Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Big Weekend for Us

It’s been a while since I posted anything. The shipment of our furniture and other things completely buried us in boxes (full and empty), books, clothes we don’t need (I brought about 40 t-shirts—they should take my PhD away), and other sundry items. Julie worked three straight days and made the upstairs (the living and dining rooms) look like home. It was really good to see our own chairs and bookcases, TV cabinet and other homey things. It was also more than a little sad--having our household here makes the whole move real in a way we hadn't expected. So many things are mixed blessings these days. We’re both homesick, each in our own way, and that makes some parts of being here very difficult.

The induction service jarred me out of some of my funk (some of you will call this an installation service—over here that would make me a celebrated home appliance). It was added on to the end of our regular worship time, and some representatives of the United Reformed Church (from now on, the URC) came to induct me as the minister at ACL. Each of them brought some heart and humor and a sense of calling to the event, and that helped me focus a bit on what I’m doing here.

One of the induction questions was: ‘Do you believe that the Church is the people gathered by God’s love to proclaim the reconciliation of the world to God through Jesus Christ?’ And here's the good part: I do believe that. I believe that the message of the Gospel is here to reconcile us to God and each other and even to those parts of ourselves that keep us from living whole lives. I all I had to do was say ‘I do’, but I could have preached again right then and there.

Another question was: ‘Are zeal for the glory of God, love for the Lord Jesus Christ, obedience to the Holy Spirit and a desire for the salvation of the world, so far as you know your own heart, the chief motives which lead you to enter this ministry?’

Can I just say that I love that question?

It gets at the heart of why anyone would get into ministry—not just the ordained types, but anyone who teaches a Sunday School class, visits an old person, decorates a sanctuary or answers a phone—it gets at what drives us to take this risk. Zeal for the Father, Son and Spirit should be what prompts anyone to share their gifts with the church. But the part of the question that grabbed me was the little clause in the middle: ‘as far as you know your own heart’. It’s not a loophole, but rather an acknowledgement that we’re on a journey—even the pastors—and that the best we can do is search our hearts and do what we believe to be our calling. Notice that the question isn’t concerned with what we know as such, but rather where our hearts are in relationship to Jesus Christ. I happily answered, ‘They are.’

I started this blog a few months ago with a little story about calling and ministry. This past Sunday in a way brought that part of the story full circle. Now I have to actually do the work, as it says in another part of the induction process, ‘relying on the strength of Christ.’

Now for some pictures...

This is the Moderator of the local URC District asking me the questions of induction. Turns out she's from Northern California, near where I spent a lot of time when I worked for Fuller. She and the other ministers were a joy to meet and be around. I look forward to getting to know them.

After they were done with me they called up Julie and Ian to welcome us to the church and to the URC. Ian liked it a lot when they clapped for us...don't we all?

This is our Moderator, Roberta Rominger, at the reception following the service. That enormous piece of cake is actually Ian's--he asked for the whole part that had his name (see below), and they gave it to him!

This is my office, now loaded with books. There are 3 boxes yet to shelve...
The reception after the service. The black curtains aren't a symbol of mourning, but rather soundproofing for a group that is renting that room during the week for rehearsal space.

The lovely cake (note the section with Ian's name).

One of the joys of the weekend was having people we knew come to visit for the service. The couple at the far end of the table are Mike and Cath Grieve, some of our dear friends from Scotland. Mike was the Beadle at St Giles' Cathedral when I was there, and we've been friends ever since. They drove down and spent the weekend near our house. The guy in the foreground is Charlie Matthews, one of our good friends from Glendale. He was in Paris on business last week and scheduled his home trip through London to be at the service. He also has the honor of being our very first overnight guest. He won't be the last!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Saga Ends

At long last! Despite winds, rain, shipping company under-competence and other various delays, our shipping container finally arrived at our house on Tuesday afternoon (4 hours late). Here's a shot of it coming down our charming North London street. A crew came at 10am and waited until 2pm for the delivery, but they were great about it and got everything in the house and reassembled in short order.

Of course, once the stuff was in the house, it looked like this. Boxes everywhere and nowhere to sit or work. Julie did manage to clear off part of our dining room table and we had Chinese take-out together.

No way we could cook. Here's the kitchen with most--not all--of the boxes marked 'Kitchen.' That's the universal word for 'fragile' (besides, of course, fragile), so everything breakable ended up in front of the stove and sink, and we couldn't get anywhere near them.

We woke up on Wednesday to this. Two inches of snow blanketed most of London last night. It was so beautiful--the garden looked like something out of Narnia (I half expected that mean blond to come storming out of the bushes...). This was the view off of our back porch. So here we are: piles inside, snow outside, and all of our stuff safely delivered. Now we unpack...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A new day

We seem to have turned a corner in our London experience. Getting a washing machine in the house was a huge thing--I've never seen Julie so happy doing laundry. I managed to get mobile phones for the both of us at the local Vodafone shop (I'm happy to plug them since they were so cooperative). I got a Blackberry and Julie a lavender Moto RAZR with a camera and MP3 player built-in (they know how to do cell phones over here). Ian is loving school--he greeted me in French when I came home tonight--and has played volleyball, soccer and gone swimming already with his class. Julie went out to lunch with someone in our church, from the same family that housed us when we came for the interview in June, and made her way across town using several trains and a bus or two. All of these things make London feel a lot more like home.

And still...

I'm missing my pals from church, the cigar nights, watching more than 4 channels (I'm jonesing for Law & Order), and my family. All of that is normal, I know, but I feel it today, partnered with how good some of the other things feel. We've got a long way to go, but learning to live somewhere--and minister somewhere--is what we're here to do and learn. God has led us on this adventure and we want to soak it up as much as we can. But it wouldn't be a bad thing, really, if some of our friends and family would just decide to move here and be our neighbors...

I watched a movie on the BBC the other night that I thought was really good. It was called 'Anita and Me' (2002), and like a lot of movies here it was about the clash of cultures in the UK. The story was about two young girls, one Indian-British who tells the story, and the other a white English girl. They're close friends when they're little, but as the English girl absorbs racist attitudes toward her friend they drift apart. The cool thing about the story is that the Indian girl never lets go of how they loved each other as children, and when she goes off to prep school she gives her friend a diary of all the things she would have shared if they had still been friends. It's funny, sad and true all at the same time, and shows how loving someone is more about the one doing the loving than it is about the receiver of that love.

You can probably see this coming... The movie reminded me of how God loves us, and how we should love each other. God loves us because that's who he is, and in turn we are called to love one another not for what they do, but for who they are. And so it follows that we love each other not for what it gives to us in the exchange, but rather because we have been loved by God first. The people we love become, then, worthy just because of who they are, not for anything they do. That girl in the movie suffered all kinds of things at the hands of her friend, but she loved her in spite of it all, because she valued her apart from any of her behavior. How different would the world be with just a little bit of that kind of love?

The answer to that question is found in the Cross.

The Gospel is a strange thing sometimes, but every once in a while a part of it is so crystal clear, so simple that it takes me by surprise. God loved us so much that it didn't matter what we did. He came, he saw, he loved, he died and rose again. It's not that people didn't matter in that equation, it's just that people didn't control that equation. He did it because that's who he is. I want to learn to love people the way that girl did in the film, and also how Jesus did during his ministry here. It's a lofty goal, I know, and probably impossible. But it's the trying that matters, not the accomplishing, and we all need to remember that. I got my reminder watching a movie.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Dateline: London

Cities are hard...

That may sound whiny or simplistic or, well, whatever, but I don’t really care. Part of our adjustment to London is learning how to move from a suburban to an urban way of doing things. We don’t have a car yet, but even with one we’ll still be walking to the market, to the dry cleaners, to a bus or tube stop. It’s just so different from jumping into my car and popping down to the store. (By the way, I really miss my big 4-door Camry.) Most days I walk farther to catch my bus than the local Vons was from our house (and I never once walked there to do any shopping).

Some of this has been made worse by the fact that the washing machine broke down just before we got here. With a 6-year-old in the house—and all the laundry he can produce—it’s been a chore for Julie to cart the wash about 6 blocks to some washers, then bring it back to dry it at the house. The new washer comes tomorrow, and that should make life a whole lot better. So we’re all a little homesick, not only for the people we miss, but also for the way we lived. It seems strange to say that, because some things around here are amazing and we would miss those if we left.

OK, so now I have to make a real-time edit to this post. The shipping company just called and said that our container is in Rotterdam, and delivery has been delayed yet again. Unbelievable. We’re now scheduled (loosely, apparently) to receive our things on the 25th. I’ll keep you up-to-date on any new developments.

But first, some pictures from our visit to the British Museum on Saturday.

The museum from the outside.

The Rosetta Stone (worth looking up) is just about the coolest thing to see in London.

Some friends gave us a membership to the British Museum (thanks, guys), and it allows us to enter this private room with a coffee machine and things to read. Very cool.

Ian, sitting at the feet of an Assyrian deity. Gotta get him back in Sunday School.

This is Rameses II, one of the most famous pharaohs in Egyptian history.

Mummies! Nothing else to say.

We've been here 18 days.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Format Alert!

I will now be posting sermons at this address:


Please add this address to your favorites.

There are some new postings below...

Ian goes off to school...

Well, the day finally came. On Wednesday we took Ian to school for his first day in Year Two (1st grade in the US). He did great—he liked his teacher, made a new friend (Robert), and played soccer for the first time (though I think he scored an ‘own goal’). The day before school started we visited the school and met his teacher, Miss Lewis. Here are some snaps from the week.

Ian at the door of his new school. The kids there call it 'Hogwarts.'

Ian with his new teacher, Miss Lewis, who comes from South Africa.

This is Ian's classroom--there are 16 kids in his class.

Same room, different view.

I put this last because I didn't think anyone would keep reading after this picture! Unbelievable how good Ian looked in his uniform--he told me several times that he had a tie on. When I took this shot it was still dark outside, windy and rainy, and we were just about to leave to catch a bus for Marylebone, where the school is located.

Prehistoric Belsize Park

One of the young men in our church holds a senior position in the Foreign Office here (think State Department). We had him over for dinner recently, and within minutes he was on the floor playing dinosaurs with Ian. He also brings Ian currency from the countries he visits, the last one being Bosnia. Cool guy.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

A moving update

(There are a handful of new posts below, including pictures.)

So yesterday we were all set to receive the shipment of our furniture and personal things (my books!) from home. By 'all set' I mean we had cleaned the house, packed our clothes back into duffels, moved what we could out of the house, secured permits for the container to be parked in front of the house (no small feat), paid an extra fee for my books to be delivered to the church, and made some tea.

The crew were great--four guys came and helped us move things while we waited for the container, and within about an hour the house was ready for the avalanche of stuff we sent over. While we were waiting one of the guys handed me his cell phone and said that his boss wanted to speak with me. He told me that there had been a mistake somewhere, and that our container was not, in fact, in the UK yet. I made him say it again. Then I said 'Hold on a minute. I'm going to ask you a few questions, because I have to go inside the house and explain this to my wife, and I guarantee you're getting the easy end of this.' He was very apologetic and explained that at some point along the journey our container must have been put on a different ship, because it was now scheduled to arrive on the 13th of January.

Julie and Ian took it very well, and I'll love them both for that for the rest of my days. We told the crew what happened, and asked for their help getting some beds and minimal furniture back in the house. These guys were so gracious and good-humored, and were clearly the only competent links in the entire chain--that is, since the crew in LA came to pack up our things. The higher up one rises in the world of shipping, apparently, the lower one's IQ plummets. Three cheers for the guys who actually do the work of moving.

So we're here on a rainy Saturday morning. There's no dining table, dressers or other luxuries. Ian and Julie are watching some very bad TV in the other room, and I'm getting ready to go into the office for some fine-tuning on my first sermon at ACL. What a day.

In the midst of this moving disaster, we got a package from some friends in the States that had been sent before we came. It ended up in Royal Mail purgatory for the last few weeks and finally came today. They sent us some tollhouse chocolate chips, a package of mac 'n' cheese and a Yankee Candle. Ian got a card from their daughter that made him blush. Thanks, you guys. Your package couldn't have come at a better time.

The shipment is now scheduled to arrive here at the manse on the 18th of January.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Some pictures of the trip and other stuff

There are several new posts below, since I was able to improvise a DSL connection for my laptop. The pictures in these next entries go with stories I've already written. You'll figure it out.

Julie and Ian snuggling up before the flight.

Same song, different parent.

All of us, thanks to the nice lady in the next row.

A very kind man who picked us up from Heathrow.

More pictures from Christmas and after

We miss our Erdie!

This is my side of the family on Christmas Day.

Bill and I saw the new Bond movie a few days before Christmas...can you tell?

We said goodbye to our small group the day after Christmas--we'd been with them for five years, a true community.

And also to their kids, who have been some of Ian's closest friends.

Ian in front of a piece of California Sequoia...in London. Strange.

I'll confess that this is when it got a little scary for me.

A wildlife story

So Ian and were standing at the back door of the kitchen, which looks out onto the backyard (over here they say, 'garden'). We saw some squirrels and a few ladybugs, then several cats pranced through the yard, which made Ian very happy. Then, to our complete surprise, a fox sauntered across the back line of the yard. They have urban foxes over here, that boldly walk through backyards and across streets. Ian looked up at me and said, "Daddy, this is awesome."

I agree.

Our first few days...

Well...it’s been far too long since I’ve posted anything. The manse (that’s the pastor’s house for you contemporary types) has a desktop computer and DSL access, but I haven’t been able to connect my own laptop to the system. Today I brought my pc into the church office and am posting from here. I’ll get it worked out soon. Pictures will follow in a later post.

I’ll recap the journey over and these past few days.

The flight over was blissfully uneventful. We spent some extra miles and money and upgraded to business class seats, which meant we had the equivalent of 3 large recliners in a row, ordered off of a menu of steak, lamb or chicken, and had unlimited French wine to drink. As a result we slept most of the way and didn’t watch a single movie. A member of the church picked us up at Heathrow and delivered us to the manse. After a tour and a little unpacking, we walked up to the cluster of shops in our neighbourhood and had some dinner. By the way, we live in the Belsize Park area of London. You can Google it for some details.

On Saturday on of our new friends at the church (we’d also spent some time with her in June) picked up Julie and took her to a large grocery store to stock us up on food. Ian and I took the Tube to the Natural History Museum for a dinosaur fix. He’s loving the public transit—yesterday he told his Uncle Bill that his favourite thing so far has been the buses and trains. On our way to the train on Saturday Ian and I stopped in a little Italian cafe near our house. During a conversation with Rita, the proprietor, where she told us a lot about herself, she ended by saying that even though London wasn’t where she wanted to spend the rest of her life, she was convinced that God wanted her there for now. I told her that I felt the same way, and that I was going to be the new pastor at the American Church, and that just opened the gate. She attends a Pentecostal church in the city, but may drop by for a visit. That was an important little event for me because a). it reminded me that we’re here because God led us to this place to serve for a season, and b). that even in this most secular city it’s possible to run into another Christian and have a chat.

Sunday we stayed in (probably my last Sunday off for a long time), except for going out to lunch, and that night we went to dinner with two families in the church. There were 3 older boys there (12, 14 and 14), and after dinner they watched Zathura with Ian (he loved being with 'big kids'). We had intended to leave at about 9pm (it was New Year’s Eve), but we were having such a good time we ended up getting on the Tube at about 11, just as the revellers were loading up (in every sense) for the big celebration in Central London. It was a little scary (but also fun) to make our way home, but it was fine. We made it in time to watch the fireworks on TV—easily the most amazing display I’ve ever seen. If you can find footage of it on YouTube, check it out.

On New Year’s Day we mostly stayed put. It has occurred to us that we’re having a harder time than usual making the time change, because we’re not pushing to get out and see things. Last night (Tues) was the first time we’d slept through the night. Anyway, Monday night we had our first guests. A member of the church council dropped by to give us some maps and guides to the area. The associate pastor was out for a run and came in for a drink (water, this time). And then we had our first dinner guest, someone we’d gotten to know pretty well over the past 6 months as we prepared to move. He’s a press official for the Foreign Office (think State Department), but when Ian opened up a case of dinosaurs we found both “boys” on the floor creating a little Cretaceous scene in the living room. Very cool.

Tuesday we plotted a bus route for getting Ian to school next week. It takes two different buses, but drops him right across the street from the school. As I write this Julie and Ian are making the trip alone for the first time. Also on Tuesday I went into the office for the first time. About half of the staff is still on vacation, but I spent some time with the interim pastor, the facilities manager, and had lunch with the associate. I got the feel of the office and my desk, then took the bus home.

At some point today I'm going to figure out how to post some pictures. For now this brings us up to date.