San Francisco

OK… I know this trip was almost 2 months ago. But I really wanted to share some photos and thoughts with you about our day in San Francisco.

I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking for a change. Here goes…

We stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge on our way to meet my parents and brother for lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf. A word to the wise: always carry lots of quarters when you drive around San Francisco, because the only places to park are often metered, and only take coins. This was the case with the spot we found at the Bridge. Fortunately, there was 11 minutes left on the meter (and we had to rush anyway in order to meet my family,) so we grabbed the camera and ran up the hill to take a few snapshots. As you can see, I could use a bit more practice with my self-portrait skills.

This may be the coolest candy shop in the world. It’s one of the places we stopped at Fisherman’s Wharf, after lunch.

After FW, we made the short walk over to Pier 39. There were a lot of neat stores and restaurants there, although it was a little too manufactured for my tastes (think Silver Dollar City meets San Francisco Bay.)

Here’s a classic San Francisco shot. That’s Coit Tower at the top-right, and the famous Lombard Street running just left of center. We were driving a rented minivan (which was not part of the plan until the wedding party asked me to drive the one they rented the day before,) which isn’t necessarily the type of vehicle you’d want when traveling up and down these hills. At least it was an automatic.

I knew San Francisco was hilly, but when you pull up to a stop sign before a street like this, and you pretty much have to look straight up to see where you’re going… there’s really no preparation for that. I just waited to make sure no other cars were in the street in front of me at the time (thank God it was Sunday,) and gunned it, Christina putting fingernail marks in my forearm the entire way up.

Caption: “I don’t really need to use the toilet, but when will I ever see another one this cool?”

This is on the grounds of Coit Tower, pictured in the previous photo. Neat place, but once your car is in the hour-long line to get to the tiny parking lot at the top of this hill, you’re going to Coit Tower whether you like it or not. I liked it.

While looking down at the city from Coit Tower, we saw this cathedral, called Saints Peter and Paul Church. Must have been a merger at some point. But we were absolutely stunned by the elegance of this building, and on top of that, we found a (free!) parking space just off the park square in front of it, so we stopped and headed in to see if they give tours.

To our surprise, we walked in and were greeted and handed a song sheet. OK… this is not a tour. This is mass. We were now unwitting attendees to Saints Peter and Paul’s 5 pm Sunday Mass. So we sat down to take in the experience.

As you can see, the interior is just as striking as the exterior. It was easy to ignore everything going on and just stare at the walls. And it was a little funny that, despite the glory of our surroundings, the music and the mass in general were pretty anticlimactic. Acoustic guitar instead of organ, priest with a small, throaty voice instead of a soaring or booming one, and only a smattering of parishioners.

Nevertheless, I gleaned something from my moments under this vaulted ceiling: God was big. Everything in this space pointed upward toward his exalted nature, his omnipotent wonder, his eternal existence. God is tremendously big and we are painfully small.

And yet, the genius of an edifice such as this, is that there’s more to the story. It’s not just that we are sitting beneath a soul-crushing mega-force. Rather, the architecture lifts us up, it raises our souls to mingle with the divine among the stained glass and mosaics and telltale marble inlays. Although we are seated in pews some 90 feet below the ceiling, that distance gives our hearts room to reckon with a God who has lowered himself to be reckoned by us. The Creator of all, who deserves the bend of every knee, has bowed within our reach. And there’s something about this space that reminds me once again of the dumbfounding reality of incarnation.

I began to wonder if I, and most of the people I knew, were missing something important in our worship experiences. Even the loudest and most fervent song services can’t convey God’s power in this way. And certainly not our humble little community venue, with our sorry chandelier, our little prayer groups, and stumblingly conversational sermons.

But maybe that really is part of the wonder. Not every gathering of believers must convey every facet of the body. In other words, maybe we need to get out more; that every time we meet a new group of Christ-followers, we discover a new facet of the face of God. And never, ever should we doubt that God has made us peculiar for a reason; to be ourselves, and not envy the unique divinities that he has impressed upon those who gather elsewhere.

When the service was over, Christina and I got up to look around some more, and came upon the candle room (although I’m sure there’s a better name for it.) At the time we were worried about our Dwarf Rabbit, Steamer, whom we’d owned for 6 years, and had to put through surgery recently. We weren’t sure if he would recover, so we lit a candle and prayed for his healing. Whether or not the candle made any difference, you’ll be glad to know that Steamer recovered beautifully, and is chomping away at his kibble as I write these words.

As we left the church, we walked up the street, past dozens of colorful restaurants, bars, coffee shops, boutiques and the like. We found one that looked worthwhile, and stopped in for a cappuccino. We drank it as we sat out on the sidewalk, listening to an impromptu accordion performance.

That was our day in San Francisco. I’d say it was a good one.


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