Camino Diary, Day 35

I didn’t sleep well. Between my cold and the anticipation of walking into Santiago it was a restless night for me. Our roommate, Francesco, was up and out ahead of us, pursuing his goal of being the first in line at the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago. Bill and I packed up and we were walking in the dark by 6:30 a.m. I was wound up and wide awake as we started the short final stage of our Camino.

We had read the office opened at 8 a.m. and we planned to get there to see it open.

Walking into the city did not feel the way I thought it would feel. As excited as I was to arrive, I felt a kind of grief deep in my soul that our adventure was coming to an end. We followed the faithful, yellow arrows deeper into the center of the old city and saw more and more pilgrims emerging from shadows and streets to gather for one last walk together.

As we approached an archway beside the cathedral, the sound of bagpipes welcomed us. Walking through the passage we came into the square in front of the cathedral and the space expanded and opened up before us. We looked around, tried to take in the moment as we continued on down to find the office.

And we joined the line. A long line. At 7:45 a.m., 15 minutes before they would open. And the line kept growing.

We could see the front of the line from where we joined and as we waited with all the other pilgrims, we watched a small group of four women arrive. They looked at the line and after talking to one another for a few minutes, Americans for sure, they moved right to the front of the line. Waiting with the rest of us was not on their itinerary. They spoke to the volunteer at the door to the office for several minutes. It seemed like they were making a case of some kind for themselves but ultimately the volunteer sent them back – back to the line that had grown while they made their case – back to the back of the line to wait like the rest of us. It’s one of the things pilgrims learn to do on the Camino De Santiago.

At 8, the line started moving forward slowly and steadily. We thought we would be handed a number and time to return later but instead we received a number and followed the majority to a catacomb like waiting room. I was 109 and Bill was pilgrim 110. Many, many came after us. By 9 a.m. our numbers came up and we moved back upstairs. On our way to join the new line for our certificate we ran into our new friend, Francesco. The Camino provided again. It was a beautiful moment as he had just walked out of the office with his Compostela, saw us and hugged us, overcome with emotion. He was having a dream come true right in front of us and we got to be a part of it.

Saying good-bye to Francesco, we joined the line going in and were surprised at how quickly and efficiently we moved through until we each stood in front of a volunteer who asked us for our credentials (our pilgrim’s passport in which we collected our stamps), asked us questions about where we were from, where we started our Camino, if we had walked the whole way and then put our pilgrim’s names on our Compostela, gave it to us and then we walked out through the gift shop.

There’s always a gift shop.

Bill and I regrouped outside. We both had our last stamp and our Compostela certificates. It was still early, and we had time to make it to the Pilgrim’s Mass in English. The Botafumeiro, the great, swinging incense container, was not in use as the Cathedral itself was undergoing renovation and repair. We gathered in a smaller chapel with a hundred or more other pilgrims in the first Mass we had attended where we would understand the language from beginning to end. It was a beautiful way to end this journey.

People came forward in the Mass to light candles and say a prayer for someone in their lives, someone they had been thinking of and praying for or had met on their Camino. Pilgrims would light a candle, tell where they were from and share their prayer. It was the most interactive and laity filled Mass I have ever been a part of.

After the Mass we walked outside and took in the sights and sounds now that the Sun was up and people filled the plaza in front of the Cathedral. Pilgrims were arriving, taking pictures in front of the Cathedral, gathering in small groups to take pictures with one another – it was buzzing with life and celebration. As we started to round a corner of the Cathedral a young woman approached us from the crowd and asked if we remembered her. She looked familiar but neither of us remembered her until she told us we had met on our first day out of St. Jean, when we had all stopped beside an older lady, Anna, experiencing excruciating leg cramps. She was from Mexico but had translated Anna’s German to English and back again for us as Bill administered first aid and I offered some of my ibuprofen. It was another Camino miracle to have this quick reunion that tied together our first day with our last day on the Way. She told us she had seen Anna again along the way and was confident she had or would make it all the way to Santiago.

We found the Pilgrim’s Museum and walked through it and immersed ourselves in the history of the Camino. It was an interesting vantage point for us to view he history on the day on which we completed our own Camino. It was an amazing mixture of history and story-telling and artifacts and I filled my phone with pictures.

After the museum we felt the need for second breakfast which consisted of café con leche and croissants in an upscale hotel restaurant where our waiter took one look at us in our “road gear” and treated us as shabbily as we were dressed.

Finally, it was time for us to walk through the Cathedral and to see as much of it as the renovations would allow. There was a long, snaking line that we joined that would take us up behind the altar and then down into the crypt below where the ossuary rested that was said to contain the remains of St. James (Iago). As we walked along, we came to the place where the lineup momentarily intersected with the line down and we looked up at the line coming down from behind the altar and in the brief moment we would be at that exact place to see those coming down, there was our old friend, Loli, who we had met at the end of day 2. We shouted, we hugged, we took selfies, we quickly caught up and then she was moving down into the crypt, and we were moving along to go up around and then behind the altar.

Yet another Camino miracle and a beautiful gift for the end of our walk.

After this we stood in the plaza and made a video for our friends and family back home, found a place with wifi to upload the video while we ate lunch. Then we went in search of the Church of Saint Francesco. While we were trying to find it, we suddenly bumped into Thomas from Vienna and Andres from Hungary who we had met along the Way. They knew the Cathedral and told us how to get there and took us, straight away. Another impossible connection at just the right time.

We toured the Church of St. Francesco. It was incredible.

It was later in the afternoon when we returned to our hotel and checked into our room. We napped, showered and eventually went back out for our last supper on the Camino de Santiago. The epiphany I had expected on arriving in Santiago was not the epiphany I received. As we sat and ate our meal, connected briefly with a couple of pilgrims seated beside us, it was small and quiet and simple. While the whole day had felt like a celebration that was better than anything I could have planned, as evening came, our last evening on the Camino, the unexpected epiphany I received was simply this – the last entry in my journal –

“We have always been on the Camino. We will always be on the Camino.”

Camino Diary, Day 34

It was Saturday and we had a short walk that took us through residential areas and wooded paths as we came within sight of Santiago.

We stopped just short of our final destination. Five kilometers from the Cathedral of Santiago at an interesting spot called Monte de Gozo. We could have walked in and then back out to our accommodations but we didn’t. We stopped and took pictures, had showers, did laundry one last time, visited with fellow peregrinos and spent an afternoon in a pub on the property.

Overall the walk was an easy 14 kilometers and my feet didn’t start to register any pain until we’d gone 9 of them. Weather was great for walking and before we knew it, we were there by 12:30 pm. We took a pile of photos of the monument and from the monument back towards Santiago. We could see the Cathedral gleaming in the distance. Pilgrims and tourists and vendors milled around on the sidewalk around the monument and in the parking area by the monument while other pilgrims kept walking on by, too close to Santiago to stop.

Eventually we took to the road again but only for a short walk down to our “albergue.” I use quote marks because it turned out to be less hostel and more hotel. Block building after block building with spaces that looked made for conferences and special meetings plus a very hipster vibing gastro-pub. The property was unusual but nice and we had landed too early to check in. So we just had to hang around before we could get into our room at 3 pm and we did what you do on the Camino de Santiago, we found a quiet spot and enjoyed a café con leche.

Unfortunately, or fortunately – it’s all about perspective – something got lost in translation and we were given two decaf coffees. They still tasted great.

When we finally got to our room, I took a top bunk on one side and Bill was on a bottom bunk on the other side. We could see we would have two other pilgrims staying the night with us. One of them had not arrived yet but the other had arrived, left his things and gone out again. Perhaps he’d even gone all the way in to Santiago and would come back out to spend the night.

As we did our laundry in a nearby building, some older pilgrims joined us to get their clothes washed as well. They were from Canada and specifically from the city where my oldest son and his family lived. We talked all things Camino and Canada for a bit as we waited on our clothes. It was always a gift to talk to other pilgrims and hear about the Camino from their perspective and experiences along the way. Trading our stories made the whole experience richer for all of us.

We ate supper at the pub and then walked up to the statue of the pilgrims at the top of the hill, looking down into Santiago. It was an amazing evening and I took more pictures in that spot that I had on any normal day on the Camino. As we stood there, the end literally in sight, I was full of emotion and awe. It had been a journey that caused me to question my sanity in the early days and now here we were, on the doorstep, one sleep and a very short walk away from the end.

That night, as we turned in, we met one of our roommates and fellow pilgrims: Francesco. I recognized him from a previous pilgrim’s mass we had attended when he had been recruited from our small crowd to be a reader. We talked for a little bit about his own journey and he told us he would be up very early in the morning as he intended to be the very first in line at the pilgrim’s office in Santiago to receive his Compostela. Again, another gift from the Camino, these unexpected connections that made the entire journey that much more meaningful.

Camino Diary, Day 33

What kind of people walk the Camino de Santiago?

All kinds.

There are retired people, gap year young people, people trying to find an answer of some kind, people on spiritual pilgrimage, people walking in memory of a friend or family member, people on religious pilgrimage, people on a holiday, people on their first Camino, people on their twenty-third Camino, teenaged people and eighty year old people, couples, singles, groups, lone walkers, Americans, Spaniards, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, British, Irish, men, women…

All kinds of people.

On our 33rd day on the Camino we had a couple fall in behind us who were part of a tour group on the Camino. Their organizer would drop them off and then drive on ahead of them to a point where the Camino crossed over a public roadway and then as they approached, he’d take a bunch of pictures of them. Later, at our destination for the day, we saw a table full of this group where we found dinner. They were obviously having a great time on the Camino.

Walking behind us most of the day I only wanted to ask them to do one thing.

Stop talking.

They didn’t stop the whole time they walked behind us.

We’d seen this once before when we came upon a young couple walking the Camino. The young woman was talking with her hands so we saw her talking before we heard her. As we caught up to them, she continued on talking to the twenty-something young man without a pause and in my memory he looked at us, pleadingly, as we passed. We could hear her talking non-stop to him until we were finally out of range.

This couple from today who had fallen in behind us were older and the talking was mutual, but it was similarly non-stop. We would speed up to move on ahead of them and they would speed up to stay within 6 feet of us. We would slow down to let them get past us and they would slow down and stay tucked in behind us.

The conversation kept pace as well.

It was maddening.

One of the great gifts – for me – has been Bill’s willingness to talk or not talk, to walk in silence and be comfortable with it. The time and space for contemplation has been amazing on the Camino. It will be one of the hardest adjustments to make when we get back, I think. The background noise of ordinary life makes this kind of quiet impossible.

On day 33 we had a longer walk and we covered over 19 kilometers. That was more than we had left on the path of the Camino that remained ahead of us. I can hardly accept that we are so close, that our journey is so near its completion. We have woken up, walked, washed, ate, and slept – over and over and over for 33 days now every day still seems new and fresh and full of anticipation.

O Pedrouza was our stopping place and we stayed in a nice albergue, once again on bunk beds. Most people would walk all the rest of the way to Santiago after a stay here but we will come up just short of Santiago tomorrow. Again, intentionally, due to schedule and to prepare for what comes next. I had the top bunk and Bill was on the bottom bunk. After cleaning up and sorting our things, we walked to the Cathedral for the Pilgrim’s Mass.

We had met two women along the Way today who were giving stamps out along with info about the pilgrim’s mass tonight. It was at 7pm, they said, and you can only get your stamp after the Mass. We attended and once again I was moved by a Mass in which the presiding priest spoke different parts of the Mass in the many languages of those who were gathered together to worship, pray and share the Eucharist.

Tonight, before bed, a Scottish lady stopped by our bunk as Bill treated one of my many blisters. She was offering him some un-needed advice when one of the younger pilgrim’s shushed her and told her to be quiet as they were trying to get to sleep.

And it was on.

The older Scottish pilgrim unloaded on the younger women. I’m not sure if it was the age difference, the tone she’d used or just the fact that we’d all been walking a long way by this point but Bill and I both felt like we were about to see our first throw-down on the Camino de Santiago. The younger woman didn’t back down but the Scottish woman was not having it. Not a bit of it. She verbally sorted her out and then we all settled in for a tense night of rest.

One thing I knew at the end of this day, somehow I had become one of those people who would never be content to have walked the Camino de Santiago only once. In my mind, as I fell into sleep, I started to make plans for my next Camino – even as another part of my mind wondered – what is wrong with me?

One of my most favorite pictures from the Camino – appeared on Day 33

Camino Diary, Day 32

I don’t have a cold anymore. The cold has me. I took cold meds last night and that caused me to sleep in and get a late start. I was groggy as we started and walked very slowly as our day started. Knowing we would have a short day, I wasn’t feeling the urgency to start walking. We dropped off the key to our room and decided to grab breakfast along the way.

The rhythm has become so normal for us that we made very good time and we were almost to our stopping point when we paused for breakfast. I ate an empanada with bacon y queso with fruity ice tea to drink. I took stock of my feet. The left foot is a mess, the right foot was slightly better than the day before. Both feet were grateful for the short day.

I’m hoping that both feet will heal quickly once we’re off the Way because Ireland is still ahead of me and I now we will be walking a lot.

There was a lot to see in Arzua. Visited church buildings, went in to explore, take pictures and pray through my list and the Lord’s Prayer. That prayer has provided a lot of rich meditation time.

Walking around Arzua we came across a seafood food truck. The special that day was mussels with a pickled emulsion. I like mussels but they lost me at “pickeled.” Stopped at a bar for a coke while we waited for our albergue to open for pilgrims. The cold meds had worn off and the cold symptoms were hitting me hard. Got our beds, got my shower and sorted out my bed and clothes for tomorrow. Each night I would go to bed wearing my next day’s hiking clothes so that I could wake up and get going with the least amount to noise so as to cut down on noise for sleeping pilgrims.

From Sarria onwards there is money to be made for tourist operators. There are a surprising (to me) number of pilgrims who have joined the Way, both from the other paths and starting fresh in Sarria. Shops and places to eat and drink and sleep are more plentiful than ever.

One thing I reflected on today, because of a near miss, is the PTSD I’m taking home that comes from sharing the path with bicycles. There have a been a lot of near misses along the whole journey and the sound of a little bell ringing behind me has created a pavlovian response of jumping to the side and shouting “Bike!” for those walking ahead of me.

At our albergue I go over the brief itinerary that remains for us. Tomorrow, Pedrouza, the next day, Monte del Gozo (a very calculated stop – it’s equivalent to a golfer “laying up” before a hole. Typically not a stopping place but again, my sabbatical timing and finances made this decision for me.) and finally we will arrive in Santiago. It doesn’t seem real. It doesn’t seem possible. And the feeling of “I don’t want this to end” is greater than ever. I noted in my journal that tomorrow night we will sleep closer to the Santiago airport than we will be when we sleep in Santiago.

Today, because of the multitude of cow paths we were on or crossed today I contemplated this bit of Camino wisdom – “Sometimes there’s crap all over the road you are on but that doesn’t mean you have to step in it and take it with you.”

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.