Sunday, July 31, 2011

Carry Me Back to Old Virginny

This morning we cleared out of our final hotel room and journeyed into downtown Charleston, WV, to attend Eucharist at St. John’s Episcopal Church. It’s a historical place, probably built in the early 19th century. We dropped Sarah off at the Godly Play room, where the teacher was getting ready to tell the story of Abraham and Sarah, an old favorite of ours which I’ve told to the children of St. Thomas on a number of occasions.

That happened during the first part of the Eucharist while Christy and I were at worship. Just as the priest was wrapping up the Prayers of the People, a loud alarm went off—the smoke alarm! The priest calmly invited us to leave the building and await further instructions. We didn’t see Sarah during this time, but we assumed she was fine and that this was a false alarm. Sure enough, in the brand-new kitchen that had just been dedicated this week (and for which we had just finished praying), somebody had burned some toast. I commented later that it’s probably a great idea for every church to have a fire drill right in the middle of the service, whether it was planned or not!

The people there were kind, and the liturgy was well done. After coffee hour, we hit the road hard. It just so happened that yesterday we finished listening to The Hobbit unabridged on audiobook. Toward the end, Gandalf says, “It’s a long road home.” Bilbo replies, “Yes, but it’s the last road.” That’s exactly how we felt. For some reason, I really wanted to be behind the wheel today, so I started driving, and I didn’t relinquish the job all afternoon and into the evening. Adrenaline kept me moving, and maybe it also satisfied some deeply male part of my ego to be the one driving my family to our final (for now) destination.

We did choose the southern path through the Appalachians, which involved some hairpin turns, many large trucks, occasional slow traffic, and one brief downpour. All went well, though, and we’re very glad we took the scenic route.

At 6:30 or so, we arrived in Fairfax and stopped to eat at Denny’s. Then on we went through town to nearby Annandale, our GPS telling us exactly where we needed to go. We pulled into the driveway of our friends the Hoskinses, who used to attend church at St. Thomas with us until they moved here over a year ago. They have three girls, the oldest of whom was a core member of my youth group.

The Hoskinses are on an extended vacation, so we get to house-sit for them for a few days until the movers come. Tonight Sarah settled into the bed of the youngest girl. Her wall is plastered with posters of Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and the Jonas Brothers—a sure sign that she has older sisters!

We’re very happy to be in Virginia at long last. Not that our journey is finished—I mean, yes, it’s just beginning, but until the moving van comes, we’re still in a sort of limbo. But at least the routine of driving for over four hours a day has finally come to an end.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Old Kentucky Home

This morning Christy and Sarah slept in until nearly 10:00 (we did come through a time zone change the previous day). We checked out of our hotel and ate at Waffle House, which we’d thought was a stand-alone place, but which turns out to be a chain. Here we experienced our first evidence of southern hospitality: an extremely friendly waitress named Donna chatted us up and tried to fool us with her droll southern humor.

Christy: “So … is this town down the road pronounced ver-SIGH, like the French?”

Josh: “Or is it ver-SELLS, with an English pronunciation?”

Donna (without missing a beat): “Neither one. It’s pronounced ver-SAH-chee.”

Luckily, another customer corrected her before we could really fall for it! Donna was a kick, as was the entire restaurant. The food wasn’t great, but the experience was.

Since we’d come as far south as Shepherdsville anyway, we decided to take a more scenic route back to the interstate. On the way we saw miles and miles of gorgeous horse ranches, and we also passed through the town of Bardstown, which was the inspiration for Stephen Foster’s classic song “My Old Kentucky Home.” And yes, nearly every sign in town made sure we were aware of that factoid!

We had just entered Daniel Boone National Forest when we noticed that the sun was missing. Then we saw the very first raindrop of our entire road trip … and then another and another. Just as we arrived at a planned rest stop, the heavens opened up, and Christy got thoroughly drenched bringing snacks from the car for us to eat indoors. At the rest area, we met a couple who were surprised to hear that it almost never rains this hard in Seattle. Sorry, friends: we told them they should come to Seattle in the summertime. I know that’s supposed to be a well-kept secret.

Now, it was cooler today—only about 85-90 degrees—but the rain felt very tropical, like our experiences of rain in El Salvador. The rain didn’t last, though, and before long we were in West Virginia. This was probably the shortest day of driving for the entire trip—less than four hours.

In Charleston, we got settled in our hotel with what we call, in our house, a “movie nap”: Sarah got to watch a movie while we took a nap! We happened to have the third-rate Disney movie Hercules with us from Netflix, so Sarah got to enjoy it and we didn’t mind missing it. Afterward we walked across the parking lot to a cheap pizza place for dinner. And that’s really about it for the day.

You only get one picture today, a view of the nearby bridge from our hotel. It hadn’t occurred to us until the end of the day that we’d forgotten to take any pictures. I guess we’re really ready to be done with this trip, as wonderful as it has been.

Ahead of us, tomorrow, lies the real puzzle. Should we take the southern route through the Appalachians? Or should we cut north through Maryland and skirt the mountains? Our GPS recommends the southern route (as did the nice people at the rest stop). But our advance research suggested the northern route, while longer, might go faster because it avoids the mountains. Does anyone out there have additional wisdom to offer us?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Four States in One Day

Indeed, sleep did come slowly to Sarah last night; she got up at least four times complaining of her inability to slumber. But then she was up very early in the morning, because … the Tooth Fairy came! The Tooth Fairy came! And she was generous indeed … she left our Sarah one crisp dollar bill!

We ate breakfast with Angela and Cameron, chatting and catching up on life, and then we managed to spend time at a local playground before we hit the road. This overnight was especially good for Sarah, who has not been able to play with a single other kid on our entire trip. We asked Sarah later what she thought of Cameron. She replied, simply, “Good friend.”

By the time we left the playground, it felt like at least 90 degrees, with very high humidity. We took a little extra time to cruise right into downtown St. Louis and see the Arch. It is certainly the kind of thing you have to see in person in order to appreciate its sheer massiveness.

On we drove down the road, leaving Missouri behind and entering Illinois. Halfway across the southern part of the state, we stopped for lunch in Mt. Vernon; that’s where we found a McDonald’s with a gigantic play area for Sarah and free wi-fi for us! (Don’t worry, we didn’t eat there … that honor went to the Subway down the street. But we did buy a token drink in order to hang out for a while.)

We were in that state for such a short time, we didn’t even get to enjoy the entirety of Sufjan Stevens’ excellent album Illinois before crossing the Wabash and entering Indiana. We also made quick work of the Hoosier State, and around 6:00 Eastern time, we arrived at the Motel 6 in Georgetown, just this side of Kentucky. We were all looking forward to a dip in the pool before grabbing some dinner in Louisville.

But here was our big loop-throw of the day: the pool was disgusting! The water was a kind of translucent green. I asked the desk clerk, “Why is the water green?”

“Because nobody’s been cleaning it.”

“Would you swim in it?”

“No, I sure wouldn’t.”

Up in our room, just as Sarah was crying deep sobs over the loss of the pool and trying to convince us the water didn’t look that bad, Christy made another shocking discovery. Back to the desk clerk I went.

“Our toilet won’t flush.”

(Desk clerk looks disgusted) … “Would you like to check out?”

“Yes, I think we would. Can you recommend another hotel?”

“The only one I can think of is the Holiday Inn, but that’s $100 a night.”

Maybe she didn’t know how to use a search engine, but she was helpful in every other way, bearing with us as our GPS found other options and giving us a total refund. Our new destination was on the other side of Louisville in the town of Shepherdsville, Kentucky. And so it was that we crossed the Ohio River and made it to four states in one day.

On the way to the new hotel, we hit downtown Louisville, which was pretty amazingly cool-looking. We sat down to dinner at Lynn’s Paradise Cafe. Oh, my. Not only was this place fabulously wacky (they hold an annual “ugly lamp contest,” and the winner becomes a permanent part of the establishment), but the food was excellent as well.

In Shepherdsville, tired but happy, we all jumped into the warmest pool we have ever experienced. Stepping into this outdoor pool, affected as it was by the heat of the day, was like stepping into a warm bath. And it was clean! None of us really wanted to get out.

We can’t believe we only have two days remaining on our journey. Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t really mean we’ll be home; we have learned that our moving van won’t arrive until August 3 or 4. Our friends the Hoskinses, who live in Annandale, Virginia, have generously offered us their house while they’re on vacation. So at least we’ll have a place to lay our heads until our apartment in Alexandria can finally come together.

And tonight, we finally figured out the key to getting Sarah to sleep at a decent hour. A good swim is a good start; but then, we stayed in the room with her instead of stepping out in to the hallway. We quietly read and worked on the blog while she drifted off to sleep, a gift from her new friend Cameron clutched tightly in her hand.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Missouri Loves Company; a/k/a The Tooth, the Whole Tooth, and Nothing But the Tooth

My alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. By 6:45, I was sitting outside Expert Tire waiting for the good people there to address the problem of the flat tire. Bad news: the nail we had run over was in a very unlucky spot, and any patch they put on would only prolong the inevitable. Good news: in one hour flat, a new tire was installed, and we were ready for our day!

Unexpected events had taken a toll on us, so we were eager to pay our Kansas Turnpike toll and get out of Dodge (we never actually visited Dodge City, but you get the idea).

We got to Kansas City on a Thursday; by lunchtime we learned a thing or two about President Harry Truman, who was born and raised in Independence, Missouri. We even ate ice cream at the little shop where Truman had his first job. But first we ate lunch at the Courthouse Exchange, a burger joint founded in 1899. While we were there, we noticed that Sarah’s first loose tooth had turned nearly 180 degrees in its socket, so we asked our server for a Ziploc bag … just in case. (This is what is called foreshadowing.)

We drove all through the afternoon, feeling much better about our trip, and in a seemingly short time we exited I-70 in Chesterfield, a suburb of St. Louis, to spend the night with our friend Angela and her son Cameron (husband Chuck was away on business but wished us well). Angela was a member of the St. Mark’s Young Adults Group back in the day, and she was one of the ushers at our wedding. Cameron is 4 years old, and he and Sarah immediately plopped down in front of an episode of Super Why while we caught up with Angela.

Eventually we went out to eat at Canyon in St. Louis. Christy was reading a Scooby Doo book to the kids in the backseat when, all of a sudden, POP! Out came the tooth.

As we put Sarah to bed tonight, she intoned, “This is the most exciting night of my life!” I tried to explain that the Tooth Fairy can’t come if you don’t go to sleep, but something tells me sleep will still come slowly to our almost-6-year-old girl tonight.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Toto, I don't think we're in the Emerald City anymore!

What a day! We really thought we had things under control … and in a way, I guess, we really did, such that we were able to handle the unexpected curveballs with considerable aplomb.

We left Oakley around 10:00 a.m. and headed due east. No GPS was necessary for hours; we knew we just needed to head east on I-70 across the state of Kansas. The words Christy has used to describe Kansas are most of what can be said: “flat” and “hot.” We had experienced 103 degrees in Oakley, and today it was warmer – one thermometer in Salina read 109! That’s where we stopped for lunch.

And actually, to “flat” and “hot,” we must add “windy.” That made for some tricky driving—I wonder if the locals get used to their cars weaving all over the road. We sure didn’t.
The real feature of the day came later: we visited the Oz Museum in Wamego. We managed to keep this surprise from Sarah until we pulled up. Although she was excited, we were interested to see that the swimming pool and science museum had been bigger attractions for her. Still, we’re glad we stopped by.

Then came the first curveball: a stretch of I-70 eastbound was closed, and we were re-routed, along with many other unsuspecting drivers, all the way back to Wamego. Here’s the story from the local news about what happened. Bizarre!

But at this point, our little GPS (named “Via”) really proved her worth. She was able to direct us on some side streets that most of the traffic did not take. We also want to thank KPR-FM, the local NPR affiliate, for letting us know when the freeway was open again.

But one more curveball awaited us. On the way into Topeka, a man speeding along beside us urged us to roll down our window. I said, “No, Christy—ignore him—it’s too windy and dangerous to bother.” Nothing felt wrong with the car, but when we arrived at the Super 8, we had a slow-leaking flat tire. We called Better World Club to put on the spare, and in the morning, I intend to drive to the nearest tire place (only a few blocks away) and be waiting for them when they open. Then, on to St. Louis!

Buffy fans, take note: This place is the "Triple Meat Palace."
Oh, one more thing: dinner was certainly worth remembering. Within walking distance of our hotel is Pat’s Pig BBQ, a quaint little joint with an item called the Sparky Burger, which Josh dared to order. The Sparky Burger contains a beef patty, a slice of ham, and several chunks of sausage, all smothered in melted cheese. This sandwich defeated Josh completely; he was only able to eat about half of it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

From the mountains to the prairies ...

After waking up this morning, we assessed the situation and realized we had plenty of time to get to our next destination. So we spent the morning in Denver. First we visited the Denver Nature and Science Museum, where we took in a dinosaur exhibit and a planetarium show about our solar system. Sarah described the latter as “super fun!” bouncing up and down with glee as we exited the theater. We also visited the famous bookstore Tattered Cover, but by that time, we figured we’d better get moving.

Our GPS was indispensable in helping us get out of Denver, and after that, we had only three and a half hours of driving to do. But, funny thing: right after Denver, all the mountains are behind you, and everything is suddenly very flat. Other than the odd hill here and there, Eastern Colorado looked exactly as I imagined Kansas would look. I was not wrong. Still, there’s something invigorating about the wide-open plains country. I especially enjoyed seeing storms, like the one pictured, from miles away. It looked suspiciously like a tornado to my untrained eyes, but then I remembered that tornadoes would probably appear much darker, and that this was just a run-of-the-mill rainstorm.

Yet again we had forgotten to take the change in time zones into account, so when we rolled into Oakley, Kansas, it felt like 5:30 to us but was 6:30 for everybody else. There was just time for a swim in the motel’s outdoor pool before it closed at sundown. One of the owners of the motel thoughtfully provided water-wings for Sarah, which she had never seen before but was curious about. Equipped with them and a foam “noodle,” Sarah felt more confident in the water than ever before, and was soon paddling between parents rather than nervously clinging to one or the other of us. This also earned the “super fun!” award from Sarah; actually, all three of us had an excellent time beating the 103-degree heat before setting off for one of the town’s two restaurants for dinner.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Rocky Mountain High

At this writing, we’re pretty bushed! On Sunday afternoon we visited Price Canyon on our way to Wellington, Utah, where we spent the night.

Our evening routine is to put Sarah to bed and then wait patiently in the hall until she’s asleep. During this time, we can blog, read, etc. Last night we watched an episode of Warehouse 13 on Hulu while fending off mosquitoes and watching the locals inexplicably set off fireworks.

Then today, Monday, was a power day. We covered 414 miles, starting by crossing the Colorado border and eating lunch in Fruita. There, we visited a dinosaur museum that featured a life-size, animatronic T-Rex!

After that came the long, steady climb through the Rocky Mountains, with our little weighed-down Honda Civic sometimes slowing down to 40 mph as it wheezed, “I think I can! I think I can!” Luckily for us, it turned out it could.

We reached the summit at Vail in mid-afternoon – at over 10,000 feet, we realized it was as if we were most of the way up Mt. Rainier! And then we crossed through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel, a mile-and-a-half-long bore through the Continental Divide itself – 11,158 feet above sea level. And, of course, us being us and all, we listened to John Denver's ode on my iPod at the very top.

Now we’re in Denver, resting, recuperating, and preparing for a much easier drive tomorrow to Oakley, Kansas—a mere three and a half hours away. That will give us plenty of time to play first in the Denver area.

Throughout all this, Sarah has been an amazingly versatile traveler. We know we got her started right by taking her to El Salvador twice, at ages two and three. Of course, it helps to use the road-tested strategy of pulling out a surprise book or toy every day at lunchtime.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hidden in You: sermon preached this morning

St. Matthew's was called Trinity
when I was growing up here
sermon preached at
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Rupert, ID
by Josh Hosler
Proper 12A/ July 24, 2011

Good morning. A little background for those of you who don’t know me: My name is Josh Hosler. My dad, Sam Hosler, was the rector of this church from 1976 to 1986. My mom, Carol Hosler, was a journalist and columnist for the now-defunct Minidoka County News. The years we spent here were, for me, ages 4 to 13. After living in Rupert, I spent eight years in Michigan and seventeen years in Seattle. Today, my wife Christy, my daughter Sarah and I are on a cross-country road trip, moving to Alexandria, Virginia, where I will begin seminary in a couple weeks, on track to become a priest myself. That’s the quick version of my story.

Now, from that story, even if you knew me as a boy, you might assume that I’m simply going into the family business. But this isn’t really what has happened. My path toward priesthood has unfolded very slowly in my 38 years, like something hidden under the surface, just waiting to be discovered and allowed to grow to its full potential.

I think we all have hidden talents, and luckily, today’s Gospel reading has a lot to say about things that are hidden. We just heard a series of rapid-fire parables from Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed … it’s like yeast … it’s like hidden treasure … it’s like a merchant in search of fine pearls … it’s like a net catching fish of every kind. Maybe Jesus really laid them all out in quick succession like this—I don’t know. But when they are collected and presented this way, they can teach us something.

Now, many of us have spent a lifetime in church. If that’s as true for you as it is for me, maybe you, too, have gotten used to Jesus’ words. They’re comfort food—meat and potatoes. They feel good because they’re familiar. If we could get into the heads of Jesus’ disciples and hear them again for the first time, we might not find the stories quite so comfortable. But we might also find them a lot more exciting and full of possibility.

So instead of starting with the parables themselves, let’s start with their common focus: the kingdom of heaven. What do we hear about the kingdom of heaven from the culture all around us? What are the popular notions of heaven? Even growing up here at what was then Trinity Church, I came away with the impression that heaven is a place—a place where good people—good people—go when they die—a place where no bad people will ever trouble us again. Now, this was a child’s perspective on heaven. And those of you who knew me as a short, geeky kid might well imagine that I figured all sorts of bad people on the playground were probably out to get me. I loved the idea of escaping to someplace better. In fact, when my family prepared to move to Michigan, I saw it as an ideal opportunity to make a fresh start, and to do it better this time. Maybe we as Christians feel this way on a more adult level, especially when we turn on the news: the world is falling apart. When will Jesus come back and sweep us into the kingdom of heaven so we can start all over again and do it right this time?

Of course, there are lots of problems with this image of the kingdom of heaven, not the least of which is that it slices the world cleanly into good people and bad people. You may cry foul and point out that the parable of the catch of fish seems, at first glance, to do exactly the same thing. Well, please put that on hold for a moment, because I’d like to go back to the mustard seed and do a little paraphrasing.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. It’s tiny. It’s almost unnoticeable. But when the soil, rain and sun discover it, it changes. It realizes its full potential, sprouting, growing and spreading toward the sky.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like yeast. It’s tiny. It’s a fungal micro-organism! But when the flour discovers it, it changes. It realizes its full potential, and it becomes delicious and nourishing.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. Nobody knows it’s there at all, so for a time, it has no value. But when the man discovers it, it changes. The man sells everything he has to possess it.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he finally discovers the best pearl of all, he sells his chair, his table, his bed, and his house just to have the pearl. Once he has the pearl, what will he do without his chair, table, bed and house? I wonder if that even matters.

The kingdom of heaven is like a net catching fish of every kind. The fish are hidden in the deep. But when the catch is hauled in, all shall be revealed. Some will be kept, and some will be thrown back.

St. Matthew's - sanctuary
And so, Jesus explains to us what the kingdom of heaven is like. It is hidden: it is not immediately noticeable, but it is full of potential. In the kingdom, everything good will be kept, and everything evil will be thrown out. Well, what about you? What is hidden inside you? Are you good, or are you evil? Have you lain awake at night wondering the same thing yourself?

So here we are, again crashing into that popular notion of heaven as a place where good people go and bad people are not allowed. But please allow me to reframe the question: are there good things in you? They will be kept. Are there bad things in you? They will be burned. It might hurt: judgment often does hurt. Separating the good from the bad might well feel like an amputation.

But are you in danger of being destroyed by God? How could you be, when God made you and loves you and treasures you? How could you be destroyed when good seeds in you are sprouting, and good yeast is making holy dough rise? And so I want to say that nothing in these parables speaks of escaping the pressures and worries of this world in order to have done with certain people once and for all. First of all, nobody is disposable. And second, as Jesus says in another place, “Look! The kingdom of heaven is all around you.”

As much as I loved my childhood in Rupert, at the age of 13, I was ready to escape. I was not popular among my peers, and I thought that if only I could get a fresh start, I could set up quite a nice life for myself. Sure, I would miss my best friend, some really great teachers, a wonderful church community, and so on. But it would be worth it to have another chance—to do it right this time! Maybe I would even have a girlfriend within a couple weeks.

Well, you can imagine that things didn’t go according to my grand plan. I was called unkind names on my very first day of school, and things didn’t improve for a long time. The move from Idaho to Michigan didn’t kill me, but it destroyed much of my fragile confidence. Over the next few years, as I grew older and wiser and stronger, I figured out that I had never had a hope of “getting it right.” Nor was that ever a problem, because God doesn’t expect us to “get it right.” God expects and yearns for a relationship with us, a relationship marked by love, forgiveness, and growth. When we show the slightest improvement in these areas, God rejoices. But God even rejoices when all the improvement we show was actually work done not by us, but by God! When we’re living life with God, we can’t help but grow, because the kingdom of heaven is hidden in us.

St. Matthew's parishioners we ate lunch with today
Are you living in the kingdom? You have a choice, you know. You can live in Rupert or Seattle or Alexandria. You can stay in one place all your life, or you can move around the world many times. And you can try to escape the kingdom, but you won’t be able to go very far away—only into your own head, cut off from others. Because not only is the kingdom of heaven in you, but it’s also in everyone you meet. The kingdom is wherever God is, and that’s everywhere. Will you be a citizen of that kingdom today?

I know this church has a history of taking in people that other people might like to forget or do away with altogether. One true sign of the kingdom of heaven is this very work—welcoming the rejected and scorned, building up people’s dignity, showing them the spark of God inside them. God made us good, and while we’re not good enough or big enough or strong enough to do God’s work on our own, that doesn’t make a lick of difference, because God is working with us and in us. God never gives up on us! So we have no right to give up on each other … ever. And God is at work here at St. Matthew’s. And God is at work among the Catholics and the Methodists and the Baptists and the Mormons. God is at work in our farms and our schools, in our newspapers and on our websites, among police and migrant workers and politicians and grocery clerks. The Holy Spirit is breaking out everywhere, sometimes in the most surprising places.

St. Matthew's - nave
I do feel a little odd dropping in on you after 25 years away and saying all this. You don’t really know me anymore. But deep inside of me are memories of this red carpet, of the smell of these pews, of my years spent as an acolyte, of dressing up as a shepherd at the Mollers’ farm for the Christmas pageant slide show. All three of Doug Reincke’s girls used to babysit me. I’ll never forget St. James, Burley, where the other kids and I used to roll down the hill on the grassy lawn. I’ll never forget the church picnics or the time at the egg toss when my brother Seth got egg all over his shoe. And my summertime weeks at Paradise Point were, for me, a first inkling of what the kingdom of heaven is actually like: a place where we sing in harmony, where nobody is rejected or left out or burned. I believe God cannot and will not fail to draw all to himself—in fact, God has already done so through Jesus. Nothing separates us from the love of God!

The kingdom of heaven is hidden in you, waiting to be discovered and given room to grow into its full potential. It is the only thing in life worth possessing. And when you discover it, own it, live in it, and allow God to work through you, amazing things begin to happen. Amen.