Monday, April 29, 2013

The Journey Continues

The Journey Continues

My Sabbatical journey continues and I am visiting my third (of three) monasteries. I am currently at St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, New Jersey.

St. Mary’s is the home of Delbarton High School and the Abbey is tucked away off Route 24 between Morristown and Mendham. I flew into Newark last night and ventured over here today. I took a ‘tour’ however, and saw where Janet used to live and where I used to live. It evoked many memories of my younger days. I stopped at the Chester Diner in Chester, New Jersey and had matzo ball soup and a Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on a hard roll. If you are not from New Jersey I cannot even begin to explain it. It was wonderful. I’m not sure if it was wonderful because it tasted good (it did) but because it was a meal of great memory.

The guest house here has only two guest rooms so they don’t have tons of overnight guests. One is not ignored here but greeted warmly and well. The man who runs the guest house and the monks have all been wonderful. Praying with them and dining with them was a rich and excellent experience. It helped, of course, that I attended seminary with one of the monks many years ago so it was like being with an old friend.

My one piece of wisdom for today is this. God is good.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Failure of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev

April 15th was a great day in Boston until two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There was death and destruction and chaos. There were also some amazing things that transpired.

The first was the amazing heroism of first responders. While so many people were fleeing the bomb blasts it was also painfully obvious that many people had been badly wounded. In the midst of the smoke, the chaos, and debris, first responders were running toward the spot of the blast. They didn’t know if there were going to be more bombs or shooters, or whatever. They ran toward the spot of the blast.

These were police officers, paramedics, fire department folks, a whole slew of people ran toward the bomb blasts. So often we overlook these people and there they were, serving and protecting the population. Civilians did also and lives were saved by the heroic efforts on the part of the people who defied logic and ran toward the danger rather than away. They were heroes of the day.

Secondly, personnel at the hospitals did an amazing job. They were facing a large number of grievously wounded people. Their heroic and skilled efforts kept the loss of life far lower than anyone could have imagined.

Thirdly, the investigative ability of law enforcement was amazing. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev went home and went about their business. Dzhokhar tweeted about the bombings like any other citizen, went to his dorm room, went to class, and went to parties. It really appears as if Dzhokhar and Tamerlan believed they had gotten away with it. They didn’t realize that law enforcement was busily putting pieces of the crime together----and then when they did realize it, the two brothers went into panic mode. A man was robbed of money from his ATM, a 7/11 was robbed, a police officer lost his life, as did Tamerlan. Dzhokhar was arrested, badly wounded, hiding out in a boat in Watertown. Excellent police work prevailed.

Fourth, the leaders of that region shut the city down. They were looking for Dzhokhar but they also believed they needed to keep people safe. Too many had already lost their lives and they did everything they could to protect everyone else, and they were successful.

Were there flaws? Of course. Initially, many news reports were inaccurate. It seems in the age of ‘instant news’ getting the story first is more important than getting the story right. There was a great deal of misinformation broadcast. Thankfully the networks acknowledged their errors and corrected themselves.

For the most part, even politicians behaved. Most had the good sense and decency to remain quiet and acknowledge there was nothing constructive they could add to the national conversation other than to offer prayers and support. A small number of them decided to announce that Dzhokhar, an American citizen, should be treated as an enemy combatant. They have already received too much attention for this bizarre idea and hopefully their words will be quickly put to rest. Thankfully, however, most people in public office have remained respectful and quiet. For this we can be ever thankful.

Something struck me over these past couple of weeks. I’ve was away and striving to grow spiritually and purposely looking for that which is good in the world around us. I have grown very cynical over the years and I’m working diligently to move beyond that. In my travels I had to fly.

Flying requires patience. Going through the TSA lines means emptying one’s pockets, removing the belt off of pants, (risking pants falling down), going through a scanner, and dealing with TSA officials who are often vilified. I found them to be polite and courteous. I saw no one being rude to these officials and I saw no rudeness on the part of any of the officials. When I was asked something I was asked politely and I responded in kind. I saw my behavior as not atypical. It was going on around me. I also realized, while in the plane, if anyone behaved badly, people would no longer ignore the person. Other passengers would rise up to protect themselves, one another, and the plane.

We have, as a nation, adjusted. Our world has changed and it is a more dangerous place. We can bemoan that fact and grouse about it, or we can recognize this as something beyond our control and live our lives. We seem to have adjusted. There are isolated incidents of people behaving badly, but they are isolated.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev killed and wounded many people. I’m only guessing, but somehow they decided they were going to devastate Boston and mortally wound a nation. Boston has proven to be stronger than the two brothers ever imagined and the nation goes on. Tamerlan is dead and Dzhokhar is in custody and in a hospital bed, badly wounded. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev failed to bring a city to its knees. And to me, that is the ultimate piece of good news in all this.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Monastery Experience in New Mexico

I’ve been debating about posting this.  I journaled while at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico.  This may be a little crude to read and is really not proof-read in any way.  I decided, however, to share my journey.

Day 1

I’m not even sure where to begin with my experience today.  Last night I stayed at the Abiquiu Inn nd drove to Christ in the Desert.  It was about 15 miles from Abiquiu and then down a dirt road, another 13 miles.  The dirt road probably took me about half an hour.  I rented a 4 wheel drive vehicle; which was a good move.

Abiquiu is amazingly remote.  I had no cell signal approaching the town and none at the hotel.  I was able to access Internet at the hotel.  I am fairly certain I will be able to do so in the guest breakfast room as well.  The monastery is amazingly remote and rustic.  My room is tiny with no electricity.  I guess you can say it’s cozy.  I do have a heater in it and a battery operated lantern.  I also brought a flashlight; a good move.

Honestly, my initial reaction was to be freaked out.  Seriously so.  This place is in a magnificent canyon and the region is as remote as I have ever been.  I remember when we saw Merom, our Church Camp in Indiana, as ‘remote.’  This place makes Merom look like downtown someplace.  I believe I was on the verge of a panic attack.  I was able to catch my breath and now I am calmer.  I prayed in the chapel and read for a while and had a chance to get my bearings.  I’ll be fine.  I realize I can leave if I desire but I don’t want to do so.  This place is a challenge and I feel I need to spend my time here for the next few days.

Christ in the Desert is a place I learned about 10 years ago and have always wanted to come.  It was always a remote dream and my sabbatical and the subsequent grant, made what I thought to be impossible, possible.

Prayer time was good and lunch was quite interesting.  Unlike Saint Meinrad with the comparatively plush guest house and guest dining areas, at Christ in the Desert, guests eat with the monks.  The meal is silent with a reader reading spiritual reading.  Then some of the monks serve everyone.  The 1pm meal is the main meal of the day and it was abundant and quite good. 

It is silent here.  Very silent.  I believe I might enjoy the quiet joy of this place.  If I can endure.

Day 2

I had to sleep without by bipap machine last night and will have to do so for four more nights.  I was concerned I would not be able to sleep.  Thankfully, I slept decently.  I was only up once in the middle of the night.

Okay, in terms of too much information, here it goes.  I had to use the restroom in the middle of the night.  I’m in my late 50's and so this is no huge surprise.  Most people middle aged or older get up several times during the night.  The difference here is that the rest room is down the walk way, three rooms.  It is brisk out and so it was chilly, but the other thing is that night here is pitch black.  My room was pitch black and the outdoors was pitch black.  I have a feeble battery operated lantern they give guests and my flashlight.  Thankfully, the flashlight was very helpful.  I pride myself on having the ability to navigate in the dark, but the darkness here is overwhelming.  It is amazing to be surrounded by total darkness and silence. 

My ‘work detail’ today was putting labels and preparing batteries for solar powered lamps for the rooms.  The feeble lanterns are, I’m guessing, no more.  I doubt they will be missed very much.

Last night my wind down time was reading a novel.  Thankfully, I have a Kindle Fire which illuminates quite nicely. Reading a regular book in the dark would be impossible.  I will need to bring that to the guest breakfast room to charge later today.

Today I cut myself a bit of a break and didn’t go to Lauds or Mass.  I really do not get into Mass very much as Holy Communion is not available for we Protestant heathens.  If I could leave after the homily, I’d be thrilled.  I prayed Lauds later in the morning right before Terce.  Tomorrow, I will be there at 5:45AM for Lauds and Mass, however.  They have Vigil at 4:00AM and I think I will pass on that.

Christ in the Desert is a Benedictine monastery and it reminds me more of a Trappist monastery.  Saint Meinrad has a very active outside ministry where as Christ in the Desert does not.  They pretty much stay on premises and pray the Liturgy of the Hours seven times, which is the same as the Trappists.  They also do all 150 Psalms each week.

Saint Meinrad has their own unique chant where as Christ in the Desert uses classic Gregorian Chant.  Whereas Saint Meinrad has a large, magnificent church, the church here is actually very tiny.  Behind the altar is a clear window that has a magnificent view of a cliff.  The stark simplicity of the church blends well with the landscape.

Yesterday I was unsure of my ability to stay here.  I’m soft and this place is for hearty people.  Between the thin air, being overweight, and having bad knees, the hill from the guesthouse to the common area and church was just not doable.  I’ve taken to driving it and while I feel badly about that, it’s making my stay here a ton easier.  Staying here is roughing it no matter how one chooses to slice it.  I’ve gotten myself into a good spot.  I got the gas heater to adjust to my comfort level.  Last night I went from really cold to really hot and then finally found the happy medium.  My Kindle helped me read at night and my cell phone worked fine as an alarm clock.  I had purchased a battery operated clock but the ticking was making me crazy.  I found I can e-mail Janet once a day and so I’m pretty much settled in.  I’ve been here for 24 hours and I’m allowing the adventure of each day to handle itself.  This is, however, extremely difficult.  I’m surrounded by dirt everywhere I go and the feeling of isolation is very present.

Kathleen Norris read once that Americans are a society of optimism and denial.  We think, we hope, we even pray for the best, but do not accept it when it is not what we had hoped and prayed for.  She says this in reference to the Psalms which are always real; even painfully real.

This really struck me as true.

While doing Lectio this morning I was contemplating the Lord’s Prayer and God as Father.  Does God get annoyed with us?  Sure.  Does God even not love us or forgive us?  I thought about my daughters and wondered what it would take for me to not love them.  Do I get annoyed with them?  Yes, of course.  But not love them?  I can’t imagine that.  It reminds me that God loves us simply because we are His children.

Day 3

Today, finally, the sun is out.  It’s still a bit chilly, but the sun is out.  The gloominess of the weather, and the cold of the outdoor’s was really annoying yesterday.

Last night I slept as  well as I can without my bipap machine.  I only had to get up once during the night which was good on one hand, but not good on the other.  The altitude means that you need to drink more water.  The water from the tap is full of sulfa and smells awful.  I may have to break down and purchase the bottled water they are selling in the gift shop.  I’m guessing they sell the water because guests can’t hand the tap water.  Ugh.

I was, again, astounded by how dark it gets at night.  After I turned everything off I put my hand in front of my face, probably just a few inches, to see if I could see it.  I couldn’t.  When I opened the door to use the restroom last night, I was again reminded of how amazingly dark it is here.

Last night I was sleeping and awakened by a terrifying sound.  It was a coyote howling.  Then other coyotes began to howl.  One coyote was amazingly close.  I was happy that I have a door to my room (which opens to the outside) and that it was shut and locked.  The building is adobe style and there is an adobe wall around us.  In fact there is a wall and gates around the entire guest house compound.  I’m thinking I have a better understanding as to why there is a wall.  I did, however, when I used the rest room, use my flashlight to have a good look around for beady eyes looking to pounce on me.

Today as I was driving back to my room from the common area I had to stop and wait for some cattle to cross the road.  They obviously belong to a rancher as they all had tags on their ears. 

By the way, for those who are wondering, the cattle crossed the road to get to the other side.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the chapel praying and reading.  I was struck, looking out the window at the side of the cliff, that there are evergreen trees growing in the cliff.  They are scattered and many of them look surprisingly hearty.  I find it amazing that these trees can grow on the side of a cliff.

The vegetation here is sage brush and evergreens, as well as many things I’ve never seen.  The region here is obviously very mountainous and rocky and amazingly dry. 

This monastery is very small.  The monks are not very friendly and will talk, seemingly grudgingly  in small doses to guests.  I asked one of them how many there are and he said that when everyone is home, there are 25 of them.  Meals are a very unique experience.  Breakfast is available for the guests in a separate room, in silence.  They have a variety of things to choose from; the only complaint I have is that it’s all instant coffee.  I’ve adjusted a bit.

Lunch is served at 1pm and is the main meal of the day.  The monastic superiors sit at a table in front, the monks sit at a long table facing the center of the room to the superiors’ right, and the guests sit, again facing the center of the room, to the superior’s left.  There is a prayer ritual to start the meal and then everyone is seated.  A reader reads from a short section of the Bible, and then begins to read another book.  Then a group of monks serve everyone.  They bring a surprising array of dishes around to everyone and offer each serving to us.  It’s very humbling as they come and bow before you.  They eat no meat from four legged animals and it’s been pretty much southwestern food.  My first meal was chicken enchilada’s and yesterday was some sort of southwestern chicken sausage with potatoes and peppers.  Rice is served at every meal as there are many Asian monks.  Red beans are served at every meal as this is, of course, the Southwest.

At the end of the meal, a reading comes from the Book of Martyrs, there is a closing prayer, and the monks process into the monastery.  We go off and do our thing.

Supper is a buffet and is generally made up of leftovers from lunch.  If you didn’t like lunch, you won’t like supper.  Everyone does their own thing and music is played in the background and everyone eats in silence.

It is light enough to shave and shower and then in an hour I’m going on a brewery tour.  The monks make beer, Monk’s Ale, ‘made with care and prayer.’

I went on the tour.  It was a long walk up and down hills in this canyon and they have a tiny brewing set up.  I believe they have another one in Santa Fe they use as well.  Brother Christian gave us the tour and gave us samples of Monks’ Ale and Monks’ Wit.  Both were good, but I enjoyed the ‘Wit’ better.  There were two other ‘select’ brews as well.  They are growing their own hops right here in the canyon.  It was a bit early for beer but I think I had all of about 4 ounces so I’ll get over it.  The walk exhausted me.  Being very out of shape in thin air.....  Yikes!

There is a monk who seems to be something of a hermit.  He works outdoors all day and has been hard at work in the hop field.  I’ve never seen him in chapel or at any of the meals.  He comes in, sees if anyone wants to dig holes (Not me!), and goes out and works.  One of the guests asked him if he is aware of the headlines.  He said simply, “Nope, but I did hear we have a new Pope.”

Without making any sort of judgment on his choice I was thinking about myself.  Would I be happy not knowing what is going on in the world?  Right now, hear at the Abbey, I am on the Internet about 10 minutes and I’m using all the time to read e-mail from Janet and to send her an e-mail as well.  I know the U of L men won and the U of L women lost, but that is about all.  I suspect the monks do not watch much, if any television.  They do have a satellite dish, but that may just be for the Internet and phone.  Cable does not run here.

Their entire power supply comes from solar.  They have solar panels set up to collect sunlight and convert it into electricity.  This place is 13 miles off the highway and the highway isn’t near very much as well.

I’m going to have to take my laptop up to the common area and breakfast room to plug it in and get it charged again.  My delightful travelogue has been a joy to write, but I’m soon running out of juice.

I’m amazed at reliance on basic technology.  Electricity is something we use each and every day and really do not think about.  My cell phone goes on at night and it’s simply as an alarm clock.  I have it in ‘airplane’ mode so it doesn’t seek a non-existent signal.  How many times a day do I check or use my cell?  Countless.  Reading e-mail once a day is also a change.  Not watching or reading the news?

Sometimes I wish I didn’t know what was going on in the world.  It is often seriously depressing or exasperating.  I’m also aware, however, that my ministry very much involves interacting with and engaging the world around me.  The monks here do not do that.  They set themselves apart and pray for a world they know very little about.  To them, that knowledge appears to make little difference.  Perhaps they are right.  It really doesn’t matter, however, what my opinion is.  I do know that when they prayed in thanksgiving for the safe arrival of their guest, that guest being made, it felt good to know they prayed for me and cared.  Maybe that is all that really matter is that people care enough to pray for us and with us.

Sitting in the chapel, chanting Psalms is a unique experience.  The Psalms are a section of the Bible people do not really engage a great deal.  We all know and love Psalm 23 and maybe Psalm 150 with all the praising of God.  When we feel rotten about ourselves, Psalm 51 comes in handy, but we often don’t think of the Psalms a great deal.

On monasteries they chant Psalms every day and they chant every single Psalms.  At Christ in the Desert they chant all 150 Psalms every week.  Even if you are here for only a part of the week, and only at some of the prayer times, one gets a full dose of Psalms.

Some of the Psalms are not a lot of fun.  In Psalms 135 and 136 which we just chanted, we ‘celebrate’ God destroying Sihon King of the Amorites and Og the King of Bashan.  Psalm 137 ends with the hopeful anticipation of crushing the skulls of Babylonian babies against the rocks.  Hard to celebrate stuff like that, but that seems to be part of what the Psalms are about.

Something I admire about monks is that they pray the rough parts of the Bible that I really don’t like to look at.  My faith journey often revolves around goodness and kindness and being ‘nice’ to other people.  Crushing the skulls of babies and celebrating the death of rulers is not something I generally applaud.  I keep thinking how horrible some people have been, but we generally don’t write hymns about killing Bin Laden...

The Psalms remind us that sometimes life is ugly and that the Bible actually reflects life, good, bad, and ugly.

I was put off today by some rudeness from one of the monks first toward a guest and then toward another monk.  Seriously?

Now a big surprise.  Tomorrow is some sort of ‘desert day.’  There is basically nothing happening at all.   Pretty much all the guests have gone.  Meals are ‘optional’ for Friday.

I can’t say I’m feeling good here.  I’ve been to Saint Meinrad multiple times and have loved it.  I went to the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery, and loved it.  I am not loving it here.  It’s not the silence that is a problem it’s the incessant dirt around me and the isolation and a lack of a place to sit, read, and pray.  There are so few spots to be able to do this.  And, on one hand, while the monks serve people, and they really do serve the guests, they also seem very disengaged.  It’s strange because I don’t even have a sense of their engagement to one another. I’ve never experienced this before.

Day Four

Last night was a night of incredible discouragement.  Not being able to call home, being 13 miles away from a road, and seemingly cut off from the universe got to me.  It was also the lack of fitful sleep.  I use a bipap machine at night for breathing as I have sleep apnea.  Not having power has meant I have not been able to use the machine and, frankly, it’s getting to me.  I’ve been able to sleep in one to two hour intervals and I’m exhausted.

I found myself struggling to pray.  The dirt, the isolation, the disconnection just became overwhelming.  I decided to leave and head to Santa Fe.

I got up, packed, and left at 7am.  I simply did not feel I could leave before it was light enough to see the road that winds, in spots, on the side of a cliff.  It is breathtakingly beautiful, but an unpaved road without guardrails makes a mistake potentially fatal.  It took me 45 minutes to make the trip down the road.  Hitting paved road was amazing.  In 15 miles was Abiquiu and a gas station/general store.  The breakfast sandwiches all were various breakfast combinations with green chili and so I bought a muffin.  I also bought a large cup of REAL coffee.  Heaven.

About 30 minutes later I had a cell phone signal and called Janet and told her, “I escaped!!!”  She was happy.  She was very concerned about me and could sense my sense of isolation.  We were able to talk and catch up and I began to feel good.

I drove to Santa Fe.  I had hotel reservations for Sunday and Monday and I checked to see if I could get a room earlier.  I did and it felt great.  I needed a shower and I needed to shave.  I felt dirty.

I did some sight seeing in Old Santa Fe. I visited their Cathedral and the Loretto Chapel and it’s amazing stairway up to the choir loft.  I walked around a bit and went back to the hotel.  I prayed, read, and did laundry.

I decided to eat at a small Mexican restaurant next door to my hotel.  I always stay at Hampton Inn and they hardly ever have restaurants.  In any case, I checked out restaurants on my phone using YELP.  The two closest were a little Mexican place that people said was very genuine and Olive Garden.  Why would I go to Olive Garden in Santa Fe?  I went to the Mexican place.

For a long time I was the only non-Hispanic person in there.  I ordered something simple.  Frankly, even though I eat at Mexican restaurants a good bit, I didn’t know what half the things on the menu were.  I was asked if I wanted my enchiladas covered with red chili or green chili.

I’ve heard about New Mexican green chilis.  It is the state dish of sorts and restaurants live and die on their ability to create great green chili sauce.  I wanted to try this, but, in all honesty, I was scared.  The salsa on the chips was their mildest and I was using it sparingly and gingerly.  Their definition of ‘mild’ and mine were way off. I asked about the green and red chilis, with both the server and I mixing it up with her bad English and my bad Spanish.  We finally settled on a bowl of green and red on the side.  She told me the green was hotter.

The red was very hot and the green was very hot. I used them sparingly.  They were good, but they were, as I said, hot.

I talked to Janet via Skype so we were actually able to see one another.

My goal is to read and sleep with my bipap on.  I’m starting to breathe again.  Christ in the Desert and I were not a match made in Heaven.  Staying there three nights was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

Day Five

I don’t think I moved for 10 ½ hours last night.  I never woke up.  (This is not all good.  The altitude of Santa Fe is 7000 feet and I need to drink more.)

This morning I went down and enjoyed breakfast and relished in real coffee.  It was awesome.

I spoke to Janet and changed and went down to the pool and did morning prayers and read one of my sabbatical books on hospitality.  I swam some, sat in the hot tub a while and felt good.  I did some more reading after a shower and getting dressed and then out.

I explored Santa Fe a bit and went to the Zia Diner, which was once on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives.  It was good, a bit pricey, but good.  It may call itself a diner, but it is really a very nice restaurant.  I enjoyed it.

I did some more exploring, more reading, and more praying.  I spoke to Janet again.  Slow, easy day.  I’m starting to feel at peace again.  I’m excited about tomorrow morning as I’m going to attend The United Church of Santa Fe at 11:00AM.  It is great to have a congregation of the United Church of Christ close at hand. I feel a great need to Worship with my own denominational family tomorrow.

Day Six
I visited the United Church of Santa Fe and had a wonderful experience.  Worship was excellent and the sermon was spot on.  The Associate Pastor preached and he spoke of mission as something that is best not something ‘one and done,’ but developing long term relationships with people we serve.  Perfect!

The greeters of the church did an outstanding job.  My visit to a United Church of Christ congregation in New Mexico was A+!

Tim’s Place


I go home tomorrow from my great western adventure. I have been in Denver, Abiqui, the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque. Tomorrow morning I get on a plane bright and early in the morning and fly home. I am very much looking forward to being home; even though it’s not all that long before I begin the next leg of my journey to New Jersey. New Jersey, however, is easy. I’m from there so the state is not a huge mystery.

Dining has been an interesting adventure for me. There are state birds, state mottos, state plants, etc., but New Mexico has a state question: “Red or green?” The ‘red or green’ refers to the chili you want on top of your main dish. For my money, the red is really hot and the green makes the red look mild. I’ve learned to answer the question with the phrase, “on the side, please.”

While in Santa Fe I went to Zia Diner, made famous on “Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives.” It was good. It’s a very nice place, actually pretty upscale, and the food was good. I can’t say it was amazing, but it was good. No complaints. I made my way through a variety of modestly priced places and enjoyed it.

Today, in Albuquerque, there was one place I had to try. It is Tim’s Place.

I learned about Tim’s Place watching the news one night. NBC News had a final, ‘feel good’ story about a young man in Albuquerque named Tim Harris. Tim is 27 years old and a graduate of Eastern New Mexico University where he majored in Food Service, Office Skills, and Restaurant Hosting. He has also one dozens of gold medals in the Special Olympics. Tim has Down’s Syndrome and he had a dream. He wanted to own a restaurant.

With his parent’s help he opened a restaurant in 2010.

Tim is not the manager of the restaurant or the cook. Tim is the host. And his hosting is part of the reason the idea of him actually owning a restaurant took place. Tim worked as a host at a Red Robin restaurant in Albuquerque and his hosting ability had a dramatic impact on the business. Tim was an excellent host.

When you enter Tim’s Place the first person you encounter is Tim. He greets you with a warm handshake or hug and welcomes you and gets you seated. He periodically comes by to assure all is well. Whenever anyone comes to the front door, however, Tim makes a beeline to the door. NOTHING distracts him from welcoming people to Tim’s Place. The first person you meet is Tim and the last person you talk to is Tim. Tim is the gracious host.

In a journey of hospitality I’ve encountered monks, a United Church of Christ congregation, a variety of restaurants and hotels, and Tim stands out as something and someone very, very special.

Tim’s Place has good food, but they have a great host in Tim.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Sabbatical Journey

The ‘journey’ portion of my Sabbatical is in full throttle.  I flew into Denver on Friday.  I connected with Alyson Spiess and her little boy Baraka.  I taught Alyson in high school in the early 1980’s and haven’t seen her in 30 years. It was great catching up.  She gave me a whirlwind tour of Denver on Saturday and today we went up into the mountains.  She and her son went skiing and I hung out at the lodge and did some major reading and then spent time in a heated pool that was both inside and out.  This was at the base of a skiing mountain so one could be in the pool, outdoors, and watch the skiers right in front of you.IMG_0130

The picture I posted is  the view from the pool.

The Rocky Mountains are amazing.  No pictures can capture how incredible they are.  Just being there was a spiritual experience, in and of itself.

One thing I learned, and wow, it is a hard lesson not to learn.  The air is thin and it makes a difference.  Denver is ‘mile high’ and it is easy to get winded.  Heck, it’s easy for me to get winded ordinarily.  Going up into the mountains, and Alyson said we were up 10,000 feet, the air is amazingly thin.  I shall sleep well tonight.


The above photo is one of Alyson and me in front of Mile High Stadium in Denver.  It is the home of the Denver Broncos who were crushed by the New York Giants in the 1986 Super Bowl by a score of 39-20.  It is really just next to the downtown and is very different from what I expected.

Tomorrow I begin the trek to Abiquiu, New Mexico.  After a night at the Abiquiu Inn I shall be spending 5 days at Christ in the Desert Monastery.  I suspect, though I’ll probably journal, there  won’t be much information from there.  I’m skeptical on Internet access.  But who knows?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Inflicting Others

I wonder why it is that human beings feel a need to inflict pain on other people. We are often bewildered by predator animals that kill for food. They do not, however, kill or maim or inflict harm for fun. They do it merely to survive.

I find myself vexed by the Coach Rice at Rutgers. Once the videos of him swearing vulgarities, gay slurs, and throwing the ball and hitting players, one had to know his days as a coach were numbered. His team was not very good. He either recruited badly or coached badly, or did something that fell short of having a good team. I have no clue, however, as to why he had to inflict pain on others.

More stories have come out about Adam Lanza the killer at Newtown. He was troubled, to be sure. His mother has been critiqued as being in denial or out of touch with the reality of his mental illness. He was, however, in the midst of all this, loved. His mom tried. Before we are overly critical of her we also need to recognize that she was also his first victim. It is not like she got out of this scott free or with no consequences. Despite her efforts to raise her son and in the midst of failures which I am sure she felt, she was murdered in her bed. The rest was a horror story of brutality.

James Holmes, the killer in Aurora, Colorado asked to plead guilty to be spared the death penalty. While he is probably the poster child for the death penalty, which I happen to think, is immoral but that is a whole different story, his request was denied. Now there will be a long trial and he sit on death row for many years through countless appeals. I wish they’d have accepted the plea deal and let him sit in jail for the rest of his life. His death will bring no resolution of grief and will not provide the closure so many people are longing for. People who have lost loved ones to violence no there really is no closure to this.

Now North Korea is breathing threats of violence and the rest of the world is poised to answer these threats of violence with more violence. In the Middle East the region is filled, as it often is, with regime changes and violence. So many people die every day.

It is all sad and heartbreaking. It truly is.

In this Easter Season we embrace the resurrected Christ in our midst. We do so at least for a day. On Easter Sunday churches were packed and filled with excitement. This coming Sunday many churches will be, again, half full as Easter is over.

Easter is a reminder to us of something. Often we think of Easter and Jesus and think of our seeking God. Perhaps the Easter story is less a story of us seeking God, and more a story of God seeking us and providing us an example of incredible love. That love is something sorely lacking in a society so ready and willing to inflict pain and suffering on others.