Wednesday, August 27, 2008


When, after we'd negotiated the endless, snaking airport line at Logan, the United Airlines clerk looked sadly at us and told us that the flight we were booked on did not exist, we knew we were in for an adventure in aeronautic snafu. The Rockies are great, even transcendently so, but we were not about to get there on a Zen flight. Suffice it to say that eight hours and no apologies later we landed in Denver and, in a Hertzmobile acquired sans snafu, headed toward the YMCA camp in Estes Park.

YMCA you ask ? One might think that, as the family's official Christian-in-Residence, I was somehow responsible for this destination. Mais non. During many summers of yore, DK's (Jewish) parents packed the 3 boys into the family car and drove west from Topeka to this most bucolic destination. We were going to relive the experience. And reminisce at length about later DK trips, taken with his pals this time, involving camping, music, and various mind-altering substances.

The Y camp is, indeed, lovely. Surrounded by mountains, it covers acres of rolling fields and trees; one can stay in various "lodges" or in individual well-situated cabins, all rustic, some fancier than others. We stayed in "Commanche," sometimes known as "Comanche," nice enough except for the crippling mattress on the bed.

Our first act, even before settling into "Commanche," was to get dinner. Exhausted, and enervated by the too-thin air, we tucked into a small buffet, including -- deo veganibus gratias -- brown rice, bok choy and couscous. As I sat there shoveling soggy carbs into my carb hole, 5 tall, handsome Young Men with shaved heads and long brown robes glided in.

"Franciscans," I thought. But after one gasshoed to the steam table, I realized they were Buddhists. "Delightfully ecumenical," I thought, trying to work a strand of bok choy out of a broken molar.

(My dentist does not read my blog, or at least I hope she doesn't, and does not know that, a few months ago, a massive "temporary" filling popped out of the tooth I'd broken a few years ago eating a bagel at DK's Mother's funeral. Yes, yes, I admit it, I was chewing peppermint Lifesavers. So shoot me. Mea culpa. But Dentist had proposed such extensively byzantine renovations of said mangled tooth that I have been avoiding her and everything dental since. Especially since her periodontal colleague, a severe Russian woman, had peered into my mouth, looked disgusted, muttered darkly about plaque, and reassured me that even though osteonecrosis of the jaw can be brought on by crown lengthening surgery in women taking Fosamax (the bone-strengthening pill I have been prescribed, but, ummm, errr, really don't take, you're not reading this, are you Dr. B. ?) , it was rare and merely disfiguring, but not painful, so I shouldn't fret.)

I will pause here for a Medical Public Service Announcemet: Do as I say, not as I do.

Well, leave it to me to put the dental back in transcendental. We left the Buddhists to their cheesecake and proceeded to our cabin. DK pointed to a jagged mountaintop behind "Commanche." "Look," he said,"That might be the mountain they call Teddy's Teeth. " I stared at the uneven zigzag of rock and ran my tongue over the decimated right upper quadrant of my mouth. It was depressing up there -- there was the slimy gap into which I had refused to have an implant, a stalwart survivor-tooth, then my craggy Teddy's Tooth equivalent. Squalid. "I bet the Buddhist Young Men have great teeth," I thought. "I bet they use electric toothbrushes. And floss. Religiously." I was getting depressed.

None of the amusing and frivolous novels I'd ordered from Amazon Used had arrived in time for our trip, so I'd brought along a current, massive book-in-progress, JHR Moorman's A History of the Church In England. The cabin had no WiFi, and, although there was a small TV, the only thing it offered was snow and white noise. So it was you and me and the printed page. Delightfully primitive.

"Why didn't you give me that book last night when I couldn't sleep," DK muttered, looking over my shoulder as I read the next morning. "That would have knocked me out instantly." We were nursing various mattress-related orthopedic traumata. Lumbago. Bedsores. We needed some Young Men Chiropractors. Stat.

I put JRH Moorman down and perused the schedule of weekly YMCA Camp events. There were the obligatory hikes and crafts related festivities, there was minature golf, there were nature lectures and horseback riding, and there was also a catergory of "Religious" offerings. One caught my eye: The Theology Of The Andy Griffiths Show.

DK limped off to obtain some newspapers. I was exhausted. Lightheaded, maybe even a little short of breath. It was mountain sickness, I was sure of it. I tried to remember when the pulmonary edema would set in. I needed bottled oxygen ! Calm down, I admonished myself, inspecting my fingernails for cyanosis. Calm down. I would do the morning office. But I hadn't brought the BCP. It and I had had a falling out since the lectionary hit the Book of Judges. So I'd brought an abridged Roman Catholic Breviary, Christian Prayer, As I fumbled between the ordinary and the psalter, I remembered how the psalm translation -- the Grail translation -- was bleakly, unreadably pedestrian compared to the beautiful cadences of the BCP's psalms. My mind wandered to the Young Men Buddhists. They've probably been deep in Zazen for 5 or six hours by now, they're probably frolicking in the clear mountain pools of Enlightenment, and here I am drinking bad instant coffee and quibbling about translations. Great.

My mind wandered back to JRH Moorman. DK was wrong. It was a compelling and depressing tale. The cavalcade of English Church History -- invasions, regicides, burnings-at-the-stake, dangerous bigotries and all manner of intrigue -- was far from boring. It was, in fact, quite harrowing. It helped me put the Current Unpleasantness into a long perspective -- and not a very pretty perspective. Outraged mobs had once burned and vandalized churches that used candles, and mixed water and wine in the Eucharist ! Altar Guild must have been more exciting back in those days.

And now I was in the Land of Andy Griffiths Theology, with a pack of Young Men Buddhist monks as some sort of personal metaphysical cautionary tale. Had DK -- in whose eyes I am "The Churchlady" -- planned it this way ?

Later, I ventured over to the chapel -- a rustic, wooden building with a square tower. The door was open. Strains of Muzak drifted out into the clear, mountain air, a cheerful, pious tune with guitars and drums. Pat Boone I thought. I ventured in.

There was a huge poster of an American flag, folded into a commemorative triangle. The Country part of God-and-Country. Between a wall covered with cute, tchotchke crosses and another with cute, tchotchke angels was a wide, bright altar area with several massive open Bibles. The rows of padded chairs were nearly empty. I wandered toward the back of the church where, on a long shelf, were piles of devotional literature. Most from Dobson's Focus on the Family.

So, in the spirit of the History of the Church in England, I burned them.

Well, no, actually, I didn't.

But, for some reason, from that moment on, the image of the Simpsons' famous Gay Steel Mill kept occurring to me, like a sinister leitmotif. Da-da-DA DAAAHH-- da da da da DUM ! Especially after, in Commanche's glossy, dog-eared copy of "The History of the YMCA Camp," I'd found the chapter on "Muscular Christianity" with its black and white, turn of the century photo of a pack of buff Young Man Christians in white sleeveless undershirts and white knickers.

"My mind's," as Robert Lowell wrote, "not right."

It was, ecclesiology notwithstanding, a lovely trip. I did manage, by fits and starts, to transcend the dental. After spending the second night on the equally debilitating Ozzie-and-Harrietesque twin beds in Commanche's second bedroom, we persuaded the Young Christian men to give us a new double mattress which was marginally better. Despite my hypochondriacal fears, I did not, after all, go into High Altitude pulmonary edema and need to be air lifted out of the Y camp.

We spent the last night in Boulder at a Quality Inn, leaving the handsome Gassho-ing Buddhists, the physiculturating Young Christian Men and the Boone-and-Dobson spewing flag chapel behind. Lambeth was receding into the past and the Democratic Convention was looming.Surely by the time we got home the lectionary would have segued from Judges into Job. I was ready for some Jobian gloom and anguish. I tucked Moorman into the depths of my suitcase beside the Breviary. Finally, I'd gotten rid of the Greek chorus of religious commentary that had been dogging me the whole trip.

Until I looked at the Boulder map and saw what was two doors down from our Motel --

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