Beyond The Pale

Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Beyond The Pale - Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Weekend Distractions: Goodnight David Letterman

david-letterman-retirement

This past week David Letterman signed off after hosting his late night show for 33 years.  With 6,028 episodes Letterman has become the longest serving talk-show host surpassing even the late great Johnny Carson.  Tributes have been flooding in from comics he has influenced and fans he has made smile.

I’m going to miss Dave’s show.  I’ve been watching it since I was in high school in the early 1980′s.  My classmates and I would often pass school time trading laughs about what wild and crazy thing David did on the previous night’s show. The guy who would do a show from a 747 jumbo jet with a the caricature of news anchor Connie Chung in a swimsuit on the side won our devotion.

In the the late 1980′s when I was going to move to Los Angeles to become an actor I had set a goal for when I had finally “made it”.  It wouldn’t be when I had made a million dollars or had won an Academy Award….

No….

I declared to friends and family that I had finally “made it” in Hollywood when I was on  Late Night being interviewed by David Letterman.

Alas, the road not taken….

Anyhow, good night Dave, good luck, and thanks for the laughs!

American Crazy: Prayer Vigils for Ice Cream

blue bell1While walking the Camino de Santiago last month I had the opportunity to talk with many people from countries around the world particularly from Europe.  Contrary to the stereotype that Europeans don’t care much for Americans, I found the opposite to be true…but

…they are curious about us.

There is a question that they want to ask of us Yanks and that question may take different forms, but it can be essentially boiled down to;

“Why are Americans so crazy?”

Now as an American who has lived outside of the United States for a majority of my adult life I feel I am uniquely qualified to answer that.  See, an American can only begin to understand American Crazy once you have left those fruited plains for at least 5 to 10 years.  Otherwise American Crazy is “well, that’s just the way it it”.  I mean how do explain water to a fish?  (Note: Some Americans are able to see American Crazy while only having lived in America but as a white, male, middle-class, suburban, Republican, evangelical Christian, it was near impossible for me to understand American Crazy from inside the system :) )

My answer to my International friends as to the craziness of “my people” was explaining that American culture has a larger than most mixture of nationalism, optimism, politics, and religion.  Throw that together with a history guided by Manifest Destiny, bake for 230 years, and you get Fox News, Ted Cruz, and all kinds of weird sh…er…um … stuff!

I mean stuff happens in America that is clearly crazy!  For example an American friend I met on the Camino de Santiago messaged me about the reverse culture shock she was having coming back to Texas from Spain.

Seems that the local Texans in her community have organized a yard sign campaign and prayer vigil to rally God and the people behind a noble cause.

And what cause could they be holding a prayer vigil for you may ask?

* Could it be for the people Nepal who have been devastated by recent earthquakes that have left their country shattered?   No… 

http://time.com/3882272/nepal-earthquake-death-toll-2/

* Could it be to stand for the young girls in South-East Asia whose virginity is sold for a price by their own families?  No…

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/04/03/world/cambodia-child-sex-trafficking/index.html

* Could it be for the people in Liberia or Sierra Leone whose populations are being ravaged still by the Ebola virus?   No…….

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/13/world/ebola-outbreak-what-you-need-to-know/index.html

The good people of Houston Texas are holding a prayer vigil and seeking the direct intervention of the Creator of the Universe for…

ice cream!

Yep, you heard that right.  Ice cream…more specifically Blue Bell Ice Cream.

Apparently the local favorite had a bacteria which produced a massive recall of Blue Bell leaving empty supermarket shelves and disappointed ice cream aficionados.

Hey, don’t get me wrong.  I know what it’s like to pine for a favorite food and not be able to get it.  I live in Hong Kong and the nearest Chipotle is about 6,000 miles away.  And I remember back when I lived in Boulder Colorado and the local Chipotle restaurant swapped  out their tantalizing white rice for brown.

I nearly had a melt down!

But I never thought of organizing the community for a prayer vigil! 

Because that would be crazy!

American crazy!

I know God has more grace and understanding than I can even imagine but I gotta think even he has to be looking down at hands lifted up and voices crying out to him for their Blue Bell Ice Cream to be restored and saying, “You have GOT to be kidding me.”

Peace,

Steve

Camino Lessons: The Joy Of Seeing Friends In Santiago!

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With Angy outside the Pilgrim Office

Arriving in Santiago was perhaps more emotional than I had expected. After almost 5 weeks of walking the sense of anticipation grew as my son Gabriel and I entered the outer perimeter of the city. Finally we glimpsed the soaring towers of the Cathedral of Santiago…our destination. Before we entered the ancient church however Gabriel and I wanted to check in at Pilgrim’s Office to receive our final stamp and Compostellas certifying we had completed our Camino journey. (Also, that was the order Martin Sheen did it in The Way so that was how I was doing it)

As my son and I searched the cobble stoned streets around the Cathedral for the office I heard my name called out, “Steve!”

I turned to see Angy, a tall Korean girl from Argentina (and the fastest walker I met on the Camino) with a big smile approaching us.  ”I was hoping I would see you again” she said as we greeted each other.

In that moment I experienced an emotion I would feel many more times over the next 2 days or so as I embraced friends that had been journeying with me for weeks.

Joy!

It was the joy of seeing a fellow traveler who had shared the same challenges and trials I experienced and had overcome to arrive at the destination. In that moment the bunk beds, communal showers, snoring, wind, rain, cold, heat, blisters, shin splints, aches, and pains of the journey were replaced with the joy of seeing a friend and fellow pilgrim in Santiago.

We had arrived!

The Cathedral

I had a decision to make a couple days earlier and that was to rush on ahead so I could walk to the ocean from Santiago.  I wrestled with this for a while and finally decided to tarry in the city and savor the arrival with my son and fellow pilgrims.

It was possibly the best decision I made on the whole trip as I had not appreciated that much of the Camino, although an individual journey, is not done in isolation.

In some ways the Camino de Santiago is done alone…together!

As we gathered for the Pilgrim’s Mass in the cathedral there was many hugs, tears, laughter, as people encountered each other.  It made me think of the TV show Lost where in the final episode the characters who are now in the afterlife find themselves all drawn to a particular church.  The main character Jack asks his father why they are all there:

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JACK: You…are you real?

CHRISTIAN: I should hope so. Yeah, I’m real. You’re real, everything that’s ever happened to you is real. All those people in the church…they’re real too.

JACK: They’re all…they’re all dead?

CHRISTIAN: Everyone dies sometime, kiddo. Some of them before you, some…long after you.

JACK: But why are they all here now?

CHRISTIAN: Well there is no “now” here.

JACK: Where are we, dad?

CHRISTIAN: This is the place that you…that you all made together, so that you could find one another. The most…important part of your life, was the time that you spent with these people. That’s why all of you are here. Nobody does it alone Jack. You needed all of them, and they needed you.

Jack then enters the church to see all of his friends.  There is that joy on everyone’s faces as they reunite with friends they had shared life with together.

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Looking around the cathedral during Mass I saw many familiar faces.  Some had arrived in Santiago before me, some after.  But we were all together there now!

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Outside the Cathedral with friends!

And there was a lot of joy!  Some people I had gotten to know well, some only in passing, but the sight of these fellow pilgrims sitting here together in this church was emotionally very powerful.

After the Mass began I looked across the long Cathedral interior and noticed a side door open briefly.   Michael, a Colombian-American I had encountered for the last 3 weeks entered with his mother and slipped into the back row.

That sense of joy hit me again.

I tapped on Gabriel’s shoulder, “Look, Michael and Esperanza.  They made it!”

Yes, they were a little late…but they arrived in the end.

In that moment I had a strong sense of this being a shadow of the Kingdom of God and the pure joy we will have when we see others that we had journeyed in life together with finally arrived at the destination.

We all arrive at different times, and some may even arrive late…but eventually we get to Santiago!

 

Judging “Tourist Pilgrims” On The Camino de Santiago

At Beyond the Pale I devote a fair bit of space imagetowards dismantling the politics of tribalism and “us vs. them” thinking. Usually because, well, I struggle with it so much myself.

Case in point:

While preparing for the Camino de Santiago I read about how the pilgrimage would change during the last 100 km before reaching Santiago. This was due to an influx of new pilgrims who would start in the town of Sarria which is the last place one can start the Camino in order to be issued a Compostella certificate. Youtube videos and blogs encouraged pilgrims who had started their journey from much farther back not look down on these “tourist pilgrims”.

I remember thinking of course I wouldn’t do that. Where someone starts is their own business and we are all just pilgrims heading to Santiago.

Yeah….right!

Once I reached Sarria I saw whole groups of people walking together with the familiar scallop shell dangling from their day packs.

Day packs?

I’d been carrying my FULL pack for a month!

Who were these strangers, these “tourist pilgrims” and what were they doing on MY Camino trail?

A group of "tourist pilgrims"  at the cafe

A group of “tourist pilgrims” at the cafe

At one point Gabriel and I approached a cafe to get a morning coffee only to find it full of Italian “tourist pilgrims”. The bartender was trying his best to serve the 10 or so patrons and I realized my normal morning ritual that I’d been enjoying for four weeks was going to be disrupted by these “imposter” pilgrims.
I wanted to scream!
I wanted to yell!
I wanted to declare to all of these day pack hauling, fresh smelling, unwearied, unweathered, clean shaven, “tourist pilgrims” in their unblemished new shoes that “everyone who had not arrived at this cafe having walked FROM FRANCE needs to go to the back of the queue and make way for a REAL PEREGRINO!”

These folk came in groups. How could they do a pilgrimage as a group? Where was the personal trials? The personal reflection? How do you have an inner journey with “the gang”? I overheard two Swiss “tourist pilgrims” saying how they were staying in a hotel rather than albergues. (dormitories where pilgrims sleep while on the Camino).

Hotels? How do you do a pilgrimage from a hotel? Where are the bunk beds? The communal showers and toilets? The “pilgrims lullaby” of snoring which earplugs just barely keep at bay. Granted, I was one of the guys snoring, but that’s besides the point!
Yes, it became quickly apparent that I had tribalized the Camino. Those friends who I had shared the Way with for weeks had become “us”. These “hotel ladies” and others that had started the Camino in Sarria had become “them”. If I recognised you, you were “in”…if I didn’t, you were “out”.

Of course Jesus dealt with this type of thing a lot. Judging….Here I was comparing my pilgrimage to theirs and in my eyes they came up way short. Then as I walked and reflected on my “Camino” superiority over my new ” would be” fellow pilgrims another idea struck me; I thought about how my friend Rob had walked from Mongolia to Hong Kong through the Gobi Desert in winter. Compared to his 6 month ordeal my little jaunt from France was a walk in the park. He didn’t have a warm cafe to drop into for hot coffee and croissant. He couldn’t stop into a supermarket for fresh food, toiletries, and other supplies. And seeing the pictures of the tent he stayed in my albergue now looked like a hotel.

Cripe, compared to him, I was a “tourist pilgrim” too! I wasn’t an “us” at all. I was a “them”. Maybe that was why Jesus spent so much time warning us not to judge. Judging leads to comparisons…and sooner or later, we all suffer by comparison. Instead Jesus spent a lot of time turning all of “them” into “us”.

Later that morning two of the Italians missed the yellow arrow showing the Camino path veered off the road. I watched them chatting oblivious to the fact they were heading off in the wrong direction. To say I was tempted to not warn them would be wrong…I really am to nice a guy.
“Hello”. I yelled to get their attention. They continued walking…
“Ol-la” I yelled even louder. They turned…
Pointing with my walking stick at the yellow arrow I hollered, ” Camino is this way”

The Italians nodded and rushed back. Catching up with me they offered their thanks and said in broken English, “At the next cafe,we’d like to buy you a coffee”

In life their are no “tourist pilgrims”. Just “pilgrims”. Just “us”! And we are all simply doing our best to get to Santiago!

Peace,

Steve

Becoming A “Camino Catholic”

There is a great moment in the recent World War 2 movie imageMonument Men where Hugh Bonneville (of Downton Abbey fame) attempts to protect a group of Catholic priests and the art in their monastery from advancing Nazis. Seeing the peril he is putting himself in one priest asks, “Are you Catholic”?
“Tonight I am” Bonneville responds.

My eyes welled up.

Solidarity is perhaps the most powerful act which binds people together. When someone’s says, “Yes, I stand with you” it can change literally everything. Whether in marriage, family, friendship or even enmity, the act of solidarity breaks down the walls that previously divide.

When humanity found itself under siege with violence, disease, pain, and death it’s as if we collectively call out to God and say, “What, are you human?”
And God responds in Christ, “I AM now”

In the most powerful act of solidarity in human history God says,”I stand with you”

Camino Catholic

Although I have not been raised a Catholic, those that know me know I have a soft spot in my heart for my Catholic brothers and sisters. When I lived in Colorado I was known to sneak out for the occasional Sat. night Mass at our local Catholic Church. Here on the Camino de Santiago there is a strong catholic feel as the pilgrimage is historically a Roman Catholic pilgrimage.

So I’ve made a bold decision that probably won’t sit well with some people but it is this:

On the Camino de Santiago I’m Roman Catholic!

Yep, I made the decision to attend Mass and take the Eucharist with my Catholic brothers and sisters while on the pilgrimage. When I made the announcement to some of my fellow pilgrims, most supported the decision except my new Aussie friend who thought otherwise.

Steve, I work in a Catholic school but I’m not Catholic. You aren’t supposed to take communion if you are not Catholic.”

But I am a Catholic” I responded.

Our little group was enjoying the discussion outside on the lawn as we shared wine, olives, cheese, and chorizo sausage.

No, you are only pretending to be Catholic” she countered.

I’m not pretending. I am a Christian and I want to enjoy the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis while I am on this Christian pilgrimage. So on the Camino, I’m a Catholic…”
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This discussion carried on for a few minutes with different thoughts from the group. One of the Dutch pilgrims also announced that for the Camino, she too was going to be Catholic. Suddenly we were approached by an elderly local Spanish woman walking her dog. She motioned to us she would like a piece of the chorizo sausage. On the Camino de Santiago a spirit of sharing prevails so without hesitation one of my fellow peregrinos cut a generous slice and offered it to the woman.

She promptly tossed it to her dog…

I looked at my Aussie friend and said, “If our good Chorizo can be fed to dogs, I think I should be able to take Catholic communion.”
Looking at the dog licking it’s chops she replied, “Yeah, I have no more objections”

Camino de Santiago: Pamplona and Beyond

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Last night after 8 evenings in an “albergue” (dorms) we splurged, went one step up, and stayed at a “pension”. A “pension” gave Gabriel and I our own room though with a shared bathroom. We didn’t care about that. Don’t get me wrong, the albergue life is pretty cool. You meet some cool folk who are all walking to the same place you are and have travelled from the four corners of the planet to get there. Having said that though, the ability to shut our own door, sleep in our own beds, and have our own space, well, some things are just priceless.

I have quickly realized that the pace and sheer distance we have to cover means daily updates aren’t going to happen, (See, you’ll just have to read the book when it comes out). But here are a couple highlights from Week 1

Pamplona

We entered Pamplona on Easter Sunday. There was a huge party going on in the streets and a band struck up a really upbeat song just as we entered the city gates which made it hard to not feel it was all for us. We checked into the Jesus y Maria albergue which established in a former church. Gabriel had saw some punk rockers and departed after dropping his pack on his bunk. Wanting to keep an eye on I set out to look for him AFTER taking a shower. (One of things that separates a 17 yr old from an adult.)

Wandering the ancient streets of Pamplona, known for both the “Running of the Bulls” and a tenure by Ernest Hemingway, I was disappointed to see that the celebrations were not “Easter” themed as I had assumed coming into a Catholic town. People seems to be waving flags and posters (as well as drinking) quite passionately. As I scanned the crowd looking for Gabriel I was approached by a local who asked if he could help me.
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He drew me back to his outdoor table and small group of friends all huddled around large glasses of beer. The man kept assuring me my son was fine wherever he was all while apologising to me for how drunk he was. I politely insisted I needed to move on when suddenly one of the ladies at the table stood up and said, “Wait, I want to show you something.” She reached up and started to unzip her top.
Oh, god” I thought, “please let her not be flashing me her…”
Fortunately, under her top was a small t shirt with a slogan on the front.
Whew!

She explained that it was symbol of Basque independence from Spain. That she was a “separatist” They all went on to explain that everyone on the streets, all the live music, all the banners and flags which blanketed Pamplona on Easter were a statement of the Basque people.

So much for my romantic notions of a “Christian” Easter.

I excused myself a final time but not before the local man apologised yet again for being drunk and then, extending a half eaten sandwich, asked me to have something to eat before I went.

It was hard not to like these people…

Alto del Perdon

The day after Pamplona we reached that part of the movie The Way where Martin Sheen and his entourage are admiring the wrought iron sculptures representing a number of medieval pilgrims heading west to Santiago. Of course the movie didn’t show them climbing uphill an hour before hand to reach the top. They probably drove…

The views were stunning and we ended up spending a little more time then we planned. Gabriel and I lounged around having a lunch of sandwiches and fruit. We also enjoyed some wine with our fellow pilgrim friends.

 

 

Camino de Santiago: Day 2

Day 2CaminoMapOSB

The albergue in Ronsevalle was pretty well equipped and unlike other albergues we would stay in, there were no bunk beds. A gigantic room was divided into small 2 bed cubicles with waist high walls. This meant when standing up you could look out over the whole area and see everything but when you were lying in your bed, you felt like you were in your own room.

We woke the next morning and started to head out the door at 7:00 am but realized it was still dark and freezing outside. (There was still piles of snow on the ground at this altitude) When you are starting a 500 mile walk I figured we didn’t need to make it any harder so we hung inside for another 30 minutes and had a vending machine cup of coffee)

We finally left the ancient monastery which for centuries had been a refuge for Santiago pilgrims at 7:40 in the morning. After we had waled about an hour or so we entered a small town and had the first of what is becoming a pilgrim ritual; morning coffee and a bocadillo. A bocadillo is just the Spanish name for a sandwich made from a baguette. Gabriel had his coffee in the way favoured by the Spanish; cafe con leche or “coffee with milk” which in Spain means the cup is about 1/2 coffee and 1/2 milk.
And my coffee? As always black, no sugar!

We shared a table with 3 Korean pilgrims. One of them asked Gabriel what the yellow ribbon on his jacket signified. Gabriel replied that it showed his support for the democracy movement in Hong Kong where he was from. The girl answered, “oh, in Korea we wear a yellow ribbon to honor the students who died when a ferry sank last year. I thought it was the same meaning”.

We continued on and although there was some challenging climbs at times, nothing that left me in the catatonic state yesterday’s accent left me in. After walking 23 km we realized we were at a good spot to reach Pamplona the following day so we stopped at an albergue in the town of Zibuiri.

When we got checked in the 2 Catholic Americans we met on the mountainside yesterday also arrived. However they wanted to be in Pamplona for Easter mass the following morning so they arranged to take a taxi. Tempting as that was, and as much as I’d have like to enjoy Mass in Pamplona on Easter, Gabriel and I (well me really) were determined to walk this whole thing…God willing.

We went across the street for dinner to a cafe serving a pilgrim’s dinner. As it was the night before Easter most places were closed…which meant this place was packed. We were seated at a table with a young Spanish couple who were doing a few stages of the Camino during the holiday. It helped explain why the trail seemed so full. Most of the folk we were encountering were NOT making the pilgrimage all the way to Santiago.

The Spanish couple introduced us to our first “tapas”. Then as our waitress was taking our order the owner behind the counter suddenly kicked the Spanish music up louder and came over to dance with our waitress. They did a whole salsa routine much to the delight of the cafe patrons. When the song came to an end, the owner went behind the bar once again and our waitress finished taking our order as if nothing had happened.

“I think I’m going to like Spain” Gabriel remarked.

Camino de Santiago: The Start

As I usually do I rose early on the first day of the Camino. imageBreakfast at Beilari was at 7:00 am and we were served as we were the night before by Hans, a hospitiltero from Holland. Hospitileteros are volunteers who come from around the world to work for a couple weeks to a few months at the albergues. Hans was a successful business man who had come to volunteer at Beilari for about 3 weeks. He was the model of what I was learning is a big part of the Camino; the ongoing theme of how can I serve someone else?

After breakfast we said our goodbyes, slung our new packs on our backs, grabbed our walking sticks and took our first steps as bonafide pilgrims. As we left town the rode forks to take either the Napoleon route to Roncevalles, our day’s destination, or the Valcarlos route. Most folk choose the Napoleon route as it ascends immediately and gives spectacular views of the Pyrenees. However the Pilgrims office said the route was closed due to snow and highly recommended we not attempt it. Of course I was tempted to do it anyway but this was where Emilio Estevez died in the movie The Way and I didn’t want Tammy to have to do the Camino with my cremated ashes one day. (That line only makes sense if you’ve seen the movie)

Although all the pilgrims seemed disappointed, we all seemed to resigned to doing the Valcarlos
route which remains low in the valley…until the end. Valcarlos is a beautiful path that took us along rivers, streams, and forests. It was beautiful and relaxing and I thought “this Camino thing won’t be so bad”…

…but then we started going up.

See, our destination is an ancient monetary and church at the top of a mountain in the Pyrenees. The Valcarlos route stays low most of the way and then in a burst, climbs almost 3000 feet in the last 5 kilometres. We went up…and up…and up… Suddenly my 10 kilo backpack felt like it was filled with gold bars. My heart was pounding like a jackhammer and as someone who has had heart disease and a stent in the past, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t praying “please Lord, don’t let me have a heart attack”

At one point I paused to rest on a log. As I moaned in self pity I suddenly heard gentle Bible verses about mercy and grace being spoken out. I looked up to see two ladies approaching about as slow as I had been reduced to. The Bible verses seemed to be coming from an MP3 player. “Thanks for sharing that” I said

“You are welcome,” one of the ladies responded, “are you Catholic”
“I am on this trip” I answered.
“Good, these are the 3:00 Divine Mercies. You look like you were in need of a little mercy”
“I am”
And with that I got up and pressed on.

As we got closer to the top, my pace got slower, my steps got smaller, and the breaks got more frequent. I remember telling my friend Paul that no matter how tough it got, I will always be able to put one foot in front of the other. I was seriously starting to wonder if I was wrong in that. Gabriel was a champ. He patiently waited for me and although he was feeling the pain as well, didn’t need to stop as often as I did.

Finally, we did reach the top…about 2 hours later than I had estimated before the uphill slog. I collapsed in a bench at the albergue check in area and a hospitallers kindly went and got me a glass of water. I was so exhausted that I was actually nauseous. As much as I wanted to gulp the water down I feared I would throw it back up. I hadn’t felt this way since I played varsity sports in high school. The first couple days of practice were cardio nightmares designed to separate the “wheat from the chaff”. Usually someone barfed…this was how I felt now except I no longer had a 16 year old body.

Anyway, after a pilgrim’s blessing in the church that evening and a nice meal with wine all the world was made right again and we were ready for day 2.

Welcome to the Camino de Santiago!

Camino de Santiago

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The first few days of the Camino have been such a flurry that it been hard to even think ofposting a blog entry. But now, three days in, I think I am getting a feel for how things are done; which translates to mean I have quietly slipped out of the room I am sharing with 10 other people and have come down to the albergue (hostel) common room at 5:00 am to share what Gabriel and I have been up to.

We arrived in Madrid on April 1 and then took a 3 hour train ride north to the city of Pamplona (famous for the annual Running of the Bulls). An important note to make is that my 17 year old son has eschewed the traditional (i.e practical) hiking attire normal for walking 500 miles with backpack in favor of his “punk rock” attire. He wants to keep his “identity” he said. The result of that “identity” was that we gathered the attention of police and immigration officers with much less effort.

So no sooner had we stepped off the train in Pamplona than Gabriel was intercepted by 3, very large, Spanish police officers. I suppose I could have kept walking and let him face the full consequences of his “identity”…but he is my son…so I turned around to acknowledge I was with him. After producing passports and explanations the officers seemed convinced we were neither drug traffickers, Basque separatists, or trouble in general, and proceeded to let us go.

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We were picked up at the station by istvan, who with his wife Barbara, ran the Pilgrim’s accommodation we would stay at that night. Because the traditional starting point of the Camino de Santiago, the small French village of St. Jean Pied de Port, is not the easiest destination for Internationals to get to, Istvan offers a wonderful service. He picked us up in Pamplona, took us back to the pension for dinner and a relaxing night stay, and the morning he drove us about 45 minutes to St. Jean.

With a handshake and some words of advice, Istvan left us near the Pilgrims Office where Gabriel and I went in to register. We received our Pilgrims Passports, which would be stamped along the way and validate to the officials in Santiago that we had walked the route. We also received our scallop shell, the traditional symbol of the pilgrim making the journey to Santiago, which we affixed to our backpacks.

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We stayed that evening at an albergue called Beilari which means Pilgrim in the Basque language. We couldn’t have started our Camino from a better place. Everything about Beilari was designed to infuse a spiritual / reflective start of the pilgrimage with a community feel. Like life, our journey is done both individually, and with others. If you focus to much on one at the expense of the other, life gets out of balance.

Beilari, unlike other albergues, advertises that has NO Wifi. Yes, we were disconnected for 24 hours from the web and it felt great. Instead, prayer and reflection areas were provided outside. Then in the evening all 18 people staying there gathered together to share about themselves, where they were from, and what had brought them to do the Camino. At the table were pilgrims from Australia, Ireland, Germany, Korea, Spain, Holland, Finland, Great Britain, and of course us, two Americans from Hong Kong.

Then around a common table we had a wonderful meal and wine and broke bread together as we wished our new friends a good first day and a Buen Camino!

 

Journey With Me On The Camino de Santiago!

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It’s been nearly three years since Gabriel’s and my last adventure across England and as the days have rolled by we find ourselves off again tomorrow for our next journey; walking across Spain on the famous pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago.  

As we have prepared for the Camino many people have asked questions about the details of the walk as well as the motivation for doing it.  So here are the answers to a few of those questions:

What is the Camino de Santiago?  The Camino de Santiago translates as The Way of St. James.  For 1200 years Catholic Christians have made pilgrimage to the cathedral in Santiago Spain where reputedly the remains of James, the Apostle of Jesus, were interned.  Modern day pilgrims walk the The Way for a number of different motivations both spiritual and secular.

Where do you start? Medieval pilgrims started by walking out their front door. Coming from Hong Kong that may a bit impractical so we have chosen to do the Camino Frances, the “French Way”, which starts at the village of St. Jean Pied de Port just inside the French border and one of the ancient setting off points on the Camino de Santiago.

caminofrances

How far is it?  500 miles (800 km) from St. Jean to Santiago.

How many days will you walk?  30 -32 days to the Cathedral and then provided we are not injured or sick, another 3 or 4 to the Atlantic Ocean.  We have a max of 35 walking days before our return ticket forces me to go back to work! :)

How far will you walk each day? It will vary based on the geography and how we are feeling but we need to average about 16 miles (25 km) per day.

albergue

A Camino “Albergue”

Where will you sleep?  As pilgrims on the Camino we will be issued a Pilgrim’s Passport “credential”  which will allow us to stay at pilgrim’s hostels “albergues” along the way.  These hostels will cost will vary from a donation to about 10 Euro a night.  We will probably splurge every week or so on a economically priced hotel room just to get out of the dorm for an evening.

Where will you eat?  Our pilgrim’s passport will allow us a economically priced set meal every evening.  Also some of the hostels we will stay at have communal meals for the pilgrims or a kitchen where items purchased at the grocer can be cooked.

Walking 500 miles sounds crazy!  Why are you doing this Steve?

Two reasons really:  The first is to spend quality time with my son.  At 17 he is on the verge of adulthood and I think this time together will be wonderful for him and me.

The second is because there are two moments in my life when I really felt a time of strong reflection on my life, my faith, and my relationship with God. Once in 2007 when I was recuperating from my cancer surgery, and once in 2012 when I was walking for two weeks across England.  I’d like to avoid the cancer option again and instead go with doing another really long walk. :)

Finally: In 2014 50,000 people registered in St. Jean Pied de Port to begin the Camino.  The Cathedral in Santiago reported only 29,000 made it.  A lot of people don’t finish.  Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as I am really trusting that either injury or sickness doesn’t sideline us of our goal of completing our journey.

Also: I hope that Beyond the Pale readers will appreciate the break from our regular scheduled programming to enjoy the updates and reflections I’m sure will becoming as we begin The Way!

Peace,

Steve