santa fe

Twerking on God's Great Dancefloor: The Glen Day Seven

This final day of the Glen Workshop, there are so many things I could say. I could document my early morning walk. My rising with the sun to traverse the Atilayah trail, distracted by beauty at every step. My sad realization of workshop time winding away. The beautiful songs our groups wrote and performed. The parting words of wisdom from Over the Rhine

I could recall that final trip to Santa Fe. The run to the souvenir shop. The installation art at Site Santa Fe. The feeling of youthful pride, being denied a beer when I forget my ID. Just-barely-making-it-back after missing the day's last bus.

I could reflect on Richard Rohr's final words, or the impartation of blessing during the anointing service. How each artist pulls meaning from the oil and the hands and the cross. How I wait my turn and watch Barry Moser in my periphery, knowing from his own story how he values this ritual.

I could gush at Over The Rhine's intimate parting performance or brag up my front row seats. I could sit in those final moonlit moments on the walking path back to my room, knowing that I could never say to these new friends all I want to say. Wondering if and when I may see them again.  

I don't want to spend this final Glen Workshop post on any of those happenings. I want to shine a light on the experience that outshines them all. The Saturday night dance party sits atop the rubble of my memory, more than a week later.

To tell you what it is like to dance with middle-aged artists–moving to music I don't let my kids hear–is not nearly enough. I took no pictures. So, I will leave the task to that most expansive of forms. I will end this series with a poem.

Wrestling With my Body

Top 40 guilty pleasures 
are the soundrack of this final 

Stars pale 
against mirrorball refractions
upon the heads of holy poets
limb-loose and chainless

We are all learning
there is nothing but the dance

First the toe tap dip
into deep then dive
Wet and salted
We are
fish in the school of joy
Bodies flopping thirsty
scales opalescent in moonlight

One song fades 
to prayers
for another
that comes
like a torrent of grace
Boom, boom, bop, boom

We sing past lyrics
Past pasts and futures
Here and now
to the beat of

When poets chant pop
is there a room on earth smiling with more teeth?

I don't have 99 problems
I don't rob banks
I don't like big butts
and God knows
I am no wrecking ball
but there are truths beyond these lies

At these wild edges
I wrestle with my body and
the sight of
my sanctified sister
twerking on God's great dancefloor

Oh! Witness
what we make sacred by our love!

Blog for Bleeding Heart!

You have something to say–why not say it here? Email your blog post idea to and let's chat.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Glen Day One

Sunday evening, Edward Van Vliet and I are prepare to land in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The flight attendant offers us free drinks. We bask in extra inches of leg room and softer seats. We are flying first class, but not by choice. 

This day of travel has had little to do with choice. We've felt powerless, at the whims of US Airways, hanging on to hope. 

Our journey to first class was rough.

It's 3:30 AM and I am awake, thanks to my alarm or my pre-flight jitters. At 4, I'm waiting at the front door for my father in law, packed and ready. Everything is on schedule. Last year, I never made it this far. Last year they cancelled my flight with a 3 AM phone call. This year, I'm on my way.

I arrive at the airport with plenty of time. Good. I immediately spot my travel companion, Edward. Good. My "hope this fits in carry on" duffel bag does indeed fit in carry on. I save twenty five dollars. Good. Check in flawless. Security is smooth. Lines are short. Starbucks is open. All good.

We board our first US Airways flight. The flight is not full, so we can switch seats and sit together, with a whole seat to spare. Great. We buckle up and wait for takeoff. This is happening. We are off to the Glen Workshop.

We wait. We wait more.

Then comes the announcement. The first in a long line of hiccups seems harmless enough. A latch on a panel needs repair. They are going to try a solution called "Speed Tape". Fixing an airplane using any kind of tape does not instill confidence. Especially tape marketed not for its hold, but its speed. No worries, because they don't have any speed tape anyways. We wait in our confused and stuffy cabin. 

US Airways are going to see if they can borrow a part from Air Canada. I'm not sure if Air Canada doesn't have the part, or if they are like "Really, US Airways? Again? Sorry, we've got to teach you how to fish this time". There is no part. 

After an hour they tell us to deplane. We gather our things. Those who bought duty free must return it. They cancel my flight. Again.

What do we do? Where do we go now? They cannot tell us yet, because they need to see if they can fix the plane. Once they know, they will tell us whether to book new flights. Until then, while new flights may leave and our layover window shrinks, we must wait. We do wait. Without information. Without confidence. They finally confirm our fears and send us off to rebook. Square one.

Edward waits at the luggage carousel for his checked bag while I head for the check-in counter to book our new flights. The line is short, but there is just one poor person working. One person for a hundred reschedules taking 10 minutes a piece. I doubt my chances of making sign-in at the Glen Workshop this afternoon. I doubt my chances of dinner. We start fending for ourselves, rebooking on cell phones. But I don't have a cell phone. I wait. 

Rumors start to come back about the passengers waiting for bags. They still haven't got them. Team baggage is waiting, not knowing what is going on with us, team carry-on. We have cell phones and iPads but nothing to communicate. "You heard anything yet? No? Me neither." Then I overhear chatter about our cancellation being cancelled. They confirm that we are going to get back on the same plane. Thanks to speed tape or the gods or gremlins, the latch has been fixed. Hallelujah. Except that Edward and team baggage don't have a clue about this. They are stuck on the other side of the airport. Their luggage was never removed from the plane, and no one is telling them. 

This is the worst customer communication I have ever experienced. 

I don't like going through customs and filling out declaration cards, but I really don't like doing it all twice. In an astounding move of beureaucratic t-crossing, we all have to do everything again. Sheesh.

Meanwhile, poor team baggage is told to go back the way they came and reboard the plane. Security stops them and sends them other way around. We, team carry-on, have no idea any of this is happening.

The flight itself is uneventful, and while we are hungry, it looks like we'll make our connection in Phoenix. Indeed we do, with a half hour to spare. Except that we are not on the flight anymore. Without telling Edward and I, US Airways gave our seats away, and there are no more seats. They put us instead on a 9:45 PM flight, thinking we'd missed our connection. But we didn't. In fact, Edward's luggage is about to fly to New Mexico without Edward. 

We push back on the 9:45 PM flight, as we'll miss our shuttle into Santa Fe, along with everything else happening tonight. At customer service, the first kind, helpful employee today puts us on the 3 PM flight to Albuquerque in the only seats available. First class. It's a mind-bending mystery to me why this was not the first solution to our problem. Why, had we not pushed back, would we be spending the night on an airport floor in New Mexico, waiting for our morning shuttle?

We'll still miss check-in and supper, but we'll arrive this evening, a few hours earlier than I arrived last year. It will still be light out. We have time for lunch now. We're starving. We'll take it.

I'm counting my blessings.

One. We share a leisurely lunch, preparing our hearts in conversation for the week ahead.

Two. We try a delicious new beer. Its five o'clock somewhere. 

Three. We experience the marginal privilege of first class.

Four. We reevaluate our willingness to book a US Airways flight again. Ever. 

Five. We find ample time to read and laugh through Sky Mall, the in-flight catalogue of goods you just cannot buy anywhere else. In a move I will appreciate more as the week rolls on, I take Sky Mall with me. 

Our shuttle drives us through New Mexico's moonscape as gratitude erases all wrongs. It's hard to stay angry in this strange and beautiful world. The sun shines down on a duotone palette of rust and turquoise. Red rock and sage brush. Cacti and blue sky.  

I watch Edward take this all in for the first time. I smile at the sharing of this special place. Our jagged journey leaves us weary, but full of hope.

Sometime ago, somewhere amidst the madness, Edward guesses our setbacks to be the devil's doing. The devil must not want us in Santa Fe. God must have something waiting for us. Given this is my second year of cancelled flights, it's hard to disagree with the assessment. But if we met devils on our journey, we were about to leave them in our dust. At St. John's college, at the Glen Workshop, we'd encounter only angels and saints.

For the week that was to come, I'd live this damned day a dozen times over. 




Blog for Bleeding Heart!

You have something to say–why not say it here? Email your blog post idea to and let's chat.

On Descending Into New Mexico (Glen Workshop Part One)


The first in a four part reflection on the Glen Workshop, in which Dave Von Bieker gets scared, gets brave, and almost doesn't attend the Glen Workshop.

When you market your event with the tagline, 'a week can change a life', you're stepping out onto some high, spindly limbs. First off, for an arts workshop with rich roots in writing, it can sound a bit cliché. We artists can be jaded folk, after all. And if that line is to be taken seriously, it presents a grand promise. A promise that must be proven. It's a risk, but as this year's theme was Art and Risk, I suppose the Glen was well aware.

I can attest that the gamble paid off. A week at the Glen has changed my life, in ways both concrete and abstract beyond my comprehension. I am still not sure exactly why, in the middle of the Wednesday session with Jeffery Overstreet, I began to cry and was unable to stop completely for an hour. God was working in very real, mysterious ways throughout the Glen, and my own experience culminated in that Wednesday awakening, which I'll return to later.

First, let me explain what the Glen Workshop is. I attended one of two versions - the Glen West in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For one fee, you get a week's worth of art, spiritual formation, workshops, community, accommodations and food. Afternoons and evenings are packed with presentations by artists across several disciplines. We saw photographs of freckled faces. We heard the first act of a play. We viewed paintings and soaked in poetry. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest led us in brief but deep evening ecumenical worship. Mornings at the Glen are for workshops, in the arts discipline of your choosing. There are several options, including one for those wanting a tasty sampler, called the Explorer's Track. I chose Songwriting. At least until it was cancelled.

My road to the Glen was rather rocky, and perhaps that should have clued me in that something important was going to happen to me there. On the other side of every mountain is a valley, after all, and every peak must be climbed.

The first stumble in my journey came as an ominous email informing me the Songwriting track was cancelled due to lack of interest. I had mustered up the courage to register. My wife assured me that it was OK. It was worth the investment. I was worth the investment. I'd paid all my fees (which led to other problems I'll get into later). I'd booked my flights. My track now cancelled, I could get a refund, but not on the plane tickets. I was going to Santa Fe in July, but now I had to choose what type of artist I wanted to be.

I likely knew instantly that I should take Poetry, but Poetry terrified me. Even at a conference about Art and Risk, Poetry was too risky – too difficult. I toyed with safer options, but didn't feel right about them. I was offering up too much time and money to play this week safe. At the encouragement of friends, I signed on for the one Poetry track I felt to be the safest of two offerings.

Then the second email arrived. That Poetry track was full. Would I take the other one? I sweat it out anxiously. You see, to call myself a Poet, I felt like a fraud. Like I was playing house. And this particular workshop leader wrote poetry that scared me even more. Poetry I couldn't fully understand and poetry that sounded nothing like my own. Poetry that hovered above my head. If anyone was to call me out as a phoney, it would certainly be her. But as the line formed behind me on the sky high diving board, I could do nothing but jump.

Somewhere in the free fall, just about to be consoled by my own courage, I received another blow. An email arrived telling me that the company handling online registrations for the Glen Workshop had not been paying the Glen. They took my money, but never handed it over, and most likely would not. Because I had paid early on and all at once, I had in fact not paid. Would I have to pay twice? Could I not attend at all?

Was all of this a sign to just stay home and stop trying to be someone I am not?

Well I obviously went to the Glen Workshop, and they masterfully handled the payment situation. And no, these setbacks were not signs to stay home. But they also weren't over yet.

The morning of the Glen, alarm set to 3 AM for a 6 AM flight to Santa Fe, my answering machine picked up a robo-call from the airline. My flight was cancelled. No reason given. No alternate flight offered. Simply cancelled. I think I laughed as I rose to stumble towards my email and arrange last minute travel in a 3 AM stupor. Waiting on the phone with the airline for nearly an hour I almost fell asleep between travel site searches. In the end, I got on a flight to the Glen, arriving late but still before my Monday morning workshop. It was going to happen after all.

Knowing I had a lot riding on this Glen thing, what with the promise of life-change and all, I came prepared with two questions.

The first was simple. Am I a poet? Is what I am writing poetry – proper poetry – and would other proper poets think so?

The second question weaved itself through the week. What does a real, working artist look like? How do artists make a go of it and what life can I expect in 20 or 30 years? These foolish choices I am making now, where do they lead? I would hear answers through myriad voices across mealtime tables for seven glorious days.

These questions in hand, exhausted from a perilous journey, I touched down in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Waiting for my Santa Fe shuttle, I did what I felt I should do. I wrote the week's first poem.

On Descending Into New Mexico

Descending into New Mexico I glimpse the red rock And mottling bush And hear Bugs Bunny Pronouncing Albuquerque Al-bee-coyk-ee! And I finally know why

It's obvious that this is where the road runner Chased the coyote past Endlessly repeating backdrops Of burnt siena desert

This defining palate of turquoise and burnt peach Sunburn and dusted green Straining to look fertile

Everything in this landscape dances in duotone Every sign in the ABQ airport (Which they tell me is a sunport) Is sunburned skin and moss Dusty rose and sand-storm teal

I rise in my seat and lean for the window New food for old eyes I feel like a boy I taste dormant wonder Then I hear the bleep of the cell phone My seat mate has turned on, After undoing his seatbelt Both before allowed Tiny rebellions

We each have our ways to stay young

The airport is small and old And not surprisingly dusty rose and teal Salmon and powdered turquoise The seats are leather and ranchwood and rivets in brass I see, for the first time today, no signs for free wi-fi It is deceptively cold with air conditioning And the water doesn't taste like home

A step outside reveals hot evening Hot enough in the day, I am sure, to burn a peach Or drain the green from kale

The word 'southwest' rings out like a 10 gallon hat in Calgary, I have yet to peel the cartoon from reality

We shall see for here we are Me and the roadrunner On an adventure

Meep meep.

This post is part three of a four part series. Part one | Part two | Part three | Part four

Blog for Bleeding Heart!

You have something to say–why not say it here? Email your blog post idea to and let's chat.