Monday, May 31, 2010

Alaskan Inside Passage Cruise, May 23, 2010

I, clothed in nature
he, in a white bathrobe
observe the streaming by
of islands and inlets
green with spring

Dreams and wishes
blend into a soup
of contentment and regret

At some age, too advanced
for further adventure
you lose the ability to count
your blessings too numerous
your body's aches too unpleasant
You focus your mind
and your vision
on what's immediately before you
Your attention turns to God

God of All Creation,
scatter my molecules
among the stars
for future generations
to inhale and breathe me in
May my loves and experiences
mean something to humankind
May my life be a sweet refrain
that resounds like an echo
of a good idea
the memory of a good meal
the scent of a fresh mountaintop breeze
that calls your soul to soar.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Las Vegas Tips for Cece & Jamie's Wedding

Herb and I are very excited that so many family members and friends have already RSVPed to attend Cece and Jamie's wedding celebration on July 4th in Las Vegas. Herb and I have recently been frequent visitors to Vegas and have some tips for those of you who perhaps haven't experienced Vegas as much.

The key to having fun in Vegas, as with any other vacation, is to have some ideas in advance about what you want to do and how much time and money you're willing to spend. Vegas is big with many different casinos and shopping venues, and you'll have to make some choices about what you want to see and be realistic about getting up and down the Strip (Las Vegas Blvd.) and downtown to Fremont Street. 

Be sure to wear comfortable shoes for walking and standing. I saw a lot of women carrying their beautiful spiky heels in the evenings and walking barefoot down the street. Also carry a shirt or shawl to cover up in the air conditioned casinos, even in July. If you're arriving earlier than 3:00 or 4:00 PM, your room might not be ready; so be prepared to check your luggage with the bell desk and begin your vacation.

Getting Around

Check out the Viator airport shuttle here. For a roundtrip transfer in July to any hotel on the Las Vegas Blvd. Strip, the fee is $11.99, and no reservation is required for arrivals. You do need to book a pickup from your hotel though, when you leave. A taxi from the airport to a Strip hotel will run in the range of $20 to $30 including tip depending on traffic. Don't let the taxi driver take you on the freeway, because it adds distance and cost. The airport is very close to the Strip.

Cab fares can add up, but the bus at $3 per ride or $7 for a 24-hour pass is a good deal for getting around the Strip and going to downtown Fremont Street. The monorail that takes you up and down the Strip has limited stops and costs $4 a ride, but be warned that you have to walk all the way through very large casinos to get to the monorail stops. 

There is a free shuttle that runs until 1:00 AM between the off-Strip Rio Casino Hotel and Bally's on the Strip. There are also free monorails between the Excalibur - Luxor - Mandalay Bay Casino Hotels; the Bellagio - Aria - Crystals; and the Mirage and Treasure Island.


If you like to do any gaming at all, it's a good idea to know in advance what your gaming budget is going to be and to take the appropriate amount of cash with you. I like to travel with some small bills, too, like $1's and $5's for tips. Be sure to set aside enough cash to pay for your transportation to the airport when you leave and parking when you get back to your departure city.

I am always saddened when I am standing in line at the ticket redemption center (machine) and see a young person or couple in front of me taking an expensive cash advance on a credit card, because they are seduced by the gaming and hadn't planned ahead. Herb and I know we're going to lose money if we gamble, and we factor that into our vacation planning. It's a lot like playing video games or pinball; you put a lot of (figurative) coins into the (slot) machines.

Whether you choose to play a table game or slot machines, be sure that you're alert and paying attention. It's easy to get confused amidst the lights, loud music and noise and make a mistake about what you're betting (and losing). 

If you're going to try the different casinos, two Players Cards worth getting are the Total Rewards card good at Paris, Planet Hollywood, Caesars Palace, Imperial, Rio, Harrah's, Flamingo and Bally's and the MGM-Mirage card good at the MGM Grand, the Mirage, Bellagio, Aria, Monte Carlo, New York New York, Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay. Players Cards are like frequent flyer cards; they award you points based on how much you play and you earn comps like free meals, free play and free future rooms. 

The reason Herb and I have been to Vegas several times recently is because we have earned enough points to qualify for comped rooms at Paris, Planet Hollywood, Bellagio and Caesars Palace. We play slot machines, and it's the thru-put that counts, not the amount you actually lose or win, for earning points. 

When you sign up for a new Players Card, if you haven't had one before, most casinos will give you $5 or $10 in free slot machine play. The Winn's Red Card awards a free buffet after you earn your first 55 points on their players card, which isn't hard to do, and the dinner buffet is a fabulous $39.90 value, definitely worth taking advantage of.


Meals in casino restaurants, even the 24-hour coffee shops, will add up quickly, but there are some alternatives that are good and inexpensive. Most casinos now have a cafeteria style sandwich shop where you can buy soup, salad and sandwiches for under $10. Some of the smaller, older casinos also have beer and hot dog deals for $2 and $3. Coffee shop and restaurant portions are typically huge, so sharing a meal is a good idea, not just to save money, but to avoid throwing food away. Herb and I often order an entree and an appetizer, or two appetizers and share. 

In April and May, the Harrah hotels had a special 24-hour buffet deal that allowed you to visit any of their seven buffets in seven properties for $34.95 with a Total Rewards Players Card ($39.95 without). We bought our buffet deal at Planet Hollywood at noon and ate lunch, then returned for dinner that evening and breakfast the next morning. Had we not been so tired from walking around so much, we would have ventured off to another hotel's buffet. The Village Buffet at Paris has great French food, cooked at different stations representing cuisine from different parts of France. The Planet Hollywood Market Buffet had especially good Mediterranean food with couscous, hummus, baba ghanoush and dolmades.

Some of our favorite not-too-expensive eateries include:
  • Hash House a Go Go - The fried chicken and waffles entree was amazing and plenty for two. They only charge a $1 plate charge.
  • Carnegie Deli - A trip to Vegas wouldn't be complete without a trip to this fantastic 24-hr deli. It's impossible to eat a sandwich by yourself; it's just too much food, even for two sometimes. Their plate charge is $3, but you can always order an appetizer or a dessert, and share everything.
  • Todd English P.U.B - A new restaurant in Crystals with many beers on tap and a unique menu. We liked the dirty chips which were fried chicken livers and homemade potato chips. The small portion of the corned beef sandwich was more than two people could eat, and the meat was very lean.
  • Victorian Room at Bill's Gamblin Hall & Saloon on the Strip - We liked the Chinese meals with their good quality meats, large portions and accompaniments like soup, rice and fortune cookie at $9.95. Definitely to be shared, even for a hungry person.
  • Earl of Sandwich at Planet Hollywood - Really good sandwiches for under $10, and it's open 24 hrs.
  • Pink's outside of Planet Hollywood - You sit outside on the patio, and the hot dogs come in wild combinations such as two hot dogs plus pastrami in a tortilla. It's inexpensive, under $10, and you can order a beer.
  • For crepes, dessert or savory, try Paris or the walkway that connects the Mandalay Bay and Luxor. They're large enough to share, especially as a snack and not a main meal.
  • Food Courts exist in the shopping malls as well as in some of the casino hotels now. We like the one at New York New York for its variety.
If you're into drinking bottled water, the cheapest ways to buy bottled water are either to tip the cocktail waitress a $1 on the gaming floor or to buy it from the street vendors who are selling out of ice chests. Otherwise, the hotel shops charge $3 and $4 for a 20 oz. bottle. If you're willing to walk a bit, there are stores like Walgreens, CVS and the ABC shops were the prices are more reasonable.


There is lots of shopping in Vegas, both upscale and for us regular folks. The big malls are The Forum Shops next to Casears Palace, The Miracle Mile next to Planet Hollywood, the Grand Canal Shoppes in the Venetian, and Fashion Mall. There is also shopping in some of the walkways that connect various hotels as well as on the second floor of Excalibur.


Herb and I can't tell you much about clubs, because we don't frequent them. But here are some Web sites that might be helpful.

List of clubs and their cover charges:

List of club options for the under-21 set:


Right in Vegas there are a number of sights and casinos worth taking the time to see. The themed casinos are really like an adult fantasyland with over the top decor and free entertainment. Our favorites include:
  • The Conservatory and the dancing water fountains at the Bellagio.
  • The Forum Shops next to Caesars Palace.
  • The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian.
  • The Paris Casino and the walkway heading into Bally's.
  • The Miracle Mile next to Planet Hollywood.
  • The Fremont Street Experience downtown - Not to be missed. Free video shows on the hour at 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 and 11:00 PM on the huge screens covering the pedestrian mall.
  • The volcanos at the Mirage.
Well, guys, I could go on and on, but you need to come discover Vegas for yourselves! Herb and I, and Cece and Jamie are looking forward to seeing you in July!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

ELCA Church Council Meeting of April 2010: Part 3

I am long delayed in getting this post written and posted online. Between last month and this month, much life has happened, including eight days of vacation with my husband. Much as I love the "stop everything normal and get outside of your life" aspect of vacations, I am also enough of a contemporary American to resent being taken away from the everyday work of my life even as I am thoroughly enjoying my vacation experience of being physically and mentally away from work, volunteering and family. My husband and I have always said that there should be no line of demarcation between "my real life" and "work life," and I feel that especially intensely these days. I am always grateful for the work that God has given to me.
In March, 2009, the ELCA Church Council authorized Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson to convene a study group in conjunction with its Executive Committee and the Conference of Bishops for the purpose of surveying the environment in which the church finds itself today. Executive for Administration, the Rev. Wyvetta Bullock, stated that the LIFT task force grew out of changes in the world and the ELCA after its first twenty years, evolution of relationships domestically and globally and changes in giving patterns and philanthropic support. 
The LIFT project calls the ELCA to answer two key questions: (1) What is God calling this church to be and to do in the future? and (2) What changes are in order to help us respond most faithfully? The scope of the LIFT task force is framed by four key areas:  Identity, Mission, Relationships and Sustainability, which includes funding, governance and administration. Please read the charter here for detailed information about this effort, which will culminate in a report to the 2011 Churchwide Assembly. 
Pastor Bullock led the Church Council in a small group discussion of two questions, which raised the following points:
What do you believe are the most important questions LIFT should address?
§  Lack of knowledge/transparency on how the Church Council works for the people in the pews.
§  The need for better ways to define and articulate what our common identity and mission are as ELCA Lutherans. People in the pews ask, “What’s the ELCA to me?”
§  What work is essential to the church? At what level is it best done? How do we connect it to the people?
§  Pastors are gatekeepers. If pastors aren’t supportive, then thoughts wouldn’t be communicated to the people.
§  The jargon that we use is a barrier to communications.
§  What about using streaming video of church council meetings?
§  We get letters asking us to overturn what happened, and we don’t have that ability/capacity.
§  What does it take to become a fully informed member of the ELCA?
§  If we want to flatten the way we do things, why don’t we have a churchwide assembly that involves one from each congregation and make it as fun as youth assembly?
§  Are there new ways to organize beyond the congregation?
§  How do we live into being more inclusive, especially around immigrant communities and what they bring to the church?

What thoughts or ideas do you have about how the governance of this church could be improved?
§  Are assemblies and the frequency of meetings appropriate for the needs of the church?
§  Look at changing old ways, such as the number of synods. Fortify what we have instead of doing away with things.
§  Evaluate socio-economic factors. People who don’t have the economic means might not be able to participate.
§  Are councils and the congress of bishops appropriately integrated? For example, include the vice presidents of synods, too.

I am excited to participate in the next LIFT conference in August as part of the ELCA's ecumenical partnerships and to represent The Episcopal Church as designated by our presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. 
On April 20, 2010, subsequent to the recent ELCA Church Council meeting, futurist Ozan Sevimli of the World Bank made a presentation to the LIFT task force, which may be downloaded here. I highly commend this six-page document, which highlights the global repercussions of the current economic crisis and its impact on world poverty and comments on denial, sacred cows, change leadership and seminaries within those contexts. Mr. Sevimli describes the global and generational world today and suggests that so-called imaginary sacred cows "blind us and distract us" and cause "many of our churches to be inward looking instead of being outward looking." 
I must point out that one cannot discuss the work of the LIFT task force without also looking at the 2007 Blue Ribbon Committee on Mission Funding, which addresses an ongoing concern for all Christian denominations today: shrinking giving and dollars for mission work. 
From an Episcopal point of view, the questions that my colleagues and I continue to ask at all levels of the church's leadership are "Why are today's church members no longer feeling connected to our churches?" and "How do we change how we 'do' church so that we become relevant to our members and their lives?" We believe that we must answer those questions at the same time we are studying and enhancing our stewardship efforts regarding such typical church subjects as pledging, tithing, legacy giving, oblation and gratitude. It is not enough to address funding issues without focusing in on the very structures and philosophies of the way in which we organize ourselves to be the missional church for the sake of the world. And we need to eliminate "We can't, because . . . " from our thinking and conversation and instead, ask, "How can we . . . ?"
Giving for mission is so much more complex and comprehensive than merely writing checks or changing wills to give dollars. The ELCA Church Council and Conference of Bishops are engaging in one-on-one stewardship conversations and a focus on telling Stories of Faith in Formation. Storytelling is clearly a foundational piece in any effort to transform an institutional culture. Storytelling is an important element of approaches such as Appreciative Inquiry and Public Narrative. Stories connect people to each other, across generations and cultures. The sharing of stories is a renewed emphasis on the interconnectedness of the people of God that churches serve and  embrace as members. It's an affirmation of the importance of each person's experience and that these experiences have basic elements in common while differences could be categorized as stylistic or contextual. And just as our stories are interconnected, so, too, should be the application of our personal resources to the common good that surrounds and undergirds our interconnectedness.
Presiding Bishop Susan Johnson's Remarks
Bishop Susan Johnson, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), also attended the ELCA Church Council meeting as an ecumenical partner. I was eager to converse with her about the reported discussions that the ELCIC has held with The Anglican Church of Canada, The Episcopal Church's counterpart to our north. The two Canadian churches are in conversation about the possibility of sharing headquarters space in the nation's capital in Ottawa. Currently The Anglican Church is headquartered in Toronto, and the ECLIC is located in Winnipeg. 
I am particularly interested in this subject, because our respective denominations, the Lutherans and the Episcopalians/Anglicans have laid off large numbers of staff and vacated significant space in our headquarters' buildings resulting from budget cuts caused by declining pledge and investment income. Ownership and pride in a sole proprietary headquarters space is one of those sacred cows that must be reviewed with a sober eye and "let go of" so as to get out of the way of God's mission. We as the church must begin to renew our faith by living into the theology that "God's mission has a church" and that "the church is mission."
Bishop Johnson remarks covered a number of topics, which included:
     The ELCIC is following in the footsteps of the ELCA and released its first draft of a proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality on April 15, 2010, which will be addressed at its National Convention in 2011. 
     The ELCIC is undertaking a review of the structure and size of its synods to realign itself to be a more responsive "church in mission for others."
     The theme of its forthcoming National Convention in 2011 will be "Covenant People in Mission for Others."
     Ongoing work and conversation is taking place with regard to "treaty living" with indigenous peoples, which builds upon the ELCIC's 2007 renewal of its pledge to continue its work on human rights and justice issues for native peoples.
     Bishop Johnson and the ELCIC are focused on calling people to spiritual renewal in an age where people are consumed by the consumer culture, which means an emphasis on regular attendance at corporate worship, daily personal prayer, regular study of scripture, regular and appropriate giving for mission, and a commitment to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Bishop Johnson closed her remarks with the story of St. Augustine, who had two daughters named Anger and Courage: Anger that things are the way that they are and Courage to make things the way that they ought to be. Bishop Johnson suggests that we eschew anger rooted in hopelessness and proclaim hope and use anger and hope appropriately.
I am going to close this post here, and I now recognize that I have one more post on the April ELCA Church Council meeting that I want to write. But it will have to wait while I catch up on some other writing that I want to share on this blog. Thanks for reading! And remember to feel free to comment here, too.