Saturday, May 24, 2014

Walking is what we do

One of the things people ask me about our regular trips to France is "what do you do there?" We do a lot of things: we drive a lot (in our first week 1,400 km, we go to art museums and historic spots, we shop for fresh food and cheese and get great wines, and we visit with more and more accumulated old friends). But what we do the most, daily and sometimes multiple times a day is walk together.
A day does not go by that we do not walk in a new place, along a new trail (or old trail), explore a new village or wander the streets of a familiar city, or just head off after dinner (the photo above) and walk a circuit around our little village.
We walk and talk, and we walk and don't talk. We walk holding hands, and we walk a distance apart. We talk about family, church, friends, our lives, architecture, history, art, and absolutely anything that comes into our heads is free to discuss. But we are not sitters and talkers, but walkers and talkers. The only time we enjoy sitting and talking is when we are off driving somewhere. We never play the radio, but talk to each other.
It's what I most love about France and most miss at home. My schedule is so filled in the evenings that it is a unique evening when there are no meetings, groups or obligations. The church runs on evenings because most members have day-jobs and also give up their evenings to serve. So, over the years I have learned to live with evening meetings. But not in France and not on vacation. Every evening is home here, with a good walk!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lambert Collection in Sainte Anne's Prison, Avignon

The Lambert Collection of contemporary art in Avignon, France is a museum Martha and I try to visit every time we are in France. The collection is unabashedly contemporary and pushes boundaries and limits for someone like me about what art is and isn't. Martha enjoys it because it displays some of the newer and unknown artists from around the world.
But the Lambert Museum is undergoing extensive (read massive) improvements, so much so that the entire building is closed for a year and its collection was moved to an abandoned Napoleonic prison called Sainte Anne's, ver near the Palais du Pape. So we decided to go have a look.

We entered through bars and dingy walls, still covered with graffiti from inmate or squatters since the prison was abandoned in 2003.

Each cell was used, transformed, repurposed for the display of art around the theme "Fireflies" which refers to fireflies caught in the night and desiring their freedom.

The doors were scarred and pockmarked from violence and neglect. The interior doors were all painted bright colors,

And the architecture of each cell was uniquely decorative with arched ceilings and plastered abutments. If you are in the south of France any time in 2014, it is well worth your while to see an art display unlike any you have every seen.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Stingy as a spiritual gift?

            We were taking a walk before dinner is a quiet little village when Martha blurted out “stinginess is not a spiritual virtue.” That got my attention and I asked where that came from. Martha, always one who ponders thing deeply, said that too many Christians she has known over the years considered their personal stinginess a spiritual virtue of which they were proud.
            So we talked about why committed, Godly Christians are often stingy. I think there are several contributing factors. The first is that they see themselves as stewards of God’s resources and do not trust any person or institution with their money. For reasons good and bad, they consider what churches, denominations and governments do is to waste money.
            Over the years I have seen the amount of money given to general funds of churches decline over the money specially allocated to particular missions and ministries. People want to control their giving, both as good stewards and as generally distrustful of institutions.
            Another contributing factor is widespread anxiety, fear and anger within Christian communities. It does not take too long to get a group of Christians fuming about the latest scandal or injustice. Our news media blankets us with a barrage of bad news about bad people who are out to get you and your family. So we are prone to over-reactivity and easily triggered anger. Anger does not mix well with generosity. An anger reflex is to pull in and clench fists, while a generosity response is hand open and stretched wide to another. Stingy people are sure it’s worse out there than you know.
            Stinginess is not only incompatible with generosity, it is also incompatible with hope and joy. A stingy person deeply believes things will get worse before they get better and you need to be prepared, prepared, and prepared. That means hold on tightly to all that have. A person with deep hope knows that God is in charge and the future is his. A person with hope believes that love wins over hate and resurrection triumphs over death.

A stingy person just is not sure about all that hope, it seems to suspicious to him/her. A stingy person believes that their piety is shown by the depth of their frown and the seriousness of their voice, rather than by their laugh or their smile.

It's not different, I am

This is what we did Saturday morning, we went to the outdoor market. Fresh produce, cheese, meats, wine, and clothing were all displayed along several aisles in the center of the village. There were old couples, young couples, solitary individuals, babies in strollers, and old women and men with canes.
In many ways, it's comparable to the Santa Barbara Farmers' Market...but different, not better, but different. I'm different. I'm reoriented in a different way in France than I am in California.
The vacation experience I have in France removes me from all familiarity and role and inserts me into a different reality and role. In Santa Barbara I'm known as "Pastor Don" and I love that identity and role. In a smaller community like Santa Barbara, I recognize someone almost everywhere I go, and they recognize me as pastor of Montecito Covenant Church.
In France, I'm not known for anything other than being a strange foreigner who speaks badly! I cannot understand the conversations around me, nor do I want to. I observe and watch things keenly. I savor new smells and new tastes (recently a gray cheese spread that tastes like bleu cheese!). My schedule and time is not run by appointments or committees or deadlines, but by my mood, the weather and our energy. I read differently while on vacation. I read for me and I read for as long as I wish. No telephone calls interrupt devotions or knocks on the door. Martha and I have a morning routine of silent respect until after breakfast when we discuss our direction for the day.
What happens most while on vacation in France is I remember what I have forgotten: that I am a servant of Christ and steward of the mysteries, that God has a marvelous plan unfolding that I neither have to manage or worry about, that every person I encounter is a sacred mystery and not a problem to be solved or a volunteer to recruit or keep happy, that God is not impressed by what impresses (and frightens) me, that there is hope for me and the church and the world!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

So, how's fishing?

So, what ever happened to ___________? That’s a question I both ask and am asked. On weekends like this, when Westmont goes through the annual baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies, families and alumni return to this familiar territory answering the question above and asking it.
         This coming Sunday we will also be celebrating the confirmation of five of our young people. Confirmation is one of the most rewarding things I do. Martha and I have been teaching confirmation together since we arrived. This two year course brings us wonderfully close to 7th and 8th grade young people as we meet with them every Wednesday night throughout the school year in the Fireside Room next to the Outback.
         This year we hung as many MCC confirmation pictures as we could find on the wall in the Fireside Room, and it’s quite a display from the early years of Curt Peterson, Jon Ireland, and Diana Trautwein to our nine years of teaching. After the service on Sunday, refreshments will be served on the porch of the Outback/Fireside Room and you can go in and peruse those photos, probably asking the same question I started with “What ever happened to ____________?” By the way, if you note any missing years on the wall and have family confirmation photos, please lend them to the church for copying and framing in their proper sequence.
         The text for this Sunday is the last text in the series in the Gospel of John: John 21:1-19. It’s really an epilogue about the disciples, especially Simon Peter. When you read it, imagine someone asking you “So, whatever happened to Simon Peter?” Our text is the answer. Come and find out!

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