Easter

It’s early morning – the sun has yet to rise and there’s a chill in the air. A heavy heart weighs everything else down. Of all the days since the catastrophe, this one will be the hardest as she prepares to revisit the scene of the crime, the place where all her hopes came crashing down. Heartache. Pain around the chest, shortness of breath, every movement a struggle. But there is one last thing to do, a final act of love, a love so deep that it’s ready to rip the heart right out of the body.

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Everything is in disarray. All his friends are in hiding or have already decided to move on. Move on? How will she ever “move on?” Unfair. Is there really a God if something like this can happen? Doesn’t he care? Is there no cosmic concern for justice? Of all the people to die, to be murdered, why him? All he ever did was good. Oh sure, he had that way of seeing right through you, making you feel uncomfortable at times. And then he’d say things to certain people, usually the professional religious types, that would just send them up the walls.

He had this way of talking, where I was never quite sure what he was getting at. So I’d keep thinking about what he said over and over, turning each phrase in my mind. It wasn’t a hard task, not when you love someone. What was hard was watching the way he was treated at the end. Torture. It’s not that unusual around here with these foreign soldiers everywhere. But this time they seemed to go overboard, like they finally came unglued and let it all fall onto him.

I wasn’t surprised when he fell; I was shocked to see how badly they’d beat him and wondered at how he was even alive. But he was. He was so strong, in the prime of his life. That’s why he lived so long through the torture and the execution. I’d hoped for more, far more, and now I live in the land of broken dreams.

How do you fix a broken heart? How do you ever dream again once your highest dreams have been shattered?

I can’t eat. I haven’t for days now – just can’t stand the thought. I wonder how I’ll get past the guards? And the entrance is blocked. I guess I’ll figure it out when I get there. I’m meeting some of the other women and we’ll go together – safety in numbers with these soldiers around.

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I still can’t believe it. Is it possible? Did I dream this? I can’t stop crying, but this time it’s for the thought that my eyes have not deceived me, that I really saw him and he’s not dead! I don’t understand this, can’t understand this, but he came to me – to me! – and called my name. I hadn’t recognized him (how could I not have recognized him, how could I not recognize my love?). I thought he was a gardener!

He told me to tell the others. Will they believe me? Who cares! My love is alive and the heartache I feel now is for joy. I can’t stop crying, I can hardly breathe. When will I get to see him again? What if I dreamed all this? No. I did not. However this happened, I know I did not dream this.

He called me by my name.

A Sunday of Palms

Reflections on Holy Week

I had finished the morning chores, made coffee, eaten breakfast. I had the timing down. I would be about ten minutes early, time enough to settle down, pray, and reflect. I took a quick glance outside before I dressed, only to see Hilda with her new twin lambs outside my door. Exit, stage right. By the time I’d put the flock in the barn, those extra ten minutes were history.

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I arrived as the bell chimed. I beat the processional by seconds and found a pew. Palm Sunday had begun. You simply can’t beat a liturgical church during Holy Week. Mine is a small country parish, the oldest Episcopal parish in Maryland. My ancestors worshiped here. Some were even priests here. That I’ve been able to come back after a four year absence is a testimony to the quality of the people I worship with, many who’ve known me since I was a boy. It’s not been an easy path back.

We have a new interim rector, Rev. Mariann. Today’s homily was a work of art, a reminder of the fickleness of the human heart. The morning “Hosannas” are soon drowned by “Crucify Him.” The acknowledgment that the Savior we want is often different from the Savor we get. And that’s the sticking point.

The Jews of the first century were pretty sure what their Messiah would look like. He would be a political liberator, kicking the Romans out and restoring the Davidic kingdom. This was the fever-pitch anticipation of the crowd as they waved palm branches and laid their cloaks on the path before His donkey.

But there was a problem. Instead of an army following Him into Jerusalem, there was this rag-tag band of misfits – fishermen, tax collectors, zealots; and women – some of means, others of questionable reputation. Not a following that would have given the impression of an insurrection. In fact, the procession into Jerusalem failed to make the notice of the occupying Romans.

So, what kind of a Messiah was this if he was not going to fulfill the expectations of his followers? Within a week, some of these same people who’d declared Jesus their Messiah would be calling for his execution. Many others would simply be bewildered at the strange turn of events. No one realized what was taking place in real time.

“The God who suffers with us.” More than a political liberator, a revolutionary, a road to success guru, God offers us a Messiah of suffering to meet us in our suffering and identify with us. It is in the Garden of Anticipation that Christ agonizes with his Father’s will and embraces the suffering of redemption. Many times, the only way out is through.

The joy of the Resurrection can only be experienced after the agony of the Cross. I lingered longer today. Spoke to many friends I’d not seen for a while. My Palm Sunday. A day of welcoming, acceptance, and understanding. A day to reflect that you can be broken and humbled by life’s circumstances; that God will meet us in our suffering if we allow him; that you can go back, changed.

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Shabbat Shalom

Friday was my shopping day, the last day I’d be in Rome. I needed to buy gifts for the special people in my life, a small token of the gratitude I felt for their love and support. I was not on the shopping list. I’d had a fantastic time seeing the sights of the city – often lost, sometimes walking in circles, always seeing beauty and eating well. I had already accepted my gift to me.

I headed over toward the Pantheon, to some of the better shopping areas of the city. One disadvantage of staying perpetually lost is the inability to backtrack easily. Getting back somewhere I’d been meant charting a new course. As I walked that new route, I passed a men’s clothing store. And kept walking. Fifty feet. And turned back, perhaps by the thought of “Why not, just go in,” perhaps something else. I simply had to go into that shop.

If you know me, you know I’m not a shopper. That doesn’t mean I don’t buy things. It usually means I go online, or I go into a store with a clear idea of what I want, get it, and go. I’m pretty sure it’s a genetic trait most guys share, genetic modification excluded.

A young man engaged me in conversation with very good English. (As I wore my black, pinch-front cowboy hat throughout the trip, no one mistook me for a native.) Before long, I was trying on sports jackets. Exquisitely tailored, made in Italy. Yes, I was uptown now. And then the owner of the shop walked in, the young man’s father.

Bazooka immediately took over the fitting – “50 drop 6, that is your size!” We talked. We connected. Even now, writing this a week later, I feel the chill of goose bumps. And so did he. “It is not by chance you are here. You are supposed to be here. Providence brought you in. Look at my goose bumps!”

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Bazooka and I share a common background in law enforcement, but perhaps a more profound commonality in faith. Bazooka is a Jew. I am a Christian. I’ve been to Israel. He has fought for Her. It dawned on me at one point in our conversation that I was in the presence of a very important person in the history of that country. Our relationship began to exceed the one normally reserved for commerce.

As I tried on clothing, Bazooka sent his son to order cappuccino for me. Shortly thereafter, a young lady arrived with a steaming cup of milk-frothed caffeine, served on a tray. I’ve never known such luxury. I felt as though I’d somehow landed among long lost friends.

Yes, I updated my wardrobe. I justified it by noting I’d not purchased good clothing for over a decade. Of course we justify what we want. The trousers needed to be hemmed, and so were sent out to the tailor. I’d come back around quarter past five to collect them.

I went about and did the rest of my shopping, had yet another great meal, and returned a bit early to the shop to pick up the pants. Friday afternoon in Rome is a lot like Friday afternoon in our metro area – too many cars, too few roads, people everywhere. Except that there’s basically no real rules to traffic in Rome except don’t hurt anyone. The tailor was stuck in traffic. So I waited and chatted with Bazooka and his son.

A phone call was made. “You will celebrate Shabbat with us tonight. Here’s the address and the phone number. Take a cab. I’ll see you at eight.” I rode in the cab that evening wandering exactly what I’d gotten myself into. Me, a complete stranger, going to a complete stranger’s home for dinner.

I called on my arrival and Bazooka came out to show me in. He and his family live in a nice apartment set back off the highway. Well appointed, spacious, with a generous outdoor terrace. Yet what was really amazing was the warmth with which he and his wife greeted me. I was given a yarmulke and prayers were said in Hebrew. I ate an incredible home cooked kosher meal – roasted artichoke, roasted eggplant, pureed squash, fish, and bread. And then, on a separate plate with separate utensils, a slice of lamb.

Dessert was served, pictures shared, conversation ensued. At the end of the evening, Bazooka’s son drove me back to hotel. “My father doesn’t usually do things like this. The two of you must have really connected.” Indeed, we did.

I wonder if heaven will be like this. Where complete strangers will embrace as old friends, their cares and conflicts stripped away by the Eternal Shabbat of the Almighty. Bazooka asked me to remind all my friends to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, the Holy City. That’s a prayer we all can pray.

Shabbat shalom.

A Small Tribute To My Father

He would be 95 today. James Elt Bourne, Jr., the son of James Sr and Helen Howes. The first child. The only son. Seven sisters. Tobacco farm. Do you feel sorry for him yet? I do and in many ways always have. This simple fact explains a lot about both of our lives.

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He lived through the depression. Received the best education that eight grades could offer, and then married the farm. Not that he had a choice. Sr had taken ill that year – double pneumonia, right after he’d broken an arm falling off an ox cart (why was he riding an ox cart anyhow?). Jr got the crop in the barn with the help of a hired hand. He presented himself to high school in late October – in reality too far behind to ever catch up. So he simply took to farming.

His mother never seemed to have a bit of warmth emanating from her, unless it was in regards to her daughters. I’m sure they worked on the farm too. One aunt took pains to emphasize that point at his funeral. But love from his mother resembled money in the depression. Scarce.

Something happened to my father along the way. By the time he was 41 and met my mother, he could barely hold a conversation in public. My mother never had that affliction. Jr later said their union was the result of two left-overs getting together. I suppose I’m glad they did.

Helen never cared for my mother. I guess she viewed her as some type of thief. When I arrived, my mother’s stock went up a bit. Another male to carry on the supposed dynasty. I get to hear about that every time I visit my mother now. It’s one of the few things she can remember. I suppose the whole affair made an impression.

Dad raised tobacco all his life until he didn’t. 1983 finished him up. That crop brought more ten years later than it brought that year. Many farmers simply tilled it in and started over the next year. Dad would’ve never done that. Too much waste. Thirty-two years later, some of that crop is still hanging in the barn. Makes for nice show and tell.

Dad’s life was pretty much all work, little play. I’m writing this from Rome, Italy. I’m not sure he could fathom that. When I came back to the farm, we butted heads a lot. He gave me the responsibility, but very little actual power. That took a long time to change, death being the most responsible party there.

I’ve worked through a lot of feelings about my father. Like any child, my parents conflict me to a certain extent. In the end, it is what it is. He loved me the only way he knew how. He taught me to work. He gave me his farm. He bestowed upon me his angst. He made a life out of what he was given.

It took years for me not to think of him everyday. I do so now with admiration and love.

-March 10, 1921 – July 14, 2004

He Restoreth My Soul

Today was Vatican Day. The day I set aside to brave the Roman metro and see the beauty and wonder of St. Peter’s. I had actually planned on walking across the city to get there. I wanted to cross the Tiber River on foot and reflect on all the aspects of that journey. Alas, I’m a little sore today after two big walking days. The metro seemed the better option.

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Thus far, I’ve found most people in Rome to be tolerant of me, the tourist. No hiding the fact that I’m not Italian – one glance’ll confirm that. Most seem to know a little English, and I do my best with the few words of Italian I know. However, the metro took me way out of my comfort zone. Lots of commuters, a feeling of swarming chaos, and trains that resembled sardine cans. But I didn’t miss my stop.

I’ve had my map reading skills sorely challenged this trip. I’m pretty good generally, but let’s just say the feeling of being somewhat lost hasn’t gone away yet. I’ve caught myself making circles several times now – a built in homing pigeon? What should have been a 5 minute walk took almost 45 minutes. But I found it.

Vatican City has walls, walls that are well over a millenium old. And those walls have many points of ingress and egress. Once inside, the beauty was nearly overwhelming. Massive. Elaborate. Inspiring. St. Peter’s Basilica must be experienced in order to be explained. No words written here would do it justice. Perhaps, were I not a Christian I could describe it in a technical sense. But the images are just too real, the history a part of who I am as a believer. Awestruck.

I exited the city to have a quick lunch, intending to go back and tour the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum. And then it struck. Weariness combined with all the issues associated with travel descended on me. I headed back to the hotel.

Several hours later, feeling better for the rest, I ventured out again – and into a church. Not that that’s hard in Rome. But this time, I was not here as a tourist; this was a pilgrim’s quest. With the words of David’s psalm coursing through my head, I reflected on the goodness of a shepherd who desires to give food, water, and rest to his weary sheep. I prayed for the people I love, near and far away. I prayed to be understanding of those who no longer love me. And mostly, I just listened to the quiet.

And Then There’s The Food

I write this sitting in the George Byron Pub on National St in Rome. An oxymoron. I found this place yesterday, drawn in by the rain and the promise of a Guinness. I’ve come back for the Guinness.

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I know that doing so violates one of the basic principles of being in Rome – the food and especially the wine. Trust me. I’ve had my share. I’ve heeded the advice of friends and stuck to the back streets and alleys. The food has been incredible. Nothing is hurried here. You are seated. Your drink order taken and a menu given. Some time later, your drink of choice arrives. Red wine. A half liter. In a pitcher. Your food order comes to the table. The wait staff doesn’t hurry you. Dine in peace for they hardly check on you.

It seems that most establishments have at least one person who can speak English, but the language barrier hasn’t been a real issue. Pointing works. When you are done you can stay as long as you like. The check comes only when you ask for it.

This morning I strolled along the back streets. Fresh vegetables were being delivered in little 3-wheel trucks. Yesterday, I chatted with a butcher at a local grocery. All the meat on display was sourced local. Unfortunately, language did get in the way of that conversation. He ended imageup pricing me a 225lb dressed hog! I think I might have a few of those walking around back at the ranch.

You can tell a lot about a culture and its people by the food they eat and the way they eat it. So much food is regional. Whenever someone buys scrapple from me at the market, I ask where they grew up. Most often eastern PA, MD, and some parts of VA. No one eats scrapple if they didn’t grow up on it. (If you have to ask what it is, just consider yourself permanently outside the club on this one.)

Much has been written about our American food culture. One word describes it – fast. Whether it’s at home, in a restaurant, or on the road, we don’t want to spend more time than necessary. We have things to do, people to see, worlds to conquer. We live out that quip – “The business of America is business.” Busy-ness. And we pay for it. Poor digestion, diabetes, obesity, just to name a few of our lifestyle diseases.

In recent years, there’s been a movement to change things. The “Slow Food” movement, begun in Italy (of course?) has emphasized heritage breeds of vegetables and animals, bringing taste back to the table with the thought that if our food tastes better, perhaps we’ll linger longer. On the other hand, maybe we can pay attention to the immigrant cultures around us. They still seem to pay attention to the food/family connection. Of course, that would mean getting to know our new neighbors.

In the creation myth, the LORD God gives our first parents food before he gives them work.  Is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil a metaphor for over-work?  I drift into dangerous territory… All I know for sure is that rest, not work, is what is promised in heaven.  Oh, there’s a feast too.

Pardon me, my prosciutto and mozerella just arrived…

Lost…and Found?

IPhone says I’ve walked 23,610 steps, 11.22 miles, and climbed 25 flights of stairs. That’s about right. I’m in pretty good shape just simply because of what I do for a living. I average walking 4-5 miles a day. I’ve worked real hard on my eating habits. And I’m working on eliminating a severe chronic stress issue. Still, that’s a lot of walking.

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I’m attempting to walk Rome. I have no itinerary. I want to see the “must sees” – The Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Florence and David, the Pantheon, etc. I have great, well-travelled customers and friends who’ve helped me shape how to approach this vacation. But I’ve decided the best thing I can do is get lost.

Art literally is around every corner here. I turn down a street and I’m confronted with beauty and wonder, history and awe. I’m also confronted with thieves and swindlers. I learned quick (at the airport taxi hub) to ignore the latter and focus on the former.

I finally had to ask for directions – twice. You know, I’m a guy. I pride myself on my internal GPS; yes, I had to swallow hard. That’s good. The only way to confront control issues is to be open to losing control. Sometimes, not being right, getting lost if you will, is a good way to be found.

I had a conversation with a dear friend right before I left for Rome. There was a lot of sadness involved, a bitterness at the unfairness life brings to all of us. I told my friend that we always have to hold things with an open hand, to accept the possibility that what we cherish most may be lost. It’s a call to take nothing for granted; to live each day relishing the moment; to give space to the sunrise and wonder to the sunset. To leave nothing unsaid. I’m really trying to practice what I preach.

Tonight, I write this having finally found my hotel. With a bottle of wine I picked up from a street vendor. I think I’m the only guy in Rome wearing a cowboy hat. No hiding that I’m not from around these parts. Sometimes, you just gotta get lost in order to get to the other side.

The Journey

Flying to Instanbul in order to get to Rome is rather like trying to get to your pinky from your thumb by way of your elbow. But the price was right; the timing so far as the rhythm of the farm was concerned, almost perfect; and the need was great. And so, for the next few days, I’ll be blogging from Rome. Of course you know I don’t really blog – I essay, but let’s not quibble over details.

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It’s after midnight here and I’ve been traveling for most of the last 24hrs. This can be a lonely prospect, but I was fortunate to have a friend along. C told me about the flight. She knew I’d been looking to get away, clear some cobwebs, and do something for myself. C.’s husband, M., was in Rome on business; she had planned to join him. And so, what could have been a tedious trip was made bearable, and sometimes even enjoyable, by taking the journey with C.

Most of my time will be spent exploring the great sights, visiting the great art, and enjoying to good food here. I’ll probably get lost a couple times, but so what. Journeys are like that. Sometimes, it takes getting lost in order to find your way ahead.

Entangled

A Few Words on Community

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The day started off like most others when I take a trip to get feed from the mill. I travel 36 miles to an Amish community in St. Mary’s County, MD. My relationship with Stoltzfus Feed LLC has been mutually beneficial. I get the feed I want at a reasonable price. They’ve started two completely new lines of feed over the years to satisfy my requirements. These new feeds now account for over half their total business and is their growth sector.

After I’d loaded 5000lbs. of feed, I went over to visit my good friend, John Y. John and I have been friends for years. We do a lot of business together, helping each other along. John Y. is a good farmer, supported by a great wife, Barbara. Now that Stephen is out of school, John Y. has been able to expand his farm.

As I traveled down the gravel lane to John’s farm, a dump truck driver flagged me over. He motioned to a horse that was entangled in a barbed wire fence and asked me to get the horse some help. Pretty soon, John and I were over in the field, looking at the horse.

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The horse was a roan draft horse who had attempted to go through a barbed wire fence to get with his buddies. Apparently, the whole crew had gotten away from their farm and had been wandering around when someone let them into this particular pasture to keep them off the road. By the time John and I arrived, the horse had freed itself, but was bleeding profusely, having been ripped up by wire just above his right rear hoof.

Pretty soon, a whole crew came together to take care of the horse. John and I got Eli to help us catch it. Then we went over to get Benny, the community horse vet. When we got back, Eli had led the horse to a better area, where we had access to some water. Tranquilizer applied, the horse went into a slumber while Benny worked on him. Fortunately for the horse, no ligaments were damaged. Benny sutured the vein that had been severed, and administered the antibiotics through an IV saline solution.

This may seem like a typical farm type thing to you, but please note, not one person involved in this story owned this horse. The owner, Isaac, has had a run of bad luck and isn’t doing well. Overworked with no breaks, he’s hit the breaking point. That’s right – Amish are human too. Every person there had their own work to do; yet we all put those things aside to help. For me, I wasn’t going to leave until that horse had been seen to, and also because of my long friendships in that community. John, Eli, and Benny were there to help a neighbor in need. We did what needed to be done. When the doctoring was over and done, Eli led the horse to his farm and put him up in a clean stall. Eli will continue to look after the horse until Isaac can get him.

Entangled. We think of it as a negative word, something to avoid. The draft horse would have been better off had he not become entangled with the fence. And yet, entangled is also a way to describe community. Not only did John know whose horse it was, but he also knew the depth to which his neighbor needed help. Isaac’s uncle, John F. offered to pay us for our time. I told John Y. to just send my share onto the Hospital fund the Amish keep to help pay medical bills.

Pope Francis has asked Christians to have a different take on Lent this year. He’s asked us to focus on giving to the less fortunate and those in need, to look for opportunities to shine the light of Christ into dark places. I’m sure that the Pope’s namesake would agree that a poor Amish draft horse qualifies. I’m also sure if we all lived in communities like this one, the vast majority of our societal problems would solve themselves.