Sunday, April 26, 2009

Up in the air in Chicago

For years I had the thought that city living would be too fast for me. Age tends to slow one down, you know? But Chicago is different in our lives - I seem to go back to younger and more active years and we always have fun. For instance, last year's air show. It took me back to the days when I worked on airplanes and even now I still have a tendency to look up when an aircraft flies over.

Chicago has a fantastic air show and last summer's was even better because we could ride the elevator up to the 60th story of our daughter's condo building in downtown Chicago and watch the show from 600-700 feet up with no buildings - or just a few - blocking the view. The picture below shows more building than airplane but we got some spectacular views of the Blue Angels flying past TV antennas atop the Hancock Building. Spectacular!

The next day we went to the Navy Pier and watched the same show all over again - only this time it was from lake level. Only in a city like Chicago!

So, the blog this time is more pictures than words but a trip like this is wonderful and I could be converted into a Chicagoite without too much trouble. And a trip into Chicago is even better with the train ride to and from the City. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Back to Britain

A few weeks ago I chatted about an unusual experience in a British hotel. This time I want to talk about a different British hotel experience - a bit more humorous that the other time.
The first hotel was in London - this time were had finished a busy day's sightseeing across central England's countryside visiting sites relating to the ministry of John and Charles Wesley who were central to the formation of the Methodist church.
I was overseeing a group of about fifty people - a congenial and enjoyable group. We pulled up to the hotel in Birmingham ready for a good meal and sound night's rest. After arranging for our passengers' accommodations, we accepted keys and went up to our room. We opened the door and - would you believe - there was no bed, and the room was set up for a meeting. That's right - no bed. Lots of chairs and tables but no bed. Was that anyway to treat the head of a large group of visitors?
Making our way back to the main desk we told the desk clerk there was no bed in the room. She said, "Just a moment, Sir.."and disappeared into the labyrinth of offices behind the desk and soon came back with a classic British management type. I mean, he could have come out of a British style magazine and the only things he lacked was an umbrella and bowler hat. Almost a dead ringer for the floor walker from the old PBS comedy, "Are You Being Served?"
With a melodious voice, he asked, "And what can we do for you, Sir?" I responded, "there's no bed in our assigned room and we would like a bed for the night." He stretched up to a haughty height and looked down at us and said, steely eyed: "Sir, that cannot be." I responded, "Maybe that cannot be, but Sir, there is NO bed in that room. Are we to sleep on meeting room tables with no pillows or blankets?" He sent one of henchmen (or henchwomen) to the room and they came back averting any eye contact with us and whispered to the manager, "Indeed they are right - there is no bed in the room!"
I'm not sure that the manager said anything but in no time we were surrounded by bellboys and were escorted to one of the loveliest rooms we ever had. It was complete with a view over a river - a park with classic British trout fishermen -- about as nice a room one could hope for. We stayed there several days and appreciated every moment of our stay.
When we checked out our friend, the manager, was at the desk and with erect British severity he looked down on us and asked, "I trust the accommodations met with your approval?" I couldn't think of anything fit to say except that the second room was a major improvement over our first one.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Memories of Marion

My memories of Marion, Indiana go back to the early to mid-1980's. I was serving a church in a transitional part of town and found it had a lot of traditions. One was to be deeply committed to working with the annual city-wide Easter Pageant. It was one of the most unique and spiritually moving experiences of my life.
We would begin preparing before the end of a year and the work would go on for for at least four months - sometimes more. Our church involvement centered on work around the stage and scenery for me (the stage manager was a member of our church) - and for the ladies it was either preparing or refurbishing costumes. But we were just a small part of it -- people from all over the city were involved in the overall presentation. Usually 800 or so (sometimes more) were in the choir and orchestra - well over a thousand were members of the cast - plus a significant number of others who were in the stage crew, makeup crew, ushers, and so on - more than 4,000 people at one point in its history.. The picture below will give you an idea. It involved whole families and sometimes roles were handed down from one family member to another as the years passed.
The Pageant began in 1938 and lasted fifty years. When it came time for the Easter Sunday morning production at 6 a.m. lines of people waiting to see the Pageant stretched for blocks before dawn. The music became a regular Easter program on Armed Forces Radio network and was heard around the world annually. It was an amazing event considering that the city of Marion has a population of less than 31,000 people. The lower of the two pictures shows the cast of the Pageant enacting a portion of the persecution of Jesus.

I was a "scenery mover" and "rope-puller" for scenic drops on the stage. My wife sang in the choir. Even though we who were mostly out of sight it was a most amazing spiritual experience for those in the production - even behind-the-scenes people. Surely one of the greatest in my personal memory. There was no admission charge that I recall - but the Pageant lived on free-will offerings and industrial and civic contributions.

This holy week I look back with profound memories of a very special Holy Week experience where denominational labels were set aside and folks were afforded of very special view of the Christian story of Easter.

Unfortunately, there have been no presentations of the Pageant for a few years. I understand that the city has fallen on hard times and hasn't been able to underwrite utility costs for the weeks of preparation before Easter, and because Marion has been a victim of industrial cut-backs (especially within the automotive industry) the funds have not been there. But the Pageant lasted over fifty years and one of my treasured memories is being able to the Holy Week story come alive in a most meaningful way. Perhaps in years to come the community will be able to renew this event but like so many things today, it will probably remain only a memory for those thousands who made it possible and who found great inspiration from a community that set aside labels and made Easter come alive.