Day 4: Reflections

This city is a study in struggle.

Men and women of every age and nationality sprint to daily pack themselves in metal, underground shuttles, anesthetizing themselves to the inhumanity around them by plugging their ears with headphones and closing their eyes in a kind of urban meditation.

Having ears, they don’t hear. Having eyes, they don’t see.

And I don’t either. I’m an American tourist in London, brushing away any distractions – however desperate – to my own self-styled mission for the day. I pack myself in lines and pay admission to see the work of the dead when so much crucial life, so much searing reality, surrounds me.

It is not only the beggars in this town who are impoverished, destitute. Christ still cries out to the city, “I wanted to gather you in, like sons and daughters, but you would not.”

Yet there is medicine for this hemorrhaging wound. The dying need only reach out and touch His cloak, call upon His name.

Legion by Peter Howson

The Father has sent some to see to the healing. We met a few today. Nigel, the faithful pastor, raised up two others in love and discipleship: Israel the Nigerian missionary; Jeremy the rapper and football coach.

Israel gave his story in joy and hope. A man called to bring the gospel to the West as it drowns in its sins, he has exposed himself to Western scrutiny and judgment that he might save some.

Jeremy grew up in London full of pain, with an underemployed mother and an alcoholic father. But God, that perfect Father, touched him, brought him into the light. Now, in his mid-twenties, he leads the youth of the city to Christ through their love of music and football.

“Satan is nothing,” Steve solemnly, calmly commented in the austere chapel at Spurgeon’s College, “You see, I don’t believe God exists; He super-exists. He is the base of your existence. Likewise, Satan less than exists. He is not even at our level.”

Clement’s shirt said, “People Hating Satan.” This bold simplicity defined him. Filled with the Spirit, he fearlessly brings the gospel to the streets of London. I felt a deep love for this saint, my brother. His spirit seemed kindred with Paul’s. Christ, and Him crucified.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We bow our heads under the weight of gravity, but as we fall, we find ourselves kneeling before a cross.

The peace of our Lord be with you and remain with you always,

Daniel

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Day 3: My Name is Daniel, and I am a Tourist

Changing the Guard

We had just finished witnessing the famed, impressive (and slightly over-hyped) “Changing the Guard” at Buckingham Place. Standing at one of the countless intersections as we made our way back to the tube, we huddled under our respective hoods and umbrellas to guard against the steady drizzle that had followed us all day. A bike tour of some sort halted to a stop beside us. The tour’s guide pulled back his hood and asked the other cyclists with a sarcastic grin, “Is everyone enjoying their English summer?” That famous British weather had finally arrived (although it had been postponed for so long, bathing London in copious sunshine, it had begun to affect the local economy).

Yet it would have probably seemed that we weren’t getting the full “English experience” if we weren’t soaked to the bone whilst enjoying the sights and smells, so we embraced it. Laura and I couldn’t have cared less about the weather, though, as we emerged from the Westminster tube stop, unexpectedly finding ourselves between the London Eye and Big Ben, with that famous Thames flowing onwards nearby.

Big Ben and the London Eye

We kept staring in utter disbelief at that iconic clock tower. I realized that this monument had existed entirely as a cultural symbol in my mind up to that moment. I halfway expected Peter Pan to be perched on the minute hand. I was completely unprepared to encounter it as a real object. Against the backdrop of the grey sky, the richness of the architecture and decoration gripped me. I suddenly understood the draw of golden ornaments.

It seemed somehow irreverent to walk away from the magnificent tower, but that is life. Twenty-four hours in a day, and they must all be used well.

However, I soon forgot Big Ben as the Anglican in me soared at the sight of Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey

I must admit, the obnoxious American within began to become humbled at this point. The structure before me had been constructed in 1090, and it was technically the “new” abbey (in the same way that Oxford has a “New College,” though its newness is relative to other colleges on campus; it was established in 1379) – the first abbey had been destroyed during the Norman Conquest. Westminster Abbey alone was nearly four times as old as my country. If we are to respect our elders, certainly we must have some sort of respect for this antiquity. I hope to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist in this sacred place before returning to my strong, but young, homeland.

Off we went to Covent Garden for a quick bite before descending (“like moles” someone observed) back into the tube. Up we arose and trudged down to the British Library. Given what I’ve already seen, you will realize the gravity of my next statement: visiting this library was the highlight of my day. For not far off from the entrance there was the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, the section of the library that houses its most priceless collection of ancient documents.

I had only thought I was overwhelmed standing before Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. As we entered the gallery, with its dimmed lights (to protect the fragile exhibits) and hushed whispers, I soon realized I was standing on something like holy ground. Within moments, I was looking at the first handwritten mention of “the tragedie of Hamlet” (16th century), the writing desk of Jane Austen, the personal notebook of John Milton, the scribblings of Mozart, and Beethoven’s tuning fork. I stood over letters from the hand of Napoleon and Charles Darwin (“I believe in natural selection,” he wrote). Only a plastic casing kept me from touching the 13th century Magna Carta (though my wife has me beat, having touched the Rosetta Stone of 196 BC). But the greatest privilege was given to me as I stood before two of the best Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in existence: Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus (dating back to the 4th century).

Codex Sinaiticus

It seemed fitting to me that these were the oldest texts in the room. I said a prayer over the sacred books, thanking God for the preservation of His Word and asking for His continued grace in the spread of the gospel. This was the record of our heritage, in the form of simple parchment and ink. This paradox always reminds me of the person of Christ: very God and very man. The One God in flesh and bone.

Laura put up with my stunned awe for 2 hours, bless her. We retreated to our lodging in Kensington and rallied for a quick trip to Hyde Park. Here’s a few snapshots:

Laura sitting in front of the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park. Completed in 1872, it was commissioned by Queen Victoria after her beloved husband died of typhoid.

Laura sitting in front of the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park. Completed in 1872, it was commissioned by Queen Victoria after her beloved husband died of typhoid.

Prince Albert in all his glory.

Prince Albert in all his glory.

Some Londoners enjoying the rare weather.

Some Londoners enjoying the rare weather.

The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain had just closed when we found it, but we were still able to enjoy it from afar.

The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain had just closed when we found it, but we were still able to enjoy it from afar.

Laura captured this incredible shot of some of the flowers beside the fountain.

Laura captured this incredible shot of some of the flowers beside the fountain.

Kensington Palace and some of the renovations William and Kate (yes, we are on a first name basis) have been conducting.

Kensington Palace and some of the renovations William and Kate (yes, we are on a first name basis) have been conducting.

Another great shot Laura got of one of the ivy-covered walkways near the gardens beside the palace.

Another great shot Laura got of one of the ivy-covered walkways near the gardens beside the palace.

Some of the lush foliage in the palace gardens.

Some of the lush foliage in the palace gardens.

My gorgeous bride proudly standing beside the palace.

My gorgeous bride proudly standing beside the palace.

This my Father’s world, and it is marvelous to our eyes. Sometimes it is good to be a tourist in it.

The peace of our Lord,

Daniel

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Day 2: The Remnant

Brick Lane

“I enjoy the mirror inverse,” I confessed to Steve, smiling as we made our way through the meandering sidewalks and narrow roads of London’s East End.

“How’s that?” he asked.

“You’re an English Baptist, and I’m an Anglican who was once a Baptist.” The former pastor of Westbourne Park Baptist Church (and our guide) chuckled as we narrowly dodged yet another black cab.

This city is full of surprises; a mystery that I could spend my life exploring. The blog of a local coffee shop advises:

“Take a road less traveled, get rewarded with a tiny park. Walk five minutes in the opposite direction and discover a local alternative to Pret for dinner. London will start to open herself up, like the rose she is.”

It was to that coffee shop that we were headed now, Kahaila Cafe, to seek an audience with its Christian owner, Paul Unsworth, and perhaps to pass judgment on a cup of English espresso.

However, before we found the cafe, we encountered an impressive symbol of resistance to Paul’s Christian mission, the Brick Lane Mosque. It’s silver tower soared above, crowned with that familiar Islamic crescent.

Brick Lane Mosque

But Paul later informed us, as we huddled around one of the tables in the hip, intimate cafe, that it was this environment that created Brick Lane Mosque that first led him to find a creative alternative to urban ministry. “I came down to Brick Lane one Sunday,” Paul recounted, “and there were 20,000 people down here for the market. Among them were Muslims proclaiming, ‘Come discover true Islam!’ There were others giving tarot card readings. I found that there was no Christian witness because all the Christians were in church.” Paul opted to meet non-believers where they are by adopting a relational, non-confrontational approach to spreading the gospel in the form of a cafe. The word “kahaila” is actually Hebrew for community, and it is in this casually sacred space that a congregation gathers on Wednesdays (rather than Sundays, when they engage in outreach).

Kahaila

I was struck by the ease with which Paul acknowledged the limitations of his knowledge and ability when we asked him about his future plans for the cafe. He seemed to be very aware that this was all the work of God, rather than his own work. In addition to all this, Paul confessed that the cafe was actually doing quite well, which in turn allows them to support additional ministries (Kahaila is registered as a non-profit). And I could understand why: the espresso was impressive.

Kahaila Cafe

I left practically glowing from being able to witness a venture into urban ministry that was actually proving successful. In training for ministry, we are often reminded of the countless examples of failure among church plants. To see a successful one invoked an emotion one might expect to experience upon finding an actual pot of gold at an actual end of a rainbow.

We descended back into the hurried, stifling, grungy world of the London Underground and barreled towards “posh” Notting Hill, leaving the East End and its famous curries behind. We eventually made our way to Kensington Temple to hear the witness of Jacqueline Brown, pastor and worship leader of one of the church’s plants.

Kensington Temple

Her behavior simultaneously exuded both worship and humility. She briefly mentioned how she had just returned from leading worship in Mongolia and how she could be heading overseas again in a few days, but it was not entirely finalized. Clearly, there was an openness to the movement of the Spirit here, akin to Paul’s dynamic relationship with God the Holy Spirit:

“And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” (Acts 16:6-7)

Her passion for intimacy with God seemed boundless, so I was compelled to ask, “Have you ever experienced periods of dryness?” She gave a wide smile, “Oh, I know all about dryness.” She confessed to intense spiritual struggles, complacency, and weakness. But where she had been less, He had been more. I was reminded of Mother Teresa’s confession of spiritual emptiness:

“Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”

Even St. Paul knew something of this. But God’s grace is sufficient, and Jacqueline confessed likewise as she related the process by which God slowly and painfully brought her to obedience to him.

“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

These ministries – Kahaila Cafe and Kensington Temple – are part of the remnant in London. They call England “post-Christian,” as if Christ has left the country behind. He actually seems to be very present.

The day ended well – at a bookstore.

Slightly Foxed

I picked up a copy of John Donne. It seemed fitting, given that I could easily travel to St. Paul’s Cathedral and recite Donne’s poetry over his own grave. What a strange world.

John Donne

“Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”

The peace of our Lord,

Daniel

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Day 1: Hello London

Flight is an amazing thing.

I looked out from my window at the enormous wing of the Delta airplane that was currently carrying us over the Atlantic Ocean. All I could see was a nocturnal field of clouds stretching into the blurred horizon. I began to think of all the realms of reality tucked away from our sight, visible only to God and His angels. Before me was a garden of sublime white that only He could tend.

Sky

Is there anything God cannot do?

What a blur, what a blur.

So we flew out of Boston headed east, meeting the sun coming, so to speak. Around 1:00 AM EST, the “rosy fingers of Aurora” began to peak out from the horizon. A flight attendant handed me a breakfast that felt like a midnight snack.

As the sun rose, I had my first glance of some of the southernmost borders of England. From this altitude everything seemed organized. The patchwork fields and winding roads, the neatly zoned suburbs and traffic patterns (now driving on the left side of the road!). But this is not ministry. Ministry is presence among the people; it requires descent. And descend we did.

I felt relatively certain that my occasional experience with academic all-nighters would have left me somewhat prepared for jet lag. I was wrong. What a miserable feeling, to be launched from Atlanta to Boston, then flung across the Atlantic to the home of Shakespeare, Milton, Cranmer, Wesley, Auden, and Lewis, and be consumed with a single thought: sleep. But this is humanity, like the disciples dozing at Gethsemane.

The TubeSo we pushed through Heathrow, to customs, baggage claim, and the English “tube” (known in the US as a subway), beginning our introduction to a 6:00 AM London. A sweet, elderly, English couple climbed aboard the tube with us, their mannerisms and accent secretly delighting Laura and I. With each stop that brought us closer to London proper, our train filled up with a demographic sample that reminded me: London is a global city. Most major nationalities were represented in that short trip from Heathrow Terminal to Gloucester Road.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Upon exiting the Gloucester (pronouced glow-ster; the first syllable rhymes with “ow”) Road tube stop, my exhaustion must have reached the level of public knowledge. As I charged towards our lodging with 100 lbs. of luggage in tow, my sweet wife suggested a temporary detour. The exasperated look I gave her over my shoulder prompted a nearby group of older Englishmen, joking and having their morning tea, to pause as one of them exhorted my wife, “Aw, he knows where he’s goin’!” Like I said, I am very human.

Walking in London

We eventually reached our lodging and were greeted by the professor leading our group, a patient, kind, Christ-like man. After locating our room and organizing our luggage, we decided on a short nap which, due to a fault in our alarm clock, became a much longer nap. Upon reviving ourselves, we headed downstairs and chatted with the others who had arrived. A couple among them, Jim and Vickie Gaston – beloved siblings in Christ from our home church, suggested that we attend an evening service at Holy Trinity Brompton (or HTB), most widely known for its development of the Alpha course.

So off we went, amazed by the weather (cool and sunny; an outright oddity from what I’ve been told about English weather!), navigating the sidewalks and roads of London. It was a poignant moment when I encountered the juxtaposition of two images: (1) young, fashionable, healthy people walking out of Harrods with full shopping bags and (2) an unshaven, dejected homeless man sitting outside of a Tesco asking for a few pence. What is wrong with this? What can we do to correct it? “And who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asked Jesus. Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan, “Mankind is your neighbor.”

The HTB service nourished our souls. A series of young, smiling locals welcomed us into the towering, beautiful sanctuary (first constructed in 1829). Very self-conscious of my accent and trying to remember tips from Duane Elmer’s Cross-Cultural Connections, I spoke very little and smiled a lot. The sanctuary’s interior was even more breath-taking than its exterior. Yes, God does not “live in temples made by man” (Acts 17:24), but he certainly blessed us with the art of architecture, and this sanctuary was one blessed example of it; a sacred space.

HTB

HTB

HTB

Worship and gospel. That was the service. A time of praising the Lord and inviting Him into the service (with songs that addressed Him directly and focused on adoring and worshiping Him) followed by a sermon that proclaimed kerygma, gospel, good news. It was passionate, God-centered, biblical, and evangelistic. They lacked nothing for being “low church.” They lived up to their name – loving and worshiping the Holy Trinity – and that is enough.

We retired to our lodging, debriefed with the rest of our group, and sniffed out the nearest Tesco for some good, cheap, British grub (complete with Flakes and “definitively” Prawn Cocktail crisps). My wife’s nostalgia compelled her to take a picture:

FOOD

And now, friends, as I lay down to rest, pray for us. May His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as in heaven.

Daniel

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Day 0: “Home is where one starts from” (Eliot)

Two hundred and forty-one years ago, Andrew Logan left County Antrim, Ireland to sail for the American colonies.

Now another pair of Logans head back to that United Kingdom.

We will be leaving thoughts and pictures here, along with haikus inspired by our experiences. For example:

Passports held aloft
Quivering Americans
Brave a flight in coach

Oh well. I’m no Basho.

God’s peace (and cheers!),

Daniel

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