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June 2007

Day 7: Mid-Course Correction (Lunenburg to Charlottetown)


In vacations, as with life, I often find that mid-course corrections must be made,  Yesterday, the plan was to leave Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and make it all the way to West Point, Prince Edward Island, near the (you guessed it) the West end of PEI.  I was told that the trip would take four hours.  There was, however, a surprising amount of traffic around Halifax, that is, until I remembered that this was Friday and the start of an important holiday weekend for the Canadians (July 1st is Canada Day, the equivalent of our Fourth of July.)  In addition, we left our video camera in our inn in Lunenburg, remembered, thankfully, by my son when we were only eight miles away,  So we had a late start, --- one, however, which allowed some extra browsing in art galleries in Lunenburg.

In Lunenburg, I had the sense that we had stepped back in time a bit and outside consumer society.  That was shattered in route to PEI.  We stopped for lunch at McDonalds, which was about like home except for the maple leaf in the golden arches.  It was the worse food I'd had since leaving home.  But the scenery in route was spectacular --- rolling hills of green forests, vast expanses of largely unpopulated areas, and  dark inlets and ponds of water everywhere.  I was reminded of being out west --- a great big blue sky with billowing white clouds.  It stayed this was throughout mid-Nova Scotia, through Truro and Amherst an on to the Confederation Bridge, a long expanse over Northumberland Strait, between Novas Scotia.Dscf0011

But back to the mid-course correction:  Going to West Point PEI would be quite a trip, and I was concerned we'd all be suffering scenery fatigue with al the car time.  I canceled the reservation and secured a room in Charlottetown, the provincial capital, so after we exited the bridge, we turned east, following the scenic Blue Heron Trail, meandering through south PEI.  The road followed the coastline.  This was different than Nova Scotia.  Rather than vast expanses of forest, there were rolling hills of green fields and meadows, dropping off into the Northumberland Srait, skirted by flowering pink and lavender lupines.  Colorful farmhouses were scattered about, and here and there, in the middle of the fields, a church, some of them obviously a center piece of these agricultural communities (at least at one time.)  I wonder about their life now.Dscf0015_2

Coming into Charlottetown, there was actually traffic and some of the typical urban sprawl, though on a small scale.  Our hotel was at the historic waterfront.  Arriving there, we discovered that it was a happening place --- the Festival of Lights was going on and the place was full of people, many college age.  After checking in, we had dinner at a Greek restaurant, paid a visit (for my daughter) to the Anne of Green Gables store, and visited the waterfront.  Two young girls had a drunken friend by the arms.  He obviously could not stand up well.  There was a lot of drinking going on.  I was almost run over by another kid who obviously couldn't walk a straight line.  Charlottetown is old, and while it is restored and lively, it looks more old than restored.  It actually reminded me of an old Southern city, like Columbia South Carolina --- aged and not quite restored.

A nice end to the evening was the rising full moon over the harbor.

Days 5 and 6: Creation Speaks, But Is Anyone Listening?


"The Lord will fulfill his purposes for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever --- do not abandon the works of your hands" (Ps. 138:8)

There are many beautiful, historic, and yet empty churches here in Canada, much as there are in Europe.  Lunenburg, a historic fishing village here on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, can boast that it has the oldest wood church in North America, St. John's Anglican Church, and yet the church is largely empty on Sunday morning.  Many churches here have a historic function but have little to no functioning congregation.  As the guide on our carriage ride through the town said today, "Well, it's a different generation."  And yet they are just as needy as were those sea-faring sailors who risked their lives for their livelihood and families left behind who endured hardship and loneliness in their absence, wondering who would lose his life this time in a northeaster at sea.

Yesterday we came from Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia via the Cat Ferry, an amazing boat that carries cars and passengers in a three hour trip at a speed of up to 55 m.p.h. across the ocean.  It's an amazingly steady ride.  Yarmouth had little charm, but as we headed up the coast I took note of the vast expanses of forest, the great emptiness of the land.  We stopped in Shelburne for lunch at a bakery opened by German immigrants (there are pockets of strong German influence in the area) and then drove on to our bed and breakfast in Lunenburg, a fishing village remade into a tourist destination.  Today we enjoyed the Fisheries Museum, something I thought might be boring but was actually quite good and certainly a hit with the children.  We ate at Magnolia Grill, well-regarded for their fish cakes (which are nothing like the store-bought commodities), and walked a bit on the two or three streets that make up the historic shopping district.


Today we also took a couple of side trips, down to Hirtle's Beach, which is a sand beach suitable for sunning or swimming (if you have a rugged constitution).  Houses perched on rocky cliffs surrounded this small sandy beach.  It was a mostly sunny day, yet as we walked the beach I could look ahead and see fog rolling in on the beach, engulfing my son.


After a walk on the beach (where we found no sea glass, unfortunately), we headed for The Ovens, a natural area owned and maintained by the Chapin family.  If you recall the late Seventies singer-songwriter, Harry Chapin ("Cat In the Cradle" or "W.O.L.D.") --- this is his father and brothers who own this land.  We took a 45 minute hike along the rugged cliffs which hold various caves (or "ovens") created by the ocean, some of which you can go down into.  The caves were mined for gold during a six-year gold rush back in the 1860s.

Then we proceeded on about eight miles north of Lunenburg, to Mahone Bay, another pretty village on a cove, with better shopping but fewer restaurants.  It was nice but without the character of Lunenburg.Dscf0066_edited  After a meal in Lunenburg (excellent Italian at Trattoria Della Nonna), we drove around the cove to Blue Rocks, an area with quiet beauty --- just colorful fishing shacks, boats, and rocks that give off a blue hue in the evening light.

All this beauty and empty churches.  It tempts me to wonder where God is in this, and yet I realize how short my time frame of reference is, how much greater His plans are, and how "the Lord will fulfill his purpose," bringing in all who belong to Him in His own time.  The churches may be empty and yet God is everywhere I look here, in Nova Scotia. Creation speaks, but is anyone listening?

Days 3 & 4: A Shore Walk


It's 6:30 a.m. and the sun is well up here on Mount Desert Island.  Come and take a walk with me.  Leaving my hotel, I turn left on historic West Street, a tree-shaded mostly residential street with large homes (now mostly bed and breakfasts) with green lawns and gardens that border Frenchman's Bay.  I walk past tourist shops and the docks where the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company takes you out on the Atlantic to see puffins, seals, dolphins and, of course (and if you are lucky) whales.  We took the trip yesterday and saw two Minke whales (smaller than humpbacks) that circled our ship and even swam under the bow at one point.

Turning the corner after Main Street, I pick up the Shore Walk, a mostly hard-packed gravel walk that follows the shore for about a mile.  It's absolutely clear today and the breeze is cool but not cold.  I walk past the Bar Harbor Inn with it's green lawn that borders the walk, a classic hotel, and then on past some beautiful old homes that border the shore, bordered by blooming azaleas and fences in places.  The path ends at a fence and I turn right on what looks like a carriage path, a shady gravel road that meets up with Wayman Lane.  Turning right on Main, I pass restaurants, more bed and breakfasts, shops, and then, at the village green I turn left on Mount Desert Street, walking past the main four churches in Bar Harbor --- the Congregational church, Baptist church, Catholic church, and Episcopal church.  The latter has the village burial grounds.  I notice the tombstones, many from the mid-1800s, including Israel Todd, died 1846, age 5.

Right on Holland, I meet up again with West Street, passing a gracious old inn that used to be called the Tides, a place my wife and I stayed over 20 years ago.  And then I'm home.

We've actually been walking/hiking a lot, yesterday making our way part way up a mountain called The Beehive until I called it off as too dangerous.  We were beginning up sheer rock walls with iron bars to use as ladders.  It was a beautiful view from half way up, but too great a risk in my opinion for the kids.  Dscf0019_editedToday we walked the three -mile loop around Jordan Pond, hearing nothing but birds, the gentle lapping of water, and an occasional muted conversation from the other side of the lake (as sound carries).  Dscf0028We rewarded ourselves at the end with lunch on the lawn, under trees, at Jordan Pond Lake House, having popovers, a hot hollow, puffy roll.  Very tasty.  The historic lake house burned to the ground in 1979, but was rebuilt by 1982.  It's well worth a stop.  Returning to the hotel, we drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the coast of North America.  The view was astounding.  We could see the entire village of Bar Harbor, the Schoordic Peninsula (another less-visited part of Acadia National Park) the various islands and lighthouses in the bay,  It was a nice end to our day.

Every day here, after Scripture and prayer, I've been reading three or four poems from Mary Oliver's Thirst, a wonderful collection of poems infused with nature and faith.  They seem appropriate, as Oliver lives in cape Cod and often uses the seaside as the context for her poems.  Mary Oliver loves the world and makes me love it too, whether it's otters playing or trees or roses or a ribbon snake.  And so I love this place with its spruce  and fir trees, rocky outcroppings, jagged shoreline, basking seals, playful dolphins, or majestic whales.  I'm drinking it up, loving it all.

Day Two: The "Maine Experience"


I had just finished telling my children how, when you visit a new place, you need to fully experience it.  I think I said "you need to just drink it up."  The full experience.  We're having dinner in Bar Harbor, Maine, at a place on the harbor called Stewman's Lobster Pound.  On the menu is an item called "The Maine Experience," which consisted of a one and one-half pound boiled lobster, potatoes, corn on the cob, and blueberry pie (the latter another Maine specialty.)


I've never had a lobster before.  When our server laid a huge covered pot on the table in front of me, I lifted the top and there it was: a full lobster, one eye looking at me, antennas still on.  I wasn't sure what to do with it, so I asked the server.

"You pull the claw apart first and get the meat out of it."  No problem.  I did that.

"Then, you grab it and break it in half."  So I did that too.  Once that was complete I held the two halves and began to look in one of the halves to see what I had.

"Don't look in there," she said.  Oops.  I did anyway.  Green stuff oozed out of the lobster

"What's that?"

"You don't want to know.  People in Japan think it's a delicacy."

Hmmm.  That's all I needed to know.  Japanese folks eat lots of things I wouldn't eat,  I later found out that what I saw was the intestines of the lobster.  I'm pretty grossed out already, but I carry on.  I pull apart enough white meat for a meal.  It's fine, but not as good as filet mignon.

We left Camden, Maine earlier today in route to Bar Harbor, following US Highway 1 along the coast.  There is quite a bit of traffic on this two lane road.  At Bucksport, I turned southeast, following a lesser used road to the small community of Blue Hill.  It was a pretty drive and Blue Hill is a quaint village, with a couple of restaurants and a few artisans in town.  This town was for many years the home of Noel Paul Stookey, one of the members of Peter, Paul & Mary.  I guess I wanted to see why he liked it.


Two things are striking about Maine: the number of beautiful, picturesque small towns, and the sheer amount of forest in the state.  The air is clean and pure, the sky crystal clear blue, and the temperature very moderate.

I'm liking the Maine experience.  I even had lobster --- once.

What I Did On My Vacation: Day One


Vacations, someone said (I think that someone was me), bring out the best and worst in us all.  I know this and still I have the tendency to idealize our annual or biannual excursions.  I love the planning, the poring over maps, books, and brochures, and the imagining of what goes on in places designated by small black dots on maps.

And then, when time comes to leave, my first inclination is to stay home.  I pause and stare out the window at my backyard, the finches on the feeder, the irascible squirrels foraging for seeds, the chipmunk dashing hither and thither, and I don't want to leave.  I walk around the house with a touch of melancholy, looking forward to when I can return to familiar surroundings, to home. . . and I haven't even left yet.

I want to stay home because I love the familiar, my own dot on the map, and yet long for the unfamiliar, the new and unexplored.  I also realize that the problem with vacations is that we have to take ourselves along on them --- I mean, of course, the self-seeking, selfish selves that we are.  Vacations can add fuel to the fire of human selfishness by telling us we owe it to ourselves to relax, to go where we want to, to have fun.  And yet there are others here with us who have the same idea.  None of us become different people on vacations.

But enough philosophizing.  It was a beautiful day to fly into New York, skirting the east side of the city, over the globe marking the site of the 1964 World's Fair, by Shea Stadium.  What a city!  It is an incredible, amazing thing that this home of millions works as well as it does, that it's amazingly livable for how concentrated it is.

We changed planes and finished our flight, landing in Bangor, Maine under cloudy skies.  Stepping off the plane, it was mountain air we took in, quite different than that of home.  Leaving the airport we made our way slowly down US 1A through small towns, past Victorian homes, by spruce and pines (of a different ilk than our North Carolina pines), through fields of wildflowers.  "The air's so fresh," says my daughter, resting her head by a partially open window.  "Can we eat," says my son.


We reached our destination, Camden, a small town on Penobscot Bay late afternoon, staying in a large room in the back of one of the numerous B&Bs, the Windward Inn.  We enjoyed our beautiful deck looking up into the Camden Hills and Mount Battie, the manicured lawns, and the flowers lining the walks.  We walked through Main Street, stopping into several of the shops along the waterfront before landing for dinner in a restaurant overlooking the harbor full of windjammers. The sun came out, making for a beautiful and picturesque setting, a classic Maine village.  And I remember standing on that corner there with my wife, younger versions of ourself, nearly 20 years ago.  "Do you remember," I say.  She does.

But I wonder how the finches are, if the squirrels are raiding the feeder.  I guess our hearts never leave home.

Tomorrow:  Castine, Blue Hill, Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, and Bar Harbor.

Loving the World, Again

"[W]hatever is lovely. . . think about such things" (Phil. 4:8)

When I slow down, I begin to notice the nooks and crannies
of the world, to be thankful, to fall in love again.  Seeing

the crack in the sidewalk, grass asserting itself,  I
am reminded of the impermanence of civilizations, or

the unremitting sovereignty of God, or both.  I consider the
streets, curb, gutters, water and sewer and electricity

coursing underfoot, and I am thankful for the beauty of
order, that things work.  And yet the loveliest things were here long

before --- the red headed woodpecker on the feeder, the
repertoire of the mockingbird, the scurrying about of the

chipmunk (tolerable because he is cute), the breeze on my
face, the gurgling creek water, the smell of honeysuckle.

If I am His likeness, then what can I do but love the world?
And yet sometimes I am unfaithful. I neglect the loving.

Tonight, under Orion's gaze, I listen to cicadas sing. . . . Do
you remember that song "Sing Me Home Again?"

I think that's what they're singing, a song winging upward, a
beautiful longing, Creation longing to be set free, to be all lovely, again.

Ruth Bell Graham: A Pilgrim Goes Home

RuthTonight came the sad news that Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, died. This is sad only for her family and friends, of course, as Ruth is undoubtedly enjoying freedom and mobility which she has not had for some time. I never had an opportunity to meet Ruth, but I did have the privilege of being involved in producing an audio biography of her life with Billy, entitled A Pilgrim Journey. Had I not done that, I would not have known of her various gifts, wit, and charm.

Ruth was a poet, and quite a fine one at that. I remember when I first heard that she wrote poetry. I assumed that it was probably sentimental religious verse and not serious poetry. I was so wrong. I never made such a hasty assumption about her again. She was every bit the match for her well-known husband and every way his equal, a true partner in all things.

Author Patricia Cornwall regarded her as the kindest woman she had ever met. She reared five children, often alone, as Billy was so often away. She had real strength of character, dined with royalty, celebrities, and Presidents, but seems never to have lost her humility and never left her roots in Montreat, North Carolina. She will be missed.

Pray for Billy, her five children, and her many granchildren and great-grandchildren. Celebrate for Ruth.

Life of Pi: A Book Review


"I'll be honest about it.  It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics.  Doubt is useful for a while.  We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane,  If Christ played with doubt, so must we.  If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,' then surely we are permitted doubt.  But we must move on.  To choose doubt as a philosophy of lfe is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation." 

(Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, 2001)

His name is Piscene Molitor Patel, or Pi for short, and he survived for over 200 days aboard a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.  Interested?  You should read the story.

Born in Pondicherry, India, Pi is the teenage son of a zookeeper and his wife, a thoroughly irreligious couple, that is, they have no use for religion as they view themselves as modern Indians.  Pi is, like many Indians, a  Hindu. . . and also a Muslim, and also a Christian.  Somehow this is believable, as the author allows us to suspend our disbelief for a time, the fact that these religions are not co-extensive but have irreconcilable differences.  Rather, in the telling of his early life in India, Pi focuses on the truth of each religion, never, however, with a goal of melding them all together into one, and never in a preachy way. 

He says "I was fourteen years old --- and a well-content Hindu --- when I met Jesus Christ on a holiday."  Listen to how he describes his coming to faith:  "I couldn't get Him out of my head.  Still can't.  I spent three solid days thinking about Him.  The more He bothered me, the less I could forget him.  And the more I learned about Him, the less I wanted to leave Him."  Yet, to the consternation of many, he believed them all, accepted them all, was thoroughly religious in every way.

The story is told in the first person.  Our scribe is the writer, one who interviews Pi as a middle aged man living in Toronto.  It's playfully told, with a fair degree of humor, and yet the account of surviving at sea can be harrowing to read.  It is as suspenseful a tale as any, and yet it asks the serious  question: will you disbelieve a story just because it is outside the realm of your experience?  Really, it's a question for nonbelievers: Will you disbelieve the Gospel, the Story, just because it is outside the realm of our experience, just because it sounds incredible?

More than that, his discussion of animals provides a metaphor for what true freedom is.  He points out that animals in zoos, in enclosures, are truly free.  Bounded in a defined area, given what they need to survive, they can clearly be who they are.  Outside, the constant quest for food and defense of territory is all-consuming.  So too as humans we have true freedom when we understand who we are in Christ and submit to his keeping.

It was said that this is a story that will make you believe in God.  Maybe.  It certainly helped me believe more in God and realize the limits of reason and the power of the one Story.  I recommend it.

[Addendum: In his comment on this post, my friend Andy cautions against the mentality of one who flirts with multiple religions. He says "I can't believe that an encounter with the one Christ would not either totally offend a heart or cause a heart to deny all others." He's right, of course, and that's the reason that belief that these religions are irreconcilable can be suspended only for a time. In the end, to continue to do so, you can only skate the surface of these irreconcilable systems of belief. In addition, if the message is that all religions lead to God, then that's an old and dangerous lie. The book is helpful in helping one see some truth in Islam and Hinduism, and yet it's an arena to be entered cautiously. The book is better as a great story of human survival, much like Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. Don't read it for theology but for story. Thanks to Andy for the word of caution.]

Lewis Taylor: The Lost Album

LostalbumI made a discovery. I was in Borders recently, making my way through their various listening stations, when I listened to Lewis Taylor's The Lost Album. I was captivated by it and stood there and listened to all of it. Then I bought it.

I had never heard of Lewis Taylor. Yet I knew that I had heard music like this before. I thought of Lindsey Buckingham, Todd Rundgren, and Brian Wilson, just to name a few obvious influences. Lewis has a clear, pure voice, and the sound is a pure pop delight --- multilayered harmonies, intricate arrangements, and poignant lyrics. Listening to "Lets Hope Nobody Finds Us," the Brian Wilson influence is unmistakable. It's practically a one-man band as well (a la Todd Rundgren).

So who is Lewis Taylor? Apparently 11 years ago, in 1996, Taylor had a major label debut that caused him to be annointed "The Man Who Would Save Soul." He was compared to Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, and even Prince. Quite a title given that Taylor is an Englishman of Jewish heritage! Of course the label wanted more of the same. Instead, Taylor delivered this pop album. It was promptly shelved. Ultimately, the label dropped him. Truly then, this is The Lost Album.

Hacktone Records is to be commended for bringing this lost jewel to market. A bonus is the three acoustic tracks, stripped-down versions of songs on his 1996 debut. Listening to them, you can understand why he earned the title he did and why his fans might want more of the same. The packaging of the album is also interesting. A very thick gatefold package hearkens back to the LP gatefolds of the Seventies. Just like the songs, the packaging works on your memory, conjuring up associations from that era and its music.

Last year Taylor announced his retirement from the music industry. Well, let's hope for a comeback --- soon.

Dwelling Well

House"Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations." (Ps. 90:1)

This past week I have seen many different dwelling places --- everything from a battered Harlem brownstone to an $11 million dollar midtown penthouse as I walked the streets of New York City. Some people dwell very well, some not so well, but even among these extremes, there is a place which the residents of both call home, a dwelling, "shelter from the storm." Even those who live on the streets fashion a "home" of sorts, even if only a cardboard box under a bridge. Almost everyone dwells somewhere. Few are truly homeless.

Our dwellings give us both the reality and illusion of security. Truly they are a refuge for us (the Hebrew word translated as "dwelling places" is rendered as "refuge" in Ps. 71:3) in more than one way. To varying degrees, they protect us from the elements, whether it be the canvas flap of a tent, an earthen wall of a mud hut, the thin wall of a cardboard box, or the brick and granite of the Midtown apartment. And yet, the security we have is temporal and not inviolate. Our dwellings flood, burn, and are broken into by thieves. How fleeting is our sense of security when such things happen.

In the best of dwelling places, we also know the security of a community of love, that is, the primary community of the family. Truly home is a refuge. I well remember driving home for the weekend after a difficult first year at college, feeling my own sense of failure, and coming to a place where I knew that none of that mattered, to a place where I was loved unconditionally. And yet even this is imperfect. There are arguments, disunity, and even a breakup of the family. It too is not inviolate.

Like me, I suspect that you too have your particular places in your home where you feel especially content. Maybe it's a corner chair, your desk, or the window seat where you read. Maybe the light is different here, or perhaps there is a plesant memory or series of memories you associate with this place. Whatever it is, you are drawn to this place, long for it, and feel safe in it.

We both make too much of and too little of our homes. I've been in some massive designer homes that have the latest kitchens and fashionable layouts and yet do not feel like a dwelling place or refuge at all. In a sense, those with such homes may think too little of them --- they can be mere adornments lacking in personality and the chaotic character of a lived-in space, the warmth of messy living. And then they also think too much of them, investing their time and money into something that is temporal. When we remodeled our home after a fire a couple years ago, I remember felling a sense of loss even as I enjoyed the expanded and changed spaces in our home. Some parts of the home I associated with certain memories. As I said, I feel a loss, as these places are now gone. They cannot be recovered.

In the end, our dwelling places are just shadows of a greater, coming reality. They are regular reminders of the true and permanent security we will enjoy in Christ in a restored heaven and earth, when "the dwelling of God is with men" (Rev. 21:3b). Then we can give up our cardboard boxes as there will be no need to keep the world out in a world without walls. As I tell my kids: Take everything good you know of this place we call home, and imagine that being magnified a hundredfold. Now take away all the bad. That's something like Heaven. That's our true dwelling place.