Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fail Blog

One of the things that got Ang and me through a difficult 2010 was the website "Fail Blog."  It's a chronicle of people's misfortune, caught on camera.  Reporters losing their cool when they think the camera is off.  Athletes trying to display their skill, only to wipe out miserably.  And best of all, people demonstrating how products work on home shopping programs, only to have those products turn on them (ladders crashing down, swords that accidentally stab the presenter, and so on).  You might say this speaks to me taking a certain joy in other people's failure, but I think I appreciate these public humiliations for a different reason: I can imagine any and all of them happening to me.  And I'm surprised there aren't similar videos of me making an error during preaching, stumbling while playing ultimate frisbee, or being caught picking my nose by a surveillance camera out there on the web.  Maybe there are. 
Why do I tell you this?  Well, for the handful of you who've followed my posts on this site, this has been a bit of my own "fail blog."  Not that I've uploaded silly videos of myself, but in that it's demonstrated one central fact: I am a failure at blogging.  When I logged on just a few minutes ago I was surprised to see that my last post was almost a month ago.  A month ago!  And a few weeks had passed since I had written the previous post.  Not that any of you were hoping to hear from me daily, but if this blog was supposed to be some sort of a diary of my family's time here in London, well, it's rather been a failure, hasn't it?
My reasons for not posting are many.  I think the primary one is similar to why I don't like to take pictures: I prefer to experience a moment rather than take the time to capture it.  Let it happen, remember it as best as I can, and move on to the next experience.  The secondary reason is related to the first.  I am rather lazy.  Blogging takes time.  Thought.  Effort.  And I've been napping a lot.  I've been sleeping in.
Though it's a bit late in the race -- we leave here in less than two weeks -- to change course, I wonder if I should've Tweeted my experiences rather than attempting a blog.
And so, since blogging is passe anyway, let me offer this summation of the past few weeks of the Fishers in Europe in the form of 140-character-or-less thoughts:

Plane diverted to Bologna from Florence...does anyone have a map of central Italy?  Does anyone know how to read these Italian signs?  How long is a kilometer?
4 weeks ago

No wonder so many Italians end up as Indy and Formula1 drivers -- they're pushing my Fiat Punto off the road! (BTW, great car!)
4 weeks ago

Can't believe how beautiful the Tuscan countryside is in person...or how fast these Italians drive around these hairpin terms.  Hope we make it home in one piece.
3 weeks, 6 days ago

Staying in a 700 year old (not a typo!) villa with the family.  Beautiful, roomy, and musty.  Kids are kicking it poolside, Daddy's taking another nap...

Italian food is tasty, but how do they stay so fit eating all these carbs?

Just ate a delicious dinner on top of a mountain...only question is how to make it back down the ridonkulous twists and turns of the one lane road without falling down the sheer cliff on the other side.

Back in London.  Funny how a place can feel like home so quickly.  I like me some Italian food, but glad to have some curry, rice, and samosas.

Saw my all-time favorite album, "The Soft Bulletin," performed by the Flaming Lips tonight.  Covered in confetti, eyes full of smoke, ears ringing, big smile.  Can't believe they pulled it off note for note.
2 weeks ago

Also saw my childhood faves, Dinosaur Jr. play their late 80s classic, "Bug."  Still love the songs, but I can't handle amps turned to 11 anymore.  Thanks J, Lou, and Murph!

Picked up Ang's parents/Bobo and Yaya/world's best babysitters at Heathrow this morning.  Glad to have some help with the kids, looking forward to crazy good Chinese food, and a few days just Ang and me in the Cotswolds.

Have already gained several pounds from dim sum, ho fun noodles, and king prawns.  Hopefully walking around London will help me work off a few of these calories.

Watched Jack during Holy Trinity Brompton worship service today (they call the cry room "the Crypt"!!!), so heading out to an "experimental" church called Moot Community tonight.

Moot was a hoot :)  Not too experimental.  Just a few dozen Trinity-types reading liturgy and practicising silence together.  But it was nice, meditative, and we should do this some Sunday at Trinity

Just rented a car to drive to Cotswolds with Ang.  Not only driving on the left-hand side but using a stick shift with my left-hand.  Yowza wowza!  Please pray!

Cotswolds are idyllic...I get this whole English countryside thing.  Haven't hit any oncoming cars, don't like pub food, and just had the best Indian food I've ever had (in the lovely town of Moreton on Marsh, of all places!)

Enjoyed 3 great days in the country.  Nice rest from the kids, staying in a B&B staffed by the cast of "Babe."  Turned the car in with a rather large scratch on the front left rim -- ouch!!!  Fortunately only charged me £35 extra

Went to a different church while fam went to old reliable HTB today.  The little congregation of 20 taught me more in an hour of their totally interactive service than reading several books on new forms of worship.

So very, very full of more Chinese food.  Best I've ever had.  Mom and Dad Ho agreed.  And less than a block away.  Might need to purchase a second seat on the airplane home.

And so on.  So there's the very bullet point version of the last few weeks (Notice the repeated mentions of food). 

Reading a wonderful book right now -- "Home" by Marilynne Robinson -- and I echo the prayer of one of the main characters.  "There is so much to be grateful for, words are poor things."  That's how I see this time in London.  That's how I see these months of rest from ministry.  That's how I see this entire life that's been graciously given to me.  God is good.  Remind me of that in the days ahead.  I'll try to do the same for you.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


In about an hour we will leave our London flat, walk to Paddington Station (yes, the one where they found the bear), and board a plane to Florence, Italy.
This truly is the trip of a lifetime.
It's been almost two weeks since my last post, and since our villa in Tuscany (please, don't judge me) doesn't have wi-fi, let me briefly update you on what we've been up to.
London continues to fascinate our family.  Our first floor apartment looks out onto a busy street, where even now I'm watching the myriad of humanity walk past.  Smart young hipsters, making their way to cafes.  Groups of German teens boarding their chartered bus to see the tourist sites.  And family after family of immigrants, most of them with women in burqas or at least head coverings, going about their daily routines.
The world has come to London.  And we're blessed to have contact with it.
Last Sunday we were among as international a crowd as we've ever seen.  Holy Trinity Brompton, birthplace of the Alpha Program, is one of London's only "megachurches."  In a given weekend 3,000 or more folks gather to worship at HTB.  We were hesitant to attend, assuming that their approach to ministry would be rather different than our own.  We were surprised and pleased to find a worship gathering that, as has been true of all our worship experiences thus far, felt like home.  If you've seen Alpha videos, set in the beautiful old sanctuary of HTB, let me just say that they've done a good job with lighting.  While the facility is lovely, it's also well-worn, even a bit ramshackle.  And much smaller than you'd imagine.  And though they do use projected video screens, it seems to be only to allow those sitting behind pillars to be able to see what's happening up front.
Anyway, last Sunday was the beginning of International Alpha week, which meant representatives from around the world were present to share what God is doing in their respective home countries.  I believe we heard from 20 different nations in the span of 20 minutes, as person after person stood to tell briefly how the Gospel is expanding in their own context.  Additionally, the front section of the sanctuary was filled with bishops from around the world, from each inhabited continent, mostly Anglican, but also Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox.  A bishop from India shared a prophetic word and prayed over the congregation.  Powerful stuff.
So what do we do between Sundays?  Well, we've largely given up on taking Jack to see the sights of London.  Though last Saturday we ventured as an entire family to Greenwich (where the world's time tables are set), Jack seemed less than interested in the many renowned tourist sites along the way.  Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Parliament (all situated on a single plaza) did not stir his heart.  Neither did an hour long tour on the Thames River, cruising under the London and Tower Bridges, past the London Tower, London Eye, Globe Theater, etc., etc.
So here's what we do with Jack: take him to play.  Within walking distance of our home are at least 5 children's centers that offer free, open play every morning for pre-schoolers.  Jack and I have been making the circuit, playing with a variety of blocks, mini-kitchens, and pretend houses.  We've used play-dough, watercolors, and glitter to express Jack's inner child.  Or mine.  And mostly we've been in the company of nannies, or care-givers as they're now called, who don't look anything like Mary Poppins, but are doing their best to raise the next generation of Londoners.
During our times at these play centers, Ang and the girls have been taking in London.  From Harrod's to Hamley's.  From the Victoria and Albert Museum to the Royal Albert Hall (everything south of Hyde Park seems to have Prince Albert's name attached to it.  Which leads me to repeatedly recite the old phone prank: "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?  Well, why don't you let him out?!").  Ang and the girls are getting to know this city.  And the girls are becoming quite the urbanites.  They are now connosseurs of tea (or hot chocolate) and cream pastries.  They preferences for particular curries.  And they know more about British Royalty than their father.
There's much more to share, but we need to get to our train.  Photos of Tuscany will be forthcoming.  Until then...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

What I did on my summer vacation...

"So, do you have some sort of goal to your time in London?  Something you're studying or working towards?"  The fellow asking the question was wearing a black clerical outfit and white collar, sitting on a children's playground with me in Regent's Park in the heart of London.  He was about my age, but I wasn't sure if I should call him father.  "Well, we're actually here to go to church," was my response.  Which is what we had just done at his church. 
This morning the family and I left our flat an hour before the worship service began.  Even though we're probably only four miles away from the parish where we were heading, we made it there with only moments to spare.  We were going to worship with some friends living in London, to get a taste of their particular approach to a Sunday gathering.  Since Easter, 5 Sundays ago (!), I have visited a charismatic congregation pastored by a friend back in Indy, snuck in the back of Trinity to hear my friend Tim preach, and last Sunday we went to an evening "cafe church" here in London. 
This morning, though, it was high church for us.  Literal bells and literal smells.  When the procession came in during the opening hymn, the ancient cathedral-like space was filled with incense and smoke from the censer being swung about by the person heading the line.  Jack hollered out, "No fire Mommy!  No fire!"  We tried to explain the reference to the prayers of God's people going up before the throne in Revelation 5, but he was having none of it.
Ang and the kids departed after the first song, and I was left to worship in a company of saints truly reminiscent of the heavenly throng in Revelation.  Every tongue, nation, and tribe were represented there, or at least as many as could be numbered among the 75 or so of us sitting on folding chairs, repeating the words of the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Eucharistic liturgy.  While the outward form of what happened this morning was rather different than what folks at Trinity might be used to -- priests in full vestments, singing accompanied by organ and trombone (!), an 8 minute homily (some of you are already wanting to visit this parish, aren't you?), and the ever-present haze and scent of the incense -- the Spirit in the place felt instantly like home.  Gathered here to remember God in the midst of a city where it's very easy to forget Him, was truly a company of saints.  Not the kinds of saints you'd name a parish after.  But people who, by believing in the Good News of what God has done for the world in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, have been made holy, and are thereby made worthy of the saintly title.  The hunched over octogenarian fellow who hit me with his cane while sitting down.  The dignified West African mom pushing her son in his wheelchair to be first to take communion.  The couple Ang and my age who traded off holding their wiggling child so they could respectively sing then read the Scripture at the lectern.  This morning the prayers of these people went up like incense before the throne of God.  This morning Christ was present as we shared in His body and blood together in communion (though Jack shouted out, as Ang carried him up the aisle, "No people, Mommy!  No people!). This morning our warbling voices singing words of Gospel truth rang out the doors of the old church building, out onto the streets of Camden, maybe even drowning for a moment the pop tunes being played over the sound system of the Sainsbury's supermarket immediately adjacent.
And this is why we've come to London.  Yes, we're enjoying one of the world's great cities.  We're drinking in the sights, relishing the food, moving to the pulsing rhythms of a place with so much life.  But we're mostly here to be with God's people.  To see what He's up to over here.  To learn what we can, and maybe nick an idea or two for our community back in Indy.  And that sounds pretty good to me.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

London flat 1

London 2

London 3

Time Change

You know you're in a different place when you have no idea what time it "really" is.  Or when you can't find punctuation keys on your computer keyboard (I just spent a full minute searching for the " key -- they have it on the opposite side of the keyboard).
We arrived last night (or this morning, or who knows when) after a surprisingly and graciously quick and uneventful flight from Chicago to Heathrow.  Lola and Sophia were stars -- thanks to Ang for going against my better judgment and downloading "Never Say Never," which kept them diverted for at least two hours.  Jack was also a trooper, managing to take a decent nap, be occupied by various trinkets and snacks, and only launch 3 objects into the rows ahead of us.  Our flightmates were all good sports.
We were greeted at the airport by an old family friend who is based out of London.  He helped us navigate the train, then a taxi back to our flat.  The neighborhood, apartment, and overall experience thus far have surpassed anything we'd hoped for.  Our friend told us we're in a "posh" place in a "posh" neighborhood (Posh was the Spice Girl who seemed to be pretty wealthy, so I think that's a positive adjective).
The kids went to bed straight off (3 bedrooms in the heart of London!!!  Thank you Lilly Endowment!!!), Ang and I drifted off just a bit later.  I think that was 3a.m. London time.  I woke up ready to go at 7:30a.m. but the family has slept on.  The floors of this two-story flat (can a flat have two stories?) are pretty creaky, so I've tried to stay still as best as possible to let everyone else rest.
In addition to the friend who fetched us at Heathrow, Liz Kauffman happens to be in London today playing a show.  She's an international pop star :) !  We hope to have her by for tea before she leaves tomorrow.  And our dearly missed Kendall and Erina Ludwig are also here, so we hope they'll help us navigate in the days ahead.  Tonight we plan to attend an evening service at an Anglican church called St. Luke's.  I've been in contact with their vicar, and I'm not sure if he should refer to me likewise, or as rector, the right reverend, or as dude.  I'll sort out my title and get back to you.
So that's a bulletpoint update on our current status.  It's a sunny day in the 60s outside, so I hope the fam wakes up soon so we can venture out of our lodging, down the street to Kensington Gardens, and into the first day of what we trust will be a true adventure.
Miss you all.  And if you're a Trinity-attender, be sure to make it to today's gathering.  Liz Kauffman's husband Mike, in addition to daddying Moses and Atlas in her absence, will be preaching this morning.  Mike always makes me cry.  In a good way.  Hope he has the same effect on you too.