This week 2014, vol 11

The world seems different these days. Just in the past 36 hours, trees have become green. There is a sweet smell in the air that seems to have just woken up with me this morning. My lawn is coated in tiny white and purple flowers, and I refuse to mow them. There will be plenty of time for that down the road. I’ve had a particularly restless feeling this week, wanting to be nomadic, falling more in a rhythm to the natural world than the rigorous schedules of the work day.

It was a poor week for these feelings to bubble up, because I spent about half the week in St. Louis at a planning for summer camp resources for 2016. I met with church and camp leaders from all over the country and many different denominations, and we cranked out themes and scriptural texts that will be used by camps from coast to coast. I have a lot of questions for myself in processes like this. I’m not ordained and, for that matter, don’t have a lot of academic training in theology. I’ve never really wanted that, because I’ve always thought that my beliefs were a little outside of mainline theology, at least the churches I’ve been a part of. Not that it’s really whacked out or anything—I just think it would be a headache to have to justify over and over to colleagues and parishes.

But, I do feel like I can write some lessons and I can teach some lessons pretty darn well. What’s nice about a well taught lesson is that you don’t tell anyone what to think—you just give them the information so well, that they are bound to come to something on their own. And, I guess I’ve been taught so well by the people in my life that I’m still trying to learn more too. I’m in a pretty frustrated place with the church in general right now, but frustration can give you a vision of the way you’d like it to be. And, once you’ve got that, you know what you have to work for. And, as we discussed and plotted out themes, we were basically retelling that story with the frustrations, the successes, and the visions for what it should be.

I wonder these things for my life these days—it’s probably something everyone is also pondering too. I’ve entered into this sort of reboot phase of my life, where I’m trying new things, dabbling in interests, resting, observing, prepping myself for something I’m not sure of right now. I remember high school my senior year when I was deciding on colleges. I dreamed big, because the answer seemed to be for me to go to the most prestigious college I could get into and my parents could afford. I sent ACT scores to every big college. I changed my mind many times, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I thought Vanderbilt would be good. I was accepted there, but as I looked at the price tag, I knew I didn’t want to even ask that of my parents. I didn’t even know if that’s what I wanted anyway. Then, one day, I was looking through all my college catalogs (I had piles and piles because of my grade point average and ACT), and I stopped on the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. It wasn’t like it was better made or better written than the others. I just saw something in the pictures that spoke to me. Then, I just decided that it was Knoxville. I feel like I’m in that searching phase again, and it’s easier to trust this time around, but that still ain’t easy. It comes with a lot of doubts and uncertainty.

Artist's conception of ancient cahokia
Artist’s conception of ancient cahokia

At the end of the planning meeting, I had the afternoon free and didn’t have to hurry home, so I decided to explore Cahokia Mounds just across the river from Saint Louis. It’s home of the largest earthen mound in North America and was once an Indian city of 20,000 people, which in its time was bigger than London. Just imagine a city that big without roads and electricity. Getting there, I passed through some pretty run-down areas. East Saint Louis is famously dilapidated and this area is just an offshoot. Buildings that look like they might fall in, lots of cash advance places, closed down factories, a gravel plant, then all of a sudden a prehistoric set of Indian mounds, one of which is 100 feet tall. It’s strange how quickly you can pass from one world to the next.

I spent a few hours exploring the area, trying to understand what it must have looked like and felt like to like in this place about 1,000 years ago. I took one of the longer trails that wound back into these marshy areas, partly due to the low spots created when these people dug out the clay to transfer to their mounds in baskets by hand. I was alone, so I took off my shoes and shirt and felt the warm spring air on my shoulders and the cool ground on my feet. I was able to get pretty close to three sets of deer. There was a woodhenge (like Stonehenge only made of wooden posts) in a spot where it once stood for these ancient people. It is now next to a highway with a gravel plant behind it, but for a few moments I could tune that noise out to think about how people may have gathered there to figure out the calendar. How on the equinox, just a few weeks past, the sun would have lined up perfectly with the center post.

What Monk's Mound looks like now
What Monk’s Mound looks like now

Then it was time for me to climb Monk’s Mound, the largest mound, a beastly chunk of earth that is just mind-blowing to imagine being assembled by people. There are several levels to this thing, and the steps are so steep that as you climb them you can’t see the top. On top of this mound they think there was a huge hut with a ceiling 30 feet tall where the chief of the city lived. Standing on top, I could see for miles. I could see the Gateway Arch and the Skyscrapers of Saint Louis. And, there was the great courtyard below with smaller mounds, where 20,000 people lived. I tried to picture what it was like cleared of these trees, some of which are 100 or more years old. I thought of what it would feel like to rule this city, to step out of my hut and look out over the swath of land and know these were my people, this was my land. I sat on top of the mound for a while. The wind blew strong. I watched people explore. Exercisers came up and down. There was a quiet up there, a clarity. I knew I would go down those steps and have a 3 hour drive ahead. I would go back into a place where I’m answering a lot of questions, and I’m not sure when I’ll come to some sort of conclusion. But, in that place of looking from that high spot, those things did not worry me.

This morning, before the sun rose, I was walking to work and remembered that I needed keys to get in the building. After a few choice words directed at my supreme stupidity, I walked back home, texting my co-worker that I would be ten minutes late. On my way back, I saw a small animal on the sidewalk that turned out to be a raccoon. I watched me approach then disappeared into the sewer grate next to the sidewalk. I don’t know if anyone else on earth saw that raccoon today. Sometimes these detours give us things that are unexpected, things that shift our perspective. I don’t know what they all add up to, but I think they are part of some picture I’ll see more clearly someday down the road.

View from the top
View from the top



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