does your church family have a building? why???

For those of you who really know me well, you can go ahead and bank on it. I will be quoting our guide for a long, long time. She holds high-level education in the art, culture, and history of Rome. Clay has been working with her with large and small groups over here since 2002. She knows her stuff. And she said something yesterday, for the 2nd time while we have been here in Rome, that is worth repeating. A lot.

We were standing on the portico of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Jesus, and John the Evangelist (I am not kidding). It is considered to be the oldest “Christian” church building in the world. I am not talking about the oldest building that a church might have gathered in. I am talking about the oldest church building, dedicated to nothing more than a “Christian” church gathering there. Our guide, for the second time, said something that astounded me. She is Catholic. I did not prompt her to say this. It came out as a commentary as we were looking at a statue of Constantine on that portico.

Constantine is the emperor of Rome that legalized “Christianity” and later declared it the religion of the Roman Empire. It was much to the delight of the “Christian” church. And he began donating government land to the “Christian” church for the purpose of building them buildings dedicated to God. And that is what he did.

What did our guide say? Here it is:

It was not the Christians who built these buildings. It was the Romans. They needed something concrete and monumental in order to tangibly worship this newly-declared God of the Roman Empire.

I asked her to clarify.

That’s right. The Christians did not intend it. Romans did.

Wow. Wow! WOW!!! Did you read that?

In the research I have done, my conclusion was that it was Constantine that started the very deceptive, downward trend of “church” being known as a central building rather than a people decentralized. And man did I feel affirmed. Here was a very well-educated Roman citizen who asserted this was the case, without my prompting. That was pretty cool.

And so, I ask the question:

Does your church family have a building? If yes, then why?

I would suggest that if it only dedicated to letting people come and sit and listen once or twice or maybe even three times a week, then it is not at all close to how Jesus would want us to be steward of the resources He provides.

May we quit building buildings for those who have plenty to gather in a few times a month, and may we instead direct our resources toward those who do not have plenty, whether with regard to financial poverty or emotional poverty or identity poverty or any kind of brokenness. May we instead remember always the poverty of our own lives apart from Christ and extend freely what has been freely extended to us, with complete surrender, holding onto nothing for ourselves, giving ourselves away.

Contemplate with the leadership of your church family:

Are we using the resources that we have been given in a way that is true to the heart and life and ways of Jesus? If not, what do we need to change?

Meantime, here are some pics from around Rome from Friday and Saturday. Pics and thoughts from Assisi to come tomorrow evening. Still processing. Love yall.

Those stairs travel down 1100 years, from the age of the Smart Car to the floor level of the San Clemente Basilica. And under the Basilica, they have excavated now rooms from the 1st century!!!

Speaking of Smart Car, here is a very sporty version over here.

This is the arch standing just outside of the Coliseum and beside the hill that the Emperor's palace used to sit on. You can see some remains in the background to the left.

a panoramic i took of the Coleseum

in case you are interested...

original pieces of the elevator system they used in the Coliseum. You read right - ELEVATOR!!!

we walked down from the Palantine Hill to the where the Forum used to be. Pretty amazing expanse of land and ruins.

a sculpting of the parade in Rome upon the return from sacking the Temple in Jerusalem in the 1st century.

Dad is just plain cool. He can't help it.

a panoramic i took from down in the valley where the forum used to sit.

took this for Jen.

the ancient prison that tradition says held both Peter and Paul at one time or another.

Michelangelo's Moses, inside of St. Peter in Chains Basilica

this made me chuckle (outside of the St. Peter in Chain's Basilica).

the steps where Luther decided to go and write the 95 Theses (if i had to climb those on my knees, i'd quit halfway and ask for reform, too!!!)

a panoramic of St. Stephens (a perfectly round building), dedicated to Stephen the 1st martyr and decorated with many paintings of martyrs (pretty intense and moving - my favorite church building from the whole trip)

what is left of the Circus Maximus, one of the oldest race tracks in the world (used to seat 250,000 people!!!)

took this in Jen (she loves these types of trees that bloom pretty flowers)

we ended sight-seeing Saturday with a very engaging sculpture by Bernini called "St. Teresa in Ecstasy" - a woman who wrote of her passionate love for Jesus

Tomorrow is our last day in Rome. We fly out Tuesday. Will post tomorrow evening about Assisi and a few quick pics from two museums we will visit tomorrow. Until then…

the Pope’s place

Our 1st day in Rome has been wonderful and quite a workout. Over 6 miles of walking, including about 2 miles through the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Square, turned out to be full of rich surprises and unexpected treats. The company wasn’t bad either. Dad really likes Rome, and it was evident. He showed me his favorites at the Vatican and St. Peters and the Pantheon. Talk time, coffee, and two great meals to boot. AND, Dad is leading me and the two couples with us through Philippians (special request of Clay who put the trip together). It has been very meaningful to say the least.

The cold morning met us as we walked from the hotel to the bus stop. A view I had not seen of the Coliseum, just three blocks from the hotel, met us, too. I am amazed by the history of Rome. Not that Florence and Venice weren’t historic, but not this far back. Or at least not that we saw. And the rich history continued throughout the day.

Now, when I say “rich,” I mean it in two distinct ways. In one sense, rich because of significance and infamy. In another sense, rich because of excessiveness and show-of-wealth. I must admit, I was not turned off by our 1st stop sight-seeing today. The Vatican is certainly a must-see, whether you are Catholic or not. I was gripped by the artistry and expanse. I was sickened by the crippled man sitting just a few blocks away from such excessiveness and wealth. His cup rattled with a few coins. His feet lamed inwards such that he couldn’t walk. His smile was beautiful, more so than the Egyptian masterpieces inside the Vatican walls stolen, er I mean taken from Egypt some time ago.

I am not typing naive. I understand the generosity and positive influence the Catholic church is known for throughout the years. I am also well aware of the greed and intimidation. And so the price of admission and the billions of dollars worth of buildings, not to mention billions of dollars worth of art, that make the Vatican a must-see was somewhat sickening.

This is not a bash on the Catholic church. Having grown up in New Orleans, a very Catholic city, I had and still have (outside of New Orleans as well) many Catholic friends. Most of them have told me themselves, without prompting, of personal disgust toward some major offenses from church leadership. I actually share the same frustrations with many protestant leaders, most all of whom are from my personal heritage. AND, I share that frustration toward myself as I am learning what Jesus meant by “on earth as it is in Heaven.”

I am not sure that what I walked 2 miles through today was “on earth as it is in Heaven,” but it did make for some inspiring scenes and some engaging pictures all taken with my phone. You will see them below.

After we walked through the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and St. Peter’s Square, we made our way over to the Pantheon. It is a huge building given as a gift by King Agrippa close to the time of Jesus. It has a hole in the roof, which is its only source of light. It houses the tombs of about 12 dignitaries, including the painter Raphael. It was impressive.

The gelato we enjoyed on the way to the Pantheon was also impressive. The latte afterward just next door even more so. It was one of 3 lattes on the day. I had one at the “Sistine Cafe” inside the Vatican. It was good, too. The third followed dinner back at the hotel. That’s where we weaved and bus-rode our way to following the coffee that followed the Pantheon. And that’s where I sit and type at 11pm this Thursday night. The 1st night of March Madness, which obviously doesn’t get much play in Rome.

Nonetheless, I do like Rome. Very much so. The 1st day here was magnificent. I am told it gets much better as we go. Tomorrow we will tour a few church buildings and museums, mostly famous for ancient practices and priceless art. My favorite part will continue to be the 68 year old guy I am about to go upstairs to share a room with. I love Dad so much, and I am so blessed to be on such a special pilgrimage with him.

Without further adieu, here are the pics from the day from Rome (and only two of them illegal).

our view of the Coleseum from our bus stop

the line to enter the Vatican was over a 1/4 mile long. thankfully we had reservations.

not sure what this was, but it was in the courtyard and picturesque.

this is that courtyard. the dome of St. Peter's Basilica is in the left background.

the hall of sculptures, mostly of Roman dignitaries and their families

they obviously didn't teach the kids not to play with Gators. thought Caleb would enjoy this one.

my 1st thought when I saw this one - bad hairpiece. I am such an art appreciater (I actually am).

made me miss the kids even more

an amazing mosaic on one of the floors (i really like mosaics)

a lovely female sculpture

a famous statue - Artemis, the goddess of fertility

on the ceiling in one of the hallways

a lovely marble vase

one of Raphael's most famous - that's him on the bottom left in purple.

my dad's comment when we saw this sign - "That's the quickest way down the stairs." I thought that was funny.

interesting painting. in the "modern art" section entitled "the man crucified."

really, really liked this modern piece. a father and son hugging.

my Vatican latte. and bottle of water. Only 3 Euros.

this one was illegal. among a large crowd, while standing in the very center of the room, i held my phone out in front of my belly pointed upward and just snapped it. turned out as i hoped :-)

a crowded St. Peter's Basilica

Michelangelo's "La Pieta" - i was stunned by this one. the beauty of both the sculpture and the moment captured me. we stood there for a good four or five minutes. the picture doesn't do it justice. i would suggest that the artist is mocking the church by making Mary so disproportionately larger than the body of Jesus, thus providing satire of their esteem of Mary because many see her as "co-regent" with Christ, which is nowhere in the Bible.

the altar in the middle of St. Peter's Basilica

the door of St. Peter's Basilica. a cross scene.

the Vatican has a post office.

looking out over part of St. Peter's Square

Dad in front of St. Peter's Basilica

my turn

Clay and Dad on the bus ride from the Vatican to our lunch spot - the Plaza Novona (where a famous scene from "Angels and Demons" was filmed)

the Plaza Navona

i took this for Jen - the table top decor where we ate lunch

one of many Oblisques found in Rome, most of which were stolen, er I mean taken from Egypt.

Gelato!!! enough said.

Dad in the Pantheon with the large ceiling above

the hole in the ceiling - only source of light. it is 30 feet wide, if that helps with perspective.

the front of the Pantheon. the right side is under restoration.

a novelty shop. we didn't buy anything there, but check out the size of this wooden motorcyle!!!

this made us all laugh out loud.

back just two blocks from the hotel, this is looking down on the ruins of where the Gladiators stayed and practiced.

a better view of the Coleseum from near our hotel.

And the final picture of this post i find to be a bit ironic. Raphael was commissioned to paint this scene that featured a cross that has now knocked humanism off its pedestal. It was a common contention and effort by the church to squelch the influence of the Renaissance, although ineffective. And it is ironic that they commissioned a Renaissance artist to depict this scene that would be hung in a very large man-made monument called the Vatican. One could argue that humanism had permeated the Catholic Church and was playing itself out in the idol-worship kind of way that religious leaders were monumentalized as well as in the excessiveness of the buildings that housed those pieces of art.

the Vatican asserts that the cross trumps the push of humanism.

Will probably post another two days from now. Hope you enjoy the pics from today. This weekend – church buildings, museums, exhibitions, and a special day excursion to Assisi!!! Gonna be special. Miss Jen and teh kids. Thankful I am here with Dad. Looking forward to tomorrow.

our last two days in Venice (and the least of these)

the train station

This morning I was in Venice, Italy. Four hours on a speed train, and I was riding in a taxi to our hotel in Rome. We are three blocks from the Coliseum. As an American, it is hard to fathom that something was built nearly 2000 years ago. Tomorrow evening, I will post pictures from our short outing today, just around our hotel area, as well as our sight-seeing tomorrow, which will include the Vatican Museum.

I have still been processing my thoughts from our last two days of walking around Venice.  The thoughts revolve around a sculpture I saw Monday, somewhere we went Tuesday, and an excursion we decided to take that we arranged for while in Rome. That’s the focus of this post.

A SCULPTURE I SAW MONDAY_Monday morning, we visited one of the very old church buildings in Venice, I believe it was St. Giovanni (they start to run together a bit). Anyway – we weren’t supposed to take pictures inside, but I couldn’t help it. I took just one, and I took it because it disturbed me so. Here it is:

What do you see? This is a funeral sculpture for a Doge (a presidential figure who was an elected leader during the years of Venice’s Republic). The guide told us, and I quote, “The family wanted to depict their wealth and power and control, so they included four Turkish slaves.” This gave new meaning for me to making “your enemies to be a footstool.” The fact is that the Turks were enemies during the time of this Doge. And supposedly he led them to a key victory over the Turks. All this to say, this leader, memorialized in this church building, their family having given of their enormous wealth to build this priceless sculpture to memorialize this famous figure. And one question kept coming to mind.

Upon whose backs and with neglect to whom has the church of the west been built?

The reputation of the Doge’s family, and in some ways, the church building where he is memorialized was built on the backs of slaves. That’s tough to talk about, isn’t it? Our Judeo-Christian heritage makes us quick to speak of the injustices of the Hebrews in Egypt, and yet these Turkish slaves are used to depict the wealth and power of this influential, religious leader. I struggled for some time with this thought and with the question above. I wonder if the world looks at the church of the west and sees anything similar? I can tell you that our pastoral team and I have been struggling through this thought, along with our own personal stewardship of what we are blessed to have and what we are blessed to give away. I will get to that later.

Before I hop to the 2nd reflection, here are some scenes from our walk on Monday…

SOMEWHERE WE WENT_On Tuesday, we toured another district of Venice. This time, we wound up our tour by walking into a part of town known as the “Ghetto.” This is the part of town where the Jews were placed to live. I am not exactly sure if it was even by choice at first. But when World War 2 was ramping up, they were certainly forced to live there. They were forced not only to live there, but also to be inside this section of town by 6pm, and they could not come out until 6am. At 6pm, gates were locked, bolted by four large bars. The Jews could not get out until the next morning. And they were even told what jobs they could have. They could sell used goods, be doctors, and loan money. There finally came a point where many of them were shipped out of the country to Nazi work camps.

I am overcome when I think of the holocaust. I cannot even imagine what moms and children and husbands and fathers and wives and friends felt as they watched the oppression and torture and murder of their fellow Jews. It is difficult to even process. And I struggled through it for a while that day. I took these pictures, some of the memorial there in the Ghetto, others of various scenes around that part of the city. You may or may not notice that the shot of the square shows much taller buildings than the other parts of Venice. They had so many folks in this defined area that they had to build higher to accommodate more.

Before I hop to my 3rd and final reflection tonight, here are some other scenes from our walk Tuesday…

the inside of the post office

Italian exit signs

the only department store in Venice

caught my eye

Marco Polo's house (of course, the rest of the day, one of us would say "Marco" and another "Polo")

how they post real estate

the mascot of Venice - a winged lion holding a copy of the Gospel of St. Mark

believe it or not, this is the entrance to the Venice hospital

a place to sit in one of the many squares and plazas

Dad in front of the naval museum

a sculpture of the lion

Pop enjoying a Gondola ride. All 6 of us in one Gondola!!!

how they do campaign ads

one of the thousands of boats on the hundreds of canals at any given time of the day

AN EXCURSION ARRANGED_Clay learned that Dad and I would really like to see Assisi, which is about a 3 hour drive from Rome, and so he shifted a day around on the itinerary to arrange for it. I am quite fond of all that I have ever learned about St. Francis of Assisi. He was certainly a key figure in whose life influenced both the Renaissance and the Reformation. Thank you, Clay, for shifting that around. I can’t wait to visit there and see the art and memoirs of that Christ-like man. I downloaded Sabatier’s bio on my Kindle app on my phone to read on the train ride this morning, during down time in Rome, and on the way down to Assisi.

I said earlier there was something I would mention later. Well, the pastoral team and I have been struggling through a conversation and various thoughts for well over a year now regarding our personal stewardship what we have and generosity of all we could give. Francis has been a figure that has come to mind for me during that discussion. I hope to learn from him on this trip, and if the book is helpful, will purchase a copy for the guys, as well. We will see. Pray for us as we ask this very difficult question:

What does “on earth as it is in heaven” look like in the affluent culture of the west, specifically in our own west Orange county?

I will leave you with a few simple scenes from our transition day today. Didn’t get a good pic of the Coliseum. Will get that to you later. Hope to share some awesome pics of our 1st full day in Rome tomorrow night. More to come!!!

outside the Venice train station, they were filming a scene from the upcoming movie "The Tourist," starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp

our hotel room in Rome

the Spanish steps

the Trevi fountain

a boat tour of the lagoon

No morbid, black plague thoughts tonight. Just pictures of an engaging boat tour that we took yesterday to three islands in the Venice lagoon just north of the main island: Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Our guide took the six of us on a private boat up through the lagoon onto each of the three islands. There was a heavy fog early that mostly disappeared as the day grew older. Towers and old homes and well-used boats and ruins and even a lighthouse appeared through the fog as it lifted.

Dad and I were standing together in the back of the boat, the air cold against our face as we gently motored along the lagoon. I looked over at Dad and said, “We are on a boat out in the lagoon north of Venice, Italy.” He replied, “Could you have ever imagined this?” I said the same thing to him in Florence, obviously about Florence and not the lagoon, and I am sure I will say the same thing to him at the Vatican Museum in Rome (and at many other sites).

Murano is the island where the famous glass artists and their studios are located. Many years ago, the Venicians moved the glass makers to the island to the north due to the threat of fire from their furnaces on the main island. We could not take photos inside the studios. The works are considered masterpieces of original art.

the glass flower garden in the courtyard at the Murano Glass Gallery

Burano is further north in the lagoon. It is a very quaint town of 4500 residents with many visiting tourists daily. One of the best coffee shops we have been to so far is there. Colorful homes and captivating scenery are everywhere. There is even a “leaning tower,” only slightly less famous than Pisa (like me, you have probably never heard of it until now). Lots of flowers and laundry, too. You will see it in the pics. Burano ranks as one of the favorites for me so far on the trip, along with Lucca and Florence.

Torcello sits just north of Burano. It is an ancient island, less inhabited and less modernized. A church building built in the early 600s is there. Hemingway is said to have spent a good bit of time on this island. He both rested there as well as wrote. I am sure he fished, too. The buildings were magnificent. The most impressive sight to me was a bridge with no rails that spanned the little canal over to a seaside villa hidden by the rows of a vineyard and a few sycamore trees. Beautiful island.

Giovanni

Two additional things. Dad got a new hat. He looks cool in it. And we did laundry at a local washeteria run by a very interesting and friendly man who had been a guide to travelers in India for nearly 15 years. Thanks to Giovanni, we understood how to operate the washing machines (they are somewhat different than ours at home).

Well, enough typing. Here are the pictures from the boat tour:

the artist and the furnace at Murano

the hot glass on the end of the pole

the finished piece!!! a horse made right in front of us!!!

my cool and cold dad

ruins on a small island out in the lagoon

the primary mode of transport

love all the colors of Burano

one of the canals of Burano

the town square and leaning tower of Burano

i took this for Abby (she likes pink)

we talked with an elderly woman grilling fish (better said, she laughed at us for taking a picture of her fish)

great contrast. great dad.

lots of bikes around Venice and her islands

lots of restoration and maintenance, too

the portico of the church building on Torcello, built in the early 600s

a column inside that church building

one of the doors of that church building

i'd like to have lunch here one day with Jen (along a canal in Torcello).

just a cool pic of an old boathouse

this was taken of me on the boat ride back to Venice.

the lighthouse of Murano on the way back to Venice

gliding through the lagoon back to our hotel

reentering the canals of Venice

just a cool pic i snapped on the way back

one of the many buses (er, boat taxis) of the canals of Venice

the gondolas docked

a gondola in motion

our boat driver and our guide

we ate a late lunch at a "Florida" ristorante.

a black plague thought and some scenes of Venice

Three thoughts to share tonight (Saturday) before I hit the hay and before I leave you with some amazing pics of the different scenery from our journey around Venice during our 2nd day here…

1 – I absolutely am more-than-I-can-say grateful to have this opportunity to be here with my dad in Italy. Thanks to all who made this happen and supported me to do so, especially Jen and the kids. I absolutely miss Jen and the kids, and I can’t wait to take Jen to Italy one day!!!

2 – do I need to set my clock forward? Do they do that over here? You do if you are reading this in the states?

3 – I absolutely had a thought today when I saw a painting of St. Sebastian, the patron saint of the Black Plague who was believed to help ward the fatal disease off. I have been wondering for a long time what sparked the Renaissance. What caused the movement that would change the course of history as we know it in all aspects of life? Dad and I had a great conversation about it our last night in Florence while strolling the city streets. And the conversation has continued in my head.

Today, when I saw the painting of Sebastian, a thought occurred to me. Did the black plague cause the Renaissance? Could the reality of such epidemic death have been a key ingredient stirred into the hearts of pioneers and inventors and artists and philosophers and theologians, causing such vibrancy and newness of life to blossom from Florence to all the world?

What if those Renaissance men had looked on and even tried to believe the teachings of the wealthiest corporation on earth during the Middle Ages, the church? What if they witnessed the bold promises of blessings and unbiblical practices of salvation-earning put forth by that corporation? What if they pondered those promises and practices in light of an estimated 25 million people across Europe dying from 1348 to 1353? What if some of those that died were family members and friends of Petrarch and Boccaccio, who lived during this time?

It was their lives that sparked the explosive creativity and influence of Michelangelo and da Vinci and Botticelli and Raphael and Titian.  Could it be that these artists looked on one hand at the false promises and unbiblical practices and glaring hypocrisy of the church leaders, many of whom hired them, next looked on the other hand at the reality of death in the face of declared blessings from God as a result of obedience to church traditions, and then concluded that there must be another way of thinking that doesn’t result in the “blessing” of the black plague?

Maybe a really, really wrong thought, but it burdens me as I think of the church of the west today. I wonder what the new-movement artisans and inventors and writers and scientists and politicians and spiritualists are concluding as they look upon the activity of those who call themselves Christians.

May we know Jesus truly and make Him known clearly and love like He did purely and surrender our selfish pursuits.

Well, if that black plague stuff wasn’t too much of a downer, maybe you can enjoy these pictures of various scenes around Venice from today. I inserted them as a gallery. Hope you can see them okay. I believe that if you click on one, it shows up bigger. Have fun!

a train to Venice.

Friday morning, we lugged our luggage from our hotel over to the train station in Florence. We waited for 9404, a speed train from Florence to Venice. Two hours later, we were crossing the lagoon into the Venice train station. Here are a few pics of that trek:

2 of the 17 boarding walkways at the Florence train station

waiting for the train

taking a nap on the train ride

the trees lean at 120 mph

our 1st view of Venice

So, we got to the train station, got our luggage off, and headed out front to catch a water taxi to the hotel. This was our 1st view of Venice above.

Following are pics from the rest of the day. We got to our hotel, grabbed a quick sandwich at the cafe next door, and met up with our guide. She took us through the city streets to St. Mark’s square where we were amazed by the size as well as the art of St. Mark’s Cathedral. You will see it in the pics. The mosaics showed the patience and creativity of the artists of old. That is a dying art, one that needs to live on.

Anyway – learning and seeing a lot. Hoping to post more thoughts. Meantime, here are some pics from the walk around Venice our 1st day here (yesterday), all taken with my iPhone if you can believe it.

the style of Venice

the sign on the left is our hotel

our room. dad has the big bed.

the church bldg near our hotel built in the 8th century

one of the famous Gondolas

the bridge at Rialto

Venice created "Carnival". Everyone wore a mask. Here are some examples...

the wolf and the pig

the duck and the cat

purple ones (i took this for KG)

a fancy one, like Abby

my favorite pic of the day, not cropped at all

inside the Ferrari shop (i took this for Caleb)

the famous, decorated clock tower on St. Mark's square

a portion of the very large facade of St. Mark's Cathedral

those are little pieces of glass!!! i dig mosaics.

the bell tower of St. Mark's square (real tall)

part of the Dogo Palace

just thought this corridor was cool

a tired, touring bunch

the dungeon of the palace

Pop in front of the oldest coffee shop in Europe (the Florian)

St. Mark's square at dusk

St. George island and cathedral at dusk (across the lagoon from St. Mark's square)

a Tuscan drive.

Wow! What a week it has been this week in Florence, Italy with Dad and our friends. We have been staying in Florence since Sunday, touring both here around this historic and inspirational city as well as taking two day tours driving out to see various cities of Tuscany. This morning (Friday) we board a train for Venice. If you want to see pics from the city of Florence and Lucca and Pisa, you can visit Dad’s blog. Great stuff!!! And you can also visit Clay Corvin’s Twitter for some pics and stories, too. He is one of our friends on the trip with us (he coordinated the trip) and writes very well. He has some great recount of our trip so far on his blog and facebook page.

I can’t even put into words how meaningful my time and unique experiences with Dad have been. And we are only a 1/3 of the trip through so far. That’s hard to believe. I have never been on a vacation like this one before, to such a faraway place for such a long time. I really miss Jen and the kids. We have been iChatting every other night (which is day for them). I have been showing them pics of the days here through the iChat, and it has been great to watch and listen to them react to iChatting with Pop, too. I miss my beautiful bride, who is carrying the load at home with the kids without her teammate. Praying for strength and rest and wisdom for her. She has been more than supportive wanting me to have this time with Dad.

On Wednesday, we drove through the southern part of Tuscany, specifically from Firenze (Florence) through the Chianti region (towns like Impruneta and Greve) to Sienna to San Gimignano back to Firenze. A long yet inspiring and beautiful day. The scenery was honestly beyond words. Hills of lush green transformed by time and elevation into snow-covered vineyards hoping to blossom in May. The weather was so diverse. Cloudy skies all the way, but at times with sun peaking through, at times with no rain, at times with light rain, at times with light snow, and at times with heavy snow. You can see it all in the pics. Enjoy…

The Tuscan hills and valleys in the region of Chianti.

A vineyard with the snowy hills in the background in the Chianti region.

Heavy snow in the town square in the Chianti town of Greve.

The sun broke through on a snowy day in the country hills of Chianti.

It had snowed and was snowing in the hills and vineyards of Chianti, famous for their red wines.

The countryside outside of Siena, after we drove across the hills of Chianti.

A panoramic view of Siena, St. Catherine's on the left, the bell tower in the middle, and the Siena Duomo to the right.

The uber-decorated cathedral of Siena.

The huge town square of Siena, where the famous horse race, the Palio takes place (as seen in the opening scene of the last James Bond film, the Quantum of Solace).

The hilltop, medival town of San Gimignano from a distance.

The old cathedral of San Gimignano, the medival town full of towers (one seen in the background and one to the left of the cathedral) resting on a hiiltop in the Tuscan hills.

Two of the many towers of San Gimignano.

Three of the towers of San Gimignano.

The town square of San Gimignano.

A tower off of the town square of San Gimignano.

Fresh flowers and antique stones on the city walls of San Gimignano.

A city street in San Gimignano, with one of their many towers in the background.

Two towers rise up as we walk down the city streets of San Gimignano.

A symbol that shows the Crusaders were here in San Gimignano.

A window scene from San Gimignano. I took this one for Jen.

St. John's city gate leading into San Gimignano.

An olive tree in a long row of many olive trees on a snowy day in the Tuscan hills.

The river Arno that runs through Florence as seen with the city lights at night.

Florence at night, by the river in the foreground, the "Duomo" to the left, and the mountains in the background.

Well, got to go grab my luggage so we can head to the train station. Looking forward to discovering a new region of Italy. So very grateful to be here with my Dad and friends. Will post more pics and stories and thoughts in the days to come!!!