Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Well Deserved Rebuke

The Supreme Court of the United States has received a rare rebuke from the President of the United States and in my opinion the five Justices voting in the majority in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission deserve it.

I find it hard to understand, by any stretch of the imagination, by any application of logic, or by any legal argument, how a corporation can be guaranteed the same right to freedom of speech as a living, breathing American citizen. A corporation is a legal entity created out of thin air. A corporation’s very existence, not to mention its rights, is defined by the legislation creating it and the laws governing it. The public creates and recognizes corporations as legal entities. Sometimes corporations are recognized as “persons” but not as a living, breathing human beings. The mistake the Supreme Court made in this case was to confuse legal terminology and concepts with actual things, a “legal” person to a living person. The public by law create corporations but only the union of a sperm and an egg can create a human being. Just as the public created corporations the public can just as easily limit their powers, including their rights.

A human being exists for a finite time, from its birth to its death. A corporation is not born in the biological sense but created in the legal sense. Unless it dissolves, its “life” is potentially everlasting. There are corporations in America that have been in existence much longer than the longest human lifespan, and their potentially everlasting life spans allows corporations to accumulate great wealth and exercise great economic and political power. Corporations are not bound by time or even space as human beings are. While a corporation maintains a physical address it may actually operate, unlike a human being, in several locations, thus extending its political power.

By the Supreme Court’s logic, a corporation also ought to have the right to vote, to bear arms, and every other right enacted in the Constitution. Forget about Exxon or Halliburton contributing to candidates for President and buying a Commander-in-Chief to their liking. According to the logic of the Supreme Court, a corporation can simply run for and be elected President as long as it has been in existence long enough.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Networking

Last Wednesday was a good day for Summit to Shore for at least two reasons. As I have already noted, on Wednesday Google Analytics recorded the first visitor from South Dakota, the only state that had yet been logged as being the home of a visitor to this blog. Thanks to Kathleen Turner, the visitor for South Dakota, Summit to Shore can boast of having been visited by someone from every state in the United States during the first year Google Analytics was logging such information.

For the record, Google Analytics does not record the name of visitors, only their location. Had Kathleen not left a personal comment, all I would have known was that someone from the Sioux Falls area had visited twice on Wednesday, or that two visitors from the Sioux Falls area had each visited once. I would not have known the identity or any other personal information about the visitor(s), so your privacy is well protected unless you choose to leave a comment.

The other good news I received last Wednesday is that after months of waiting, Summit to Shore is finally listed on CC blogs, a network hosted by The Christian Century. I had applied to be listed on the CC blogs network soon after starting Summit to Shore only to be told I needed to have a bit of a blogging history before the application could be considered. After three or four months and several posts worth of blogging I reapplied, but at a time when CC blogs was experiencing growing pains and personnel changes. I think my application material, along with some e-mails, were lost in the process. I eventually had to follow up with additional e-mails to move the process along. CC blogs finally figured things out and as of last Wednesday, Summit to Shore is part of the CC blogs network, one of about 109 blogs so listed. Thus the icon and hot link in the upper right corner of Summit to Shore.

Even though I am a blogger and now part of the CC blogs network, I still think of The Christian Century as a print publication, one that in the past couple of years has become one of my favorite reads. That is when the United States Postal Service manages to deliver it in one piece. A recent issue had half of the front two pages totally ripped off and missing.

I read some issues of The Christian Century more than others and never read every page. What I like about The Christian Century is that it offers a variety of reading, from short one paragraph news summaries in “Century Marks” to full page and multi page think pieces as well as interviews and reviews of books, films and music. It also publishes cartoons, poetry and graphic art. I usually find the “Living by the Word: Reflections on the Lectionary” helpful as I am preparing sermons and occasionally quote from it. Believe it not, I also appreciate the advertisements for recent publications and especially workshops and other continuing education events. I learned about the most recent continuing education event I attended, and one I found most helpful, “Delivering the Gospel”, when I saw it advertised in The Christian Century. Had it not been for The Christian Century I would not have known about the workshop.

The Christian Century brands itself on the cover as “Thinking Critically, Living Faithfully” and I think that pretty well sums it up. I also think of the Christian Century as a progressive, somewhat intellectual, mainline conversation among well read and educated Christians as they seek to understand and be in conversation with and about our wider culture while keeping their eyes on emerging trends in both church and society.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

JuMpInG uP aNd DoWn In GlEe Because South Dakota Visited Me

Finally! Just as time was running out, not only has Google Analytics recorded a visitor to Summit to Shore from South Dakota, but the visitor has also left a comment.

I made two appeals the last couple of months, trying to lure a visitor from South Dakota, because Google Analytics had yet to record one. On December 7, 2009, I posted an appeal for visitors from both Montana and South Dakota. Soon afterward Google Analytics registered a couple visitors from Montana but none from South Dakota. On January 4, 2010 I posted another appeal for a visitor from South Dkota, but again, nothing but silence. Yesterday, January 27, 2010, Kathleem Turner, a blogger from South Dakota, left a comment to my January 4 post.

I will not tell you what she wrote because you can read Kathleen’s comment for yourself. Nor will I tell you all about her because you cou can check her profile.

I learned about Kathleen and her blog, Kathleen Turner’s Dakota Dreams, and she learned about me and my blog, Summit to Shore, through a mutual internet friend and her blog, Melanie Reuter, who like Kathleen is a knitter, and who blogs at Hands to Soul.

In a personal e-mail, Kathleen wrote “I'm a writer, but I should warn you that my fiction is decidedly irreverent. Currently, I'm writing knitting books - I'm working on my 5th right now (with a nightmare inducing deadline).”

Help me thank Kathleen for enabling me to truthfully boast that “Summit to Shore received visitors from every state in the country during the first year such information was being recorded” by visiting her blog, Kathleen Turner's Dakota Dreams, and perhaps leaving a comment.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Links

I have not been keeping up with my blog browsing lately and have fallen behind reading some of my favorite blogs. This morning I had the chance to play a little catch up and have been particularly struck by several posts. I do not usually highlight other blogs without adding some comment but this time I will some links with a minimum of comment.

Paul Rack over at Raxweblog has a pertinent post about Presbyterians and Evangelism. I think much of historical and contemporary analysis is right on target and worthy of further reflection. I know that if I and the particular Presbyterian Church I serve does not soon become more intentional about evangelism that there may not be a church for me to serve within a few years. Read Paul’s thoughts about evangelism and let Paul and me know what you think.

Melanie Childers Reuter, who blogs at Hands to Soul, has two thoughtful posts that I think are two of her best and most thoughtful since I have been following her blog. In one, she offers her own “Pledge of Allegiance” that I think captures the spirit of what it means to be not just an American but a human being, a pledge not to a flag or any other symbol, but to a way of being in community. I am not sure if she meant the next post to be a follow up to “pledge” but that is sort of how I read it. Bouncing off one of my favorite authors, Robert Fulghum, she offers some suggestions about how to play nice that, if followed, would help transform communities into more livable environments.

Finally, Carol Howard Merritt, in her Tribalchurch.org, reflects on her interviewing another of my favorite authors, John Shelby Spong, who has a new book coming out. Carol offers a provocative snippet from Spong’s forthcoming endeavor and reflects on it and her interview of Spong in light of her own ministry. I hear her and Spong expressing some of my own feelings and thoughts about ministry and the institutional church.

I have found these though provoking posts, some several days old, to have been a nice way to begin a rainy Monday morning. Along with a cup of coffee they have helped me jump start my brain.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Where In The World Is Tristan de Cunha?

For the past couple of weeks I have been trying to piece the world together one piece at a time, all 540 pieces. During the after Christmas half-price sales I bought a nine inch diameter “The Blue Marble Earth PuzzleSphere”. Piecing it together has tested my knowledge of world geography and manual dexterity, not to mention my patience.

Both poles came pre-assembled. The continents went together fairly easily. North America and South America were eventually joined together as were Europe, Asia and Africa. North America and Asia were easily connected to the Arctic. Antarctica was eventually joined with South America via the southern tip of Chili and Argentina and not long afterward also Australia. The oceans, especially the South pacific and the South Atlantic, are still remaining to be pieced together, which leads me to ask “where in the world is Tristan de Cunha?"

I have a puzzle piece bearing the name Tristan de Cunha and parts of two trade routes, but no latitude or longitude markings. I have had no idea where Tristan de Cunha might be and so no sense of whether the puzzle piece might belong in the South Pacific or the South Atlantic. To help me put the earth together I eventually conducted an internet search and hit, of course, Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, Tristan da Cunha is a remote group of islands in the south Atlantic Ocean and the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world. The main island, bearing the same name, is about 7 miles across and has an area of 38 square miles. The Island group has a population of 275.

With those numbers, I am not surprised I was not able to remember, and may never have known, the location of Tristan da Cunha. Now I know and can more easily place the piece in the puzzle. If only real life we so easy.

By the way, all 540 pieces of this puzzle have numbers printed on the back and an arrow indicating where the next highest numbered piece connects, so I could more easily construct the world if I wanted to. If I did that, however, I wouldn’t have wondered where Tristan da Cunha was. Nor would I have been testing my knowledge of world geography, or lack thereof. Yes, I look forward to having a completed globe when I am done, but I did not buy this puzzle just to have a globe. I bought it for the challenge, the fun, and the frustration of least playing United Nation envoy and at most playing God.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sublime Nature

For the past several months I have wanted to write about sublime nature. The desire grew in part from a comment my fellow kayaker and water blogger Bonnie wrote in response to my post about Searching for a Retreat Center. She wrote “Kayaking sort of IS my retreat. I don't think I ever feel as peaceful & right with myself & the world as I do when I'm out on the water.”

I could not agree more with my friend, but I would add hiking and climbing to kayaking and trails and mountain tops to water. Sometimes I wonder how much of my religious and spiritual sentiment is an outgrowth of my love of the outdoors and how much of my love for the outdoors is an outgrowth of my spiritual and religious sentiments. My ecological ethic has, after all, been as influenced by Thoreau, Muir and Abby as by the two creation accounts of Genesis and the Book of Psalms.

While recently serving jury duty I started reading John Muir’s The Mountains of California and was inspired by Muir’s following description of alpenglow. “To me [alpenglow is] one of the most impressive of all the terrestrial manifestations of God. At the touch of this divine light, the mountains seemed to kindle to a rapt, religious consciousness, and stood hushed and waiting like devout worshipers. Just before the alpenglow began to fade, two crimson clouds came streaming across the summit like wings of flame, rendering the sublime scene yet more impressive, then came the darkness and the stars.”

Whether it be evening alpenglow, early morning mist rising and burning off from calm water, or sunlight illuminating early morning fog in an Appalachian forest accompanied by the gurgling of a mountain stream (photo right), my spirit can be similarly lifted by the experience as if I were in a Gothic Cathedral illuminated by candlelight and the sun shining through stained glass windows, the sound of Gregorian Chant resonating off the stone walls.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Jury Duty

For the past several days I have been privileged in a 2,500 Democratic institution—jury duty! It all started with a letter informing me that I had been selected to serve in the jury pool and to call last Friday evening to see if I needed to actually report to the court house the next business day. The recorded message Friday evening and Monday evening told me that I did not need to report. But the recording Tuesday evening was different. Be at the court house by 8:30 AM.

The original mailing noted that proper court attire was required. I wondered what proper court attire might be. In the middle of January I was not going to show up wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Neither was I going to wear a powdered wig, coif and waistcoat. I opted for khaki’s and a dress shirt, sans tie. I was neither overdressed nor underdressed but certainly toward the more professional looking end of the spectrum.

After a 45 minute bus ride, including one transfer, I arrived outside the Court House (middle photo right) at 8:15 AM with fifteen minutes to spare, only to discover on the other side of the side entrance (bottom photo right) a serpentine line of others jurors winding its way through the doors leading lobby, down a hallway, and into another room where ribbon barriers directed us toward two magnetometers. One of the armed guards, with a smile on his face, was pleasantly greeting everyone he invited to deposit pocket contents into a small tub while placing their bags on the conveyer belt of an extra machine. He was one of the most pleasing security screeners I have ever met. While all the other guards were courteous, they paled in comparison to him.

On the other side of the magnetometer I grabbed my day pack off the other end of the conveyor belt and retrieved the contents of my pockets from the plastic bin. Thirty minutes after arriving at the court house, at 8:45 AM, I entered a large jury pool room full of hundreds of padded leather seats and sat, and sat, and sat. While the room was not full, I estimate that two to three hundred people were gathered.

An officer of the court instructed us not to use cell phones—no calls, no texting—or else our phone would be confiscated. On the other hand, the room was Wi-Fi capable and people were allowed to use their lap tops. Computer work stations lined the back wall. What can you do with a cell phone that you cannot do with a laptop or computer? I just don’t get it.

Around 10:30 a court officer took attendance by reading our names and having us reply “Here!” Ten or fifteen minutes later we watched a short video entitled Your Turn, about the history of jury’s, and starring Ed Bradley and Diane Sawyer. When the video was over the names of those not present earlier were once again read. At 11:15 Am we were allowed a fifteen minute break.

The same video screens that had shown Your Turn started showing The Price is Right! I continued reading. Eventually the video image changed from The Price is Right! to news coverage of the Haiti earthquake. What juxtaposition, I thought, from a game show celebrating American consumerism where contestants try to guess the price of meaningless items to a news report about a devastating earthquake in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, whose its inhabitants probably could not afford to purchase most of what was featured on The Price is Right! As if to add insult to injury, after a few minutes the news coverage was turned off and more names were read.

The people whose names were read were instructed to come forward and stand in lines. They were then dismissed for the day but told to return the next day. I was not among them, so I was still sitting and reading.

At 12:25 PM, thirty-five minutes before our scheduled lunch break, more names were read. Mine was among them. We lined up and were told that we had been assigned to a case but would not be needed until after lunch, so we could leave early for lunch and had to be back by 2:00 PM.

I went to Subway across the street and enjoyed my usual sub with chips and a drink. As directed, I was back to the jury pool room, properly attired and refreshed, by 2:00 PM.

Around 3:45 PM my jury group was once again called forward and formed into lines. We were told that the trial we were assigned to was carried over to the following day, that we could now go home, but that we had to report Thursday morning by 9:00 AM.

All night I half expected to show up Thursday morning only to be told that the trail we had been assigned to had been terminated by a plea deal and that we could go home.

When I arrived Thursday morning there was no line of jurors as the day before. I walked right through the lobby, down the hallway, and up to the security checkpoint. When I entered the jury pool room there were only about a third to a quarter of the number of people seated as the there were the day before.

Like the day before, I sat and read, read and sat. Where well over a hundred people sat in front of me the day before, perhaps fifty were now sitting. Who are these strangers, I thought. Randomly selected from Queen’s voters, taxpayers and drivers, they represented the racial and cultural diversity of the county. To the far right was a middle aged white male, short blond hair, glasses, working some sort of puzzle in a newspaper. Two chairs away from him to his right was a young white, blond female, glasses, chewing gum a mile an hour, earrings dangling from her lobes, just sitting. In front of them was a middle aged black woman, glasses, her hair falling into thin dreadlocks, reading a magazine. In front of her was a middle aged to older woman, pin stripped blouse, pin striped slacks, wearing a head scarf as if she might be Moslem or Hindu, or simply modest. Throughout the room similar people, white, black, Asian, Hispanic, and who knows what else were reading paperbacks, newspapers, and magazines they had brought with them. Wednesday I was reading The Virgin of Bennington by Kathleen Norris. Thursday I began reading The Mountains of California by John Muir.

Occasionally a juror would rise, walk to the water dispenser, pull down a cone shaped white paper cup from its dispenser, and have a drink. Or they might walk through double doors into a hallway, hoarded by a security officer, to the restroom and back. While the room both days was generally quiet except for the court announcements and low murmur of the video screens, once in a while the sound of snacks or beverage cans could be heard falling from the dispensing machine as jurors sought to refresh themselves and stave off hunger.

I looked at my watch. It was 11:50 A. We had not been given any information since our arrival nearly three hours earlier. But twenty minutes later, with fifty minutes before our scheduled lunch break, my jury was told that our case had been held over until after lunch and that we could leave for lunch but had to be back by 2:00 PM. For the second day in a row I lunched at Subway.

Back by 2:00 PM, I read and sat, sat and read. Then, at around 3:45, the entire room was informed that our services would not be needed and that we could go home and would not have to serve jury duty for another six years. An audible but subdued sigh of relief reverberated throughout the room. As our names were called we turned in our juror ID card for a certificate witnessing to the fact that we had served. My civic and democratic duty was ended, and I never even got to enter a real courtroom. But Democracy and our American judicial system had been well served. Our founders would have been pleased and proud. Socrates would have been relieved that no one was found guilty and sentenced to drink hemlock.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New York Sounds

There is a scene in the film Did You Hear about the Morgans? (now in theaters) where the character played by Hugh Grant presents to the character played by Sarah Jessica Parker a CD containing familiar sounds of New York City. Finding herself whisked away from the Big Apple and dropped into the middle of rural Wyoming, she misses the city’s familiar sounds and can’t sleep without them.

My wife and I recently vacationed in Virginia Beach and we slept quite well without the urban sounds we are used to. The loudest sound we heard in our room was usually the sound of breaking waves four floors below and about twenty to thirty yards out.

The one urban sound I pleasantly noticed by its absence was the sound of honking car horns. New York City drivers are notorious horn honkers, even when it is illegal. If a driver pauses for a split second when a red light turns green, a driver three or four cars back will occasionally lay on their horn. We live on a busy street and regularly hear honking horns. I hear them when I walk the dog. I hear them when driving. But I cannot recall hearing a single car horn honking while we were in Virginia Beach for a week, and I am glad I did not hear any.

It was not until I was back home and walking Myrrhlyn, however, that I realized I had missed two other sounds. During our first morning constitutional after returning home, I heard the sound of the “M” as it left the Forest Avenue Station headed for the Fresh Pond Station. As Myrrhlyn and I passed a couple young women walking in the opposite direction I heard them talking to one another in an Eastern European language. Both sounds, the sounds of the subway and the sound of a language other than English, were welcomed reminders that I was back home.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Epiphany – Busting Myths and Other Thoughts

Just before Christmas I took our dog Myrrhlyn to the Vet for some routine vaccinations. When I explained that Myrrhlyn’s name was a Welsh spelling variation of the magician of Arthurian Legend and that his name was also an allusion to Myrrh, as in gold, frankincense and myrrh, a young Vet Tech responded that she had just recently learned what Frankincense was, and that there were not necessarily three wise men. I responded that they were not necessarily all men.

A footnote to the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible alerts the reader to the fact that the original Greek is “magi” as in magicians, and could just as well be translated “astrologers”. The masculine plural ending of “magi” suggests that at least one of these visitors was male, but one or more could also have been female.

No where does the Gospel According to Matthew enumerate the Magi. The plural ending means there were two or more, but there could have been three, or four, or more. That three gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh—were presented has suggested that there were three visitors. This number has been immortalized by the popular Carol “We Three Kings”. Unfortunately more people learn their Bible stories from carols and hymns than from Scripture.

I prefer to think of the Epiphany visitors as astrologers/astronomers who did not literally follow a star that moved through the night sky only to stop and hover over Bethlehem but instead carefully observed the night sky, charted the position of the planets and stars, and determined from their relative positions that something significant was happening and went in search of it.

If I had the resources and it were not so cold outside this time of year, I would love to schedule an evening Epiphany service that included sky watching through telescopes. While images from the Hubble Telescope projected onto a screen or the wall might still communicate some awe, there is something to be said about seeing astronomical phenomena with one’s own eye through a telescope. Rather than preaching a sermon I would invite an astronomer to talk about the winter night sky.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

One Year and Counting

When I set up Summit to Shore and started blogging a year ago, I had not given the whole blogging thing much thought. I just jumped in and learned by trial and error along the way. If I were to start all over I might do some things differently.

I am wondering if Summit to Shore is too eclectic. Admittedly, its subject matter extends far and wide, perhaps too far and wide. Should I limit its focus? Should I post less often but with longer and more thoughtful posts? What is the right balance between quantity and quality?

If nothing else, blogging has either ignited or rekindled within me an interest in writing, perhaps even an urge to write. I do not know what path this new direction will ultimately take me or this blog. We shall see.

A year’s anniversary is a good time to reflect and take stock. In its first year I published 213 posts, averaging over four a week and seventeen a month. Since I did not start using Google Analytics until January 28, 2009, and did not install a site meter until February 1, 2009, I am still collecting a full year’s worth of data to reflect upon. That also means that any potential visitor from South Dakota still has until February 27th to register a visit.

Monday, January 4, 2010

South Dakota, Where Are You?

Back on December 7, I was hoping to soon log visits from both Montana and South Dakota, the only two states at that time without a recorded visit to Summit to Shore. The next day, December 8, two visits from Montana were recorded, leaving South Dakota as the lone holdout.

The New Year has arrived and still there has been no recorded visit from South Dakota. Since I did not launch Summit to Shore until January 5, 2009, there is still time remaining for South Dakota to step up to the plate. (hint, hint)

If I knew anyone in South Dakota I would call or email them and ask them to visit Summit to Shore. The only name I can associate with South Dakota, however, is that of one of my favorite authors, Kathleen Norris. While I know her through her writing, she doesn’t know me from my reading, so I really can't call or email her. Besides, she might be in Hawaii this time of year.

Several years ago I read Dakota: A Spiritual Geography but could not remember if Kathleen was living in North Dakota or South Dakota. Having already read Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, The Cloister Walk, and The Quotidian Mysteries, I am now finally getting around to reading The Virgin of Bennington. Reading the second chapter of Virgin reminded me that Kathleen’s grandparents had lived in Lemmon, South Dakota, where her mother had grown up, where she had spent her childhood summers, and where she now sometimes lives and writes, dividing her time between South Dakota and Hawaii.

Lemmon is the home of the Spencer Memorial Presbyterian Church, with 117 members in 2008, one of those members being Kathleen Norris. Kathleen has regularly preached at her home church. I had the opportunity to hear Kathleen Norris preach at the 209th General Assembly (1997) of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meeting in Syracuse, NY and thought she was an outstanding preacher. I used to have a recording of her sermon but loaned it out and it was never returned. One of these days I will get around to reading the only book by Kathleen that I have not yet read, Acedia and Me.

Kathleen's home state of South Dakota became a state on November 2, 1889. It is also the home of Mount Rushmore National Monument. The Capital is Pierre. To date, it is the only state out of 50 without a logged visit to Summit to Shore. (another hint)

What could residents of South Dakota possibly have against me? Is there no internet there? While South Dakota has no shore, it certainly has some summits. At 7,242 feet, Harney Peak, the state's highest, is higher than any peak east of the Mississippi. Shorely somone from South Dakota has to eventually stumble onto this blog.

Friday, January 1, 2010

About the January 2010 Header Photo

Virginia Beach is where Summit to Shore began, and the first photo to appear on the blog was a sunrise (morning turn around) as seen from Virginia Beach. The photo featured with January 2010 posts was also taken at Virginia Beach, around 7:30 AM, January 1, 2010. The location is on the beach just off the boardwalk at 23rd Street, near the Ocean Sands Resort and Spa. It was an overcast morning after an evening and night of rain and fog.