Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Trails I Want to Hike and Summits I Want to Climb (Some Again)

It has been awhile since I have enjoyed a good hike and so I have been thinking about where my next hike ought to be. I think I will start small by driving up to the Gunks and hiking a couple short routes in Mohonk Preserve, a moderate 3 mile round trip up to rocky Bonticou Crag and its excellent views, and a moderate 7.5 mile round trip up to High Peters Kill .

For my next day hike I would like to take the train north of the City and hike Breakneck Ridge, another trip promising rocky outcrops and fantastic views.

For my third trip I am hoping to drive up to the Dacks (Adirondacks) for a two day round trip starting at Keene Valley that will take me up over Mt. Marcy (I first hiked up Mt. Marcy in 1978) the first day and return over Mts. Haystack, Basin, Saddleback, Gothics, Armstrong and Upper Wolf Jaw (also hiked up Upper Wolf Jaw in 1978). I estimate the total distance to be around twenty miles.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bird on a Rope

I went by the Sebago Canoe Club Monday morning to mow grass. The club grounds were serene and quiet. As I was getting ready to open the garden shed to bring out the mower I saw this bird (photo right) perched on the rope of a boat holder. A young robin perhaps?

Even as I was opening the shed and bringing out the mower this feathered friend did not move. At first I thought it might be a precariously balanced decoy, a finely crafted replica meant to deceive. As I approached closer, however, I could see its chest rising and falling as it breathed. There was no eye movement. No feathers were ruffled. Just the chest rising and falling. This bird remained perched stone cold on the rope of the boat holder even as I approached as close as two feet.

If my memory serves me right, the only other wild birds I have approached closer to were injured and not able to fly.

For a few minutes in the midst of an otherwise busy Monday I was transfixed by this extraordinary encounter.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Welcome to My Neighborhood: Sunday in the Park

If you ask almost anyone what park they associate with New York City they will undoubtedly answer “Central Park”. Yet there are numerous other smaller parks scattered throughout the five boroughs, including several in Ridgewood, all maintained by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. I was walking through the neighborhood Sunday afternoon, probably the fist sunny afternoon in two or three weeks, and noticed that there seemed to be more people than usual sitting in some of the neighborhood’s small parks. The two I passed were Ridgewood Veterans Triangle (pictured top row) and Clemens Triangle (pictured second row).

I have probably lost count of the numerous times I have walked past and through these parks without stopping to read the signage. The placards tell the story of the park as well as the people and history associated with it, including nearby buildings and businesses.

The unknown and untold stories are the life narratives of the people in the parks. Each person standing or sitting on a bench in the park is a living human document with hopes, fears, relationships, memories and expectations. Each and every one of them must have a story to tell. I wonder if they are native to Ridgewood or moved here from someplace else in New York, or like me from another state, or perhaps from another country. What have they been doing since they woke this morning? What are their plans for the rest of the day?

In parks, on sidewalks, while riding the subway, and while eating in a restaurants, New Yorkers encounter countless strangers that we never risk getting to know. Every once in a while a chance encounter might prompt us to exchange a friendly greeting, maybe even strike up a conversation about the weather, sports, or our dysfunctional state senate, but for the most part we remain anonymous neighbors, faces in the crowd.

As I meander up and down the sidewalks of Ridgewood I occasionally glimpse people I have seen before, either sitting on the same bench, frequenting the same business, or walking back and forth to work around the same time that I usually walk the dog. What if I stopped to not only say hello but to ask the person’s name and strike up a conversation? Would I be labeled weird? Crazy? A stalker? Strange? Arrested for solicitation or disturbing the peace?

In a small town almost everyone knows something about everyone else, but not in a large city. Yet in many ways Ridgewood, and I imagine many of the other neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, is like a small town surrounded by a large city. Why must we remain anonymous?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Seminary Changes its Name

The Presbyterian Outlook (printed edition, June 29, 2009, page 9) has reported that “The board of directors of Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education has announced that it will change the school’s name to Union Presbyterian Seminary in the near future.” Seminary President Brian K. Blount announced the name change on May 19.

The name change means something to both my wife and me. My wife is a 1981 graduate of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. She graduated after the Assemblies Training School changed its name to the Presbyterian School of Christian Education and before the 1983 Reunion of the UPCUSA and PCUS and the federation of UTS and PSCE. We were married between her first and second year at PSCE and I lived with her on the campus of PSCE during the 1980-1981 academic year. While living on campus I took one course. More recently I have been a participant in a Colloquy on Prayer sponsored by the of the Institute For Reformed Theology (IRT) at Union Theological Seminary and the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. So we both have a history with and a small investment in the institution even though we both earned our Master of Divinity degrees from other institutions.

Prior to the 1983 Reunion of the UPCUSA and the PCUS there was only one “Union Seminary”. Which one depended upon whether a person was north or south of the Mason Dixon Line and whether one was a Northern Presbyterian (UPCUSA) or Southern Presbyterian (PCUS).

In the former PCUS “Union” was more or less THE SEMINARY of the Church even though there were others. It was located in Richmond, Virginia and it enjoyed almost instant name recognition and a reputation for excellence. It also enjoyed a loyal following.

In the UPCUSA, however, especially north of the Mason Dixon Line and particularly in the northeast, “Union” was located in New York City and it too enjoyed almost instant name recognition and a reputation ofor excellence even though it was a non-denominational seminary.

After the 1983 reunion of the UPCUSA and the PCUS southerners began serving churches in the north and northerners began serving more churches in the south and one could no longer assume which “Union” was being referred to when seminaries were being mentioned. Thus an identity crisis was born or at least for the time acknowledged.

Now there will be no more confusion. Union Seminary will be in New York. Union Presbyterian Seminary will be in Richmond, and in Charlotte, and in cyberspace, and who knows where else.

In President’s Blount’s sermon reflecting on the new name, he acknowledges that “there are many excellent arguments why the word Presbyterian should not be part of this name change. The word looks to the past in a world whose future appears more and more likely to be non denominational. Presbyterian, as a brand, and as a church is, I fear, dying. Perhaps the cutbacks and enduring staff layoffs at Presbyterian central in Louisville is a metaphor for the entire church, shrinking away before our eyes.” When it seems that fewer people can describe Presbyterian than can spell Presbyterian, claiming the name is a gutsy, risky move.

Monday, June 22, 2009

San Francisco State of Mind

I am just back from San Francisco, having caught Saturday night’s red eye and landing at JFK around 7:00 AM yesterday. Apparently guest blogger Andy James was not able to post in my absence. Here is some random rambling upon my return.

It was good to get out of the city and to be away from the computer and the internet for a few days.

San Francisco offered a respite from all the rain New York City has been having and even provided bright sunny days and a minimum of fog.

The City by the Bay seemed to offer a few more shores and a lot more summits than the Big Apple.

I forgot how much I like sourdough bread.

Among the Redwoods was perhaps the perfect setting for A Service of Worship and Christian Marriage for a same sex couple legally married in California before the prejudicial Proposition B, especially since the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has not seemed to be able to stand as tall as those redwoods. I think John Muir would have been happy and pleased.

There is nothing like a visit to City Lights Books to revive the poetic spirit.

New York’s drug addicts are less visible and New York’s panhandlers are less obnoxious than San Francisco’s.

San Francisco drivers are more polite and honk their horns far less compared to New York City drivers.

Grace Cathedral is a thin place, which becomes especially apparent when the organist is rehearsing.

Do not try to walk around San Francisco on just one meal a day.

San Francisco’s Chinatown seems touristy compared to New York City’s, but both pale in comparison to downtown Flushing, NY.

I did not see any fisherman at Fisherman’s Warf.

Seals in January at Jones Beach are more inspiring and smell far less than sea lions at Pier 39 in June.

Never order drinks at the bar and bring them to your table if you expect to be waited on at a restaurant.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Prayer

We remember with joy and give thanks for the significant men who have nurtured our life;
Adam, the father of humanity;
Abraham, the father of Esau and Isaac;
Isaac the father of Jacob, later called Israel;
And Israel, father of your holy people.
We thank you for Joseph, father of Jesus;
and our own fathers and men who like a father have protected us, taught us, and guided us.
We ask you to bless them,
and to honor them in your heavenly realm
as we seek to honor them this day in our community.
May our fathers and all men of faith
know our love and gratitude not only this day but every day.

This day also reminds us, loving God,
how like a father who welcomes the prodigal home,
you will never forsake us,
so we give you our sincerest and heartfelt thanks and praise
for your paternal love and care. Amen

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guest Blogger: Andy James

I will be taking off for a few days but do not want Summit to Shore to languish from inattention. Therefore I have asked my friend and colleague the Reverend Andy James (pictured right), Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, NY, to author a few posts in my absence.

Andy and I have cooperated in many endeavors over the past two years, so why not my blog? Our theological outlooks and approach to ministry are not that different and we are both Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Clergy, but perhaps that is where the similarities end. I am a northerner from West Virginia (the part north of the Mason Dixon Line) and he is a southerner from Mississippi. I went to Princeton Seminary. He went to Columbia Seminary. I am PC. He is Mac. Andy is also younger and more tech savvy than I am, so who knows what readers of Summit to Shore might be in for.

Please write Andy a comment to welcome him as soon as he writes his first post.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No Longer an Annonymous Victim

If you have been reading comments to my previous post about Death on the Van Wyck then you know that there have been several comments to that article and some discussion going on between friends and family of the gentleman killed in a motorcycle accident on New York City's Van Wyck Expressway last Sunday afternoon/evening, June 14, 2009. In addition to those comments I have been exchanging emails and have had telephone conversations with the man’s family. As a result the nameless, faceless, and anonymous is beginning to become identified. This is what I have learned.

The man was 44 year old Ken Ragbir of the Bronx, an only child. He was apparently on his way home after visiting his father.

Other than a four line non-descript report about the accident in the New York Daily News (I have not been able to locate it in the on-line edition and have not seen the print edition) there has been no news coverage of the accident that I am aware of and my internet searches have not returned any helpful results other than my own blog. Apparently the New York Times did not see the story as news fit to print. Perhaps since Ken was not a politician, entertainment sensation, sport’s star, banker, lawyer, crime boss or the family member of such the New York Media does not see this accident and his death worth noting. Or perhaps because the accident occurred on the outskirts of one of the outer boroughs rather than in Manhattan they didn’t think it worth mentioning.

Because Ken’s family has no other firsthand connection to the accident and somehow discovered my blog post about it they have turned to me for information from one of the last people to see Ken, and I am obliging them. I plan and hope to meet with Ken’s mother and perhaps other family members and friends within the next couple of weeks to help them, and me, close the circle.

If you happened to witness this accident and could share what you saw, please leave a comment. Or you may respond to my email and I will post your anonymous comment and share the information with Ken’s family.

I will let you know what more I learn about Ken and the accident as I learn it. I am certain this will not be the last post about the accident or about Ken.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Your Heart's Desire

In the 20th Psalm the Psalmist wrote “May God grant you your heart’s desire, . . . ”

Last Sunday the Lectionary Psalm was Psalm 20. After the reading of the Psalm I passed out 3x5 index cards and asked worshipers at North Church Queens to write the answer to the question “What is your heart’s desire?” Here are some of the responses.

To get well again

To have inner peace, love & joy

Peace to all

Going to the zoo

Family’s love

Good health for family members

To have a real truthful faith heart based relationship with God, not just the head intellectual meaningless excuse for real faith that I have always had

To go to heaven to be with the Lord and my husband



Peace ... in my family and with all

To keep on ticking, my dream is for peace

Peace and Healing


What is your heart’s desire? Write a comment and add to the list.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Death on the Van Wyck

Driving south on the Van Wyck Expressway (Interstate 678, photo right) just south of the Whitestone Expressway and the exit to the Long Island Expressway late this afternoon I saw traffic slowing down ahead of me and coming to a stop in the left hand lane. As I slowly approached the traffic, I saw in the middle of the north bound lanes what I at first thought was a large dog. Being a dog lover with an overweight Lab/Golden/(who knows what breed) lovable rescue at home I tuned on my emergency flashers and started pulling over among the vehicles stopped in the left south bound lane to lend assistance. As I was pulling over, however, I realized that what I thought was a large dog in the middle of the north bound lanes was in fact a human being!

As a former Emergency Medical Technician with both volunteer and professional experience, even though my certifications had expired long ago, my mind quickly changed gears from animal lover to first responder. I parked between a couple other parked vehicles, shifted into park, turned off the ignition, and got out of my vehicle. I climbed up over the concrete Jersey barrier type medium and rushed to the figure lying in the middle of the road. Three others were gathered around but none appeared to be lending assistance.

As I approached closer and was prepared to check vital signs and perform an initial assessment I noticed that the figure’s head was covered with some sort of cloth. One of those standing by said that he had already checked and there no vitals. After a few moments of observation and a visual check of the immediate area, I took his word for it.

I asked the stranger standing near the figure if he had called 911.

He said he had.

I saw a motorcycle nearby and asked if it was the victim’s bike.

The man standing over the figure said no, that the victim’s bike was further ahead. I determined that the nearby bike must belong to one of the other’s standing nearby. I looked north and saw a bike about a hundred feet away.

The Good Samaritan asked me if I had a sheet or something to cover the figure. I did not. Determining that there was no assistance I could offer I climbed back over the barrier separating the northbound from the southbound lanes, got back into my vehicle, and headed southbound down the Van Wyck toward home.

Driving home, adrenaline flowing, brain synapses firing, I began to reflect on what had just happened. Even though I have not worked as an EMT for over twenty-eight years and my certification expired over twenty-five years ago, as I saw the figure lying in the middle of the road my training and experience seemed to take over as if I were on automatic pilot. While I saw my fair share of trauma and death while volunteering and working as an EMT, I have not seen any since other than in the clinical setting of a hospital or funeral home, yet I was not affected by what I saw. Nevertheless I will skip the details.

Now I want to know details. How did the accident occur? Who was the victim? I’ll keep checking the internet and will watch tonight’s local news as I seek to close the loop. I will let know what I find out.

(This post has been updated with a more recent post.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

NOLS Alumni Gather at the Dublin House

As we usually do every other month, National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) alumni in New York City recently gathered to catch up and lift a few pints. And wouldn’t you know, wherever two or three NOLS Alums are gathered, you will find a topo/trail map in the midst of them as they plan their next outing (photo at right). How many times have you seen a top/trail map spread out on a table in a New York City bar?

Last night we gathered at the Dublin House, located at 225 W. 79th St on the Upper West Side. We had originally planned to gather at the 79th Street Boat Basin Café but that outdoor locale was closed due to rain. Apparently the establishments NOLS Alums are prone to frequent are not as hearty and prepared for foul weather as NOLS Alums are, at least not the Boat Basin Café.

Six of us gathered: Gint, Michael, Lori, Mac, Liz and I. At least four of us (me included) have actually been to Dublin and Lori lived in Ireland for a year, which just goes to prove that NOLS Alums tend to be world travelers and adventurers.

Gint and Lori offered first hand reports of the recent NOLS Alum Kayaking trip on the Hudson. We also talked about the economy, music, pets, Chicago cuisine, rowing, roommates, and the new Eastern Mountain Sports store in SoHo, as well as potential future gathering spots, activities and outings, including a backpacking trip in the Catskills (thus the map).

As I have noted before, one of the pleasures of living in New York City is the opportunity to be part of the NOLS Alumni community here in the city and to know that there are others who share my passion for and commitment to outdoor leadership and skills.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bann Thai

Less than two years ago my wife and I had never eaten Thai food. I was introduced to the cuisine on World Communion Sunday, October 1, 2007, at the fellowship dinner of the Thai Community Fellowship (PCUSA) following their worship. A few weeks later one of my nearby Presbyterian colleagues and I started meeting for lunch once a week at a nearby Thai Restaurant, BKNY. Eventually I introduced my wife to Thai food and now she is addicted. On the average she probably eats Thai three times a week. I probably eat Thai once a week. Between the two of us we frequent two different Thai restaurants, one in Queens and one in Manhattan (Chelsea). On occasion we may also dine at one of four or five other Thai eateries.

This evening my wife and I ate at Bann Thai, 69-12 Street in Forest Hills (Queens). We both enjoyed the Bann Thai Salad ($4.50). My wife found the Kra Prow Kai ($12.95) an excellent choice, spicy as requested but not hot enough to make her scalp tingle. I had Pad Preow Whan ($14.95). To cap it all off we shared the most heavenly Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango ($4.95), our favorite seasonal Thai dessert.

Living in New York City is like having the world as our kitchen. In addition to Thai food we also regularly enjoy Mexican, Chinese, Cuban, French and Italian food as well as Sushi. Yum.

Monday, June 8, 2009


What are the odds that on any given Sunday half of the people attending a worship service will be wearing khaki pants? This is exactly what happened at North Church Queens this past Sunday. The visual oddity was so noticeable that I actually counted the total number in worship and those (men and women) wearing khaki pants, did the math, and the ratio was 2:1, 50%, ½, half! Amazing! It was almost Twilight Zonish!

I know that Princeton Seminary grads, with our apparent preference for khaki pants and blue jacket, are sometimes accused of making khaki the unofficial uniform of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). But not even I, a Princeton grad, was wearing khaki pants last Sunday. I was wearing blue pants.

This statistical anomaly was unplanned. It just happened. And not a single person wearing khaki pants last Sunday was a Princeton Grad, not from the Seminary or the University. Go figure. The Gap and Dockers must have had a recent sale on khakis is all I can figure.

By the way, this is my 100th post to Summit to Shore. What better way to mark such an auspicious occasion than with a one word title like “Khaki”! To celebrate I think I will go put on a pair of khakis, put on a blue jacket, and slip a pair of Docksiders on my feet.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dance of the Trinity

About five years ago, while reading a working paper of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) entitled The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing, I was introduced to an ancient theological concept. Yes, it was an ancient concept but one new to me. The concept is communicated by the Greek word perichoresis. The term, perichoresis, and the theological concept associated with it has helped me think about the doctrine of the Trinity.

As the paper Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing made me aware, “God’s triune life in ineffable communion is described by ancient church tradition as a perichoresis: the mutual indwelling, mutual interaction, and mutual interpenetration of the persons of the Trinity. In this everlasting and interactive divine communion, each lives with, in and for the others. All is held in common except the distinctiveness of the persons in their mutual relationships of love. Confessing God as Triune, we affirm that this eternal life-in-communion of the Triune God is freely and gladly extended to us and to the world.” John of Damascus, in the 8th century, used the Greek term perichoresis in his attempt to explain Jesus’ statement, "I am in my Father, and my Father is in me."

That is a pretty heady theological definition of perichoresis. I like to think of perichoresis as describing a type of divine triune dance. The idea is not original. In his book Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis, commenting about the Trinity, writes “The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us.”

Angels Dancing on the Head of a Pin
In the lobby of Barbour Library at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, there is a contemporary sculpture (photo right) entitled Angels Dancing on the Head of a Pin created and presented to the Seminary by Dr. Rudolph Weingartner in memory of his wife Fannia. The artist could place only eleven angels on the head of a pin. I love that sculpture and enjoyed seeing it evertimne I entered the lobby of Barbour Library. Personally, however, I am not at all concerned about knowing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I am concerned, however, with knowing what dance they are doing, learning the steps, and joining in. I think the dance might be the same dance as the Triune God, a dance whose steps and rhythms might best be described by the Greek word perichoresis and the concept it points to.

I am not the world’s greatest dancer. It was a revelation to me not long ago, while trying to learn how to square dance, that “bowing toward your corner” meant bowing to the person or partner opposite you and not a space on the floor, and that “do-si-do” meant back to back and was not just some made up gibberish. Nevertheless, I think dancing must be like any physical activity. At first, when you are just learning, you have to think about what you are doing and the movement seems stilted, even mechanical and forced. You are not really dancing, not really enjoying the steps and rhythms of the dance, until you have practiced enough times to dance without thinking about it. Then the movement becomes fluid and organic. That is the sort of dance I imagine Angels dance on the head of a pin, and which might serve as an image of the Triune God, a fluid organic well rehearsed dance.

One reason I like and am fascinated by the image of dance as a way of beginning to appreciate the doctrine of the Trinity is because I think, as C. Baxter Kruger has written in his book The Great Dance, the image suggests that “God is not some faceless, all-powerful abstraction. God is Father, Son and Spirit, existing in a passionate and joyous fellowship. The Trinity is not three highly committed religious types sitting around some room in heaven. The Trinity is a circle of shared life, and the life shared is full, not empty, abounding and rich and beautiful, not lonely and sad and boring.”

Friday, June 5, 2009

Photographs and Memories

Less than two years ago my wife and I packed up all our belongings and moved from West Virginia to New York City. We still have a few things to unpack and occasionally run across items we already unpacked but forgot where we put them, thus the photo at right. I was looking through some old photos that I had not seen in a long time and ran across this one, one of my favorites.

This photo was taken one early morning along a trail in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest. It was shot only a few miles from this month’s header photo but on a different trip, probably in late July 2005.

I love the beams of morning light being filtered through the rising mist and falling among the straight spruce trees onto the needle and fern covered forest floor. As I look at this photo I can almost smell the crisp, moist, earthy scent and feel the cool, damp morning air on my face and legs. The photo also reminds me on one of my first solo backpacking trips with our dog Hermes.

I think it is time to organize my gear, fill my pack, grab my camera, put a leash on Hermes and hiking boots on my feet and head out for a few days on a trail.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

PrimaLoft Media Event

One of the perks of working, even part time, for one of the nation's leading outdoor specialty retailers (Eastern Mountain Sports) is the opportunity to attend clinics and media events presented by representatives of name brands.

Not long ago I attended an early morning clinic presented at the EMS SoHo store by two representatives of The North Face. They demonstrated some of their footwear via cut-apart samples as well as showing off some of their packs and tents. Part of the clinic involved several of us setting up a couple of their tents, including the “Minibus”, a nylon interpretation of the classic VW Minibus available in both two person and three person versions.

A few days later and late in the evening I was at an Icebreaker clinic also presented at the EMS SoHo store. I was not very familiar with Icebreaker Pure new Zealand Wool products prior to the clinic. After a DVD/PowerPoint presentation about Icebreaker’s history, philosophy, manufacturing process and product line I was sold. I purchased socks for myself and my wife as well as a top for my wife and briefs for myself. The socks and the briefs lived up to the representative’s claims.

Last night I went to a PrimaLoft New York Media Event held in the 19th floor penthouse of the Hotel Morgan on Madison Avenue between 37th and 38th Streets. The venue offered an excellent view overlooking Madison Avenue and up at the Empire State Building. PrimaLoft and their Marketing firm, Fendler Communications, as well as Alternatives were the hosts with the most by providing an open bar (beer and wine) and hors d ’oevres.

PrimaLoft supplies manufacturers (photo top right) of both home products (comforters and hypo-allergenic pillows) and outdoor products (jackets, pants, gloves and boots). While I was impressed by the comforters and pillows on display I was more interested in the outdoor products, including an EMS 30 degree Velocity bag and EMS Boreal 20 degree Infinity bag (photo bottom right) as well as apparel by name brands such as Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, and Arc’Teryx, to name just a few.

If I had any doubts about the lightweight quality and insulating properties of PrimaLoft, my doubts were assuaged by a little demonstration. I was asked to close my eyes and hold out my hands palm up. I was then asked to identify which hand was starting to feel warmer. Once I announced my choice I was told to open my eyes. Lo and behold, there was a thin three inch by three inch square of PrimaLoft on my warmer hand. I had not felt it placed there (lightweight quality) but felt my hand warming (insulating properties). I took a few samples with me and have repeated this demonstration with friends and co-workers.

Attending such media events and clinics helps make me a more informed guide and better able to answer the questions and meet the needs of people considering purchasing and using outdoor adventure gear and apparel.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

They (Presbyterian Welcome) Were All Together In One Place

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1 NRSV) The “they” refers to the earliest followers of Jesus.

Last Sunday, May 31, was Pentecost according to the western calendar. Late in the afternoon “They were all together in the chapel of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.” The “They” refers to Presbyterian Welcome, a community of congregations and individuals in the New York area whose mission is to build up and repair the Body of Christ by working for the full inclusion of all disciples, without regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. “They” were gathered for a service of Celebration, Grief, and Hope, and I was there, with camera (photos available at Picasa), as part of the “They”.

I do not recall if what we were celebrating, grieving and hoping for was ever made explicit. If not, it was implicit. We celebrated because so many presbyteries flipped-flopped during this round of voting on amendments and supported 08-B. We grieved because not enough presbyteries voted in the affirmative on 08-B and therefore we are still left with the exclusive and unjust language of G-6.0106b. We were hopeful because we know that the Spirit’s winds of change are blowing our way and that it is only a matter of time before the restrictive language of G-6.0106b is either amended or removed from the Book of Order.

I was sitting in a front pew and was not able to see how many attended the service but I estimate between fifty and a hundred. The chapel was festively adorned with red helium balloons, various red cloth, and dozens of candles. The liturgy was a little wordy (our Presbyterian fault) but creative and punctuated by accompaniment on piano and bass guitar. The outstanding vocals of the Lafayette Avenue Inspirational Ensemble had the congregation clapping and a few even rocking and rolling to their rhythm and blues. In other words, this was not your typical staid, frozen chosen Presbyterian Worship service and offered a vision of what worship in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition can be like.

Liturgical leadership for the Service of Celebration, Grief and Hope was shared by many, including the Lafayette Avenue Inspirational Ensemble, The Reverend David Dyson, the Reverend David Cockcroft, Elder David Richardson, the Reverend Anna Taylor-Sweringen, Deacon Takako Terino, The Reverend Mary Spears, Elder john Bradley, The Reverend Chris Shelton,The Reverend Mieke Vandersall, and others. From my perspective, the most memorable parts of the service were the musical offerings of the Lafayette Avenue Inspirational Ensemble (they rock!) and the Sermon by the Reverend Chris Shelton (an interesting interpretation of the choosing of Matthias over Joseph Barsabbas to replace Judas.)

I attended this service of Celebration, Grief and Hope for several reasons. Since I lead worship most Sunday mornings I do not usually have the opportunity to worship with others free of any liturgical responsibility and I need that on occasion. I have learned from experience that any worship planned and led by LGBT Presbyterians and their allies tends to be creative, uplifting, inspiring, and offers really good music. I think it is important to show solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Christ who have had their gifts for ministry ignored or dismissed simply because they choose to responsibly live out their God given sexuality within committed, covenantal and responsible same sex relationships.

I know clergy are often busy on Sunday and even my half-time schedule does not always give me the time to attend Presbyterian Welcome events. Nevertheless, I wonder why many more straight allies of Presbyterian Welcome were not all together in the chapel of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church last Pentecost.

Oh yea, after the Service we recessed to a lower room for refreshments organized and in part provided by the Reverend Mary Spears, which just goes to prove that all Presbyterians, gay, lesbian, or straight, love to eat.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: The Last Shall be First

My wife secured two tickets to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, one of our favorite shows. The tickets were free but not easy. There was a waiting period before any were available and a strict protocol related to when to show up and how to behave. Reservations and the expectation of guests were communicated via email (pictured at right).

We arrived outside the 733 Eleventh Ave Studio just south of 52nd Street in Manhattan by the prescribed 3:30 PM. There were already two lines, a line for general admission with reserved seats and a line for VIPs. We stepped up to the end of the line for the general admission, a line defined by movable tape barriers in front of the studio and along 11th Ave. As soon as we stepped up to the end of the line within the defined area a staffer closed the line behind us and directed others as they arrived to line up around the other corner on 52nd St.

We stood in line from 3:30 to 4:30. About 4:30, out of the blue, a total stranger came up to us and asked us if we would like VIP seating! She explained that she had VIP reservations for eight people but that only five were finally able to attend. We wondered what the catch was, and why she picked us, but welcomed the invitation and moved from the end of the Regular Admission line of about 100 people to near the end of the VIP line of about 50 people. And then we waited about another half hour.

It turned out that our total stranger was named Eboney. A relative worked in the entertainment industry, which is how she secured the VIP reservations. Her mother and some other family members and friends were with her. We asked Eboney why she picked us out of line to invite us into the VIP line. She said she picked us because we were at the end of the regular line.

Shortly after 5:00 PM the VIP line was handed homemade, numbers written in marker, laminated yellow tickets. My number was 37. My wife’s was 38. We then were invited inside into the lobby, passing under the entrance where above the doors was inscribed the words "Abandon News, All Ye Who Enter Here" and then we had bags and packs searched and walked through a metal detector. We were instructed not to eat, drink, chew gum, or take photographs, use a cell phone or recording device, not to get out of our seat once seated, to sit where were placed, to not talk unless invited to, but to laugh and cheer all we wanted. Once through the security check point we waited about another twenty minutes before were escorted into the studio and shown our seats. We sta third row back from the front and about ten yards form Joh.s desk, off of to tage right. Upbeat rock music, including cuts by Bruce Springsteen and Jesse Malin, played while we waited in our seats.

About ten minutes before Jon Stewart appeared the audience was warmed up by stand comedian Paul Mecurio. He was a quick wit sparing with the audience with one repartee after another. When Jon came to the stage he took a few questions from the audience, bantered with us a bit, and then sat at his desk and the taping started. I was impressed that Jon actually worked into the early part of the show information about his audience gleaned from his brief interaction with us.

The taping last thirty to forty minutes. There were three to four breaks between segments during which writers and techies would consult with Jon, revising the script up to the last minute. These taping breaks would become commercial break during telecast. A few of segments of the live video would eventually fall to the cutting floor in order to trim the show down to fit within its time allotment.

A little after 7:00 PM the show wrapped, the doors opened, and we were free to eat, drink, chew gum, make phone calls, take pictures, make recordings and go home. Later in the evening my wife and I watched the show at home on television.

All in all it was good experience: two Presbyterian clergy attending a live taping of a progressive Jewish comedian’s popular comedy news show and learning by experience an application of Matthew 19:30 and Mark 10:31 when, thanks to a total stranger named Eboney, we who were last became almost first.

Monday, June 1, 2009

About June’s Header Photo

June’s header photo was not taken with my SeaLife ECOshot. I snapped this using a Konica Z-up110 Super exposing to 35-mm film and pulling the image off a disk supplied by the same lab that developed the film.

The scene is Dolly Sods, West Virginia, looking south from Bear Rocks. The Allegheny Front is to the east (left). Dolly sods is mostly a National Wilderness Area within the Monongahela National Forest and at the northern end, near Bear Rocks, is a plateau with an elevation of about 4,000 feet.

Dolly Sods is known as the land of one sided pine trees (as can be seen in the photo at right) because the prevailing westerly winds stunt the western side of trees while elongating the eastern side.

I have hiked and backpacked in Dolly Sods off and on for thirty three years, in all four seasons, have seen at least one rattlesnake, at least one black bear, numerous deer, and markers locating buried WW II ordinance. It is one of my favorite places, if not my absolute favorite place to hike and backpack.