Day at the Museum

I spent yesterday with Ben’s third grade class at the Museum of Natural History. It’s great to still be at that stage in life when your kids aren’t mortified by your presence. Though I do look forward to being the mortifi-er rather than the mortifie-ee. I assume it’s much more fun.

When I told Bryna I had signed up for this trip she just laughed at me. And I admit my expectations and the reality were slightly different. I thought I’d be hanging out with Ben and a few of his buddies while taking in the ancient bones of t-rex, stegosaurus, and the rest. No, I didn’t read the fine print. I had inadvertently signed up for chaperone duty. And while that may have different connotations for a high school dance, chaperoning third graders is mentally and physically exhausting.

I was assigned a group of five kids. My only charge? Don’t lose one. So I spent all morning counting to five over and over again. In between the counting were split seconds of terror when I momentarily couldn’t find one. When I got back to Todd School, someone asked me how the museum was. I really have no idea – all I saw were the backs of five heads.

What I really wanted was to get five leashes and hook ‘em all up. I’d look just like one of those professional dog walkers you see in Central Park, minus the plastic baggies. I also considered duct taping them together and wheeling them around in a shopping cart. Either method would have been much more humane – for the chaperone.

After shepherding all five of them back onto the yellow bus, I felt an extraordinary sense of relief. Of course this quickly turned to nausea as the bus pulled out and I realized I hadn’t ridden on a school bus for about 25 years. They really are horribly uncomfortable. But Ben and the rest of our group had a great time and no one got lost. I think I’ll stick to shepherding my congregation.

Ride the Duck!

We had a great weekend visiting family in Baltimore. It’s rare these days that we can get all six cousins together. Part of it is geography — New York, Virginia, Michigan. And part of it is the pesky fact that I have to work on weekends — I couldn’t seem to negotiate this out of my contract. We met our newest niece, Rowan (no relationship to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams), for the first time this weekend and she’s already eight months old!  

One of the highlights was to “Ride The Duck.” Oh, alright, I’ll explain. The Duck is a sightseeing operation that tours around Baltimore. When you buy the tickets they give everybody bright yellow quackers so you can quack at people as you pass by. Whoever dreamed this up obviously never had kids. Or maybe they had a bitter childhood and determined to torture other parents for a living. Needless to say my ears are still ringing. Or quacking to be precise.

The amazing thing about The Duck is that it is both a bus and a boat. So after pointing out a few highlights, like Edgar Allen Poe’s grave, it suddenly went down a ramp and motored around the Inner Harbor. Pretty nifty. I’m looking into converting my Honda CRV into an SUV/boat. That way I could offer someone a ride, pretend to lose control, and drive into the Hudson River. Oh, the hilarity!

Finally, a few Highlights and Lowlights of our weekend in Baltimore:

Highlight: 3 and a 1/2 hour trip down on Friday morning was the first long car ride without needing to stop.

Lowlight: Trip back took 5 hours thanks to construction in Delaware and the George Washington Bridge.

Highlight: Great Sunday brunch at the Renaissance Hotel with a view overlooking the Inner Harbor.

Lowlight: Missed getting to church.

Highlight: Could see Ravens Stadium from the hotel room.

Lowlight:  The Orioles were out of town, losing in Anaheim.

Highlight: All the cousins got along famously.

Lowlight: Having to pull them apart made our boys cranky for the ride home.

Highlight: Crab and bacon omelet for brunch on Sunday.

Lowlight: Cheddar cheese Combos and water for lunch on the long drive home.

Highlight: A great weekend away.

Lowlight: Next weekend off isn’t until August.

Flight Time

I’m a compassionate guy. A caring person. Perhaps even sensitive. Okay, not sensitive but definitely compassionate. I said a prayer when I heard that someone on my flight from Seattle to New York was ill and we needed to make an emergency medical landing in Minneapolis. And when the EMTs arrived and wheeled her off the plane I gave her a surreptitious blessing as she went past my seat. She looked like she would be fine — I think it was a diabetic issue with her blood-sugar level.

But boy did she wreak havoc on my travel plans. After landing, the good folks at American Airlines (they had a rough week didn’t they?) detected a maintenance issue with the plane. Shocking. Which led to an unplanned four-hour layover in Minneapolis while they flew in the part from Chicago.

There’s nothing like 13 hours of travel culminating in a late-night arrival at JFK to prepare you for the 8 o’clock service the next morning. You try saying things like “rendering unto Thee most hearty thanks for the innumberable benefits procured unto us by the same” while you’re mind’s still in another time zone.  

I also discovered something else about myself. When the flight attendants made the announcement calling for any passengers with medical expertise I realized I was utterly useless. Unless they needed someone to pronounce last rites. 


Safeco Pilgrimmage

Took a tour of Safeco Field in Seattle last night with about 20 fellow Episcopal Communicators. It was arranged by a retired priest whose wife is the Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Olympia. Part of what he does in his retirement — besides going to a slew of church events with his spouse — is to serve as a tour guide at the ballpark. What a great gig! Sign me up — when does the Pension Fund kick in?

Safeco is pretty impressive — and with a $520 million price tag it should be. Built in 1999, it was the most expensive sports arena ever built. It will soon lose this distinction to the new Yankee Stadium that’s currently under construction — the House that George Built. Safeco has a fully retractable roof and has aged beautifully. Too bad they house the Mariners.

There’s something amazing about being the only ones inside a 47,000 seat stadium. Slightly eerie but I walked around a bit giddy the whole time. Being in a major league ballpark that stirs my soul — what can I say? I realize no team’s going to offer me a contract at this point — I’m not that delusional. It just feels as if you’re part of something exciting, something larger than yourself. It’s like being inside a giant European cathedral in that sense.

In my next life I hope to come back as a professional baseball player. For the Orioles of course. Oh wait, I don’t believe in reincarnation. I guess it’s just as well. Something would probably get screwed up in translation and I’d end up prancing around as the Phillie Phanatic.

Seattle’s Best

Some stereotypes are impossible to overcome. I flew into Seattle yesterday for the Episcopal Communicators conference (I’m on the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life Media) and, true to form, it was overcast with a slight drizzle. Classic Seattle weather.

To continue my stereotyping of this city that I’d never been to, the the first thing I did when I got to my hotel was get a cup of coffee. It’s not hard to find a coffee shop around here — the home of Starbucks — I swear there are more coffee shops per capita than actual people. Throw a rock in some of these neighborhood like Fremont (which I didn’t actually do but thought about) and you’ll hit seven or eight java joints. I’m pretty sure there are more barristas living in Seattle than there are people employed at Boeing and Microsoft combined.

Following a meeting with the printing partners of Episcopal Life, I got a quick tour of the city with a native. No, I didn’t hold a seance and summon the ghost of Kurt Cobain. One of my oldest friends, Kevin Daniels, has lived out here for twelve years. Kevin and I have been friends since fourth grade and it was great to have dinner and catch up. Nothing beats the company of an old friend even when it’s damp and gray outside. Oh, and if you hate your job and need to update your resume, Kevin’s president of Northwest Resumes

I’m looking forward to a good conference. This is my fourth one with this group and it’s one of the most creative and interesting assemblies of folks you’ll ever want to know. Most of them are diocesan communications directors and editors of their respective newspapers. I think it’s one of my favorite gatherings of the year because it’s mostly lay people; I’m one of the few token priests. Don’t get me wrong, I love my brothers and sisters in ordained ministry — but try being around them in large numbers with an open microphone. Oy. Wait, I think I just described diocesan convention.

Well, it’s 5:00 am here. The jet lag kicked in and there’s no way I can fall back asleep. Off to get a cup of coffee.

Into the Depths

luray-caverns.jpgBefore leaving Virginia yesterday, we toured the world famous Luray Caverns with my brother and his family. I consider any tourist site that has a slew of billboards announcing its impending arrival to be world famous. Like South of the Border in South Carolina.

While I will never remember the difference between a stalactite and a stalacmite, the whole thing was pretty stunning. For $60 for a family of four it had better have been. The caverns are the closest I’ve come to being in the underworld. At one point we were 200 feet below the earth’s surface and I kept wondering what would happen if the lights went out.

The oddest or kitschiest part, depending on your perspective, was the 37 “pipe” organ that some guy had created in the 1950’s using stalactites. The tour guide pressed a button and the organ actually played “A mighty fortress is our God.” Quite the surreal moment. Not a great video but you can get a sense of it here:“Toto, we’re not in the Tri-State Area anymore.”


Mennonite Redux

Well, my comments about the Mennonite sermon I heard on Sunday were noticed by a website called The Urban Mennonite They even posted the sermon in an item titled “Episcopalian treads warily in Mennoland (and the sermon that bored him).” Unfortunately, they posted the wrong sermon! A good one at that Once you get past the flame sitting on the pulpit that at any moment might ignite the preacher’s pink blouse, the fact that it’s nearly 22 minutes long, and all the references to her “great, great, great, great, great grandfather,” she does a nice job of relating the danger and risk of Abraham and Sarah’s journey to our own challenges in trusting God. Good stuff.

When in Rome

Went to Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia with my brother this morning. Harrisonburg is crawling with Mennonites so this was the place to check out their worship. Actually, I was all set to sneak into the local Episcopal church for an 8:00 am service but was convinced to expand my liturgical horizons while on sabbatical. I can’t remember the last time I went to something other than an Episcopal church for anything but a funeral.

It’s not like Matt’s a Mennonite or anything but the church is walking distance from his house. I was nicely but informally dressed in a sweater. Matt, for some reason, thought it would be dressy (church in the South after all) and wore a suit. He was by far the best dressed person in the place. If anyone asked, we planned to tell people he was my attorney.

The service was interesting — about as low church as anything I’ve ever experienced. The pastor was wearing street clothes, there was no choir, no candles, no communion of course. The singing was amazing. The congregation sang everything a capella, in parts. Though I’ve never sung “Crown him with many crowns” at such breakneck speed.

The sermon was about 25 minutes long which was about 25 minutes too long. Booooring. Plus I start to twitch after any sermon gets beyond 12 minutes. But overall a good reminder that there are other ways to worship God, even if they’re out of my comfort zone.

Packin’ Up

minivan.jpgTomorrow we leave for a three day trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia. Not exactly a vacation shangri-la but we’re visiting my brother and his family so we’re all looking forward to it. Well, except for the six hour car ride that stands between us and our destination.

I spent the day prepping the mini van — rotating the tires, checking the alignment, etc. Fine, all I did was vacuum it out at Bryna’s request. And she wasn’t the least bit interested in my argument to wait until afterthe trip to vacuum it since that’s when it’ll really need it. But I also did something more important than even changing the oil. I went to the library to load up on DVDs for the trip. Movies are the saving grace for enduring road trips with kids. That and stuffing them with food. When the boys are old enough to drive, I fantasize about sitting back, watching the Godfather trilogy, eating popcorn and Juji Fruits, and yelling at them to stop when I need to use the bathroom.

Going away for a long weekend is another way I’m taking advantage of being on sabbatical. For obvious reasons this is a rarity for most clergy. Especially during Lent. So we’ll be on the road heading south first thing in the morning.


One of the perks of being involved in National Church ministries is travel to exotic places. I spent last night and all day today in Newark, New Jersey.

I was recently appointed to the Province II Council (the Episcopal church is made up of nine provinces). And while the province is the least known level of ecclesiastical governance, it actually does some important work. Much of this is centered around mutual regional ministry. Perhaps the best part of being in a “province” is that it makes me feel slightly Canadian.

The meeting went well. Good folks, engaging conversation, and an obvious passion for ministry. And I got to visit a city I’ve never been to. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been on Amtrak when it stopped in Newark and, of course, I’ve flown out of the airport. The city actually seems to be on the rise. There’s the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the brand new Prudential Center, and some great Portugese restuarants (I know, I found one). But before you think I’m becoming a city booster, I doubt I’ll be back until the next provincial meeting.