Hi, my name is Doug.
I write little essays about faith and life.
I also laugh at my own jokes and correct other people's grammar.
I'm far from perfect.
This is my blog.

I used to play with guns

AR-15 affordable and effective

The funny thing is, I used to play with guns.

They were toy guns, of course, but guns nevertheless. Playing “army” was my favorite thing. I remember adding the sound track for all of our battles, making noises resembling explosions or machine gun fire (my specialty). I seem to have had a vivid imagination for fighting, killing, and war.

And I have no idea why.

My parents never bought me a gun, not even a BB gun, and there were never guns around the house, except for my toy guns. My father, a World War II veteran, was not a hunter and showed no interest in weapons of any kind, and so he never taught me to shoot or thought it was his duty as a father to do so. He seemed more interested in teaching me how to throw a curveball.

But for some reason, when I was younger, I nevertheless had a fascination with guns.

I find this funny, I suppose, because I grew up to be a decidedly non-confrontational sort of person. I did play high school football, if that counts for anything, and I enjoyed the contact and the tackling, especially what my coaches liked to call “hard tackles.” And even today when I am threatened, I can easily assert myself, but the truth is that I have been more or less a pacifist. I feel somewhat odd writing those words, but most people, I have found, are content knowing that their pastor has a preference for peace not war.

I write all of this to say, I have no idea anymore what to think about the gun situation in the U.S., except that I find it deeply disturbing. With every mass shooting (the recent one in Orlando, the largest one in U.S. history, was the 133rd of the year, according to my reading), I find myself even more troubled and confused. Is it really such an important matter of personal liberty that anyone – even someone the FBI has interviewed twice for possibly radical views and violent behavior – should be able to purchase a weapon, even an AR-15 assault rifle?

As I type that question, I can think of several friends who will have their responses ready. So, before you write, you should know that I am familiar with all of the arguments. In fact, most people who follow the news know the arguments on both sides.

On one side, for example, there is Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, warning that “jack-booted government thugs” might come one day to take away the guns of decent, law-abiding citizens. This might be described as the fear of an authoritarian government.

On the other side, there is Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, a former congresswoman from New Mexico, who was shot in the head at a campaign rally in 2011, along with 12 other people, including a nine year old child and a federal judge who were both killed in the shooting. Giffords now understandably urges legislation to keep “guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill.”

Maybe for obvious reasons these positions have been impossible to reconcile.

In keeping with the Swiss theme of my blog, I should mention that I have seen several Internet memes recently about the relatively high rate of gun ownership in Switzerland and the low rate of mass shootings here. The argument is that there is little correlation between gun ownership and mass shootings. However, the real story, which doesn’t fit a typical Facebook post, is a bit more complicated.

Switzerland does indeed have a high rate of gun ownership, one of the highest in the world, and though mass shootings occur, they are rare. But there is a high rate of gun ownership mainly because the vast majority of men in Switzerland are conscripted into military service and receive military training, including weapons training. Their personal weapons may be kept at home, but – and this is a fact not often reported – it is generally not permitted to keep army-issued ammunition at home. Further, there is in this country a blanket ban on automatic weapons.

To me the two situations – the U.S. and Switzerland – are not really comparable. A better example, to my mind, might be Australia, which has dramatically reduced gun violence and mass shootings through legislation. But this argument, I know, does little to persuade. Our minds on both sides are already made up.

I am weary at this point and don’t know what more to say, except this: I find it inconceivable that a follower of Jesus Christ, one who reads the gospels and attempts to apply the teachings found there, could support the situation as it exists.

(Photo: That’s the AR-15 … “effective and affordable.”)

Comments { 9 }

Learning from midlife

Doug leanig on BMW

Midlife is a stern, unforgiving teacher. Other than that I liked it a lot.

I am teaching a class at my church right now about midlife, and as every teacher knows I am learning far more about the subject than my students. We are using a fine book, but I am freely supplementing the book with some of my own reading, research, and commentary. I am, after all, a midlife survivor, with scars to prove it. (The scars are real, not metaphorical, and have been left by a series of dermatologists.)

While getting ready to teach the class I learned that most people like to attach the word “crisis” to the word “midlife,” as though the only conversation we can have about midlife is about the crisis that sometimes goes with it.

Far more helpful than the word “crisis,” I think, is the so-called U-curve hypothesis, which rather nicely summarizes what many of us face. We go from young adulthood to midlife filled with anticipation and high hopes about what life will bring, believing what our parents and teachers have foolishly told us about following our bliss, only to run into obstacles, some of our own making and others that are inevitable as we age.

When I graduated from seminary, for example, I imagined that I might become a superstar preacher with my own television network (and satellite). To tell the truth, I have had a deeply satisfying ministry over the years, but the television part of it has, sadly, eluded me. I once appeared on an AM-radio talk show, but that was only for an hour, less commercial breaks (and news on the half hour). And my appearance was to talk about the church and social media, not to present the gospel. I would be surprised if we had more than five listeners. And yet, I spoke that Saturday evening as though to a stadium with 50,000 people. (I was not invited back.)

Doug's brief radio career on WJR

The bottom of the U-curve varies among countries, but the global average seems to be age 46. In case you’re interested, the Swiss reach the bottom part of the curve at the startlingly early age of 35. In any case, the late 40s and early 50s seem to be the age where disappointment, dissatisfaction, and discouragement can add up and become for some a full-blown crisis.

But the good news, I was happy to discover, is that there is life after the dip.

In fact, the 60s, 70s, and even 80s can be (according to the research) wonderful years. Older people tend to be happier, even though we don’t always look like it. This is counter-intuitive, I suppose, and income and education are factors too (as they are at every age), but generally speaking it’s not so bad to grow older. My yearning to be a superstar preacher, for example, has mostly disappeared, and I find myself deeply grateful for the few people who show up each Sunday morning to hear me preach.

All of this happiness in old age assumes, of course, that you can escape midlife with relatively few bone-headed decisions, the kind all of us are tempted to make when we’re feeling disappointment, dissatisfaction, and discouragement. If you are contemplating one of those decisions right now, give me a call. I will do my best to talk you out of it. You don’t really need a convertible.

As a pastor, I tried of course to put all of this midlife talk in faith perspective, and in the class I even presented some impressive-looking charts and graphs about faith stages. Along with everything else, faith begins to look and feel different at midlife, a bit thicker around the middle. And then, as it ages, it tends to grow into something wonderful.

Earlier in my life, for example, it was important to me to be right – and to convince other people of the rightness of my thinking about most things. It was tiring to be right all the time, but I thought I was called to that important ministry. I forget now when it happened, but I seem to have let go of that need or whatever it was. I still know what I believe, but I am far more relaxed when I talk about it. I can listen to other people, even when I don’t agree. I can even change my mind. What’s different is that my faith has become part of me, not something I admire or debate or throw at other people. It’s who I am.

Next month I will be heading down to Lake Zürich after morning worship for a few baptisms by immersion. Since I agreed to do my first one, a few more requests have come along. I’m not sure that “midlife Doug” would have agreed so easily, but “older Doug” is surprisingly accommodating and willing to get wet, to wade out into the water with his clothes on.

There’s no telling what “older Doug” might do or say (or write) next. This next stage of life might even be fun.

(Top photo: Yes, that’s my convertible, the stereotypical midlife decision, purchased at age 44 and sold nine years later. Lots of fun, but very expensive. Next photo: Yes, that’s me, trying out a career in AM-radio at WJR in Detroit.)

Comments { 5 }

The restroom situation around the world

outhouse

The good news of course is that I live in a country without restroom wars.

No local governments here in Switzerland, as far as I know, are getting ready to pass laws about who can use which restroom and, believe me, I’ve been scanning the headlines each night in my Blick am Abend just to be sure.

Back in the U.S., which never ceases to amuse (and horrify) my Swiss neighbors, people are apparently getting all hot and bothered about people in restrooms who, in the opinion of some, shouldn’t be there.

Most of the people who are freaking out, I’m guessing, have never been been to a W.C. in Europe, where female attendants in men’s restrooms are fairly common. You’ll be minding your own business one day, and suddenly a woman will be sweeping under your feet. It’s distracting at first, sure, but you get used to it. Now I hardly notice.

Frankly, if you want to be traumatized by restrooms, you should travel more, not only in Europe, but in other countries as well.

Squat toilets – sometimes called “Turkish toilets” – are the norm in much of the world, not just in Turkey. (Some Swiss like to call these toilets “French toilets,” but I think that has something to do with not liking the French.) What you get are porcelain treads and a hole in the floor about four inches wide. I was puzzled when I saw my first one, I studied it carefully, and then I thought, well, when in Peru, which is where I happened to be, do as the Peruvians do. I was proud of my first attempt.

Less traumatizing, but no less annoying, is having to pay to go. A tip dish by the door? Really? And then, to add insult to injury, the attendants themselves are often incredibly rude, though I suppose I would be rude too if I had to work there day after day.

I might as well go all the way with this post and make a comment about the toilet paper. If you visit me, or travel anywhere in the world, you might want to take your own. You’ll be glad you did, especially where none is offered, and I’ll leave my comment at that. But seriously, if you visit me and leave a roll or two of the good stuff, I will be very grateful.

Look, I could go on. There’s a lot to write about, as you can imagine. I have spent a lot of time in restrooms around the world and have taken a special interest in the topic. But this is probably as much as you wanted to know. Frankly, I now know as much about the restroom situation in the U.S. as I ever wanted to know, and I wish state legislators would turn their attention to a few other subjects which – I apologize for this – have a greater sense of urgency.

Until next time. Tschüss!

Comments { 5 }

A personal update

index (15)

Dear readers,

Instead of the usual post about my latest (and impressive) spiritual insight, or my latest gripe about presidential politics in the U.S., I thought you might enjoy a more personal update:

My next book

It now appears that the publication date of my new book has been pushed back to Spring 2017. I am disappointed, of course, more than you know, but maybe the silver lining here is that interest in my topic – becoming a multicultural church – is growing. Here’s a link to an interesting New York Times article about the subject.

Language learning

I continue to learn grammar and add lots of vocabulary at my village language school, but my German speaking skills are nicht so gut. Schrecklich, to be honest. So, I’m going to do what I probably should have done at the start – namely, attend an immersion class. I’m going to use my study leave this year to attend a Goethe Institut summer intensive in Berlin. I will even be living with a German family while I’m there, enjoying Frühstück with them every morning before class. Sadly, even after attending this class, I won’t have any idea what my Swiss German friends are talking about, since they prefer not to speak Standarddeutsch, the language I am determined to master.

Church Life

My congregation voted in January to extend my contract, a gifted new associate pastor will begin work next month, there are gratifying signs of life and growth, and so I find myself excited about staying in Switzerland a while longer. I occasionally worried about being on autopilot at this stage of my ministry, not being sufficiently challenged, but that worry (like most of my worries over the years) can now be set aside. I find myself fully engaged with the complexity and excitement of ministry in this wonderful multicultural context. All (or almost all) brain cells are engaged!

The Blog

Google Analytics continues to provide me with information about you, my dear readers, and I have no idea what to do with most of it. Here’s an example that you might find interesting. My readers over the last month came from the following cities (in order):

  1. Zürich CH
  2. Wheaton, Illinois
  3. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  4. Ann Arbor, Michigan
  5. Grand Rapids, Michigan
  6. Batavia, Illinois
  7. Chicago, Illinois
  8. New York, New York
  9. London UK
  10. Plantation, Florida

And here are a few honorable mentions:

  1. New Delhi, 34. Paris, 44. Sydney (Australia)

and interestingly

  1. Rio de Janeiro (with three page views!)

Thank you for reading my blog, thank you for your thoughtful comments (on the blog itself and on Facebook), and thank you for encouraging me to do what I like to do – namely, write about faith and life.

Love, Doug

(Photo: That’s me in the reflection, wearing a University of Michigan cap and modeling quite a good photographer’s stance. You can’t teach something like that. It’s a gift. )

Comments { 15 }

“I hate Trump. I hate Hillary. I hate I hate I hate.”

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

I don’t often give Facebook credit for very much, except stealing time that I could have used doing something else. But this week I read something my older daughter posted that I want to pass along to you.

One of my daughter’s friends is a teacher of young children – 9 year olds – and lately she has been listening to her children speak in harsh and angry terms, usually about politics. The children will talk about candidates as “scumbags,” “idiots,” and “dirty liars.”

“I have had to help many kids,” she writes, “find different words to use than ‘hate’ – oh, they are using that word so often. I hate Trump. I hate Hillary. I hate Democrats. I hate Republicans. I hate I hate I hate.”

This is primary season in the U.S., and people in Europe – or at least in the small part of Europe where I live – are paying attention, mostly because the political climate in the U.S. this year is so ugly, far uglier than usual, in my experience. A great deal of name-calling is taking place, some violence has broken out in a few places, and so no one, I suppose, should be surprised that this ugliness and nastiness is being heard and then learned by our children.

My daughter’s friend, the one who is a teacher, suddenly realized that she was as guilty as anyone. Her own language had become coarser, harsher, uglier, even filled at times with hatred. And so, she made a commitment to stop, to begin using different language, to model better language and behavior for her children, those in her class and of course those at her home.

I think the reason that this Facebook post affected me so much is that I saw myself in my daughter’s friend. I too have been frustrated this political season. More than once I have wanted to shout back at the television news (and, yes, have given in to the temptation). I even broke a personal rule about no politics on my blog and posted about a candidate with whom I am particularly concerned. I know better. As deeply as I care about my country and the direction it is taking, I know that my behavior affects others. I can’t do much to change things at home, except to send in my absentee ballot, but I can control myself. I can remember what I learned in Sunday school many years ago about other people being created (as I am) in the image and likeness of God. I may find their political views abhorrent – I often do – but I must make sure that my own behavior and my own language match what I profess to believe.

As a Christian, a great deal more is expected of me. I want to give evidence each day of the fruits of the Spirit, evidence that the Spirit is working in me and changing me and making a new creation out of me. I want to exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I do exhibit those qualities, occasionally, but not often enough.

What about you? Have you noticed a change in the way you speak about others? Their political views, the ones with which you disagree so intensely, do not give you the right to belittle them or to treat them as something less than children of God.

I sometimes receive email forwards from church members who must think that I agree with their political point of view. I am included in lists of what must be their like-minded friends. And frankly I am surprised by what I read. The people who send these things always seem so saintly when they are singing the hymns during worship.

Somehow – and I don’t profess to know how to do this – we need to learn a way of speaking and acting that is honest about our beliefs and core values, but that also is fair-minded, loving, and hopes the best for all concerned.

I can do better at that. I hope you will join me in trying.

(Note: I wrote something like the above as the pastor’s letter for my church’s monthly newsletter.)

Comments { 13 }

“I want to be baptized”

Frantisek's church photo

After morning worship last Sunday, standing outside in the early Spring sunshine, an 18 year old man I did not know very well approached me and said, “I want to be baptized.”

This was no April Fool’s joke, I quickly realized, and not a prank, as I half-expected, this was the real thing. It was written all over his face – the fear and joy of saying those words aloud. Plus, there was a small group of people – family members? – standing maybe five or 10 feet behind him, watching the whole conversation.

I think my first words were, “So, you’ve never been baptized,” as though this were an administrative or scheduling problem that needed my full attention.

The young man and I talked for quite a long time and then agreed to meet in a couple of days so that I could hear more about this decision, but I still think about what happened there that day and what the situation reveals about me and my training and where I find myself at this point in my ministry.

Frankly, what the situation reveals is not good.

I was ordained on September 20, 1980 – as some of you know, since I insist on observing the anniversary each year – and the ordination occurred after lengthy training and evaluation and psychological testing and even the learning of biblical languages. No one was better trained and equipped for a life of service to the church than I was. That’s not bragging. That’s a statement about how people like me have been prepared for the work of ministry over the last generation or two. And now, thanks be to God, I have been doing this work – without interruption – for more than 36 years.

So, what exactly is the problem?

I’ll tell you. A young man approached me after worship, asked to be baptized, and I forgot for a moment that that is the purpose of my life’s work – to lead people like him to just that moment in their lives and then to nurture and grow their new faith. Over the years I have forgotten (or neglected) this calling. In most of the churches I served over the years I was expected to be the executive director or chief executive officer of a legal entity known as the church. I supervised staff, raised money, built endowments, maintained buildings (and parking lots), managed a board, and responded to customer complaints. I came to think of all of that as ministry.

Coming to this particular church at this particular point in my life has had the transforming effect of reminding me of the call that brought me to this work a long, long time ago. I think it’s been the greatest gift I could have received.

Here’s my job description in its entirety: “The Senior Pastor is in charge of the spiritual welfare [my emphasis] of the congregation, including, but not limited to, conducting worship and preaching the gospel, pastoral counseling and visits, education of adults, youth and children, and the administration of the Sacraments (Ordinances) of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”

I think that’s what I’ve always wanted to do!

(Photo: That’s a photo of my church by František Janák who suggests that we call him “Frank.”)

Comments { 15 }

It is spring. The jogger is spitting insects.

DSC_0002 (2)

What do I write about today? My ongoing disgust with Donald Trump – or the progress I am making with learning German?

Writing about Trump – again – is more tempting than you know, because my last post, which was about him, received a few hundred page views in the first hour. That’s above average for my blog, and – well – yelling and screaming about stuff I don’t like always draws attention. Like most children, I learned that much in the crib.

But I read something reassuring this morning – namely, that while Trump tends to draw a plurality of Republican voters in the primary elections, his overall appeal is relatively low and not enough to win in November. Among women, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and many other racial-ethnic groups, his popularity is quite low. Maybe now I can sleep better.

So, on to the more pressing issue in my life right now, which is learning to speak a new language.

For my North American readers, I should point out that German is one of four national languages in Switzerland. French, Italian, and Romansch are the others. What’s interesting about this – in addition to living in a country with not one, not two, but four national languages – is that most people I know prefer not to speak the language I am learning – namely, high German (Hochdeutsch). They prefer to speak English or Swiss German (especially Züridüütsch), neither one of which is a national language.

When, for example, I am on a train and listening to a rather animated conversation behind me (strictly for the purpose of language learning, I assure you), I expect to understand a little of what I am hearing. But no, most of the time I have no idea what is being said. And not because my German is so poor – it’s not great – but because these people are not speaking anything close to the language I am trying my best to learn, but a language they insist is not merely a dialect, but something better and more beautiful. (I respectfully disagree.)

Most people around me on the train, in the hair salon, and at the market, are not speaking the language I am required to learn for my work permit. When I respond in high German, they smile (as though learning that I have a serious illness), and they know immediately that I am ein Fremder, a foreigner.

Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that I am making progress. That’s what my teacher, Frau Zopfi, writes on my report card. I even pick up the evening newspaper for the train ride home – Blick am Abend – and can make sense of most articles. My favorite item yesterday was the Tweet des Tages (tweet of the day): Es ist Frühling. Die Jogger spucken Insekten aus.

It is spring. The jogger is spitting insects.

(Photo: For those new to German, that means “welcome, please come in.” Just trying to be helpful!)

Comments { 5 }

Donald Trump and me

index (12)

I listened yesterday during morning worship as one of the elders at my church prayed for the United States, and I immediately sat up straight. I expected to hear the name of a candidate – one in particular.

I always listen to these prayers, of course, but most Sundays we pray for other countries – where the church is being persecuted, for example, or countries where we support missionaries – not for my country, the country where I have lived most of my life, the country that I still call home and hope to return to one day.

And it wasn’t one of those low-attendance Sundays, either, when the highlight is seeing everyone at coffee hour and enjoying the warm sunshine outdoors. It was Palm Sunday, and the church was filled. We had just seen a hundred or more children parade through the sanctuary while waving their palm branches and singing “hosanna to the King of kings.”

And then there it was – a prayer for the United States, “as it prepares to elect a new president,” or something like that. No specific candidate was mentioned.

Americans like to think that “the eyes of the world” are always on them, and that isn’t quite true. People who live in other countries are often oblivious to whatever is happening in the United States. But not right now, not with Donald Trump running for president and closing in on his party’s nomination.

I haven’t asked everyone I know for an opinion, but I have heard enough to say that the general mood where I live is “what are you thinking?” The feeling behind those words ranges from bemusement (the usual response to American behavior) to fear. What the country with the most powerful military force in the world does is naturally a matter of concern to others.

I have to admit that I am more fearful than bemused. I am especially concerned that so many evangelical Christians would be able to support a three-times-married reality television star, who has built a large portion of his fortune from casinos, who calls for targeting innocent civilians in war, who has mocked a journalist with disabilities, who has threatened the religious liberty of minority groups in the United States, who has gained the support of white supremacists for his demeaning remarks about African Americans, Mexican immigrants, Muslims, and Syrian refugees.

And then there is his well-documented attitude toward women.

Given all of this – and more – I would have expected a far different response from evangelical Christian voters. But I am wrong. At this time Trump is favored among evangelicals and continues to receive endorsements from prominent leaders in the evangelical world. One of them – Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University – even compared Trump to Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr.

I don’t know what more to write, but I know I cannot be silent. I hope the elder who prayed yesterday continues to pray for my country. I hope that all of our elders are praying. I am praying too.

(Photos: Nothing to do with Donald Trump, I know, but left from the most recent Israel trip and too good not to use.)

index (11)

Comments { 9 }

Under the Meilener Sun

image

“Where you are is who you are. The further inside you the place moves, the more your identity is intertwined with it. Never casual, the choice of place is the choice of something you crave.”

Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

As you read this, I hope you are imagining me right now in my quaint Swiss chalet, situated charmingly on the side of a mountain, with cowbells faintly audible and towering Swiss peaks visible in the distance. I have just returned, of course, from walking my dog along a winding dirt path and breathing deeply of fresh mountain air. Along the way, I waved to my neighbors, Urs and Jürg, who may come over later to enjoy a hearty lager and soulful conversation by the crackling fire.

I don’t know how to break this news to you, faithful readers, but that is not where I live and that is most certainly not my life. I’m not even sure that place exists – outside my fantasy life which, I confess, has been really, really active over the years.

I would read books like Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun and Peter Mayles’ A Year in Provence, and then I would imagine myself moving to a place like that, and in my imagination I would meet charming, slightly eccentric people who loved life in tiny villages, and I would renovate an old farmhouse (never mind that I can’t change a light bulb without checking a YouTube video first to find out how it’s done), and I would master a new language, and I would discover the meaning of life – or at least important truths about life that were somehow inaccessible to me in my humdrum, American suburban life.

None of this has happened. I did not move to Tuscany or Provence, it’s true, but I did move to Switzerland, which has all of the charm of those other two places (and much more besides). I have not (so far) renovated an old farmhouse and do not see that happening any time soon (unless the movie rights to my new book bring in a tidy sum, and then I will probably hire someone who knows what to do with a hammer).

I have met wonderful people here, also true, but they are not always charming, and they are sometimes more than just a little eccentric. A better word might be “irritating.” Not all the time, certainly, but often enough. For heaven’s sake, they are human beings, and I knew plenty of them where I came from.

And as for the language, I have two comments to make. The first is that there is nothing all that romantic about speaking Swiss German. To be honest, it frightens me to hear it spoken. And the second is that learning a language is hard work. After two years of study I am still far from fluent. In fact, people usually laugh when I work up the courage to say something in German.

I think this idea that moving someplace new to discover the meaning of life is … well, a sham, a fraud. Book publishers and movie producers like the idea, of course, but mostly because people like me buy the books and watch the movies. Eat, Pray, Love, anyone?

I can truthfully say that there is no secret to life that cannot be found closer to home.

Francis Mayes writes well about her experience, but she is wrong. And not just wrong, she is dangerous. She could have stayed home to find out what she needed to know. And lots of other people who have set off for exotic-sounding places could have stayed home too. They could have saved themselves from a lot of headaches (and heartaches).

If discovering the meaning of life is what you want to do, I recommend that you stay where you are, even if it’s a crummy little town, find a comfortable place, close your eyes, and then wait for the voice that will eventually come to you. It’s the voice of God, and don’t ask me how I know. Everyone else who has heard it over the centuries has also recognized it immediately. And there have been large numbers of women and men who have heard the same voice I have.

And then of course listen to it, really listen, as you have never listened before, as if your life depended on it.

The voice sounds pretty much the same whether you are in Tuscany or Provence or my little village of Meilen, which is twelve minutes by train from Zürich. I get up early, while it is still dark outside, and I sit in my living room, always the same place, and listen, knowing that I could be anywhere in the world at that particular moment. It doesn’t matter. Because the voice I am listening for speaks to me of truths deeper than charming village life or mountain views. The voice I am listening for speaks to me of truths worth knowing, truths that are worthy of me. The voice I am listening for asks me how I’m doing, how my week has been, and how I plan to live my life for the people around me. The voice I am listening for tells me that I am loved with a love that is beyond description.

If adventure is what you seek, it’s closer than you know.

(Note: I’ve been away – for a few days in Israel and then for a few days in the U.S. Lots of travel seems to mean less blogging. But we’re coming up on the holiest week of the year for Christians, and I should have something to say about that. Plus, there’s the presidential election in the U.S. Thanks for being patient. Please stay tuned.)

Comments { 6 }

My last pilgrimage

IMG_5340

I returned last night from my seventh pilgrimage to Israel.

Except for the people who stayed behind for a visit to Petra (across the border in Jordan), everyone returned safely and in good health. I always breathe a big sigh of relief when everyone finds their luggage and waves goodbye at the airport.

I also resolve never to go again. “This is definitely the last pilgrimage for me,” I told myself last night. Frankly, I’m not sure how excited I can get about one more boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, or one more visit to the souvenir shops in Bethlehem. I have had my fill of olive wood trinkets, long lines at holy sites, and 6:30 wake-up calls from the front desk – “Please have your bags outside your door by 7:00!”

But then, a few years will pass, and another group will convince me that it’s time to go again. I have given in each time.

During my first visit I cried pretty much every day for the first three or four days. Maybe it was the jet lag, but something about seeing the Sea of Galilee for the first time brought waves of tears. Members of that tour group probably wondered how much blubbering they would have to tolerate from their pastor. A lot, as it turned out. Every new site brought more tears.

And I still cry, more than 20 years after that first visit.

Last week I found myself for the first time at the synagogue in Nazareth where Jesus preached for the hometown folks and nearly got himself tossed over a cliff outside of town. The structure has been rebuilt several times, but the floor, we were told, was the original. I had my doubts about that, as I did with the authenticity of many of the sites we visited, but still … I found myself there last week, reading the story from Luke’s gospel for members of my tour group who were seated in small plastic chairs, and I was weeping over the thought of it – that Jesus had once stood somewhere near there and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The scene has never been more vivid in my imagination.

This, I have come to realize, is the meaning of pilgrimage. No one knows anymore where Jesus preached that sermon in Nazareth – or where exactly he was buried – but none of that matters. We go to breathe the air, smell the smells, hear the sounds, see the rocks (they are everywhere), and then remember the stories. We go to have our faith deepened and renewed, to see for ourselves where all of it happened, to have old stories come alive.

My only souvenir this year was a little twig from an olive tree at the Garden of Gethsemane. I tucked it into my travel Bible where it will stay until the next time I go. Can you imagine how many pilgrims over the years have pulled on the branches of those trees?

I am glad I was there … again.

IMG_5261

Comments { 3 }