beaches, King Lincoln Park, Newport News, renewal, Uncategorized, urban hiking

King-Lincoln Park: Recapturing a Sense of Renewal

At the very end of Jefferson Avenue in Newport News is a diamond. A place that shined with great spiritual hope for African-Americans during segregation.  Pinkett’s Beach at King-Lincoln Park was one of few places black people could go and enjoy the water on a hot summer’s day.  This humble stretch of sand has been greatly ignored once when the larger and more scenic beaches were open to everyone.  On a visit to the park, I had a chance to see and ponder the renewal of the past and present.

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Pickett’s beach was doomed to be abandoned as a popular swimming destination. It’s size and that of the park pales in comparison to Buckroe in nearby Hampton.  Virginia Beach offers a plethora of amusements and restaurants as opposed to the east end’s industrial buildings and housing projects.  Even Norfolk’s Ocean View has a larger pier and has the view of the broad Chesapeake Bay without the unsightly structures at the naval shipyard across Hampton Roads.  So, why do I think this is a place worth vising?

Most early black churches did not have baptismal pools inside of the building. There didn’t seem to be much of a need in many places in eastern Virginia as there were plenty of bodies of water for the sacrament.  Congregations in downtown and the east end of Newport News made use of Pinkett’s Beach at Lincoln Park.  A couple of Pentecostal denominations, notably Daddy Grace’s United House of Prayer for All People, would have parades of believers marching down to the shoreline for first time baptisms and annual spiritual cleansings.  An Orthodox equivalent of such can be seen at an Ethiopian Temket celebration where boys and men would jump into the water in celebration of our Lord’s baptism.  Also, a Greek tradition of Theophany is where a cross is thrown in the water and retrieved by one of the men in the community.  Some entire congregations of Russians, men and women, will plunge into and icy pond or lake that has been blessed by a clergyman for the great feast day.  My visiting here honors the Afro-American past that has some resemblance to ancient Christianity.

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Since the beach is no longer a place of massive gatherings, the (albeit small) sand dunes have sprung back with grasses and shrubs. I saw holes that, at first, I thought were made by anglers who tried their luck from the shore.  Further investigation showed that they were dug out by ghost crabs.  This is the northern most place I had seen evidence of them, and I have spent plenty of time in wilder places such as Bethel Beach in Mathews and Northumberland’s Hughlett’s Point.  There was no shortage of small fish swimming amongst the waves of very clear water.  To top off my enjoyment of this resurgent little haven of nature, I picked up a whelk shell that contained a live hermit crab.  Like any other shoreline, there was litter.  But, I found more sand smoothed sea glass than recent bottles.  There are more secluded and urban beaches that have far greater trash problems that what I have seen at Pickett’s.

I met a local woman who was cutting a small path along the pier entrance to the beach. What she was doing was probably not ecologically sound nor in compliance with official park policy.  But, she wanted to make things a little easier for visitors to make their way down to the beach.  Someone cares to bring the resource to the people.  She may not be a ranger.  But, she understood the basic definition of park interpretation.  Perhaps, also, the mission of ministry.

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Uncategorized

Dormition Fast: What Am I Waiting For?

The Modern Monastic Order Of Saint Simon of Cyrene

I was blessed to preach the Gospel last Sunday, July 28th and focused on the need to be in the presence of Christ. I got my traditional Baptist preacher three points across and called it a day.  Our clergy and laity thought it was a good homily and appreciate my public speaking ability.  All was successful, glory and praise be to God.

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Yet, a couple of items on Facebook woke me up to the fact that I still haven’t quite moved, or am not moving as I should from my paralysis. Yesterday, an article from the Orthodox website Pravmir described how St Timon and generations of Middle Eastern Christians (I am in the Antiochian Archdiocese) have taken that Gospel message to rise up and walk to love their neighbors despite the brutal persecutions they have gone and still go through.  Not an hour later, Fr. Barnabas Powell posted, “‘Your sins…

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Uncategorized

The Loss of Gentleness

The Modern Monastic Order Of Saint Simon of Cyrene

Isaiah prophesied that the Christ would not break crushed reeds or quench smoking flax (1). True to the forecast, Jesus was the personification of compassion.  Prostitutes, tax collectors, the mentally and physically ill, widows: they all found mercy in their encounters with the Lord.  He even prayed forgiveness for those who were killing Him (2).  Only the temple money changers felt the sting of His wrath (3).  Other than that, Jesus Christ was gentle in this world as there was a greater one that He would rule over.

Unfortunately, many of us have missed this characteristic of the Lord. Threats and violence are commonly used by individuals, groups, and nations to impose their will on others.  And where a physical attack does not happen, grudges and ill feelings are held against those whose ideas and ideals do not match our own.  Sadly, gentleness in the heart and mind can be…

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Great Dismal Swamp, Maroons, monasticism, Uncategorized

A Call to Renunciation and Watchfulness: Maroons & Monastics

In the fourth century, many Christians fled to the deserts of northern Africa and the Middle East to escape worldly distractions and struggle against their temptations. Some were tired of the growing complacency that was creeping into the Church now that Christianity had become legal.  Others had little trust in government protection even though Emperor Constantine ended the persecutions.  Life in the desert was harsh and very simple.  But, the desert fathers and mothers found freedom in the wasteland.

Some were in the wastelands for only a short time. Yet, they carried the spirit of detatchment from worldly greed and power in the cities and towns they lived in.  Some noted bishops and priest gave liberally to the poor and maintained a rather Spartan existence.  In every generation there were those who imitated those original desert fathers.  Russia had it’s Northern Thebaid.  Other monks eked out a living on the wind-swept British Isles and the escarpments of Ethiopia.  Even in an old mining town north of San Francisco, a pair of believers wanted nothing more than to pray, read, and publish writings of ancient Christianity.

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Perhaps it was in the early 1700’s that a few enslaved Africans found a similar freedom in a wasteland. Native Americans were the first to reatreat to the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina as a refuge from the encroaching colonist.  Slave owners counted their “property” that ran away into the swamp as lost to the bears and snakes. European indentured servants, who were treated almost as bad as slaves, also found a home there.  Although full of valuable bald cypress trees, the land was deemed untameable by the colonial and national government.  The runaways, called maroons, had very harsh elements to deal with.  But, in overcoming the obstacles they found freedom.  There were thriving communities on both sides of the swamp.  Maroons would slip into “civilization” every now and then to get what they need or visit loved ones on the plantations.  But, they quickly made their way back to their wet wilderness where they were free and safe.

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In exploring Orthodox Christianity, American Christians of all backgrounds would do well to follow the example of our desert fathers, their followers and Maroon ancestors. As individuals and a community, we have sins to struggle against.  Yet, too often we get distracted by the pursuit of money, politics, and other worldly cares.  This is not to say we should not participate in society.  But, there is a great temptation to be so focused on the earthly kingdom that we forget there is one to come.  The virtues of patience, honesty, chastity, and others cannot be legislated and can be gained no matter who is in the White House or wins the NBA Finals.  Gaining the virtues cleanses our souls and gives us victory both now and later.  Renunciation of the world and keeping watch over our what we take into our hearts and minds is how we gain them.

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Shall we all physically move between Suffolk, Virginia and Elizabeth City, North Carolina? That would be impossible.  But, we can establish a sense of maroon like watchfulness in our lives little by little.  Making deliberate times for prayer, such as keeping the Hours brings us in God’s presence.  An icon corner in our homes can be as much of a refuge for our souls as the buttress of a bald cypress was for a runnaway slave.   Feeding on the spiritual wisdom of our monastic ancestors who renounced the world nourishes our souls.

The Psalmist declared that God prepares a table for him in the midst of his enemies (Psalm 22:5 LLX/23:5). The maroons still had to overcome bears, mosquitoes, and snakes.  Yet, God granted them freedom.  Satan and his minions will pester and threaten us in our quest for the Kingdom.  But, as  we practice spiritual watchfulness, there will be a refuge for us to thrive in.

Uncategorized, Westmoreland State Park

Westmoreland & the Path of Humility

Recently, I had the good fortune to attend a diversity training session for my job at Westmoreland State Park. Visiting the Potomac River shoreline is a homecoming for me.  My family and I used to live in Sandy Point in a house owned by Joseph J. Roane, a prominent African-American of the county.  I attended Cople Elementary School for Kindergarten and first grade.  The park was a hop-skip-and-jump from where we lived.  So, my parents took us there frequently (my brother was born not long after we moved to the county).

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I arrived at Westmoreland about an hour early so I could visit the Park Manager, my former boss Russell Johnson, and sneak in a hike.  Big Meadow Trail is a favorite of park guest as it leads to the Fossil Beach section where the occasional Megaladon shark tooth can be found.  I like everything about the trail as it straddles a ridge above a small stream.  As the hiker descends from the hill, the stream becomes tidal in a marsh choked with tall grasses.  Arriving at the beach, two high cliffs can be seen both up and down river.  With icicles on the washed up trees on the shoreline, digging for fossils was completely out of the question.  I did get a few good landscapes images and some much-needed exercise.  So, the hike was well worth it.

I don’t think I can go into much detail about the training. But, it seemed that everything I learned related to the topic of my talk at the West Point Ministers Association’s MLK Day service, radical humility.  A major part of my job as a Ranger is to welcome and treat park guests and fellow employees with dignity and respect.  By doing so, we promote a friendly atmosphere and experience for everyone.  Dignity and respect for others is rooted deeply in one being humble to all.  The great humility of Jesus Christ, as described in Philippians chapter 2, brought the hope of salvation to all who were lost.  His humility led to the horrific death on the cross.  But, it also gave Him the Name above all names.

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Unfortunately, it is easy to lose sight of the need for humility as it is so easy to embrace pride. Of course, it can be a good thing to love one’s country, ethnicity, organization, and religion.  All good things can be, and are often, wasted when we put such earthly boundaries above the expansive mercy that the Lord has called us to emulate.  The Jewish scholar Saul of Tarsus was sent through the northern Mediterranean to share the Gospel taking all sorts of attacks and difficulties as a humble sojourner whose true home is not of this world.  It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul has been so greatly honored with some of his letters making up so much of the New Testament.  Bishop Basil of Cappadocia was a leading teacher of Christianity in the fourth century and applied the monastic life of compassion and community to the general body of believers.  He taught the virtues of simple living by example; taking only what he needed and giving the rest to those in need.  The Church calls him, “the Great.”  And how humble was Macarius the Great of the Desert Fathers?  Despite all who came to him for advice, the monk began his morning prayers with:

Oh God, cleanse me, a sinner, for I have never done anything good in thy sight. Deliver me from the evil one, and may thy will be in me, that I may open my unworthy mouth without condemnation …

There is no greatness without humility. Paul went beyond ethnic boundaries and received beatings.  Basil gave up the pursuit and maintaining of personal wealth to help others live better.  Macarius didn’t let his world renown holiness go to his head.  This narrow path walked by these great men leads to the only kingdom Jesus spoke up for, the kingdom of heaven.  We serve the God who opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5 & Proverbs 3:34).  Let’s walk likewise.

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Cumberland Marsh, Uncategorized

Cumberland Marsh & My Need for a Fundamental

Cumberland Marsh Natural Area Preserve is one of those very rare places where the American beech trees haven’t been scarred by a love-stricken vandal’s pocket knife.  Holt’s Creek is a broad hidden waterway inside of the marsh that flows into a thoroughfare that creates  a wetland island in the Pamunkey River.  Once in the woods from the trail, hikers are treated to a series of small, non-tidal streams.  Eventually, the trail comes to a striking view of Holt’s from a high bluff.  In the late fall and winter, one can even catch a slight glimpse of the greater river that combines with the Mattaponi to form the York.  There are no steep ravines to navigate; the terrain is flat.  But, the distance from even secondary road traffic makes Cumberland Marsh an excellent hike.

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I have to confess, there was one ulterior motive for hiking Cumberland.  Rick’s Country Cafe has a pulled pork barbecue sandwich that is worthy of a pit master’s cook-out.  Taking advantage of the eating area, I treated myself to lunch and a word from The Lives of the Desert Fathers:

“Those who are going to inherit the Kingdom of heaven must not be dispondent about their salvation, … but the just will rejoice … We who have been considered worthey of so great of hope, how shall we rejoice without ceasing?” (1)

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Again I confess.  More than once, I let the distractions of financial struggles, dealing with my wife’s recent hospitalizations, and the toxicity of our political divide keep me from a fundamental lesson of from Jesus Christ.  My joy does not come from this kingdom, but in the one to come:

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  (2)

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.  (3)

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Just as I was writing down the quote from Abba Apollo in my walking journal, a friend from my high school walks in to the cafe for a bite to eat.  He coaches youth sports and confided in me that one of the most difficult things to do is to teach the fundamentals of a game because pre- and early teens think they know what they are doing.  If I am not aware of the way I present myself as a citizen of the eternal kingdom, there is no difference between me and the hard-headed middle school kids my friend has to deal with.  Each day I have to remind myself of the source of Christian joy and exhibit it.  Even when things get rough, keeping my mind on this fundamental will help me be the salt that doesn’t loose it’s flavor and the light that shines before all men.  (4)

 

  1. Norman Russell (Translation), Lives of the Desert Fathers, pg. 35
  2. John 14:27
  3. John 16:33
  4. Matthew 5:13-16
First Day Hike, Uncategorized, Virginia State Parks, York River State Park

First Day Hike: Starting Off the New Year

There are few things better than to start the New Year off with a (pardon the pun) step in the right direction.  I have had the pleasure of leading the First Day Hike at York River State Park for eight of the ten years I’ve worked here.  When the program first began, only eight hikers joined me on a quick walk along Beaver and Woodstock Pond Trails.  Over the years, participation has grown.  The better the weather, the more people participate in what has become a tradition in the Virginia State Parks.

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Looking at the lower photo, it is easy to get put off by such a crowd if your’e looking for a quiet and healing walk in the woods.  But, I find that hiking in groups does have some advantages.  First of them is that it can be a good intro to outdoor activity for newbies.  Beginners at anything may feel that they are all alone and stepping out with the wolves.  With a group of like minded people, there is nothing to fear even if you’ve never been on a trail before.

This leads to a second advantage of group hikes; meeting people.  I enjoy making new acquaintances and friends and helping them discover the beauty of the outdoors.  There is a Canadian family who came to one of my Spring Break events five years ago that return every year to participate in a new program I am offering.  I’ve met an elderly fraternity brother from another state who shared some circles of friends with me.  Mentioning that some Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6th revealed a Serbian lady in our group on year who grew up in that tradition.

It is when we interact with each other that we pick up tip to enjoy our time outside even more.  Someone may be looking for the perfect sea-side excursion and wind up chatting with a recent visitor to False Cape State Park.  Another person may have brought her camera and shows off some fantastic images of Canvasbacks to some kids who like ducks.  A couple of guys might talk about the gear they use when camping.  I have seen a few friendships and new hobbies born from group hikes.

The serenity of  a solo, or hike with one or two companions is something that I greatly enjoy.  But, I advise anyone not to shun a group hike.