All posts by Robert Shaw

Visiting the Fiftieth State

As a child I had collected decals from each state we had visited as a family. Not until our children were teenagers did we get to visit the 49th state, Alaska. Utah remained missing from my collection of visited states until 2010. This year Lori and I completed our set of states visited with a long wished for trip to Hawai’i.

Lori did nearly all of the planning: finding the best prices for flights and lodging and making reservations. She also prepared a list of places we would visit.

Our trip began long before dawn, at 3:30 on the morning of October 8th, with an Uber ride to Tampa International Airport. Two plane rides later we landed in Maui! Our first stop was the Old Wailuku Inn, our base for our stay on the island of Maui. I expected this would be a short stop to check in, unpack, and perhaps a twenty minute nap before our initial exploration of the island as it was only 2 in the afternoon, Hawai’i time. Our bodies decided differently, extending that nap, as we had been mostly awake for  the 17 hour journey preceded by only a short sleep the night before. Thus we arose and were dressed well before breakfast the following morning.

Touring Maui

Our hosts recommended Gypsy Guide, an app for our phone that provides turn by turn directions with commentary for nearly all of the interesting sites on Maui. In addition to providing directions and pointing out interesting places to visit, the narrator commented on Hawaiian history and legends. This app was the next best thing to a personal tour guide at less than the cost of tips.

[Click on any of the images below to see a larger version.]

Our first tour was to visit Haleakala, the dormant volcano on the east end of Maui. At 10,023 feet, Haleakala creates it own weather and controls the weather for much of the island. Our guide pointed out various landmarks as we drove up, including a grove of eucalyptus trees. The Trade Winds push warm moist air up its slope bringing rain and a misty fog that frequently envelops its top. The wind mixes fine cinders with the mist as it slowly erodes the caldera.

We hiked a short distance across the crater valley and back. A little less than a mile each way. The whole hike is 11 miles, with several thousand feet of elevation  change. Those who do hike the trail typically seek rides back to their cars at the top of the trail.

After our short hike we got a brief glimpse of a mountain on the big island (Hawai’i), probably Mauna Kea.

While there we saw rare and unique plants called Sliverswords or ‘Ahinahina. These grown to about 30 inches tall (judging by stalks from last year’s growth). The ones shown below were only about six inches tall with 3 or 4 inch silvery leaves specifically adapted to the harsh environment.


The following morning we toured the middle and south side of the island including a walk on its beautiful beaches.

Later that day we drove through the lava field on Haleakala’s south side. Here the ominous gray sky matched the black field of ‘a’a and pahoehoe, two types of lava formations. ‘A’a, as seen in this photo, is rough and jagged. Pahoehoe has a smooth or rope-like surface.

Before running out of daylight we visited the Iao Valley, nestled into Maui Komohana, the West Maui Mountains formed from the erosion of an extinct volcano. This valley is historically significant as it was the sight of a major battle leading to King Kamehameha taking control of Maui and unifying all of the islands under his government.

The valley is also home to Kepaniwai Park which includes gardens memorializing the various peoples who came and settled the islands: Hawaiian, American missionary, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, and Filipino.

Our last day on Maui was spent driving the Hana Highway, a 52 mile road that follows the coastline. I had presumed that a half tank of gas would get us out and back with a reasonable margin. But that was before I had seen and experienced the over 600  turns and 59 mostly single lane bridges. Fortunately we were able to buy gas in Hana. Somewhere along this route we visited a black sand beach, formed from particles of lava.

On Thursday we said “mahalo” to our hosts at the Old Wailuku Inn. Our stay with them had been everything we had hoped for in a Bed and Breakfast: a clean, quiet, nicely appointed room, a beautiful garden where one might sit and read, a sumptuous breakfast with great conversation with other travelers, and  helpful hosts.

Touring the big island

We flew from Maui to the big island, Hawai’i, landing at Kona Airport on the leeward side of the island near the city of Kailua then immediately drove north around Mauna Kea to Hilo. We stopped for lunch in Waimea, cattle country.  According to our tour guide, and Wikipedia, the Parker Ranch which surrounds Waimea, is the largest privately owned cattle ranch in the United States. So in a little restaurant we tried a Loco Moko: a layer of rice, a large beef patty, fried eggs, and brown gravy. Maybe it was the Hawaiian beef, but this was far superior to any hamburger.

We stopped to overlook the Waipio Valley. The black sand beach can be accessed by a long hike down and later back up a very steep hill. We saw several people who had visited the beach and were thrilled to have reached the parking lot after a swim.

Several years ago tree frogs were inadvertently released on Hawai’i. In their native environment snakes control their population, here they are limited only by the food they can find. Thus they serenaded us all night long.

In the morning we drove to the most active volcano in the world, Kilauea. There we listened to a volcanologist tell us about its recent and current activity. This is currently the best view the public gets of the caldera after a lava flow destroyed Crater Rim Drive. Lava does not currently flow from nor is readily visible here. The smoke plume comes from a lake of lava within Hale Ma’uma’u crater which is inside the distant caldera.

An aggressive hiker can see lava flow from the a crater closer to the shore. This requires a five mile hike. One ranger talked about visiting the active flow with his son, buying him boots especially for this trek. At the conclusion of that hike, the ranger son’s shoes had been destroyed by the heat of the ground. We did not take that hike, but returned to the same overlook as the above panoramic photograph that later evening. This second photograph uses the same magnification. Occasionally we could see blobs of lava rising above the crater rim, as if tossed by an unseen hand.

We also returned to Kilauea on our last day on Hawai’i, starting from the Kona side. The following photographs are from both of those excursions as we drove down the Chain of Craters Road taking an occasional hike.

We were impressed by the trees and plants, even with fist sized fruit, that grew among the volcanic cinders.

On our second trip to the Chain of Craters we took a short hike out to see an 800 foot long fissure through which lava had flowed several decades earlier. This fissure was surrounded by pahoehoe.

These petroglyphs were made over a 500 year period beginning around 1325 AD +/- 125 years. Early Hawaiians would make and embellish small indentations to deposit umbilical cords as part of a ritual to assure long life.

On our second morning in Hilo we ventured off the route suggested by our guide and found a grove of macadamia nut trees and a viewed a processing plant.

After a long-cut (a shortcut that turned out differently than expected) we found this little painted church. It is significant as one of their former pastors had left this church to attend lepers who were exiled to a nearby island. Significantly it has survived two lava flows that passed nearby.

The painted back wall gives the illusion that the chapel is much longer than it looks.

We also found three sea turtles lying near a beach crowded with people swimming and  splashing in the waves. The turtles were as unconcerned of the people as the people were of the turtles. Thus we took our photos from a safe distance and continued our journey.

The crabs however were very shy, disappearing as soon as we stepped near. This one let me take a quick shot of it.

After two full days on the rainy side of the big island our tour guide led us back around to Kona, passing through Waimea twice. The second time was not a long-cut, but an intentional loop to the northwestern coastal area.

Our guide urged us to stop at a botanical garden. He offered two and we chose the first. The founders had cleaned up and planted a valley that sloped steeply to the ocean with various plants most of which can be found on the islands. Technically nothing is indigenous to Hawai’i. Plants that had existed prior to the arrival of the Polynesians, had either floated there on chance ocean or atmospheric currents. The Polynesians brought edible plants and flowers with them plus hogs. Early sailors brought Norfolk Pines with them to provide tall straight timbers to replace broken masts as well as goats, cattle, and rats. Farmers imported sugar cane, pineapple, and chickens plus mongoose to eat the rats (a failed experiment).

This colorful gecko joined us for lunch outside the Low Store Deli and Fruit Market.

The loop to the northwestern corner of the big island yielded several interesting sights including a large stone platform built by hand in the late 1700’s and still considered sacred by Hawaiians and a statue of King Kamehameha who had directed building of that platform. We were most impressed by this vista, from the side of Kohala (an extinct volcano) where we could see three of the four other mountains: Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai. Hawai’i’s fifth mountain Kilauea is behind Mauna Loa. A sixth volcano, Lo’ihi, is expected to break the surface of the water and connect with Kilauea in the next 10,000 to 100,000 years.

What Hawaiian vacation would be complete without attending a luau? Lori had found one within walking distance of our hotel in Kailua-Kona. After breakfast we walked over to the site to verify we could find it. We arrived at the exact moment the cooks began preparing the pig to roast for our dinner. Earlier they had stoked a fire in a pit and covered it with melon sized lava rocks. The cooks used long tongs to remove a few of the rocks and stuff them strategically inside the pig. Then they layered moist banana tree stalks over the fire and placed the pig atop the yellow stalks. Then they covered the pig with banana leaves and ti leaves. These were covered with cotton cloths, which were then covered with about three inches of dirt. Eight hours later they reversed the process, now dressed in traditional garb then served the succulent pork as part of our dinner.

After we ate, we were entertained by hula dancers.

100 year old coffee tree with ripe cherries.

Among the last stops on our tour was a coffee farm and processor. In  addition to walking among the fragrant trees and watching their mill pop the beans from the fruit, we also sampled some of their product lines. This premium Kona coffee needed neither cream nor sugar, but at a price that far exceeded what we could afford to brew ourselves.

Three flights and an Uber ride later we had returned to our home in Tampa.

Where did I experience God in all this?

The geology impressed me with the age of the earth and all of God’s preparations to place humanity in an appropriate environment. In many ways, Hawai’i is a microcosm example of the creation story found in the first chapter of Genesis. Yet the numerous Puerto Rican tree frogs and other invasive species demonstrated how easily we humans can damage creation and the importance of good stewardship of God’s creation.

I was also impressed by the diverse people who consider themselves Hawaiians. Some with only a sliver or even no genetic connection with the original Polynesian  settlers. Their ability to work together across cultural lines, while preserving their ancestral heritage demonstrates a hope for world peace. Yet the treachery by which Hawai’i became part of the United States and continued disharmony as a result provides a warning about acceptance of strangers with strange customs.

I was also impressed with the relaxed pace on these two islands. Rarely did we see anyone exceed the speed limit as nearly everyone was willing to accept life as God makes it available, one day at a time. The Hana Highway is a notable example; the locals continue to resist replacing the one lane bridges as two lane bridges would remove a natural impediment that forces visitors and residents to take time and wave at each other, honoring the image God has placed in each and every person.

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
— Genesis 1:27 (NRSV)

All We Like Sheep

Perhaps I should have listened to or better even, sung George Fredrick Handle’s Messiah before writing my sermon this week.

On Sunday evening we heard the Florida Orchestra and Master Choral of Tampa Bay sing this amazing oratorio. Before the concert guest conductor, David Lockington, and the tenor soloist, Colin Balzer, answered a few questions about the performance.

Among their fascinating remarks Colin Balzer noted how the audience nearly dances in their seats while the choir sings: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” But he noted that if we attend to the meaning of the words, we should not be pleased that we “have gone astray and have led everyone from his own way.” This is not an affirmation that we like to eat mutton or wear wool, but a condemnation that we are no better than animals. This condemnation comes clear in the last few measures of this section when Handel abruptly changes the mood and tempo as the chorus intones: “and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Click below to hear this section performed by a different choir and orchestra.

Have you experienced the euphoria of temptation and the joy of bringing others along on our adventures? Only later do we experience the price paid for our misadventures.

As much as we might frolic with “All we like sheep” Handel offers his grandest music when substitutionary atonement gives way to resurrection in his Hallelujah Chorus and his final chorus “Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen.” Each of which readily draw people to their feet.

 So to might we offer our grandest praise during this Christmas to bringing our praises of honor and glory to the everlasting Christ who sits upon the throne of God.

Unity in Diversity

“We’re not always this friendly to one another,” the councilman said to me as I sat down at their table this morning. He continued to explain that they frequently have strong arguments against one another as they battle enacting policies, regulations, and the city budget.

This morning a First Responders Breakfast sponsored by the local Women’s Club provided an opportunity for these six politicians to show their respect for one another despite their differences. This morning the five councilmen and the mayor appeared to be six friendly neighbors.

Their example of friendship despite their political differences parallels my hope for the church that we might love and respect one another striving to maintain our unity for Christ’s mission using our theological differences to advance God’s Kingdom.

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit,
sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
— 1 Peter 3:8 (NRSV)

Lemon Stir Fry

2015-09-26 12.25.07

A quick nutritious meal.

Makes 2 servings. Preparation time ~25 minutes.


1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup long grain rice
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup carrots, cut into short, thin sticks
1 medium zucchini, cut in half lengthwise then sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp lemon pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp powdered ginger
3 green onions, chopped
8 oz shrimp
4 ounces baby spinach leaves


  1. Bring 1 and 1/2 cups water to boil. Stir in salt, olive oil and rice. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Heat large frying pan then add canola oil.
  3. Saute carrots and zucchini for five minutes before adding red pepper.
  4. Stir flour into 1/4 cup of water until smooth. Then stir in lemon pepper, garlic powder, and powdered ginger.
  5. When vegetables are soft stir in shrimp.
  6. When shrimp begins to become opaque stir in sauce.
  7. Add spinach and cover for 2 minutes, then fold wilted spinach into vegetables.
  8. Serve promptly over rice.

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Be careful opening this book.

I opened it thinking I would read a few pages before going to sleep only to set it down nine hours later after reading all 369 pages.

Andy Weir successfully strings together plausible solutions to plausible problems of surviving after being stranded on Mars. Each solution stresses a habitability system beyond its original design only to result in a new potentially life ending problem. In addition to exploring human resourcefulness, in the face of nearly certain agonizing death, he also considers how other people would risk or advance their careers to save one person.

Weir uses good science and solid engineering throughout most of the book. Only in the final chapters does he allow the plot to rely on improbable solutions.

I am confident that you will also find The Martian by Andy Weir enjoyable and informative while shining a light on human capacity to survive and help one another.


I trust my weekly reflections has lifted and challenged your spirit.

For several months I have related these reflections to my sermon for the coming Sunday. More recently, including most of July and August, I have posted my weekly reflections both here and at the website for the congregation I now serve, Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church. You can also access audio of the related sermons in those posts.

Beginning this week those reflections will only be posted on the church website. If you would like to in continuing to receive my weekly reflections you may also subscribe to that website.

I anticipate using this space for occasional reflections and book reviews. I hope that you will continue to visit me here as well.

Yours in Christ,
Robert Shaw


Ready or Not

If temptation were like a lion roaring in the jungle, one might turn and run the other way. But temptation is more like a tiny snake, hiding among the path were one might walk, able to slip through the narrowest crack, then inject its poison before one might react.

Donation of the British Museum.
Sumerian phalanx formation. c. 2450 BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A thousand years or more ago a well-disciplined armed unit could readily withstand arrows by marching tightly together, with soldiers on the outside holding their shields side-by-side forming walls around the group while soldiers in the middle holding their shields over everyone’s head providing a protective roof. But flaming arrows were more dangerous because they could provoke panic. If only one soldier broke ranks, gaping holes occur in the unit’s armor.

Even today panic can disrupt armor one might neatly arrange against temptations and evil. I have known managers who snap at candidates for a job to see if they will panic under stress.

In our culture of rugged individualism panic can cause one to perceive, if only for a moment, weaknesses that another person might exploit. And in that moment of panic, other weakness appear.

Faith in God, trusting that we are not alone but aligned with Christ guards us from panic. If in a moment when all seems lost, when all of one’s friends have departed, we can remember that the Holy Spirit is as close as our next breath, and avert panic averted and we might face a critical moment as a thinking rational human being instead of a reactive animal.

With all of these, take the shield of faith,
with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

— Ephesians 6:16 (NRSV)

How has practicing your faith helped you prepare to quench panic?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, August 23rd at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.


1985-1989 Dodge Aries
1985-1989 Dodge Aries
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the early 1980’s Chrysler Corporation nearly went bankrupt their stock price had dropped from about $8 per share to under $2. Lee Iacocca, became their CEO and personally appeared in advertisements promising to rebuild Chrysler. I had considered buying a few hundred shares during those dark weeks for Chrysler, when bankruptcy seemed more certain than growth. The upside appeared nearly unlimited. But risking nearly a month’s pay seemed quite foolish. From this side of history, betting on Chrysler would have been a superb investment for in the next two years the stock price soared to over $15 per share. A year after that it was still growing, soaring past $26 per share. And by 1987, it had split and those $2 shares would have been worth over $52 each. My investment of a month’s pay might have blossomed into over two years of salary.

Alas, Chrysler was a missed opportunity for me.

The letter to the Ephesians has similar warning:

Walk carefully,
not as unwise, but as wise,
redeeming the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
— Ephesians 5:15-16 (author’s translation).

Many translations interpret verse 16 as “make the most of the time,” but I wonder if the author had intended a play on words, urging followers to redeem each opportunity as God has also redeemed us, as the original Greek words have meanings of ‘redeem’ as well as ‘make the most’ and ‘opportunity’ as well as ‘time’. But the author did not write about our financial opportunities, but about our spiritual opportunities to praise God. Waste none, but redeem each moment for singing praises.

What opportunities have you redeemed? When have you redeemed a problematic situation to make a spiritual connection with God?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, August 16th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.

Anger: The Dangerous Emotion

Angry Sphynx
Angry Sphynx (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Preparing for this Sunday’s sermon I have seen pictures of angry people, angry dogs, angry cats, even angry birds. I suppose every animal with a spine can express anger. Anger makes us seem bigger and more powerful, ready to take on whoever or whatever has invaded our space. Anger helps us assert authority when we need defend ourselves, our home, or our loved ones, and for humans, our ideals.

But if used too freely anger can deter collaborating resulting in statements like: “I tried to tell you but …”

And once anger has inflamed our passion it distorts our memories of events and closes our ears and our eyes to our opponent’s virtues.

On the other hand, overly suppressing anger, acting nice in the face of rudeness, interference, or aggression helps no one. The person acting nice gets abused and disrespected and the one who violates cultural norms does not learn about boundaries our community respects.

Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and do not make room for the devil.
— Ephesians 4:26-27 (NRSV)

But how are we to find a balance?

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath
and anger and wrangling and slander,

together with all malice,
and be kind to one another, tenderhearted,
forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
— Ephesians 4:31-32 (NRSV)

 One gift we have is to listen deeply and carefully when anger stirs our gut: To listen to ourselves discerning why our anger has arisen. And to listen to our opponents and discern what good and valuable and useful contribution might they be trying to offer or how might we have over stepped their boundaries.

I will have more to say about this passage at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church on Sunday, August 9th.  For an audio recording of that sermon go to Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church’s website.

One Calling

I find the process of boarding a plane perplexing. As soon as seating rows are called passengers dash for the head of the line, as if being a few steps closer might get them to their destination a few seconds sooner, or perhaps their carry-on items might find a better position in the overhead storage rack. But the plane will not leave until everyone is seated and their carry-ons safely stowed and we will all arrive at the same instant, no matter how quickly one boards the plane.

Airplane Seating (Photo Credit US State Department)What if instead of striving to get one’s self quickly boarded passengers would oriented themselves to getting everyone seated and everyone’s baggage stowed? Perhaps taller able-bodied passengers with a strong gift for spatial arrangement could board first and take charge of carefully loading each carry-on where its owner could readily find it, filling all the available space. Perhaps patient individuals could guide first time fliers to their seats showing them where to find their seat belt and light switches. Experienced grandparents might sit next to parents of young children, gently coaching them.

This is my vision for the Church. A place where the passengers on a spiritual journey use their gifts to assist those around them and to allow assistance by other travelers. A place where we recognize that striving for one’s personal advancement deters everyone, but gently and patiently striving for everyone’s progress with humility, advances the person.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord,
beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another in love,
making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
— Ephesians 4:1-3 (NRSV)

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, August 2nd at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.