Friday, February 22, 2019


As I walked today
in the snow and cold,
I thought of the homeless.
You know those folks
who huddle in doorways
and ask for a few coins.
As I walked today
in the snow and cold,
I thought of the homeless.
John is mentally ill.
Jose is suffering PTSD.
Vonda is fleeing abuse.
As I walked today
in the snow and cold,
I thought of the homeless.
Pilgrims at our borders
fleeing war, poverty, oppression
yearning for freedom.
As I walked today
I thought of the homeless.
Those young people
who are judged because
of their sexual identity
or their race, religion
and religious faith.
As I walked today
I thought of the homeless.
Those old folks who
Who are alone,
Ignored and forgotten.
Jesus said,
“When you care for
the least of these,
you care for me.”
We are all searching
For a home…

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Consider the Birds

Before the sun came up I walked
In the mist toward to the shore
Through the fog came a phalanx of Geese
Cutting a swath of light
Honking toward the horizon.

Amid the beds of kelp
A Merganser meandered
Bobbing in the swells
Earth breathing deeply.

Above my head soared seabirds
Gliding and darting and
Catching the rays and flashing
Down and down pirouetting
Just above the surface.

An Egret stood elegantly at a distance
Surveying the scene yet ever alert
To the fish flickering beneath her legs.

Consider the birds and
Their busy beginning to a new day
Their graceful movements and
Do not be anxious!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Where there is no vision…the people perish. Proverbs 29:18 (King James Version)
Great leaders are known for their vision. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech shared his vision for a time when there would be equality, respect, justice, and love between the races. Native American chiefs go on vision quests to seek direction for their people. In Revelation, St. John shares a powerful and hopeful vision of a “new heaven and a new earth” while in prison on the island of Patmos. Visions are important for they can guide our individual lives as well. They are not just for leaders. I remember my parents telling me as a child, “You can do great things with your life.” That vision has inspired me to try new things and risk failure in pursuit of my dreams. They added a Bible verse to ground my hope in God’s activity in my life: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Parents have a wonderful opportunity to paint a picture of possibility by encouraging their children to dream big and to support them in their pursuit of that dream. This little proverb has big implications for its hearers because it says that having a vision is a life-and-death issue. One of my professors said it this way, “Unless you have an idea of where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” We all know that our visions and dreams are often not achieved or realized, but without them,
our lives can be directionless and devoid of meaning. The Bible paints a vision of God’s kingdom where peace, justice, and love prevail and we are invited to join God in making that vision a reality.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Making America Good Again

I am tired of the put-downs, attacks and the arrogance of winning meaning “beating someone.”
I learned in elementary school “good, better, best.” I have never been nor will ever be the best. Oh, well! A wise friend once told me “all the problems began with better”. From Cain comparing his sacrifice to Abel’s which led to fratricide and ultimately to the nuclear arms race, we all suffer when we base our ultimate value on being “better” with winners and losers. Think of the rabbit-hole girls fall into to be the most beautiful princess and the mountain boys climb to be bigger …. and better. When better is our norm, we die a thousand deaths by comparison. And now some of our national leaders are charting a course of being better than everyone else. The slogan, Make America Great Again, is the rallying cry to compare, to compete and to defeat.
I prefer to remember the wisdom my mother shared with me each day as I headed to school or out to play, “David, be safe and be a good boy!” The Bible teaches, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength AND love your neighbor as yourself.” My favorite comes from Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, “And it is still true, no matter how old you are—when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
Let’s make America good again…

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The "Me too" Tsunami

This reflection has been forming for some time. A better description might be that like molten lava, it has been working its way toward the surface. It is prompted by Facebook posts, but news reports, by conversations with friends. What is the important subject that has awakened me in the night and has nagged at my consciousness for weeks? The “me-too” movement. It began with the sad revelations of a movie mogul whose “couch auditions” though well-known within the industry, remained unnamed and unspoken because of fear of retribution and the closing of doors to acting opportunities. From that first revelation, a virtual Tsunami of revelations has washed over our national consciousness. One doesn’t need to be a prophet to predict that this wave will not end soon. But let me get to my humble reflection.
First, I am both angered and saddened by the what women have endured and what has only recently come to light. As a man who has been a feminist for decades supporting the rights of women, I stand with those who have been abused and will continue to work for equity and justice. As a father of daughters, I want my children to not only be safe but to have unfettered access to opportunities free from harassment. I know this struggle will not be won overnight and I recommit my efforts to support women and all who are victimized and oppressed.
Second, and this is where my reflection may draw criticism. I have hesitated to share these thoughts as I have seen both men and women attacked as they seek to add some nuance to the conversation. I completely understand it may seem insensitive and disingenuous to say, for example, that not all situations are alike, that not all alleged perpetrators are evil, that there is a larger context that needs to be recognized. The Tsunami metaphor is perhaps instructive as it dramatically surges forward and washes away indiscriminately everything in its path. Rage, while certainly appropriate, sees only red. Ultimately, however, we need to see a full spectrum of colors.
Understand, please, when I tell a story from my own experience, that my recital in no way condones or minimizes the enormity of the issues before us. Many of my working years were as a pastor and a professor. My particular denomination has ordained women as pastors for many years. Despite these advances, challenges remain. We have offered training on boundaries and appropriate professional behavior for many years. Once again, despite these efforts, challenges remain. Back to the story. A friend and colleague’s leadership gifts were recognized over the years and he became a bishop and then became the leader of our bishops nationally. He was a true servant leader. And then an allegation of inappropriate behavior was lodged against him. A woman from a church he served decades before brought accusations. The policy of our denomination for many years has been to remove the accused from their position and to conduct an investigation. This friend, because of his national position and the potential negative publicity, was told to clean out his desk and leave. I don’t know if an investigation was conducted, but I do know that this was the end of his ministry career.
Here’s where I suspect I will get “slammed”… But I want to be honest and hope that my comments will be helpful in the dialogue about how solutions for these pressing issues might emerge.
While I agree with the policy of “removal and investigation” and its intent to protect “alleged victims” I have, as a male, felt that the pendulum of justice sometimes swings too far in one direction and becomes “guilty until proven innocent” or just “guilty”. Let me be perfectly clear. Women need to be heard and listened to. Their rights need to be fully protected under the law. Whether it’s the church or Congress or the entertainment industry, we need to put in place policies and procedures and protections for all parties. I am glad to hear that legislation is being developed in Congress to do just this. This important work needs to be done in all work settings and soon. But this alone will not address a deeper problem that I believe is at the core of these issues.
What is the issue? The “sexualization” or our culture. Another way of saying it, “Sex sells…” T.V. ads sell cars, alcohol, drugs, alcohol, clothes using alluring images of men and women. This may sound prudish, but we all know it’s sadly true. Just go to a jr. high school or even an elementary school and see what girls and boys wear. When I say this, I know I will be attacked, as “blaming women”. No, I am simply saying we have so “sexualized” our culture that children are being socialized to join the game.
Turn on your TV and see that sex has essentially become a recreational activity with few if any responsibilities. And in a society where winning and losing are glorified, it’s only a small step to sexual behavior becoming a game where men are programmed to be “conquerors” and women, well…
Here’s another example that has bugged me for years. You remember when the TV weatherman was a nerdy Bill Nye, the science guy, a figure who unraveled the mysteries of the daily forecast. While I am glad there are now weatherwomen, I grieve that they are often bedecked in clothes which flatter their figures more than the forecast. I suspect I will get blasted for that comment, but sex sells even storms.
If I were to summarize this missive it would be threefold:
1. Women need to be heard and justice needs to be done on their behalf.
2. Justice needs to not only retributive but ultimately restorative.
3. We need to have a deep societal conversation about the role of sex in healthy relationships.
Thanks for reading. I welcome your thoughts, feelings, and comments.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Remembering Grandpa

Memory is a curious thing. Frederick Buechner describes memory as a room we can visit. When I visit Grandpa, the room has the sweet smell of an after-dinner William Penn cigar and the sounds of an old-time radio show. Melvin Halverson is sitting in his easy chair attended like royalty by my sister and me. I get his slippers and reading glasses. Mary gently brushes the remaining wisps of white hair around his crown. He has names for us. Mary is “krudling the old booster” and I am the “man with the glass nose and the tin ears.” Krudling is Norse for “sweetie”.
The 13th of 14 children born on a farm in Mishicot, WI, Melvin went to Luther College and became a pastor. I never heard him preach but I savor a collection of his hand-written sermons. Each morning he would begin the day in his study and have a conversation with God. With farming in his background, Good Shepard was one of his favorite ways to address God. His sermons were poetic and lyrical, no doubt inspired by the music played on the pump organ in his childhood home. My mom’s favorite memory was picking blueberries in the North Woods with her dad. Perhaps the best thing about that “room” of memories is we never know when we might be surprised by the aroma of a cigar or the taste of blueberries or a fugue by Bach.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Seeger and Shattemuc

It sounds like the name of prestigious accounting firm, but these two names bear witness to a far deeper audit. While paddling down the Hudson River last fall I found myself between two very different landmarks. On one high promontory was West Point and the U. S. Military Academy, a place I had visited with my dad as a boy. I remember being deeply impressed by the cadets as they marched in precision lines in their parade gray uniforms.
On the other side of the river was the little town of Cold Spring. Originally it housed the workers who built W. P. but in recent years had become a sleepy bedroom community. I was drawn to this shore by the sloop Clearwater moored at the town dock. I could almost hear my folk-music hero and anti-war activist, Pete Seeger, singing from the deck of this beautiful craft. For years Pete had plied the Hudson River waters seeking to clean up his badly polluted river home. You see my dilemma?
As I paddled downstream pondering the paradox of patriotism and protest, I sang one of Pete’s anthems, “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer out justice, I’d hammer out freedom, I’d hammer out love between my brothers and sisters, all over this land.” I prayed for safety for the young men and women serving in our military and wisdom for our national leaders to pursue the way of peace. That night I pitched my tent on the beach by the Shattemuc Yacht club in Ossining, NY. A warm shower refreshed and good food at a nearby restaurant fueled me for the final push to NYC and the Statue of Liberty.
Months later while planning a Paddle Pilgrim book tour on the Hudson River, I was invited to be the “Earth Day” speaker at the same Yacht Club. I was delighted to return to this place where I received such warm hospitality. I suspect some of my friends are chuckling as they imagine me speaking at a Yacht Club. When I arrived, I was greeted by Dave, the Commodore, a friendly “button-down” Wall Street broker. As the crowd began to gather, I noticed a number of folks whose bearded and informal presence seemed a bit odd in the well-appointed meeting room and bar overlooking the river. I was introduced by the event’s surprising cosponsors, Commodore Dave and John, the Director of Ferry Sloops, an environmental sailing group inspired by the work of Pete Seeger. My dilemma, for a “brief shining moment”, had a denouement as two seemingly disparate groups came together, despite different political leanings, to work together because of their common love of the Hudson River. I suspect Pete is singing a new chorus to his iconic anthem, “We have overcome….”

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Glorious Distraction

I am a sucker for fall foliage. As I drive down the road I have to remind myself to pay attention to the traffic not the trees. The sublime palette of colors draws our attention. Once while traveling through New England’s hardwood hillsides, a bright orange Maple stopped me in my tracks. Pulling over to the side of the road, I was moved to applaud this glorious distraction. As a gardener I also celebrate this autumnal season of harvest. A ripening red Oak reminds that the hours of tending my vegetables bring rich rewards. A multicolored Sweet Gum mirrors the staggered stages in this aging sexagenarian’s frame.
Why do we savor this month of colors and not with even greater pleasure rejoice in the many colors and cultures on the human family tree? Perhaps we need to slow down on our journey and stop to behold the beauty of our bronze and black and brown brothers and sisters. Just as the creation thrives through bio-diversity, our civilization is sustained and enriched by a richly variegated human landscape.
Turn off the road, look, savor and celebrate all the foliage!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Excruciating Beauty

Music has such enormous power. It can make us laugh, create calm, lead to action, inspire to dance, and yes, weep. Music has that power for me. But it evokes a different kind of tears. The theme song written by John Williams from Schindler’s List is a prime example. The marriage of sounds and scenes from the holocaust transports my spirit to a place of deep remembering. To borrow a phrase from the writer and activist, Father Boyle, it leaves a tattoo on my heart.
Recently I have been transfixed by, Enno Maricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe”,from the movie, The Mission.
I have come to believe that this music touches my soul because of its “excruciating beauty”. These two words are not often juxtaposed. They seem to come from very different worlds.
Beauty is usually seen has something sweet, attractive, lovely, and winsome.
Excruciating suggests pain, distress, suffering, even torture. The Latin word cruciare” from which we get “crucify” means to torment.
Excruciating beauty describes the deepest of paradoxes; that what is truly beautiful is often extremely difficult, involves personal struggle, but in doing so marries profound pain and palpable pleasure.
Perhaps it’s no accident that Gabriel’s Oboe touches my soul. The oboe is one of the most difficult instruments to master with great skill born of painful practice.
At the very heart of the Christian faith is the cross. Jesus’ way of redemptive suffering didn’t deny or avoid the painful realities of life caused by human selfishness. Rather with “excruciating beauty” God took on the suffering of the world to redeem and restore it.
Have a listen and experience excruciating beauty…

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

"Treat a person as he is...
Treat a person as she can be"

This gem comes from a surprising source, Peyton Manning. Quotes from even great football players are often filled with cliches, like “we win as a team, we lose as a team”. “I’d like give the credit to my offensive line….” Or “We had a great game plan which we executed”. All true statements, but not particularly deep or important. Here, however,the first phrase is true, but the second is potentially life-changing.
Fairness certainly suggests, even dictates, the first phrase. Our response to a person should be in proportion to who they are and to their actions. Good behavior is rewarded, bad behavior punished. At the heart of the matter is justice and fair play. The sentiment is often tweaked to “we should treat all people the same.” This works well when we have a “level-playing field”. But that’s an essay for another time. Treat a person as she is….what you see is what you should get.
What captured my attention was the second phrase. Treat a person as she can be. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I think there is greater wisdom and ultimate benefit comes when we see the potential in a student, child, adult; and call forth and challenge that person to “come out”. Da Vinci looked at a block of marble and he saw the persons of Mary and Jesus and brought them forth in the Pieta. My dad was my teacher in this regard. He saw potential in people where I only saw a “loser”. But he went the extra mile with those who were written off or overlooked and encouraged them to be all that they could be. I expect he practiced this wisdom a bit on me…
Payton Manning comes from a football family. His dad, Archie, was a college quarterback legend at the University of Mississippi. His professional career, however, was remembered more for losses rather than wins quarterbacking the New Orleans Saints, whose nickname was the “Ain’ts”. But Payton and his other famous quarterback brother, Eli, both grew up in a close and loving family where his parents not only treated each both as he was, but more importantly as he could be.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Chip on the shoulder

I am amazed how often I hear this expression…. 
Here in Seattle several members of our beloved Seahawks football team use this phrase to describe the motivating factor in their game after being overlooked in the player draft.  Their chip shouts “I will show all you pundits who didn’t recognize the great a player I would become.”   I suspect Richard Sherman or Doug Baldwin would be King of the Chips.
So what’s my chip?  I suspect it is being small.  My parents tried to soften the blow by saying I was “short of stature”.  Grandma used to say, “big things come in small packages”.  I discovered for myself that being small also got me into “tight spaces” and to the top of pyramids.  I also found success in wrestling because of the lower weight categories and golf where size didn’t seem to matter.  But I confess that to this day a large part of my drive is fueled by a small chip.
So where does this expression come from?  In the 15th century a “chip on the shoulder” was the ancient right of shipwrights to take home a daily allowance of offcuts of timber.”  I suppose it was the equivalent to a seamstress of the “remnant” of material or fabric in clothes-making.  Apparently, the chip practice was often abused and eventually stopped.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why the phrase has taken on a negative connotation as the “act of holding a grudge or grievance that readily provokes disputation”.  I guess Richard Sherman has some historical warrant for being a defensive back.   Maybe that explains how my chip lead to a few playground fights with bigger bullies.
My current chip is prompted by the query, “So are you retired?”  Seems like an innocent enough question, but it feels somewhat accusatory.  Here’s what I wrote in a magazine article recently,
“Are you retired?”  That question was coming with annoying frequency.  Did I look so old?   Was it an invitation to a club I wasn’t ready to join?  Was I simply in denial?  If this were a multiple-choice question for my college students, I suppose the correct answer was d.) all the above.
But perhaps I chafed at this query because I taught in the unit on aging in my human development course, that “retirement” was a social construct of the post WWII years which “scrap-heaped” (my words) older Americans in an attempt to make jobs available for G.I.’s returning from the war.
I knew from personal experience that my farmer grandfather never “retired”.  He kept working productively into his 80s and extended his “coffee breaks” accordingly.  The words of the poet, Robert Frost, capture my sentiment.
                                               But I have promises to keep,
                                                 And miles to go before I sleep
                                                  And miles to go before I sleep.
Wow, maybe the chip was a board…

While at a conference recently I ran into a really old person who knew my dad.  She used another expression/phrase which gives me hope as I live the 3rd Act of my life.  She said, “You certainly are a ‘chip off the old block’.” That felt like a wonderful compliment because my dad was an exceptionally caring, generous and happy person.

To be even a small chip off that block would make him and little, old me very happy!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pete Seeger and the Clearwater
Seeing the Sloop Clearwater brought with it a flood of memories. I found myself singing, “Where have all the flowers gone…” followed by “If I had a hammer” and then, of course, “We shall overcome.” Pete wrote these memorable folk songs which married music and social justice more than any other activist I know. During my college and seminary days Pete, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and a host of musicians wrote music that stirred the soul and encouraged a generation of young people to work for peace, civil rights and the environment. We were inspired to protest injustice and, if necessary, take to the streets and demonstrate. I learned to play the guitar and gathered a group that sang in close harmony about the world we wanted to see.
Most people don’t know that Pete was classically trained at the prestigious Julliard School of Music, but his “folk” music touched the lives of blue collar workers, coal miners and soldiers. His songs were eminently singable, yet contained a depth and passion rooted in his love for the common good.
Pete loved the Hudson River Valley and lived in Beacon. His social conscience was disturbed by the pollution in the river, particularly the discovery of harmful PCB’s being discharged from a General Electric factory near his home. As a student of history, he had seen pictures of the ships that had sailed the river carrying thousands of immigrants in their quest to experience the American Dream. So, he had an authentic model of one of these ships built so he could travel the river, singing his songs while working on cleaning up the Hudson through concerts, workshops, and political action. Another vessel, the River Keeper was also built to more closely monitor progress in the oftenslow process of environmental justice. Pete died a few years ago, but his musical legacy lives on!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mending Wall

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Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Nursery 

Is it just me?
Or are the people who venture forth
to the local nursery 
It’s the Saturday before Easter
and while Jesus is in the grave,
people stream to the local nursery
Older folks know their way
to their favorite flowering Fuschia and
Early Girl tomato.
Parents chase their children
between the budding trees
and water elements.
I only come for one or two
plants, but already my cart
is full of old standards
and an “I’ll try this one” experiment.
It’s the Saturday before Easter.
Jesus is in the grave.
But spring and resurrection are in the air.

We all know it

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Rockin' the church to life....

Rockin’ the church to life…
The Godfather of contemporary Lutheran music has died.  I am sure John Ylvisaker would laugh heartily and reject that title, but it is true.  John composed many memorable songs from his lyrical celebration of the life-cycle, Borning Cry to his pulsing confessional “I believe, I do believe…”  As I write this tribute I can’t get out of my head his ode to the Trinity, “Baptized into Christ Jesus”, which we sang at a Lenten service last night.
His songs gracefully wove together sound theology, simple, yet profound lyrics, and singability.  Great music does that.  Again John would demur hearing me sing his praises.  He was, after all, a Norwegian Lutheran, both stoic and on guard against pride. Well, maybe humble, but to hear him rock out I have to delete “stoic” from this review. 
Back to my claim that he was the Godfather of contemporary music in the Lutheran church.  Certainly names like Jay Beech and Marty Haugen belong in this pantheon.  But John got the beat going…. 
As a young pastor I read in a youth publication an article John wrote entitled “Rocking the church to life.”  In it he argued that the war between rock n roll and classical music was a misguided battle.  I was glad to hear this because I loved the Beatles, Stones, Peter, Paul and Mary, and the Moody Blues.  I also loved Back and Beethoven.  John was very clear that the real issue was “good and bad music”.  He contended that there was good and bad music in every genre.  To drive his point home, he mentioned several hymns that were unsingable and liable to cause injury to one’s vocal chords.  His criteria for good music were good theology, simplicity and singability.   

I would add to his list: memorable!  You gave us “good music” John and I can’t get out of my head  and my heart today.  For that I am most grateful!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Gratitude: A Full Heart
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:5-7
I don’t know how many times I heard my mom share her favorite verse. In so many ways over her nearly 97 years, she came to embody much of the wisdom in this passage about joy, gentleness and peace. It wasn’t until I was paddling the Mississippi that I discovered what I believe to be the key to my mother’s kind and generous spirit. The word is “thanksgiving.” As I paddled, I regularly made my requests known to God: for sunshine, clouds, tailwind, slight headwind, cool when it was hot, heat when it was cool, good food, a warm shower, good campsite and cold beer. I was pretty good at the “in everything, by prayer and supplication” part. We humans are good at making requests and even demands of God. But that little word I had missed for all those years makes all the difference: thanksgiving.
I began to remember to give thanks during my prayers. I even began my prayers with thanks: for the gift of life, for breath itself, for a new day, for family and friends, for faith, for health, for the creation, for the opportunity to paddle my kayak. The whole dynamic of the day changes when we begin with saying “thank you!” We see, even in the midst of struggle, pain, heat, cold, loneliness and hunger how blessed we are to have another day to live life’s adventures, to love our neighbors and, above all, the God who created us! When we give thanks, we experience a full heart, and out of that fullness, we have more than enough to give others. And then for a final bonus, we experience a deep peace beyond our understanding. Paddle with gratitude!
~Paddle Pilgrim: Kayaking the Erie Canal and Hudson River to the State of Liberty (available on Amazon)

Friday, February 24, 2017

The biblical witness about obeying the law/government is a "continuum" between Romans 13 where obeying is for good order and Revelation 13 where resistance against the "anti-Christ" Roman emperor would be the faithful act; Jesus is Lord NOT Caesar.  Ultimately in every time Acts 5 teaches we must "obey God rather than man".  Law is important and necessary, but not ultimate. The Good News of Jesus in John 13 has the final word: "Love one another."  Discerning when laws are just and unjust is the work of the Holy Spirit as the spirit of truth. 

What would have happened in Germany during Hitler's rise to power if Christians had resisted, broken the law, said "no"? A few resisted like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and he was martyred and is one of true heroes of the faith during that time and today.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Tent Life

Even though my paddle pilgrimage down the Erie Canal and Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty has ended, the journey isn't over.  One of the experiences that lives on in my mind is "tent life". Sleeping in a tent in a sleeping bag on the ground leaves a lingering, even lasting impression.  Each night as I now slide into my comfortable bed at home I find myself imagining the places I camped. Last night I went so far as to assemble a mental list of locations.  A little crazy...not so fast.
What do I remember from tent life?

  • Practicing setting up the tent before the trip.  When rain and dark are approaching, you gotta be quick!
  • The importance of scouting and finding a good location with a slight incline so I am not sleeping downhill.
  • The hope that I wouldn't be near train tracks. I miserably failed. When trains replaced the canal as a primary source of transport in the 1860's, they generally followed waterways which had ruled from ancient times.
  • The need to locate the tent with a view of my kayak for security reasons.
  • The value of a dry and clean tent.  There is nothing worse than packing and later setting up wet gear.
  • Whenever possible set up the tent under a pavilion or roof of some sort.  This solves the previous problem, although the inside of the rain fly is often still wet from human-produced warm mosture in the tent meeting cold exterior air.
  • Are you bored yet?
  • Organizing the interior in a sensible manner: flashlight, toiletries, clothes, p-bottle ( I had to mention that...mine is red so I don't lose it)
  • All the above are the for what prompted this blog: "deep thoughts"!
  • Tent life really does help me appreciate living in a house with a bed and a shower and a refrigerator, and, and, and....
  • On the other hand, tent life reminds me of how much stuff we collect under our roofs which we really don't need.  I think of all the people who don't have housing, food, toilet etc and know if we put our minds and hearts to this task, we wouldn't have homelessness and hunger.
  • Tent life is a regular reminder of how vulnerable and mortal we humans are. Human ingenuity and creativity are magnificent.  But the basic lession I learned while paddling the Mississippi River in 2012 was "We are NOT in control." And equally important "That's a good thing!" Tent life ultimately teaches humility...especially when I set up the tent wrong once again!  

Monday, October 17, 2016


We shall not cease from exploration and in the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.                          ~T. S. Eliot
Exploring is about seeing new places and people.  Eliot reminds us that it is even more about gaining new perspective and vision. St. Paul said, "We see as in a mirror dimly, but then face to face."  John shares an even bolder image, "I see a new heaven and a new earth....a river of life."
My paddle.pilgrimage has been about both seeing and experiencing new places but even more about seeing old places with new eyes.  It has been about being more open to the simple, the beautiful, the terrifying and the mundane.
As I approached New York City and the Statue of Liberty yesterday,  I began singing an old Simon and Garfunkel tune which captures the spirit of the journey I have traveled and also the one my great grandparents made from Norway in the 1840's by these same landmarks, up the Hudson, Erie Canal and across the Great Lakes to Wisconsin and Iowa.
"And then I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectantly and I looked back down on me and smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying and high up above my eyes could clearly see the Statue of Liberty.
They've all come to look for America.
All come to look for America.
All come to look for America."

Friday, October 14, 2016

Paddle Pilgrim meets Headless Horseman

My family lived just a few miles down the Hudson River from a hamlet named Irvington after local author, Washington Irving. I remember school class field trips to his lovely cottage on the banks of river. But what I remember most were the fascinating characters in his stories.  Rip Van Winkle falls asleep for 100 years to awake to a whole new world upon which the author uses Rip to comment on social change.
My favorite, however, was Ichibod Crane in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This gangly, homely and superstitious school teacher falls for the lovely Katrina Van Tassel. His chief competition is the roguish and handsome Brom Bones.  At a Halloween party Brom recounts the eerie Legend of Sleepy Hollow about a cavalry officer whose head is blown off by a cannonball during the Revolutionary War.
He is said to have been seen riding at night with his head in his hands. 
When Ichibod heads home on his horse,  he must pass through a dark woods and menacing swamp toward Sleepy Hollow. There he  suddenly encounters the huge, menacing cloaked rider without a head.  Ichibod flees in terror and is never seen again.
Where did he go? Could Brom Bones have been the horseman?  We are left to wonder.
I still get goose bumps when I imagine  the tale with thanks to Walt Disney and others who have brought Irving's story to the big screen.  I will paddle by Sleepy Hollow today and will keep one eye  on shore to see if the horseman still rides.....

Boy in the Boat

The recent best-selling book, The Boys in the Boat, tells the powerful story of a group of young American men who row their way into history defeating the powerful German crew assembled by Adolph Hitler for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  At the heart if this larger story is the coming-of-age tale of Joe Rantz, a young man with a  troubled, rough-and-tumble-tumble background who discovers his identity (and wife) when he joins the University of Washington rowing team.
On a team composed of sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, they shock the elite teams from the East Coast and Great Britain and ultimately Hitler's German team to win the Olympic gold medal.  As I paddled beneath the railroad bridge in Poughkeepsie, NY where the boys qualified for those Olympics in a stirring race, this boy had a tear in his eye.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Sensory Journey

On the water
In the moment
Not living
In the past
Or future
Hearing birdsong
Feeling the breeze
Smelling the earth
Tasting an apple
Beholding Fall colors
Coming alive

Canal metaphor

I discovered during my paddle down the Mississippi, that "Big Muddy" is the 3rd most visited destination for foreign visitors to the United States behind New York City and the Grand Canyon.  Ultimately I came to view the river as a geographic, cultural, commercial and wildlife "backbone" of the North American continent.
As I prepared for and then embarked on my Erie Canal voyage I pondered the important role the canal played historically in the opening of the West to millions of immigrants. It also  established NYC as the pre-eminent
port city on the East Coast and the # 1 "must see" for visitors.
My first  image of the canal was the "jugular vein" of the 19th century.  While hitch hiking on the tug Grand Erie as a guest of the Canal Corp. on their annual inspection tour, one of the crew shared a much better image. He said, "If Upstate New York is a community, the canal is the sidewalk that makes it a neighborhood."
The canal connects big and small towns with a rural and urban mix and rich ethnic diversity.  And soon she will celebrate the 200th birthday of her beginning. Happy B-day E.C.! Thanks for welcoming me!

Have you noticed?

On my rest, reflect and write day after two weeks paddling the Erie Canal, I would like to invite readers to share their responses to this question: HAVE YOU NOTICED....?
To prime the pump here are two examples from my days on the canal....traveling at 3 miles an hour.
1. Have you noticed how quickly and gracefully water fowl take off and land?
2. Have you noticed the complex and curvaceous roots of trees often exposed on a river bank or lake shore?
Your turn....

Monday, October 3, 2016

15 miles

I had planned to paddle 30 miles each day.  I figured that if I had paddled 40 miles a day on my Mississippi River pilgrimage with an assist from the current, my projected canal pace was reasonable.
Furthermore I had to get to New Orleans for a Youth Gathering in a two month window covering 2350 miles, so I had to stay on schedule.
On this journey I wanted to slow down and savor the history, culture and scenery along the canal and Hudson River...30 miles seemed to make sense.
And then reality broke in.  After several days of paddling with remarkably favorable weather, my bones and muscles screamed "30 miles are too many..."  My slow boat, occasional pauses to enjoy local flavor (food, ale, custard and most of all people) as well as have time and energy to reflect and write, all together were singing a chorus of that song I learned in grade school, "15 miles on the Erie Canal".  If it was good enough for a mule named "Sal" it's good enough for paddler named Dave.

3 miles an hour

Years ago I read a wonderfully provocative book by Kosuke Koyama entitled Three Mile An Hour God.  He writes, "Love has its speed. It is spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed than the technological speed to which we are accustomed.  It goes on in the depths of our life, whether we notice or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and, therefore, the speed the love of God walks."
My paddle pilgrimage reminds me that I am a "three mile an hour paddler." I know I can paddle faster., but when I do I grow weary and don't notice so many wonders along the way;  a glorious sunrise or brilliant sunset, the symphony of ambient, natural sounds,  the  earthy aromas of autumnal decadence, and the simple acts of human kindness and hospitality.  This journey reminds me to slow down and savor the very gift of life itself!

Carp diem horribilis

As I paddled out of Fairport the other day I encountered the dreaded "headwind." Even as I hugged the shore to blunt the 20 mile an hour gusts, it felt and even looked like I was paddling uphill!
Suddenly something crashed into the side of my boat. I was startled by what I thought might be a floating log.  Discovering no damage I soldiered on. Just as I regained my rhythm, without warning another large fish flew over the bow of my kayak.  Again I was freaked out and quickly redirected my course farther from shore toward the channel. 
What the heck was going on?
I had asked folks fishing on the banks what they were catching.  The common answer was Catfish and Carp. 
Eureka and Deja vou!  I had similar scares on my Mississippi Kayak journey when an invasive species known as Asian Carp would seemingly out of nowhere jump over and even into my boat.  Beyond the fright factor, these fish are voracious eaters and are upsetting the fish ecology in the river with real concern of ultimately reaching the Great Lakes.
Back to the canal...
Thinking I was out of range I powered into the wind.  And then it happened...another Carp flew out of the water so close to my face that I could barely see out of my sun glasses because of the spray.
That was it.  Wind or Carp?   Carp won and with that soggy defeat I headed into the wind tunnel of mid channel.  Carp diem horribilis vincit!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Native Wisdom (continued)

Included the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca nations.  Much has been written in recent years about the important contributions 1st Nation's people have made to our larger society.
Here are a few of the gifts we can be thankful for and celebrate.
--Participatory Democracy: The cooperative and egalitarian nature of the Iroquois Confederacy influenced the "founding fathers", particularly Ben Franklin, as they drafted our Constitution.
--Honored and elevated the status of women who chose the sachem or chiefs and had real power including treaty making.
--Environmental "sustainability" stemming from the "7 Generation Principle" which guided all major community decisions by their impact on people, land, water and animals 140 years in the future.
Holy water I am paddling, indeed!
Thanks be for the wisdom of the Iroquois people!

Positive Fear

"Fear is not a bad place to begin a spiritual journey."   --Kathleen Norris

So counter-intuitive and such alien wisdom to Americans who idolize confidence and certainty.   As I paddle I re-realize that I am often traveling  upstream against the current in my life.  This particular journey is but one more crazy adventure.
People say "you are so brave..." but truthfully I am often fear-filled.  Some fears are obvious: storms, heat and cold, tipping and ultimately drowning.  I fear them all.
Some fears are less obvious: loneliness, boredom, fatigue and failure.  These fears are my daily and hourly companions and acknowledging, even confessing them is the beginning of wisdom. 
My traveling coffee mug helps me navigate my very real fears each day.   Printed on it in large letters: "TRUST".   Good coffee helps too!

Native American Wisdom

As a boy I was fascinated by the curious-sounding names of the towns, lakes and rivers  in Upstate New York like Oneida, Onondaga or Cayuga.  I learned in school these were Indian words from the tribes who lived there long ago. Years have passed and I now see the words, traditions and people's with new and appreciative eye.  I am paddling through the holy waters and ground of what came to be known as the Iroquois Confederacy which

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Other Clinton

No, it's not Bill!  You have likely never heard his name despite the fact he changed the face of America almost 200 years ago.  He was the mayor of NYC and governor of NY State. I wouldn't be enjoying another paddle adventure without his tireless efforts over many years to imagine, organize, and raise $ to build the Erie Canal.  This 8th Wonder of the world, ridiculed by many as Clinton's Ditch, opened the West to millions of immigrants including my my Ellingson and Halverson great grandparents and ultimately propelled our nation into a leading world power.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Paddle Pilgrim: 2 days to launch

Do you think he will make it?

363 miles on the Erie Canal and 150 on the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty

Paddle with me....

Friday, September 9, 2016

Paddle Pilgrim: Did you know?

My paddle adventure begins DOWNSTREAM from the Falls....

There are 35 locks on the Erie Canal.
A section of the original canal was an aqueduct over the Mohawk River

One of my heroes, Pete Seeger: songwriter, activist, humanitarian, and on his sailing sloop, the Clear Water, led the fight to clean up the Hudson River.   You will be in my "cloud of witnesses" as I paddle and we can sing together your anthem: "If I had a hammer!"
The Woman's Suffrage Movement began in 1848 in Seneca Falls on the Erie Canal.

The Hudson School brought a "romantic" artistic lens to the river valley.

The Little Red Lighthouse below the George Washington Bridge
(LRL was also a wonderful book I enjoyed as a child)

Truer than ever....

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Erie Canal and Hudson River Pilgrimage

Why Paddle the Erie Canal/Hudson River?

Huck Finn and his friend Jim floating downstream on a raft inspired my Mississippi “adventure” in 2012.  In this case it begins with a “girl, her name was Sal.”  In my grade school classroom in Dobbs Ferry, NY, on the banks of the Hudson River, I met “Sal” in a song I couldn’t get out of my head;

“I know a gal, her name is Sal, 15 miles on the Erie Canal, she’s a good ol’ worker and a good ol’ pal, 15 miles on the Erie Canal. She’s towed some barges in her day, filled with lumber, coal and hay, and every inch of the way we go from Albany to Buffalo”.

60 years later, Sal, like Huck, has called me to another adventure;

“Low bridge everybody down, low bridge for we’re going through a town, and you always know your neighbor, you always know your pal, if you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal”.

Join me on this paddle pilgrimage which will begin around September 23.  If you want to sing along, here’s a link to a favorite youtube version of the song covered by Bruce Springsteen.


Imagine some more....


Loading truck

It won't be long.....
Destination: Lady Liberty
For more info.