Thursday, May 29, 2014

Four Days on Shavers Fork

I first heard about and experienced Shavers Fork river nearly forty years ago when I was a freshman at Davis and Elkins College, as the river's course takes it not far from campus, but I never visited it's higher elevations or camped along it until eight or nine years ago, and then just two days and a night.  Recently, however, I camped alongside it at an even higher elevation four days and three nights.

The headwaters of Shavers Fork are located at over 4,000 in Pocahontas County near Snowshoe Ski Resort, making it, at its headwaters, the highest river in the Eastern United States.  Its over 88 miles of flow take it through Randolph and Tucker Counties until it merges with the Black Fork at Parsons to form the Cheat River. Draining a watershed of over 200 square miles that is more than 97% forested and mostly within the Monongahela National Forest, Shavers Fork is one of West Virginia’s renowned trout streams.  The area I camped in at 3,300 feet was within the Shavers Fork Area of the Greenbrier Ranger District of the Monongahela National Forest, an area inhabited by very few people but a couple hundred bears.

Camping with a friend I hiked, backpacked, caved and rappelled with as a teenager, we late Thursday.  Soon after we arrived it started to rain so we quickly pitched a 10 x 10 tarp, set up our camp chairs, and hunkered down until the rain stopped a few hours later.  Once the rain abated and the sun came out we pitched our separate tents and organized our camp.

We crawled out of our tents Friday morning around 6 AM.  After a leisurely breakfast we set off around 9 AM intending to explore the area.  We hiked upstream for half a mile following an abandoned trail that paralleled the river. Several blow down areas, fallen trees, and boggy spots slowed our progress but eventually we reached a junction with the Whitmeadow Ridge Trail, which led us to a Forest Road, but not before I caught sight of a small bear or large cub crossing the trail about thirty yards in front of us.

We followed the Forest Road a hundred yards or so down to Shavers Fork were we were greeted by one of the most picturesque settings that I have seen in a long time.  The nearly cloudless deep blue sky and bright shining sun seem to electrify the surrounding forest mountainsides and swiftly flowing shallow water. A long and narrow rocky sand bar, punctuated with vibrant green grass, allowed us to walk nearly out into the river’s center, offering unobstructed views upstream, downstream, and of the sky above.  The scene was sublime.

After briefly exploring the area we retraced our steps on the Whitmeadow Ridge Trail but rather than taking the abandoned trail back to our camp we followed the Whitmeadow Ridge Trail up the mountainside, gaining nearly 700 vertical feet in about four miles of hiking. Reaching a Forest Road at the crest of Cheat Mountain we followed roads another five miles back to our camp.  Altogether we had hiked 12.4 miles and did not a single individual other than a few cars that passed us along the road section of our hike.

Saturday morning was chilly and overcast with either a thin fog or low clouds.  As we enjoyed breakfast and conversation around a small fire in the fire pit it seemed like the temperature was dropping.  Wearing almost every stitch of clothing I had I was able to keep warm but was not motivated to hike.  Finally, around 10 AM, the sun burned through and blue patches of sky began appearing overhead.  As soon as the sun appeared the temperature started rising and I began removing layers of clothing.  Forty-five minutes later I was ready to hike the four miles back up to the crest of Cheat Mountain where I picked up and hiked the 2.9 mile Crouch Ridge Trail 560 feet back down to near the beginning of the road I had hiked up.  From where the trail terminated at the road it was another 1.2 miles back to our camp.  The total distanced I covered on Saturday was 8.2 miles and I had been passed by only one car on the road and one mountain biker on the trail.  While I was hiking my friend was fishing.
 
We took our time preparing Sunday breakfast and eventually broke camp late morning, leaving the unofficial but established campsite cleaner and in many ways better than we had found it.  We took nothing home with us other than memories of beautiful surroundings, two clear nights filled with stars, a clear running mountain river, and countless rhododendrons still waiting to bloom. By camping four days and three nights on the banks of Shavers Fork and hiking in the area my soul and spirit had been refreshed and fed.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, Sunday, June 1, 2014, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

Will you handle this Reading differently depending on whether or not your community observed and celebrated Ascension Day last Thursday?
1:6 Who are the “they” who has come together? What do they mean by “restore the kingdom of Israel”?
1:7 When will those who predict or claim to know when Christ will return learn not to?
1:8 Do you have the power?  Has the Holy Spirit come upon you? Note the progression from the local to the global.
1:9 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?
1:10 Were the two who were wearing white robes really men?
1:11 I think this is a good question.
1:12 Is the mount of Olives really a sabbath’s day’s journey from Jerusalem?  What is a Sabbath day’s journey?
1:13 What is the significance of the naming?
1:14 Might “constantly” be hyperbole? Who might the other women have been in addition to Mary?  Who were Jesus “brothers”?
1:13-14 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.”?

68:1 Is this Psalm paired with the First Reading only because of the “Let God rise up” language?
68:4 Now we have “cloud” imagery to pair with the First Reading. This verse could be adapted for use as a Call to Worship.
     One: The Lord be with you.
     All:   And also with you.
     One: Sing to God.
     All:   Sing praises to God’s name.
     One: Lift up a song to the LORD who rides upon the clouds.
     All:   Be exultant before the LORD.
     One: Let us worship God
68:5 Where is God’s holy habitation?
68:8 When was the last time you heard someone begin a prayer with the address “God of Sinai”?
68:9 What is God’s heritage?
68:32 Not only Israel but “kingdoms of the earth” are called to sing praises to God. This verse could also be adapted, and or combined with 68:4, for use as a call to worship.  Try writing your own inclusive Call to Worship using this verse.
68:33-34 Here we have “rider in the heavens” and “skies” language to add to the “rise up” language of 68:1 and the “cloud” imagery of verse 68:4. When was the last time you heard God addressed a “O Rider in the Heavens”?
68:34 Here we find more sky imagery, leading me wonder about what spiritual vacuum reports of UFOs and aliens might be filling.
68:35. My God is “awesome”!  How do you understand this affirmation?  What does it mean to be “awesome”? This verse offers more imagery and language for a Call to Worship.

Second Reading - 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
4:12 What is meant by ‘the fiery ordeal”?  Shall we read this any differently in light of the Holocaust/Shoah, Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
4:13 “Rejoice”?  Really?  Is this supposed to a pep talk? Christ was not burned at the stake so how does experiencing a fiery ordeal equate with sharing Christ’s Sufferings?
4:14 I find this verse easier to take than the one before it.
4:14 I am wonder why “spirit of glory” is not capitalized but “Spirit of God” is capitalized.
5:6 What does it mean to humble oneself under the mighty hand of God?
5:7 What might a Psychiatrist say about this verse?
5:8 In other words, “Pay attention.  There be Lions” and tigers, and bears, oh my!” Revelation refers to Christ as the Lion of Judah. How do we reconcile the lion image as a biblical image for both Christ and the devil?  I wonder what Simba, or Aslan, might have to say this verse.
5:9 Might “all the world” be a hyperbole?
5:10 Now I hear a word of hope rather than resignation but I wonder how long is “a little while”?  I like the “restore, strengthen, and establish” language and would consider using it as a Blessing or Benediction.
5:11 What function does this verse serve?

17:1 What “words”? Worshipers might need to be reminded what preceded this Reading.  Jesus, can you just once in a while pray using more inclusive language when you address God?  What “hour” is Jesus referring to?  Is there a Quid pro quo here?
17:2 Did Jesus really refer to himself in the third person?
17:3 I like this image of eternal life more than eternal habitation on clouds playing harps or residing in the New Jerusalem: it is a state of mind or spirit rather than a place.
17:4 What work was Jesus given to do and how did he finish it?
17:5 Jesus had glory in God’s presence before the world existed?  Oh, that is right.  I forgot.  This is the Gospel According to John.
17:6 How could Jesus make known God’s name when Jews would not pronounce God’s name?
17:7-8 I think Jesus is attributing more knowledge and understanding to his followers than they really possessed at the time, or now.
17:10 How has Jesus been glorified in others?
17:11 If Jesus is no longer in the world but still coming to God, then where is he? What name has God given to Jesus?  How can those for whom Jesus pray in any sense of the word be “one” as Jesus and “his Father” are one?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, May 25, 2014, the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

17:22 Last week we learned that Paul stood by while Stephen was stoned.  Now, Paul is preaching in Athens before the Areopagus.  The transition and the symbolism are startling.  What do you know about the Areopagus?  Why would Paul go there rather than to a local Synagogue?
17:23 If Paul were to walk through one of our cities, Such as New York, Washington, or Detroit, what would he identify as the objects of our worship?
17:24-29 What is the content of Paul’s preaching?  What does he not say?  Is Paul’s sermon more Theistic than Christocentric?
17:24 Can we still talk about God, who made the world and everything in it, without positing a six day creation and getting sidetracked into the creationism/evolution debate?
17:25 What does Paul mean when he says that God is not served by human hands?
17:26 Who is this ancestor? Does “boundaries” refer to political or geographical boundaries?
17:27 What does it mean to search for and grope for God?  Is Paul’s argument still valid in the post-modern world?
17:28 Paul seems to appealing to secular/pagan poets.  Have we in the church forgotten how to employ the artistic expressions of contemporary culture? What if we paired or even juxtaposed contemporary writings (or other artistic expressions) with Scripture in worship before we preached? What is Paul quoting from?
17:29 In paul’s mind, in what sense are we God’s offspring?
17:30 When were the times of human ignorance?
17:31 Note that Paul refers to a “man” God raised from the dead.  Paul seems not to here assert any divinity to this “man” nor has he yet employed a name (Jesus) or a title (Christ).

66:8 This sounds like, and could be used as, a Call to Worship. Why is peoples plural?
66:9 What does slipping feet refer to?
66:10 What does it mean to be tested and tried? Why is silver tried? What testing and trials might the Psalmist be referring to?
66:11 Last week the net was hidden.  This week, the people have been in the net by God.
66:12 Going through water might refer to the Exodus.  What might going through fire refer to? What and where is the spacious place?
66:13 What does it mean to pay vows? One might want to juxtapose this passage with Acts 17:24.
66:14 I wonder what sort of trouble the Psalmist had been experiencing.  Might the psalmist’s trouble and subsequent vows been anything like a foxhole confession or conversion?
66:15 How do we deal with such burnt offering and sacrifice language in the context of contemporary Christian worship, theology, and spirituality?  Do you read or not read the “Selah” in worship?
66:16 This sounds line another Call to Worship? What does it mean to fear God?
66:17 What does it mean to extol God?
66:18 Is the psalmist bragging?
66:19 Based on the previous verse, does God not head the words or our prayers if we cherish iniquity in our hearts?
66:20 Does God ever reject prayer?  Can steadfast love ever be removed?

3:13 Is this a rhetorical question?    It sometimes seems in life that no good deed goes unpunished.
3:14 Who are “they”?  What do “they” fear? What do you fear?
3:15 How does one sanctify Christ in their heart? Is this a call for apologetics?
3:16 Nothing bothers me more than mean, cruel, judgmental words said with gentleness and reverence. 
3:17 Does the reason for suffering in any way affect the moral value of our suffering?
3:18 What does this verse say about the nature of the resurrection? Was Christ not alive in the spirit until after he was put to death in the flesh?
3:19 Must we connect this with the “He descended into hell” phrase in the Apostles’ Creed?
3:20 Is Peter thinking only about those killed in the flood?
3:21 These are some interesting words about baptism.  Just as there are many understandings of the Lord’s Supper, are there also many understandings of Baptism? When you celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism, do you liturgically connect it to The Flood?
3:22 Who and what are these angels, authorities, and powers?

14:15 This is a big “if”?  What is the nature of this love?  What are Christ’s commandments?
14:16 Is Christ’s intercession contingent on our keeping his commandments?  Why, in the NRSV, is “Advocate” capitalized?  Can we read and interpret this verse without being informed by the Doctrine of the Trinity?
14:17 Notice that in the NRSV “Spirit” is capitalized. Note that in 14:15 Jesus uses the future tense but we have both the present and the future tense in this verse.
14:18 “Orphaned” could be an often overlooked but powerful image, after all, Christian Theology often speaks of our being “adopted”. Is Jesus talking about the coming of the Spirit, the Second Coming, or something altogether different?
14:19 What is a little while?
14:20 What day is “that day”?

14:21 Is this free grace or does there seem to be an element of works righteousness, an element of conditionality? Had Jesus not previously revealed himself? 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, May 18, 2014, the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

7:55 This verse offers us the opportunity to enter into all sort of speculation about the Holy Spirit.  For instance, what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? What does it mean to gaze into heaven? How is the “he”? Do people need to be reminded what “right hand of God” symbolizes; not the absolute superiority of right handedness and right handed persons?
7:56 What purpose, if any, does this verse serve? Who was rushging?
7:57 Is this a literal or a figurative covering of ears?
7:58 If we knew nothing about the rest of the story, would we even notice that a young man is named?  Note that this young man casts no stones. Why was he stoned outside of the city rather than in it?  What city are we talking about?
7:59 This is certainly the prayer of a martyr.  Is this not also the prayer of anyone near death? Is it not the prayer of all Christians? Is there a difference between praying to Jesus and praying in the name of Jesus?
7:60 what does the mention that Stephen “cried out in a loud voice” remind you of?  Take a look at Luke 23:46.  Compare the conclusion of verse 60 with the conclusion of Luke 23:46. What do these similarities say about Stephen?

By the Lectionary pairing this Psalm with Acts 7:55, are we to read this Psalm as a commentary on what else might have been going through Stephen’s mind but not recounted in the Acts passage?
31:1 What is “refuge”? The most contemporary example I can think of is a “wildlife refuge”. I visited a National Wildlife Refuge this past week and was reminded how quiet and serene a refuge can be.
31:2 Does the “Incline your ear” make this a petition?  How can a rock be a refuge?  Is there such thing as a weak fortress?
31:3 Rock/fortress and lead/guide seem to be poetic constructions. 
31:4 What is the imagery here?  How can one be taken out of a net if the net is still hidden?
31:5 Does this verse sound familiar? Where else are we used to hearing it? Consider this verse in conversation with my comments regarding Acts 7:60.
31:16 What does it mean for God’s face to ‘shine” on a person? Has God’s face ever shone upon you?

2:2 What is a “babe in Christ”? What is the pure, spiritual milk of which Peter speaks?
2:3 Is this a reference to the Eucharist, more than the Eucharis, or something else altogether?
2:4 How can a stone live?  Come to think of it, I do remember one episode in the original Star Trek series where stones were living. To what might “rejected by mortals” allude or refer?
2:5 How can we be built into a spiritual house?  Is there such a thing as an unholy priesthood?  What sort of sacrifice is spiritual?
2:6-8 Is this proof texting or the imaginative play and interplay of biblical images from several sources? Is Peter engaging in anything like midrash?
2:9-10 These are two of my favorite verses of Scripture. Where Does Peter get these images? What mighty acts might Peter have in mind?  From where does Peter draw 2:10?

14:1-7 I have probably read these verses at more Services of Witness to the Resurrection than at Services for the Lord’s Day. Maybe it is time we hear them in a context other than one related to death. How has your heart been toubled?
14:2 Is Jesus talking about the Temple, or something else? What do you make of there being “many dwelling places” in God’s house? In what sense does our dwelling place need to be prepared?
14:3 What does it mean for Jesus to take us to himself? What does Jesus want us with him?
14:4 Early followers of Jesus were known as followers of the way before they were known as Christians. Maybe we can think of Jesus as a spiritual GPS.
14:5 Is it ironic that Thomas is the one to speak?
14:6 Here is one more of the “I am” sayings” found in John.  How do Universalists deal with this passage?
14:7 Because of Christ, can Christians see God without fear of being struck dead?
14:8 How can Philip say this after what Jesus says in the previous verse?  Is Philip dense?
14:9 Apparently Jesus thought the same way about Philip as I do. Is there any significance to this exchange involving Philip?
14:10 What does it mean for the Father to dwell in Christ?
14:11 Do we take Jesus at his word or do we need works? What works does Jesus have in mind?
14:12 This formulaic phrase, “Very truly, I tell you”  (Αμήν Αμήν λέγώ ύμίν in Greek) is found 25 times in John’s Gospel and nowhere else in the Bible.  What do you make of this fact? What works could be greater than the works of Christ?
14:13-14 Whatever?  Really?  I want to win a major lottery prize, even though I do not play the lottery. What does it mean to ask in Jesus’ name?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, May 12, 2014, the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

2:42 Who are “they”? What does it mean to be devoted? What are you devoted to? Is it the apostles’ teaching and the apostles’ fellowship, or the apostles’ teaching and fellowship? In other words, does Apostles’ modify both teaching and fellowship or just teaching?  Regardless, I consider these the four marks of the church.  Against them, how do we measure up? 
2:43 What is awe? When was the last time awe came upon you or your congregation? Are the wonders and signs the same thing as miracles or are they something different?
2:44 Is this pure communism?
2:45 “All” means whom?  If they gave distributed the proceeds to all, how did they have anything in common?
2:46 This seems to suggest that followers of Jesus were daily gathering together in the temple.
Note the distinction between what was happening in the Temple and what was happening in homes.   Is “broke bread” a reference to a Eucharistic sort of meal or simply eating together?
2:47 How do you understand “day by day”?

What can one say about the most popular passage in the Bible that has not already said (like just six weeks ago on the Fourth Sunday in Lent)? Why does this Psalm appear twice in the lectionary in such a short span of time?
23:1 Does it serve any theological and homiletically purpose to point out that “The LORD” is not a reference to Jesus but to the LORD God?  How many Christians hear this Psalm as a Psalm about Jesus rather than a Psalm about God?
23:2-3 These verses speak to me from my experience and hope as a backpacker.  After a long, hot day on a trail there is no more comfort than to stop for the day in a soft grassy clearing near a cool mountain stream.
23:4 Do you prefer the “darkest valley” of the NRSV or the “valley of the shadow of death” of the KJV and RSV? What is the darkest valley, geographical, spiritual, or metaphorical, that you have ever experienced?  One afternoon when I was hiking out on the same snow covered trail that I had hiked in on in the morning, my hiking staff, with bear bell attached, was a great comfort as there were fresh bear tracks in the snow that had not been earlier in the morning.
23:5 What does it mean to have one’s head anointed with oil and one’s cup overflowing.  Can we really speak of overflowing cups when in the Eucharist we barely fill little plastic cups that hold less than a shot glass?  Can we speak of being anointed with oil when most congregations rarely, if ever, practice it?  I argue for anointing with oil at the time of Baptism as well as the laying on of hands associated with prayers for healing and wholeness.   If we practiced more anointing with oil, this popular Psalm might actually mean even more to some people than it already does.
23:6 What is goodness and mercy? What does it mean to dwell in the house of the LORD all one’s life?  Is “house of the LORD” a reference and/or allusion to the Temple, or something else?

2:19 I would rather not receive this credit.  How about you?  What does it mean to be “aware’ of God?
2:20I understand this within its context, but in our context, can this lead to and feed a martyr complex? Have you ever felt like no good deed ever goes unpunished?
2:21 I thought we were called to love one another, even to serve, but to suffer?
2:22 Where is this quote from? Who was it originally about?
2:23 So much for an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, which is often wrongfully applied and interpreted. 
2:24 The first part of this verse often serves as a call to confession.  How is anyone healed by another’s wounds?
2:25 Is this the verse that motivated the creators of the lectionary to make Psalm 23 the Psalm for this day?  How and why do sheep stray? I like the “guardian of our souls” language.

10:1 Here we have a formulaic Johannine opening introducing yet more sheep and shepherd imagery. Whom do you think Jesus/John had in mind when talking about anyone climbing in another way?
10:2 Whom do you think Jesus/John had in mind when talking about the shepherd of the sheep?
10:3 This verse seems to suggest that there are sheep of more than one shepherd in the sheepfold. Who is the gatekeeper?  What are the sheep led out of the sheepfold?
10:4 What shall we make of the “voice”?
10:5 Is there any correlation between the stranger of this verse and the thief and bandit of 10:1?
10:6 And want made John think that we would understand? Do we understand?
10:7 Once again we have a formulaic Johannine phrase.  Why the change of metaphor from shepherd to gate? How can Jesus be both?
10:8 This verse seems to refer back to verse 1.  Whom is Jesus referring to? Who came before him?
10:9 I am fascinated by the “come in and go out” language, suggesting movement rather than stasis.  If I understand the imagery correctly, we come into the sheepfold at night to find protection, but during the day, we go out into pasture to find nourishment.  Is this what Jesus was talking about?
10:10 Who is the thief?

10:1010 How do we reconcile Jesus being both the shepherd and the gate?  How can he be both?