Tuesday, October 20, 2009

more later

This is enough for now: a Cretan feast, where I got to stand next to Polychronis Polychronidis, Mayor of Kolymbari. (With Enoch and Keelan, too.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

vacation logistics

Even when you’re on vacation (as it turns out), it’s important to check details. Like, for example, which airport you’re supposed to pick at. On Wednesday, I woke fairly early, wanting to say goodbye to folks leaving the meeting (like my dear roommate, Aimee). And wanting to enjoy a last dip in the bowl of honey.

And, perhaps most importantly, wanting to get my rental car and begin the next portion of Cretan fun with Krista. Since she lives in Germany, we see each (by means other than Skype) far too infrequently. Her flight, however, wasn’t to arrive until 2:20 in the afternoon, so I was grateful to find a friend to do a bit of touring (and coffee drinking) in Hania with, while I (impatiently) passed the time until her arrival.

Negotiating old Cretan cities alone, by rental car, is not my specialty, so it took me a bit longer to get to the airport than I’d hoped—I was already nearly 20 minutes late. And, rushing into the lobby, I didn’t see Krista. I looked around a bit, retrieved my computer to confirm her arrival time, and wondered. The little Hania airport has no “arrivals” board posted, so, eventually, I asked about the 2:20 flight; “there’s no such flight,” they told me. I considered the options, and decided that perhaps I had the flights departure time—and that she’d arrive at 3:15 on the next flight in from Athens.

Then I ran into some folks from my meeting—Zachary from Chicago and Enoch from Uganda, and we had a nice visit. (I had been feeling bad that I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to them.)

After 3:15 passed, I began to get more suspicious. So I logged on to Facebook, to see if there might be any update there. Sure enough, she’d made it to Athens (a relief). But a new discovery: she was waiting for me in the Heraklion airport, on the other side of Crete, not in the Hania airport!

The drive along the coast is lovely—the new national highway skirts the coastline for much of the journey. Greek driving is a bit of a trip—lanes seem more like suggestions than regulations, and people are bold in passing. But then, the cars are all like tiny, toy cars, so there’s space.

Then came the best gift ever: Krista, waiting watchfully outside the airport as dusk was falling on eastern Crete, ready to hop into my car. It’s possible that I’ve never been more thrilled to see her.

Time with Krista, exploring rural Crete, is well worth airport confusion.


Here are a few snapshots of adventures yesterday:

The beautiful south Crete countryside, a patchwork of olive groves.

A tiny church tucked in the bottom of a dramatic gorge. There was a well-built path down to the church, which is just above a set of waterfalls (on the Megalopotamus River, according to my guide. Second coolest name I’ve encountered on Crete). The icon inside showed the saint it’s named for, Saint Nicholas of Somewhere, standing near these falls.

Up in the mountains here, the village of Spili is a beautiful destination, with all the treats a tourist could ask for: cute shops with locally made things, fun restaurants (serving up tasty mountain snails), a fountain offering fresh spring water in abundance through 24 lion heads and striking church buildings (one, next to our lunch spot, with a funeral procession by foot to the local graveyard).

sweeter than the drippings of the honeycomb

I’m now on the “vacation” portion of my trip, but thought I would share a few more thoughts about my meeting:

Every morning in our hotel, the breakfast set out for us included a giant bowl of honey. The picture here doesn’t immediately give a clear sense—the spoon is a large serving spoon. I’ve always enjoyed honey, but this plentiful sharing seemed to take it to a new level. I cannot imagine ever needing that much honey—an overabundance, like grace. Sweet.

Closing worship at the Faith and Order Plenary was particularly meaningful. I’ve been wondering about what it was that made it so—a number of things were special. Here are my guesses of things that helped: the chairs were rearranged from a classroom style (with desks) to a circular setting (no desks). The music was rehearsed before worship began. We’d lived together for a week, and there was a sense (even in our meetings) that we’d come together significantly over the time. And, for me, the worship style was most familiar, with a thoughtful, beautiful and challenging sermon at the center, preached by just such a woman. Earlier in the gathering, worship felt like a weak part of our time together—strained and stifled by our differences. And our tiredness (as we worshiped all together in the evening, after long days…). It was lovely to end in worship that was life-giving.

Oh, and just as we sang “Come Holy Spirit,” the sound of rain falling on the rooftop added assurance of God’s rain-like grace.

Monday, October 12, 2009

eating together

The meetings continue, but with some significant breaks; yesterday (Sunday) we passed time in worship, some tourism and (most significantly, perhaps) eating together.

In the morning we worshiped at on Orthodox cathedral. Because so many priests (including Bishops and Metropolitans) are here, it was Divine Liturgy with an abundance of clergy support. The experience of the worship was powerful: the cathedral itself offered rich visual surroundings, with modern frescoes and beautiful, ornate icons. The chanting of the liturgy created an amazing auditory experience of the holy, and incense only added more rich, sensory depth.

It is, of course, lamentable that we could not share at the communion table; I did, however, enjoy the moments where all people were particularly involved in worship. As we said the Nicene Creed and Lord’s Prayer, each in our own home languages, I felt a taste of the wonderful, global and diverse richness of the Body of Christ.

After worship, we enjoyed our Greek Feast One. At a beautiful restaurant on the sea, wrapped in floor to ceiling windows with a view of the blue water and striking mountains, we feasted on course after course of rich Greek food. Stuffed, we then headed to hotels for a break. Then, we visited a women’s monastery, enjoying their warm hospitality (including a delicious yogurt snack). And, after a stop at a patriotic site, Greek Feast Two. Featuring the same, three-plate, multi-course feast as lunchtime, the bountiful meal seemed almost absurd in its abundance. I suppose that’s why so many talk of Greek hospitality… Like lunch, this Feast included folk dancers, but in the evening, they invited us into the dancing action. A delightful time.

And, it seems to me, it has made us all friendlier with one another in our meetings—funny how good table fellowship changes us.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

that's what I'm talking about

It is now time for afternoon coffee, and I'm attempting to upload a YouTube prayer to share at Water's Edge tomorrow; the internet slows considerably when we're on break, as many folks here get out their laptops and go online to connect to the world. I wonder how many of us are on FaceBook...

Today has been a bit more fun for me; I'm hopeful that's not just because I get to talk. We've been spending much of the day in our "working groups" of 12 or so people. My group includes (besides me) folks from Orthodox, Reform, Seventh-Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, and African-institued church traditions. We are from the US, Canada, Nigeria, Germany, Denmark, Russia, Albania, India and Cyprus. It's a trip to know how varied and rich the Body of Christ is, especially given that our small group is barely a beginning point.

We talked for part of the day on the "moral discernment" question I mentioned yesterday--after nearly an hour, I think we began to settle into the assignment, looking at the dynamics at play in a case study imagining a discussion taking place among Anglicans about homosexuality. I found it pretty interesting to look at a conversation not entirely unlike ones I shared in at General Conference, but with an eye to the larger dynamics at play.

This afternoon, we've been talking about the early church fathers. I admit to having studied only the early church mothers in seminary...but am intrigued, admitting to my own interest in the life of the early church. When we're stuck in battles about "traditional" church, my experience has too often been that we mean, like, the 1950's traditional church. The vitality, depth and insight of the earliest church is helpful in giving a much longer view...

My roommate and I indulged this afternoon, during our rest time after lunch: we shared a Coke. Well, most of a Coke. Funny how strange and sugary it tastes when you've not had any for a while...

Friday, October 09, 2009

ecumenical listening

It's the morning of day three here in Crete--another beautiful day. And, I'm grateful for the beautiful location here on the seashore--the fresh breezes make it much easier to tolerate long days of listening.

Not that I think listening is a bad idea--it's just been that, in these early days, we have lots of presentations to us and little chance for talking about them together. Except, of course, at coffee breaks, which are (thankfully) regular. And outdoors.

Last night we had a caucus of the Methodists here--while I'm one of only two United Methodists, there are folks from Methodist churches in Ireland, southern Africa, Bolivia, Argentinia, Malaysia and more. It was good to meet each other, and to share some of the things we peculiar and Methodist people experience at gatherings like this. I treasure the openness of our communion table, for example--a theological practice that separates us from others. Never suffering from the illusion taht we've got a corner on what it means to be "true Church," we're happy to play with others. And, then, feel a bit rejected when they've got reasons they won't play with us...

Tomorrow, we launch into discussions of how the churches handle moral issues. We'll be using case studies, in an attempt to give us ways to analyze and discuss how we come to discern positions on divise issues. My group will look at a fictional case study of (real) division in the Anglican church over understanding of homosexuality. I'm interested to see if it's possible to talk about how we come to understandings of human sexuality without actually talking about those understandings--do you think we can do this analysis in some kind of removed perspective? My small group reflects the diversity here: young and old, from Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant perspectives, from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, the Americas and Africa. Should be wild.

And I confess that a good part of me just wants to start talking. Enough of this listening to speakers in big groups...

Oh, and the baklava is heavenly.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

getting there

Some highlights from day one in Greece:
-A visit from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, including a generous speech that urged ecological faithfulness, justice and the work toward the Kingdom of God.
-The excited buzz around this visit, including accompanying police, red cross and other dignitaries.
-A local mayor named Polychronis Polychronidis (coolest mayor name ever!) who noted the area’s emphasis on sustainable development.
-That the Orthodox Academy uses the same plastic pitchers we have at my church, only, instead of ice water, they fill them with a slightly-sweet red wine that can be dangerously intoxicating (even in small quantities) after 24+ hours of travel.
-The way a nation of lots of islands and peninsulas makes being situated on the sea coast a possibility for whole lots of people.

Now that we’ve made it through all the very-important ceremonial beginnings to a formal meeting, I’m eager to see what discussion tomorrow may bring. Oh, and I’m eager for sleep. Good night!

jet lag?

It has been far too long since I updated you, dear blog. And so much has happened—almost so much that it feels like we’ve totally lost touch with each other. But I’m hopeful that you’ll welcome me back; I’ve just landed in Athens on an ecumenical adventure, and I think it just might be fun to share.

Since we’ve been apart, I confess to having a lot of fun without you. See, I had these grace-filled 8 weeks away from normal life this summer, on a Renewal Leave. Getting to be the officiant for my dear friend Sean’s wedding to Rosa in Tiburon was beautiful. Time in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park was amazing. Hiking the John Muir Trail in the California Sierras for 20 days was particularly fabulous: a wonderful immersion in the beauty of this crazy world and an escape from many of the things that demand my time most days. I took my watercolors and a lot of time on that hike.

Evolution Range, originally uploaded by Matthew San Diego.

Then I came back to work—and jumped right in. With my beloved senior pastor having a couple of minor heart attacks, I found myself awfully useful around the church. And that busy-ness has carried me right up to my current string of adventures: a trip to Lake Junaluska in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains for a General Board of Church and Society board meeting and a visit to Waffle House, leading Clergy Convocation for our Annual Conference in Palm Springs, featuring Lauren Winner, whose writing I’ve enjoyed and admired.

WAFFLE HOUSE, originally uploaded by xrahy.

Also, I entered my Jesus Year: I’m now as old as he ever was. I’ve not yet fully reflected on what this means for me, but suspect it should mean something.

And, now, a trip to Greece.

I’m here as a delegate to the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Plenary, which meets this week at the Orthodox Academy outside of Chania on Crete. I’m not entirely clear how I came to be an official part of this gathering of 120 theologians from various church bodies around the world, but suspect it has something to do with my participation in our US National Council of Churches Faith and Order work a few years back. On my way to this meeting, I confess to holding skepticism and enthusiasm in balance. I retired (at age 28) from F&O work in the US because I didn’t feel like it was where God was calling me—the official discussions seemed pretty far removed from things that mattered in local contexts, and the vibe in the meetings wasn’t particularly welcoming to young people or new ideas. I think formal ecumenical work is important—our unity in Christ’s body is pretty fundamental—but wish for it to connect more to where I feel God calling me to be at work.

So here I am: a delegate to this gathering. And, from the preparatory paperwork, this looks to be a darn fine meeting. There are significant numbers of younger people coming to participate, and the scheduled presentations and discussions look darn interesting. And, really: how cool is it to have time and space to talk theology with church leaders from so many Christian traditions and places around the world?

I admit a bit of insecurity, given that I’m not as steeped in the language of ecumenism as might be helpful. But, I suppose, that’s a good reason to remember humility and to rest on the Spirit!