Saturday, May 20, 2006
Friday, May 19, 2006
Greetings all. May has been a slow month here in Uttlesford county, where all the men drink tea, the women are English, and the dogs outnumber the humans at an obscene ratio. Of course after such an eventful previous month anything short of the Second Coming or finding true love would be under-whelming.
The most exciting news this month is that the sun, after a pro-longed absence, has returned. That said, as I sit here writing this while eating brunch at Costas (think Starbucks, except British), holding a large white Amercano, served in a cup the size of my head, in one hand and putting pencil to paper with my other hand, it is grey outside and rains on and off. Each time the sky turns on the spigot the ever proper British, nearly in unison, pull out their umbrellas from some hidden marsupial-like pouch (people watching in a foreign country often becomes culture watching). This human adaptation to its environment does not take me totally off guard; after all I’ve lived in Oregon where natives all have webbed feet.
With the coming of spring has come a change of wardrobe. Not only have we St. Mark’s volunteers began wearing T-shirts, but we’ve been so bold as to put on shorts and sandals as well (unfortunately the unpredictable Essex weather tends to force the shoes back on our feet rather quickly). I’ve imported the Left-coast sport of "Hacky-sac" and Yan, with his long Slovakian legs, has caught on quick. The local sports season is starting up too. We’ve already squished the grass down in the backfield to create a Cricket pitch and you can not miss the fact that the World Cup is on. English flags (not the Union Jack, but the English flag, white with a red cross) are everywhere. One almost wonders if a crusade is going on with so many crosses flying. Along with the joys the nicer weather has brought us, new chores have come as well, (isn’t that what Spiderman’s marvelous sage uncle, Ben, once said, "With great power comes great responsibility.") namely cutting grass. This is done on a weekly, or even bi-weekly basis. Last week I, yes I alone, like Hercules amongst the Aegeans, mowed the entire college grounds in a single day. It was a task I fear I shall have to repeat like Sisyphus, and shoulder like Atlas is said to shoulder the world (by the way if you read a lot of Tolkien and Lewis, the big two of British Christianty’s Literary canon you run across a lot of ancient myths…)
Another kind of mowing has been triggered by the coming sun. Yan and I, with hair as long and unkempt as Samson, have bowed to the blade and shorn one another’s manes. Or, to paraphrase Eric’s words in last month’s newsletter, after Yan and the clipper got through with me I once again, "look like a harbor seal."
This month I’ve had two visitors, both whom you may remember from my December Newsletter, Kate, a fellow YAGM volunteer, and Luke, a Lutheran violin maker who has came here to better the skills of his trade, both from London. I treated them to all the area had to offer, Archery, trampoline, a United Reformed Church service, and a good rummaging through of the book sections in Saffron Walden’s charity shops. Kate left 12 books richer, her booty including the entire Lord of the Ring’s trilogy and The Hobbit for a mere 5 quid! Bowing to peer pressure I bought a book myself, Tolkien’s history of Middle Earth, The Silmarillion.
Later on Sunday my guests joined St. Mark’s RYPpers for a worship service led by yours truly. Because of a projector malfunction, and my own luddite tendencies, the power point presentation that went along with my sermon on Jonah didn’t work. On top of that my sermon notes were on the computer, which decided to be temperamental. So it was truly Chris Halverson: Live and Unplugged. The poor RYPpers, St. Mark’s staff, and my Lutheran-American compatriots were subjected to 40 minutes of quips, melodrama, musings, and corny references to Monty Python. In the end, I think the RYPpers came away with a few good points from the book of Jonah; God is in control, God loves folk we might not think He loves, and the worm that ate Jonah’s favorite plant sounds suspiciously like the Knights who say Ni from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
We St. Mark’s volunteers have reached a strange point in our year. We’ve got our plans ready for returning to our respective countries worked out; our work here has become, while still challenging at times, routine and old hat. It is like, as Vik said to me recently, "When October rolls around, you’ve bought everyone’s presents, you’ve made plans for Christmas and New Years, yet you still have two months until Christmas comes. Your ready for it, but it isn’t ready for you." I thought of mentioning that my own Christmas shopping tends to be of a more slapdash mid-December variety, but none the less I think he was expressing a feeling that we all are kind of feeling.
I thought of our current situation in more theological terms (after all I can be quite theological at times). It’s like we are living in the "already-not-yet." Christ has already conquered Sin, Death, and the Devil, yet here we are living in a world filled with Sin, Death, and the Devil. Likewise, we have already lived into our time here at St. Mark’s and got our heads around moving on, yet here we are at St. Mark’s. Yet, we also think forward, realizing that when we actually leave this place the present reality and now-ness of it will come as a complete surprise and shock to our system in the same way the actuality of people saying "Merry Christmas" sneaks up on us "like a thief in the night."
How to conclude this caffeine fueled epistle? I suppose in the same way I have closed each letter I have written so far, with a story or poem.
Already Not Yet
"They say the sunrise from here is the most beautiful in the world," said Drake.
He said such a thing into a fog bank. Into clouds and sheets of rain. The three of them had been camped on the ledge for three days. Nothing but darkness, nothing but rain. Steven’s lungs had filled with sputum and phlegm, his wife, Mary, was begging Drake to abandon his quest to see the beauty that was all around them, yet invisible through the rough and deadly elements.
"If not for me, for Steve," she pleaded.
"Just wait for it. Please," he replied. His own worry for Steven was great, but his yearning for what he knew to be around him was greater still. He also was convinced that the mere beauty of the rising sun would warm his friend’s lungs and bring him to new health.
"One day," she said, "then we are going, whether the sun comes out or not.
"Fair enough," said Drake, clinging to the rock on which the camp was based.
PS I thought I’d give you all a heads up. I will be flying into Oregon on the 2nd of August and will be giving a presentation about my time as a Lutheran Missionary in England at Centeral Lutheran Church in Eugene Oregon sometime between the third and 10th and will be doing a similar presentation at Christ Lutheran Church in Cheyenne Wyoming between the 13th and 17th. Hope to see many of you there!
Monday, May 15, 2006
Not much else to report. Mom and dad are still doing well in Alaska, they went bike riding and saw a moose recently.
I finished Jim Wallis' "God's Politics" not a bad book, though I don't think he really answered "Why the American Right gets it wrong and the left doesn't get it" he gives lots and lots of examples of folks getting it wrong or not getting it, but all he can say as to the why is that the Right is full of bad theology and secular fundementalists on the left dislike theology.
Wallis' view of a godly centerism would be pro-peace, anti-abortion, pro-family, anti-tax cuts for the rich, and pro-third world debt relief. Also it would be for implimenting policies instead of getting elected. The parts of his book I liked best was his concrete examples, witnesses you could call them, of Godly people who put their faith into action. Examples included Desmond Tutu, the 6 point solution for the Iraq conflict people, all those who contributed to the 2000 Jubilee year, and future Labor Party leader Gordon Brown.
Another shining part of this book is the chapter entitled "Dangerous Religion" in which Wallis picks apart Bush's religious rhetoric. He of course hits on the words "evildoers", "mission" "calling" and so on, but he also contextualizes this into a bigger picture, that Bush sees America as a proxy for God! In a 9-11 comemerative speech Bush showed this in the most blatent way, he refered to America as "a light shining in the darkness, yet the darkness will not overcome it." I felt quite insensed by this one and have to say to the Presient. Sorry, as for me and mine we worship the Lord, and that's Jesus, not the home of the free and the brave, the land of military might and high ideals, but a lowly carpenter's son born in the corner of the Roman Empire, a preacher of love and compassion, justice and humility, killed by his own people and by Rome, raised by God.