Archives for posts with tag: density

A few years ago my daughter Kirsten gave me this Matteo Pericoli book.

It sits on the shelf near my writing table.  On the other side is a window facing the alley.  It is my window view just as Pericoli’s line drawings present window views from the apartments of 63 notable New Yorkers who also give a few words about what their windows reveal.  Rosanne Cash, David Byrne, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Junot Diaz.  IMG_4144

From my table I can look into much of our neighbor’s backyard.  Last night I looked up from reading and saw a little girl in that yard just as she looked up from play and saw me.  It’s a bit unnerving to see another person see you.  We both looked away.

Paul Goldberger writes in his introduction to The City Out My Window that the drawings and statements give “to some extent, a comment about privacy, and the tension between public and private life that is an essential element of city existence.”  I find it so.

The front room of our home faces the street.  I enjoy watching the street scene out of the window.  A beautiful sycamore tree.  The tower of St Francis a quarter mile away.  Brick buildings across the street in sunlight by day and streetlight by night.  And people walking along the sidewalk that is no more than ten feet away from our window.  Sometimes we happen to see each other seeing each other.  I hear their conversations, St Francis’ clock bell on the quarter hours, the wind rustling the sycamore.

Upstairs our window faces the same direction as the window by my writing table.  But from it I never view neighbors.  It provides a static scene of buildings in which only the weather is changeable.  IMG_4141

Just now.  St Francis tolls nine bells.

Within the hour, before I climb upstairs, I will look at the bell tower.  It and the sycamore and the night lit brick walls will serve as my urban ‘Good Night Moon’.

My city view will help bring closure for the day.  Just as does the setting sun in an outdoors life.





The Detroit Free Press relayed a 24/7 Wall St. blog post reporting Detroit is on the list of US cities where people now drive less.

According to a study by Michael Sivak, a research professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the growth in households without a vehicle provides evidence that Americans are less dependent on cars than in the past. Sivak’s research also indicates that, per capita, Americans own fewer vehicles, drive fewer miles, and consume less fuel. While the number of households without a car rose nationwide, from 8.7% in 2007 to 9.2% in 2012, figures by city differ dramatically.

Which American cities have the highest numbers using public transportation, walking?  In the Midwest:  Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee rank highest.  Conspicuously absent from the list:  cities from the South.  New York City:  over half of NYC households do not own an automobile.

What’s fueling this trend?  Urban layout, walkability and access to quality public transportation.  Important factors in cities becoming less motorized.

detroit traffic

I have a recent recording by Canadian singer Elizabeth Shepherd of songs from the mid 20th century.  Including Lonely House by Langston Hughes and Kurt Weill.  I am a longtime fan of Weill.  The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogonny.  Die seben Todsunden.  Gibbering void and all that.

Kurt Weill

The song is not sung from a country road with neighbors far apart.  Rather, from the city.  With all those folks around.  It sings of urban density which seems to beget social distance, but even more so an emotional distance.  The reverse of community.  An unsought hyper individualism.  Not so far removed from the unhealthy individualism of the religion critiqued by Bonhoeffer.

Such lonliness is suffocating.  The song is a cry.  A shriek.

At night when everything is quiet
This old house seems to breathe a sigh
Sometimes I hear a neighbor snoring
Sometimes I can hear a baby cry

Sometimes I can hear a staircase creaking
Sometimes a distant telephone
Oh, and when the night settles down again
This old house and I are all alone

Lonely house, lonely me
Funny with so many neighbors
How lonesome you can be

Lonely town, lonely street
Funny, you can be so lonely
With all these folks around

I guess there must be something
I don’t comprehend
Sparrows have companions
Even stray dogs have a friend

The night for me is not romantic
Unhook the stars and take them down
I’m lonely in this lonely town, in this lonely house


Ahhh! Klinkenborg gone from the NY Times?

It is a loss for New Yorkers and any who love urban life and yet require a balanced diet which includes landscapes, farms and weather. One sees a lot in the city, but is it true that a person is far-seeing only when out of the city?  (I’m not sure suburbs count)  In places like Klinkenborg’s countryside?

But if a person cannot leave the city, where?

The art museum, Central Park and Millennium Park, concert venue, coffee shop.  For me, riding the L in Chicago (during safe daytime hours) to see the city on wide-screen.  In these places we find solitude and an expanded perspective of where and what we are.

There are ways for a person to find salvation in the city.

We are liking our Sunday mornings when in town. We drive from suburban West County, east on I-64 (US 40 if you are that way about it), cross the Mississippi into Illinois, stick with 64 as it veers east, taking us to the St Clair exit into East St Louis.

We are Soldiers of the Salvation Army corps in East St Louis.

Our corps officer is Lieutenant AJ Zachery.  He is the Sunday morning preacher for a small gathering of mostly young people who have found church at Salvation Army.

We meet in a Salvation Army building built in 1960 –  East St Louis corps building plaque

Back then they called it a citadel.  War, yes, but more of a quick-get-in-here place of safety.  The way things are these days in East St Louis …

A few of our colleagues and peers understand our choosing this small corps in a rough place as our place.  To worship.  But most everyone else, they don’t.

For us such places have a gritty charm.   Next door to the corps building –

Way Bigga Burger


Way Bigga Burger 2



Way Bigga Burger 4Sometime in the next few weeks we will begin having a shorter commute.  Instead of driving from somewhere close to the Missouri River in west St Louis County, our trip to church will originate from the city of St Louis.  Our new living quarters will mean a 5 minute trip to work instead of 30, 45 or more.  It will mean that we once again become city dwellers instead of suburbanites.  Living in a place of density and diversity.  Where we will move from is not.

Some understand why.  Others don’t.

Several weeks ago I stopped at a corner a few blocks north of downtown St Louis and snapped this photo.

St Louis Skyline   November 2013

I like the way the city looks open here.  Streets at this intersection give a sense of urban fabric stretched.  The Arch and distant skyscrapers dwarfed by a wide expanse of sky.  Buildings nearby low, bowing to the sky above.  The lonely traffic signal standing duty while brethren poles scatter, distant and silent.

The typically high density city has broken open allowing its dwellers who have eyes to see it framed by space, solitude.

It is a view which gives respite for a moment from the city.  That moment may be all that’s necessary for a person in the next moment to re-enter urban life.

St Louis - West View from BOA Plaza

Noon in the Bank of America Plaza. Interior spaciousness contrasts with the filled urban exterior. But both share stillness. Empty of people. Is it possible here, inside and out, for a person to practice God’s presence?

Johnnie Footman died this year in New York City.  video-opdoc-spider-articleLarge

The oldest cab driver in NYC.

Here’s Joshua Z. Weinstein’s New York Times video of Spider recounting something of his experience and of his fellow cabbies.  Absolutely charming, the video and the man.

In a number of ways Chuck Wright and I are quite unalike.

Friendship may be likely between those most alike.  I believe that I am blessed with many such friends.  But how poor we would be if friendship were only possible between those with common interests, views, backgrounds.

Chuck and I have been friends a long time.  As unalike as we might be, we do share some common tastes.  For instance, Miles Davis.

A couple years ago we sat one evening listening to music from several albums Chuck had brought along on one of his personal retreats.  I say ‘retreat’.  Don’t be misled.  There is little luxurious to a Chuck Wright retreat.  But he is not all spartan.  A fine coffee.  And Miles Davis.

My current Miles Davis fixation:  Blue in Green.   All week I have been listening to this cut from Davis’ 1959 Kind of Blue album.  LP.  Why?

There’s no knowing why a piece of music decides to speak to a person.  But I feel it speaks, saying something to an individual aware of a world grown more dense with humanity, complex beyond grasp, seeming to be more uncertain than it once was to us in our youth.  The music acknowledges this world.  And gives voice to its individuals.  Such as Chuck.  And me.

C Wright

Chuck dancing with his daughter Liz at her wedding.


I really shouldn’t be doing this.  I have a day job.  I try to limit blog posting to my non-work work hours.

This is the situation faced by many of us who are Salvation Army officers.  As an ordained minister we feed the poor, go to city hall, clean the tables, pray with a dying parishioner, examine the financial reports.  Then, in the evening, on Saturday morning if we aren’t still working, we prepare sermons, Bible studies, and pray as we stare into the darkening corners of a room at home.

But a scrap of paper scribbled with

‘the Ministry of Engagement’

Under it are other words –

   ‘singletons‘               ‘isolation in the midst of density’           ‘alienation’               ‘racism’              ‘exclusion’

with an arrow pointing to


which has a big arrow circling from under that word back to ‘the Ministry of Engagement’.

Wouldn’t that catch our attention if we walked past the complex of buildings in our government centers and saw Ministry of Engagement on signage in front of an impressive edifice?  The name has a sort of Harry Potterish sound.  To some maybe Orwellian.

At the end of my scribbling of words on this scrap of green paper (insert from a Sunday worship service; I recycle immediately) is one last set of words.

‘dystopian’  ‘Batman’    ‘worldview’

‘Christian anarchy’        ‘isolating’   ‘Ellul’

These final six words are all clumped together.  And what they represented to me during a worship service (my Rorschach test) was the condition presented to dwellers of cities.  Humans in cities, in the thick density of humanity, are alone.  And while I am not convinced that being alone and loneliness are necessarily the same thing, some of the city’s alone struggle to stave off loneliness.  If you are part of a family living there.  If you have resources that enable you to be part of something other than your own lonesome self.

But even if at the moment you are family, are part of something more than just you, you are yet surrounded by a deep, complex sea of humanity and all its wonderful yet bewildering structures.  Look up.  From the base of the Willis Tower, CN Tower, Tokyo Sky Tree.

The Ministry of Engagement doesn’t exist.  At the government complex.  But our cities yearn for the Ministry.  Drawing people together.

Last night, Gail and I waited for an appointment in the city.  Early, way early.  So we found the Starbucks and sat with good hot coffee on a cold Chicago night, our first of the season with snow in the air, with people.  We read, caught up on work.  But we were with fellow human beings.  Lots of them doing the same thing.  Alone together.

As a minister of the gospel in the city, in places where there are lots of people, I need to find the ways that bring presence, companionship, warmth of being with others.  That there is a place for every person in this world so loved by God.

Here’s my favorite quote from one of the first leaders of our Salvation Army.  It is 1878 and George Scott Railton is trying to defend our movement against criticism that it will become just another strange religious institution –

say many of our critics … you will become another sect.  What is a sect if not an association of people who separate from others for some reasons and purpose of their own?  But here is a vast organization of people moving at command to get closer and closer relationship to everybody.

Loneliness is especially painful surrounded by so many.  The business of our Army is salvation.  On the go, giving so that people might come into closer relationship with God and with all he loves.

I really have to get back to work.  email …

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