Thursday, May 13, 2010

Safely Home

Well, almost. I’m currently sitting in the Edinburgh airport, awaiting flight 109 to Newark. Meanwhile, thought I’d pass a bit of time by capping my virgin blogging voyage (begun this trip) with this bit.

This piece could easily read like an “Acknowledgements” page at the front of a research project. Perhaps it will. My trip has proven fundamentally flawless, this owing to the kindnesses of so many people. From the Macleods (including Murdo’s parents, who packed me up with enough homemade Highland shortbread to feed half of Houston) who have hosted me and treated me like family for an entire week, to Pete Edwards who has patiently shown me the ropes around Friends International (in part via waiting on me at every other street corner of Edinburgh’s city centre), to Mark Batluck and Christopher Bechtel, both doctoral students at New College (Edinburgh’s divinity college where I will be studying) -- both gifted tour guides -- to my wife, family, and friends back home who have prayed me into and through this inaugural odyssey.

To all of you I offer my deepest gratitude. Thank you for having already begun to take part in the vision that God is allowing us to enter and embrace, a vision of ministry to the nations in the name of, and for the sake of, the Christ, the Son of God, the King of Heaven and Earth. In his name I offer up these things as a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. Lord, get me, get us, safely home (Until that Day, though, there is work to do). Amen.

Edinburgh: the Athens of the North

This trip to Edinburgh has been a long time coming. It is no exaggeration to say that it has in fact been years (okay, year . . . almost two) in the making. And this period of probation has given me plenty of time to build up my Edinburgh-expectations.

Early on (fall ’08), I searched Google Images for stunning photographs of the cityscape. And I found plenty. After some cursory reading, I discovered that Scotland’s capital has earned the nickname “the Athens of the North.” This effected at once an expectant and skeptical attitude toward my future destination: I didn’t want to expect too much, but I was expecting something beautiful, at least.

The thing is, these bug-eyes have seen some beautiful cities. I lived in Sevilla, stayed a long piece on the Vltava River in the heart of Prague, studied amidst the Gothic spires of Oxford, and traveled through most of Western Europe more than a time or two. And yet, even amidst such distinguished (European) company, Edinburgh is regularly called one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. After all I’d seen, this was high praise indeed -- maybe too high. Could this grey stone city really substantiate such outstanding acclamation? I hardly allowed myself to think so.

This was, after all, Scotland, not Florence or Paris or Prague. The French are sophisticated, sexy, and nuanced, the Florentines conveyors of Renaissance culture and art, and as for Czechs, well, they produced Praha. Enough said.

By contrast, the Scots have gifted the world with haggis and plaid man-skirts (Murdo treated me to my first haggis: actually quite tasty!). This is a people popularly known to be thrifty, plain, and tough. Surely their star city could not compete with civic luminaries the likes of which I have just managed to mention. I could not have been more wrong.

Not only did Edinburgh stun me from the very first moment I met her; the longer I looked (I stayed 6 nights), the more her beauty seemed to grow.

It was like seeing a truly beautiful woman for the first time. She stuns you and you just don’t think it can get any better if you pull in close. In fact, you’re afraid to pull in close lest the spell be broken and you find, heartbreakingly, that her beauty is only skin-deep. It would be better to have stayed away, safe and distanced and forever enchanted, having her only in your mind’s eye.

But with the real thing, with true beauty, it’s different. The closer you get, the more her beauty grows; that is, the more her beauty shows. You have found the real thing.

Well boys, Edinburgh is that woman. She is the real thing. The closer you get, the more you find that her beauty goes below the surface. From a distance, her spires and outlying castle-on-rock-outcropping dazzle. But this is to be expected. Beauty from a distance is easy to achieve. It’s the close encounter that worried me. Not anymore. Edinburgh has withstood a week-long scrutiny. The grey stone, Covenanter heritage and pub culture all blend with an unmatched mix of international eclecticism, British regality, and Scots indigenousness to produce a city the likes of which I have never before encountered.

And it’s livable! Normal people -- students, young-marrieds, and middle-class professionals -- all of these and more live in the old-town (and new town) city centre. That’s the thing about this place: it is beautiful, vibrant, engaging, AND affordable, practical, and realistic. To quote the Man in Black from The Princess Bride, “I’ve never seen it’s equal” (yes, I just did that).

Edinburgh, Athens of the North, I beg your forgiveness for ever doubting you and request an open-armed embrace on my return at summer’s end. May our courtship be long and fruitful. And perhaps, just perhaps, the memories we make together will end in a marriage that lasts (!).

High Street: The Royal Mile

Me and Murdo at Arthur's Seat, 20 minute walk from Town Centre

Again, Arthur's Seat

Ah, Edinburgh . . .

See below
An outside look: on a picturesque perch

An inside look: the quad

A view from New College

Marchmont: possibly our apartment unit (don't miss castle in background!)

The Meadows: Edinburgh's version of Central Park. Would be our frontyard if in a Marchmont flat

Marchmont flats: another view

Greyfriars' Cemetery: in the middle of Old Town Edinburgh. Right outside the gates is Greyfriars' Pub, where it is said J.K. Rowling wrote some of The Harry Potter series

A view of Old Town over the cemetery hedges

A Covenanter gravestone: many died for their faith in Scotland. James Renwick, age 26, was one of them. You can just make out his name in the bottom paragraph. In 1688, he spoke these words before he was hanged: "Lord, I die in the faith that Thou wilt make the blood of Thy witnesses the seed of Thy church, and return again and be glorious in our land." May our presence in Scotland be part answer to his prayer. Return again, O Lord.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Inimitable Bertie Wooster

Murdo and Emma Macleod are the couple with whom I am staying in Edinburgh, and let me tell you, a kinder and more generous pair of persons you will not find. In addition to their wealth of hospitality, Murdo and Emma offer the (nerdy) houseguest something almost as precious: books, and lots of them. Their house is lined with books -- lined I tell you. Naturally, this discovery was one of my first upon entering their cozy domicile late, last Wednesday night.

I was tired and, well, tired, but after shuffling into their den, I found myself quickly revived. To my right, neat shelving lined the wall entire. You couldn’t even see the wall color. And behold! (an irresistible insertion by an incipient Hebrew scholar) books. Rows and rows of books. Paperbacks. Hardbacks. Some thick and some thin. Some tall. Some short. But books all, whatever their size! I think I must have shot off a prayer-missive of praise to the Almighty, “Ah, glorious God, you have brought me across the ocean-wide to the right home, indeed! Thank you!”

Although there were people in the home I didn’t know (small group meets at the Macleod’s on Wednesday nights), my curiosity and, well, unvarnished biliophilic lust, seized the reins of my soul, and before I could tell myself, “stop it, you common brute!” there I was, straining over the heads of seated guests, peering right past them and onto the motherlode.

And these weren’t glossy covers either, mind you (in the main, anyway!). These were well chosen -- and well read -- indeed. Martin Gilbert sat in the history section, and the classics were there. And plenty I had never read but have wanted to get hold of for some time. And some I had never heard of (lots, in fact) but after quick perusal found myself hungry to devour. I told you: plain, unvarnished lust.

After the guest filed out one by one and Murdo had kindly cooked me what I now understand to be his “pasta special” (Murdo hosts a bi-monthly pasta club -- men only, please), we slumped into a couple comfy armchairs and began to talk. Well, to be fair (one of many Murdo phrases), we didn’t exactly talk. It was mainly Murdo here. The man is multi-talented, let me assure you, and one of his myriad talents is talking. The man can spin some yarn. The fact is, though (and I am not just saying this because I am still staying under his roof), I never mind. Because, amazingly, almost everything that has ever come out of his mouth and into my ears is interesting in the highest degree. His stories and anecdotes, colloquialisms and proverbial bits of wisdom seem to emerge from a never-ending repository of verbal goodness. Maybe this repository has its roots somewhere in the Highlands -- perhaps the Isle of Harris or Inverness (Murdo was born and raised here); I really don’t know.

But I do know that Murdo was talking, and I was listening. And somewhere near the end of the litany of books that he was asking me if I’d read, Murdo queried, “And what about Wodehouse (pronounced “Woodhouse” for the uninitiated: it’s a sort of Shibboleth for the literarily savvy, I suppose: I later referred to the author as “Woodberry,” and that in front of Murdo’s family . . . horrors!)?” My silence and half-cocked head stunned him, I think. My mouth was half-open. Something like “no” may have been ready to emerge; I am not sure. But I never will be sure, because before I had time to say anything, Murdo was on it. “Never read P.G. Wodehouse?” he exclaimed in wide-eyed astonishment. Right! (another Murdo-ism) Well, we shall have to change that before you leave, shan’t we then?”

I must say, a couple hundred pages into The Code of the Woosters, I can understand Murdo’s eagerness to stop me mid (attempted) sentence in order to issue my first assignment. I’ve not read anything else that even comes close to Wodehouse. He should be required reading for everyone who is keen to develop a sense of English wit, a sense of the old (and unreal, I might add) England, and a delightful yet firm hold of the English language.

Wodehouse might not be all things, but a wordsmith he is. The man has a gift for turn-of-phrase that I find to be thus far without parallel. He does what he wants with his language of choice, and is always sure to find his mot just, as the French would say. But this is as far as I’ll go mentioned French, because I’m sure that Wodehouse has been found an extremely effective form of French-repellant. He is so nauseatingly, intoxicatingly, gloriously English. And, he became an American citizen in 1955; so we can claim him, too! I knew I liked Wodehouse. And, apparently, Murdo knew I would like him, too. Thanks, Murdo, for expanding my literary horizons in such an entertaining and idiomatic way.

My favorite Edinburgh family


Most of you know that for some time now, Robin and I have sensed a call to move to Edinburgh, Scotland. You may also know that the move toward this call has been a bit more halting than we at first imagined (we deferred a year). But the summer preceding our departure to a new land and into a new way and even era of life has begun. And with this beginning comes the interview.

Fewer of you, perhaps, know about this, but many of those of who do have been praying for us for quite some time about this little trip. If you have been praying, you know that what should have been a “little trip” for a series of ministry interviews has turned into somewhat of “little nightmare,” and that for two related reasons; the first is a volcano and the second is a fear of flying that this eruption has exposed in my sweet wife’s psyche.

Robin hates flying. That’s the bottom line. But combine that antipathy with the fact that she is one month away from delivering our first child and top it off with a volcano spewing ash into the trajectory of my flight and of a sudden, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Weeks ago, before the Icelandic volcano starting belching fire and smoke miles into the stratosphere, I had already booked my flight. Even this early in the game, no complications anywhere in sight, Robin was still not happy about my flight and our resultant one-week separation. “What if I go into labor early and you’re in some pub in Edinburgh?” The questions and conversations seemed endless. But we prayed and talked and ironed things out. The doctor didn’t see a problem with my going (much to Robin’s chagrin at the time).

So it was settled. Or so I thought. Then Hephestus decided to break out his hammer and tongs and pound around the underworld a bit. Enter Icelandic volcano and days of Heathrow gridlock. Of course, Continental has me routed through Heathrow. Cheers, Hephestus. Thanks a lot, pal.

So, Robin and I offered up more prayers, had more conversations, and enlisted the faithful friends in our Tuesday night Bible study at the McCollum’s house to pray for us in our predicament: “Lord, give us wisdom. Should Taylor fly over for this interview?” Well, Vulcan simmered down and the lack of molten red as of late sure seemed like a green for go.

So, this afternoon, Robin -- teary eyed though she was -- drove me to Bush Intercontinental airport to bid me adieu and Godspeed on my return. I didn’t think she would ever let go. But she did. As I made my way to the gate, I thought that the coast (not to mention the sky) was clear. Of course, I was wrong.

Robin called me as I was waiting at gate E4 to depart and anxiously informed me of news reports announcing the re-eruptions of the Icelandic volcano. Wow, I thought we had clarity on this from the Lord. Apparently at this point, Northern Irish airports are canceling trans-atlantic flights. What to do? Here’s where the story gets pretty amazing, to my way of thinking anyway.

Well, we traded phone calls over the next 30 minutes, even as I was boarding the plane. She, of course, was none too pleased by my advance and found herself pleading with me to reconsider my journey. At last, having found my seat, she called me one last time. Before we hung up for the last time, and as the volcano was spewing clouds of ash all over the (formerly) bonnie skies of Northern Ireland and beyond (and consequently shutting down scheduled flights all over the UK), Robin, with choked emotion, delivered her final opinion:

“Taylor, I really don’t think you should go. I think this is exactly what we prayed about and God is giving us an answer.”

But this is not the astonishing part. In fact, it was predicable, if also gut-wrenching. The astonishing thing is my wife’s final words to me before my flight over the increasingly grey skies of the northern Atlantic. With all of her heart, she not only wanted me to stay but thought this the only solid and wise decision. Nonetheless, with our first child warm in her womb and a mere month away from being born into this cold world, and with her husband about to step onto what she basically understood to be a one-way ticket to a wide and watery grave/certain aquatic doom, she managed to squeak out these words:

“But the decision is yours to make. Regardless of what I think, I trust you. I love you. Goodbye.”

Thunderstruck, I hung up my cell phone and dropped it into my lap. She may have said “I desperately want you to come home to me, but if you think you must go, then you must go, and I trust you.” She may have said this, and I know she did. But it’s not what I heard. What I heard quite clearly was something else:

“I can’t see the way. It’s cloudy and dark. And it seems that there might be a better way of going about this. Nonetheless, not my will, but yours be done.”

Simone Weil has said somewhere that “Love is abdication.” That’s always been something I’ve understood a bit with the head and hardly at all with the heart.

Robin, thank you for allowing me to see the depth of his loving sacrifice a little more clearly through the pane of your release.

Postscript: As it turns out, I arrived safely into Heathrow, if an hour late. But making my way through customs, bags in hand, I looked up to the electronic departure board. My heart sank. Edinburgh . . . CANCELLED. I ended up making it to Edinburgh by train alongside a Jordanian Muslim named Asem, but (as the final line in The Neverending Story has it) “that is a different story.”

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


This blank post is starting to bother me, and it's probably confusing many of you. Well, at least Dad noticed that there was something amiss. I am going to go ahead and write it even though Taylor, ahem, was supposed to do it. :)

So Taylor is in Edinburgh as many of you already know or probably deduced by the title. Before he left, we hatched this grand plan that he would blog every day about his time there and include pictures of what he saw so that I could be there vicariously through the blog since I am no longer fit to travel. I was ecstatic because not only was this his idea, but also he is a gifted writer!
He left Tuesday.
But that is okay. I am just hanging out here in sunny Houston where the temperature is a balmy 95 degrees with only 99% humidity, teaching my 7th graders (who have by now, for the most part, crossed over into the 13 year old range which apparently causes them to revert to elementary school behavior - piece of cake), enjoying the beginning of my ninth month of pregnancy, and of course, living it up in general. Who needs a vicarious trip to Edinburgh?
Not me.
Kidding!! Taylor is the best (he's just not a details person)!
Once I saw the camera cord that allows you to upload pictures to the computer when I got home from dropping him off at the airport, I had an inkling that our plan might not pan out quite how I pictured. Literally.
To his credit, he has dealt with a delayed plane to London, a cancelled flight to Edinburgh, a 4 hour train ride, jetlag, tons of meetings, and lots of wind without adequate clothing. Who knew Edinburgh was the "Windy City" of the UK? And he has called me at least twice a day to fill me in, so I really do feel like I'm there. I kind of feel bad for him because our conversations go like this:
T: "Hey! How was your day? I went apartment hunting, shared our vision for ministering with the head guy of the ministry, took part in a post-graduate fellowship group, lectured at an ESL class for Chinese students on American politics, and toured the Edinburgh castle (ok, maybe not this one :)).
What did you do?"
R: "Well, I watched the baby's foot protude out of my stomach about three inches for 5 minutes straight - it was awesome, went to Doodles with your mom and looked at baby night gowns; I'm not sure if I'm sold yet, but we got a really sweet one to see how he (or she!) likes it, and I wrote thank you notes for the baby shower.
Are you still there?"
T: "Yeah, I'm here. I was just watching a group of kilted men walk down the street playing the bagpipes, so I got a little distracted. So the baby's doing well? That's great! I knew he (not she - Taylor is convinced) would be."
What can I say? My life is school and Baby right now. Taylor has been so patient with all of the baby preparations and incessant baby talk (not literal baby talk - can you picture me doing that?! Please call me out if I do) and is going to be such a great dad. He already is since he loves me so well, and puts the Lord first.
Thank you to those of you who have been praying for this trip. The Lord has been so gracious to us in allowing Taylor to go before our family to forge the way - I am so proud of him - and to root out fear in me before this baby comes. I am so thankful for His provision and covering and am excited to see what He has for us in Edinburgh.
Trying (and failing) to think of a Scottish way to sign off...
Robin and Baby I
PS - Since I can't post any photos, picture one with me, hugely pregnant, and another one with Taylor wearing a kilt and holding up a baby-sized one. :)