Catch Up (Edinburgh part 3)

Well, I took about a week or so without posting anything, but it’s not for lack of desire. It’s because I’ve actually been quite busy. Anyhow.

My time in Edinburgh finished well. After a fun breakfast with Maisie (eater in training) Amy and I headed off to General Assembly. The general assembly of the Church of Scotland was much more engaging than I had expected. It was somehow simultaneously just as boring as I had expected as well. It makes me feel odd that people’s accents have become so normal that I could sit in a room full of Scottish people debating various aspects of the church and providing delightfully sarcastic commentary without really noticing that everyone in the room had accents. At some level I notice, but I seem to be much more interested in hearing what the people were saying. Probably what should happen. 

After the General Assembly (I made it until about 4pm) I wandered over to an art gallery and perused what was inside. I really enjoyed it. My friend Pete never fails to recommend worthy things to see. At dinner time Tony finished with the day at the G.A. and he and I got dinner and talked about some of the hot button issues. Yet again, I was grateful for his perspectives. We caught an early train back to Banchory and had the opportunity to chat for several hours. It was great. 

After several days of sleeping on couches and beds in places other than my room I returned to the house and fell asleep. The end of a great journey.

Now for the past week and a half or so:

I have spent a lot of time doing very normal things here. I attended my first actual church service at the West Church, spent a good deal of time with the high school youth group, watched the new X-Men film, and went to the pub many times.

Some highlights worth noting are as follows.

1) I played golf! I was not very good, but nor was I awful. My fellow golfers were very gracious and I really enjoyed the game. We have plans to go again soon. It seems that I am becoming somewhat of a connoisseur of luxury sports.  

2) I started piano lessons with a woman at the church. She is graciously offering me lessons for free and I’m very excited for the opportunity. Playing the piano is difficult, but hopefully by the time I’m 30 I’ll be able to actually play.

3) I had a really interesting conversation with an elderly man at Friday coffees. He is one of the people who don’t think music should be in church, don’t think women should be ordained, have communion twice a year, and feel that the Westminster Confession is the best thing since sliced bread. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I sat and listened to him for about an hour. By the end of the hour I basically disagreed with everything he said, felt outraged at the way that his particular brand of Christianity kept people from God, and had begun to gently poke at his hardened view points by emphasizing uncomfortable parts of scripture to him. He didn’t really respond and I look forward to pestering him more in the future. Especially since I was given photocopies of lecture notes from one of my heroes (Scottish theologian TF Torrance) who shredded this man’s whole argument in 20 pages. 

4) NT wright grimaced at me. NT Wright is a well-known New Testament scholar. I went to one of his lectures in Aberdeen. Following his lecture I went up to him and got him to sign a commentary of his that Tony had lent me. I introduced myself as a student of my professor Douglas Campbell at Duke. Dr. Wright then visibly grimaced. I felt slightly less welcome after this.Image

This is when I went back to pester him again. My friend Ian took the photo. I recall feeling somewhat less than thrilled by his response to my question about slavery in the New Testament.

4) I went to Edinburgh again and saw my friend Tyrell and his family. IT was great to hang out with an old friend in a foreign country. Here’s some documentation to prove it.Image

Well, now that you’re all caught up, I’ll try to stay more on the ball with posts. I don’t like these 2-weeks-in-a-single-go posts.

 

Glasgow/Edinburgh+amazing people: Part 2

I woke up Saturday morning and after preparing for the day Laura and I went out to breakfast. We both ordered the enormous breakfast fry up. This includes: ham, 2 types of sausage, eggs, mushroom, tomato, toast, fried potato pancake, and juice. I felt a bit like the hobbit (Pippin) in Lord of the Rings who when asked how many pieces of elvish waybread he ate–one bite being enough to fill the stomach of a grown man–replied that he had eaten “four.” I was still a tad hungry after breakfast. Go figure. Laura didn’t eat anything until dinner.

After breakfast we went to KelvinGrove. It’s a strange blend of art gallery and museum. We looked at fossils, skeletons, animatronic dinosaurs, impressionist paintings, and many other things. I was particularly struck by Salvador Dali’s painting of Jesus crucifixion. More to come on that front later on (see addendum 2).

We then headed over to Laura’s church where she rehearsed with friends for the worship service the next day. I was happy to come along. First of all, her church is called “St.George’s Tron Church.” It’s called that because of the Tron theatre it used to be. However…it does make me think of a church full of people on light-bikes with Daft Punk playing in the background of every meeting. Secondly, I am of the persuasion that time spent around people in a place is better than many heaps of pictures that say “I was there.” As it was, we were there for several hours and I was glad to have spent the time there. After our time at the church we went back to Laura’s and made homemade pizza with her friends. They’re wonderful people. I laughed a lot, enjoyed good conversation, and hung out with everyone until about two o’clock in the morning. It’s a great feeling to come to a new city and leave it having made friends there. Especially when these friends gladly download and play spaceteam with you at 1am.

I learned that in Glasgow it rains a lot and people seem to complain about this. Being from Washington, Glasgow seems like my natural habitat. It’s almost always jacket weather and I found it really pleasant. Back home we say “It’s drizzly out.” In Glasgow people say it’s “affa driech” (the “ch” noise is like how you say “loch”). I also learned that the person the day before who offered me fortified wine might well be categorized as a “Ned.” Apparently a “Ned” is someone who drinks Buckfast fortified wine and probably might be part of a gang. I take buckfast to be like the single malt liquor of the UK. All the same, the guy I met was a nice fellow.

Sunday morning dawned bright and early at 10:30am and Laura and I loaded up her large keyboard into the car and took it to church. The church service was really nice. Laura and her friend Stuart played the worship music and we had lunch. Their church is a new church plant and as such there were all of about 25 people there. This is a good way to meet people at church. I met and actually spoke with several people I didn’t know. Although, knowing exactly 5 people total in the city does make that less impressive.

Laura showed me how to get to the train station and then I was off to Edinburgh. The train ride was pleasant and I arrived in one piece and managed to grab a pint with one of the interns from the West Church who is the youth delegate to Church of Scotland’s General Assembly. The General Assembly is where things are decided for the denomination at large and they always have a small cadre of youth (18-25) who are present. It was fun and interesting to hear the thoughts of someone on the verge of going to college again. I struggle to remember what it was like to be me at that point. Bethany–intern/rookie–seems to be super engaged in thinking about hard questions. Which is very impressive.

After the pint we headed to the Royal Mile (the high street in Edinburgh. Think of this as tourist central…boyhowdy, is it ever.) After nearly being talked into buying a bottle of whisky for 81 pounds I bid farewell to Bethany and met Amy and the other youth interns at the train station. From there we went directly to Dim Sum.  Among other things, I ordered Chinese Tea and Curried Octopus. The Octopus was tasty, and a bit strange at the same time. The tea was Jasmine tea and I was pleased to discover that I could tell what it was. Hurray! The experience made me miss reasonably priced Dim Sum in Seattle with my friends Andrew and Pia.

From Dim Sum, Amy and I dropped our intern friend off with the folks she was staying with and then made our way to the friends who were putting us up in their flat in Edinburgh. Paula and Stuart are from Banchory and they have an adorable little girl named “Maisie.” Amy and I chatted to them for several hours before the whole crew decided that we needed to go to sleep. Paula and Stuart have a wonderful home and since Stuart has a hobby of refurbishing furniture, it looked like some kind of dream catalog. I confess that I coveted their kitchen. Their living room had a large reading nook that Amy was taken with so I encouraged her to sleep there and was shown to my own guest room, complete with Chauncey-sized bed. My soul sighed a deep sigh of relief as I fell asleep. Every city I go to seems to have amazing people from Banchory who are happy to share their homes and lives with me.

Addendum 1: Edinburgh

You might be wondering more about Edinburgh. It’s a very old city that features ancient stone buildings set against the backdrop of Arthur’s Seat (a dormant volcano.) It has a castle and the Royal Mile feels like an anthill. There are a huge quantity of tourists walking the cobblestone streets, and as a result there are more than a fair share of bagpipers…constantly playing…There are also whisky merchants whose golden tongues and golden wares will tempt you to spend more than is reasonable for a bottle of Scottish glory. Beware their powers.

BUT a very brief walk will get you to parts of the city where the college students from the University of Edinburgh live. Suddenly food gets interesting and people seem normal. They are not lining up for ghost tours or taking every conceivable picture possible. Little groves of flowers burst out of the tiny green spaces in front of people’s flats and students stand nonchalantly and chat to one another. Cricket matches take place on the green outside the college campus and you might breath deeply as you get into places where it feels like real humans live. This is where Paula and Stuart and Maisie live–the human part of Edinburgh.

Addendum 2: Theology and Salvador Dali

I don’t think it’s possible to think about the beauty of God in Jesus apart from the wounds of the crucifixion. It is clear from the biblical text that the resurrected Jesus has the wounds from his death on his person. They’re a part of his identity. At this point there are two options that I can see. 1) we’re going to wander into the quicksand which says that metaphysical categories like beauty, justice, etc…being things that God is subject to. OR 2) God is the source and definition of these categories.

The problem with number 1 is that all of a sudden we are the ones who decide whether or not God is beautiful/just/etc… We become the people who decide what is beautiful or just and ask how God fits into this. Thus we start to project societal norms onto God and fail to receive the gift of seeing what is actually beautiful. Further, at this point God isn’t actually God anymore. God has become subject to our judgment as opposed to the other way around. This is what happens with Salvador Dali. The crucifixion can’t be beautiful if Jesus has wounds to Salvador Dali. So he paints the wounds away…and paints away a part of Jesus identity. Moreover, he paints a white Jesus! A white flawless Jesus is what is beautiful? COME ON. Who is deciding what beauty is here? Salvador Dali or Colonialism? Both would be an accurate answer.

On the other hand if in fact God is the source/definition of beauty, then we have to ask how it is that the cross is beautiful. Surely it isn’t to say that violence and death are beautiful. On the other hand it is to say that the nature of a God who is willing to endure suffering, wounds, and death on behalf of humanity is beautiful. The beauty of God is found in the cross. This is who God is for humanity. God carries us in all our brokenness and eternally bears the marks of this in the body of Jesus. The beauty of God is part and parcel with the wounds of the crucified Christ.

 

 

 

Glasgow + Edinburgh: A weekend of amazing people (Part 1)

Deep feelings of contentment in my soul, friends. That’s what I have. I took a journey to new places over the past 4 days and loved it.

Let me tell you about it!

On Friday I went to Friday Coffees as usual. I enjoyed pleasant conversation with nice ladies from the church and drank a vast quantity of tea. Drinking tea the right way involves milk. It also seems to come with endless waves of homebakes. I also chatted to my friend Pete for a good while. Pete’s an artist and we talked about painting, the bible, and meaning. He also suggested that on my trip to Glasgow–which was upcoming–that I go to the Kelvingrove gallery. I always listen closely to Pete’s suggestions. He makes very good ones. Shortly after our conversation, I was out the door to catch my ride.

Why was I going to Glasgow, you ask? Well, I have a job in North Carolina where I largely sit at a desk and get paid to study. At this deeply challenging post my friend and boss is named Mike. Mike has a band called “Hiss Golden Messenger” which was going to play in Glasgow on the 16th. Being in Scotland already, I felt that seeing a friend’s band play in Glasgow was a once in a lifetime experience. So I got tickets to go.

It’s about a 2.5 hour train ride from Banchory to Glasgow. It’s incredibly beautiful. Flowing hillsides with visible wind running playfully up and down the green grass. Rocky mounts that spring out of nowhere showing their summer garb of bright-yellow scotch brush. Rivers following their courses through the sheep-dotted hills. Cliffs that proudly overlook the blustery North Sea.

All this in two and a half hours. Not to mention that there’s the possibility that you sit next to a man named Andy who wants to talk and offers you fortified wine (tastes bad) and strange gummy candies (no comment). Aside from Andy’s taste in beverages and snacks…he’s a good guy.

Then I arrived in Glasgow where the sun was shining boldly with a pleasant breeze blowing through the streets. I was to meet my friend Laura to acquire the keys to her flat so that I could meet her later. However, I was about an hour early. I used the time to wander the sunny streets of a town that feels old in spite of the american apparel shops that have sprung up on the ground floors of ye olde stone buildings. There were a series of street performers, one of whom played the bagpipes…as one does.

Eventually Laura came around and we sat and chatted for a bit in the grass–like everyone else downtown–and she gave me the keys and her address. She had somewhere to be. I then meandered through the streets for a couple more hours. While I enjoyed the scenery (the commonwealth games are coming up and there was a huge building painted with intense badminton players) It is unpleasantly surprising how much it costs to eat out in the UK. Everything is in pounds…and those are not cheap. The high-priced hipster bars in Seattle seem small potatoes compared to meals that cost 12 pounds sterling. Woof. I ate expensive noodles near the place where Mike’s gig was going to be and then holed up at the bar to wait. 

Shortly thereafter, whom should I see, but Mike himself! In a bar in Glasgow…such a small world. We had drinks and chatted until he went down to support the opening band. I went down and got a great seat next to a very nice Scottish couple. The opener was…well…not my favorite. She had a great voice, she could play her instrument, but I didn’t really like her lyrics. Lots of good emotional content there, but the words along with them….hmmm…

Mike on the other hand was amazing! He reminded me of a young Bob Dylan. Great sound, great lyrics, and I was on the guest list. He played for about 2 hours and I was thrilled about it. It was also the first time that I was the friend of the musician in the room. People asked me about him and everything. A strange experience. After the show, I said goodbye to Mike and headed to Laura’s flat. Following advice from nice Glaswegian–that’s what people from Glasgow are called–folks I made it right to her doorstep. 

Laura is great. Very kind, an asker of good questions, and fun. In short order she calculated that if all goes according to my future plans I will have been in school for 26 years. 14 years of post-secondary education. Wow. Still, I’m not all that daunted by this. Laura and I talked for an hour or so and then I was shown to the ENORMOUS couch where I was to sleep. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt like I had spent my day very well.

 

Funeral and Football

I’m trying to remember where I left off last time…Monday night I think. It’s getting hard to do the “blow by blow” sort of blogging that I once did. So perhaps I’ll just write up the highlights from now on.

Tuesday was a full day. I went to coffee at Mary’s house, went to a funeral, the Kirk session meeting, and then popped into the pub for a Magner’s after the day. 

Coffee/tea at Mary’s is always a treat. No surprises there. Afterwards a very kind woman named Christine picked me up and we drove to a funeral

I went to a funeral because the folk here were kind enough to invite me along with their pastoral assistant who was doing a funeral. The Church of Scotland is a national church and as such anyone who dies as a member of the church is given a free funeral. What that means is that ministers can end up doing 50-60 funerals a year. This would be super intense. At the West Church, there’s a woman whose title is “pastoral assistant” who does funerals in the area. She was doing a funeral on Tuesday and asked the people whose loved one it was for if I could come and shadow her. They graciously said yes.

The funeral took place in a crematorium. I’m told that more and more funerals are happening like this. Not a lot of folk are wanting to have a church funeral. In case you’re ever wondering because I drop dead before my time: I want to have a church funeral. You make sure they put my coffin in the aisle and there’ll be the service and then I’ll be carried out to something bold. Either Johnny Cash or Journey seem to fit the bill.

Anyhow, Crematoriums are pretty awful places. Bleak grayish fixtures and a terrible blue/purple curtain. Sitting next to Mary Marshall, the singing of hymns, prayers, and remembrances of the dead really do help to spruce it up. The person who died seemed to have been really great. I was sad to have not met her. She lived to be 99 and 1/2 years. If I should make it past 80, we’ll that’ll be great. I have no idea how you make it to almost 100. Christine knew her and her family and so she was able to talk about the resurrection in the funeral. It turns out that Christine is very good.

Following the service we were all invited to the family’s home for a lunch. It was special to be invited. There was a lot of food and very pleasant people to speak with. Some folks from the West Church were there and we got to catch up. It’s interesting to see how different people deal with grief. Catching glimpses of the family throughout the lunch helped me to see a pretty broad spectrum. One grandson was washing dishes, his dad joked an chatted, his mom was deeply sad but able to talk about it, his sister seemed to want to be by herself in another room. Seeing the family coming together for the lunch brought a level of beauty to the event that seemed only heightened by the torrential Scottish rain that had begun since we went into the house.

When I got home I went into my room, shut the door, and proceeded to take some time to myself. I feel most things, most of the time. It was a good funeral, but I was spent. There was something about being welcomed by a bereaved family that was incredibly intimate. Strangely enough, it felt like a blessing.

After this I headed out to the Kirk session. This is the church council meeting. I wish we bothered to call church sessions “Kirk session” in the States. It just makes sense to me. It was the study session. Every other meeting is a time for the elders of the church to meet and work through scripture and pray and get to know each other. It was an all-star cast of most of the amazing people I’ve met from the West Church. Our topic was the church’s youth outreach. Everyone was interested, everyone cared about the life of the church, and they were all more or less on the same page and willing to listen and learn from each other. I loved it. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen any group of church people in leadership work so well together. I don’t often get to see folks who are older than me who have a genuine love for God and their community sit in a room together. The joy and thoughtfulness in the room was contagious…and oh yes, there was tea. 

Following the Kirk session meeting I headed over to “after-edge” which is where the older young people meet to talk about issues. It was fun and I won the “nose goes” honor of preparing the next conversation topic. I’ll be thinking about it.

I went to sleep shortly thereafter and I slept deeply. 

This morning dawned bright and sunny. I broke out the yoga mat just after waking and ran through the usual practice before breakfast. After this I headed down the hill into the village and caught tea with Tony. The more I talk with Tony, the more impressed I am. He’s incredibly observant and has a deep wisdom about him. While we talked we set up my first time to preach this summer! I’ll be preaching on Pentecost Sunday. I’m actually pretty excited about it, nervous certainly, but excited. Tony and I planned out the next week or so and chatted as we walked back up the hill. I headed back to the house and tried to work through some more Song of Songs. It’s a biblical game of “find the innuendo.” Today’s were more obvious than yesterday’s.

I like being here because I have time to stroll around (today I strolled in the sunshine) and think about the verses I read. It’s challenging to make the reading of an erotic poem about God/Israel or God/Christ or God/Church. I have had a few ideas so far though that appear to be promising, but all told it’s an adventure. It’s nice to have embodied human sexual existence affirmed and it’s also nice to be able to see the beginnings of ways that this points to something more.

Following this I was invited to play frisbee with one of the rookies (youth interns) and some students. I put on shorts and contact-lenses and sunglasses and walked down the hill…which immediately became cold, windy, and overcast. Thankfully it didn’t keep up, but this is commonplace here. The brightest sun since I got here all morning and then it got very cold all of a sudden. No frisbee though. Rookies can be forgetful. Instead we played Taboo and chatted with the students.

I went home afterwards and had a really wonderful conversation with Amy. Among the topics we discussed it turns out that she and Joel lived on a tiny island in Western Scotland for a month during her minister training! An island in a little chain where there are a ton of catholic people and a ton of free-Presbyterian people. Both groups of church folk have full services in Gaelic. As she told me of the Western islands I realized that it felt like a fairy tale of some kind. It seemed so unlike anything I have ever seen or heard of. Imagine–if you can–tiny islands that only have 3 ferries a week to the mainland, beset by cold weather and little internet, where people don’t use musical instruments in worship and chant the Psalms in Gaelic. Oh wait, and the Protestants sass you if you do work on the Sabbath. Unreal.

From here I went to the other item in the title: a pick-up football match.

I was pleased to discover that I have 95% of the skills it takes to be a good player. I think I can run well enough, I can be in the right places too. It turns out that the other 5% is the important part–ball handling. I am terrible with the occasional lucky moment. We played for about an hour with people and youth from the West church. 

All was well until (you might have guessed it) the ball struck me in the crotch. Hard. 

One of my friends jokingly said, “Welcome to Scotland.” It was actually funny….well, sort of.

It’s been years since I have crumbled on the ground writhing in pain. Now the counter has been reset. I couldn’t do much more than lie there for about 5 minutes. Eventually I staggered off the field and waited until I re-cooperated. Unfortunately, in my absence my team had begun to lose. Being a man down–even a mediocre player—seemed to be a bad thing. I managed to come back in for the last new minutes of the match, but didn’t change much of the outcome. 

Despite my grievous wound, I had a really good time. I wish I didn’t have to wear hiking shoes, but some issues can’t be easily resolved. 

I plan to play again in the future. Perhaps I will in get better with time. That said, blocking shots with one’s genitals is and will remain a bad idea.

 

 

 

Happenings

Life over the past few days has been very pleasant.

Saturday evening I watched Eurovision with friends. (Pete, and Joel and Craig) It’s a fantastically goofy thing that all of Europe has done for over 60 years now. I haven’t heard of it until this moment and I regret not having known more. Basically, all of Europe produces a song. Country by country. Then they’re graded and receive up to 12 points. Britain is notorious for not taking it seriously and their commentator just rips the nonsense to pieces. Incredible.

These were my top 3. Austria won. Poland was so over the top it was ridiculous. Watch that one on your own time. I mean wow.

Iceland:

Netherlands:

Austria:

In other news the hosts made a video.

 

Now you know, USA. This is what we’ve been missing.

Ah, Eurovision…Really, if you’ve watched these videos you now know that we have missed one of the greatest television spectacles in the world for 60 years.

Sunday morning dawned early after Eurovision. Tony and I drove to Drumoak/Durris, which is the church where he is interim moderator. The church is seeking a new pastor and he is running their church council meetings till the next one is nominated. Tony preached and I chatted to folks and ran his power point slides. I was initially skeptical of the idea of power points slides in a sermon. Horrible memories from service outlines where you fill in the “key words” from the sermon like a crossword puzzle jumped to mind. Then it was actually helpful. His slides were extremely minimalist. Black backgrounds with white font that gave you key bits of information or scripture. No chumpy excel effects. Just a helpfully tasteful hand offered to those in the audience who aren’t auditory learners. I was impressed. As is par with Tony.

Tangent: The church of Scotland has different–and better–words to the hymn “Be Thou My Vision”. We have been cheated. 2 different verses that change the song. Italics added for emphasis on difference.

Verse 1: Changed

Be thou my Wisdom, and thou my true Word;

I ever with thee, and thou with me, Lord;

Thou my great Father: Thine own I would be;

Thou in me dwelling, and I one with thee.

Verse 2: NEVER HEARD IT BEFORE

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;

be thou my dignity, thou my delight

thou my soul’s shelter, and thou my high tower;

raise thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Now see here. First of all we get the “I thy true son” part out of the song (how are women supposed to connect with that?), and then we get this epic verse about towers, swords, dignity, and delight? COME ON. I’m just sayin…

End of Tangent.

Following the service I stood by and shook hands and drank tea. People here are incredibly kind. I was told that I should consider the hammer throw as a sport by an elderly scottish man. His accent meant that I considered it all the more strongly. The folks at Drumoak/Durris are a part of a joint congregation with two buildings separated by about 10 minutes of driving across the river. They’re pretty elderly for the most part, but they’re lively and kind. I liked them.

After church we drove back to Banchory and showed up just in time for chatting and tea with folks at the West Church. Amy preached a sermon on the 12 woes from the book of Matthew. She was nervous, but folks really seemed to like it. I was sorry to have missed it, but I figure that I’ll get my chance at some point to preach on a hard text. After church, I was invited to Mary Marshall’s house for lunch with Amy and Joel. 

The Marshalls (Mary and David) treated us to a fantastic lunch of steak pie, potatoes, and squash with lovely wine. Gooseberry crumble and ice cream followed. Then tea and a biscuit–which is how people here say cookie. David and Mary were incredible hosts and we laughed and talked for several hours. The last time I was in Scotland I stayed at Mary’s house for a week with my friend Gavin. We ate like this OFTEN. I swear I gained 10 pounds before I left that week and it was worth it.

After lunch I had to take a 3 hour nap.

When I awoke, I headed back down to the church for youth worship which was pleasant. The youth did a good job and again…there was tea. I have been averaging between 3-7 cups of tea a day. No shame.

I headed home after this and promptly brought tickets to go to Glasgow on Friday. My friend and boss from NC is in a band that plays in Glasgow and I decided to go see him play. I’m even on the guest list (i.e. I don’t need a ticket). So rad. I’m going straight from there to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly in Edinburgh. Weekend away doing interesting things is on the radar! Nonetheless, I’m sad that I won’t get to be at the West Church to see folks there on Sunday. I’ll also miss my Saturday adventure in the woods this week. 

All the same, as I fretted about it this morning at Mary’s house–which features a weekly coffee time at 11 on Monday–Tony gave me encouragement. He said, “Well, you’re a volunteer after all and this is a part of the experience.” The man has succinctness down to an art. I want to try to be here as much as possible in the future for Sundays. I forget how much I really love this community of people and worshipping with them is a gift.

After coffee time I went to lunch and responded to emails and then I went to a community meeting about using the space at the west church. There was tea. I was pleased. People in the community (not all church folk) were genuinely interested in how the space could be used at the church and wanted to work together. This was a new development and nice to see.

Then, I went home and read. It was nice to take a break and read. I read a smattering of poetry, theology, and Hebrew.

I’m trying to work through Song of Songs in Hebrew. The trouble is that while I have the resources to work through it…the innuendo in Hebrew erotic poetry is so dense that I miss it. What does “…feed the she-goat on the dwelling places of the shepherds.” mean? I have no idea. It’s really odd trying to creatively interpret strange phrases with the assumption that they’re about some sort of sexual experience…

On the other hand the book does a ton to communicate at least one great truth. Namely, God has a desire for us that is uncomfortable. Probably because talking about sex makes Christians uncomfortable. Really, I don’t know what else to do with the book. What is the desire of the lovers in the book about? Well, it’s either just about 2 people who wanted each other really bad about 3000 years ago OR it’s that but it points to something else about God. The latter is the case.

Yes. Erotic poetry in the bible. At the same time this is God communicating Godself to us through erotic poetry. What does this make us think when we think about “dirty” jokes? Why are all the jokes that have to do with sex “dirty”? God expresses God’s desire for Godself/humanity/Israel/the church through a sexy poem. It’s not dirty. 

After my reading I Facetimed with my friend Johnny and then attended a meeting for the VBS we’ll be putting on in June. It was nice to see a great friend from home and there was more tea at the meeting…as you might tell it’s nearing 12:30am and I am tired. Sleep now. More bits of the story next time. Carry on, folks.

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures

Yet again, another several day update.

I managed to finish writing my Fulbright application materials and promptly sent them off to my gracious friends who willingly edit my work. 

Let’s see…Well, on Thursday I attended a meeting with Tony. He was meeting with the communication committee from church. The committee wanted to ask about the website and getting the word out about an array of things. I noticed several things:

1) Tony is an incredible minister.

2) People at the West Church (church where I’ll spend most of my time) care about their community.

Tony has an amazing gift for fielding questions graciously while cutting to the chase. He can step back and see the core of a problem quickly and helps other people to find a way forward together. Watching him be a part of the meeting was a bit like watching someone ice skate in the olympics. Extremely delicate things are done very well.

The communication committee itself was made up of lovely people from the church who were intent on doing their best with the role they’d been given by the community. They really cared about having people attend things that were happening at the church. It was really nice to see people who were so invested and considerate.

After the meeting I went to two coffee shops to write my Fulbright app, whilst there something great happened: I saw my friend Mike Scott. Mike is one of the first people I met in Banchory about 4 years ago and I’d seen him and his wife in Seattle several times since. From the moment I met Mike, he has been high on the list of my favorite people. I was getting up to surrender a table to a group that was much larger than my party of one when a hand grabbed my shoulder. I looked over and there was Mike. He had no idea I was going to be in town at all, which was surprising, but a real treat. I saw genuine delight on his face at seeing me and saw the delight grow as he learned that I would be here for 10 weeks. Seeing old friends is a gift. Especially here.

Later that night I showed up to the high school youth group called “The Edge”. It was a real good time. The students that Amy (my friend with whom I am staying) has in her youth group are funny, kindhearted, and genuine. While I was there I got to see several of my students from my days in Seattle in youth ministry in the limelight. They’re interns with Amy this year (“rookies” as they’re fondly called by everyone). They gave a talk and I watched as the vast majority of the students paid rapt attention to their words. It made me happy to see them in their element like this. It was a nice change from their day which had included rabies-vaccine injections after handling a bat. PSA: Don’t touch bats with your bare hands.

After the Edge I went out to the Douglas Arms Inn for a drink with my friend Pete. Pete is an artist, a snappy dresser, and one of the most gracious humans I have ever met. We had beer and caught up on life. Eventually our friend Kirsten showed up and regaled Pete and I with the ongoing saga of “batgate.” She had also touched the bat. After our time at the Douglas, Kirsten drove Pete and I home and then I drifted off to sleep. A welcome change from Wednesday night in which I didn’t sleep a wink. It turns out that jet lag mixed with black tea and Coca-Cola at 10pm is a bad call.

I awoke on Friday and made my way down the hill…wait. Tangent.

Banchory is on one side of a valley that is created by the River Dee. As a result, it’s basically one big hill. On the other side of the river, there is a hill called “the Scolty” with a tower on it. Anyhow. That said, I live with Joel and Amy near the top of Banchory.

SO, as I was saying I went down the hill to the West Church’s “Friday Coffees” (aka “extroverts’ paradise”). Tony had informed me that I should plan to be at Coffees. This was convenient because I had planned on coming to Coffees anyway. I proceeded to sit and chat with very kind older folks for about an hour while I drank tea and ate “homebakes.” It turns out that Scottish people eat what is called a “scotch pancake”. It’s a cold pancake with butter on it. It’s not bad…but it is a strange sight to behold.

I really enjoyed my conversation with the people who were there. Apparently one of the people I spoke with thought I was “the new assistant minister.” A definite promotion from what my real job is: “summer intern/Tony’s shadow.” In any case, after about an hour my friend Mike Scott showed up and so under the guise of being a social butterfly I moved over to his table and passed about another hour talking with him.

Point of interest: in the UK you don’t chat with people. You chat to people. Fascinating? I thought so.

After coffees Amy invited me to go with her to the town of “Drumoak” (hard to say) to sit and write in a garden center. It turns out that the garden center is an institution here. They’re everywhere and always seem to have a cafe inside. I am regularly reminded that my host family (Joel and Amy) are incredible people. I had a blast writing and talking with Amy and then she showed me the Drumoak castle. It reminded me of Downton Abbey…which I imagine many things here will.

Amy and I talked a bit about politics and I was–as ever–pleased to hear that the UK is a country that cares more about its poorer citizens than the USA. Free health care for everyone? Yes please. 

After visiting Drumoak, we went back to the house. I did yoga and then Joel came home and we all had dinner together. It was fun! We had a delicious meal and spent several hours talking. I learned many intricacies of the culture here and enjoyed chatting to (see what I did there?) my hosts immensely. It turns out that the UK has 4 little countries in it. Thus the “united” part of the “united kingdom.” Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales. All these parts are “British”, but there is still tension amidst the parts. For example, British does not necessarily mean English. Scottish folks don’t like to be called English. 

I went to bed with the plan of going on an epic hike the next day (today).

I woke up this morning and Joel had made a traditional fry-up breakfast. It means toast, 3 kinds of sausage, and eggs. A good start for a bold day. After I ate, Amy drove me to the town of Finzean (pronounced “fingen”. The “z” becomes an “ng” noise) where I was to start my hike all the way back to Banchory. I think it’s between 7 and 10 miles. 

It was a beautiful walk. In Scotland, you can walk across anyone’s property. No trespassing laws here. So, it made it very possible for me to roam over the grassy windswept hills. I started at 1030 and got home at 4pm. I stopped for ice cream on the way back. Highlights from the walk were: Tons of cute little bunny rabbits, a herd of extremely skeptical cows, this yellow blooming plant that covered several hillsides, and getting directions from mountain bikers.

It turns out that cow fields have to be watered somehow. What this meant for me was that there was a bog when I left the rabbit zone. I quickly became muddy with wet feet. SIGH. 

Nonetheless, I made it home. Here I am, tired out but pleased with the adventure I had. A good Saturday.

I hope that I might be able to take a page from Tony’s book this summer and learn the sort of flexibility that he has. He’s really good at thinking through what’s being done and evaluating if it’s something he needs to keep doing or not. It’s very impressive.

 

 

Day 2

I call this “day 2” because I got in yesterday and promptly had “day 1” following my no sleep extravaganza. Here’s how it all went down.

I went out to breakfast on Monday morning with good friends in Durham. We proceeded to laugh and eat great food. Then my friend Johnny took me to the airport where I traveled from Durham to NYC and waited for about 5 hours. While there I bought myself expensive food and chatted with an Egyptian woman. The first woman from Egypt that I have ever met. She actually confused me for an Egyptian person. Apparently I have the look of a man from Egypt. My non-descript Hispanic complexion comes in handy yet again.

But really, I didn’t mind. For some reason I find it comforting that I can look like I fit into a lot of places. At some level it means that people can assume I’m familiar before I become unfamiliar in the details and that isn’t a bad problem to have. It just means that I get to upset expectations, something that I am generally happy to do.

Following our conversation, I boarded my flight to London (with free extra leg room). On this flight I had pleasant food, watched Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Her and did not successfully fall asleep. The films were worth staying awake for and going to bed at 9pm did not strike me as fun or possible. I found that Her raised some interesting theological questions about being in love with robots and vice versa–which I may elaborate on later–but mostly caused me to become enamored of Scarlett Johannson’s voice. 

That said, after a long flight I arrived in the UK. The customs guard did not appreciate my attempting to enter his country for so long (12 weeks) and proceeded to ask for financial information, proof that I was leaving Europe at some point, etc…I provided all of the above and was allowed into the country. However, I did wonder if that some man from customs was going to bound out of a door with hand on pistol at some point shouting, “Stop that man!” Thankfully, this did not happen and I arrived in Aberdeen safely.

In your head, which I assume to operate like mine, Aberdeen must have a huge airport. It does not. The airport is roughly the size of small airports I have been to. Bellingham, WA and Aberdeen, UK have very similar airports. At the airport I was greeted by my friend Tony and my new-found friend Amy. Tony drove me to Banchory from the airport.

A brief tangent on Scotland’s landscape: It’s enchanting.

Imagine roads that wind through green wooded hillsides divided by stone walls and populated by lovely rockish homes and sheep. The sky overhead is full of enormous clouds attempting to decide if they will be grey or white; all of which are struggling to be the topmost cloud in the heap. Against this backdrop the woods and the hills occasionally sport trees bursting into bloom or whisper of the glory found in solitary walks in the green landscape. The sky can be trusted to not be overly visible–thanks to the hills–and not to be overly committed to a single weather pattern. Days are mixtures of sun and rain which leave the mind free to tarry on hopes that the rain will not endure forever, but will surely be common enough not to mourn its passing or arriving. This is particularly the case when rainbows are a reminder of the friendship between the sun and rain that tends to be forgotten in our haste to dislike what is given. The air is fresh and clean and breath becomes a fresh gift for those with the wherewithal to pause and smell what surrounds them.

Tangent ended. Tony brought me to Amy and her husband Joel’s house where I am pleased to say I will be staying for the next 10 weeks. I have my own pleasantly sized guestroom and share this home with great people. Amy is the youth minister at the church where I’m working and I cannot complain at all about her. She’s funny, insightful, and a pleasure to be around. Not to mention that I am spoiled by the food she gives me. I haven’t met Joel yet because of his working schedule, but I imagine he will be equally rad. Winning accommodations.

After I showered and put things away, Amy and I went to Tony’s house for lunch with Fiona (Tony’s wife). It was a great time, lots of lovely food, laughter, and good conversation. I am continually reminded of the reasons I love it here. The main reason is the people who live in this town. The Lord is gracious to those of us who are given the chance to visit Banchory. This is not at all altered by the fact that there are school children who respond to a greeting of “Hey, Hows it going?” with a “Hey, fuck you.” This last bit is real and I found it to be hilarious. That kid was 10. Bahahaha. Get over yourself, kid. You don’t even have a leather jacket yet.

Following lunch I went on a tour of the church I’ll be working in (gorgeous) and then went on a two hour hike up the hill in town which is called the Scolty. There’s a tower at the top and I proceeded to hike up in jeans (like a chump) and admire the view. I hope to post a few photos soon, but all the same…it may be a bit. In any case it was amazing…though my hike was unexpectedly long. I forgot how long it was because the last time I was there it was 4 years ago and I was on no particular schedule whatsoever. 

All the same, I made to to dinner on time and then Tony and I drove to a Presbytery meeting in a town I can’t remember (or probably pronounce). I made it through half the meeting almost nodding asleep amidst what would otherwise been a interesting situation. As it was, Tony lent me the car keys at intermission and I was soon asleep in the car. He suggested it and I was grateful that he understood. 36 hours with little sleep is ROUGH. I then went to bed after he finished the meeting and slept for 14 hours. Which brings us to day 2.

Tony and I had coffee this afternoon around 3pm or so and talked nuts and bolts about what I’ll be doing here. It seems like it’s going to be a real treat. For the time getting the lay of the land so to speak and then seeing where my interest and talents lie. A very gracious beginning. I’ll likely be preaching eventually, which will be fun. Also going to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly in a couple weeks…which will be cool…to me and other polity–church governance–nerds like me.

After this I passed several hours catching up with my friend Mary. Mary is my friend Gavin’s mother and she let me stay in her home the last time I was in town. We caught up on most things and I was pleased to hear that things are going well for her and her family. I was also pleased to hear that I’ll likely be invited to her daughters wedding next month. I think I count as a friend of the family at this stage, which is a lot of fun.

After this I went home and Amy and I went shopping at Tessco’s. It’s a super market. It was fun! Huge signs up about the chicken being scottish and raised responsibly. Then we came back and had dinner and pleasant conversation until we went to a friend’s home to hang out. Another fun thing about being here is that two of my students from Youth Group in Seattle are youth interns here this summer. They showed up where we were and we all laughed and enjoyed the time. It’s fun to see younger folks who are still in the thick of the “who am I?” moments. I don’t suppose you ever leave those moments, but you become more settled as you ask the questions. All the same, being around them was a treat.

That brings us to here. The end of day 2 in Scotland. I may not number every day’s worth of blog, but for the time being this is good.

It’s nearly midnight here and I intend on getting up early to do yoga before the day begins in earnest. So I’m off to sleep…after this quick theological reflection. If you’re not inclined to read such things, you can ignore it. Otherwise, remember that I told you about the possibility of stopping.

SO, in that movie called Her Juaquin Phoenix’s character falls in love with an Operating system. She eventually leaves him because she isn’t bound in the same way humans are (she can fall in love with 600 people and talk to 8000 people while talking to him) and because she can’t tell him everything she’s thinking/experiencing in words. This made me wonder deeply about the nature of love. I wondered, “Could I fall in love with a robot?” and “Is there a problem with a human loving a robot and vice versa?” I realized several things in the process of these abstract thoughts. The first is that being a Christian I am likely to have a particular perspective on this that differs with a lot of people. 

The second thing about the film that I noticed was that love was treated interestingly. At one level I would need to see the film again and not be exhausted to tease out some of the nuance. However, for the Operating System love contained no limits. She could love 600 people and claimed to actually love them all. On the other hand, her human boyfriend could not. This made me think about God, right? Surely it’s similar. God loves everyone equally, right? Well, sort of. 

I think a distinction that happens is that God’s love is what we see in Christ. This is to say that it is love embodied. God doesn’t love humans in an abstract way. God loves humans and God becomes one of us in God’s love. In this respect there is a limit to the ability of a operating system to love a human. It can’t be embodied. Moreover, it can’t choose to be limited.

What it means for humans to love each other is choosing a concrete and embodied expression of humanity. It’s nonsense to speak of “loving” humanity if you can’t find a single human that you’ve chosen to endure the trials and joys of real life with in friendship. You have limited time and resources. As such it is impossible to love everyone the same. Love is not simply a feeling. Love is what we see in Christ (God is love, if you will). What we see in Christ is God’s commitment to humanity. A commitment to live, suffer, die, and rise with us. This is reflective of what happens inside Godself as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternally committed to each other.

You might say that God’s love in Christ is what we’re called to participate in with each other. A tangible and embodied love for other people that understands the idea that only a love limited by concrete people will actually be love. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love the world tangibly in and through Jesus, even to the point of death. Which brings me to face the reality that the love of the operating system for Juaquin Phoenix’s character wasn’t love because it “transcended” humanity and bodily limitations of space and time therein. The love of God does that, but only by taking them so seriously that humanity becomes more than human in the resurrected Christ.

Love never transcends the body without being embodied.