Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Little Pilgrimage: To And From The Sacred Lake

Whenever I have driven to Pyramid Lake, I have taken I-80 through Fernley and Wadsworth. This afternoon, for the first time, I took Pyramid Lake Rd. out of Sparks. Unlike I-80, it does not pass alongside the mountains but goes through them – rolling hills, with sharp vertical mountains jutting up among them, the road rising, falling, and winding its way deeper into the high desert.

It was an interesting enough drive, but I did know the road having driven it the opposite direction toward Sparks. I knew the road going one way, but had never driven it into the Rez. As I came around one of the mountains, the Lake was suddenly there. I found myself headed directly toward it. The water was huge. It doesn’t look that big from any other vantage point. A vast expanse of water the most striking emerald color I have ever seen.

I was awestruck and afraid. Why afraid? It felt like when you stand at the edge of the roof top of a tall building or on a high bridge like the one at Royal Gorge and you are afraid of falling but also have a terrifying urge to jump. Rudolf Otto said that experience lies at the root of religion. He called it the “mysterium tremendum; mysterium fascinans” – an encounter with something that at once frightens and fascinates – the kind of terrifying beauty from which you cannot look away. That’s what the Bible means by “fear of the Lord” – not dread of punishment but a trembling in the presence of something immeasurably strange and wonderful.

There are more spectacular places in the way the Rockies are spectacular. But no place on earth touches me in this Rudolf Otto way half so much as Pyramid Lake does. On a completely different dark and windblown day three years ago, I visited the lake and described that encounter this way:

The wind,
resolute, indomitable,
swoops over bare snow mountains
down, down onto Pyramid lake,
blue water skidding
away from shore, not to.
Windblown vapor,
mist twin, not spray,
races across, above
the breakers
toward island peaks – how far?
I stand,
then kneel
at the edge,
dip my fingers
into mysterium tremendum
and cross myself with fascinans.
Then turn,
boots sinking
in wet sand,
face wind-grit stung,
straining toward
any shelter
I can find
from God.

It turned out to be one of my very few published poems.

In a completely different way today, I drove around the mountain and found myself suddenly, abruptly (like that word “immediately” that begins so many sentence about Jesus in the book of Mark) and unexpectedly face to face with holiness. It felt as if I might drive off the hillside and sail right into that green water the way I hope someday to fly into God.

After the meeting of Paths Crossing, I drove home along Sutcliff Rd. The sun had set but the sky was still light in places though mostly covered with clouds. A light rain was falling. Clouds covered the mountain tops and swirled slowly in the wind. It was mysterious rain cloudiness with the lake beside me. It wasn’t startling now. But I was intensely aware of is deep presence even when I could not see it. God is rarely glimpsed but impossible to forget.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Riding The Range On A Fine Spring Weekend

I drove into White Pine County listening to Ranger Doug’s Classic Cowboy Coral, feeling thankful for Sirius radio when the Spanish language cd’s have over taxed my brain. After awhile I had heard enough of Gene Autry and The Sons of the Pioneers, and switched to Andrea Bocelli singing Cor Te Partio and Jasha Heifetz. I take my musical vacillations as proof that we are made up of diverse subpersonalities. My subpersonalities have little appreciation for each other’s music.

I arrived in plenty of time to check into the Hotel Nevada where they recognized me on the computer, if not by face, as a regular. Last time I was here, it was Halloween. Looking back at my blog posts, I seem not to have described the amazing bar scene at the Hotel Nevada that night. Right out of Star Wars. Incredible costumes on characters of all ages, many of whom would have been pretty colorful without costumes. Saturday afternoon in mid-April, things were more sedate.

When I drove to St. Bart’s for Margaret Bath’s slide show presentation on her mission trip to Kenya with Melvin Stringer’s Kenya Keep project, the first thing I noticed was that there was nowhere to park for a long way around the church. The second thing I noticed was that the parish hall was packed with people. The third thing was that the people included young adults and children. This was Saturday night at church. And in Ely there are options.

The slide show was splendid. It was not the old pity and guilt kind of thing we used to get on TV with Sally Struthers. We saw a lot of beauty and fascinating culture. We saw a land that is trying to get it right – protecting its environment, struggling unevenly toward democracy, working constructively with religious and cultural diversity. We also saw the Kibera slum, one of the world’s largest and poorest centers of urban blight with devastating impact on human lives. We saw the Emmanuel Clinic supported by Kenya Keep alleviating that suffering in Kibera. We saw schools where Episcopalians are sponsoring children for a better life. It was a presentation about poverty and affliction but surrounded by hope and an opportunity for us to make a difference.

To my bishop’s eye, there was something else noteworthy about this – a shared mission between St. Bart’s, Ely and St. Tim’s, Henderson. A diocese is not a regulatory body. It is a partnership (koinonia) in God’s mission. A diocese does not exist in a static way. It is always becoming, forming anew, like fresh skin cells. Margaret’s trip with Kenya Keep was an occasion of our becoming a diocese anew.

Breakfast at the Hotel Nevada. Generous portions. Good prices. Waitresses engaging in witticisms about people with bad altitudes needing altitude adjustments in the form of stiletto heels. I barely noticed the man sitting a stool away from me, but after he left my waitress told me he had bought my breakfast. What do such things mean? My guess is that I was the beneficiary of a gesture of thanks to God for some blessing in his life. Had he not done this, the waitress might not have asked my name and where I am from. She told me about a traveling preacher she knows who lives in Tonopah and also works in mine safety. “Oh, that would be Ken Curtis, I said. He’s sorta one of ours.” A grouchy mustached man sitting down the counter glowering over allegedly hard biscuits explained what Ken does at their mine. We all agreed that Ken is an exemplary person. Before long the waitress owned knowing Fr. Red and Paula Sims. I told her about the Kenya presentation by Margaret – of course, she knew Margaret and Tom, and said the former cook at Hotel Nevada went to St. Bart’s. I opined that “They are good folks over there.”
All I said. Evangelism – all starting with the generous gesture of an anonymous man – who, btw, was only there this morning because his coffee maker broke. Rare to find such generosity in a man with a broken coffee maker.

It was a good Palm Sunday complete with receiving into the church a new young adult. We got the perfect photo of Fr. Red with a mother and baby for the planned billboard ad. Then we dashed to make a house call for a home communion, receiving another new member, and anointing a St. Bart’s veteran member for healing. He is facing a possible major surgery late in life. The new member was his daughter in law who was serving the Lord at home with the gathered family.

Then off to Eureka to celebrate Palm Sunday with St. James. Along the way I listened to Hillbilly Jim’s Moonshine Matinee with included Whisperin’ Bill Anderson singing “The Tips Of My Fingers” and Baldomar Gomez Garza (aka Freddy Fender) singing “Wasted Days And Wasted Nights.” St. James is still a small gathering – 8 people this time – but we sang “the blood songs.” Fitting for the day.

Then it was on to Austin for a working dinner with Frank Whitman, our Lay Chaplain to Miners and Energy Workers. We ate at the Toiyabe Café where I had my customary Ortega Burger. There is a lot of shifting of roles along the Highway 50 Corridor these days. Frank and I were strategizing how to respond to the coming molybdenum boom in Eureka, the geothermal and mining surge around Austin, and the challenge of population growth and social services reductions in Tonopah. A productive meeting. Things are exciting in Central Nevada these days.

Then it was on to Tonopah. I am now safely ensconced at Tonopah Station. Tomorrow Deacon Clelia Garrity and I will sit in on a meeting of Attorney General Reps, county officials, and ecumenical leaders to discuss how this community can find ways to fend for itself as the population surges while state services are being withdrawn. I’m just here to listen, but it sounds like we need to do something.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Strange But Prophetic Day On The Strip

We were an unlikely crew of protesters: a deacon from St. Matthew’s attending her first demonstration; a deacon from Christ Church chiefly known for her pastoral and charity work; a lay person from Christ Church; a priest from Epiphany, Henderson who despite her California roots was born considerably too late to even remember the Free Speech movement; and me, the Mad Hatter Bishop. But there we were on the Strip on a bright April Day carrying signs and passing out pamphlets on the moral blight of human trafficking and child prostitution in Las Vegas.

It may have been for the best that my colleagues were not veteran demonstrators since this was a different kind of event. First, we had to register for the Rally. Our organizers were really organized. We registered on line well in advance. Then we were required to sign liability waivers in case we twisted an ankle or got poked in the eye by a sign. Then we had to sign in at the registration site, where for a $25 donation, we got a red Not For Sale t-shirt and a bottle of water.
Someone eventually helped me realize that social activism has a new paradigm modeled on the marathon.

As we walked from where we had parked our car in the Harley Davison Café parking garage, people were already stopping us to ask what this was all about. We gave them pamphlets and explained the cause which they readily supported.

Then we took our places on the island at the corner of Harmon and Las Vegas Blvd. Other parts of our Diocese of Nevada family were elsewhere on the Strip. There were 4 venues in all. Ellie and her daughters were standing for justice at the corner of Flamingo and Las Vegas Blvd. At Harmon, we were not alone. There were a group of amiable teens of diverse ethnicity – Latino, African-American, Anglo, and Asian. The Asians were my favorite. They were vigorously chanting, “Stop Human Trafficking” while shaking their signs up and down like the folks who advertise tax preparation services.

A truck with a mobile billboard kept circling past us. The bold billboard, with boldly dressed people on it, proclaimed “Hot Babes Direct To You.” While it was stopped at the red light, the Rev. Helen McPeak got a pic of me holding my Not For Sale sign along with the billboard. Eventually, the guy driving the truck and the demonstrators began waving when he went by.
This is a strange world, at least a strange city.

The pedestrians gave us a mixed response. One tourist from Florida was supportive. We had a pleasant talk and she took a pamphlet. A couple of hours later, she came back, having just won $200 at a Casino, and wanted a pic with me, helping me hold the sign, as way to give God the glory for her winnings. It did not seem the time to engage in theology about God and gaming. I just welcomed her support.

Many took pamphlets. One man who refused a pamphlet was wearing a t-shirt that said “Father Of The Year.” After he had turned down a pamphlet from one of the teenagers, Dcn. Carolyn Shannon stopped him, and said, “Now, wait a minute. You’re the father of the year. You need to know about this.” He took the pamphlet.

An Imperial Storm Trooper also walked by. I could not remember whether the guys in white worked for the Evil Empire or Princess Leia’s rebels. I asked one of the teenagers. But she had never seen Star Wars. I felt old.

We achieved our brief moment of fame when Channel 3 and Channel 5 filmed us for the evening news. It was a surreal but inspiring day in what promises to be a long term effort that is shared all over the Diocese. On the last Sunday in March, the following Episcopal Churches observed a Sunday of Witness Against Human Trafficking: St. Bartholomew’s, Ely; Holy Trinity, Fallon; St. Martin’s, Pahrump; Trinity, Reno; St. Paul’s, Sparks; St. Matthew’s, Las Vegas; and Christ Church, Las Vegas. (Did I leave anyone out?) The Rev’s. Red Sims and Kathy Hopner wrote collects for the occasion.

Epiphany, Henderson will host the Interfaith Service to raise awareness of issues of children’s well being, with a special focus on the sexual exploitation of children, on Sunday, May 22, at 5 p.m. Improved legislation would be a good thing. But the main goals we need to accomplish are to make this crime a priority for enforcement and prosecution and even more importantly to build a Safe House for care and rehabilitation for the young victims. To learn more, go to and

Our advocacy efforts on this issue are part of an overall priority of caring for children in Nevada. Our restored relationship with St. Jude’s Ranch For Children, our partnership with Communities in Schools and other one-church-one-school initiatives, the participation of congregations in Family Promise, our partnership with St. Luke’s, Leogane to vaccinate Haitian children against disease are other examples of our efforts to serve and speak out for children here and around the world.