Saturday, November 17, 2012

We Demanded Sand--But This Is Riciculous

I live several miles from the devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought on the Rockaways, but the Rockaways are the southern boundary of my Jamaica Bay playground.  I have kayaked and sailed to more restaurants on the Rockaways than I have driven to.  I have sailed and paddled numerous times past bayside homes and establishments, from the Cross Bay Bridge to the east out past Breezy Point to the West.  I have friends and co-workers who live (or used to live) on the Rockaways. 
Here is a link to blog post, We Demanded Sand—But thisis Ridiculous, by one of my Rockaway friends.  Her first person account of Sandy and its aftermath, accompanied by her own photos, say more than any of my own secondary posts have, or could.  I highly recommend you read it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, November 18, 2012, 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.) 

1:4 Were Peninnah’s sons and daughters not also Elkanah’s sons and daughters?

 1:5 Was Hannah related to Elkanah?

 1:6 Who was Hannah’s rival?

 1:8 How many wives did Elkanah have?  So much for family values!  If they were honest, how would most wives answer the Question Elkanah asked Hannah?

 1:9 Who is “they” and why are “they” at Shiloh?

 1:11 What is Hannah’s misery?

1:13 When you pray silently, do your lips move?

1:14 Read this in light of the First Christian Pentecost.

1:15 What does it mean to pour out one’s soul before the LORD?

1:17 How could Ely say this when he did not know Hannah’s petition?  Who or what gave Ely the right—the power—to answer prayer?

1:19 What do you know about Ramah?  Ya gotta love these Biblical euphemisms.

1:20 Who do we no longer give children names with personal, existential meaning?

1:1 Did Hannah pray, or did Hannah sing?  Who said , paraphrasing, “the person who sings their prayer prays twice”?

1:2 What, or who, do you think of when you hear the phrase “holy one”?

1:3-5 Is this the 99% speaking of the 1%, or maybe the 47% speaking of the 53%?

1:6-7 So what?

1:8 What does the second half of this verse have to do with the first half?

1:9 This verse seems to echo 1:4-5.

1:10 How does this verse relate to the verses preceding it?

10:11 How are you like a priest?

 10:12 What single sacrifice did Christ offer?

10:12-13 What source, if any, is being quoted?

 10:15-18 Where did the Holy Spirit say this?

 10:19 What sanctuary?  Does the blood of Jesus give us confidence or is it a ticket of entry?

 10:20 What curtain might this be alluding to?  How was Christ’s flesh like a curtain?  Think about that one long and hard!

 10:22 How can hearts be sprinkled clean from an evil conscience?  Note that while hearts are sprinkled clean, our bodies are washed.

 10:23 What is the confession of our hope?  What is our hope?  How do we confess it?

 10:25  to what does this “meeting toghether” refer?

13:1 Who came out of the temple and what had he been doing in there?  This sounds like something a tourist to New York says on their first visit.  Those of us who have lived in the Bifg Apple hardly notice.  Was this a particular disciple’s first visit to Jerusalem and the temple?

 13:2 Is this prescient or a post AD 70 author reading back into a supposedly earlier event?

 13:3 It was usually Peter, James and John who were privy to special moments with Jesus.  What is Andrew doing here?  Why two sets of brothers?

 13:4 Think again about the question I raised in relation to 13:2.

 13:6 To whom was Jesus, or the writer of the Gospel, referring?

 13:8 Whew!  At least there is no mention of hurricanes or nor’easters.  After both within eight day, I was beginning to expect a plague of locusts.  What do birth pangs signify?  Is this describing the end of things as they are, or the birth of something new?

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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Open Letter to Conservative Pundits and Pols

An Open Letter to Conservative Pundits and Pols

Glenn Beck
Citizens United
John Boenher
Eric Cantor
Ann Coulter
Fox News
Sean Hannity
Koch Brothers
Rush Limbaugh
Mitch McConnell
Grover Norquist
Bill O’Reilly
Karl Rove
Rick Scot
Donald Trump
Tea Party Republicans

Elections have consequences.  In spite of your lies, your millions of dollars spent on attack ads, your attempts to suppress likely Democratic voters, your abuse of the filibuster to gridlock the Senate, and your laughable claims that Obama and the Democrats engaged in class warfare in a class war you initiated, Barak Obama has won reelection to a second term. He won an overwhelming Electorial College victory as well as the majority of the popular vote.

In the next four years, I do not want to hear any more about your highest priority being making Obama a one term president, his not being born in the United States, his being a socialist, or any other rich, white, racist, misogynist, homophobic  garbage.  I want you to act like Americans instead of acting like you come from another planet.  I want you to responsibly report and govern.  And tell Donald Trump that the world is laughing at him.

John Edward Harris

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Week After Sandy

New York City Bus service is back to normal and the city’s subway service is nearly fully restored, thus my morning commute was a little more normal than it was last Friday.  School was back in session for the first time in a week, which meant that I had students preparing to take the GED.  Fortunately, the classroom I teach in had been thoroughly cleaned and repaired after Sandy damaged it.

A new employee reported to work today, her first day of work postponed a few days because of Sandy.  She lives in Far Rockaway, except now she is staying with friends near Jamaica, Queens because her home is still without power.  Other members of her family are living in two other places other than home. She spoke of having flood water in her basement, the water now pumped out, and the contents of the basement thrown out.  She described the eeriness of dark, quiet nights associated with her neighborhood being powerless, and planning to go home tomorrow to vote, although she is not sure where she will have to vote.  She described the presence of the American Red Cross, FEMA, the National Guard, and other relief and emergency responders, grateful for their presence.
Local media (a New Yorker never really knows what is local and national when it comes to media) makes it clear that there are still sections of the New York City without power.  At least one subway tunnel under the East River is still partially flooded.  People are still lining up for gasoline but we are promised that the situation will ease within a couple days. I still have half a tank in the car, filled up the Saturday night before the hurricane.  The mayor’s office estimates that twenty to forty thousand New Yorkers have been left homeless due to Sandy and FEMA knows that in our urban environment, mobile homes will not even be a temporary solution.  My wife and I have offered to share our warm home with two different people whose homes are cold and without power, but both have chosen to remain where they are.

Meanwhile, a Nor’easter has the disaster zone in its sight, threatening winds up to fifty miles per hour, heavy rain, and snow inland and perhaps even near the coast as early as Wednesday and no later than Thursday. 
I am tempted to write that life in New York City will eventually return to normal, maybe in a few weeks or months, at least for some if not many, but I think New York City and Normal is an oxymoron when used in the same sentence.

Sunday Post-Sandy

Heading into worship, I wrestled with somehow focusing worship on Sandy and its aftermath or maintaining a tried and true routine.  As the Pastor of a small church in the New York City borough of Queens, but a part of Queens that had not been heavily impacted by the storm, I had the sense that it was too early to focus on our shared experience as we were still in its midst, that we needed some psychological and temporal distance to gain perspective.  I also knew that when in a crisis and time of anomie, maintaining a routine can provide spiritual and psychological grounding, bring comfort, and provide meaning.
At the last minute I opted to spend the first ten to fifteen minutes of the worship hour processing our experience of Sandy.  I shared some personal hurricane stories and talked about what I knew about how some church members and friends faired the storm.  I also invited others in worship to share their experiences and tell their stories.  At least four worshipers did so.

About a quarter hour later than usual, I began worship proper with the Call to Worship.  Our second liturgical act was a Prayer of Adoration that recognized that our worship was in the context of a post-Sandy world.  The sermon, with Psalm 146, especially the third verse as its text, focused primarily on the upcoming Presidential election, but also, to a lesser extent, our experience of Sandy.  The Prayers of the People included a petition for first responders, rescue workers and those providing hurricane relief as well as the victims of Sandy, including those who had lost possessions and homes, were displaced and homeless, had been injured, or lost neighbors, friends, loved ones and family to the storm.

Later in the afternoon I finally was able to make phone contact with a friend who lives Belle Habor in the Rockaways, not far from Breezy Point.  Belle Harbor is the site of the fatal 2001 crash of American Airlines Flight 587.  Breezy point is where over one hundred homes burned to the ground during the height of Sandy.  My friend talked about choosing to stay in her home rather than evacuating, having lost her car to the rising tide and still having, five days later, six feet of water in her basement and no electricity or heat in her home.
She reflected on watching her neighbor’s homes in Breezy Point burn to the ground, wondering if the fire would continue to spread and engulf her home.  She said she thought her children, rather young when Flight 587 crashed in their neighborhood, were experiencing PTSD as the sights, sounds and images of Sandy’s destruction were conjuring up repressed memories of that crash eleven years ago.

She talked about the generosity of others who were bringing relief supplies to her neighborhood, but how those supplies were often being left along the side of the street next to debris cleaned out from people’s basements becoming co-mingled and perhaps contaminated.
She was thankful bus service had been restored to her neighborhood, but lamented that many basements still needed to be pumped out, that debris still needed to be picked up, and that power had yet to be restored by Sunday Afternoon, more than five full days after Sandy struck.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Saturday at Sebago after Sandy

It was a cool, crisp Saturday morning after the sun rose. The sky was a clear sea blue with barely a cloud. It was hard to believe that four days earlier we were just starting to discover the devastating effects of hurricane Sandy, which dealt its deadliest blow under the cover of night.  It was also time to start help cleaning up after Sandy.

People waiting in line to fill their empty gas comtainers
As we drove south toward and through the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, we saw firsthand, for the first time, the long lines of cars and people we had been hearing and reading about.  Cars were lined up two, three, even four long blocks waiting for gas.  I estimate between fifty and a hundred people holding empty red gas containers and clear milk and water jugs standing in line at the same gas station, also waiting for gas.  This was repeated two or three times as we drove.  Other gas stations seemed deserted, yellow caution tape strung around the pumps with no gas to pump.

Overturned boat being pulled out of basin
Our first stop was Kings Plaza Marina on Mill Basin, where we were hoping to remove the ripped and tattered jib sail from our nearly thirty year old twenty-four foot sailboat “Mischief”.  After about an hour’s labor and some challenging rope work, we finally removed the only visible damage Sandy inflicted on the boat.

While we were working on Mischief, we noticed others in the marina working near the boat ramp.  They were attempting to bring ashore a capsized boat of some sort, probably a power boat, but I could not be sure.  The only thing visible above the water was the keel.

Our second stop was the Sebago Canoe Club on Paerdegat Basin, where we are members and have four kayaks stored on outside racks.  We had come to the club to help clean up and begin repairing and rebuilding after Sandy.

Sebago main walkway after Sandy, before repair
Club members of all ages and races, recent members and long-time members, were already helping out, but much work remained to be done.  With various tasks needing attention, my wife and I began by helping to rake up debris left behind by the tidal surge, placing kayaks back on outside racks, and tying down our own boats for the winter.

After that task was completed, we assisted with replacing the board walk walkway which, lifted off its foundation by the tide, was scattered in several pieces around the club yard.  Even after the walkway was sawed into smaller pieces, it took ten to twenty people to lift and replace the sections.  One crew had started near the dock and was replacing the walk from west to east.  Another crew had started at the sidewalk gate and was replacing the walk east to west.

We all took a lunch break before finishing the walkway work.  Many volunteers had made soups and stews or brought store made lunch items for a group lunch.  Scattered around the club grounds, members ate lunch and told of their own hurricane experiences as well as sharing other news and stories they had heard from others.

Last walkway segment being dropped into place
Refreshed by a hearty lunch and rest, the final sections of the walkway were cut and carried into place until the last piece of the sidewalk puzzle was put into place, only an inch or two  having to be cut off to make it fit into place.  It was like the joining of the transcontinental Sebago railroad sans the golden spike.
Throughout the morning and afternoon others had been hard at work cleaning out the storage containers, cleaning and re-positing sailboats, pulling water logged material out of the club house, and other odds and ends.  It was a true group effort involving forty to fifty people and a testament to the dedication many Sebago members have to the volunteer run, 501C3 nonprofit, membership organization that operates as a concessioner on New York City Park land.

Sebago main walkway after repair
A lot of work still needs done around the club, inside the clubhouse and containers and out on the grounds, but the grunt work which demanded many hands is finished.  With walkway, kayaks, and sailboats back into position, it is now much easier and safer to move around on club property and the grounds look almost normal.

The work accomplished Saturday at Sebago after Sandy was but a drop in the bucket of the massive recovery effort underway in the area.  Many are homeless and living in shelters, having lost everything but their lives.  Some lost even their lives, as bodies are still being recovered, especially on Staten Island., and the death toll is now above one hundred.  Tens of thousands are still without power and the temperatures are dropping.  A nor-easter could bring rain or snow as well as higher than normal tides as soon as Thursday.  Some of the devastated neighborhoods on the Rockaways and on Staten Island are still waiting for relief efforts.  Some residents of the Jersey Shore may not be allowed to return to their homes, if they still have homes, for up to six months.

Friday, November 2, 2012

First Friday after Sandy

I commuted to work this Friday morning, the first Friday and my first morning commute after hurricane Sandy turned the New York/New Jersey area into a disaster area. 

A gas station without gas in Brooklyn, New York
This morning’s travels were less problematic than I expected. Busess are running, but not all subways are yet operating. After missing my bus by less than a minute, I walked to the closest Subway, only to discover that it was not running this far west.  The gas station across the street from the subway station was out of gas, yellow tape blocking access to the pumps.  Gas stations that used to have gas have run dry because resupplies are not flowing. Stations with gad cannot pump it because they do not have electricity to power the pumps. 

Empty New York Subway Station
After an initial delay, I finally caught another bus and surprisingly made up for lost time, arriving at work only 15 minutes late. The two buses I rode were not overly crowded, less crowded than some normal commutes. The streets seemed to be less congested with traffic than usual, probably because there still was no school and gas is in short supply.

What I discovered once I arrived at work brought Sandy’s impact a little closer to home, or rather work.

In addition to serving as the half-time Pastor of a small Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation in Flushing, Queens, I also work part time as a GED Instructor for a Social Service agency in Jamaica, Queens.  The agency serves 16-21 year olds, most high school dropouts, providing them with vocational services.

a New York bus finally arrives
The GED classroom in which I teach is a corner room on the seventh (top) floor of one of the highest buildings in the neighborhood. One wall faces south, looking out toward JFK Airport. The other wall faces east, looking out toward Aqueduct Race Track and Long Island. At some point during the height of Sandy's fiercest winds, a south facing window blew in, covering the floor with glass.  With an entry to the building, hurricane force winds blew into the classroom, blowing out ceiling tiles, distributing old paint chips, and scattering papers throughout the room. One of two black boards was ripped from the wall. The room I walked into this morning obviously was not able to be used as instructional space.  I hope it can be cleaned and repaired by next Monday.

I think the window that blew in and broke bore the brunt of Sandy's hurricane force winds, as the fiercest winds would have blown from the south-east and east during the height of the storm. There are no neighboring buildings more than two stories high to act as windbreaks. With an 85 mph wind gust officially recorded at nearby JFK during the height of the storm, I am surprised only one of the classroom windows blew in.

Doorway view of hurricane's aftermath
Once my co-workers starting arriving, they too surveyed the damage.  Then we started talking about our recent experiences.  We shared personal storm stories, cell phone photos of flooding and downed trees, and tales of death and survival we had learned about from various media outlets.  I learned that two of my coworkers were still without power.  My supervisor had her power restored just the night before. Another co-worker was unable to make it to work because the Subway is only partially operating.

Because of my experiences this first Friday after Sandy, I have come to realize, or admit to myself, that even though my family’s health and property were not adversely impacted by Sandy, we are living in the midst of a disaster area.  I was beginning to sense this reality as early as yesterday.

Both local and national media have been filled with stories and images of death and destruction.  For example, an entire neighborhood of Queens, over 110 homes in Breezy Point, a geographical point I have sailed past numerous times, lie in smoldering rubble.  The devastation on Staten Island, New York City’s southernmost borough, through which we drive on our way to the Jersey Shore, is only now coming to light, four days after Sandy struck. More people died on Staten Island, 22, than any state other than New York. 

The devastation along the Jersey shore, where we have family and friends and have often enjoyed the beaches, just an hour or two (depending on the traffic) south from New York City, is catastrophic.  Some residents who remained behind on barrier islands along the coast of New Jersey are just now being forced to evacuate and may not be allowed to return home for up to six months.  Those that evacuated before the storm hit are being allowed to return.

While power has been restored to most of lower Manhattan, some people who lost power because of Sandy’s wind, tidal surge, and snow may not have power restored for up to a week to ten days.  Roads, tunnels, and bridges are impassable, if they still exist.  Gasoline is almost impossible to come by cell phone service has just recently returned to near normal.

A little over eleven years ago, New York City and the area surrounding it suffered the loss of over a thousand lives when the World Trade Towers tumbled to the ground.  As massive as that disaster was and as many families and communities it affected, the physical destruction and impairment of infrastructure was limited to Lower Manhattan.

While Sandy has (so far) claimed a little over ninety lives, more lives have been adversely affected, more people left without power, more people left homeless, cold, and hungry, than on 9-11.  While Sandy toppled no skyscrapers, the damage to and loss of infrastructure over a vast geographic area has been much more disruptive than the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Yep, I now live in a disaster area.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dawn Has Broken the Third Day

Dawn has broken the third day after hurricane Sandy made landfall along the central Jersey shore. New York City, the city that never sleeps, is starting to emerge from its nap in the tomb carved by Sandy.

Bus service has sort of resumed.  Limited subway service is available but not running into lower Manhattan, or from Brooklyn and Queens into Manhattan. I will be using mass transit for the first time after Sandy tomorrow, when I take the Q55 and J train as I commute from Ridgewood, Queens to Jamaica, Queens.  To commute back home I will take the J and L trains, I hope.

Mayor Bloomberg has ordered that all private vehicles crossing bridges into Manhattan must have at least three occupants.  I am not planning to head into Manhattan anytime soon, but my wife must head there Sunday afternoon.

I am glad I filled up our car with Gas before the storm hit because gas stations are starting to run out.  Their supply lines have been interrupted by flooding and their storage tanks are running dry just as more people than usual are driving because of lack of Mass transit or need gas to keep portable generators running.

Damaged Gazebo at North Church Queens
Yesterday afternoon I drove from Ridgewood to North Church Queens in Flushing, just south of Whitestone.  The drive was without incident but I saw several downed trees and some side streets still blocked by downed trees.  There was power at the church but I learned that at least three members did not have power in their homes.  Several branches came down near the church.  The sanctuary lost a few shingles but did not suffer any extensive damage.  The wooden Gazebo south of the church did not fare as well, however.  A large tree fell on it, a branch piercing the wooden shingled roof.

Live wire arcing and burning in street south of NCQ

The block south of the church was closed to traffic as a downed live wire, humming, arcing, and burning was still lying in the street.  Yellow caution tape had been stung around the area and a utility worker was monitoring the situation, but no work crew could be seen.

Storms sometimes have a way of bringing strangers and neighbors together, and last night was an example. My wife and I attended our first Ridgewood Meet Up,  gathered at the nearby Cozy Corner Bar and Grill. We hung out from before 9 PM last night to after 2 AM this morning.  We met neighbors who have moved here from Kansas, Texas, California, Denmark, Finland, Korea and places in between. Some were gay, some straight, some in relationships, some not.  Some lived in a six person, three apartment common home. Some were Christian, some Jew, some secularists or non-professing. At least two held PhDs and one of then taught at Princeton University. One had attended West Point for a while. Many were artists. I discovered during the evening's conversation that one of them and I had a mutual friend who moved here from Maryland, an example of one degree of separation.  There was a total of a dozen or more of us that met up.