I just got back from a long two weeks in New Mexico, doing a cross-cultural ministries class. It was a hectic final week of school leading up to my trip. I got back from school Thursday night & had a nice farewell lunch at Red Robin with J Friday. Pie had his very first dance Friday night. He persuaded us to rent him a set of tails, white with a black vest and white patent shoes. He had a red rose boutonniere, too. I thought he looked splendid, but his brother was horrified with his outfit. Of course, he was the only 6th grader who was dressed like that, but he didn't care. He walked up to the other kids with complete aplomb and the girls shrieked and swarmed around him while the boys gave him high fives. Boot's irritation with him continued throughout the night, but Pie had a ball. He came home tired out and toting a bouquet of balloons, his stylish suit a big hit. While Pie was at the dance, we took Boot out for Bubba's Q. It wasn't the most delightful evening, between Boot being surly about his brother and J being weepy about my leaving and the upcoming hearing about custody. What a last night!
J took me to the airport Saturday early and I had no flight delays or problems of any kind. Randy, one of my seminary classmates, was waiting for me at the airport in Albuquerque. What a nice guy he is! We rode the shuttle to Santa Fe together, fascinated by the very different landscape. Neither of us had spent much time in the Southwest at all. When we arrived at the retreat center, there was a little bit of time to get settled in, so we headed to our rooms. My roommate, Beth, was napping when I arrived. She had taken the full-size bed, so it was twin for me. Oh, well. It seems to me that having one full and one twin bed doesn't make a lot of sense at a place like that.
Beth turned out to be very nice & fairly progressive. At least, having a gay roommate didn't scare her & she thinks I should have equal rights in terms of ordination & marriage. That's a nice change from some of my fellow students at school. She was the youngest of the group, at only 24. I sat with her and Randy at dinner, then we went to our classroom for orientation. The leader, a seminary VP, turned out to be a newlywed & her husband, David, was along to drive and take pictures. They were both very cool and Maria was so wonderful at remaining calm in stressful situations. We did a couple of exercises, one of which included drawing pictures and another in which we chose photographs to represent feelings. They were both good exercises & drew people who may not have spoken into the group.
The other participants included 2 more from my seminary (Al & Richard, along with Al's wife, Melinda), 3 from Austin Theological Seminary (my roomie, Don & Karen) and two from Wesley in D.C. (Amelia and Dwayne) as well as Ruth, a local resident considering returning to seminary. After our orientation activities, I was invited to go along with Beth, Karen & Amelia to poke around the Plaza. We ended up at Atomic Café for nachos and beers after discovering that most of the other places were about to close down or required I.D. just to get in (I hadn't thought to bring mine). We had a great time getting to know one another a little.
In the morning, we were free to attend the worship service of our choice. All of us but Karen went to Ruth's Presbyterian Church. Karen went to a Unitarian service. Directly after the Presbyterian service, Randy, Amelia and I went with Ruth to the Greek Orthodox Church. That was a really interesting experience. It really felt like we were on holy ground, in a place apart, with all the chanting, incense and icons. Amelia and I, the only UCC folks in the class, both really enjoyed the Orthodox service. We were invited to coffee hour and made to feel very welcome. We had class in the afternoon, an introduction presented by Maria. Then, we had dinner and group reflections, after which Beth and I hung out in Karen & Amelia's room. I missed J fiercely, so it was nice to at least have people to hang out with.
In the morning, we went to help distribute water and fruit to immigrants looking for day work. There was a wonderful gazebo with a roof that revealed the Virgin of Guadalupe when looked at in sunglass reflection or in shadow. Karen, Beth and I struck up a conversation with one of the guys sitting over there. His name was Narciso and he lived in the mountains, with the bears. Karen and I worked together to make our limited Spanish into a decent conversation. Narciso invited us to visit him in the mountains where, we learned, he had no house, just his blanket and pack. Despite that, he was very upbeat and friendly. He did not seem to feel at all sorry for himself. In fact, he even offered me a pair of socks when he noticed that I wasn't wearing any! I declined, with thanks, and he told me, "They're clean! They're brand-new!" I had to explain that I just don't like socks very much. Narciso, who had so little, was going to give me his brand-new socks! It reminded me of the story our AP told about being in Africa & trying to give a suitcase of clothes to the women in the village there. The women thanked them and assured them that the clothes would be given to people "who really need them." It was really something to think of all those guys go through in order to maybe have the chance to be picked up by a pickup-driving boss for a day's low-paid work. The police showed up at one point & I expected them to really harass the guys, but they just wanted a truck moved.
Back at the retreat center, we met with a Methodist couple who have been involved in ministry in the area for a long time. They gave us some of the history of the pueblos and answered questions for us. She also went around the room giving everyone back rubs, which I thought was really nice. After chile burgers, we went on a walking tour of the city. I made note of a number of places I wanted to return. Our tour ended at the state legislature building, which is also an art gallery. I think it's very cool that the arts are that important to the state. There was a book art show, so I was thrilled to get to see that!
We had free time until dinner, so Beth and I checked out some of the stores and had nachos at La Fonda. I found myself wondering how much it had changed (or had not changed) from the days when Lenore was at Los Alamos and would stay at La Fonda when she was in Santa Fe for a weekend. Karen joined us after our nibble and we all strolled along the portal at the Palace of the Governors looking at jewelry. I bought a pair of turquoise earrings for my mom and a small bear sand painting for us.
Tuesday morning, we piled into the van & rode to Taos. When we pulled into the parking lot of the Methodist church, I was cheered to see a car bestickered with messages like "Impeach Bush". I was pleased, too, to see an HRC sticker on the church's bulletin board. Best of all, though, was arriving in the sanctuary to see a plywood "No War" sign on a stick. I felt very much at home and very impressed with this Methodist pastor willing to make such bold statements. I knew that some of my classmates would be less than thrilled, but it was very encouraging to me. The pastor talked to us some about his anti-war and equal rights activism, but largely about his church's food bank program. I think Karen, Amelia and I were the most favorably impressed. Beth thought he was too militant in his presentation and the right-wingers were very upset. I could tell trouble was brewing as soon as we got in the van. Thankfully, everyone was polite to his face, although Melinda did not get into the picture with him because she was so offended by his anti-war stance. I don't understand how a Christian can be offended by an anti-war stance. Of course, a lot of it was pure emotion, since her son is in the military. Still...
We had sack lunches, which Ruth took to calling our "tacky sandwiches" before long at all, at the Rio Grande Canyon overlook point. It was some amazing scenery, but I was too worried about snakes (I was wearing flip-flops) and being pushed over the edge to get too wrapped up in it. I had asked Don if he was going to walk over to the canyon & he said, "I'm feeling a little too unChristian right now" which worried me. I thought about the news reporting that a leftist lesbian seminary student had been pushed into the gorge by a classmate who felt he was doing God's will & kept my distance from the edge.
Back at the retreat center, I walked into the room to Beth exclaiming, "look!" I did and saw a beautiful bouquet of flowers that my beloved wife had sent. It made me miss and appreciate her even more. They sure were a nice reminder of her all week! She is utterly sweet. We met back in the classroom for reflections & Don ended up storming out. What an uncomfortable situation! Maria didn't bother trying to make him stay, but did go and talk with him afterward. I don't know how she did it, but she managed to get him not only willing to stick it out (he'd been packing) but even showed up at dinner. I cannot imagine walking out on a class like that. Over the top!
After dinner, we had a mini-photography seminar by David, whose photos are fabulous before walking up to the Cross of the Martyrs on top of a nearby hill. I was really disappointed by it because of two things. One is that it looked like it was made out of I-beams, no grace or charm to be found. Very industrial and stark. The other was the graffiti tagging on the cross. How rude! The notations spray painted below declaring that "God forgives graffiti" and "Jesus loves artists" in no way excused it. But, the view of the city was great from there, at least.
When we got back, I ran to CVS with Karen in her pretty little silver Miata. Having picked up some Riesling, we headed back to play hearts with Amelia, Don, Ruth and Dwayne. Beth sat in, teaching me how to play. It was fairly fun, but I still like Rummy best.