A new art craze hit the streets of New York. In a city, which inspired artists from Jean-Michel Basquiat to Keith Harring, this art was more shocking than anything produced in Andy Warhol’s factory.
Crucifixes made from ashes adorned (on lent/Ash Wednesday) the foreheads of everyone from businessmen to bicycle messengers. ” Wow, is religion the new craze hitting the cynical sidewalks?” I thought to myself. Being less than spiritual, I skipped church and took part in one very significant ritual, the art of brunching.
I met my Downtown gal pals at our favorite brunch spot on St. Marks Place & Second. It’s the kind of place where scruffy meets disheveled in the most high fashion kind of way. At the brunch table, we talked about only in New York woes and triumphs. As our down home yet chic plate came by, my gal pals talked about escaping the icy cold Manhattan winter. The conversation went something like this:
Downtown gal pal: We’re going to Punta Cana.
Me: Oh that’s the most ideal snowbird destination.
Downtown gal pal: Wait, I can’t go this Friday.
Me: Why not?
Downtown gal pal: Yeah, I am meeting with my rabbi
Downtown gal pal: Oh I didn’t tell you I am going Jewish.
Downtown gal pal: It’s been going well, best part I am going to be a Goldberg. My ex is letting me use his last name.
Me: Where are you converting?
Downtown gal pal: the premiere, most well connected synagogue in the city, right on Fifth Avenue.
Me: Wow, I am a gentile, but jealous, now you can celebrate Chanukah.
Downtown gal pal: I know, so looking forward to Chabad dinners.
I have friends who have converted to Buddhism and enjoy the chanting process. While other friends have had a more cynical view and only go to church for weddings & funerals.
After pondering deep important questions of the day like “should I have a black and white cookie for dessert? I received an email from my friend Melinda. In the email she stated “visit my church’s New York branch, it’s gay affirming.” I replied, “Sure, thanks.” Church was a foreign concept for me, even though I grew up in the Catholic school system. As an adult, I only stepped foot in churches, while playing tourist in Europe.
With that said, I took a chance and agreed to go. Two subway trains later, I was on the Upper West Side. In the deep grey and traffic of 96th and Broadway, I walked out of the station feeling hesitant. Going to church (even a gay friendly) felt very out of my comfort zone. The church was housed in an old & majestic building.
Like New York, it was filled with cultural diversity. Old intellectual hippies, dapper men with blazers and glasses, families, gay couples, singletons and faces representing every ethnicity characterized the congregation. As the choir sang, everyone followed. I stood silent. There was something corny about singing along to church songs.
Soon, I experienced culture shock. People were talking to me saying hello and asking me if I was new to the congregation. After an hour church service, I not only had a great hour of people watching, but met new friends. I walked out feeling less cynical, mostly due to the sense of community felt during the service. I didn’t have a religious, life changing moment. However, I experienced something new and felt a little worldlier because of it.