Friday, December 31, 2010

The Valley of the Inconquerables

So, as you’ve learned by now, Torre Pellice is the cultural capital of the Waldensian Valley, rich with the history of Protestantism in Europe. It is also the spiritual capital of the Waldensians—the Valley of the Inconquerables as they are also known.

After church, Matthew took us to its spiritual heart: leading us through the center of town to via Beckwith, the Waldensian quarter, with several historic buildings: the New Temple, built in 1852, and Casa Valdese (Waldensian House), where each year the Synod, most important body in the government of the Church, meets.

The buildings are different architecturally from the typical Italian structures here in the valley, quite beautiful and orderly in line and form, and well-kept. Trees line the road, and persimmon trees dot the lawns. (And by the way, my first experience with a persimmon on this trip was not a happy one!)

Across the street, there is an athletic field, where the team has hosted sports events. Next to that is the Waldensian Cultural Center, with the Waldensian Museum, founded in 1889; it houses fine art and archaeological collections, with a modern art section, a library of 100,000 books, and photographic archives. The center also carries out cultural and publishing activities, and we hope to exhibit here one day.

This historical neighborhood covers the entire history of the Waldensians, from the Middle Ages through to today (we didn’t stop to see it all).

We are walking, and talking of course. So many questions…so many challenges…each of us with different ones, grilling the OM Italy team, as they are us. The Tellos have to raise funds, pack up their lives and move over. How will they handle culture and language learning? The Carsons have a baby on the way. Can they move over to Italy for any length of time? Can I?! I have funding issues, stamina issues, and wonder if I can handle the rigors of this training session.

We are ready in principle, but still counting the cost…the pile of work before us, and the lack of resources. Can Westerners, more used to comfort and convenience, sacrifice all—family, comfort, possibly life itself—to replicate what the Waldensians did—bring the light of the gospel to a post-modern Europe?

By the time we meander back over to Jill and Anna’s, after another obligatory stop for coffee, we still don’t know, but still ready to give it a try! It would be easy to think of the impossibilities, but I shake off the pressing concerns, ask God what my part is here, and sit down for dinner.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sunday--Part 1

Today we will meet the Torre Pellice church. Mat and I will be sharing briefly. In true Italian fashion, we arrive about the time church is to start, and go for a cup of coffee. By the time we return about 20 min. later, the church has still not started! Love it.

One of the leaders opens with Eph. 1:17-22, my signature passage to talk about the “eyes of the heart” being opened. Mat turns to me excitedly—“That ties in exactly with what I want to say!” “Me too!” I respond. Nerves die down a little as we anticipate what God has in store for us and the church.

I share what my experience in this valley has meant, what God has impressed upon me. I spot David in the back row, attentive; Matthew a few rows forward, craning his neck to hear, the Italians nodding their heads, calling out the occasional English word as my conscripted translator, assigned at the last minute, struggles. I must be patient, as I have no idea how accurate she is being; another opportunity to trust God to communicate through her what he wants.

I am determined to express some measure of the passion and vision I sense God has not only for this area, for his martyrs, but for the present, in this valley. I close with a prayer from Henri Nouwen, and a verse from Isaiah:

“…God is the God of Life, in whom no death can be found…touch our death-oriented world and call forth new life. Bring life, joy and a new vitality to those who are walking in the shadow of death…Do not let your people be conquered by the dark forces of death, but let your life-giving power enter their bodies, hearts and minds and let them recognize you as the son of the Living God.”

“The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire.”—Isaiah1:31

Mat’s up next, and shares his heart. The congregation is so receptive. Communion follows, while Jill nails us again with a fantastic rendition of Silent Night in two languages. The sermon follows. Fun to hear a blast of Italian, interrupted by the occasional question to us in French—“Vous comprenez? Do you understand?” I missed a lot, but got the gist, and am thrilled that in this valley, so many speak French. I get to share with a number of people, in French or English, after the service.

And then we’re off to lunch at Jill and Anna’s, but first, a detour…

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Enter the Dancers!

Last summer, DanceLink came to Forterocca and danced there and in Torino. They danced in the “Gates of Hell” piazza before its famous statue, turning their backs to it and “clearing the birds” (see Matt. 13:1-4, 18). (You can read about that adventure here.

In OM Arts, we like to follow King Jehoshaphat's example and send in the dancers for some praise and worship to 'clear the birds,' so other ministry can follow more effectively. See 2 Chron. 20.) So, following in Jehoshaphat's and DanceLink's footsteps, we went into Torino on Saturday to see the city, get a feel for the spiritual landscape there, and pray.

We started in the market—the world’s largest—where all the nations are represented, but primarily the two-thirds world. One can sense the darkness. Vendors are more like bonded slaves, coming to the city for work, soon forced to work to pay impossible goals. You can imagine the prostitution and sex trafficking. We pray on one corner, peeling tangerines.

Next we walk up to one of the ancient gates of the city, near the cathedral where the Shroud of Turin is displayed. Though no one will authenticate this relic, it persists as a lucrative money-maker. We pray outside the church, for the youth of the city, that they will not fall prey to the many prevailing ideologies of the city. Matthew then leads us to the National Museum of Cinema, to see its majestic architecture, pray for the media in Italy, and use its conveniently free toilets. We don’t have time to take the panoramic elevator up its 75 meters in 59 seconds, so I’ll just have to return to get that view—360 degrees worth! It is well after noon now, and the energy from those little tangerines has been used up for some time: we have been walking for two hours. Jill and Anna peel off to scope out our restaurant. We catch up with them near the student university area, and Iz fills me in on the bonded slavery here, where there are mostly Indian merchants selling scarves and jewelry. Blocks and blocks of scarves and jewelry…do we buy anything and help them earn a little money, or boycott the slave trade? No easy answers in a complex world.

We find our restaurant and cram our hungry selves into its tiny space. While munching on panini, pizza and kebabs, Anna call us to come outside for an ‘event’: a group of Pakistani men are lined up face to face in two rows in the middle of the street, chanting and dramatically beating their chests. We watch in fascination and prayer for several minutes, before it calms down, and they begin inching down the street, still chanting and beating themselves.

We follow them to within site of the satanic ‘cathedral’ but that is not our destination. We’re on our way to the “Gates of Hell.” Along the way, we are shown ‘access points’—a bit larger than manhole covers—to the underground world. Architecture is set up along occult Masonic lines. It is sobering to think about, but gives me great pleasure to know I am stomping under my heels the enemy whose head was crushed 2000 years ago.

We walk for another hour up the street, stopping for gelato, bathrooms, and/or coffee at two bars, making our way past shops, merchants, Christmas street vendors and monuments. The windows are beautifully decorated for the holidays. In spite of the prevalence of evil, this is a beautiful city, reminding more of a walk up a Paris boulevard than an Italian city. It even feels New York-ish, with its cosmopolitan pace and winter cold.

Finally we arrive at “The Gates of Hell” and collapse on park benches. We begin to pray. Jill suddenly marches away from us, turns her back on the evil-looking statue, and drawing herself up to her full 6’+ height (how tall are you anyway, Jill?!), begins to belt out “Joy to the World.” Wow! Way to go, Jill! We all join in, and I imagine the dark underworld squirming under our feet. Not even the police will go underground; they tolerate the darkness with the agreement that it will not be tolerated if it comes above ground. As if Evil would be so obedient… After more prayer, photos, and some banter with kids spitting water from the water fountain as far as they can, we head back to the van. We have been prayerwalking for several hours. The ride home is alternately quiet and talkative, front seat and back, with naps and contemplation, interrupted by the occasional Christmas carol.

And bed never felt so good…

Another Kind of History

Remember from last post when I wrote that Torino’s openness to exiles and liberals was key to understanding another aspect of this city? From our notebook of Italian history:

“Many feel that Torino contains important spiritual points for both ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ It is believed that underneath the Piazza Statuto, one of Torino’s main squares, lies the 'Gate to Hell.'

Piazzo Statuto also supposedly forms a point in a triangle of evil magic that stretches from Torino, to London, and to Los Angeles. Surrounded by a history of death and burials, this area is a key point in the satanic lore surrounding Torino…

“Satanism and mysticism perhaps have such a strong pull in this city because of its high concentration of varied religions...when the Catholic Church was persecuting and exiling those with different beliefs, Torino opened its doors as a haven for all religions. Anyone from Jews to Muslims came to this city, causing the Church to consider it a place of cults. This reputation built until it almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once marked as an area with a high concentration of cultish actions, people then started to form ideas about Torino and began actually performing acts suitable for cults.”

“The Gates of Hell” was the scene of the guillotine during French occupation, the scene of crucifixions and a large cemetery. It is an entry point into a dark underworld, literally an underground city where occult practioners are allowed to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t bring it up above ground. In the world of black magic, it is the apex of a triangle connecting three major cities—satanic ‘lay lines’ as they are called—but we won’t go there.

This is more than I want to know. I only want to know what I have to, and then I want to pray. And I write these things to you because Torino needs all the prayer it can get!!! Satan is a defeated foe, but boy does he have many ensnared in his darkness. I invite you into the prayer army that is needed until this city moves from darkness to light.

“May God arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him.”—Psalm 68

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas & Torino

When we last left off, interrupted by the whirl and swirl of Christmas, I was digesting with you the mega-vision put before us by David & Co. It was lovely to leave off thinking about martyrdom for a few days, and celebrate the ONE for whom the Waldensians accepted death.

Back to another challenge: the city of Turin (Torino in Italian), melting pot of cultures, religions and ethnic groups. Home of the Shroud of Turin, and one of the largest satanic churches in the world. Up for it?

Some history first (courtesy of OM Italy!): “The first known human settlements in Torino are believed to have been established around 200 BC by tribes of Celtic origins. These early settlers remained in Torino for about 200 years, until the expansion of the Roman Empire northwards forced them to move further north into Western Europe around the first century. Torino remained a Roman controlled settlement for several hundred years until the eventual collapse of the Western Roman Empire, precipitated largely by the invasion of the Visigoths, who, in addition to the Franks, took control of Tornio at various points in its history. The city of Torino fell into obscurity.”

The Savoy family conquered the city in the year 1280, and the city began to rise in prominence. The Shroud of Turin arrived on the scene somewhere in the 1500’s, during the reign of a Duke of the Savoy family, a defender of Catholicism. The Savoy family was also credited with bringing art, culture and architecture to Torino; the layout and architecture of the city is surprisingly “French” and is often compared to Paris.

The main branch of the Savoy family line died out, and the throne passed to another branch, whose king, in 1848, conceded to religious freedom. During the reign of his son, Torino became the destination of many Italian exiles and liberals. (You’ll see why this is important next post.)

“Torino was one of the first cities in Italy to develop during the industrial revolution and it maintained is position at the forefront of Italian industry throughout the 20th C. It was among the first Italian cities to partake in the unification of Italy and was even designated as the capital of Italy for a time. The existence of the giant Fiat motor car factories in Torino brought about thousands of jobs and led to mass migration of Italian laborers from the South of the country. Today, Torino is considered to be Italy’s second city after Milan in terms of finance and industry.”

So, now you know more than you ever cared to about Torino, right? Nope, just getting warmed up…to be continued…

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Climbing, Counting, Contemplating...

For 700 years, the Waldensians lived in hiding, under persecution. They became known as the “Inconquerables”—though thousands were martyred, they remaining dedicated to the Scriptures, traveling out from the Pellice Valley into the cities of Italy and beyond to tell others about the truth of God’s word. A community of Waldensians continues worldwide to this day. Torre Pellici, where OM Italy has its offices, is the worldwide headquarters for the Waldensians.

Each afternoon, after having climbed about the Waldensian sites, we returned to Forterocca to drink coffee and begin our meetings. Sobered by the history of the valley, we were beginning to catch the vision OM Italy has for Forterocca. And in case we didn’t get it, the OM Italy team brought out one of their secret weapons: David.

You might remember David from one of my earlier posts; he had given us our first tour of Forterocca. We didn’t see much of David, as he was on vacation, but he showed up that Friday afternoon, after we had had a chance to soak up the history of the area, after we had worked through some logistical details about a training program, and after we had talked out team dynamics. Then David gave us the vision--eloquently. A former professional athlete, David has been inspired by the history of the valley. Here was a man who was the incarnation of a Waldensian man.

The Waldensians picked their best and their brightest to read, study and memorize the Scriptures, before going out to the continent to bring the Gospel. Could we find artists with the same passion and commitment? Ready to follow in the footsteps of the martyrs who carried God’s word out from this valley, even if it cost them everything?

The Waldensians studied for two years, at great cost and personal sacrifice, in the face of death and at the risk of martyrdom; could we find interns who would come at some financial cost, but negligible risk, to a very nice facility, for 90 days?

A mixed group, male and female, Western and non-Western? Would we raise an additional $10,000 to ensure scholarships for the non-Western participants who might not have the means to come?

Would we recruit a pastoral care couple to shepherd the group, as well as facilitators and guest lecturers?

What was our commitment as OM Arts?

Were we going to run a simple training program, head knowledge transmitted (maybe) to a bunch of spoiled Westerners, or would we be willing to live with these interns for 90 days, and share our very lives?

In return, David promised to “rip our legs out to make this work for you, but we've only got two."

Well, don’t mince words, David!!!

Three hours later, we emerged from our huddle, David’s challenges ringing in our ears, and went to dinner. I hardly knew how to respond when someone asked, “So, what do you think!?” “I don’t know,” I answered. “I think my life’s just been changed…again…”

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:18)

I was far from even understanding the cost, never mind counting it.

“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (vs. 33)

When I look at what the Waldensians gave up, and what I would give up, I feel like an infant disciple. All I can do is count and pray, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening…”

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cave Crawling

We headed back to the van, to drive over stunning mountainside roads to the caves. Forbidden to worship, or even listen to worship, the Waldensians met in caves to do so. We walked, then climbed down a mountain side, imagining the congregation walking along this same path, ever vigilant for the armies sent to annihilate them. The men would have stood on guard outside a cave’s entrance, while the women and children worshiped inside

After a short walk, Iz pointed her flashlight into a little hole in the side of a rock, site of a Waldensian cave church. In we went—stooping, bending, and finally climbing on all fours to get under an overhanging rock. We stood up in a cramped, dank space between huge boulders, a beam of light illuminating the space from overhead. This cave, no doubt chosen for that beam of light, by which the preacher could read the Scriptures, proved fatal: armies found the Waldnesians worshiping, sealed off the entrance, and threw burning logs down the hole. The congregation died of suffocation.

Babies, Belltowers & Higher Altitudes

Slip sliding our way back down the mountain, we stopped at the church we had passed on the way up. This church, which overlooks the church in the photo, is more rightly called a temple—the Waldensians dogmatically held that the church is the people; the buildings they met in were therefore called temples.
In front of the church…um, temple…there is a fountain, with a large Huguenot cross attached. Babies were placed on this cross and dipped in the fountain—surely a chilly experience…

In contrast to the dark and ornate Catholic churches, the Waldensian temples were typically very simple and light-filled. In the time this one was built, it was forbidden to build any structure higher than the Catholic church. The Waldensians, thumbing their noses at this restriction, built their temple squarely and defiantly on top of a cliff overlooking the Catholic church.

The Catholic Church, not to be outdone, measured their bell tower, and then the Waldensians’ bell tower. Since the Waldensians’ was lower than the Catholic Church’s, the structure was allowed to stand. And, because the Waldensians were forbidden to live below a certain altitude (the law confined them to the higher ones, presumably to kill them off by cold and famine), the church could remain. And so, to this day, a community of Waldensian believers worships in this temple, on this mountain.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Il Colegio

On Friday, we were given a tour of a number of local Waldensian sites. First stop: the training center in the mountains.

Driving up a mountain road, we arrived at a parking area overlooking a bridge which spanned a cascading mountain stream. We walked up to a church, over a little stone bridge, up a stone path—up and up until my sea-level-loving lungs were ready to burst! Leg muscles more likely to hold a laptop than a mountain path strained to grip the rocky path. Snow lay about us in patches—good for traction, but adding to the sport of trying to stay vertical!

The training center--Il Colegio--is actually a set of stone structures hanging on the side of this mountain, at I don’t know what elevation, but HIGH!!! We stared out at the beauty of the snow-covered mountains, then enter the ‘study’—a small room, with a table in the middle, with a row of crude low benches around its perimeter. This is where the finest of the Waldensian men were handpicked and trained in the Scriptures before being sent out two years later, to bring the gospel into Europe. They were not expected to (nor did many) return.

Next door was the kitchen, an even smaller room, with a rack of dishes and a small table. Next to that, a stable, and then a dormitory room. Think small, cramped, dank, low-ceilinged, and dark. This is where the men lived, ate, slept, and studied for two years. They would have had to bring the stones from the mountains here to build these structures, and eke out a living from this mountainside refuge. The structures looked somewhat Celtic to me, and I wondered about the Irish-Italian connection. If you read “How the Irish Saved Civilization” (Thomas Cahill), you would have read how Columbanus, exiled from both Ireland and France, determined to go to the plain of Lombardy in Italy, and built the first Italo-Irish monastery there at Bobbio, in about 612. Did the Waldensians, 500 years later, build or rebuild on this same site?!

We spent a bit of time here, contemplating the past, imagining the men constantly on guard for their lives from lack of food or armies sent to kill them, almost able to hear their voices, and shivering in the cold they would have experienced. At the foot of these mountains stands a new training center, ready to train the next army of disciples; we envisioned bringing our interns here to find their own place in history. And then we made our descent.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Waldensian Teachings

“In 1179, Peter Waldo asked his archbishop for permission to be recognized as a separate and approved movement and asked for permission to be organized as a preaching fraternity. The request was passed on to the pope, Alexander III, who refused the request. The group appealed to the Third Lateran Council in 1179, but this Council also refused their request.

“Convinced that they were only doing that which was Biblical, they continued to preach anyway, and thus incurred the wrath of the church which excommunicated them at the Council of Verona in 1184.

“What is particularly interesting about the Waldensians is their views. I doubt whether any group of people in all Europe, prior to the Reformation, understood the truths of Scripture so clearly as these poor people. Philip Schaff even calls them, ‘the strictly biblical sect of the Middle Ages.’ It is almost impossible to imagine how these simple folk could have come to such excellent knowledge of the truth in the times in which they lived. They were the lowly, the uneducated; …forerunners of the Reformation…when the Calvin Reformation dawned, most of them were quick to join it; it was as if the Calvin Reformation was exactly what they had been waiting for all these centuries. Only the fact that God preserves His church can adequately explain their existence.

“At the beginning of the movement the Waldensians did not depart from Roman Catholic teachings. They did not reject the authority of the pope, the entire sacramental system of Roman Catholicism, nor the church itself as the mother of believers. They were, in fact, very much like a religious order. They demanded vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for full membership and insisted on a novitiate before allowing adherents to become full members.

“But from the outset their main emphasis was on preaching. It was preaching that got them into trouble with the church, for they preached without permission. But they continued even in the face of excommunication because they were convinced that preaching is decisive for salvation…

“It really ought not to surprise us, in the light of the times, that the Waldensians even went too far with their idea of preaching. They were opposed to Roman Catholic clericalism, and soon came to see the importance of what Luther later called the office of all believers. With their emphasis on the office of all believers, and failing to distinguish between the special offices in the church and the general office of believers, they gave to the laity, including women, the right to preach. All God's people were preachers, and they were preachers not by virtue of ordination, but by virtue of a Godly and spiritual life which manifested that they were believers.

“One benefit of this erroneous viewpoint, however, was the fact that they saw the need for all God's people to possess the Scriptures. And so they translated the Scriptures into the vernacular, and even insisted on the final and absolute authority of the Scriptures for life, doctrine and preaching. Preaching had to be exposition of God's Word.

“After persecution and excommunication, their views developed. They saw inconsistencies with the position they had taken and the other teachings of Rome. And so, bit by bit, they rejected the oath, purgatory, prayers for the dead, the mass, and transubstantiation.”


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Waldensians

Forterocca sits at the foot of the Italian Alps. Eight miles to our left is the French border. Directly behind the facility, wedged between some of the mountains, stands a very pointy sort of—well, either a mountain or rock, I can’t quite say, but it is quite distinct. To the right of that pointy rock/mountain, there is a cliff, which requires an hour and a half to hike up to. And to this cliff, the Waldensians were marched, and from this cliff, Waldensians were pushed to their death—in such numbers, that the river below ran red. Who were these Waldensians, and why were they pushed to their deaths?

“Although there is some dispute over the origin of the Waldensians, most historians consider Peter Waldo, after whom they were named, to be the founder of the movement.

“Although almost nothing is known of Peter's early life, it is known that he was the son of a rich merchant in Lyons, France, and that he inherited his father's wealth. No one knows the date of his birth, but his death was in 1218; which puts him very early in the Middle Ages, a child of the Twelfth Century.

“Troubled by his wealth, the fact that it had been increased through usury, and the obvious worldliness of his life, Peter asked his priest concerning the best way to God. He was told, as was common in those days, that the way to God was to sell all that he had, give to the poor, and follow Christ.

“Peter did not hesitate to follow what to him was a clear command of his Lord. Because he was married, he provided sufficient money for his wife; he placed his daughters in a convent to be cared for there; he paid back all those from whom he had taken usury; and he gave everything else he owned to the poor.

“Peter Waldo gathered about him a small group of men who began to translate the Scriptures into the vernacular and began to assume the responsibilities of preaching. They were known by different names: The Brethren in Christ; The Poor in Christ; The Poor in Spirit; but finally became known by the name of their founder, Peter Waldo. They lived lives of total poverty and dedication to God.”


In the first picture, taken by David Wheeler, you can see the "Rock" described above. In the second picture, although you can't really see it, you can get an idea of where it is in relation to Forterocca: directly behind the property, behind the tree; nestled between the mountains, you might be able to make out the point top of the Rock, and the cliff to the right.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The Milano airport is…well, green. Italian green. In-your-face green. But pretty straightforward, uncrowded and a breeze to pass through with only carry-on luggage. The customs cops return our quizzical looks with epic indifference. Out the doors we go.

Jill finds our jetlagged bodies, and leads us through the parking lot to Giorgio, a teal-blue van we climb into, finding a goodie breakfast box some angel of hospitality has put together for us (although I am feeling quite overfed from my Business Elite meals). We drive off into a day of brilliant sunshine, towards the snow-capped Piedmont mountains in the distance.

Despite jetlag, our talking marathon begins…introductions, personal histories, background for our visit here (we have two guests with us, a couple considering full time service with OM Arts, interested in Italy), hopes, expectations, questions...

Three hours later, passing Turin, we arrive in the valley of the Pellice River. The road winds past cows, sheep and the villages of Torre Pellice, Val Pellice, and finally Bobbio Pellice, our destination. Soon we are standing before an imposing building, a former army barracks, painted a bright Italian ochre: Forterocca (literally Strong Rock; the name is taken from Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”). Here we will spend the next four days.

Iz Holidae meets us behind the reception desk, with a bright smile and a few instructions as she hands us our room keys. We are free till four; time for a quick nap, to settle in a bit, and take a picture or two.

At four, after coffee and cake, we meet David, who takes us on a tour of the facility and the property, giving us some of the history of the area, the site we’re standing on, and why this place is important. Already I feel vision coming on. This place is soooo significant, for many reasons, and I'll be writing about them over the next few blogs.

Buddy Pass

With apologies for not writing from the road, let me just say I didn't have a nanosecond!!! So backing up to the takeoff, let me catch up now that I'm back, with a highly self-indulgent post!

Delta Business Class Elite. I am escorted to my seat, handed a menu, a warm washcloth, and a little white dish of warm nuts. A tray of glasses, filled with orange juice or champagne, follows; what would I like to drink?

I sip a glass of Casillero del Diablo Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon…Puente Alto Vineyard, Chile, 2008. “One of Chile’s famous Cabernets, named for the famed ‘Devil’s Cellar’—the private collection of one of the founding fathers of Chilean wine, Don Melchor. This one Bordeaux-like, with dusty cedar and lead pencil scents and dark cassis fruit on the palate.”

I’m not sure I noted the ‘lead pencil scents’…

Delta’s Master Sommelier writes on today’s wines: “I’ve chosen a mix of classical and cutting-edge selections so you have some fun choices, all of them excellent. We tested every wine in-flight to make sure it tastes just as good at altitude as on the ground. Enjoy!”

I sip while perusing the menu: salmon française or filet of beef? Lasagna Pasta Bites or Roasted Beef and Gravlax? I don’t even know what gravlax is.

I opt for the Filet of Beef, with grain mustard sauce, sweet potato wedges, zucchini and yellow squash. But first, the appetizer: shrimp with lemon grass and marinated hearts of palm, with roasted beets and blue cheese.

This is my second time in business class, and I love the irony of saving money with a buddy pass, in order to get treated luxuriously. I marvel at the fact that I, flat broke, get to indulge in such luxuries. I have not put a knife to my throat, as the Scriptures advise, but totally appreciate this first class meal, in Business Elite. What a pleasant way to begin a journey. And what a contrast it will prove to be, once I am in Italy.

Mat is sitting next to me, and comments, “It seems positively vulgar now to think of watching a movie.” Our quality of life has been raised beyond the banality of airplane movies by the fine dining. Mat turns to reading, I to poetry...until we both nod off for our brief airplane doze that will pass for a night’s sleep. In a few hours, the adventure begins…

Buddy pass, I love you!!!

And since I didn't have the wits to get a photo of the decadence, here is one of a far more simple, but simply wonderful, treat in Italy: the winter tangerines...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We interrupt this sketchbook...

to bring you important news about an upcoming trip to Italy!

Yes, fans, I'm on the road to Italy again, in about 24 hours...carbing up for travel with pasta to get in the mode/mood...

This is going to be a think tank/brainstorm: can we pull off a major training initiative in Fall 2011, or are we nuts?! Maybe both...but hopefully we'll figure it all out over the four days I'm there, and I'll know more next week.

We are going into Waldensian territory, about which I know very little, and so imagine I will be learning a lot! After flying into Milan, we (I'm flying in with 3 others) will be picked up and taken to Torre Pellici, Piemonte, at the foot of the Alps in northern Italy. We'll begin our brainstorm that evening.

The facility we're staying in is called "Forterocca" and you can find some neat info and pix about it here:

But the sketchbook is packed, and I'll be working on it, other sketches, photos and who knows what...and mostly just trying to learn what God might be saying to us all for Forterocca.

Until the next time...prayers please!!!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fonts, Fruit & Pan Pastels

Ever see the movie ‘Helvetica?’ Yep, it’s all about the font.

There was a time when we didn’t even know what fonts were. Now I have a vocabulary of font names, as I’m sure you do. I download fonts. I sketch them in sketchbooks. Somehow this is pleasing to me. Whatever. For the moment it’s about the only thing I am finding on napkins….so until something else appears, fonts it is…fonts and fruit...with a touch of commentary. The Air Tran one is positively tacky, but at least it had a touch of color. Tried the new pan pastels on that one - and recommend them - neat new product. I love the minimalism of "Paul" and "Meert"--two napkins that came all the way from France to join the party.