Friday, December 23, 2005

A www pause for celebration

Internet cafes are wonderful things. I'm in the old quarter of Hanoi and for a few cents can actually connect with a world half away. Let's see . . . how to sum up the last few days . . . hmmmmm . . . How about a few word pictures? There was the young woman half my size that beat me to death, popped every vertebrae, and twisted my appendages in directions they aren't meant to go the first night I was here and we decided that after 11 hours of flight time we should try a massage. Maybe we will decide differently in the future since "massage" seems to have many connotations!

We had a wonderful guide the following day and, yes, we saw Uncle Ho's body lying in state as well as his homes including one on stilts. We toured an ethnic peoples museum and learned there are 53 here in Vietnam.

We've sampled the food from the streets and so far so good intestinally speaking. I loved the rice and cabbage we had today at small tables just inside a street cafe. The mouse scurrying across the floor opened the door to some brief language lessons and the owner and I bonded over a Vietnamese phrase book.

Today we went to the Hanoi Hilton. My God . . . how can mankind continue to believe that war is a good idea???

Tonite we enjoyed coffee with a young woman from Britain who is teaching English in Japan and on holiday here. Last nite we enjoyed jazz with an Irishman and his young Vietnamese guide. There's a conversation on every corner if you are willing to engage. And of course, with my partner (for those of you who know him) there's always a willingness to engage.

Love to all who read this . . . I think of you at every moment of contemplation and believe it or not with all the pagodas, temples and historical points of reflection here, I've thought of you often.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Farewell to Germany

Tonite is our last evening in Germany. We spent most of today in the Black Forest. Snowballs, walks, snowfalls like none I have ever seen before, sliding down a hillside, German food in a fire warmed restaurant, and silly to profound conversations throughout the day. Now we are blogging, responding to email, and just being . . . after a small plates meal that we picked up at the supermarket (breads, cheese fondue, peppers, pickles, bacon, salami, and more cheese).

I need to return to what is most important . . . this moment and these people. But since Vietnam is probably not going to be a blogging point I wanted to say blessings to you all. And I will return January 7.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Postmodern Indeed

Consider this . . . I'm just back from a German theater where I saw a French film about a monastic order who live in silence and the only occasional sounds we heard in the three hours were chants in Latin, a brief explanation in French, and nature.

I came away with a haunting feeling . . . the order allowed the filming after 16 years of considering it. Time for them was critical . . . their days were based on order and yet they were very far removed from what we might consider the demands of society. I could not embrace this life of separation. For me, creation is to be celebrated with folks like those who attended the film with me, walked the Christmas market with me, and over a coffeehouse brunch, challenged me to consider what I can do about an AIDS ministry in India. In other words, I'm too engaged to become so disengaged. Yet . . .

To be one's true self is a celebration. And, thus, tonight I celebrate the monk, the pastor, the missionary, and the passionate observer. God bless us one and all.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Two Roads Diverged . . .

The thought hit me about mid afternoon . . .

Two roads diverged in the woods and I made sausage in Germany and that has made all the difference.

We were given all kinds of options for the play time we get to experience now that much of the work is done but easily the best choice was to travel to a nearby village and spend the afternoon with my hosts' family making sausages. They hired a butcher who does this every year and he is a character. The English speakers among the family call him a German redneck because his stories are so colorful. After watching him handle the sausage packing and engage with my traveling buddy on all things male and hearing his stories of being the chief at the nearby prison's kitchen including a bakery where the baker has only killed three people . . . well, I might have to agree with their assessment.

The basement was filled with the large family and friends, the heat coming from the kettle that resembled an overgrown pressure cooker, two cutting tables, and the various paraphenalia that the butcher needed. His skill with the knives might have been enough to intimidate but he also barked orders with a smile and so I often scooted from one side of the room to the other when he merely looked in my direction but he also offered up some of the prize pieces for me to sample when it came to eating time. I spent at least a half hour cutting fat in small pieces for the later sausages he would form. At times, I had to leave the room because the smell and the heat was a bit overpowering but the experience was amazing.

The amazing part was not what could be done with a pig . . . I grew up in town but had country cousins so sausage making was something I had some knowledge of. It was this family so enjoying their day together. Six adult children with the brightest smiles and incredibly generous spirits, parents who embraced us even though the language barrier was there, a grandmother who fulfilled the image I had of an Oma and the sprinkling of friends who knew enough to be glad we were there.

Later, my host took us to a nearby monastery. We were freezing as the German skies finally decided to offer up the snow we'd been wondering if existed. And as we walked from room to room holding the audioplayer near our ears for the heat and the details of what we were seeing, we could easily imagine centuries ago and the stark life of the monks. I had to laugh at the fact that the monks at the monastery were not meat eaters and I ate more meat products today than I usually manage in a week!!!

We returned to sit around the huge table and enjoy some of the results of our labors (actually, we did very little but I'll pretend I had something to do with the labor). Pickled anything here . . . cucumbers, herring, sauerkraut . . . is so unique and delicious and so very unlike our U.S. version that I tended to be more engaged with those items than the meat but it was an incredible sampling.

The night concluded with conversation both silly and stimulating. Two roads indeed . . .

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wein & Noodles & Other Delicacies

A photo would never capture the atmosphere. A paragraph cannot contain the utter exuberance of the experience. But words are the tools I have to work with, so I will stumble my way through a description of how a night with friends, both old and new, in a small village pub has easily secured its place in my top 10 travel joys.

The day had offered brief sprinkling rain on and off. The wind demanded to be acknowledged. After three hours of Christmas markets and tourist shopping, I was ready for the evening's change of scenery. We traveled to a small village, the village of one of my host's birth, and pulled in front of a winery. Try to disengage from visions of rolling California hills surrounding some ranch style home at this moment because I'm in Germany and that just won't do. The building was surrounded by what looked like stucco covered townhomes and I got a sense of Santa Fe meets Greenfield (my hometown) as we proceeded to the door by passing the horses lodged where a two car garage might be positioned in the U.S. Climbing the stairs, we emerged in a room of hard woods . . . walls covered in animals and farm utensils, heavy tables, booths with small cushions that slid beneath you should you opt for that side of the table.

The table nearest the door was long and filled with heavy men with little hair and loud voices (probably made louder by the 7 hours advanced wine drinking they'd been involved in before we arrived).

We sat and then a younger version of Santa Claus . . . he of the salt and pepper beard, receding hairline and dimples that appeared with every word uttered along with an accompanying twinkle in the eye . . . arrived to welcome us. I nodded in acknowledgement though not a word was understood. ( Later after several of the aforementioned gentlemen decided to share some of their stories with me, my group commented on my ability to offer the appearance of complete understanding in what for me is simply a barrage of consonants!)

Our Mrs. Claus was no white haired version however. She was tiny, but dark brown hair touched her shoulders and she was the lead entertainer who, with her guitar, led us through a few German favorites, a parody of Downtown featuring the village's name, and then several John Denver tunes. Their son was the wine guru who in stark contrast to the older crowd softly explained the nuances of the crisp, clean German wine I could easily begin to call my favorite.

The meal consisted of sausages, pork, schnitzel, sauerkraut, and the most incredibly rich and delicious potatoe noodles carrying a name amusingly translated to 'little boys' willies' and an applesauce. I was in heaven and sang so.

We were offered the chance to blow a 20 feet horn and I took it. We were encouraged to sing and we did. Some among us took the guitars and the Devil's Violin (a percussion instrument that included a wood cutting of its name) and alternated between their own compositions and others.

The night had no agenda but enjoyment. What a divine appointment, what a delicacy.

A Cafe Moment

The curls and long limbs of the slender actress were wrapped around the keyboard and in the darkness of the cafe the computer screen became her spotlight.

The joy that usually exudes from the eyes, mouth and seemingly every pore of our organizer is muted as she too stares intently at her connection to the world . . . one in which there are more conflicts that she would this day care to confront.

The proper artist sits before his Apple preparing perhaps to update the blog he's neglected?

The Germans are improving on piano and drum, offering background ambience to this moment in time . . .

Which I am relishing . . . and life is exactly as it should be.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

MultiMedia Museum

The museum features things with buttons and lights and images that are sure to make grown men with their love of electronic toys ignite with glee and this girl was pretty impressed as well. I was most intrigued with television monitors featuring the bottom, middle and top of a young woman who was transposed into images of an old woman with the use of a black spider form. Hard to describe but it was amazing given that the women were nude.

The other wow for me was the projection that showed bubbles on the wall and we could interact with them. Again . . . hard to describe but cool.

Today is more meetings . . . was up to midnight last night with church folks discussing what's next for them . . . and then we play!!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Definitely in Learning Mode

The couple who are hosting me in Germany have a 2 year old and he's my new language teacher. How's that for humbling? Plus I am typing on a German keyboard where the z and the y have traded places from where I'm used to finding them and there are other cool keys like these . . . ä, Ö, ß. This makes for much slower typing and is again a reminder to slow down and take it all in.

Today is a day for dialogue about this art project that is focused on encouraging folks to examine their associations with faith and religion and to own their journey even if it doesn't look like everyone else's. Should prove to be interesting.

So far my major impression of Germany is the wonderful smell of baking bread . . . ahhhhhhhh.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Not All Gifts Have Bows

A woman, a stranger in fact, approached me today while I was having a breakfast meeting with one of my favorite Hispanic pastors. We usually laugh a great deal as both of us attempt to improve our fluency in the others' language. (He's making great progress . . . I'm not.)

She said, "Pardon me. I just want to interrupt for a minute and say that your hair, those earrings . . . well, you're just beautiful."

My mouth dropped open. I smiled and was trying to think how to respond beyond "thank you" which were the first intelligible utterances that came forth.

She said, "I'm sure you know that, but I just wanted to tell you."

I looked at her and then at her waiting friend who was smiling broadly with the knowledge of how rare a gift this woman was giving me. I said again, "Thank you" but it was mostly to her back as she had done her good deed and was now walking away.

I want to be that kind of woman . . .

So I offer you, my kind blog readers, the following gifts without bows. These are my Christmas wishes for you:
  • laughter -- the kind that makes you wipe away tears, the table slapping, please stop because I can't take anymore laughter
  • quiet moments of true awareness -- so rarely do we get that this moment is a memory in the making, I pray you carry an added measure of awareness with you in these next few weeks
  • hugs that hold longer and mean more than just hello -- good wishes are . . . . well, good, but tangible evidence of how close to one's heart you are kept . . . that's a great thing
  • stories of who you were, are and could be told to you by those who love you most
  • folks to listen to the stories you tell
  • to know without a doubt that you are loved.

I'll be away for several weeks and will blog if possible. If not, 2006 is when we'll next encounter one another. I plan on having an incredible experience on the other side of the world. Hope your holidays are everything you want them to be.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Here's One for You . . .

You're driving along and you've just stopped at a red light when a truck gets the green and takes off. Immediately, a large plank falls from the truck and lands in the road. Next, a young man rushes into the road to grab the plank.

Do you think:

(a) What in idiot to risk his safety just to get save a few bucks on a piece of wood?
(b) What a nice guy to remove the risk of the plank and insure the safety of others?

Your choice on this one reveals alot about you don't you think?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Lion, the Witch, and the (large piece of furniture in which clothes are stored)

My buddy in London sent me a link to The Guardian's take on the new film on C.S. Lewis' Narnia. OUCH! She'd been telling me how "secular" her adopted hometown has become but I don't think I quite understood. This article makes it a tad bit clearer.

If you don't get a chance to read the article take a look at this excerpt:

Disney may come to regret this alliance with Christians, at least on this side of the Atlantic. For all the enthusiasm of the churches, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ bombed in Britain and warehouses are stuffed with unsold DVDs of that stomach-churner. There are too few practising Christians in the empty pews of this most secular nation to pack cinemas. So there has been a queasy ambivalence about how to sell the Narnia film here. Its director, Andrew Adamson (of Shrek fame), says the movie's Christian themes are "open to the audience to interpret". One soundtrack album of the film has been released with religious music, the other with secular pop.

Most British children will be utterly clueless about any message beyond the age-old mythic battle between good and evil. Most of the fairy story works as well as any Norse saga, pagan legend or modern fantasy, so only the minority who are familiar with Christian iconography will see Jesus in the lion. After all, 43% of people in Britain in a recent poll couldn't say what Easter celebrated. Among the young - apart from those in faith schools - that number must be considerably higher. Ask art galleries: they now have to write the story of every religious painting on the label as people no longer know what "agony in the garden", "deposition", "transfiguration" or "ascension" mean. This may be regrettable cultural ignorance, but it means Aslan will stay just a lion to most movie-goers.

When Worlds Collide

I don't want to live in "White Saturn World" . . . where the lone inhabitant is behind the wheel of her large collection of mechanics and matter and she suddenly determines:

"I don't want to be in this lane. NOOOOOOOO . . . I want to be in that lane and I'm going NOW."

And without benefit of space or blinker, she bolts.

Yes, I'm quite content in my world where I'm fairly sure that I'm not the center of any universe and feel the need to occasionally pay attention to those around me.

(This rant brought to you by the second near fender bender I've had this week!)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lessons from AA

I heard someone say recently that when she was at the bottom of her alcohol addiction and making her way back (now 17 years sober) she refused to believe in the “God of her understanding” because that God had ticked her off in her teens and she attributed some of her downward spiral to things she believed he’d done. But she was persuaded by her mother's faithfulness and determined that while she couldn’t put faith in that God she could put faith in her mother’s faith. And that was the “God of her understanding” for quite a while until she finally found her way back to an even more personal understanding.

That story jolted me because it’s reminiscent of where I’ve been. After the divorce, I let go of most of what I’d known and attributed to the "church" world. Then gradually I believed in the fact that others I loved and respected believed. Eventually, I found something to hold on to that was mine . . . though not always easily defined. Now there are days when belief comes easy and days when it doesn’t.

Guess, that "one day at a time" stuff has a message for me, too.