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Sunday, October 26, 2008

I've written two articles in the current issue of The Living Pulpit magazine. The first one, "Misery for Sale: Human Trafficking Then and Now," reflects on the legacy of the international slave trade and its parallels to the modern-day human trafficking, with reference to my experiences while on my sabbatical with the Freedom Schooner Amistad in Sierra Leone. The second, "Looking at Leadership and the Law," is an examination of the lectionary texts for the month of October. My apologies for not getting the link posted earlier.

Gearing up for a Boys in Hats concert

Boys in Hats, the folk duo of which I am half, is gearing up for a performance at the Oxford United Church of Christ (Congregational) in Oxford, CT on Saturday, November 8. This is something of a reunion tour for us, as we played at Oxford back in the mid 1990s, back when Eric Anderson, my musical partner in crime, was interim pastor of that church.

Of course, we'll be playing lots of the "favorites" that have made us so popular with our groupies, but we're also going to be playing several new songs, most of which have been written by Eric over this past year. I've always been impressed with his ability to write songs, a talent that I simply do not share, though I've done my share of editing lyrics.

This past Friday night, Eric came to New Jersey and we spent much of the day on Saturday practicing these new pieces. Tomorrow, I'm heading up to Connecticut to resume rehearsal and, hopefully, we'll get all the kinks worked out before the concert. It is a good thing that we aren't getting paid by the mile, though, or Oxford UCC would go broke because of all of the back-and-forth driving we're doing!

In addition to performing on Saturday night, I'm scheduled to preach at Oxford UCC on Sunday morning AND to give a presentation on Amistad in the afternoon. It is going to be a busy weekend, but I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be great to be back in my old stomping grounds, catching up with old friends.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sailing with Amistad in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race

On Monday, October 13, I rejoined the crew of the Freedom Schooner Amistad in Baltimore, Maryland, for the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. On my first night aboard, several schooner crews were invited to a party aboard Mystic Whaler, with Capt. John Eginton serving up an unending supply of oysters, both raw and grilled.

The days leading up to the race were largely spent in preparation, with the crew doing a lot of maintenance on the boat, particularly working on the brightwork. As the docks in Baltimore's inner harbor filled up with dozens of other schooners, the Fell's Point area took on the flavor of a family reunion and even a first timer like me found it easy to make new friends.

Among my new friends were the crew of the schooner Liberty, sailing out of Jersey City. I was walking along the quayside, looking for a place to get some crab cakes when Philip du Plessis, Liberty's owner, invited me aboard for dinner. While aboard, Philip and his wife Sharon told me about how they had only recently purchased Liberty and were still building their charter business with the help of their friend and captain, Bill Noe.

The organizing committee for the schooner race did a marvellous job and made sure that there were all sorts of activities for the schooner crews. There were concerts and shanty-sings, and a dinner at the Latin Palace restaurant. As an after-hours bonus, the crew of the Martha White, who had performed a dockside concert, continued with an impromptu jam session that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. Banjos, guitars and fiddles were handed around and many of us who had shown up to listen to the music ended up leading songs ourselves.

On Wednesday, there was a parade of sail through the harbor. I understand that this was the largest fleet of schooners that has assembled for the race and is, quite possibly, the largest group of schooners since the end of the age of sail. Whether this is so or not, it was an impressive sight as they made their way past the USS Constellation.

On Thursday, the schooners gathered south of the Annapolis bridge for the beginning of the race. With light air, Amistad had every stitch of canvas set and, at the sound of the starting horn, we were off! Almost immediately, the schooners Virginia and Pride of Baltimore II took the lead, their longer waterlines and greater spread of canvas giving them a definite advantage. Throughout the day, we sailed along with Lettie G. Howard and Lady Maryland, jockeying for position until sundown. Around midnight, the wind began to pick up and Captain John called all hands to strike the t'gallant, which involved lowering the sail and its yard to the deck, a process that proved to be much easier than it sounds.

Throughout the night, we made our way down the bay, watching the running lights of the other schooners and keeping a lookout for the frequent barges with their attendant tugboats. As the sun rose, we could only make out two schooners ahead of us, with several more on the horizon astern. We continued to plow on, passing the USS Cole as she made her way up the bay. Around 11:00am, we crossed the finish line in fourth place and began to take in sail as we made our way up the Elizabeth River into Portsmouth, Virginia, passing aircraft carriers and destroyers docked at the Norfolk Naval Base. When we arrived at the boat basin in Portsmouth, we came alongside the A. J. Meerwald and rafted up with her. That evening, the crews of the various schooners had their own informal festivities.

On Saturday morning (!), several schoolchildren came to visit the vessels and I helped demonstrate the use of mechanical advantage on the ship as the children hauled me aloft using a bosun's chair with a four-part purchase. At noon, shortly before the pig and oyster roast that was put on by the race committee, the Virginia hosted their own gathering in loving memory of their main gaff, which had broken during the course of the race.

With the race over, it was time for me to return to life ashore in New Jersey. I take with me memories of a great race and hopes for more sailing opportunities in the next season.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Connecticut decides for equality!

"Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
Amos 5:24

This morning, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of recognizing equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian people. The article in the New York Times gives details about the 4-3 decision of the justices and the history of how Connecticut was the first state to grant civil union status to same-sex couples in 2005.

Of particular note is the reference to the "separate but equal" status that Jim Crow laws imposed upon African Americans and the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that stipulated that separate, though allegedly parallel structures, are inherently unequal. Today's article stated:

The ruling went to the heart of the question of whether civil unions and marriage can be viewed as separate but equal institutions. In the majority opinion, Justice Palmer wrote that they could not be, because the difference between marriage and civil unions was not just that of nomenclature.

“Although marriage and civil unions do embody the same legal rights under our law, they are by no means equal,” Justice Palmer wrote. “The former is an institution of transcendent historical, cultural and social significance, whereas the latter most surely is not.”

While some such as Peter Wolfgang, of the right-wing Family Institute of Connecticut, are whining about the court's decision and saying “We thought all along that the court would usurp the democratic process and force same-sex marriage on Connecticut,” Justice Palmer's reference to the foundational civil rights decision places today's ruling in the context of the need for judicial protection of civil rights, especially when those rights are threatened by a popular appeal to tradition.

Connecticut is now the third state to recognize equal marriage rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, joining Massachussetts and California. Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii all have some sort of domestic parnership legislation, which is at least a step in the right direction.

Within the United Church of Christ, we have been speaking out for many years in favor of equal rights for LGBT persons, with General Synod 25 passing the "Eaual Marriage Rights for All" resolution in 2005. I celebrate today's decision with my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Connecticut who can now enjoy the same rights that my wife and I do and I look forward to the day when every state will recognize the equal rights of all people.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Barbecue!!! (!!!!!!!!)

This summer, my family made several trips to Virginia. Usually, while we're there, we'll manage to get at least one meal of barbecue, often at The Smokey Pig in Ashland. For some reason, this year's travels managed to be barbecue free.

A week or so ago, my son mentioned that he would really like some barbecue, so I've had the thought banging around in my brain ever since. Yesterday was the day to do something about it. I rolled out of bed, ready to make diner.

By 9:00, I had the grill lit. I've always been a traditionalist when it comes to grilling, choosing charcoal over gas any day. I love my 22.5" Weber Kettle! When I was a kid, I remember watching my father grilling. he would pile up the briquettes in the middle of his Weber, douse them with lighter fluid, toss in a match and then stand back as a column of flam whooshed into the sky. When I started grilling on my own, though, I discarded the lighter fluid in favor of a chimney. I put two pieces of newspaper in the bottom, fill the top with charcoal (hardwood lump charcoal, please, not briquettes), and light it. Before long, the coals are ashed over and ready to go and there's no lighter fluid flavor to taint what I'm cooking.

Once the grill was lit, I went back inside and filled a stockpot with hickory chunks, which I covered in water and left to soak until later. Then, it was time to start putting together the dry rub for the meat: minced garlic, cayenne, paprika, dry mustard, salt, pepper and brown sugar went into a bowl together and then got slathered all over the two pork shoulders (7lbs each) that were going to provide the day's entertainment.

By 10:00, the coals were completely ready to go, so I poured them into the grill and banked them all on one side, directly over the bottom vent so that they would have unobstructed airflow. I placed an aluminum drip pan on the other side to catch the grease that would come off of the pork as it cooked. Then, I shook the water off of a big handful of the hickory chunks and placed them on the coals so that they would smolder. The grate went on the grill, with the hinged section over the fire, the cover went on for a minute or two, then I cleaned and oiled the grate and put the meat on, skin side up. Finally, the lid went on the grill, with the vent positioned above the meat to draw the smoke over (and into!) the pork.

Every hour or so, I would check the fire, adding coals and hickory chunks as needed. The UPS delivery guy came by the house and complained that it wasn't even lunch time and the smell of the barbecue had already made him hungry. My son had a friend come over and they spent several hours hanging out, then they went pumpkin picking with the friend's family. Still, I kept tending the fire and the smell of cooking pork filled the neighborhood.

Before barbecue is done, the meat needs to reach 190° F or it won't shred properly. The outside gets all crispy and turns a color that I affectionately call "golden black." When the meat was approaching that point, I set to work back in the kitchen, making the sauce. I started with a recipe from Steven Raichlen's book, so Apple cider vinegar, ketchup, cayenne, brown sugar, dry mustard and pepper went into a bowl together, but the tast and consistency just weren't what I wanted, so I started improvising. I put about half a head of garlic and two small onions went into the blender with a bit of olive oil and pureed them, then sauteed the paste. Then, I added the sauce from Raichlen's recipe to the pot, along with some tomato paste and a bit more brown sugar and cooked it all down until it was thickened up nicely.

By 5:00, the meat had reached 190° F was ready to come off of the grill. The next step was pulling the pork off of the bone and shredding it into bite-sized bits. Some restaurants chop their barbecue, and I guess that makes sense if you're making it on an industrial scale, but I much prefer the texture of hand-pulled pork. It took a half hour or so to pull the pork off both of the pork shoulders I had cooked and the process yielded a big bowl full of meat, to which I added the sauce that I had been simmering.

Finally, after having smelled the barbecue cooking all day, it was time to eat, so the family sat down to a dinner of pulled pork sandwiches with coleslaw and sweet tea, with rice pudding for dessert. Of course, we had plenty of leftovers, so I've already packaged up two quarts of barbecue for one of my Yankee friends who doesn't know anything about barbecue. We had leftovers for dinner and committed the rest of the barbecue to the freezer for later, though I doubt that it will be very long before its siren song calls to us.