I spent three days last week at Laity Lodge, some two hours southwest of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country. The landscape is rugged and rather desolate, but for all that it had a beauty that is striking.
I had been to the lodge twice before, with staff retreats for The High Calling. This time, however, I was there not for The High Calling but because of my work in digital media. Some 60 of us from the United States, Canada and the U.K. had been assembled to discuss digital media, mental health, faith, and leadership, all part of a new leadership initiatives effort by the Foundations for Laity Renewal (the foundation that owns the Laity Lodge property and its camps, and The High Calling as well).
Music was represented, too, as it always is at a Laity Lodge retreat. This time the music was by the members of Jars of Clay, who played each night, at the Sunday worship service, and at a concert on Saturday night. A Jars of Clay concert for 60 people. And getting to talk with the band members, eat with them, and even spend three hours with two of them in the art studio making block prints.
This may come as a surprise, but they turned out to be real people.
I met and talked with some wonderful people – professors from Duke, Rice, Seattle Pacific University and Kings College. An ebook publisher. The editor of Christianity Today. An architect. A pastor from the inner city in Houston. Marketing people from both academia and the private sector. Non-profit organization leaders. The foundation staff, including chairman David Rogers. Kathryn Aylsford, co-author (with Tim Keller) of Every Good Endeavor. And my friend Marcus Goodyear, editor of The High Calling.
We had a block of free time each afternoon. On Friday, I joined a group of five others to hike the Circle Bluff Trail. I was the only one who had hiked the trail before, so I got to be trail leader. It’s not a long hike, only 2.5 miles roundtrip, but most of it is upward. You have to pay close attention to the trail itself; it’s not difficult to slip down the side, or to trip over a stone. At the top is the view – what crowns the hike itself. You can see for miles. And right at the bottom of the bluff is the Frio River and the new family camp under construction – and getting ready to open in April. I had toured the construction site in November, and it is one impressive facility.
After the hike, the digital media crowd, about 10 of, met in the lodge library, and we talked. We talked about our problems, our issues, about what’s happening with digital media, some of the new things some of us were trying or planning. It was a solid and even inspiring conversation.
We had four or five main presentations in group meetings – on digital media, mental health, leadership, the leadership initiatives, and on faith, including a rather rousing sermon by Marlon Hall, the pastor from Houston.
My three hours in the art studio on Saturday afternoon were spent working on a block print. My goal was to create a concept for a book cover, a non-fiction work that I’ve been contracted with for and is due to be delivered in manuscript form on July 1. We googled images, we drew, we traced, we carefully cut and we painted – many times over. What I walked away with was the sense I had had a delightful time learning to do some I had never done before – and an idea for a book cover. I looked at the prints last night, and they’re rough, but at least the germ of an idea is there.
I’ll likely have more things to write about from the retreat; I’m still absorbing what I heard and learned. But it was a time full of ideas, inspiration, thoughtfulness, and a sense of the sacred. I was blessed.
Top photography: the main building at Laity Lodge. Bottom photograph taken March 1, 2013, from the top of the Circle Bluff Trail at Laity Lodge. The buildings at the bottom left are part of the under-construction family-camp.