Deep Breaths

I’ve been thinking (as I tend to do) about the Hebrew word for Soul.  נפש or “Nefesh” lately. It also means neck and breath. Basically, what the idea is is that your soul is each breath you take. You breath in the gift of life from God and breath it back out and return it to God. Your soul is you being alive. The thing that animates you. It is a gift that you have to trust God with in and through each breath.

I went to a conference on TF Torrance this week. He’s a Scottish theologian who was brilliant and incredibly faithful. The place where we sat and listened to him talk was at Edinburgh University’s outdoor recreation center at Loch Tay. Here it is.

Image

 

What being at the Loch meant was: I got to go sailing. I love sailing. You may not know this about me, because I don’t have a boat and don’t make as much effort as I ought to in order to be on the water. I spent two afternoons bracketed by lectures on one of my favorite theologians out on the water. I chased the wind, righted a capsized boat, and used words like “port” and “coming about.” I was breathing out there. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do sometimes. But when you sail…boyhowdy.

I find that really letting myself breathe means being where I am. It’s a challenge to do. Despite the joys of this time across the ocean there are hurts (both new and old) that need healing. I’m beginning to see new ways that God waits for us. I used to think the Lord waited for me to shape up, to do better, to be more faithful. I am beginning to see that God waits for me to slow down. To not brush over wounds whose healing is important, to not rush through life in unstoppable busyness, to receive life in each moment that is given. God waits for us to sit with ourselves and the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this is what faithfulness means.

It’s not easy to receive each moment as a gift. Yet, even in the hardest moments our breathing in and breathing out point to the gift of life that comes from the God who has redeemed all of creation in Jesus. Our very act of breathing bears witness to the God who has redeemed each moment in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

And so I continue to learn to breathe. In theology lectures, writing sermons, over my many cups of tea, in the hospitality of the people here, and in chasing the wind and spray on the occasional Loch.

Image

 

Advertisements

Swarm of Bees

I have been making a point of doing lots of Hebrew lately. It turns out that the purchase of a notebook was all that stood between me and effective studying. Yesterday as I sat at the kitchen table puttering around with my Hebrew bible I swear I saw a scene from a horror film. A cloud of bees was going across the front yard. We’re talking BEES. Not just 1-5 Bees, but a whole flying fortress of be destruction for the fools who would get in the way. I promptly said “Bees!” to myself and shut the windows of the house.

I then stood at the window like a small boy at the zoo and watched the bees buzz around for about 15 minutes. Eventually they settled on a tree branch en masse. There they remained until today, a rugby-ball-sized clump of buzzing tiny animals. I worked up my courage this morning on the way to Friday coffees and snuck into the neighbor’s garden (read garden as yard) and took a picture of a serious portion of the Scottish bee community. Shortly thereafter I walked down the hill and when I came back…the bees were gone. Only one or two remained to document the fact that they’d been there at all. 

I’d like to think that the bees were quite pleased to make a new home for themselves until I took their picture. As though the tree branch they were on was a perfect spot until some noisy representative of the paparazzi decided to take a photo of them when they least expected it. It’s either that or they waited around until I took their photo…as though they wanted the press…I fell right into their fuzzy, pollen-gathering foot-claws. 

#PrayforSPU

Things have been progressing along at a steady pace here. The past week was mostly consumed with a quest to finish my first church sermon ever. It was on Pentecost Sunday.

To be honest, since Friday my thoughts have been elsewhere. There was a shooting at the school where I went to Undergrad (Seattle Pacific University). I’m not sure how to process that very well. I feel a lot of things. I woke up on Friday and the first news I received was that the place I used to call home which is still full of friends, was another victim of gun violence in the USA. I wanted badly to be in Seattle. I wanted to do whatever possible to help a community of people I love grieve, heal, and sit with themselves in the midst of tragedy. I was and am hurting with them.

The thing about being in Scotland is that you’re too far away to do anything aside from talk to people and pray. It seems like that’s all I can really do. In the aftermath of the shooting I have been proud beyond words of the place I went to school. It is a place of amazing students, faculty, and staff. I was grateful to see coverage featuring some of my favorite professors being there for students. People were seeing the humanity of the shooter and praying for him alongside the other victims of the shooting. Awe inspiring. Well done, SPU.

As I sat and thought about the horrible reality of school shootings it dawned on me that gun violence in the city of Seattle is not new. Especially in South Seattle. It is comparatively common there and it occurs in populations of minority groups. As I thought about how horrible it is that a student was shot and killed at SPU I thought about the fact that it is equally horrible everywhere whenever someone is murdered at gunpoint. Some communities are used to their tragedies being ignored. I don’t know what to do with this except to hope and pray for the Holy Spirit to help the SPU community to heal and stand alongside the others in the PNW who suffer from gun violence. We need each other.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the cross lately. The Risen Christ bearing the wounds from the cross. Healed wounds that have become eternal marks of Jesus’ identity. The power of God is to take the worst things and somehow transform them into beauty, healing, and peace. Humanity killed God and God used Jesus’ death to defeat death itself. In the Apostle’s Creed it says that Jesus suffered. If that’s the case then all of our suffering is a part of what God in Christ carried on our behalf. In our pain and suffering we are not alone. Our pain points to the holes/scars in Christ’s hands and side. Permanent features of who God was, is, and will be–the Crucified One who is Emmanuel (God with us.)

 

Ahhh, Scotland.

I’d like to say that a lot has been happening. In some ways, it certainly has. But in other ways, life is almost normal here. I feel like telling stories is like me telling you about my trip to the grocery store. Except…that I’m in Scotland. It’s reassuring that I’m able to adapt to life in a place so much as to have it feel normal. The people help immensely. So does the weather.

The weather reminds me of home (Washington) in ways that are really comforting. I was dreading the idea of another summer in North Carolina…though the beaches and/or mountains there are amazing at almost any time of year. The sunny days here are similar to the PNW in that people explode out of their homes to take advantage of them. I on the other hand, managed to get sick on the first of several gloriously sunny days. I spent an entire day just sickly enough to send emails and read, but not healthy enough to go out and share in God’s gift to Scotland.

There is a sort of fierce greenery that characterizes this place. I watched it in fascination from the car today on the way back from a Pastors’ retreat I was invited to in Perth. I failed to have my camera on me, but I am learning to receive some vistas as just for me. Not for cameras. The hillsides stretch as far as the eye can see and are segmented by little farms and stone walls. If you get the privilege to go up into the hills past the farms there is a blend of green and heather-purple that leaves the impression that the land itself prefers seasonal visitors only. As though it is some kind of strange, vastly old snow-bird. A crotchety older gent that desires people to visit sparingly during the pretty seasons, and then wants to be left alone when winter comes around. Sheep, however, are welcome all year round.

I’ve become used to the accents for the most part. Banchory is a pretty easy place to understand people. There’s a facebook group that I was told about called, “No, I’m not American. I’m just from Banchory.” Outside of Banchory, the accents can become thick and I can be at a loss of what people are saying. Though I misunderstand a variety of things not necessarily rooted in accents. Sometimes it might be strange words (“butty” in place of “sandwich”) or sometimes it is just a thick accent laid on top of British English spoken behind you in a stone staircase at a monastery where one might be stay for a Pastors’ retreat…for example. I really do enjoy the differences, though. It’s a joy to learn how and about what people communicate. Note: If anyone offers you a bacon roll, you are to say yes.

The Pastor’s retreat in Perth was really enjoyable. I got to meet a good number of pastors from this presbytery who are all lovely people. Sadly, I won the prize of my first transatlantic migraine and missed half of the retreat. My quest for relief from the sharp pains behind my eyes drove me into my room where I sought the dark and quiet. Needless to say, some thoughtful Scottish person was mowing a lawn…because, yet again…it was sunny and I was sick indoors. I found myself remembering my parents’ willingness to stay up all night with a 6 year old version of myself suffering in the dark. They constantly made damp towels cool for me because children’s Tylenol is useless against a fully-armed and operational migraine. A cold, wet towel is about the best you can do without the excedrin that I’d left in Banchory. In any case, thanks Momma and Pops. You have made memories for me that make migraines more bearable and that is saying something.

I’m realizing that there is a deep need for theological education in churches. Not that all Christians should get a Master’s degree, but that all Christians are in need of teachers who are willing to sit with them and them struggle though important ideas. At the pastors’ retreat I was invited to come to a church and give a talk to a congregation about the Old Testament and the New. The reason for this was “…they might listen to you.” At first I was taken aback because it seemed like a tall order and that perhaps there might be people better suited to it, then I realized…this is what I am going to school to be able to do. I’m the guy who is getting the education to be able to do this. A humbling thought. If the pastor follows through on the email, I’ll do it.

In my spare time I’ve been reading a very pleasant mixture of teen fiction, theology, Greek, and Hebrew. I’d forgotten what it’s like to be sucked into a story featuring swords and magical kingdoms. At best it seems like my sword will have to be a fly-rod and my magical kingdom will have to be real life with the Holy Spirit. In many ways, I find that real life is much more difficult and fun than magical kingdoms and swords thrown up in their defense. Though it is less fun to read about.

My piano lessons (I’ve been taking them weekly) are great. I have a lovely teacher named Kathy who is a practiced hand at teaching folks to play. I am actually strangely passionate about practicing and have found a deep desire to understand music theory. The theory bit is partly because I always wanted to know what the musical people I grew up with meant when they said, “No, it’s the fifth.” People around would knowingly nod their heads as I stood by wondering just what the hell they were talking about. Now, I’m beginning to get some idea. The other part of why I want to know the theory is jazz. You have to be real good at theory to play jazz. Enough said.

I’m preaching on Sunday. I really ought to be working on my sermon now…but instead I’ve been reading fantasy novels by Garth Nix and doing this blog. I’ll get around to it tomorrow. I’m several paragraphs in. A bit nervous perhaps, but fairly confident that I’ll have something to say. I’ll be sure not to swear in this sermon. I did in several of my sermons this past year. My friend and supervisor from the year and I still disagree about the place for swearing from the pulpit. All said, it’s not going to happen here. Wrong group of people.

Have I told you about the people I’m staying with yet? Their names are Amy and Joel. I like them very much. Joel is from America and Amy is from Banchory. They’re funny, intelligent, and very kind people. In short, they’re the sorts of people I like to be friends with. Staying with them is a treat and I feel at home in their house. Usually in these host-family sorts of scenarios you don’t really feel like you can use the couch, but here is different. I sit on the couch.