Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Diary of Dundee, Pt II

Sunday saw Chad and I waking to the glorious perfume of Canadian bacon drifting up the stairs from the kitchen. Rose’s kitchen is rather akin to an oyster; it’s the small place in which items of great value are found, and as I am somewhat food-centric, you can guess where I first drift in the morning. Breakfast was in the vein of bacon, eggs, and toast. It seems that toast, crumpets, English muffins, and the like are a permanent fixture of the Scottish breakfast table. They lend themselves, as my friend Richard said, to a more contemplative time before addressing the day, as opposed to the Cracker Barrel breakfast, which lends itself to going back to bed afterwards to address the onset of sleep caused by too much sausage gravy. After breakfast, we left for church at Elim Pentecostal on the other side of Dundee near Ladywell Roundabout, where prayer before the service was about to begin.

I have always been blessed to be at a loss when praying with those involved in ministry in Dundee. It is an experience that lets you feel the bricks and mortar of the Kingdom of God being laid around you, while English tumbles from your mouth in a haphazard cascade, and you thank God in your mind that there is grace enough for busted-up prayers from broken-down sinners. I’m sure the eloquence thereof also has something to do with hearing the Scottish accent. We were also blessed to be present for a baby dedication that morning, as we prayed for Johnny and his wife Terry in the raising of their daughter (if she’s anything like her dad, she’ll be an all-star football player). I wish I could tell you what text Graham preached on, but most of us were still so jet-lagged that we had a hard time staying awake during the parts of the service when you sit still. I do remember that I sat next to Gloria, who is a great Scottish lady in the most dignified terms, and who has a spectacular sense of humor (as we shall see later in the game).

Now, you might think that, being six vaingloriously unsophisticated Tennesseans in Scotland (and half of us for the first time, at that), we would drift naturally toward restaurants labeled NOT KFC. But instead of doing Sunday lunch at some local place, I was informed that, yes, indeed we would be paying homage to dear ol’ Harlan Sanders and his international grease-fried empire. So I chose to visit the bakery next door and get a scotch pie and a chicken bake (something akin to a pot pie and a Hot Pocket), and then I ate them in KFC.

The beginnings of the day paled, though, in light of the proceedings which we attended when we filed into the balcony rows of Central Baptist Church that evening and sat in those high-backed wooden pews as if we were in the Globe Theatre. And indeed, the Lord’s genius in the evening nearly had me jumping out of my seat and into thin air. The parishioners of sixteen churches from the corners of Dundee filled the ornate old sanctuary to bursting, both with their presence and the iconoclastic hodge-podge of their denominational traditions. Pentecostals sat next to Baptists, and Congregationalists (I’m not particularly sure what that means) sat next to members of the Church of Scotland. We sang together, and we prayed together, and we wondered at the beautiful kaleidoscope of it all.

Unbeknownst to six rather easily-spotted Americans in the balcony, the leaders of those churches had been meeting together over tea for years, simply to befriend each other and discuss ideas and callings. The charter that they unveiled during the meeting was the prayerful work meant to call the churches of Dundee together in a unified rag-tag bunch to serve a rag-tag city. Then Jim Clark preached on Ephesians, chapter 4.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.

Thus admonished, we went downstairs to a blether where most of the group from the sanctuary filled an even smaller room until we were standing in each others’ pockets, as it were. The ladies from Central Baptist somehow tunneled their way through the milieu carrying trays of exquisitely constructed hand-sized pastries, which I quickly proved to be bite-sized. And of course, tea was served. On a large scale.

We also fit in time for watching Gary and Matt’s band at Dexter’s later that evening. It was great to have a guy from the UK with a somewhat British accent on stage, instead of a guy from America faking it. Plus, punk rock with a solo acoustic guitar and drums takes guts. My favorite part had to the song with the lyrics, I’m a Mormon and I don’t care. I had hoped to spend the late hour after the concert walking along the Tay with Chad and trying to figure out why God had made us roomies other than to have a good laugh. But he went to call his wife and kids, so I struck out alone.

On Brook Street, the air doesn’t move much, thanks to the high courtyard walls that surround everything in Scotland. But one block south, the wind stretches its northerly fingers in among the houses and whips down the lane off the firth. I turned up my collar and pulled my hat down tighter as I trod down the sidewalk next to the waves lapping in cold dark froth at the stony shoreline. I don’t think it was chance, either, that led me to absentmindedly turn my head to look back at a natural pier jutting out into the dark toward a fishing shack. There, in the lee of the pier, six white swans floated silently on the inky water, holy ghosts bobbing in the loose rhythm of the Tay.

Part I

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Diary of Dundee, Pt I

It has been quite a while since our last technological rendezvous, dear friend. I miss the regularity of having to write like a man with deadlines, but I've been enjoying the lack of an internet to suck up my life. This means that every time you read a new post, I have been loaned the use of someone else's computer. I'm glad that I live among the generous.

The real reason I'm back for a moment is to give you the chronicle of my latest trip to Scotland. I was blessed to go with five people through whom I was led to still waters. This will be in a few installments, just to keep you coming back for more, and hopefully you will. My house is still not a nexus of online information, so I am sorry if I do not answer messages as frequently as you might hope. That certainly doesn't mean I wouldn't like to sit down over tea with you. Come by The Sinclair House, and I'll pour you up the latest that I've set down with my quills and ink. And after a glass of Applewood Muscadine, perhaps I'll have the pleasure of hearing your stories as well.

Part I

The clean, glimmering light of the dawn breathed over the horizon into cold air and ricocheted off the airfoils of the 757. In my aisle seat on Continental flight 36Q, next to Eric and Mindy, I awoke to the bustle of stewardesses and the smell of toast. Our fitful sleep had been punctuated with a movie that I didn’t really watch, and I had stood in the aisle for a while between 2 and 3 o’clock, Greenwich Mean Time, having a good conversation with Todd about what we really think of the mechanics of becoming a disciple of Jesus (though I don’t suppose ‘mechanics’ is the right word). I hate sleeping on planes; those seats are shipped straight from the Tower of London, if you ask me.

We had taken off from Newark Liberty International into a cloudy ceiling full of the impersonal drone of the Manhattan skyline, but the cloudy sky we broke through into the outskirts of Edinburgh was pregnant with possibility, with meaning and openness. Except for a couple of scheduled times and a few other inklings, we had no idea what work was prepared for us in the coming week. We were herded off the aircraft like lethargic livestock into the ready arms of UK Customs officers, where I found myself stopped by both the official and her superior as well (both asking the same questions). Were I a bettin’ man, I’d say it was because of my shaved head and rather prominent beard, which has gotten me accused of (in no particular order) being a sex offender, a terrorist, and an Amish man. It doesn’t worry me anymore.

Bruce and Carolyn were there to give the six of us a lift to Dundee, and seeing the countryside between Edinburgh and Perth again was almost as good as seeing my old friends, whom I’ve known all my life, though we only met last March. The gorse-bush-dotted craigs rushed by, giving way to the wide basin of the Tay and an early morning view of Perth. Something is always in bloom in Scotland, no matter the season. Blackberries, jonquils, thistles, and thousands of blossoms I can’t name sprout from the black, rain-heavy peat as if laughing with color at the ubiquitous croaking of the ravens. We reached Bruce’s house in Dundee at about ten in the morning and strewed ourselves unceremoniously about the lounge, where I promptly acquired my long-awaited sleep while others went to Tesco for provisions. After lunch, we set out for the first stop: the cliffs at Arbroath.

It’s one of those experiences you have to be there to understand (like most, I guess), watching the muscular red sandstone reach down from dark furrowed fields into the tug of the North Sea, while gulls freewheel above the mortar-fire of the surf and pick straggling snails from the kelp-strewn rock beds at low tide. It’s one of my favorite places on Earth. Something about the sea always calls me. Perhaps that it’s bigger than me, that it holds depths I cannot reach, that its power is so beyond our scope as to be inestimable. Plus, we usually stop at Marco’s for fish and chips afterwards (with gargantuan fillets of haddock pulled straight from the sea at our backs).

Chad and I were staying at Rose’s house in Broughty Ferry (or bruach Tay in Gaelic, meaning ‘Bank of the Tay’). Her cottage is on Brook Street, two blocks over from the Firth o’ Tay itself. Upstairs, from my bedroom window, I could hear the church bell across the street tolling the hour as the har crept in off the sea, obscuring all but the brightest of lights in the evening. Sleep came easy to us, as it would all week. Give us grace for tomorrow, Lord, for the work will surely begin.