Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year


Happy New Year!

When is it appropriate to offer a wish of “Happy New Year”? It is still 2009 as I write, so it is not yet the New Year. But it is New Year’s Eve. Must I wait until midnight to post a “Happy New Year?” Or may I post a premature greeting, knowing that in a few hours it will be 2010 and that many may not see and read this post until tomorrow or even later in the New Year, and that for them, it will truly be the new year?

For the record, this photo was taken a year ago.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Favorite Virginia Beach Outfitters

For the past several years my wife and I have been vacationing the week after Christmas in Virginia Beach. Every annual VB vacation has included a stop at Wild River Outfitters, one of my favorite multi-sport outdoor provisioners. With a wide selection of paddling gear as well as clothing, footwear, camping and climbing gear, as well as a regular clearance rack and table, it is difficult to walk out of WRO without buying something. In past years I have purchased hiking boots, trail shoes and clothing, all on sale. I have also purchased maps and guide books related to the local area. This time I bought a pair of shorts on clearance sale and a new pair of yak grips for my kayak paddle.
WRO opened for business in 1976 and moved to its current location in 1990. Employing about twenty mostly part-time staff, only three were working the day I dropped by, all camera shy and unwilling to comment for this post. Unfortunately owner Lillie Gilbert was not on site and I regret I did not have the opportunity to meet her in person after corresponding with her via e-mail.

Lillie is an avid and experienced paddler, author and active environmentalist in addition to owning WRO. She has authored at least three guide books about local water, co-authored a book of local tales, and was instrumental in establishing a 28 mile Scenic Waterway that enables paddling from Lynnhaven Inlet to the North Carolina-Virginia line, a paddle that takes one through the heart of Virginia Beach.

WRO offers plenty of parking (photo top right) and a great selection of kayaks (just some of which appear in the photo bottom right). Its staff is knowledgeable, but so is its clientele. Last year while looking at some kayak fishing gear I struck up a conversation with another customer about kayak fishing. He taught me more in five minutes, with hands on explanations, than I could have picked up reading several pages in a book.

I place WRO in the same league as a couple other independent outfitters specializing in or focusing on kayaking while also supporting other sports like camping, backpacking and climbing. The next time you are in Virginia Beach, drop in and tell them you learned about them from Summit to Shore.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Myrrhlyn’s Summit to Shore Day


For a few hours Vicki and I liberated Myrrhlyn from Bayside Kennels, where we have been boarding him since Saturday morning. Our first stop was nearby Mount Trashmore, where Myrrhlyn bagged his first summit (photo top left). With an elevation of 60 feet, Mount Trashmore is perhaps one of the highest natural points in Virginia Beach, offering a commanding view of parkland, the Interstate, and nearby office parks and housing developments.

After descending from Mount Trashmore we drove southeast to our second stop, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where Myrrhlyn experienced (I am not sure “enjoyed” would be the right word) his second kayaking trip (photo top right). We paddled only forty minutes and about a mile, and Myrrhlyn eventually found his way out of Vicki’s sit-on-top and into the water. With a little help he eventually climbed back into Vicki’s kayak. We then paddled back to the put in and called it a day.

After his summit to shore day, Myrrhlyn seemed relieved when we dropped him back off at the Kennel, as if he preferred to be in a warm and cozy kennel rather than climbing reclaimed landfills and swimming in cold brackish water.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Moderator Responds: Part 5

I submitted five interview style questions to the Reverend Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly. It was his idea. I spread his responses out over five posts to avoid one really long post. This is the fifth and last of those posts and his responses.

More than any Moderator of the General Assembly before him, Bruce tapped the power of the internet, especially facebook and twitter, as well as podcasts, to communicate with the church prior to and after his election as Moderator. I think his strategy has in part opened up channels of communication in the church and changed for the near future how candidates for moderator and those elected Moderator will seek to get their message out. I thank Bruce for his willingness to answer questions and responding in a timely manner.

I plan to be in Minneapolis and blog from the General Assembly meeting next July, which means I also look forward to seeing and hearing Bruce bring down the opening Gavel and moderating the election of the next moderator.

The last question I submitted to Bruce was . . .

. . . when denominations seem to be diminishing in influence and for many are becoming increasingly irrelevant, why should anyone care about the future of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)?

To which Bruce responded . . .

I think post-50's denominational is right on, but I am still not sure that
denominations can be whole-heartedly dismissed. In a world where individualism
reigns, I think denominations can stand against this by reminding folks that the
body of Christ is larger than any one person or congregation. So we can still
care, but care so much we change.

Bruce Reyes-Chow,
Pastor/Hack/Geek/Dad/Moderator
Twitter: @breyeschow
Mobile:
209.910.4BRC (4272)
AIM/YIM: brucereyeschow
“Peace it does not mean to
be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in
the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

Theologically, I agree wholeheartedly with Bruce that the body of Christ is larger than any one congregation. We find evidence in the New Testament of a connectional church with Christian communities sharing correspondence, sending out and receiving visitors, taking up offerings to help struggling communities, and supporting Paul. There is no such thing as a solitary Christian. Nevertheless, Denominations are a relatively recent phenomena in the Church, born with the Reformation. If the church is about to experience or is already experiencing a new reformation, who knows how our current understanding of denominations will change with that reformation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Oratorio Society of Queens 2009 Annual Holiday Concert

The Blizzard of 2009 did not deter the Oratorio Society of Queens. Their full rehearsal on Saturday afternoon started before the snow and was over before much of the white stuff had fallen. By the time of Sunday afternoon’s Annual Holiday Concert (photo right), most of the roads had been cleared. Still, even though it was a sold out house at the Queensborough Performing Arts Center at Queensborough Community College in Bayside, NY, there were blocks of empty seats in the auditorium, and it was not until moments before curtain call that the guest Soprano Geraldine McMillian, her flight and train detained by the winter weather, arrived. Those who made it to the concert had their hearts warmed by the Society, singing from the heart since 1927.

This is my wife’s third season with the Oratorio Society of Queens, which rehearses (with the exception of its final full rehearsal) at North Church Queens, where I serve as Designated Pastor. Singing First Soprano, this was also her third Annual Holiday Concert.

Accompanied by the Orchestral Arts Ensemble of Queens and Conducted by Artistic Director David Close, the afternoon program began with selections of Handel’s Messiah (Part 1). After an intermission, the program continued with Sleigh Ride, Ma’oz Tsur, Ocho Kandelikas, Al Hanissim, Angel’s Carol, I Saw Three Ships, Pueri Concinite, Go Tell It!, A Christmas Cradle Song, O Holy Night, and O Come, All Ye Faithful. Guest Artist Cantor Jerry Korobow added guitar accompaniment and vocals to the Hanukah selections. As in previous years, once the printed program was concluded, an encore of the Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus wowed the crowd.

Of the three soloists, Soprano Geraldine McMillian, Tenor John Easterlin (who from where I was sitting looked like Kyle MacLachlan), and Bass-Baritone Vaughn Fritts, I was most impressed by the performance of John Easterlin and the gown of Geraldine McMillian.

The Moderator Responds: Part 4

The Reverend Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, offered to answer up to five interview style questions of anyone who asked. I asked five. Here is the third question and response. I asked Bruce . . .

. . . what do you envision for yourself and the Presbyterian Church ten years from now?

Bruce responded …

“The Presbyterian Church? I would be surprised in the PC(USA) were NOT around in 10 years, though I am not tied to the institution being around for the
institution's sake. With that said, I believe there will always be a
Presbyterian presence regardless of what we call it. A denomination that lives
out the belief that we best discern the mind of Christ and will of God together
is what I hope will be drawing people in as one manifestation of the Body of
Christ in the world is what I hope we will continue to be in the world. I hope
we have made the changes in our polity, structure and culture to be adaptable
and we have begin to embrace a multitude of manifestations of the Presbyterian
Church through the country.”


“Me? Hmmm . . . . 50 too early to retire? I
hope to still be involved in a local congregation, visiting my kids in college
and playing the role I am supposed to play in the movement/s of the church."


I too think the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Reformed Tradition has good news to offer the world, but the world does not always want good news. Celtic Christianity also had good news but still more or less died out, being absorbed by Roman Christianity. Yet the contributions of Celtic Christianity live on and have only recently being rediscovered and found worthwhile, with something to say to our world. Perhaps someday, maybe long after its demise, the theological contributions of the Reformed Tradition and the Presbyterian Church will resurface to once again offer the world a vision worth embracing.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Blizzard of 2009

That is what it is being called, "The Blizzard of 2009". Here in the New York metropolitan area we received more snow in this single eighteen hour storm than all of last winter. With the wind blowing the snow around it was hard to get a reliable measurement of the snowfall’s depth. Nevertheless I measured between ten and twelve inches in our back yard (photo top right). That may not seem much by West Virginia mountain standards but around here it is a lot.

North Church Queens made the decision soon after 7:00 AM to cancel worship. Our winter weather cancellation policy is that if two of the following three people decide and agree to cancel, the service will be cancelled. The three people are the worship leader (in this case me, or a guest preacher if I am away), the Clerk of Session, and the Moderator of the Board of Deacons. Cancelling if two of the above three agree almost insures that a decision can be reached, even if one of the three people cannot be reached.

Considering that I live over twelve miles away from North Church, I did not mind not having to drive on the wintery roads yesterday, even though the snow had stopped and the wind had died down. There were still plenty of slick spots and many of the side streets were barely passable so, even though my Sermon was prepared, I was happy to stay off the roads.

The Ridgewood Presbyterian Church, where my wife serves as Pastor, did have worship. Since we live just around the corner from the church there was no question about the worship leader and preacher being able to make it. Eleven hearty souls also made it and so at 10:00 AM we worshipped together and I was able to worship with the Ridgewood Presbyterian Church and hear my wife preach for the first time in a long time.

The Blizzard of 2009 was our dog Myrrhlyn’s first snow fall. He was scared for about the first 15 seconds but quickly came to love it. He frolicked in the drifts, dug through the snow to make sure the dirt and sidewalk were still there, and attempted to catch and eat falling snowflakes (photo bottom right). Now, after the storm, he is enjoying finding and crunching on chunks of ice.

The Moderator Responds: Part 3

The third question I submitted to the Reverend Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, after his invitation to submit up to five interview style questions, was . . .

. . . thinking back to the time you decided to stand for nomination as Moderator, what, between then and now, would you do differently, if you could? Bruce replied . . .

"There are certainly questions I would ask about the mechanisms of being a
two-year moderator that I simply did not know about then that could have avoided
some travel confusions, etc. I might also have spread out my travel in a way
that would not have been so hard on my family and local church during particular
times of the year."
O.K. Bruce, I’ll take the bait. What are some of those questions? What sort of travel confusions have you experienced?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Moderator Responds: Part 2

Responding to an open invitation from the Reverend Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, I submitted to Bruce and posted on this blog five interview style questions for Bruce’s considered response. He has since responded and I am spreading out his answers over several posts.

The second question I put to Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Generl Assembly, the Reverend Bruce Reyes-Chow, was . . .

. . . what has most disappointed you about serving as Moderator of the General Assembly?

"Not much has disappointed me as well. I guess a realization that could be seen as a disappointment concerns the capacity that we might have to make transitions needed to meet the needs of a changing culture and worldview. I am not talking about social/moral issues but about a culture of constant movement. Left, right or middle, we are so set in our ways when it comes to worship styles and structures, institutional structures and other things that I am not sure we have can really become as adaptable that we need to be. "

In his response I think Bruce identifies one of the most difficult problems in the church, and many other institutions: change. It seems that large institutions, from denominations to countries to corporations, often place change agents in leadership positions only to refuse to make the changes the leader calls for.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Moderator Responds, Part 1

Responding to an open invitation from the Reverend Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, I submitted to Bruce and posted on this blog five interview style questions for Bruce’s considered response. He has since responded and I will be posting his answers over the next few days. Thanks Bruce!

Here is my first question and Bruce’s unedited response.

. . . what has been your biggest surprise or greatest learning as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly?


"I have been surprised by very little. I think this is a great testament to how
we have understood ourselves to be and how "you" have raised me to understand
being Presbyterian. In many ways we knowing who we are is not the problem that
we are dealing with, it is who we will become that is causing so much tension
because we do not agree on that. The greatest learning however has been how much
folks have been willing to engage in conversations about the future of the
church, and not in ways that are about self-preservation and survival, but with
a deep desire to understand what God may have in store for us. I have learned so
much about people's commitment to listen for and respond to God. Truly amazing."


After reading Bruce's response, I wonder “Who will we become?” If God is the potter and we are the clay then we have no claim to shaping and forming our own future. God will make us into what God will make us into. On the other hand, do we not have some responsibility to choose which way we will follow, whether we will follow the way of life or the way of death? We have claimed the knowledge of good and evil and cannot give it back. Now that we have it we must exercise it. Perhaps what we will become is a synthesis of God’s perfect will and our imperfect will.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Getting a Handel on the Holidays

Do you think that when George Frideric Handel’s Messiah premiered in 1742 that he could have imagined attending a performance of it would become, for millions, a Christmas tradition?

Last night I attended, for the second year in a row, The Oratorio Society of New York’s performance of Handel’s Messiah, the complete work, at Carnegie Hall. My wife Vicki (photo top right), whose college major was Vocal Music, is one of the Society’s approximately 200 members, singing first soprano. This is her second season with the society and the second year she has sung in its presentation of Messiah.

The Oratorio Society of New York was founded in 1873 and has performed Messiah at Carnegie Hall every year since its opening in 1891 with the exception of 1960. Last night was its 200th complete performance. The performance was conducted by Kent Tritle. Susanna Phillips sang Soprano. Sara Sturdivant sang Mezzo-soprano. The Tenor was Paul Appleby and Stephen Hegedus sang Bass-baritone.

As the photo at bottom right might suggest, I was seated in the nose bleed section, the balcony third row back from the banister. I was seated so high and so close to the banister that I felt like I needed to be tied in to an anchor. At least I was seated near the center rather than off to the side, like last year.

I am no music critic and my wife has all the musical talent in the family, but I think this year’s performance was better than last year’s. When I told my wife that I could not really hear 200 voices and that the performance sounded as if just a few voices were singing, she said that was good. She also overheard Conductor Kent Tritle remark afterwards that he thought this was the best performance in his fifth season as Music Director of the Society.

This coming Sunday I will be attending a performance of the Oratorio Society of Queens. Their program will include the first part of Messiah (the Christmas part) and the "Hallelujah" chorus but not the complete Messiah.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Get the Stink Out

I rarely review or endorse outdoor sports related products, but when I run across something unique related to climbing, backpacking or kayaking that actually does what the manufacture claims it will do, and that I have found useful, I want to tell other outdoor enthusiasts about it. Such is the case with McNett mirazyme Odor Eliminator.

I have used this product to remove the normal stink from neoprene booties, HydroSkin tops and bottoms, and nylon water shoes after a day of kayaking in salt water. I have also used it to remove (mostly) one of the most difficult to remove odors, cat urine, from cotton, nylon and neoprene. I have not found any other product that works as well when it comes to removing the smell of cat urine.

Modifying the manufacturer’s directions, I have used McNett mirazyme Odor Eliminator in a top loading washer. I used the warm water setting and allowed the offending items to go partially through the wash cycle. Halfway through the wash cycle I paused it by lifting the lid of the washer and let the offending items soak overnight in the washer. The next morning I closed the lid, the items finished washing in the mirazyme solution, and then, not following the directions, I allowed them to go through the rinse cycle.

I have also used the dip method and the spray bottle method with great success. The only problem with the dip method is that the items drip all over the place and take a long time to dry.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bowne Park Blessing

Through a series of connections and about only three degrees of separation I was invited to offer a “Blessing” at the Bowne Park Civic Association 2009 “Holiday Gathering.” Bowne Park is both a park and the neighborhood around the park located north of downtown Flushing in the New York City borough of Queens. The park is not far from North Church Queens, which sits on the edge of the neighborhood.

From the flyer announcing the event I knew we would be lighting a menorah and a tree, that we would be singing holiday songs, and that some elected officials would be present. I did not know that it would be cold and raining.

A dozen or two folk gathered around the announced 3:00 PM starting time in spite of the cold steady rain. The Rabbi (left in the photo right) explained the menorah and led us in a couple songs related to lighting it. I offered the following blessing. We then enjoyed some Dunkin Donuts munchkins, coffee and hot chocolate and after brief conversations headed to warmer and drier environs, like home.

God of all people,
we, of many faiths and traditions, have gathered here,
men and women of numerous nationalities and ethnicities,
to help bring light and warmth to our neighborhood of Bowne Park,
to our Borough of Queens,
and to our great metropolis, New York City,
and to witness to the glue of common humanity that binds us together,
the need and desire to set aside times and seasons as holidays,
and places for common assembly and use by all.

Regardless of whether we personally celebrate
Aid, Hanukkah, Yuletide, Christmas, or Kwanza,
unite us around the shared themes of
hope,
peace,
love,
giving,
family,
and celebration.

May the lights of menorahs and trees and all holiday decorations
not only remind us that light always dispels the night,
but also that
hope conquers despair,
love overpowers hate,
tolerance is preferable to prejudice,
and freedom is superior to oppression.

Bless us and our great nation not only this day and during this holiday season,
but in all the seasons of the year.

Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Philosophical Seasonal Humor

Sitting on my desk, next to my laptop, is the Plato and a Platypus Walk Into A Bar . . . Daily Calendar. Based on the book by the same name, each day a joke or humorous anecdote illustrates a philosophical idea or principle. I really had to laugh when I read today’s page, which is, perhaps, a sad commentary on the state of my sense of humor.

“The History of Philosophy: On this date in 381 BCE, Plato sees shadows on the wall of a cave and interprets them to mean six more weeks of winter.”

The above reminded me of an Easter joke I heard and do not know who to attribute it to. It goes something like this.

“Little William's Sunday School teacher asked him to explain Easter. Will responded that on Easter day Jesus comes out of a cave and if he sees his shadow we have six more weeks of Lent.”

And to make matters worse I offer this original Christmas humor.

“On Christmas Eve Santa comes down the chimney, and if, as he exits from the chimney into the living room, he sees his shadow cast by Rudolph’s shining nose glaring through the window, we will have two more weeks of Advent.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Questions Put To The Moderator

The Reverend Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator of the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has offered to answer interview style questions of anyone who submits them. Considering that I am an Ordained Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and was in attendance as an observer at the General Assembly in San Jose, CA when Bruce was elected, I have decided to submit the following questions and promise to publish here, unedited, his responses. So, Bruce, . . .

. . . what has been your biggest surprise or greatest learning as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly?

. . . what has most disappointed you about serving as Moderator of the General Assembly?

. . . thinking back to the time you decided to stand for nomination as Moderator, what, between then and now, would you do differently, if you could?

. . . what do you envision for yourself and the Presbyterian Church ten years from now?

. . . when denominations seem to be diminishing in influence and for many are becoming increasingly irrelevant, why should anyone care about the future of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thank You, Bozeman and Missoula

Less than twenty-four hours after my last post, about Summit to Shore not receiving any visits from Montana and South Dakota, Google Analytics recorded two visitors to Summit to Shore from Montana. One visit was from Bozeman and the other from Missoula. Thank you, visitors from Missoula and Bozeman. I know nothing of your identity, but thank you nevertheless.

In yesterday’s original post I wrote that I had never been to Montana or South Dakota. My wife later reminded me that we had indeed flown into Billings, Montana, the state’s largest city, several years ago. We arrived in the morning and left that evening. Now that my memory has been jump started I remember the day being sunny and mild and our visit pleasant.

Missoula is the second largest city in Montana and the state’s largest media market. A bing search revealed what looks to be an outstanding outfitters in Missoula, Traili Head, Missoula MT! Check it out. There is at least one Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Congregation in Missoula, fpc missoula, with a pretty neat website. If I ever make it to Missoula, I will be sure to visit both.

Bozeman is the state’s fifth largest city. It is two hours north of Yellowstone and home of the H20 Kayak School and Barrel Mountaineering. Bozeman. like Missoula, hosts at least one Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Congregation, First Presbyterian Church, which has its own 10 acre wilderness camp! I think I am ready to visit Bozeman in the flesh.

In the meantime, I am still waiting for the first visitor to Summit to Shore from South Dakota and hope they will leave a comment.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hello Montana and South Dakota, Is Anybody There?

Less than a month away from its first anniversary, Summit to Shore has logged visitors from 52 countries but only forty-eight states. To date not a single person has logged on from or within Montana or South Dakota. What Gives?

Since no one from Montana has visited Summit to Shore, I decided to visit some sites in Montana. A Bing search returned the official state site, and after a few hot links I discovered that Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer has been very busy releasing “Flag Proclamations.” A google search returned a list of sites primarily related to outdoor recreation, especially fly fishing. A blogcatalog search returned a blog related to Montana Real Estate and one devoted to Hannah Montana.

Likewise, a bing search for South Dakota also returned the official state site. Glancing at the official site I did not see a single mention of Governor Mike Rounds making any proclamations about flags but I did learn that South Dakota is changing the types of documents required to get or renew a driver’s license. A google search returned official and unofficial tourism sites. Blogcatalog returned mostly political opinion blogs.

The truth is I have never personally visited either South Dakota or Montana, though I would like to visit both. Montana offers some excellent mountaineering and there is some outstanding rock climbing in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I could also kayak on one or more of the many lakes of South Dakota and enjoy white water boating in Montana.

OK South Dakota and Montana, I visited web sites and blogs in and about your states. Won’t someone there please visit Summit to Shore and leave a comment?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Empire State of Mind

I first learned about this Jay-Z and Alicia Keys music video, Empire State of Mind, yesterday, from fellow water blogger Messing About In Sailboats.

I am not a big fan of Rap or Hip-Hop, which explains why I was not aware of this song and had not seen this video earlier, but now that I have heard and seen it, I really like it.

I like this video because it is about my adopted home town, New York City. I like that I hear no profanity in it. I like that I recognize many of the scenes. I like that it starts in black and white and then, like the Wizard of Oz, transitions to color. As my wife says, “New York City is so colorful that it can be filmed in black and white because the vibrant life of the city adds its own color.”

Enjoy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Advent 2009 (For Presbyterians in New York City)


In the first year of President Barak Obama's first term, when David Patterson was Governor of New York State and Michael Bloomberg was Mayor of New York City, during the second moderatorial year of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) General Assembly Moderator the Reverend Bruce Reyes-Chow, the word of God came to . . .
(Luke 3:1-2)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Marcus and Biff to Tierra Del Fuego

You might say that Marcus Demuth (photo top right) paddles to the beat of a different drummer. He first slid his torso into the cockpit of a kayak and took his first kayaking lesson in 2003. Most people, six years later, would be content to have progressed to serious paddling, but not Marcus. In the past six years he has circumnavigated via kayak The Falklands and Ireland. Now he and paddling companion Biff Wruszek (photo second from top) will soon be heading to the tip of South America where, as the Around Tierra Del Fuego 2010 Sea Kayak Expedition, they will attempt to circumnavigate Isla Grande Tierra del Fuego, estimated to be a 1,000 to 1,300 mile trip, the exact distance depending on how Marcus measures.

Marcus is both a racer and a an expedition paddler. He took first place in his class in the New York City Mayors Cup kayak race in 2009, 2007 and 2006. He recently circumnavigated the Falkland Islands after a failed attempt to paddle around Iceland the year before.

In was in 2007 that Marcus circumnavigated Ireland and also paddled in Australia. A year earlier he kayaked in Wales and Chili. In 2005 he stayed closer to his adopted home of New York City, travelling only as far as Canada for a good paddle. You can read about all of Marcus’s trips on his website.

Last Tuesday evening, inside the spacious Manhattan Kayak Company and in midst of over a hundred kayaks of all shapes and sizes, Marcus and Biff talked about their trip preparation and expectations, presenting a multi-media program about the geography, weather, flora and fauna of Tierra Del Fuego. They also talked about their preparation and planning and the route they plan to paddle, including the obstacles they hope to overcome.

Marcus, the experienced expedition paddler, did most of the talking while Biff, a marathon runner new to expedition paddling, handled the multi-media, a reflection of how their personalities seem to complement one another. Having met Marcus before, I experience him as a warm hearted passionate man. Tuesday evening being my first time to meet Biff, I experienced her as thoughtful, reflective, and introspective. Perhaps Marcus will be the heart and Biff will be the head of this expedition.

The Around Tierra Del Fuego 2010 Sea Kayak Expedition will be a fundraiser for the kayak program of the Achilles Track Club. Appropriately, Joe Traum, the Achilles Kayak Program Coordinator, was also present for the beginning of Marcus and Biff’s presentation and spoke briefly about the great work of Achilles.

The bon voyage presentation and party was fittingly hosted by Eric Stiller (photo third from top) and the Manhattan Kayak Company. It was at MKC and with Eric that Marcus took his first kayaking lesson, four hours of private instruction, back in 2003. Marcus now guides with MKC.

While Eric is himself an accomplished paddler and kayaking instructor he readily admits that when it comes to Marcus, "the student has surpassed the teacher."

I look forward to following Marcus and Biff's progress and to welcomming them back home after what I hope will be a safe and somewhat uneventful expedition.

With the kayaking resume Marcus already has under his paddle, I wonder what he might be planning as a follow up to Tierra Del Fuego. Perhaps he has heard that NASA has discovered water on the moon.

A few more photos from Tuesday evening's event can be viewed at my Picasa site.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Happy Holidays NOLS NYC

It is always a pleasure to reunite with other National Outdoor Leadership School Alums in New York City. In addition to catching up with the usual regulars like Tobey, Lori, Gint, Mac, Chris, Elizabeth, Kate, Cat, and Michael, I always enjoy meeting some people for the first or second time, like Kelly and Jonathan and others whose names now escape me. Last night we gathered at Destination Bar in the East Village for our second annual holiday party.

Have a Happy Hanukkah, Enlightening Winter Solstice, Merry Christmas, Kind Kwanza, and Happy New Year.

With appetizers provided by NOLS, we enjoyed two-for-one Happy Hour bar drinks until 8:00 PM and a Yankee Swap gift exchange. I came home with a really nice pair of green Campmor rain pants in my size and A 5x7 picture frame. I think I will use the frame for one of the 255 photos I shot at the party. After a little editing and deleing of the really bad photos, I uploaded 200 to Picasa, where you can see them for yourself.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

About December’s Header Photo

I shot this photo at the Gunks a little over a year ago, looking north along the east facing ledges of The Trapps, while resting on a ledge after leading the first pitch of Ribs. It was a warm, sunny day, and my first day of serious climbing in almost eight years. I do not know the identity of the climbers on the face.

Advent: Day 2

The Presbyterian Welcome blog, Psalms Modern, in a Special Project for Advent, asked contributors to think of the elements and experiences of church that mean the most to them personally and complete the sentence: “When… , I know that the kingdom of God is near.” I submitted a few responses. One of them is running today as the meditation for Advent: Day 2. Head over to Psalms Modern and take a look.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Walking the High Line

Ever since it opened to the public on June 9, 2009, Vicki and I have wanted to visit and walk the High Line. We thought we would achieve our goal the evening of the fourth of July and perhaps watch the fireworks from there, but the park was closed that evening. We finally walked along this elevated pedestrian parkway not long ago. We were not disappointed.

Imagine walking along an open air and elevated pedestrian walkway two or three or even more stories above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side, with outstanding views of the Hudson River and New Jersey to the west and the Empire State Building to the northeast, all the while surrounded by wildflowers and the remains of an old railroad, and never have to stop for traffic when crossing a street. If you would rather watch the traffic below you instead of walking, there is an amphitheater like area with sitting benches overlooking Tenth Avenue. Other benches line the pathway, some constructed on what appear to be old small railroad wheels, which ride on old tracks left behind from when the High Line was a working rail line.

I was not disappointed with the High Line, until I reached its northern terminus and had to descend back down to street level. Hopefully, someday soon, more sections will open to the public.

As we strolled along this elevated urban parkway I often stopped to take pictures. I was not the only one carrying and using a camera. It appeared to me that several people had come to the High Line with the express purpose of locating picturesque scenes. Some of the people we saw while walking we interesting as well.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mr. Kennedy, I will serve you the Sacrament

While the secular media recently seemed to focus some of its attention on the fact that the Roman Catholic Bishop of Rhode Island, Thomas Tobin, reportedly said that he asked U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy to stop receiving Communion, because of the congressman's public stance on moral issues, I have not seen much mention of the story in the religion and spirituality blogs I tend to read.

Since I serve a protestant (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)) congregation in a heavily Roman Catholic neighborhood of north east Queens, and many members of the church I serve are either former Roman Catholics who left the church of their youth for the Presbyterian Church or are disgruntled Roman Catholics that have not officially left the Roman Catholic Church to embrace Protestantism, I take particular interest in this story.

I would never consider asking someone, certainly not a member of the church, to not receive the Sacrament. As the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) states, “The invitation to the Lord's Supper is extended to all who have been baptized, remembering that access to the Table is not a right conferred upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. In preparing to receive Christ in this Sacrament, the believer is to confess sin and brokenness, to seek reconciliation with God and neighbor, and to trust in Jesus Christ for cleansing and renewal. Even one who doubts or whose trust is wavering may come to the Table in order to be assured of God's love and grace in Christ Jesus." (W-2.4011a)

I think Patrick Kennedy meets the above criteria, and if he were to show up at North Church Queens the first Sunday of any month for 10:00 AM Worship, or any other time we are celebrating the Eucharist, I would serve him without question or reservation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ecumenical Multicultural Thanksgiving Worship

Last night, on the eve of Thanksgiving eve, I joined with Missouri Synod Lutherans, PC(USA) Presbyterians, and Episcopalians in the gymnasium of Immanuel Lutheran High School, Whitestone, NY for a Community Thanksgiving Worship Service. Two LCMS and Two PC(USA) Ministers led most of the liturgy with the youth of Immanuel Lutheran reading Scripture and providing some of the music. Andy read and sang. Johnson prayed. Immanuel youth (photo right) read Scripture, sang and played. Host Pastor David preached. I prayed. Mary and Julie played. An offering was collected to benefit the food pantry of the Queens Federation of Churches. The highlights for me were the teenage youth reading scripture and offering special music, and the benediction.

North Church Queens, where I serve as Designated Pastor, presently has no teenage youth. We have an age gap with three children ages six through nine, and then our next older participant is twenty-two. It has been over eight years since I have served a church with more than a teenager or two and I miss their presence, so last night’s worship was refreshing.

The benediction at last night’s Thanksgiving eve eve worship was offered by two men and two women in four languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hindi, and English. Serving as a Pastor in Queens certainly has its challenges, but one of the joys and benefits is the opportunity to worship in multi-cultural contexts.

The attached photo at top right was taken by an unidentified participant. Here is a link to other photos, most taken by the Reverend Dr. E. Johnson Rethinasamy, Urban Mission Strategist, LCMS World Mission.

I will not be posting to Summit to Shore tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, so I wish all readers and visitors a Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Welcome to My Neighborhood: The Morning Walk (Part 4 – Myrtle Avenue)

Myrtle Avenue and Fresh Pond Road, at right angles to one another, are the main commercial avenues of Ridgewood. Fresh Pond runs north to south and Myrtle runs east to west. Their intersection at the southern terminus of Fresh Pond marks the boundary between the neighborhoods of Ridgewood and Glendale. If you were standing on this corner, however, you would not know it, as there are no signs or other makers identifying the boundary.

The sidewalk along the north side of Myrtle is a little cleaner this morning than usual (photo top right). Sometimes it can be quiet a mess and the sidewalk cleaner employed by the Myrtle Avenue Business Inmprovement District can barely keep up with the accumulating trash. Pushing along a large garbage can on wheels he picks up and sweeps refuse off the sidewalk. I imagine he must fill up the trash barrel once a block, if not more often. He is the other person, along with the two school crossing guards, I usually encounter while walking Myrrhlyn in the mornings. This being a Saturday, however, he must not be cleaning today because I do not see him.

As Myrrhlyn and I walk west along Myrtle, store owners are beginning to open for business, unlocking and raising the metal cage pull down barriers that protects them during the night. When I first moved to the neighborhood a little over two years ago I found these security measures a little intimidating, even fear producing, especially at night. During the day Myrtle Avenue is a hot bed of vehicular and pedestrian commercial and social activity and the metal cages are out of sight, rolled up above the store fronts. At night, however, when I walk along the street coming home from the subway late at night, I can feel like I live in an abandoned ghetto, like Newark after the riots, business locked up against looters. I am glad I am usually not walking along Myrtle late at night.

The closer we get to home the more familiar I am with the business we pass. We walk by my local Chase Bank on our right, with its ten language ATM’s in the lobby, Across the street on our left is our Post Office, where I sometimes wait in line for thirty minutes or more just to pick up a package. The smell of frying bacon greets us from a nearby Coffee Shop & Restaurant. Dunkin’ Donuts (photo second from top right), a popular stop for commuters, is across the street.

When we first moved to Ridgewood, before we unpacked the coffee pot and set up the kitchen, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and donuts was our sustenance. While there are other coffee shops in the neighborhood in addition to Dunkin’ Donuts, there is no Starbucks close enough to walk to, so this morning, like most mornings, I will go home, grind Starbucks House Blend beans in the Braun grinder and make our own coffee. I am, after all, a Starbuck stockholder, so every time I drink a cup I feel like I am getting a return on my purchase.

As Myrrhlyn and I stroll along Myrtle Avenue we pass in and out of sun and shade. We walk in bright warming sunshine when the buildings across the street are low enough to allow the rising southern sun to reach the sidewalk. But when the buildings reach over two stories they block the morning rays and we walk in cooler shade. I prefer walking in the sunlight and I think Myrrhlyn does too.

As we approach Key Foods (thrird photo from top right), one of the grocery stores we frequent because it is one of the closest, I appreciate seeing the fresh cut flowers out front. The flower market was not offered when we moved here.

A boarded up store front juts out onto the side walk (fourth photo from top right) in front of us. The building is actually being renovated and the barrier provides a margin of safety as well as security. In spite of the recession the Ridgewood Myrtle Avenue business district near our home seems to be hanging on. Not many storefronts are empty and when a business closes it seems not to take long for a new one to open in the same space.

One of the new businesses that have opened in the past two years is Green Line Market (bottom photo right), where I usually shop no less than every other day and sometimes twice a day. When the sun shines on the fruit and vegetable bins lining the sidewalk outside, Green Line is the most colorful storefront in the neighborhood. Sometimes when I walk by I marvel at the various shapes, sizes and especially colors of the produce. There are a few other markets like this in the neighborhood and numerous ones throughout New York City, but Green Line is the nearest, and a new experience for me since I moved here. Until two years ago I was unfamiliar with such sidewalk fruit and vegetable venders but now they are one of my favorite parts of living in the city.

Not far from home we walk through and past the only public park along our walk, Myrtle Triangle Park. This morning the bench is empty but later in the day various locals will start sitting on it, occasionally throwing bread crumbs and other food for the pigeons. Unfortunately Myrrhlyn also likes those bread crumbs. Sometimes, on warmer nights, a homeless person will sleep on that bench.

Not far off to our right is Ridgewood Stamps and Coins with a storefront and signage that is a thow back to the 50's, not the most welcoming or inviting coin shop I have ever been in, and Eddie’s Hairstyling & Barbering, where Leo cuts my hair. We cross the street near Queens Wines and Liquors, which offers one of the best selection of wines in Queens and on Friday and Saturday evenings offers free tastings, and soon pass by our favorite Chinese restaurant. Next, we pass our favorite Chinese restaurant and take out, Mr. Chen’s, where owners, Ken and Emily, are the proud parents of newborn Grace, whom we have yet to meet. This early in the morning, however, most of these business are still closed. Only Queens Wines and Liquors has taken up its security gate. It is usually the first local business to open. Sometimes they will be unlocking when Myrrhlyn and I walk by in the mornings.

At the intersection of Myrtle Avenue and Forest Avenue we turn right and head north on Forest. Our morning circuit is almost complete and soon Myrrhlyn and I will be back home, thirty minutes after leaving. Myrrhlyn has done all that he has needed to do. Both he and I feel better.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Welcome to My Neighborhood: The Morning Walk (Part 3 – Fresh Pond Road)

The corner of 68th Avenue and Fresh Pond Road marks the halfway point of our usual morning walk. The corner is a transition from the generally clean and quiet residential one-way 68th Avenue to the often trashy, loud, commercial two-way thoroughfare of Fresh Pond Road. At the corner we turn right and head south along Fresh Pond. I have been walking this route over two years and still I do not know if there is a pond, or if it is fresh.

Fresh Pond Road is the other main north-south artery through Ridgewood, Forest Avenue being the other one, but it is a lot busier and more commercial than Forest. Had we turned north rather than south we would have reached the Fresh Pond station on the “M” line in just a few blocks. Fresh Pond is perhaps the part of our walk were we encounter the most people. During the week Myrrhlyn and I occasionally dodge pedestrians as we make our way along what can be a crowded sidewalk. On Saturday morning’s, however, and when school is not in session, few people are out and about.

When school is in session two School Crossing Guards make crossing the busy streets a little easier and safer. The two uniformed women, one a woman of color and the other Anglo, are usually the first two people I recognize on our walks. Someday I must stop and take the time to ask them their names.

Myrrhlyn finds another stick (top photo right). This one is not forked and so the leash does not tangled in it. With the stick in his mouth we pass Mr. Bagel and my mouth starts to water, as it does most mornings. When the weather is just right this bakery, and another one down the block, will prop open their doors, allowing the aroma of fresh baked bread, bagels, and coffee cakes to waft out onto the street. The aroma is the best advertizing money can’t buy. Since I always have Myrrhlyn in tow as I pass, however, I cannot enter to better smell, look, buy and eat.

Further south along Fresh Pond, we pass Catalpa Avenue feeding in from the southeast on our left. Today the sun shines brightly along the route, rising over what appears to be the end of the Avenue. Illuminated by the rising morning sun is the storefront (second photo from top right) of a “Spiritual Reader & Advisor.” A crystal ball, geodes, and candles sit on the inside sill and on the table (third photo from top right), a mixture of New Age and Roman Catholic spirituality with what I assume to be an Hispanic and Eastern European flavor. I wonder if this particular spiritual entrepreneur can read paws and advise Myrrhlyn. If you are a human and your spirit does not find sustenance with the Spiritual Reader & Advisor there is always Beata Bakery (bottom photo right), the second on our walk, next door, and the Polskie Delikatesy further down the block.

The city’s motorized street cleaner approaches from the north, behind us, as it does on many of our walks. The shape, size and speed of the street cleaning vehicle reminds me of a Zamboni and is usually the loudest vehicle we encounter along our morning walk. Marylyn is not particularly fond of it. He seems to be annoyed by it, especially when it kicks up dust. Occasionally we will see it stopped at a hydrant, its driver operator refilling the water tank, preparing to spray some more roadway before sweeping away debris.

As the street cleaner passes I look up to focus on something that catches my eye. It is a seagull, floating overhead, reminding me that I live on an island and that the Atlantic Ocean is only a few miles away to the south. Without the occasional gull and warm, humid air serving as sensory reminders, I could easily overlook the fact that I live in a coastal environment.

At the southern end of Fresh Pond, where the thoroughfare dead-end intersects with Myrtle Avenue, we reach the boundary of the neighborhoods of Ridgewood and Glendale and the end of the third leg of our morning walk. Turning our backs toward Glendale we pivot right onto Myrtle Avenue and head west, toward home.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Welcome to My Neighborhood: The Morning Walk (Part 2 - 68th Avenue)

Turning right off Forest Avenue onto 68th Avenue, Myrrhlyn and I walk east. With his teeth Myrrhlyn grabs a forked stick off the sidewalk (photo top right), chewing sticks being another of his passions. With stick in his mouth he struts down the sidewalk as if he just won the Best of Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, his new stick his trophy. After a few proud struts, however, the leash tangles in the fork of this wooden trophy and Myrrhlyn uncharacteristically abandons his prize after only a few more steps. This will not be the only stick Myrrhlyn retrieves this morning without anyone throwing it.

The sidewalk along 68th Avenue is quieter and cleaner than Myrtle Avenue. 68th is a one way Avenue, almost entirely residential, and we are walking against traffic, so no cars or busses will be sneaking up from behind. The only time excessive trash litters this route is after a breezy garbage day when the wind gathers debris and deposits it at will. Maybe that is why this part of our morning walk is my favorite. It is usually quiet and clean.

Continuing our stroll I begin hearing sounds of the “M,” a block or two away on our left. This is the same subway line that often carries me into Manhattan and brings me back home. Sometimes I have to transfer to the “J” to make it all the way into the city and back again. During rush hour, however, the “M” runs the whole way. I hardly ever ride the “M” between the Forest Avenue Station and its eastern terminus at Metropolitan Avenue.

The subway's volume and pitch rises as it approaches, and then, according to the laws of physics, lowers and fades as it passes. Without being able to see the elevated tracks I do not know if the train is headed east, toward Manhattan, or west, toward Metropolitan. In case there was any doubt, the sound of the subway reminds me that I live and walk in an urban environment.

An American flag hangs from the outside of a window (photo second from top right), as I think it usually does, its hem tucked between the bottom of the sash and the windowsill. Today, though, I notice that the upper window is decorated with vinyl peel and stick turkeys for Thanksgiving, the sort of holiday decorations that you might buy at Michel’s or K-Mart. More stars and stripes hang suspended from a pole a few doors down (third photo from top right). Many of the residents along 68th Avenue seem to take great pride in the neighborhood, keeping it clean, proclaiming their patriotism, and observing holidays with various decorations.


Even though most of the homes were originally identical row houses, they have been around long enough for the residents to undertake renovations. I could probably find and photograph enough unique doors on the front of these homes, doors of various woods adorned with brass ornamentation and cut glass inserts, to publish a door poster or door calendar, the sort that celebrate cities and historic neighborhoods. As I walk past these doors I wonder who lives on the other side and what lives they live. What language do they speak? What faith, if any, do they practice?

Occasionally I will see a parent before work delivering a son or daughter to child care or picking one up to take to school. Sometimes I will see older residents sweeping their sidewalk or putting out trash. But there are no familiar faces on this street, no one I remember seeing on a regular basis. Cities can be so anonymous.

When we reach where 68th Avenue dead ends at Fresh Pond Road we are at the halfway point of our walk. The municipal trash can at the corner offers me the first opportunity since we left home to dispose of any flourescent orange doggie bags I used along the way. I do because I did because Myrrhlyn did doo-doo as we walked along 68th Avenue. Now he feels better, and so do I.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Welcome to My Neighborhood: The Morning Walk (Part 1 - Forest Avenue)

This morning, like most mornings, Myrrhlyn and I walk our 1.1 mile circuit around the neighborhood. The walk, and its route, is our morning routine, unless it is raining. It is not raining this morning. The sky is blue and the the air crisp. Since it is Saturday, the neighborhood is fairly quiet and just waking up.

Heading north on Forest Avenue (photo top right) we safely cross the first of fourteen street crossings on our route. Some of the crossings are controlled by traffic lights with pedestrian signals, but some are not. Our first crossing is not, so we carefully look for oncoming traffic.

Not long after our first crossing Myrrhlyn finds a discarded tissue (photo second right from top) . Yes, it is gross; but Myrrhlyn has a thing for discarded white tissues and paper towels. It seems I am always stooping over to force open his mouth to pull them out. Today is no exception.

Forest Avenue is one of two major north-south traffic arteries in Ridgewood, almost dividing Ridgewood between east and west. Forest is not a major commercial street but it is a bus route. I can hear the gentle rise and fall of the light traffic noise until the louder and deeper hum of an MTA bus approaches us from the south and eventually overtakes and passes us. I am always embarrassed when Myrrhlyn decides to do his business near a bus stop of waiting commuters or next to a stopped bus with passengers looking on. He does not embarrass me this morning.

Myrrhlyn also has a thing for pigeons. If he sees any within five or ten feet ahead, as he does this morning, like a stalking wolf in the wild he slows his gate, slinks lower to the ground and tries to sneak up on them, lunging for them at the last possible moment. But he has never come close to actually catching one of these winged rats of the city so I am not too concerned about their safety or his.

During any given walk we sometimes encounter other dogs being walked by their owners. At times Myrrhlyn calmly ignores them. Once in awhile he gives them a passing glance and growl. Occasionally he barks up a frenzy, as if his world and very being is threatened. Today he is calm. Even when we cross the street in order to avoid a large dog and its owner who are approaching us he ignores them and does not make a murmur.

In addition to discarded tissues and pigeons my canine walking companion also has a thing for discarded food he finds on the street. I other words, my dog likes garbage, even chicken bones. As we near the end of the Myrtle Avenue segment of our walk, with the speed of light Myrrhlyn grabs something off the sidewalk and starts chewing it. By the time I open his cavernous mouth to remove what I discover is a small chicken bone, the bone is already near the back of his throat and I have to reach deep within to pull it out. I have lost count of how many such bones I have already pulled out of his chops these past few months. When will he learn? When will he stop?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Celtic Crosses Everywhere

Yesterday’s meeting of New York City Presbytery at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church was architecturally dominated by a large Celtic cross suspended from the ceiling over the Chancel (photo top right). I do not know what it was made from. It appeared to be painted gold and was a simple outline, allowing me to see through it. Perhaps the ability to see through the cross is a metaphor. Rather than focusing our gaze on the cross Christians are called to look beyond the cross, allowing it to frame our vision of the world, acting as an interpretative lens.

On the back wall of the chancel of the church I serve as Designated Pastor, North Church Queens (a.k.a. North Presbyterian Church of Flushing), you can see another Celtic cross (photo bottom right). It was lovingly crafted from wood handpicked by the woodworking church member who made it, created in memory of a saint of the congregation.

Several years ago the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Planning Calendar featured photographs of various stone Celtic Crosses from Ireland. I later saw most if not all of those crosses in person, including the one in Kells, the one time home of the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kells.

Today the Celtic cross is associated with ancient Celtic Christianity and contemporary Presbyterianism in Scotland and Ireland, especially ancient Celtic Christian sites such as Iona, Clonmacnoise, and Glendalough. Next to the Celtic knot, the Celtic cross is perhaps the most well known image associated with Celtic Christianity.

The origins of the Celtic cross are shrouded in Mystery. The form and shape of the cross seem to have undergone change and development over centuries. Some suggest the Celtic Cross has pre-Christian, pagan roots, and that Celtic Christians baptized a religious and spiritual symbol of the druids, the standing stone, and turned it into a cross. Know one knows for sure.

The Celtic Cross has long been associated with the Presbyterian Church, thanks in no small part to Presbyterian Scottish and Scots-Irish immigrants who immigrated to America. But during the years Cromwell ruled, dozens if not hundreds of stone Celtic Crosses in Scotland were thrown into the sea, lost forever. Isn’t it funny how what Presbyterians value and cherish today as part of our heritage was once considered an idol? I wonder what we might value in fifty or hundred years that today we think as anathema.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Out of the Swamp to Madison Avenue

The Presbytery of New York City met today at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church (photo right), one of its larger and more prestigious churches. According to the congregation’s history, however, the church that is now Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church was called "The church in the swamp" when it was established in 1834 near the Lower East Side shipyards. That history compels me to adapt a familiar adage for church leaders and suggest that when you are up to your ass in alligators it is hard to remember that your main objective was to establish and grow a church. And Madison Avenue has certainly grown since its founding in 1834.

Madison Avenue’s history notes that its 20th century started poorly. After another congregation had merged with Madison Avenue, the two congregations “did not meld well” and “members fell away until the merged church's rolls dropped below those of either of its constituents at the time of the union.”

The congregation’s history continues to report, however, that the situation and the church’s prospects “changed dramatically with the arrival of the young Dr. [Henry Sloane] Coffin, only five years out of the Union Theological Seminary (Some said that the church could not then afford a more established preacher).”

I wonder, if the congregation could have, at that time, afforded a more established preacher than Henry Sloane Coffin and had called him (it would have been a “him” in 1905), if the congregation’s history under that new established preacher would have been one as equally “of remarkable growth and transformation” as it was under Coffin. Sometimes safe and secure "establishment" bets end up being safe and secure, maintaining the establishment status quo, when what is needed for transformation and growth is risk taking, even the risk of the church losing its life as it undertakes it mission (G-3.0400 in the book of Order).

I am not suggesting or calling for careless risk, but rather churches and presbyteries (regional governing bodies) and even whole denominations taking the risk of trying new ideas, calling and empowering young and untested but visionary leaders, being willing to rock the establishment boat, and recognizing that it might be easier to move out of the swamp than trying to drain it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hey, that’s My Alma Mater!

A link posted by Richard T. Berman on a LinkedIn Group alerted me to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education and some good news about my Alma Mater, Davis and Elkins College. I was a student at D&E from 1976-1980. My wife was a student 1975-1979. She returned to serve as the College Chaplain from 1997-2007. I served as adjunct faculty, teaching Religion and Philosophy 2002-2007 and during that time was able to welcome the Reverend Dr. Johanna van Wijk-Bos as a guest lecturer in my class (photo right; Johanna is the one in the dress).

I can’t say I used the best criteria over thirty-five years ago when I chose to apply to D&E. My High School grades and test scores probably could have gained me admission to some top notch schools. But D&E offered some things top notch schools did not. It is related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and I am a Presbyterian. It is located in the heart of West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, and being a West Virginian made some extra financial aid available while being in the heart of a National Forest meant I could be close to wild caves, wilderness areas for backpacking, and rocks for climbing. While at D&E I was in heaven. Well, almost!

D&E had less than 1,000 students when I was enrolled. None of my classes were over forty students. Some were only a dozen or less. I not only had the opportunity to go spelunking, backpacking and climbing but also served in Student Government, edited the College Newspaper, and earned credit for taking a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course in Wyoming the August between my Junior and Senior Year. And I still managed to graduate third in my class.

I am a firm believer in a Liberal Arts Education from small Liberal Arts Colleges. Such an education is not for everyone, but it was the right one for me. I am glad to read that after some tough years D&E is once again holding its head high.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Announcing a New Social Networking Site


I have decided to cash in on the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace by starting a new social networking site for the lewd, crude and non-prude.

Members of this new social networking site will be invited to post their favorite racist jokes in “Ain’t that Fanny” and their favorite sexist jokes in “Wisecracks”.

In "Out House" members may write totally false and embarrassing accusations about people they know and even those they don’t know, especially celebrities, politicians, bankers, lawyers, religious leaders, bosses, ex-partners and in-laws. Members may also post real or concocted embarrassing photos and videos of such people in “Ass the World Turns”.

If members want advice about dating, investments, diets, or just someone to listen, they can write to “Dear E. Ear”.

Chat rooms will enable social intercourse among multiple conversation partners where it seem like the conversation is as close as cheek to cheek.

A special educational component will allow dedicated users to earn a certificates or even a B.S. degree in Scatology.

A “find that buddy” feature will help members find old fraternity, sorority and drinking companions by beer, wine, or liquor brand name or name of their favorite mixed drink.

“The Plumber’s Assistant” will feature the latest fashions for discreetly or non-discretely showing off one’s assets.

I’m still playing with possible names for this social networking site but am currently leaning toward calling it “ButtBook”.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pirate Radio Rocks

My wife and I just returned home after seeing Pirate Radio. It is a treasure.

The English government might have killed pirates in the early 1700's, but as Pirate Radio tells the story, it could not kill Pirate Radio and Rock and Roll in the 1960's.

If you love classic Rock and Roll and are an anti-establishment type that likes a story about someone sticking it to the man, then set a course to theater to see this movie.

Philip Seymour Hoffman of Almost Famous exudes Rock and Roll. Bill Nighy of Pirates of the Caribbean captains the ship. A compliment of DJs, supported by a stellar cast of classic Rock and Roll cuts, rounds out the motley crew. My hunch is that this is one soundtrack that will be sailing into our collection.

Thus was the first time I ever watched a movie in theater when I was asked my opinion of the film both before and after watching it. As patrons entered the theater we were handed a survey, along with a small pencil. We were asked to fill out the front of the survey before we watched the film and to fill out the back page after watching the film.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How are Poetry and Philosophy Related?

Yesterday’s page on the Poetry Speaks calendar quoted Cynthia Ozick. She asks if poetry “is the child, or perhaps the parent, of philosophy?”

I think Poetry and Philosophy are siblings. Perhaps they are the twin children of awe and wonder struggling to rise above their humble birth. They are certainly not identical twins. Like many siblings they enjoy a love/hate relationship characterized by both close affinity and distant contention.

I’m neither a philosopher nor a poet; never the less I have made amateur attempts at both, occasionally writing poems and having taught philosophy. My poetry often reflects the emotional and sometimes mystical aspects of my being. It is the Dionysian expression of my psyche. Reading philosophy and trying to think philosophically feeds my Apollonian intellect. It exercises the “Thinking” preference of my personality.

Tom Christenson’s assertion in his Wonder and Critical Reflection: An Invitation to Philosophy, that “Philosophy, like poetry, can be important for the fresh-eyed approach it brings to things” suggests to me that the relationship between Poetry and Philosophy is like the relationship between two lenses in a pair of glasses. Looking through a single lens gives us a two dimensional view of the world, void of any depth. We need both views in order to better see, appreciate and understand our multifaceted and multidimensional world.

The picture to the upper right is the poet’s chair in the Poet’s Room of City Lights Books in San Francisco, where I have found both poetry and philosophy honored, appreciated, and celebrated. Below the windows is Jack Kerouac Alley.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Church with the Boss

Yesterday on The Daily Show Jon Stewart interviewed big man Clarence Clemons, front man saxophonist with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. About a minute and forty five seconds into the exchange Jon, who is Jewish, and having recently attended a Bruce Springsteen Concert at Madison Square Garden, said about going to a Springsteen concert:

“It’s the closest I will ever go to going to church. It is this incredible experience of just pure, after all these years of performing, unadulterated joy.”

Clarence responded:

“For me it is a church. It is my religion.”

My wife Vicki is a BIG Springsteen Fan. Being a Jersey Girl, she was a big fan before the Boss made it big. She has seen Bruce perform live over thirty-five times. She has also attended both “Glory Days” Symposium. I can no longer count how many times she has come home from a Springsteen concert and said something like “This is what church should be like” or “This is what worship should be like.”

I doubt Bruce is the only concert performer that can create such a response, which is part of the appeal of live concerts. So why can’t “Church” be more like concerts? Maybe if worshippers were willing to purchase $68 to $110 reserved seat tickets in advance, with no refunds unless the worship service was cancelled, rather than volunteering to drop $5, $10, or $20 in the offering plate if they happen to show up, worship could be more like a live concert. But should it?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Prayer for Veterans Day

Eternal Father, strong to save,
we pray for all the women and men
who have served in the armed forces of our country,
from Lexington and Concord
to Afghanistan and Iraq.
We thank you for the freedom and security their service has provided us.
Help us to cherish our freedom and use it wisely.
We ask you to bless all living veterans in a special way,
not just today, but every day.
Comfort those veterans who grieve for fallen comrades
who gave the last full measure of their devotion.
Strengthen those who bear the physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds
of service and combat.
May we, as a nation, honor our commitments and promises to our veterans.
Moreover, we pray for the day when no one needs to serve in the military.
So, help us to live not only as people who long for peace,
and who pray for peace,
but as peacemakers in this, your world.
Amen.