Pontius Pilate: Maybe the Most Uneasy Retirement Ever…

“When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” (Matthew 27:24-26, NIV)

Pontius Pilate

I have always wondered about Pontius Pilate. He was a Roman governor in a hostile land, thrust into a situation that had no reasonable outcome. Matthew says that he marveled at Jesus’ lack of response, and that his wife had been greatly troubled about Jesus in a dream. Pilate was the ultimate man stuck between a rock and a hard place, a military man forced to make political decisions for unreasonable and hostile constituents.

He offered to release Jesus, said he found no fault in him, and ultimately washed his hands publicly of the whole messy affair. Pilate and his wife were both uneasy about this Galilean King of the Jews, and both of them expressed a desire to be rid of this call for judgment; yet even so, Pilate handed this innocent man over to be crucified, pacifying the zealots who were calling for his death.

Do you think that in later years, once they moved back to Rome, they talked about Jesus, and wondered about who he was? Did they live long enough to keep up with events back in Jerusalem, to sense the magnitude of what they had seen and done? Surely the “King of the Jews” came up in their dinner time conversation, and perhaps Mrs. Pilate was able to say “I told you so!” every once in a while…

According to Josephus, Pilate was ordered back to Rome after viciously suppressing a Samaritan uprising about AD 36. Maybe he was just doing his job as governor, or perhaps he harbored some bitterness towards the Jews for the role they had forced him to play in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus; in any case, he dealt harshly with the Samaritans and was sent home, either as a reward or a punishment. But it was clear that he needed a break from Judean politics.

There are a lot of characters in the Bible, and Pontius Pilate seems to be one of the most realistically portrayed. Too bad Matthew or Luke was not able to chronicle his later life after he returned to Rome. I have always wondered what he felt and thought about Jesus, what he ultimately knew and didn’t know…

And I have wondered if, during their troubled retirement years, Pilate and his wife ever found answers to the questions they must have had about Jesus, the Christ, the man whose kingdom was not of this world. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth” I wonder if he ever found the answer to that question, the question all of us must ask as we behold the man.

Pontius Pilate

In an assignment far from home, caught between the Jews and Rome,
As politics and eternity swirled in events that surely changed his world,
Pontius Pilate tried to choose, when any way he went, he’d lose…
Out in this remote command, a case he couldn’t understand,
Pilate tried to wash his hands of this Jewish King, this innocent man…
Events began he couldn’t halt—and so he said, “I find no fault!”
And when the Sanhedrin wouldn’t budge, Herod was called to be the judge;
But Herod only sent him back. So Pilate tried a different tack:
“Be careful here!” his wife had urged, so Pilate had the prisoner scourged,
And asked the crowd to give relief, but instead of the King, they chose a thief…
Perplexed and trying to find a plan, he brought Christ forth: “Behold the man!”
Hoping that he could try to buy some sympathy now; But “Crucify!”
Yes, “Crucify him!” reached his ears, a cry that he would hear for years,
And think about with angry tears as the mark of the darkest of careers…
See, Pilate didn’t know from old of the things the ancients had foretold,
of another man who said, “Behold!” as political strife around him swirled:
“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes the sins of all the world!”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Roman Road: Follow It and See Where it Takes You. I Promise You’ll Be Glad You Did

The Roman Road system was an amazing accomplishment in the ancient world, and it allowed people to travel all over Europe. The Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, was traveling on such a road from Jerusalem to Damascus when he had a life-changing experience. In the Book of Acts, Luke describes it like this: “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.” The road to Damascus took Paul on a life-changing journey; the “Roman Road” he described in the book of Romans can do the same for you

Roman road.

One of ancient Rome’s contributions to civilization was a system of public roads that was unrivalled in the ancient world. Their handiwork is still evident today, and in fact our tour group rode bicycles down the Appian Way, a road said to have been traversed by the Apostle Paul (among many others) back in the day… In terms of its impact on life and culture, the Roman roads were sort of the equivalent of light speed in Star Wars, or a Star Trek transporter. Wikipedia says, “At the peak of Rome’s development, no fewer than 29 great military highways radiated from the capital, and the late Empire’s 113 provinces were interconnected by 372 great roads.“ It was the best means of getting to the desired destination in the entire world, and stretched from Rome all the way to Gaul and Great Britain.

Roman road

Robert Frost wrote about taking “The Road Less Traveled”, and the difference it made in his life. He pointed out that our choices can take us down roads whose destination is uncertain or unscripted. In “The Wizard of Oz”, Dorothy met the Scarecrow at an intersection when she wasn’t sure where to go. We encounter many such crossroads in life’s journey, and some of our choices cause us to fall in with dubious companions or go down the wrong path.

In Scriptures, there is another “road” that provides the best means of getting to your desired destination. Do you want to go to heaven? Would you like assurance that your journey is leading to God’s Kingdom? The “Roman Road” is a series of verses in Romans that outlines man’s position relative to being judged by a Holy, righteous God, and outlines God’s provision for man’s salvation. If you’ve never travelled the Roman Road, I highly recommend that you follow its course.

Read through these verses from Romans and see where it leads you:

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (3:20)

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (3:23).

“For the wages of sin is death…” (6:23a).

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (5:8)

“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (6:23b).

“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (10:9, 13).

It’s why Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” (1:16). Take a walk down the Roman Road. And while you’re at it, take somebody else with you.

Roman soldiers built their roads to carry armies, men and loads
So Roman soldiers could be hurled to any target in the world.
Roads were built for one and all–Roads in Europe! Roads to Gaul!
Starting here and going there, your feet could take you anywhere.
Paul described a journey, too–a roadway built for me and you,
To transport us from earthly states up all the way to Heaven’s Gates.
Just read Romans, you will see the path laid out for you and me:
Walk that path around the bend. Who knows indeed where it will end?
Read in Romans, then take heed; who knows indeed where it will lead?
To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Eating, Italian style

autogrill_1000Italian truck stop

Like the number of paintings on the ceiling of the Vatican, the culinary delights of Italy have been presented to us so abundantly and so often that we are overwhelmed. They just keep coming, one piled on top of the other until my senses are no longer reacting properly to the opportunities before them. Food in Tuscany was just not like food in America. To put things in perspective, our original itinerary called for a stop in Orvieto to eat on the way from Rome to Cortona. Schedule constraints apparently didn’t allow for the four course meal referenced in our trip planner, and we pulled off to take a quick break at AutoGrill, an Italian roadside rest area. Since by this time we had grown pretty accustomed to four course meals, we were pretty disappointed that we weren’t getting into Orvieto for lunch. So we trooped into the Gas Station to see what we could find. Rather than the Subway or McDonald’s or day-old sandwiches one might find in the US, Autogrill had an espresso bar, a panini station with fresh-made sandwiches pressed to perfection, a salad bar with fresh fruits and vegetables, a pasta bar with several types of homemade pasta, and a grill to serve up beef or veal, cooked on the spot however you like it…there are grilled patatas and carrots, and all manner of other items to complete our lunch. The fragrance of light garlic, sweet grilled onions, and coffee waft over the racks of chips and gum and candy, beckoning us to try one food station or another. We make our selections, with members of our group getting everything from wine and cheese to prime rib to fresh pasta and ravioli. The grilled carrots and the potatoes are excellent. As we eat, our disappointment over not stopping in Orvieto dissipates, and as we compare our menu selections, sampling from others’ plates, it’s official: food at a truck stop in Italy is better than a lot of Italian restaurants in America. In Rome, we fell in love with gelato and began adjusting to the Italian tempo for eating, getting acquainted with not peas, but with the “p’s” of culinary Italy: Prosciutto, peccorino, paninis, pasta, parmesan, pairings, panna cotta, and patience. Meals are savored, not in the wham-bam American way, but more like a time spent lingering over your lover with sweet kisses and conversation. Our time in Rome, more restaurant oriented, less familial than our stay in Tuscany, only prepared us for our time in the country. Although we didn’t realize it, we needed some transition time to prepare us for Tuscan food, much the way divers need to decompress on their way to the surface. Had we jumped right into the food at our villa, there might have been some sensory overload that would have actually limited what we could eat there. As it was, we were able to ease towards gastronomic excess like finely tuned Olympians coming to the games. The Villa Laura schedule and meals have not only surpassed my expectations but have pushed back the boundaries of my food fantasies. I have been on cruises where I could order 3 appetizers and 3 entrees if I wished, but I have never eaten this quality of food, this much, this often before. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never before in the field of cooking have so many cooked so much that was eaten by so few. The Villa Laura brought in two sets of chefs to prepare our meals, probably because of the sheer impossibility of one set being able to perform the pure physical labor of cooking for our group alone. There is Francesco and Christiano, two young Italian chefs who learned to cook from their grandmothers. They don’t look like chefs in the sense that they are buff and seem very young to have so much experience in their profession. But man, can they cook! Francesco has most of the English, and he tells us on request about how they watched their grandmothers and mothers cook, then worked in the family olive business (so of course they grow and press their own olive oil, which they claim is absolutely the best in the world), and who learned their craft in restaurants before starting their own business, catering and cooking. I’d say they are no less than world-class Tuscan chefs. Then there is Terracina, who we all call Mama, a pleasant, happy woman who has brought her daughter and her daughter’s friend to staff our kitchen. Mama is, if possible, probably an even better cook than Francesco and Christiano. She doesn’t speak much English, but we all fall in love with her instantly, enjoying her sunny disposition, her hard work, and her luscious culinary delights. Her bread salad and panna cotta were some of the best things I have ever tasted. So it is a Tuscan tag-team of chefs gone wild, each presenting us with dishes made from local produce and ingredients in “typical” Tuscan fashion. For breakfast, there is always coffee, homemade bread, various kinds of cheese, eaten with homemade jam or preserves, yogurt, fresh granola, fruit, juice, and breakfast pastries. At dinner we feast on bruschetta, artichokes blessed with parmesan, zucchini soup, fava beans made several ways, several kinds of cheese, and all sorts of delicious, melt-in-your-mouth homemade pasta and ravioli. There is bread salad, balsamic glaze, roast and grilled meat (beef, chicken, pork medallions–rumored to be perfect for late night snacks, 28 seconds in the microwave–and one night even a little rabbit!). We had wood-oven pizza, spelt, stuffed zucchini, and a souffle or two. There is creamy, delicious panna cotta, and a couple of kinds of tiramisu. We had the reknowned Chianina beef, which is presented with a certificate detailing the cow’s birth date and date of death. I really didn’t want to know that my cow’s name had been Matilda, but she still tasted very good. The famed bistecca alla Fiorentina, a big T-bone cooked rare, was delicious, although I’d have to be honest and say that Texas beef is pretty dang good by comparison. Buddy might say that the pork medallions in Italy are superior to ours, but the beef–while good– did not just blow our doors off. There is a bit of wine partaken with every meal, usually a local vintage in red AND white(and of course, I am only describing our average LUNCH here). We had biscotti dipped in Vin Santo. We tried grappa. We drank prosecco(ha! another “p”!). Sadly, I was not a wine connoisseur before going to Italy, but I can honestly say that I now know far more about how wine can complement a meal than I did before. I can also honestly say I probably drank more wine over the last two weeks than the rest of my life put together. I did NOT, however, drink enough to diminish the memory of the amazing tastes of our Tuscan vacation. I wish that my words could do justice to the cuisine of Tuscany, because the local, natural culinary delights we experienced there were a huge part of our immersion into the culture and flavor of the region. I can only describe the pure impact of Villa Laura’s gourmet meals by reverting to a final “p”, which succinctly provides a summary of the fact that Italy has stayed with us, how we have brought home delicious memories of Tuscany, how we are reminded daily of all the wonderful things we got to eat there. That “p” word: pants. I can’t get in ’em anymore.

Observations on Italy

As you drive to Tuscany from Rome, you pass through lush green hillsides and rich farmland. The hills vary from gently rolling to steep-cliffed formations that hearken back to volcanic activity, visible in the abrupt formations of rock that later submitted to the almost tropical growth that flourishes in the temperate climes. As you look either west or east as you take A1 northward, there are scenic hillside retreats dotted with Olive trees and vineyards, and fields of grain or grass… These fields are almost all surveyed by a villa or some larger dwelling placed at the top of a hill, looking down upon them protectively. In the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union held “good ground”, or defensive positions that were elevated above the infantry that would try to dislodge them. Historically, having such a position, above would-be attackers, provides tactical advantages and makes defenders stronger and less vulnerable. Everywhere you look in rural Italy, villas, churches, monasteries, and forts are built on ‘good ground’, providing a haven for those who worked the farms and vineyards surrounding them. As we toured Tuscany, we often remarked on the cities on the hills, the beautiful scenic villas overlooking their domains, and the old towers that dotted the volcanic landscape. Their presence spoke of protection and defensive strength.
In Rome, there is an ancient city Wall that rises majestically around its antique center, protecting the ruins of the Forum, the Colisseum, and the parthenon. It is a marvel of engineering and construction, using techniques that would be considered brilliant by today’s standards, much less those in use 2000 years ago. The wall seems to be about 5 stories high (actually 8-10 meters) and is 4-5 meters thick. There are several different sections of the wall, some dating back to 378 b.c., some built well into the Christian era. Walls were built to defend the city from hordes of marauders who roamed Europe in those days, pillaging and plundering all who lay in their voracious path.
One of my strongest impressions from having toured Tuscany and Rome is that man has been a violent, brutish, greedy animal. The people who lived there in bygone eras really, really needed to defend themselves. They were invaded enough to know that they needed to live, sleep, and work on ‘good ground’. Violence could come upon them at any time, and it was worth the amazing amount of cost and labor it took to build protective walls, and to live within or around defensive positions that may have been hard to build, or inconvenient to get water to, or even to get to at night, but which might just save their lives if they were suddenly attacked. The beautiful Tuscan countryside, with old towers and ancient steeples dotting the tops of rocky aeries or balanced along the cliffs, is actually a fortress style testimony to the historic greed and violence of man. For much of our history, men have simply taken what they want by using violence or the abuse of power, without really caring who might be harmed in the taking. One might hope that today, in such an advanced age of social evolution, men are beyond such things, that we are not capable of this kind of evil anymore… but it is entirely possible that the human heart has not changed all that much in 2000 years. The holocaust was only 68 years ago. There may be different ways to try to take things today (such as picking pockets in Rome, or sending bogus emails trying to get suckers to fall for a scam, or stealing someone’s identity online), but men are still greedy, and there is still violence. While our modern weaponry has made good ground less effective, and has rendered large walls somewhat obsolete, the beautiful scenes of Tuscan villas and churches set upon the hills remind us of a long history of greedy violence. I know, it’s definitely a “glass half-empty” kind of observation, but seeing so many towers and villas and forts and churches occupying ‘good ground’ made it difficult for me to see the lovely pastoral landscape without acknowledging the grittier reality behind it. There were some mean people in the world back in the day; and although methods have changed, and those villas and churches are now safe from imminent attack by marauding hordes, there are still mean, greedy people in the world today. Evil is not limited to to the past, and protection will not come from position. Until we begin some kind of construction within the human heart, all the forts and walls in Tuscany will not protect what we value most.

20130516-170049.jpg

Tour de Roma

The guy handing us our bikes at Topbike rentals in Rome looked at our group, calculating the odds, and he seemed to give an unconscious shake of the head… He was about 25 and looked like he could bike the Apenines without breaking a sweat. Our group was made up of fifty and sixty something retirees, empty nesters and grandparents who apparently did not appear to be regular cyclists. “Perhaps you would like the motorized bikes? Ha ha, I am only joking!” Others in the office laughed conspiriatorially, trying to appear like they knew he was teasing, but coming off as young and fit and somewhat concerned for our safety. The very people who stood to make money conducting our tour seemed to be trying to give us a way out! Maybe they were concerned that when several members of our group did not return, it would damage their reputation. I asked, “will you be our guide?” He paused, and then spoke rapidly in Italian to the girl in the office. They seemed to be disagreeing on something, and he seemed to be protesting; then I heard them say something about Simone, and he turned to me with a big smile on his face. “No, unfortunately I have another tour today. Simone will be your guide.” Reading between the lines, I sensed that Simone was late coming in, and had drawn the short straw. We were his penalty for being late. When Simone arrived, he too looked us up and down…. “You realize that this tour is over bumpy roads, yes?” we nodded. And you realize that you will be on the bike for 6 hours, over 40 kilometers, yes?” Our entire group put together had probably not been a bike six hours in the last 3 months combined, but we all said yes. Simone looked skeptical. “And you know the roads will be the cobblestone-ahs, yes?” as we nodded, he said, “we will go to the parking lot across the street and do the skills test, and learn the ways of the bicycle. Then we will go, ok?” Amazingly, we passed our skills test, emerged from our practice braking unbroken, and were able to proceed. Simone was possibly late thirties, maybe early forties, but he is a lean, tanned, good-looking man with attractive features and striking salt and pepper hair. Since he bikes 50 miles a day, his legs appear strong, tanned and muscular, unlike any other man’s legs displayed within the group he is guiding. Starting out, he seems thoughtful, but then I realize he seems to be doing more calculations than a CAD computer executing a 3d design. He suddenly announces that he knows a shortcut that will not only give us an amazing view of the City wall, but is flatter and shorter than his usual route. (for all we know, he has redirected us from riding through DaVinci’s front yard and is now taking us via an alleyway instead, but then he did use the magic words flatter and shorter). Having said that, he doesn’t really have to sell us on this idea. We begin, pedaling along at a leisurely pace. Today is May 1, National Workers’ Day, and because it is a holiday, light traffic conditions give him some options. I think he figures he will need them all to help us complete this bike tour on the Appian Way. Simone stops often to show us details and give us lessons on history and background of what we are seeing. (I’m not sure if he is really explaining something important or just giving us multiple opportunities to rest.) We seem to pedal forever, leaving the massive City wall behind, and after what feels like an eternity and the beginnings of saddle sores, we see a street sign that clearly says “Appian Way”. We are cheered by this until Simone says, “Ok. Now, we can begin.” I was thinking we were hopefully about halfway through until this, and checking my watch I realize we have only been gone about 25 minutes. This group of grandparents is game, though, and on we pedal. We do get to make a pit stop at the Catacombs of San Sebastian, and it is amazing to see the care and effort taken by folks to deal with the remains of loved ones. Uncertainty about eternal life is a powerful motivator, and we see signs of that effort displayed poignantly in the tombs of babies and children, extravagantly in the eternal dwellings of the wealthy. If I have learned one thing in Rome, it’s that even as it relates to eternal life, money is still considered as a means to an end. Or THE end, in this case… People have been hoping to buy or work their way into heaven for centuries, when all they need to do is discover Grace…
Our intrepid group remounts the bicycles, sobered now by viewing all those burial plots, and even more sobered by the cobblestone-ahs and the off-road alternative. After bumping along for awhile, we ask Simone how far we are from our wine and cheese stop. “Is not far. Ten minutes.” onward we ride. We hop curbs into dirt paths along the Way, or we bump and stutter over the ancient Roman road. To think that Paul and perhaps Timothy may have once walked this road! If they did, they were certainly more comfortable than we are on these bicycle seats! This change of pace does not daunt our group, although poor Buddy is stricken so badly with hay fever that his primary means of transport has become sneezing down forcibly to propel himself along by the force of the sneezes alone. We have a couple of accidents while negotiating terrain, and there are several bumps and bruises among our riders. After a scrape with some rocks, Cindi’s leg looks like it has been put through a meat grinder, but she is one tough cookie. The ladies help to clean up the blood, and Simone breaks out the first aid kit, and onward we go… As the lean, attractive guide helps to bandage Cindi’s wounds, I swear that some of our other ladies are calculating the risk-reward factor in crashing just so that Simone would have to bandage THEIR legs! We keep riding. “Ten minutes” has stretched into an hour, and still we pedal. Our reward is to see the amazing Roman aqueducts, which run alongside the Appian way. (There is even one that is still in use today! ) Seeing how people lived 2000 years ago is interesting. What is fascinating, though, is seeing how people live TODAY. For the Holiday, it seems that every family in Rome has come out to this park to cook out, to gather with friends and family. They have beaten down little patches of grass, parked under sections of the aqueduct, and filled every conceivable space with family and fellowship. There are impromptu soccer games, parents doting over their bambinos, women talking animatedly in small groups, small children running and playing, and people gathered for fellowship everywhere, as far as the eye can see. They are flying kites, playing pickle ball and bocce ball, smoking cigarettes, playing foot-ah ball, and enjoying being together. If we had wanted to get a glimpse of life in Rome, this is a perfect place to start. Simone tells us that if he were here by himself, he could just ask anyone cooking out and they would give him a sausage from the grill, but since there are nine of us, it would be too much to expect. We totally understand, but that doesn’t keep us from eyeing every grill with a bit of longing as we head towards our wine and cheese… As we dodge happy children at play, and pedal through family reunions and barbecues, one thing is clear: in Italy, the family is still alive and well! The entire park is a testament to multi-generational love, and to the resilience of Italy’s families. When we reach the farm, we are charmed by the ancient, rustic surroundings (the large building there is being renovated, and the signs illustrating the project say it was to be finished in 2011. It looks barely started: Italy!), and we enjoy the hospitality there. Buddy is still suffering, but he’s a fighter, and coming back; Cindi is bandaged but chipper. I am so impressed with our group’s toughness and spirit. There at the farm, our hostess Anna shows us how they make cheese, and we drink our wine. We are given some fava beans to try, and Simone says that should help us on the way home by providing us with some gas-powered jet propulsion! A family group connected to the farm somehow is sitting nearby, having a private cookout as well. They are grilling lamb, and we are famished. As lovely as our wine, bread, and cheese are, that lamb smells GOOD! When we compliment the cook on the aroma, he says something to his party, and then brings our battered little band of bikers a few slices of freshly grilled lamb. It gives us true refreshment– not just from the protein in the meat, but from feasting on Italian generosity. We managed to complete our bike tour, and carry with us indelible images: The City wall, the sights along the way, the Catacombs, the aqueducts; for some, Simone’s tanned Italian good looks; and for all of us, the scene of thousands of Italian families living and loving, and the generous Italian spirit, and the satisfaction we got from spending seven hours bumping along the Appian way.

Bloom WhereYou are Planted!

It takes about 2 1/2 hours by bus to get from Rome to the Amalfi coast. Our driver Gianncarlo does a masterful job negotiating the endless near-miss that is standard Italian traffic. We Americans marvel at Italian pedestrians who walk brazenly along streets and thoroughfares, never flinching or even noticing that they but are inches from being run down by not only our bus, but also the small cars that hurtle past us, and the motorcycles and scooters that zip along beside us. I mean, these people don’t turn sideways, don’t “make themselves small”, they DON’T NOTICE death crazily leering at them as they saunter along, daring some accident to occur… The road to Amalfi runs past the ruins of Roman aqueducts, marvels of engineering and construction, past centuries-old monasteries and farmhouses, alongside lovely green fields, farms, and groves of trees. It continues to progress, past super markets and IKEA, shopping malls and gas stations. Social wear and tear becomes more evident, and gang graffiti litters the walls along the highway here and there. Near Napoli it converges with commerce, and the byways get dirtier, more actively used. There are signs of dusty construction and industry. A plant alongside the road has goods made and stacked, pallets ready to be loaded onto trucks. Seemingly out of place to an American eye, a fairly large statue of Jesus overlooks the outdoor employee break areas, arms outstretched in encouragement and approval. Farther down the road, more of the bustle of business besmirches the countryside. Evidence of shipping activity abounds at a plant where there are stacks of big metal containers marked Yang Ming and Italia. The residences around this part of town are drab multi-story apartments, the kind with doors and windows open, trash on the porches, and laundry hung out to dry. They look dingy and lived in. As we pass a particularly dirty manufacturing plant, I see something right beside the freeway and overlooking the exit ramp. There is a bright splash of color, actually 3 bright splashes, that stand out from their gray and dusty surroundings like an opera singer at a hoe-down. They are 3 beautiful flower boxes on an immaculate front porch, an oasis of beauty in an otherwise drab and dirty world. The flowers are bursting with beauty, and everything about the residence looks, well, cared for. There is no indication of more money, no ostentation, nothing expensive on the front porch to say, “we outspent our neighbors”; but there is care and time and nurture leaping out of this home, at least what I can tell from my five second observation of this lovely porch as we drive by… Love leaps from this porch, and as I feel it, so do lessons and applications. Things I thought: wow, what a difference nurture makes! What or who am I nurturing? It’s amazing how just being cared for makes something more beautiful. Have I thanked someone lately for making me more beautiful? (uh, thanks Nancy, you are awesome!) and who am I making more beautiful? And lastly, I realized that beauty can jump out sometimes when you least expect it, unlooked-for, from otherwise drab and simple surroundings. If you assume it’s not there, you might miss it! So wherever you are, keep looking! It doesn’t have to be on the way to Amalfi.

20130516-170533.jpg