#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.)

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.