We were tourists in New York City, Todd and Sam and I, country come to town, happily making our way through Manhattan via the High Line when we got hornswoggled.

And now that I have typed the word hornswoggled, how can I possibly continue without stopping for a moment to pay tribute to the word “conned” for having the most awesome synonyms of all English words forever and ever, Amen? Bravo to you, bamboozled, hoodwinked, flimflammed, wheedled, swindled, bilked, befuddled, snowed, and double-crossed. It’s almost enough to make you enjoy the fact that the word applies to you.

Well, almost. Though it wasn’t so bad, really. I have to admit that it turned out to even be fun (yes, I’m serious and no, I’m not being Pollyanna about it) and it only cost $5, and it was probably worth that just to get to type all those incredible words. Not to mention that I got a super cool amulet AND jewelry out of it that I’ve already worn. So there, you hornswoggler! You sharpie, you scammer, fleecer and hustler!

Okay, I’m done now.

Anyway, before I give you the details of our fleecing, do you know about the High Line? It’s a cool abandoned elevated railway that was re-purposed into an aerial park, a garden of plants and trees complete with birds above the city streets. We figured it’d be the perfect place to catch our breath, to sneak in a few moments of quiet above the bustle, between the craziness of touring Times Square and catching a Broadway show. (See the pic? Even Traveling Baby Jesus enjoyed it.)

And we were exactly right. It was peaceful to walk through the sky in sidewalks of green. To look down and up and around, taking it all in. It was PERFECTLY PEACEFUL. So peaceful that several Buddhist monks were spending their afternoons there as well, strolling along the walkway in their red orange robes and sandals, enjoying the sun shining on their bald heads, chatting with the passers by and wishing them peace.

When one of the monks approached us, saying something about peace in  broken English, I was delighted. “Sign, sign,” he said, and thrust a little pencil and notepad at me. Each page had three columns, labelled NameWish, and Amount. “Peace” was what everyone had written under wish, and most of the amounts were $10’s and $20’s. Then the monk thrust a shiny amulet in my hand and muttered something about money for building the temple.


Such strange wording: work smoothly, lifetime peace. Still, I’m all for peace. “Would $5 help?” The monk seemed to think so, and handed me a simple bracelet of brown and red beads. It was pretty. I might even wear it, I thought. What a nice afternoon we were having. “May I take your picture?” I asked.

The monk nodded. “Twenty,” he said. “Twenty. Twenty.”

Twenty? Twenty dollars? The monk nodded his head. “Twenty.”

He wanted twenty dollars just to take his picture? Now maybe I’m a cheapskate, but I wouldn’t have even paid twenty dollars to take Traveling Baby Jesus’s photo with the red Transformer or Elmo or the topless woman in the pink panties over on Times Square. Five each, maybe, but not twenty. (I had already thought up captions for those photos and they were hilarious and meaningful but then I lost my nerve.) And now a monk- a man of faith- wanted twenty dollars to let me take his photo by himself? “Thanks anyway,” I said.  The monk shrugged his shoulders and jogged over to the young couple with the selfie stick. Todd and Sam and I looked at each other and laughed. At least I had the bracelet. We kept the amulet too.

Back in the hotel room later that evening, I fingered the beads and the amulet under the bedside lamp. Work smoothly. Lifetime peace. Was there a message I needed to hear in all this? I googled the phrases with my phone and Google answered, speaking Truth.

Surprise, surprise. It was all a con. The monks were not monks at all, just more people in costume, like the transformers and Elmo and the topless woman in the pink panties. There was no temple. There was no faith. And according to several articles, this made the Buddhists more upset than anyone, that these flimflammers would trick tourists into handing over cash day after day, pocketing it all for themselves and giving them a bad name. The swindlers didn’t even know a single one of the five moral precepts of Buddhism. Not one.

So what do we do now with all this flimflammery? (The word is fun to say. I can’t deny it.)

Well, I wear the bracelet because it’s comfortable and goes with several of my favorite tops.

That’s it.

Did I make a vow to be more careful? To keep a closer eye on my wallet? To look with more scrutiny at the people I give money to? No, not really.  Yes, I want my giving to be careful and thoughtful because money is a gift not to be wasted. And yes, I know the danger of toxic charity. I sure don’t want to feed someone’s addiction or make it harder for people to hold themselves to the tough work they need to do to turn their lives around.  But I don’t want to live with such a tight grip on my possessions that I lose out on chances to experience God’s joy. I want Jesus to recognize me as a follower of his, and that won’t happen if I spend my life constantly worrying about getting bamboozled, about keeping what is mine, mine.

So I keep the amulet on my bedside table because it asks me good questions at the end of every day. Did I work smoothly? Were my hours peaceful?

When I can say that I lived generously that day, giving people my attention and my heart, when I can let go of fear and the need to keep records of wrongs, then I’m getting close to working smoothly and lifetime peace. It doesn’t happen most of the time, but sometimes it does.