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Sit And Look Out: Queens is a borough of compassion, not sin

I am always happy to see people come to my home town. It certainly helps the economy. And, many Southern Baptists from out of town did a very fine job helping out here after Sept. 11. They deserve the lasting thanks of all New Yorkers for the work they did in those terrible days.But please, folks, don't come into my town from rural Georgia and make this statement: "I don't know if I thought of it as Sin City, but I knew it wasn't the closest place to God." That firm comment about God's presence or lack thereof was made by the Rev. Scott Rourk, who is leading the current Southern Baptist invasion.Well, I have news for him: First of all, I am not sure how close God is to New York City or rural Georgia, for that matter, so let's call that a draw - although, obviously, the good reverend is quite certain of his own position with respect to the Almighty. I decline to take a firm theological position on the matter. Some of us, having been so unfortunate - from Rourk's point of view - as to live our lives here tend not to be quite so adamant about the physical placement of the Almighty at any given time. But, let that be.The second point about Rourk's comments is that he is clearly not familiar with the real New York City. Maybe a ramble about Queens would cure him of his disdain for those of us who live and work here.He might see that in our houses of worship - church, synagogue, mosque, chapel, storefront - there is a vibrant concern for the downtrodden of this world, manifested in so many ways of outreach to those in need. It goes on day after day in Queens and it goes on because New Yorkers care, not just about themselves, but about others around the city, country and the world. And such caring is not confined to houses of worship. The volunteer organizations in our borough and city do a great job of helping those in need in all ways.And all of this was in place before the horrors of the tsunami in South Asia, which have resulted in an unprecedented outpouring of assistance from all New Yorkers. All you have to do is check the TimesLedger Newspapers each week to know about this, and I would urge Rourk and his group to read about it here.Call it missionary work, call it doing good deeds, call it what you like. But the religious institutions and volunteer organizations in Queens and the city are doing a good job in a tough world every day.I can't speak for God, as Rourk clearly can, from his own testimony, but I would suggest that a little humility on his part about the whereabouts of the Almighty might not be out of order, as he tries to help New Yorkers.And, if as a layperson I may be bold enough to advise a clergyman, I would suggest Rourk keep in mind in his ministry the admonition in Micah 6:8 and the final verses of Matthew 25. They are certainly good guides for him, his followers and everyone.Rourk is welcome to be here, to be sure, and I really do wish he would set foot in Queens. What is not welcome, I would suggest, is the attitude of certainty about God by him or, for that matter, anyone else. But then, God is quite capable of defending Himself, isn't He? Especially when it comes to where and how He is near to people.(Update: The Parks and Recreation Department has undertaken a restoration of the Lt. Frank McConnell Park on Lefferts Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue in Richmond Hill, one of the sites I have mentioned in columns about green spaces on Atlantic Avenue. The work is scheduled to be completed this spring. Work is being done to restore the monument and there will be new benches and pavements, as well as plantings. Good for Parks and Recreation! Let's hope a sign about the park and its history is part of the project, too.)

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