This weekend, I braved the wilds of Iowa. But I had a very good incentive to do so.
It's a three hour drive from Verona to Decorah. Uneventful iPod travels, until I reached the small town of Postville. As at that moment I was unaware of the history of this town, I was shocked to see, coming out of the darkness and the gloom like some sort of Night of the Living, everywhere shadows swathed in black, women in veils and men in large black hats. It was Shabbat, and within seconds of driving into the town, it seemed like there were Hasidic Jews everywhere. More surprising still, for a town of 2,000, were seeing four police cars in the three minutes it took to drive through town. Actually, more than three minutes, but one of the Jewish families walking by was kind enough to point the way.
It was a relaxed two days, getting to know the town and more of Erin's life. We watched one of the finest movies of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (deep Christological allegories), and played a couple games with one of her friends, as the other friends were off for Spring Break. Then Erin took me for a walk through a very quaint and beautiful town, in the midst of the bluffs of glacial moraines in Northeast Iowa.
Part of the tour was a rare treat, getting to see some of the more interesting aspects of the Luther campus. Most notable, of course, was Erin's special atomic force microscope, able to analyze friction on the nanoscale. The stuffed animals of the biology labs were fun, as was the marine aquarium, full of invertebrates, but of particular interest was the planetarium, where Erin gave me a private showing. We listened to classical music with the lights dimmed and the stars brilliant, as Erin pointed out the various constellations she highlights in class, and how the planets move in their retrograde motion, all the while with no guile on her part, thereby proving that she is simply inherently romantic without having to strive to be so.
It has been long, far too long, since I engaged in Open Worship. There are no Quaker churches in Madison, and the closest is an hour and a half drive away. So it was with great delight that I discovered that Hesper Friends is only a few miles away from Decorah. Thus off we went, to experience for the first time (for Erin) a Quaker service, and rejuvenate myself in my need for silence and the Spirit and Light speaking out of that silence.
And it was an even greater joy to discover this is a very traditional building, with the Meeting going back some 150 years, and the building nearly as long. The Meeting is small, but very warm, and the sermon was actually on John 3.16! For all it's quoted, I don't know that I've actually ever heard a sermon on John 3.16 before, and this was a particularly good one. He traced how we have repeatedly, in the past century, thought humans were getting better, and yet the 20th century has been one of repeated horrors, not limited to but in
the superlative with the Holocaust. And then, we return to John 3.16, and must struggle with, though we might not agree, God still loves those who have committed the worst of the atrocities, as he loves the whole world, while we are yet still sinners.
The weekend was rounded up with more romantic moments, as we shared food around a picnic blanket at the waterfalls, and read the first chapter of Anne Rice's Christ the Lord.
The drive home was long and dark. Particularly frightening were the giant man-eating mice that roam Northern Iowa, staring at me like I was more appetizing than their big hunks of cheese.
It was a weekend book-ended by strange creatures in the numinous moments of twilight. The whole weekend, I had been contemplating the Hasidic Jews I had seen Friday night, and thinking, "Since there are also many Amish in this state, wouldn't it be awesome to see a Hasidic and an Amish sitting down for coffee together in a small shop, discussing the issues of the day?
I wasn't to be fulfilled with that vision yet, but I did see the next best thing- a surreptitious photograph taken as I passed a horse and buggy in my car. For those in the Midwest this may seem like an everyday occurrence, but for a West Coast boy like myself, this was my first time seeing both Hasidics and Amish, outside the movies. An eventful weekend indeed.