Sunday, July 29, 2007

Our visit to LA

So after seven months in London, the last two weeks spent with a large contingent of my family, and a week of that with my mom seriously ill in the hospital, we all flew home together on Wednesday. Heathrow was a ridiculous mess, even for, well, Heathrow. By the time we made it through the security line, the screen said our flight was in final boarding so we ran through the airport to get to our gate. As it turned out the screen as wrong, and so we missed lunch, a chance to shop in Duty Free, and the cigar shop. Bummer.

But the flight was good--lots of movies and good food. I watched Zodiac, Blades of Glory, Shooter and 300. That last one was the best of the lot--what a great story of bravery and honor and sacrifice. A very Christian movie about a bunch of militaristic pagans. Go figure.

We're staying with my in-laws and having a great time. Lots of good food, wine, laughter and a car to drive. We've spent each evening with our daughter and her husband, which has been a joy. The other night we watched The Godfather while eating cheese, bread and fruit. The weather is hot (upper 90s), and Ian has been swimming with his grandfather every day. Julie and I have run errands, seen some friends, and begun the process of re-learning to relax.

Today we went back to our old church. It was so good to be there again. Lots of kids, a variety of worship music and friends that we adore. After church we had lunch with our old small group--Armenian chicken, Rose wine and Pimm's (our contribution). The kids played in the heat, and we just talked--it was as if we'd never been gone. The group has continued to meet, but we've all been such big parts of each other's lives over the years that we just entered seamlessly into the conversation. Lots of hugs, scheming about visits to London, and more love than we had a right to expect. It was lovely.

I'm still processing how I feel about all this. It's only been four days, anyway, so there's no need yet to analyze it too much.

Later tonight I'm headed off to a cigar night given in my honor. This group of guys gets together once a month or so. They smoke cigars (hence the name), sip spirits and talk about things that matter: faith, theology, politics, life. When I think about what a healthy church should look and feel like, most often I think of this group of people who laugh heartily, share openly, argue fiercely and love with abandon. I'll be writing more about this over our time here.

More news later.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Good News

The great news is that mom was released from the hospital this afternoon. She still has the stone, still has a little bit of the infection left, but she's been paroled and celebrated by watching Zathura with the kids this evening. She has a prescription for antibiotics and some pain pills, and has been turned loose to make our original flight on Wednesday. Typically for her, she made a friend in the hospital--a woman named Nicky who is from Cyprus and living permanently in the UK. There's a picture of them together below.

Meanwhile, we continued to share London with Gina, Dan, Garrett, Connor and Bella. On Saturday we walked to the top of Primrose Hill, near our house, for a great view of London. Julie had the deadpan comment of the day--looking at the city with the dark rain clouds up above, she said, 'isn't summer in London wonderful?' After this we walked over to Abbey Road, where the Beatles recorded their albums, and got caught in a huge downpour. July in London.

On Sunday after church we came back to the house to relax for the afternoon. The rain on Saturday had given way to a beautiful Sunday, and the kids had a picnic and played in the yard until 9:30 that night. They've watched all the available Harry Potter movies multiple times while they've been here, and they made wands and cast spells at the top of their lungs for most of the day.
Here's mom at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, with her new friend Nicky. Glad to have you home, mom.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Update on Mom

Mom's chest scan came back showing that she did not have a clot in her lung, which is great news. She also had a day without fever--hopefully that means that the infection is fully under control. Our hope is that she'll be released today (Sunday) or tomorrow, and that we'll all be able to return home on Wednesday as planned.

Yesterday when we arrived, mom was having a fun chat with her new pal in the bed opposite her. The 8 of us rolled in, and before we left 2 more visitors came from ACL--MaryAnn and Niki Barlow.

More news as it comes.

Paris (not Hilton)

This post is dedicated to my mom. There's another report about her health below this one.

So while my mom was in the hospital, she insisted we continue with our trip to Paris. We had an amazing time--this was our first time there (OK, Gina was there in '84, when she was 14). Here we are in front of, well, you know.

Sun was going down, and the lights on the Tower started to flash and flicker. It was beautiful.
We had a picnic dinner on the grass near the Tower: Cheese, bread, pate, wine, fruit, Nutella. This is the wreckage.
This is Ian learning to appreciate fine art. Not a bad start.
Anyone see 'Night at the Museum'?
The kids at Notre Dame. Little gargoyles...
Notre Dame. No hunchbacks in sight...
We had one of our dinners at a corner cafe in downtown Paris.
The kids had a great time at the Luxembourg Gardens. This is Ian on a zip line.
The kids at the same park.
Julie and me at the same place.
Me with Ian at sunset on the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The latest on Mom

Just wrapped up a mtg with mom's Dr. here in London.

The stone was lodged in the ureter, between the kidney and bladder, which caused a massive infection that almost cost mom her kidney. That danger has passed. A stent was put in that allowed the stone to move into the bladder, but that released the infection into the bloodstream causing sepsis. Mom is taking on strong antibiotics to fight the infection in her blood.

There is a new concern--her blood/oxygen rate has been falling, and all the attention has shifted to making sure mom doesn't have a blood clot in her lung. We're waiting for a chest CT now.

If there is no clot, then the focus goes back to the stone and the sepsis. The dr has strongly urged that she doesn't travel until the infection is completely gone. Mom wants to leave anyway--we're negotiating that one right now. The right travel 'moment' will be in-between the time when the infection goes away and the stone (now moved to her bladder) has to be treated.

The dr is great--clearly brilliant and willing to speak directly and answer questions. He looks like Sidney Poitier--mom may have a wee crush.

So...we need to get the infection and blood/oxygen issues sorted out, and then the focus will go back to the stone. Either we'll all fly to CA on Wed as planned, or I'll stay and mom and I will come back when she can fly.

That's the news--please keep her in your prayers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Prayer Alert

We're in Paris right now (Julie, Ian, my sister and her family). We were supposed to be here with my Mom, but she was feeling ill when it was time to leave on Tuesday. Her plan was to rest up and take a later train, but she got worse and ended up in the hospital in London (The Royal Free in Hampstead).

The problem was, we were already on the Eurostar headed for the Chunnel, and there was no way to turn back.

She has been diagnosed with a large kidney stone, which has caused a major kidney infection. As I write this (9:40am GMT), she's having a stent put in place which will allow the stone to move into her bladder and heal the infection.

We, on the other hand, are in Paris, on a trip that my Mom planned and was looking forward to, and worried about her. Our church secretary, Miranda Macdonald, stayed with Mom for most of the day yesterday, and will go back this evening. We're so thankful for her!

Please keep my Mom in your prayers--we'll send an update when we get one.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A visit from home

My sister and her family, along with my mom, are staying with us for a few weeks. Here are the kids sitting on our porch.
Garrett and Bella on the Tube.
Gina and Connor enjoying the ride.
The Tube can have a strange effect on people...

I thought they were supposed to have small cars over here!
All of us standing on the Prime Meridian at Greenwich Observatory
Westminster from the Thames (we were on a boat)
The kids came back after a long day and reading books.
Very 'old school', don't you think?
Even Bella (aged 3) got into the act.

Next stop: PARIS

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Random news from the last few weeks

Ian finished school on July 5th. He grew up so much this year...after struggling a bit to find his bearings in a new school with new kids and new rules, he ended strong, scoring high marks in most subjects. His teacher made a point of saying how kind and helpful he was with her and the other students. Can you tell that we were proud of him for that?
We had a great visit from Philip and Karen, some dear friends from Scotland. They housed and fed us on some of our visits, including when I defended my dissertation in 2005. Philip is a great cook--he's making a lamb curry here that was delicious.

My mom, my sister and her family came to visit. This is their train pulling into Paddington Station.
Not a bad looking crew after 14 hours or so of travel.
And this is Bella (appropriately named), my niece, in the cab on the way to our house.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Psalm 68:6

As we continue to adjust to life and ministry here, there are some blessings that sneak in and hit us when we’re not looking. Things we see, places we go, new experiences—all sorts of stuff that can help us as we get our feet on the ground in London.

The other night we had a couple of other families over for dinner. The Barlows are here as church planters (there’s a link to their work on the right). Their project centers on reaching out to people who are warm to the faith but, as Tom says, ‘allergic to church’. What they’ve also done is reach out to us and walk alongside us as we learn to love and serve this city. Tom and I meet for coffee and conversation every Tuesday morning at a little Italian place near the church, and those conversations have been a huge encouragement to me. I don’t think it’s overstated to say that the Barlows—all five of them—have made this time so far so much better than it would have been without them.

The Passerellis are new friends that we met through Tom Barlow. Dan and Somer are here with their two young daughters working with homeless services and other urban ministry projects in London. I’m in awe of these folks who come here and go directly into the parts of London tourists will never see, because those people need to hear the gospel in a meaningful way as much as anyone else. My job is cushy compared to what the Barlows and Passerellis do (his blogsite is also on the right).

So the 11 of us had dinner on Friday. I was late because I was leading a wedding rehearsal, and Julie had gotten turned around on a bus and was trying to make up for the lost time. We were a little frazzled at first, but as the evening went on, with the kids playing and all of us sitting around talking while the chicken was on the grill, I started to feel this strange peace.

First, I think it just felt familiar—this is exactly what I would be doing on a Friday night back in California. Having another family or two over for dinner felt so, well, normal, and it was great. The other familiar part was sitting around talking about theology and ministry and some of the controversial issues that plague each of our denominational traditions. I spent a lot of time in our small group, or at cigar night, or with any number of faithful friends doing the same thing. It felt right because I had been in these conversations—and loved them—many times before.

But there was something else that was new to me—new in that tingly way when you realize you haven’t experienced something before. I was in the company of other ministers—each of us with such different roles, but each of us trying to reach the same city in a fresh way. Each of us came from a strong tradition, but each of us also is trying to move those traditions to a new place. I think that the exciting part of that for me was being with colleagues in ministry. As lonely as we’ve been, and as hard as my job seems sometimes, there was a burden lifted from me as I ate and talked and laughed with these new friends. These are such good and faithful people. I love that I felt challenged to be good and faithful by being with them, and I look forward to seeing them again.

It wasn’t all so serious that night. Dan brought some, er, contraband left over from the 4th of July that he hadn’t been able to use. We got the kids in the back yard and lit one up. You know that feeling when you’ve started something that goes sideways and you can’t stop it? When I lit this thing it started to sparkle, which was fine, but then it went into this deafening shriek that everyone in the neighborhood could hear. As if that weren’t bad enough, at the end it popped up and showered the yard with flaming embers.

The kids were ecstatic—cheering and clapping and loving every minute of it. Dan, Tom and I were laughing so hard that we couldn’t stand up. Would the police come? I could see the headlines: ‘THREE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS FIGURES ARRESTED IN EXPLOSION HORROR!’ So what did we decide to do?

We lit another one.

Now on the bright side, this one wasn’t nearly as loud as the first one. We were enjoying the light from the bright sparkles when it exploded upward, into our tree and over the wall into the neighbor’s yard. It was fine, nothing caught fire, but we decided that standard pub rules were in order: Drink the first one, enjoy the second, and skip the third.

I tell this story because it capped off a night that was full of everything: friendship, shared ministry, good food and wine, the sound of happy kids playing, and fireworks. It was a reminder to me that no matter what else is happening, one simple truth remains:

God is really good.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Not a good sign...

The story below represents a very bad sign.

Not the serious debate over the atonement—we have to do that in every generation to make sure that we’re communicating the essence of the gospel in a way that makes sense...and disciples.

Here’s the story:

Cross Purposes
Biggest Christian conference splits amid growing atonement debate.

Three of Great Britain’s most prominent Christian groups have ended their 14-year conference partnership, scuttling the annual Word Alive youth event. At issue was disagreement over a speaker, the Rev. Steve Chalke. But below the surface simmers a theological controversy that threatens to split the country’s evangelicals.

Chalke criticizes the penal substitutionary theology of 19th-century Princeton theologian Charles Hodge, subscribing instead to a view of the atonement called Christus Victor, which focuses on how Christ delivered fallen humanity from Satan. In 2005, the Evangelical Alliance (EA), an umbrella organization for U.K. evangelicals, hosted a public debate on the atonement. Its revised doctrinal statement, which Chalke signed, appears to uphold penal substitution, the belief that Jesus endured God’s punishment for humanity’s sin while on the Cross.

Keswick and UCCF (the U.K.’s sister body to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) plan to launch a new Word Alive conference in 2008. World Alive has scheduled two strong proponents of substitution as speakers: Donald A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and John Piper, preaching pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today.

The bad sign is that these groups—effectively the last remaining cooperative evangelical effort in the UK—would rather separate from each other than live with the tension that comes from working together with differing views. These are not left-right, conservative-liberal debates, no matter how they’re characterized by the parties involved, but rather issues of power and control. We don't know, in the same way that we know other things, exactly how Christ's death on the Cross redeems us and the rest of Creation, and so it's ridiculous for otherwise faithful people to divide over precisely that. What's at stake is something different, it's who gets to speak on behalf of British evangelicals.

Congratulations, folks, you’ve managed to to mirror the same self-destructive patterns of your American evangelical brothers and sisters. And you were doing so well! Over the last century Americans have split over evolution, inerrancy and eschatology, among other things, and you managed to avoid the worst behaviors associated with the debates over those issues.

As Archie and Edith Bunker sang, ‘those were the days’.

Since WWII, evangelicals have managed to fritter away the best, the most golden opportunity for Christian revival since Roman lions spent their afternoons snacking on Christians. A world lay in ruins, crying out for hope, and apart from a few brave individuals and groups who set aside non-essential differences and worked together, most decided to separate and go it alone. They chose their personal empires over the gospel, and gave up the chance to share the gospel with a world in need.

Now the British evangelicals are doing the same thing.

The UK is as secular a country as you can imagine—it is the very definition of the trendy term, ‘post-Christian’. Economic injustice is rampant, kids are growing up alienated and disaffected, and droves of immigrants are calling into question what it means here to be ‘British’. And through it all about 2% of the population will admit to attending church. In short, the nation is ripe for a fresh retelling of the gospel in a way that reaches out to people who need its saving message.

So the bad sign is that at this crucial moment, the groups most likely to join forces and take an honest stab at sharing Christ with this nation, are instead separating from each other over a doctrine that has generated debate for centuries. Who loses? Did you catch that the cancelled event was directed to a youth audience? That 2% church participation number actually goes down if you measure the involvement of young people. What a shame.

My hope and prayer is that these good people will reconsider their reaction, repent of their pride, and keep their eyes on the damn ball.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Primum non nocere

So most of you know by now that the past week has been a little scary in the UK. First there were two car bombs discovered and disarmed here in London, and a few days later two men drove a flaming car rigged to explode into the main terminal at Glasgow Airport.

Londoners tend to take these things in their stride. They survived the Blitz, years of IRA violence and the 7/7 bombings with an admirable attitude of nonchalance. It’s funny, the same thing that makes most Americans so frustrated about living here—the apparent sense of aloofness or complacency you get when you want something from someone—is actually a survival trait learned over decades of violence and loss. On the TV news after they found the bombs here in London, person after person said that they weren’t going to be kept in their homes by a few crazy people. Young people went to clubs. Middle-aged people trudged on to their jobs. Old folks talked about how much worse it was when the Germans were bombing them every day.

In these days of political posturing and division over Iraq and other matters, it’s easy to forget something very important: The British are exceptionally brave and accomplished people.

But today there is news regarding the people behind all of the bombings (and a few others that never took place), and that news is almost as shocking as the crimes themselves.

Most, if not all, of the people involved in this plot were medical doctors.

What? Wait a second. For the last 10 years or more, going back to the intifada in Israeli-occupied territories, we’ve been hearing a bizarre line of defense on behalf of those who would strap a bomb on their chest and walk into a pizza parlor, or a bus, or anyplace else crowded with innocent people. We’ve been told that these tragic murderers were disaffected and poor, that they lacked a sense of hope, that they had no economic future.

Most of the people involved in this plot were doctors.

These guys weren’t poor or ignorant or hopeless. They were physicians, educated and trained to help the sick and wounded. They were supposed to be the hope of each of their ethnic cultures and their shared religion. Whatever their grievances were, they were supposed to be better people than that, and they weren’t—they aren’t. Whatever their advantages, their particular brand of religion trumped what they had learned about the world and its people, and led them to try and destroy a couple of nightclubs and a regional airport. What a waste. And what a crock to say that only economic factors matter in interpreting the behavior of human beings. Can we finally put Marx in his grave after this one?

Now let me say right here that I believe that there are some aspects of Islamic violence toward the West that make sense. Mistakes—some less innocent than others—have been made and continue to be made among politicians in America, Britain and beyond. The list is long, but at its core there has been a lack of understanding of Islamic culture—especially among those who would call themselves evangelical Christians—that has contributed to the enormous gulf between us. I single out evangelicals because they (we?) remain among the last groups within Christianity who believe that those outside the faith need to be drawn in, loved in, preached in, served in.

I also say that as a way of earning the right to say this: It’s long past time for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to denounce together the fanatical violence being done in the name of the Islamic faith.

For Christians, we need to draw out the essential truth from these last events, and here it is: Sin and evil are equal-opportunity players. We keep talking about the Fall in our churches as if it were some abstract concept or artifact from another time. We base our whole faith on Christ, who came to cover the wounds and brokenness caused by our ‘bent to sinning’, and then forget that we’re still sinners in need of a savior.

Let me put it another way: It’s too easy to look at a poor backward Islamic terrorist and pray like the Pharisee: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers and adulterers...’ But what do we do when the terrorists are, well, a lot like us? I left a church in Glendale that was full of professional people, business leaders and teachers, and came to a church in London full of bankers, oil executives and more teachers. There are even a few doctors at both churches. What do we do when the terrorists are too much like us?

Our only response—after we’ve caught them all and stepped up our security efforts (I’m not crazy)—is to remember that Christ came for them, too. I don’t want them running free in the streets any more than you do, but I also don’t want them either killed or marginalized any further, not before they can hear the same gospel message that offered salvation to me. That’s the call on every Christian’s life, no matter how awful or repugnant the sin in front of us might be.

The oath that doctors take begins with a simple principle: ‘First, do no harm.’ I have no idea just how these guys managed to go so completely against their training, and in the end it doesn’t really matter. The main thing is still the main thing:

Just because these doctors forgot their oath doesn’t mean that I have to forget mine.