Scouting Memories: Delano

Title slide with photo of Delano

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the time I was a summer camp scoutmaster. In that post, I mentioned my time working for the scouts. Here is a story of one of the many unique characters I met during the time I worked for the Boy Scouts of America (and organization I left to go to seminary and pursue the ministry). 

Delano in a Boy Scout uniform, early 1980s
Delano, early 1980s

“What are those government fools thinking, offering classes to teach us how to distill alcohol? They ain’t a farmer in these parts that haven’t made liquor at one time or another,” Delano fumed. 

This was in the early 80s and after years of prosecuting farmers for turning corn into liquids, a lively discussion on how to do this legally arose. Not for internal consumption, but for internal combustion. If the farmers made their own fuel, they could reduce their dependence on gasoline and diesel fuel. The local community college offered a course on alternative fuels, but Delano didn’t think much of the idea. This was an example of the government meddling where it shouldn’t be meddling. 

Delano’s views weren’t a surprise; everyone in Columbus County complained about the government meddling. Of course, they didn’t see it as meddling when they were first at the hog trough. Otherwise, they classified most government initiatives as meddling. 

However, Delano’s admission on the moonshining activities of area farmers surprised me. Did he include himself in the bunch? After all, he was a Mormon. Mormons weren’t supposed to be drinking. But then, neither were Baptist and those in that area who weren’t Mormon were members of one the several off-brand Baptist Churches. A part of me always wanted to know what went on in the “Primitive, Fire-baptized, Fundamentalist Baptist Church” that I passed on my way to church on Sunday. They always had four or five cars there, but I never got up the nerve to stop and find out.

Even though he marched to his own drum, I loved Delano. There was never a dull moment when he was around. He was always smiling and joking. And he had a repertoire of stories to entertain us. Some involved living between Pireway and the Green Swamp, near the Waccamaw River.

Other stories involved his year in Korea during the war. He was a disabled veteran of that war. He found the country the most hostile place imaginable. Partly, I’m sure, this was because he sent so much time behind enemy lines. He and a group of soldiers found themselves lost and had to make their way through enemy territory, back to the UN lines. Struggling to make it back safely, they crossed minefields and dealt with frostbite and starvation.  His spent his entire time in Korea in the field except his last night before coming home. That night, the heat was unbearable; he wished he was back outside. Korea left him disabled. Although he could walk and get around, he wasn’t particularly fast and limited with the types of work he could do. 

Delano enjoyed helping others. One winter, the scouts helped provide firewood for needy families. We gathered at a recent clear cut area. The remaining wood was destined to be burned and had been pushed into wind rows. The paper company allowed us permission to glean from this site. Delano showed up with his chainsaw and splitting maul. While he had limited mobility, he could split wood. His son placed a piece of wood upright, then he split the log. His boy collected the wood and threw it into the back of waiting pickups. We delivered a dozen or so truckloads of wood to needy families that Saturday.  

Like his neighbors in the Green Swamp, Delano supplemented his livelihood from the bounty of the earth. He entertained us with stories about the tricks of the trade his neighbors employed to put food on the table. He never indicted himself, but one had to wonder. 

One favorite was dialing for fish. The fisherman used an old crack phone to create an electrical pulse in the water. This stunned the fish. The shocked fish floated to the surface and were scooped up in a net.  

To hear him tell the story, nobody in his neighborhood purchased canned dog food to feed canines. Dogs got scraps from the table. Canned dog food served as chum for fish. Holes were punched in a can which was then tossed into the water at a spot where you wanted to fish in a day or two. The dog food attracted fish so that when you came back for business, you didn’t have to spend much time finding them. You just had to hope the fish, fat on dog food, were ready to bite into a juicy worm. 

I first met Delano at a chicken bog for scout leaders held in Fair Bluff. Having been told he was a Mormon, I made sure we had alternatives to the coffee and tea which everyone else would be drinking. I picked up a couple bottles of apple juice and offered him one. He refused and poured himself a cup of coffee. At this same event, I became troubled when I learned a chicken bog contained not only fowl, but also sausage. Knowing we had several Jewish leaders, I apologized. What little training I’d had from the Scouts by this point in my career had stressed sensitive to such issues. But sausage wasn’t a problem, these guys assured me, if their wives weren’t around. The same applied to Delano. 

Even his scout troop enjoyed drinks that went against the Mormon Word of Wisdom. Making my rounds at the first camporee, I noticed his troop were all drinking Cokes and Mountain Dews with their breakfast. At camporees, where all the troops in the county gathered, Delano made a point to invite me to eat Saturday dinner with his boys. Sometimes the fare would be normal, venison or fried fish. Other times the menu was exotic. In the three years I worked in this district, the Pireway troop served bear, squirrel, turtle, raccoon, and even a greasy opossum.

Delano and I got along well. Both of us believed that when camping, an afternoon nap was a necessity. He had a small but devoted group of scouts who looked up to him and knew that he looked out for their best interest. There’s not much more you could expect from a scoutmaster. 

Sadly, as I was leaving the Waccamaw District in early 1984, the church reassigned Delano, giving him responsibilities inside the church and appointing someone else as the scoutmaster. His son, had earned his Eagle. I have no idea who took over the troop, but they would have a hard time fitting into Delano’s shoes.

Eagle presentation, 1983
Delano next to his son at his son’s Eagle presentation. Next to him is another Eagle from the Tabor City troop and his scoutmaster (Harold).


Jeff Garrison, 1981
You won’t see many pictures of me like this. 1981, I’m working with the BSA, and have hair but no beard.

I rewrote this post from something I wrote nearly 20 years ago. After the piece was first published online, a relative of Delano contacted me to thank me for the article and to let me of Delano’s death. 

The Battle Over Tradition

Title slide with photos of Mayberry and Bluemont, two rock churches along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches 
July 14, 2024
Mark 7:1-23

This sermon was recorded on Friday at Bluemont Church. This was, before the events of yesterday evening. In have made a number of changes to the sermon, and completely re-wrote my opening remarks. Read the text to see my response to yesterday’s events.

At the beginning of worship:

At the beginning of worship this morning, it’s important that as Christians we pray for former President Trump and along with those who died yesterday evening and their families. I’ll do this in our opening prayer. 

As followers of Jesus, we shun violence. We follow a man who, even when receiving the most painful and inhumane treatment ever conceived, still prayed for his persecutors and refused to allow his followers to fight back. Only the complete trust in God allows such a response. 

Whatever your political views may be, I encourage you to set the example of civility in the days ahead. We are called to be peacemakers, to love our everyone, and to work for the wellbeing of all. Those are our marching orders. Only such actions can foster the type of society envisioned by the gospel. Retaliation by individuals is never right. That’s the role of government. 

My previously prepared opening remarks this morning now seem out of place. I had planned a humorous look into how we lean toward the Pharisees. If you want to hear those remarks, I invite you to go watch what I posted on YouTube, as I recorded that sermon on Friday. Instead, I encourage you to think about the conflict we’ll see in the scriptures this this morning between Jesus and the Pharisees considering yesterday’s events. While our Savior didn’t hold back words and was even sarcastic, he never called for violence in response to the Pharisees attack on him and his disciples. 

My revised “Prayer for Today” to be used at the opening of worship:

Faithful God, we come before you this morning with concern and anxiety in our hearts. We are frightened by the events yesterday and pray for the recovery of former President Trump and for others who were injured in yesterday at Butler, PA.  We ask that you hold the families of those who died in your arms and comfort them. Help us, O God, to tone down the rhetoric, and to lift up your visions of peace and justice for all. Give us the ability, as followers of your Son, the ability to be peacemakers. And keep us remindful that you are in control, that we might trust your plans for the world. This we pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.

Before reading the Scripture:

In the seventh chapter of Mark’s gospel, we find a shift in themes. Jesus is once again being attacked by the religious leaders.[1]The section we’re reading in many translations is titled, “The Tradition of the Elders.” Personally, I don’t like that title as it sounds too close to a book introduced in the early 20th Century Russia titled, “Protocol of the Elders (actually the full title is the Protocol of the Elders of Zion).”[2]

The book was supposedly written centuries earlier describes how the Jews planned to take over the world. The work is a forgery but gave Russians a reason to persecute the Jews. Of course, from their history, it doesn’t seem they needed such a reason. The book also found receptive ears by the likes of Adolph Hitler and other antisemitic conspiracy theorists to this day. 

Let’s refer to our text as something else other than the Tradition of the Elders. I suggest we call it “The Battle over Traditions.” As for traditions, we all seem to be slaves of them. How many times have you ever said, “we don’t do things that way?” We’re enslaved to the past. One of the more truthful things Karl Marx said was that “the tradition of past generations weighs like a nightmare upon the brain of the living.”[3]

In this battle over tradition, Jesus and the Pharisees duke it out. What’s important? Appearance or what’s in our hearts? Let’s see what Jesus has to say.

Read Mark 7:1-23

Washing our hands before eating seems an odd line to draw in a battle. After all, we’re bombarded with the message to wash our hands. Our moms instilled this in our heads. When the flu is prevalent, public health officials remind us of the need. The same went for the COVID outbreak. Every public bathroom is required to have a sign reminding employees to wash before returning to work. It’s good hygiene. Let’s get rid of the germs.[4] Who can argue with that?

So, what’s the problem with the Pharisees questioning Jesus’ disciples for not washing their hands? We might also ask Jesus this question. 

First, germ theory has come a long way since the 1st Century. Back then, they didn’t know about germs. 

Second, the idea of washing one’s hands regularly wasn’t in the law. The law required the Priests to wash their hands and feet before doing their work at the temple. In times, the Pharisees extended this to apply to everyone and before food.[5] The act of washing hands became an identity marker and helped differentiate between the faithful and the heathen. 

Let me suggest that you wash your hands before eating. But don’twash them for religious reasons. At least don’t think you’re being religious when washing your hands. Wash them out of a public health interest. The idea of doing such an act to receive God’s favor is the theology of pagans. We follow the God of grace. God loves us all, whether our hands are clean or dirty at the dining room table.

We can assume in our text this morning that the Pharisees looked for something to discredit Jesus. They think they got the perfect topic when they see the disciples eating with dirty hands. Interestingly, Mark, in verses 3 and 4, explains some of these rules. Remember, as I reiterated again last week,[6] Mark writes to a non-Jewish audience. If he wrote for the Jews, there would be no need to explain. They would understand the issue. But non-Jews, the gentiles, would be confused.[7]

Jesus shifts the topic from outward forms of piety, such as washing one’s hands, to an inward piety. In this way, he’s much like the prophets and he even quotes Isaiah,[8] who condemned Israel’s hypocrisy, for saying one thing and doing another. If we think we can get by just by show, and not by changing our hearts, we are mistaken.

Jesus then goes into a long discussion over the 5thCommandment, that is to honor one’s father and mother. He speaks of the practice of Corban,[9] which is dedicating possessions to God, but still using such possessions during our lives. If a parent was in need, they could refuse to help because such resources have already been committed. This is a lot like Jesus telling us that before we make a gift in the temple, we should make things right with others.[10]  

Jesus has a problem with us taking an oath, which we also see in the Sermon on the Mount. Taking an oath will make us feel as if our future acts are bound.[11] So, if we promise to give our possessions to the temple, and then find the need of our parents will require what we plan to give, we could get out of the commandment to honor our parents. Our oath would take precedent. However, Jesus says, basically, if you do this, you’re still breaking the Commandments. Don’t be looking for ways around the law!

After shutting down the Pharisees through examples and some biting sarcasm,[12] Jesus turns to the crowd that always seems to be close by in Mark’s gospel. In a different way, he tells them the same thing. It’s not what’ goes into our mouths that defile us, it’s what comes out. In other words, it’s what we say and do, how we live, how we treat others. 

Afterwards, Jesus is alone with the disciples who are often clueless in Mark’s gospel. It’s no different here. Jesus must explain to them in even a simpler manner. Here, we learn that Jesus isn’t talking about food regulations, but about the heart, from which evil may arise. John Calvin describes our hearts as “factories producing idols.” This is why we must protect our hearts, for they can bring destruction upon us. 

Jesus lists a series of sins. While he starts with sexual sins, he extends this list to include others sins even more common. After all, most of us have done something wicked, or have been deceitful, or envious. In our idol talk, we slander our enemies. Some of you may have said such things while watching the news yesterday evening. And who among us hasn’t been prideful in some point in our lives? 

What’s the intention of this passage? I think Jesus tells us it does us no good to pretend to be a Christian. If we only go through the motions, to maintain the traditions of the past, without developing a relationship with Jesus Christ, we’re still lost. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says that true prayer is not doing it publicly (like in a restaurant) to draw attention. Instead, we should pray privately, where we can be honest with God.[13] The same goes for our lives. We’re not to do things to draw attention to ourselves.

As followers of Jesus, we seek to honor him, not to inflate our own egos. And that means following him, and not the ways of human tradition which often misses the point. We guard our hearts, work to develop a relationship with Jesus, as we love and care for others. Amen. 

[1] We’ve seen this several times in Mark’s gospel. See 2:18-28, 3:20-35, and 6:1-6.

[2] See

[3] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte as quoted by my grandmother’s cousin, Francis M. Wilholt, The Politics of Massive Resistance (New York: George Braziller, 1973), frontpiece. 

[4] See Chelsey Harmon, Commentary on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

[5] Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville, KY: W/JKP, 1996), 81.


[7] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 206-207. 

[8] Quote in verses 6 and 7 come from Isaiah 29:13 (in the Septuagint). 

[9] For a description of Corban, see Edwards, 210-211. 

[10] Matthew 5:23-24. 

[11] Matthew 5:33-36. 

[12] For comments on Jesus’ sarcasm, see Edwards, 209. 

[13] Matthew 6:5-6. 

Catching Up on Reading

With the construction of an addition on my home wrapping up, I haven’t had much time to read. But I’m looking forward to reading a lot of books on the back deck or (if raining) the front porch. Two of these books came back with me from Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing this year. Both memoirs are written by poets. Their use of language is enchanting. The other two are books previously read and I listened to them while walking or driving.

Tracy K. Smith, To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul 

(Borzoi Book/Alfred Knopf, 2023), 265 pages with a few family photographs. 

Drawing on her family history, Tracy Smith encourages her readers to foster community and to help create a better America. As an African American, she is a descendant of slaves. Her own father was an accomplished and high-ranking Non-Commissioned Officer in the American Air Force. He even worked on space projects afterwards. Yet even he suffered because of his skin pigment.  So did her uncles and grandfathers who served in a segregated military during both World Wars. Her mother encouraged her as she sought to help her family thrive even despite challenges. 

Smith tells of her family’s history as if she’s discovering it for the first time. In this fashion, it seems to jump around, but this is not a distraction. It is as if she is sharing her story of discovery with her reader.  She also shares her own journey, especially the hard moments of losing one and the other parent and of a divorce. She also shares a visit to a Southern Plantation. There, she has an imaginary conversation with a former slave. She also shares a dream of her carried across the ocean as an enslaved woman on the middle passage. While she finds herself “freed,” she realizes it’s not the same as being a part of the “free.”

Tracy Smith has served as the Poet Laureate of the United States and has received the Pulitzer Prize. She brings her training as a poet into her essays, making the book a delight to read. Her story, being African American, as one of the “freed” in a land of the “free” is worthwhile reading from those of us who come from a different background. 

Smith was a keynote speaker at Calvin University’s Festival of Faith and Writing this year. She blew us away with the poetry used in her presentation. I hope to read some of it, but her books of poetry at Calvin sold out quickly.

Danielle Chapman, Holler: A Poet Among the Patriots

 (Atlanta: Unbound Edition Press, 2023), 185 pages

This is a hard yet delightful memoir. Chapman begins her story as a young child on a beach in Okinawa. Her father, stationed on the island as a Marine, drown and her mother nearly drowned. Into her life stepped her paternal grandfather, a former Commandant of the Marine Corp. He brought his daughter-in-law and daughter (Chapman) back to his home outside of Washington DC and took care of them . Being included in this family meant summer trips to an old family cabin in Tennessee. The cabin, where nothing had changed since the Civil War, had been built as a saloon during the early years of our nation. There, she learned of her family’s mythology, including those who had fought in the American Civil War, and the descendants of the slaves the family owned. 

Because of her grandfather’s prominence in the military and government, she grew up around heroes and those with power. While she questioned some of their attitudes, especially about race. How could a man be so brave and endure so much and yet hold such attitudes, she wondered. She even questioned her own grandfather. However, he remained loyal to her and after her death, she learned some of the things he had down while leading the Marine Corp to help African American marines fit better into the Corp.  He also fostered building relationships with those descendants of his Civil War ancestors, which continues after his death with annual reunions.  

Chapman shows us through her own family how we all have faults and yet, despite our failures, can overcome and thrive. Primarily known as a poet, Chapman’s command of the language makes this memoir a joy to read.  

I heard Chapman lecture twice at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin University in April. 

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wildness 

(1968, Tandor Audio, 2011) 11 hours and 31 minutes. Read by Michael Kramer

This is my third time through this book. It’s been nearly 30 years since I read it the second time, shortly after moving to Utah. I learned about Abbey and his writing while living in Nevada in the late 1980s and have read all but one of his books. That one is hard to find. This time I listened to the book while walking and driving. I’d somewhat forgotten just how radical the anarchist Abbey can be. Sarcasm pours through his words and he attacks his employer (the National Park Service), technology, religion, and humankind. He can love cowboys but hate cow herding. But Abbey is also a man passionate about nature and the world. He makes careful observations of nature and brings alive a place in which many people consider hostile. He’s well read. In this non-fiction work, he often refers to the writings of others. 

Abbey writes the book as if he spent the summers alone at Arches National Monument.  Arches is now a National Park but didn’t receive that status until long after Abbey’s departure. Abbey spent five years working at Arches, but he tells the story as if it was only one season. While he wrote the story as if he’s a solo ranger, since my first readings of the book, I have learned that wasn’t the case. Part of the time Abbey worked at Arches he had a wife and even a daughter, according to another writer, Paul Scott Russell.[1]

While much of the work focuses on his time at Arches, when not working as a ranger, he helps neighboring cattlemen as they round up cows. He also joins with other federal employees from other agencies, (including his own brother), looking for a lost tourist near Dead Horse Point. The found the man dead. He searches for a renegade horse up a dry canyon. With a friend, he spends a week floating through Glen Canyon. This was before a dam flooded the canyons to create Lake Powell.  Along the way, Abbey helps his reader to understand the unique landscape lost to the flooding of the canyon. 

While there is a rough edge to Abbey, I think his voice still needs to be heard. He reminds us to take a second look at the world we inhabit and to find beauty in areas many overlook. 

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac 

(1949,  HighBridge published the audible version in 2020, 4 hours and 16 minutes), narrative by Cassandra Campbell. 

I first read this book in the late 1970s, as a college student. It is a classic conservation text. Leopold, works through the year, month by month, delighting his readers with his descriptions of his farm in central Wisconsin. Each month brings new discoveries. The author not only grounds himself in the spot where he would retreat every weekend (he taught at the University of Wisconsin), but also recalls others who have lived on this land. 

One of his monthly essays involved cutting an oak which had died the previous year by a lightning strike. Using a long saw with two cutters on each end, Leopold recalls what the tree witnessed during each decade as they cut into a new set of growth rings. 

Even in the 30s and 40s, when Leopold collected these stories (they were published after his death), he understood how we were losing our connection to the land. Considered the father of conservationism, Leopold’s vision is for his readers to understand their connection to the land and to all living things. While many may question his love of hunting, for Leopold it’s done out of a higher love for the land.  In his writings, he recalls getting up early and the positioning of the stars. He muses on the migration of animals and the use of well-kept tools. Leopold observes and records. . 

I think everyone should read this book. After forty-some years, I was glad to pick it up again. While I listened to the book, I often referred to the pages of my hard copy, cherishing Leopold’s vision.  The audio version also included a wonderful essay at the beginning by Barbara Kingsolver.

A quote: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, but He is no longer the only one to do so. When some remote ancestor of ours invented the shovel, he became a giver; he could plant a tree. And when the axe was invented, he became a taker;  he could chop it down.” 

This audio book I listened to consists just of Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. The version on my shelf includes additional essays. 

[1] Russell, author of A Private History of Awe, said this at Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing years ago. He said Annie Dillard (A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek) wasn’t alone when she wrote her solo stories. 

Jesus and the Disciples: More Adventures on Water and Land

title slide with photo of a sailboat heading upwind

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
July 7, 2024
Mark 6:45-56

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, July 5, 2024

At the beginning of worship:

We’ve just celebrated the Fourth of July, America’s Independence Day. While the rain may have damped the celebration, I’m sure most of us were happy to receive it. 

Two hundred and forty-eight years ago, our forefathers and mothers came together to declare their independence from kings and tyrants. And while we have not always lived up to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence, we have offered the world a vision of hope and new possibilities. 

But I am concern when people want America to be known as a Christian nation. I am not even sure of what that means. There’s no such thing found in scripture.[1] Throughout our history, attempts to change the constitution to name America a Christian country have failed.[2] I think that’s a good thing. As Christians, we should be proud Americans. But as Christians, we tie our identity to our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, not to a nation.

We follow Jesus. We shouldn’t have to pound our beliefs into others. It should be evident in our lives. Others should, as the old gospel hymn goes, know we are Christians by our love. And if they don’t, instead of us thinking there is something wrong with them, we should examine what we’re doing. How can we be more like Jesus?

Jesus’ ministry, as seen in Mark’s gospel, involved wandering around Galilee, showing his love in acts of kindness and grace. That’s the goal worthy of those of us who attempt to place Jesus at the center of our lives. Yes, proclaiming Jesus as Lord is important; it’s what preaching is about. But more important is showing the love of God to others. 

Before reading the Scriptures:

Today, we’ll finish off the sixth chapter of Mark’s gospel today by looking at the events that happened the night and early morning after Jesus fed the 5,000.

Geography is problematic with today’s reading. Jesus sends the disciples off to the other side, to Bethsaida. And then, a few verses later, we’re told they had crossed over. However, Bethsaida was located on the north side of the lake, beyond Capernaum. You’d get there, not by crossing over, but by sailing along the shoreline to the top of the lake. 

And then, instead of arriving at Bethsaida, they go on shore at Gennesaret. It’s located on the same side of the lake as where the feeding took place. Last week, I suggested that ministry often comes to us despite our plans for something else. That’s the case here, for in Gennesaret there is much work to be done. 

Why did they not go to Bethsaida? Perhaps because the wind was too great to make the headway needed. But it doesn’t matter. Wherever Jesus lands, ministry opportunities abound. . 

Notice also the disciple’s reaction to all that had happened and is taking place. In less than twelve hours, they’ve seen the miracle of the feeding, of Jesus walking on water, and of him again demonstrating control over the weather. And yet, they still don’t get it. Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves when we struggle with faith.  Let’s hear God’s word… 

Read Mark 6:45-56

Having fed the crowd, Jesus sends off the disciples while he heads up the mountain to pray. Mountains in Mark are often a place of retreat and rest.[3]

Mark now resumes his fast-paced storytelling. We’ve seen this earlier, in the first three chapters of the gospel. “Immediately” as we’ve witnessed, is one of Mark’s favorite words.[4] We get the sense as soon as the disciples picked up all the leftovers, Jesus has them aweigh anchor and stow it so they can set sail (or row the boat). While Mark’s urgency shows the nature of the kingdom slipping into a lost world, here I wonder if the urgency of their departure has to do with Jesus protecting their egos. He wants them to leave before they soak up the praise of the crowd who benefited from the miracle.[5]

I hope that by systematically going through Mark’s gospel, you have begun to see some patterns and gain some insight into what Mark wants his readers to understand. Several of Mark’s themes are again picked up in our reading today. 

While the disciples are not threatened by a storm, as they had been earlier in Mark’s gospel,[6] they still experience difficulties on the water this night. The wind slows their progress. This, Jesus watches, perhaps from the mountain where he prayed. Then, at the fourth watch (or early morning as our reading translates it), which would be 3 AM, Jesus approaches the disciples’ boat. Interestingly, here Mark, who may have been writing to a Roman audience, uses the Roman style of timekeeping. The Romans had four watches at night. The Jews divided the night into three watches.[7]

Oddly, Mark tells us that Jesus was planning on passing them by. There are questions about the meaning of this passage. Presumably Jesus wants to go ahead of them to their next location. But the disciples spot someone walking on the water and think the worse, crying out it’s a ghost. At this point, Jesus’ speaks, calms their fears and climbs into the boat. At this point, the wind cease. 

As it was with the feeding of the 5,000, Mark doesn’t explain how Jesus pulls off walking on water. Some have sarcastically suggested he knew where the rocks were, or maybe he was walking on a sandbar, but that’s not supported by the text. Mark wants his readers to know the divine nature of Jesus. But the disciples don’t get it. We’re told they are astounded. They don’t understand. Their hearts are hardened.  But Mark continues to focus on Jesus and not the disciples, so he quickly moves on to the next adventure. 

They land in Gennesaret, a rich agricultural valley located just south of Capernaum. It’s not really a village or town, but a rural area densely populated with farmers.[8] Again, people flock to Jesus. While the disciples may not get Jesus, the people of this region of Galilee, like those in other areas, can’t get enough of Jesus. Again, they flock to him as he’s getting out of the boat. All those who are sick are brought to him. As it was with the woman who had bled for 12 years, just touching his cloak is enough to heal.[9]

The word used here and translated as “healed,” can also mean “saved.” People are healed and saved, a fitting ending to this period of Jesus’ ministry.[10]

What can we learn from this text?  

First, the opening of this story provide insight into Jesus’ spirituality. He sends the disciples off ahead of him so he can retreat into the mountains to pray. Ministry takes place in the context of other people, but it also takes a toll. Jesus’ actions affirm the need for us to spend time alone with God. If we try to always work and be busy, we’ll burn out and not have anything left to give. So be kind to yourselves and take a break when needed. 

Next, we see again how Mark prefers to show Jesus’ Christology rather than telling us about it. Instead of saying Jesus is God, Mark demonstrates it. Of course, the disciples mistake Jesus for a ghost. We’ve seen how Mark prefers to limit what he tells about Jesus’ teachings. Instead, he wants to show us Jesus’ actions. English teachers and writing coaches encourage students to show not tell. Mark demonstrates this lesson magnificently as Jesus walks on water, calms the wind, and heals the sick.  Jesus is God, which is something we should experience instead of only knowing intellectually. 

And finally, think of the disciples. They witnessed that incredible miracle as Jesus fed the 5,000 with just a few loaves and fishes. They’ve experienced a series of miracles, one after another, but still don’t get Jesus. Their hearts, we’re told, are harden. That may be, but it’s also the case that if the disciples struggled with Jesus’ identity, we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. We shouldn’t worry if we don’t fully grasp Jesus’ identity. Instead, we should honor and follow him. If we still have questions, we can approach Jesus in prayer and ask for clarification and insight into his nature. 

Jesus reveals himself in Word and Sacrament. We’ve heard the Word. We’ve seen how Jesus calmed the disciples despite their misunderstandings, and how he had mercy on those who were sick. Now we will come to the table where we pray for Jesus to reveal himself in sacrament. Amen. 

[1] While the Old Testament tells the story of Israel, which was a theocracy, such a vision is absent in the New Testament. The church is envisioned as a place where national, racial, status, and sexual boundaries are broken down. See Galatians 3:28. 

[2] Around America’s centennial (1876), there were such attempts, but they failed. 

[3] Ulrich W. Mauser, Christ in the Wilderness: The Wilderness Theme in the Second Gospel and its Basis in the Biblical Tradition (1963, Eugene, Oregon: WIPF and Stock Publishers, 2009), 109-110. 

[4] See for my discussion of  immediacy in Mark’s gospel. 

[5] In John’s gospel, after feeding the multitude, Jesus must deal with a larger crowd coming and demanding bread. See John 6. 

[6] Mark 4:35-41. See

[7] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 198. 

[8] Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville, KY: WJKP, 1996), 73. 

[9] Mark 5:25-34. 

[10] Edwards, 203. 

Sailing upwind in the Warsaw Sound

My experiences with Amateur Radio

title slide with photos of QSL cards

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

This past winter, I took an introduction to Amateur Radio class. In March, I took the exam for my Technician license. It had been almost 50 years since I had held such a license. In May, I passed the General license and am now studying for the Extra Class.

I’ve been dipping my toes into the world of radio, using a small 5-watt handheld on 2 meters and 70 cm bands. These bands have a limited distance as the higher frequencies (VHF and UHF) don’t do the skipping off the ionosphere the lower bands do. However, thanks to repeaters last night I had a conversation with a guy in West Virginia, probably 75 miles from me as the crow flies. I have been assembling equipment and soon, once again, hope to listen for someone calling CQ from around the world on the high frequency bands. Here’s a reworked piece in which I share my early teenage experiences with amateur radio in the early 1970s. 

My new license call sign is KQ4PVG, although I may apply for a vanity call sign and see if I can get a part of my old call sign (at least the YGY part) back.

I’m not sure all the reasons I got so interested in Ham Radio. Perhaps it was because I was small and there was little chance of me playing sports once I got to junior high. To compensate, I decided to excel at something else. Don Conaway, a man from our church, who only had daughters (and perhaps to compensate for that), offered to teach my brother and me about radios. 

We started meeting in the evening, once a week, at his house. We’d begin sitting around his dining room table. First, we’d practice Morse Code for fifteen minutes. That was easy because I’d taught myself Morse code (and semaphore), due to spending too many days grounded in my room. After a code session, he’d pull out some paper and for another fifteen or twenty minutes, we’d have a math and drafting class, learning Ohm’s law, how to slice the PIE formula (determining power), the meanings of various electronic symbols, and the schematics of radio components. 

After the classroom session, Mr. Conaway would take us out to his “shack,” a small white wooden building behind the house and next to a persimmon tree. I remember the latter for he tried to entice us to try a green persimmon, but we were no dummies. Later that fall, after a frost, we enjoyed a few of the ripe fruit.  

The place was crammed with electrical parts and all kinds of radios and test equipment. Here, we learned the purpose of resistors and capacitors of which we’d drawn in our schematics and how to solder. In time, we built a power supply designed to take 110 AC current and, after running it through a transformer and a bridge built out of vacuum tubes which converted the power to the desired voltage and to DC current. Then we started building a transmitter, using a 6146 tube. When finished, this transmitter was able to produce 60 watts of power. It was a simple machine, utilizing crystals to control the frequency. This meant that if you wanted change frequencies, you had to pull out one crystal and replace it with another. He gave us three crystals, two in the 80-meter band and another in the 40-meter band. 

That fall, around the time the persimmons were ripe, we took the exam. A few weeks later, I learned I’d passed and received my “ticket” (or license). It arrived in early December; about the time we’d finished building the transmitter. My ticket couldn’t have come at a better time as I wasn’t doing particularly stellar in school. It provided a bit of pride as I passed the exam before my brother, who had to retake the test.

My call sign was WN4YGY. The first three digits indicated nation (W for USA, esst of the Mississippi), class (N for novice) and 4 for the Southeastern part of the county. The last three digits (YGY) were unique to an individual. Mr. Conaway immediately came up with a phonetic rending of the last three digits of my call, “Young Girls Yell.” In more ways than one, I fondly look back on those days. 

One of these longleaf pines held up one end of my dipole antenna

Soon afterwards, Mr. Conaway came over to our house and with our help, we installed an 80-meter ½ dipole antenna. As ½ of 80 meters is 40 meters (or around 130 feet), the wire stretched from a longleaf pine tree in our front yard to one in the back yard. The halfway point was just outside my bedroom window, and a piece of coax ran from the center of the antenna through the window and on to the transmitter and receiver. I started out with equipment borrowed from Mr. Conaway, but later would add our homebuilt transmitter along with a receiver I purchased. 

My first contact was to Wayne, another young ham in Leland, NC who was my age. Leland was only across the river from us, but it was a contact. Even though Wayne went to a different school, we became friends. After we both received our driver’s licenses, we hung out together. As he was on North Brunswick’s High chess team. As my much larger school didn’t have such a team, I occasionally sparred with those on his team.  We also did a fair amount of canoeing and hunting together during our high school years. 

That winter, as the sun set, the 80-meter band came alive. The upper regions of the ionosphere strengthens in the cold darkness of winter. This allows the long wavelengths the capability of making great bounces, allowing my signal to be heard across North America and into Europe. Every day I’d rush home from school and be ready to be online as the sun set. It was exciting to hear that first “CQ” of the evening, a call from operator looking for someone with whom to chat. I’d tap out his call letters, followed by “de” (from) and my call sign. Soon, we’d be exchanging information about our location and age and the weather.

Although my brother (he’s now a mechanical engineer) eventually passed his test and received his ticket, the radio bug never really bit him. Maybe this was because I was always online, and we shared equipment. Since we also shared a room, it annoyed him when I crawled out of bed at 3 or 4 AM and pull on a headset and fire up the radio. No one else in the house could hear, but the lamp was a nuisance to him. Using CW (morse code) I enjoyed chatting to folks on the West Coast as well as in South America and Europe. Each new state or country was like a conquest. Over time the wall behind my radios were covered with QSL cards sent from other operators with whom I’d communicated..

The most exciting period during my time on-air was when an emergency net was called to relay messages from Central America. It was around Christmas 1972, the same Christmas which my friend Mark had been killed in a motorcycle accident. An earthquake had hit Nicaragua and for hours I monitored traffic for messages were coming to North Carolina. Although I never had traffic sent my way, I felt as if I was a part of something big, especially when I saw the devastation on the morning news. This was the same earthquake that my hero, Roberto Clemente, the slugger for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was killed in a plane crash while on a humanitarian mission. Death seemed to be all around me that year, but it was also enlightening to watch history unfold.

In time, I lost interest in the hobby. By the time I graduated from high school, I was no longer spending time with the radio. At one point, I purchased a used low power transceiver. I got it up and running using 2 watts from a six-volt battery. Using a portable long-wire antenna, I could take this unit camping with me. But I lost interest and boxed it all away. The radios I used seemed so modern at the time. But they, were really behind times as everything was shifting to transistors and diodes and eventually to pre-wired circuit boards. Sometime in college, I gave all my equipment to the man who had helped me earn my licenses. By then I was into other hobbies.