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November 2006

Into Turkey

I haven't been able to get online since Saturday night, so this is my first chance to update you on my whereabouts.  Tonight we are docked at Kusadasi, Turkey where tomorrow we will visit the ruins at Ephesus.  Since I have written, we have visited Philippi, Pergamum, Aescopolis, Sardis, and Miletus.  My favorite so far has been Philippi, where we visited the riverside site where Paul baptized Lydia, his first European convert.  The site was so peaceful and the spot is certainly close to where Paul would have met Lydia--right outside the city walls by the river.

The weather yesterday and today was rainy, but the weather broke late today and it's supposed to be nice tomorrow.  The ship is only average, both in food and service.  The group onboard is mixed, with a lot of Catholics onboard who are keeping to themselves and having their own services.

Today wasn't very well organized.  We rode a long time in the bus to see some average sites.  Ephesus is tomorrow, however, and that is a special site.  I have been there before and the city is almost 30% rebuilt--but more on that the next time I write.

I have had good sessions on the "Lessons of Paul for Our Lives."  Paul is a great example of purpose and we have learned much this week from his life. 

First Day in Greece

I came over from Rome yesterday to Athens where I immediately transferred to the Orient Queen cruise ship.  I joined 300 people for our tour retracing the steps of Paul.  I have to say that after Rome this is a bit of a letdown.  In Rome, every building seemed to have some historic significance.  Here things are a bit different.  That said, it was still cool today to visit Berea and Thessaloniki, sites of Paul's ministry in Acts 17.

The weather continues to be warmer than usual, plus it was a national holiday here in Greece.  We took the bus ride up to Berea (about an hour) and went to the memorial to Paul's ministry there.  There's a man on board from Kansas City who memorizes and delivers Paul's letters and sermons in costume, and he was great.  Even though he was only speaking Scripture, I said "amen" two or three times.  The Bible reads well no matter how it's delivered.

Then we went back to Thessaloniki, which is the second biggest city in Greece with 1.5 million people.  I had no idea of the significance of Thessaloniki throughout the Byzantine era and we saw some interesting Greek Orthodox churches and the forum where Paul preached. 

There are people in the cruise from Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Canada, Africa, Europe and the United States.  As usual for a cruise, I've met some nice people.  We had a morning of lectures before we went on shore this morning, and I was sandwiched between a professor and an archaeologist.  I think I held my own. 

I am on line as we sail the Aegean Sea tonight heading to ancient Philippi, modern Kavalla.  I teach a devotional in the morning and then have the rest of the day off.  That gives me a lot of time to think and pray, which is always good. 

I'm not sure how often I'll be able to write, but I invested some money tonight to stay in touch. 

The City of Rome

That's it.  I can't walk another step.  I just got back from a full day of walking, riding and touring Rome.  I started out at St. Peter's again today and decided to buy a ticket for one of the open air bus tours of the city.  The weather was super while I was here and temperatures were well above normal, so this seemed  like a good option. 

I got off near to the Piazza Espagna to see the famous Spanish steps and I was not disappointed when I saw them. At the top of the steps, however, there is a church.  When I went in, a group were singing and it was heavenly.  There were about eight men and eight women and the harmonies were superb.  I didn't want it to end.

Rome_022_1 I ate lunch near the Piazza and then decided to ride the subway down to one of the oldest churches in Rome (which is saying something because there are plenty of them) called St. John Lateran (see left).  Once again, there was a musical presentation going on, complete with violins, mandolins and male singers.  It made me cry it was so beautiful.  I pulled up a chair and listened (the church is huge) and then went into a side chapel to pray. The church had huge statues of the apostles all around the church and Paul was to the left of the altar.  Who was to the right?  You guessed it--Peter!

I point that out because Paul is strangely missing from most of what goes on in Rome.  I would imagine that this is because of Peter's role as the first pontiff according to Catholic tradition.  At any rate, I then walked across the street and encountered my first strange religious experience.  There I found people crawling up about 30 steep stairs on their knees, praying as they went.  These stairs are supposedly the steps which Jesus climbed when He met Pilate before his crucifixion.  St. Helen, Constantine's mother, was to have brought them back from the Hoy Land. 

The chances of those steps being authentic are pretty slim, but the affect that those steps has on the people isn't healthy.  You could feel that there was a different spirit there than in the main church where the concert was going on.  If crawling up some stairs can gain you points with God, then there are some steps in my hometown of Pittsburgh that could get you crowned a saint!

I caught a subway back to the heart of town and rejoined my open air bus.  I sat on the bus and listened to the commentary on my headset for 90 minutes and ended up back at St. Peter's  I decided to go in again and, true to form, there was an evening Mass going on with a children's choir singing.  I stayed for a while, took a lot more pictures, saw things I missed the day before, and then went outside to see Rome at night.

I waited for St. Peter's lights to go on (nothing special there) and then walked a couple of miles to see the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona at night.  The Fountain gets the prize for the best nighttime look.  I ate outside at a restaurant in the Pantheon square, where a man dressed in a tuxedo came to the square and played classical music on his flute.  What an atmosphere he created!  When I was done with my lasagna (first things first), I went over and gave him five Euros (about $6.50).  He was that good that I was moved to give!  It certainly was a day for music in Rome.

Now I'm back in my hotel and fly out tomorrow for Athens at 11 AM.  I'll be cruising for the next week, so I'm not sure how much access I'll have to the Internet during that time.  If you don't hear from me, you'll get a massive dose of updates when I get to London on November 4. 

Ancient Rome

Ancient_rome_004_1 My day began at 8:15 when we fought traffic to the other side of town to visit St. Paul's Basilica.  This is the second largest church in Rome and it was deserted, since most of the "pilgrims" were at St. Peter's for the Pope's Wednesday public audience.  St. Paul's is magnificent but quite a change from the hustle and bustle of St. Peter's.  The mosaic in the front of the church was unforgettable (see left).

Then we jumped on the subway and headed to the Colosseum.  I didn't know we could go inside, but we did.  The Colosseum seated 70,000 people in its day and entrance was always free, although a ticket was required.  From there, we walked through the ancient forum, where you really have to use your imagination.  All the older sites in Rome were plundered to build the newer sites, so what's left is what no one could use or access.  My guide took me to the famous Trevi Fountain, where I threw a coin in to insure that I would one day return to Rome.

I ate lunch in the Piazza Navona, this time having spaghetti.  From there, I caught what's called the archaeological bus, which took me out to St. Sebastian's catacombs.  I got back on that bus, thinking it would take me back into the city.  Instead we went riding out of the city and saw some cool things, like the Appian Way and the city's old aqueduct water system.  The drive was great and the sites off the beaten path, so there weren't a lot of tourists on that trip.

Now I am back to the hotel, preparing for my free day tomorrow.  I have to plan what I will do for my last day.  There's so much, but I don't think I want to see any churches tomorrow.  I'm about churched out.

The Vatican

I got up early this morning for my first tour in Rome.  My guide Christina took me to The Vatican at 7:15 am and I thought we were going a little early.  When we arrived at the Vatican Museum at 8 am, I couldn't believe the number of people who were already there.  We jumped in with another group, and I found out that all the people who were there were part of a tour group; they can get in before the general public at 8:45, and that line was already stretching as far as I could see.

Once inside, we made our way through three sections. The first was mostly statues from ancient Rome; the second was a room of magnificent tapestries that had been given to the Pope over time, most of which had hung in the Sistine Chapel.  The third was the hall of maps, made up of frescoes (pictures painted onto plaster--I didn't know that) that depicted all kinds of map scenes from Italy.  It may not sound like much, but the work was spectacular.

From there, we went into the Sistine Chapel, all the while moving with a sea of people, shoulder to shoulder.  I asked my guide, "Is it always like this?"  She answered, "Like this or worse, every day all year round!"  At 15 Euros a person, you see that The Vatican has quite a revenue stream.

The Sistine was amazing, with magnificent frescoes painted by famous artists.  Everyone is there to see Michelangelo's work on the ceiling and far wall.  Michelangelo took four years to paint the ceiling and he didn't do it on his back.  That's a fable!   What's not a fable is that the Pope then didn't pay him for his work, and it was 23 years before he came back to paint The Last Judgment on the side wall.  He got paid in advance for that work.

Then you walk out and go through the lower section under St. Peter's Basilica.  There 146 of the 250 popes are buried, including the latest, John Paul II.  There is a mass of people around his tomb, many of which were on their knees praying.  I guess it's only a matter of time before he is Saint John Paul II.

From there we walked outside and into the famous church itself, finished almost 500 years ago.  It was massive!  When you walk in, the first thing you see is Michelangelo's Pieta sculpture of Mary holding the dead Jesus.  I didn't know that Michelangelo was only 23 when he did that work.  The rest of the huge building (no Catholic church is ever permitted to be larger than St. Peter's) is filled with monuments and funeral memorials to past popes, and statues to many saints. 

One of the weirder things is that there were the actual bodies of a few dead popes underneath certain altars.  These popes have been canonized and miracles are attributed to their intervention.  When that happens, they take their bodies out of their tombs and put them under those altars with a "desk mask" and papal robes. 

From there, I decided to pay seven Euros extra and go up to the top of St. Peter's dome.  You take an elevator halfway up and then walk 320 steps to the top.  If you're not dead by then, you get a great view of St. Peter's Square, which is where I headed when I came down.  I sent a couple of post cards from the Vatican post office and then had lunch near St. Peter's.  What did I have?  Pizza, salad, wine and sparkling water, what else? 

Tomorrow I'm back in the city for a tour of ancient Rome.  I wonder if that tour will be as interesting as the one today was? 

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I Missed the Plane

I missed my plane in Detroit, so I arrived in Rome about three hours later than expected.  But hey, I'm here and so is my luggage, so I can't complain.  I lost all my exit row seats when I had to change flights, so there wasn't a lot of sleeping on the way over. I did, however, play a lot of Bejeweled and Shanghai.  I start my tour tomorrow here at The Vatican.  Tonight I had a great dinner in the hotel; the Italians know how to do food!  I'm staying at the Jolly Midas hotel.  Don't ask me where it is.  I'll know more tomorrow. 

I'd promised to share some notes on my study of servant-leadership in Isaiah.  Instead of posting them, however, I thought I would put them at the end of this entry.  That way you can either ignore them or access them with one click.  If you don't read them, then you'll just have to read my updates from Italy, which I'm sure will be good.

Download isaiah42_verse2.doc

Servant Leadership in Isaiah Part I

I'm getting ready to depart for Rome later today and will be in Europe for a little more than two weeks.  During that time, I thought I would pass along some Bible study I've been doing in the book of Isaiah on the topic of servant leadership. 

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1).

1. Servant-leaders don’t serve themselves.  They always serve someone or something outside themselves.  In the case above, God calls the servant leader “my” leader.  In addition to serving God, servant-leaders serve the vision or mission of the organization they lead. 

2. Servant-leaders also serve the people with whom they work.  Their delight comes from seeing people fulfilled and work accomplished in an atmosphere of peace.  Servant-leaders are truly servants, therfore, serving the God over them, the vision to which they are called and the people who follow them and the vision.

3. Servant-leaders are concerned with justice according to this verse. What is justice?  I think it’s fair and equitable treatment for all people according to common-sense standards.  As a servant leader would like to be treated, so they treat others. 

4. This requires that the servant-leader understand what motivates people, which of course is different from person to person.  What is just for one may not be fair and just for another.  At the same time, there need to be policies that allow everyone the chance to have input into what work will be done, how it will be done, and how they will be compensated.

QUESTION:  A servant is concerned with justice.

How do you define justice in the position you are in at present?

What injustice exists that you see and would like to correct?

Feel free to add your answer to these questions or any other comments concerning servant leadership on the site where this entry is posted.  I'll try to keep you posted on my travels, but my access to the Internet may be limited.

The World Series

It's almost time for snow skiing, yet the baseball World Series is just getting under way.  I had a chance to watch a lot of the championship series and I like Detroit in the Series, in six games, maybe less.  Why?  They have power pitching, the home field advantage and fellow Pittsburgher Jim Leyland as manager. 

What happened to my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates this year?  The same thing that has happened to them since 1992.  They had a losing season.  I still contend that professional baseball is broken and needs fixed.  I think the major markets dominate because they have more money to spend.  I know I will hear from people who will tell me to look at Florida, Oakland and Minnesota.  They play in small markets and do well. I say they are exceptions and not the rule. 

Baseball needs a salary cap like the other professional sports have, but no one has the courage to make that happen.  I have gone on record in this blog as saying that Bud Selig, current baseball commissioner, is, no, rather he does and says idiotic things.  I don't understand how baseball can be run by a man who was an owner, is hired and fired by the owners and then is asked to keep the owners accountable.  It's ridiculous.

I will be in Europe next week, so I will miss the World Series on television.  I don't expect it to last that long, so I don't think I will miss much.  Wait until next year, however, and see if the Pirates don't have another losing season.  I don't see any hope for them in the near or distant future. I certainly don't see any help or solutions coming from the so-called leaders of major league baseball.

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Epcot Center

I had a few hours yesterday afternoon along with a lot of things to do.  I'm working on a book and reasoned that I needed a creative boost.  Since that was the best excuse I could think of, I headed to Epcot Center for the afternoon.  We lived in Orlando for four years and used to visit Disney World all the time.  I thought I would go over and check out the changes that have occurred there since my last visit.

There were more than a few changes.  There are less corporate sponsors, more automation (if that's possible), and the attractions have been "younger-ed" -- the park is attempting to appeal to children more than in the past.  I loved the new Test Drive attraction by General Motors; they put you through a series of mock test runs in a auto-like roller coaster.  At one point, you reach 70 miles per hour. 

I had always wanted to take the back "stage" tour of The Land pavilion to see the greenhouses and fish farm. I finally did that and I wasn't disappointed.  I learned a lot (I saw a 200-pound pumpkin growing in the greenhouse.  That will make a lot of pumpkin pies!).

The highlight of the day was the new Soarin' ride at The Land.  This is a reality ride that makes you feel like you are in a hang glider flying over California.  It was awesome!  At one point, we were "flying" low toward the ocean and many of us lifted our feet so that we wouldn't get wet!  That's how real it was. 

The Center was hosting its annual International Wine Festival, featuring wines and food from 26 countries in addition to the international exhibits that are fixed features of Epcot.  There were so many choices that I couldn't make up my mind.  Consequently, I had a frankfurter at the German pavilion with a Lowenbrau. 

I stayed until the park closed to see the Illuminations fireworks display.  I thought it was better six years ago, probably the victim of some cost-cutting.  Now I'm in the airport, ready for the next encounter with my favorite--Southwest Airlines.

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Southwest Airlines

I took a flight from Pittsburgh to Florida this morning and, as usual, I had a less-than-ok experience on Southwest Airlines.  I know they are a good airline.  They are the only American carrier that has been profitable for the last umpteen years.  Yet every time I fly them, I have a bad experience. 

The pilots were late this morning for our flight.  They said there was an accident on the way to the airport and they were stuck in traffic.  I believe them. Then we got on the plane and the flight attendant was her usual humorous self, a Southwest trademark.  We pulled out of the gate 15 minutes late and sat on the runway for a while. The pilot then announced that there was a problem, so we had to go back to the gate.  Then we pulled out again, now 75 minutes late, and we had to listen to the flight attendant's safety presentation all over again, including the same jokes she used during her first presentation. I got the impressions that she had used her material many, many times before.

After her presentation, the 63-year-old attendant (I know her age because she announced it during her safety ramble) went on to lecture us that this delay was no big deal.  Don't tell me how to feel about my time that you are wasting, thank you.  If I want humor, I will turn on the comedy channel.  If I want preaching, I will go to church.  In neither instance will I turn to Southwest Airlines.  I just want reliable, inexpensive and reliable transportation with a minimum of problems.

I've had worse flights, but I don't seem to ever have a good experience on Southwest.  I hope it will be a better experience when I fly back to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. 

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