Tag Archives: Thailand

photo: mountain temple

“Nothing good or creative emerges from business as usual. This is why much of the work of God is to get people into liminal space, and to keep them there long enough so they can learn something essential. It is the ultimate teachable space…maybe the only one.”

-Richard Rohr


mountain temple
© erin dunigan 2012

cycle silhouette (self portrait)

In March I was in Thailand. I happened to be in a small, rural, northern area called Chiang Dao, and ran into a couple of people on bicycles who said “come with us, we are going exploring in the hills.” So, I rented a bike and joined them on a midday, 100+ degree in the heat of the sun cycling adventure up into the hills. On our way back we stopped a moment to wait, and I looked down beside me and saw this, my shadow.

This is me. I am holding the iPhone within my ‘silhouette’ so that it doesn’t show–do you see I have no arms? It was funny to me, when I first posted this image, how many people said “I like the one of the man on the bike.” It took me a while to figure out what image they were talking about. Then I realized, oh wait, I’m the man on the bike.

This image is part of my current exhibit, encounter.

cycle silhouette, Chiang Dao (Thailand)
© 2012 erin dunigan

Mark study: day 1

Tuk tuks are great, but a bit crazy, transportation in Bangkok

Perhaps it is because I wish that I were in Thailand right now, participating in person in one of these manuscript studies, or perhaps it is simply that by ‘giving up travel’ for Lent I’ve actually got the time to dedicate to it, but either way, here goes, Mark manuscript study, Day 1.

The first thing you will need, if you’d like to join me (and, by the way, if you are the LAST person in the world who would ever do something called ‘Bible study’ then you are most definitely the FIRST person I’d invite to  contribute–part of what has made these studies so rich for me in the past is the variety of people, from so many backgrounds, that have offered their observations, thoughts, and insights)…where was I?

Oh yeah, the first thing you will need is a pdf of the Mark text. I’d recommend printing it out–it will be 43 pages, so be prepared.

The pdf of the Mark text that I’ve posted at that link already has the appropriate line and page numbers for easy reference. This method depends on using the same line/page numbering technique.

So, Day 1 begins with Page 1, lines 1-27 (that’s the entirety of page 1). If we were in a group together we’d have about 30 minutes to read the page on our own (now you can see why some get antsy, thinking 30 minutes is WAY too much time to read one page) asking the questions ‘What do you see?’ and ‘Where do you see it?’

As much as possible cajole yourself into staying with the text in front of you–don’t read line one and say “Well, John says this about the gospel…” That’s cheating. However, if the text is quoting something from the Hebrew Scriptures (such as page 1, line 2) it is completely fair game to go and try to find where that quote is, if it is actually quoted correctly (just a hint, this one is not…)

So, on page 1, what do you notice? What do you see? What is the gospel (according to page 1!)? What words or phrases are repeated? What is confusing? What is intriguing? Pretend that you are Book of Mark CSI and pay attention to clues, hints, and random stuff that makes you wonder why the author included it.

From a methodological perspective, it can be helpful, or at least colorful, to use the same color to denote certain things. Use colored pencils or pens, whichever you prefer. Write all over the text–that’s what it is there for. So, if you see a word repeated, use the same color, or circle it, or do something to mark it. Or a certain phrase, or perhaps when you are given the location, or the time of day.

After the 30 minutes is up then we’d share what we observed with a group of 6-8 people around a table, taking turns to hear what one another observed, wondered, noticed. After a while of discussing around tables, we’d then open the conversation up to the larger group (usually about 25-30 in a larger group) and see what played out. Obviously, in this context, that is a bit impossible. So, feel free to simply eavesdrop and read along, or even better, contribute a thought or two.

Just a note on etiquette: it is essential in this type of study that all voices are allowed to contribute, that no one is belittled or shamed for a perspective, and that common courtesy is practiced. It doesn’t mean folks can’t disagree, but it does mean that it must be done in a manner that is respectful. It’s unfortunate, but often the most ‘religious’ of us are the worst offenders in terms of how we treat those with whom we disagree. Let’s give that up for Lent too.


arugula blossoms in sunset's shadow

I don’t actually remember where the idea came from. But, a while back, as I was pondering life, most likely while working in the garden, it came to me, what I would ‘give up’ for Lent.

Now, I’m not a big ‘give up something for Lent’ kind of person normally. But as I was pondering I realized that I could not remember the last time that I was in one place for any length of time. I do know that I happened to be in Mexico once for three weeks straight. That was back in November of 2008. Over two years ago. I remember it because it stood out as a record.

So I began to consider that for Lent I would ‘give up’ traveling. I realize, this might sound crazy to most normal people. “Poor you, you are giving up traveling for Lent.” But in my current fairly unpredictable and nomadic life, it actually seems like quite a challenge, staying in one place for 40 days (plus Sundays, which really makes it more like 45, but minus one mandatory presbytery meeting for which I will have to ‘travel’ to Southern California). Two years ago I traveled (literally) around the world during Lent, so I figured, this year, why not stay in one place?

(Ironically, as I am typing this, a road runner just flew onto the patio, directly outside the window. A quick search on roadrunners, or a bit of Saturday morning cartoon time will tell you that the roadrunner is symbolic of speed and movement…)


Last year during Lent I was in Thailand. One day, as I was doing some sightseeing, I happened into a Wat (Buddhist temple) that I had read taught free meditation classes. I walked in and was greeted by a monk, and saw a roomful of people wearing what looked like white scrubs, walking back and forth, very slowly, silently, in a very small space. My “what have I gotten myself into” radar went off immediately, but it was too late, I had already been spotted by the ‘greeter monk’ who was welcoming me to the temple.

“I want to learn meditation” I said. Duh. The very nice monk proceeded to teach me both walking and sitting meditation and then invited me to come back for the evening session. As it happened, all of the people in white were actually part of a multi-day retreat in meditation, so I was the only person there for the evening session.

This time the man who seemed like the senior monk lead me to a fluorescent-lit, downstairs basement with narrow windows along the edge of the ceiling and metal fans blowing at intervals to move around the hot air. He showed me again how to do the walking meditation, slowly, very slowly, putting one foot slightly in front of the other for about four feet, then methodically turning around, walking the same four feet, turn around, repeat. It was all very intentional, very slow. Did I mention that it was slow?

He looked up at the clock. It was around 6:15. “Don’t stay past 8pm–you should get back to your hotel before it’s too late,” he said, and left.

An hour and a half? I thought to myself. Really? You think I can just walk back and forth, painfully slowly, for that long and not run screaming for some pad thai? They don’t eat after the noon meal, and since I had been at the monastery since the afternoon, I too had not eaten since the noon meal, though I had every intention of doing so.

But I started walking. Back and forth. Slowly. Methodically. Intentionally.

Here’s the crazy thing–when I finally looked up at the clock it was 7:30. I’ve gotta leave in 15 minutes, I thought to myself. But I really want to keep walking. So I did. Until 7:44. Just one more, I said to myself, like a kid who doesn’t want to get out of the pool when it’s time to leave. I finally dragged myself out of there by 8pm.

It was amazing. There was something about the slowness and the repetition and the ‘not getting anywhere’ that was deeply centering. Once I had overcome the ‘are you kidding me’ stage, I really didn’t want to stop. What an incredible experience, I thought to myself on the cab ride back to the hotel.

But the other crazy thing? I haven’t done it again since.




what is ‘manuscript study’ (and why in the world would I care?)

Page 1 of Mark manuscript

I first came upon the concept of ‘manuscript study’ in Bangkok, Thailand. I realize, a form of studying the Bible is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Bangkok. Nor the second. Nor the third. And yes I did partake of much that Bangkok has to offer–amazing Thai massage, beautiful Buddha statues in temples, and of course green curry, tom yum, and pad Thai with incredible flavor and dirt cheap. No, I did not partake in the ‘other’ side of Bangkok, but I did go on a tour of the red light district with an organization called Night Light that seeks to rescue women from sexual slavery and exploitation. But more on that later.

Back to manuscript study. I was blown away by it from my first encounter. Why? I’m not entirely sure, but each of the three times I’ve participated in this week-long event, it has been incredibly rich. I’ve tried to describe it a few times, including an article I wrote for Princeton Seminary called ‘Wonder Bread.‘ I wrote about it again after my experience with it four years later.

The basic gist is to take a book of the Bible (the gospel according to Mark is what is often used), take out the chapters, the verse numbers, the paragraphs and print it out, as in from the computer. Mark is about 42 pages. Well, the shorter ending of Mark. But that’s another story too. Each page has a page number (in case you drop the pile, it makes for much easier ordering than playing “I wonder what comes next” with the text) and each page is also given line numbers, every 5 lines, so that you can refer to a particular location such as “On page 1, line 10, what does it mean that they were confessing their sins?”

The format is part of it–take the study away from those paper thin pages in that leather-bound book and it can help to make it more accessible, or at least easier to write all over it without feeling guilty for ‘messing it up.’ With no chapters and verses there are no arbitrary stopping or starting points, and the story itself is allowed to dictate where one section ends and another begins.

But more than the format is the style in which the manuscript is studied. I’ve grown up in the church, so I’ve been a part of many Bible Studies, some better than others. What often seems to happen is that the text can be used as a springboard for something else. So, instead of studying Mark, we actually bring in Ephesians or Acts or Revelation, none of which are bad, necessarily, but they are not Mark. In the method of manuscript study (mss) one is forced to stay with the text at hand.

The two main questions, in this format, are ‘What do you see?’ and ‘Where do you see it?’ This, again, helps the study to stay focused within the text in question, and to try to curb the tendency amongst some to leave the text behind and pontificate on a topic of choice.

It can feel limiting at first. It can be frustrating. It can feel slow.

In our Mark 1 group (the first half of Mark–it is a two part series, with each half taking up one week)  we spent the entire first day on page 1. An entire day, 9AM to 5PM, on roughly 300 words. Among the other westerners in the group (people come from around the world) you could see the obvious body language of “Okay, I’m done with page 1, can we move on now?!” as they shuffled their papers and fidgeted in their chairs, questioning the decision to devote a week to this madness. But by the end of day 2? They didn’t want to leave at the end of the day. Seriously. It’s that engaging, that engrossing. I know, it sounds a bit crazy. But I’ve flown half way around the world three times to be a part of this process.  (well, the food and the Thai massage are enticing as well…)

So, since I can’t make it to Thailand this year I’ve decided that I’m going to attempt a blog version of a Mark study. Will it work? Don’t know, I’ve never tried it before. Seems like it’s worth a shot.

Day 14: why did the farang cross the road?


no one stops for pedestrians in Chiang Mai, so it is a bit like human frogger

no one stops for pedestrians in Chiang Mai, so it is a bit like human frogger

Q: Why did the farang (foreigner, Thai equivalent of gringo) cross the road? 
A: The farang never made it across, there was way too much traffic…

I spent my last day in Thailand cruising around Chiang Mai–and a good amount of time just waiting for the tiniest break in traffic, to cross the road. 

Chiang Mai has a moat around it, and my guest house is just on the other side of the moat, which is lined with roads on either side. 

I spent the day catching up on a bit of writing, had one last Thai meal (cost me about $2 for lunch and a mango shake) and then a Thai foot massage (cost about $3, with tip).

Tonight I fly to Cairo, where I will spend the next two days being hosted by the Evangelical Seminary in Cairo.

Day 13: Chiang Mai


sunset in chiang mai

sunset in chiang mai

About two years ago I interviewed a couple from St. Andrew’s Church, Brett and Shelly Faucett, for a newsletter article. They were about to be moving to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to do AIDS related work through the Presbyterian Church, USA.

When I realized that I’d have a day or two after the conference in Bangkok, I emailed Brett and Shelly to see if I could come visit them in Chiang Mai.

So, almost two years after our initial meeting, there they were at the Chiang Mai airport, with their two daughters Acacia and Ana, to pick me up and show me the sights.

We began with an iced coffee at the Wawee Coffee Shop, the local Starbucks (although there is also a Starbucks next door…I’m interested to know which came first). I have to say, I think I might be addicted!

They took my by the Mandala House to drop off my stuff,  and then we headed to pick up lunch. I’ve never had “Cow Soy” (I’m not sure how to spell it, but that’s how it sounds) before, but it is apparently a specialty of Northern Thailand. There are pickled veggies, a mix of crunchy and soft noodles, chicken, and a delicious savory but sour and a bit spicy sauce. Yum.

After lunch we went to get Thai massages—incredible! Then Shelly and I went to the Hope Home where she works with disabled children who are often shunned in Thai society. We played with the kids (adorable) and did some play therapy with music as well.

From there we went to the Sunday afternoon market—block after block after block of streets closed and everything you can imagine for sale.

To cap off the evening we stopped by Miguel’s Mexican Restaurant for some take out and went back to the house to eat surprisingly good Mexican food, considering we are half a world away.

What a fun day. I had a great time reconnecting with the Faucetts. If you’d like to see more of what they are doing here in Chiang Mai, you can read their blog or see their official PCUSA mission coworker website.