Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Travel Shots

According to Karen's rules of travel, the perfect travel photo has to (a) hide all you want it to hide while (b) show all you want it to show (including that you were actually IN the place you said you were going to) and (c) suggest a story in need of telling. Having now shown my photos to a few folks, I've selected the following as my two favorites. The first is from Vietnam. The second is from Cambodia. Comments are open for you to help break the tie.



Monday, January 30, 2006

Inspiration Takes Many Forms

Michelangelo is said to have said, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

I was powerwalking on the treadmill and listening to a leadership video when I heard these words Friday afternoon. I had to smile at my much too plebian application, as I rewrote the quote for my own purposes:

"I see a sexy, vibrant, woman of maturity and wisdom in the sweaty mass on this treadmill, and I will push until I set her free."

Sunday I ran several miles for the first time in months. Chip, chip, chipping away . . .


He used it! The pastor mentioned in the previous post incorporated the video into a reflection on how Christ radically reached out to the outcasts of his day.

Some people watched and saw the sins of the people portrayed. Some people saw their own sin. Some people saw more similarities than differences.

Sometimes the church is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


When is it ok to use what some might consider "profane" to challenge people to consider the sacred?

I was confronted with this question today as I recommened Christina Aguilera's video "Beautiful" to a pastor who wanted to underscore that Jesus reached out to the outcasts. The visuals to this haunting song offer glimpses of an anorexic girl checking herself in the mirror, a teen boy with no muscle mass trying to beef up, a cross-dressing man, two men kissing, the bloody end to a fight, and a young black woman tearing the pages of a magazine out and burning them.

I want the pastor to use the video. I understand if he doesn't. Only he knows if the message will be lost in the medium. We'll see . . .

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

From the Sufi Poet Rumi

The poem -- Whoever Brought Me Here -- begins like this:

All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.

ABCs of Grace

A pastor-who-prefers-not-to-be-called-one and friend of mine helped me work through some nagging worries yesterday. In the process, he said something like this, "God is the a to the z. Sometimes people want only one letter. Often what keeps them in their rationale way of thinking and far from the beauty of the complexity is fear."

I truly believe that God is constant, unchanging. But we humans . . . we're a different lot. I'm thankful that what I believe/know of God is far from where I once was. That my sense of God's a-to-z-ness is evolving. I still harbor fear . . . of rejection, of ignorance, of being wrong about the whole lot, but I'm no where near the beginning anymore. And little by little, as the people of God share who and what they are with me, I move closer to the z.

Heaps and Heaps of Irony

Celebrants of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life may relish his view from the mountaintop but, in Houston, they have to get over the heaps of irony that stand between them and the annual parade.

Seems that those seeking to honor a man dedicated to fighting segregation had to submit to a court-ordered integration of their previously separate events.

And, the day after the forced experiment, one leader once again stood alone in the permit line to be the first/primary/solitary(?) organizer for next year's focus on togetherness.

Random Weirdness

I'm at the office and I hear on the radio a Karen Carpenter song followed by "Don't You Want Somebody to Love?" by Grace Slick.

The jarring juxtaposition to these two 70s icons seemingly singing about the same thing and yet somehow . . . not . . . reminded me of any number of spiritual/religious/church conversations I've had where if everyone in the room could have had conversational x-ray vision we would have seen clearly that we didn't really see each other at all.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

More Great Quotes

Legislation is about the exercise of power; education is about the exercise of empowerment. -- Kester Brewin in The Complex Christ

For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn't give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have. -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

My Feelings Exactly!

The fish-trap exists because of the fish.
Once you've got the fish, the trap can be forgotten.
Words exist because of meaning.
Once you've got the meaning, the words can be forgotten.

Chuang Tzu

I've been a "professional communicator" for more than 20 years now. After countless meetings determining themes, titles, vision statements, etc, after seemingly endless hours fretting over commas, periods, and word choice, I now more than ever add my "Amen" to the above.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Not as Sssssstrange As It Looks

While looking at photos, "e" mentioned that something was throwing her about the photos of me. "You're wearing t-shirts," she concluded. "I never see you in t-shirts in everyday life."

There's a reason for that. I'm rarely called upon to wear the following in everyday life either:

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Don't read any further . . . just skip down to the new photos I've added since I finally got the disks.

But if you've got the stomach for it, I'll tell you that when my Vietnam-born eye doctor asked me last week (during the exam that resulted from the fact that Air France lost my baggage . . . uh, have I mentioned this already?) what the strangest food I ate in Vietnam had been, I answered truthfully, "I don't really know. I didn't ask."

I tell you this because this photo is of the open air market. All living creatures besides human that you see here will be sold for dinner purposes. While I did see them post-butcher, as far as I know, I never consumed them.

A matter of perspective

When we first arrived in Vietnam, our guide began to recite our itinerary. When he explained a few of the sites we'd see, our worldview shifted, if ever so slightly.

"Of course, after the American War . . . " he explained.

For a few moments we didn't hear anything else. Then, we simply nodded at each other and said quietly, "Definitely a matter of perspective."

(The photo is from the walls of the Hanoi Hilton where prisoners of war were kept during the French and American Wars.)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Just in case you're keeping score . . .

I've decided to use names in telling some of my travel stories. Not using them was a rule I had for myself because it eliminated my having to ask permission to tell some of my tales. But rules are made to be re-written, don't you think?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Christmas Spirit with a Twist

Roger and I were in a small northern mountain village in Sapa, Vietnam for Christmas. We discovered they had a Catholic church and determined that the least we could do would be to drop in and see if they were having some sort of service.

"Some sort" would be an adequate way to describe what we found.

A mass may have been planned for later but we didn't notice any signage saying so (of course, it may have been quite evident to anyone who could read Vietnamese). When we arrived, however, there was quite a bit of action.

The sound system was blaring Vietnamese music. Yes, the twangy, screechy stuff that I'm sure is amazingly beautiful if you can hear it clearly and understand the intricacies but over a bad system just sounds loud and even hurts a bit. A few foreigners were sitting in the back on the wooden pews but otherwise the seats were empty and the crowd was gathered at the front of the sanctuary.

Making our way to the front -- guided by the string of Christmas lights draped from manger to the bright star of lights hanging dead center above the pulpit area -- we found folks vying for the next opportunity to make a donation and have their photo made with Baby Jesus . . . in the manger.

We decided we didn't need to take anyone else's turn from them so we, too, went to a pew and sat waiting. Not much changed for several minutes other than my head began to suggest that if the music continued at its present volume an ache might be forthcoming.

"I don't think I can take much more of this," I shouted to Roger who was by my side.

"Me either," he shouted back.

"How about we say a Christmas prayer and move on?" I yelled.

"Ok," he loudly countered.

And so we gave thanks for being where we were, for the friends and family who love us even when we choose to be in places like Vietnam for Christmas (and maybe even because we do), shared a kiss on the cheek and exited the building.

We proceeded to some of the shops and I found the perfect gift for my pastoral family -- a manger scene complete with a water buffalo carved from soft stone. Not really into bargaining, I went with the second price suggested by him.

Roger on the other hand decided that his purchase was worth wrangling over. So the young artist began to wrap my manger while alternately listening to and ignoring Roger. Soon he had me set.

"There's one more thing," the 20-ish salesman offered.

"I've bought all I need, really," I said.

"No, not for you to buy . . . for me to give. I put a Christmas Eve gift in your bag for you," he said.

Surprised, I replied, "Really? How sweet! What was it?"

"A laughing Buddha," he answered with not a trace of irony in his voice.

Buddha and Jesus on Christmas Eve in Vietnam . . . perfect, I thought.

With gratitude in my heart and Roger's bargained for but sans bonus Buddha under his arm, we made our way to our Christmas Eve dinner . . . Italian pizza in a small cafe with a blinking Christmas tree and ABBA blaring over their sound system.

Perhaps not a Silent Night, but in many ways a Holy one.

Coincidence? I Don't Think So

Baggage Service . . . initials are BS.

Should tell you something.

Today, Air France informs me (after 20 minutes on hold listening to a looping BAD music clip) that the four bags we checked in Hanoi were all listed as having made it to their final destination of Frankfurt, that they have no record of ever telling me the lost bag I reported had been found, and that I can fax in my inventory of all that was lost.

Now that I've spent some time with Air France -- checked out their website (where the looping voice message eventually tells you to go due to the "unusually high number of calls") and discovered that due to the "unusually high number of calls" they don't allow contact via the web -- I've begun to wonder what constitutes "unusual" since if you've had time to put the phrase on voice mail and add the phrase to your website, you might surmise that it's the "usual" high number of complaints you were dealing with. Of course, then, you'd have to consider what kind of system generates such errors and well. . . that would just be so . . . SERVICE ORIENTED that I'm sure you just couldn't handle it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Viva La Air France?

I lost my hiker's pillow I got at REI, my travel bottle of my favorite cologne, a t-shirt, and a pair of sunglasses in my 27 days of travel.

Air France lost my bag containing Christmas gifts for half my friends.

They assure me it's on its way to me even as I type.


Phonetically Speaking

Aw koon
Aw koon chiran
Suers day
Sin ciao
Chem toy la ban

These are but a few of the phrases I tried to retain during my brief stint in Asian countries. The last is particularly significant because my traveling companion Roger and I learned on our first excursion together that we had better learn the terminology for "we are friends" early on. Otherwise assumptions would consume us.

And assumptions are reasonable. Two adults of the opposite sex traveling together must be married or in some kind of intimate relationship, right? Well, no, not in our case. While Roger knows most of my intimate secrets we are simply very good friends who have found a way to co-exist during travel -- something many longtime relational companions find difficult to do. And as someone so profoundly put it, "It's nice to have someone wait with your backpack when you have to go to the toilet."

Assumptions, however, translate into a queen sized bed when we need two twins, seats together on the plane (and, yes, I seem to always be assigned the middle), and other irritants that we can easily resolve if we quickly learn the "chem toy la ban" of whatever country we're visiting.

When we first meet other English speaking foreigners, our revelation is also another great way of discovering a bit more about the way they think. To date, we've never encountered resistance or argument to our situation. Of course, given the rather out of the way locales we tend to visit, we've found most other visitors to be rather open-minded and curious enough about cultures and mores that we barely merit a blip on their curiousity radar.

Jen, Steve, Kimberly and Conrad are good examples.

We first encountered Kimberly by the fire in Sa Pa, Vietnam. She was recovering from the overnight train ride to this northern mountain village and had ascertained that her socks were way to damp to don. So she was attempting to dry them with the newly established warmth of the fire we'd just had rekindled in the hotel lobby. With all the boldness a 10-year-old with Thai-tied locks could muster, she launched into a in-depth explanation of what she was up to and why.

In her squeaky Australian lilt, she advised me that her 7-year-old bother Conrad was quite the bother all the while attempting to slap him headside with the aformentioned wet sock.

Soon Roger and I were hearing of their travels to date and their intentions of overnighting in a homestay. Later that day after we'd trekked several kilometers in the misty rain and lunched in one of the fire-warmed, battery powered, mud floored, thatch roofed homes, we thought of this quite sweet family and what they might encounter. Then later as we appreciated the Christmas Eve warmth of the down comforter in our cheap but adequate hotel room with its red hot floor heater, we said a Christmas prayer for them.

The next day in the open air market we ran into them once again. As I engaged Conrad (with Kimberly looking on) in a hand slapping game I'd often seen my brothers attempt, Roger learned that the overnight had been delightful. Beneath the covers in the upper loft of the fire warmed mudbrick, they'd soon beat the shivers and even enjoyed a bath while standing in a tub.

At that point, we surmised that they were our kind of people.

We met them again on a museum tour and Kimberly's became the missing head on the ancient sculpture thanks to Roger's lift and my photography skills. The parents were looking a bit weary when we next encountered them at the tombs. "Daddy's a bit cranky," was the kids' assessment. Jen declared it to be nearing "beer-thirty" on her watch.

At the King's pond, Kimberly asked about my "husband's" reaction to something.

"Husband? Oh, you mean Roger! He's not my husband. He's just a friend that likes to travel as much as I do," I explained.

To which mother Jen replied, "That's the better way, isn't it? Trips with friends rather than husbands. No worries about the usual stuff, right?"

To which her husband Steve injected, "Ahem!! It's not like I'm not standing right here you know."

And with a conspiratorial nod in my direction, she smoothed it over with, "Oh, you know what I mean, Luv."

We began suggesting that one of us were stalkers but we couldn't quite agree that we were stalking them or they us as over and over again we'd hear our names shouted and the children would appear.

We thought New Year's Eve would have been delightful with them but our crisscrossing itineraries departed ways at that point. Though we saw Steve in the distance at the market that day, he was too far away to connect with. And we figured we'd missed our chance to part with a final goodbye.

But some things are simply meant to be.

As we waited for our airport lift in the lobby of one of our favorite hotels, we were checking email and keeping an eye on the courtyard as messages slowly downloaded. That's when I saw Steve's bright orange Thai style shirt, long baggy shorts, and sandals stumbling down the sidewalk in an attempt to keep up with the continually stopping Conrad. I called out and the foursome all turned my way.

"Well, finally," Jen said. "We thought we'd look out for you as we made our way to the beach but we were giving up."

We invited them in for a tour of what the deemed a much better hotel than the one they'd been assigned, for some photos and for the exchanging of contact info, all the while regretting the missed opportunity of ringing in the new year with new friends.

The kids were getting antsy as Roger continued to collect details about the parents' careers (she's a travel agent and he's a contractor in the tiling business). So I played one last game (this time from my childhood) with Kimberly just before we loaded our bags in the car for the ride to the airport.

"Say say little playmate.
Come out and play with me.
And bring your dolly free,
climb up my apple tree.
Slide down my rainbow
Into my cellar door
And we'll be jolly friends
forevermore." (Clap, clap, clap)

Monday, January 09, 2006

I Should Have Captured This at 4:30 a.m.

At 4:30 a.m. I wrote wonderful re-entry blog. Funny, clever, entertaining . . . I practically applauded my efforts when I mentally jotted down the last line.

However, that "mentally" point is the kicker 'cause when I sat in front of the computer almost 12 hours later (that would be now) I couldn't recapture any of that scintillating dialogue I planned on offering you.

So . . . let's just note that I'm back and still processing all that happened during the 27 days that I was globe trotting.

Here's an appetizer tray of what I hope will be much more food for thought in the days to come:

-- After touring several areas where war was part of current history, I was struck with the reality that governments go to war and people suffer from it. I know my time in Germany, Vietnam, and Cambodia was short, but I met no enemies, only fellow pilgrims just as confused as I am regarding whether power corrupts or only the corrupt gain power.

-- ABBA is alive and well and on every sound system in Vietnam.

-- Slightly chubby, over 40 white women touring Asian countries need to be secure in their personhood because around every corner is a reminder of your realities. Example: When noting that all the vendors in the market were calling out to me as "Madame" and that I had never been "madamed so much in my life," my guide informed me, "It's because you're old."

-- Western breakfasts can't hold a skillet to German ones. That's a meal!

-- Never assume that "massage" means exactly what you think it does.

And on that note, gotta go. More later I promise. And this time, if I write a masterpiece in the early a.m. I'm capturing it on paper first because an old broad like me can't be depended upon to remember a thing!!!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Homeward Bound . . . But Taking the Long Way

I'm at a keyboard in Cambodia and will head to Hanoi Vietnam this evening. An overnight there will be followed by an 11 hour trip to Frankfort, Germany with a brief stopover in Paris where we'll change planes in less than 55 minutes! Keep your fingers crossed. On Saturday we head home. Yea! Rah! Happy Dance. I've loved every second of this trip but I'm ready to be in familiar surroundings.

At least for a little while.

Trips like this can't help but change you if you're remotely open to all the world holds. I'm thinking this one was a good one for me but I don't know how the story is going to unfold. We'll see.