Tuesday, February 20, 2007

St. Paul's Cathedral

“How Sweet the Sound!”

A Service to Commemorate John Newton, with music by Christine Collister

One of the benefits of having traveled more than a little bit, is the opportunity to visit other churches, especially some of the world’s greatest cathedrals:
• Notre Dame in Paris
• Cathedral in Cologne, Germany
• Westminster in London
• Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England
• St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome
• Canterbury Cathedral in England
• St. Patrick’s in New York
• Cathedral in Mexico City
• to name a few.

Add to that list, now, St. Paul’s Cathedral (Church of England) in London.

Sunday night past, February 18, 2007, I attended the 6:00pm Evensong Service. The service was titled, “”How Sweet the Sound,’ A Service to Commemorate John Newton, with music by Christine Collister.’”

What a wonderful evening as we sat in this huge cathedral, where by the way, Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married. The forty-five minute service, which included the cathedral’s huge pipe organ for prelude and postlude featured singer-songwriter Christine Collister singing only a cappella some of John Newton’s best-loved hymns and spirituals originally sung by slaves.

Canon Edmund Newell joined her in leading a special service celebrating the life of clergyman, hymn-writer and anti-slavery campaigner John Newton. It marked the 200th anniversary of Newton’s death and the passing of the Act of Parliament that brought to an end the British slave trade.

Newton, a former captain for a ship carrying African slaves, a profession he continued awhile after his recommitment to Christ.

The service was great as each song echoed through the cathedral. Several times we joined in singing. Especially wonderful was Amazing Grace!

On the way to the concert, I stepped out in front of a car was nearly hit!

God was with me!

Love you all!
His for the Journey!

The Taxi Ride

The Taxi Ride!

We reached London, Sunday morning at 10:25am after descending through the obligatory layers of clouds covering England. When isn’t it cloudy in England?

Except for the long line, customs was uneventful. What followed was history making.

We were trying to decide how to get to our hotel. Having landed in Gatwick airport, we needed to transfer to our hotel, The Heathrow Thistle. Which as its name indicates is by Heathrow International Airport. We would find out soon enough that the hotel actually sits on one of the runways. (HINT: with the heater running on high in the room, you never hear, or feel planes coming or going.)

Transportation choices were simple: take a transfer bus, which would take us directly to Heathrow Airport then require a taxi to our hotel, or use public transit—a three hour process at least, which would include train, subway, bus and perhaps a taxi to a hotel, whose whereabouts we knew nothing of. All of this with luggage in tow.

Long story short: out of nowhere, as though it was a miracle, a third option emerged while three of us were off using the facilities! An independent taxi driver appeared! Independent means, he is not part of infamous, mostly black cabs, London cabs with their incredibly knowledgeable cabbies. Independents act as the name implies—independently. Usually, there’s no signs on the cab, no information regarding the driver, etc. My personal experience with them is that the drivers are of foreign descent.

No doubt he had watched us go up and down a long hallway, attempting a decision. However, he never approached the four of us! They seldom do. Waiting until there’s only one, at the most two left guarding the four large suitcases, coats, computers, etc. Richard D. Barnes guarded the bags; we decaffeinated. Upon our return, Richard had arranged transportation! Well, so it seemed. Pricing was open for discussion. No problem with our luggage and the four of us. No problem at all.

Before leaving the terminal, he needed coffee. So off he went with George to find coffee for him and three of us. A decision I hoped we wouldn’t later regret, seeing we had just relieved ourselves of seven hours of the black liquid magic. Who knew where or when we would find the next restroom.

The driver, dressed in a pink shirt with a pink and white tie, tied three inches short of his belt, seemed like a nice chap (English for a nice guy). We later discovered he was Moroccan, had lived in England for twenty years and had friends with great Moroccan restaurants, complete with dancing women. We declined the one with dancers, and took his recommendation for one with just food and gastric unsettledness.

We packed three of the suitcases, computers and coats on a trolley, (English for an airport luggage cart) and headed for the taxi. What an experience that was, as our driver with one hand on the trolley and the other carrying a cup of coffee, guided the “mind of its own” trolley through a hallway, a sloped walkway, through doorways, around halls, a parking garage and unsuspecting travelers, who darted in all directions, attempting to dodge the onerous four wheeled moving van. With a pastoral sense of responsibility for our earthly possessions, I followed close behind the way-making trolley.

Passengers, like us, had traveled all night. Reflexes were less than swift, and almost became victims of the trolley and driver as both zigzagged the distance between terminal and taxi. At one point they into a wall. At another, the trolley added a good six inches to a doorway—shifting suitcases. So what if there was a gap between the automatic door and the doorframe. Now there was more room for the next trolley to navigate. I finally came to the rescue of our luggage and the driver by offering to carry his cup of coffee. It was when I took his cup that I realized the trolley was not completely to blame, as there was only a small amount of coffee left in the cup.

The only relief for passengers came when the driver stopped to use a restroom. Dozens darted past us, hoping to put some mileage between the trolley and four boisterous American before the driver returned. Word spread fast regarding our trolley and its driver, as for the next thirty minutes, the evacuated hallways became a ghost town.

Finally, like a prisoner set free from the confines of his cell, we reached the car park (English for parking garage). I looked down the row parked vehicles—all small foreign made cars except for one at the far end. There, a head and shoulders above the rest was a Toyota van. For a moment, I thought, “There is a God!”

Why the driver chose to push the errant trolley so closed to the parked cars, when there was a full lane we could use, I don’t know. Without incident we moved parking stall by parking stall closer to the “our” Toyota van.

Suddenly, without warning, we stopped, two cars short of Nirvana.

“Here we are,” informed the driver.

“What!?” Richard exclaimed.

“No way,” chimed George Temple

“I don’t believe it,” moaned Daniel, son of George.

I simply smiled. Shook my head. I felt a blog coming on!

“Here we are!” “What!?” “No way!” “I don’t believe it!” was a Peugeot sedan, the size of a Toyota Corolla.

“No problem,” assured the driver, as he opened the trunk and began loading our luggage, counting as he tossed them in. “One, two, three.” Well, more like 2 and a half! Daniel’s “soft side” didn’t quite fit. But after three or four more running attempts, and a few grunts and groans, the later mostly from Daniel, he had it in there. Fortunately, Richard had packed two small suitcases rather than one large. The decision was made to hold them in our laps.

Getting in the car was worth the price of a first-class roundtrip ticket to London. I decided to sit on the left in the back. No problem. Except, now Daniel was standing next to me, waiting to enter. So, I crossed over the car to right. Somehow, in transit across the seat, my left foot arrived on the right side of the car ahead of my right foot, which was now pinned under the front left seat! I couldn’t move!

With precision and quickness, Daniel in anticipation of my moving over was already in the car and mostly on top of me! I was pinned for the count. With body twisted in a way it wasn’t supposed to rotate and bordering on claustrophobia, I cried, “Help me! Move the seat someone! I’m caught!” Only Jeff Salley could fully get the picture of my hysteria!

Richard to the rescue! He moved the front seat forward. Daniel stepped out of the car for a moment. I dislodged my twisted foot and we finished packing ourselves in the car. With the drivers help, we pilled Richard’s luggage and all our carry on items on our laps.

Picture this: I was in the rear right, Daniel in the middle, George (yes, George, as Richard had called out the right to sit shotgun) was rear left. We were so tight in the back seat; George could only close his door by putting his right arm around the back of Daniel. Fortunately, they’re father and son, because they looked pretty cozy!

I’m not sure why middle-eastern cab drivers love to play music in their cabs louder than the decibel level of PC3! He was no exception. Perhaps they do it to drown out boisterous Americans. Fortunately, this time it wasn’t middle-eastern music! It was American oldies, including one that was a song recorded by a group of celebrities for some charity event in the 70’s or 80’s. You know the song, “Sing it loud; sing it strong...” Maybe Lebanese music would’ve have been better.

I suspect the cabbie is a “wanna be” NASCAR driver. He had drafting to a science. Cars, bigger and smaller than his Peugeot, and lorries (English for trucks) we’re used, to gain speed and fuel efficiency.

We were packed so tight and traveling so fast, that If we had been in an accident our DNA would have all blended together in a globular mess and the numbers game would have eluded a Sudoku master.

We departed the car park!

Richard asked the driver how long it took to get to the hotel.

“One hour,” was the reply.

“Well we need to get there quicker than that.”

Wrong response!

It’s a distance of 45 miles to Heathrow. Well . . . we made it in 35 minutes! Laughing, talking and praying the entire time.

Looking back, at times terror filled our eyes, like foggy condensation on windows inside the car. No matter what you do you can’t wipe it away fast enough.

Not soon enough we arrived at The Heathrow Thistle.

When we opened the car doors in front of the hotel, contents of jackets and luggage, and humans spurted from the car, like a punctured jugular.

Happy to be alive we stretched. Unloaded suitcases from the boot (English for trunk). And thanked God for a safe trip!

George paid the driver. With tip it came to $200 American dollars for the “E” ride!

The driver handed us his card and told us to call if we needed a ride anywhere.

Look at my eyes: I don’t think so!

Next time, I’ll tell you how I almost was killed when stepping out in front of traffic on our way to a great service at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

His for The Journey!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Thought Pad

Philippians 4:8–9
8. . . keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable. 9 Practice what you've learned and received from me, what you heard and saw me do. Then the God who gives this peace will be with you.

Today I’m on my way to London, England, with some great friends. For them its business, for me its for pleasure.

I’m going to try to blog each day (or so). Currently, we’re sitting in San Francisco airport, waiting for departure.

Last night we stayed in a Hampton Inn by the airport. I noticed with interest the perfunctory note pad on the nightstand and another on the desk. What caught my eye was what Hampton Inn calls their note pad. Simply, it read: “Thought Pad.”

“Thought Pad” has much more of a human quality to it, than the blank note pad, or page after page with the hotel’s name at the bottom. It seems to call one to attempt articulation of even their most rambling thoughts. It conveys warmth, relationship. Spawns new thoughts. Invites the lonely to share thoughts, otherwise left unnoticed in one person’s mind. Like a photo, “thought pads” capture in space and time the ruminating resonates of a cavernous cranium.

The day before leaving, I had a note pad with a list of things to accomplish before leaving on this trip: buy contact lens solution, hair spray (sick!) and sunglasses. The quantitative list completed, resides in our trash.

“Thought pads” are for keeping, at least for a while, letting rumination have its full effect. Qualitative, meant for revisiting, reevaluation, reforming the mind and spirit. They are a collection, reflecting our “made in the image of God” mannishness (to use a word Francis Schaffer often used).

Look at the passage of scripture above. Think thoughts God has give you. Create a thought pad. Dwell on its content. Let the peace of God fill your mind and spirit.

His for The Journey!