Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think (London Edition)

1) it's 9:44pm here in East London. I'm typing this in the library at the St. Catherines Retreat Center, a place started by order of the Queen in in the 17th century. We arrived here as a class on Friday morning at 8:15am (3:15am EST). It has been one non-stop adventure ever since. I'll try and re-cap as best as I can.

2) We actually arrived in London about three hours late. Our flight out of Lexington was delayed because apparently the President landed at O'Hare (what other President do you think I'm talking about? Of course "that one") and all flights were held until he got off of the ground. No worries, though, as they booked me into an Emergency Exit seat, meaning that I had about six feet of leg room (no foolin'.... it was amazing).

I stayed up all night on the plane. Partly because even with six feet of leg room an airline seat is still a torture chamber, and partly because I've been going to bed so late these past couple of weeks that I just wasn't tired. So after a night of "A prairie Home Companion" (gotta like the show to like the movie), "Nacho Libre" (gotta admit that this became an instant classic in my own limited world), and "The Break-up" (yuck), by the time I got to London, I was ready for a shower and a nap.

Unfortunately, the rooms at St. Cat's weren't ready, and Tory Baucam, who is the prof leading this deal, had already planned our day, so sans shower or sleep, we embarked on a full day out and about. Needless to say, that by 9pm (3pm EST, a full 33 hours since I'd woken up Thursday morning), I was so tired, I emailed my wife to let her know we had landed safely in "Lonon". I also think I saw twelve large green rabid lemurs in Trafalgar Square.... but I might have been hallucinating. I'm not sure.

3) Even though I was dead, dog tired, Day One in London was great. We stopped in kind of a big open air market where, after over three months, I got a haircut! My barber, a very young, nice lady who grew up in Kent, gave me a "typical London cut" for only 14 pounds (about $28). It's now a little, well... short. That's the best way to put it. It's short. Everyone says it looks good, but I think their just trying to make me feel better. No need to really... I dig it.

We then took a 2 1/2 open air bus tour of the city, which was, well, kinda long.... so long that Kent Reynolds, a fellow BP, was thinking about throwing his camera at a London Bobby (policeman) in the hopes he'd be carted off to a jailcell with a toilet and a bed. Also, the tour guide's microphone was awful and I fell asleep a few times. The result is that I think he said that London was founded and built by Mormons in 1956, but somehow I don't think that's right.

Anyhow, after we got off the bus, we took off back down to the market where we ate lunch, and basically followed a path that took us from Tower Bridge, past the Globe Theatre (where Shakespeare did his plays... it's a re-construction, but it's still pretty incredible), along the Thames River down to a footbridge that, once we crossed it, enabled us to go to St. Paul's Cathedral (the place where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married). There, we saw a statue commemorating the fact that Wesley had preached there, then we attended a 7pm worship service in the Cathedral (which featured a boys/mens choir that sounded beautiful).

Finally, we ended the day up at Aldersgate, which is the place where Wesley said his "heart was strangely warmed". The original building is long gone, but there is a large sculpture where his journal notes from that day are inscribed. I ate some Thai food, and collapsed in a heap.

A Great, if tiring, day.

4) After sleeping hard for eleven hours, I felt great for the start of Day 2 (Saturday). After a continental breakfast here at St. Cat's, we made a beeline for Westminster Abbey, which was unbelievable. For those who don't know, Westminster Abbey was actually granted to the Benedictine Society (monks) by Richard II at around 1050AD. However, Christians have been worshipping at that sight since about 400AD (or just shortly after Constantine died). We know this because during the various excavations of the sight, a Roman sarcophagus was discovered and dated based on its style and external markings. In other words (while the person on duty wasn't looking), I touched something crafted by human hands over 1600 years ago. Wow!

Anyhow, the Abbey was doing its thing until the days of Henry VIII, who, fed up with the Roman Catholic church (and not just because he wanted a divorce... people don't understand how, because of the vast tracts of land granted to it, how rich the church had become by the time Henry VIII was doing his thing.... it was just too lucrative for him to pass up) split the Anglican Church off of Roman Catholicism. Every Catholic clergyman or monk who didn't swear allegiance to Henry was put to death, and every Abbey (monastery) was ransacked and looted.... except one. Westminster Abbey only survived because Henry's parents were buried there, as had all of the kings and queens since Richard II (whose bones are in a green box who can still see).

Westminster Abbey is really nothing more than a big a mausoleum and the place where royalty are crowned. That's about it. You can light a candle and pray there in a chapel area (of which I did both, for my mother-in-law, who is sick with liver cancer - I chose this place to pray because she can use prayer right now, and I also think she would absolutely love Westminster Abbey), but it's really about the place where political and theological power come together in the Crown... which is kinda bogus now because 1) the Crown has no real power and 2) Prince Charles will be the first royal to pledge to protect the faithS, as opposed to the faith (Anglican only), since the country has become so pluralist. Just too much more about this place to write about, and this post is already too long.

5) After we left the Abbey, we jetted out to John Wesley's ministry center, which consisted of a chapel and his home, which was a townhouse five stories tall, the top three stories reserved for family or clergy traveling through the area. Wesley actually only lived and worked at this site the last 14 years of his life. The other 40 he did his thing in an old bell foundry down the street, which has long since been demolished. In short, we knelt in his prayer closet (the power source for the Methodist movement) and stood in the pulpit he preached in... am getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

Oh, and by the way, John Wesley, the father of the Wesleyan movement (hence the name) which supposedly Asbury Seminary reveres, would not have been admitted into the school. You see at Asbury you're supposed to sign an "Ethos Statement" pledging that for the duration of the time you are there that you won't drink any alcohol. Wesley enjoyed a glass (or two) of French Red Wine every night after dinner. NOTE TO THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES: It would probably be a good idea to re-think the Ethos Statement it it would have excluded John Wesley. I know I would.

6) Wesley's chapel (City Road Chapel) is actually still a functioning Methodist Church. However, you should know two things about it. First, in the early 1970's it was discovered that the bombing during WWII was so brutal, that while the church itself never was directly hit, the tremors caused by the exploding bombs landing all over London destroyed the foundation. The church asked other Methodist churches across the globe for cash, but even after raising over a million Pounds, insufficient funds existed to do the repairs. So, the people at City Road Chapel asked the General Conference 1972 to either close the church, or provide the funds to do the repairs. The GC elected to make the repairs, which helped keep the place open, BUT, insufficient funds were raised, so the church sold all of the property that wasn't the chapel, his home, and parking in front to the Reuters News Agency. Reuters promptly built a U-Shaped building that totally surrounds the current compound.

Second, by the 1990's, City Road Chapel, though refurbished and restored, was on its way to becoming a museum. Only a few church members were left, and they were so old that death seemed immanent. However, about that time a huge influx of Africans into London began to take place. Many of these people were Methodists, and since the church was in such great shape physically, and close to the neighborhoods where these Africans, many of whom had been baptized in Methodist churches at home, lived, the church began to grow. Now the congregation is alive and vibrant, growing each and every year, but is ethnically 90% people of African descent. The tour guide, a wonderful older lady who had gone to the church her entire life, told us that within 10 years it'll be 100%.

So, The staff at Wesley's church can't seem to attract to Caucasian Londoners, but because Methodism was exported to Africa, now Africans are keeping the church in London alive, and making it grow, which is the case in many Methodist churches now across Europe. Just bizarre.

7) Spent the rest of our formal group time at the British Museum of History, which largely is made up of stuff they stole from someplace else back in the days when the "Sun never set on the British Empire". There were lots of great things there (not the least being the Rosetta Stone), but in a new exhibit of artifacts found near the ancient city of Ur, there are number of things displayed, two of which I'll describe. The first of the two was a large flat, round stone, used as the base and pivot for a large door on the palace of a Sumerian king. On the stone depicts what the Sumerians believed was the reality of life... men fighting with boars or bulls, animals which symbolized the gods and their unpredictability.

Oh, and the stone, it's from a little town called Nineveh... the place where Jonah had to go pronounce God's judgment because the people there had been evil to one another. It's called "The Nineveh Stone".

Second, in one little section, I almost missed a little display of a handful of idols found in a tell outside of Ur. The statues were dated at about 5000-4500BCE, and were typical fertility idols of that age crafted in the shape of naked women. And, I'm thinking, "Ur, 4500 years before Christ's birth.... what is significant about that?"

Well, if you open and read the "History of Israel", a fine text by biblical archeologist John Bright (a seminal text that still holds up well today), you'll find that Bright generally believed that Abraham lived about 4000-5ooo years before Christ's birth as a part of a nomadic tribe that lived near a little place called Ur. Do you know what he did for a living before he heard God's voice, and moved to Canaan?

His family made and sold idols.

Now, did I see an idol or sold made by Abraham? I don't know.... but it's possible! Still just makes me shiver thinking about it.

8) Ended the day down in the heart of London (Piccadilly Circus - London's answer to Times Square) with eight of my classmates. We ate a good, cheap meal (which included turnip soup and boiled cabbage, both of which I ate, and kinda liked), then walked around people watching. Even got a monster scoop of ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins. Which leads me to this... here are three things you probably heard about London that just aren't true.

First, the food here is fabulous. I haven't eaten one bite of mutton or kidney pie. London is the most multi-cultural city in the world, meaning that you can get just about anything you like to eat here. In three days, I've eaten Turkish, Thai, Indonesian, Fish and Chips, and killer Bacon-Cheeseburger. Tomorrow we're getting pizza at an Italian place around the corner. Besides, there are KFC's, McDonalds, Pizza Huts, and Subways all over this town. Brits love American consumer goods.

Second, drinks in London are refrigerated. Everyone told me that the soda and beer would be warm, which was not incorrect, just out-of-date. Refrigeration has come to London meaning that the Coke is served cold, and I can tell the beer (its been fairly warm here the last three days) is too because the metal beer spouts in the pubs where we've eaten were sweating (that's how I know... honest.... truly.... Scout's honor.... the Ethos Statement prohibits me from sampling a pint of Guinness... would I lie to you?)

Third, you are as likely to not hear English in London than hear it. I'll bet 80% of the world's languages are spoken here. It's that diverse. Every single corner of the globe represented. And the Brits seem to dig it... which, if all you had to eat was kidney pie and mutton, you'd probably be ready for Chinese takeout too. Just a fascinating comparison between a place literally becoming more diverse by the minute, and my homeland where people are afraid of folks who speak Spanish. Wild!

9) It's pretty late, so I'll probably need to write more stuff down about this tomorrow, but today (Day 3), Sunday, while you were probably sleeping, we were praising God at The Glory House, the first of three worship services (yep... five hours of worship today) we attended today. The Glory House is a large, independent, non-denominational church worshipping over 1000 people every Sunday.... 1000 people who are of mainly African descent, and represent 45 different nationalities of the world. One of the profs on the trip was turned off by the exhortation (kind of a warm-up for the sermon, which we missed because we had to get worship service #2), which largely a name-it-and-claim-it-prosperity-if-you-want-it-God-will-deliver-it kind of sermon, but here's the deal. Having spent some time in Haiti, and having a some idea of the poverty and other-world culture these folks came out of, in a city where a cheap flat (apartment) costs 285 Pounds ($560) a week given the foreignness of this place, and what it must take to struggle to survive here, I can understand sermons that give people hope that they are going to make it, each and every day. When you've got nothing, praising God for the fact that you are healthy, safe, and ate today is a very real thing. Thus, I kinda got into it with the prof. My thinking is, live on three dollars a week for a year, and then tell me that you aren't grateful to God for everything you are given... that's all I'm saying.

Oh, and at that service, we heard (and I am NOT making this up), a fabulous gospel choir from Sweden. It was like Abba and Earth, Wind, and Fire had children. They were blond, blue-eyed, and fabulous. When you start off your day listening to an English citizen from Africa introduce a Swedish choir singing music that emanated out of African-American churches in the US... you know it's going to be an interesting day.

10) The second place we visited was St. Paul at Chadwell Anglican Church. It's a place so old that Thomas Jefferson's mother was baptized there. The church, like virtually all of them in London, was dying (down to its last fifteen people), when the only MegaChurch in England, Holy Trinity of Brompton Anglican Church (which worships about 4000 people), asked to plant a church within that church. Now 9:30 about 25 people (including the 15) meet for a communion service with hymns, and then at 11:00, about 150 people (2 years after starting with six) meet for a contemporary worship service as we know it in the USA. During that service, a young couple with a beautiful little 2-year old girl, sat next to me in the service. They live near the church, and noticed that over the past six months that the number of cars parked outside of it were growing in number, so they both decided to come to worship this morning for the very first time in their lives. Me, being a pastor (they introduced us before the service), ended up doing a lot of explaining and interpreting, which was a humbling and gratifying experience. In the end, because the service went on over 90 minutes, their daughter, Rosie, started losing it, so they left.... but they were intrigued enough to say they are coming back! As Rosie's mom put it, "That Jesus chap seems like an interesting fellow."

Interesting, indeed! (more goosebumps)

And finally, met a woman at St. Paul's who grew up in Columbus, graduated from Asbury College, and now lives in London, who told me that dozens of Bucks fans get together at a Sports Bar on Trafalgar Square to faithfully watch them play each week they are on....


Whoa, gettin' a little dusty in here. Those aren't tears of joy knowing that Buckeye nation is alive and well here in London.... just a little dust. Would I lie to you?

See you tomorrow... with pictures!

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