Rick's Sabbatical 2017: Story 4

Posted by Rick Carpenter on

“Another World”  (July 16 – 31)

Kay and I left Little Rock on Saturday the 22nd of July, after the Arkansas Meet of Champs Swim Meet, in which Ellie and Levi competed—lots of ribbons and medals, I might add—headed home with one goal in mind—to wash clothes, pack and get ready for our flight to London on Monday afternoon.

London is the only place we’ve ever visited out of the country, unless you count the times when we crossed the Canadian and Mexican borders just to say that we had. And though at times it’s hard for us Southerners to tell, the Brits do speak the same language as we do. But it’s still another country and another culture, and I must say, quite interesting to me. And there are always strikingly stark realities that hit me when we touch down in London.

For one, there are people there from all over the world, many of whom don’t speak the King’s English. A lot of them were tourists—just like us. But many have moved to London and live there. It’s all a stark reminder to me that the small world in which I circulate on a daily basis is just that—one small piece of a world that God created, a world that He’s deeply in love with. And even though there are Vietnamese and those from India on my street nearby, it’s easy for me, living in my house, or my church, or my city, or my country, to think that the world revolves around me, or us. But walking the streets of London reminds me otherwise.

We were fortunate to be able to catch up with Lauren Dillon, a young lady who grew up at UBC, and is living and working in London now. We had a “lovely” dinner at a restaurant near our hotel, and afterward, we rode the Underground to her see her “flat” in Kensington. (Yes, of course, she is right next door to Kate and William.) It was a lot of fun, and we had some great desserts, which Lauren and I appreciated, and Kay just watched us eat. She’s been there less than 2 weeks, but has already several trips, and was planning a weekend Focus time with some of her London church fam. Lauren seems to be happy and thriving in London.

The other question that rambles through my mind when I’m walking down Bond Street, or standing in the “queue” at the British Museum or Buckingham Palace, is always, ‘who are these people and what are they up to?’ I seem to have this built-in curiosity, which I think I got from my dad. I want to know where they’re from, what they’re doing in London, and what they do when they’re not walking the streets of London. I want to look into their eyes, I want to hear their stories, hear about their families—I want to know what life in England, or wherever in the world they’re from, is really like.

But it seldom happens. Occasionally, but not often. Ewa, at the Marriott, from Germany I suppose, who was so kind and helpful. The young women on the Tube, dressed up and ready to party, traveling alone, meeting someone, I suppose. The wide-bodied guy who almost “took me out” on the stairway coming up from the Underground. Molly, the guide on our walking tour to the British Museum, who when I asked, “How long have you been doing this?" she said “20 years of so,” and I said, “That’s a lot walking,” and she quickly added, “ . . . But I teach art appreciation,” as if to say, I’m not just a lowly tour guide. The kid in the hotel who was always asking what he could do for us, the lady at customs in the airport for whom I tried to explain what I was doing in England (sabbatical), and the security guy from whom I asked directions to Bond Street, and of course, I said in true nasal Lower Alabamian, Bahnd Street, and he finally figured it out and said, oh you mean “Boned Street.”

Riding a lot on the Tube gave me the opportunity for a few minutes to look into some faces and wonder who these people are. Most avoided eye contact, which I’m sure many of you would say is good. But I can’t help but wonder when I see the women in burkas, and the children who speak well a language I will never understand, again about this big old world, why are we here, and what is it all about. But this I know: when God said he loved the whole world, this is exactly what he was talking about. Being from LA (Lower Alabama), and living in Texas, the country-state, it’s easy for me to lose my focus, to forget about the giant spaces of the world, and to lose sight of the Giant of a God who made it ALL.

If anything else about London strikes me, it is that it’s full of museum-cathedrals that are sustained by tourists who buy tickets and tour, attend evensong services, and maybe drop a 5-pound note into the basket as they leave. But is there a real congregation? I’m sure there are great churches in London—on another visit I attended All Souls Church and St Helen’s of Bishopsgate, both very strong and inviting evangelical churches in the city. I know London churches aren’t that different from New York, or Houston, for that matter, but it’s just striking because of Cathedrals like St Pauls and Westminster Abbey. And I always find myself asking, how are these churches doing in the world of pastoral care? How do they care for one another? (I guess my interest comes along with the job.)

On this visit, Kay and I saw the insides of Buckingham Palace. You can only go inside when the queen is away, so we were able to get tickets and file through the enormous state rooms where royal people do royal things (I know, spoken so eloquently by one who has not a touch of royalty in his blood.) Of course, we were amazed at the ornateness of it all, the lavish chandeliers, and the decorative stone work and stucco in the walls of the 10 or 15 enormous drawing rooms, and music rooms, and throne rooms, and other rooms. (Whatever happened to 3 BR, 2 BA?) And of course, we’re always dumbfounded by the age of these buildings in London. The house my mother lives in is old—65 years old! The original building at the core of Buckingham Palace was constructed in 1703. So 300+ years old makes 65 yrs old seem like new construction.

On Friday, we had to see Kensington Palace, where William and Kate live with George and Charlotte. I was just sure they would bring the kids out to play in the nearby Diana Playground, and that they might give a royal wave to the Yanks from Hoooston, but it didn’t happen. The gardens at Kensington were incredible. The English take great pride in their gardens, and we took “pictchas” galore of it all.

We did attend Evensong at St Paul's and took part in a St Paul’s Late, a self-guided tour that did not include the galleries (the 3 domes inside the big dome over St Paul’s.) We were amazed by the architectural work of Christopher Wren, the very famous architect whom we understand built over 60 churches in London.

London is a fascinating place. Before we left the US, some asked if we were still going, following terrorist strikes near London Bridge. Our answer is, ‘the threat of terrorism is all around us. The only way to avoid it is to stay home and lock yourself in, and even then there are no guarantees.’ The truth is, I couldn’t help but think about it when we walked from London Bridge Underground to the Globe theater, where we saw Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. But we could see signs of heightened security. But at some point, you just have to carry on. And we did. And the people of London are. And I do pray for London, for God to protect the people, even as I pray for the whole world. It’s a scary place, these days. But it’s the world that God created. And it’s the place where we live. And it’s full of the people that God loves—equally—the gospel of John says, God so loved the (whole) world.


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