Tuesday, September 22, 2015

NSW (Day 9) IPCA VII Grieving, Strength and Landing on Your Feet

In the shelter of the tree: strength begets strength!
It's late on this 2nd full day of the IPCA Conference and yes, its been another full day: workshops, plenary sessions and regional meetings with a 2 and a 1/2 hour tour of the Sydney Harbour thrown in for good measure.

With supper over I'd had enough of crowds and it was decided that Peg and Greg and I would gather in the lounge in my residence building with a bottle of red wine that Greg had purchased the day before.

With the wine open we began to share... deeply of how we were experiencing this event, how we were feeling about the news of August 20th and what it has meant for us to be together on this journey of service together for the past two years.

Said simply, it was a sacred time.  Deep honest sharing.  Some tears.  Much laughter. Even more gratitude.  And still more sadness for the place at which we find ourselves... but, as we reminded one another - we have each other - and there is incredible strength in that.  We have the memories of where we have been and what we have accomplished and why we put our heart and soul into it...

And so, with the bottle of wine empty - hugs all around the room - as by this time our circle of conversation had expanded to include others... I ended the day most grateful for all that has been and for all those who are part of my life.  And yes, still concerned about what tomorrow will hold... but, and perhaps it was the wine...

Our last point of agreement was a theological one.  We all came to agree on what we called "cat theology".  Cats always land on their feet.

Yes, they may land harder or softer.
  Yes, the may land a little disoriented.
    Yes, they may land and even be slightly injured after the drop...
       but cats, they always land on their feet...
and so we believe will these cats...

As some of you know, I've developed this habit of ending each day identifying that for which I am thankful for as each day comes to an end.  It seem appropriate to share it here:


  • for deep honest conversation with colleagues and the continued commitment of so many who work with those who are incarcerated;
  • for the two Muslim participants in this gathering who shared so deeply of their commitment to the work of prison Chaplaincy;
  • for the boat tour of the Sydney Harbour and all I was privilege to see;
  • for nice red wine and the opportunity to grieve and be fully present with two of those who have shared in the journey of KPC Inc.;
  • to know that I am loved and that the love I offer is received with gratitude;
  • that I am one sleep closer to being home...

... on the Sabbath Road...

Monday, September 21, 2015

NSW (Day 8) IPCA VII Hospitality, Bushwalking, A Cook's Tour and Stumbling in the Dark...

Second full day of the conference... and it was full!  Beginning with breakfast and devotions followed by a very informative lecture by Ulrica Fritzon from Sweden on the place and value of restorative justice within Chaplaincy.

As lunch was preceded by some free time, Peg and Greg and I headed to the town of Lane Cove… about a 4km walk… uphill for lunch.  We didn’t think it was that far… but it was and we made it – with some encouragement for Peg of the reward at the end!

Along the way I was admiring flowers and taking pictures.  I’m captivated by the beauty and diversity of the foliage and flowers… and it was as a result of this that we met Bill who was tending his garden.   As we said hello, he proceeded to take time to identify some of the plants and trees for us, asked what brought us to the area and then… he invited us to dinner that evening.  I love these encounters when travelling!  Peg and Greg declined as they were going to the Opera House that evening… but I accepted, making plans to return at 6pm and he said if there was time he’d take me on a tour!  Little did I know what was in store for me!

Eventually we made it to Lane Cove and found a restaurant in the town square – what a lovely space – a pedestrian mall creates such a sense of community!  Lunch consisted of panko-breaded fish and battered fries with a local beer and it was all "some good" (as they say in Newfoundland).

Returning to the venue we engaged in the workshops we’d signed up for, I offered leadership where I’d volunteered to do so and as a result had some deeply engaging conversations with colleagues near and far… and as a result, left feeling affirmed for all that I have offered.

On about 6pm I met up with Greg and Peg who had arranged for a cab to take them into Sydney and I jumped out of the cab at Bill’s home – a large stately stone home at 71 Tabbourine Bay Road, surrounded by beautiful gardens.  Bill met me at the door and informed me that we were heading out “straight away” to go on a bush walk and a little cook’s tour… I passed him the bottle of wine that I’d brought and he graciously accepted it even as he told me that he and his wife did not drink alcohol.  That little awkwardness aside – we headed out…

First stop was the trail that runs along the waters edge.  I’d travelled some of the trail previously, but what a different it makes to walk with someone who knows the area.  Bill told me about the local termites, showed me their trails and nests, shared some of the history of the area, walked me to what used to be the only source of water for the community, one of the few natural springs in the area… and was generally a wealth of stories and information!  You cannot plan such encounters!!!

It was dark now… we safely made it back to the car and set off on the
“cook’s tour” that took us to Neutral Bay (where ships regardless of nationality or state of war with the commonwealth could find safe harbour for repairs and resupply), the official residences of the Prime Minister (vacant at the moment… and Bill was looking for good trash at the curb), Governor General and a tourist park on the north side of the harbour where we drove under the Harbour Bridge and he graciously allowed me to take some photos of the beautiful cityscape!

Before returning to Bill’s home he stopped along the way at a friends home that he was looking after as they were on an extended vacation to ensure that their son had put the “wheelie bins” at the curb side garbage collection.

In no time we were back at the house where his daughter Eleanor had prepared a wonderful meal of lasagne and salad for us.  A friend of their family, Eileen from the southern highlands was present as well and a full and lively conversation ensured as they shared with me and I with them.  We were not long into the meal when Bill’s wife Louise arrived home from her medical practice and joined in the conversation.  Bill graciously opened the wine I had brought and Eleanor and I each had a glass with our meal.  It was fascinating to hear of Louise’s work as a GP and other Australian medical system, her travels as a doctor to the various pacific islands and of Bill’s career as a communications – and of their deep and abiding love for the land they live on.  The meal concluded with ice cream (richest ice cream I’ve ever eaten) and a tour of their great room where I had the opportunity to appreciate some of their art collection and Louise’s collection of handmade woven bags from around the world.

It is encounters like this that so enrich the experience of travel… it is not about seeing… but rather
about connecting and building relationships.  To connect is to meet people where they are at – and trust what they offer at face value, and be open to the experience as it may unfold.

All too often our relationships (especially familial) get hijacked by our individual biases and judgements, our own histories and struggles, and we don’t really hear what the other is offering, because our filters get in the way.  I know this to be true for me – and I’m working at trying to be more aware of this tendency and as a result, be more open… not always easy when dealing with your own hurts and worries.

The walk home from Bill’s home was a quiet one… in the pitch dark – not a street light in the area until I drew near to the college.  I had a few stumbles along the way as I tripped over sidewalk slabs that had been pushed up by the roots of trees along the way – a good metaphor for growth: that the growth of one, is not always easy for others – sometimes tripping them up and unsettling their world.  But in the end… the tree cannot cease its growth – to do so is to die… and so, we make our way, cautiously, sometimes stumbling, in the dark… toward the light… on the Sabbath Road…

Sunday, September 20, 2015

NSW (Day 7) IPCA VII On Being Known... and Not Knowing Your Future...

Lord Byron once said, "What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little."  Harsh words, but I was drawn to them for the first part of the phrase... If fame is about being known by people of whom you know nothing that I never want a part of it...

Let me explain.

For the past years I have served as the manager of the International Prison Chaplains Association website.  I was responsible, on a regular basis for communicating with over 1,500 prison Chaplains around the world.  They got to know my name.  I am sure that some of them even set up spam filters to keep my name out of their inbox... the point being, anywhere I go these days during the conference people know me... and while I know myself, I don't know my future as it may relate to IPCA in the future.  Right now it looks pretty bleak.  And that makes me extra sad when so many people know me and my deep commitment to this work...

And so... much of my time in conversation with other delegates is spent telling the story of how I got to where I am today... and the story my own uncertain future in relation to prison chaplaincy.

The theme of this conference is "Telling Our Story" and the story of KPC Inc. has been all consuming for me for the past number of years... it is an awkward place to be... to be so known for your commitment to this important work... and so uncertain about what you know about the future of your connection to the work... and so... I pause.  Pause and listen to the double edged question so aptly posed by Parker Palmer:

"What do you want to let go off and what do you want to give yourself to?"

Some may see it as a cop out... but I see it as being fully authentic: I want to let go of yesterday and give myself fully to today... for today is all we really have.

And so for today:

  • I will tell my story, the story of my deep commitment to prison chaplaincy as fully and authentically as I can.  
  • I will speak truth as I know it, in as respectful a manner as possible so as to contribute to the greater good.
  • I will listen deeply to the stories of those with whom I share the journey and seek to honour and establish meaningful connections.
  • I will offer my knowledge, wisdom and skills to the community I am part of in a small effort to contribute to the making of a better world, and
  • I will be open to what tomorrow may bring... 

... on the Sabbath Road...

PS... and yes, I am going to climb into this tree and revel in its strength and beauty before I leave this place!!

Friday, September 18, 2015

NSW (Day 6) IPCA VII I Can Do This Hard Thing...

I'm writing this on Friday evening.

Tomorrow Peg and I will make our way 10km to the north shore to St Ignatius College Riverview, a Catholic Boys School where the seventh gathering of International Prison Chaplains will take place.  There we will meet up with Greg Rodgers, one of the other partners of Kairos Pneuma Chaplaincy Inc. and countless other Chaplains from around the world.

I was privileged to attend the sixth gathering in Stockholm Sweden and up until August 20th I was excited to be attending this gathering, representing Kairos Pneuma Chaplaincy Inc. and its services to the Correctional Service of Canada and the men and women in their care.

Unfortunately, on August 20th we were informed that we had not been successful in our bid to continue - that we have been underbid by a competitor organization, and as a result, our service delivery would cease as of March 31st 2016.  It's going to be a hard thing - being here: so deeply connected to chaplaincy - but with no future in the work beyond March...

I'd thought seriously about staying away... but I'm here.  I can do this hard thing.  I can do it because the work of caring for those incarcerated, the critical mission of holding hope for those who cannot hold it themselves... that is always more important than who does it... And so I am here.  And I will try to be fully present, bring my best self to this work that has so drained me and filled me... I'll share my wisdom and passion... and I'll treasure the moments as they unfold.

Carrie Newcomer posted a song the other day that moved me to tears - likely because of the hard thing to be faced tomorrow and the hard things still to be done in the months ahead when I get home.

You Can Do This Hard Thing.  A dear friend typed out the words for me as I was not hearing them all...  Thanks so much!!  XOXO
You Can Do This Hard Thing 
There at the table with my head in my hands,
With a column of numbers I just could not understand.
You said add these together, carry the two, now you... 
You can do this hard thing, you can do this hard thing
It's not easy I know, but I believe that it's so, you can do this hard thing. 
At a cold winter station, breathing into our gloves
It would change me forever leaving for God knows what
You carried my bags, you said I'll wait for you 
You can do this hard thing, you can do this hard thing
It's not easy I know, but I believe that it's so, you can do this hard thing. 
Late at night I called and you answered the phone.
The worst it had happened and I did not want to be alone
You quietly listened, you said we'll see this through 
You can do this hard thing, you can do this hard thing
It's not easy I know, but I believe that it's so, you can do this hard thing. 
Here we stand breathless and pressed in hard times
Hearts hung like laundry on backyard clothes lines
Impossible just takes a little more time. 
From the muddy ground comes a green (volunteer)?
In a place we thought barren new light appears.
Morning will come whistling some comforting tune for you 
You can do this hard thing, you can do this hard thing
It's not easy I know, but I believe that it's so, you can do this hard thing.

NSW (Day 5) Sydney with Peg

To bed around 9pm and slept until 7:30am... wow... I guess I was tired!  Peg didn't rouse til almost
9am and slowly, with the assistance of caffeine we made some breakfast and talk about what we might do today.  Neither of us had a lot of energy!

Eventually we decided that we would head down to the Rocks where we could see both the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.  It was about a 10 minute walk - we turned it into about 20 minutes and we looked at things along the way and stopped to talk in a nice little park that we came across.

Initially we thought about taking one of the ferry boats to Mission Point or some other such destination so we could see things from the water... but the more questions we asked the more complicated it seemed to get... and then we realized that a Harbour Cruse was part of the conference activities next week... so we just went walking.

We walked along the cruise ship dock, took pictures of the Opera
House and Harbour Bridge, and then strolled along Argyle Street where we found a little cafe and had sandwiches for lunch, and then, as it was Foodie Friday Peg bought some handmade chocolates for us to share and I found a booth selling gelato and bought us each a cone.  And, with our bodies nourished and our feet sore we headed back to the hotel...

We lounged around the room for a bit... had a nice long soak in the hot tub and before long it was time to go for supper.  We'd decided to go down to the waterfront for supper so that we could see the Harbour Bridge and Opera House lit up.  It was beautiful.  We dined at a restaurant right near the ferry terminal and could see the bridge lit up right beside us.  The only disappointment was the rain that began as we headed back to the room... we didn't melt... and it was so good to connect with loved ones back home if even for a few moments.  Those moments of connection have come to mean so much being so far from home.

All in all, its been a beautifully quiet, restful day... just what this weary traveller needed!

Seven sleeps and I'm on a plane heading home...
  Eight sleeps and I'm home...

As said George Moore, "A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it."  Just Thinking Out Loud ... on the Sabbath Road...

NSW (Day 4) Hunter Valley to Sydney

This will be a brief entry.  I woke well rested to the sun falling on the grape vines outside my door but there were dark clouds on the horizon and the forecast called for rain in Sydney.

I took my time getting my breakfast (fixing were provided in the room) and then loaded the bike and suited up.  No word of a lie.  The minute I started the bike it started to rain!!!

I gamely headed out in a driving rain, refusing to put on the rain gear because it was almost 30 degrees!  I would have melted.

After an hour I'd had enough.  I took the GPS off the scenic route and headed straight for Sydney.  I was stressed worrying about traffic anyways and by this point... I just wanted off the bike.

Soon I was pulling up to Bike Round Oz and in no time the bike was unloaded and the owner had called me a cab.  $20 later and I was at the York Hotel where Peg had left a key to the room at the front desk.  The room is a nice set up... a bed and sofa bed, kitchenette and washroom with a washer and dryer!

I spent the afternoon reading and doing laundry and about 5pm Peg arrived and we spent the evening trading stories and catching up, moving downstairs to the restaurant for supper.  By 8pm Peg was in bed and by 9pm I was too... Two road weary travellers on the Sabbath Road...

Its good to be off the bike.  Its been a long trip and I've been reminded of my mortality more than enough times on this trip... I long for the safety of a familiar road, the comfort of a familiar face and voice...

The image that is fixed in my mind these days is that of the grape vines outside my room in the Hunter Valley... and the many other grape vines I saw in that area where there was delicate new growth springing forth from what to my eyes looked like ancient weather vines...

... it got me to thinking about my own life, and what has been pruned, what has been cut back and removed... and the fragile new growth that is springing forth in this 50 year old vine...

Somedays I feels pretty fragile - all that is new is tender and unsure... Other days I feel very exposed and vulnerable to all that is around... but then I remember that my roots are strong and deep.  I have the support and care of a network of friends, and the soil from which a draw my life is composed of many good memories and much gratitude... on the Sabbath Road...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

NSW (Day 3) Katoomba to Hunter Valley

After a wonderful breakfast at Lurene House, in the company of a pandemonium of parrots... yes, thats what you call a group of parrots... and it fits given the noise they make as the vie for a place at the feeding trough!

The hosts of the Lurene House are both originally from Cambridge and met while travelling in Australia as young people (that's a common theme I've noticed).  They returned from a backpacking trip to Cambridge 22 years ago and six month later were emigrating to Australia.  11 years ago they began running Lunene House and it is so clear that they both enjoy what they do.

I ate early and both came regularly to the table to speak with me, talking of the climate, events going on in the area, their travels etc... and as I was loading the bike others joined in the dining area and it was such a hubbub of activity.  Such community as they took me table to table and introduced me as the only North American in the house that night...

Having been introduced all around I jumped on the bike and headed out.  First stop was the lookout over the Three Sisters and then... I rode.

Whoever planned this route sure knows good motorcycle roads.

From Katoomba I took the road towards Blackheath and Mt Victoria.  Along the way I passed Govetts Leap and then kept going to Bell where I turned onto the Bells Line of Road.

This was spectacular riding along the edge of Mount Banks - almost like an escarpment with vertical drops on each side with many curves and elevation changes - and no places to stop for pictures... and so I rode...

Kurrajong Heights lookout would have been a good place to stop for a picture but it came up on me so fast... and driving on the left has me a little dubious about doing U-turns.  I just don't feel safe.  So I motored on.

I really should have stopped for apple pie at one of the many vendors along the next stretch of road.  All kinds of apples were for sale... and you could literally smell the pies cooking in the many cafes and bakeries along the way... but the road kept me engaged...  I was in a groove.

Descending down Bellbird his was an interesting experience... tight turns behind a heavily laden truck going down in a very low gear.  I eventually pulled off and let him get ahead.... and thankfully he turned off as I got on Putty Road.  Wow.  Only way to describe it is wow.

For the next 100km I didn't see another car and the road opened up before me... sweeping turns, elevation changes, an arid wooded landscape unfolding before me - almost like the Pentiction area of BC... and it just kept getting better.

Unfortunately there was a fair bit of roadkill along the way: kangaroos and wombats.  As at home, dusk and dawn are bad times to be on the road...

I took my second and third picture of the day at the iconic Grey Gum Café after I had a long black and a piece of their home made apple pie.  At this point I was 62km from my accommodations for the night... and they were some of the most interesting 62km of the trip as I came out of the Howe Valley into the surrounding ranges and then back down into the Hunter Valley.

Its no wonder that this is a popular motorcycling road for riders in the
Sydney area.  While I was at the Grey Gum Café I counter 62 motorcycles - and this on a Wednesday afternoon.  The lady who waiting on me spoke of over 200 bikes being there at a time on any given Saturday.  I'm glad it wasn't Saturday!  This would explain why the local law enforcement has some special motorcycle enforcement areas along this section of road: special signs and markers for motorcycles and warning of radar enforcement.... yes Mom, I was a good boy - I stayed under the speed limit the whole trip!!!

As I entered the fullness of the Hunter Valley the magnitude of the wine production in the region became readily apparent: vineyard after vineyard.  Some were small and there were others whose names even I recognize: Lindemans and Brokenwood Wine

Opportunities for tasting were many... not something I wanted to do alone... and so, I headed to the
Hermitage Lodge, checked in, went for a swim and here I sit... enjoying the view and sharing a rather short story of an incredible day of riding...  my fourth and final picture of the day.

A little later I'll head down the road to a pub and grab some supper and then return to the room and watch the sun set over the vineyard.

Tomorrows journey will take me back to Sydney via Wiseman's Ferry.  It's only a trip of 234km.  As a result, my plan is to take my time leaving so I miss as much traffic in Sydney as possible.  After dropping off the bike I'll make my way to The York where I will meet up with Peg and on Saturday we'll make our way to the Conference venue and begin the last segment of this date-line equator crossing adventure... on the Sabbath Road...

PS: Just back from Harrigan's pub which is just down from where I am staying.  I had beef stew with mashed potatoes and green beans.  Not bad... but way overpriced - then again, so is everything down here!!!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

NSW (Day 2) Kangaroo Valley to Katoomba

The morning dawned bright and warm and after a walk around the beautiful grounds and a full
English breakfast I was on my way... another day of twisty roads and beautify scenery.

Unfortunately I missed the first view point of the day: Fitzroy Falls.  By the pictures on the internet it is a stunning waterfall.

Climbing out of the valley I knew this was going to be a beautifully interesting day... and I'm just going to let the pictures speak for themselves after I ramble a bit...

At about noon I started to get very lonely.  Perhaps it was some of the names of the villages - they were all so very different then home... and then there would be a familiar name: Balmoral and Wentworth Falls...

Its been a long trip and I'm glad that as I write this I have only today September 16th and tonight on my own before I reunite with Peg and then other colleagues on Saturday at the IPCA Conference.

I picked up a book in the lounge of the B&B last night, drawn to the title: A Year in the World: Journey's of a Passionate Traveller by Frances Mayes and came across these words:
Everything I pick up seems to lure me away. Everything I do in my daily life begins to feel like striking wet matches. The need to travel is a mysterious force. A desire to 'go' runs through me equally with an intense desire to 'stay' at home. An equal and opposite thermodynamic principle. When I travel, I think of home and what it means. At home I'm dreaming of catching trains at night in the gray light of Old Europe, or pushing open shutters to see Florence awaken. The balance just slightly tips in the direction of the airport.
My balance has shifted... toward home and a desire for a walk to the gentle falls in Wentworth, NS as the seasons change.

... on the Sabbath Road...