Saturday, September 18, 2010

Upon Reflection - Part 4

And so we come to the final installment. This one will be the shortest in that the main topics are summing up and returning to New Zealand, and the reason it will be short is that there is only so much that is known at present. So part of this will be reflection, part will be looking ahead.

Looking back as I have been doing, there is so much to be thankful for but though the things to be thankful for far outweigh the things that have been hard, they cannot remove sadness and regret of the things that have been hard. But at the same time the things that are hard teach us new things, and often these new things make us stronger. So with some distance even the hard things begin to become causes for thanksgiving.

It was a sobering thought when last week we realized that we had spent more of our married life on the road than we had in one place. Both Jen and I are feeling weary of traveling; we have both traveled extensively before but traveling without a definite and specific home in mind (knowing we are going to New Zealand is one thing, but not having an address and home is different) has been difficult for us both. But it has also been great to spend time with so many people around the U.K. and U.S., renew friendships, and get to know each other's families better.

The priority for the next few months is discerning where in particular God is calling us to in New Zealand; there are a couple of different options for me with TSCF, so we will visit a few places, look at work options for Jen as well as wider church and community type stuff. We are both very much looking forward to setting up our new home together and getting settled into a new community. We had some good news this week in that there is a potential home for us for the next few months where we can unpack and settle while we figure a few more things out; this news has been a real encouragement to us both.

One of the lines from a song at church this morning was "Your grace is enough." We are both mindful and thankful of how God has sustained us and been preparing the way for us as we wound our way towards New Zealand: there was no charge for Jen's work visa and her application for residency has been accepted but is on hold until we meet their requirement of being married for a year; border crossings that could have been complicated (driving across the US border in a borrowed car full of our Canadian possessions and me with just a tourist visa for the U.S.) were smooth; we have both been healthy the majority of the time; we have both felt generally blessed as we have traveled.

So with heavy but hopeful hearts it is time to take the longest flight of our travels so far. Our thanks to those who have celebrated with us, hosted us, fed us, cared for us and generally loved us. To those in the Northern hemisphere, bye for now, we will miss you. Those in the Southern, here we come. Next stop New Zealand.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Upon Reflection - Part 3

On to part three, and this time it's going to take a more visual approach.

One of our favourite things has been taking people on tours of the Vancouver region and introducing the local wildlife. It's amazing the difference between how we approach familiar and foreign animals; from my perspective I thought raccoons were really cute, but most North Americans are afraid of catching rabies from them, but they are far too cute to carry rabies!

I had the chance to have a brief prayer retreat on Galiano Island as well as a class on Living in Creation that was taught on the island. Prayer retreats were a new thing for me, but I have come to see the value of a change of context and a more contemplative setting in helping me focus and have a more attentive prayer life. The class on living in creation was one of the most difficult but also most helpful classes that I took (and if you'd asked me 18 months ago I would not have listed it as class that I would have considered taking, another example of how God has re-directed what I thought should be priorities). Perhaps one of the most helpful aspects of the class was that it was taught from the experience and in the home of a couple who really practiced what they taught.

Over Christmas and new year we had the chance to visit the capitols of both our home countries.

In February we got to visit Jen's family and friends in California (courtesy of an extended study break due to the winter Olympics being hosted in Vancouver).

In May we graduated with our Graduate Diplomas in Christian Studies.

For our honeymoon we drove up to the corner of British Columbia to Golden, where we stayed in a beautiful cottage by a river, with great views if the surrounding mountains. Golden is in the midst of three national parks, so while there we managed to visit both Yoho and Banff.

We had fun with both of our families, and I celebrated my birthday for the first time on American Independence day in the USA; I was all set to enjoy the firework display only we got there to find out that Sacramento, for some bizarre reason, had their display a day early.

We got to see some beautiful and scary sites in both of our home countries.

We visited some ancient sites and saw some signs that we did not understand.

Jen found us a new home, but I was less convinced.

We went punting in Cambridge and visited the Eagle and Child, which is the pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien used to frequent.

We visited the Universities where we both studied (we couldn't visit all of Jen's as she did one term in New Hampshire, which was a tad too far to drive).

We visited San Fransisco so we wore flowers in our hair (scalp in my case), which I've wanted to do since I heard the song told me I should be sure to do so.

And we went on our first overnight camping trip in Lassen National park; it started off well but went down hill when we were woken by deer who persisted in eating the grass around our tent (though there was much much grass in other places) and when it hailed (which is virtually unheard of in September in California) and rained when we woke up.

There are many more photos that I could show, but these at least give a taste of where we have been and what we have seen.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Upon Reflection - Part 2

Time for part two of this short blog series, which will be my reflections on my year and half at Regent College.

The easy part is how affirming my grades have been in particular areas; my highest grades were in pastoral theology and biblical studies. Not that you can judge everything by grades, but it has been a positive experience to find that areas to which I have natural leanings towards, such as pastoral care, are backed up by my grades. But natural leanings without solid foundations can cause harm even if intentions are good, so I am both relieved and pleased that I have done well in biblical studies too.

It is a requirement at the college that we learn at least the basics of how to operate in biblical languages before taking further courses in biblical studies. When I first learned of this I was a tad frustrated as it meant I had to spend time taking courses in languages when I would rather be studying other things. Looking back now I have learned my lesson and realize that being able to study the Bible in its original form opens up new avenues for study. No one I know would say that you have to be able to operate in Hebrew or Greek in order to understand the Bible, but it does shed new light on the inevitable shifts that come in translating an ancient language into modern language and it has helped me learn new skills and tools that will hopefully enable me to handle the word of God more competently than I could before.

Not that I for one minute think that I have mastered anything. One of professors was very clear with us about this when he explained how when he graduated and started his new job as a structural engineer his manager told him that having a degree in engineering did not make him an engineer, it simply meant that he could avoid some basic mistakes and was therefore a little less dangerous. The same is very much true of us as graduate students; we are not expert exegetes but we have some skills that should keep us from making some mistakes.

I was recently playing Lego Star Wars with my nephew. I helped him complete one of the levels and when we did we were offered a couple of upgrades that made his character a stronger Jedi but there were still many other upgrades that his character needed before he was complete. And this is pretty much how I feel about myself as I prepare to return to work (and I am using the game as an example here, rather than suggesting I have improved my skills with a light saber), my time away studying has given me some new skills that I look forward to sharing with others but I am by no means complete (to be honest I do not think that completeness is even possible this side of Christ's return) and still very much have to learn how to wield what I have learned. Similar to how good intentions without solid foundations can cause harm, knowledge without Christ-like character can also be very harmful.

It is also important to clarify at this point that when I talk about skills that this is not merely an intellectual pursuit. This post is already to long to go into this in detail, so to put it briefly I want to be able to handle the Bible as best I can in order to do this and "To prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up" (see picture below).

Due to my struggles with illness I was unable to complete my Masters in Christian Studies whilst at Regent College, so I will be finishing up via distance education across the next few years. But for now I am happy to be having a breather from full time graduate education; a couple of months ago the mere thought of reading another textbook was enough to make my brain freeze, but thankfully this has lessened over the last couple of months of traveling.

One final reflection I want to make is in relation to my generation of Christians and our understanding of the Christian story (and by story I mean the biblical narrative and the 2000 odd years since then), and that is that I think we are in real danger of repeating the mistakes of the past because of the ignorance and pride with which we approach the story of the church. We do not bother to study our past as we do not think it is relevant. We do not think learning about the story of the church is relevant because we mistake the passing of time for progress; we think that because we are the most recent generation we have progressed on from what has gone before and have an ill-founded (possibly even unfounded) confidence that we have kept all that is good and lost all that is bad. Why we think this I am not sure, as we have no idea what happened in the past so are in no position to judge whether what we have left behind is good or bad. As a result we are at real risk of repeating mistakes of the past, be they heresies or actions. I am not sure how we begin to help Christians reacquaint themselves with the story of the church (which by its very name and nature is therefore the story of all Christians) but we need to.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Upon Reflection - Part 1

I have not blogged about anything since last year… that's a tad embarrassing as so much has happened since then. In order to restart things once again I am going to write a four part post that will cover life since I last blogged.

Starting with the bad news, shortly after my last post my health went a little further down hill and I ended up being signed off sick with stress as well as functional bowel disease. It was a not a particularly good time.

I was talking to a friend recently about being ill and how it is vital to learn where our limits are with regards to stress. The experiences of last year have shown me where some of my limits are as well as highlighting some weaknesses and emotional damage that have been around for a long time. But being shown them has enabled some repairs to happen.

The process of recovery is proving surprisingly long in that I have had to be quite careful even in recent weeks. I am not going to say much else about this as my last blog post went on at some length about this, except to say again how grateful I am for the support I received from friends, church and family.

Now the good news! Ten years ago I made the decision to apply to be a relay worker with UCCF, a decision that would go on to completely alter the direction I thought my life was headed in, culminating in my moving to New Zealand to work with TSCF and temporarily to Canada in order to study at Regent College. Back in January I was reflecting on how much could be traced back to that point back in 2000 because I was plucking up the courage to ask Jen to marry me, which I suspected was going to be another of those decisions that would go on to have far reaching repercussions for both of our lives over the next ten years and the rest of our lives. To my immense relief she said yes! And a few months later we were married on May 1st in Vancouver, and we had an wonderful time with both of our families able to be present (despite the Icelandic volcanic eruptions) and many of our friends. We went on to celebrate it again on August 21st in the UK with more of my family and mutual friends from around the UK.

We have not had an entirely normal start to married life in that we got married, had seven weeks in Vancouver and have been traveling around the UK and the USA since then. We have now been married for four months, and are therefore still newly married and therefore very much still in the "honeymoon period," but both of us have deeply appreciated the joy of having someone who is for other person, and loves the other person as they are - with all their strengths and flaws.

This in turn has shed new light on how this is God's position towards all His people (see Ephesians and marriage as picture of Jesus' relationship to the church). Being married has also shown both us new ways that we are sinful, but has also therefore taught us more about grace as we have learned to forgive and bear with the other person. This growth in grace towards each other has also added more to our appreciation of the grace that God shows us.

There is much more that could be said, but I'll leave things for now.