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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Framing the Picture

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View from within the Rathaus, Freiburg.

Typically this view shows tourists, people enjoying a coffee, and wedding parties.  The Rathaus is the place to see couples marry as they sign the necessary paperwork at the City Hall and then have small gatherings in the square to celebrate.  On a busy day you can see dozens of couples coming and going for their appointed meeting times.

While not the greatest of photographs with a phone camera I wanted to frame the shot that is the image of many couples when they leave the building.  The ironwork gate, the patterned cobblestones, and the birds both of iron and feather fill the scene.

Framing the scene is often a photographic technique to focus the eye and can create some interesting images.  When I sit down to do a puzzle it is often easiest for me to search through the box for the flat-edged pieces so that I may build the frame that will contain the picture, or the finished puzzle. What are those flat edged pieces in our own lives, in our marriages, and in our Church?  I think that in discovering the boundaries of our relationships we often set a ‘frame of reference’ that helps us to make sense, gather meaning and become purposeful.

It has been ten months time since moving to Germany with my family to begin ministry with an Anglican Church.  These ten months have been a time spent in setting the frame.  Getting to know people.  Searching out the flat bits from the puzzle box.  The community of the church represents a picture and there are many personalities that piece together.  Occasionally I find that one piece can link to several others if I’m not too careful and in doing so the puzzle doesn’t get done, or the picture is distorted.  The hard work of building the picture is set to begin.  Some of the Sisters of St. John the Divine in Toronto and British Columbia, Canada have an interest in a particular type of puzzle that seems challenging.  The puzzle is called a ‘Wasgij’, or Jigsaw written backwards.  The image on the box top is not the image that you need to piece together.  Rather, it is an image that when you look at it, you must imagine what it is the people in the picture are looking at, and it is that ‘imagined’ picture that is what one sets on building.  To use this example in the life of the Church now that some time has been spent on referencing the framework is both challenging and exciting.  We listen and pray about what God’s purpose is, but we have no solid blueprint, or box top design to follow.  In this way, each community and its parts have an aim, or a goal which we are trying to piece together.  What is the image of our church community that we are helping to bring about?

Alas, the picture will have many people, activities, events and occasions that I will perhaps get a glimpse of as I work away on things.  However, puzzles are best left done together as a family event.  The picture grows in an organic way as community members add to a section, or focus on a particular area.

The final product (that of building and of enjoying the picture) is also something less like a photograph, or puzzle picture and more akin to a painting.  A work of Art.

4 Countries & 1/2 a Tank of Fuel

A friend posted a brief response to a remark I had made online to the subject of my title: B-L-F-G (Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Germany).  He guessed correctly, and the time away has given me some food for thought as well as some amazing food for the stomach.

The smallness of Europe hit home as we sped down motorways and side roads leaving Brussels and 4 hours later arriving home in Freiburg, having crossed, or at least entered 4 countries in the process.  The mini-holiday is n0w over, but it has given me some time to reflect on some larger issues.

I took my camera with me on the trip and fortunately the Automatic features were acting up for some reason.  I say, fortunately because I was then forced to do everything manually like I use to do by default with my old Mamiya 35mm.  Having to relearn the ƒ-stops, and shutter speed settings was good medicine.  A parishioner regularly posts “today’s moment calm” which I enjoy seeing, both for the creativity and for the much needed pause in the day.  Equally important for my trip was to slow down and set the scene, wait for the right light, and adjust the settings on the camera for the perfect picture.  Of course not all the photos worked out well, and I am certainly glad that I was not limited to the 24 or so exposures that film would have offered.  Nonetheless, I have a few random photos that are from France that I want to speak about.

Boundaries: The first is the gate of the manor house in which we were able to stay amongst extended family members.  This old house has rooms for the servants, as well as stately rooms for the former residents, yet on the grounds, which were expansive indeed, is an old iron foundry which is unoccupied.  The manor is gated and on the outskirts of the small French village surrounded only by fields of wheat, or pastures of cows.  In this area, like many other areas in Europe, the harvest happens all day and night.  The heavy machinery needed to harvest the grain is too expensive for each farmer to own, so only one or two large combines and tractors work round the clock.  The grain in the picture at the front gate of the manor was gone overnight leaving stubble behind.  I took the photo as it symbolized boundaries.  The boundaries of farm and manor, industry and agriculture.  The stone pillars and the far horizon set the tone for entry into rest and work.

Something that is important to hold onto is the boundaries between rest and work.

Rest:  Another photo is a close up of a large snail shell in amongst the green Hosta plants.  The snail is right outside the large wooden doors at the front of the house.  The snails are much larger than what I would have experienced on the West Coast of Canada, and so are the Hostas as those would often be eaten by the deer moments after planting, or emerging from the ground.  The snail was tucked up quietly in its own shell waiting for some cooler temperatures, but it did make me ponder the houses we live in – the largess of a manor house now used for foreign visitors during the summer months, and the smallness of the snails home which travels with and is its source of protection.  It is important to curl away in a sleep mood and take time to rest no matter how large or small your house.

Growth and Harvest:  In and around the area are several hiking trails, one of which is symbolized with a yellow and green stripe painted onto poles and fence posts.  I thought the one captured on camera had all the tones of the surrounding area.  One side of the road was green with grass and weeds; the other was newly harvested grain that has dried for weeks in the field. On all our journeys there are times of green growth often right next to golden harvest.  The landscape reflected these colours and this mood.  In all of life there is time to plant, and time to harvest and sometimes we are fortunate to see it happen before our eyes.

Risk:  One of the final photos of the day was at a small stream.  The track took me though hot fields and dry roadways.  A small bench was situated next to the stream that was full of trout and looked like an ideal place to swim for all the children staying at the manor house.  The green trees brought shade and the water was rippled in some places only by small water insects gliding over the surface.  The growl of an engine steadily grew as I soon saw a car approaching.  Even on some of the smaller roads the speed limit can be significant (90-100 km/hr) and I watched in astonishment as a small car barely slowed to drive through the water.  I was filled with envy when I saw this happen as I’ve always wanted to drive through water like that, having only done it once after convincing my Dad to drive his truck through a flooded roadway.

This picture made me think about risk.  We would have risked swimming here, and I could have risked taking our own car through the water.  The element of risk is sometimes important to shock our systems into life.  Just like risking our vulnerability in opening up to people about our feelings, or risking scathing comments for some mediocre photographs.

Vacations, no matter how small, can teach us something.  A reminder to risk.  To look for signs of growth, and places to harvest. To take the time to be small and rest.  To be aware of the boundaries of work and play, heaven and earth.