Christmas…

Snowed in on my first Aberdeen Christmas…

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As I write this I am slouched in a chair, head banging and eyes sore from the remnant of a cold, the only hint of Christmas out here being the podcast I am listening to, profering explanations for the Star of Bethlehem. In my head though, I am back to my first proper Aberdeen Christmas from which this picture comes, the enduring image being one of snow, bitter cold and loads of time for introspection. Many years ago, when I still was in children’s Sunday School in the University Chapel my family attended, the carol service and reeling off lengthy passages committed to memory were most looked forward to, alongside rice and plentiful chicken. At one of those, I played the Magi with Myrrh, in addition to the scripture memory. Since then, the story of the Magi who bearing gifts has always intrigued me, particularly as it relates to the moving star.

At the linked podcast, Justin Brierley, Mark Kidger and Gillian Straine ponder the physical evidence for an event observable from the earth as a moving star and the theological implications of a natural explanation. Well worth a listen if that kind of thing is your bag. Merry Christmas regardless….

When I Still Don’t Desire God…

For Day 4 and 5 of the WordPress Finding  Everyday Inspiration Challenge

Struggling has hope of success, but forsaking the struggle does not

                                                                                                          – John Piper

John Piper is perhaps most famous for his espousal of Christian Hedonism, the idea that ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him’. One of the essential tenets of this is that we are designed to, and should indeed, desire God not only on the level of mental assent but also at a deeper heart, emotional level. The reality of most people of faith is that our hearts and heart connections to God wax and wane, the strength of our feelings never really existing continuously in that Christian Hedonist space.

It is in a reflection on fifteen years since publishing that book that the quote above comes. This is both a source of hope and concern, hope because the struggle is proof that some life is still left in my faith, but also concern that they might just be the final thrashings of a thing recently dead thing. Food for thought!

31 Days of Journaling, Day 3: One Thing

For the prompt for Day 3 of the 31 Day Journaling Challenge at The Art of Manliness

Alongside a regular practice, building a regular practice of prayer and bible study has been one of the things I have struggled most with over the years and which has come up again in this latest iteration of beginning again.

As for actual steps this time, I have bought a copy of 90 Days in Judges, Galatians and Ephesians by Tim Keller and Richard Coekin, a notebook and a pack of hibiscus tea, the intent being to make that part of a new morning routine in which I brew a cup of tea and settle in to read the assigned reading of the day and write notes in my mew black book. Two days in already, I hope I can make it to the 90 and then beyond.

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Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Maybe it is the shock of the delayed cognition of turning 39 – perilously close to the age of eternal foolishness – or the weariness of dealing on and off with death and grieving that births this feeling hovering over me that I can’t quite place. It is not entirely inscrutable: the little I understand of it suggests part of it is a heightened sense of my own fragility, the deaths – ranging from old class mates of mine to friends of my father’s – underscoring the fleeting nature of life and with it the sense of time speeding by. The other part that rears its head from the haze is the feeling of drifting, one day blurring into the next which is barely distinguishable from the one that follows it with the only discernible purpose being fighting whatever fire glows brightest both at work and in my personal life.

One of the most visible symptoms of this lingering disquiet has been a withdrawal from all but the most inescapable of contacts – work, family and the friends I have had the longest.  I’ll be the first to admit I have never been the most outgoing of persons, but even by my standards the past year has been a new low for engagement across the board, from the spiritual to the mundane and then some more. Part of this reluctance to engage has to do, I suspect, with this feeling of drifting; the ones I might otherwise come across being reminders of the past and where I once was. There is also the small matter of the sense of feeling like I am at a crossroads of sorts, looking towards the next decade of my life and wondering if corrosion will continue to be a part of it, if tweaks are required to how I currently practice it, or if a wholesale change to something different is required to enable me reach the heights I feel like I need to. All of this makes taking time out to reflect for the next month a good place to start this rebooting from.

All told, one of the clearest lessons I have learned from the year of being 38 is that drifting is dangerous, particularly when it is a slow gradual descent in which the evolving present seems just familiar enough that no alarm bells ring, until at the end one finds oneself – to quote the lost son – in a far country. Once firmly ensconced there, returning can feel impossible, the distance between there and home feeling like a chasm so great that it cannot be bridged. More than I would like, I fear many times over the past year, I have tottered on the edge of that chasm sometimes beginning to slip and at others just managing to avoid taking the last step that would take me over the edge. It is a dark, dangerous and isolated place, one I am keen to step back from and begin the long trek home. Here’s to rebooting, and beginning again, yet again.

3 Day Quote Challenge – 3

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 4:18–20).

From John Piper‘s seminal book, A Hunger for God. For the third day of this challenge for which Mrs T nominated me (thanks Sis!).

Nine Fridays of Summer: London, Again.

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I never cease to be amazed by how flights which ostensibly last an hour end up morphing into all day affairs, which leads me to think that flying is perhaps one of the greatest swindles on earth.  In my experience, by the time one arrives at the airport, goes through security and then waits to board, the better part of two hours has very easily been burned. When the inner city travel requirements are tacked on, everything very easily rolls up to between three and four hours. On this occasion, my flight due to leave at 12.05 pm ends up delayed which is how it is well past 4.00 pm by the time my train rolls into Romford where I plan on basing myself on this trip. All that leaves me is time to get myself checked into my room, find a quick bite and then start heading back to the O2 Arena for the opening night of the Hillsong Conference Europe, which is my primary reason for this trip.

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With Hillsong, you can always count on great music, a fabulous atmosphere and youthful exuberance. We get loads of those: worship by Young & Free (topped off by an on screen cameo by Lecrae on This Is Living on Day 1 and a particularly moving arrangement of the hymn Then Sings My Soul) and a couple of interesting messages by Steven Furtick and Chris Mendez (who stood in for Carl Lentz on Friday night) over the course of the remaining days. As always a slew of fab songs to look forward to get sung during the conference. What a Beautiful Name It Is is one of those for me. I’ll be pre-ordering the album as soon as it drops, that much is a given.

As an aside, Chris Mendez’ story of turning his back on a life of addiction awakens a question which I’ve never quite answered for sure- do those who have a passionate faith have that because they’ve been forgiven much or is it just a personality thing? Jesus comment about he who has been forgiven little  loving little suggests to my simple mind that there is some correlation. I’m sure smarter minds have sussed out the answer to that one.

An unexpected bonus on Friday is finally getting to meet  Siren Lune, whose journey from questioning orthodoxy to tear-streaked made up face (her words) seems to me the stuff 1500 word essays are made for (if I can convince her to write it though). Before the Friday night session, I take the opportunity to climb to the top of the O2, standing astride the world in a manner of speaking – one foot in both east and west hemispheres. Our guide manages to find that sweet spot between chucking information at us and letting us be that allows the group move along at a steady pace.

Conference ends with the communion, after which we leave with strains of yet another Hillsong special ringing in our ears. Quite the experience as always, with quite a few things to mull over on a personal note as I leave.

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Conference out of the way, I turn my attentions to the meet ups I’ve planned. S offers up a slot on Saturday, one which takes me into the lush green countryside of Kent and the Hevercastle grounds. Seven hundred years of history is the grounds main selling point, one that is hard to argue with given that that history includes arguably England’s most licentious of kings, Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn. Trying to detangle the mess of consort, sister, sister-in-law, woman in waiting and mistress just about does my head in before I give up, opting to go along with the tour through the castle grounds instead. At the yew maze, we take the wrong turn several times, somehow exiting at the entrance having doubled back on myself several times. The castle and grounds are the sort of thing I suspect will be better enjoyed at a more leisurely pace, with great company, food and blankets for a chilled lunch and plenty of time to kill, to allow one take in all there is on offer.

For dinner, we head back into the comparatively dystopian borough of Lewisham for some proper Nigerian fare. The scent of all soups Nigerian wafting into my nose tempts me sorely to break my self imposed pounded yam moratorium but some chicken suya rescues me from tossing five years of abstinence down the drain.

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Sunday is comparatively more laid back than any of the days which have gone before. A late decision has me leaving my bags in storage and hailing an Uber to one of my old Sunday haunts, Trinity Chapel. R, the Lithunian driver and I get along, he’s intrigued when I say I am from Scotland by way of Nigeria, our talk seguing into the weather. Oddly for a cabbie, he holds interesting views on global warming, his concerns being around the low lying regions of the world which could disappear for good. Interesting is all I can mutter under my breath, before a quick google search leads us to World Under Water which I recommend as light bedside reading for him.

Significantly changed from how I remember it is the only way I can describe how I find Trinity Chapel but it is an entirely enjoyable, if different experience. The message is about leaving the past behind and focusing on making the most of today. In between I drift off into thoughts of how forgetting can be a mercy. A line from Lesley Nneka Arimah’s Caine Prize shortlisted story, ‘What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky’ comes to mind, in which the protagonist Nneoma ponders what being unable to forget could do to one. Her conclusion,  the sense of a thousand falling men landing on you.

The lure of jollof rice, dodo and chicken is more than I can resist, which is how I end up at S’s, the plan being to down a quick lunch before my long slog up to Heathrow for my return flight begins. A couple of detours later, I find I am done with lunch and setting off at 5.30 pm with a nagging thought that I might have left it too late. Two train changes later – at Stratford and at Holburn – I end up at Heathrow just before a quarter to eight. Thankfully, the walk through security is quick and I end up having a bit of time on my hands – delayed flight notwithstanding.

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It is nearly midnight when I eventually get home, late flight issues being compounded by several late arrivals overwhelming the capacity of the taxi rank to deal with the influx. An hour’s wait endured, I am soon speeding home to my corner of the world. Home, and the safety of routine beckon – laundry, reheated left overs and work. Adulting, eh?