Saturday, May 18, 2013

Back to the Boatyard

There's always a bit of a letdown after a trip.  One returns to the mundane: bills to be paid, a car that might need a jump start, laundry and grocery shopping, and scads of backed-up emails.  How tempting to look at the jet plane flying overhead, and wish to be on it.  

On the other hand, I am always overwhelmingly grateful for the warm shower, the comfortable bed, the ability to regulate heat and eating to my liking, and safety.  Gifts not to be taken lightly.  There's no place like home.

There will always be another jet plane.  In the meantime... 

It's back to the Boatyard!  

My second chapbook, The Boatman's Daughter, begins advance sales on Monday, so my thoughts  return to proofreading, the promo tour and social media marketing.  

Thanks for following these adventures, and for your various comments on Facebook. I appreciate the time you take to stop by and read, and hope you'll join me in the Boatyard for some poetic adventures!  

See you there!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Heading Home...

Our time in England had come to a close...the glory of the gathering, and the frenzy of the passport issue resolved, unfortunately too late to preclude our early morning departure.  But our 90-minute drive to the Manchester airport was far more joyful, knowing we were facing only a few extra hours in the lounge, rather than interrogation at the immigration office.  

A leisurely breakfast at the airport cafe was our new first priority, and we relished the hot coffee and pastries while bubbling over with the joy of the passport find, the energizing company of the artists, and the prospect of heading home, or to the next stop.  Mission accomplished.  Exhausted but exuberant.

Soon we were shuffled through security, called to board, and settled into our seats--now just Jess and I.  Mat headed into Manchester to visit friends, and then further onto a conference in Denmark; the rest of the guys left for Germany for a tour (Bill Drake Band), following the release of Bill's new CD, Broken and Complete.  Separation anxiety...hard to say goodbye to brothers you've been through intensity with!

I thought I would be one of these passengers:

but the excitement of the past days kept me awake and writing all the way home, with only a movie and a short nap after lunch to interrupt (or feed) the creative surge I was feeling.  I returned as I often do: feeling beyond privileged to be part of this great adventure, with some of the coolest people in the world, seeing some of the sights of the world, hidden or famous, the subtle secrets of a culture or the more stereotypical ones.  The highs and lows, cold showers and short nights.  Broken by the needs in the world, complete in my satisfaction of working to do something about it.  

"The place God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."--Frederick Buechner   

Thursday, May 16, 2013


The cute little English village...check. 

Tiny, winding lanes to stroll through...check.

Surrounded by sheep-filled--or, better, lamb-filled pastures...check.

The castle with ruins...check.

The bridge over the lazy, winding river...check.

The swan...check. 


The pub with the fish and chips...check. 

Bill desired to take his leadership team out for the quintessential British country village experience. Having lived in England for many years, he knew what he was looking for.  And on our free Sunday evening, while the participants went to Birmingham, or a barbecue, or took a nap, we piled in a van.  Forty-five minutes later, after a drive through the loveliest of English countrysides, the sun streaming down on those lamb-filled pastures, we arrived in Bridgnorth.

Perched on the crest of a hill, Bridgnorth overlooked the winding river, complete with geese, swans and ducks, willows and bridges--positively Shakespearean.  We meandered till sunset, the strain of the past week melting in the charm of English gardens, and the fragrance of violets.  Near the old church, the ruins of an old castle tilted like the Tower of Pisa, and a sign attested to its purpose: to defend against the Danes.  

We followed old donkey paths around former ramparts, and took pictures of Hobbit-like doors and windows.  

Back on the main street, with its centuries-old town market, we found the quintessential pub.  After decoding the menu (what in the world are homemade faggots?!), we ordered our meals, complete with elderberry juice or red wine, and the banter of good friends, until it was time to head back.  

In case you missed the album on Facebook, with all the pix, here are a few teasers.  

And if you ever find yourself in the Black Country around Birmingham, check it out.  And I recommend the upstairs table in the window at La Brasserie :) 



Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Covenant of Salt

During our various field presentations and worship times, I was injecting a bit of salt.  A too-obvious symbol for a SALT conference?  Not if you dig into the less-than-obvious Covenant of Salt, mentioned only three times in the Old Testament.  And dug I cannot be obvious in a group of artists, without getting the artistic equivalent of a tomato thrown at you.  

The digging was especially appropriate after Erica had led us in a simulated archaeologic dig, with kits from Toys R Us!  As we chipped away for the 'gems' hidden in these plaster blocks (child safe no doubt), we were to consider the digging it took to find the gems hidden in each culture.  

And one of the gems I have found in Hebrew culture was the Covenant of Salt--a subject that has fascinated me for years, but for which I could find little in literature or on the internet. 

And so I created my own little bit of liturgy, asking the students to bring salt from their countries.  If any eye-rolling went on at that request, no one shared it.  The salt mostly came, and those that didn't bring any bought it in town and eventually brought in an offering.  

I read some of the gems of history and Scripture that I had found--about the depths and meanings of covenants, and the salt added to the sacrifices, salt water at the Passover Seder, and the move of salt away from the table and into rites of baptism, healing and exorcism.  Why that transition away from covenant meals?  I don't know, but if any of you do, please fill me in!  

The Arabs have expressions that retain the early covenant-making element that salt, um, brought to the table:  "There is salt between us" and "We have eaten salt together."  How appropriate as we spent 3 days together sharing hearts, plans, challenges and dreams--literally and figuratively, we ate salt together.

At our closing communion/commissioning time, the table of salt came over to join the communion table, and the salt was mixed in one big bowl--pink, gray, white--from which we scooped and filled a salt shaker for each one.  We prayed over one another, overfilled shakers and made a mess on the floor, sprinkled salt over one another, and finally sent each other off with salt shakers.  But not before the worship kicked in again, and we included the final element of the covenant of salt: healing.  Prayers for the healing of a number of our artists began, while the dancers and musicians lifted the roof off once again.       

Yes, the salt was flying...I've not scratched the surface of this deeply symbolic little grain, but plan to keep on digging, with my new salt shaker sitting on the counter encouraging me on.  

Monday, May 13, 2013


I seriously need to wrap up these less than one week, I need to get back to the Boatyard!  The advance sales period of my second chapbook, The Boatman's Daughter, is about to begin...I'm preparing my media blitz!

In the meantime, let me tell you about Halesowen, the village we were based in.  Small and not-so-small row houses, pretty little flowers springing up as the season was definitely warming up (astonishingly, we had no rain during our time in England!), and soft clouds.  A pedestrian shopping district, peppered with thrift shops and pubs.  And one mall.  To which we were drawn for its coffee bars and chocolate shop...  

Then there was the obligatory millennium-old church with its cemetery, across which an empty potato chip bag blew incongruously.  A downward path to our hosts' home took us past the White Friars building dating from 1300, just around the corner from the tattoo and piercing parlor.  Juxtaposition...  

And from our hosts' home to the training center, we took a stone staircase, went up a hill, across a parking lot, and took the dirt path through the chain link fence to get to the training center.  We passed a snooker club along the way, and the Queen's Pub.  A sign says Little Cornbow.  Have a glimpse:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

What Else Happened

If you’ve been following along, you would think I made a trip to England and back, only to lose my passport and find it again.  Ah, but there was more...this was a subplot in a story that wove together friendship, covenant, worship, pubs, encouragement, creativity...and (of course) coffee & chocolate! 

The main plot?  I think it was supposed to be about training, but became more about creating community, worshipping God.  

Most of what I’ve written about the passport adventure took place in the nanoseconds between meetings, or during meetings, or just before crashing into bed after the 18hr day.  So here‘ s a few snapshots of what happened in those long days.  Starting with worship:

There is no worship like that with a roomful of artists.  Try it some time!  The roof usually comes off, along with the shoes.  Musicians jump on various instruments, dancers break out in interpretive worship dance, and there is likely a visual artist up front working on something.  There may be a dramatic reading or presentation, spoken word, or poetry.  Our technical arts whiz, if he’s around, puts up the most stunning graphics to move us along through the songs, or a video to transition us from one phase to the next.  It is a multi-sensory, multi-media extravaganza, rich and textured.    

Our SALT worship times were no exception: over-the-top music--including violins, guitar, piano, recorder, all manner of percussion instruments (at one point, a box was passed around and everyone invited to select one).   

One morning, with community as our theme, we created trinity motifs with ink while listening to Bach’s Mass in B Minor

The next, one of our leaders brought out children’s archeological kits, and set them up at various work stations, recreating the search for precious gems in our cultures.  Video prayer links played in the background, while we moved around prayer stations for each of the nations represented by our group.  We stood or moved from chairs to cushions, poring over prayer requests and info cards on each country.  

Our grand finale--after three days of listening to each other’s stories, challenges and victories, three days of hearts knitting together--followed a time of communion and commission, and was a veritable explosion.  Somewhere in those three days, community happened--a community of artists yearning for freedom of expression--and no one needed to ask permission anymore.  

No one needed to act like a politically correct Christian, whether charismatic or conservative.   Everyone could act like an artist.  The musicians rose, the dancers danced, and one brave visual artist went up front and painted.

At one point, someone threw a chain out in the middle of the room, imploring each one of us to leave any chains that still bound us behind, as the evening came to a close.  (Or tried to.)  A Scripture was read, and some came forward for prayer.  Others sat quietly and soaked it all in.  Some had only tears for offerings.  

When we ended two hours later (oddly enough, with a Christmas carol!), everyone stayed another hour, reluctant to leave.  I think I got a minimum of three hugs per person in the final farewells!  Our tanks were full.  

Isak Dinesen's words, from her short story, "Babette's Feast," come to mind: 

"Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost!"  

To see the artists worshipping that night was to hear that cry, and want to answer it.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Playing Chicken with God

If I were to transcribe the half-dialogue/half-impressionistic thought life which sometimes passes as prayer in my head, it would go something like this: 

God: “Want to have a little fun?”

Me: “Define fun...”

“I know where the passport is.  You can look, but you won't find it.  You'll have to depend on me to return it to you, or not.  Game?"

One has to question these sorts of interactions--what's God up to?  Is it God?  And what's my motivation?!   

On the other hand, there is something very compelling when God invites you into a game (yeah, I did think it was him).  Why would I refuse?!  I couldn't.

“Challenge accepted.”

As the days wore on and the passport didn’t surface, people began commenting on how calm I was. I couldn’t take much credit, but admit to some moments of perplexity, sheepishness, concern, stress, and “Do I have an over-active imagination?!”  But as the days wore on with no sight of the passport, it became mostly playing chicken with God.

The rules of the game were such that I had the luxury of going through all the motions one would in such a circumstance, without worry.  And even though I had a Plan B and a Plan C in place, I suspected it was a waste of energy.  Either I had this all wrong, or that passport was going to show up in the nick of time.  

And as the nick of time approached, my confidence rose.  I was sure that Peek-a-Boo God was about to trump all the odds, slam down that passport any minute, and laugh.   ‘Score!” he would say, and I'd be laughing right along with him.  

I almost hoped we wouldn’t find the passport in the usual way--turning tables upside down and digging through trash cans, cupboards and suitcases.  What kind of a story would that make?!  Not the supernatural kind.    

Chicken time.  Who would blink first? 

As it turned out (if you read previous posts), neither of us.  It turned out exactly as God said: “I know where the passport is.  You can look, but you won't find it.  You'll have to depend on me to return it to you, or not."  (I'm glad the 'not' part didn't happen.)

I declare myself the winner.  I’m sure God does too.  

I won the passport, and a good spiritual workout; only God knows what he won, but I'm guessing he got to build in a bunch of faith and trust in those of us who were praying through this game.  

With the space of a 9-hr. flight to meditate on all this, memories surfaced of several other recent games of chicken, when I was led to disregard certain ‘problems’ as phantoms.  To move past them, and see the hand of God.  

On my return home, sharing this story with someone, the story of Abraham came to mind.  Called to sacrifice his son, Abraham obeyed, unflinchingly.  He moved towards the ultimate challenge--until the very last possible second, when his hand was stayed.  

Moses, at God's word, found himself staring into the Red Sea, waiting for it to part--with a crowd of fleeing slaves around him, and Pharaoh’s army bearing down.  The Sea parted. 

Good company to be in.  My spiritual muscles are a little sore but stronger, and I'm sure I'll get more workouts in the years ahead--till I can say with them, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him."  

Challenge accepted. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Case of the Missing Passport--Part 2

I wake at 5:25 am, wash and dress quickly, then stand in the darkened room, surveying the last few items to pack.  “Ok, Lord.  Where is that pasport?!  It's time for it to show up!!!"

Suddenly my roommate sits up from an apparent coma sleep and stumbles downstairs to the bathroom.  Seizing the opportunity to open the drape and get some light in the room, to make sure I don’t forget something, my eye is drawn down to the dark corner between a dark bookcase and the window.  There, under the dark drape, on the dark carpeting, is an even darker black splotch.  


My passport pouch--intact.   

Surpressing the war whoop and happy dance (the whole house is still asleep), I wait until Erica stumbles back in, eyes mostly closed, making a beeline for her bed.  

“PSST!  Erica!” 

One eye half opens and she looks confused.  I wave the passport before her...both eyes fly open.  

“WHA....How did you.....?!”  

We do a modified version of the happy dance/war whoop, and then I hug her goodbye and tiptoe downstairs.  While the cat meows for breakfast, I find my shoes, and a post-it note.  

“PASSPORT FOUND!!!!  See Erica for details!”

With that, the van arrives, and I open the door to greet my driver with passport hanging like a trophy around my neck (where it will stay till check-in!).  I enjoy the jaw-dropping moment.   


“I’ll tell you in the van...we have plenty of time now!”  

I climb in and greet my traveling companions by waving my trophy before their sleepy eyes.  


We are all very awake now, laughing and reviewing the story.  And so the morning proceeds quite differently from the way it could have.  By 8:30 am,  Mat, Jess and I are sitting in the airport cafe, enjoying breakfast.  As departure time approaches, we leave Mat to find his bus, and find our check-in counter.  I don’t ever remember quite the satisfaction of plunking a passport down on a counter, like any other normal traveler.  I could have been sequestered away in some immigration office, answering endless questions, verifying identity, anticipating the despicable task of cancelling credit cards, replacing papers and documents, and emptying the bank account a little further.  All because my roommate had to go to the bathroom, 20 minutes before I had to catch a van.  

Praise God for bladders. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Case of the Lost Passport

"Where was it?" is the question poring in now, along with "How did you find it?"

Bottom line: in my bedroom, all along, and because my roommate had to go to the bathroom.  Praise God for bladders.  Here's the fuller story:

That moment when you realize you haven't seen your passport in a few days and you better check that out.  Not finding it immediately, you get a little more intentional...expecting it will turn up, in that other pocket, or under the bed.

I begin the quick search first, then the more methodical, then the all-out double-checking of pockets and bags with increasing focus and concentration.  And finally the tearing apart of things, the overturning of bedding and pillows, the moving of furniture and the crouching down on floors to look underneath things.  And then uttering those dreaded words to the team: "I can't find my passport."  

No one's too concerned at first--I've probably just misplaced it or missed it.  Everyone joins the search.  Questions and inquiries, and then going even wider: asking all participants and all workers in the conference center to keep out for a little black pouch with an American passport in it (along with driver's license, credit cards and cash).  Nothing.  Time to call in the prayer troops.  

And now it is the day before departure, and time for Plan B: call the embassy in London.  Only one problem: it's a British holiday.  The embassy is closed. 

There's an emergency number on the website, and I call and work my way through the labyrinthine menus to get to a human being, only to learn that a lost passport did not constitute an emergency, and besides, the embassy was closed--it was a holiday.  Slight tone of annoyance.   

“So I miss my flight?” I asked, slight tone of incredulity.  With maybe some belligerence.    

“What time is your flight?”  

“11:00 am tomorrow.  I need to leave my location at 5am.” 

“Please hold.”

What-seems-like-eternity hold...then a certain Mr. Thomas picks up and I hear the clatter of cutlery and a two-year-old crying in the background.  I have no doubt interrupted Mr. Thomas’ family holiday dinner, but Mr. Thomas is cordial.  But pessimistic.      

"There’s nothing I can do - you’re not flying out of an international airport, so they're not  equipped to handle the paperwork and besides, the embassy is closed.” 

I’m getting tired of this line.  

“What do you suggest?”

“Let me see what I can do.  I'll call you right back.”  

Tick...tock...tick...tock...I watch the clock pass through the hour of the meeting I’m supposed to be moderating....trusting my  team mates are flexing well.   

Mr. Thomas calls back, with good news!  The airport does indeed have an immigration office, and if I will go there 3-4 hrs. before my flight, to do whatever they need to do to ensure that I’m not a national security threat, I should be ok.  There might turn me down, in which case I'd then have to go to London to the embassy, but give it a try.    

OK.  A quick calculation: four of us will have to haul ourselves out of bed at 5 am to get on the road by 6, to arrive hopefully by 7, to board by 10:30ish for an 11:35 flight.  The poor dears.  But now I'm cautiously optimistic.  And we still have several hours to locate the passport.  Perhaps in the packing up and breakdown of spaces once the training is over...      

The training ends at 11:00 and pack up and breakdown begins...checking cartons and trash carefully, looking under furniture, double-checking cabinets and cupboards without success...finally leaving around midnight. If the passport is there, it will be staying there. 

Back at the ranch, we review one last time: “Do you have any kind of secret compartment in your suitcase where it could be hiding in?”  No.  “Could you have left it in..”  Possibly, but no.  “Could you have put it ...”  No.  

We retrace our steps that first day in jetlag, when anything is possible.  "Could you have left it in the van?"  Nope, already called and checked.  "Could you have left it at the airport...the coffee shop...the restaurant?"  No.  No.  No.  It’s in this house somewhere, but I don’t know where.  One quiet last scouring of the lodgings (our hosts are asleep), checking suitcases, computer bags, and backpacks for the umpteenth time.  Another looking behind, underneath and between  pillows and cushions in the living room.  We’re stumped, but call off the search.  It’s 1:00 am.  Time for bed--half of us are getting up in a few hours.  I wash up and lay my head down a little while later, praying along with half the world, and knowing it ain't over till it's over--I have about 30 min in the morning for the passport to surface.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Whir, Crunch, Snip, Tap

The whir of the copier, the crunchy snip of scissors through thick watercolor paper, the tapping on several keyboards...questions, jokes, grunts of frustration...a chocolate bar goes around the table.  Jessica unloads books from cartons and suitcases into the bookcase, Bill is looking for a quote, and I am scraping price labels off 24 salt shakers.  Don't ask.

Footsteps scurry back and forth in the hallway outside our prep room, and 4 suitcases land with a thud. Jon and Ty have arrived.  Someone has whisked them off to show them to their rooms and feed them lunch.

In a few minutes, some of us will receive the British pounds we need to go out and buy last minute things, and hunt up a chocolate fondue fountain for Bill's first worship set.  Don't ask.

The inks have arrived in Ty's luggage, but the ink mask medium exploded on the plane ride over...

Our hosts are down with germs.  We have cleared out of the room we have been using at their house and moved into the board room at Life Hope.  The preps go on...

Tonight most of the team goes to the prayer and worship service of Life Hope, where Bill will lead worship.  I'm staying behind as my presentation isn't finished yet, or put into powerpoint.

Tomorrow we go back to meetings and then emerge to receive our participants:  all 25, no 24, no 25 of them...the count changes hourly as people are dropping out or slipping in the backdoor...the beat goes on...T minus 24 hrs....

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


"Don't say fanny pack...'fanny' is obscene.  Say 'bum pack.'"

"Don't give the victory sign with your palm facing you--it's obscene."

"And don't refer to your pants except as trousers, otherwise, you're talking about underwear." 

Best line of the day: "I'm learning to get excited about something that sucks."

And you thought we spoke English...a few tips like theses saved us from some potentially embarrassing moments.  We're still learning what we don't know!  

We are also remembering or learning to call cookies biscuits, to look to our right for traffic, not our left, and go to the other side of the van than we're used to--where the doors open not facing traffic.

These and other cultural adjustments usually occur around meals and boy did we have a doozie of one today: lunch at Flavour's, an international buffet.  The design decor alone would have been worth the 30 min ride. After the visual feast, our host toured us around the buffet, which had cuisines ranging from Asian to Middle Eastern to American to Latin (Peter, you would have gone bonkers).  Ending with a candy...trough...

After that fiesta, as we looked around for the coffee bar, our host suggested Starbucks, which we happily agreed to--we all spoke Starbucks! It didn't even matter that we didn't understand the barista!  More bonding over mocha lattes and decaf macchiatos.

Back to the meetings, where we plowed through program, shopping list, logistics, tech issues, content, and whether or not we should take a field trip Saturday or Sunday.  And, not your typical issue maybe, but one we routinely deal with: how to navigate small group discussion when you have 8 cultures in a room.  Our Life Hope peeps are keeping us sharp, as they live and work in a multicultural context; we are noticeably rusty living in America.   Discussion pinpointed who was from a power/fear culture, who was from a shame/honor one, and who from forgiveness/guilt.  A fascinating discussion, and I recommend Honor and Shame if you'd like to read more on these three basic worldviews.  As the world increasingly goes global, we all need to be more sharp, wherever we live.        

Issues sorted, we had an early dinner and walked to our lodgings.  Some of us took a detour to the old church in town, dating back 1000 years!

We are now either beavering away at our presentations, calling spouses, or crashing in jet lag.  Or blogging and face booking :)

It's coming up on 9 pm, the church bells are tolling, and the sun is setting. Gotta love those long northern European spring evenings!  They soooo help with jet lag....but I'm going to call it a day and wish you all a bit of pleasant cross-cultural fun today too!