the great adventure: day 9
i woke up freezing and didnt want to get out of my bag. it was the kind of cold that makes being warm seem like a taste of heaven. after grabbing my fleece parka i slowly crawled out and made oatmeal and coffee, staring through cedars as the suns light dressed the sky and finally peeked over the rocky hill and back at me through the branches. the moment was as tranquil as it was chilly and in that moment i was at peace. it was a good start to a promising day.
we finished breakfast and offered thanks before packing it up to head for salida, near modesto. my good friend shayn grew up in modesto and still has family there so we arranged to stop in and have lunch with them on our way to san francisco. as it turned out shayns father remarried a week prior to our visit and shayn just happened to be in town as well so we were set to gather at his brothers house for a cookout.
we made our way out of yosemite national park and headed west on california state highway 120 to big oak flat where the road did a crazy zig-zag down a steep ravine to its base on the eastern edge of the moccasin reservoir. i remember when i saw the road ahead i thought i was going to be sick but brian did a great job of not driving like a madman and my breakfast remained in place.
hitting oakdale we veered onto state highway 108 and followed it due west across the northern edge of modesto, passing through what im pretty sure were mostly apple orchards. the neatly spaced rows and cultivated soil gave a sense of order and stability; an odd irony for a region that is experiencing quite a deep recession. in previous discussions with the davenports, the plight of this area has come up numerous times and although i knew that the davenport family would be warm and hospitable, i wondered how much living in such a place and facing such difficulties must wear on them.
we arrived a little earlier than we expected and were invited in by shayns brother josiah, who welcomed and ushered us in. shayn arrived shortly with another brother, josh and after introducing him to brian and jase we retired to the spacious backyard where multiple smokers were hard at work on a plethora of ribs and chicken.
im not sure why i was surprised by this because shayn never does anything halfway but i was, and i began to wonder just how big his family was and how many we would be meeting for lunch. shayn and josh had a brotherly discussion about how to bbq properly and we enjoyed the unseasonably cool weather in the shade of several large evergreen trees.
then over the course of about half an hour people started arriving and many of them werent related to the davenports, at least not genetically. in all im guessing maybe 50 people showed up, counting the children who ran and played together while the rest of us caught up, told stories, and laughed. we met everyone and were greeted with such warm enthusiasm i almost mistook myself for having been a long lost friend returning home.
and as we spent just a few fleeting moments in a backyard full of people i didnt know who treated us as though we were family, i thought to myself that i was experiencing church the way it was meant to be: a warm and inviting group of people who, even though their life circumstances are certainly difficult, gather together and love each other without regard for how broken they are. in other words – i felt right at home.
in a strange backyard full of people i just met.
and as we gave those who were interested a quick rundown of our trek i thought about how difficult we typically make church. we build elaborate walled mazes with steeples on top and we instigate unwritten yet stifling language and dress codes. we treat so many things as tools of satan that we end up with a tragic lack of creativity in our aesthetics and expressions of worship. to make progress we form an extravagant number of committees that rarely do more than slow down progress. our efforts at building community center around thinking up new ways to get people inside our mazes and debating how best to track their attendance.
but none of that was going on in the davenport backyard. there was no visitor card to fill out. no dress code. no hidden language to learn before i could understand what people were talking about. and as far as i know no committee meeting after lunch. just love and laughter and really amazing food – like what i picture when i think about the big party jesus promised to throw when he gets back, which is sure to make more than a few christians really uncomfortable in ways i wont bother mentioning at the moment.
time flew all too quickly and unfortunately we had to eat and run, as we tried to make san francisco early enough to see a bit of it before nightfall. as we said our goodbyes i asked god if i could be a part of a church that lived like this and before very long the ribs and chicken, baked beans and potato salad all caught up with me and i dozed off for the entirety of our drive to the city.
brian woke me just as we approached the bay bridge..
where we saw alcatraz in the bay, as well as the coit tower and transamerica building; all iconic landmarks of this city. it was an absolutely beautiful day as the sun shone and the air was cool and breezy. in june. i was instantly a fan.
jase had blown out his chacos in yosemite so we stopped off at REI and nosed around for a few minutes while he worked out his sole issue then he took us for a whirlwind tour of the city and we drove past the dragon gate and through chinatown.
as we passed the shops and restaurants the sights and smells were so enticing that i wished we had the time to spend a whole day there. but we continued and found our way past city lights books and over to lombard street..
and after slowly zig-zagging down the curviest roads ive ever been on we headed over to lucasfilms at the presidio and geeked out over yoda..
finally we cruised up to immigration point..
where i was struck by the woodrow wilson quote chiseled in the stone:
we opened the gates to all the world and said,
‘let all men who want to be free come to us and they will be welcome.’
this quote harkens from a time when we thought very differently about immigration than we seem to now. and while im not going to take sides on the political issues surrounding the current debate about immigration reform right now, one thing is clear: its quite a bit more difficult for people who want to enter this free land these days because of the maze we have built around getting in and all the additional codes we have added to keep certain types of people out.
and while the politicians will certainly argue whether or not this is beneficial to our country i could only stand there and think about the church and the mazes and codes we have added that keep people away, when it was at one time so much more simple for them to find freedom through jesus in our open arms.
and just how closely the methods of our faith follow after the methods of our nation seized my focus for a few moments and i choked up a bit. it seems we have lost our focus and our calling. we have drifted too far in both directions and been torn away from our moorings. we have allowed ourselves to get far too comfortable in this promised land and we have forgotten what made it great; a mistake that dearly cost our israelite forebearers.
and while it probably seems easy for me to throw stones – im hitting my own house. im as guilty as the next pastor who has allowed this to happen. but at some point the only way to bring about change is to bring about change and i knew i had to do whatever i could to let all who want to be free come and be welcome. even if they dont agree with me theologically. even if they dont speak christianese. or dress right. or want to be on committees.
because the gospel is bigger than the reformed tradition that has formed much of who i am. and its bigger than evangelicalism and the subculture we have created to contain it. and if we are not willing to change we may wake up someday to a world that has found god outside of our mazes and codes and moved well beyond us.
we met up with jases parents who were graciously hosting us for the evening in their small but cozy park ranger apartment off lincoln drive, just up the hill from baker beach and the golden gate bridge. they took us down to the san francisco maritime national historic park by the hyde street pier. they told us a bit about the balclutha as we walked over to capurros for a fresh seafood dinner.
after supper we quickly made our way over to baker beach where the sun hung low on the horizon and reflected off the golden gate bridge highlighting its deep red coat
i took off my boots and stepped into the surf, getting soaked to the knees while jase and brian took photos. the water was crazy cold, and the beach quickly dropped into the waves that pounded the sand along the coast. the sun danced behind a distant bank of clouds before it slid gently below the surface of the pacific just past the point bonita lighthouse
and so the seed of this trip – my desire to see the sunset over the pacific – came to fruition at the end of yet another wondrous day of discovery and realization. as dusk crept over the sky giving way to night we walked up from baker beach and climbed past the battery chamberlain on our way back to the park ranger apartments where we stayed the night with the maytons, who have always been wonderful people and great hosts.
after exfoliating in a shower for the first time in a few days we talked about the next days trek and decided to take make an excursion into muir woods on our way north to crater lake. i had not heard of muir woods and wasnt aware of their significance, and though we didnt know it yet, we would need our rest because the following day was about to put quite a twist in our adventure.
before we turned in jase took us outside to listen and we sat in silence for a long time as the pacific pushed and pulled. i could still hear it through the open window after i layed down and it was as soothing as any song ive ever heard. i remember thinking:
god is good.
life is good.