyes, but through those of God. Not as you think it should be, but as it really is.

As mentioned previously, i don’t feel the idea is very plausible based on the naive nature of it. But when i am dragging myself through the house at Dark O’clock in the morning in an effort to get myself out of the house and once again chase the cash – in hopes of ending up with a little bit of it in my pocket by days end – AND i happen to see my cat, lounging in the window with his “devil may care” attitude at the same time? Well, the theory becomes a lot more a hope than an idea.

Heck, sometimes the theory can almost become a prayer.

PS: remember – be good to your animals. Because it’s the right thing to do. And just in case i’m right.