Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, January 1, 2012, the First Sunday after Christmas (Year B)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)  Lectionary Ruminations is also cross-posted on my personal blog, Summit to Shore. http://summittoshore.blogspot.com/


v. 10 How does one’s whole being exult? Most Presbyterians only exult with the mind.  I find it interesting that both bridegroom and bride imagery is employed.


v. 11 It seems righteousness must take root and grow and does not materialize out of thin air.


v. 2 What could this new name be?

v. 1 Who, or what, is praising from the heavens?  Or is it the heavens that are praising.


v. 2 How do you deal with angels?


v. 3 It seems that everything above the earth is praising God.  What about everything below the earth?


v. 7 Now sea creatures below the surface of the earth join the choir.


v. 11 Some human voices finally join the chorus.


v.1-14 I think I would interpret this Psalm through an environmentalist’s lens.

v. 4 What is”full” time?  Is this kairos time or the eschaton?  John Shelby Spong used a phrase from this verse as the title of his book about the birth of Jesus.  Why would Paul refer to Jesus being born of a woman rather than of the Virgin Mary?


v. 6 What do you think about translating “Abba” as “Daddy”?


vs. 4-7 These verses seem to base adoption as God’s children upon Jesus’ birth. So why did he have to die?

v. 22 What time was this?


v. 24 Why two turtledoves but no partridge in a pear tree or three French hens?


v. 25 Is there anything special about the name Simeon? 


v. 27 What was customary under the law?


v. 32 Gentiles?  I think Luke might be the only Gospel that could say this.


v. 40 Luke is long on prose but short on detail.

ADDENDUM
In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time.  If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, December 25, 2011, the Nativity of Jesus Christ (Year B)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)  


Isaiah 62:6-12
v. 7 Being a native of Appalachia, I resonate with this verse.  How does the mountain reference resonate with people not familiar with, or who do not have an affinity for, mountains?  Why are feet the body part mentioned?

v. 8 who are the sentinels?  The sentinels do not talk or yell, they sing.

v.9 How can ruins sing?

v. 10 What does it mean to uncover an arm?  Is this anything like the euphemism “to roll up one’s sleeve”?  Is this a proof text for universal salvation?

Psalm 98:1-9
v. 1 I am drawing connections with Isaiah 52:8 and 9

v. 2 Why all this arm talk? (see Isaiah 52:10)

v. 3 Must God be able to forget in order to remember?

vs. 4-6 I think these verses call for joyous, hearty singing rather than shallow funeral dirges I usually hear.

vs. 7-9 I am thinking of musicians  such as Paul Winter who incorporate animal sounds into their music.

Hebrews 1:1-4
v.1 How long ago? How many and in what various ways?

v. 2 Why the plural “worlds”?

v. 3 What do you make of “reflection” and “imprint”?  How are sins purified?

v.4 What name has been inherited?

John 1:1-14
v. 1 Is this an allusion to Genesis 1:1, or something else?  What do you know about the role of the logos in Greek Philosophy?

v. 2 Can we cite this verse to argue for the preexistent Christ, or only the preexistent Word?

v.5 How could darkness ever overcome light?

v. 7 Not all witnesses are called to testify, but John is.  Who believes through you and your testimony?

v. 10 Another verse which seems to support the preexistent Word.

v.12 What is meant by “power,” how does the Word give it away, and how do people use it to become children of God?

v. 14 If the Word became flesh, then the word existed before becoming flesh.

ADDENDUM
In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens  and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time.  If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt  page and follow the appropriate links.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, December 18, 2011, the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)  

v. 1 Is this the beginning of institutionalized religion and the placing of buildings over mission?

v.2 David seems to be speaking to Nathan as God might.

v. 4 What carries more authority, the word of the king or the word of the LORD?

v. 6 What seems to be at stake here?

v. 11 Might God better live in community rather than in a building?  Note the play on the word "house.”

v. 16 Was this promise fulfilled?

v. 1 How can the Psalmist, or anyone, sing forever and proclaim anything to generations?  Is this nothing more than poetic hyperbole?

v.3 Apparently an allusion to the First Reading.  Does this verse justify the lectionary pairing this Psalm with the First Reading?  This Psalm is actually an alternate. Another possibility is the Magnificat, Luke 1:47-55.  I have used the Magnificat the past few cycles and this year am opting to use the Psalm 89.

v. 19 Who is the faithful one?

v. 20 So David is the Son of God?

v. 25 What does Paul mean by “My Gospel?”  What is the mystery that has been revealed?

v. 26 What does Paul mean by “prophetic writing?”

v. 26 Sixth month of what? Why Gabriel?

v. 27 How can we read this verse with 21st century sensibilities without reading our prejudices back into the text?

v. 28 What does Gabriel mean by addressing Mary as “Favored One?”

v. 29 Apparently Mary did not know what Gabriel meant.

v. 31 Note that Mary “will” conceive.  She apparently was not yet pregnant.

v. 35 Is there a difference between being proclaimed “Son of God” and actually being the Son of God?

v. 36 Apparently Elizabeth was between the second and third trimester.

v. 37 Could this be the key verse of the passage?

v. 38 Where have we heard “Here am I” before? 

ADDENDUM
In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens  and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time.  If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, December 11, 2011, the Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
v. 1 What does it feel like to have the spirit of the Lord upon oneself? The rest of this verse reads like the mission statement of Occupy Wall Street, if OWS had a mission statement.

v. 2 How can “the year of the Lord’s favor” and “the day of vengeance of our God” be mentioned in the same sentence?

v. 3 What is so special about oaks?

v.4 What other ancient ruins come to your mind in addition to Jerusalem? Iona? Lindesfarne?

v.5 More Scripture for OWS?

v. 10 What does it feel like for one’s whole being to exalt in God? God has clothed us with a tux and gown?

v. 11 What is the point of this simile?

Psalm 126:1-6
v. 1 In other words, we thought it not possible?

v. 2 Why laughter?

v. 3 What great things has the Lord done for us?

v.4 What is so special about the watercourses in the Negeb?

vs. 5-6 These verse, like Advent, proclaim a reversal of the status quo.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
v. 16 Good advice.

v. 17 What does it mean to” pray without ceasing”?

v. 18 I find giving thanks in all circumstances harder than praying without ceasing or always rejoicing.

v. 19 Oh, how many ways we quench the Spirit, let me count the ways.

v. 20 How do we despise the words of prophets?

v. 21 How do we “test” anything, let alone everything?

v. 23 Note the tripartite “spirit and soul and body”? What is the difference between spirit and soul? I would feel more comfortable with “mind, body and spirit”.

v.24 What is the meaning or sense of “call”?
John 1:6-8, 19-28
v. 6 Are some “sent” and others not?

v.7 “Witness” and “testify” are not usually in the mainline and Presbyterian vocabulary. Do they make you feel uncomfortable?

v. 8 Was someone saying John was the light?

v. 19 in this context, who or what is a Levite?

v. 20 “Confessed” is an interesting choice of words. John says, “I am not” while Jesus will say, at least seven times, “I am”!

v. 21 People thought John was Kahlil Gibran?

v. 23 Are these John the Baptizer’s words or John the Evangelist’s words?

vs. 24-25 What is the connection between the Pharisees and baptism?

v.28 What is so special about the thing of a sandal?

v.28 What difference does it make where this took place?

ADDENDUM
In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens www.northchurchqueens.org and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time. If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, December 4, 2011, the Second Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Isaiah 40:1-11
v. 1 Perhaps this all too familiar passage from Isaiah reminds us that Advent is a season for the preacher to comfort, while Lent is a season for the preacher to afflict.

v. 2 This sounds like legal language.

v. 3 Whose voice is crying out?

vs. 3-4 Having grown up and spent most of my life in the mountains of West Virginia, I particularly resonate with the imagery of straight highways. On the other hand, I fear someone might want to relate the “every mountain and hill shall be made low” and following language to the ecologically devastating practice of Mountain Top Removal Mining.

v. 5 What is the mouth of the Lord?

vs. 6-7 How does 6b-7 fit in here?

v. 9 How can the prophet get up to a high mountain if all the mountains will be made low?

v. 11 Who is the mother sheep?

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
v. 1 Does this verse assume a theology of the land?

v. 2 How do you and your church deal with “Selah”?

v. 8 Does God speak peace only to God’s people?

vs. 8-9 What about people who do not turn to God in their hearts and who do not fear God? What does it mean to fear God? What does it mean to turn to God in your heart?

v. 10 I think this is fascinating imagery!

v. 12 Once again, I ask, does this verse assume a theology of the land? What is the connection between God and the land, the land and God? Does this feed into the Arthurian legend?

2 Peter 3:8-15a
v. 8 I do not know where it originated, but there is a joke that goes something like this. A person asks God if it is true that one day to God is like a thousand years. God answers “yes.” They then ask God if it is true that God will give them whatever they ask for. God again answers “yes.” The person finally asks God for a million dollars. God replies, “OK, I’ll do it tomorrow”.

v. 9 slowness vs. patience.

v.10 Of all the images that one could employ, why employ the imagery of a thief?

vs. 11-12 Shall we refer to this as the “Big Dissolution Theory?” How do we reconcile this imagery with contemporary cosmology that posits an expanding universe that seems to be expanding at an increasing rate and may expand indefinitely?

v.13 Where else can we find “new heavens and a new earth” language?

v. 14 What might be a spot or blemish?

Mark 1:1-8
v. 1 For a minute, there, I thought I was reading the incipit of Genesis.

vs. 2-3 Déjà vu! Why does Mark quote Isaiah 40:3?

v.4 Never having been a Baptist, I much prefer the NRSV “John the baptizer” rather than the more familiar John the Baptist”.

v.5 I think there is some hyperbole here.

v. 6 Has anyone else ever heard the explanation that “locusts” is not a reference to insects but to a nutty substance from a tree native to Palestine?

vs. 7-8 What power did John have? How could John have known all of this?

ADDENDUM
In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens www.northchurchqueens.org and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time. If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for for Sunday, November 27, 2011, the First Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Isaiah 64:1-9
v. 1-9 In the NRSV this Reading is formatted as poetry rather than prose.

v. 1 Why is the tearing open of the heavens associated with the coming down of God?

v. 2 Both images seem to suggest something happening quickly; not instantaneously but not slowly.

v. 3 Hey God, remember when?

v. 4 So there ARE other gods, but gods who do not work for those wait for them?

v. 5 I find the order interesting. Did we sin because God was angry? Did wetransgress because God hid from us?

v. 6 I like the leaf imagery followed by the wind imagery, the wind blowing fallen dry leaves here and there.

v. 7 So it is God’s fault that no one calls on the divine name because God has hidden the divine face from us?

v. 8 Yet? From an early church perspective, God’s work is not done until is is fired by the Holy Spirit.

v. 9 You can be a little angry, God, but please, do not be exceedingly angry. You can remember my iniquity for a little while, but please, not forever. Do not be too hard on us, God, after all, we are your people.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
v. 1 An interesting first verse in light of last week’s Readings. What are cherubim and where would you find them?

v. 2 Who are Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh and why are they mentioned when no one else is mentioned except Joseph?

v. 3 What does God’s shining face represent?

v. 4 Is God angry with people’s prayers rather than the people who pray those prayers?

v. 5 is this Anti-Eucharistic imagery?

v. 7 I think I am hearing a refrain.

v. 17 Who is at God’s right hand?

v. 18 Is this a quid pro quo?

v. 19 Is this déjà vu all over again.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
v. 3 This is always a good way to begin a letter.

v. 5 What does it mean to be enriched in speech and knowledge?

v. 7 What does it mean to lack in a spiritual gift? What is Paul referring to when he writes about “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ?”

v.9 Here is a good Reformed word – “called”.

Mark 13:24-37
v. 24 It takes only the first four words to make this reading sound apocalyptic.

v. 25 This verse always reminds me of a passage in C. S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle” in the Chronicles of Narnia.

v. 26 What is it about clouds?

v. 27 How many times does Scripture mention the four winds? The mention of “the four winds” reminds me of Native American and Pagan spirituality.

v. 28 I find this verse enhanced by personally experiencing the need to pick and eat figs soon after they are ripe because they will not stay ripe very long before they will spoil on the branch.

v. 30 How do we interpret this verse about 50 generations later?

v. 34 What does it mean to be spiritually awake?

ADDENDUM
This Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent and the first Sunday in Liturgical Year B – the year of Mark’s Gospel.

In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time. If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

One Fat Sheep and Ninety-nine Lean Sheep - A Sermon

“One Fat Sheep and Ninety-nine Lean Sheep”
A Sermon based on Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24 and Matthew 25:31-46
By The Reverend John Edward Harris, D. Min.
North Church Queens
Flushing, NY
November 20, 2011
Christ the King Year A

This morning, through the prophet Ezekiel, we have once again encountered a familiar biblical metaphor, one that speaks of God as a shepherd. For Ezekiel, if God was a shepherd, then the people of Israel scattered throughout the Middle East after the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in 597, were God’s scattered sheep.

Following Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem in 597, Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as King of Judah. However, Zedekiah revolted against Babylon and entered into an alliance with Pharaoh. Nebuchadnezzar responded by invading Judah and began another siege of Jerusalem in January 589 BC.

In 587 BC, the eleventh year of Zedekiah's reign, Nebuchadnezzar’s army broke through Jerusalem's walls, conquering the city. Jerusalem was plundered and Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. The city was razed to the ground. Most of Jerusalem’s brightest, best and most talented were taken into captivity in Babylon. Only a small number of Jews were permitted to remain, left behind to tend to the land. Those Jews Jews who had not been taken into Babylonian captivity and could escape dispersed throughout the Middle East, becoming, metaphorically, God’s lost sheep.

Through Ezekiel, God promises to rescue and gather the lost sheep and to feed them with good pasture. God promises to nurse back to health any sheep that was injured. God promises to strengthen any sheep that was weak. Hearing, through the prophet Ezekiel, the prophet to the exiles, that God would seek out these lost sheep, these dispersed Jews, rescuing them from the places to which they had been dispersed, bringing them back into their own land, the Land of Israel, the land of milk and honey, would be good news if you were a Jews of the Diaspora.

However, there is also some bad news contained in Ezekiel’s prophecy. God also promises to destroy the fat and strong sheep, feeding them not with rich pastures, but with justice. Through Ezekiel, God promises to judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep, claiming that the fat sheep have pushed with the flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with their horns until they scattered the weak sheep far and wide.

Just as we might ask what came first, the chicken or the egg, we might wonder if the weak sheep are week because they are lean, or if they are lean because they are week. On the one hand, the weak sheep are lean because the strong sheep have pushed and butted them around, preventing them from grazing in the best pastures, where they could eat their fill and no longer be lean. On the other hand, the lean sheep are weak because the strong sheep have pushed and butted them around, preventing them from grazing in the best pastures where they could eat their fill and grow stronger. While the weak sheep grow weaker and the lean sheep grow leaner, the strong sheep grow stronger and the fat sheep grow fatter because they have kept the best pastures for themselves.

Some scholars indentify the fat sheep as the nations, which, at that time, oppressed Israel, particularly Babylon. One could also interpret the fat sheep as the leaders of Israel who grew fat while the city was being besieged, the leaders of Israel whose failed foreign policy led to the city’s destruction.

Fast forward about six hundred years and we hear Jesus talking about himself as if he were a King, sitting on a throne, judging between the nations, separating people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the … goats. It might surprise us that Jesus talks about sheep and goats when Ezekiel mentioned only fat, strong sheep and weak, lean sheep, except Ezekiel did not mention only sheep. In verses 17-19, verses we did not read this morning, Ezekiel also writes about God judging between “sheep and sheep, between rams and goats.” Therefore, Jesus was well within the prophetic tradition of Ezekiel, and may very well have had Ezekiel’s prophecy in mind, when he to talked about judging between the nations, metaphorically referring to them as sheep and goats. Sheep and goats, after all, are closely related. They are in the same subfamily but in are separate species.

According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will judge between the sheep and the goats not based on how they appear, fat or lean, strong or weak, but how they act. The sheep who fed the hungry, the sheep who gave drink to the thirsty, the sheep who welcomed the stranger, the sheep who clothed the naked, the sheep who cared for the sick, the sheep who visited the imprisoned, will be judged righteous and will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. They will enjoy eternal life.

On the other hand, the sheep who did not give food to the hungry, the sheep who did not give drink to the thirsty, the sheep who did not welcome the stranger, the sheep who did not clothe the naked, the sheep who did not care for the sick, and the sheep who did not visit the imprisoned, will be judged accursed, finding themselves not in the kingdom prepared for them since the beginning of time but in the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. They will suffer eternal punishment.

Now, fast-forward another 2,000 years. These are not the days of Ezekiel. Neither our city, nor our nation, is besieged by a foreign power. Instead, we are besieged by the threat of another recession, and the growing economic disparity between the rich and the poor, a disparity that is reaching proportions not seen since just before the great Depression.

Economists not only tell us that the income gap between the rich and poor in our nation is growing increasingly wider, but that the middle class, the backbone of American prosperity, is shrinking. Economists also tell us that the latest generation of Americans will be the first generation in our country’s history to enjoy a lower standard of living than enjoyed by their parents. Meanwhile, as Congress and its Super Committee cannot reach a compromise on a national budget, they have apparently determined at least one matter of national importance, that when it comes to school lunches, frozen pizza is indeed a vegetable. The United States Congress, just this past week, voted to rebuke new USDA guidelines for school lunches that would have increased the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables in school cafeterias and instead declared that the tomato paste on frozen pizza qualified it as a vegetable.

It is no wonder that hundreds, if not thousands of Occupy Wall Street protestors, prevented from actually occupying Wall Street, have instead occupied Zuccotti Park and numerous other public areas across the country in our major cities. The weak and lean sheep have grown weary of the fat and strong sheep pushing and butting them around and, as of yet, have not found any other or more constructive forum and way to express the frustration and outrage.

No, these are not the days of Ezekiel. These are not the days of Jesus. But I am convinced that if these were the days of Jesus that he would be camped out in Zuccotti park rather than roaming the halls of Congress or the trading floors of Wall Street. I think Jesus would be appalled that politicians who claim that this is a Christian Nation are proposing a national budget that would make the weak and lean sheep even leaner and weaker while enabling the fat and strong sheep to grow even stronger and fatter. A nation that fails to care for its hungry, its thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner, not to mention its homeless, its aging, and its veterans, has no right to call itself or consider itself a Christian nation, or even a just and good nation!

Earlier in Matthew 18:12-14, we hear Jesus say “What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” From a Christian ethical perspective, we might say, in our context that it is the wealthiest one percent of American sheep that has gone astray. As the wealthiest one percent has gone astray, they have left the other ninety-nine percent behind.

In our current economic, political and social context, “The One Percent” was at first a 2006 documentary about the growing wealth gap between America’s wealthy elite compared to the overall citizenry. The film's title refers to the top one percent of Americans in terms of wealth, who controlled 42.2 percent of total financial wealth in 2004. More recently, the Ninety-nine percent has become the self identifying rallying cry of the unemployed, under-employed, college graduates with thousands of dollars of student loan debts but who cannot find a job to help them pay off their debt because there are no jobs, former home owners who have had their mortgages foreclosed, and the millions of Americans without access to health care, who are demonstrating against the concentration of wealth by the top 1%

Who are the 1%. Based on 2009 tax year filing data, the Internal Revenue Service says an adjusted gross income of $343,927 or more will put you in the top 1 percent of taxpayers. I doubt if many, or any, of us worshiping here this morning would qualify. Yet, “Roughly 11% of Congress have net worth of more than $9million, according to a USA TODAY analysis of 2010 financial disclosures complied by the center for Responsive Politics. That is enough to put them in the top 1% of wealth. Congress also has 250 millionaires, the data shows. The median net worth: $891,506, almost nine times the typical household.” No wonder Congress is doing nothing. They can afford to do nothing. Follows of Christ, however, must do something.

I am not alone in thinking that if Jesus were here today, we would find him in Zuccotti Park. We probably would also find there John Calvin. According to Setri Nyomi, the General Secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, “The cause of demonstrators involved in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement would have been supported by John Calvin, the 16th century church reformer who helped shape modern-day Protestantism” In a lecture he delivered this past Tuesday at Princeton Theological Seminary, he said “I am sure [Calvin] would have been in the streets of New York or London with a placard. ” After all, Calvin wrote extensively about social and economic justice, almost as much as he did about theology. Calvin cared as much about Geneva having a working sewer system for all who lived there as he cared about the salvation of all who lived there. According to Nyomi, “Calvin expressed opposition to all forms of social oppression resulting from money.” Nyomi believes Calvin’s words resonate with life today. “The church of the 21st century needs to align itself with voices of justice … even if it means being out there in the streets,” he writes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, November 20, 2011, Christ the King (Reign of Christ) Sunday (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
v. 11 How did God lose these sheep in the first place?

v. 13 How can one not read this and be a Zionist?

v. 16 God will search out and rescue the 99% while punishing the 1%?

v. 20 I think it is time for me to eat less, exercise more, and drop a few pounds.

vs. 23-24 David, King of the 99%!

Psalm 100:1-5
v. 2 If we are to worship God with gladness, why do so many worship services feel like a funeral and so many worshipers act like they are mourners?

v. 3 How many people in the pew understand the nuance of “LORD” and “God”? Does this verse justify this Psalm being paired with the Ezekiel Reading?

Ephesians 1:15-23
v. 15 How might Paul have heard of the Ephesians faith?

v. 17 What is “a spirit of wisdom and revelation”?

vs. 18-19 I love these phrases: the riches of his glorious inheritance, the immeasurable greatness of his power.

vs. 20-21 Yes, this Sunday is Christ the King.

Matthew 25:31-46
v. 31 How much do we need to know about the theologically loaded title “Son of Man” to responsibly interpret this passage? Does the mention of a throne justify this being the Gospel Reading for Christ the King?

vs. 32-33 The Gospel’s “sheep and goats” juxtaposed with the “sheep and sheep” of the Ezekiel Read seems to offer us a mixed, or confused, metaphor.

vs. 35-45 How do members of the Tea Party and the 1% read these verses.

v. 46 Must there be eternal punishment?

ADDENDUM
The conclusion of another lectionary cycle brings us to Christ the King. Do these Readings say anything new to us in 2011 that they did not say in 2008? Does the emergence of both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement, not to mention the fact that we are already into the campaign cycle of the next Presidential election, influence how we interpret these Readings?

In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time. If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, November 13, 2011, the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Judges 4:1-7
v. 1 Here we go again. This is beginning to remind me of déjà vu all over again. How many times did the Israelites do what was evil in the sight of the LORD? How many times do we?

v. 3 This is beginning to sound like a broken record. How many times do we cry out to the LORD, asking the LORD to get us out of trouble we have gotten ourselves into?

v. 4 What blasphemy, a female prophet! With regard to male prophets, how often are we told who their wife was?

v. 5 Do you think the Palm of Deborah was known by that name in Deborah’s day?

v. 6 How dare Deborah speak for God!

Psalm 123:1-4
v. 1 I though God was enthroned on the cherubim. Are the cherubim in heaven or in the Temple?

v. 2 So God is a master and maid while we are servants and mistresses. While the Israelites in the Judges passage cry to the LORD, the psalmist simply looks to the LORD. Maybe those eyes were sad, droopy puppy dog eyes that the LORD simply could not resist.

vs.3-4 Are the main complaints contempt and scorn?

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
v. 1 What times and seasons? If nothing needs to be written to the Thessalonians about times and seasons, then why does Paul bring it up?

v. 2 Is this an example of chiastic structure: “day lord / thief night”?

v. 3 Since I am of the male persuasion, I chose not to comment on this verse. If there is anyone of the female persuasion out there who would like to comment, please do so.

vs. 4-5 There is a lot of “light” and “darkness” to keep track of. Beware of racial stereotypes.

v. 6 Since the overriding metaphor is staying awake, why does Paul add “sober”?

v. 8 Does the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of salvation, change the metaphor? Note that a breastplate and a helmet are entirely defensive rather than offensive.

v. 10 Is Paul using “sleep” to mean more than one thing?

Matthew 25:14-30
v. 14 “It is as if” make this what? What is “it”?

v. 15 What is a talent? Ability to do what?

v. 18 What were the abilities of the first and second slaves? What was the ability of the third slave?

v. 21 What does it mean to enter into the joy of the master?

v. 24 Maybe the third slave said too much in addition to not doubling the talent.

v. 27 If we take this too literally, it begins to break down seems illogical.

vs. 28-29 I think I will not read these verses aloud anytime soon in Zuccotti Park.

v. 30 Have we heard anything like this before? Where?

ADDENDUM
In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time. If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, November 6, 2011, the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
v. 1 What do you know about Shechem? The listing of “elders, heads, judges, and the officers” suggests a rather organized society, just forty years after the Exodus.

v. 2 Why does Joshua point back one generation to Terah rather than to Abraham?

v. 14 What is this talk about putting away other gods all about?

v. 15 Three choices: Serve the gods our ancestors worshiped before God called Abraham, serve thelocal gods of the Amorites, or serve the LORD.

vs. 14-18 Is this about monotheism, or about recognizing that of all the gods, only one, the LORD, is the one who has saved us?

v. 19 “You cannot serve theLORD”?

v. 23 Did the people actually have statues of gods, or is this a metaphorical “put away”?

v. 25 Is this the third covenant? What statutes and ordinances are being referred to?

Psalm 78:1-7
v. 1 Who is the speaking?

v. 2 What are “dark sayings from of old”?

v. 3 This sounds like a reference to the oral tradition.

v. 4 Why might you want to hide dark sayings from children?

v. 5 Is the speaker not a child of his/her ancestors?

vs.1-7 This Psalm reads like a call to educational ministry and mission. What would this psalmist say about the state of Biblical literacy, or lack of, in today’s church?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
v. 13 How might we be uninformed?

v. 14 What does Paul mean “God will bring with him”?

v. 15 What is this all about?

vs. 16-17 Does this presuppose a pre-Copernican three tiered universe? How do we translate this into modern cosmological terms?

v. 18 How are these words encouraging? See item #16 on page 914 in the PC(USA) Book of Common Worship. See also page 949.

Matthew 25:1-13
v. 1 A kingdom parable?

v. 2 Why ten bridesmaids? Why five foolish and five wise?

v. 5 What is this about “delay”? Note that both the wise and the foolish become drowsy and fall asleep.

v. 6 Why midnight? Who shouted?

v. 9 What about sharing?

v. 12 This sounds curt.

v. 13 This point does not fit. Based on what precedes, the point ought to have been “Be prepared. Keep a supply of oil.” Otherwise, the wise bridesmaids should not have slept while the foolish bridesmaids did sleep.

ADDENDUM
In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time. If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, October 30, 2011, the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Joshua 3:7-17
v. 7 Moses’ body is barely cold in the grave and God is already promoting Joshua.

v. 8 Indiana Jones, where are you?

v. 10 By “this” refers to what?

v. 11 “the LORD of all the earth” is an interesting phrase. What about “heaven”? Listen for a refrain in verse 13.

vs. 14-17 Is the Ark taking the place of Moses’ rod? Is the purpose of this narrative to establish Joshua being equal to Moses?

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37
v. 1 Is it not redundant to say that steadfast love endures forever? Then again, this is poetry.

v. 3 The four cardinal directions.

v. 4 Is “some” wandered in desert wastes, what did others do? Is this about the Exodus, or something else?

v. 5 I wonder if this verse influenced any New Testament authors, such as the author of John 6:35?

vs. 33-37 An example of the first being last and the last being first, or rather the topsy-turvy world of Divine judgment and grace.

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
v. 9 Is this emphatic or interrogative? Do you think the Thessalonians really remembered? Would have they have remembered without Paul reminding them?

v. 10 I have never charged you for a single cent, or asked you for any donation to help support Lectionary Ruminations. See how pure, upright and blameless my conduct toward you has been!

v. 13 Is “constantly” hyperbole?

Matthew 23:1-12
v. 1 What does it mean when a Gospel tells us that Jesus is speaking to both the crowds and the disciples?

v. 2 What is “Moses’ seat”?

v. 3 Can you think of any current day examples ofpeople whose teachings we should follow but not follow their actions?

v. 4 What do you know about phylacteries and fringe? Are there any Christian comparisons?

v. 6 Where the best seats in Synagogues in the back?

v. 7 If you happen to be ordained and/or serving in a pastoral position, how do people address you?

v. 9 What can Hallmark do with this on Father’s Day?

v. 10 Ouch!

vs.11-12 See my rumination on Psalm 107:33-37.

ADDENDUM
In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time. If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out myWyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, October 23, 2011, the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
vs. 1-3 Why all the geographical references?

v. 4 Once again, the women are not mentioned. Why would God allow Moses to see this land, even show him this land, if he were not going to be allowed to enter it?

v. 6 We know the vicinity of where he was buried but not the actual place. Why?

v. 7 Is there any sexual connotation here?

v. 9 Joshua was ordained by Moses? What is so special about the laying on of hands? Why? What do you know about Reiki?

vs. 10-12 It was true then. Is it still true today?

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
v. 1 How can the Lord be a dwelling place? What does it mean to dwell in the Lord?

v. 3 Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, or in a more modern cosmology, ashes to ashes, star-dust to star-dust.

v. 4 I know this is metaphor, but do the metaphorical match. 1000years = 1 day to just a few hours.

v. 5 What does “them” refer to? Mortals? 1000 years?

v. 14 I think this verses harkens back to verse 5b. As the grass is renewed in the morning, God’s steadfast love renews us daily.

v. 17 What work?

vs. 1-6,13-17 Does this psalm reflect the pre-exodus period?

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
v. 2 Shame on those Philippians.

v. 3 What do we do with this “gospel of God” when we usually use the terminology “Gospel of Jesus Christ”?

v. 5 I am hearing a refrain. “As you know” here and “You yourselves know” in verse 1.

v. 7 What sort of demands? What is the imagery of a “nurse tenderly caring for her own children”?

v. 8 How does Paul and his colleagues share their own selves?

Matthew 22:34-46
v. 34 Is the Gospel writer playing on some rivalry here?

v. 35 What is the meaning of “test”? Was he asking about the Decalogue or the entire Leviticual law code?

v. 37 What is Jesus quoting?

vs. 38-39 If this is the first and greatest, how can there be anything like it?

v. 39 What is Jesus quoting?

v. 40 What does Jesus add the prophets to the law?

v. 41 This is becoming a dialogue. Is this question also a test, a tit for tat?

v. 42 Were not all male Jews “sons of David”?

v. 44What is Jesus quoting?

v. 45 I want an answer!

v. 46 But as a practitioner of the Socratic Method, I think questions are good. Sometimes the questions we ask are more important than any answer we might receive.

ADDENDUM
In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time. If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

About the October (and November) 2011 Header Image

The most recent header photo served as the header image of Summit to Shore for two months, August and September, because it was both a summit and a shore photo. I took the shot from a summit but overlooking a shore scene.

This month I am switching to something completely different, an original colored pencil sketch rather than an original photograph. I sketched this during the past couple of months, scanning the original sketch and saving it as a jpg image. I am thinking about adopting it as the semi-permanent header image of Summit to Shore rather than posting a new header image in December.

What do you think? Should I keep this header image for several months, or post a new one in December.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Memories and Dreams - A Sermon Ten Years After 9-11

Memories and Dreams
A Sermon by the Reverend John Edward Harris, D. Min.
Preached at the Whitestone Community Service of Prayer
In Remembrance of the Events of September 11, 2001
St. Luke Roman Catholic Church, Whitestone, NY
September 10, 2011

When the topic of the terrorist attacks of ten years ago comes up in conversation, as it has so often of late, what is one of the first questions we are likely to ask or to be asked? “Where were you when you first learned of the attacks?”

I was living in West Virginia, having started a new pastorate just the week before. As I was driving to the hospital to visit a member, I was listening to NPR, when an announcer broke in to regular programming to say that a plane had reportedly crashed into one of World Trade Towers, but that details were sketchy. A little later, as I was visiting the member and his wife in his hospital room, we were watching the coverage of the events on the television in his room when the second plane hit the tower. At least that is the way I remember it now ten years later.

Nearly two weeks later, I wrote in my journal for the first time after the attacks. Here is an excerpt from what I wrote. Please keep in mind that the chronology might be a little off because I was writing from memory.

“Tuesday, September 11, is a day that will live long in my memory and in the memory of all Americans. Around 9:00 AM, a 747 or 757, hijacked out of Boston, flew into one of the Twin World Trade Towers. Less than 15 minutes later, another hijacked airliner crashed into the second tower, a crash watched my millions, if not during the live coverage of the first crash, then on taped replay. Within the hour, a third hijacked airliner, out of Dulles, crashed into the Pentagon. And a fourth jetliner, hijacked out of Newark, crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, after passengers and crew tried to retake the plane from the hijackers. Its intended target may have been Camp David, or the White House or Capitol.

Within an hour or two after being crashed into by the two planes, both Twin Towers collapsed in upon themselves to the ground. Two weeks later, debris is still being removed and any hope of finding survivors is nil. In total, over 5,000 people were killed or are missing from the result of the terrorist attacks.

The attacks are being linked to Saudi Arabian Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorist Osama Bin Laden, believed to be hiding out somewhere in Afghanistan.

President Bush has declared war on Terrorism and American Forces are being deployed to the Persian Gulf and Middle East for an expected retaliatory strike against terrorist camps and bases, an assault that will undoubtedly involve US ground troops and some US causalities.”

Ten years ago, we began a new chapter in America’s history. We are still looking back, still remembering, still asking questions, still wandering what it all means. The end of this chapter in America’s history has yet to be written, however. American troops are still in Afghanistan and still in Iraq in what is now the longest war in American history. As we live and breathe, and remember those who died on September 11, 2001, you and I, along with Government workers from the President of the United States to the Army Private serving in Afghanistan, along with Captains of Industry to the construction worker laboring to rebuild the World Trade Center, along with Bishops and Moderators and Church leaders to the average worshiper in the Synagogue, Church and Mosque, are still living in aftermath of 9-11 and wondering how to move forward, how to bring this chapter to an end.

This evening, in a small part of the great city of New York known as Whitestone, Protestants and Roman Catholics have broken down historical barriers that have divided us centuries and have come together to remember and pray for peace. We have gathered not just to look back and remember, but also to look forward and dream as we pray.

Yes, as Christians we do look back; back to God’s good creation broken by sin, back to God’s promises to Noah and to Abraham and Sarah, and back to the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. We also look forward, however. Along with Isaiah, Joel, and Micah, we look forward to beating swords in plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Along with John on the Island of Patmos we dream of a new heaven and a new earth. We dream of the holy city, not New York but the new Jerusalem, and in that city God will wipe away every tear. Death will be no more. Mourning, crying, and pain will have ended. In the midst of the city will be the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. On either side of the river will be the tree of life. The leaves of the tree will for the healing of the nations.

As disciples of the Prince of Peace, we must not only dream of peace, and pray for peace, but be peacemakers, asking for and offering forgiveness, seeking and working for reconciliation not only between Roman Catholics and Protestants, but also among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, indeed, among peace loving people of all faiths, and even no faith.

We who lived through the events of September 11, 2001 can never forget the events of ten years ago tomorrow, nor fail to remember the people who lost their lives that day and the days soon after. However, let us dwell not on what once was but on what shall be, looking not to the past but to the future, a future that for Christians is filled with hope and the promise of peace. Let us not ask one another “Where were you and what where you doing ten years ago tomorrow?” Rather, let us ask one another “Where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing ten years from tomorrow?”

Sunday, August 28, 2011

After Irene

It was a somewhat quiet night in spite of Irene. We heard a loud bang late in the evening. Only later, when I walked the dog (in the rain), did I learn that a hit and run driver apparently slammed into a decorative metal fence at the corner. This morning, I learned that the driver plowed into fences at both corners.

This morning, when I walked the dog (in the rain) around 8:00 AM I saw many leaves and twigs, and a few small branches, but no apparent damage or debris. While walking around the block I saw only one other person who was out taking pictures, and maybe three cars, one of which was a NYPD patrol car.

Later this morning I climbed up on our flat roof to clear debris out of the only drain, as up to six inches of water can collect on the roof when the drain clogs and the roof started leaking last night. I cleared out the drain and the roof is now free of water. I hope that we will not experience any more leaks for a while. While I was up on the roof, I also took a couple pictures.

At 11:00 AM Sunday morning, the rain has stopped, the wind has diminished, and some sun is starting to shine, but some more wind and rain might still be coming. We have not lost power or personally experienced any problems. All is well around Ridgewood, Queens, NY, but other parts of New York City are without power and there is some flooding due to both rainfall and storm surge. The situation sounds worse over in New Jersey and out on parts of Long Island. My Brother-in-Law and his family live in Atlantic Highlands, NJ and lost power over the night.

First hand, eyewitness reports from the Sebago Canoe Club on Paerdegat Basin off Jamaica Bay are that our club dock has held, all boats are secure, and there is minimal water in the clubhouse, mostly from rain. I will not know about our 24-foot sailboat docked in Mill Basin until later today or tomorrow.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Preparing for Irene

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my preparations for being in the path of Hurricane Irene began about thirty-five years ago with amy initial First Aid Course. Advanced First Aid, CPR, Water Safety Instructor, and Emergency Medical Technician courses followed that course. I would eventually serve as a volunteer EMT for a couple years in West Virginia and New Jersey, and work as a professional EMT Ambulance Attendant for nine months in Richmond, VA. This training and experience has helped me feel prepared for almost any type of emergency.

A few years after my initial First Aid Course, I took the Outdoor Educators Course of the National Outdoor Leadership School. While I do not think of NOLS as a survival school, the skills and philosophy I learned through NOLS has served me well not only while backpacking in the backcountry but also car camping along North Carolina’s Outer Banks and vacationing in the Bahamas. NOLS has taught me to be prepared, to make do with what you have, to improvise, and to assess risk to insure maximum safety.

Almost four years ago, my wife and I were vacationing on Eleuthera, one of the outer, and less developed, islands of the Bahamas. Near the end of our planned weeklong stay in a rented home, Tropical Storm Noel passed over the island, lashing us with tropical force winds and horrendous rain for at least two days and a night. Our newlywed neighbors and we were the only people within a mile. For three days and two nights, we survived without power, without running water, and without communications, except minimal cell phone service. Fortunately, we had some non-perishable food and were able to cook with propane.

When the wind and rain finally stopped, the four of us, already on the island two days longer than expected, drove as far as we could along the dirt road leading back toward the main road until we encountered water across the road, water too deep to drive through. With luggage held above our heads, we walked through water up to our calves on several occasions until we reached a small village. Parts of the village were flooded, including the road.

Inhabitants of the village invited us to climb into the large bucket of a front-end loader and ferried us, and our luggage, through floodwater that would have been too deep for us to walk though. Once on the other side of the flooding, a native who sometimes worked at the home rented by our newlywed neighbors drove us to the airport. We caught the first plane out since the storm passed, and upon arriving in Grand Bahamas, caught the last flight out that night heading for Florida. Once in Florida, we caught the last flight out that night heading for New York City.

When people ask us if we were ever scared while on Eleuthera, with Tropical Storm Noel passing nearby, we say no. We think we got more for our money than expected. We stayed on the Island an extra couple of days and ended up having an unexpected adventure vacation. It is one of the more memorable vacations we have had and we would not have traded it for two weeks anywhere else in the world.

Last night my wife and I joined nine other members of the Sebago Canoe Club to kayak on Jamaica Bay. The bay was nearly empty of boats, and birds. Along the eastern coast flyway, water birds generally fill the trees along the shore as well as the skies. Last night, however, it was eerily quiet and we saw only a few birds. The only other boat that came anywhere near us was a NYPC Patrol Boat. We had the bay to ourselves, less than 24-36 hours before the arrival of Irene.

Although a few clouds had already starting moving in, the Bay was nearly flat during our paddle. Just past the midpoint of our two-hour trip, we caught a stunning red sunset as we paddled out from behind one of the Bay’s larger islands, Canarsie Pol. The sunset rivaled any I have ever seen.

Back at the clubhouse, we rinsed off our boats and stowed our gear. Sitting on club’s dock in order to escape the mosquitoes, we enjoyed pizza, beer and wine as we shared stories and news related to the storm, talking of paddles past and present, and speculating what the scene might look like in 24-36 hours. I thought it was amazing that in 24-36 hours an 8-12 foot storm surge could very well inundate that dock and flood our clubhouse.

This morning my wife and I drove back down to Jamaica Bay. Our first stop was our sailboat, the Mischief, docked in Mill Basin. I added some shock cord to the lines, double checked the lines, added an extra line, and removed some valuables from the boat. As we left, I knew the rest was up to nature. We then returned to the Sebago Canoe Club on Paerdegat Basin to help with storm preparations but most precautions had already been taken, so we soon headed home.

With various camping gear, including freeze-dried food, backpacking stoves, and flashlights stored in the basement, I think we are prepared. We normally have various radios, flashlights, and batteries around the house, as well as candles, an oil lamp, and a kerosene lantern. We did buy a few gallons of fresh water, made some extra ice, and filled poly bottles with fresh tap water. We also moved some outdoor plants off steps to a lower level against the house and moved some backyard furniture and tools into the basement. We are keeping cell phones plugged in so their batteries will be fully charged when the power goes out.

All we can do is hunker down and wait. The preparations begun almost thirty-five years ago will have to be enough.

Monday, August 1, 2011

About the August 2011 (and September 2011) Header Photo

I shot this month’s header photo from Mount Mitchell Scenic Overlook, Atlantic Highlands, NJ. According to the brochure I picked up at the park, “At 266 feet, this overlook sits on the highest natural elevation on the Atlantic coastal plain, providing beautiful views of Sandy Hook, Raritan Bay and the New York skyline. On a clear day, Mount Mitchell provides a panoramic view across Sandy Hook and Raritan Bay to the landscape of 4 of New York’s City’s 5 boroughs. Visitors can see the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the WTC Site, the Empire State Building and, more immediately, the historical structures and topography of Gateway National Recreation Area (Sandy Hook) including the lighthouse.
Because I shot this photo from a Summit (the 266 foot “summit” of Mount Mitchell), but the view looks out over the shore, this photo will serve double duty as the Summit header photo for August 2011 as well as the Shore header photo for September 2011.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Sebago Day to Remember


Joe Glickman coaching Laurie Pea on her forward stroke
Yesterday afternoon, Sebago Canoe Club Commodore Tony Pignatello posted this comment on facebook: “Coming back on the Open Paddle I saw about 50 kayaks on the water. Open Paddle, Stroke Clinic, Level 2 classes plus individual paddlers. That's what makes us one of the best in the city. Thanks to all who gave their time.”

I was one of those paddlers Tony saw. My wife was another. She and I were not participating in the same activity but happened to be on the water at the same time.

Yesterday was indeed a day at the Sebago Canoe Club to remember, a day that rivaled our annual open house in terms of people and activities. Vicki and I pulled into a nearly full parking lot a few minutes before 9:30 AM. Vicki came to the club to participate in the second half of the ACA Level 2 class. I came to participate in a Forward Stroke Clinic led by Joe Glickman, one of the premier paddlers in North America.

As the stroke clinic and ACA Level 2 class were gathering and preparing for the day, the open Paddle was finishing outfitting. A few minutes later, they were all standing in a circle, paddles in the air, Stonehenge like, making introductions and receiving a safety briefing and short paddling instruction. I estimate that about thirteen to fifteen paddlers were among the group.

While the open paddle carried kayaks down to the water and began to paddle, five students and three instructors as well as a dozen or more participants in the Forward Stroke Clinic stood around Joe Glickman as he demonstrated the forward Stoke. After half an hour or more of instruction on terra firma, the two groups broke apart and the ACA Level 2 class hit the water, paddling out into Jamaica Bay while the Forward Stroke Clinic finished outfitting.

By the time the Forward Stoke Clinic put their kayaks into Paerdegat basin and headed out toward Jamaica Bay, the ACA class was already out of sight. As those of us in the Stroke Clinic paddled, Joe observed our forward stroke. Once in the bay, we caught up with the ACA Class, passed it by, and paddled into some shallow water where Joe offered each Stroke Clinic participant some one on one instruction.

Sitting on the bow of each participant’s kayak and facing the paddler, but with his feet on the bottom of the bay, Joe prevented the paddler’s kayak from making forward progress while observing the paddlers’ forward stroke. From Joe observing me while paddling out toward the bay, and from the one on one session, I learned that I need to keep my paddle shaft and shoulders more parallel, follow-through from 11 O’clock to 12 O’clock, and focus on not allowing my right hand to drop during the follow-through.

While were receiving our individual instruction, the nearby ACA Level 2 Class paddled away toward Ruffle Bar and were eventually out of our sight. Those of us in the Stroke Clinic eventually paddled to the concrete ramp at Floyd Bennet Field, each paddler focusing on their forward stoke as we paddled.

At Floyd Benet Field, most of us beached to stretch our legs. As we were standing on the beach, we watched two large NYPD Boats circle nearby to the south. Eventually, a helicopter took off from Floyd Bennet Field, hovered about 15 yards above the bay between the two police boats, and three scuba gear clad swimmers jumped out of the helicopter into the water. The swimmers eventually climbed into a motored raft and headed toward shore while the helicopter flew away. Apparently the NYPD was doing the same thing we were doing, capitalizing on a beautiful day on the bay to practice and refine their skills.

Already having been out on the water several more hours than we had expected, and having paddled farther than we expected, we climbed back into our boats, paddled toward Sebago, again focusing on our forward stroke while paddling, even though Joe was no longer observing us.

Back at the clubhouse, the open paddle had long been back and there was no evidence of their even having been there. With our boats on the wash racks, washed but not put away, we sat around a picnic table and pulled our collective lunch resources to enjoy a late lunch. As we were finishing eating, the ACA Level 2 class began pulling in to the dock, so we hastily put our boats away to make room on the wash racks for their boats.

After the ACA Level 2 Class had washed and put away all their gear, instructors and students gathered around cold beers in the Sebago Club house for some post class debriefing. Those few of us still around from the Forward Stroke Clinic were permitted to listen in. Hearing both students and instructors debrief the day as well as the entire two-day class was itself instructive.

About seven and a half hours after we arrived at Sebago, Vicki and were a slightly tired, a slightly bit more tanned, and slightly improved paddlers. Throughout the day and as we headed toward home, we were both amazed at the level of activity at the club that day, three major events, but a few individual paddlers and sailors doing their own thing. We were also impressed with the level of expertise possessed by so many of our club members, expertise they were willing to share with others as trip leaders, assistant trip leaders, and instructors.