Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ash Wednesday joint worship

North Church Queens and The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone observed Ash Wednesday with a joint service of worship hosted by First, Whitestone. Here is a link to my first attempt at producing a photographic essay documenting the service. If you follow the link, I suggest that you view the essay as a slide show with captions. I would appreciate you letting me know via comment on this blog what you think of the essay.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

President Obama addresses Congress

President Obama addressed the Congress last night, and via prime time television the American people. I was busy providing officer’s training to an incoming class of church officers and missed most of the speech, catching only the last few minutes. I was impressed with the little I heard and saw. What were your impressions?

There are still two days to grade the President in my informal, unscientific poll. Assign your grade at the top of the column to the right.

On a side note, as I was watching the last few minutes of the speech I was struck by the image of the three Democrats on the platform. There was President Obama, our first President of color, from Chicago in Middle America. To his right was Vice President Biden, a white male from the East Coast with a son serving in Iraq. To his left was Speaker of the House Pelosi, a white woman from the West Coast. It was an image nothing like I have seen in over eight years, if ever. It was a welcomed image.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A friend among my colleagues in ministry

When Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Ministers are ordained and installed, one of the questions they are asked is “Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?” I have never been a “Lone Ranger” sort of minister and have always sought to work collaboratively and collectively with other Presbyterian clergy as well as clergy from other denominations. I have actively participated in local Ministerial Associations and cooperated with neighboring clergy to offer ecumenical worship services. Another way I have tried to be a friend among my colleagues in ministry is by welcoming them into the community when they move in and wishing them farewell and Godspeed when they leave.

Two other colleagues and I recently said farewell and Godspeed to my friend and colleague Blair. The other colleagues were David, the Pastor of a nearby Missouri Synod Lutheran Church; and Andy, the Pastor of a nearby Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation. I have known Blair, David and Andy less than eighteen months, but they are still my friends and colleagues.

Over the past eighteen months the four of us have met over lunch on numerous occasions: to say farewell and Godspeed to our Russian Orthodox colleague, plan for community emergency preparedness, plan for the ecumenical community Thanksgiving service, to shoot the breeze, and to say farewell and Godspeed to Blair.

Even though I have known Blair less than a year and a half I have been blessed by knowing him as a friend and colleague. I even had the opportunity to preach in Blair’s pulpit last Thanksgiving because the Episcopal Church hosted the Community Thanksgiving Service and as the new kid on the block it was my turn to preach. In the brief time I have known Blair I have come to appreciate his theology, experience his spirituality, and respect his ministry. I have heard him talk about the trials and the blessings of his ministry and through him have gained a better understanding of the community as well as the Episcopal Church.

Blair will soon be retiring from a nearby Episcopal Church and moving out of the area. That is why Andy, David and I were treating him to lunch at a local Italian restaurant. We wanted to hear about his plans for the future and to let him know we cared and that he would be missed. I think that is what it means, in part, to be a friend among one’s colleagues in ministry.

Farewell Blair. Godspeed.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Letter to the Editor of Presbyterian Outlook

Dear Editor:

In defense of Leslie Scanlon, she probably wrote her news and analysis piece for the February 23rd edition Enough Already? Presbyteries, people consider yet another vote on ordination (pages 6-7 in the print edition) before Western North Carolina Presbytery, on January 31st, became the first of several presbyteries to flip-flop and approve Ordination Amendment 08-B after consistently voting to maintain G-6.0106b in previous years. Therefore she could not have noted the symbolic irony in that Western North Carolina Presbytery is the presbytery in which Parker T. Williamson, editor emeritus of The Layman, resides and is a member.

I take exception with her opening sentence that “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is in the midst of voting, yet again, on whether to ordain sexually-active gays and lesbians.” We are not voting on that but rather on removing thinly veiled pejorative language that restricts congregations and presbyteries from exercising their right of discernment and at least consider ordaining sexually-active gays and lesbians. This distinction may seem like a matter of semantics but as followers of the Word made flesh we ought to be more careful about what words we use.

In her final paragraph she notes Michael Adee saying “We’ve spent 30 years on this. Let’s just come to a solution and move forward.” I presume the “30 years” is a reference to the 189th General Assembly (1977) of The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) authorizing the creation of a task force to study the church and homosexuality in response to overtures from the Presbytery of New York City and the Presbytery of the Palisades seeking definitive guidance on the question of the acceptability of an avowed practicing homosexual as a candidate for ordination to professional ministry. It has now been 32 years since the creation of that task force, 32 years since the 1977 PCUS document, The Church and Homosexuality: A Preliminary Study, and 31 years since the 1978 UPCUSA document, The Church and Homosexuality, which gave us “Definitive Guidance”. In other words, it has been about a generation since the question was first asked.

Any Hegelian would argue that there is no need to question an opinion everyone agrees with. As soon as the question was asked change was inevitable.

The Scriptures remind us that while it took only one night for the enslaved children of Israel to get out of Egypt, it took forty years of wilderness wandering to get Egypt of the children of Israel. The generation that experienced enslavement in Egypt, including their leader Moses, had to pass away before a new generation led by a new leader, Joshua, finally entered the Promised Land. Along the way there was much quarreling and testing, and even a desire to return to the good old days of enslavement. Why should we be any different?

By such a rendering we have another eight to ten years before our debates focused around G-6.0106b are resolved. If 08-B is not passed in this round of voting it will return in one form or another in six to eight years and will eventually pass. Such change is inevitable. It is the conclusion of the trajectory established in 1977 when the Presbytery of New York City and the Presbytery of the Palisades asked for definitive guidance.

Even if 08-B does pass in this round of voting there will still be work to be done regarding its interpretation and implementation. New questions will be asked. A new generation that has not personally experienced definitive guidance, authoritative interpretation and the former G-6.0106b will begin living, serving, worshipping and finding their own way in a land of promise.

In Christ,

John E. Harris

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jones Beach, February 21, 2009

Six hearty paddlers from the Sebago Canoe Club paddled at Jones Beach on Saturday, February 21, 2009, in search of the elusive seal. Led by Tony and Walter, also on the trip were Dottie, Mary, Bonnie and John. The six put in around 11:30 AM and immediately encountered a strong head wind with one to two foot standing waves. After crossing the channel and paddling into the marsh area the wind subsided and a few seals were spotted, but not nearly as many as on the January 10th trip.

Because the low tide exposed so many sandbars, four of the paddlers had to portage a short distance in order to paddle around Deep Creek Meadow and Snipe Islands. Once around Snipe Island the four encountered more head winds, standing waves, and also had to paddle against the tide. In spite of the cold head wind, standing waves, and paddling against the tide, as I paddled into the Sun with sunlight reflecting off the water, there were a few moments where I entered a Zen like state of steady paddling, aware of nothing but wind, water and waves.

All paddlers were out of the water by 2:00 PM. The total distance paddled was 4.5 miles.

On the way home we detoured to the Nature Center and Mary pointed out for us a Snowy Owl amongst the dunes.

Photos from the trip are available here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Grade the President

It has now been over a month since Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. He works for us. It is up to us to tell him how he is doing. How would you grade the President so far? Respond to the poll at the top of the right hand column and grade the President.

Why We Blog!

Why do we blog? There were six responses to my casual, unscientific poll posted here for the past week. Respondents could choose multiple answers. Here are the results.

To avoid the loony bin
One respondent or 16%

To fight injustice
One respondent or 16%

As a substitute for therapy
Two respondents or 33%

To know you're not alone
Two respondents or 33%

To tap the creative spirit
All six respondents or 100%

Blogging is a way for me to be creative in a new and exciting medium (at least new and exciting for me). It also offers me a way to be creative in a way different from writing articles for the church newsletter or preaching. Even though I am somewhat restricted by templates as well as my lack of technological savvy, blogging seems less restrictive than other forms of communication. What are your further thoughts?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Flowing vs. Incremental Time

My colleague Paul Rack offers an astute and reflective Meditation on an Hourglass. It reminds me of the difference between analog measurement of time (the moving hour and minute hands type of clock and watch) and digital measurement of time (watches and clocks that display digits) and how the two methods affect our understanding of time.

In an analog world time is approximate and always flowing. In a digital world time is exact and measured in increments. Analog time seems to be more in keeping with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal, which states that the position of an electron and its speed cannot be measured simultaneously. One or the other, its speed or position, can be determined, but not at the same “time”. Digital time seems to offer the illusion that we can indeed do both.

Practically, I prefer digital time. Theologically and philosophically, I prefer analog time.

Friday, February 13, 2009

In the Savior’s Cathedral

Upon first catching a glimpse of The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus I was overcome by its sheer size, over 13 feet by 12 feet! As I continued to enter the gallery four other great works, The Ecumenical Council, Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid (Homage to Crick and Watson), Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln—Homage to Rothko, and The Hallucinogenic Toreador, also became visible. Standing within the Lower Gallery of the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, with five of Salvador Dalí’s great works before me, was like standing in a great cathedral. I was overcome with awe.

All five paintings take on different characters and meaning depending on whether they are viewed close up or from far away. With the help of our Docent I was able to see images within the paintings I had never seen before. Having been enamored by Dalí’s work from an early age, I am now
even more convinced of his genius.

The exhibit we toured was MYTH In Dali's Art, which has been running since October 2008 and will continue through February 2009. Because photography is not permitted within the museum I had to copy and paste images of these five great works.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Toxic Debt – A Biblical Solution

I am getting tired of hearing about “toxic debt”. The former administration was unable to offer a solution and the current administration has not yet done much better. What about a Biblical solution? What about proclaiming a Jubilee?

If debt is toxic and we have not yet found a way to make it less toxic or non toxic, then let us just do away with the debt. Let us declare all debts null and void, more or less paid in full, and start all over.

Leviticus 25 and 26 seems to suggest that every fifty years all debts are to be forgiven. It has been approximately seventy years since the end of the Great Depression. It has been nearly sixty-five years since the end of World War II. It has been fifty-five years since the end of the baby-boom. We are overdue for a jubilee.

Sure, forgiving all debt and starting over might seem drastic, but is it less drastic than our economy tanking, our government dissolving, and anarchy reigning? For the record, since my wife and I live in church provided housing we have no mortgage. Our 2003 Honda is paid for. We have no school loans to pay off. We pay off our credit card balance every month. The only debt we have is a small mortgage on a time share in Florida. We perhaps have far more to lose than to gain if all debt were forgiven. On the other hand, what good will our mutual funds, stocks, CDs and retirement funds be if our currency is worthless, there is no economy to speak of, and any form of government is absent?

Maybe God got it right after all. What do you think? Post a comment and let me know.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why Blog?

The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging reports that “According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project 2006 survey of bloggers, we pretty much write about what we know.”

"A national phone survey of bloggers finds that most are focused on describing their personal experiences to a relatively small audience of readers and that only a small proportion focus their coverage on politics, media, government, or technology. Blogs, the survey finds, are as individual as the people who keep them. However, most bloggers are primarily interested in creative, personal expression – documenting individual experiences, sharing practical knowledge, or just keeping in touch with friends and family."

Tell me why you blog, and I’ll tell you why I blog. Respond to the survey at the top right sidebar. You may select more than one answer. The poll closes at noon on February 20, 2009. The responses are are some suggested by bloggers quoted in The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging pages 21-24.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Trumpets and Fanfare

In my previous post "WWJB" I wondered aloud when Summit to Shore would log its first international visit. With the help of a volunteer by the name of Henry Purcell I announce that it happened within the past twenty-four hours. And it happened with no thanks to fictional agent Jack Bauer or the actor Kiefer Sutherland. Someone from the City of Vernon in British Columbia logged on. Welcome Vernon! Now, thirty more of the United States to go.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


It has now been a month since I began Summit to Shore with my first post, "ex nihlio" on January 5, 2009. Initially I had hoped to post daily but that soon became unreasonable. I now hope to post no less than weekly or every ten days.

I entered the blogosphere with some fear and trepidation as well as excitement and enthusiasm. I am no Luddite but neither am I a computer or tech-geek. I have been exploring personally unfamiliar territory with this blog, similar to climbing a peak for the first time or kayaking a body of water I have not been on before. While guidebooks and maps help in the backcountry and on the water, they are no substitute for experience. Reading about blogging is not the same thing as actually doing it. My learning curve has been steep. Socrates professed that the one who was wise was the one who knew he or she knew nothing. In the past month I have learned how much I do not know about blogging.

Many years ago when I was in high school I took a semester long computer programming class in which we learned how to program in BASIC, even though the school did not have a computer! The teacher graded our programs by hand. In college I took another BASIC programming class and actually had the opportunity to type in my programs and see them run or crash. More worked than crashed.

I managed to get through college and two thirds of seminary with nothing more than a manual typewriter. Between my second and third year of seminary, while I was serving as student pastor of a small rural church and preaching every Sunday, I bought my first computer. It was a Commodore 64. Using a text-editor called Totl Text (written in BASIC), a Smith Corona Ultrasonic electronic typewriter as a printer, and Commodore’s cassette tape drive as a storage device, I began writing my sermons using a computer. A few years later I upgraded to a commodore 128.

It was not until the early 90’s that the small church I then served obtained a used PC running Windows 3.0. I was glad to say goodbye to the text editor and begin using a real word processor, Microsoft Works, complete with diskettes. Eventually I bought my own used portable IBM P70 Laptop and an HP Printer. I later downsized and upgraded to a used Toshiba Satellite still running windows 3.0. These two machines basically saw me through most of my D.Min.

Around 2002 I upgraded to a Dell Inspiron 8200 running Windows 98. For the past year I have been writing on a Dell Inspiron 1420 running Windows Vista. I am sold on Dell and have had no problems with Vista.

When I was in high school no one had heard of a "Personal computer" and Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet. "Blogging" was not even a word. How far we have come. How far I have come. But on January 5, 2009 I started blogging. In the past ten days there have been 163 visits to Summit to Shore with 379 page views from 20 states. I have no idea if that is good or bad for a new blog, but those are the facts. I wonder how long it will take to log at least one visit from all fifty states and when I will log my first international visit. I will let you know with trumpets and fanfare when those milestones occur.

If any or all of the four evangelists had access to a PC (or Mac) rather than pen and parchment, would it have made any difference in what and how they composed their gospels? Imagine Mark including a hypertext link to something John the Baptizer might have written, or Matthew imbedding a hot link to some Messianic prophecy in the Jewish Scriptures. Maybe Luke would have attached an MP3 file so readers could hear the Magnifacat or Benedictus. Maybe John would have added an image from the Hubble Space Telescope to illustrate his Prologue. Imagine a spell and grammar checker correcting all the “mistakes”. I wonder if the writers of the Synoptic Gospels would have opted for a PC while John opted for a Mac?

I am no Gospel writer, but I am enjoying posting to Summit to Shore. For the time being I have not only committed myself to posting every week to ten days but also to generally posting nothing but original photographs I have taken with my Sealife Eco Shot waterproof camera. No borrowing images and then posting images downloaded from the web for me. Everything you have seen here so far has been original and I generally plan to keep it that way.

As far as we know Jesus never wrote a single word other than a few characters in the dirt with his finger (John 8:6). What if Jesus had had access to a computer and the World Wide Web? Would he have prepared his sermons for his home town synagogue and other synagogues (Luke 4:17-44) using his computer? Would he have worked through several drafts of his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) or the Plain (Luke 20) before preaching it? If he had a blog , what would Jesus blog?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Colloquy on Prayer

In Hallowed Walls I noted that I had recently attended a meeting of the Presbytery of New York City that was held on the campus of Union Seminary in New York City. Less than forty-eight hours later I found myself on the campus of the other Union Seminary, the one in Richmond, VA. I was on campus to attend a gathering of a Colloquy on Prayer.

In 2007 I was invited to participate with other pastors as well as theological students and scholars in a Colloquy on Prayer sponsored by the Institute For Reformed Theology (IRT). The IRT is an associated Program of Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education. The Colloquy has been scheduled to meet six times over two years. Each gathering begins with a reception and dinner on day one. Day two morning and afternoon are devoted to discussion with the evening being a group dinner. The morning of our third day is also devoted to discussion and the colloquy ends at lunch. The Colloquy on Prayer draws about half of the twenty-three participants from UTS/PSCE faculty, students and alums. It is convened by Dr. Dawn DeVries, John Newton Thomas Professor of Systematic Theology.

Through our first five gatherings we have read and discussed writings on prayer by Sam Balentine, David Crump, Origen, Evagrius Ponticus, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna, Gertrude the Great of Helfta, Steven Chase, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Rahner, Immanuel Kant, Ludwig Feuerbach and Sigmund Freud. At our next (and last) gathering we will discuss writings on prayer by John Calvin and Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki.

Having earned my Doctor of Ministry in the Reformed Focus at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, I compare the amount of time I am spending, the pages of text I am reading, and the level of discussion I am experiencing as the equivalent of two D.Min. Seminars minus the two twenty page papers I would have written. The other pastors in the group help keep us focused on the parish, asking such questions as “How would this preach?” and “What difference would this make in pastoral care?” The students add the perspective of a technologically savvy younger generation anticipating ministry in a postmodern world. The scholars keep us focused and intellectually honest. Each and every participant brings with them their varied experiences, education, insights, questions, and personalities.

Original photographs from the most recent Colloquy, including photographs of participants and scenes from around the campus, can be seen here.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Justin and the Steelers

My friend Justin is between XI and XII. That sentence leads me to wonder how the Romans expressed fractions any why Roman numerals ever became the accepted way to enumerate Super Bowls.

Justin before the game

Neither of Justin’s two dads’ are big football fans, so for the second year in a row I was invited over to their home to watch the Super Bowl with Justin. Last year was my first Super Bowl since I moved to New York City. It was a rush to cheer on, with Justin, our home team Giants in their 17-14 victory over the Patriots.

While the Giants are my new home team, the Steelers will probably forever remain my favorite team because I grew up near Pittsburgh during the Steelers’ 1970’s dynasty. During my formative years I lived 30 miles as the crow flies south east of Pittsburgh and within the Pittsburgh media market. Almost everyone in the area was a Steelers fan. I was in eleventh grade when the Steelers won their first Super Bowl in 1975, beating the Vikings 16-6. A year later, when I was a senior in High School, the Steelers won their second Super Bowl, defeating the Cowboys 21-17.

Justin during the game

I went to college 100 miles south of Pittsburgh but still well within the Steel City’s media influence. Many of my classmates were also from the Pittsburgh area and were also Steelers fans. I was a junior in college when the Steelers captured their third Super Bowl victory with a 35-31 victory over the Cowboys. The Next year the Pittsburgh Steelers earned their fourth Vince Lombardy Trophy by outscoring the Rams 31-19.

Four Super Bowl victories in six years! I think that qualifies as a football dynasty. But the Steelers would not reappear in a Super Bowl for another sixteen years.

Justin ready for the 3D Commercial

The next time the Steelers went to the Super Bowl was 1996. I was living 130 miles south east of Pittsburgh but within the Baltimore and Washington media Markets. Most of my neighbors and church members were Redskins fans. That year the Steelers lost to the Cowboys in their third Super Bowl matchup. The final score was Dallas 27 – Pittsburgh 17.

It would be another ten years before the Steelers returned to the Super Bowl. In 2006 I was once again living in the Pittsburgh media market, 100 miles south of Pittsburgh. Once again most people in the area were Steelers fans. In Super Bowl XL the Steelers claimed their fifth Super Bowl ring, one for the thumb, running over the Seahawks 21-10. It had been twenty six years since their last Super Bowl win and so this victory was sweet.
The Final Score XXVII-XXIII

Now, three years later, I live 325 miles east of Pittsburgh and in the midst of the New York City metropolitan area media market. If one is not a Giants fan then one is probably a Jets fan. Steelers’ fans are few and far between. Even my friend Justin, who rooted for the Giants last year, seemed to care less about who won or lost this year’s game. For the record, the Steelers won, defeating the Cardinals XXVII to XXIII, and became the first team in NFL history to win VI Super Bowls. I wonder, in XX years when he is between XXXI and XXXII years old,, will Justin even remember the two teams that played in Super Bowl XLIII and who watched the game with him?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Western North Carolina Approves 08-B

Both Tricia Dykers Koenig of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and Michael Adee of More Light Presbyterians have reported that Western North Carolina Presbytery has become the first presbytery to approve Ordination Amendment 08-B after consistently voting to maintain G-6.0106b in previous years. Michael reports that the vote was “144 Yes, 108 No.” Tricia reports that “By a margin of 57% approval, we believe that this is the first presbytery to "flip" from opposition to approval. In 2001, the vote was 38% Yes and in 2009 it is 57% Yes, making this a 19% positive gain.” Neither Tricia nor Michael seems to have noted the symbolic and ironic significance of this vote, however.

Western North Carolina Presbytery is the presbytery in which Parker T. Williamson,editor emeritus of The Layman, resides and is a member. My hunch is that he would have been present for this historic vote.

Can anyone else hear the shackles of years of injustice being loosened?