ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



February 2, 2014
My desk

Today ended up being another day without much opportunity for taking photos. With guests on the Laurelville grounds until noon, I stayed busy with hosting in the morning and then closing buildings until early evening.

So instead of an artistic and aesthetically pleasing photo today, I’m giving you another “slice-of-life” photo. This is my desk, plus other office space that I seem to be annexing. Here’s what I see, when I look at the picture…

An explanation of the 'Photo of the Day'

  1. My computer.
  2. Two different coats for the crazy weather we’ve been having.
  3. Towels for drying off the seat of my work vehicle, which has a roof but no sides.
  4. Coffee mugs. Many coffee mugs.
  5. The Clipboard. Yes – it’s capitalized. It has all the information needed for the weekend groups.
  6. My half-gallon water tank.
  7. Cereal bowls from hastily eaten meals.
  8. A tub of lost-and-found items that guests forgot to take with them.
  9. A map of the Laurel Highlands.
  10. My bulletin board with bits of wisdom and inspiration, as well as the schedule for the coming month.
  11. Phone numbers and note tablet for when I need to answer the camp phone.
  12. Extra pair of shoes.
  13. Supplies for starting campfires (including a torch!).
  14. Batteries for smoke detectors.
  15. Makeshift window blind for sunny days (made from a sheet of brown paper).
  16. Liturgical calendar.
  17. Umbrella, just barely peeking out.
  18. Extra garbage bags.

Wash one another’s feet

As a host at a church camp, I have the pleasure/responsibility of doing what I can to make each guest’s visit comfortable. Much of this work is really enjoyable. (I love chatting with someone over a cup of coffee.) But I’ve learned to value the less enjoyable parts, as well. (Like when I’m called to get a toilet working.) Yesterday, I had a somewhat unpleasant experience that ended with a blessing.

Most of our weekend guests had left, but when I stopped at one building, there was a family that was going through their trash… coffee grounds, dirty diapers, and who knows what else. It didn’t look pleasant…

Uh-oh. You must have lost something.

My medication.

May I help search? Maybe get a tarp to spread things out?”

I don’t know. I might just quit. It won’t be the end of the world if I don’t find it. It won’t kill me.

Let me know if you change your mind.

Three minutes later…

Maybe you could get that tarp?

So I brought two tarps, and together we started going through garbage. First bag – nothing. Second bag – nothing. And at the very bottom of the third bag, we found the two bottles of medication. Joy!


The four-year-old son had been watching all of this, and as I cleaned the trash up afterward, the mother came over and whispered. “He wanted to give you a quarter, so you’ll find something on the seat of your golf cart.”

A little later after they left, I found two dimes and a nickel waiting for me. Blessings don’t get much bigger than that.

Yes – my job may be unpleasant sometimes. But on days like yesterday, I’m reminded of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in John 13:

He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

John 13.12-15 (NRSV)


A reminder to myself

Sometimes you extend hospitality to others, and it’s warmly received. And sometimes people take advantage of you and spit you out. It’s mostly for that last bunch that I created a reminder for myself…

Reminder wristbandIt says…

Hospes venit, Christus venit

Which is Latin for “When the stranger (or guest) comes, Christ comes.”

Inspired by Matthew 25 and the Rule of St. Benedict (Chapter 53: On the reception of guests):

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

Matthew 25.35-36, NRSV


Balloons, falling from the sky!

My science nerd experience from last weekend…

Last Saturday was a work day for me. As I was running around Laurelville, I noticed a green balloon caught in the shrubs outside one of our buildings. At first, I thought that it simply had escaped from the birthday party that we were hosting nearby. But as I got closer I saw a tag attached to the ribbon…

Could it be a “message-in-a-bottle” balloon? Yes!

When I was in elementary school, my class launched balloons with messages attached. My memory is that my balloon was rather wimpy and hardly cleared the school roof. I never heard back from anyone who found it. Scarred for life.

But here was a balloon with a message for me to answer. Based on the contact email on the tag, it was launched by a second-grade class in the Nordonia School District. But where in the world is that? I hadn’t a clue. Back to the office for internet research! Science nerd in overdrive!

It didn’t take much effort to find Ledgeview Elementary in the Nordonia Hills City School District. Ledgeview is in Macedonia, a suburb of Cleveland. Google Earth helped me determine that the balloon had traveled 133 miles – more or less along the turnpike, but without the tolls and phantom road construction. Based on distance and typical wind speed, I’m guessing that they launched the balloons on Friday.

The balloon path
This is the direct path from Ledgeview Elementary in Macedonia, OH, to Laurelville. 133 miles.

Well – how cool is that! So I wrote a letter to the class to share my end of the story. Ordinary Spouse snapped a picture of Middle and Youngest Daughters and me with the balloon, and I wrote about some things I liked: hikes, reading, tapioca pudding (echoing the ‘likes’ that one student had written on the back of the balloon tag: sports, games, steak).

The balloon at Laurelville
The balloon at Laurelville

Saturday afternoon, I emailed my letter to the teachers, and on Sunday I heard back from one of them. She told me about what the classes were studying and sent me pictures of the second graders launching their balloons earlier in the week.

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I’m still hoping to hear back from another teacher (whose student who launched the balloon I found). And try to follow this: Tonight I received a message on Facebook from an old acquaintance whose good friend from Goshen College (my alma mater) has a son in the class that launched the balloons.

(And that, dear friends, is how we play the Mennonite game.)

Our intelligence is falling faster than the snow

Before my family left Illinois, my colleagues treated me to a White Sox game. The team was giving away “knit bomber hats”:

White Sox knit bomber hatI’ve found that it’s a great hat for outdoor work at Laurelville during the winter. At Thanksgiving, my family was visiting, and I walked into our house after running around the camp with my hat on…

Me at ThanksgivingMom stared at me with a blank look on her for a number of seconds before she recognized me. I teased her about it for the rest of the weekend. Soon thereafter, she reminded me of something that Ted Swartz said about these “toboggan hats”:

Something happens to me when I put this hat on, it somehow feels as if my IQ drops precipitously, perhaps around 60-80 points when the hat slips over my ears.

I guess these hats have the same influence on people around you.

Anyway, fast-forward about a month. Guess who got a hat from Santa for Christmas? She posted a picture on Facebook today.

Mom at Christmas

The practice of encountering others (“An Altar in the World”, Chapter 6)

The wisdom of the Desert Fathers [and Mothers] includes the wisdom that the hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self…

It may be the only real spiritual discipline there is.

– Barbara Brown Taylor

"An Altar in the World" by Barbara Brown TaylorAs I re-read An Altar in the World, I’m reminded that this chapter is one of my favorites. It is heavy on the theme of hospitality – a theme which has been formational in my life recently. Hospitality is the reason we moved to Laurelville in June; it is the reason I love my job; it is the natural result of working out my faith, based on a theology of Matthew 25.

I’m also reminded I’m not very skilled in this practice of encountering others. As Taylor notes, it demands action, not just thought. Which is to say, it requires me to see myself in someone else at the precise moment when I’d rather not be around that someone else. Or is it that they don’t want to be around me? Sometimes both.

One of the challenges I face at Laurelville is the wide diversity of people we welcome to the camp. It is our mission to offer “Christ-like hospitality with welcome and safety for all“, and ‘all’ tends to encompass quite a few people. Of course, many of our guests either don’t know about this little phrase, or they don’t quite grasp ‘all’, or they fail to realize that it’s hard to extend this hospitality if one harbors prejudice.

In any case, they’ll strike up a conversation regarding politics or hot-button issues in the Church and society, and assume that I must be in agreement with them, since I work at church camp. (It’s funny how one can hear such a variety of “biblical” opinions that are in complete disagreement with one another.) Anyway, it is easy enough to welcome people who see things as I do, but much more difficult when it’s clear that my conversation partner isn’t on the same page. Sometimes the best I can do is to simply listen and then try to change the topic. I’d like to do better, though. I’d like to learn to affirm the beauty and truth in each person. I’m still learning.*

* I’ve tried to do some learning by watching our director, John Denlinger, who is gifted in this practice of encountering others. I am sad that John will soon be leaving Laurelville, but am thankful that one of his legacies at Laurelville is a rich and broad vision of hospitality.

My goal is to begin each day by asking…

Lord, when will I see you hungry and give you food, or thirsty and give you something to drink? And when will I see you a stranger and welcome you…?

And then to close the day by reflecting back and asking the same thing. Eventually, I may learn the answer…

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

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