Thursday, January 27, 2011

Another New York City Snow

Snow covered street in the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood
A week ago, the weather prognosticators were predicting what could be a major winter storm for the Northeast, but they were not predicting any snowfall totals. A few days ago, the forecasters started talking about 3-6 inches. A little later, the predicted snowfall increased to 4-8 inches, then 8-10 inches, and finally up to a foot.
It was supposed to start snowing in New York City yesterday around 10:00 AM. By 9:45 AM there was already an inch on the ground. The predicted change from snow to rain never occurred. There was a little sleet, and very wet, heavy snow, but no rain. By late evening, there was already several inches of snow on the ground with more and heavier snow expected overnight. It was snowing so heavily in the late evening that by the time I finished clearing the small sidewalk in front of our house, another half an inch had already accumulated on what I had already cleared.
As I walked our dog last evening, the wet, wind driven snow stung my face at times. There were places were the sidewalk was almost bare and other places where the snow had drifted to over a foot deep or more. Snow and ice was clinging to the windows and screens of the house, having been blown there by the wind.
When I woke up this morning, it had finally stopped snowing and blowing. Nineteen inches of new snow reportedly fell in Central Park. The MTA curtailed bus service. The City closed the schools. Parking Meter and Alternate Side Parking were both suspended. When I walked our dog this morning, I walked him three quarters of the way around the block by walking down the middle of the streets, as no traffic was moving on the side streets that had yet been plowed.
New Yorkers are now digging out, piling snow even higher on the snow mounds left over from the storm the day after Christmas. The sun has come out this afternoon and the temperature is now above freezing, melting the thin layers of ice, snow and slush left behind by plows and shovels. Parking, however, is still a bit of a problem. Some cars have been plowed in and their owners are just now starting to dig them out.
Later in the morning, I measured the snow depth on our back porch at 14 inches. Some of that was old snow left over from the day after Christmas storm, however. With the new snow being so wet and heavy, it probably compacted as it fell and had already settled some by the time I measured it.

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, January 30, 2011, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)  Lectionary Ruminations is cross posted on Presbyterian Bloggers.

Micah 6:1-8
v. 1 Rather than the usual and customary “This is the word that came to Micah” we have a call to “Hear”. How much is this opening verse influenced by, an allusion to, and a midrash on Deuteronomy 6:4 and similar passages?

v. 2 Are the mountains and foundations of the earth serving as witnesses? Judges? It is usually the people of Israel complaining to and about the LORD. Now the LORD is complaining about the people.

v. 5 I like the fact that the LORD mentions Miriam along with Moses and Aaron. Exactly what are “the saving acts of the LORD” and how does one “know” them?

v. 6 This reads like a response to the indictment in 1-5, yet there is no narrative transition.

v. 8 Who is speaking in this verse, Micah or the LORD? According to my math, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God is equal to or greater than all the genuflections, burnt offerings, or human sacrifices we could possibly render.

Psalm 15
v. 1 What is the expected answer?

vs. 1-5 If taken literally, these verses seem to suggest that no one may abide in the LORD’s tent. No one may dwell on the LORD’s holy hill. Does bringing these verses into conversation with Micah 8b offer any additional insight?

1 Corinthians 1:18-31
v. 18 What is the meaning of “foolishness”

v. 19 As an amateur philosopher, I find this verse a little disconcerting. Maybe we need to deconstruct it and explore its deep structure. By the way, where is this written?

v. 20 Whom might Paul have in mind?

v. 21 So while human wisdom will be destroyed, it is alright for God to be wise?

v. 22 So “wisdom” is being used as a metaphor or code word for “Greeks”? What about Christians who centuries later would refer to Plato as a proto-Christian? What sort of “signs” do Jews demand?

v. 23 How is the proclamation of Christ crucified a “stumbling block” to Jews? How is the proclamation of Christ crucified “foolishness” to Gentiles?

v. 24 Here we encounter call language again. What does it mean to equate “the power of God” and “the wisdom of God” with Christ and vice versa?

vs. 26-29 this might have preached in Paul’s day, but what about white, upper middle class, Christian America? This might preach in an economically distressed, immigrant, or even middle class congregation, but in Ole First Church?

v. 30 wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption are not necessarily common everyday words. How can a teacher or preacher unpack them?

v. 31 Where is it so written and how does that writing’s context inform this passage?

Matthew 5:1-12
v. 1 Why is “crowds” plural? This is such a familiar passage, how can we hear it again but as if for the first time?

v. 3 In this and in the following eight verses, what does it mean to be ‘blessed”? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Who are the poor in spirit today?

v. 8 What about the prohibition about looking upon the face of God?

Monday, January 24, 2011

The 2011 New York Boat Show

View of the 2011 New York Boat Show
from the aft deck of a Meridian 341 Sedan
Last Saturday, my wife and I visited the 2011 New York Boat Show. It was our first Boat show and the first time we have been to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
As boat shows go, the 2011 NY show must have been a power boater’s dream. Since we are not power boaters, however, it was, for us, a nice way to spend a cold afternoon indoors.
For the past ten years, we have been kayakers. Six months ago, we also became sailors, learning how to sail on a J-24. We have since been perfecting our skills on a 1983 C&C 24. Thus, we did not go to the show as neophytes, nor intending to buy a boat. While there were enough kayaks and small sailboats at the show to keep us interested, there were more than enough boat related and water sport related vendors to justify the $12 admission price.
One of the highlights of the show for me was the opportunity to reconnect and say hello to U.S.C.G. Licensed Master Captain Kevin Ivany. Captain Ivany was my instructor for the New York Safe Boating Course I took last August. He was at the show to help staff the Safe Boating America booth.
A second highlight was meeting Barbara La Rocco, author of Going Coastal New York City: Urban Waterfront Guide. I’ll say more about Barbara and her book in a later post.
A third highlight was visiting the Mount Gay Rum booth, where we were able to sample three different rum drinks. Even though I was nursing a sore throat and head cold and my wife was nursing a sinus infection, we both left the Mount Gay Rum booth feeling a bit better after the tasting. Each of us also received a tube of SPF 15 Mountain Gay Rum lip balm. Unfortunately, the lip balm is not rum flavored.
By far, however, the biggest highlight of the day for me was stopping by the Q104.3 table, where I registered to win a prize. Along with New York Public radio WNYC 93.9, Q104.3 is one of my favorite radio stations. Since I prefer Classic Rock to most other genres and regularly listen to Q104.3 when not listening to NPR, I did not feel at all guilty about registering. About an hour later, while I was still at the show, I received a phone call from one of the representatives at the Q104.3 table. The person called to tell me I won two lift tickets to Hunter Mountain and a $50 gas card, and to return to the table to claim my prize. When I arrived back at the table, I learned that I was the first of fifteen winners picked to have a chance at drawing an envelope from among fifteen that contained $5,000. I drew a random envelope but did not win the $5,000. I was still a winner, however, walking away with the lift tickets and the gas card.
Because I thought we could not really go to the show without boarding and touring at least one power boat, we stood in line to take a closer look at a Meridian 341 Sedan. With a LOA of 35’10”, this is the smallest yacht in the Meridian line, but it is still a yacht, selling for more than most small starter homes. Yes, I would love to be on the water in this beauty, but there is no way I could afford to fill up the 250 gallon fuel tank, let alone pay the purchase price.
Having spent about four hours at the show, we left with a bag full of small purchases as well as free decals, floating key chains, product brochures and safety information. I am already looking forward to the 2012 show.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, January 23, 2011, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)  It is cross posted on the Presbyterian Bloggers blog.

Isaiah 9:1-4
v. 1 Who are in anguish? When was the former time? Where is the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali and what is so special about it? When might the latter time be? Who is “he”?

v. 2 Who walked in darkness and lived in a land of deep darkness?

v. 4 Who is the “you” has broken these things? Who was the oppressor? What happened “on the day of Midian”?

Psalm 27:1, 4-9
v. 1 Who shall you fear and of who shall you be afraid? In my experience, fear can be a crippling and paralyzing experience for congregations facing an uncertain future and needing to change. The “light” of this verse explains why this psalm was paired with the Isaiah reading. When read together, how does psalm enter into dialogue with the First Reading and vice versa?

v. 2 A worthy petition, don’t you think?

v. 5 What might qualify as a “day of trouble”? Being concealed under the cover of a tent and being set high on a rock (for all to see) seem like a mixed metaphor.

v. 7 This verse could be used as a response in bidding prayer.

vs.8-9 What can happen to people who see the face of God? What does it mean to seek God’s face?

v. 9 Why might God turn away and cast off?

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
One problem with this passage might be that we are too familiar with it and our preconceived notions of what it says and means might get in the way of fresh interpretations. On the other hand, readers may want to review Is Christ Divided: A Report Approved by the 200th General Assembly (1988), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a lens through which to view and interpret this passage.

v. 10 How does Paul strengthen his appeal?

v. 11 Who is Chloe and Chloe’s people?

v. 12 Who is Apollos? Have you ever heard talk in our particular church approximating what Paul is describing here?

v. 13 Rhetorical questions presuming the answer “No”.

vs . 14-16 I think Paul, in another letter, claimed to never have baptized. Even in this verse, Paul does not see to totally trust his own memory.

v. 17 On what basis is Paul arguing that eloquent wisdom might empty the cross of Christ of its power? For generations after Paul, Philosophy was considered the handmaiden to Theology.

Matthew 4:12-23
After an excursion into John, we are now back to a somewhat lectio continua reading of Matthew.

v. 12. Why did Jesus withdraw to Galilee upon learning that John had been arrested. From where did Jesus withdraw?

v. 13 Apparently, Jesus withdrew from Nazareth. What, if any, is the significance of Capernaum?

v. 14 Other than the fulfillment of prophecy (see today’s First Reading), is there any other significance to Capernaum?

v. 17 Have fun unpacking Jesus’ proclamation.

vs. 18-20 How does this version of the call of Simon and Andrew differ from last week’s account in the reading from John? Why the difference? Note the word “immediately”. What is the meaning (or meanings) of “followed”?

v. 21 Why might Jesus’ first four disciples have been two sets of brothers?

v. 22 Note another appearance of “immediately”. What more do John and James leave behind compared to what Simon and Peter left behind. What are we called to leave behind when we follow Jesus?

v. 23 Should we assume at Simon, Andrew, James and John were “following” Jesus as he went through Galilee.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Perhaps you recognize the above slope-intercept form of a linear equation, where m is the slope of the line and b is the y-intercept, from high school Algebra. The math I learned in high school Algebra and other high school and college math, although those courses were over thirty years ago, is quickly returning to my dura mater as I tutor high school English Language Arts, Integrated Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2/Trigonometry.

To supplement my part-time income, I started tutoring part-time a few months ago. I tutor students in their home for thirty hours, two to three hours per session. I am currently tutoring two students. I am tutoring a ninth grader in English Language Arts and Algebra and an eleventh grader in English Language Arts, Geometry, and Algebra 2/Trigonometry.

I find tutoring personally rewarding. I confess that I experience a bit of a rush when I witness one of my students understand, for the first time, a difficult or complex idea. I feel satisfied when I observe one of them complete a writing assignment or math problem without my assistance. I am proud when they demonstrate proficiency.

Tutoring English Language Arts has been a no brainer. My education has been very language based, including the study of Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek, reading countless pages of Church History and Theology, and writing too many papers to remember, including a Doctor of Ministry Paper. My practice of ministry has included writing weekly sermons, monthly newsletter articles, and various types of correspondence.

Tutoring math, on the other hand, has taken a bit of review. For the past twenty-five years, I have not used much math in the practice of my ministry. There is the occasional budget, or calculating how much paint or carpet is needed to refurbish a room, but little call for linear equations. I confess that I have had to engage in a bit of review to stay a step ahead of my students. As I have reviewed, however, I have been amazed how much of what I learned over thirty years ago is quickly coming back.

Ever since I took Algebra in eighth grade, I have loved and excelled in math, and in high school also loved and excelled in Chemistry and Physics. I left math and the sciences behind, however, to pursue ministry. Sometimes I regret that decision.

Ministry is almost entirely a shade of gray, so nuanced that we may do well or poorly but never completely succeed or fail. Math, on the other hand, is primarily black and white. While there may be more than one way to solve a complex problem, almost every problem has an answer, and that answer is either right or wrong.

Even though math is somewhat an exact science, there is enough mystical beauty and symmetry in it to feed partially my desire for transcendence. From the distribution of twin primes, to the irrational value of pi and phi, to the Fibonacci sequence, I see enough of the awesome complexity and order of nature displayed in math to convince me that there is a higher and deeper dimension to our world that I experience as divinity.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, January 16, 2011, the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Isaiah 49:1-7
v. 1 Who is speaking?

v. 2 How shall we deal with the militaristic imagery?

v. 3 Israel?

v. 6 How could an entire nation/people be a light to the nations?

v. 7 Is this a reference to pre-Christian anti-Semitism?

Psalm 40:1-11
v. 1 Is this Job’s psalm? Seriously,is the speaker an individual, a community, or both?

v. 3 What does the new song symbolize? Why do some worshipers complain about learning new hymns and singing unfamiliar hymns?

v. 6 Does this verse condemn or outlaw sacrifice and offering outright? In light of this verse, why do we still collect or take up an offering during worship?

v. 7 What scroll? What book?

v. 8 What biblical imagery does this verse remind you of? Jeremiah 31:33 perhaps?

vs. 9-10 What is “the great congregation”?

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
v. 1 And who was Sosthenes?

v. 2 Paul might be “called to be an apostle” but the church in Corinth is “called to be saints”. What are you and your church called to be?

v. 3 A nice liturgical greeting that combines elements of both Greek and Hebrew letter writing.

v. 5 In speech and knowledge of every kind? What does Paul have in mind?

v. 7 What does Paul mean or what is he referring to when he writes about “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”?

v. 9 Another call, this time “into the fellowship of his Son”.

John 1:29-42
v. 29 What happened the day before the “next day”? What is the theological significance of John’s proclamation “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”? Try unpacking that!

v. 32 what is significant about John’s testimony? See verse 33.

v. 34 Is it enough to see but not testify? Can one testify if one does not see?

v. 35 Another “next day”. So what day now is it? What is the significance that John had disciples?

v. 36 I had not realized before just how redundant this Gospel can be.

v. 37 What is the meaning (or what are the meanings) of “follow”?

v. 38 Jesus asks a direct question. Why don’t the two give him a direct answer? What is the meaning )or what are the meanings) of “looking”? Why does this Gospel translate “Rabbi”?

v. 39 “Come and see”! Is not the invitation all Christians and churches ought to be offering? On the other hand, how can we invite people to “Come and see” if we ourselves have not “seen”? Is there any significance to the time?

v. 40 Is this not the first mention in John of the name of one of the disciples of Jesus? Who was the other person?

v. 41 Following up from the previous verse, who are the “we”, Andrew and who? I think we can assume from the context that the other person with Andrew was not his brother Simon Peter. Why is Messiah translated? See verse 38.

v. 42 Does this make Andrew the first successful evangelist, the first person bring someone to Jesus? Is it not a little rude to meet someone for the first time and immediately insist on calling them by another name? As in verses 38 and 41, why is “Cephas” translated? What language does Peter come from? What language does Cephas come from? Does it matter?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Before and After the 6 ½ Inches

The forecast was calling for 23 hour storm that could dump 7-14 inches of snow on New York City. Here is the statement issued by the national Weather Service.
 The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for New York City from 7:00 PM Tuesday until 6:00 PM Wednesday. The current forecast calls for 7-14 inches of snow accompanied by strong wind gusts. The heaviest snow is forecast for after midnight Tuesday night into Wednesday. With visibility expected to be less than 1/4 mile at times, caution should be exercised when traveling.
Before the 6 1/2 inches
After the 6 1/2 inches
Like clockwork, snow started falling in my neighborhood around 7:00 PM. It snowed all evening and was snowing when I turned in for the night, around 11:00 PM. When I walked the dog a little before 11:00, there were already four or five inches of powder on the ground, and it was predicted to snall all night.
When I woke up this morning, it was no longer snowing. By mid morning, the Winter Storm Warning had been lifted and a bright sun in a clear blue sky was already starting to melt the snow from where it had mostly been cleared. 8.1 inches of snowfall was recorded in Central Park. In my backyard in Ridgewood, NY, a few miles to the east, I measured 6.5 inches.
The snowfall we experienced was on the low end of the prediction because the storm moved through the area faster than expected. Now Boston and other parts of New England are getting dumped on, with Boston expecting up to 30 inches!
Between the city plows and the bright sun in the sky, the roads and sidewalks are clearing and life is getting back to normal. For a few hours, however, winter had us in its grips and New Yorkers were hunkering down. Now we are out and about.
The photos above are before and after shots of a nearby street. Some snow remaining from the storm the day after Christmas storm can be seen in the before photo to the left.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Random Epiphany Ruminations

The Feast of Epiphany, the Feast of Three Kings, by whatever name it is called, it is today, January 6, 2011. In previous years, congregations I have served have marked this feast with an evening Service of the Word, including celebration of the Eucharist, but not this year. Sadly, there seemed to be little interest in it. Attendance has never been that great, but I always enjoyed leading the service.

I have thought it would be fun for worshipers to go outside after worship and, with a powerful home telescope, to engage in some star gazing, but that has never happened.

I am generally careful to stick to name the Gospel According to Matthew gives to the visitors of the Christ Child—Magi. They were not necessarily Kings. Nor were they necessarily wise. Nor were they all men. Some of them could have been female. Nor were there necessarily three of them. There were at least two but there could have been more, as many as three, four, five, or more.

Read Matthew 2:1-12 for yourself, without reading it through the lenses of carols, cantatas, plays, stories, or other cultural glosses. Be sure to read the footnotes that explain “wise men” is, in the Greek, Magi.

I think of the Magi as Babylonian (or perhaps Zoroastrian) astrologers/astronomers, who followed a star according to their star chart inspired universal planetary horoscope . . . that is there really were Magi visiting the manger. The account occurs only in Matthew and is not essential to the Gospel story. On the other hand, I think the Gospel story would be impoverished without it.

I think some of the best ruminations on the Magi has come from John Shelby Spong, which tells you a lot about where I am coming from.

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, January 9, 2011, the Baptism of the Lord (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Isaiah 42:1-9
v. 1 In light of today’s Gospel Reading, might we whether this passage illuminates John the Baptizer or Jesus? Who was Isaiah most likely writing about?

v. 3 What is a “bruised reed”?

v. 4 This is the third occurrence of the word “justice”. See verses 1 and 3.

v. 5 Now that we have the formulaic “Thus say God, the Lord, ”might we ask who was speaking in verses 1-4? I like the pairing of “breath” and “spirit”.

v. 9 Are most people in the pews willing and ready to accept that “former things have come to pass” and “new things I now declare”?

Psalm 29:1-11
v. 1 Who are the “heavenly beings”?

vs. 3-10 Attributes and praise of God of the Storm, and some baptismal imagery. What if we baptized from maelstroms rather than cute, little, calm, manageable fonts? When I have been backpacking I have loved loud, crashing thunder and lightning because wilderness storms remind me of the awesome grandeur of God. A domesticated God is not worthy of praise.

v. 11 After all the previous violent storm imagery, how shall we interpret this blessing of peace?

Acts 10:34-43
v. 34 It has been awhile since we have heard from Peter. While it might be true that God shows no partiality, I think we can not say the same of the institutional church.

v. 35 What does it mean to “fear”God? How does this verse fly in the face of justification by faith through grace?

v. 37 Does this verse justify this Reading being selected for “Baptism of the Lord”?

v. 43 “All the prophets”? Really? I think Peter is prone to a little hyperbole.

Matthew 3:13-17
v. 13 How people might ask “if Jesus was sinless, why did he seek to be baptized?”

v.14 It seems John asked!

v. 15 How does Jesus being baptized by John “fulfill all righteousness”?

v. 16 Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him,” but did anyone else see it?

v.17 Who heard this voice? Will this voice be heard this ar anything similar any other place in Matthew?

ADDENDUM: Moving from an emphasis on Jesus’ birth during Advent, Christmas and Epiphany to the baptism of an Adult Jesus three Sundays after Christmas always seems to jolt my sensibilities, but is there any way around it? How might teachers and preachers smooth the transition?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

About the January 2011 Header Photo

Happy New Year!

It is not only a new month but also a New Year and time for a new header photo.

This month’s header photo, a shore shot, features a shot taken on December 27, 2010, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean from the 25th Street Access at Virginia Beach, VA. It started snowing at Virginia Beach late Christmas evening and did not stop snowing for nearly 24 hours. The storm that clobbered the mid-Atlantic and northern-Atlantic states dumped several inches of wet snow throughout the area. Some enterprising soul took advantage of the situation and constructed a snowbeing, towering over five feet tall, on the beach.