Camino Diary, Day 31

Today was our last Wednesday on the Camino.

I still can’t believe that’s true.

Our albergue had heavy curtains to keep out the morning sun. We could have slept in. But someone decided to get up early and go to the bathroom – without turning their alarm off. After 20 minutes of buzzing, we were all up and able to greet our “alarming” fellow peregrino when they got back from the bathroom. We got on the Way earlier than intended as a result of the unexpected wake up call and that had us walking in the dark for a bit.

We did not want to walk in the early morning darkness anymore because we didn’t want to miss anything along the way in the final 65 kilometers of our Camino.

But there we were.

It was a pretty plain walk today. Beauty all around us, for sure, but in the end we walked through about 3 kilometers of industrial development which takes some of the “cool” out of it. In a way, this was a taste of what returning to “normal” was going to be like.

The little toe on my left foot was the source of most of today’s pain. It had me thinking that I might try walking in my sandals the next day just to see if that changed anything. All of my pains are manageable and as long as I keep ahead of it with the vitamin I, all is well.

We came across a café that offered a more “western” breakfast menu with eggs and bacon like we might order at home. It was more expensive than our usual second breakfast but as we close in on Santiago it feels like the time to splurge a little.

Today, as I walked, I noticed that the cold formerly known as “Bill’s cold” was now my cold. A couple nights ago I woke up in the middle of the night to a German pilgrim coughing in my face while they slept about a foot from my bunk. I could feel his cough. So I’ve probably brewed a cold from the collective.

My hair and beard, close cut to begin the walk, are now reaching new levels of shabby. And I’m kind of happy with that. A good way to finish this journey. Another opportunity to kill my ego as hair sprouts from my ears long enough to braid and my eyebrows grow into one.

We visited churches along the way today. Collected stamps and spent time in prayer and reflection. Praying for my friend Carole to be healed, praying for family at home, praying through the Lord’s prayer. It has been a very rich time. When you kneel in a church that has been around for hundreds of years and you are on a stone floor that thousands of knelt on before you it makes an impact that “new” can’t. I wonder if our pre-occupation with newest and latest and freshest in our buildings in America has robbed us of this connection to the saints of old.

I came on this Camino seeking answers. I found most of those answers in the first 10 days. For the last 20 I’ve accumulated more and more questions I may be wrestling with for the rest of my life. As we get nearer Santiago, I thought I would be feeling relief but what I mostly feel is that I already miss the Camino. There are only 3 sleeps left on my list before we are in Santiago. When I write again tomorrow night, there will be only 2. The pain of this journey has been real but it has never diminished the joy.

Tonight we sleep in Melide. Tomorrow we have a short walk to Arzua.

Camino Diary, Day 30

There were several things I didn’t take into account as I planned for the Camino.

One of those things was fixed schedule I had created by having flights one day after arriving in Santiago that I would need to make in order to meet my wife in Ireland. That fixed schedule meant that I couldn’t arrive too late or I would miss my flight but it also meant that I didn’t want to arrive too early or we would be in Santiago with not enough time to walk on to the end of the world but too much to pay for food and accommodations.

So with very little of our journey left, I had planned a very short day for us on October 1. We walked from Gonzar to Palas de Rei. A short day like this would have been very welcome at the front end of our walk but now it almost feels frustrating to stop so soon. Physically, while my feet hurt from growing so many blisters, I have lost weight and the walking is pretty easy, even when an uphill is involved. I’m enjoying the day, the walk, the present moment.

As we walked in the misty morning, cool but not cold, we came across a random café just in time for second breakfast. Approaching the little café I heard the unmistakable voice of the late Leonard Cohen. I became a Cohen fan while we lived in Canada and his music is very meaningful to me. As we walked in, the music stopped and I asked the owner if I had indeed heard that voice. “Si! Leonard Cohen!” he said. Bill and I sat down, ate an apple tart and drank café con leche while Cohen continued. It was perfect. That moment was a perfect Camino moment for me.

We walked by a little mission church and stopped in where we were greeted by an older man who offered us a stamp for our credentials. He sat down at a little wooden table and only as he asked for our passports did I realize he was blind. We put our credentials and some euro on the table and led his hand to where we had space for another stamp before thanking him and continuing on our way.

It wasn’t long until we reached Palas and a little embarrassing to have such a short walk. But then, as we waited for the afternoon check-in I recognized this was actually a gift. Slowing down as we approached Santiago was creating space to breath and take stock of what the Camino was doing to me. It was also giving us space to savor these last few days and be reflective before the gears shifted and everything changed. We enjoyed a pressed jamon y queso bocadillo, the best yet – I was in the right place at the right time enjoying the simplicity and the beauty and receiving the grace of the moment.

Later I wrote, “Ego was a big topic today. I am grateful for the opportunity to mortify my flesh on this journey. So many aspects of self to set aside. In the midst of this though I have discovered how much me is till so hungry for recognition and honor. I suppose I should not be surprised but I was. I need to keep tabs on this.”

Bill’s “cold” is worse and I am concerned about him but one thing I have learned for sure is that Bill will press on, no matter what.

All along the way, I have been doing Lectio Divina with the Lord’s Prayer. Now 30 days in, the exercise only gets richer and more meaningful. Words I’ve contemplated have been “Our” and “kingdom” and “as we forgive.” I have been struck by “our daily bread” as the Camino has come to embody this day after day after day – not too much bread, just enough, always enough, the Camino provides.

I find, here on day 30 that my emotions are living very close to the surface. I get teary in almost every church building we enter, I feel a deep longing for family that wakes me weepy, I laugh easily and am either amused or awed by every little thing. I did not expect this from the Camino. I do not dislike it.

From here, we only have 65 kilometers left. I still can’t imagine that. 700 kilometers feels like just a week ago, it’s ending too quickly even though we are ending very slowly. Another small day tomorrow and then two more to finish. As we get closer to Santiago it feels less and less like an ending and more and more like a new beginning.

Weaponizing Ordination

I’ve come to have a low sacramental view of ordination.

I say “low sacramental” because I see it much the same as I see our practice of communion (or the Lord’s supper or the Eucharist). I think these are “graces” from God and I feel they are more than merely symbolic practices but I have friends who receive them in a way that is “other” than how I do, full of more substance than I do, so I feel the need to distinguish between their practice and my own.

So I consider their practice “high sacramental” and my own as “low sacramental” and still other’s practice as “no sacramental.”

Because of the experiences that I have had in 35 years of ministry and what the Spirit of God has worked in my own soul, I believe something mystical happens in marriage and in communion and in ordination and in praying for the sick and in burying our dead and in making confession to one another. I’ve felt the practice of these moments transcend the natural and felt a tangible sense of the presence of God in remarkable ways. I’ve experienced this in hospitals and living rooms and AA rooms and counseling rooms and surrounded by nature and sometimes in church buildings.

Worshipping together can feel intensely sacramental to me. Sometimes this is why I close my eyes and sing – the act can feel so personal and vulnerable and heart rending that I need to step back into some “private space” within. I’ve had my whole world re-ordered by an encounter with God during a single song of worship.

I think it’s because of the experiences I’ve accumulated in this way that I feel fiercely protective of these times and hyper-sensitive to man’s tendency to weaponize or commodify these sacraments.

Historically, access to the sacraments has been used as a weapon of coercion. You will conform to our version of the will of God for your life, you will agree with our version of our Creed, you will behave as we deem appropriate and even, you will vote the way we understand Christians should vote or we will deny you access to this sacrament.

I’ve married Roman Catholic couples who were devoted to their priest and parish but because of a previous marriage and divorce, had been denied access to the sacrament of marriage in their new relationship.

I’ve invited to the table and offered the communion elements to a friend, dying from AIDS complications, who had been denied them by the church of his upbringing.

I’ve ordained woman to ministry while in a church system that denied that women were allowed to be in leadership of the church. Not to be rebellious for the sake of being rebellious but because my best understanding of the Holy Spirit’s leading was that the obvious call and gifts in the woman in front of me made her a candidate for ordination.

I suppose I am writing this as a confession of sorts. This is a hill I am willing to die on. I fall back on Peter’s argument about the baptism of the Gentiles, “And since God gave these _______ the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” (Ac 11:17)

The danger of having nice things, things like the sacraments, is that they can be used as weapons or levers against you. They can become points over which others – those who are the gatekeepers for the sacraments – can lord them over you and me.

It might go something like this…

Man Behind Wicket: Welcome to Generic Church of the Fuzzy Set. We want to empower you for ministry by ordaining you for ministry and providing official papers verifying that you are GCFS ordained and authorized to pastor one of our churches.

Person At Wicket: Thank you very much! What do I need to do?

MBW: Just sign off on this paperwork and conform to our expectations.

PAW: (shuffling through papers) Hmmm. I very much feel called to pastor but I’m not sure I can sign off on all these things.

MBW: No problem at all! You’re not required to.

PAW: Fantastic! I’d like to be ordained then.

MBW: Then you’re required to sign off on all these things.

PAW: O. So I don’t have to sign off on them UNLESS I want to pastor a GCFS church is what you mean.

MBW: Exactly!

PAW: So, let’s say I sign off on these and then a few years later I change my mind about one or two of them? What if GCFS asked me to agree to something I don’t feel is where God is leading me?

MBW: No problem at all! We simply pull your papers and then you are removed as the pastor of whatever church you have been pastoring.

PAW: *0*

MBW: You are ALWAYS free to leave.

PAW: So by being ordained by GCFS will I have input, will all of us have input on what GCFS is all about?

MBW: Ah! Yes, of course, the suggestion box is always back there on the back wall and you can always send in your thoughts. We promise to read every thought you submit and we will keep a very close record of who suggests what so we can keep an eye on you but your opinions will in no way have enough weight to change the decisions of the 12 of us who decide to do what the 4 of us have already decided.

PAW: So to pastor a GCFS church I have to have GCFS ordination papers and if I ever violate any, let’s call them “foul lines” that y’all lay down, you can not only remove my papers unless I recant but you can also terminate my employment?

MBW: Exactly! Isn’t it wonderful?!!

It’s a dangerous thing to enmesh your faith in God, your closest relationships with friends, your employment and your sense of self. And when someone establishes a system where they can literally “lord it over you,” despite the injunction of Jesus to do no such thing, based on a means of God’s grace to you and the Church, I feel like we are coming to a very dangerous place in pursuit of an illusive things we call “accountability” but often only really mean “control.”

Beware of those who weaponize the sacraments against you.

Our goals can be noble. We’ll motivate someone to clean up their act. We’ll inspire someone to get with the program. We’ll make the masses safe by enforcing our vision of orthodoxy. We’ll appease the guardians of goodness by securing paperwork that guarantees people can’t violate our groups mores and values.

But Jesus invites to the table. He doesn’t ask us to filter his guest list.

If we really believe in the call of God, ordination should be managed by the local church who are impacted by the vocation of the one called. Are they a safe shepherd? The home office might think so because “the paperwork” but the local sheep might be getting sheered or turned into mutton chops. The only accountability that matters is the accountability that comes through the empowered relationships of my everyday life.

I believe that people who pastor should pass through a liminal ordination process. I believe in the sacrament of vocation. I oppose with all I am the turning of this sacrament into a means of commerce (to collect dues and fees) or a weapon (to lord it over or punish ordained pastors by revoking or threatening to revoke their ordination.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Camino Diary, Day 29

We were out of our albergue and walking by 7:30 a.m. Breakfast service was running slow so we decided to get going and make due with the bars and water we had for the day’s walk.

It was a misty morning but we never put on our rain gear. A few people were stopping and putting on their gear but we knew if we did the mist would evaporate so we just kept going. The path was quiet and uncrowded for the start of our day.

Which way do we go?

As we walked toward Portomarin we came to the familiar golden arrows and waymarkers and found ourselves stuck. There were two arrows pointing in opposite directions. Another pilgrim walked up and puzzled with us. We decided to follow the arrow pointing left and she decided to go along with us. It was a beautiful walk as the sky cleared and we made our way along a path that took us between backyards, along the roadway and finally to the edge of the river that separated us from the town.

Coming down towards us, from the opposite direction, was another group of pilgrims who had chosen to go right at the two arrows. There were a few places on the Camino Frances where the path diverged or offered a side trip and this was one of the great things about the Camino. A person could come back again and again and there would always be a new version of the Camino to walk, a way not yet taken, new companions to journey with, different kinds of weather, new opportunities to discover things about yourself and the world we travel through.

As we crossed over the long bridge we saw the staircase ahead of us – a challenge to weary pilgrims, insult to injury or yet another experience the Camino offered – and the three of us decided to climb. At the top, we looked back over the way we came and then parted ways as we went to explore the town and find our way in and through it. The cathedral was closed, maybe because of the early hour, maybe for repairs, so we wandered down the street and found a little café that would fix bacon and eggs for us to enjoy for second breakfast. As we ate, we watched some pilgrims emerge from their albergues and just get a start to their day.

As we started out of town, we noticed a small group of people who were walking with someone in a wheelchair. A hiking or trail worthy wheelchair. Soon we came upon other groups with other peregrinos in different styles of hiking wheel chairs with their own small teams pulling and pushing them along the Camino. As we walked and talked, we learned they were there as a very large group who were walking the last 100km of the Camino Frances together with the group, I’ll Push You.

I was amazed with the hard work and dedication of those in the wheelchairs and those assisting them on the Way. As we neared the place we would stop for the night and the I’ll Push You group would pause for lunch together, we had one of those great “the Camino will provide” moments that kept popping up. We were talking with a woman who was walking along the Way with a blind woman and hearing about their experience together when Bill happened to look down at the ground for a second and notice an iPhone in the dust and fallen leaves. He picked it up with the intention of walking it to our next stop in case someone came back looking for it, when suddenly a lady just a little ahead of us shouted in frustration that she’d lost her iPhone somewhere and her team started looking around them. Bill was able to put a quick end to her search and her despair. The Camino provided.

After the I’ll Push You Group went on without us, we settled into our room at the albergue. It was plain, simple but clean and comfortable and we had our own shower and bathroom. After 556 kilometers this was what defined the good life.

Once we cleaned up and had a nap, we went out to explore. This stop, Gonzar, was not a traditional stage on the Camino and so there was hardly anyone there in the afternoon. In the restaurant/bar/lobby, our host and her husband were the only people around and we tried to have a little conversation between our best attempts to speak each other’s languages. Our host’s husband seemed to get an idea and pulled a bottle of yellow liquid out from behind the counter.

“Orujo.” He said, setting out a couple small glasses and looking at us questioningly. We looked at his wife who looked at the three of us for a second, thinking, then she just shrugged and made a noise that was Spanish for, “whatever” and went back to folding towels. The gentleman poured and we drank, it was the only polite thing to do. Orujo, it turns out, is a brandy-like drink made from the mash or leftovers of crushing the grapes to make wine. Fermented, strained and bottled, it had a natural, bright yellow color that made you think of lemons but didn’t taste even remotely close. It was another one of the unexpected moments of kindness and connection on the Camino de Santiago.

Orujo

Less than a week left of our Camino. I thought I would be elated at this point but mostly I just feel sad that we are coming to the end.

You Can’t Argue With Success

I’m listening to the Christianity Today podcast, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” Specifically, it’s the story of a Seattle based mega-church and it’s most prominent pastor, Mark Driscoll – how it started, how it grew, how it established a network of campuses/churches and then dissolved…or spontaneously combusted into a dumpster fire. As I’m listening to the episodes I am thinking about an old joke where a couple of older women are discussing the food at a resort and one says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

Only in this context I would tell it this way, “Boy the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says hungrily, “Yeah, I know; and such large portions!”

One of the themes of this podcast is how badly Driscoll behaved, how many people he hurt, how paranoid and vindictive he was as a person and leader, and how much damage he did to many people’s lives.

But we just couldn’t get enough.

This is the macro-theme – Driscoll isn’t an outlier, he’s the norm.

Our criteria for leadership is simply results based. If people are coming and the church is growing, we will make allowances for and excuse or even cover-up the bad behavior of leaders in favor of “the greater good.” If we can show you astonishing stats on baptisms, tell you stories about outreaches, assure you miracles are happening and we are having to add new meeting times, I can behave like a jackass, run people over and insult your wife and people are conditioned by our systems to keep coming back.

Again, this isn’t an outlier, this has become normative.

We have receipts. We know the names.

And for every one that finally crosses a line and gets called out – often from someone outside the system (forcibly removed or never enmeshed) – there are a lot of us pastors who are engaged in pastoral malpractice who carry on in our wounding, broken behaviors for one simple reason – our church is still growing.

This podcast historically traces a bit of that line – the story behind the story we find ourselves in. Another book that I’m currently reading that adds to our understanding of this situation is Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. The big idea here is that we, the evangelical church, have created this environment where narcissistic personalities can thrive, where bullies are called “visionary leaders” and all manner of offense can be forgiven as long as we’re winning: the church is growing, finances are good, and congregational clout continues to grow.

Who doesn’t want to be a part of the “happening” church in town?

Living in another place at another time I once asked a couple who were visiting our church for the first but not last time, “What brings you here today?” and their response was, “We’re new to the area and I asked someone in the coffee shop where the liveliest church in town was – they said they’d never been here but they’d heard a lot about your church.” Let’s be real, who doesn’t want to hear that? The danger is that in hearing that we ignore all the other red flags, internal issues and clear actions that harm others and themselves.

Because it’s working. We’re winning. And as the adage goes, “You can’t argue with success.”

 We exist in a time now where one of the chief characteristics we’re looking for in a church planter is an “entrepreneurial spirit.”

Let’s just sit with that for a sec.

I’m regularly encouraged to send my keenest leaders with entrepreneurial mindsets off for a conference to learn how to plant a church.

I’m never asked or encouraged to send my leaders with the deepest commitment to Christ or with the most Christlike attitudes or with a clear pastoral vocation to those same meetings.

The above mentioned podcast develops the idea that Bill Hybels, of Willow Creek fame and infamy, boasted about the entrepreneurial or business model of building a church and in light of the apparent success of his approach, this became the method du jour. In a consumer culture, it’s easy to see how this makes sense. In a kingdom culture, not so much.

In the kingdom, the question isn’t “does it work?” In the kingdom of God the question is, “do we see Jesus in this?”

When Jesus says, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.” He’s offering an alternative way to be in the world. A kingdom way.

And perhaps he was serious about that.

Someone once told me that the atmosphere you permit is the product you will create. Or to say it another way – what you put up with is what you’ll get. Or to put it still another way – the way the kingdom comes is the kingdom that’s coming.

The Mark Driscolls might build a mega-church but they are never the point of access for people to experience the kingdom of God. The Billy Hybels might be able to build a seeker-driven empire, but it is not God’s kingdom they are making a way for.

Doubtless we want to point to all the good that got done by these and other men. We want to cheer for the great things their churches and church networks have accomplished. After all, Paul says as long as Jesus is preached it really doesn’t matter.

It matters. And whatever Paul meant, we know he also told the elders in Ephesus that they should, “…guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out!”

In the current climate it seems that our attitude is that as long as the net gain of the flock is greater than our losses, what’s a few roast lamb dinners for a successful, hungry, hard-working shepherd?

We are a collective family who has normalized abuse to the extent that as long as we get our Disney trip every summer, what are a few broken bones or bruises?

Being treated as less than is not the Jesus way.

Being ignored until you are useful is not the Jesus way.

Being told that loyalty is more virtuous than honesty is not the Jesus way.

Please don’t mishear what I’m writing about. I personally know pastors who have really big churches – the mega-variety. They are men of integrity. I’m not writing against big, I’m writing against the idea that in order to be a big church we have to compromise our integrity. That we should make allowances for or cover-up the bad behavior of those in the pastoral vocation simply because “it’s growing.”

The other easy out here is to say, “Well, I don’t know any pastors who don’t have people complaining about them.” And that may be true. It may be true that when you engage with people who are coming from all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of baggage that you will inevitably disappoint them all at one time or another. But that’s not the same thing as an observable pattern of bad behavior that consistently wounds people and demonstrates an authoritarian orientation.

Sadly, in my own movement we have this clever phrase our founder used to describe pastors: benevolent dictators. Wimber did a lot right, got a lot right but he wasn’t infallible and using that phrase may have been him at his most fallible. You can’t put the word “benevolent” in front of hurtful things and magically make them better. Let’s try…

Benevolent abuser.

Benevolent jackass.

Benevolent tyrant.

Benevolent liar.

Benevolent cheater.

Benevolent creep.

I’ve known benevolent pastors who have put the sheep through the meat-grinder over and over and over but as long as the church was in “grow mode” all was tolerated. It was only when people began to flee to other churches, new and old, and money started to become tight that leadership was forced to address pastoral malpractice.

But let me suggest that it was the culture that kept that person in place and until that culture changes the root problem remains.

The kingdom of God won’t come into the world through dictators, no matter how benevolent they may perceive themselves to be. And we cannot escape the primary vocation of any pastor, which is to be like Jesus. And if we behave in hurtful, hateful, vindictive, paranoid and self-centered ways, we are preaching with our lives that this is what God is really like.

You can catch the podcast episodes by clicking HERE. I’d recommend giving them a listen.

Camino Diary, Day 28

Early to rise, early to walk…

Getting nearer the end of our Camino. Today was the beginning of the end. We are in the final 100km of our journey and while that figure sounded way too long on day one, it now sounds way too short.

I’ve lost weight.

I’m sleeping well.

I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time.

I’m able to be in the moment.

We started today after another night of Bill coughing, despite medication. I am concerned about him. I thought I’d lost his company back in the beginning of our walk when he smashed his toes and they turned black. But he persisted.

Now I can’t imagine what this walk about have been like without his presence, wisdom and insights. I’m praying he gets over this quickly.

We got out the door in Sarria a little before 7 a.m., found an ATM – I hope my LAST ATM on this walk.

As we walked in the dim light of morning, just before sunrise, we came to the edge of Sarria to start the path and we heard a sound like rushing water. It grew louder as we got closer to the path out of Sarria. The source turned out to be hundreds of young teenagers getting off of school buses and starting the last 100km together as a field trip.

It was like landing in the middle of salmon swimming upstream.

At first we tried to get ahead of them so we could walk without the roar. We briefly succeeded but their youth got the better of me and soon I was in the middle of the pack and had no idea where Bill was. I talked with students surrounding me and they explained why they were there – “the only school trip to sign up for that sounded interesting” 5 days on the Camino – and asked me what brought me there from America. We talked for a little while but soon the river of young people moved on ahead allowing me to find Bill again and continue our day’s walk.

The Camino has changed for us today. There was no point at which we were truly alone on the way. More pilgrims have joined at Sarria. Maybe because paths have converged but we met several last night who came in specifically to walk from here because you will get your certificate by walking from Sarria to Santiago and getting two stamps each day along the way.

I wrote in my journal, “There was no point on the Way today that was not busy with people in front, behind or alongside. I think our days of solitude are over. Now we must maintain inner peace in the sea of peregrinos.”

Bill and I have started talking about what comes next. How do we re-enter “normal” after this experience? I think we will always have a new definition of “normal” from here on out but it’s not clear what that will look like.

We stopped “early” today at Ferreiros/Mirallos. An “in-between” stop that put us behind the majority of pilgrims we started with from Sarria and would let us start slightly ahead of the crowd that would start behind us in Sarria tomorrow. The hope was that we would be able to maintain a mostly quiet walk tomorrow.

As we walked into the office of the albergue which was also a pub, there was Ryan, the young man who had helped us find a laundromat in the rain way back in Logrono when our friend Derrick was still with us. He asked about Derrick, we caught up and then he finished his lunch and got back on the way. He hoped to finish in only three days from there.

We checked in and got our bunks. No one else was there yet so we had our pick of the bunks, got showers, ate lunch and we relaxed. Up in the building we were sleeping in we were able to talk with other pilgrims, nearly all who were on their first day and trying to figure things out. I had a lot of time for reflection and journaling and made a list of things I wanted to change on my return from the Camino as well as a list that had formed inside of me while I walked of talks I wanted to dive into back at with our church community.

At dinner we met and ate with Brian, a doctor from the U.S. He had six grown children at home and was on the Camino to sort out what was coming next in his life. He told us he had walked for a few days and then been sidelined for several with blisters and bruising on his feet. He’d been in a bad way but had finally recuperated and was restarting his Camino from Sarria. We enjoyed the bottle of water and the bottle of wine they put on the table as we talked over our pilgrim’s meal.

This was a day of surprises.

Camino Diary, Day 27

We were up early in Triacastela. It was a short night but we were ready to get on our way again…after we stopped for first breakfast before leaving town.

The day started in early morning light and fog. The sun came out and then disappeared again and played hide and seek with us all the way to the doorstep of our destination for the night.

Despite the fog, it was another beautiful walk. So beautiful that you know you’ve missed some other spectacular vistas because of the fog. At the same time, the fog adds a mystical quality to the whole experience and creates moments where beauty suddenly emerges and then disappears back into the fog again.

As we walked we came upon roadside – well – home based market. A very old, very run down farm house stood next to a field with fruit trees and a very rough vegetable garden and just at the edge there was a makeshift shelter where produce was being sold to pilgrims. They were all young guys running the place and there was a hardcore hippie vibe – I’m not sure any of the guys were Spanish. I asked about a bathroom and one of them told me, with an Australian accent, to go ahead and walk in the field behind, “just try not to pee on any of the crops.”

As I wandered back I expected a little grow op with some tall pot plants but I never saw any. I did find some bramble bushes with no flowers or fruit on them and I felt it was fairly safe to pee in that area. Once relieved we were on our way again.

We walked through a couple small villages and in the distance we could see Sarria, our stopping place for the night. For a long stretch of the Camino you could see your destination getting closer and closer from a long way off but it hadn’t been that way for a while.

Arriving in Sarria meant we were officially on the final leg of the Camino. This was the start of the end and the section of the Camino you were required to walk to get your Compostela. It was a large center and we understood from Brierly that we could expect an influx of pilgrims from this point on. Not only would this be the starting point for some pilgrims but starting in Sarria we would find other Camino paths converging together as we neared Santiago.

After sorting out our beds and showers, Bill went looking for a Farmicia to get some cold medicine. He had developed a bad cough. I was praying for him to be healed and well and able to enjoy this last section of our journey. At lunch we found a little place along the river that advertised a real hamburger (it wasn’t) and hand cut fries. We ate until I felt- for the first time in a long time – full full.

We met two men in our albergue who were very old friends who meet up for holidays together and this year they were walking the Camino. These new connections and fascinating stories of life and friendship and love are part of the magic of the Camino. The young couple making out on the bunk beds in our room were part of the *sometimes* uncomfortable reality. One of our new friends had a kind but clear conversations with the young man that this was probably not the right time or crowded room to be in for their afternoon delight.

In my diary for this day I noted some reflections on formation that had been percolating throughout my walk that day:

1) Jesus never made following him easy, never set the bar low, never focused on drawing a crowd – in fact he fled from them – often.

2) Accountability groups do not work unless you work them. It’s too easy to share an Instagram version of your life with church folks.

3) I think intimate moments can happen among large groups of people. I am seeing these happen along the Camino. We attended a pilgrim’s mass last night with a large crowd in which I only understood about 2% of the words but the love and expectation was tangible. Receiving communion together was powerful. It seems to be more about the size of the heart than it does the size of the crowd.

4) The bio I am reading about Francis describes a very slow formation – I think real formation tends to be done in a slow cooker than in a microwave oven.

It was hard going to sleep this night knowing that in the morning we would begin the final stage of our Camino.

Lead Like Jesus not like Caesar

If Jesus is the Good Shepherd, then his way of being describes what good shepherding looks like.

Let’s sit with that for just another second.

If Jesus is the Good Shepherd, then his way of being describes what good shepherding looks like.

If Jesus is our king, then his way of being describes what authority looks like in the Church.

When Jesus says, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” It’s reasonable to suppose that he actually means it.

So when leaders in a church denomination or network or even a local church practice an approach to leadership that can easily be described as “lording it over” their constituency, it’s not orthopraxy – it’s not behaving like Jesus nor how Jesus describes the way to those who follow him.

The response of such leaders is often the appeal to Scripture, “Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.” Or “Everyone must submit to governing authorities.” And they insist that their un-Christlike behavior is immaterial and your unwillingness to follow their un-Jesus like way is the real problem, the real act of disobedience, the true rebellion against the authority of God.

One of the great conundrums of Jesus is that greatness in the kingdom is found in humility – both in practice and in attitude. By greatness, in this context, Jesus means authority, means position, means status. Just like the first being last, the meek inheriting the earth, greatness in the kingdom is not found in exerting power over but in demonstrating a willingness to lay down earthly ideas or claims to power and instead empower those around you to achieve God’s purpose for their lives.

When Jesus came preaching repentance, he meant for us to stop thinking about the kingdom of God like we think of other kingdoms – change your mind – this is a kingdom of another kind.

This matters because God, in Jesus, describes a world in which the means and the ends can never be separated. The way the kingdom comes is the kingdom that is coming.

Always.

It’s a root and fruit thing.

It’s a “the atmosphere you permit is the product you create” kind of deal.

Early on in marriage I learned that giving my wife what I think she needs is seldom, if ever, life giving or beneficial to our relationship. For the sake of the well-being of others and their formation as the beloved community of Jesus, imposing my will never helps people grow up – even if they thank me for telling them what to do or giving them a good spanking or for bossing them around. There is a strong temptation in leadership to take the easiest or most direct path to achieve the goals that seem most obvious to those of us privileged to set the goals – but this doesn’t help anyone grow up or become their authentic self – individuals or local churches.

Leadership of a network, a movement or even a local church looks more like an invitation than a demand, an opportunity rather than a compulsion, a partnership rather than a hierarchy – if it means to follow the way of Jesus.

The way of love is never “me first” or “my way or the highway.” Love enacted in leadership doesn’t just create an email address for you to send in your suggestions but it invites you to the table, makes space for you and empowers you. Love never protects the institution, Jesus didn’t die for institutions, love protects the beloved community and the individuals who make it up. Treating people like widgets is one of the most anti-Christ demonstrations of leadership administration in the world today.

Jesus has always offered us a better way. A slower way. A way that looks – in the end – less like I wanted it to look but more like the beloved community of Jesus is meant to be.

Camino Diary, Day 26

A short walk in the rain landed us in Triacastela for the night.

We chose this spot as the place we would begin our final walk to Santiago. Where we would begin our last 100 kilometers of this journey. It’s hard to believe we are this close to the end. As much as I have missed my wife and family and my life back home, at this moment all I want to do is make time slow down.

My diary says, “Tomorrow a.m. we leave for Sarria and the final leg of this journey. 1 week from tomorrow we will be planning our final day’s walk into Santiago and to the Cathedral.”

We managed to sleep in past 7 today because we were in a private room. Once we woke up it only took a few minutes to be ready to go. We ate a quick breakfast and watched the sun begin to rise.

As we started out we quickly realized that we were surrounded by fog. Places along the way that would have given us amazing vistas to look at and to contemplate were just banks of fog. But this too was a gift as we walked into a different kind of beauty and were reminded of the mystery that is part of the Camino de Santiago.

A little way along the rain started. At first it was a pleasant mist, then rain, then a hard rain. We finally broke out our rain gear hoping that – as usual – getting it out and putting it on would make the rain stop. But it didn’t. It continued to rain as we settled in, soaked, at Triacastela.

There have been several places along the way that I felt like I was walking through Middle-Earth, today was one of those days. I expected hobbits and elves to pop out of the woods and cross our path at any moment.

It was such a quick walk today that we arrived well before our albergue was open but they did let us come in out of the rain and sit in the lobby to dry off and warm up while they cleaned the place. They had an outdoor shelter inside of which we hung our ponchos in the hope they would dry for the morning.

Later we met a bunkmate, Josiah, an Economist from Australia and we did a wash in the nearby lavador. We ate another delicious jamon y queso bocadillo  for lunch. Eventually we started to feel dry.

Along the way today I was contemplating on how people grow and become. The conclusion – or at least the stopping place – I came to for the day was that questions are much more important to our becoming than answers are. The wrong question or a bad question can only produce bad answers, answers that won’t contribute to our growth. I feel like the Church has tried to build our reputation on having the right answers instead of the better questions and this has landed us in a crisis of discipleship or formation.

At the laundry today, Bill asked me if I would ever leave Donna for this long again. I know not to say “Never!” but today I FEEL “Never!”

Camino Diary, Day 25

Today, according to the guidebook, we’ve crossed over the last of our “mountain tops” and it’s all downhill from here. I can see elevation ahead so I suppose it’s all relative but we won’t return to this same elevation again on the Camino.

This morning was a classic Camino morning. A British pilgrim in the large room we were sleeping in – probably 15 of us in all – had her alarm set for 6 a.m. So this became the alarm for all of us. What made it truly classic was the dear lady couldn’t figure out how to shut off her alarm to save her life. We ended up waking up to both her alarm and her loud apologies for not being able to figure out how to turn it off. Eventually it is worn out and stops itself but she’s so flustered that she drops her phone on the floor and then knocks a metal water bottle over while she tries to pick up her phone and it becomes impossible for any of us to continue sleeping.

She managed to get our whole room ready to walk by 6:20 a.m. An older man from the other side of the room was very unhappy about the wake up service and he let her know how unwelcome the early morning wake up was for him.

In almost all of the albergues we stayed in, motion activated lights were the norm. In some cases, these are great. They save on electricity and hosts don’t have to rely on pilgrims to remember to turn the lights off when they leave a room. They are also – um – inconvenient at times…like when you are sitting on the toilet and the lights go out or you are in the shower and the lights go out and you find yourself frantically waving your arms over your head trying to get them back on again.

We grabbed a quick breakfast, met a woman on the Camino from Russia and then shortly after we start to eat, a small crowd arrives from another albergue down the way. They had no heat the night before and it got cold. It’s funny hearing them talk about their near frozen experience and how it produced as more laughter for them that it did anything else.

As first light started to break we were already on the way and started what the guidebook promised was our last long ascent. By this point we preferred the ascents to the descents as they were easier on our knees. Up and up we walked until we came to O Cebreiro. A tiny village that was picture perfect and tourist ready. I exhausted the little place taking pictures of it. This was, for me, a ‘thin place’ and I felt my soul was nourished just by being in that place. For a while from here we walked in mist and clouds that had settled on the mountain tops. It felt otherworldly, rejuvenating and inspiring.

We walked up two more “peaks” but that was the last of our mountains. And I felt a little sad about that. I was becoming more and more conscious of “lasts” now. The end of our Camino was much closer than our start and as much as I missed my wife and family there was a growing sense of how much I would miss this walking and way of being. We were moving slowly enough to savor the experience, but the end of our Camino now felt like it was rushing towards us rather than a distant goal.

For a while we walked and talked with the “alarm lady.” Bill expertly chatted her up and we learned some of her story and why she was on the Camino. We had 2nd breakfast – a empanada and a coca-cola. And then we walked some more and by 1 pm we had gone as far as we’d planned for that day and found ourselves in Fonfria.

Checking in to the albergue we were offered a private room with a private bath for almost the same price we had expected to pay for a bunk bed and shared bathrooms so we took it. They offered a large, family style pilgrim’s meal that night and we signed up for that as well.

That evening we made our way across the street to the large, circular building that was the dining hall. Bill and I were some of the first to arrive so we had our choice of seats. The table was one long continuous table that curved along one side of the room. It must have sat 50 or more of us. We tried to sit near the middle so we could meet other pilgrims.

On the table – wine, water and bread. As pilgrims arrived and got seated we all started in on all 3. When it seemed like we were all there, the courses began. Soup was first and the food just kept coming. The lady who was our host was delightful and entertaining and she was making all of us feel very welcome. Each course was great and each was even better than the last. There was always a new bottle of wine and a new bottle of water on the table.

One of the conversations I had that night was with a woman who was there walking all by herself. She had recently turned 65 and the Camino was on her list of things she wanted to do. Her only preparation for the trip had been to throw some things into a back pack and go. She told me about her walk so far and how she had left so many things along the way that she thought she needed but didn’t, how she’d lost other things along the way that she thought she needed but didn’t and now was walking with what she thought of as the essentials – a much lighter load than what she started with. She leaned in to tell me, more quietly, that she was – at this point in the walk – wearing the same clothes every day until she couldn’t stand the smell of them anymore, and then she’d wash them.

On the first day of my Camino this would have grossed me out. By day 25, I got it.

After the amazing 4 course meal – or 5 if you count the bread and wine – Bill danced with our host around the large “dance floor” in the middle of the large building to the cheers of all the other pilgrims. There was a rich, community feeling at this place and it was exactly the kind of night I had been looking forward to on the Camino. The day had started rough with the early wake up call but it ended with an amazing meal with a room full of peregrinos and Bill and I got to go back to our own room with clean beds, with fresh towels and our own thermostat.

I almost felt guilty. Almost. But I knew that the next day the reality of sore feet, a long walk and bunk beds would return.