Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Delivering the Good News

When I was a young teenager I earned spending money by delivering newspapers, the Steubenville Herald Star. Rather than riding a bike I walked and delivered my papers not by throwing them onto a driveway or up on a porch but by opening storm doors and placing them between the outer and inner doors or into mail slots or under mail boxes. I took pride in providing quality service to my subscribers.

While delivering the Gospel is not the same as delivering newspapers, I think one can preach haphazardly, tossing quotes and stories like newspapers out of a car window or from a bike’s basket, not sure where they will land, hoping they will reach their destination. Or one can carefully craft the Good News and deliver it with care and precision to those in the pews. To tune up my sermon delivery, last week I attended a two day workshop on Delivering the Gospel (see page 39 of the September 22, 2009 Christian Century). It was well worth the time and expense (my time, the church’s expense).

With leadership provided by Karen DeMauro and John M. Stapleton, nine workshop participants (photo top right, minus Karen) focused on “Delivery, Delivery, and Delivery.” And boy did John and Karen deliver. Their two day workshop, held at the Marble Collegiate Church (photo bottom right) (as in Norman Vincent Peale) was one of the most intense and worthwhile continuing education events I have ever attended. It not only filled in some gaps and holes that were left over from seminary days but gave me renewed confidence in my preaching. I cannot say enough good things about the workshop.

Each workshop participant delivered a three to four minute segment from a sermon and then Karen and John critiqued our delivery. Following their observations, all the other participants then also responded. Each workshop participant received at least an hour and a half of individualized, focused attention, more than I ever received in seminary. Along the way Karen led us through various voice exercises and demonstrated numerous delivery techniques. John offered theological as well as homiletically insight. The other participants, representing Reformed, Methodist, Baptist and Episcopalian traditions, added depth and insight from their various experiences and backgrounds in the collegial learning environment.

For more information and dates of future Delivering the Gospel Workshop, contact

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Early Morning Paddle

I climbed out of bed an hour earlier than usual this morning so that I could go kayaking. I was out of the house around 7 AM and at the Sebago Canoe Club by 7:30 Thirty-five minutes later I and four others, John, Michael, Tony and Michael, were in our boats and on the water. I paddled an old red Wilderness Systems Sealution which belongs to the club and which I had paddled before. It was my first paddle in nearly a month and one of the earliest morning paddles I have been on.

Starting our under a crystal clear deep blue sky with bright morning sun (photo top right), and water and air temperature both around 66, we easily paddled out of Paerdegat Basin and into Jamaica Bay in spite of some wind. Our first stop was Floyd Bennet Field, where we took a short stretching break. From there we headed for the Marine Parkway Bridge, paddling into a head wind as soon as we rounded the point between Floyd Bennet and the Bridge. Just before the beach we stopped for a “wind break” by beaching just downwind of the ramp (photo bottom right).

In spite of the wind, with sunny skies and seasonable air and water temperature, some of us were willing to push the boundaries a little and continue on. While Michael stayed behind to wait for us, the rest of us paddled back out into the wind, under and just beyond the bridge, before heading back to our “wind break” to pick up Michael. Conditions around the bridge consisted of one foot swells and foot and half waves. Paddling under the bridge proper was like paddling through a wind tunnel. It was the most wind the steadiest waves some of us had encountered in quite awhile and shortly after the bridge turned around and headed home. While no one lost it in the wind and waves, all of us were experiencing some weather cocking almost the entire trip.

There was awhile around the bridge when I found myself in that zone where mind, body and spirit seem to be one. There was nothing but me, the kayak, the water, the wind, the waves, the swell and my paddling. It was one of those rare, magical, mystical moments that made getting out of bed and climbing into a kayak worthwhile.

On the way back to Sebago we stopped again at Floyd Bennet Field for a break and were back at the Sebago dock by 12:15 PM. We covered 9.2 miles and averaged two miles per hours including breaks.

Photos from the trip can be viewed on my Picasa site.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Road Trip

For only the first or second time since my first blog post on January 5, 2009, I have gone a week without posting anything. The reason is that I have been on vacation, a vacation that included a road trip (this post) and two days of continuing education (future post).

A week ago Vicki and I packed up the car and, with Myrrhlyn in a travel kennel in the car, headed out of the city. We were destined for central Ohio where Vicki was to co-officiate at a wedding for a couple of our former students.

It was Myrrhlyn’s first road trip. He was a great traveler, throwing up only once! He seemed not to mind riding in his travel kennel and was occasionally invited out of the kennel to sit on the lap of the person in the passenger seat (photo top right).

I had forgotten that Pennsylvania is over three hundred miles from east to west, that is if one drives on Interstate 80. I-80 has at least one redeeming attribute. It is not the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Nine hours and five hundred miles later we pulled into Loudonville, Ohio, population slightly over 3,000 and our home for the next two days. Loudonville impressed me as a quintessential American small town with a slight artsy-crafty flavor. Too many closed business and boarded up buildings, however, betrayed the current recession and the fiscal plight of small town America. Loudonville, located near the Mohican River, also happens to be the canoe capital of Ohio, and it was frustrating to be there without our kayaks or the time to enjoy the river.

Bride Megan and Groom Eric (photo middle right) are both recent graduates of Davis and Elkins College, where Vicki served as Chaplain for ten years and I taught religion and philosophy as adjunct faculty her last five years at D&E. Attending Eric’s and Meghan’s wedding was like attending a small college reunion not of classmates but former students. At least four of my former students were in attendance. Even more former students Vicki knew were in attendance.

Vicki co-officiated with Chris, Meghan’s Presbyterian Pastor since the day he baptized her as an infant. The bride’s father is, by the way, the Clerk of Session of Meghan’s home Church where Chris is still Pastor. Eric and his family are also Presbyterian.

On the way home we detoured through Cleveland in order to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Actually, it would be more correct to say that we detoured through Cleveland in order to visit the Bruce Springsteen Exhibit (photo bottom right) at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, driving home across Pennsylvania took just as long driving west to east as it did east to west. The Keystone State had not shrunk any during the two days we were in Ohio.

So, the above is partly while I have been silent for nearly a week. The other reason, two days of continuing education, will the subject of a future post.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

NOLS Alumni Gather at the Boat Basin Café

Nine National Outdoor Leadership School Alumni living in the New York metropolitan area gathered for drinks and dinner at the Boat Basin Café, Riverside Drive and 79th Street, Thursday, September 17th (photo right). After first one, then two, and then three at the bar grew to four or five we moved to a table on the balcony overlooking the Hudson and were treated to a beautiful sunset. Eventually we numbered nine: three Johns, Lori, Gint, Kate, Michael, Mac and Elizabeth. Kate was a newbie and this was the first time I met one of the John’s.

Food was consumed. Beer was drunk. No trail maps were laid out on the table but two copies of NOLS Cookery did make an appearance, and Lori, Michael and Gint finalized plans for an upcoming trip to the Catskills while Elizabeth prepped for upcoming job interviews in Boston. Gint informed us that he now has his own apartment not far from the Boat Basin Café.

The next gathering will be the BIG NOLS NYC Reunion, Thursday, October 15, 2009 7:00-9:30 PM at Patagonia SoHo, 101 Wooster St, when NOLS Instructor Rob Walker will present a program about his six-month, 1,850-mile kayak traverse of Chilean Patagonia. Everyone, even folks that have never taken a NOLS course, are not married to a NOLS Alumni, and may never have heard of NOLS is welcomed. A $10 donation at the door would be appreciated. To RSVP, call 800-332-4280.

His Head Was Bent in Sorrow, Green Scales Fell Like Rain

I am not usually one for offering reflections upon the death of public figures, especially entertainers, but I was particularly saddened this morning to learn of the death yesterday of Mary Travers. Even without all my years spent in Church Camping singing folk songs at camp fires where Puff the Magic Dragon was a standby, so much so that I almost became sick and tired of it; the lyrics and tune of Puff the Magic Dragon is indelibly part of my consciousness as one of the first songs I ever fell in love with. I was probably around five or six years old at the time. Later, as I associated that song with Peter, Paul and Mary and my hormones kicked in, I think I fell in love with Mary Travers as well. I cannot think of that song without thinking of her, and I cannot think of her without thinking of that song.

I had the opportunity and pleasure of hearing PP&M live in concert at least once, at the Barnes of Wolf Trap, in the late 90’s. They would start singing and the audience would join in. By the time the end of the song came along PP&M’s voices were drowned out by the crowd. Along with their music they offered political and social commentary that was desperately needed at that time. Their performance, or rather their appearance, was a religious experience, akin to a religious revival, perhaps even a theophany.

Dragons live forever, but not so little boys and girls or folk singers for that matter. The world of music and the world in general was a better place with Mary Travers in it. Puff and I mourn her death.

Here are a couple links, one from The Guardian and one from The Star Press, for more extensive obituaries, including some history that places Mary Travers within the social, political, and artistic context of the time.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Myrrhlyn Raises $10 in CROP Walk

My first CROP Walk was probably 1981. I have walked in CROP Walks in New Jersey, North Carolina, West Virginia and New York to help raise awareness of and funds to combat hunger. For a year or two I was even the Treasurer for the Crop Walk in Gaston County, NC. For the last three years I have walked with my wife and members of her church, the Ridgewood Presbyterian Church (photo left), walking laps around Juniper Valley Park in the New York City Borough of Queens. This was the first year our dog (he is still really a puppy) Myrrhlyn walked in a CROP Walk, however. He even wore a CROP Walk sticker on his rump (bottophoto left). And he raised $10! How much money has you dog, or cat, or other pet raised to end hunger?

As we walked around Juniper Valley Park last Saturday in the CROP Walk Myrrhlyn wanted to visit with all the other dogs in the park. Whenever he sniffed other dogs and they sniffed him a conversation would usually arise between us and the humans with the other dogs.

During our first lap around the park Myrrhlyn walked up to a fully grown Black Lab and his human companion. As the two dogs sniffed each other, the gentleman with the Black Lab asked us about the sticker on Myrrhlyn’s rump. We told him about CROP and Church World Service and explained that we were walking to raise money to help fight hunger. The gentleman then reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and gave us two five dollar bills. We were most thankful. Myrrhlyn did not verbally acknowledge the gift but seemed thankful nevertheless.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who is Jesus?

In Mark’s Gospel there is a story about Jesus asking his disciples who people said he was. You can find the narrative in chapter 8 verses 27 through 30. The disciples told him that some were saying he was John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the Prophets. Jesus then asked the disciples point blank “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered “You are the Messiah.”

There is a similar account in Luke chapter 9 verses 18 through 20 where Peter responds "The Messiah of God." In a parallell account in Matthew chapter 16 verses 13 through 16 Peter replies “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

This morning I asked a couple younger worshippers at North Church Queens who Jesus was. The youngest responded “The baby of God.” Another answered “The Son of God.” Before returning to the pews, the younger worshippers assisted me by handing out 3x5 index cards to all the other worshippers at North Church Queens as I asked worshippers to anonymously write on the index cards their answer the question, in ten words or less, “Who is Jesus?” After a few moments the younger worshippers collected the cards and returned them to me. Here, in no particular order, are some of the answers that were returned.

“The Messiah, our greatest Teacher, and God’s Earthly Reflection”
“The Son of God”
“Jesus is the Messiah, Son of God, who came and died for us to save us (world) of our sins.”
“The son of God, our Savior on this earth”
“The Son of God, our Savior”
“Son of God & Holy Spirit & Son of Man”
“Our Savior, Son of God, way to Eternal life”
“God, as he came to walk the earth as a man.”
“The Son of God, our Redeemer, our Savior”
“Jesus is our Savior & the Creator of Heaven & Earth”
“God, Father, Son, Redeemer, Holy Ghost, Giver of life”
“Jesus is our Savior; the Son of God.”
“Son of God, our Savior, Teacher of the Holy Word, Preacher”
“Jesus is the Son of the Father and the Son of Man, our Savior”
“Jesus is our Savior, Redeemer, and friend”

This is how some of the worshippers at North Church Queens answered the question “Who is Jesus?” But who do you say that he is?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Steelers Lead League

With their 13-10 overtime win against the Tennessee Titans, The Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers are now in sole possession of first place and the only undefeated team in the NFL, at least until next Sunday.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Sunday Stroll along the Hudson

A personal update by a facebook friend alerted me to the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater being docked in the City. With Sunday afternoon being the first Sunday afternoon since who knows when that neither my wife nor I had to work, we headed into the City (that is how people in the outer boroughs often refer to Manhattan even though we all live in New York City) to see Pete’s boat. We have known about the Clearwater for several years but have taken more of an interest after we moved to New York. Our interest has increased even more after attending Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday party which was also a fundraiser for the Clearwater.

Since the Clearwater was docked at the 79th Street Boat Basin we decided to first eat lunch at the Boat Basin Café, located at Riverside and 79th Street. After only a ten minute wait we were seated at a table for two on the terrace overlooking the Hudson and the Clearwater (top photo right). With temperatures in the mid seventies and an almost clear blue sky the outside terrace was a nearly perfect setting to enjoy a late lunch while overlooking not only the Clearwater but the any other boats docked in the area as well as the kayakers paddling by. I had a juicy burger and my wife had a veggie burger. Both were accompanied with chips.

We have been considering volunteering for a week on the Clearwater and wanted to see the sloop for ourselves before making a final decision. After our lunch we were able to see the crew quarters and the galley and to talk to some of the crew about what a week of volunteering might be like. The galley was bigger than most New York City apartment kitchens. The crew quarters looked bigger and more comfortable than many cabins and tents I have lived in at summer camps. We learned that as spacious as the crew quarters might be, however, when the weather is nice many of the crew sleep on deck rather than in their berths.

After a quick tour of the Clearwater we walked south along the Hudson, enjoying the sun, the open air, and the water. With no particular destination in mind, thinking we might walk all the way down to 42nd street before catching the subway, we strolled along the Hudson. As we walked we would occasionally stop to enjoy the view, watch boaters, and I would take pictures.

Approaching 72nd Street we could see kayakers taking advantage of the free kayaking offered by the New York City Downtown Boathouse. We were considering taking advantage of it ourselves, even though we were not dressed for it, until we saw the long waiting line and decided to keep walking. Fortunately the wait was not nearly as long at pier 96 (56th Street), so we signed our waivers, stored our valuables in a locker, donned life jackets, and waited just a few minutes to enjoy a twenty minute paddle. We both paddled Ocean Kayak Drifters, later models of the same sit-on-tops we own. Though we enjoyed our brief paddle, The Hudson River is not Jamaica Bay, but it is still the Hudson, and even in the restricted paddling area there was still some wave and wake action. (second photo from top right taken from the paddling area looking back toward the Boat House)

After returning to the dock, depositing our PFDs and retrieving our belongings, with wet butts we kept walking south along the Hudson. At Pier 88 (46th Street) we encountered the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Meseum (third phto from top right). This was the first time I have seen the air craft carrier (featured in the movie National Treasurer) in person. It is huge! Unfortunately we were too late to enjoy a tour. I definitely plan to go back some time earlier in the day when I can enjoy the tour.

As we walking we decided that it had been a good afternoon. We had enjoyed lunch al fresco overlooking the Hudson, briefly toured the Clearwater, and for a short while kayaked in the Hudson. When we reached 42nd Street, however, we decided to keep walking south along the Hudson.

At Pier 66 (26th street) we passed The Manhattan Kayak Company and saw a few paddlers but the entrance was already closed. Meanwhile we heard music and voices not far away, saw where it was coming from, and discovered Bahamas Culture Day, sponsored by the Bahamian American Cultural Society. We bought a raffle ticket, explored the festival, and enjoyed a couple bottles of Kalick (empty Kalick bottles fourth from top right). Kalick is a Bahamian beer we have not enjoyed in almost two years, having last had it while vacationing on Eleuthera at the end of October and Beginning of November 2007.

As we approached Chelsea Piers, located between 17th and 23rd Streets, we turned East at 23rd Street and walked away from the river to enjoy dinner at one of our favorite eateries, Pongsri Thai Restaurant (bottom photo right). Vicki ordered Thai Basil Eggplant and I had the Pineapple Stirfried Rice. After dinner, we headed home.

Considering that our original plan was only to visit the Clearwater, our afternoon turned out to be quite an adventure that included kayaking as well as a taste of Bahamian Beer and Thai Cuisine. Such an afternoon is only possible in New York City. You have to love it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It Was Just Salt

About midway into my most recent long distance paddle I suspected that the images in the viewfinder of my camera seemed blurred and washed out. When I downloaded the memory card to my lap top and viewed the images on my computer’s screen my suspicions were confirmed. My worst fears were that water had found its way behind the lens of my waterproof camera and that I was going to incur an expensive repair or else need to buy a new camera.

A few days later I was taking some more pictures, this time at a youth paddle, and noticed once again that the photos seemed washed out and blurry. Suddenly I was struck with the idea of wiping off the small lens with my rash guard paddling shirt. Maybe using an article of clothing to clean the lens was not the best idea, but I did not have any lens paper or a cleaning cloth with me.

When I returned home and downloaded my new shoot I noticed a dramatic difference between the pre wipe shots (example top right) and the post wipe shots (example bottom right). I have thus determined that the problem was not mechanical. The problem was that salt water from Jamaica Bay had dried on the lens, leaving a salty (I hope it was only salt) film on the lens, a problem that was easily and inexpensively corrected.

I usually spray down my camera with a weak vinegar solution and then rinse it with tap water after every exposure to salt water. Apparently I had forgotten to do this between the long distance paddle and the youth paddle, because if I had, the dried salt should have been washed off.

This whole episode reminds me of Ockham’s razor, the philosophical principal that the simplest explanation is most likely the best and right explanation. A corollary would be that the simplest fix is probably the best and first one to try.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Anna Levesque - Girl at Play

One of the people I had the opportunity and pleasure to meet while working at the Confluence and Eastern Mountain Sports Paddle Sports Center at the fifth annual Adventures NYC was Anna Levesque (photo right)- Girl at Play.

Anna is a world class white water kayaker rather than a sea kayaker but a kayaker nevertheless. I originally read about her a year or two ago in a kayaking magazine and was glad to meet her in person. One day Anna was reading a kayaking instructional book and realized that out of all the photos and illustration only two featured women. Wanting to support, inspire and educate other women paddlers, Girls at Play was born. Girls at Play is a woman's only kayaking education and trips program, so I will never experience it first hand.

While she works and guides across the world, Anna lives in Asheville, NC and works out of the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, NC.

You already read my impressions of kayaking in Central Park. Read what Anna posted to her blog.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Long Distance Paddle

The Sebago Canoe Club Sea Kayaking Committee schedules various types of trips throughout the season. Among these trips are long distance paddles. I am not sure what constitutes a “long distance” paddle. My hunch is anything over 6, 8, or 10 miles. Regardless, I have been on two long distance paddles this season, both of them led by Bonnie. My first long distance paddle was August 2 and the most recent was this past Sunday, August 30.

Last Sunday afternoon ten of us left the Sebago dock around 12:45 PM. The trip began smoothley as we paddled from the dock toward the the Belt Parkway Bridge (photo top right) but soon after we passed the bridge we realized that one of us was not wearing a PFD. Most of us confessed that we had at least once forgotten to don this essential piece of safety equipment. Nevertheless Bonnie and the PFD’less paddler headed back to the dock to pick up a PFD while the remaining eight of us paddled on ahead at a slower pace than usual so the Bonnie and the other paddler could catch up with us.

Not far from the seawall near Floyd Bennet Field the slight breeze, current, tide, and boat wakes combined to create some exciting waves and swells. I thought I was going to lose it once or twice but a few braces and hip flicks kept me upright. All eight of us in fact paddled through what was both challenging and fun. I’ll honestly attribute my successful navigation through the chop to 10% skill, 10% experience, and 80% luck.

Before we crossed under the Marine Parkway Bridge, Bonnie and co-paddler (now with PFD) had caught up with us but another of our group with a pressing appointment had to head back early, reducing our original ten to nine.

As we entered Dead Horse Bay we encountered some more waves (photo second from top right). One of us capsized (photo third from top right) but assisted by Bonnie’s T-rescue quickly climbed back into the boat and kept paddling. It was the only capsize of the day, though earlier Bonnie had indeed rolled in order to cool off.

We stopped for a short break on an island between Gerritsen Creek and Mill Creek only to have the experience diminished by the sound of motorcycles across the water and jet skies in the water. After a short break we paddled around the island and finally enjoyed some peace and quiet and decided that a Sunday afternoon’s paddle could not get much better.

On the way back we encountered some more waves in Dead Horse Bay but fairly calm water around Floyd Bennet Field. The last of our group paddled into the dock around 6:15 PM. I checked my GPS and learned that we had paddled 14.7 miles in 5.5 hours. The distance was my third longest to date, a little shorter than the 15.3 miles of the August 2nd “After the Storm” paddle and a 15.5 mile paddle with Walter and Tony near the end of last season. If nothing else I know that under favorable conditions I can comfortably (with the help of Advil) cover 15 miles in a day. Does that qualify me as a long distance paddler? Compared to some of the people I paddle with and other kayakers I know, I doubt it.

As I already mentioned, this particular long distance paddle was led by Bonnie. Phil assisted. Other paddlers were Tony, Andrew, Dan, Milton, Avi, and two other Johns. I paddled an old Venture Orca for the first time. I liked how the boat handled and it fit well but the deck rigging left a lot to be desired. Andrew and Milton both paddled boats they had built themselves. I had paddled with Bonnie, Phil and one of the other Johns before, but this was my first trip with Tony, Andrew, Avi, Milton and the other John. I hope it will not be my last.

More photos from the trip can be seen at Picassa.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Scottish Highlands Service Trip and Barge Cruise

I do not remember which I discovered first, the writings of John Muir or the Sierra Club. My familiarity with Muir and my membership in the Sierra Club both date back to 1975 or 1976. My love of Scotland, Muir’s birthplace, is more recent. I first visited there in 2000 and again in 2001. I hope to someday go back, to kayak around the Inner Hebrides, especially around Oban, and to climb Ben Nevis. I wish I could join New York state resident Richard Grayson’s Friday, April 9 through Tuesday, April 20, 2010 Scottish Highlands Service Trip and Barge Cruise, a Sierra Club Service Outing to John Muir’s land of birth. According to Richard, this will be “the Sierra Club's first international service trip in some 15 years.”

Richard has been a Sierra Club member since the 1960’s and a Trip Leader for several years. I recently met Richard and had the opportunity to hear from him firsthand about the upcoming Sierra Club Service Trip to Scotland that he will be leading. I promised him I would give the trip some PR on Summit to Shore.

After meeting in Inverness, the largest city in the Highlands, trip participants will work with a Scottish environmental organization in such activities as fence removal and planting native trees in the forests of the Highlands. Trip participants will work six days, with Wednesday being a free day to explore. During the work week, the group will stay in small accommodations with communal cooking facilities. After the work week concludes, everyone will board a barge for a four day, three night slow and scenic cruise down Loch Ness. The trip will end in Fort William, near Ben Nevis, the highest point in Great Britain. Visit the the Sierra Club web site for a complete brochure:

About September’s Header Photo

This month’s header photo features my wife Vicki and our late dog Hermes. Vicki is paddling her Ocean Kayak Drifter with Hermes swimming nearby. The photo location is near Teach's Hole and the Atlantic Ocean just off Springer’s Point on Ocracoke Island, NC. The water was knee deep and we were not paddling far from shore as the purpose of our paddle was to help Hermes become more comfortable with the water and to learn how to better swim, which explains why Vicki is not wearing her PFD.