To the Limits

When I was as old as my youngest daughter is now I had limits set that allowed me to journey far and wide unsupervised.

When I was a couple years younger than what my oldest daughter is now, I had a wide circle of city blocks in which I was permitted to journey unsupervised.  The boundaries were marked by various landmarks more than streets.  I could go as far as the Black Cat which was a small shop on a seaside road, basically where the sidewalk ended and the road became too narrow and too twisted to safely walk or travel on by bicycle.  The other landmark was what I would consider the next village where there was a couple of blocks of park separating the next shopping street.  The north and south were marked by natural boundaries like the forest up the mountain, and the ocean to the south.  A vast expanse for a young child, but in reality it was not especially far.  However, it does push the limits of what most modern day ‘helicopter’ parents would allow.

For less then 10 Euros I just put my eldest daughter on the bus to Stuttgart to be met by her grandparents.  On a weekly basis the same daughter travels from school on various trains and street cars.  She is smart, and can, we believe, handle herself in different situations.  It still feels a bit like she has by bus, gone far beyond where I traveled alone at her age.  Then again, I doubt my own parents knew what I was up to between my day long trips out with friends.

Maybe my parents will be surprised about what I write, but I can remember one early October day when my best friend and I took a bus to downtown Vancouver into the heart of Chinatown.  Together we boldly walked into a store selling all sorts of things from housewares to what looked like dried chicken feet in glass bottles in the display window.  We asked for firecrackers which were illegal and we were, after some sideways glances of the shop owner, led to a back room behind a beaded curtain where there were piles and piles of firecrackers wrapped in red waxy paper into what looked like bricks.  We bought all we could afford and invested in one special firecracker listed as a 1/4 stick of dynamite.  (I very much doubt it was a what it said it was, but at least the blast was extraordinary.)  On the return trip I seem to recall an idea that we would disembark in Stanley Park and then walk over the Lions Gate Bridge so that we could spit down  into the sea water far below.

It seems strange to think about these things now that I am a parent and my daughter sends me WhatsApp messages from the bus to Stuttgart.  While it is good to have limits and boundaries, it certainly an interesting social experiment when in Freiburg there has been in the University quarter of town, a lengthy construction project.  The site is now an open public space, but there were delays due to the unearthing of the Old Synagogue.  Now that the area has finally opened and the water fountains have turned on, it is like all of Freiburg has now entered the space that was once blocked by wire fencing and heavy machinery.  A tidal wave of people has flooded into the space.

Nearby to this new public area is a newly renovated café called the Schwarze Katze in which I met some people from around the city.  Given the name ‘The Black Cat Café’ I just had to go and reflect on what was a much smaller and far more distant Black Cate Café of my childhood.  While I was sitting alone in the café I realized I was coming close to reaching my own limits, not in geography, but in a personality that was seated nearby.  A young blonde male student perched cheerfully on the end of a beer bench, and started to chat away to some of the young women that joined the table.  All this would be fine and normal, but for the hat that was on his head – a bright red ‘Make America Great Again’ hat from a Donald Trump rally.  As the conversations at the table became louder, the rhetoric became more apparent.  People began to turn and stare, one passerby seemed so shocked he distractedly fell into the small water channel that borders most of the streets in Freiburg.  The young guy had enough sense to figure that people were not pleased with his attire, nor his words, and he turned the ball cap around on his head.  We had all reached our limit.

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The Church as a Tupperware Cupboard

Over the years I have amassed numerous volumes of books on the subject of the church. As large as the self-help section is in any given bookstore, the religious book trends give equal footing to what I might call the self-help-for-the-church section.  While there are certainly some gems on how to be / do / become church; for the large part, anyone who seems to be able to string a sentence together could market a book about doing church better.

Doing church better written by pastors, for pastors, to make them feel that they are never good enough, that the church congregation that they serve is not good enough, that the grass is always greener on the other side of a denominational fence.  All these things lead to some very destructive thoughts about ourselves and the church.

Besides the piles of books on the church, another thing that seems to pile up in our household (and I am sure yours too) is the kitchen space devoted to food storage containers.  Be it Tupperware, Lock’n Lock boxes, IKEA Förtrolig, or old margarine containers; there is a drawer, or shelf, located in the kitchen where we keep all these lids and containers.

Sometimes I think that the church is represented in that shelf of containers.  While seeking harmony feels like the most pleasurable thing to imagine in the church, it is often frustratingly absent much of the time.  The church is a lot like that drawer of tupperware for a few reasons.

  1. We start off well intended, but soon find it a mess.51UiNsrVRhL._SL250_
  2. We really want to savour the moment, but it usually comes back days later as a fuzzy mess.
  3. We have all the right stuff, but sometimes things don’t click.

We start off well intended but soon find it a mess: Let’s say it is a new school year and you’ve gone out an bought a set of storage containers. Our hopes and dreams of having a nice orderly school career are almost religiously symbolized in the new displayed and neatly stacked set of storage containers.  However, with in a week (and often times sooner) you find that lids are missing, that the base of another set has shown up and it even has a sticker with some other persons name on it. I pretty sure that these storage containers reproduce all on their own when they are left in the cupboard in the dark.  In fact, storage containers are the opposite of socks.  Socks disappear in the wash, whereas containers multiply in the cupboard – so much so that the neatly organized system becomes a hodgepodge of lids and bases which now need to be crammed into a small shelf so that the door of the cupboard barely closes anymore.

We really want to savour the moment but it usually comes back days later as a fuzzy mess: “Wow, that supper/lunch/desert/food brought by guests/ was tasty! Let’s keep some for later, maybe for lunch tomorrow.”  You’ve said these words, only to find that either the food never makes it from the refrigerator to the container and after some time gets gently sorted to the back of the shelf with several bottles of half used salad dressing only to be discovered next time you give the fridge a good cleaning.  OR, that yummy food goes into a container and is packed away for school/work/picnic and maybe you realize when you open up your storage box that the food doesn’t look as it did before, or that the only thing cold the next morning that really has any taste is a cheese pizza as you look at your now limp salad that you enjoyed so much the night before.  The food get’s tucked away, unfinished in the bottom of the school bag, office briefcase, or on the floor of the car where after some months and seasons of sliding back and forth it has become lodged under the seat and we blame the dog for any strange smells whenever a guest rides in the car with us.

We have all the right stuff but sometimes things don’t click. You know the feeling of being on your hands and knees as you search for all the parts of your container system.  Why is it that it is always the bottom shelf that these things go? You have all the parts: you have food, you have a base, you have a lid.  Sometimes you can only find a huge base that is far bigger than the amount of food you need.  Blue berries, and that cheese sandwich will bounce around for hours before lunch until you have your own (unwanted) smoothy.  Or your box and the lid are a different size or shape.  How many people knew that margarine containers are not universally shaped, but can be loosely (and ineffectively) held together with a rubber band? Then there is the real challenge that you think you have all the right parts, but they somehow don’t magically click together.  That pudding desert has managed to find the crack in the seal and is partially pooled at the bottom of your bag, and you may wonder how you are going to put it all back together again in a nice presentation so that it can sit on the table amongst all the other items of food that were brought for the shared lunch.

What then do we make of this when we compare it to the church given that so many want to write books that make us believe that we can be better, do it more wisely, or be more effective.

In a multicultural setting we may have in theory the desire for harmony, but what we must be willing to live with is much more chaotic.  We start off well intended but soon find it a mess.  We need to learn to live with the mess.  Money, sexuality, politics, and religion are all issues we want to find harmony in discussing or sharing, but culturally we come from diverse understandings so we should be prepared to find it a bit unclear.  We may start off with a simple church activity only to find that like the multiplying tupperware, we are now dealing with different issues and perspectives.  We may even be surprised that some unknown item has appeared and we don’t really feel that prepared to begin discussing it, or how to answer.

We really want to savour the moment but it usually comes back days later as a fuzzy mess.  It is nearly impossible to copy a method or system of being church and reproduce it to everyones delight.  The church self-help book market is great at making you believe that if you just follow these 3, 7, 10, easy steps then you too will be the pastor of a mega-church. Yes, it might be great, like that Tiramasue cake, but when we take it home with us and open it up the next night the colours look a bit off, and it seems the coffee has started to separate from the rest of the cake.  Maybe we are surprised when what looked (or tasted) great, has grown into something else mysteriously.

We have all the right stuff but sometimes things don’t click.  Here I think that there is the biggest area to frustrate as it seems like we have all we need, we are so close, but it doesn’t go like planned.  If we take the parts of any kind of church event we have high hopes for having it all work out, but in reality, we may have all the right parts, but something has failed to ‘click’.  People go to great amounts of effort to dream up, and provide that pudding that will be out for others to share.  Some blame may get passed around as to what part didn’t live up to expectations – that lid should have held together, and it didn’t!  Each of the parts of the package have been designed with the best of intentions, but when we mix a Lock’n Lock with an IKEA Förtrolig the design (and cultural) differences make it more challenging to ultimately what was desired in the first place – to share in the enjoyment.

In the end of it all, the whole desire was that something good was made and there is an equal desire to share it, or have it continue.  Sometimes, however, our expectations are not met and we don’t have that harmony.  In these kinds of moments it is like God trying to tell us something.  Maybe it is not so much about the system, the containers, the organization, the desire to preserve, the desire to have it all come together; but that we have something truly good to share.  We enjoy our enjoyment.  Forcing things to harmonize can be a frustrating experience, but if we take a look at what God has given us and let things work out, maybe as God intends, and despite ourselves, we find that there is a lot of good stuff to celebrate.

Well intended.  Savour the moment.  God provides the right stuff.

 

via Daily Prompt: Harmonize

To Loiter with Intent

I cannot remember who it was that gave me this piece of advice as I started off in my journey of priestly ministry, but I have a suspicion that it was the bishop who ordained me to the priesthood.

No matter who it was, it has been advice that has stuck with me, and as such, has presented many unique opportunities to reach beyond the walls of the parish church.  A friend recently asked me why I write this blog.  I had to think about this, as I believe, my initial intentions for the blog have changed and developed overtime – an excellent time to reflect.

Many in the english speaking world will be familiar with George Herbert, a Church of England priest famous for just about everything under the sun, from poetry, The Country Parson, the look, feel and presence of an Anglican clergyman.  George is a favourite image of what a great many people hold as the stereotypical Church of England vicar.  I’ve had a rough go with the image that George portrays, and that stereotype, but I do admire his writing abilities.  Perhaps, the gentle idyllic reflections were what I initially hoped to capture for the blogging audience.

The world, and the purpose of my blog, are ever changing things, so much so that I do find it difficult to set time aside for any creative input.  Schedules, demands of an active parish, the loneliness of being geographically distant from neighbouring Anglican clergy, and even, the busy family demands, are completely foreign to the life of George Herbert, who in a sense, rented out the parish to other clergy so that he had the time to write and bumble along.

In 2009 I picked up a copy of a book with the exciting title: If you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him, by Justin Lewis-Anthony.  The book proved to be a worthwhile read in that it helped to disprove the myth of the man, George Herbert, and of the myth of the  clergy role which many still hold on to and envision as the gold standard for all other forms of ministry.  If you want a taste of what the book is like, the Guardian article written by Lewis-Anthony summarizes it all very nicely. 9780826424204

As much as I have a dislike for the attitude set by many inside and outside the church with this fascination with George Herbert, I must say that some of what I feel to be my most creative ministry experiences are when I just bumble along as I imagine good old George having done.

Which brings me back to loitering with intent.  Occasionally…well, frequently…I found myself preparing sermons in different neighbourhood pubs.  Maybe the pint of beer helped with the creativity of the sermon writing process.  I’d almost always sit at the bar because it was uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable in that you really didn’t want to stay too long like you would if you had that nice seat at a table that was tucked away close to the wood fire on a cold winter day.  Uncomfortable also because it is usually the lonely people, or the ones with issues and great needs that sat at the bar.  So loiter with intent meant that in my clergy shirt, with a notepad and an open bible I would sit with one hand on the pint glass, and the other clutching a pen as I made my initial notes on the upcoming Sunday’s bible readings.

The man in black clericals at the end of the bar was to many people like a shiny fishing lure to the trout.  “I just gotta ask…”, or “My friends and I were curious…”, were the typical ‘pick-up lines’ of what would turn out to be some curious, and lonely people.

The best people, as I may have mentioned before in another post, were the bartenders themselves.  While there isn’t (to my knowledge) a book that is the bartenders equivalent to the clergy’s George Herbert; it is the standard belief that as people fill themselves with alcohol, they will eventually pour themselves out to the bartender.  So loitering with intent meant to avoid the easy joking conversation of a small clutch of tourists, or hardcore drinkers, that were at one end of the bar, and sit alone and wait for the bartender to unload the problems of the world in the sacred moment with the highly polished wood bar top, and brass taps separating us like the dutifully polished screen of the confessional in a Roman Catholic church.

In many ways, bumbling does not reproduce fantastic results in a culture – a church culture – that wishes to see the pews fill-up with new members.  However, the ministry always felt creative, vital and in some ways, maybe a little bit like a golden piece of poetry in amongst the commonness of ordinary life.

Looking back over time at what has been creative ministry, and in the case of this blog, some creative writing, it is on one-hand, an outlet, and on the other hand, a way that I, and others, may reflect on what I do, and how God is present – be it in Canada, or in Germany; be it in a church, or at the end of the bar.  While I highly doubt that my writing, either the content or the style, will ever be compared to George Herbert’s poetic prose, at least like the Country Parson I’ve got the name that fits the role.

 

via Daily Prompt: Bumble

Tall Tales

Last week in the midst of some warm and humid weather I decided to ride my bicycle into Freiburg to join one of the monthly church groups – the Wise Ones.  While the group is a fellowship group for those who are retired, they let me join partly because I’m the minister, and partly, I think, because I have some grey hair, and as the Celtic tradition says, a head of grey hair is a sign of wisdom.

As I started out my journey I tried out one of the features of my GPS that will calculate various routes, be it by bike, by foot, or by car.  Having figured that I’d seen a few different routes to the church already, I programmed the GPS to take me on a hilly route.  This is where I think I gained a few more grey hairs, but proved not to be very wise.

After the first 2 kilometres it became evident to me that I was going to get my heart racing.  The suggested road to take turned out to be an over-grown edge of a field that the farm tractor may have seen a few weeks ago.  Nonetheless, I persevered in ignorance.

Next came a short, but steep, jaunt through the vineyards.  The grapes are coming into season, the air was warm, the clouds were darkening and I could hear thunder in the distance.  Of all the days to have a thunderstorm!  The idyllic scenery could not conquer the steady pounding in my ears of my own racing heartbeat as I was set to ignore every possible switchback and continued on my course straight up the hill.  I became mildly concerned to find the hair on my arms standing upright with ever-blackening clouds and ever-nearing sounds of thunder.

With about 200 metres until I reached the canopy of the Black Forest the heavens opened and the rain poured.  Receiving shelter from the tall trees only made me feel protected from the violent crashing of the thunderstorm, yet the rain drops fell more heavily as they gathered their forces together off of the tall leafed trees and plunged down.

The dirt path quickly became a small stream and mud splashed up from my wheels to ensure that whatever dry part of my clothes was left would be properly soaked.  Wisdom tells you to bring an extra change of clothes (which I did, thinking I would be too sweaty), wisdom might also tell you to put your clothes in a dry bag (which I didn’t) and still when I arrived at the church I was allowed to participate in the Wise Ones meeting.  The rain actually fell from the trees so hard that it took me a moment to realize that my route had been changed.  The water drops falling in rapid and heavy succession upon my touch screen GPS had canceled my current route and changed it to something altogether more impossible.

As I stood in the rain pretending to find shelter under the trees and hunching my back over my electronic navigation system so that I might find my correct course, or better yet, my actual location it occurred to me that I had not seen anyone on my ride.  Usually I would have encountered dozens of people out for a bike ride, or a hike.  Either everyone knew that there would be a thunderstorm, or I was so far into the woods that there was definitely no restaurant, or Gasthaus nearby – this by German standards is completely lost.  Your mind begins to play tricks on you as you become more chilled from the rain and you feel disoriented.  Had I been somewhere in Canada I would have felt as if I was on a logging road and been concerned that a bear might come out of the woods.  All the German fairytales started to come to mind, but not in the Disney versions, rather the original German versions which are far more gruesome.

Onwards and still upwards! After the momentary lapse in confusion, I mounted my bike and began to plod my way steadily uphill.  I began to use my better judgement for a change and started reading the signs and ignoring my GPS so that I eventually made my way down the other side of the hill towards my destination.  It was only then that finally the heavens opened and the blue sky and bright sun showed up, a little too weakly to actually dry anything off, but it was good for the mood.

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Bike riding is full of adventure, but later I learned from my parents that sometimes the adventure comes to you…even in your own home.  We might be half a world away, but we find ways of communicating our stories and adventures.  Having a running commentary this morning by text message about the large Black Bear that has found its way into the house and made itself very much at home in the kitchen with several hamburger buns, and a jar of peanut butter would certainly surprise anyone, even the family dog.  Eventually the determined bear was scared off, but surely the story will live on and grow into a family memory, a legendary tale.

I think I will stick to my rainy bike ride up the side of the mountain then come face to face with a large Black Bear and her jar of peanut butter.  At the end of the story I think we are all, a little greyer, and I hope, a little wiser.

One Big Loop

There is a certain symmetry to life, despite the moments of what may seem like chaos, when I look at things with a ‘big picture’ kind of view even the chaos falls into place.

The trip to Canada had its moments of chaos even before we had begun our travels.  Being a Canadian living in Germany, I was unaware of the change of travel rules that now require dual passport holders to travel into Canada with both passports.  This issue occupied a huge problem for us as a family as one of our Canadian passports had expired and the time frame for getting a new passport was far shorter than if we actually lived in Canada.  We the help of the friendly consulate staff in the Munich office we were able to get a Temporary Passport.  Even with the fact of having to personally drop-off the application, and personally receive the Temporary Passport there was much relief once the passport was in hand just a few days prior to our departure.  The nervous chaos seems a distant memory which has had its rough edges smoothed over with the passage of time, like that of a river smoothing a rock.

Time has a way of smoothing over a lot of things.

Once in Canada we had arrived in time for my Grandmother’s funeral.  With many people beyond that of family involved in the service at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, there was so much potential for chaos; however, the funeral was conducted expertly, and even the horse drawn hurst was able to make it through the busy downtown streets.

Over the next few days, many of the family set their energy and attention towards the wedding of my sister.  The wedding and reception, each beautiful occasions, which mark the beginning of a life together for my sister and her husband.  In the moments of planning and preparation it is sometimes difficult to see out of the chaos to a tranquil outcome, but as time has passed, the outcome certainly was romantic and serene.

In a small way, the activities in Vancouver came full circle, as one long marriage ended due to death, another marriage has just begun.  While the preacher at the funeral spoke powerfully and meaningfully to the gathered congregation, the same priest was also the last person to conduct a wedding in the Anglican church in which the marriage was held.  A mentor and friend at both the end and the beginning of these important acts of worship which punctuate the flow of life.

During our very short time spent trying to see friends and acquaintances in Victoria, everything worked out as well as could be considering the spontaneity of much of the planning and the coordination of many people.

The flight home to Germany felt like the completion of one great loop across the map that  burned brightly on the airplane navigational display.  The chaos of luggage loaded, passengers seated, and meals served, all translated, in the big picture, to a pleasant flight.  The chaos of life, with a little perspective, is not so unlike that rough stone which over time is smoothed down to a river rock.  The chaos of an aged life, and indeed a new life together, is also smoothed down and refined.

God has a way of smoothing over a lot of things.

Bee Eaters

Gazing in one direction the prominent hills of the Black-forest take up a commanding scene, but if I cast my eyes westward, toward France, the Kaisersthul is the one clear hill on the horizon before the Rhine.  The Kaisersthul, or ‘Emperors chair’, is a little over 500 metres at the summit and is an old volcano.  It is known worldwide for the wines that come from its terraced slopes, and for some interesting flora and fauna.

In what is a micro-climate of Mediterranean temperatures it is possible to find sand lizards, praying mantis, and breeding colonies of the European Bee Eater.  Having journeyed with a friend from church I was surprised that we were able to spot the Bee Eaters so quickly.  Driving up a narrow road with the only traffic being narrow bodied farm tractors that are built to pass between the row upon row of grape vines, and the occasional cyclist, we stopped the car and sat on a wooden bench and within moments graceful birds glided above and below our vantage point.

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It was the warmest day of the year, with the temperature hovering around 30 C and the air heavily scented with the perfume of flowering trees.  All very exciting stuff for those who like to birdwatch.  Meanwhile in Scotland, one of my favourite birds species from Canada, the Red-winged Blackbird, was grabbing the attention of those on the hunt for rare birds.  After my own outing, I heard reports of birdwatcher flocking to a remote part of Scotland to see the first time visitor of a female Red-winged Blackbird.

I was glad that my trip was not so frantic, a lot warmer, and spent in good company.  To end the birdwatching trip and toast my first sighting of a Bee Eater at the Kaiserstuhl – like most outdoor hikes in Germany – we were able to find a nice local restaurant where we could put down the binoculars and lift another set of glasses to end our day.

Everybody looks like George Clooney

After a lovely Easter Vigil with the Old Catholic congregation in Freiburg, then an early sunrise service on the hills overlooking the city, and topped off with five baptisms on Easter morning – I was ready for a holiday.

A small camping site on the end of Lake Como (the opposite end to Clooney’s villa) was our home base for a few days of relaxation and exploring.  In a relatively short time we had driven through Switzerland and entered Italy via the Gotthard tunnel.  You know you’ve arrived in Italy as all of a sudden every driver behind you feels like they are in the trunk of your car and all the men look like George Clooney.

With some unseasonably cool weather pouring south over the alps, we had no use for our swimwear that we brought with us having expected warm wind from the Sahara to be blowing its way north.  No matter.  We found lots to do and explore.  An old church pilgrimage site over looking the lake, lakeside villages with loads of history, and fantastic coffee about every 100 metres.  Italy has to be the place for breaking ones coffee fast over Lent.

Fully caffeinated and feeling a little more Italian, we drove to Milan for a day to see the some sights, but mostly we watched people strolling around the boulevards looking like they had just walked out of a fashion magazine.

Eventually it was time to return home to Germany.  Knowing that the very lengthy tunnel passage through the Alps would, on a Saturday, be jam pack with traffic we opted for the scenic over the alps route.  Unfortunately, the sign to indicate that the mountain pass we had chosen was closed was at the very bottom of the road (which we didn’t see) and the next notice sign was at the top.  It was, despite the frustration, an amazing drive which reminded me of so many car chase scenes in a James Bond film.  Hairpin turns, sheer drops, amazing snow capped peaks, and short one-way icicle filled tunnels made sure that you had both hands on the wheel.

Having to turn back and descend the mountain to find another available pass forced us to see more of the worlds famous skiing and alpine resorts. If anything, it was better than sitting in a two and a half hour traffic jam in the tunnel.  We stopped for a coffee and snack at a small mountain top restaurant to be reminded that we had left Italy, and were now in Switzerland as the espresso coffee shot up in price to 4 Euros!

The holiday ended with us picking up the dog from the kennel.  Sadly, the dog was not able to join us despite us finding a dog friendly campground.  All the required inoculations for the dog made it so that he was not allowed out of the country.  Or, as we were told by the veterinarian – you could likely take him out of Germany, but coming back (if you get caught) would be very costly with a forced 6 week quarantine period.  Even with the dog having his Euro dog passport (yes, there is such a thing!) the new rules require a 3 week waiting period after a rabies booster injection.

All in all, we returned from the holiday relaxed and refreshed.

The Comma in my Day

The comma offers a pause, a break, in a sentence. The comma is a much needed in punctuation, and in life.  The comma comes as a grateful welcome when I read German with its extraordinarily long compound words that make some paragraphs a page long.  Punctuation has entered newsworthy status as I have heard about a long-distance truck drivers union winning a legal battle regarding overtime because of the Oxford Comma placed in the wording of a contract.  Similarly, an entertaining BBC short video about a person who blurs the lines of ethical vandalism as he lurks around high streets changing grammar mistakes in shop signs and advertising.  The person tapes over misplaced apostrophes in the dark of night.

The comma can change meanings of sentences.  I’ve discovered the change of of meaning in the simple phrase, “Ja, ja”.  “Yes, yes” as a statement of agreement, and then if the pause on the comma is too long, and the tone perceived as sarcastic, “Ja, ja” comes across in a vastly different way that is taken as an insulting slight, like “whatever”, or much worse.

On my day off, like a comma in a sentence, I went on a gentle bike ride.  The ground is only slightly graded so that there are no real hills to encounter, and only occasionally would I need to pedal.  Mounded fields are beginning to yield asparagus.  Poly-tunnels shelter acres of strawberries.  Storks are nested upon tall posts.  Before I knew it I found myself at the Rhein.  While not a long journey, only a 26 Kilometres round-trip, it was a welcome pause that changed the sentence of my day.

Thermal Bath

With the conclusion of the churches hosting of the German Synod, and later the congregations own annual general meeting my wife and I went to the Vita Classica.  The town of Bad Krozingen has the designation ‘Bad’ meaning bath and one of these baths is the thermal bath/spa of the Vita Classica.  A whole range of spa treatments are available, but we went for a swim in the several different pools.

The pools are warm, but not as hot as I was expecting from my experience of a Canadian outdoor natural hot spring.  However, what was nice was the ‘gong’ system.  The Gong works like this: each part of some of the pools has bubbles blasting away, and you get a nice massage as you go from one part of the pool to the next.  There is always a movement of people around the edge of the pool as a gong sounds signalling to those in the water that it is time to move to the next station.  If you have ever done a circuit training workout at a gym, going from different weightlifting machinery and cardio equipment, then you have some idea of what goes on in the pool.  Moving slowly from one blast of warm water to the next leaves you feeling like you have done a workout without really going anywhere.

Another interesting pool was the music room.  A large indoor pool with clusters of people floating about on their backs with the help of the Styrofoam ‘pool noodle’.  The water is almost at body temperature and nobody really talks beyond that of a whisper.  What is really great is once you relax and begin to float, and as your ears go under the water; you are serenaded by classical music which can only be heard underwater.

One more feature that I enjoyed about the pools were the changing lights.  My wife and I had hoped that the night sky would be full of bright stars to gaze at while we floated on our backs in the hot water, but the cloudy sky blocked out that hope.  The runner-up to the stars was the changing lights in the pools, or of the whole rooms if we were inside.  Deep blue lights signified the temperature of the pool was cool, or that the lights cycled around the pool like a visual gong, reminding swimmers to move on to the next active pool.

The basic pools were plenty to leave my wife and I more rested and relaxed.

 

 

Threading the Needle

I am of an age that can simultaneously recall mocking my elders for not being able to pass a thread through the eye of a large needle, and having the shame of now not being able to do the same myself.  My daughter, from across the kitchen informed me that I had succeeded in my endeavour to thread the needle.

Family reading this will likely be overjoyed at the turn of events.  I blame the strongly calcified water that I drink in Germany on my increasingly poor vision.

There are many things that while they seemed easy before, now seem like Herculean feats.  Getting over the fact that there are ten eggs in the container rather than the expected dozen seems like a small thing, but it makes a big difference when you want to cook, or bake something, and you realize that your planning is off.

Going to school for the children, while a normal event, can be more arduous than before.  The daughter that so clearly saw the needle finally being threaded is at a stage in life where the future is laid out before her.  The school system begins the classroom streaming this year, and for many young children, and their parents, they are forced to cast their gaze to a wide horizon and imagine what they want to be when they grow up.  The categories, levels, abilities and temperaments of the children (and to some initial extent, the parents) are all piled up and muddled through as career planning starts to get going.  Of course, one can always change streams, or continue on with more schooling; it is the initial segregation of pupils into academic abilities that feels so different.

If I look back on my experience of grade 4 it is not a pretty picture.  Even more scary is the idea that my abilities then would subject me to a certain destiny.  While I can see some reasons and rational for streaming the children at this stage in life, it does go against the grain to think that we, no matter what age, are always growing.  Surely, if we are not growing, we are likely to be dead.

Grade 4 was a terrible year.  It must have been as I can remember it.  I recall running away from school and having the police looking for me.  I had a terrible, dictatorial, sadistic and torturous teacher.  To think that that year would determine my placement in a future school…it just doesn’t really end well.

I’m happy to say, that my daughter doesn’t have the same feelings of her grade four teacher, but I still feel for her as we look at a big step in life.  I hope that she can understand that it may seem like a huge stage in life (as it is for her, or anyone who is in that moment), but that in the grand scheme of things, it is pretty small.  Small, but memorable; just like threading the needle.