I am trying to utilize all my time to the best of my abilities as I have a lot to do and deadlines are looming. Train rides are now filled reading and writing. I have been asked to write a sermon on Psalm 133 in German for an area wide church magazine and my sermon is to be sandwiched between the sermons of two former bishops of the area for this short publication. The morning commute is taken up quickly with reading, underlining and note taking. The pressure seems immense.
The train back is the same, but the sermon is not for publication, rather it is for Sunday morning worship. Along with meetings, visiting, and family life things are pretty busy. This morning the news was all about the violence in Nice, France. It was difficult to read and reflect about any scriptures without the thoughts of those who have suffered great violence coming to mind. Psalm 133 is especially potent as unity is a theme. A Psalm to repeat as a hope, a way forward, and of a remembrance of better times.
Psalm 133. 1 “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
Life is always on a razors edge and so we make the best of what we can, when we can.
The weather last week was hot and humid and it seems the corn and grain had sprouted up higher, but then came the cool weather and some heavy rain. While taking the train I get to know more and more of the scenery. Some famers have cut and balled their hay already, and other fields now lay a bit flattened like some giant has danced poorly across the ground leaving scattered footprints in the fields.
Lately in France, and other countries, it feels like when it rains it pours. All the more reason to ball up some of our hay, our Scriptural ‘food for thought’ and nourishment so that we can get through the hard times with the eternal hope of new life in Christ.
This week I have made two trips to the beautiful city of Basel. One trip was for pleasure, the other was a work related event (which was also pleasant). Monday morning saw the departure of two of very good friends. With the Euro-airport so nearby it is the arrival and departure place of many folks who come for short visits.
On Monday the girls and I were able to drop friends off at the airport, and then spend a few hours walking around Basel. Each time I visit Basel I see more and more – becoming familiar with the sights and sounds of a busy city. On this short visit we were able to quickly get to places of interest now that we have got our bearings. We went to part of the University, the Botanical Gardens, the RathausRathaus and one of the old city gates – the Spalentor. This looping tour took us though narrow side streets and even into a tourist trap store selling trinkets at a high cost. The girls decided that they had, over a few visits, walked most of Basel, and would now like to have a city crest to pin to their walking sticks at home as a trophy, or sign of accomplishment. When we entered the shop in search of the small shields and another woman with a young girl were leaving, we overheard the shop clerks saying, “that makes three English speakers today!” The girls and I found the crests we were looking for (for a small fortune in CHF!) and began talking to the staff in all the languages we knew of. After speaking, German, English and French the women behind the counter finally asked were we were from so they could add us to their private game of ‘count the tourist’.
The following day, I returned to Basel for a meeting with friends and colleagues in the Anglican Church in Basel for our educational meeting. These meetings are of really value, as it can be a lonely job being the only Anglican minister in town. Not only is there some fellowship and prayer together, but we also take turns presenting and discussing various topics for educational purposes. This particular gathering was to hear about the Christology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as there had recently been a global symposium on the life and work of Bonhoeffer. It was good to stretch our brains and think critically about the impact of what was then a very young Bonhoeffer and his contribution to theological thought. With our topic and surrounding discussions I could help thinking about my own lecture that I am to give at the University of Freiburg regarding the celebration of the Reformation and the links with the Church of England and wider Anglican Communion. I hope I can match the quality of study given by my esteemed colleague that joined us in Basel.
Over the two different days of visiting one of the things that impressed me most was hearing how much my eldest daughter had learned about Basel from her school classes. The bridges, and surrounding geography were recalled in detail and it was like having our own private tour guide. There is, of course, always more to explore in Basel, and in Freiburg…but that is for another day and another journey.
The past few days I have trying to put some extra time into speaking and reading German. I’ve made the unilateral decision that at home we speak only Deutsch on ‘D-Days’ meaning Deinstag und Donnerstag (Tuesday and Thursday). All this was in preparation for a test that never materialized due to a large misunderstanding between the teachers and the students. Now that the fear of an exam has passed, I have relaxed and begun reading English on the train ride to and from Freiburg. The book I have just started arrived as a bit of a surprise in a package from Canada. I’m almost positive that the book is from my father as we share similar tastes in novels…well in this sort of novel at least. Opening the first page of the book while I sat on an empty train platform gave me a shock as I struggled to read the English words having had my mind so set on German recently. Then again, it might just be the genre that makes the reading difficult. Here’s a sample, page 1 – opening sentence. Let’s see how you do with it, dear reader.
“When I came down off the cap rock riding a wind broken bronc, half of New Mexico must have been trailin’ behind me, all ready to shake out a loop for a hanging.”
The famous Western author, Louis L’Amour wrote this in 1966 in The Mustang Man and as the cover tells me, there are over 270 million copies of his books in print. I can tell you why there are so many copies in print…one reason is that L’Amour was a prolific writer, the other reason is that the books are always so formulaic that you just seem to feel comfortable reading them. At times I have been halfway through a book and realized that it is strangely familiar, but that I haven’t read it before (and sometimes you realize you have!).
Reading on the train, I felt like I had come out of the closet so to speak, as it seemed to cause a sensation with those other passengers siting near me. “An English book!” “Cowboys!” and more exclamations were made like I was somehow invisible, deaf, or unaware of the growing excitement around me. At least on this train ride it seems that my fellow German passengers were great admirers of Wild West stories.
I’ve now learned that there are a number of father – son/daughter camps that offer weekend getaways based on a Wild West theme. Who knew!
All in all, it is strange to have this connection with my father…and with my grandfather. I rarely remember a time when I did not see my grandfather without a Western genre pocket book. I am sure, judging from the collection of L’Amour books in the basement at my parents house, that we have contributed to the wider circulation of the 270 million copies sold world wide. In the dark and dank basement, the entire series of books sits on one shelf and my father took them home after his father died. It does feel strange at times to have an almost genetic disposition for a taste in Western novels, but it is also something to delight in as we can trade books with each other, and know that perhaps three generations have thumbed the pages of yet another old trailside yarn.
I will be the first to admit that I have an addiction.
I love books, and find that I can rarely pass a bookseller without walking away with one, or two books. Unlike some people, I actually read all the books I buy. I purchased a small book entitled “The Contemplative Minister: Learning to lead from the still centre.” by Ian Cowley. This small pocket book fit nicely into my jacket pocket while I was travelling via Easy Jet – as everyone knows that Easy Jet charges an arm and a leg for any extra baggage.
I finished the book during the flight. Afterwards I really wondered if this was the idea given the title of the book. I think I preached on the the first chapter, ‘Being and Doing’, but failed to listen to my own words.
One thing that stuck with me, however, is a small section called ‘Control of the diary’. I flip through my diary and see that I spend a lot of time doing, and very little time being. In essence, prayer has become the last thing on a long list of to-do items. It shouldn’t be this way, even though I know it often happens to me. My fast read, my full calendar were a really message to me about my own priorities.
I’ve started getting up earlier so that I may say the Morning Prayer office and not find myself rushing and speed reading; ready to jump up to another task. The end of my day is completed with Evening Prayer, or Compline. Already I have noticed my outlook changing. I hope also that this prayerful lifestyle helps in the parish, as I pray for the many parishioners in the chaplaincy day by day.