The Update: Farewell to Banchory (for the moment)

I’ve thought about how to catch up on about a month and a half of not blogging. I’m not entirely sure that there is a good way to do it. Still, I’ll do my best.

My last month in Banchory was a whirlwind. I led an entire service in a town called Torphins, I preached at the West Church, I went to a wedding, I climbed a small mountain, I led a weekly bible study on Colossians, went to a Charismatic youth conference, and I was a guest at several dinners.

I loved my time in Banchory. I pouted for an entire day after leaving. I didn’t notice what was happening until I finally got to a place to stay. I was mad that I had to leave. It was a good thing, but I was mad. After all, I do have another year of school left, visas do run out, and I do have other friends who I miss as well…It just doesn’t make it any easier to leave a place full of people that you love.

My last Sunday at the West Church was this past Sunday and as I got up to say goodbye in the service there was a deep groan from the congregation as they heard that it was my last Sunday. There was a deep groan in my chest along with theirs. I have left a piece of my heart with the lovely people in Banchory and there it will stay until I get the chance to return. Several friends mentioned that they now had a quest to find me a Scottish wife so I could have the possibility of living there. I felt flattered.

My friend Mary let me stay in this small cottage that is behind her house for my last week in town. I had my own space and that was nice. Mary is also a wonderful host and we had some great chats. However, I did miss Joel and Amy. They are fantastic roommates. On my last night in town my friends the Scotts took me out to dinner. I have now met all but one of my friend Mike and Margaret’s children. They never cease to amaze me. Their kids are such incredible people. It was a treat to see their youngest child Kyle (who is about 30) give his dad grief about his habits. This is one of the things that I have really come to appreciate about British people, they have a lively banter that they keep going all the time. Everyone seems to be able to laugh at themselves.

This is especially the case at weddings where the best man and father of the bride tend to roast the groom. The best man at my friends Claire and Rich’s wedding said, “Well Rich, you’ve found a kind, caring, beautiful woman to be your wife…and Claire…hmmm…well, you’ve got a really nice dress and some flowers.” The dancing at this wedding was also incredibly fun. Screaming along to a techno remix of “Loch Lomund” to send the bride and groom off at 1am is a great way to tie up the evening. It helps to be at the fun table…and to hit the hot tub at 1:30am.

It turns out that the fun table is not necessarily the table up in front of everyone. When I was leading the service (really, the whole thing. Prayers, kids’ talk, sermon, etc…) in Torphins I sat at this table with a podium on it at the front of the church. I stood up and said prayers and preached and sang periodically. Then I sat down. It was like the whole service hinged on me. A very strange feeling. A guy I met told me once that people in his church got mad at him for asking them to pray during the service. Apparently, that is the job of the minister. Lots of churches still have one person up in front doing everything all the time. The West Church doesn’t and that is a gift.

They even let people like me preach there. My last sermon was on the parable of the ten bridesmaids/virgins. It was a comedy of errors as a attempted to set up a music stand. I broke the stand, the projector wouldn’t work, i messed up the musicians music pages, got my notes out of order. I found it comical. So did the congregation. Yet, it went as I’m told that it goes: when you think you did a terrible sermon…everyone seems to appreciate it. Example #201 of why church isn’t about me.

It’s especially not about me at charismatic youth events. I felt like an old crotchety man in a room full of dancing young people. The youth really enjoyed it and made a point of going for the whole week. I on the other hand was tapped out by the second day. I’m not anti-spiritual-gifts or anything like that. I just think that the words of worship songs can be and often are incredibly repetitive and simplistic. HOWEVER, there was this guy Mike Pilavachi who ran the thing. He was great. He had a very gentle and thoughtful way of helping young people get comfortable with charismatic worship experiences. He’s also very funny.

In one of the sessions led by someone else I lost it for a moment. Someone up front suggested that Jesus was separate from the Father when He was crucified. The rest of the talk was fine, but that point itself basically cuts the knees out from whatever you might want to say afterwards. Point of order: The Bible NEVER says that. I’m going to break it down:

A) We have 4 gospels with Jesus saying 4 different things on the cross.

B) If you take Jesus’ words “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” to mean that the Trinity stopped being the Trinity you have made a huge interpretive error.

Why? Well, first of all you have to read that line in connection with what Jesus says in every other gospel from the cross. We don’t have one gospel narrative, we have 4 for a reason. Second, what you’re doing has made God not God.

A bit more on that. God for Christians is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If Jesus is in any way separate from the Father and Spirit then the Trinity is meaningless. If God can just be Father and Spirit then the Son doesn’t matter. Suddenly, there’s another smaller, 2-part god, hiding behind the Trinity. So what’s Jesus? He appears not to be very important to who God is.

OR

If you’re trying to say that Jesus humanity was separated from God on the cross, then you’ve just said that humanity has been abandoned by God in sin and death. In other words, there is no salvation happening there. Jesus has to be God and human the whole way. Unto death. Complicated? Yes. Confusing? Probably. Necessary? Absolutely.

Anyhow, tangent finished.

My last adventure into the highlands of Scotland was up a thing called a Munro. A Munro is a mountain that is over 3000 feet. There are 282 of them in Scotland. I now have just 281 left. My friend Robin and I rode in on bikes and then scaled the mountain, stopping on the way back down to swim in a river that flows off the Munro. Huge win. The way down was all downhill as well. I get why people go mountain biking now. The bugs can’t get you as easily, you go fast, and the wind in your face is refreshing.

Also, I had a blast leading a bible study on Colossians. Now the information from my course this past semester is etched in my mind. Also, it was fun to get to dig into the messy parts of the text (bits about slaves and women) with the people in the study. Bible time is fun time.

Dear friends in Banchory, I will miss you. Here’s hoping to see you all sooner rather than later. Here are some commemorative photos of myself and some of the legends of Banchory.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.