Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's the Simple Stuff

My friend from World Vision called me today and talked about his recent trip to Malawi. The projects they visited were a series of wells for villages. The results were dramatic: before the wells a nigh percentage of children died from diarrhea. After the wells, hardly any children died. It's the simple gift of clean water.
Monday night I was in a committee hearing a presentation by a group working in Ethiopia to fight a disease I never heard about: mossy foot. The soil is impregnated with microscopic bits of obsidian from past volcanoes. When farmers plow fields bare-footed, these pieces of glass get into the lymphatic system and create terribly distorted and infected feet. People with mossy foot become outcasts due to the ugliness, fear of transmission and bad smell. The solution is simple: shoes, and foot washing with soap and water. Its the simple stuff that works best.
As a pastor, I need to direct people to the simple stuff: soap, water, bread, and light. Complexity is attractive because it looks sophisticated and impressive. But it seldom yields the results it promises. I'm clearly not a Luddite (given my love of blogging and the web) but we can get so distracted by organization complexity and forget the one, life-giving well.
For me, the well in my life has been the daily exercise of Bible first. Before the New York Times, before email and voice-mail, before the blogs, before the scattered magazines and journals, before TV or radio....I am sitting down the the Bible, pen and cup of coffee and reading for 45 minutes to an hour....and the interior results are amazing! It's the simple stuff.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Earthquake Retreat

The church chairman, vice-chairman and I were on retreat all day in the Youth Room of All-Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito. They were having their VBS program, so we were surrounded by the noise of squealing voices and excited kids. Our conversations were deep and rich. Close to noon, the kids came storming down the stairs outside our door, so loud that the building began to shake and sway. I looked at the other two guys and said "Those are some powerful kids!" They smiled back at me and said "No, we are in an earthquake" And from then on for 30 seconds we watched the building sway gently back and forth. The epicenter was 90 miles away from us, so our experience was minimal, but noticeable.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

When Kids Come Home

This is the last full day Liz and Jeff are with us. Tomorrow we drive them to Burbank for their flight back to Atlanta. They sat with Martha in worship today and met many of our good friends. We left our "home" in Minneapolis to move here to Santa Barbara without the kids (all adults, but we still call them kids). They have visited us pretty regularly, trying to make our new home their second home. They bring their own adult patterns and lifestyles and we blend and merge. It's been nothing short of great to see Liz happy with Jeff and to here them talk about their growing life together.
So instead of planning their time with us and filling it with our activities and agendas, a lot of the time is just spent hanging, talking, and listening to these ones who were once dependent children, now making big decisions by themselves. When I feel kind of left out, it only takes a moment to remember our launching into adulthood without looking back, and certainly without a lot of consulting and parent permission-asking. I'm glad they are where they are...and we are where we are.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Summer Errands

Liz and I have been taking daily swims while she is here with her boyfriend Jeff. I went to the store and left her with my phone and on the way out of the parking lot, she snapped this of dad and daughter.


God asks "why?" through the voice of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 55:1-5. "Why" do we buy that which is not bread and work for that which does not satisfy? Why does God ask us a question? Does God not know the answer? Is it a rhetorical or literary device like, "You don't know? Let me tell you why!" Or, is God genuinely perplexed why we, his human family, keep going off track and investing in the dumbest of things? Why do we work lifetimes in careers and jobs that we hate? Why are we so chronically voices dissatisfaction at our conditions?
The voice of God invites us to come to the waters, come buy and eat, buy wine and milk without money and without price. It's a free banquet we are offered, yet we stubbornly insist on making our own dirt cookies that taste terrible and leave us sick and hungry. Why?
The high cost of preaching a text like this is that it never leaves my life. This text is not about this wealthy Santa Barbara community. It's about me, a restless middle-aged preacher who is still learning contentment. The gift and curse of the manna and water God provided for Israel was that it arrived independent of their efforts and control. Like Israel, I really like to control my supplies. I like to hold the remote, drive the car, have the cash in my pocket, select what I want to eat from the menu, read the books I'm interested in, hang out with those I like. I'm not so good at just receiving things freely.
In a conversation with jeff, our daughter's boyfriend, we were talking about economic disparities in this community, filled with the high-high rich and the low-low poor. Jeff was curious about what that looked like. I described for him a family we know in Isla Vista who earn $2,000 per/month combined and pay $1,500 for a 2 bedroom apartment. They all (4 of them) live in one bedroom and rent the other bedroom to another family of 4. When I paused, Jeff asked me if when I was with them I noticed that they were happy or not. "Oh yeah!" I said, "They are incredibly happy. They are strong believers, even cooking a meal for us and refusing our offer to help pay for the meal." "Then" Jeff asked, "What makes them poor?"

Friday, July 25, 2008

Family Lectionary

I have always loved the lectionary because it helps me discover a deeper me. It seems that when I submit myself to the discipline of the texts and days, there is a deeper underlying rhythm that brings order and sense to my life and the life of the church. We flow in currents that are often too deep to discern at the moment, currents about arrivals and passings, beginnings and endings, joys and sorrows.
When asked about this summer in France and how it was, I have to say it was good, but different. Our host family was experiencing deep family wounds as they were moving to health. The church in California suffered a tragic loss of a young life and I could not get back for the funeral. Age is taking its toll on my father and mother in Minnesota and now increasingly on Martha's mother valiantly battling all sorts of cancers over the years. We see these warriors, seemingly invincible, bending.
And then Liz and her boyfriend Jeff arrive full of dance and life and dreams and butterfly-like energy. Their's is a world of beginnings and plannings. Isaac and Luke are discerning strategic steps in school and careers, and we celebrate those.
This afternoon Liz and I took a break and went to the beach to swim and sun. As I was floating in the swells with her, it was pure father's joy.
These are middle-times for us. And the middle is a great place of observing, shaping, listening, leading by example. It's not the time for advice-giving any more or approval. In fact, the parental role shifts upward as we give direction to our parents who wrestle with the complexities of aging.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Excuses or Reasons

In a conversation with my good friend Kenton, he gave me a remarkable insight: the difference between excuses and reasons. Excuses are fundamentally past-oriented justifications and reasons are future oriented rationales for action. When asked "why someone does something?" you will receive either an excuse or a reason.
This translates directly into a church setting with staff, staff teams, church councils and committee. Do they genuinely look for or give reasons, or work with excuses for themselves or others (e.g. It's just our tradition to.......). When leadership can be future oriented and pushed for reasons, that seems so much healthier than backward looking into the atmosphere of excuses. The problem is (at least for me) that excuses are so much easier and more fun. I like my behavior and really do not want to examine it or, worse, adjust it and change it. But healthy growth into new times really does require new reasoning with new data.
So, when people listen to you, are they hearing excuses or reasons?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Church Lindy Hop

Our daughter Liz and her dance-partner boy-friend Jeff are visiting us here in Santa Barbara. They arrived the night we have an all-church supper under the oaks. They offered to both demonstrate and teach a variety of swing dancing called East Coast Lindy. MCC does not do a lot of church-dancing. So I was not sure how many would come out for a demonstration and lesson. The numbers in the picture tell the story. A large group of young and old came out on the floor (not including me) for Liz and Jeff's excellent and funny teaching. Nobody felt foolish, and a "good time was had by all!"

World Vision: is it disloyal?

The four churches of Montecito (called M-4) have been working in a partnership with World Vision for several years. Our choice of world vision was made for two reasons: 1. We needed a non-denominational and Christian broker that all four churches (Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Covenant) could enthusiastically work with. 2. We all knew and trusted the World Vision representative who worked with us.
Our two projects have been HIV/AIDS care kits (about $25 per/kit) to Zimbabwe and now, most recently to Rwanda. The first time we took on the project we raised money for and filled 1,000 kits and last spring, in conjunction with bringing in Jim Wallis, we raised money for and filled 2,000 kits. Our congregations worked hard and worked together. It felt right that 3,000 kits were distributed in desperately poor areas, with each kit having supplies to care for up to 7 people for 3 months. The community response was positive, but the denominational response was luke warm to cold.
The push-back I received from several directions was disappointment that I did not channel our Covenant energies in a Covenant direction. It was negative about World Vision being a high waster of gifts on administration, advertising and overhead.
The question is this: is it a sign of institutional disloyalty to work with agencies other than one's own? How can a genuinely ecumenical initiative happen in a community if each denomination must work through its own agencies? Is this one of the fruits of a post-denominational world? Is it a good problem or a bad one? How collaborative or how exclusive should Covenant churches be?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Be Aware of the Pronouns: "My" or "Ours"?

Try writing a blog without using the singular personal pronoun "I", "my" or "me." It's really tough. We experience something, we observe something, we dream about something, we fear something. But when it comes out of our mouth with a strong singular personal pronoun, it builds walls and not bridges.
"Who took MY chair?"
"MY church is ........"
"I'd like you to meet MY staff person."
"MY vision/dream for this ministry is........"
"Is that coming out of MY budget?"
"Who did not clean up in MY room?"
"Hey, those are MY volunteers!"
"MY mission is to........"
All this language shows great intensity for ministry and mission, but it is not very inviting. The passion and use of singular pronouns tells everyone that the person speaking really owns the topic, so much so that there is little room for any other opinion. This is a tendency in every area of church life: budget, building, babies, calendar, music, sacred traditions, camps, retreats, etc.
But when the conversation becomes "OURS" and it is "OUR budget that needs attention, then there is an invitation to others who, by the plural pronoun, are also owners.
Listen to yourself....."MY" or "OURS?"

Monday, July 21, 2008

Great Quote: "weather channel"

In Sunday July 20, 2008 New York Times magazine section, there is an interview with Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman. In a free-floating set of questions, one response in particular was poignant. In a question on the Bush administration's progress in Mideast peace he said: "It's nearly as if we live in a world where if Christians kill Muslims, it's a crusade. If Jews kill Muslims, it's a massacre. And when Muslims kill Muslims, it's the Weather Channel. Nobody cares."
Ouch! I would add from listening to friends who have spent time in Palestine, that is is even worse. When Palestinian Christians are persecuted by Muslims and Jews, nobody even has their TV on.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Like Mustard: Matthew 13:31-32

I was always a ketchup guy. Ketchup, salt and sugar were my three spice/seasoning groups. Then I married Martha. Martha is a gourmet cook and adventurous eater. One of the first new spices to seriously enter my world of taste was mustard. There is mustard and then there is MUSTARD. The bright yellow mustard in squeezable plastic bottles is what I thought mustard is; good on hot dogs and brats, sometimes added to a cheeseburger. But Martha introduced me to white mustard and black mustard, and jars of mustard with the seed hulls still in it. These mustards were biting and strong, they would make my eyes tear up and sinuses drain. But these mustards also, when used sparingly released flavors in foods that would go untasted. It is really best used when you can't even discern its presence, but its effects.
Was Jesus a "foodie?" I don't think so. A lot about his parable speaks to the role of the mustard bush as a shelter and food for birds (read Gentiles). It's an anti-myth for the big-tree people (Cedars of Lebanon, Oaks of Righteousness, California Redwoods). Mustard bushes are small and everywhere....as we should be.

Martha's Gopher-Battle

Gardening for my wife, Martha, is serious business. Like my predecessor in Minneapolis, Glen Wiberg, Martha is not sure a person can "really" be a Christian if they do not grow things. So I am well-prepared for Martha's gardening "rants" where she comes in incensed about the latest injustice in her garden: slugs, rabbits, poor soil, weeds of one kind or another, aphids (always hated!), drought, and ash from the fires. But nothing gets her going more than gophers. It's the new swear word in our house; just call someone a "gopher" (no offense to the Minnesota mascot) and you are in a deep hole!
Well, this week Martha was complaining to me about gophers and she went to a rose plant with wilting leaves and said "This must be gophers again." I am beginning to pity these poor creatures because of Martha's frequent attacks. When she grabbed the trunk of the rose bush, all that came out of the ground was this puny stub, eaten and gnawed by.....gophers!

900 Back Packs!

In little under one hour, members and friends of the four churches of Montecito (M-4) gathered and filled 900 back packs for students living in housing units run by People's Self-Help Housing, a local affordable housing agency with whom M-4 partners. Each church equally shared in the purchase of the 900 back packs and then were assigned to contribute in-kind items like glue sticks, note books, pens, pencils, protractors, compasses, erasers and crayons. The items were laid out on tables in the Great Room of the El Montecito Presbyterian Church and the back packs were filled in an assembly-line manner by seniors to children. Within each back pack was a hand-written prayer of blessing for the recipient by the filler.
It's an attempt to live as ecumenical blessings to a needy world around us.

Learning Leaders?

The church hired a talented man to teach a Sunday School class for adults. This man was a known Bible scholar and well-respected. His class was full every Sunday. The problem? When the class was over, he went home. Not to another church to which he belonged, just home. He did not like worshiping at our church. Those who attended his class and watched him drive home were puzzled by this. Was his teaching job just a paycheck?
Over the years I have observed many types and styles of leaders. But the most compelling and effective leadership I've seen is the learning leader; the person who is just as comfortable sitting in a class and learning as up in front of a class and teaching. In fact, I wonder if a leader can be effective without modeling learning?
Go one step deeper. Can leaders ever be leaders in the church without first demonstrating servanthood, following, listening and learning? In our culture of spiritual individualism, we are too quick to lead and too slow to follow. This is more than posturing, this is allowing others to speak into your life, to point out areas of growth and development. I don't know about you, but I have too few of those people around me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

It's In the Dinners

Eating is so much fun! The more I travel and visit new areas, the more I appreciate new tastes and foods. But the more I read the Bible, the more I appreciate how clearly eating reflects our core spiritual values. And there is not better place to see a church's values at work than to see (and participate) a church dinner.
Eating alone, as a couple, and even as a family is one thing. But when you gather a whole bunch of people together to eat, a spiritual chemistry happens. Watch who gets in line first? Watch how the children are cared for. Watch how the youth behave. Observe where people sit, and, most importantly, with whom; old familiar friends or newcomers. Watch and listen to the conversations; are they full of questions inviting people in to participate or loaded with declarative pronouncements or competitive story-telling. Notice who serves and who cleans up. Who leaves first and who stays last?
This summer we have had many meals in many countries with old and new friends. Each one tells a kingdom story.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Are We Ready to Try Something New?

I missed another Covenant Annual Meeting because of France. I have attended Covenant Annual Meetings since I was a child and we stayed at my grandparents' home in Chicago where Grandpa was a carpenter for North Park. It was a grand family reunion. I attended Covenant Annual Meetings as a seminary student and always as a pastor.
But there are some really important trend lines that need looking at, and asking questions about.In 1988 the Annual Meeting was in Chicago and there were 758 delegates from 399 churches. The next year, 1989 the delegate number dropped to 692 from 341 churches (not a big deal). This summer in Wisconsin there were 493 delegates from only 203 churches. That's a big drop.
The denomination did not meet the budget. We are behind by about $1 million dollars. Annual Meetings are very expensive things. We budget at least $1,000 per/person to attend. It take enormous preparation energy from everyone in every department.
Isn't it time, as an act of responsible stewardship to suspend next year's Annual Meeting and shift to an every-other year gathering. How much would that save us all? How would that impact the coordinated budget? What sort of new and bold step would that be for Gary to lead? Aren't there other and better ways to meet and communicate? What about teleconferencing?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bon fete nationale!

It's the day we most love being in France; fete nationale, or as it's known in other countries: Bastille Day. It's a really fun day of parades, flags, long, long meals and....petanque (pictured above). We were always invited somewhere with a large group of people. It's like our 4th of July, celebrating heritage and what is essential about a nation.
So today we are having some friends over for a long, long meal, abundant cheeses, and...petanque (if the light holds).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What's With the Weeds?

Martha is a gardener par-excellence! She lives in a wonderful balance between creating beauty in her studio and then sculpting beauty out of the soil. One of her daily routines is weeding. I don't think she'd say she enjoys weeding, but enjoys the results of weeding. Weeds come with gardens. Weeding is part of any gardener's life.
The text for this Sunday out of Matthew 13:24-30, 36-42 is the parable of the wheat and the tares (bearded darnel). These were not just naturally occurring weeds; one here and another there. This was an act of sabotage, sown weeds that look to the amateur just like the wheat. They are the work of an illegitimate gardener, an upside down crop.
What's with the weeds? And, more importantly, what should we do? Nothing! Leave them alone. Let them grow in their own toxic way until the harvest. Our job is to grow, to be the wheat God wants us to be.
This is very hard work for me because I like critiquing all the weeds around me. I like judging and even up-rooting weeds (or at least I think they are weeds!). I like focussing on the "ain't it awful that..." all around us. The negative is so much easier than the positive. I like growing a church on criticizing other churches and pastors.
But Jesus (always!) has a better way for me as a pastor, as a believer, and for us as a church....grow upward! Leave the judging to God.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What Book Reads You?

A friend shared with me a disturbing fact this summer. This friend is active in ministry and a person I greatly respect. In correspondence I asked what book was he reading recently? After a long pause, he said, "I really don't read books any more." I paused a bit too long, so he said, "I read magazines and professional journals, but I just don't have time to read."
What does that mean: I don't have time to read? I've stopped asking Inquirer's Class members what books they are reading as an ice-breaker question because over the years too many class members have awkwardly confessed that they do not read books. Can a Christian be a growing Christian an not read supplemental books in addition to the Bible? If pressed further, would these friends also confess that they do not read the Bible either in any serious or sustained way?
I shared this conundrum with a pastor I know and respect. He responded that over the years he has faced increasing "push-back" from his staff to any reading suggestions. At one point the staff was regularly reading a book in common, now he has given up. Do staff members read books together?
I confess that I come from a reading family on both sides. Martha's parents are intense readers as are mine. Martha and I are always reading several books. Books shape my language and my thinking. Authors push me into new territories of spiritual growth and reflection. Books end up reading me, more than me reading them.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Do Away with Evening Meetings

Living in another culture, even for a brief amount of time impacts a person many ways: language, food, driving, architecture, climate, dress....and time. Still under the influence of jet-lag, Martha and I are up at 4:30 am each morning. Coffee gets started and we head in different directions in mutually-agreed silence. I am attempting to bring back a new structure of time in my life: Bible and coffee first, before news, before emails, voicemails, blogs, or even conversation. I am amazed at how clear my head is (with the help of strong coffee) first thing in the morning. Alone in the living room with a tablet of paper, Bible and coffee, I am reading for a solid hour.
Then the days progress like any other day, with varied routines and commitments. But what we saw our French friends do was unique, and attractive. They had late afternoon Bible studies, prayer meetings and committee meetings, but nothing at night. Now I'm sure some people had meetings at night that I did not see. But, by and large, the custom is that people work until 6 or 7 pm and then eat as long as they wish to or need to. The time following the evening meal was devoted to conversation with those with whom you ate, a walk through town or country, a game of petanque, TV, or reading.....but no meetings. It was wonderful.
That does not address the problem of those whose only free time to meet is in the evening, with premarital counseling, musical rehearsals, and committees. So I'm sure I will adapt to the ways time is used here again as it becomes necessary. But oh how nice are those meetinglesss-evenings!

Monday, July 07, 2008

In Praise of Tech-Support

People who answer phones in cubicles do not have heroic lives...normally. For the last week I have been stuck with my T-Mobile Hot-Spot account. I could not get on. At the Frankfurt Airport, I logged in at the Starbucks, with no success. I called the German tech support number, but he could not help me. He referred me to a US number and I got a guy named Chris in Texas who, in a matter of minutes found the glitch and got me back on line! Yeah for the guy in the cubicle solving customers' problems! Life it good!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rich with friends

Martha and I do travel a lot. We are privileged to have the opportunities to travel both for work and for fun. These trips to France since 2000 have been mind/heart-changing in a number of ways; we get to experience another culture in a depth and over time not afforded to a one-time visitor. We get to see new terrain, taste new foods, hear new music, explore new ways of living in homes. We get to worship in new ways. But most of all we get to develop new friendships.
But this trip allowed us to reconnect with Martha's childhood friend and maid of honor at our wedding Ellen Fitts Maddaloni. She and her husband Mimo live in Miesau with their 3 boys and 1 daughter (all pictured except Anna). It is just great to be enfolded into the energy of a young family who live across cultures, yet connected with the one culture that binds us and does not divide us....Jesus.

Bruchmuhlbach-Miesau Parade

The adjoining towns of Miesau and Bruchmuhlbach had a parade today for "volunteer activities". The parade featured bands and restaurants, marching teams and volunteer fire fighters. The local Lutheran Church took the bold move to enter its Sunday School in the parade, which meant missing church today to march in a community parade. Is that compromising with culture or creatively engaging it? I spent some time visiting with the wife of the co-pastor team and am convinced it is a creative way to engage the community with the reality and vitality of the local church. There was a whole lot more beer given away at this little parade than anything I've seen in parades in the States!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Temptation of St. Anthony

St. Anthony is one of my dad's hero's, a desert father who wrote voluminously about the interior life of prayer, devotion and mortification of the flesh. One of the myths about the desert fathers (and mothers) is their relatively easy life, being freed from working responsibilities to devote their lives to prayer and reflection. If we could all have that option! Often I envy those who have the freedom for prolonged times of reflection and prayer as opposed to the complex demands on my time from church, family, and everyday life.
St. Anthony, however, tells us about the dark side of contemplation; about the brutal attacks and temptations that come to one unprotected by the boundaries of exterior routines and people. I have never been in true seclusion. I have taken prayer/reading retreats with my dad and my good friend over some years. During those times, I recall how, in the silence, the chaos would come knocking, telling me how stupid it was to leave all the busy-ness for the worthlessness of prayer. Temptations come to those who pray. These are not just the popular temptations of sex and money, but of relevance, meaning, significance, worth, purpose, identity and value. These are vicious and insidious.
The picture of St. Anthony's temptation held me transfixed.

Issenheim Altartpiece

The Issenheim altartpeice has been part of the cannon of art history that Martha has both learned and taught over the years. It is a hinged piece of work painted by Matthias Grunwold (sp?) for the residents of a facility treating people with advanced skin diseases, called then St. Anthony's fire (the commentary called it "ergot" a parasitic disease from grains). What is powerful about this altarpiece is that when closed (with Christ on the cross) his skin is afflicted with the poc-marks of the disease, taking on our illnesses and weaknesses. Even as he is laid in the tomb, his skin is grey and diseased. But wen the panels open, his skin is clear and restored, as are we.
The work is site appropriate and large. It really takes up the space in the sanctuary. I thought of the work Martha and Jeanne do with the altar-pieces at MCC and how they are always working "big" to keep the altar-pieces in perspective to the sanctuary. Now I know that they have a good precedent.

On the Way Home

We crossed out of France into Germany today with a degree of sadness. Our six weeks away have been great. We drove fewer miles but more intense miles, exploring these deep and rich regions called the Cevenne. This is a photo of our little village tucked into the hills.
Today we spent most of the day at Colmar, France viewing the Issenheim altar-piece done in 1515 or so. I will put up some photos later. We have now been received into the home of Martha's childhood friend in Miesau, Germany.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Last Days in France

It is Wednesday now of our last week. Events from Sunday till now have been a wonderful blur. I preached at the little church in our community on Sunday with Dorothee Bonall translating. It was so fun to preach again after this long break. The congregation was almost full (30 people).
Then in the hot afternoon Ken Satterberg took the train to Ales from Marseilles and spent two days with us. Each time we are in France we connect with Ken. On Monday we went out hiking on an ancient trail constructed by Cardinal Richileu in the 16th century on which he and the king’s troops from the north persecuted the rebellious Protestants from the south.
After a long and cooling swim, Martha cooked dinner for Ken and our host couple, Remi and Dorothee. After dinner we gathered in the dusty courtyard for a long and competitive game of “Petanque” (the French form of Bocchi Ball played with metal balls on gravel not grass). We played until 11:00 pm.
Tuesday we introduced Ken to one of our favorite villages, Anduze, and a retreat center outside of town that the Covenant might consider for gatherings. We dropped Ken off after our long and lingering lunch in Anduze at the Ales train station and we drove to St. Jean du Gard for another long meal out with the pastor and wife who let us use their summer home. The reservations were for 8:00 pm and we were early! Again, we ate until after 10:00 pm, with much laughter and love. We walked home through the abandoned streets to find our car and say goodbye to our good friends. We hope to have them visit us in California sometime in 2009.
It was our first time in five weeks driving at night. Our normal pattern has been to drive a lot (1,000 km per/week) but to be home for dinner and an after-dinner walk through the community.
Now today Martha is busy getting a last clothes washing in and cleaning up the apartment during the day. Tonight we drive back to Chateau Neuf du Papes for dinner with our “French son” Julien whom I wrote about earlier. He is hosting us for dinner to meet his fiancé and some friends. I’m guessing this too will be a late night and a long, dark drive home.
This has been an interesting visit to France this time. With my parents in not-great health, I went with some hesitation. Then my friend from church tragically died and I could not get home, but spent much time on the phone with his family and friends. The apartment above us was occupied by a grandson of the host couple who had to be medically removed because of emotional issues. All those relational issues sombered this time away.
I have had great time for reading (almost through Jeremiah) and writing (done with “Old Stones” and started two other projects), walking and eating great foods. But the time has come to return to where we belong, to where we speak and understand the language, to where we have jobs to do beyond observing the culture.
I am deeply grateful to be a part of a church that grants me such generous time away.

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