Category Archives: Religion

Losing My Religion

That’s me in the spotlight.

Apologies to R.E.M., but this is the blog post where I talk about God and stuff. Consider this a break-up letter to the church, and to the concept of theism in general. It’s been a fun ride, but all in all, the whole belief-in-God thing is longer something I can subscribe to in good conscience.

Some background:

I grew up in a fairly inoffensive, milquetoast form of Protestant Christianity that primarily consisted of going to church once a week and participating in Sunday school, singing a few nice hymns, listening to a somewhat dry but uplifting sermon, saying a few prayers, and then heading home for lunch and to enjoy the rest of the weekend. Nothing too political (that would be too controversial), too contemporary (that would be too tacky), nor too traditional (that would be too Catholic). It’s the type of church Hollywood turns to whenever they need a generic setting for a wedding scene in a soap opera or romantic comedy.

In my mid-20s I joined the Episcopal Church, which I found more to my liking for a number of reasons. The liturgy and music were richer, the theology less dogmatic and more focused on social justice, it provided a cultural connection to my not-so-distant English ancestry, and they taught me how to make a damn good martini with the right kind of gin. (In fact, the name of this blog harkens back to that period of my life, as a play on “living in sin”.)

Throughout most of this time I was pretty active in the church: I attended Bible studies, went on retreats, volunteered in various capacities, you name it. There were even a few times when I casually flirted with the idea of exploring a call to become an ordained member of the clergy. (In retrospect, that would’ve been a spectacularly terrible idea, as I don’t have a fraction of the skill set that would be required for that kind of vocation, and I probably wouldn’t have made it five minutes into the initial discernment process.)

The highlight of my involvement with the Episcopal Church came during my time in New York City, where I was active at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights, the World’s Largest Gothic Cathedral™. During my first visit to the still-unfinished cathedral, I was struck by its immense size and beauty, and in my mind, its incomplete and imperfect state served as the perfect metaphor for God’s unfinished kingdom here on earth. During return visits, I found the cathedral’s architecture, music, liturgy, and social justice work to be icons through which, perhaps, one might catch a glimpse of the divine. I wanted to be part of that, and before long I had joined the Acolyte Guild and was a regular cast member in the cathedral’s worship services. One Sunday in November 2008, I took part in a grand worship service to mark the rededication of the cathedral after a 7-year reconstruction following a devastating fire in 2001, where I got to shake hands with Hillary Clinton and get my photo on the front page of the New York Times.

Buddy_christAll this backstory is to say that, for the most part, my experiences in the church were fairly positive, and I look back upon them mostly with fondness. I was never molested by a priest, I was never part of a church where fire and brimstone were spewed from the pulpit, and I was never emotionally manipulated into anything that made me feel uncomfortable. I still find magnificent beauty in traditional Anglican liturgy and gothic architecture, some of the old hymns of my childhood still bring a lump to my throat, and I still love the smell of incense and candles wafting through an old stone church.

Most importantly, there are the people I’ve encountered along the way, many of whom I still consider my closest friends. They include lay people and clergy from a variety of faith traditions, and unlike the charlatans you see flaunting their piety on television and on social media, they truly represent the example of Jesus in ways that I could never hope to approach. Most of them have pulled my ass out of the fire on more than one occasion, and it’s not much of a stretch to say that their friendship during some of the most difficult days of my life literally saved me from suicide.

Which makes my decision to sever ties with the church a difficult one; this isn’t an aspect of my life that I’d toss aside lightly. It would be different if, like so many other people, I had grown up in a spiritually abusive environment and I could give the church a big “fuck you” and flip it the bird as I stormed out the door for the last time. This feels more like a long, protracted breakup with somebody I once deeply loved and still have strong feelings for, even if the cracks in the relationship have been visible and growing for a long time. (In fact, I began writing this blog post over three years ago, and it’s been sitting in my “drafts” folder all this time.) It’s been years since I’ve regularly attended church services, but now it finally feels like time to come out as an atheist.

The doubts had been gnawing at me for about as long as I was old enough to form rational thoughts. To flip a tired phrase on its head, I was religious but not spiritual: I loved the sense of community that came with being part of a healthy faith community, the social bonds that grew out of that, and the reassuring rhythm of the liturgical calendar. But it always felt like I was going through the motions for the sake of appearances, and over the years I became increasingly aware of the unspeakable damage done to individuals and to society in general in the name of religious dogma. My circle of close friends has grown to include militant atheists who wouldn’t be caught dead inside a house of worship, and their ethical code is no less robust than that of somebody who has spent decades of their life in ordained ministry.

As I now write this, the bodies are still being removed from the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, after the deadliest mass shooting on American soil since the massacre at Wounded Knee. (Which was also motivated and enabled by religion, by the way. Manifest destiny, anybody?) The specific motives of the gunman are still being probed and debated by a million armchair experts, but what’s certain is that 49 people were massacred in a gay nightclub because of who they were and who they loved, and no amount of hollow “thoughts and prayers” will change the fact that religious dogma is at the root of so much of the hatred and violence in the world today, and indeed throughout most of human history.

fascismAll this is occurring against a backdrop of violent religious fundamentalism that seems to be consuming the nation and the world like a cancer. I used to think the abuses were committed by a few bad apples, but I’m increasingly convinced that, despite the good works done by some adherents, the entire premise of religion is structurally flawed and ultimately causes more harm than good in the world. The abuses and violence seem like the default condition, and charity and kindness the exception. Sinclair Lewis’s 1932 prediction that “when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross” now seems alarmingly prescient.

And perhaps infused with a certain dose of cynicism, my mind has grown increasingly skeptical of any claims involving the supernatural. Out of the thousands of deities that have been worshipped by humankind over the course of history, I’m supposed to believe that the correct deity just happens to be the one worshipped by the tradition I just happened to be born into? That seems like a stretch. I’m open to the idea that our lived reality offers only a dim glimpse of ultimate truth — maybe we’re all in some Matrix-style computer simulation and what various religions have perceived to be gods are merely glimpses of The Architect who programmed it all — but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I won’t pretend that modern-day science has an explanation for more than a small fraction of all that is knowable about our universe and our place in it, but it provides a robust method of inquiry and openness to critical inquiry that I’ve always found lacking in even the most liberal denominations.

"I am the Architect. I created the Matrix. I've been waiting for you. You have many questions, and although the process has altered your consciousness, you remain irrevocably human. Ergo, some of my answers you will understand, and some of them you will not. Concordantly, while your first question may be the most pertinent, you may or may not realize it is also the most irrelevant. "

“I am the Architect. I created the Matrix. I’ve been waiting for you. You have many questions, and although the process has altered your consciousness, you remain irrevocably human. Ergo, some of my answers you will understand, and some of them you will not. Concordantly, while your first question may be the most pertinent, you may or may not realize it is also the most irrelevant.”

Funny thing is, there’s no fancy ceremony when you renounce the concept of religion; I guess most people who do so just stop showing up to church and becomes the subject of gossip during coffee hour. There’s also no obligation to pick a congregation or recite a creed. The old joke goes that an atheist, a vegan, and a Crossfit trainer walked into a bar, and we only know this because they told everybody within two minutes. My own views are still evolving and will hopefully continue to evolve as long as I’m alive, but right now this blog post

I stumbled across on a Google search seems to do a pretty good job of articulating my own point of view. I am an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, and a humanist, with explanations via selected quotes from the aforementioned link:

Atheist

Atheism is the rejection of God assertions due to the lack of objective empirical evidence for all such claims. […] It is not a religion, no faith is required. Instead it is the null hypothesis, and so until somebody asserting a god claim coughs up some credible evidence, all such claims can be dismissed.

Agnostic

I do not assert a no-god claim, I have no evidence for such an assertion, and so in that sense I am not only a non-believer, but I am also agnostic. I do indeed find no evidence for god claims, and I also find the assertion to be highly improbably, just as I find the pink unicorn hypothesis to be improbable. In essence – I hold to the null hypothesis and until some credible evidence comes to light, then that is where I stand, and so I am not asserting a no-god claim, I am simply rejecting the daft god-claims.

Skeptic

I think of skepticism as the application of critical thinking to any and all claims, be they religious or non-religious. So when faced with any form of woo, … quack medicine, lake monsters, ghosts, aliens, free energy, psychics (frauds), or religious claims, etc… then you can think of this as a methodology that may be used to determine what is and is not true.

Humanist

I am convinced that most humans (with or without a belief) are decent honourable humans who strive to do what is right. It is humanism that leads me down this road and takes me to a place where we can deploy reason and logic instead of blind dogma to strive for ethics and justice. Belief might indeed dictate that slavery is a jolly good idea and that being gay is a hideous crime, but by deploying some reason and logic it quickly becomes clear that slavery is wrong as is the anti-gay stance.

I first began this blog post back in 2012, during a year when I was making a conscious effort to purge my life of thoughts and habits that I felt were distracting me from living up to my full potential. It’s taken that long to finally come to grips with where I honestly stand on the theological spectrum between belief and non-belief, but here it is. Comedian John Fugelsang once tweeted, “Give me a Christlike atheist over a Godless Christian any day”, and I’ve decided that I’d much rather fall into the latter category than the former.

I may still occasionally show up for Evensong at the cathedral whenever I find myself back in New York, but try not to judge me too harshly if I appear to lose interest during the part where we recite the Apostle’s Creed.

The Inerrant Word of God has a Liberal Bias

 

Those of us who profess a Christian faith are called upon to conduct our lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible. Now, there’s plenty of room for reasonable people to disagree over the particulars, given the historical context in which the Bible was written and the various ways it has been translated over the years. That’s why we have about a million different sects and denominations.

Granted, there’s a lot of stuff in the Bible that has become dogma for up to three of the world’s major religions, but let’s put that aside and concentrate on what the Bible has to say about how we live our lives, as individuals and collectively as a society. The basics are pretty straightforward: Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t murder. Work for justice and peace. Be charitable to those less fortunate than you. Don’t be too full of yourself. Treat other people how you’d like to be treated. All that stuff is fairly non-controversial, right?

Most other religions share similar ethical teachings, and even the most ardent atheist can agree that certain ethical behaviors are desirable if only to ensure the continued functioning of civil society. Even if you don’t buy into the whole Christ being the Son of God thing, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Jesus was an all-around good guy and a model of moral behavior, and people of many faiths can (and do) strive to lead Christ-like lives.

However, if you find yourself engaging in behavior that directly contradicts the scriptural teachings you claim to follow, I figure you can do one of four things to remedy the situation:

Option 1: Renounce your belief in the scriptures, and continue following your behavior. If my religion’s holy scriptures told me that I wasn’t allowed to enjoy an occasional dry martini or own an iPhone, then I’d probably leave that religion when I got old enough to make an informed decision to do so. Lots of people follow this route, and there’s no shame in it. I may or may not approve of your behavior, but at least this is an intellectually honest way out of your predicament, and nobody will accuse you of being a hypocrite.

Option 2: Amend your behavior so that it is more in line with scriptural teachings. If your scriptures forbid martinis and iPhones, then you give them up. If your scriptures call upon you to lead a Christ-like life, then you at least make an honest effort to do so. I renounced my right-wing ideology a few years ago when I had spent some time getting my ass kicked by life, and when I finally reached the conclusion that Rush Limbaugh and the Holy Gospel couldn’t possibly both be right, as they directly contradict each other. And I was pretty sure that the Gospel writers weren’t the ones that are full of shit. (Sorry, Rush.) That’s not to say I no longer have any doubts or confusion, or that every Christian who votes Republican is a hypocrite, but when presented with two ways of thinking that are so diametrically opposed, you have to make a choice. It’s simply not possible to love your neighbor and hate your neighbor at the same time. (I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to love your neighbor when he’s blasting merengue music from a car stereo outside your bedroom window at 3 AM, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Option 3: Rationalize. Try to convince yourself and others that you really are following your holy scriptures even as you engage in behavior and advocate social policies that directly contradict those scriptures. Try to explain that the martini glass in your hand doesn’t really contain gin, or that your iPhone is actually a knock-off and is therefore kosher. Look for some obscure verse in Leviticus to justify persecution of groups of people you don’t like, or try to pretend that the two contradictory creation myths in Genesis mean that the earth is only 6000 years old, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. (Therefore, science itself must be the work of Satan and should not be taught in public schools.) Try to explain why Jesus turning water into wine and passing around a cup of wine at the Last Supper mean that nobody should ever drink anything alcoholic. Try to explain why “have compassion for the poor” really means that all poor people are Cadillac-driving freeloaders who deserve contempt, and that believing in Jesus is the ticket to a big mansion and a nice car. This third option has been the time-honored tactic of many Christians for the past few centuries, and we’ve become pretty successful at it.

But you know, all those mental gymnastics can get downright exhausting and confusing, and sometimes it’s hard to keep your story straight. People are more likely to call you out as a hypocrite, and it gets embarrassing when so many spiritual and political leaders who are most ardent about espousing “family values” get caught in bed with young boys or in motel rooms with gay prostitutes, or wiping out the retirement savings of millions of people while enriching their friends, or launching a bloody invasion of an impoverished country that was never a serious military threat. You get the idea.

So, Option 1 is out because you need that facade of piety to justify your behavior. Option 2 doesn’t work because that would show weakness and mean admitting you were wrong about something. Option 3 is just too hard and not very convincing for those who haven’t completely eradicated their critical thinking skills.

That, naturally leads us to: Option 4: Change the scriptures to match your ideology.

Conservative Bible Project Cuts Out Liberal Passages

Lo and behold, the Bible has gotten too liberal, according to a group of conservatives. And it needs a little editing.

That’s the inspiration behind the Conservative Bible Project, which seeks to take the text back to its supposed right-wing roots.

Who knew that King James was such a bed-wetting liberal pinko?

Principles of the new translation:

Framework against Liberal Bias: Providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias.

Not Emasculated: Avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity.

Not Dumbed Down: Not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level.

Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: Using powerful new conservative terms as they develop; defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.

Combat Harmful Addiction: Combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”; using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census.

Accept the Logic of Hell: Applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.

Express Free Market Parables: Explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning.

Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: Excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story.

Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: Crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels.

Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: Preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”

One can only speculate what the new Conservative Bible looks like:

  • The serpent in the Garden of Eden commands Adam and Eve to go forth and bury fossils all over the place so as to deceive future generations into believing in evolution.
  • All those Hebrew prophets who decried the injustices of society are now cable news commentators who lead manufactured “Tea Party” protests against any efforts to remedy said injustices.
  • For the woman who committed adultery, since she is neither a man nor a right-wing politician, Jesus commands, “Stone the slut!”
  • The Beatitudes are re-written to say, “Blessed are the rich, for they got theirs. Fuck everybody else. Blessed are the warmongers, for they ensure high oil prices and continued wealth for the Saudi royal family. Blessed are the loud and arrogant, for they get good ratings on the Fox News channel.”
  • Jesus turns the water at Cana into Kool-Aid.
  • Matthew 6: “But when you pray, do not go into your room; get in front of a camera and pray to your Father, who sees you on television. Then your Father, who sees what is done for ratings, will reward you.”
  • Jesus turns the five loaves and two fishes into enough food to feed thousands of hungry people, but keeps it all for himself and his wealthy benefactors. Others may partake of the leftovers, but only if they pay a thousand bucks a plate.
  • Leprosy and blindness are preexisting conditions, and are therefore not eligible for Christ’s healing services.
  • Luke 19: “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and sat down with all them that sold and bought in the temple, and asked of the welfare of the moneychangers, and further invited those of them that sold doves. And He said unto them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it into a brokerage and brought forth the miracle of derivatives.’ Thereupon Jesus adjusted the interest rates of all who leveraged financial instruments, and there was much rejoicing among the hedge fund managers who no longer would be taxed upon their income.”
  • The Pharisees are changed to ACORN workers, and they crucify Jesus.
  • In the John Galt Special Edition Bible, Jesus recites a 40-page monologue from the cross about the virtues of selfishness.

And that whole Matthew 15: 7-9 business

Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 
This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. 
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

goes right out the window.

Opiate of the Masses

This morning I spent 20 minutes on a jam-packed train with no A/C, sitting next to two religious nutcases who were loudly babbling nonstop about Jesus, Satan, the flu, police brutality, and other profound topics of the day. I was an Episcopalian in good standing when I boarded the train at DeKalb Avenue, I had become agnostic by Bedford Avenue, and I was a militant atheist by the time I got off the train at Union Square.

Did you know that you can spontaneously cure cancer with a positive attitude and faith in Jesus? Yes, it says so in the Bible. That should come as good news to my father, who is battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A bit too late for my three grandparents who have died from cancer, though. I guess their faith in Jesus just wasn’t strong enough.

I’m starting to think the medieval Roman Catholic Church had the right idea by making the Bible available only in Latin, and only allowing it to be read by an ordained priest during mass. Then maybe any slick-haired flim-flam artist wouldn’t be able to open his own storefront church and present his own warped biblical interpretation as infallible truth to a room full of gullible morons, while sucking them dry of their life savings. That’s the job of a properly-trained bishop consecrated in valid Apostolic Succession, and shouldn’t be left to incompetent amateurs.

Although I remain active in my own church, I’m increasingly finding myself in a love-hate relationship with religion in general and Christianity in particular. (The nice thing about being an Episcopalian is that nobody gives a damn what you believe about God, as long as you know the difference between a dinner fork and a salad fork.) At least you’ll never see a bunch of agnostics flying airplanes into skyscrapers.

PATH / HBLR / Hoboken Trip Report

Just thought I’d chime in with my own rundown of my Sunday in New York City…

I left Collingswood, NJ at about 8:30 AM in order to attend the 11:00 AM Eucharist at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights. My original plan was to park at Pavonia/Newport on the PATH line and then take PATH and the subway to the cathedral, but since I was running a bit late, I decided to take my chances and drive all the way into Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge. Amazingly enough, I found plenty of street parking on Amsterdam Avenue just a few blocks north of the cathedral. Being a Sunday, I didn’t even have to feed the meter. Certainly something to keep in mind for future visits.

This is going a bit off-topic, but the worship service at the Cathedral was incredible. That’s two worship services I’ve attended there so far, and both of them were incredibly beautiful and sprit-filled. I’m not sure if it’s the building or the music or whatever, but the only other place I’ve felt the same “vibe” was at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. For you Episcopalians out there — or anybody else from any other faith tradition — I highly recommend it. The Cathedral takes very seriously its charter of being a “house of prayer for all people”… The liturgy included a passage in Hebrew — “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai echad” (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord”) — and there’s a large Menorah on either side of the High Altar… Unusual for a Christian church, and very nice touches. If I lived just a little bit closer to NYC, I’d be at the Cathedral every Sunday morning in a heartbeat. (I’ve actually become somewhat involved with the Canterbury Club, the Episcopal student organization at UPenn, which meets at St. Mary’s Church on the UPenn campus.)

Anyway, back to my trip… After the service, I got back in my car, and attempted to find my was to the Holland Tunnel. I got over to Riverside Drive without any trouble, but I attempted to get onto Henry Hudson Parkway with no success. I actually found my on once, but I was going in the northbound direction. Not good. So I eventually circled around and simply took 11th Avenue all the way down to the tunnel. I had to stop for gas along the way, as running out of gas in the Holland Tunnel would have ruined my day very quickly. Full-service gasoline in Manhattan is almost as expensive as self-serve in Chicago.

I finally made my way to the Holland Tunnel, and it was stop-and-go traffic all the way to the New Jersey side. However, while in the tunnel, I saw something very interesting: There’s a little tram that goes along the left-hand side of the tunnel, presumably to transport PA employees from one end to the other. It actually runs on rails, and is just big enough for one person. I saw a guy using it to head back to NY as I was sitting in traffic. Very cool! Do any of the other NYC-area tunnels have similar features?

Once in New Jersey, I found the Pavonia/Newport PATH station without too much trouble, and parked my car in a nearby garage. This was the first time I’ve ever ridden PATH. My impressions? The stations were incredibly cramped and claustrophobic, and the trains were unremarkable. Not surprisingly, they’re very similar to the Orange Line and Blue Line trains on the MBTA. As has been mentioned elsewhere here, the side platform at Pavonia/Newport was off-limits due to construction.

Emerging at Hoboken Terminal, I soon found Doug “BMT Man” and Pelham Bay Dave, and hung out with them most of the rest of the day. We checked out the new ALP locomotive on display, as well as the new Comet coach before hitting the new segment of the HBLR line. The ALP locomotive was very sharp-looking, and the Comet coach looked pretty much like your standard-issue NJT coach with a few modern touches.

On to my first-ever ride on the HBLR. Not bad for me to explore two new transit systems in one day. My impressions: A very nice, clean system with very cool LRV railcars. My only complaint is that it seemed exceptionally slow in many areas. But then, I’m more used to rapid transit. As others have mentioned here, the new extension offers and incredible view of the NYC skyline and the rail yards leading into Hoboken Terminal. This was the first time I had gotten a real good view of the lower Manhattan skyline since 9/11, and it just doesn’t look right. Without the WTC, it actually doesn’t look much different than the bland Jersey City skyline. What a shame… How many more words can be said about that day?

Dave got off at Exchange Place, while Doug and I got off at Liberty State Park and transferred to another train and got off at MLK Drive. Doug showed me around a bit before we grabbed the next train back to Hoboken. Once back in Hoboken, we headed down to the PATH station. Being unfamiliar with PATH, I naturally followed Dough into the next outbound train, which happened to be going to 33rd Street. For some reason the distance between stops seemed much longer than it had been on the way in. I finally realized my mistake at Christopher Street, and got off there for a train bound for Journal Square. I finally got off at Pavonia/Newport, and jumped back onto the New Jersey Turnpike for an uneventful drive home.

It was nice meeting up with Doug and Dave, and I’m sorry I missed the rest of you who were there. Hopefully I’ll see you all up at Branford on October 13th.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

I Went to NYC Today!

First of all, I’ll just say that my new job here in New Jersey is going well so far. Wish me luck in hoping that keeps up.

Today I woke up around 9:30 AM, and for the first time in about two weeks, found myself bored. It was actually a very nice feeling: No stress, no worries. In fact, later on in the day I would realize this is probably the most stress-free I’ve been in many years, and certainly the past few months. I’ve got a nice place to live, I’ve got a decent-paying job that I don’t hate, I’ve left all my old emotional baggage behind in Chicago, today is a beautiful day, and I’ve got the use of the company car over the weekend. What to do, what to do…

I decided to spend the day in New York City. I suddenly realized that the coolest thing about living in New Jersey is that I can now do that. I can be in NYC within a couple hours whenever I damn feel like it. How cool is that? Before, I had to make plane and hotel reservations two weeks in advance, and then go through the ordeal of actually getting to New York from 800 miles away. Those days are now over, my friends.

After grabbing a bagel and some coffee in Collingswood, I drove up I-295 to Hamilton, where I caught a NJT train to NYC Penn Station. The ride into the city was uneventful, and I arrived around lunchtime. As I stood on the IRT subway platform at 34th Street, a huge grin spread across my face when I realized where I was. Other cities may come close, but no city has that certain vibe that New York City has.

I took a (3) train up to 96th Street, from where I walked up Broadway to Columbia University and poked around a bit before I grabbed a bite for lunch at a deli and headed over to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It had been over three years since my last visit to the Cathedral, so it certainly felt good to be back. As an architecture student, the Cathedral seems to stike a very deep chord in me. The immense building is still under construction — still only about 2/3 complete — and I think there’s something very sacred in the art of building. Sort of a metaphor for God’s unfinished work, I suppose.

I just happened to wander in just as a worship service was getting started, so I got a service bulletin and found a seat. It seemed like the right thing to do. Turns out the worship service was a special service in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Community of the Holy Spirit, a monastic order of women within the Episcopal Church that is based in the Upper West Side. Among the celebrants were two bishops of the Diocese of New York, so this was obviously a pretty big affair. The worship service and Eucharist were beautiful, combining the best of high-church Anglicanism with the Cathedral’s celebration of different cultures and mission for social justice. I only wish there was a church like this closer to Philadelphia, but the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is obviously one-of-a-kind. If nothing else, it certainly confirmed my decision to join an Episcopal church here. (My religious background is primarily Presbyterian.) During the reception after the mass, I was even able to chat a bit with each of the bishops. They seem like nice guys.

Leaving the Cathedral, I boarded a very crowded southbound (1) train at 110th, and then transferred to a nearly-empty (3) express train at 96th to Times Square. From there I walked over to Rockefeller Center and up Fifth Avenue a few blocks. By now it was getting later in the day, so I decided to head down to Coney Island and have some fun before going home. I boarded a southbound (F) train at 57th Street, and the ride was uneventful until we got to West 8th. At West 8th, the train stood in the station for an incredibly long period of time with no anouncement. After a bit of waiting, I decided to just leave the train and walk the rest of the way to Stillwell. However, a (Q) train rumbled in on the track above, so I dashed up the steps and took that train the rest of the way to Coney Island.

Once at Coney Island, I had a fine dinner at Nathan’s, and then spent the next couple hours wandering around the place, riding the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone in the process. I also swung by the B&B Carousell and was pleased to see it in operation. What a gem that is. Once again, it was nice to see Coney Island full of life, and to feel like a kid again for a couple hours.

Now the sun was down and it was getting late, so I headed over to Stillwell to grab a (Q) train back into Manhattan. It occurred to me that this was the last day for (Q) and (F) service to Stillwell for the next two years, and my (Q) train was probably one of the last ones to leave the station until 2004. Crews were already installing updated signage at Stillwell as I passed through the turnstiles.

The trip on the Brighton Line was relaxed and uneventful, and the ride across the bridge was a nice treat. It had probably been about two years since the last time I had ridden across the Manhattan Bridge, and that was on the north track. Once in Manhattan, the (Q) train took the Broadway express track. In the vincinity of Prince Street or thereabouts, we came alongside a northbound (R) train on the local track, and our two trains ran side-by-side for a short period. Sitting directly alongside my window on the (R) train was a rather attractive young lady who smiled at me and blew me a kiss before her train slowed down to make the next local stop.

So I did the only natural and proper thing. I jumped up and pulled the cord, pried the door open, and climbed across the tracks and boarded the (R) train and made passionate love to her right then and there.

Okay, I didn’t do that. But that sounds much more interesting than, “I awkwardly smiled back and briefly debated getting off my train at Union Square and waiting for her train to show up in hopes that she’d still be on board, assuming I could even figure out which car she was in.”

I got off at 34th Street, and walked from there over to Penn Station where I waited for the NJT 10:14 Trenton local. They eventually announced our track number and pointed out that both the east and west gates would be boarding. So myself and about a million other people headed down through the east gate, only to be met by a train with closed doors. After what seemed like a lot of waiting, we finally relaized that the front half of the train was boarding, and the rear half was closed despite the announcement to the contrary. So we all rushed up to the front of the train and managed to squeeze ourselves on board. I continued walking up to the front car and by some miracle, found myself a decent window seat with no screaming infants within earshot. The train was held at Newark Penn for a few minutes while an unruly passenger was removed by the police, and the rest of the trip was uneventful. I was back home in Collingswood within two hours.

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos to share, as I was determined not to be burdened by carrying around any cameras or bags.

Like I said, I’m still getting used to the idea of being able to head off to NYC on a whim like that. Up until now it may as well have been in a foreign country. I’m looking forward to many happy returns.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

Heartbreaking: Another NYC Landmark in Flames

I found out this morning that the Cathedral of St. John the Divine sustained heavy fire damage to the gift shop area. Luckily, there were no injuries, and the nave and the stained glass windows appear undamaged. Along with the WTC, the Cathedral was one of the landmarks I visited on my first-ever trip to NYC, and I’ve made a point to get back there at least once during each of my subsequent visits. Heartbreaking.

When New Years rolls around in a couple weeks, I’m sure we’ll all be happy to say good riddance to 2001.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)