Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Letter from An Artist

"After I started to get to know the others going on my placement at Incarnate, and began to realize just how different we were (and began to stress about it), I made an effort to pay attention to the ways you all got along and balanced the leadership. Over and over, you all kept mentioning the importance of praying for unity, and the power of unity, and how this one quality can really distinguish Christians from others. 

"Unity requires such a dying to the self sometimes. It requires treating all members of the body of Christ equally....in fact, it requires identifying oneself with the weakest member of the body of Christ. I realized that this was often lacking in overseas service, which makes it so trying at times. And I thought, "Never again, God." If I prayed for one thing and one thing only, it was going to be unity, because I saw that it WORKED among the Incarnate leaders. And not just once or twice, but every day, and every time I started to feel the team fracture under pressure. I knew it didn't mean I had to be best friends, or even like everyone on the team.....there was just something more important at stake. Our unity was perhaps our most powerful testimony.

“I believe God confirmed that unity as well by placing us in circumstances where, as I think back on it, we actually couldn't have functioned without each one of us. The projects would have been impossible without the efforts of every member. We had so much to do, and we truly had to rely on each other. Praise God for His grace.

“I mentioned to Bill once that when he and Teri [OM Arts Director and his wife] had to leave for the conference, something changed in the spiritual atmosphere around Incarnate. Two of my fellow students also felt a kind of spiritual heaviness descend on the group. That was the beginning of the spiritual flu season for many of us. Without Bill's leadership, there was almost a chink in the armor, so to speak.....but I believe that had ANY of the leadership left, the effects probably would have been the same. Even when one of you was sick, the atmosphere changed. So I truly believe that one of the greatest lessons for me coming out of Incarnate--one of several “elixirs"*--was this importance of unity in diversity as a defining characteristic not only of the body of believers, but of God Himself. And this particular placement, with this particular team, drove that point home for me in a very real way..."

From this same student as the internship came to an end:

“Little tidbit of news we received a few days ago: the people from the village where we painted the mural told us that news spread among the children of the village about the newly-constructed playground and the mural at the church, and attendance at the day care jumped from 14 kids to 70 in just one week! 70 kids! Thank you Jesus! Safe travels everyone!” 

Psalm 133

A song of ascents. Of David.

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.

* Elixir = a term we introduced in the final spiritual formation teaching module, signifying a transformational lesson learned during Incarnate, which the student would return with, and that would be healing for their community at home.  The term comes from a writer’s device known as the Hero’s Journey.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

House of Healing, House of Joy

One of the highlights of Incarnate is to walk with a student through a deep spiritual journey—a journey deeper perhaps than either the student or me expected.  An unexpected journey.  It might be healing, reconciliation, a bondage of some type, an unrecognized lie believed as truth, or an identity crisis.  Maybe it’s a creative block, which almost always signifies a spiritual or emotional block. 

Erica was such a one.  Let me tell you her story (with permission).

Our first few weeks showed us the playful Erica: a gifted illustrator, who drew whimsical characters, an ironic sense of humor, a runner, voracious reader, and lover of country dance.  Erica gave us a much-needed diversion one evening by teaching us dance, which helped forge community in those critical first weeks.  As leaders we were grateful; as human beings, we had fun!   

To see this delightful young woman begin to sink then, saddened me.  I noticed her shedding tears with increasing frequency, not unusual in itself at Incarnate, but this usually led to a request for a conversation, which was not forthcoming.  We watched and prayed; as a rule, we encouraged students to seek God in these times, and come for help if necessary.  We don’t probe until the student is ready to ask for help, ever conscious of the sacred line between short circuiting a work God might be doing in a heart and bearing one another’s burdens.  But Erica was clearly in a tailspin; was it time for an intervention?

Finally, at the insistent prodding of another student in our small group, Erica asked to meet me, and I quickly agreed. 

A torrent of words and tears spilled out, and I got a glimpse into Erica’s complex world.  One issue after another tumbled out, as I pulled tissue after tissue out and handed them to her.  But then it was dinner time; and Erica, an athlete, needed to eat.  We scheduled another time to meet and walked into the cafeteria together.  Erica seemed well able to reel in her emotions and socialize; I didn’t know if those were good coping skills or good masking skills.

The days rolled on, and Erica’s tailspin—what she called a ‘spiritual flu’—continued.  It was as if everything she had ever believed was collapsing, every emotion running erratically through her.  Her creativity blocked and she needed time off from the studio.  We continued to work with her and pray. 

One Saturday afternoon, when most of the community was away on outreach, I invited Erica and the rest of our small group over for coffee.  Only Erica showed up.  It became a God-appointment as more of Erica’s story unfolded, and we ate, prayed and talked together. 

Still Erica didn’t seem to be making any progress; she was caught in despair.  I asked one of my partners, then another, to join us; perhaps as a team we could diagnose this spiritual flu, and at least Erica would have more helping hands than just me. 

And then—imperceptible to Erica, but obvious to all in the community—her face and eyes brightened.  She began smiling more.  We were delighted the day Erica stepped up before the entire student body, and confessed her lack of hope.  Deeply touched by the bravery of other students in confessing sin, making choices, reconciling, speaking out where voices had been stolen, she had decided, in her words, “to keep going” in her Hero’s Journey of faith because of the Hope we have.  A small, but critical choice.  I could have leapt for joy, but probably would have embarrassed Erica :)

Erica went back to the studio.  She produced two paintings for her final exhibit, depicting the restoration of two houses in ruins, and entitled them, “House of Healing” and “House of Joy.”  She shared how God had been wooing her, with words from Isaiah: “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isa.a 58:12)  Giving visual expression to an interior process, they couldn’t have been more accurate to her spiritual process—or more beautiful.  One of our staff bought one on sight. 

As Erica gave her Artist Talk during the festival week, she startled me again: “I didn’t know they were self-portraits.”  Yes they were, and I’m glad Erica didn’t miss it! 

Erica is currently in Moldova, pursuing her passion for missions, art and faith.  Last time I checked Facebook, there was a fantastic mural being painted in a new church being built.  Although she is not sure how to go forward, Erica learned at Incarnate that she cannot go back to the place of despair.  Pray with us that she can find the deep joy and healing she can so beautifully visualize.

“The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.”—Psalm 138:8

Saturday, May 7, 2016


Another of our debrief exercises was called Start/Stop.  It goes like this: 

"Finish these two statements:

"When I return home I want to START doing…

"When I return home I want to STOP doing…"


The caveat is: “The thing(s) you list should be specific and able to be done where you are right now, not ‘someday.'"

For our students, we are hoping they can find their way into vocational choices, maintain spiritual practices, implement theoretical teachings.  For staff, the answers might look a bit different.  Like: “I want to start emptying my inbox…stop eating so much pasta…start my exercise routine again…stop sleeping on a hard bed." As for me, a clutter of thoughts emerge immediately: 

I’m quite happy to STOP the packed schedule, crazy busy-ness, intense concentration, and endless preparation of power points. I’m ready to STOP living in intense community (much as I loved so many parts of it) and regain some privacy and solitude.  I want to STOP being task-driven and spend more time cultivating relationships.  I want to stop fighting with intermittent internet, but not trolling Facebook to see how our students are doing now, post-Incarnate. 

I want to START a normal life and schedule.  I want to start revisions on my book; start the publication schedule and marketing process of my new poetry book.  Start contacting publishers for my completed contemplative photography book.  Start fleshing out a new idea for a book, or at least outline the idea and hold it till I get settled into more of a routine. 

I want to START walking into the next transition, START looking for a new home, and develop stability in the next season.  I want to STOP the itinerant lifestyle and ministry as it’s been, and START ministry as it’s being revealed. 

Now that I’ve been back almost a week, it’s interesting to START cooking again, after relying on the cafeteria.  I’m looking forward to getting my car back—to STOP relying on others for a ride, or my legs for a long walk.  I can START catching up on so many phone calls, now that I have STOPPED “Airplane mode” on my phone! 

As the weeks and months roll on, I expect a few more starts and stops.  The Road Back is a roller coaster, but I have STARTED and will not STOP till I’m adjusted! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


It begins.  I am writing from Fiumicino Airport, which sounds idyllic enough if you discount the hour ride in traffic and the athleticism of navigating with four pieces of luggage through two shuttle buses, two escalators, two check-in counters, and (with two pieces left) one security gate.  I won’t talk about the bathroom stops, or keeping track of the passport and boarding pass (one does not always have enough pockets).

Mission accomplished, I arrived at my gate well in time for a toast to success: a parting shot of the Italian elixir known as coffee.  I didn’t lose my documents, found the bathroom in time, and no fingernail died in the process.  Bonus: a seat next to the coveted tech chargers; I could unfurl my technology without fear of running out of power on the 8 hr. return flight.

In an hour or so I would know if flying standby would work or leave me scrambling for a hotel (Lord have mercy).  An hour to begin to decant the experience of 3.5 months in this crazy culture, lived with 50 people of 12 nationalities (nuanced by multiplied layers of personal, family and religious cultures).  3.5 months does not seem sufficient to unpack all that happened, but one can make a beginning.  This is the Road Back. 

About a month ago, I taught our students about this stage in the Hero’s Journey.  A threshold time, a vulnerable time, it requires a death to self.  It tests the Hero: did he or she truly transform, or just have an adventure?  Did we transform, or just have some fun in Italy?  Did I?  What did I need to die to?  Can the Hero (me) return home with the lessons learned, or will those lessons get swallowed up in the challenges of re-entry?

What did I need to die to?  I pondered the questions I had so recently asked others, and started jotting down lessons learned:

  • Community: I discovered its power in a new way, with its invitation to trust it to accomplish what I can’t accomplish alone—an old lesson, newly absorbed.  Countless times, concerned about reaching a particular person in difficulty, I learned that others in the community got there first, and all was well.  I marveled to watch the synchronicity of gifts in action, each one helping to meet the needs of another.  The community thrived;
  • Limits: some new, discouraging ones were generally related to the aging process; others, also related to the aging process, were more positive.  Fierce even--to protect new horizons and freedoms gained by experience and ‘mileage.’ I want to ‘act my age’ and not try to keep up with younger ones; but I also have some work to do.  How do I re-pace myself to do that work, and finish the race set before me?  There are things I could do 5 years ago that I can no longer do; but I can also do things now that I couldn’t have done 5 years ago. How can I leverage and protect what I know now for a new season of ministry?
  • Enlarging: related to the above, I felt a new call to  “enlarge the place of my tent” (Isa. 54:3) and think bigger. There is more to Incarnate than Incarnate, which includes reproducing a model of community, leadership and spiritual life that is becoming increasingly rare, and much needed.  We are not just teaching artists how to be missionaries, how to articulate their faith in a foreign context, deepen their spiritual life, or understand the theological underpinnings of their call and gift. We are teaching them (and the Italians) about community, worship, revival; about transformation, the renewing of the mind, and healing for the wounded heart. 

But my hour is up and my name is called—I'm on!  I swiftly pack up my technology, and claim the coveted boarding pass.  I didn’t score business class, and haven’t finished compiling my ‘lessons learned,’ but happily settle into Zone 2, seat 21H.  I have 8 more hours aboard Delta’s Flight 445 to New York to decant. 

Monday, April 18, 2016


Today we read the report from the OM Italia communications director, featuring reflections from one of the volunteers at the facility we've been staying at, Centro Evangelico Isola.  I wanted to share it with you all.  Once again, we marvel at the 'collateral goodness' that happens during our Incarnate schools--other than students, we have a sometimes unforeseen impact on others.  Here's the story...as reported by Michel:  

A few days ago, Incarnate 2016, a 3-month school organized by OM Arts for Christian artists, ended. The purpose of the course was to help students explore the concept of art and better understand how it could be used to serve the Lord, the church and the community. Here are the spontaneous reflections of Sara, a volunteer at Centro Evangelico Isola, after the departure of the OM Group:

"I want to say something about these three months spent together. I know it will be difficult to fully express what I experienced, but I try. Before you came to Isola, I felt a little bit discouraged. I thought maybe I would not be well integrated, because English is far from me! But after three days together, I thought already to be part of you, as when one is in the family!

"I understand that the plan that God has for us does not let anything, let alone a language, hinder us from God, who does not spare His blessings!  The smiles, hugs, laughter, silence, gestures, sincerity—so many details have expressed more than 1000 words could!  Many different cultures, but a strength and a common love: God!

"This allowed us to see the best part of the other, to encourage it, appreciate it and encourage it. We knew this time would end and that's why we wanted to give, sparing nothing. Every moment should be lived! It was nice to discover a new way to worship God through art; it was uplifting, feeling stuffed with his Spirit, focused on his resurrection, on its beauty, the joy of victory—in this I heard a cure for my soul!

"It was nice, symbolically, to do what Jesus did: wash the feet of our neighbor, sharing the holy supper. So I understand that I need to live what Jesus lived. I understand that I need to do what God wants.  God spoke to me through you.  He made me feel loved, worthy, accepted, cared for. They have no importance—the pains of life, and no matter what we have ruined.

"I saw the resurrection and power in you when you said, “No longer I, but Christ!”  God gave me people who understood the need for a hug.  He gave me people who reminded me I have to be happy every day because this is life with God: to live in joy.  A new way of seeing, a way that contemplates His presence, contemplates the power of His name, and His victory in everyday life. Thank you all!  This experience at Isola would not be the same without you."

Have a look at some of our students hanging with some of the young Italian volunteers!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Toymaker & Son

It was a special joy to receive Dr. Colin Harbinson as one of our guest lecturers recently, and share another Incarnate experience with him through the week. 

I first met Colin in Paris, during an arts conference that changed my life.  What I thought was me exploring possibilities of art in mission turned into me discovering a global arts movement in church and mission. 

Colin didn’t waste a word during that conference, with such clear vision and intellect—vision that matched my own. 
I found myself longing to work with him, thinking it impossible.

Little did I know that a few years later, shortly after my arrival at OM Artslink, Colin would approach us as artists within OM to see about partnership.  He also offered me a position working with him! (I turned it down, having just arrived at OM Artslink.) 

The partnership was struck.  Colin mentored us as we forged OM Arts Intl.; we hammered out a vision and mission statement, decided on objectives, and came up with tag lines.  We laid out our 5, 10 and 15 year plan--a painful task which yielded much fruit.  Nine years later, here is Colin again, working alongside us at Incarnate, just one of the luscious fruits of this very special partnership.

A pioneer in the Christian arts movement, Colin began life in a church culture that had no room for the arts, and forbade dance and movies.  One weekend Colin was invited to fill in for a drummer in a band (although he didn’t play drums), an experience that opened up the arts world to him, and transformed his life. 

Colin is the author of Toymaker & Son, an award-winning theater piece which presents the gospel through toys.  He went on to become the principal of a school in England, before being called into mission.  That call eventually led to Canada and then the USA—where he accepted an invitation to develop the arts in Jackson, Mississippi, as Dean of School of the Arts for Belhaven University.  While there, he met Bill Drake.  And me in Paris :)  The rest is art in mission history.

Colin shared with our students theology and stories—incredible stories of a lifetime in mission through the arts.  Doors opening through arts festivals in St. Petersburg, Bulgaria and China, as the Communist world was collapsing.  In Communist China, Colin brought a team of artists to share the gospel;  one of those artists, Marge Malwitz, would become my arts mentor. 

Handel’s Messiah was performed.  In spite of strict censorship, the Minister of Culture introduced it, “This is about Jesus!” The next day, the news headline declared “”Messiah touches hearts!” 15 news outlets carried the story, and 7 television stations.

Colin and team spoke at universities, and special needs educators-- about art and play therapy: releasing the potential of the special needs child. 

Now retired in Canada, Colin continues to work as a consultant, including helping us at OM Arts, teaching the power of the arts to touch people’s lives.  What a special joy to work again with him, and know that we carry the torch he passed to us--to mentor the next generation of artists in mission.

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”—2 Tim. 2:2

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Benvenuto a Incarnate!

Lauren, one of our students here, is a writer/ journalists.  Yep, we actually got another writer to this Incarnate--yay!

As part of her homework assignments, Lauren has to interview each student and write an article for OM's website and internal blogs.  You can read her articles to see how she's doing on these assignments; one is entitled Benvenuto a Incarnate about our recent open house; the second describes how Artists Transform Conversations into Creativity.(written after a creative assignment given to the students to go into Isola and have a conversation with an Italian--even if you don't speak Italian!).

Lauren chooses to stay off the FB radar, which is why you won't see her smiling face or get her real name here.  A few of our students are working in, or may work in, secure countries. Keeps it real for us as others happily snap and post to their heart's content. 

And I am taking the shortcut method of blogging--citing her articles to avoid writing my own :)  The schedule is taking every spare second, so my own writing is pretty much restricted to keeping up with curriculum and homework assignments.

Good job, Lauren!  And thanks for providing blogger fuel! 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Castelli—Part 2

I almost don’t want to reveal this hidden jewel of a town, high up in the Abruzzi mountains.  So remote, we found ourselves asking how and why it ever got there.  The drive up was like discovering Shangri-La--an exaggeration perhaps, but this little gem, unexpected in this rugged mountain landscape, produces that effect as one comes around a certain curve.  Let me introduce you. 

"The medieval hill town lies beneath Mount Camicia on the eastern side of the Gran Sasso Massif. Castelli is best known for its maiolicas, a form of decorative ceramic, which were collected by the nobility of Europe for centuries and which were at their pinnacle from the 16th through 18th century and are still produced today by local artists. Castelli maiolica was a favorite dinnerware of Russian Tsars." (Wikipedia)

As we made plans with the local Christian community on how to plug in and serve, we quickly made the no-brainer decision to visit  Liceo Artistico per il Castelli.  Marco had connections in, as a former instructor, and an open house was coming up.  Our major challenge: how to move 47 of us up the mountains in a 9-person van.  

Our logistics ninjas worked and drove like bosses, some testing their skills as Italian race car drivers, only to abandon all hope as near misses multiplied (with both cars and car sickness).  Ancient OM vans do not perform quite as well as Fiats. Neither do stomachs.

Rounding one last switchback, we caught a glimpse of our destination, sparkling in the sun.  Spilling out in the little town then, we got a glimpse of a top-of-the-world view of the region.  Ceramic shops, statues and signs filled the town.  Shutters were soon clicking on the cameras. 

Those on the first shift of van transport had time to browse a bit until we all got there, and then we relayed the team up the last leg, to the high school.  Pretty desolate place to plant an art school.  And not just any art school, but Italy’s leading high school for the arts. 

Carla Marotta, its beaming director, greeted us in pretty-darn-good English, and proudly showed off her domain.  Studios, galleries, workshops, a few potters at work, the senior projects, the library (where a computer-driven machine whirled plastic into unbelievably complex designs).  After our tour, she left us to explore on our own, advising that we be sure to visit the international museum on site--which we did--filled with works donated from around the world.  Gads.

As we wandered down to explore the monumental sculptures of the seniors’ art projects—up to maybe 15 feet tall—a classical guitar duo parked in a corner and lulled us into a happy stupor until the vans pulled up.  It was time for the first group to leave.  Sigh. 

I was in the second group, and almost got to hear a quartet acting/singing Mozart's Marriage of Figaro.  Of course, just as introductory remarks completed and the singers took the stage, the vans arrived.   Dang! 

Votive candles lined the driveway, leading us out through the logjams of those arriving. We returned our students to their studios, pumped and inspired by this glimpse into Italy’s glorious art heritage.  And we definitely need a return trip to Castelli.  

So there you have it.  The secret is out.  If you're ever in Rome, you might want to take a car or a bus ride (about 3 hrs.) and visit Shangri-La.  Overnight accommodations in Centro Evangelico d'Isola, of course!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Marco di Castelli

It doesn’t take long for a small village to get wind of a large international community of artists plunked down in their midst.  My plunk came last Sunday, when I attended the local church of my host family.  A tiny gem in the heart of the village, its ancient facade camouflaged a contemporary interior that had the sense to preserve stone walls and vaulted brickwork.  The church quickly filled with about 50 people—not bad for a European church.  

Though translation was offered, I respectfully declined.  Translation can tie you up in knots after you reach a certain level with a language.  It was time to ‘let go of the rope.’  If I was going to learn this language, I needed to cut off my own, even if only for 2 hours. 

And two hours later…let’s just say language immersion can do a girl in!  But I survived and earned points from those who understood what it is to endure immersion to learn a language.  Others were convinced I understood Italian, a notion that quickly evaporated as they plunged into conversation and I had to call for a translator.  Several languages were fractured that night, but I made progress—in both Italian and relationships. 

Marco preached that night, in the absence of the pastor.  He chose his words carefully and spoke slowly, making it relatively easy to follow him.  Projecting a beautiful piece by Gauguin for our contemplation as he spoke—the beauty of the image speaking volumes into our right brains, while our left ones chugged along in language. Well done, Marco!  I thought.  Well done.  Theresa leaned over and whispered that he was a great artist.  I must meet him.  

As Marco’s sermon ended, along with the service, there was a flurry of handshakes and kisses.  All the artists in the church were pointed out or introduced to me, but when Marco approached, the crowd parted like the Red Sea.  A volley of Italian burst out of him, his eyes piercing me as if searching my soul.  I sensed the thirst of the isolated artist for connection, understanding, hope. 

Marco’s story unfolded, through the translator: a master ceramic painter, he had worked as a professor at a local high school famed throughout Italy for its ceramics.  Heads nodded as the translator tried to impress upon me the stature of the artist before me.  I looked at Marco, who shrugged as if to say, “Whatever.”  The crowd waited for my reaction and I summoned one of the few words I know, but which I delivered with the utmost Italian gusto: “Bravo!”

“Now I work in the local middle school, with children with special needs,” he replied through translation, with an air of resignation. 

“Maybe you could speak at our school,” i suggested and his eyes lit up. 

“Absolutely!  Any time!” he responded, and the crowd nodded again, satisfied that I had offered an honor befitting the artist. The poor translator, sweating under the strain of resurrecting whatever English he knew, nearly fainted when my hosts (below) came to extricate me from the crowd. 

Before I left, however, Marco invited me (and all our students) to visit the famous high school in the nearby mountaintop village of Castelli.  The following Saturday was an open house. 

“Absolutely!” I replied in return.  And went home to recover. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Living Together Beautifully

Well, so far so good, but we know how quickly throwing 40 internationals together to live, eat, sleep and create together can go sideways.  Self cultures join Incarnate culture, nestled in Kingdom culture, nested in Italian culture.  So Orientation Week is a crash course in how to Live Together Beautifully: 


Social Policy: romantic entanglements off limits: “Fire in your heart means smoke in your brains!”
"Describe, Interpret, Evaluate."  Don't assume or be quick to judge someone's actions or facial expressions (or lack thereof).

The Kolb Learning Cycle: Have an Experience.  Reflect on it.  Develop a Theory. Test the Theory.

How do you learn best? Activist, Pragmatist, Reflector or Theorist? 

Introvert or Extrovert? 

Is your culture Reveal or Conceal?  Directed or Directive?  Informal or Formal?  Traditional or Innovative? Time oriented or People Oriented? Is status Ascribed or Achieved?  Is communication Direct or indirect? Turn around and look at whose hand is raised.

As we fumbled through classroom, dining, and bus schedules, we learned the copier, laundry, and kitchen clean up and set up routines.  We asked our students, who had just crossed cultures, to manage jet lag, settle quickly into new quarters with a roommate possibly from another country, who maybe doesn’t speak the same language, and may be 4 decades older than you.  Eat a new cuisine.  Get to know the staff--juggling multiple administrative, relational, technical, teaching, logistical and communication tasks, while wifi and internet blink on and off. Don't forget to goof off! 

After a tour of the facility, their studios, and small group meeting rooms, students jumped into a tightly compressed schedule, and joined a small group with whom we hope they will bond over the next three months.  They learned we will run "Swiss time," and worship in a variety of styles, and maybe have different theological leanings. Don't be afraid to lean into the differences, and ask questions (employing all the intercultural intelligence you can muster!

Are we exhausted and withdrawing or curious and exploring?   

Now we're thinking about supplies to pick up this weekend, or the logistics of taking all 40 of us up the mountain for our first field trip--to the leading high school in Italy for ceramics.  The catch: we only have one 9-seater van...

Our students managed magnificently, and today we enjoyed a much-needed Sabbath rest.  Where will God take this amazing, dynamic, just-a-bit-crazy community?

God alone knows, but in the meantime, I am daily adding vocabulary to my Italiano: Compro, ogni, ieri, nemici, settamani, al buio, giusto, broccoli, se, utile, Noi abbiamo...

Maybe I'll get to Bancomat tomorrow, or get the laundry done, or set up my art space.  But for now, time to call it a day and enjoy the dogs barking till midnight as I drift off to dreams of mountains, mobs and olive groves.  Buona notte! 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

One Week Later…

Jet lag notwithstanding, the week took off with a blistering pace—as much as you can ‘blister’ in jet lag—to get our ducks in a row.  Learning how to get around the campus, meeting the Italian staff and volunteers, goats and baby goats, dogs and puppy dog, and a Shetland pony; stumbling through introductions, pronunciations, fracturing the language as the Italians fracture ours. 

Learning the kitchen routine—recycling, courtesy (don’t throw any food out), schedules, names of plates, foods, condiments. Setting up our office, main classroom/ library/worship center—not only with furniture, copiers, printers, office supplies and desks, but space heaters to ward off the frosty conditions as radiators failed in the cold snap.

By Tuesday our tech wizards had the AV system set up—an heroic effort—and within days we were fully functional (more or less) on internet and wifi.  Computers passed to the wizards to download necessary softwares for videos and audio clips in teaching sessions.  Passwords entered, memorized or written down.  Downloading What’s App to communicate with one another. 

Setting up our own living quarters.  Food shopping, finding out where the cafes, drug stores, ATMs, laundromat and supermarkets are. 

Setting up my own apartment: the heating system, shower, stove and recycling routine.  Meeting Mico the cat.  Learning I needed to keep all technology out of sight, and the curtains drawn when I go out, as there have been a number of thefts in the neighborhood.  Walking the roads around me to find the best views and trails ( a work in progress).  Discovering a vineyard and olive grove along the way.  Streams. 

Discovering I have a wonderful bed (praise be to God), and a tiny shower (don’t turn too fast). 

Combining English, Italian, French and German in conversation with my host family, to figure out the mysteries of the heating system, shower, stove and recycling routine…enjoying a pizza with them, and Theresa’s honey cakes, and learning her washing machine (maiden voyage: tomorrow).  Sharing a ride to church.  Enduring two hours in Italian, jotting down words, mashing my French/English/Italian together in an effort to talk with those who greet me.  Meeting the artists.  Invitations to meals, coffee, studio exhibits.

Staff meetings, prayer meetings, team meetings and meetings with the Italian staff. Syncing up on all materials, programs, curriculum, reviewing student files, portfolios and applications.  Crunching numbers and navigating GPS failures.  

Discovering Granny’s Attic and hauling furniture down, for our living, working, studio or teaching spaces. Setting up rooms for the creative disciplines and small group meeting rooms. Discovering artwork stored there in 2010, after the Artslink outreach; discovering one of my own pieces propped up in the hallway. 


Laying the dance floor, taking pictures, posting comments, praying over the rooms for the arrival of the students tomorrow, distributing spiritual and actual chocolates on pillows.  Learning the history of the place.

Arrivals of three more of our staff, and praying for the luggage that didn’t make it.  Preparing our first worship service together, and enjoying one meal after another.  Poring over dictionaries or Google Translate.  Practicing said fractured Italian. 

Miracolo--we got traction within days, each one busy with individual tasks, friend-making, explorations, reactions and adaptations.  I have one word for the week: buono!  (Buona?)  A Sabbath breather, a Sabbath walk, a visit to a local church, an evening to recover from immersion. 

In the morning: Week 2 begins.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

And just like that…

Leaving CT to head to NY, to fly out to Rome, to take a bus to Teramo, to be fetched by car to Isola.  One week and one day, 2 airport runs, and 33 hours later (for that last NY-Isola leg), my geographic journey is done.  

I stow the carry-ons and strap myself in to seat 20C for the plane ride.  All departure tasks are done or on hold.  No last minute errands, glitches, phone calls, or curve balls.  Everything stops now for the voyage.  The deep exhale familiar to the seasoned traveler--now I only have to sit in a plane.  

I have a window seat and no seat mate—a mercy.  Mind, body and spirit are somewhat numb and need to be decanted.  I’m also in a window seat; bathroom breaks are easier than waking or climbing over a sleeping seat-mate.  The snacks arrive. 

I dig out reading material and computer, but mostly I will relax and enjoy the journey.  Watch the movie.  Eat the dinner.  Rehearse the truths, the memories, the dreams.  Anticipate the next 3 mos.--passionate work, Italian cuisine, the mountains, language and cultural adapatations, a new home to settle into, reunions with dear friends and colleagues, expecting to make new ones. Digesting, while preparing a feast.  Recalibration.

A party erupts behind me with 4 people clustered to socialize just as the fuselage lights go out for sleeping.  Dang.  I sleep well enough though, another mercy. 

Arriving in Rome, I follow the pack to Customs, breeze through the kiosk with my Irish passport, and marvel at the upgrade Fiumicino has had since I last came through.  I forget about the cigarette smoking but not about the coffee, which I order up while waiting for my bus to Isola.  Maxi Cappuccino: 2,50. 

I watch the nuns and priests go by, and note shoe fashion--boots and the thing with sneakers--hairdos, veils, saris, jackets, coats and jewelry. 

A congenial, fast-talking bus driver pulls in and starts bust-a-moving: Destination?  Luggage?  Payment or invoice?  I manage with rudimentary Italian and hand gestures (their second language).  We are loaded quickly and efficiently; I text all parties tracking my voyage, grateful for wifi on the bus, looking up at the palm trees and darkening skies.  Snow is predicted. 

exit the airport along a long alley of a highway, to dozens of flagpoles flanking and saluting us on either side, with the fluttering flags of Italy and the EU.  I feel regal.  

The parasol pines--I forgot about them and smile immediately upon seeing them again.  A flock of white birds that look like egrets fill a green field.  Low-hanging clouds fill the sky and in the distance, shroud the spine of mountains to which we are headed: L’Aquila & Teramo.

Familiar French chain stores also bring a smile: Leroy Merlin, Carrefour and Total.  And on the highway: Renaults and Peugeots.  Some international staples, like IKEA and the trance-like stare into iPhones (if not loud conversations in several languages) on the bus. The blue highway signs.  The palm and cypress trees, first glimpse of an olive grove.  First hillside towns.

As we ascend, the temp drops, as does the snow, from mountaintop to hillside to field to road.  The clouds lower again and we study the sky, wondering if we will beat the snow.  I shoot a quick prayer that my connection will be on time, and/or there will be a bus shelter to wait in if not, and/or the fitful freezing rain stop long enough for me to transfer luggage and myself into another vehicle.

 Not to worry.  The freezing rain changes to snow as we arrive in the bus terminal, and as I unload the luggage, a kindly-faced elderly man taps me on the shoulder.  “Pat? Gianpierro”—my chauffeur!  I silently bless him for being on time.  Stunning punctuality by both the bus driver and him--for Italy.

Gianpierro and I exhaust our tiny vocabularies of each other’s language, and just as well.  I’m tired, and he needs to focus: it’s snowing well now as we wind our way to Isola, and getting dark.  Gianpierro threads the narrow mountain roads to a country house, in which is my apartment. 

Marco, Teresa and Pascal meet me at the door—all smiles—and our tiny vocabularies of each other’s languages is quickly exhausted…Marco calls for a translator and we go over what I need to know about lights, oven, recycling, shutters, keys and showers.  My mind locks up on Italian and instructions but we’re done soon.  Teresa gives me a big hug and tells me to rest well.  We are going to be friends before this is over, I predict.  (And we’re each going to learn a lot of each other’s languages!)  They live upstairs.  I have a downstairs living area and and an upstairs bed and bath. 

And just like that, I am in a new country, a new home, a new lifestyle, for three months.  From the salt marshes of my home town to the Abruzzo region of Italy. Time  to stop now, thank God for safe passage into Italy and up the mountain, and into an inviting home. 

Now I lay me down to sleep…