Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Holy Cross's New Website

Okay, the new website for Holy Cross Monastery is up and running. Still a lot to do, but it's ready for it's "shakedown" cruise. If you spot any typos, do let me know...

Still left to do:
  1. Redo the Order's Website (as opposed to the Monastery's website that I just did!)
  2. Implement an .htaccess to execute server-side 301 redirects (though I did put HTML-based redirects in temporarily)
  3. Add a search engine
  4. Add a shopping cart front/back end to process online book store orders
  5. Add a Script to auto-generate RSS feeds
  6. Migrate the site over to a CMS back-end
  7. Add a social-networking site for Associates (possibly Jomsocial?)
  8. Add videos highlighting aspects of HCM life including worship, community life, vocations, hospitality ministry, outreach, history of the order, etc.
  9. Train the monks to maintain the site
  10. Possibly add dynamically-generated Ordo?

Anyway, it's an ambitious project. I'm pleased to be this far with it. Obviously, a lot of content came from the monks (especially the photos from Br. Randy). But as usual I relied on my trusty ORAC running Dreamweaver, Photoshop, and Bridge to compile everything and make it look pretty. Thank God for Photoshop scripts! I saved myself a lot of time by creating batch processes to add drop shadows and borders and such.

For the next stage (CMS-Content Management System) I've set up a testing server on ORAC that basically creates an emulation of an Apache Server with MySQL so that I can set up and test my scripts locally before I go live with them.

I'm particularly proud of some of the detail touches like a new Incense order form that is a fill-able PDF form.

The monks say that virtually everyone that books a retreat or comes considering vocation has spent considerable time looking over the website, so having a decent one is an obvious priority. I was glad things worked out for me to help them with it!

As for the videos. I have two of twelve interviews done. Each is a about an hour. Plenty of content coming together already, but I have more B-Roll to shoot (tomorrow I'll get Edward cooking) and won't be able to film much for the next 10 days anyway as the monks are on "Long Retreat."

You see, now that the Guest House is closed it's time to take a break. 10 days of silence and prayer and meditation. We kicked it off with a party, of course (read Bede's description if you're curious), and now things will get deep in a different way.

My project for Long Retreat (since I can't interview any of the monks, anyway) is to build my amplifier. I've got almost all the parts (still need the wood and brass to build an enclosure) and have started assembling the circuit board. I'm substantially modifying the K-12G design using VoltSecond and Bruce Heran's recommendations. I find myself really wishing I had a good bench Oscilloscope with an audio analysis module. Both VoltSecond and Bruce did a lot of trial and error and testing to perfect their builds, and I'm just standing on their shoulders.

Still, the smell of solder is pleases me!


Friday, July 24, 2009

A Side Trip to NYC

Here's the video from my recent trip into "the city" to see my friends Francis and Ally and my sister and her husband. Enjoy...


Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Doctor is Within

The Dalai Lama has been in exile for 50 years now. The New York Times has a short reflection from a reporter that has been covering him for many years. It's as good as synopsis of H.H. Dalai Lama I've seen. Here's a sample:
I’ve been spending time for 18 years in a Benedictine monastery, and the monks I know there have likewise found out how to be delighted by the smallest birthday cake. Happiness is not pleasure, they know, and unhappiness, as the Buddhists say, is not the same as suffering. Suffering — in the sense of old age, sickness and death — is the law of life; unhappiness is just the position we choose — or can not choose — to bring to it. (source)

Being in my own Benedictine Monastery, I know what this writer says to be true--you do find great happiness in little things, which aren't necessarily pleasurable or not pleasurable. It's just a different orientation of spirit in the cloister that changes everything.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Quick Update from the Monastery

I've been taking a break from blogging, for the most part, during my my vacation/retreat/work at Holy Cross, but I thought I would do a quick note to check-in.

Already this time at Holy Cross has been very special to me. Something about the silences and the overall deliberativeness of life here has been remarkably good for my soul. I feel totally at home and have been resting into the reality of this place. Lots of prayer and eating and meditating. The evening I went with Bede to an "Insight Meditation" group that meets nearby.

I've also been productive. The new version of the Holy Cross website is almost ready to go live--just a few pieces left to finish on the basic website. Then I'm going to really push myself to add some sophisticated CMS (Content Management System) tools to make editing the site easy for non-specialists. I'm also going to add some kind of on-line catalog/shopping cart kind of thing for the book store and possibly a way to see Guest House availability and even request reservations. What could possibly be next after that? How about a social networking site like Facebook, only for Holy Cross Associates and Monks? And did I mention the videos? I've already gotten some great content "in the can"--with the bulk of the interviews still left to do.

I know it sounds like a lot, but actually I've been making rapid progress. Feels good to have creative work balanced with prayer and mediation just about right.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Zac Sunderland Sails Home...

I mentioned a while back Zac Sunderland, the teen on a quest to become the youngest person ever to sail around the world singlehanded. He completed his journey, sailing into Marina Del Rey this morning after more than 400 days at sea. It's possible to make the trip faster, but Zac wasn't racing for a speed record, he wanted to meet people and explore countries along the way. Here's a short excerpt from his press conference.

I think his comment about teenagers being encouraged to do "difficult things," is good to heed. His mom says that a lot of people gave her grief about letting her boy take on such a dangerous task, but she point out that first, Zac an extremely experienced sailor, and second, life without risk is hardly worth living. There was a time when kids his age did all kinds of dangerous and exciting things. Romeo and Juliet were dead by his age! But I think another thing worth noting is the role of faith in this family. These are clearly religious people, as a few of their blog posts make clear. I think there is a relationship between having faith in something larger than ourselves and the ability to take risk.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It Makes the Heart Glad...

This picture just pleases me in a million ways. Look at that smile!

You can follow Betsy's Studies/Travel this summer of her travel blog...


Road Trip!

Photo by Randy, OHC

Last night I was exhausted by the time I picked up a friend from the airport and got home and had supper. Plans to pack up my computer last night dissolved under the influence of red wine and pizza! But I did manage to pack my suitcase.

This morning I got up at reasonable hour (7 A.M.) and loaded the car with the stuff I'm taking from home. Then I said goodbye to the cats and headed over to my office to do some last minute stuff (like burn CD's to listen to in the car) and pack up my computer. My computer ("ORAC") includes a VERY heavy full-tower unit that houses the drives and motherboard and all that, there are two-monitors and two external hard drives and a gazillion cords. But I couldn't imagine producing these videos for the Order without my workstation, so it was worth the effort.

After some last minute banking I finally got on the road at 11 a.m., but I made excellent time (7.5 hours) and managed to sneak in to the last part of supper before they cleared away the food! On the drive down I listened a pretty eclectic selection that included Tori Amos, Jay-Z, Neil Diamond, and even a bit of Enya! The border crossing into the U.S. was faster than usual and the roads were relatively clear. Being alone for a while gave me the chance to think through a number of things on my mind. I used to drive like this often all over Connecticut.

After supper I unpacked my car and went to a flute recital in the church. A well-known flutist is holding a "master class" workshop this week and kicked it off with a recital of his own. On Sunday afternoon the whole group will perform a concert together in the church. I attended it in years past when I was in Residency here, and I can tell you that the voice of the flute just sores in the church acoustic! Most of the students that come to study the flute here for an intensive week are already very committed and skillful, as you might expect! I also have permission to record the concert.

When I went to the recital this evening I noticed something right away. The windows were open. The city-sounds would make this unthinkable for a recital in Toronto, but out here all I could hear were a few faint song birds. I sort of forgot how quiet it can be outside until this afternoon!

The monks put me in the same rooms were in the last time I visited. Sort of a guest suite for Residents. It's quite, and very spacious. I set up one room as my office and still have a bedroom and a sitting room to spare! Once up a time this was the publications office. Long before that (when the building was built) I believe these were small chapels. Back then Anglo-Catholic priests (and back then all the Brothers of the Order were also priests) would say a Mass once a day as part of their vocational piety. To accomplish this in a house full of priests you naturally need a lot of little chapels! They would take turns saying the Mass and being the acolyte, then switching. No congregation except the heavenly hosts. All that changed after Vatican II, of course.

It's 11 P.M. and I'm exhausted. Time for bed. Mattins in the morning!


Wrapping up Before the Trip

Today was nuts. Got up very, very early in the morning and pretty much non-stop. I was fueled by coffee in the morning and some Power Bars in the afternoon. Ran around doing errands like a mad man. Got the oil changed in the car and cleared off my desk of stuff that needed to be filed, etc. I even put two more wheels on my baptismal tank to make it easier to move when it's loaded with water.

By the time the evening rolled around I had time to clean up the house on last time and then went to the airport to pickup a friend who will be housesitting/catsitting for us. I'm confident that things are in excellent shape all around. I even thought to make up a sheet of emergency phone numbers for the fridge! Whew!

Tonight I packed up my clothes. Tomorrow I'll pack up my video gear and my computer and be on my way! I've already staged most of the pieces in my office, so I should be able to get out of here at a decent time tomorrow. I may even have time to burn some mix-CDs for the drive. We'll see!

Incidentally, more applications for the Music Minister job have been rolling in today. Excellent, Smithers.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Warm, Creative Parish Seeks Music Leader with a Heart for Mission

I've started posting the blurb advertising the Minister of Music position widely. We already getting applications, several of which are very promising. Always a relief to actually get a response when you put something like this out to the universe.

If you know someone who might interested, or want to post the flyer somewhere, here it is in PDF. Of course, this is just a summary. The full job description, with details about the responsibilities, etc., is available here on the website. Then there are all the relational and dynamics that can be only be elicited in the interview process. In fact, it these relationship chemistry factors that are most important to me. I want to have a sense of how this person will fit into the team and how we will work together to the Spirit's will in this place.

Already I can see how expressing what I'm talking about in words begins to get a bit "mushy" and imprecise. Spirit-language is often accused of being ephemeral by those that want a more rational framework, but I know experience that God does tell us what to do (or whom to hire, for that matter) if we are patient enough to listen for that call.

If I do have to step out of the spirit-led discernment mode to talk about what I want in a Minister of Music, I think the next place I land is the Mission-Shaped framework. How does the liturgy enact the Mission of Church? Obviously, I have some ideas about that, but I'm eager to hear how others address this challenge.


Sermon - Pentecost 6 2009

A short homily on Sunday about the Death of John the Baptist and what we can learn from it. In the face of tragic deaths we should avoid the temptation to use to justify another culture war or wag fingers at the victims. Rather, we should look for the presence of Christ in the midst of the suffering. In order to find Christian hope sometimes it's necessary to postpone it to the after-story.

Here's the audio...

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file...


Saturday, July 11, 2009

A trip to Active Surplus

Went to a fun birthday party for a parishioner on Friday night. TONS of Messiah people there, including pretty much all the Messiah kids. They were running around and having a good time, too. At one point I was out on a big deck enjoying the Toronto night air. It's a good life!

I'm still doing various errands in preparation for my trip. Today that included a trip to Active Surplus, one of my favourite stores in Toronto. This place has lots of little pieces of random surplus electronics stuff perfect for a guy like me. This trip was to pick some odds and ends for my amp project. At this point I should have almost all the components except the wood and metal to make the enclosure (Home Depot) and a few tiny electrical components that I can pickup at a Radio Shack.

It's going to be a neat project. I have no idea how long it will take--probably a day or two at least--to put everything together. If I'm lucky it will all work right the first time I flip the switch! It's going to be handsome, too, with stained wood sides/front and a brass top plate.

There was a very good discussion about sin and forgiveness at the Healing Prayer service today. Interesting how there is a lot more opportunity for teaching and real discussion in smaller worship groups like what I have on Saturdays and Wednesday mornings.

Now I'm just watching some baseball and eating Chinese Delivery. Yep, I'm in bachelor mode.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tay with the Cops

This evening, after work, I went on a ride-along with the police. I showed up at 53-Division and they partnered me up with Sergeant for the rest of his shift. First, they ran my name through the computer to make sure I didn't have any outsanding warrants ("I see your house got broken into...") They gave me a bullet proof vest to wear, showed me how to use the radio in case of emergency, and basically said, "don't get shot." The Sergeants ride around on patrol, but they have a different role than the regular patrol cars. The regular cars are responding to 911 calls in order of urgency. The Sergeants respond to certain types of calls (in the case of a death, for example) to make sure that the first responders are doing things correctly. They really aren't supposed to get "in the mix" too much if they can avoid it.

Still, as we sat waiting for something interesting to come up the officer was keeping his eye out. He was running license plates from passing cars--a habit he picked up on his patrol days. He learned how to quickly type them into the police computer with one hand. The computer also has mapping software that shows where all the patrol cars are and what calls people are responding to, etc. As we were driving around a BMW went through a red light right in front of us. Of course the lights went on and we pulled the guy over.

The Sergeant explained that he rarely gives out traffic tickets, and even had to dig to find his pad, but he couldn't let such a flagrant violation go. He said the driver apologized and was gracious about excepting his $180 ticket.

The windows were down the whole time, and often we were going rather slowly. "You can drive as slow as you want; no one will say anything. It's better because if you drive too fast you can't see anything and you can't hear anything."

This officer has sharp eyes, and noticed a guy walking on the sidewalk near a liquor store that looked out of place. He immediately pulled the car around and started to pull into a parking lot after him. As he did so, he took off his seat belt. I thought that this was so he could jump out quickly, but actually, he told me, it was more because if something happened he might need to get to his "tools" quickly.

Once in the lot, we lost sight of the person of interest. When we found him again, we could see that he was wearing a blue bandana (a gang sign) and also had a black tear tattoo under his right eye. This is a gang tat, and normally it means one murder for every tear. The cop told me later that his impression was that the guy was either in a gang or crazy. As it turns out, he was a bit of both. I thought the guy might run, and so did the cop, which is why he stayed about 12 or 15 feet away from him. "If the guy runs for it, you want to be a little ways off because then you can cut the angle and get him, if you are too close then he has a head start. I was also worried that he might have a knife, because I hadn't searched him yet. This way I would have enough time to Tazer him." Having the guy sit down was also a way to make sure he didn't run. "I love that. It gives me a huge advantage."

At first the guy was indigent about being questioned by the cops. "I'm sure you get stopped like this all the time," was the response of the cop. Indeed, it turns out the guy has a criminal history and is, essentially, on parole with conditions. By this time, another cop car came up and gave some assistance searching him. The Sergeant told me later that he really expected the guy would probably have some kind of weapon on him or that he might run. I certainly noticed that the cop was very alert and never took his eyes off the guy, so neither did I. A few minutes later another patrol car swung by just to make sure the situation was under control. Neither of these cars had been requested, they just heard about it over the radio.

The story the guy gave us didn't make any sense, and the cops were pretty sure the guy was getting ready to shoplift from the local liquor place when we spotted him. He has a criminal history, but he is also mentally ill. The cops certainly thought he was crazy to be walking around in gang clothes in this neighbourhood. "Look," the Sergeant said, "any cop that doesn't stop that guy is just being lazy." Still, he hadn't done anything wrong and they let him go. Later, they entered some information about the guy into a database. "We put everything in here. We've caught murderers because someone made a note in the computer about some guy that looked suspicious."

Another call was for a man that had passed away at home. He had terminal cancer, but the cops still have to investigate. Because he is effectively a field supervisor, all the Sergeant had to do was ask some questions of the guys that were handling the case. He told me that the detectives would talk to the cops on the scene, but might not come down unless there was something suspicious. He told me that his least favorite job is death notifications. I told him about some of my experiences as a hospital chaplain, and was thankful I was just observing at the death we attended.

I got a tour of the Division HQ. Things were nicer than I expected. Computers were up to date and things looked quite professional and nice. The offices for the detectives could have been pretty much any business office. it was a relatively quiet night when I was there, but they said that it gets busier later.

One of the interesting things we spoke about was the culture shift happening as the baby-boomers retire. The job has changed a lot. "Really, I'm just a social worker with a gun." Cops today are expected to work with the community and make referrals and really do a lot of problem solving.

The Sergeant had hoped that something more dramatic would happen during the ride along, but I was satisfied that I got a sense of what my Parish area looks like from a cop's perspective. I think these sorts of experiences are important for pastoral clergy. I mean, if all you know about your parish what your congregation tells you, then you miss out on some very important aspects of the community you seek to serve.

Would I do it again? Sure! It has exciting moments and can be kind of fun. The sergeant told me that he likes doing these ride-alongs because it gives him someone to talk to!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Home Stretch

Some nice, hard sailing after work today. It was just the skipper and I, so the cockpit was a busy place! Initially it looked like the wind was going to be crummy, but then just before the start the wind picked up. By the time the start came we were flying along at hull speed (the fastest the boat is designed to sail). We were going so fast, in fact, that we had to back off the start line so as not to cross over too early. The first leg upwind was intense, and when we rounded the first mark we were challenging for third place in our fleet. We maintained that position for the second leg, but after rounding the second mark we tacked north while most of the fleet went the other way. The distance to travel is the same, but we were hoping to have better wind on that part of the course. Alas, the wind died out for us and we spent some time wallowing at less than a knot of speed. By the time we caught good wind again, we had slipped to near the back of our fleet. Nonetheless, we beat one boat to the finish and were within 38 seconds of the boat in front of us.

This is the last time sailing for me until mid-September. I'm going to be away at Holy Cross for a month. And even if I weren't, my sailing friend is taking his family on a long cruise, anyway. As we enjoyed an especially good race-night buffet while watching the sun set red on Toronto, I savored my beer. What a life!

Lots of preparation happening for my trip. I've been checking things off my to-do list at a comfortable pace. Today we had a good staff meeting to go over some last minute stuff. I also met with the substitute music leader for Sunday. I also said Mass in the morning--I'm very happy to have someone to say the Wednesday morning Contemplative Eucharists while I'm away.

Tomorrow's big adventure will be a ride-along in the evening with the cops! I'm going to love seeing this part of Toronto from the police perspective!


Annual Review

Today I had my annual ministry review with Bishop Yu. We met in his new office down town, and I have to say I like having him down here better than before. Easier to get with, and it's kind of neat to stop by the Diocesan HQ and see various people I know there.

We followed a specific format based on form I filled out with questions like, "What were your greatest accomplishments in the last year," and so forth. we also talked about some of the things I felt could have been better. We spoke at length about some of the challenges and potentials in the congregation and how I'm addressing them.

About the most useful suggestion he made is to develop and execute a "Discipleship Making Strategy." this is something I've thought of before, but having him remind me how helpful this could be to Messiah's mission put it back in my mind. Perhaps after the Stewardship Campaign is over (Dec/Jan) we can start a programme like that.

In general, the bishop seemed pleased with what has been happening at COTM. It's nice that the numbers (both people and money) are up a bit from last year (though still below what they were just a few years ago). They are also still below the benchmark for a sustainable pastoral-sized parish. That means that theoretically there are not enough people to support a full-time priest. The magic number, incidentally, is 100. It takes about 100 average Sunday attendance per full-time priest on staff.

of course, I've written here before that I'm not sure these kinds of benchmarks are very helpful. They may be a way to understand what's happening when an inherited church is facing decline, but they don't lead us to an emerging future mission. Instead they tend to just make us want to try harder at what isn't working.

After an hour with the bishop we ended with some prayers and I went on my way.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sermon - Pentecost 5 2009

Here is my take on a Stewardship sermon. This sermon really kicks-off a stewardship campaign here in the parish.

Here's the audio...

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file...


Softball, cigars, Betsy update....

Softball last night was fun. My batting was much improved from two weeks ago--I managed several base hits, two ground-outs, and a fly-out to left field. Not bad, considering. I rewarded myself with a Cigar. I don't smoke very often, but playing ball with the guys in the park, wife away, seemed like the right time to indulge. I deeply thankful that I have an opportunity like this to hang out with guys my own age and do and say the sorts of things that guys do and say when they are together. Ah... bonding!

It's starting to become a mad dash to get stuff done before my trip. I have almost exactly a week left! I have my annual ministry review with Bishop Yu this afternoon. In the mean time I'm working on several other projects. I MUST finish the job description for the Minister of Music position today or tomorrow so I can start advertising that job before I go away on vacation. That way we can have interviews lined up for when I return. I originally drafted up some notes and other stuff right after Matthew announced that he would be leaving at the end of the summer, but I'm glad I've waited this long to finish that project. The time has given me new perspective on what kind of musician and worship leader I want and how I want to present it. Interestingly, the congregation has not said much to me about this except to express gratitude and appreciation for what Matthew has done. As usual, people seem to trust that the parish leadership will make a good decision about the future of the music programme, and no one feels the need to push a particular agenda. I think I have a pretty good idea of what people liked about Matthew and would like to see retained.

I talked with Betsy today. She is well. Belly getting bigger. Athens getting hotter. She is learning a lot, but the programme is intensive. Lots of homework and memorization to do. Interestingly, her roommate in a New Testament Professor who graduated from Union Theological (where my sister is currently studying). It's a good school, and I suddenly seem to have a lot of connections to it.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Tacking in Wind

This evening I made the mistake of reading one of my pregnancy books. It made me miss Betsy terribly. I spoke with her after church via Skype, but I still am faced with feelings so intense that I can't sleep. So I'm blogging instead.

Yesterday and today I spent some hours reading Zac Sunderland's blog. You may recall he is the young man attempting to set a record for the youngest sailor ever to circumnavigate the globe singlehanded. He is days away from achieving this feat after more than a year at sea. Reading about his challenges and hardships reminds me of what it feels like to be the Pastor of Messiah. I don't want to get too dramatic about it--it's not like I'm in much physical danger (unlike Zac)--yet nonetheless I can identify with his feelings of alternating loneliness, exhileration, anxiety, and even exhaustion. Good thing my summer break is only a week away!

This morning I felt this particularly strongly as I preached about Stewardship. Frankly, if we don't improve the giving in the parish in the next six months, we are going to have to make some painful cuts. So as part of a larger carefully-developed stewardship campaign I kicked things off with a sermon about the theology of stewardship. Normally, my sermons last about twelve minutes. This was ran for almost twenty! Yikes! Apparently I had a lot to say on the subject, probably because it's the first time I've ever preached about stewardship directly.

The most difficult part of the sermon was when I started talking about the need to raise up a third Warden from the congregation. Wardens are parishioners who represent the interests of the entire parish and have canonical authority when it comes to things like hiring and firing and money. It's a very important job. COTM should have three Wardens (though I'd be ecstatic with four). Right now we have only two.

Back in early part of the year I decided not to force the issue but to let the Holy Spirit raise up the leadership we needed in due time. Naturally, I made announcements about it and spoke to some people I thought were possibly called and asked people to pray about it, etc., etc. No joy. As a result, the workload on the two existing Wardens and myself keeps us feeling, sometimes, like the waters are risen up to our necks. There are a lot of things, especially strategic, long-term things, that aren't happening because we don't have the leadership resources to tackle them.

Now, one of the absolute most important skills to learn as a Pastor is how to manage your own anxiety. If you can't keep your anxiety in check, you are doomed! I've been mostly successful at not freaking about not having another Warden step-up, but something came loose when I was preaching today and I got a little intense about needing another Warden. I think I may have even pleaded, which is not something you are ever supposed to do from the pulpit.

I felt better after preaching it, though. I think it was cathartic. But it remains to be seen what impact it will have. As in sailing, progress in ministry is almost always oblique. We tack this way and that way praying for wind. We don't really expect this sermon will impact anyone's giving, the point is to begin to establish the framework of change. Will we make up the budget shortfall by January? Will we get a third Warden? Will some of these ministries I've started grow bigger? Shrug: God knows.

At one point, when Zac was bruised and exhausted by days of consecutive storms and equipment failures and equator-heat, his mother remarked to him (on their regular satellite phone check-in) something along he lines of, "This will be the hardest job you'll ever do." His remark says it all: "No, not really. It's still pretty cool out here." (source)

It's telling to see how Jesus reacted to hard-going in his ministry. In today's Gospel reading we heard about Jesus being rejected in his hometown. No doubt he expected a better homecoming. "6:5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief." Did he feel anxious? Upset? Worried? All the Gospel writer gives us is "amazed."

Perhaps as he boarded the dirty, storm tossed fishing boat to leave that place he would have been as exhausted and unbowed as our friend Zac. "This is the hardest thing you'll ever do, Jesus..." He might have replied, "No, not really. It's still pretty cool out here."

Jesus withdraws and regroups. He establishes a new mission strategy--he sends the disciples out "two by two" with few provisions. Take only what you need--a staff and sandals and one tunic. Don't over-prepare. Don't over-think it. Just get out there and take it as it comes, but ready with an answer if they reject you...

Good advice. And as I get ready for vacation I feel another tack coming on...


Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Fighting Flying Boats

My father found this snippet about my grandfather in a book about Flying Boats in WWII.
The first known Mariner air-sea rescue "Dumbo" mission in the Pacific was performed by a NATS Pan American PBM.

At 0530 on 12 November 1943 the troop transport SS Cape San Juan was on its second voyage from San Francisco to Townsville, Australia, with 1,429 passengers. It was hit by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. The explosion killed many of the U.S. Army troops on board and released oil that spread onto the surrounding water. A false word to abandon ship quickly spread and all but about two hundred men went over the side into the sea. They were immediately coated with a layer of oil. Survivors swam for jettisoned life rafts or clung to floating debris and kapok jackets. Cape San Juan listed on its starboard side as damage control tried shoring up the gaping hole and pumping out the incoming sea. The stricken ship remained afloat for another twenty-four hours.

The liberty ship SS Edwin T. Merideth rescued 443 people, including those remaining aboard the Cape San Juan. McCalla DD-488), Dempsy (DE-26), and minesweeper YMS-241 picked up 840 additional survivors. The sea then became rough as a storm system passed through the area, bringing swells that were up to fifteen feet high. These conditions exacerbated the situation for the men in th ewater.

A Pan American Mariner, just arriving in Suva, Fuji, on a cargo run, volunteered to assist in the rescue mission. Captain Moss gives his account in Lee Roy Way's "First PBM Rescue" article:

"We arrived at Suva at 1030 hours and were informed of the Cape San Juan's dilemma and the plight of the many survivors in the water. Our cargo was unloaded and we were airborne about noon. Our entire crew plus Navy Pharmacist Mate A. L. Burress volunteered for the mission and after three hours flying the Cape San Juan was sighted listing in 15 foot swells. We circled the ship three times without seeing anyone in the water. We were just about ready to give up when a New Zealand land plane was spotted circling some distance from the ship. Dropping lower and closer we sighted clusters of men in the water spread out for about 3 miles. Some were in life rafts, one life raft was drifting and the others were in life jackets in the middle of the oil slick.

"A landing was made in a relatively smooth area of the oil slick with 15 foot swells all around us. Unable to taxi very close to the survivors, we trailed life rafts behind the Mariner and survivors clambered in as the rafts passed by. In all, 48 survivors were brought aboard."

All known survivors were rescued when the Pan American Dumbo began its take-off. Not only was this the first Mariner open-sea rescue in the Pacific, no other aircraft ocean rescue before or since is known to have picked up so many people. (source)

My grandfather told me this story several times. It was his proudest achievement in a long career as a pilot. In fact, he kept the letters sent by grateful survivors and their families. In notes he made to me years later he noted, "the landing was pretty interesting but it didn't compare with the takeoff, which was one of the most spectacular and brutal takeoff I ever made. All in all an interesting but wild experience." I remember him telling me once that the sea gotten rougher in the time they were taking on passengers, so the takeoff was, in fact, quite dangerous. One newspaper report that the swells were between 30 and 50 feet! They were so heavy they dumped several tonnes of fuel. I think I remember him perhaps saying that they had to attempt that takeoff more than once.

It's a good story to tell around July 4th (or 1st, for that matter).


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Zac's Big Adventure

Meet Zac Sunderland--a young man attempting to be the youngest person ever to sail around the world solo. He started his journey from the Marina del Rey in Los Angeles in mid June 2008, and is currently off the coast of Mexico hoping to arrive back at his home port in mid-July... more than a YEAR after he left it. He paid for his 27' sailboat himself, and managing to convince his parents to support his year off. He has managed to pick up some sponsors, but his parents have helped him pay for the rest.

Traveling around the world by sail is not an easy task, even in this day and age. Zac has had some major equipment failures more than once. He was almost crushed by a freighter. But perhaps the most harrowing situation was being pursued by pirates in the Indian Ocean. He called his father on the satphone and was calmly instructed to load the .357 magnum pistol he keeps aboard and be prepared to defend the boat. His father told the L.A. Times that he never imagined he would have to seriously prepare his then 16 year old to "shoot to kill." Luckily, the pirates gave up the pursuit, probably figuring that the small sailboat wasn't worth the effort.

Of course, it will surprise almost no one that Zac's family is heavy into sailing. He is the oldest of seven kids, and as a family they have logged more than 15,000 nautical miles as a family, including several open-ocean long cruises. Still, it takes some very special parents to allow their teenager to attempt this. I wonder if I would allow my kid to attempt this...

Zac has lost a lot of weight from days and days of grueling work and crappy, freeze dried food. But he is very close to achieving his goal, and I imagine that he will receive quite the reception when he arrives back in L.A.

You can read more about Zac and his adventures on his blog. Good for him!


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Canada Day

Started my Canada day saying Mass. There was another first-time visitor. My, my, that service seems to be suddenly growing, now, little by little. All the more reason not to suspend it while I'm away. Right now I'm trying to find the right priest to do it for me while I'm away.

after that was the usual e-mail and errands, then a lunch meeting with the Stewardship Committee. it was a very enjoyable time, actually, sitting on the deck of my favourite pub and talking about a lot of things beyond the stewardship campaign. Back to the church for a little while and then sailing.

The wind was light, so the sailing was far from nail biting, but it was pleasant weather to be on a boat in the Inner Harbour. Lots of other people had similar ideas about how to spend the holiday.

I really missed Betsy last night and today. Hard to believe I won't see her again until mid-August! She seems to be enjoying her programme in Athens, though.

Incidentally, for my birthday (coming up on Friday) someone gave me the equivalent of a gift certificate to buy a kit to put together my own tube amplifier. I've been wanting to take on a project like this for a long time, so I'm really looking forward to creating the sort of pure amp that audiophiles dream about. It's going to require learning a lot of new things, which is part of the point!