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The short walk from altar to apartment
The Column: 09.01.23
I prefer not to write about politics because I find people’s stories about personal experience more interesting than their opinions about what’s wrong with America, which tend to be secondhand or thirdhand.
And absurdity doesn’t interest me. You have an ex-president running for the White House who may be headed for a federal facility other than the White House unless he can win the election and pardon himself, meanwhile his leading opponents in the primaries go out of their way to avoid criticizing him and they focus on the legal problems of the incumbent president’s son.
Some of my best friends are evangelicals but I avoid them because I am afraid they may admire Putin and have taken up with a porn star and are thinking about shooting someone on Fifth Ave. So I don’t go there.
I walked home from church Sunday, a fine sunny day in New York. Church was wonderful, as usual. It was fun to hear the preacher take up the story of Jesus rebuking the Canaanite woman who asks for his help and Our Lord sounds like a jerk but the woman persists and persuades Him that He has been sent not only to the Jews but also to the whole world, which seems to indicate that the first Christian convert is Christ. The Communion hymn was “It Is Well with My Soul,” and after my Grand Canyon sunrise experience I did feel that it is well with my soul, which has not always been true. Suffice it to say that the Anglican prayer of confession is rather breezy in my case. A man of 81 cannot confess in thirty seconds, he needs hours.
My walk home takes me past sidewalk cafes, two playgrounds, a basketball court, the stoops of brownstones where elderly men younger than I watch the world go by, and it is a very pleasant walk especially after church, after the priest has blessed us and sent us into the world to do what we were put here to do. The Canyon at sunrise was stunning but this walk is stunning in its own sweet way. I pass throngs of my neighbors whom I have been told to love as I love myself but I’m a Midwesterner and “I love myself” is not anything I would ever say. Maybe a New Yorker would but not I.
But I do love these people, my fellow pedestrians, shoppers, diners, jaywalkers, joggers, skateboarders, stoop sitters.
The problem with evangelical Christianity may be the big parking lots. People leave the megachurch and get in their cars and drive and within 10 minutes they are calling on God to condemn another motorist to hellfire for making an illegal left turn.
I walk 12 blocks home in New York and I have never condemned anyone to eternal damnation. Never. I watch very carefully for e-bikes in the bike lanes, riders who may not stop at red lights but I do not ask that eternal torment be thrust upon them. If one of them ran me down and I had to spend weeks or months of my limited lifespan recovering from injury, I might consider asking for some form of torment such as 15 to 30 days in the slammer but nothing of an eternal brimstone nature. I walk home in a spirit of love. This is the politics of happiness.
The purpose of civil government is not to seek revenge against people we imagine think they are better than us. It is to serve the people I see as I walk home from church. I would help someone in trouble if I could but I’m only a writer. I know a woman whose home is uninhabitable and so she sleeps in her car and lives on food stamps and donations from friends and she bathes in the lavatory at Walmart or Costco. She is a decent intelligent Lutheran woman who is living the life of Job and in this supposedly Christian country we are so suspicious of the poor that she must run an obstacle course of bureaucratic barricades to survive but apparently she is a survivor, having taken a series of hard blows and come through with spirit intact. There are people in the Hawaiian paradise who find themselves in a similar situation. It could happen to any of us.
Church is a treatment for narcissism. I am not Number One, I am beholden to my Maker, I need to pay attention to the Divine, to live rightly with my fellow pedestrians, and part of church is the walk down this narrow canyon of high-rises and seeing the faces and hearing the voices. Make me an instrument of Thy Love, Sir.