Monday, July 26, 2010


"My how time flies when you are having fun!" Well, we've had a blast and I can't believe that a month can fly-by as quickly as this one has.

We have seen London from all different perspectives. We've seen it from the heights of the London Eye and from the depths of the tube. We've seen the city from the water and from it's many bridges. We've seen the city from crowded sidewalks and quiet parks. We have experienced the grandeur of St. Paul's and the simple faithfulness of Bloomsbury. We've seen some of England outside the city on speeding trains and comfortable travel buses. I wouldn't say we've seen it all... but we've seen a lot!

Quite honestly, I think it will be weeks, if not months, before I can gain a true perspective on the value of this time away. For now I can know that the stated goals of the study leave (renewal: I have completed my reading; recreation: we've done a lot!; and rest: what was I thinking!?!) have been met and exceeded.

I am ready to be "home"- residence, surroundings, and church. But first, me and my three ladies have to finish packing. I haven't done this much cramming since seminary!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Notable Quotes

The major component of the "study" part of my study leave was a self-selected reading program. I wanted a balance of biblical study, church life, current issues in faith and theology, and a novel. This morning I completed the seventh, and last, book on my reading list. Listed below are the titles I have read this month and a selected quote from each author.

A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren (259 pages). "... we cannot simply say that the highest revelation of God is given through the Bible. Rather, we can say that, for Christians, the Bible's highest value is in revealing Jesus, who gives us the highest, deepest, and most mature view of the character of the living God." McLaren is a much discussed (and often cussed) lightning rod for discussion these days on matters of faith, theology, and church.

The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle (163 pages). Tickle, an astute observer of church and culture, theorizes that every five hundred or so years the church goes through a seismic shift. As a result, "First: a new, more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge. Second: the organized expression of Christianity which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of itself. Third: Every time the the incrustations of an overly established Christianity have been broken open, the faith has spread."

The Acts of the Apostles by William Neil (259 pages). Neil retired as a professor of New Testament studies at the University of Nottingham. "He (Luke, as author of Acts) makes it plain in what follows that he saw in the Pentecostal utterances of the disciples a foreshadowing of the universal mission of the Church, when men of all nations would be brought into a unity of understanding through the preaching of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit."

Home (325 pages) by Marilynne Robinson is a sequel (of sorts) to her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead. This work tells the story of the homecoming a the family prodigal. His aged, Presbyterian minister father tells him, "The grace of God can find any soul, anywhere. And you're confusing something here. Religion is human behavior. Grace is the love of God. Two very different things."

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (240 pages) by N.T. Wright. Wright recently retired as Anglican Bishop of Durham England to retire to full-time teaching and writing. "For Christians it's always a love game. God's love for the world calling out an answering love for us, enabling us to discover that God not only happens to love us (as though this was simply one aspect of his character) but that he is love itself."

Acts (193 pages) by William Willimon, former Dean of the Chapel at Duke University and currently Bishop for the United Methodist Church in North Alabama. Normally I read commentaries as reference sources for particular passages as I do sermon work. In preparation for a series of sermons from Acts I chose the read these two commentaries "from cover to cover." "The notion that only good things happen to faithful people was put to rest on a Friday afternoon at Calvary. Rather, to be gifted by the Spirit must mean the gift of meaning in our struggles, the conviction that God can use whatever abuse, heartache, and tragedy we encounter in our attempts to be faithful to bring about God's purposes."

Small Strong Congregations: Creating Strengths and Health for Your Congregation (320 pages). Callahan, retired professor at Emory University's Candler School of Theology, is one of the nation's most respected voices on church health and mission. "Small, strong congregations invest their resources in helping people discover community: find roots,places, belonging; discover family and friends."

Focused time for reading is often squeezed-out in the day-to-day routines of pastoring. I am grateful for the opportunity to read some books that have been on my desk and shelves for a couple of years and some new materials just for the trip. I am always glad to share!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Learning the Language

"Mind the gap," "way out," and "the till" are terms that we have become well-acquainted with over the last three weeks. It's nice to be in England where they speak our language, sort of!

Learning "their language" is about more than vocabulary and the conjugation of verbs. It takes time and effort (and some trial and error) to begin to understand the idioms and customs of a culture. A new language is best-learned in the context of its culture rather than by a book or in a classroom in some remote (and more comfortable) setting.

Which leads me to wonder if learning a new language isn't a necessary part of living our faith? Yes, "how can they hear without a preacher?" but how will they understand if the preacher doesn't speak their language? Remember, the gift of the Spirit empowered believers to speak in languages they did not previously know so that all those present could hear (and understand) the Good News in their native tongue.

Learning a new language isn't limited to the study of German, Spanish, or Korean. Some of us might do well to brush-up on our "old folks," or "young people," or "single-adult," or "not-a-baptist." Otherwise everyone in our church would look and sound just like us. Wouldn't that be sad (for those not like us) and boring (for us).

For inquiring minds, "mind the gap" is the caution you hear when stepping from the subway train to the platform, "way out" indicates an exit, and "the till" is the cash register.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


One of my goals for the study leave has been to read sermons by well-known British ministers in the churches where they served. I realize that may sound a little preacher-geeky... but I am what I am! By week's end I will have completed that project.

I couldn't think of a better source for such material than the 12-volume collection, "Twenty Centuries of Great Preaching." Laurita Benjamin kindly copied the introduction/biographical material and five sermons from each of the four preachers I selected. I chose them because of the variety and quality of their preaching and because their churches were still active places of ministry.

David Martin Lloyd-Jones (1899-19181) served for 25 years (1943-1968) as pastor of Westminster Chapel. Lloyd-Jones was successor to the well-known G. Campbell Morgan at Westminster Chapel. The five sermons I read were each expositions of Psalm 73. The verger/custodian wouldn't give me permission to enter the building (I guess he wasn't impressed with my quest) so I read Lloyd-Jones' materials in the courtyard of Westminster Chapel.

Leslie Weatherhead (1893-1976) was for 24 years pastor of City Temple. Weatherhead served this congregation during World War II and was known for his pastoral, life-oriented preaching. I first encountered Weatherhead in college when were were assigned to read The Will of God, which I still find an encouraging resource.

John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles are best-known as the founders of methodism. Wesley Chapel still functions as a strong church in its community in addition to hosting a mission center and housing the Wesley Museum. It has been said, "He led a religious and moral revival of such extent that the character and course of an entire nation were changed."

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
(1834-1892) is my preacher for this week. Known as an evangelist, Spurgeon was pastor pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle for almost forty years. Spurgeon may have been the first mega-church pastor since they built the 6,000 seat Tabernacle to accommodate the crowds that came to hear him preach. He was a "convinced Calvinist" and today's Metropolitan Tabernacle remains a large and active ministry teaching from a reformed perspective. Even after reading Spurgeon I struggle with the whole calvinism/evangelism issue.

I have enjoyed this part of my program. My prayer is that "hearing" these great preachers in their ministry context will have encouraged my faith... and maybe even help to improve my preaching!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Go Green!

Much of my London experience has met expectations. The history buff has certainly had his itch scratched. The believer/churchman has had plenty to do, see, and experience. The people-watcher is in danger of overload.

My biggest surprise so far? I have fallen in love with the parks, gardens, and green spaces!

We've enjoyed some of the "biggies" like St. James' Park with its beautiful flower beds, the vast open spaces in Hyde Park, and the trees of Kensington Park. Most of them have "water features" like the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, the cleverly named "Round Pond" in Kensington Park, or the understated and inviting Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. We plan to visit Regent's Park this afternoon and hope to squeeze-in a trip to Kew Gardens before heading home.

Good things also come in smaller packages. While waiting for the girls to see a movie I came across the flowering beauty of Holland Park in Kensington. Later we discovered the formal beauty of the sunken garden at Kensington Palace. Friday I read in the shadow of a statue memorializing William Tyndale (martyred in 1536 for translating the Bible into English) in the Victoria Embankment Gardens.

Parks and gardens enrich city life in a number of ways. The trees and green spaces literally help provide the city a breath of fresh air through the production of oxygen. Moms and nannies still stroll children along the pathways. Recreational opportunities abound through boating, jogging. cycling, walking, and playing soccer (I haven't seen any frisbee golf, yet). There are swans and ducks and geese to be enjoyed and fed, though dog owners are cautioned not to permit their dogs to "worry or injure the waterfowl." Aesthetically, the flower gardens add a touch of color to the otherwise gray palette of the city. And as the inscription on one park bench read, "everybody needs a place to sit and think."

We all need more green space in our lives.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Plan "B"

It's not often that you find yourself in a book, but there I was- right in the introduction to British theologian N.T. Wright's "Simply Christian." Wright writes (sorry!), "There are two sorts of traveler. The first sets off in the general direction of the destination and is quite happy to figure things out on the way, to read the signposts, ask directions, and muddle through." That's me, at least in London.

My natural inclination is to be a bit more (my kids would probably say a lot more) in control. In our time here, though, I have come to accept the fact that tube maps, street maps, internet directions, and agreed upon rendevous times are approximations or guides at best. I am learning that plans are good but flexibility is essential.

Like the other day in my unplanned journey along the East Thames path. My walk was costing me more steps and more time than I had anticipated. And then I looked-up and saw the beautiful Southwark Cathedral. Built in the 13th century it is not nearly as large, or well-known, as its sisters at Westminster or St. Paul's. I loved wandering through the flower-filled courtyards and was awed by its beautiful interior.

The I heard a voice call the cathedral's visitors to prayer. It was a simple service: a reading of the scripture of the day from the lectionary; a brief, guided time of prayer for personal concerns; a prayer by the minister; and an invitation to pray "as Jesus taught His disciples, each in his own native language."

There I was, in the quietness of that moment, connected to God, the scriptures, those present around me, the church universal, and to you, at home. I hadn't planned on that.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Found in Translation

Tuesday we visited the British Museum. Another "wow" experience!

My favorite stop was the Rosetta stone. I am in good company since this is considered the most visited item in the museum's vast collection.

Short version: the Rosetta stone is a 1700 pound slab of black granite found in the Nile River delta by French troops in 1799. The monument contained a decree issued in approximately 196 BC praising the accomplishments of the king. The unique aspect is that the inscription is in three languages: one known (ancient Greek), one lesser known (ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs), and one almost unknown (Egyptian demotic script). By the way, the stone came to the British Museum in 1802 after the defeat of Napoleon. (The Egyptian government has requested its return... I wouldn't hold my breath on that one!)

Scholars could use the language they knew best (Greek) to understand and translate the languages that were to that time, beyond their understanding. This opened-up a whole new opportunity for translating other ancient near-eastern texts. Which, by the way, has helped biblical scholars gain a better understanding of the world of the ancient Hebrews and the context of the development of the Old Testament scriptures.

I can't help but think that the idea of God, and even the Bible, is beyond the understanding of some of our friends and neighbors. What if our lives (the known) could serve as the Rosetta stone that could help them translate/understand the language of love that they don't yet understand?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sights and Sounds

I think I've found my favorite spot in London-- South Bank Centre. The city has developed a wonderful terraced walkway along the Thames River that provides a beautiful view of the river, a panoramic view of the city, and a great spot for one of my favorite pastimes- people watching.

From my perch I could sip coffee, read a commentary on Acts, and watch the world go by: families, student groups, crying/squabbling/laughing children, old folks sharing an ice cream, and young couples whispering secrets.

This is no quiet place: horns are honking, bicycle bells are ringing, river barges are sounding warning, and the rumble of the tube/subway is ever present. You can walk across the Thames and hear a four-piece string quarter, steel drums, an African flute-like instrument (not a vuvuzela!), and a guitarist. To stay in any one place for long exposes you to more languages and dialects than can be discerned.

I overhear two young English businesswomen laughing as they walked and one snidely says to her friend, "Oh my gosh- I thought maybe you had become a born-again Christian or something!" I am reading in the second chapter of Acts about how the gift of the Spirit allowed everyone to hear of the wonders of God in their own language...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Morning

It's Sunday morning... and it feels a little weird.

Typically on Sunday morning I get -up, get dressed, and my mind is focused on responsibilities for the day. When I arrive at church I move into "what needs to be done mode," thinking about my sermon, preparing for people, and wondering, when the telephone rings, if it will be a visitor asking for service time or a Sunday School teacher calling in sick.

None of that today. Instead, I will be the newcomer. Instead I will have to fight the urge to evaluate how others have handled their Sunday responsibilities. Instead, my praying is not so much what can God do through me as it is what will He do for me. This morning I am reminded that there is blessing in receiving, as well as giving.

Priscilla says I don't sit well in church.

Friday, July 9, 2010

St. Paul's Cathedral

Thursday afternoon we visited St. Paul's Cathedral. Wow!

The building itself is an imposing structure than dominates the London skyline. In the busy-ness of the city there is this constant reminder of the presence of God. Maybe even a reminder of the abiding presence of God since believers have worshipped at this site for over a thousand years.

Elizabeth, Shadae, and I climbed the 528 steps to the highest level of the dome and enjoyed an astounding view of the city--- once we caught our breath!

The Cathedral's purpose is to glorify God in its worship, service, and even its architecture. They seem to have renewed their commitment to the enhancement of worship through the visual arts by adding contemporary paintings and other pieces to the statuary and artwork of the centuries. Maybe we inheritors of the puritan tradition have missed/lost something through the removal of art from our tools for worship.

As an added treat we were able to listen-in on the London Symphony Orchestra as they rehearsed for a concert to be held at the Cathedral later in the evening.

Priscilla and I stayed for the evensong service. It has been a busy and hectic week. There was rest for the spirit in the liturgy of scripture, prayer, and song.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Finding My Way

I found myself lost again today as I made my way around London. No big surprise to those of you who know me.

My plan was to find St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church and -a quiet place to read. St. Martin's Church, with its columned portico, towering spire, and white/walnut/center-aisled interior, is the model for many colonial-style places of worship in the U.S.

Yes, I had a map. Well, it was a subway map with some notes scribbled on it. Maps are a lot like dictionaries. They are most helpful when you already know where you are and where you are going. I think I was reading it upside down.

So I had another first-in-a-lifetime experience. I swallowed hard, stepped to the counter, ordered a venti Caramel Machiatto (I think there was some coffee in it), and read my book at a Starbucks. Not my first trip to the store, just my first time to sit down, monopolize a table for and hour and a half, and nurse a hot beverage. All in all, not bad.

Yes, I've asked for directions. The first person in London from whom I sought assistance turned-out to be a deaf mute. Later, a gentleman listened patiently, nodded politely, and smiled warmly before responding a some central European dialect. Then I found someone who spoke my language in a dialect I could understand. He was from San Francisco and was as lost as I was!

Fortunately, I didn't encounter any danger in my wanderings... except for one near-miss at an intersection. I keep looking the wrong way for on-coming traffic.

I kept thinking that what I needed was an interpreter for my map or a companion who knew his way around. To be most successful on my journey I needed a guide... someone who knew his way around, had first-hand knowledge, and maybe even cared that I had a positive experience on my journey.

Everyday we encounter folks who have lost their way on life's journey or maybe they've ended-up somewhere they didn't intend to be when they hit the sidewalk. Maybe they just need a guide... someone to interpret the instructions, share their experiences, and lend a caring hand.

By the way- I did find St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church and found it to be the place of beauty and worship I had hoped... and needed.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Sunday provided quite a contrast in worship experiences.

Sunday morning we shared communion with about 125 members and guests of historic Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. The service featured traditional hymns, and elegant duet by two young Chinese women, a thoughtful sermon from Pastor Simon Perry, and a meaningful service of the Lord's Supper led by Pastor Ruth Goldbourne. Bloomsbury has held services at this location since 1848. It is now primarily an older congregation seeking to meet the needs of its community while many of its members drive-in from the suburbs to maintain that commitment. They have tea and biscuits for a time of fellowship after each service.

Sunday afernoon we traveled to the Dominion Theatre (which currently hosts the big stage Broadway-style production of "We Will Rock You-" based on the music of Queen) to worship with HillSong London. There were probably 1,500-2,000 primarily young folks present in this, the middle of their three Sunday afternoon services. Music was high-energy with a 7-member praise team, 6-member band, and top-notch lighting and visual effects. And I must not forget the smoke machine.

Older and younger. Hymns and praise songs. Organ and band. Traditional and lights & smoke. Historic building and rented theatre. All for the glory of God.


Friday we took our first train trip out of town to visit historic Canterbury. I assured the girls that at some point in their academic careers they would read "A Man for All Seasons" and Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." They were not impressed.

Cathedrals were important to cities for their economic and social considerations in addition to spiritual concerns. If a cathedral had the good fortune of housing the relics of a saint more pilgrims would come to express their piety and along the way visit with friends and family, buy a variety of goods, rent rooms and enjoy themselves. Local businesses were indeed blessed.

Some things haven't changed. The train station and bus depot deposit today's pilgrims/tourists right in front of a modern courtyard-style shopping mall. After you wind your way through the shopping opportunities you find yourself on cobblestone streets worn smooth by the faithful over the centuries. (Augustine was the first Bishop of Canterbury and the construction of the cathedral itself begain in the 11th century). Like any good tourist site, pilgrims exit the cathedral grounds through a nicely-equipped gift shop. (I found a new preacher for my collection!)

Us baptists aren't too big on saints. But there is something impressive about the faith of a man who would stand-up to the power of the king-- even at the loss of his life. Beckett's martyrdom occurred in a cathdedral built as an expressiojn of faith and devotion by generations of craftsmen. As we toured the facility we could look up into the massive spans of the ceiling and look down at the imprints of the faithful who crawled on hands and knees to the memorial.

Beckett gave his life. Crafsmen gave their talents. Church folk and civic leaders gave their money. Pilgrims offerred their worship. All gave as an expression of faith in the One who gave His all.

London Observations

*This was supposed to have posted Thursday, Jul 1-- see observation #2.

1. Man-capris aren't just for Orlando.

2. Computers can be frustrating anywhere.

3. Four people (3 females) and one bathroom don't make for a fast get-away.

4. The distances between stops on a subway map are not drawn to scale.

5. You can live without a cell phone... it's actually sort of nice!

6. So far on BBC- America we've seen episodes of Judge Judy, Friends, Project Runway, and CSI. No wonder folks have such warped impressions of the United States.

7. We've walked around Westminster Abbey this afternoon. The statues of 20th century martyrs makes we wonder how far we'd go for our faith.