Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday

         What do you do on a Holy Saturday when you have no pastoral or family responsibilities? Martha and I could not remember a Holy Saturday without preaching or family responsibilities. We’ve always spent the Saturday before Easter getting ready: for the Sunday service and sermon, for family guests and the big feast, for guests who would be coming to join us (or us going to other friends’ homes). I’ve always been in a flurry of activity from Palm Sunday through Easter afternoon. Now we are here in France with no preaching, teaching, or hosting responsibilities (Martha is making devilled eggs for the meal we are going to tomorrow). So this afternoon we went hiking on a trail above our village.
         About 3 km into the hike we saw a sign painted “Minhir”. So we took the off trail to a standing stone. Minhirs are prehistoric standing stones of some religious value. They are found all over our area. People had been here long before WWII, WWI, the French Revolution, the Reformation, or even the Roman Empire. Minhirs echo ancient peoples.

 When we got back into our car to wander, we saw a sign that said “Tombe”. So we parked the car and walked up to this circular mound of stones that are reputed to be about 800 years before Christ! Dignitaries were cremated and then interred under a circular pile of stones on a high spot in the hills. 800 years before Jesus??

Back in the car, we wandered down narrow roads just to see what we would find. Off to the left after driving an hour was a sign “XIth cent Church”. And there was this beautiful little stone church, complete with stained glass windows perched off a little road. Locked up, no sign, no program, no parking, just a church from the year 1000 AD. How’d that get there? Who built it? Who attended?
         That’s what we did on Holy Saturday.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Day of Surprises

Wednesday was a rare, sunny day. So after an early morning of reading, praying and writing, we took off for the open air market (marche) and then off to explore. Martha read about a depression in the hills off of the Gardon River that we should see. So we drove meandering roads and into a village with roads so narrow I had to activate the rear-view mirror retractors to make it between buildings.
            We found a sign indicating our site was .3 km down a gravel road. So we walked amid the scrubby trees and puddles in the road till we found the site (above). It was as if someone scooped out a conical hole from the rocks. We walked the perimeter of the depression. Then we found a sign that told us what we were seeing: a huge and protected bat cave. Beneath Martha, to the right, the hill turned back in on itself and formed deep caves for lots and lots (I won’t guess numbers) of bats.
            On the way home we stopped by a local grocery store and pondered what to have for dinner. “How about Lapin?” Martha asked. We had not tried it this time. So we grabbed a package. Martha sautéed shallots in olive oil and then cooked the meat adding a spicy tomato sauce with olives. By 7:00 p.m. the room was filled with great smells and I cut bread, we ate the tender meat, rice and sauce and then luxuriated on cheeses (Tomme, Cammembert and Chevre). What makes the cheeses so good (to me) is that they are labeled “lait cru” which means (I think) unpastuerized milk. The flavors of these types of cheeses are so pronounced I feel guilty! 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A New Kind of Holy Week

Being a pastor on sabbatical during Holy Week is weird beyond words. I have been used to a Holy Week rhythm for 32 years. For 32 years I have had a heavy hand in the events in the churches I’ve served from Palm Sunday pageants and decorations to Maundy Thursday communion and foot washing. I cannot recall all the different ways we have celebrated Good Friday (community worship services from noon-3:00 p.m., stations of the cross, sacred concerts, themes on the 7 last words and modified Tenebrae services of lights). I have led Saturday night Easter Vigils and stood around griddles for sunrise pancake breakfasts. Then Easter! I have shared leadership on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, but I’ve never shard the pulpit on Easter Sunday. That was my Sunday! That was the time when the senior pastor had to preach. It was when family members and guests came. It was an evangelistic opportunity unlike any other time than Christmas Eve (for another blog!). And by the time Easter Monday rolled around, I was spiritually hung-over from all the worship, people and spiritual energy expended. Every pastor reading this knows what I’m talking about!
But this year I’m on sabbatical leave during Holy Week! Was that a good idea? Right now my body and mind yearn to be back in the church I love and serve. But here I am in delightful southern France in the spring, with no responsibilities. It is a spiritual desert, almost a vacuum. And God seems to stare back at me and say: “So, now we’re alone, just you and me!” The schedule of church kept me very busy, very active, very noisy. I was continually talking. Not now. Poor Martha is the recipient of most of my ramblings because my French is too garbled for anyone else to understand.
So what I’m doing (and discovering) is the joy of reading one Gospel account of the Passion slowly every morning. Wow! Reading it just for me and not for an upcoming service (preaching or teaching) is so fresh it blindsides me. I recommend this discipline for others to consider. Just sit down with Bible and pen/pencil and read Palm Sunday-Easter in Matthew, then Mark, then Luke and finally John, over and over again. What I am realizing at this early point is how I have conflated a total pictures with snapshots from different Gospels. But when I read one Gospel alone, a lot is missing (like the 7 last words!).
I know the church I serve will do well (even better) without me this Holy Week. They are mature and strong. The staff (Jon, Diana and Bob along with the others) will lead worship, take care of logistics, welcome visitors and convey the Gospel well. Me? I’m just here listening!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I can’t dance to save my life. So when I say Tango, it’s really an app for video calls. Last night we had a video call with Anna and Elise (and later Liz). What a pure joy to talk with Anna about their life, all the while watching Elise in real time chasing the dog and playing with toys in San Diego! When it was time to say goodbye, Elise reached out to touch us through the screen!

St. Pierre de Blannaves

We picnicked in history yesterday. There is a little church called St. Pierre de Blannaves stuck back in the hills behind our village. We hiked up to the elegant little church with our picnic bag and had a quiet lunch together.
The church is still used for services and concerts. But the priory buildings and farm buildings are all abandoned. When I googled the site, I found that there was a church on the site in the 11th century. It then was built larger in 1306 with a priory added for monks and a farm for chestnut production.
Over the centuries it was the site of bloodshed and violence in the wars of religion and then the counter reformation violence between Catholics and Protestants. Now it’s silent, abandoned to vagrants and weather. What could this place become?  A great retreat site? A school? A hotel/spa? Artist studios??? So much beauty and so much pain!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

1st Palm Sunday in jeans!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

No Cadillacing here!

Nimes on a rainy day

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A New Life Lesson

It was as perfect of a day as I can imagine! We got up early to a bright, sunny day after many days of both gray and rain. We drove to the city of Serignan where there is a great contemporary art museum. The show featured a French artist Martha has been following and I’ll let her comment more on his very intriguing work!
            When we left the show, it was 1:00 p.m. so we walked into the village and had lunch at a popular local restaurant (I mean really local guys!) and had a delicious modified paiella (sp?), crème brulle and coffee!
            On the way home, Martha suggested we visit the Cathedral of St. Pierre de Maguelone, which is a Romanesque cathedral situated on the tip of a spit of land outside the town of Villeneuve-les-Maguelone. Evidently this was once a Roman sea port that Charles Martel was ordered to destroy to keep it out of the hands of Muslims coming from the West. The cathedral was destroyed and later rebuilt.
            We found the town and directions to the cathedral. But crossing a footbridge there was a sign that said that it closed at 5:00 p.m. (and it was 4:30 p.m. when we saw the sign!) So we walked really fast and arrived at the cathedral at 4:50 p.m.  But the sign on the cathedral said it was open till 6:00 p.m.  So we relaxed and enjoyed wandering this well-restored church.
            As we got back to the footbridge…it was not there! The bridge had been opened for boat traffic promptly at 5:00 p.m. till the next day. We were stuck on the wrong side with a 5 km hike (maybe) back to  the car. But then we saw a wonderfully ragged man (reminded me of Lennis who lives on the boat off of Butterfly Beach) who was rowing stranded walkers across the canal to the other side.
            He freely offered to row us. He was German and spent the winter there on his ramshackled old boat. The year before he was off of Malta. He was happy to help us out and I had to give him some Euros as thanks. 

But the lesson of the day? Read the signs completely…and carefully!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


We chased beauty yesterday all the way to Florac. In the morning I saw the dusting of snow on mountains beyond us. So, after lunch, we headed out to find the snow. We drove north out of our little village into the hills that nestle the town of Florac. To get there we ascended to about 2,400 feet and found snow on the fields and plowed along side the road.
            Florac is one of those jewel-like towns set in the valley between mountains. Through it runs a cold mountain stream. In the summer the town stocks trout from a hatchery (empty now). Because of all the rain and snow, the stream ran full and fast, giving a background roar to our walk.
            Visiting this town is something we do in our summer stays. It is always filled with tourists, campers and hikers from all over the world. But not on a Wednesday in March! The town was virtually empty as we hiked the stream up into the hills and found on little bar open for mid-afternoon coffee.
            We took a back way home, ascending to over 3,000 feet and clearly into snow drifts and fields still full of snow. We were alone on the road and overwhelmed by the beauty 

Monday, March 18, 2013

With Ken & Adrienne in Chateau Neuf du Pape

Thanks to all of you who sent birthday greetings to me yesterday for the big 60! We celebrated in grand style with a long and fabulous meal Martha cooked Sunday night with our host family. On Monday we drove to Avignon to meet up with Ken and Adrienne Satterberg from Marseilles. We ate again another wonderful meal in a restaurant in Avignon during a light rain. Then we wandered the city and saw the Calvert Museum. Then we drove Ken and Adrienne to the little village of Chateau Neuf du Pape near Orange where we hiked up to the ruins of the chateau overlooking the Rhone River valley. All in all a great way to begin another decade!

Saturday, March 16, 2013


            I am used to walls by now. I wasn’t used to them before moving to California. But in Santa Barbara (really Montecito) we have walls everywhere. The walls are high with large gates and entry panels. The walls are meant to protect privacy and ensure security. They were, at first, unique. Then they became troublesome. Who’s behind those walls? Why can’t I see in? How can I be neighborly when we can’t see each other? Then they became normal, as I was invited in behind some of the walls and got to meet my neighbors. Walls just were. They are a fact of life in our community.
            France has walls too. There are ancient walled cities. There are walls around castles and Duchies. And there all walls in the hills above and around us. These walls are called a particular name in this region of France called the Cevenne: bancel. They are dry stacked (with no mortar) and form multiple terraces in this hilly region. Sometimes they terrace olive trees or grape vines. Sometimes they were grazing paths for sheep and goats. These walls structure the hills and give access where the incline would be otherwise impossible to navigate. They were painstakingly formed and stacked by hand. But they are seldom more than three or four feet high. They are walls meant to be climbed over and seen over.
            Clearly this image of walls can go lots of places. Is the church a wall to keep other out of help them navigate in? How about me? Am I a barrier or a bridge? Does my presence make life for others more navigable or difficult? 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


            It was one of those unbelievable days.  I got good reading in during the dark early morning. A friend wanted to drop by for coffee at 10:00 am, so I drove into town and got pastries while Martha got the apartment ready. The friend showed up with another friend from Belgium to see Martha’s art work and have coffee. They all went off shopping together while I got some good writing in till 12:30 p.m. 
            After lunch we decided to go somewhere we had not been before: the Ardeche Gorge. The sky was bright and the air was clear. Hardly any traffic on the roads as we wound our way back into the narrow roads of this deep and beautiful gorge. We kept stopping for pictures and awes. Magnificent creation! God’s glory on full display just for us! 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Guess What's Happening Here!

This is in Toulouse on Sunday. To the left of the picture is a canal cruise barge filled with guests eating dinner on the Canal du Midi that runs along the south coast of France, an inland waterway. Only there was a problem in Toulouse with the autoroute. So they dug the autoroute under the canal and boats float over the highway!

A Chestnut Surprise

            The weather was “iffy”, cool, cloudy with sprinkles of rain every now and then. We talked about taking Yves and Marylene on a hike and vacillated about canceling it or going ahead. In the end, we decided to go for the hike. It was on an old stone path, purportedly constructed by Archbishop Richilieu and the Roman Catholic forces from the North to use while he was making attacks on rebellious Huguenots of the South embedded in the forests and hills of the Cevenne. That’s the story. Yves and Marylene never had hiked the trail, so off we went.
            The weather held mostly. We got to the bottom of the trail and found a beautiful spring flowing. We crossed the stream and hiked further back along the creek till we found an abandoned Moulin (mill) that was once used to grind chestnuts (a local tree) to make chestnut flour. Across the stream, Marylene found chestnuts on the ground and began telling us of the wonderful taste of fresh roasted chestnuts, a delicacy from this area her grandmother used to prepare. So she stuffed her pockets with chestnuts before we turned around and headed back up the hill to the car, now in the rain.
            Around 8:00 p.m. there was a knock on our door. There was Marylene with a container of fresh roasted chestnuts for us! Oh my! Another new taste: sweet, woody, earthy, and wonderful! 

St. Etienne...goofy & holy

 As you might know by now, I have a thing for church architecture, especially the beautiful symmetry of Romanesque churches (pre-11th cent). So this weekend we went to Toulouse to see the magnificent St. Sernin church. It is case study in Romanesque style, though built out of bricks and not stones due to the poverty and resources of this area.
After visiting St. Sernin, our hosts, Steeve and StephanieWaeteraere (whom I married over 2 years ago) suggested we visit a unique church, St. Etienne (pictured below) Just from the front, you see a hodge-podge of styles and building materials. The western door under the arch is not in the center, but offset to the right.
The nave into which you enter, does not go all the way to the front (apse), but takes a dog-leg left half-way up (pictured below). In the visual center is this huge column of stone supporting the whole thing. The church was constructed in parts, stages, bursts and delays, by (I'm sure) different architects and different committees (if indeed building committees existed then!) It's really two sanctuaries, off-set and tied together awkwardly and, I think, humorously! There are round Romanesque arches over here and pointed Gothic arches over there. Some windows have stained glass while others are bricked in. And midway, on the wall facing the large column is a pipe organ perched 17 meters (about 43 feet!) above the floor on a precarious piece of stone...yikes!

As I left the church with a smile on my face, I thought that this is a church that could be a patron saint church for struggling building committees and confused designs. It's not such a new and modern problem after all!

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Can You Identify This Shelf?

This shelf in a normal grocery store is four feet wide and six feet tall. Can you identify the contents of all these cans and jars? You won't find a shelf like this in any grocery store but here. It's a whole shelf of pate: duck, rabbit, pork, goose, and strange combinations of animals. Before coming to France, I would turn up my nose and walk away from this disgusting stuff. Most of it is gray and goopy, lumpy with unknown parts. But due to the insistence of French friends, I tried it some years ago and am hooked! But don't tell my doctor!

Broken Walls with Stories

Martha and I hike a lot. When it's not raining we take long daily walks in all directions. Wherever we go we find stone walls. Some of them demarcate property lines. Some of them are terraces built into the hillside. And some of them are broken remnants of buildings. And I'm always asking the question: what was that wall for? What happened there?
A good friend of ours, who grew up in this little village and is now a retired English teacher shook her head at me. "You Americans" she said, "You're always asking questions about this history behind this thing or that. We can't keep up, you know, there is so much of it here. We are surrounded by histories." She is right. Wherever you look in our region, there are remnants of 1789, the Wars of Religion, the 100 Years War, papal intrigues, Middle Ages and Crusades, Roman Empire and aqueducts and amphitheaters, and some remnants of WWI and II. That's a lot of layers, like an onion.
This sabbatical leave is allowing (forcing) me to examine all the broken walls in my life. I discover them in my sudden reactions to things and then I wonder What's that wall for? What caused that reaction? Where did that emotion come from?
You see, in the solitude of this setting, I can't blame a lot on outside factors since the church and staff have so graciously set me free. No, these are my old walls, my wounds, my fears, my hopes. I'm so grateful for the companionship of the Epistles during these days. I read Philippians this morning and was taken by Paul's multiple calls to do this, think this way, imitate that, have this mind among you. In his imperatives I hear the call to patch up the old walls, fill in the gaps, put on the roof, get back to work!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Sabbatical/Sabbath Challenge: the noise

Above is a picture of where it all started for me: the cloister of St. Trophime Church in Arles, France. This is not a "pure" example of Romanesque architecture, but a patchwork of styles woven together since the 4th century and many wars. What appeals to me about the cloister (in most every church) is that it is a dedicated interior space removed from both the street and the church. The cloister was not meant for everyday churchgoers, but for the resident clergy to go for prayer, solitude and refreshment. Many cloisters' center, open areas were designed as gardens to replicated the Garden of Eden, complete with trees and wells. The columns facing the garden had capitals with biblical scenes carved in them. A priest or monk could go and park himself near a particularly timely or relevant carving and meditate on the text and truths from that scene.
The cloister helps people leave the noise for solitude, quiet listening and deep reflection. As I am into the fourth week of this precious sabbatical, I fight the noises, the noises that distract, divert and send me off onto other tangents. Because we are internet connected, I fight the noises I bring on to myself with email, web site cruising, news sources (I am a serious news-addict!). I have managed to stay off of facebook with few side effects! I really am in charge of what I let into my head (short of fire alarms and knocks on the door). And I realize how attractive noises are as an excuse to avoid the important issues of the heart that this sabbatical is taking me into. Responding to noises is easier than listening in the silence. Being active and doing is more "satisfying" than sitting and reflecting. Responding to emails is easier than generating new thoughts.
I'm right in the painful middle of the book of Jeremiah. One of the recurring refrains from God through Jeremiah is that the people "do not listen to my voice" and instead choose to listen to all the wrong voices of the false prophets who promise easy victory instead of a painful exile. Listening to/for God's voice requires the companion discipline of "not listening" the the false voices of culture, fear, tribe, comfort.
Today it's raining and will be raining for four or five days. The candle is lit, the coffee is on, I'm done blogging....it's time to listen.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

St Trophime sanctuary

St Trophime, Arles

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Places We Go....The Things We Find

Each day we try to go for a good walk (read hike!). Today we went up and over our village and found a logging road off the back side. We followed it to where a small trail branched off down the hillside and we found ourselves just below the local cemetery for the two villages around us.
I love wandering cemeteries! They have some many mysteries and stories. This one is predominantly Roman Catholic. Most Protestants have private cemeteries on their family land (makes selling the family home tricky!). As we wandered through, I found two Protestant tombs. But then we started noticing the dates. So many men had death dates of 1914, 1916, 1917. These areas were almost depopulated of young men by WW I. In the church we worshiped in on Sunday there was a plaque on the wall listing fifteen young men from that parish killed in WWI. Then we saw a number of graves of children ages 10-15 who all died around 1920-23 when we are sure there were epidemics. Some of the birth dates were early 1800's when the mines began around here. Oh the stories these tombs could tell!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Worship: Sunday #3

Martha and I worshiped at the St. Christol Reformee church this morning. This is the church spearheading an ecumenical outreach to the local high school. Their long-range plan is to build a drop-in center. But due to lack of funding so far, they went ahead and purchased an old city bus, equipping it with tables and seats for students to have lunch together with a local youth pastor. 
The church (above) is unique in that it is situated between two halves of a police station! Bright signs "Gendarme" are posted to the left and right of the building! 

The pastor remembered us and greeted us warmly. You can see the heating system on the upper right below a window: overhead gas space heaters like MCC has on the patio! It works! And older couple led the music playing flute and recorder with lyrics beamed on the front wall. I guestimated about 40-45 people in attendance with a good mix of old, young and children. The sermon was on Luke 17:1-10 and he printed his outline, so I was able to follow a little bit (Martha much more!).
Refreshments after worship was on the patio out front. We were immediately greeted by the pastor and an older woman who knew our friends here. Another man who grew up in Algeria and spoke English came over and welcomed us. They were interested in why we visited and were eager to welcome us back. Four stars for this church!

How Is Sunday Different?

I'm studying Sabbath. I'm reading through the Bible looking at the way Sabbath is treated and reading various histories of worship. But something struck me today (Sunday March 3). As we drove to a neighboring village for worship around 9:45 a.m. I noticed many of the stores, gas stations and tobacco stores were all open. It was a nice sunny day, so people were out, carrying bread loaves and bags of stuff.
But after church, after 12:00 p.m. nothing was open except for restaurants. Downtown Ales (main street pictured above) was deserted! All the shops were closed. There was ample parking, and hardly any cars on the streets. Now France is a pretty secular culture and I'm sure there are all sorts of reasons why everything is closed that I don't fully get. But it was quiet and restful. I was aware that store clerks were not working...thus having time off to rest in their own ways. It's a far cry from the world I know back home, where grocery stores are open Sunday till midnight and all shops are open till evening. Very little stops at home and a lot stops here. What does that mean for us and for them?

Saturday, March 02, 2013

A Good Day!

The day (Saturday) began in the market and then we had a long, linger lunch with a friend who cooked us a Provencal specialty called "boudin" (or...blood sausage). It really was interesting! Then we walked to a neighbors' home for coffee and a long visit about art work. 
Then the two of us went for a late afternoon hike up above the village (see above) to get some exercise. And for dinner, since we were pretty full from that unique lunch, we had cold cuts, lettuce and cheese! Below is a fresh-bought sampling of chevre (goat cheese), rustisou (aged sheep cheese) and then some fabulous Roquefort! Oh my! I think cheese will be in heaven! 

No Pulpit Saturday

            I feel like the rest of you! This is my third Saturday without a sermon facing me on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong! I love preaching! I really do love leading worship and having the privilege of preaching. But weekends are really different without the looming expectation the pulpit brings. It’s also different being in another country in a home that is not our own. It’s not like we have a lot of chores to fill a Saturday like we do in Santa Barbara with laundry, housekeeping, yard work, etc.
            I still wake early, but read for sheer fun. We ambled through the area market this morning, scoring catches of cheese, eggs, meat, bread, veggies, buttons (yup, Martha likes to look at buttons) and pastries.
            Today we have lunch with friends from Nimes who have a family home in our village and a wide open afternoon and evening. Maybe a walk. Maybe a nap. Maybe a… That’s what Saturday is like.
            Tomorrow we plan to attend our third church since arriving here, a little Reformed church in the town of St. Christol that has taken an active role in an ecumenical outreach to area students by purchasing an old city bus and retrofitting it with benches and tables so students can drip by for lunch and conversations with a gifted youth pastor named Lionel. My only worry about Sunday is what time the service starts (almost all begin at 10:30 am).
            So, how am I getting ready to worship tomorrow not knowing the text and barely understanding the language and not having a bulletin (we have yet to attend a French church with a printed bulletin)? I’ll read the international revised common lectionary readings tonight and pray for the pastor who will be preaching. I’ll re-read the lessons in the morning and pray that God connects some of the dots. Then I’ll go to church waiting to be surprised.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Hot Coffee on a cold day

Who Taught You?

I eat differently while in France than home in Santa Barbara. Meals here are served in courses: salad, main, cheese, dessert, coffee at the end. Bread is available all through the meal and, when taken, is broken and place on the table next to the plate and not on the plate itself. The fork stays in the left hand and not transferred back and forth like we do. Meals last longer than 20 minutes....hours in fact. I have learned to not be in a hurry when eating in France. Eating and drinking is not done in cars while traveling (I break this rule regularly with coffee!).
But I've also learned to eat differently in Japan, Congo, Kenya, Egypt and Greece. Each culture has its own patterns for how to eat a meal. Each one has its own logic how to sit, what instruments are used, and what goes together (e.g. bread as a supplementary fork to push food around with).
Cross-cultural travel gives me the privilege of both learning new ways to eat and to examine the ways we eat at home.
One of the aspects of sacred time that I'm exploring and would love your input on is who taught you how to worship? Worship is so central to our life as believers, yet often unexamined about why we do what we do. Often a worship culture gets set and established and proceeds ahead without rationale or explanation other than, that's the way w do it here or I do it this way because I like doing it this way. That's not good enough. Who taught you how to worship the way you do? And, more importantly, how are you continuing to be taught how to worship? I'd love to hear from you!

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