Spiritual Appetite Suppressants

Sabbatical was a rare gift of some lessons I am still very much processing, so this post is somewhat of a work in progress.

Most of my sabbatical was spent in summer time, half of it overseas in cultures that move much slower than ours, even western cultures. The other half here at home, living a loosely structured rhythm of serving, learning and playing. I also had the rare privilege of being unplugged from my cellphone and email for 14 weeks, so all of this coalesced to provide insight into how our culture affects our soul’s ability to connect with God.

My conclusion is this: pace and pressure are spiritual appetite suppressors. I don’t imagine you read that statement and declared, “what is this new teaching?” You know this already, but I thought I knew it already as well. Continue reading

Sure Is Quiet Around Here…

cell-phone-copy

I changed my phone number before going on sabbatical and Sharon, who is God’s gift to any church staff agreed to manage my email which is a kindness I can never repay. These two simple choices became a game changer in the amount of noise I experienced on Sabbatical.

I think most people grapple with email, social media and correspondence in general. Even on days where I intentionally reduce noise or even turn off communication, it piles up waiting for the next morning. You are probably in much the same situation. But during sabbatical, it didn’t pile up, it was managed by someone else, so it wasn’t a cumulative noise waiting for my return, it simply wasn’t there. Continue reading

Preaching Simmer

pot-820012_640

I knew that sabbatical would generate some deeply needed, overdue lessons for me and the first lesson struck me earlier than expected. I was in Nairobi, Kenya just a few days into sabbatical and was hit with it while preaching at an outdoor crusade.

Usually when I preach it is after a long time of study, reflection and prayer. I almost always come into a pulpit with much more material than I plan to use and because I believe in God’s Spirit’s leading as I’m preaching, I can draw from a simmer of options and directions, prompted (I believe) by God’s Spirit. But this time as I was preaching I reached for this pot of bubbling resources and found that not only was it empty, it wasn’t even there!

Now granted, an outdoor Kenyan crusade with an interpreter is a preaching challenge at the best of times. I have, at times, preached to more goats than people in Kenya, and once I even preached to people who were beating a goat which added to the challenge for me and for that poor goat. But this time the challenge was heightened by this overwhelming feeling of “there is nothing there.”

I preached the crusade message as best I could and when I wrapped up, the interpreter looked at me accusingly and said, “That’s it???” I tried not to laugh at the absurdity of it. Kenyans are incredibly polite to westerners, the message had to be pretty bad for him to offer that uninvited critique. It was pretty bad. So was the next one and the next. I preached 6 times in Kenya and didn’t find my rhythm until 4 sermons in. That’s a rough average by anyone’s measure. Continue reading

Athens

dsc01174

Athens, our final leg of this incredible adventure. We assumed the kids might be antsy to be home by this point, so we made two choices a) to stay in Athens rather than fill all our time with travel to Corinth and Sparta and b) to stay in a nice hotel in case we’d need to bribe the kids with a nice pool. Both great choices, looking back and of course, 2 days in Athens was barely enough.

We got in quite late and after a gentle argument with a pushy airport cabbie, checked in and then headed out at 10pm to find some quick supper – we were thinking a Gyro, but stumbled across the world’s finest Indian food right next to our hotel. Holy smokes, that meal still haunts me.

The next day: Plaka district and a fun Tapas restaurant with an impatient waiter. He brought a huge platter of 24 dishes. We had to choose 16: 4 meat, 4 salad, 4 veggie and 4 other dishes. Which did we want? Whoa – let’s see – did you say 4 meat? And they each have to be different? Ok, so we need to choose 16 out of 24, make sure we don’t order 5 meats or 3 salads… make sure we order something all 5 will enjoy…. We must have taken too long to decide because the waiter interrupted our order very bemused, “You’re too late. The food is cold now” and off he went, carrying the food away with him. Hmmm. What next? Does he come back with food or is it “one and done” and we try again somewhere else?  Fortunately we were familiar with the angry waiter syndrome from a previous country, so took it in stride. He came back a few minutes later with hot dishes and we feasted on delicious greek food while a street busker played, I’m not kidding, 3/4 of every song on a saxophone, refusing to finish, then coming by the tables for a tip. Literally, we listened to 3/4 of “Careless Whisper” and 3/4 of “Dancing in the Dark” but I refuse to tip a musician who holds me hostage for the final 1/4 of “Careless Whisper.” Later in the evening, very late, we stumbled across an older couple of guys, one on nylon guitar and one on bazouki, singing classic greek duets. Those guys got a donation – they were delightful!  Continue reading

Croatia

I recall the feeling whenever we talked about the trip before we left. People, from friends we know well, to the local hairdresser to the travel insurance rep, would all ask the same question, “Where are you going” and I always felt a bit sheepish answering. 5 of us visiting 6 countries in 6 weeks – it just seemed so opulent –  a trip of a lifetime. When we arrived at the unpretentious Zadar airport, I was overwhelmed by the idea that we get to visit yet another amazing culture. Croatia did not disappoint. It is a phenomenal place.

Croatia started with a bang in Munich Airport! We managed to connect for a few minutes with our friends the Donohoes, who were on their way to a church mission trip in Albania via Munich and Vienna. It was wonderful to see some friends after a month away:

IMG_4272

Then through the gate to meet Mum and Dad waiting on the other side of security.

We chose Biograd for our week in Croatia. Small, almost sleepy fishing village with enough tourism to keep things interesting, but not the huge crowds of the better known places.

Continue reading

The Hills Are Alive!

DSC_0171

Austria. Wow. The pic above is from Hallstatt, about 90 minutes south of Salzburg and quite possibly the most beautiful place I have ever visited. On a ferry in Venice, we struck up a conversation with some fellow tourists who had just come in from Austria. “Don’t miss Hallstatt” they told us,  so we didn’t. We were in Austria for just two nights, so we made the long trek from Munich to Hallstatt, coming back into Salzburg that evening. The drive was stunning, winding through the mountains with beautifully manicured German and Austrian farms on either side.

A quick dinghy ride on the lake, lunch and then a bike ride around the entire lake, across one short section of road before the hills and elevation almost killed us! And then back to Salzburg.

For Salzburg, we were excited to expose the kids to the Youth Hostel experience, having stayed so far in private AirBnB type accommodations. We thought they’d gain a lot from mingling with folks from all over the world. Our family had booked 5 single bunks in a 6 bunk room and on the drive into Salzburg the kids were very animated about who the potential 6th person might be. Would “Hans” as we named him, be ok taking turns in the bathroom? Would he enjoy our family humor and should we have some midnight snacks ready to share with him? It turned out moot as the hostel wisely decided not to inflict us on a single traveller and we had the bunk room to ourselves. Continue reading

Munchen!

Yeah, so about that. Why are so many european cities named so differently in their own language? Rome is actually Roma. Florence is Firenze, Munich is Munchen. I don’t get it. We are fully capable of saying “Roma” or “Firenze.” I like the sound of Firenze. And “Munchen” with a heavy german accent is a delight. We can transliterate, but instead we change many letters and anglo-fy the name. Weird to me.

Anyway, Germany. I’ll confess it now, I wasn’t excited about Germany. The reason is simple – we had made a last minute itinerary change and I hadn’t done much research into Germany. As we were lifting off from Marco Polo Airport in Venice, I even suggested to Lisa that maybe we should skip Munich and head straight to Austria. Boy was I ever wrong. 36 hours in Munich and I’m pretty sure I could live there. I can’t wait to get back. Continue reading

Ah…Venice!

Our final stop in Italy was Venice. We had begun in Rome and slowly made our way north east to this utterly enchanting and puzzling city. Enchanting because the city is built completely on water. Puzzling because someone, a long time ago said to themselves, “I have an idea, let’s build a city completely on water.” No cars in Venice and, thank you Lord, no scooters.

Venice is a fascinating study in contrasts. It is equal part fishing village, renaissance city and tourist trap. There are at least as many tourists as citizens in Venice, a fact that bemuses many of the locals. Getting lost in the maze like alleys is part of the experience and some locals enjoy pranking tourists by leading them astray with fake directional signs. Here is a classic example:

IMG_1517

While the directions are technically correct, if you wait to get inside the boat to buy a ticket, you risk a massive fine. Some Venetian is chuckling at the thought of a tourist getting trapped by the Polizia for boarding without a prepaid ticket….

Continue reading

Tuscany

 

slider08What can I add about Tuscany that hasn’t already been said? It is one of the most breath taking places on earth. The symmetrical farms, rows of grapes and olive groves, hilltop and ancient villages every few miles and a pace of life that is utterly enchanting. Growing up on a western coast, I have always felt that a coastal sunset, with the sun sinking into the ocean is the finest sunset in the world. Now that I’ve sat and watched half a dozen tuscan sunsets, I’m not so sure. Italy has colors and textures that defy words. Continue reading