About James Bourne

James (Jim) grew up on his farm in Southern Maryland. A traditional tobacco farm, Jim now raises animals and vegetables on this 325 year old family farm. Jim studied to be a minister, was a Maryland State Trooper, has four daughters, and enjoys writing and teaching/speaking.

Lambing Day

The fog was thick, as the warm air met the frozen ground, still covered with a thin layer of snow.  Though it was after sunrise, the sun itself had yet to make an appearance.  Today held promise, however.  The first day in over a week to get above freezing.  I got up, still sick from the exposure and exhaustion of the past week.  Regardless, the sheep must be checked and fed, the hogs as well.  But my attention is on the lambs.

As I go about my chores, opening hay bales and setting them in place, I notice one ewe off by herself under a cedar tree bordering the sheep lot.  For the last week, I’ve kept the sheep up in the corral area adjacent to their feeding lot.  Easier to take care of.  Everyday I’ve gone down to the lot to feed hay, break ice in the water trough, tend the newborn lambs in the stalls, and check the ewes to see who might be next to birth.

Freckles’ daughter had had her lambs this morning, picking a dry spot under the cedar tree, two nice white lambs with brown spots, covered in dirt, struggled to get to their hooves.  “FD” cleaned them off, licking the afterbirth from each lambing, thereby forever knowing the scent and the sound of her lambs.  Nineteen and twenty had made it into the world without my help.  The day was going to be warm, so there’d be no need to put them under the warming lamps in the stall.  Dixie, the amazing border collie, and I returned to the house.  Coffee had yet to be made.

Hannah came over a bit later.  She’d been taking care of the night checks  since I’d come down with the crud.  Coffee, sausage, oatmeal, eggs, cheese toast.  Breakfast is eaten like a king here.  We talk about the farm, what today’s work will look like, prospects for the future. I take and make several phone calls, all part of keeping this farm running.  These days I live for the emails to arrive with the week’s orders attached.  Finally warmed up, it’s now time to go outside.

We check the tractor, and it is what I feared; the radiator is empty and the crankcase has coolant in it.  The extreme cold has cracked the block on the engine.  This is fatal.  I do get the tractor started and move it to another location where I can work on it.  Hannah and I discuss the alternatives.  I simply need a tractor with a front end loader.  It’ll be a challenge to replace this.

Walking back to the barn where the sheep are, I notice a ewe in labor.  We go on about our business.  An hour later, I check back – no progress.  Something is wrong.  Hannah gets the nitrile gloves from the shed, and we set about to get this ewe, A16, up in the stall where it’ll be dry and reasonably clean to work on her.  We ended up tackling her in the corral, Hannah going face first into the fence, as A16 was doing everything should could to disrupt our plans.

A quick examination revealed the issue at hand; the lamb was breech and upside down.  I told Hannah this was not going to end well.  I worked on the lamb nearly a half hour with very little success.  I could get the hind legs out, but couldn’t rotate its body. The lamb was dead.  The issue now was to save the ewe, and it didn’t look promising.  Hannah asked to switch, as she’d been holding A16 down and comforting her.  And so Hannah took over.

It’s an amazing thing to see your child function as an adult.  Hannah stayed working on the lamb for over an hour.  With her small hands, she could partially rotate the lamb’s torso and move it gingerly past all the sticking points.  Finally, it was out.  The body was a mess. They are simply not supposed to be born that way. But it was out.  The ewe would live.

We put A16 in the stall she’d been so reluctant to go in only two hours before.  She needed warmth; she was in shock.  We needed a shower, clean clothes, and lunch.  By this point, Dixie needed a bath, for she’d been frolicking in the gully while we worked the ewe.  We relaxed around the table.  Pasta from our good friend Gianni – a combination of sausage tortellini and pansoti.

We began the afternoon feeding and egg gathering.  Hannah will be 20 this year.  She has worked with me nearly all her life.  She knows how I think, she’s not afraid of hard work, and she’ll nicely tell me when I’m full of crap.  I return the favor.

As I’m feeding the sheep, I notice another ewe in labor, but not progressing.  Hannah and I both recognize the ewe – Henrietta’s daughter.  A slight chill runs up and down our backs as we consider dealing with the psychotic offspring of the most skittish sheep in the fold.  I half -jokingly ask Hannah if I should simply get the gun now.  We both envisioned another horrible ordeal, this time multiplied by a ewe with an attitude.

This time, we’d try to at least tackle her on dry ground.  And we did.  I got hold of a hind leg, Hannah grabbed a front, and we flipped her over on her side.  I gloved and probed in – front hooves!  I worked the head and soon the baby was out and breathing.  I went back in to check for a twin, and trouble awaited me.  The second lamb was feet first, but the head was slung back over its shoulder.  The ewe’s hip had it pinched.  I worked the lamb back, created just enough room, and could move the head around into the correct positon.  In short order, the second lamb was out, the mother up and licking them, and soon they too were up in the stall (You might wonder why it’s easier to get the ewe in the stall after the lambs are born.  The ewe will follow the lambs.  I pick the lambs up, and just like a carrot in front of a horse, lead the ewe where I need her to go).

I’m not sure the last time I took two showers during the work day.  I’ve also done more laundry today than usual.  I love what I do.  I love the heartaches as well as the triumphs because it is all part of the tapestry of life on this farm.  There’s simply nowhere I’d rather be.  And Dixie got her bath.

James Bourne

Jan. 9, 2018

PS:  Hannah did the 10pm check and found “HD” (the last ewe in our story) had prolapsed her uterus.  She was in full contractions attempting to push it out.  I called our vet who confirmed my suspicion; recovery was unlikely.  She was suffering with no reasonable hope of recovery and so I put her down.  Hannah took her two lambs and is now engaged in bottle feeding them – in her bedroom.  I still love this life, but damn, it’s hard on your heart.

Home Comfort

Growing up on the family farm, I’d often go over to my grandparents’ house, a mere 200 feet away (somehow, my mother never objected to living this close to her mother-in-law).  One of the fixtures in their house was the kitchen stove.  The “Home Comfort” was an old fashion wood cook stove, complete with oven, cooktop, warming boxes, and hot water heater.  This stove continued to be used into the 1970’s, my father dutifully splitting wood and carrying it into the wood, box, which sat on the back porch.

I learned a bit about splitting wood from my father.  How to drive a wedge, use a maul and an axe, and about working with the tree’s grain.  Oak splits great and burns well; while gum may burn well, you’ll be all day splitting it.  Poplar isn’t worth the trouble unless you need a quick fire and are willing to deal with a lot of ash.  Hickory’s reputation is well earned.

When the energy crisis occurred in the seventies, Dad gave up on the electric baseboard heat in our brick rancher and put in a fireplace insert.  He cut a lot of wood and we wore a lot of sweaters.  For some reason, the house never felt warm that winter.  I don’t know whether it was the wood or the stove, but there was a bit of grumbling among the ranks that season.

These many years later, I still heat primarily with wood.  I have a wood burning forced air furnace in the basement, several excellent chainsaws (one of which I found at the county dump), and now, a brand-new log splitter.  This is the second one I’ve owned – I literally wore the first one out.  I’d replaced the engine years ago, put a new pump on it, the works.  And it worked well.  For twenty years, I’d used it.  Some years more, some years less.  The last five years I’ve been using wood pellets.  Convenient, but there’s really no romance there.  There is romance in a forest.

I love wood.  I love my woods.  All eighty acres of them.  I’ve worked in them most of my adult life.  Hunted in them, escaped to them, found respite because of them.  For firewood, I harvest the trees that are dying or otherwise not healthy.  Trees overgrow the edges into the fields, conspiring with sinister forces to pull me off the tractor as I cut hay.

I enjoy using a chainsaw.  Because I work in the woods on a regular basis, I’ve no need of rollercoasters and the like.  Running from a tree doing the unexpected is the best near death experience you can have.  Cutting a tree almost thru and having it settle back on the stump and pinch the chainsaw – priceless.  “Why did I leave the felling wedges at the barn?!”

I figure the cost incurred in a new log splitter is offset by the savings in my electric bill, as well as the good exercise I get. No need for a gym membership here.  Twenty degrees outside? Just about right to split firewood.  And right now – I’m figuring out a way to open some windows to get a bit of the heat from the fire out of the house.  Home comfort…

 

Jan. 3, 2018

Rain

The sheep have sheltered themselves under the bank barn, chewing their cuds, waiting for the rain to pass before they head out to begin the cycle again.  Most of June and July was dry; by the time the rains came 10 days ago, the pastures were looking rough.  But the rains came, 4.25 inches over a two-day period.  And they’ve come again, just after I thought yesterday how nice it would be for a little rain to come our way again.

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I concern myself with the weather; my fortunes are tied to it.  Too much rain can be every bit as disastrous as not enough.  We soon learn that average rainfall is simply the means of the extremes – there are seldom perfectly average years.  Several years back, during a particularly long dry spell, I was commiserating the weather with an Amish friend.  “An old man told me once there hasn’t been a dry spell yet that hasn’t been broken up by a rain.”  And so, it is.  As in so many things in life, timing is everything.

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.”  So, Jesus’ words recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.  I’ve thought a lot about this saying lately.  I’ve started to write this piece any number of times, only to back off and wait. I’m not quite sure why, so let’s just say things are still percolating.

Growing up in the environment I was born into, it was easy to come away with the idea that good things happen to good people because they were good.  And its necessary corollary that bad people have bad things happen to them.  The latter was never explicitly said, simply implied by the positive statement.  Yet, we know that is not true.  There are plenty of good people who have rotten things happen to them for no reason and there are evil people who seem to prosper.

All this point back to the problem of pain in a theistic world view.  If there is an all-loving, all-powerful god, why do good people suffer; why do good people suffer at the hands of evil people?  It is a perplexing question with no great answers.  Yes, the biblically literate will point to the book of Job; it does give some insights, yet in the end Job’s riches and status are restored, the only answer given to his plight is that the Almighty is the Almighty and keeps his council to himself.  And perhaps that is the key to understanding the variances of life.

Sometimes, things just happen.  Rain stops falling at the most inopportune times; or the flood sweeps things and lives away in an instant.  We are constantly reminded how little control we have over our lives.  I endured a customer on Saturday who went on about how he refused to contribute to the United Methodist Church’s fund for illegal immigrants; how his parents did it the right way, etc.  I wondered what his tune would be had his parents been undocumented?  He is fortunate and blessed, through no effort of his own – he was simply born well.  And others?

I know full well that even on my hardest days, I was born into an incredible situation, given an opportunity I never earned.  I get to worry about the weather!  What a blessing!  I have the opportunity to raise good food for people to eat!  I get to see incredible things and never need to travel off my farm to enjoy them. Love and life is all around me, even on the dark days, the days with too much rain; the days with too much dust.  I am surrounded by grace.

The rain continues to fall, heavy at times.  I’ll pick up close to an inch today.  The sheep are still under the bank barn, content to watch the rain fall – they live in the moment.  Not a bad place to hang out.

All In

Dixie is sitting at my feet, chewing on a real bone from a roast that was probably served 20 years ago.  I have no idea where she found the bone, but I’m not questioning anything.  When you have a five-month old border collie, peace and quiet is very suspicious and rare.  I think she wants to be a woodworker of some type when she grows up; perhaps then she can replace the chairs she’s chewed through.  All in all, she’s been a great puppy.  I’m still waiting for her to get old enough to read the training books I purchased for her.

If you follow me on FB, you might remember Chaney, the little lamb abandoned by her mother.  She is doing great, and is best friends with Dixie.  I’m not sure if this will create an identity crisis at some point with Dixie, whether she’ll be plagued with conflicting loyalties at some point in the future.  Probably not – she’s smarter than most humans I know.

Chaney started off life with Dixie barking at her, since they were both in the house, separated only by a screen door.  Chaney now hangs out with the other lambs that are in the special care unit.  These lambs need a little extra help, close attention and care.  They are doing fine, though many were near death when I brought them in.  Parasites are the bane of the shepherd.  And there’s also that thing of sheep looking for ways to die.  Believe me when I tell you they’re resourceful in that department.

Right now, I’m working on the basics with Dixie, like “come,” “sit,” “stay,” and “would you cut that out!”  She’s smarter than I am.  Those of you who really know me realize that’s not a high level of attainment.  About two weeks ago, I realized how well she had trained me to play hide and go seek.  At 3am.  She’s also a superior litigator – “did you really mean ‘no?’”

Today’s the Fourth of July.  We have a lot to be thankful for as citizens of this nation.  Right now, we seem very divided about a lot of things, but that’s not that unusual.  A good reading of our history will show that we’ve rarely had consensus.  We are a nation of people born of other cultures.  We value different things, and in so doing, those values will clash from time to time.  However, there’s nothing wrong with a good debate, if only to get some things out in the open.  Harm is done when neither side is willing to listen to the other.  A little humility can go a long way….

Dixie is learning to listen…and come.  And I’m learning that an old dog like me can still learn a few things too.  I know so much less now that I’m in my fifties than I did when I was in my twenties.  I hope to know even less in a few years.  It’ll only mean that my world has grown.  And by that time, Dixie will be taking care of the sheep.

Sunday Wanderings

I woke to the gentle sound of rain this morning. I had slept in, exhausted from weeks worth of work, struggles, and all the obligations that come with being an adult working through mid-life. Not a crisis. I’m done with that. Rather putting the pieces back together after I’d realized they’d been falling apart for years. There’s a certain joy in that, like a voyage of discovery.

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I made the coffee. Italian roast in a French press. If you need to be a snob about something, coffee’s not a bad place to let it rest. A quick text chat with my daughter, a short conversation with a farming friend (raining there, too) and I ventured out to my Sunday on the farm.

Quiet. I can usually hear road noises, even though I’m over a mile from the main road. But not today, not on a Sunday. I was greeted by a group of laying hens that have decided they’d rather take their chances with the foxes at night than go up into the safety of the henhouse. These girls came to the farm a couple weeks back. I purchased 300 hens from John Y. as part of my effort to meet this season’s egg demands. For financial reasons, I’d not gotten in a batch of new pullets this spring and was relying on my 450 older hens to carry me thru. It was no surprise when the warm weather knocked their egg production. I brought the new hens home and integrated them into one of my flocks.

Chickens have incredible homing instincts, provided, of course, that they know where “home” is. I kept these hens up in the henhouse for several days before letting them venture out to forage. And then it happened. I was late getting home one evening. The henhouse door had blown shut. The chickens were huddled outside the door. It took a good half-hour to get everyone back inside. In the meantime, about 75 decided they could do just fine staying outside, hanging around the barns. I’ve yet to find where they lay their eggs…

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The recent rains have made a mess of the farm roads. Actually, they’re not roads anymore. More like slopes and gullies with frequent ponds and moats. I made my way out to check on the feeder hogs in the field. Sleeping in – just like I was. I watered them and checked their self-feeder (it will hold 2 tons). The broiler chickens are a few yards away from them, so I walked over. They are ready to be butchered, but not today. I’ve solved their recent predator problem with the application of judicious shot placement. A decent marksman has no need of an assault rifle.

I’ve a sow nearly ready to farrow, so I gave her some extra attention. Birthing in hot weather is particularly problematic for a hog. They have no way of cooling themselves except by bathing in mud (they don’t sweat). A 700lb. sow is a lot to cool off. I’ve lost them this time of year; it’s a tricky business full of the unexpected. There are days when one’s humor is sorely tried.

The piglets from the two sows that gave birth in May followed me around the barns. They usually roam free until the neighbors call to complain about their impromptu landscaping adventures. They are destructive little things. They kept trying to nibble at me. Taste testing, I assume.

Blessings. The whole time I’m walking/driving around, taking care of what needs to be taken care of and planning for the coming week, I’m counting my blessings. There was a time I believed that one had to be busy with church stuff on Sunday. What I’ve found now is that Sunday is a great time to wander about, rest, relax, count the blessings, be thankful.

I’m thankful for the Creator, the Almighty. I’m thankful for this incredible gift of life, my own and the lives of my animals. I’m thankful for the lives of the people in my life, especially those who’ve shown up and have been present in my life this past year.

I said “goodbye” to two long-time customers/friends yesterday. They’ve been with me since the beginning of my farmers market venture in Alexandria – 16 years ago. Chip and Diana are moving to Hawaii for work. They needed a home for their fig tree. I wanted another fig tree. Friendship.

I am incredibly blessed. I live on an amazing piece of land that my family has owned for over 300 years. I was raised by decent parents who worked hard and taught me to “put my back into it.” I have work that is fulfilling, friends who are dear, and an optimism about the future. I have decent children who were raised well – their future is now in their hands. And no matter the severity of the storm, a rainbow always follows. That is the perspective that mid-life will give you, if you let it.

From my writing perch, I see the sheep have made it out of the shed and into the pasture. They slept in, too.

 

 

Just Plain Old Amazing

I don’t care how many times I’m witness to it, the birth of life on my farm gives me the “joys.” Sorry, I know that’s not a proper term, but maybe it should be. Whether it’s the spinach in the greenhouse just popping it’s dicot leaves thru the soil, a sow birthing a litter of piglets, or a ewe in labor with a lamb, new life is just plain old amazing.

Because I am surrounded by life, I’m also familiar with its partner, death. My father once remarked that I handled the death of livestock better than he could have at my age. I think I was ten or eleven at the time. I know how resilient life can be; I know just how fragile it really is. There’s just no telling how something will ultimately turn out, but turn out it will, for better or worse. That’s why they call life a circle.

Today I was getting ready to gather eggs in one of the henhouses. I noticed one of the sheep calling out, and decided to take a walk to check them. Sheep being sheep, there’s no telling what might be up. My daughter Hannah snuck up behind me, stalking me like a little fox. We embraced and laughed. We chatted for a bit and then I turned my attention to the sheep while she continued her walk out to the forest.

In the time Hannah and I had talked, a ewe had had her lamb. Still wet with afterbirth, the mother steadily licking it and giving it soft mutterings of encouragement. The little lamb struggled to get up, fell, splayed out, and then tried again. A strong lamb will begin nursing in the first half hour after birth. Though we’ve had to bottle feed all kinds of animals over the years, momma is always best.

And so another life takes shape on my farm. I am richer for it, not just because of the financial aspect, but because I was witness to new life, the hard evidence that where it exists, there will always be hope.

 

 

My Friend, Thomas

If you attend a church and it happens to use a set pattern of readings from Scripture, you more than likely would have heard the story of Thomas, the Doubter. The Second Sunday of Easter is his day each year when the clergy encourages us to put our doubts aside and simply have faith.

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The attribute of doubt gets a pretty bad rap these days – our sports teams call for true believers, our political candidates seek the unwavering followers, and our religious leaders call to us to get rid of all doubt and simply have faith. Years ago when it was revealed that Mother Teresa had expressed doubt in God, the media treated it like a small scandal. Of all people, Mother Teresa would never be expected to have doubts about God. Yet she did.

I think anyone who’s read the Bible honestly is going to walk away with some doubts. It alleges some pretty incredible things, after all. The Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”) are particularly hairy. How are we supposed to read that thing anyhow? Literally, and we end up advocating a pretty narrow view of life (are we sure we want to approve of genocide?). Figuratively gives the reader some maneuvering room, but what do the figures represent? Or are we reading the chronicle of a people dealing with a Higher Power and how they progressively comprehended it?

There’s been a lot of ink shed on how and when each book of the Bible was written. I personally tend to the higher critical method in Old Testament studies, but no matter. Eventually we must deal with the words themselves and what they convey to us in the twenty-first century. The fact that the prophets are constantly correcting the temple cult worship of the day should shed a little light on how we’re to look at things.

There are people who believe in only reading the words of Jesus (the words “in red”). But have you ever really read them? They’re not particularly easy to comprehend, let alone practice. My Amish friends believe in living by Matthew chapters 5-7. I do as well, but with a completely different take on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Instead being the new lawgiver and telling his followers to live by his new standards, I believe Jesus is driving home to his hearers the impossibility of living by rules. In fact, Jesus goes so far as to tell his followers to stop judging other people and turn their attention to mercy instead of obedience. Yep, I just hit a nerve with some of you, didn’t I?

And then there are the miracles. There’re a lot of them in the Bible, and especially associated with Jesus. And that’s where my friend, Thomas, comes in. Thomas has the attitude of a modern man set in first century Jerusalem. He wasn’t going to believe anything he couldn’t prove. So when he heard the stories of Jesus being alive – raised from the dead – well, he just wasn’t going to fall for that without checking it out himself. “Unless I can see and touch for myself, I’ll not believe.” Thomas is us; Thomas is me.

Jesus says see, touch, and believe. I think He still comes to us, to me, with those words. There’s a lot about organized religion to put people off – lots of obedience, little mercy. The hypocrisy in the ranks of religious professionals runs deep. If the credibility of the gospel rested on the lifestyles of many of its most ardent adherents, well, it would be in for a tough go of it.

I “see” because I believe. It’s just that simple. And part of my belief comes with a heavy dose of skepticism these days. I’ve become convinced that doubt is not, nor has ever been the enemy of faith. Fear is. Fear is paralyzing, draining life away from everything it touches. On the other hand, doubt can be quite healthy and is certainly normal. The only danger in doubt is that we fail to resolve it. That doesn’t mean I have to have all my questions answered. Just enough will do.

 

 

 

 

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.

+Amen

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.