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Sabbath Day – A Long Walk

August 28, 2014

 

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I got up early today to take a long walk. What a beautiful day it turned out to be – warm sun with pleasant breezes and gorgeous nature all around – green, blue, purple, red, white and yellow. It was good to be alive and outside to enjoy it all.

TeatownKitchawanTrailMap_BW_2010 copyI began in the Kitchawan Preserve, 208 acres of flora and fauna on the south shore of the New Croton Reservoir. I had passed this way a few months ago while hiking the North County Trailway and noted the serenity and seclusion of the park. After several miles of field, forest and shoreline I passed onto DEP property and the Teatown-Kitchwan Trailway (TKT). This is a 6.5 mile trail connecting Kitchawan Preserve, John E. Hand Park at Bald Mountain, and Teatown Lake Reservation.  I took the yellow trail detour up Bald Mountain Summit, and made circles around Teatown Lake as well, making the most of the parks through which I was passing. Teatown has a relatively new Wildflower Park below the nature center. I had not run into a soul so far on this hike, but then encountered a group of about 20 from the Westchester Trails Association out for hike to the distant parts of the preserve. I met them twice going around the lake.

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Having explored the nature preserve I hopped onto the green blazed path of the Briarcliff-Peekskill Trailway, a 13.1 mile footpath through forest and wetland. the first 2.6 miles are south of Teatown, but the remaining 10.5 miles were my next project. I lost the blazes at one point and had to walk along a paved road before rejoining the trail. This took me through Croton Gorge Park and over the aqueduct, reentering the woods on the far side of Route 129. Past Colabaugh Pond (Cortland) the trail passes through the BM Sportsman Center. Listening to the gunshots near and far, I simply pretended I was in the Civil War, trying to find a safe way through and hoping not to be shot. At the far side of the center I entered Blue Mountain Reservation in Peekskill, and over Mt. Spitzenberg. Blue Mountain is our second largest nature preserve in Westchester at 1,538 acres. (Ward Pound Ridge is the largest at 4700 acres).

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I had not intended more than a couple of miles here, but my feet hurt, I was distracted, and so I got lost. I don’t know how far I ended up walking here but I came out on the far side of the park. My ride home had also evaporated so I needed to hike another several miles through downtown Peekskill and down to the train station so that I could catch a train home.

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What joy it was to step out of the woods and see the Hudson River. Having been turned around in the woods, I had both a sense of orientation and home when I saw the water. A quick train ride to Tarrytown took me along the river and within a quick car ride of home. Despite having lopped off a few miles of the BPT, but adding in a bunch of wrong turns, extra loops and the summit climb on Bald Mountain as well as the extra miles through Peekskill to the train station, I easily did 20 miles today.

And I feel like it.

Because of the early start this morning the dew had not yet burned off the first field I passed through and I ended up hiking with wet feet – thus the several new blisters I have tonight.

Yet this was a rich, full day which will send me to bed tired and return me refreshed for the work of tomorrow.

Happy Sabbath.

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How Not To Do Things With Words

August 20, 2014

A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Barbara Blodgett at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on Sunday, August 17, 2014. Dr. Blodgett is a minister, educator, and ethicist on the faculty at Lexington Theological Seminary. She specializes in practical and professional ethics, especially the ethics of ministry and the ethics of trust, and is the author of several books, including Becoming the Pastor You Hope to Be: Four Practices for Improving Ministry. I thank her for the powerful message she brought to our community as we seek more faithful with our words so that they reflect the one whose actions are beyond words.

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In 1962, philosopher J.L. Austen wrote a little book called How To Do Things With Words. In this book, he argued that especially when it comes to the moral life, our words are more like actions than they are like descriptions. Words accomplish things. Some of what we say may merely be statements describing or reflecting what we see around us and take for reality (“that was unfair” or “that’s nice”); but a lot of what we say creates reality. When a person says “I love you,” for example, she is not merely reporting on a state of affairs. She is, with those words, forging a bond between herself and the person to whom her words are directed. When a brother says “I will provide for you,” he is not simply issuing a prediction, he is issuing a promise. He is binding his future with that of his family’s.

In the sort of language that perhaps only fellow philosophers can love, Austen called the words we say “performative utterances” or “speech acts.” What comes out of our mouths is an act, it is a performance. We are actors, making things happen and influencing others through what we say—and—what we fail to say.

If what comes out of the mouth is a performance, then we must regretfully conclude that Joseph’s performance when he finally sees his brothers again is not his best. Many interpreters read this story from the 45th chapter of Genesis to be a crowning moment in a long family saga starring Joseph and his brothers. It’s the moment when Joseph reveals himself to be no longer a slave in Egypt but rather Jacob’s son and their brother, one brother among twelve with whom he now is finally reconciled in tearful words of love and forgiveness.

I disagree with these interpreters. Of course, on first blush Joseph’s speech sounds like a really good speech. Overcome with emotion, he cries out to everyone within earshot that he wants to be left alone with his brothers, and when alone he says, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive? Come closer to me.” Then, he names the elephant in the room: “Yes, it’s really me, your brother. The one you sold into slavery years ago. I’m back.” Seemingly without bitterness he acknowledges that awkward chapter in their family history, and he even seems to let them off the hook, saying, “don’t be distressed, don’t be angry with yourselves. God has preserved our lives.” As if to say, “That time when you threw me into a pit and almost let me die? That’s ancient history. We’re good. It’s all good.” And finally he talks about the present and the future: “I know you all have been suffering from a famine for two years, and unfortunately, I happen to know that there are going to be five more years of that. But I promise you, I will settle you in the land of Goshen, near me, and I will provide for you there. You will be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, and your herds, and all that you have.” And the brothers kiss, and they cry, and slowly they all come around and begin talking to one another. A touching scene of brotherly love and reconciliation, right?

Not so much. . . .

To understand this culminating moment, you really have to read the whole story. If you’re like me—I hadn’t read through Genesis lately—I suggest you give it a read because it’s a good one. Honestly, this book of the Bible rivals any of our contemporary soap operas. If there are any fans of Downton Abbey or Nashville out there, this story is as good as those. You’ve got a patriarch named Jacob who’s still working through issues with his twin brother Esau and his father-in-law Laban; you’ve got the 12 sons of Jacob with the one that he inexplicably favors the most, namely, Joseph. This means you’ve got eleven jealous brothers who hate Joseph just a little bit more every episode. To make matters worse, Joseph is a bit of a tattle-tale; at age 17 he had told Jacob on them, saying they were shirking their chores in the field. Jacob is also a dreamer to whom visions come, and he lords this gift over the rest of them. His brothers eventually come to hate him so much that they conspire to kill him; his life is only spared from the deadly pit when one of them comes up with the alternative idea of selling him to the Egyptians instead. They trick their father Jacob into thinking that Joseph is dead but secretly sell him into slavery in the land of Egypt.

Time passes, and Joseph becomes rather good at being an Egyptian slave. He’s handsome, he’s successful, he resists false accusations against him, and eventually he becomes Pharaoh’s second-in-command and rises to a position of significant power and authority in Egypt.

Meanwhile, a famine falls across the land, and Jacob and his remaining sons become more and more desperate to have access to the food supply being hoarded by Egypt. Joseph had foreseen the famine in one of his dreams, and had wisely convinced Pharaoh to store up some of the grain. So when his brothers approach him, not knowing it’s him, he has all the power and they have very little. As one commentator writes:

It would be difficult to overstate Joseph’s position of imperial power in this story; anyone who wants to eat must come to Joseph. He hoards the grain, and he decides who may purchase it and at what price, at a time when all of the world is riddled with famine (41:57). Once powerless at the bottom of a pit, outnumbered by brothers who hated him, Joseph now gets to decide who will live and who will die.

Instead of taking pity on his brothers, however, and using his power for good, Joseph pretends not to know who they are when they come to Egypt. He even accuses them of spying, and he has them thrown in jail. He insists that they send him Jacob’s new favorite son, Benjamin, to him. Judah, the brother who had earlier spared his life by coming up with the idea of selling him, now pleads with Joseph to spare Benjamin.

So all this sad and sorry tale of brothers behaving badly forms the background context for our passage today. It kind of puts Joseph’s revelation in a different light, in my opinion. Now that we’ve heard the back story, let’s think about his speech again. In keeping with his character, Joseph is self-congratulatory: “God has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” He’s directive: “Hurry up, and go to my father, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph.’” And he even becomes rather paternalistic: “I’ll provide for you, so you won’t come to poverty.” I don’t know about you, but I would think the brothers might be listening to all this and wondering what manipulation their brother now has up his sleeve.

It is striking that the brothers say nothing throughout this entire encounter with Joseph. Their silence has got to be an anxious silence. As the text says, “The brothers were so dumbfounded at finding themselves face to face with Joseph that they could not answer.” When he says, “You’ve had two years of famine and there will be another five, but I will take care of you. God has made me a lord over Pharaoh and a ruler of all Egypt” can we really hear in this an olive branch, a genuine reconciliation, or are we hearing a veiled threat? That is, “If you don’t come with me, lord and ruler over the land, you will starve.” Maybe a threat, maybe not. But if this is supposed to be some super-charged, emotional reconciliation episode between long-separated family members, Joseph has at best bumbled his way through the scene.

***

If what comes out of the mouth is a performance, then we must also regretfully conclude that Jesus’s performance when he encounters the Canaanite woman is not his best.

She approaches Jesus pleading that he heal her daughter of her demon. Other people have approached Jesus for healing, of course, but this encounter is different. Jesus is reluctant to help. Frankly, he gets kind of cranky. He’s got the woman on one side shouting at him and his disciples on the other side urging him to send her away. He appears to be swayed more by his disciples, for what he finally says is that he didn’t come to help people like her and that helping her would be like taking children’s food and throwing it to a dog. Ouch!

My therapist has taught me that: saying “ouch” as a way to respond to less-than-kind utterances that come my way out of the mouths of less-than-sensitive family members. She says that if someone says something hurtful and unkind to me, I should just say “Ouch.” Not match their insensitivity with some equally insensitive and hostile response of my own, but still stand my ground. “Ouch” communicates to them that they have overstepped and have hurt me with their inappropriate words, but it also keeps me in relationship. It offers them a chance to heal the wound their words have caused. It demonstrates that I am willing to struggle with them through their own reluctance to be as loving and helpful as they might be.

That’s what the Canaanite woman does. In response to words that any reader, ancient or modern, would take to be pretty bad, pretty harsh, she kneels before Jesus and asks again, “Lord, help me. Even dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the table.” “Give me a crumb,” she insists. Usually in the gospels it’s Jesus offering a retort to the hostile questioner; now he’s the hostile questioner and she is the one offering the retort. But she is down on her knees doing so. Her willingness to hang in with this less-than-helpful savior finally moves Jesus, and he recognizes her faith and casts the demon out of her daughter.

* * *

Two stories of people saying words to each other that are fumbling at best, mean and hurtful at worst. What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what can defile us.

In 2003, philosopher Onora O’Neill delivered a series of lectures at Yale called “How Not to Do Things with Words,” a deliberate twist on the title of J.L. Austen’s book. I have borrowed her title for my sermon today. O’Neill paid homage in her lectures to Austen’s earlier work on the performative nature of language. When we speak promises and threats, truths and lies, words of forgiveness and healing, it’s just like using sticks and stones. But this does not mean our words are always forthright. The curse of us humans is that we get sneaky with our words. We often use words like an actor puts on disguises: to get away with something that we don’t want to just come right out and say. Take threats, for example. Rarely when we utter threats do we do so transparently. Instead, we make them sound like promises. We veil our threats. A threat is a disguised promise. A threat is to a promise as a lie is to the truth. Just as liars depend on our belief that what comes out of our mouths will be true, so too those who threaten us depend on our belief that our word will be reliable.

This is what Joseph did. Joseph’s brothers are not freed from their fear of him at the end of his speech. They remain afraid. They are still afraid a good five chapters later, in Genesis 50. They still think that Joseph seeks revenge on them for selling him into slavery in Egypt. Only at the very, very end of the long book of Genesis, when Joseph is on his deathbed, is their fear truly assuaged. “Fear not,” he says to them, “for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (50:20).

Thankfully, our God does not have to do things with words. God’s actions are beyond words. God can achieve good no matter what we humans say and do. And that is finally where the good news in these stories can be found. Just as the Gospel message affirms that it’s not what we eat that makes us clean or unclean, holy or unholy, in communion with God or outside God’s communion, so too the message in our stories is that God’s love transcends all that we do. God can achieve good no matter what we humans say and do to one another. God’s mercy reaches even further than we can imagine. God can even achieve good through the actions and words of we bumbling humans and our awkward speech acts. God uses us to show mercy, love, and forgiveness.

I would not be an ethicist if I didn’t think that our words mattered. How to do and not do things with words matters. But in the end, our words are finite like we are. We have a God who is infinite, and whose love is infinite.

God is the ultimate actor in these stories. God finally restores a family. God finally elicits a mother’s faith and heals a daughter. And for this, finally, all we can say is: Thanks be to God!

 

Our Davy Crockett Adventure: Day 2

August 18, 2014

Day 2: Birth, Boyhood, Betrothal – From Johnson City to Great Smoky Mountain National Park

“Like clockwork” is how we described Day 2. Sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, our imagined itinerary; not always finding what we expected, but also surprisingly satisfied with every encounter. Our travels today encompassed Davy’s early life and brought us to our first camp.

The McDonalds where our overnight bus dropped us on Bobby Hicks Highway was our first surprise. (Bobby Hicks, if you didn’t know, is a ten-time Grammy Award winning fiddler. You can play the video below as you keep reading this blog.)

The McDonalds staff were friendly and helpful, watching our gear for us and providing a phone and directory to order a taxi to the airport. This McDonalds also had a full sized Playland. August had barely finished two hashbrowns before he was into the play apparatus, something much needed after the eleven hour bus ride. All our playtime, however, left us well behind schedule.

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Our taxi to the airport was outrageously expensive, but also the only taxi the answer our call. By 8:00 we had our rental car and were on our way. An amazingly fast trip to Food City for provisions put us back ahead of schedule, and by 10:30 we were exploring Davy Crockett Birthplace State Historic Park. After months of anticipation, words cannot express what it felt like to stand at the confluence of the Limestone and Nolichucky Rivers where David was born on August 17th, 1786. A replica of the house in which he was reared sits just hundred of feet from the river, and we cast our feet into the muddy waters.  In the visitor’s center we outfitted ourselves with a  replica coonskin hat, a few postcards, and a book or two.

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A very short trip down the road brought us to Greenville and the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. Johnson was Lincoln’s vice-president, and became our 17th president when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. August aspires to be a junior ranger in all 400 of our national parks, so this stop was a must, though it seemed to deviate from our Crockett story line. We figured we would spend an hour or two of due diligence to complete the junior ranger requirements, but three and a half hours later we were still listening attentively to ranger talks. Johnson first worked as a tailor in Greenville, and his tailor shop is preserved within the visitor center. Johnson became well known for political conversations he hosted in the shop, and our Crockett connection was made when we realized that David would he been Johnson’s representative in congress during this time. We toured the Johnson family home, ravaged by confederate troops during the civil war, and participated in his impeachment trial, each of us casting our own vote for whether he had violated the constitution or not in carrying out his and Lincoln’s plans for reconstruction.

The rangers at this site were generous with advice for our trip and introduced us to a special ranger patch: the Junior Ranger Civil War Historian. For the 150th anniversary of the end of the war, the National Park Service is offering this patch to students who earn their JR badge from at least three Civil War sites, monuments or battlefields. The patch will only be given during this anniversary. With this new goal set, and the ranger’s signature on our “historian application,” we were almost ready to move on. But first we needed to pick up a graphic novel on the Battle at Shiloh, which was duly devoured as we headed down the road. (By the end of our trip August will be able to name all the civil war generals on both sides of the conflict).

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Our next stop was the Crockett Tavern in Morristown. As luck would have it, the museum inside was closed on the day of our visit, but there was still plenty to do and see. August was particularly intrigued by the ash-hopper and to learn how soap was made 200 years ago. This too would prove useful information later on this trip.

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Behind the tavern we found this wagon. Christian Bible, son of Hans Adam, moved his family to Greenville in the early 1790s in this wagon from Hampshire County, Virginia. It is a typical Conestoga wagon, sixteen feet long and four feet wide, used by those who crossed the Alleghany mountains heading west. Later in the week as we hiked through the Cumberland Gap, we would remember this wagon and try to imagine getting it up and over the path. We were duly impressed.

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Another 20 minutes down the road brought us to the town of Dandridge where David married Polly Finley, the love of his life. They received their marriage license at the Jefferson County Courthouse, which is the oldest courthouse in this state still in continuous use. Inside, the marriage license is on display, as well as other Crockett items.

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Having now seen the sites of David’s birth, boyhood and betrothal, we finished our afternoon with the short drive down through  Sevierville (named after the first governor of Tennessee, John Sevier), Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg on our way to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here we will camp for the next three nights. As we pulled into Elkmont Campground August spotted his first black bear, a particularly smart and tricky bear that had been bothering campers for a month, eluding capture by the rangers. In no time August and I had our tent set up, a fire going, and hot dogs roasting. We baked potatoes in the flames, and even foil roasted vegetables. It was a busy first day, and we slept well.

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Recommended Reading: Randall Jones,  In the Footsteps of Davy Crockett (John F. Blair, 2006). This book is a guide to 49 sites in 10 states plus the District of Columbia where Crockett’s adventures are commemorated. It was essential reading for this trip and guided us to lots of out-the-way artifacts we would have otherwise missed. It includes driving directions and maps. See our TRIP INDEX for more of our Davy Crockett Adventure.

Our Davy Crockett Adventure: Day 1

August 18, 2014

Day 1: “Baby won’t you carry me back to Tennessee.” – From New York City to Johnson City, TN

We began planning this family adventure, as we did our last one, on a “snow day.” Schools were closed and all was quiet, which allowed August, Noelle and I to spend some time in front of the fireplace with some of the books from our “to read” pile. Mine was a used copy Bob Thompson’s Born on a Mountaintop: One the Road with Davy Crockett and the Ghosts of the Wild Frontier. Thompson, a feature writer for the Washington Post, had travelled alone or with his family to every site in our country associated with Davy Crockett. The fly leaf contained a map of his travels: from Limestone, TN to San Antonio, TX, as well as tracing Davy’s political career in Washington D.C. and his election tour of the Northeast.

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I had come across this book shortly after returning from our Lewis and Clark Expedition last summer and was intrigued. In a very short time I realized that Davy Crockett offered not only a realizable road-trip, one sure to pique my son’s sense of adventure, but also a complicated trip into our national history. Crockett’s story encompassed not only the romantic frontiersman who could “grin down a bear,” but a complex and tragic period in our national story. It embodied the rise of popular democracy, but also the forced removal of Native Americans and the expansion of slavery. Largely a tour of the State of Tennessee, our travels would take us through several National Parks, the hometowns of several U.S. Presidents, Revolutionary and Civil War sites, as well as tracing Indian Wars, the Trail of Tears, and the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina.Unlike our previous trip which we undertook in an RV, this would be a simple camping trip with tent and sleeping bags and food cooked over the open fire. The first eight days would be just August and myself, as father and son, and the next five with Noelle for the full family.

Much of Day 1 was spent packing, printing itineraries and reservations, and listening to bluegrass. A good friend had lent us a camp stove, and a trip to REI fixed us up with basic cookware, utensils and multi-purpose, durable plastic ware. Two duffels, two backpacks, and two loaded ‘camelbacks’ later, we were set. Late afternoon found us (Jeff, Noelle and eight year old August) strolling through SoHo for a provisioning trip to Economy Candy, the enormous candy shop which supplies us with candy brands from yesteryear, and to Katz’ Delicatessen, which furnished us with enormous pastrami sandwiches. We even bought one of their famous salamis to eat later in the week.

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At 7:30, August and I boarded a bus to Tennessee. It was an eleven hour trip, but only cost $80! I think this was my first significant bus trip, and something I wanted to be sure August knew how to do. We had used a website called GoToBus.com, which seems to gather all sorts of bus trips to and from NYC. The savings over airfare was at least $230 each, and since the bus was overnight we planned to sleep anyway. For his part, August was asleep shortly after we emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel. The driver and agents spoke Chinese with only limited English, but I have grown used to traveling in countries in which my own language skills are severely limited, and quickly found other regular travelers who could help us through the ropes. We did manage to wake up (somehow) as we crossed each state line, and so could greet New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee as we entered them. We also knew when we were entering the Shenandoah Valley because we made a reststop in Winchester, VA, and when we were shadowing the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Our bus arrived in Johnson City, Tennessee at 6:30 AM. We were dropped off at a McDonalds on Bobby Hicks Highway. Our bags had barely hit the ground when the bus was off again. August and I gathered our packs and bags, and headed inside for breakfast.Day 2 began when we were able to use a stationery urinal, wash our hands and faces, and order Egg McMuffins.

Recommended Reading: Bob Thompson, Born on a Mountaintop: One the Road with Davy Crockett and the Ghosts of the Wild Frontier (Crown, 2012). See our TRIP INDEX for more of our Davy Crockett Adventure.

Our Davy Crockett Adventure: Born on a Mountain Top in Tennessee

August 3, 2014

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C’mon everyone. Sing along! You know you can.

Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free 
Raised in the woods so’s he knew ev’ry tree, kilt him a b’ar when he was only three 
Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!

In the summer of the 2014, the Geary-Damico family will go on the road with Davy Crockett. This is simultaneously a journey through David Crockett’s life (he preferred the name David) and a camping trip across the State of Tennessee. Crockett was a hunter, frontiersman, member of congress and defender of the Alamo. His motto was “Make sure you are right. Then go ahead.” David’s life story reflects what Arthur Schlesinger called “The Age of Jackson,” meaning the rise of democracy in America (and its many contradictions) during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. At first Crockett was a strong supporter of Jackson, the first non-elite president and the first president born west of the Appalachian Mountains. Later Crockett opposed Jackson’s Indian Removal Act and the land-grabbing profiteers of our nation’s expansion. It was a complicated time, but crucial for understanding this country.

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Our trip also appeals to the imagination of our eight year old, much as it did the 50’s generation reared on Walt Disney’s Davy craze. This vacation blog will introduce readers to resources for all ages who wish to  step into this period of history. For eight days my son and I will camp our way through David’s life, making use of our National Parks System and doing what David did: camping, hiking, swimming, riding horses, rock climbing, “hunting”, and boating down the rivers. This first part of our trip will begin where David was born, on the banks of the Nolichucky River (not “on a mountaintop”) near present day Limestone. He was also, by the way, not “born in Tennessee,” as Tennessee was not admitted to the Union until 1796, when David was ten and already an accomplished hunter. My wife will join us in Knoxville on Day eight as we continue to camp our way west using the Tennessee State Park system and follow David’s political career. We will conclude this first part of our trip in Memphis, where Crockett set out on the mighty Mississippi determined to join the Texas revolution.

The second part of our Davy Crockett adventure will take place in October when I have been invited to officiate at a wedding in San Antonio. Our family will arrive early enough to visit the Alamo, where David died, and the San Antonio Mission National Park.

As we did last summer during our Lewis and Clark Expedition, we will blog about our trip, where we went, what we did and how we learned. [This page, and the index below, will be regularly updated until complete]

In the meantime, c’mon everyone. Sing along! You know you can.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_XbB0z3UW4

Day 1: “Baby won’t you carry me back to Tennessee.” – New York City to Johnson City, Tennessee

Day 2: Birth, Boyhood and Betrothal – Johnson City to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Day 3: King of the Wild Frontier – Climbing Clingman’s Dome at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Day 4: Hiking the Appalachian Trail and Exploring Cade’s Cove at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Day 5: Bouldering at Obed Wild and Scenic River National Recreation Area

Day 6: Becoming a Junior Ranger at Big South Fork National Recreation Area.

Day 7: White Water Rafting below the Cumberland Falls through the Daniel Boone National Forest

Day 8: Crossing the Cumberland Gap, greeting David’s gun, and meeting mom at the airport

Day 9: Fall Creek Falls State Park

Day 10:

Day 11:

Day 12:

Day 13:

*******

Day 14:

Day 15:

Day 16:

Recommended Viewing: Where can anyone start today but with Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier. Originally a three-part television special, it was edited (and transformed) into a movie theater release, exponentially expanding the “Crockett Craze” of the 1950s. Easily available today as Davy Crockett: Two Movie Set, this classic film is paired with the completely apocryphal Davy Crockett and the River Pirates

The Westchester 100: Hikes 51-60

July 28, 2014

In 2009, the New York – New Jersey Trail Conference published Walkable Westchestera marvelous guide to where to walk in this beautiful county where I live. The trail guides and commentary were compiled by Jane and Walt Daniels. Inspired by the book, the Westchester Trails Association created The Westchester 100, which involves hiking the more than 600 miles of trails in over 180 parks, preserves, reservations, arboretums and sanctuaries in Westchester County.

This is the record of my progress.

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(51a) Hike #98b: Halle Ravine Nature Preserve / Pine Terrance Preserve

Halle Ravine Nature Preserve/Pine Terrance Preserve. It is unmarked with only a small pull-off for maybe two cars in front of a dilapidated white fence. But what a find! A flat, gently rising upper path provides great views over the ravine through which a much more interesting path passes back and forth over the stream.

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(51b – 53) Hike #77, 78, 92b: North County Trailway (from Eastview to Yorktown Heights)

I spent an entire sabbath day hiking the North County Trailway, and blogged about it here. I followed the last two miles of the South and then moved on to the North County Trail. This is a Rails-to-Trails conversion project running 40 miles through Westchester following the path of the old New York Central Railroad, Putnam Division.

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Week three of blooming things has produced an array of color – yellow, red, pink, purple, greens, orange!, and grey-fuzzy. I saw deer, snakes, squirrels, more snakes, lots of birds, evidence of owls, and a great big bumble bee that smacked me in the face.

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I crossed streams and rivers,  wetlands, a reservoir and an amazing old train bridge. I passed parks and preserves I have already hiked, and several I plan to. I rested briefly beside a secluded lake. I greeted bikers and hikers and groups of men fishing. I finished my hike at the Trailside Cafe enjoying a very refreshing green apple, cucumber, celery juice. I had walked from Elmsford/Eastview to Yorktown Heights.

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(54) Hike #47: Beaver Dam Sanctuary (Katonah)

I was working on my sermon during this hike. Voice dictation to my phone allowed to me simply speak my thoughts while I walked seven miles of trail up, down and around this sanctuary. Located right across the road from the John Jay Homestead, fields, hills, ponds and the ever present Beaver Dam River make up this trail system.

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This walk was so productive that I had to the chance to go out hiking again in the afternoon with my sons and one of his friends. We went to Cranberry Lake in Valhalla, one of my son’s favorite places in Westchester. His friend claimed this was his first walk in the woods. Ever! Proud to introduce him to the outdoors.

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(55) Hike #53: Graham Hills Park (Pleasantville)

The friend is back! Since last week we have been back to Cranberry Lake Preserve a few times, and this kid loves running outdoors. Today we found Graham Hills Park. The boys met lots of dogs, carried nerf guns to ‘hunt’ wild animals (which mostly meant we were constantly hunting for missing nerd darts), and picked their way through the rusted hulk of an old car. We missed a few side trails an so ended up hiking something close to five or six miles. I brought exhausted boys home.

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(56) Hike #19: Sunny Ridge Preserve (Ossining)

And this brings us to week three of hiking with August’s friend. This pleasant little park offered the boys lots of freedom to run ahead, ford streams, and take in vistas of the Hudson River.

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(57) Hike #1: Arthur G. Burden Preserve (Mt. Kisco)

On Easter Sunday, when worship services and meals were over, my son August and I headed outdoors while his mom took a well deserved nap. The day was so beautiful, and Burden Preserve boasts six ecosystems: wetlands, pond, stream, meadow, upland forest, and rock outcropping. AND MUD. Try as he might, August could not resist taking off his shoes and plunging in. There is such pleasure in sinking toes into soft mud. He then hiked the last mile or so back to our car barefoot. We were much slower this way, but he talked about and experienced everything he stepped on.

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(58-59) Hike #43 and #68: Leatherstocking Trail and Sheldrake Preserve (Mamaroneck); and Nature Study Woods  (New Rochelle) and Twin Lakes Park (Eastchester) 

This was a sabbath day adventure. I had wanted to walk the Colonial Greenway ever since moving to Westchester. It is a 15 mile loop from Saxon Woods Park in Mamaroneck, through New Rochelle, Eastchester and then back to Saxon Woods in Scarsdale, paralleling I-95 on the southern side and including the Hutchison River Pathway on the north. It includes not only Saxon Woods Park, but Sheldrake Preserve,  Nature Study Woods, Twin Lakes Park, Ward Acres Woods, Pinebrook Park, James Johnson Nature Conservancy and Weinberg Nature Center. A map of the whole route can be found here.

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While the Colonial Greenway itself in not one of the Westchester 100, several of the parks are. I had hiked the center-connecting trail last month with a friend. Today I did the entire outer loop, taking my time to explore each of the parks as I passed through them. Lots of yellow flowers.

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(60) Hike #29: Hardscrabble Wilderness Area (Pleasantville)

Today was was cinco de mayo, so after school my son and I found a local place in Pleasantville where we could partake of tacos and taquitos.

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This was another father-son day. We broke all the rules. We left the trail, we took risks, and we got wet. For some reason traversing the park IN THE WATER seemed a good idea, so, after crossing to safety on this and other logs, August jumped off and jumped in and then proceeded to “climb the falls.” This was absolutely the best day! Check out the video…

The Place I Choose to Lay My Head

July 27, 2014

A sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey A Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 27, 2014

                                                                    Psalm 105: 1-11, 45         Genesis 28: 10-19a

I remember the first time I realized that I was paying attention to a sermon. I don’t recall how young I was, but I remember hearing my pastor, the Rev. Gordon Reif, tell a story about a wealthy man driving a Rolls Royce through Europe. As the story goes, the car breaks down as the result of a very small, but irreplaceable part, going bad. I think the point of the story was something about how every part is important, no matter the size or function, and I was supposed to realize that the same was true for every member in the body of Christ, each with our place and purpose to serve the whole. It was a pretty forced analogy, the kind of story preachers ought to be embarrassed by, but which are often told anyway; but what I remember thinking was, “I’ve heard this story before. He’s told this story before.” Somewhere, years earlier, while doodling on my worship bulletin or counting light bulbs in the sanctuary chandeliers, I had heard Rev. Reif tell the same story and part of me remembered it. This was not the first time I realized that there was something important happening during worship which I might want to understand, but it was the first time I remember thinking that my attention was an important part of worship.

Rev. Reif actually did a number of things to help our congregation pay attention. When I was in confirmation class I had to write summaries of his sermons each week, something that confirmation students in this church do today. Outlining not only the pastor’s words but my own reactions to them helped me as a young person, discover depths to Christian worship beyond the superficially obvious, as well as helped me become aware of how worship was shaping me and the way I saw the world.

Rev. Reif also garnered attention by asking questions of the congregation and then waiting for an answer. Most of these were questions that he would ask year after year, waiting for someone in the congregation to “get it” and remember the answer from prior years. What is so special about the third Sunday of August? What is an Ebenezer and why do we raise it? My favorite question he posed every year during Holy Week asking, “Why is the night of the Last Supper called “Maundy Thursday?” And every year, only about six of us could remember the answer. Or maybe it was only that six of us were brave enough to raise our hands.

So here’s my question to you, to see if you’ve been paying attention: can you remember the last time you heard a sermon on this text? [PAUSE] That’s right, it was last week! And while you heard Pastor Sarah preach on this text last week, I was visiting a church on Long Island to perform a wedding. At the entrance to sanctuary where the bridal party came in was a hand painted framed picture with the words.

“Surely, the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. How awesome is this place!

This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. (Gen 28: 16)

Again the very words of Jacob from the story; which you have now heard two weeks in a row! When Jacob rises from his dream he looks around to see where he is. Last night this was ordinary desert, sand and rocks, nothing special. But Jacob sees more deeply now. This is the place where heaven touches earth and earth reaches toward heaven. This is the place where prayers ascend and angel-messengers descend, where the sordid record of Jacob’s life turns out to be the very subject under discussion in heaven. This ordinary place is the place where Jacob meets his God, and is changed.

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But what impresses me about Jacob is that he does not mount his donkey after breakfast and quickly continue his flight from Esau. He lingers and marks the place as a special place. He names the place: Beth-El, the house of God. He erects an altar so that he can return another time. He pledges himself to God and takes his first tentative steps into the life God has set out for him. It is not just any place, though I suppose it could have been. But not now, not after his dream. Now it is in and through this particular place that Jacob finds his whole world transfigured. There will always be a part of Jacob’s heart that still lies with his head on the rock, dreaming of his ladder. But it is the new way he can see the world from that rock that will allow him to piece together his life, to pursue the hard work of reconciliation with his brother Esau, to bury his father, and to father his sons.

This story, and the speech of Jacob, has always seemed to me to be a challenge to know where I am, to look more deeply at the place I choose to lay my head, and it seems to me now to be an invitation to situate myself somewhere, to make a commitment to some place and some people through which I can know God in a way I could not know God anywhere else, and which can transfigure my world. A place I can turn to and return to in order to nurture my faith, to challenge it and be reminded that I have been called.

After our family vacation out West last year, I re-read parts of Kathleen Norris’ memoir Dakota, which she describes as a spiritual geography. There is a copy in the Library here at the church. The word ‘geography’ comes from the Greek words for earth (geo) and writing (grapho), and Norris tells us that writing about Dakota has been her means of understanding what is holy in this earth. This book, like Norris’s previous memoir A Cloister Walk, is the fruit of her twenty-year experience of seeking God in one particular place, on the plains of Southwest Dakota, through two particular communities, a small Benedictine monastery and a rural Presbyterian church. The story begins when Norris inherited her family’s ranch in the early 70’s: she and her husband moved to South Dakota, they thought, just long enough to settle affairs, sell the property, and move back to New York City. But they never left.

In the book, Norris explores the gifts of community and place with the eye of a poet and heart of someone who has discovered where to lay her head in order to dream of angels. When I first read her books, I, at least, was tempted to pick up and move to South Dakota. But Norris continually reminds the reader that one of the most distracting temptations in the spiritual life is the desire to be somewhere else than where one is. Norris recalls a story about two fourth-century monks who mocked this temptation by saying “After this winter, we will leave here.” And then each summer they would say “After the summer, we will go away from here.” And they spent their whole lives like that. Instead of living in what she learned to call “next-year country,” Norris learns from the Dakota plains that the basic principle of desert survival is also the first lesson of spirituality – Know where you are and learn to love what you find there. With words that echo in the empty plains of the western states, Norris recalls the words of St. Hilary, a fourth century bishop, who said “Everything that seems empty is full of the angels of God.”

Committing ourselves to live and work with a particular community of faith, with particular people is one of the deepest challenges in our spiritual lives. Living together is difficult. It takes a cohesive community built on love, not conformity, if we are to exist without expelling everyone who doesn’t seem to fit our image of who belongs. But it is a particular kind of love. Norris tells a story about “two versions of heaven she once heard summed up by a Benedictine nun: in one, heaven is full of people you love, and in the other, heaven is where you love everyone who is there.”

Today let us consider what it means to make a commitment to common life and ministry, as well as our shared mission in the world. I believe that church membership follows a commitment to place and people. It means casting our lot with particular folks, to say, as I did at a wedding last weekend, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. For those of you who have not settled in for the hard work of living together and working together, for anyone who is still looking for better preaching, richer programs, or friendlier parishioners, I invite you to take another look at where you are. Don’t live in what Kathleen Norris called “next-year country.” Know where you are, dare to undertake the hard work of living together and working together, and I know that in the process you will learn to love what you find here.

God has given us to one another to love and care for, even when we don’t see eye-to-eye, and even when we try one another’s patience. When Jacob awoke from his dream, he awoke into a world where he had still stolen his father’s blessing and his elder brother’s birthright. He was still in the desert and still under threat. The rock upon which he laid his head the night before, was the same rock upon which he awoke. But it was the new way he could see the world from that rock that would allow him to begin to piece together his life, to pursue the hard work of reconciliation with his brother Esau, to bury his father, and to father his sons. This church is the rock upon which we lay our heads down, burdened, pursued, uncertain – daring to trust ourselves to God and one another in the vast, darkness of the night. This is the point at which God invites us to a level of vulnerability and compassion for one another whose exercise is as potent as angles ascending and descending. From this rock, this church, this community, we, like Jacob are invited to see the world anew, to begin to piece our lives back together with desert all around, even when the “facts on the ground” have not changed from when we laid our head down. We are invited not to keep going, seeking “next year country” as Kathleen Norris put it, but to dare to stay and to see the world through the eyes of shared community, forbearance, loving-kindness, and partners in seeking justice.

Here we lay our Ebenezer. Here, like Jacob, we look not only to the heavens but also to the world around us and the world even beyond the limit of the horizon we can see. God has given this place and this people, to us as a gift. May we have eyes to see the angels ascending and descending all around.

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