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Hi, my name is Jim Macdonald, and I have an odd assortment of interests. In no particular order, I love Yellowstone, I am an anti-authoritarian activist and organizer, and I have a background in philosophy, having taught at the college level. My blog has a lot more links to my writing and my other Web sites. In Jim's Eclectic World, I try to give a holistic view of my many interests. Often, all three passions show themselves interweaving in the very same blog. Anyhow, I think it's a little different. But, that's me. I'm not so much out there, but taken together, I'm a little unusual.

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    Friday, June 15, 2007

    A vacation in ... Ohio

    Hi everyone.

    For the next week, Genevieve and I will be taking our vacation. Last year, I took a biker/hiker trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, a solo experience with my bike that I'll never forget. The year before, Genevieve and I drove to Yellowstone via the Badlands, with a trip through the national parks of Utah and home through Colorado. That was my first trip back to Yellowstone in seven years. This year, we have nothing quite so grand in store. We are going to Ohio! Isn't that exciting?

    OK, what gives? Those of you who know me know that I'm from Ohio, but it's been a long time since I was convinced that Ohio, which is named after the river that translates "beautiful", was not the most sublime place in the United States, especially since it's been long since most of the beautiful forests of Ohio were chopped down to pave the way for agriculture and mining.

    Genevieve and I are traveling to Lakeside, Ohio, known as the "Chautauqua on Lake Erie." That is, it was founded as a kind of religious camp meeting town. However, unlike other camps, this one is on the relatively exotic landscape of the Great Lakes. Lakeside is situated on the Marblehead Peninsula and faces out toward the Lake Erie islands. The town has an old fashioned feel to it in some respects, small and old cottages serving the summer tourist trade, miniature golf, shuffleboard, and small little gift shops, old hotels without full services, some restaurants. On the other hand, the dominating landscape of the lake keeps Lakeside - despite a fair number of trees - feeling like that camp out there in the woods.

    My family went to Lakeside every year from the time I was 11 because my father became a United Methodist minister. The United Methodist Church is divided into various conferences. Ohio has two conferences, one for East Ohio and one for West Ohio. Both meet in Lakeside in June. My dad is a member of the East Ohio Conference, and he has mandatory meetings in Lakeside where the conference decides various matters of church policy. The annual conference consists of clergy and laity (members of the churches throughout the conference) who have voting rights. They can decide on the church position on an issue to matters of how much health insurance people like my father get (never enough). Where in Catholicism, power is centralized in the Pope; in the United Methodist Church, power is consolidated in the conferences in the quasi-democratic system. There is a bishop, but she or he doesn't make decisions regarding church policy. He oversees the annual conferences and acts as something like the executive branch of government.

    Anyhow, I would go to Lakeside usually for what's known as youth annual conference the weekend before, then to annual conference, and then later that summer for a Methodist-affiliated church camp. I can tell you a lot about evangelicalism in the United Methodist Church and about the sheer diversity of the ways different churches function. There's barely a core that unites the denomination together. I would argue that the denomination, like so many, is no longer very distinctive. You need to go individual church by individual church, and there you will see a wide range of differences across this and other denominations. Some are fundamentalists, some are liberals, some are "high church," and some are "low church."

    That's something of a digression. Genevieve and I are going to Lakeside to see several members of my family and to experience something I haven't experienced in any length since after my senior year in high school. My last time there, except a visit for one day several years later, was one of the most crushing experiences of my life. I had my heart broken severely in a horrible miscommunication. You can bet that time will be with me, especially as I look out at the lake where some of the worst moments happened.

    We chose to go to Lakeside because it will be relatively relaxing, thousands of busy conference delegates and their families aside. Genevieve has traveled a lot in her life, but she's never really experienced the Great Lakes at any length. For her, strange to my ears, it's exotic to her to see the lake that looks something like the ocean. Since she is now almost finished with her sixth month of pregnancy, we needed to be able to relax. This fits the bill. We have rented a cottage, which is something we could never afford while I was growing up. Then, we stayed in tents or in the bare bones cabins. Even now, money in my family is scarce, but together and with the subsidies my dad's church provides, we can now afford the cottage. Since this is such a special time for us, and since we may be moving much farther away from Ohio, it's a time to cherish. Ohio may not be my first choice, but it's perfect this time.

    During the week, I may get a chance to share a little bit. I probably won't be able to share much. We plan on going to South Bass Island on one day, an island with a monument to Oliver "Hazard" Perry, the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie, during the War of 1812. I don't care about that. I just want to do something a little different, perhaps go to the caves, and see the lake from a different perspective. Otherwise, we hope to be pretty lazy and watch pick-up games of basketball, play shufflboard and miniature golf, and sit around and enjoy the lake. I'll also be curious to know what the Methodists are talking about these days.

    Anyhow, it's not Yellowstone; I'm not worried. I will not need to vacation in Yellowstone after I live near it. My vacations will be to the mundane places like Cleveland, Ohio, and Columbia, South Carolina (where Genevieve's family is from). My regular life will be in paradise. So, I'm getting used to a different way of vacationing, and Lakeside is one of the nicest parts of Ohio to boot.

    (I neglected to mention that Lakeside is usually closed off by a gate and run by a group of people known as the Lakeside Association; some have called it a little prison town. But, the gates are open this week, and so no need to make a lot of political and economic complaints, yet).

    I'll be in touch.

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