The stories about the naming of the Badlands is mixed. Either it’s from  the Native American Lakota tribe who said this landscape was hard to live in, although they had recognized—and learned to survive in—the hardship. Or the French who discovered this land on their routes for trading and declared them “bad.” Whichever. The environment stands stark and hard and beautiful. And, yes, bad.

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But there is beauty to be uncovered. Like the spring flowers on the prairie that still are in bloom in early July. Or in the playfulness of the prairie dogs running in and out of their dens and jumping up and down. Or the cracked dry mud, peeling up in large chunks. Deep blue skies giving way to glorious sunsets followed by more stars than you can imagine.

Continue reading Reflections from the Badlands

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As part of my sabbatical I’m reading through Mark’s gospel as we camp and visit the National Parks of the northern Rockies. Part of this is pragmatic; Mark’s gospel takes center stage beginning in Advent for our Sunday gospel readings.

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Beyond the planning though, Mark’s gospel has long been my favorite. You can read it through in less than a couple of hours, and the disciples—who eventually become the pillars of the faith—bumble around like the Keystone Kops. They clearly embody their humanness.

Continue reading Wilderness Repentance

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All of my reading on desert and wilderness spirituality speaks of the necessity of dying to self. No one wants to do this, of course. No one wants to see the image they have of themselves—their identity and all they hold close—to be destroyed.

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And yet, if they want to grow, if they want to become the people God wants intends for them to be, death is on the docket.

This quote from Kerry Walters puts it well. He’s been looking at the ideas of Simone Weil and Catherine of Genoa as they ponder the need for death. He writes of Catherine’s thoughts, “When the soul lands in the purgatorial desert, the painful process of dealienation begins. In the desert, the self progressively loses its destructive attachment to [according to Catherine] ‘the things of the intellect, will or memory, and in no manner tends more to one thing than to another. Quite still and in a state of siege, the me within finds itself gradually stripped of all those things that in spiritual or bodily form gave it some comfort.’ … Weil and Catherine, as well as may other chroniclers of the desert journey, remind us that recreation is frightfully agonizing—not because the God of the desert enjoys inflicting pain, or even because there’s intrinsic value in suffering, but because the pretender self’s alienation is so engrained. Entrenched habits are stubborn, addictions recalcitrant. Once a foothold is established, the grow cement-hard. Purgative death in the desert is violent because nothing less can crack the casing of a soul enmired in entropy.” (Soul Wilderness, pg. 81)

I know it’s not what I want to experience, and yet I also know that unless I die to the false self—the one that relishes in praise from others—I will never truly grow. I don’t want it, but I know it’s the only way that leads to true life.

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A cross country road trip has always been on my bucket list. Getting on the open road during the summer, camping out, seeing great sights, what’s not to love?

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I mentioned nearly two years ago during a sermon that on our sabbatical we’d do a long trip hitting 10 National Parks (8 US, 2 Canadian), a couple of National Monuments, a State Park or two and some roadside attractions, including a selfie in front of the Jolly the Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, MN. I cannot believe that this trip is upon us! Our camping gear resides safely in the car, the itinerary sits complete, and we have 18 books on CD.

So I have no idea how often I’ll be posting to this blog; it’ll depend a lot on connectivity and wifi in the days ahead. We will be posting photos over on Instagram (www.instagram.com/RamblingPriest/) if you are so inclined. I’ll be journaling often, so I will catch you up at some point. Know that I appreciate your prayers.

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I subscribe to Outside Magazine. I love the really great writing, the articles about adventures, suggestions on places to visit, tips on living an outdoor life. And the Gear Guide. God knows how much money I spend when I see some new piece of outdoor paraphernalia that’ll make hiking and camping exquisitely finer.

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On my recent travels, I tossed the latest couple of issues in my backpack. I hadn’t gotten to them in the run up to my sabbatical, and, with plane flights as well as some extended leisurely afternoons, I dove in to them.

Continue reading Shoulding All Over Myself

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It’s been 30 days. Or more significantly four Sundays, since we clergy have that day of the week fixed firmly in our minds, our weeks spinning around it as we plan for sermons and liturgies and whatnot. I’ve traveled to New Mexico and Vancouver and New Hampshire and Vermont in that time, and I’ve still got a good three months out ahead of me.

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I’ve been exploring wilderness spirituality in my reading and thinking. I’ve been journaling. I’ve been sweating more than I have in my entire life as I train. A few pounds have (reluctantly) come off. (What is it with middle aged bodies and their desire to hold on to food indiscretions from the past? Seriously, the Doritos weren’t that good.) Some muscle has been added. I’m told the black circles under my eyes have lessoned. A clergy friend I saw commented on my countenance; my face looked uplifted, she said.

Continue reading How I’m Finding My Way

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The mountains comfort me with the promise that if the heat down here becomes less endurable I can escape for at least two days each week to the refuge of the mountains—those islands in the sky surrounded by a sea of desert. The knowledge that refuge is available, when and if needed, makes the silent inferno of the dessert more easily bearable. Mountains complement the desert as desert complements city, as wilderness complements and completes civilization.

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A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never in my life get to Alaska, for example, but I am grateful that it’s there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.”

—Edward Abbey from Desert Solitaire

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I write this on my first full day at the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont with Olivia. In the Lily funded grant that we received, I set aside time individually with each member of my family, and Olivia and I settled on this nearby shorter trip for the two of us.

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(She also gets a trip on our dime to France with Melissa in exchange for Noah and I climbing Kilimanjaro together. See the title of this post.)

Continue reading Though She Be But Little, She Is Fierce

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Trails can be found in virtually ever part of the vast, strange, mercurial, partly tamed, but still shockingly wild world of ours. Throughout the history of life on the Earth, we have created pathways to guide our journeys, transmit messages, refine complexity, and preserve wisdom. At the same time, trails have shaped our bodies, sculpted our landscapes, and transformed our cultures. In the maze of the modern world, the wisdom of trails is as essential as ever, and with the growth of ever-more labyrinthine technological networks, it will only become more so. To deftly navigate this world, we will need to understand how we make trails, and how trails make us.”

Robert Moor from On Trails.

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I didn’t make it up a mountain yesterday.

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Noah reading the map on the top of Mt. Eisenhower. Phil LaBelle, 2017.[/featured-image]

Noah and I had gone to Mt. Eisenhower on Saturday, and struggled up the 3.3 miles to that summit. We got a late start, the humidity had spiked, and we both hadn’t slept exceptionally well the day before. But we made it after having to really dig deep and push. We talked about Kilimanjaro and our readiness (or lack thereof), and said we had to show we could do it. We both were pretty wiped at the end of the day.

Continue reading The Mountain I Didn’t Climb

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