100 Days of Poems and Pics

When I began that Church a Day writing project, I thought I might find God. I thought I would find out why my Great Uncle Bob loved being a Knight of Columbus. He’d dress up all in white and carry himself proudly as he made his way to his church, the Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, Florida.

My childhood memories are imbued with memories of happy church events — of my First Holy Communion, of my father reading at a podium of St. Joan of Arc, of my walking the aisle as a flower girl at my godfather’s wedding, of singing with a Sun City choir as a teenager.

And because I loved church, I started the Church a Day journey. I thought I might find out why I always felt better, coming out of a church than going in.

After a month of visiting churches ten years ago, I discovered — maybe it’s obvious to you — that God was not found alone in a pew. He/she/God was found, at the front door, in the people — the welcoming handyman who turned on the lights for me or the shyly smiling older woman in the row ahead of me.

The thing I hated though, as I sat in the pew, was the moment a priest, pastor, chaplain, deacon, or officiant began puttering around in the sanctuary. Or the altar. Or vestibule. As if a service might start at any moment and I’d be trapped — having to sing or recite some rote passage.

And then the other side of church would set in — my childhood boredom and teen doubt and adult acknowledgement of the ridiculousness and unlikeliness of the Christian faith. I didn’t want any part of organized religion.

I simply wanted to feel the wooden pew, sometimes padded beneath my seat. I wanted to smell the musty, dusty sacred air. I wanted to stare at the symbolism of the stained glass windows. And the way the light shone through them, catching the dust motes. I wanted to be alone with God.

So I must tell you, I won a little award for that Church a Day blog from the Religion Communicators Council. I felt proud and embarrassed. And I share this with you — why? To let you know that I did dig deep and I have had writing success.

Visiting a church a day was a solitary endeavor. I didn’t know what I would find. Didn’t know if I would need anything. Or anyone. And I didn’t want to have to ask. Well, that’s a theme in my life. Like I should know it all already. That I should leave the wisdom of the world to everyone else.

Sitting in a nearly empty church, for it’s true, the churches were almost always empty, I felt at peace.
And I’m embarking on a 100 day project and considered visiting a church a day.

But I have questions:
What if the churches are closed?
What if the people don’t let me in?
What if I get stuck in the middle of a service?
And who will I meet?
Where will I sit?
Will I find some calm?
Will wisdom descend on me? Or will I learn to be patient for the ways in which I am not wise?

Will, as in the earlier journey, I discover that faith is not found in places? It is found in people.

And so as not to hem myself in and so as to participate in #the100dayproject, I’ll simply call my church a day, thinking about god and beauty project, #100daysofPoemsandPics so that I can play with words and pictures.

I advise you too to start your day by visiting poems and gaining inspiration at the Poetry Foundation.

The Upper West Side prepares for a winter storm.

People’s Climate March – Wordless Wednesday

Joined hundreds of thousands on Sunday after church to march.IMG_6877.JPG

These ladies from Code Pink were there — looking awesome and fiesty femininsty gorgeous. Their message? War is not green. Yes. IMG_6876.JPGAnd tons of kids. And patient parents. We had to wait on 72nd Street for about an hour before we could feed in to the march. IMG_6849.JPGHere we are passing by Columbus Circle. It felt like the march opened up here and we could look around. All the humanity. IMG_6854.JPGI like their sign that said, “We have solutions.” It wasn’t just a march where people pointed out the problems. Although there was some of that. Vegans educated us on the reality that cows are a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. IMG_6842.JPGThere was a lot of music. But, as in any march, my favorite is “We shall overcome!” I melt when I hear that at a march. IMG_6857.JPG

There were a lot of young people. We all walked for hours. So fun. IMG_6859.JPG

Blessing of the Animals

Last Sunday I went to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis. It was so peaceful even though there were so many animals in the sanctuary. The music of Paul Winter filled the immense Gothic cavern with the sounds of whales and wolves.

A restless set of boys and dogs in the row in front of us left before it was over so they missed the exotic animals as they paraded (processed) down the center aisle.

The procession of animals was lovely and mind-blowing. You can see a rat carried proudly by preteen girl. I loved the humility of the goats and sheep, made all majestic by a wreath of flowers around their necks! There is beauty in the humility of animals. There was a pig and my favorite, a kangaroo. On the way out, a yak!

I so dug the anomaly of animals in church – the sacredness of animals. That which is ordinary became extraordinary.

I am not really an animal-lover, but I appreciate their lack of subtext.

I left the cathedral, oddly, filled with reverence. There is a variety to life — a vastness of our ecosystems and our living relations that is truly awesome. I can only imagine there must be a creator when you see the variety in God’s creation (and in the crazy matrix of evolution).

Here are some pics I snapped at the service. Thanks to Joanna Parson for getting me to St. John the Divine this year, something I have always wanted to do and now have done! I recommend you experience this beauty too!

Yes pets resemble their owners. A lot of dogs, cats, hamsters exist peaceably in the sanctuary.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Restless kids with hamsters and dogs, waiting for the blessing of the pets.

The communion line with dogs.


pig in church

Glorious turtle

This parrot loves NY

little pony in the sactuary

white goose

my favorite, a kangaroo!

I have no idea what this animal is

All this beauty in the largest Gothic cathedral in the U.S.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred . . . let me sow love. Where there is injury . . . pardon. Where there is doubt . . . faith. Where there is despair . . . hope. Where there is darkness . . . light. Where there is sadness . . . joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek To be consoled . . . as to console, To be understood . . . as to understand; To be loved . . . as to love, For It is in giving . . . that we receive. It is in pardoning . . . that we are pardoned, It is in dying . . . that we are born to eternal life.” – St. Francis (c. 1181 – 1226)

In other words: Today, let me get out of my way. Let me find beauty in my ordinary world. Let me hear the music of nature. Let me be someone who goes with the flow. Let me not judge people harshly. Let me be kind and generous. Just for today.

On Facebook, Megachurches, and Brevity

Episcopal priest and social media expert, Tom Ehrich, began his talk on social media with a bunch of paper handouts — extremely gloomy charts showing the steady and certain downward march in Episcopal church attendance.

“The world of the 1950s ended a long time ago but churches hung onto it. We are the corner hardware store in a Home Depot world,” Ehrich said. People laughed uncomfortably.

For the record, I still love corner hardware stores. I like to say “Gene Doubray” (dzień dobry) to the Polish guys who own the hardware store on 72nd Street. I have never been in a Home Depot. But I like their commercials that show older women as experts. I digress, back to last week’s luncheon. Here are my takeaways:


How does Facebook work?No one knows.” (Someone must know!) “Facebook is a mystery. Facebook tells your friends ‘Here’s what I’m caring about today.'”

Update your church’s Facebook frequently and recruit people to attend your church. Inviting doesn’t work; recruiting does (recruting always sounds militaristic to me).

Give people what they want. When people come to a church they may have questions. But the questions they have will be ones about their own lives — “Should I send my kid to private or public school?” they ask. They don’t ask, “What is your Sunday school like?” Ehrich said. True, true.

Create buzz. Let churches “touch people,” not “create members.” True.

Why do restaurants in New York not have to advertise? Restaurants get business by generating buzz, Ehrich said.


Getting people to attend Sunday worship is not enough. Churches have to be open 7 days/24 hours a day.

“Sunday is for tourists,” Ehrich said. He gave an example that Rick Warren’s megachurch, Saddleback Church, has its real worship on Wednesday nights, not Sundays.

“The Megachurch is not the enemy. They have methods that work. They greet newcomers. Train leaders.” Warren’s goal was to start 2,000 new small groups in a year; that is, 20,000 new members.

Megachurch Willow Creek sends an email newsletter that reaches 3 million readers. (I’m not sold on e-newsletters.) In his weekly Willow Creek e-newsletter, Bill Hybels, the founder, has passion and enthusiasm for upcoming sermon.

In his e-newsletters, Hybels writes, “Please come. If you can’t come, please pray for me.” That is cool. (How often do grown men asked to be prayed for? Love it!)

Full disclosure: for several months as a teenager in Park Ridge, Illinois, I was a part of Son City, which Bill Hybels founded. It was really fun. I don’t remember him specifically, but I remember that I sang rockin’ Christian songs in a big auditorium. I’m not a singer, but I remember thinking I sounded really good. I loved the idea of Son City, especially when I heard rumors that kids were allowed to run around and have chicken-fights in the church aisles of the South Park Church. I digress.

Digression on blogs may be unnecessary.


Ehrich was a proponent of brevity. On Twitter: “140-character limit is magic,” Ehrich said.

Ehrich blogs daily. I love that. His word limit is 100 words. My blog posts tend to exceed that. (This one’s up to 560!). A blog doesn’t need to be friendly but can establish you as an expert. (I wonder if my blog(s) are making me an expert at anything.)

Another takeaway: Social media is a good tool for networking but not for controling. And these luncheons are definitely good for networking and sparking lively conversations about religion and media.

Ehrich’s blog and web pages can be found at: http://www.morningwalkmedia.com

The November RCC (Religion Commnicators Council) luncheon was held near the United Nations at the Episcopal building on 43rd and 2nd. The RCC luncheons and events are always provocative.

Kids in Church

I was waiting for my daughters to finish a math tutoring session at Joan of Arc public school. (Joan of Arc is my hero —  I love that there’s a public school in NYC named for her!) I saw this church across the street.

It was Saturday afternoon and a lot of well-dressed people were mingling on the sidewalk. “Goody! A wedding!” I thought.

I entered the church. The sanctuary was paneled and low-ceiling-ed. Empty, except for a couple of girls who plucked keys on the piano. That was a bit annoying.

I sat for a minute, restless. As I was leaving, I heard a party going on in the basement. People sang, “feliz compleaños.”

I have to admit that the language barrier made me feel I wasn’t really a part of the action at this church. I wished I spoke Spanish, but I don’t. Not enough any way.

But then, something happened and for a moment, I  felt I belonged. See, this boy ran down some steps, fast like he owned the place. He stopped, stared and smiled. That’s it. A smile. That smile took off when words and language failed. I left uplifted.

I picked up the girls and we met friends. We hung out in the Bramble in Central Park, a beautiful and spiritual place.

Mother’s Day

I knew the next day was going to be a doozy when Hayden woke me at midnight, fresh from the latest fab Bar Mitzvah to tell me, “Don’t forget to sleep in tomorrow — it’s Mother’s Day!”

I woke at 6:30 like usual to make myself some coffee and write in my journal. Nice. I then returned to bed to wait for three and a half hours for my breakfast in bed. Chris had to run to the store for bagels. I was getting crabby.

When it finally arrived, the breakfast was a bust, because the kids tussled on my lap and on top of the bagels and lox, sending the cream cheese flying all over my dresser and rug.

I couldn’t have eaten much any way because Charlotte was forcing a manicure on me. Catherine replenished my lukewarm coffee. She did affix a Post-It to the mug with the handwritten words, “Best Mom EVER!”

I did not want another fight so I told the kids, “You don’t have to come to church. But I’m going.” I set out alone, which is actually a decent way to spend Mother’s Day. When I got to the back of the sanctuary though I missed the family, so I called and whispered, “Please come to church. Your friends are here.” And they did.

The sermon was about seeing the Bible as poetry and not as a textbook. The day was getting better. I called my Mom. I read the Times. I checked Facebook. I did laundry.

I was thinking about being alone as I made Mother’s Day dinner — pasta primavera and toasted bagels. I told the kids, “I may be cooking, but you’re cleaning up.” They did. They did it badly, but they did it.

As a present to myself that night, I made my reservations to join my book club weekend in San Francisco next month. Every Mom deserves a break, not just that one Sunday in May. And while I do love my kids snuggling me in bed, I also love my aloneness and my friends.

I wrote this during Donna Schaper’s lunch time class offered today at Global Ministries. It was about finding Sabbath at work. I had been to another class of hers on Sacred Chow a couple of months ago http://gettingmyessayspublished.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/sacred-chow/