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White Elephant, White Couch, Pink Tissues

VictorsCouchAtWorkSo I went to a Winter Solstice Yankee Trade (aka White Elephant) at All Souls a few weeks ago, before Christmas, and I ended up with the most adorable gift. It's my couch home away from home. I thought I'd bring it to the office, since I don't have tissues (and because I think Heather would hate seeing it in our apartment), and I declare I've made a great decision – my colleagues love it! It has become the greatest conversational piece in my cube-city. People come over to give their respects to this home-made couch. F-, the co-worker who took the picture, is thinking about giving me a Barbie for it. I told her she has to be one that wears a power-pin-stripe skirt suit, you know, to match my ambition and gusto... How about that crochet work, eh!

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Stories

A Praying Mantis and a Penny

Walking from the subway station at East 116th Street and Lexington Avenue, we came upon a penny. I picked it up. Into my pocket it went. Two seconds later we saw a praying mantis. Unlike the ones on TV of green color, this praying mantis was white. She came on to my leg. I picked it from my leg and set it on the patch that contained a tree. I could have set it on the flowers that were being sold on the street, but the vendors would not have appreciated my action and they would have killed her outright, and they would have asked, “what the hell are you doing to my flowers – if you’re putting bugs on them, buy them!” And I wasn’t interested in buying. All this happened in 3 minutes, and it took place at East 116th Street and Lexington Avenue. We have wildlife in the ghetto. And a penny. That I kept. The mantis, she’s still trying to camouflage herself in the concrete jungle.

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Reflections

Unitarian Universalist General Assembly 2011: Reflections

I. What GA and governance mean to me

II. Sharing my book with the wider UU world

III. Outside the Charlotte Convention Center


I: What GA and governance mean to me

I participated in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) General Assembly (GA) in Charlotte, North Carolina, for three days, from Friday to Sunday (June 24-26), but in such a small timeframe, I felt the power of transformation and experienced the promise of our faith. This is my second GA. Prior to going to the 2009 GA at the Salt Lake City, I was innocent. I did not really appreciate what it meant to be a Unitarian Universalist. It was there that I learned that our faith demands our full participation – it reaffirmed that we UUs believe and that our denomination keeps us mindful that we are part of something bigger than just All Souls, NYC. This time in Charlotte, I was reminded by our fellow UU friends that as I am a trustee at one of our congregations, I carry serious responsibility. I am a lay leader. As such, my job for the time being on the board of All Souls is to facilitate the ministry of the laity, but it will not end in 2012 when my term expires, for we Unitarian Universalists (UUs) are about Congregational Polity, so my responsibility is to be shared by all our congregants, board members and ministers.

As our Moderator, Gini Courter, explained, there are 3 basic ways religion is organized:

1) Episcopalian – the clergy is vested with authority for ruling everything. It is a top-down approach, whereby the church-goers receive the religious vision of the clergy.

2) Presbyterian – the clergy select clergy-approved laity and they both make the decision. By clergy-approved laity, we mean that the clergy has selected the laity with which to make decisions.

3) Congregational Polity – “There is no higher up. There is only deeper down.” The religious vision comes from the people. This is the model of Unitarian Universalism and what sets us apart from most of the religious movements around the world.

Gini reminded us who makes the vision of where Unitarian Universalim goes, whether at our churches or as a whole UUA. It is us. The authority does not come from the senior minister, nor from the board, but congregational polity is a right that is shared by all of us who attend our churches.

This becomes a tricky issue when we, congregants, church-goers, forget that we have this responsibility, but we let our leaders decide everything without questioning the reasons for their actions by either not going to the annual or budget meetings or throwing up our arms saying “forget about this church.” We must take ownership, all of us. And, congregants not taking ownership do not excuse the leaders for making unilateral decisions, for they must remember that acting without the consent of the governed is not following congregational polity. The best interests of the church cannot be pushed by one leader without the full participation and support of the congregation. In the ideal, the means cannot justify the ends, specifically if the means alienate the congregants. Don’t misunderstand: it’s not so much about pleasing others as much as it is about including everybody on the discussion table, so that our process affirms our fourth principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. 

Everybody should read the by-laws at their congregations. Everybody needs to be involved. There is no special privilege. We are not a corporation. We are a church and not one with a Pope or a Salt Lake City passing down the Way. One leader’s voice, however perfect and seemingly valid it may be, is not the accurate representation of our people. We are individuals, but we are in a community. Let us remember we do religion together, not alone. We are all in the Mothership.

We yearn for diversity, but we will never fully achieve it, if do not drop our heady rhetoric and get down and speak religion with our hearts. A great friend told me that the problem with Unitarian Universalism is that it is up in our heads. She is right. Religion, like UUA President Peter Morales said, is about what we give our hearts to. That being the case, let us embrace the concept fully: Don’t knock down God, but don’t let God be the only One, for we are Many. And let us sing and praise That Mystery in all the forms. I wish we had the ‘Teal’ supplemental hymnal at All Souls (smaller congregations, I envy you). The heady rhetoric doesn’t just stop with music – it also means accepting the one different. Do we really believe we accept diversity or do we prefer to have someone who agrees with us? We forget that diversity goes beyond ethnicity. We will not have rich diversity of ethnicity if we cannot accept differences of perspective, style, class or politics.

Even with all the challenges we face as a religion, GA is the event that re-charges my UU-batteries, and I am grateful to take part.

II. Sharing my book with the wider UU worldIMG_4308

During GA, the UUA Bookstore sold my book about the architectural history of All Souls, NYC! The head of the bookstore offered a book signing table for me. I was happy to accept. I had a successful day, selling over 50% of my inventory – this helped greatly when it came time to pack our suitcases on our way from Charlotte! It is rewarding to know your book is appreciated and is being read by folks even outside of All Souls! Yay!

III. Outside the Charlotte Convention Center

Being at GA is very time-consuming. It’s a day that starts at 7am with a loaded schedule that ends around 10pm, and after that you have your choice to go partying with your UU buddies at the local bars and restaurants. For any first-timers, my advice is you have to manage your time and be judicious about which workshops you attend because you will not be able to do everything, so you have to pace yourself.

In addition, a trip outside the convention center is most warranted: You gotta see the surroundings, or at least try. One event that invites your participation to engage with the world outside the convention center is the action Public Witness. This time, in Charlotte, our event was the rally Standing on the Side of Love with LGBT People Everywhere! 

IMG_4144RallyVHWe marched from the Convention Center to Marshall Park, on East Third Street. There we joined together to profess our support for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people, not just for heterosexuals (if happiness can mean marriage, as one quirky reverend reminded me). We were protesting the current state of affairs in North Carolina. The state’s legislature has introduced proposals to ban marriage equality—as well as civil unions or any legal relationship between same-sex couples—and could reach the ballot in November. In addition, we bore witness to members of the UU Church of Kampala, Uganda, who are leading efforts to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from violence. IMG_4147

We were so full of energy as we gathered and marched on with our gold shirts and banners, Standing on the Side of Love. We made the cover of The Charlotte Observer, as the headline read “Liberal denomination stands up for its causes.” It was a success.

That was on Saturday afternoon (June 25, 2011, a great date for New York).

On our way to Marshal Park, as we marched on East 3rd Street, we passed the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The next day, I went. It was one of the best things I did, while in Charlotte. NASCAR stands for The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.

The NASCAR story is authentic American. In the olden days of prohibition, alcohol was a hot underground commodity. Did you ever wonder how the Appalachian bootleggers got IMG_4182their moonshine across the United States? Drivers would take their whiskey in small, fast cars. The cars had to be light and fast to outrun the police that were behind their trail. After Prohibition, what else to do with all these fast cars…in American reuse fashion…let’s race them… The story of NASCAR is embedded in the roots of the evolving story of America...

I took plenty of pictures. Here’s the 1939 Ford Coupe as driven by Red Byron - this '39 coupe won NASCAR's first
race on February 15, 1948. It has a flathead V-8 engine. Prewar Fords were
popular with early NASCAR drivers.

The Hall of Fame was impressive. It’s got plenty exhibits that are interactive. It culminates with a simulated drive, which I took part in, and even if I didn’t win, it sure was fun!

To conclude, here are a few photographs:

IMG_4156Celebrating with our All Souls Friends! The dinner & drinks!
IMG_4155

IMG_4332
Chillin’ inside “Cat” by Niki De Saint Phalle, 1999,
at the plaza in front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

IMG_5331
In front of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wilmington, NC

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All Souls Book | Reflections | All Souls

I am performing tomorrow!!

When: Sunday, April 3rd, 2011, 10AM EST
Where: Reidy Friendship Hall, All Souls Church, E 80th & Lexington Avenue
Who: Victor Fidel is speaking and will thrill!

Details:
Come and learn about the historic architectural journey of All Souls Church: All Souls is the oldest Unitarian congregation in New York City, having been founded in 1819. During its long tenure the congregation has moved three times, been housed in four different buildings, and been known by three different names. What happened to those previous buildings? What kind of architecture did they represent? How did All Souls move throughout some of Manhattan’s historic neighborhoods? What does it say about New York and this congregation? All Souls’ gradual uptown migration merit’s a fresh investigation as a part of urban architectural history.

For other events, check out the All Souls Bulletin!

About the book: http://www.victorfidel.com/page/allsoulsbook.aspx

Thank you so much for your love & support!

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All Souls Book | Events | All Souls

The Book Launch Party Was A Success! Thank You For Coming!

Dear Friends, I would like to thank you so much for your support. My first ever book launch party was a success thanks to you. I just wanted to share some photos (Thank you Rubin for bringing your camera and shooting!). Here’s a mini-pictography:

Victor about to sign

Getting ready to sign the first Autograph of the evening. It’s a rush!

02 Derek, Heather, food

Look at one of our food tables; Heather and I got the goods from Pathmark on E 125th St! Grapes, shrimp, delectable cold-cuts and more…

03 Girls having fun

Smiles, beauty, happy times…and chilled wine on the cups!

01 Victor signs

Back to signing! And with my signature Teal marker!

Discussion ensued

Discussion ensued on some of the controversial topics of this masterpiece.

Forrest presides over food

The Great Forrest Church presides over the victuals; he always knows a good party.
The corned beef was a big hit as was the pepper-jack cheese!

Victor signing

Victor back to signing, this time for Valorie Dawson, a fellow author,
always a pleasure to sign for another author.

We got a good crowd

We had a good turn-out!
There was a moment when there was a line out the door, I was told!

Discussion of book

Sitting, dining and flipping the pages!!

09 Maria

With Maria and Dave. Say cheese!

10 VictorMelaneyRubin

A classic picture. Here we are: The distinguished Melaney Mashburn smiles in the middle. The famed musician Rubin Ben holds my book. And I am holding Rubin Ben’s CD album, It’s All In My Head, that he just released. We produced our works of art at the same time, so I consider him, my artful brother.

I will be doing a talk on Sunday, April 3rd, 2011, 10am, All Souls Church, E 80th & Lexington Avenue, part of All Souls Adult Education, where I will discuss the book. Feel free to come! For more information on this work of love, please feel free to click here: http://www.victorfidel.com/page/allsoulsbook.aspx

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Events

Book Launch Party

Come join me in celebrating the launch of my new book: The Quest for Religious and Community Identity: The Story Behind the Architecture and Evolution of All Souls Church, New York City. Books will be available for purchase with proceeds benefiting All Souls Church. Light refreshments. Bring your book for signing.

Details:
Time/Date: Thursday, March 3, 2011, 6:15pm and onwards
Location: All Souls Church, The Ware Room
Address: East 80th & Lexington Avenue, New York, NY

About the book: http://www.victorfidel.com/page/allsoulsbook.aspx

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Events

Special Book Soirée Party

Should you make me a blessed soul by purchasing my book by February 28, 2011, you will be invited to a special soirée at my home in Manhattan. For those of you who have purchased a copy prior to today, you are invited automatically – I am not greedy!

You may purchase the book at: http://www.victorfidel.com/page/allsoulsbook.aspx

Of course, you will have to have proof that you bought my book. Here’s how you can prove that:

1) You can show it to me. The benefit of which being that I will autograph it, should you allow me the pleasure.

OR

2) You can send me a copy of your email receipt.

I am looking forward to hosting you in our hut in New York City.

Remember, the deadline for this special invitation is February 28, 2011. So buy now!!

Blessed be.

-VF

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Events

My wife’s from Pittsburgh…but…I’m a New Yorker!

And I root for the underdog in about any contest…yet, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the authentic and original reason I started following the United States version of the sport titled “football”. You can only appreciate a sport if you understand it. Isn’t that the case with anything under the sun and beyond the stars? American football is a rush and a break. A break and then a rush. It’s got mad action and the stuff of soulful drama. It makes us bold and strong…and humbles us. The main event’s commercials are the best. No doubt about it. Victoria’s Secret, Hyundai, Doritos, Coke, Budweiser and GoDaddy.com have made fabulous contributions. But, let’s get back to the game: Watching a quarterback make a successful throw, the cause of which results in having a receiver complete an immaculate catch at the end-zone is the stuff of what dreams want to become…does it get better than this? Of course, but it feels darn awesome when your team does it!

The New York Jets, who practice in Long Island, and for games share a stadium with another New York team in The Garden State, have come farthest than any other team in American football history, by this amateur writer/spectator’s inexperienced eyes. Beating Eli Manning’s brother one week and the metrosexual Brady the week after, re-deeming themselves and beating the odds – masters of hope, leaving behind the cinders when no-one gave them a chance... I guess it’s too bad last Sunday’s game wasn’t the Super Bowl, but it could have been for the spirit of some. Yes, it was really spectacular.

But it ain’t over, is it? Two more successful games and the New York Jets can bring the Vince Lombardi trophy to Gotham. It’s almost too much to think that far. Especially when you still have another team that wants this victory just as much: The Pittsburgh Steelers. There’s a team with more soul than other teams. I may be biased, but that’s a team that has real heart. Not to say anything lackluster about the Pats or the Colts, but playing the Steelers in Iron City, in a play-off game, is I think, a harder challenge than playing Mr. Brady in New England. I only say it because Pittsburgh is really a football town. Really! Those terrible towels are the stuff of real Terror for anyone who’s not Black and Gold.

New York Jets, you are underdogs and I am with you. It’s a good thing my wife is forgiving, as is her family, who revealed to me the passion of the game. She’s a Pittsburgher, and with many rights to. After all, if it wasn’t for the Steelers, she may not be here. Her parents’ first date was at Three Rivers Stadium. Steeler blood runs really black and gold in Steel Country. It is one of the city’s many prides, perhaps the most stark of all. How/Why do you think the city’s team has won 6 Super Bowls? 

Gang Green has a real uphill battle…but, I am a New Yorker, and darn proud to be so, and I really love it when David defeats Goliath! This is my adopted country and I’m making the best in the Empire State. Can you hear Sinatra and Jay-Z in my voice…and don’t you forget Billy Joel…! Heather accurately said that I am a lover of the local, the present being where my heart is, and my heart is with you, who bring me passion and take my taxes: Gotham.

Make no mistake though: Should the Steelers win, they better win the Super Bowl, as that is the team that introduced me to American Football.

But for now, I’m in a New York state of Mind…

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Reflections

Cat Owners’ Genesis

Let’s start from the beginning, for before there was anything that existed of this subject, there was the Word. And the word was Mouse (or Mice, rather accurately). Mice freely came to our apartment in East Harlem, New York City. For folks outside Gotham or urban centers, it may sound shocking. For New Yorkers of humble means: “What else is new, right?!” Vermin are just…vermin. But, Heather and I got really sick of them. We tried traps. They only work so long as you can keep on changing them, and mice reproduce so quickly that it’s a never-ending war. We tried sealing holes. They work but somehow, there’s always a an opening somewhere you can’t figure out. I mean, especially when you have mice who dislocate their bones to go into tight spaces.

I said to Heather, “We need to borrow a cat.”

She said, “What?! Who’s going to let you borrow their cat?!” I said, how about C-, he’s a nice guy who has a cat. We asked C-, a real fine gentleman friend from our church, All Souls. He agreed to do so for a week and would have lent him for more, but we knew to not be gauche. He lent us Rorty, named after a famed theologian (C- got his PhD in Theology, so he knows these things). Rorty was a wonder. He is of large and cuddle size. When I say cuddle I don’t lie; he let himself be picked up and caressed, and he laid with us when we slept, by my legs, in fact. He also enjoyed laying on the thresholds, by door opening corners, having liminal feline meditations. An intellectual is he.

Rorty et HeatherIt only took hours for Rorty to find and hunt the mice…and lick them to “death”. Though, I am not a necrophiliac nor have homocidephilia, I was glad to see Rorty on the attack. It was like watching a National Geographic video, but in the live. It was most amazing how these domestic creatures have not lost their hunter instincts. He got rid of our vermin.

I fell in love with the cat’s hunting spirit, but what I had not realized until afterward was that I fell in love with petting Rorty – that was a bonus that made a difference in having his visit.

We gave Rorty back to C-, as the week had passed by.

Months passed, as they do when you take notice. No mice. Didn’t miss them! Yet, we missed something, didn’t we? Yes. No cuddling creature!

Now, I had grown up with animals. I was raised in my grandparents’ farm in El Salvador until I was about 5 years old. Animals were always about me, cows, sheep, horses, roosters, chickens, goats, rabbits, spiders, frogs, ants, dogs…but I never actually slept with one. Yes, it does sound silly, but I never experienced the “petting” needs of an animal or a human. I only came to realize that here, of all places, the concrete jungle of New York, and with a borrowed cat, nonetheless. I guess everything is possible in New York City, after all!

Well, two weeks ago, Heather got an email titled “25 Cats of X-mass”, a promotion from Bideawee, a humane organization that provides shelter, care and compassion to homeless animals. The promotion entitled a prospective adoptive parent the benefits of owning an older cat with no adoption fee and a free year of vet-care. We said, “Well, this is a no-brainer, is it?!”

We went to the Bideawee on East 38th Street, between First Avenue and FDR Drive. So many cute cats to see. The promo was to get older cats into people’s homes. The fact is that most future-cat-owners are looking for kitties. Me being innocent about the process didn’t understand the intricacies of what this meant; I only found out a few weeks ago that 18 years is equivalent to old in cat-age.

So many cute cats (again), we saw. There was Sundance, the playful tiger-cat. K- from Bideawee said that would be a great cat for someone who was looking for a dog as he was huge and loved to be rough-and-tumble, great to play with, but would be a teenager, getting on top of tables knocking your dishes and cutlery, and requiring discipline – it was appealing actually, but the bigger requirement was cuddling for us. There was Twilight, a dark-haired sweetie that enjoyed being the center of attention. Such soft fur had he. There was Diane, who scratched me when I pet her head. I thought, maybe not her. There was Carly, who had these distinctive spots on her face. She was sweet, but shy. We saw Opie upstairs, and she hissed at us, which was attractive in an interesting way, but didn’t hit the spot. They were all adorable, but we hadn’t found the one. And then…they showed us Jeena.

01It was automatic chemistry between us three. They had her in a cage because she couldn’t be with the other cats. She came out and instantly came on to my lap. I proceeded to pet her back and head, which she was very happy to accept, giving us the kitty-closed-eyes look of, “gimme more.” Heather said, "I think somebody's in love.” Heather could have been talking about all three of us. She's a major cuddler—one of our requirements!

Her personal story is quite sad but hopeful. She was found in a dumpster in a bag with toxic chemicals—she had 2nd and 3rd Degree burns. The Department of Animal Care & Control thought about putting her to sleep because she was in much suffering, especially with the burns, but they called Bideawee and asked them if they could treat her for the chemical burns. Bideawee said, Yes! The staff at the shelter saved and rehabilitated her, and they did a fine job. Distinctive white hair has grown in the scars she had. And she trusts people—she’s quite social with our species. It’s really amazing the work that the folks at Bideawee did. In any case, she's a Bombay mix; her birthdate is April ‘07, and her name “Jeena,” means Survivor in Hindi, which we find appropriate and cute, so we are letting her keep her name (as if we would have a choice!).

We brought her home last Thursday and she has taken to love our little apartment, but more than anything, she can’t get enough of our petting, just as we can’t get enough either. I’m satisfied to say that she’ll be included in my bio for my first book; I should have known there was a reason for the publishing delay.

This is the story of our cat-owning genesis. Heather and I are happy to report that the new word is Cat. Amen and Blessed be.

03

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Reflections | Cat~egory

I love you everyday, especially on the weekend

You licked my spoon

I tasted your fork

You fed me carrots and I got you some asparagus

We fit into our little kitchen

The skies outside our window let us see some blue

You read to me at night

The next morning, I woke you up for a quickie

We went back to sleep

We got up

Then I made you some ciabatta

While you made me a cappuccino

American songbook on the radio

And the sun decided it was time to wound its twilight

Good night, my dear

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Reflections | Poetry