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.

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.

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.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

About the July 2011 Header

This month’s header photo, posted nine days late, features a view looking across Rockaway Inlet. I took this shot about two years ago while on a kayaking trip. I was one of three or four paddlers from the Sebago Canoe Club who paddled from Paerdegat Basin, through Jamaica Bay, to Rockaway Point at the western tip of the Rockaways. The shot is from the northern shore of Rockaway Point, looking north across Rockaway inlet toward Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and Sheepshead Bay.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A 360-Degree Firework Spectacular

Paddlers receiving a safety briefing before the trip
Two dozen paddlers, some in traditional decked sea kayaks and others in single and tandem sit-on-tops, enjoyed a 360-degree firework spectacular last night from the vantage point of Jamaica Bay between the two islands known as Canarsie Pol and Ruffle Bar.
When my wife and I arrived at the Sebago Club House a little before 5:00 PM, some paddlers already had their boats ready for the paddle, even though it was still hours a pot-luck barbecue picnic away. As more and more members and guests arrived, so did more food. There were several choices of chips, salads, grilled vegetables, burgers and beverages to enjoy, and enjoy we did. No one went away hungry and a lot of leftover food went into the clubhouse refrigerator afterward.

Around 7:30 PM, after cleaning up from the social, we put butts in boats, and boats and paddles in the water. The shore to sea breeze blowing through Paerdegat Basin suggested we mind enjoy an easy paddle out into the bay but have to paddle against a head wind on the way back. As soon as we cleared all the docks and were in the wider part of the Basin, however, the breeze calmed, but we still enjoyed an easy paddle out into the open waters of Jamaica Bay.

Once in the Bay, we tightened our formation at buoy 13and then crossed the channel toward the western end of Canarsie Pol. As we crossed the channel, a spectacular sunset illuminated the distant buildings of the Rockaways, painting their drab concrete grays with a luminous reddish orange luminescent glow. The setting sun also showed us that the scattered clouds were clearing, suggesting we might enjoy a fine view of fireworks.

Once clear of the channel, we turned west, and past the Pol. After clearing Canarsie Pol, we headed toward Ruffle Bar. As we paddled toward the Bar, we started seeing fireworks in the darkening sky over the Rockaway’s. Midway between Ruffle Bar and Canarsie Pol, with the highpoints of the Manhattan skyline visible over the tops of the trees on Canarsie Pol, stopped to wait for the NYC Fireworks. As we waited, however, we continued enjoying pyrotechnics over the Rockaways, as well as from many other distant sites, some from perhaps as far away as Long Island. With a clear 360 degree horizon, we could see so many fireworks around us that I lost count of how many sites we could see.

Finally, with the darkening sky in the west, we started seeing the fireworks set off from barges in the Hudson. Thanks, Macy’s! I have watched the New York City Fireworks from the banks of the Hudson. While being closer to fireworks and enjoying the display as part of a large crown has its advantages, one cannot see the fireworks from all the barges when that close. Our vantage point from the waters of Jamaica Bay not only allowed us to view the display from all the barges, but afterwards, rather than moving with the throngs toward an overcrowded subway, we paddled past a variety of birds in the city’s largest Wildlife Refuge while enjoying the wide-open expanse of the glassy smooth Bay.

Once the New York City show was over, occasional displays of random fireworks continued to entertain us as we paddled back to Paerdegat Basin. The eerie reflections of terrestrial lights off the glass-like Bay almost lulled us into a hypnotic dream-like paddling cadence as we crossed the main channel, but as we approached the construction area near the Belt Parkway bridge over the basin, realty once again claimed us as we carefully negotiated the narrow channel under the bridge and into the basin.

Once back at the club, we carried boats and gear up to the wash racks where we rinsed it free of saltwater. After we put it all safely away back into lockers and on top of cars, we settled around tables in the clubhouse were we enjoyed a post paddle desert of Italian pastries, beer, wine, conversation and fellowship. About fifteen minutes before midnight, we said good-bye to friends old and new and headed home. It was a spectacular Sebago Canoe Club Fourth of July to remember.

Monday, June 27, 2011

My 4th Calculator

My parents bought me my first calculator in 1974. I was in 10th grade and taking Algebra 2/Trigonometry. Some of my classmates were getting expensive Texas Instruments calculators to help them with their homework. Mom and Dad bought me an early version of the little square plastic case Commodore Minuteman for $40. It added, subtracted, divided, multiplied and might have had a percent key and a memory key.

Several months later I saw an advertisement for a more advanced Commodore Minuteman that had a square root key, for the same price as my original; $40.00. I convinced my parents that the square root key was worth it. That little rechargeable, LED screen, Commodore Minuteman served me well through the rest of High School, including Chemistry, Physics and Pre-Calculus. I even used it in a high school class on how to use the slide rule where all the students used their calculators to check slide rule calculations. Yea, slide rules were still in use back then and calculators were novel and expensive. I continued to use that second Commodore Minuteman all through college, including Calculus and Statistics and never used a slide rule after the slide rule class.

Well into 1980 or early 1981, my second Commodore Minuteman finally died. I replaced it with a Sharp, ELSI MATE EL-211, primarily to balance my checkbook, calculate my taxes, and keep track of the average miles per gallon our cars were getting. That Sharp is still working and I think I have replaced the batteries only once in thirty years. Along with cockroaches, my Sharp could probably survive a nuclear war.

Now that I am tutoring high school students in Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2/Trigonometry, however, my thirty-year-old Sharp does not offer me all the functions I would like at my disposal. I have occasionally been using the calculator application on my Verizon HTC Imagio smart phone, but after a heavy two Algebra 2/Trigonometry tutoring session in the evening, without having recharged since morning, the battery comes close to draining.

I have had my eye on the TI-83 Plus but cannot justify the cost, at least not until I start a long time tutoring relationship with an Algebra 2/Trigonometry student. Therefore, I recently bought a less expensive Casio fx-260 SOLAR, “the official calculator for use on the GED Series Mathematics Test”. Since I have lately been tutoring a couple GED students, one long term, this seemed to be the calculator to buy.

Short of the graphing capabilities of the TI-83 Plus, the Casio fx-260 SOLAR offers me all the computational power I will probably ever need, and more than I will ever use. With tax, it cost me $10.33 at Staples, a lot less than a TI-83 Plus, and nearly a fourth of the price of my first Commodore Minuteman that did nothing but add, subtract, multiply and divide.

Although I will carry and use the Casio fx-260 SOLAR when I tutor, I will keep that thirty-year old indestructible Sharp next to my checkbook for occasional balancing. Sometimes, though, I wish I still had that original Commodore Minuteman to use as a paperweight and to remind me of what used to be.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Magdalene

Was Mary Magdalene possessed by evil spirits, or was she a mystic with awareness of, and access to, spiritual power? Was Mary one of the first disciples of Jesus, and more than any of the other apostles a nearly equal co-participant in Jesus’ ministry of preaching, and, in the final days of his ministry, his wife? Was she to blame for his death? Did she write her own Gospel before sailing for France, where she would bare Jesus’ daughter?

These are just some of the provocative theories explored, and perhaps faith challenging questions asked, in The Magdalene: A Musical Play, now in previews at the The Theater at St. Clements, 423 West 46th Street, NYC.  I find it both ironic and symbolic that a play such as The Magdalene would be running in a building still serving as an active church. Perhaps there is hope for the Church, after all.

Shad Olsen not only plays one on the lead characters, Yeshua, he is also the playwright. Shad calims to have been influenced and inspired by his teacher, James Olm, who wrote the music. He also credits the writings of Margaret Starbird.  As I experienced this musical, I heard what I thought were echoes of both Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. I saw scenes which reminded me of scenes from Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ. The sparse set and costumes were enough to transport me back two-thousand years ago to Palestine without detracting from, or adding to, the both spoken and sung script.

Olsen offered not a meek and mild saintly Yeshua, but rather a peace loving man, or rather a loving peaceful man, who sought nothing but to accept people as they were and to share with them God’s love. For this Yeshua, that is all God is, love, and love is also God.

The title character, Mary Magdalene, played by Lindsie Vanwinkle, seemed to alternate between a whimpering but self-righteous victim and a brash self-confident religious and spiritual rebel whom never seemed to be at peace with herself. The strength of VanWinkle’s craft was evident during an after performance talkback between the cast and audience when she appeared nothing like her character.

Faith Annette Engine ably portrayed the little girl that I was never sure was all angel or a mixture of little angel and a little demon, or perhaps an outward manifestation of Mary’s unconscious with just a little of the collective unconscious added in as well.

Evangelia Kingsley embodied the Rivkah roll, an older, blind midwife who subtly guides the birth of her assistant as Mary is transformed from abused daughter to a religious and spiritual leader, and then later becomes one of the followers of Yeshua and Mary.

I was most pleased, however, with the performance of supporting actor Eugene Barry-Hill, who boldly and confidently filled the Pilatus character with hints of modern street pimp, Wall Street tycoon, and the manipulative and opportunistic politician seeking re-election.

While some less informed in the audience might find their religious sensibilities and sensitivities, if they have any, challenged, there is nothing new here, at least not for anyone familiar with Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, or the writings of Margaret Starbird, or who are familiar with the Gnostic Gospels. I was first exposed to the theory that Mary Magdalene and Jesus may have been married in the mid 1970’s when I was an undergraduate studying under the tutelage of the late William E. Phipps, Ph.D., who decades ago explored topics such as The Sexuality of Jesus, Was Jesus Married?, and Recovering Biblical Sensuousness.

I enjoyed The Magdalene sitting front and center, flanked by two other Mainline Ordained Ministers, both female, who, while seeing and hearing a few things slightly differently than I did, both liked the play. The Magdalene runs about ninety minutes without any intermission.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Throwaway Religion

In spite of overflowing landfills and a growing emphasis on the need to recycle, we still tend to live in a disposable, throwaway culture. If something no longer works, we do not fix it. We throw it away and buy a new one. In fact, it is often less expensive to replace a broken item than to pay the cost of repairing it. Even worse is when something still performs the function for which it was designed, but when a newer version offers upgrades and features the older model did not have, we buy the latest model and toss out the old one, even though the old one worked perfectly fine.

Are faith, religion and spirituality any different? Do we invest in repairing what is broken or simply toss it out and start over? Do we throw away what seems old and outdated so that we can replace it with the latest fashion trends in faith traditions?

I realize I am ruminating of existential things, ethereal ideas and concepts rather than physical consumer items, but ponder I must. Recently seeing a faded and dusty framed copy of DaVinci’s Last Supper thrown out with the trash is what has ignited my brooding. The sight caused me to reflect upon the disposable nature of our contemporary religious convictions, or lack of. While there is certainly nothing sacrilegious about throwing away something like a reproduction of DaVinci’s Last Supper, the sight of this framed print next to trashcan on the street seemed like a metaphor of contemporary devotion, or lack of, to mystery.

I wondered if the former owner of this DaVinci print grew tired of the faith it represented and dumped it along with their beliefs. On the other hand, perhaps they disposed of it and replaced it with a print of Dali’s Last Supper, or a framed photo of the Dali Lama or Mecca. Maybe they simply moved out of the apartment, left the print behind, and the property owner was the one to trash the print when the cleaned up the mess left behind. There is a story behind that print that I do not know and will never know. There are also stories associated with aging, declining, decaying, dying, churches that begging to be told and to teach us their lessons.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, June 12, 2011, the Day of Pentecost (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 are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

The Day of Pentecost offers a variety of readings with several possible permutations. Here are the options.

First Reading: Acts 2:1-21
Or alternate First Reading: Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm: Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Or alternate Second Reading: Acts 2:2-21
Gospel: John 20:19-23
Or alternate Gospel: John 7:37-39

I will ruminate only on the four passages I will be using.

Numbers 11:24-30
v. 24 Is there anything special about the number 70? Is there any story like this in the New Testament?

v. 25 In the NRSV the “Lord”, not LORD, comes down. Does this make any difference? Why did the Lord take some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders? Was there not enough Spirit to go around, so it had to be rationed? What does it mean to prophesy?

vs. 26-29 OK, PC(USA) Presbyterians, this would have been an argument for the the passage of 10-A, but now that it has already been approved, I will not go there. Why are these two men named when the seventy are not named? Why might they have remained in the camp? Registered?

v.27 A young filer of complaints.

v. 28 And this be Moses’ successor?

v. 29 Indeed, would that all. We can only hope and pray that it be so.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
v. 24 How could this verse serve as an interpretive lens for Numbers 11:26-29?

v. 25 The sea kayaker and sailor in me is nodding his head.

v. 26 Was this verse Thomas Hobbes’ inspiration for the title of his political treatise?

v. 29 What does it mean for God to hide God’s face?

v. 29-30 I love the juxtaposition of these two verse, especially the imagery of breath/death and spirit/creation.

v. 32 Storm God imagery.

vs.33-39 Even these are the concluding verses of today’s Psalm, they could easily be adapted to function as a Call to Worship.

Acts 2:1-21
v. 1 What was the day of Pentecost before the coming of the Holy Spirit?

v. 2 This verse might be especially poignant in light of recent devastating tornados.

v. 3 What is a divided tongue? How does a tongue, even a tongue, as of fire, rest on someone?

v. 4 What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit”. Rosetta Stone, eat your heart out!

v. 5 So?

v. 6 Have you ever been bewildered? What bewilders you?

v. 7 Similarly, amazed and astonished?

vs. 9-11 Lay readers, and even some clergy, hate reading these verses. I think, however, that this list serves a very important theological purpose.

v.11 What are God’s deeds of power?

v. 12 Earlier it was bewildered, amazed and astonished. Now it is amazed and perplexed. What does this mean?

v. 13 Thus most PCUSA Presbyterians shun offering fermented wine at communion, for fear of appearing to be filled with new wine. Instead, we are filled with Welches grape juice, a nice, safe alternative void of all power and warmth, like the spirit in most of our congregations (note to self: get off your soap box).

v. 14 Peter, always the first to open his mouth.

v. 15 Like people are not drunk at 9:00 AM? Some people are just coming home from all night parties at that time.

v. 16 You cannot go wrong by quoting from Jewish prophets when your audience is filled with devout Jews.

vs. 17-21 Is this a case where a prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures prefigures a later event, or where a prophecy is used as an apology for a later event?

John 7:37-39
v. 37 And what festival would that be?

vs. 37-38 Is it at all problematic that today’s readings are mixing fire, wind and water metaphors?

v. 38 What Scripture passage does Jesus quote and what is the original historical and literary context of that passage?

v.39 Did the author of the Gospel know this at the time Jesus quoted scripture, or does this comment make sense only in hind sight?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Passing 20: More Ruminations on Tutoring

I recently passed the milestone of having had tutored twenty hours or more through WyzAnt. Not only do I now earn an additional 5% from tutoring fees and have a green 20+ hours medallion next to my name on my profile, I have gained the satisfaction of knowing that I have helped students improve their grades and prepare for standardized tests. I passed the twenty hours of tutoring milestone by tutoring three students. I am still tutoring one of these students, a ninth grader, in Geometry, helping him increase his Geometry grade as well as prepare for the New York State Regents. I tutored an eighth grader in Math, English and Chess, up until the time he was to take his state Math and English Language Arts Test. Relying on email rather than tutoring face-to-face, I also helped a seminary student write her first Theology paper.

Combined with tutoring through other services and on my own, I have now tutored over eight students ranging in age from seventh grade through graduate school, and have tutored well over 100 hours. Most of my students have been in the Ridgewood and Glendale neighborhoods of Queens and the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. I am willing to travel into Manhattan or anywhere in the five boroughs of New York City as long as the location is near a subway station.

I look forward to helping other students improve their grades and prepare for standardized tests, and earning a green 50+ hours medallion next to my name on my profile. I am well over half way to that 50+ milestone.

If you are interested in learning how you can tutor through WyzAnt, or if you want me or another WyzAnt tutor to help you improve your grades and prepare for standardized tests, just click on the WyzAnt hotlink.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, June 5, 2011, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (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 are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Acts 1:6-14
Will you handle this verse differently depending on whether or not your community observed and celebrated Ascension Day last Thursday?
v. 6 Who has come together?
v. 7 Take that, prognosticators of May 21being the end of the world!
v. 8 Do you have the power? Note the progression from the local to the global.
v. 9 In the NRSV, the action is in the passive. Must we read “lifted up” as a physical reference? In English, we occasionally say we “lift up” things without physically touching them or physically moving them. What might the cloud symbolize?
v. 10 Were the two wearing white robes really men?
v. 11 A good question. Is this a reference to the coming of the power and Holy Spirit mentioned in verse 8, or the second coming?
v. 12 Is the mount of Olives really a sabbath’s day’s journey from Jerusalem? What is a Sabbath day’s journey?
v. 13 What is the significance of the naming?
v. 14 Constantly? Who might the other women have been in addition to Mary? His brothers?

vs. 13-14 That eleven men are named, but only one woman, in my mind makes this a sexist and patriarchal passage. What would your reaction be if the passage read, “When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs were they were staying. All of them were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Martha, and Salome, as well as his brothers.”?

v. 1 Is this Psalm paired with the First Reading only because of the “Let God rise up” language?
v. 4 Now we have “cloud” imagery to pair with the First Reading.
v. 8 When was the last time you heard someone begin a prayer with the address “God of Sinai” or “God of Israel” rather than “Father”?
v. 32 Not only Israel but “kingdoms of the earth” are called to sing praises to God.
vs. 33-24 Here we have “rider in the heavens” and “skies” language to add to the “rise up”language of verse 1 and the “cloud” imagery of verse 4.
v 35. My God is “awesome”! How do you understand this affirmation? What does it mean to be “awesome”?
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
v. 12 What is meant by ‘the fiery ordeal”? Shall we read this any differently in light of the Holocaust/Shoah? Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
v. 13 “Rejoice”? Really? Is this supposed to a pep talk?
v. 14 I find this verse easier to take than the one before it.
v. 7 What would a Psychiatrist say about this verse?
v. 8 In other words, “Pay attention. There be Lions” and tigers, and bears.
v. 9 “all the world”? Really?
v. 10 Now I hear a word of hope rather than resignation.
John 17:1-11
v. 1 What “words”? Ah Jesus, can you not just once in a while pray using more inclusive language when you address God? What “hour”? Quid pro quo?
v. 2 Jesus referring to himself in the third person?
v. 3 I like this image of eternal life more than eternal habitation on clouds playing harps.
v. 5 Jesus had glory in God’s presence before the world existed? Oh, that is right. I forgot. This is the Gospel According to John.
vs. 7-8 I think Jesus is attributing more knowledge and understanding to his followers than they really possessed at the time, or now.
v. 10 How has Jesus been glorified in others?

v. 11 God has given a holy name to Jesus? What was that name? How can those for whom Jesus pray in any sense of the word be “one” as Jesus and “his Father” are one?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

About the June 2011 Header

Yep! That is yours truly, in the deep, deep past, the fall of 1976 to be exact. The photo is from my first climbing trip to Seneca Rocks, WV. OK, I know my gear and apparel were not the best, especially the construction style hard hat, but I was a poor freshman in college. CAMS had not yet invented. Goldline was still available as a climbing rope. Ah, those were the days.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Model of Space Shuttle
Kennedy Space Center
This morning over the internet, I watched the NASA STS-134 live feed of the launch and first few minutes of flight of the space shuttle Endeavor. This historic flight, the last for Endeavor and the second to last launch in the space shuttle program, brings back many memories associated with the space program.

I am a child of the space age, born after the launch of Sputnik. As many boys my age, I played with G.I. Joe Action Figures. One of the accessory I received as a Christmas present was a Mercury Capsule and Space flight suit for Joe. I would slip Joe into that silver suit, attach his helmet, slip him into the seat of the capsule, and in my imagination launch him into space. That Mercury Capsule accessory included a 45-rpm recording of an excerpt from John Glenn’s historic Friendship 7 flight, when he became the first American to orbit the earth.

I remember during elementary school, assembling in a large room to watch live Gemini launches via a black and white television. Sometimes we would sit for what seemed like hours as countdowns were extended due to technical difficulties. I think we were once even sent back to class, only to be recalled to the assembly area when a postponed countdown was resumed.

I remember a Christmas Eve broadcast from Apollo Astronauts orbiting the moon when they read Scripture, and watching, with my parents, the first lunar landing.

I remember building a plastic Revell model of the Saturn V. Fully assembled, it stood nearly 45 inches tall. I remember obtaining from the Gulf filling station across the street from my house a cardboard punch-out model of the LEM. Once assembled, I would tie a string to its top, suspend it from a high point, and slowly lower it, as if it were landing on the moon.

I mourn the end of the Shuttle program and desire to see Americans, or better yet, a consortium of states, sending humans back to the moon, on to Mars, and setting our sights once again upon the stars. Watching today’s launch of the space shuttle Endeavour has increased that desire.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

About the May 2011 Header Photo

Another month—another header photo. I shot this view of Silver Lake, the local name for the Ocracoke, NC harbor, almost a year ago. At the time, my wife, dog and I were enjoying a two-week car camping vacation on the Island. When I took this photo, we were enjoying dinner at the Jolly Roger, one of Ocracoke’s food and beverage establishments that sit on and look out over the harbor.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Escaping the Urban Environment in Jamaica Bay

Kayaking in Jamaica Bay
I have been enjoying Jamaica Bay since the spring of 2008. This will be the fourth summer I will paddle a kayak in its waters and the second summer to sail in its waters. Over the past three years, there have been times when, under precise conditions and in the right locations, I have forgotten that I was paddling or sailing in New York City. There are places in the Bay where it seems that not a building is within sight. When jets landing and taking off from JFK are not flying over the Bay, whether I am in a kayak or a sailboat, I can imagine that I am in a vast wilderness area, surrounded by nothing but water, marshes, islands, and birds.

Thanks to my paddling friend Bonnie, I recently learned that the Gateway National Recreation Area, of which Jamaica Bay is a part, tops National Geographics list of Top Ten Urban Escapes. And no wonder. I have escaped the urban environment while on Jamaica Bay too many times to remember.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ruminations from a WyzAnt Tutor

Me, wearing my Doctor's (D.Min) Academic Hood
I only recently learned about the WyzAnt Searchable Database of Tutors Nation Wide and my WyzAnt account went active less than a month and a half ago. Since then I have secured two students. I have tutored three times for a total of five and a quarter hours, earning a little extra income. More importantly, I have already made a positive contribution to the lives and academic success of my students. Although I am certified in twenty subjects, I am currently tutoring my students, a seventh grader and a ninth grader, in Math. Eventually, I will also tutor the seventh grader in English and Chess.

I am restricting myself to students within a mile or so walking distance of my home in Ridgewood, NY, a neighborhood of the New York City Borough of Queens, in order to avoid transportation costs. This limits the number of students I can tutor but allows me to keep more of the tutoring fees I earn. While I would like to add another student or two, for now, I am happy with just the two I am working with.

Both of my students are above average. They live in good, stable homes. They need a little more individualized attention than they receive in public school, however. I am tutoring each one between ninety minutes to two hours, once a week or every other week, depending on our schedules.

The families of these students and I would not have connected without WyzAnt, and so far I am very happy with the service and support WyzAnt provides. I appreciate that there were no upfront costs. Other than the optional background check, which I paid for, I was able to begin tutoring with no financial investment or commitment. Being assured that clients have their payment information of file before I show up to tutor means that I enjoy the peace of mind of knowing I will receive payment for the tutoring I provide. Handling all initial email contacts through the WyzAnt site guarantees a certain amount of protection and anonymity up until tutoring actually begins. The direct deposit option means I do not worry about my checks being lost in the mail.

While I found some of the certification tests a bit simple, especially so in my strong areas, I also realize that one does not have to be a rocket scientist to help a teenager with their math homework or preparing for the New York State Regents Exams. Anyone with a few years of college, and especially an advanced degree or two, will certainly think the certification tests are easy. On the other hand, the tests do serve to weed out any potential tutors who have no knowledge of the subjects they desire to tutor.

I have already recommended WyzAnt to some of my colleagues looking for part-time work and income. I have posted WyzAnt Posters with my personalized code, available from WyzAnt, around the neighborhood. I have also distributed WyzAnt business cards, also with my personalized code and available from WyzAnt, to my students so they can distribute them to their classmates.

I look forward to finding more students, tutoring more subjects, earning more extra income, and, most of all, making a positive contribution to the lives and academic success of more students, thanks to WyzAnt.

Any tutoring I do through WyzAnt is independent of tutoring opportunities I find through other means.  So, if you or your child would like some indivualized tutoring in the privacy and convienance of your home, you  may respond to this post or sendme an email rather than going through the WyzAnt site.  Although I currently limit my WyzAnt tutoring to Ridgewood, I am willing to travel any reasonable distance accessable by subway or bus.  My current fee is $45/hr for a minimum of a one hour session, additional time available in 15 minute increments, for up to a three hour tutoring session.  I give a $5/hr discount to clients within a thrity minute walk of my home.

Monday, April 4, 2011

About the April 2011 Header Photo

This April 2011 Header Photo (scan of a print), posted four days late, features our third dog, Hermes (2005-2008), poised atop a rock and overlooking West Virginia’s Dolly Sods Wilderness, at an elevation of over 4,500 feet along the Alleghany Front.  Dolly Sods is a Wilderness Area in the Monongahela National Forest and one of my favorite hiking and backpacking areas. My excursions there have ranged from day hikes to weeklong backpacking trips.  It is only one of only three places I have ever seen a bear.  Hermes was with me when I saw it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A 25-Point Improvement

Rocky (not his real name), a freshman in a New York City public High School, received a score of 58 on his last Geometry test before I started tutoring him. On his next test, the first after I tutored him in Geometry for one and three quarter hours, his score was 83, a 25 point increase! The improvement was so significant that Rocky’s teacher wrote an encouraging comment of recognition on the top of Rocky’s test. I do not know who was more proud and satisfied: Rocky, his parents, or me.

To what do I attribute the 25-point improvement? During our first tutoring session, Rocky and I reviewed his most recent Geometry work; including teacher handouts, worksheets, and notes he had taken in class. Rocky knew theory but needed more practice applying it. I congratulated and reinforced him when he correctly solved a problem. I also corrected him when he wrongly applied a theory or made a calculation error.

During our conversation, I learned that Rocky might experience test anxiety that prevents him from doing his best work. I briefly demonstrated and had Rocky practice some anxiety and stress reducing techniques that he could use before and during a test if he felt nervous. At our second tutoring session, Rocky said he found the techniques helpful.

I am convinced that Rocky’s 25-point improvement was not attributed to my command of Geometry or superior tutoring skills but rather to the individualized attention I provided Rocky. Overcrowded public schools staffed by underpaid teachers cannot provide the individualized correction and encouragement a tutor can provide. For parents who cannot afford private school and want their child to excel, a tutor might provide their child with enough extra attention to help them get the most out of their public education.

So far I have tutored students in Bushwick, NY (a neighborhood in Brooklyn), Ridgewood, NY, and Glendale, NY (neighborhoods in Queens), but I prefer to tutor students in the Ridgewood, NY area.  I  have worked with students as young as sixth grade and as old as twelth grade, tutoring in both English Language Arts and Math, including Algebra, Geometry and Algerbra II/Trigonometry.  The greatest reward I receive from tutoring is not the extra income it provides, but knowing that students like Rocky come closer to reaching their full potential.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Sacred number
Triune enumerator

Decimal declinator

The loneliest number
But more to come

Completeness, but not quite

Calculating out of sight

Monday, March 7, 2011

Returning to the United Nations

The UN Headquarters in New York City
Most residents of New York City have probably never visited the United Nations Headquarters in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan overlooking the East River. I recently did.
I first visited the United Nations before I lived in New York. In fact, I visited it twice before moving to its host city. In the mid 90’s I participated in a three day, two night, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) United Nations Seminar organized by the Peacemaking Committee of Shenandoah Presbytery. At the time, I was a member of the committee. A few years later, I returned for a second tour of the UN. That tour was part of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference the year the conference was held at Hofstra University on Long Island.
Recently, I had the opportunity and pleasure to visit the UN a third time, but this time as a resident of New York City. I was helping with a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Youth United Nations Seminar involving youth and their adult leaders from upstate New York. Most of the seminar took place around the corner from the UN in the fellowship room of The Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. The afternoon of the seminar, we walked down to the UN and enjoyed a group tour.
Visiting the United Nations is like visiting an art gallery and museum. Numerous displays depicting and interpreting the work of the UN are intermingled with paintings, tapestries, sculptures, mosaics, stained glass and cultural artifacts given to the UN by foreign governments and wealthy patrons. One could easily spend a few hours viewing the displays and art.
Visiting the UN is also like visiting a foreign country, except it is not a country. Although a passport is not required to enter the UN compound, (in fact, no identification is required), one leaves US territory when entering. Many of the employees of the UN are foreign nationals, and many of the visitors are not American. Tours are available in any number of languages, as there are six official languages spoken at the UN: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.
When you add the work of the UN General Assembly, Security Council and its various agencies that takes place in the building to the displays, art, culture and languages found in the building, the UN can be an awesome and exciting place. I have been to the US Capital Building and even visited members of the Senate and House of Representatives in the offices. I have been in the West Virginia Capital Building and Governor’s Mansion. The United Nations, however, surpasses them all in terms of culture, art and international mystique.