We flew out of London on Sunday morning and after an hour or two in Munich flew across Greenland and Canada to San Francisco. I had booked a rental car but picking it up at about 7:30pm found a most pleasant error had occured. The car company was all out of the little piddling autos that I had booked and instead gave me a bigger one. It was a Chrysler Sebring convertible, a very handsome car, although one that was quite typically American in its handling and performance: great as long as you are going in a straight line and on a level surface. After the usual jitters occasioned by sitting on the wrong side of the car and driving on the wrong side of the road, we had a very pleasant three days swanning about in the Californian sunshine.
On Monday we crossed the Golden Gate into Marin county and visited my Alma Mater. The locals call the seminary complex Camelot, and a first glance would tell you why. San Francisco Theological Seminary is all stone and wood and copper towers, set amongst trees on a hilltop overlooking the classy little town of San Anselmo. It is a place where I met some wonderful people and was taught by some truly inspiring professors. It's here that I first encountered process theology and the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory and where I began a decades long investigation into the nature of narrative. The campus was recognisable, although much had changed in the 25 years since I last saw it. Like me I guess. Like my ideas. It was strange to walk around in a place which had been so formative in my intellectual and spiritual growth and to which I felt now so little connection. I have moved on. I haven't administered a Myers Briggs test or held a story workshop or read any Narrative theology for a couple of years now. There are other, deeper waters to trawl.
On Tuesday we drove to Yosemite. We took the long way, unintentionally. I knew we had to head East on the i-80, and then turn off it at some point, which I hoped I would recognise when I saw it. I didn't. So, we stopped at a little town, bought some coffee and asked a man in the cafe. He was very helpful and gave me very detailed instructions on how to find Yosemite, and then asked if I would like a magazine: the Watchtower, which I could hardly refuse. The instructions he gave us were very clear and I was able to follow them exactly, but as the hours passed I began to think that the scenery was not quite right somehow, so did what I should have done in the first place: stopped and bought a map. I found that the nice Jehovah's Witness' instructions were excellent if you wanted to go to Lake Tahoe but not so crash hot for Yosemite, and we were a good hundred miles north of where we should have been. It wasn't so bad. The day was hot and dry and clear. The countryside was all new to us, and very beautiful. We got to Yosemite, albeit a tad later than intended, and then cruised home into the sunset with the top down and the little thermometer on the dashboard telling us it was still 83 degrees at 9 o'clock in the evening.
On the way home I thought a bit about the kindly Jehovah's Witness. It matters quite a bit that you not only have instructions but that they are the right instructions. Our church is a very democratic one, and places great store in being accepting of a variety of opinions. Pleasant though it was, a couple of hours unintended meandering through the Californian countryside was a reminder that not every firmly held opinion is necessarily true. My guide sent me off in a direction that was vaguely accurate, but approximate is not good enough when you are trying to find somewhere precisely. There was no question that my guide was a thoroughly nice bloke, and that he had a perfect right to his belief in the whereabouts of Yosemite National Park; but his sincerity and his right to believe had no bearing whatsoever on the truth of what he told me. His belief was untrue, and following it took me further from, not closer to my destination. Which is true also of his belief system. Which is true also of many of the opinions bandied around in our open and accepting church. As the Bible warns us, there is a way that seems right to folk, but the end of it is death.
On Wednesday night we flew to Auckland, and then somehow missing out on Thursday landed in chilly, damp Dunedin early on Friday. Not so much an ending as a new beginning.