A television with a logo for the french republic on the screen


We received a letter from the French government the other day, a crisp reminder that we are NOT living in America. In it they explained in a flourish of official language that an inspector had passed by to verify that we do not own a television, since we have declared so on our tax statement.  Since we weren’t at home he was not able to conduct his visit.  We were invited to return the form and pay the necessary tax to avoid any fine that would result in us being caught!

You see, in France there is a “television tax” every household has to pay - €119 or around $155 per year.  Whenever someone buys a television they’re asked for their address, which is then given to the powers that be.  Students commonly give their parent’s address, who already pay the tax, to avoid this yearly charge.  While living in Toulouse several years ago we purchased a used TV for dirt cheap.  Months later we received a letter with a form to fill out, stating whether we owned a television.  Against the advice of some French friends, we admitted that we indeed had a television and doled out three times what we paid for the set just to watch it with a clean conscience.

Fast forward to today.  We haven’t had television for seven years and happily keep that €119 to ourselves every year.  Still, I can’t help but wonder the shock we would have gone through had Monsieur the Inspector showed up at our door.

You want to do what?  Search our home?!

Why? To make sure we don’t have a television?!

Something about that situation just rubs against the American me.  I mean, do you have a warrant?  Let me see your badge!  People get robbed this way!!

I can imagine us sitting around our kitchen table, Monsieur the Inspector sipping on a cup of coffee that we’ve offered him.  He talks casually as beads of sweat slowly form on my forehead.  Finally the dénouement arrives, “So Monsieur Workman, is there anything you are hiding from ze French government?”  In a wave of panic I crack – “YES, YES!  There is a Romanian family hiding under the floorboards beneath us!”

Resting beneath the viaduct at Dinan


May had a dream, to bike with the boys all the way from Rennes to St. Malo along the canal, a whopping 133 mile round trip. Since this was part of a camping vacation, it included trying to fit all our camping gear, clothes, food, rain gear (you get the picture) into our bike trailer and saddle bags.  Our final destination after taking the ferry at St. Malo was the island of Guernsey.  I was skeptical.  Being the one who is responsible for keeping our bikes in working order and packing our camping gear, I was stressed.  And when we got flat tires and fought with patching inner tubes for a couple hours on the side of the trail I was quite visibly frustrated. But…

BUT WE MADE IT and had a GREAT time.  And so I can only take my hat off to May for her vision and determination that fueled our adventure to Guernsey and back.

Here are some of the discoveries we made:

  • Riding the canal is great with kids, calm and relaxing and pretty level.
  • Guernsey, where only Guernsey cows are allowed, has fantastic ice cream!
  • Sometimes mice, who happen to love May’s homemade granola as much as we do, might sneak into your trailer.
  • Watching boats pass through a lock is really cool.
  • If you want your tent partner to snuggle, sleep on a slope.
  • A dock, four Crazy Creek chairs, sandwiches and a thermos of coffee is a great recipe for lunch.
  • Victor Hugo had a marvelous view of Cornet Castle from his house, but it’s best to call ahead to reserve a tour.
  • Don’t ask for four orders of fish-n-chips, you’ll only need two.
  • Cadbury chocolate is, well, not our favorite.
  • We tend to stop less for breaks when riding in the rain.
  • Even if it looks pristinely blue and it’s the middle of August, the water is COLD.
  • A 150lb trailer can be carried up stairs or lifted over barriers when necessary.
  • The tooth fairy doesn’t make rounds in tents (Silas lost a tooth)

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Dan with a curious art student


I was at the “vernissage,” or opening for the potter photo expo. The room was wonderfully lit, full of chatter.  People wandered about admiring the pictures of a potter delicately working clay.  A student from Taiwan who knew I had some responsibility for the event walked up and asked me, “How do you combine art and Jesus?”  What a GREAT question!  She was a Christian, studying painting, who had come to Paris on a separate project put on by Campus Crusade.  She desperately wanted to use her artistic talent for Jesus, but wasn’t sure how.

Well, every painting you do has to be of Jesus – okay, I didn’t say that, but that’s what some people think!  It isn’t clear how you can combine art and faith without painting pictures of Daniel in the lion’s den or Jonah being thrown into the sea.  It’s a question that many Christian artists wrestle with.

To prepare a devotion for the project I read two really helpful books on the subject.  One was Art and the Bible, by Francis Schaeffer.  It is short but very well done.  The second was Imagine, a vision for Christians in the arts, by Steve Turner.  This is a must read for any Christian artist, and held much of what I shared with this young painter.  There are many different levels a Christian artist can touch, from expressing their world view to wrestling with themes like intimacy, betrayal or redemption.  Suddenly, just having read a few books, I was able to help free this young artist to express her faith in new ways.  She was so excited.  She asked for my email address and asked if she could take her picture with me.

It’s hard to measure the effect a project like this has.  People’s lives were touched, but we really don’t know beyond that.  The highlight for me was the long conversation with this young artist, sharing some of what I’ve been learning about art and faith. 

A measuring tape with fractions of an inch


Confusion, that’s what living in another country creates.  When we type in English, we put two spaces after a period.  In France, they use just one.  BUT, they put a space before a question mark or exclamation point, maybe to make up for the other spaces they're missing.  Since I type emails in English and French, my fingers get easily confused and I find myself putting too many or not enough spaces as I type.  And it looks a little weird to have a space before the question mark, don’t you think ? Or does it?  Now the question mark right after looks a little close to me.  And sometimes I have a hard time finding words in English too, like there’s some French word that comes to mind and I really would rather use it because it fits just right.

Expressions can be funny too.  Cheese, for example, has a special place in French culture.  There is a board game where the players work their way around a large chunk of cheese, but at times they can take a short-cut across.  This is called “cutting the cheese.”  When an American says “cut the cheese” it means something entirely different.  I was with a French friend once and was surprised to hear him refer to a BMW car as a “BM.”  I warned him to make sure to add the W if he’s ever with a group of Americans, because having a BMW and having a BM are completely different experiences.

Then there are units.  I may never be able to rattle off my height or weight in kilos or centimeters.  It is embarrassing renting skis and having no idea what you weigh.  But I have to admit that my metric tape measure is a joy to use.  The other day I was down in the garage, needing to make a measurement, and all I had handy was my tape in inches.  My mind seized up when suddenly I had to think in fractions.  Ten is such a beautiful round number, why do we insist on working in twelves and threes?  Does it go back to the disciples?  The tribes of Israel?  Our gas prices don’t look that bad until you realize there are almost four liters in one gallon. 

Finally there is the exchange rate.  The value of the Euro has fallen dramatically recently.  I’m happy that it has gotten lower, because that’s helpful to us.  What scares me a little is how quickly the change has come.  If it can fall that quickly, it could rise again that quickly.  Things seem so unstable.  For the time being, your gifts are going further.  And we thank God for your partnership with us!

Last week we hosted three nights of “Dialogues Veritas” which is latin for Truth Dialogues. We spent weeks surveying students on campus here in France, basically asking two questions:

1. Why do people (or you individually) not believe in God?

2. If you could ask God a question, what would it be?

After collecting the results – and it’s not often a French student thinks about these things – we compiled the top 5 questions/objections students have concerning God. These were:

  • If God exists, why is there so much injustice?
  • God and science are incompatible.
  • God exists, so what?
  • I don’t see any proof.
  • Why are we on earth?

These are all great questions. I hear them every week talking to students on campus. And Christians should honestly take the time to consider them, to remain relevant to the culture. I personally haven’t thought through them all in depth, but the one that intrigues me the most is the first. It has to do with the problem of evil, which I find terribly complicated.

The problem is, God is loving, just, all powerful, and ever present. Yet injustice, evil happens. These seem to be contradictory. Couldn’t – wouldn’t – shouldn’t a loving and all powerful God intervene before an earthquake hits Haiti or as a kidnapper moves to take a child or a murderer strikes? 

The sun shining

The wind was cool, but the sun was shining and it felt good.  I was on the science campus doing surveys with Tereza.  After being a little discouraged the last guy, Matthew, we talked to made everything worthwhile.  It started off pretty classic.  We asked why he thinks people don’t believe in God.  He said maybe because of disasters; maybe they think God isn’t taking care of us.  When asked if he believed in God, he was very honest.  He said you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, just like you can’t prove that he does exist.  Because of that he said he was in between, undecided.  We then asked, if he could, what question he would ask God?  His question, “Are you proud of human beings?”  Interesting question.  Since he was a biology student we talked science a bit.  I asked him if he sees evidence of design in his studies.  I asked if they teach anything about entropy in biology, because the scientific fact that things in general go from order to disorder doesn’t correspond well with the concept of evolution.  He was really open, and we all enjoyed our discussion.  We invited him to the Dialogues Veritas, discussion debate we’re holding later this month.  He thanked us for the discussion, seeming to really enjoy it.  It was very encouraging.  Pray for Matthew, that we’ll see him at the our veritas event, that God will make him thirsty for truth.