Sarah Bessey recently wrote about what is saving her life right now and invited her blog readers to consider the question for themselves:

* * *

Saving me? Right now? In this loaded tension waiting game?

People. On two sides of the world.
3am emails and four hour phone calls, a hurried text or facebook message: they’re still there, still here, and we are not done yet.
Poached eggs, cups of tea, ironing piles: we’re listening, discerning, sharing and being.
A marathon in a darkened room and a collective hush before the gun: we’re reunited but there’s no need for extravagance, this is how it always was.
Kind words and gentle stories remind me I am not alone and that this is home. They root me in this place and quiet the panic that threatens to errupt in a heart that is not yet settled. They are saving me here. Allowing me to build and grow and live.
Kind words and gentle stories tell me I am not forgotten. They remind me of what was, of that which taught me what is and sustain another life I could forget I lived. They are saving me there. Keeping a part of me until it is time.

Saving me? Right now? On the verge of a spiral, nowhere bound?

The anticipation of things to come.
Of lives changed on both sides of an unspoken, well-known divide. Of a mess made as we stumble through the game. Of tempers flaring and frustration peaking as iron sharpens iron.
Of learning by observation and participation, though the teachers may be unaware and the student unwilling. Of the formation of a family, the creation of a home. Of chaos, beauty and peace.
Of one last lap, one last battle; to win the race and the war. For now. Of new revelation and character formation. Of precious time never to be consumed in this way again.

Saving me? Right now? From weariness and frenzy?

To a silent church where candles burn and incense rises, where ancient lessons are read and words are chanted, where your knees give out on patterned cushions and Christ stares down from on high .
To the lands of Middle Earth where Elves and Dwarves become unlikely friends, Wizards rise from the dead and a Halfling stands by his friend to the bitter end as he saves the world from unending darkness.

Saving me. Right now.

The Danger of Light and Joy


Tell me, Legolas, why did I come on this Quest? Little did I know where the chief peril lay! True Elrond spoke, saying that we could not foresee what we might meet upon our road. Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord.

– Gimli on leaving Galadriel in Lothlorien, in The Fellowhip of the Ring, J.R.R Tolkien, 1954

An Ironic Interruption

At church a couple of weeks ago, instead of a sermon, some people were invited to take part in a kind of interview about their lives, their involvement in the church and what God has been teaching them. I was one of those who got to join our pastor on the sofa before the congregation and attempt to condense into ten brief minutes simple questions about how my time the US has impacted me and what my hopes for the future of the church are.

Colin had sent me the questions he planned to ask earlier in the week so I had a rough idea what I would talk about. I wanted to attempt to explain that it was the people in San Francisco – the outcast, broken, lost and forgotten – who had transformed my understanding of so much, not least that we are all outcast, lost and broken but never forgotten by the Lord. I wanted to convey that the “us” and “them” attitude of the world was irrelevant and that breaking it down had brought freedom and new understanding. How ironic it would be, I thought, if one of “them” was to come to church that day. Wouldn’t it be just my luck.

I was the last person to be interviewed. Everyone else had done a fantastic job and shared wonderfully. It was all going very smoothly. But, in the thirty seconds that it took for me to walk from the sound desk at the back of the hall to the sofa on the stage at the front, a man came in and sat down in the back. I didn’t notice, I hadn’t seen him, not until I began to speak and he began to shout over me.

I was trying to explain the work I had been doing in San Francisco and he was trying to explain that “those people” lived real close by too. Some people from the congregation moved pretty quickly to try and get him to be quiet. I froze. I was torn between wanting to continue speaking and realising this as an opportunity to practice what I was talking about. I wanted to engage with him; I wanted to hear what he had to say and show him that someone was willing to listen. My pastor, sat beside me, said to keep going. So I did.

Afterwards, people kept coming to tell me that I had done well despite the heckling. I wanted to shout that this heckler had a name and a story and wan’t someone we should just try to quiet down.
I went and spoke to him. He actually apologised for interrupting me before going on to say that if “those” people were to come into the church there would be a divide, like the red sea, between “us” and “them”. He said that unless you had a degree in anthropology (his actual words, I promise) you couldn’t fit in at CCE. He said we were too comfortable and afraid of having that comfort disturbed.

The whole experience really got to me. A week and half later and I still can’t quite believe that he came in at that moment in that service. And I can’t shake off what he said either because I’m inclined to believe him.
Some of what I shared that morning were plans that we have in the pipeline to engage the church in more work with those in particularly difficult physical/practical circumstances near by. My dream, our dream, is that these practical measures will lead to discipleship relationships within the church community. I wonder if this encounter was a reminder that that is going to be no easy task, on either side. That it is going to be messy; that we’re going to get it wrong; and that it’s perhaps going to bring more change than we are currently okay with.




Humility and Roots

I learned a couple of things about myself as I travelled last month.

The first: that it takes a lot of humility to continually receive hospitality and I’m not very good at that.
The second: I’m no nomad, I need roots.

I loved visiting with my friends. It was . . . well, there aren’t really words that quantify how wonderful it was to see them again and in their natural environments too. To see their places of work, where they go to school, to meet their friends and family members, to visit their churches, and share their favourite eateries, was a privilege I was so grateful for. It’s really great to be able to put people in their contexts and now when we talk I’ll know exactly where they are speaking about!
I did find it hard, though, to continually be the one receiving. I desperately wanted to reciprocate their kindness but didn’t have the means to. If we lived in the same place I would have them round for dinner, or over to stay for a couple of nights but I just had to sit back and accept their generosity.
It was a really humbling experience. The situation makes you vulnerable; you’re completely dependent upon another individual, incapable of purchasing or attaining for yourself by any other means the services which they are fulfilling for you, services which you would be lost, homeless and hungry without. You are at their mercy.
When that mercy is gladly given, it humbles you further. That people would care about you so much to welcome you into their home, to go out of their way to accommodate you, to forego studying for their finals for you(!), you realise how undeserving you are of such kindness and how deeply blessed.

Before I left for California I had a conversation with one of my pastors around commitment to a place. I talked about my desire for adventure, the part of me that longs to leave everything behind and just set off into the sunset, not knowing where my feet might take me. Such a dreamer. In my head I thought I would be the nomad, the lonely wanderer picking up friends along the road. My pastor suggested that it was more natural, and more necessary, for us to have a centre of gravity, a place from which we could flow. He described people he knew who had tried to maintain two centres of gravity over a period of time but found it incredibly difficult and ended up choosing one place over another. So what, I thought. Doesn’t mean I won’t be successful in having no centre of gravity but simply floating as though on a cloud. (I hope you’re sensing the sarcasm here).
Just two weeks of spending no more than two nights in any one bed was enough to teach me that I am not a natural nomad. I do not thrive on that.
I want to be in one place for a significant amount of time and really be there. I want to know its secrets, its hidden gems. I want to know what makes it tick. I want to feel it. And I want to be in a place with purpose. I like to get involved, to know what’s going on in the community and contribute. Otherwise, I never really feel at peace in a place.
It’s not an easy realisation for me to accept. It sounds to me like I’m going to have to settle down in one place and there is nothing that I want less. The idea of settling, accepting less than adventure, horrifies me. Yet I have to hold that in tension with a desire and need to put down roots. Deep.
I wrestled for a lot of my trip with whether or not I would ever repeat it without returning to Scotland. I guess I partly went out to get some answers on that front. After a lot of wandering round San Francisco, whispered prayers and shouted grievances, conversations with people wiser than myself, I think I hear God saying that I’ve to go ahead and put down roots as deep as I like here in Edinburgh. I need not be scared that in a year’s time I’ll painfully have to pull myself out again, either because I’m not leaving or because, when that time comes, He will have prepared me.
The door to the USA is not closing tight. It’s got more of a revolving thing going on. And being here does not mean settling or saying no to adventure. It’s just a different kind of adventure. San Francisco may prove to be a place of refreshment and learning in the time ahead but it will not be home in the foreseeable future.
My roots are planted here.


I’ve discovered that one of my favourite things about travelling, and particularly by public transport, is the strangers that you get to meet.

Firstly there was the lovely lady that I met in the departures lounge of Aberdeen airport. Just as happened last year, I was reading my bible to to help with the last minute nerves a little, and then an older lady sat next to me, struck up a conversation and it turned out that she was a Christian too. She was headed to Gatwick to see her daughter and it was really comforting to to be able to talk to someone while we both waited on our planes.

On my flight to San Francisco I was sat next to a man from India. He had already been travelling for 24 hours having had to leave his home in India at 4am to catch his flight to Heathrow. He was headed to the city to work, something to do with computers. He had never been to the states before and was full of questions which I hope I answered sufficiently.

I had been looking forward to something of a quiet journey from San Francisco to Santa Clara, some time to reflect and process, but it wasn’t to be. Instead I met Jonathan who was headed to a job interview. He was very chatty. That much conversation would be so totally socially unacceptable in the UK! But he was friendly and enthusiastic and told me all kinds of things about the games design job he was applying for. Quite a character.

I really enjoyed my Amtrak experience and thankfully I had none of the problems I had been warned to expect. There I met a lady called Rebecca who was a bit of an old pro on Amtrak and Greyhound and she kept me right/gave me a few tips for my onward journey. She never really said what she did, only that she traveled a lot. She was carrying a guitar and sensibly brought a pillow so she could get some sleep.

At the Greyhound station in LA I met a young guy, 18 or 19, who was quite clearly high. We got to talking about college somehow and he told me he went to Santa Barbara City College. He had decided to go there because in Santa Barbara County marijuana has been legalised for medical use. So he’d managed to get himself diagnosed with glaucoma and could now smoke all the pot he wanted. Well, that’s one way to choose your college!

On the Greyhound to Porterville I first sat next to Amy. She had had quite a difficult day and night with broken down buses and missed connections as she tried to get home from college to visit her mom for a few days as a surprise! Her mom had no idea she was coming and Amy let a call from her go to voicemail so that she would think she was a work. Other than seeing her mom, Amy was desperate for In’n’Out (the world’s best fast food for those of you who haven’t experienced the joy) which she’s not had in her year away at college (it’s a California thing). On the second leg of that journey I sat next to a very lovely older lady whose name I never caught but I remember that she took a phone call from her son and one of her grandchildren was ill so when she finished the call she sat and prayed. Later in the journey she insisted on giving me a bottle of ice cold water and candy from her well stocked cooler bag. Her kindness was beautiful – we hadn’t really spoken but I’d told her I was travelling alone and she really just wanted to look after me. It was simple but perfect.

Another person I/we met, who will forever be something of a legend in our family, was the gentleman on an LA street corner who directed us to the most luxurious and delicious breakfast we had ever had. We came out of the subway station in downtown LA and were stood looking at our map trying to figure out where we should head first. He was just casually standing next to us and asked what we were looking for. We explained we just wanted somewhere to get breakfast first and after deliberating, because apparently they don’t really do breakfast in downtown LA, he suggested a place only a couple blocks down called Bottega Louie. We had no idea what we were in for but the macaroon towers in the windows and the 40ft cake and pastry counter were a pretty big indication as we walked through the door. The epitome of understated opulence.

Speaking to strangers is something quite alien to those of us indoctrinated in the Great British Reserve. It’s just not done here. But I admire and love the openness that I have experienced in the American people. Strangers needn’t be strangers for long.


I might bore you with specifics from my trip some other time but let me gush a little about the state itself first.

It is b-e-a-utiful.

Last year, I only left San Francisco for short day trips to Marin and Berkeley on the other side of the Bay. I had no idea what I was missing and I’m a little glad or else I might have been disappointed not to see it. In the past month though I managed to cover 1500miles and just about everything across the state between SF and LA.

The very first thing I learned as I left San Jose on the train was that California is a desert. I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was but I had just never realised while in the very green bay area. Every row of crops – strawberries, corn, grape vines and citrus trees – has a line of plastic piping to irrigate it. It seems a little ridiculous to me, surely it’s a sign that we’re not using the land for its intended purpose, but apparently it’s working quite well for them. And it contributes wonderfully to California’s landscape of contrast.

A contrast of ocean and mountains; green crops and golden grass; deserts and reservoirs; forests and skyscrapers; big cities and sleepy towns. Not to mention wind and fog on the coast and 100F (40C) heat in the valley.

It has all the grandeur of Switzerland and the awe factor of the Isle of Skye but there is something unique about California, or at least, it’s very different to any other place I’ve been and I love it.

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About three weeks ago I kind of made a decision. I say kind of because it wasn’t a very conscious decision but more of a logical step that just seemed to happen.

I became something of a vegetarian.

Wait. Stop. Don’t throw your hands up in anger just yet! I know that for many this is a cardinal sin and until only a couple of months ago I too would take great pleasure in mocking vegetarians about the absurdity of their dietary requirements. Just hear me out a little.

The truth is I’m not entirely a vegetarian. What I’m aiming for is more localtarian but this is my first step. I don’t have any ethical issues with the actual consumption of meat, nor do I get very sentimental about the treatment of the poor wee animals in its production. My concerns are primarily social and ecological.

This year I’ve taken two ethics classes, one on economics and one on technology, which have taught me a huge amount and challenged me on many things. One of those is how the production of our food impacts our environment and our human relationships and, more so, the potential that our food has to positively impact these things!

Food that is produced on mass, under the auspices of a few multi-national corporations, in highly controlled environments that rely primarily on technology, I believe, is incredibly destructive. In order to grow more cheaper and sell more bigger we have compromised the integrity of our food production. We’ve lost crop variety, become reliant on pesticides, farmed so intensively that the land cannot cope, manipulated the biology of our livestock, increased the amount of waste and pollution from the industry and robbed farmers of their craft. It’s not right that a supermarket chain can dictate the length, diameter, colour and straightness of the carrots I eat. Nor is it right that they can tie a farmer into a contract which allows them to give him three days notice for a full harvest. We have become so detached from the reality of nature and the reality of our food. We don’t know what’s in it or how it is produced. I no longer want to be a part of that system. 

I want to know where my food comes from. And I mean know as in more than a country of origin on a label. I want to be able to visit that farm and see the crops that could one day end up on my table. I want a farmer who understands how the land works, how to care for and conserve it as much as, if not more than, his profit margins. I want a farmer who respects her livestock and sees it as a part of the bigger cycle of nature, rather than just meat to be fattened up and consumed. I want my food to have used as little oil as possible – in feed, in fertiliser, in packaging and in shipping.

Maybe I’m being idealistic. Perhaps this is completely utopian, fine for me as an individual but unrealistic if we’re to feed the world. Fine. I’m okay with that. I’m going to work on the log in my own eye first and maybe someday I’ll get to the speck in my brother’s. So I’m not going to buy or cook meat for the foreseeable future (my one exception will be an In’n’Out burger when I get to California – if you’ve had one, you’ll understand) and I’ll be looking in to more local fruit and veg very soon. I should point out that if other people buy and prepare the meat, I’m going to be okay with eating it because I won’t have directly contributed to the industry, so friends and flatmates can rest easy. It’s a Romans 1:20 kind of thing.

Localtarianism. I like it.

Jesus had Blue Eyes

You have got  to read this post over at Deeper Story

While I was making payment this beautiful, bedraggled old man turned his blue eyes to search my brown eyes fully and asked, “Would you like to sit and eat with me?” And right there in the middle of Froyo World, with a few dozen college students intensely watching our exchange and the cars and pedestrians making their paces outside and the employee standing behind the cash-counter (waiting, it seemed, for my answer just as much as the homeless man was), I wanted to fall on my face and weep my shattered heart out. Because I knew that I knew that I knew that Jesus was asking me to eat ice cream with Him and what I said past the tears clogged in my own throat were the same words this old guy had just said to me a few minutes before, “Well SURE!!!”

Pierced. My. Heart.

It’s a story that I could tell.
So. Many. Times.
All the blue eyes, brown eyes, worn hands, wrinkled skin, drawn faces, toothless smiles, knotted beards and foul odours.
But there He was, stood before me, asking love and compassion, a kind word and a gentle smile. There He was sat beside me teaching humility, giving hope, exuding grace and stirring up faith.

Sometimes I forget and ask God where He is and somehow it can so quickly feel like He was never there. And I’m scrabbling around inside for that peace I know I had or that joy that burned like Holy fire and I think if I can just pray hard enough I can conjure it again. Then I’m reminded that it was not in a textbook, a sermon or a prayerroom that I really discovered who He is. It was in Patch’s calloused hands, Chris’s caring touch, Mike’s childlike energy and Sylvia’s righteous anger. And it was there that I learned who He made me to be, who I am in Him and I remember why I feel this discontent. Then I hear Him whisper, “Not long now”.

Jesus Had Blue Eyes (or, “Plus One”) by Erika

Evangelicals and Moderates

The evangelical Calvinists who recognised the good old ways of the Reformers found themselves trapped between an increasingly rigid adherence to the Westminster Theology regularly identified as “gospel” by the “orthodox”, and a puritanised form of rationalistic Calvinism encased in a hard federal frame of thought which had become entrenched in the thinking of the Kirk and was endorsed by the General Assembly.

– Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), 224.

Sound familiar? Well he’s referring to the situation on the Church of Scotland 300 years ago. This battle being fought is nothing new, let’s stop pretending.

God the Woman?

The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) will be familiar to the majority of us, as will the use of it’s imagery to portray God as a loving, providing, merciful Father.

The three verses preceding the story read:

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
(Luke 15:8-10 ESV)

I must have heard this story countless times and again heard the emphasis on a God who seeks the beloved. But never, not once, have I heard any discussion around the fact that here a woman is portraying God. A woman.

Another example might be that of Jesus description of the Kingdom of Heaven. One of his best known analogies is that of a mustard seed which a man plants and it becomes a huge tree (Matthew 13:31-32). The passage continues:

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
(Matthew 13:33 ESV)

A woman kneads yeast into three loaves of bread until it all rises. A woman.

Somewhere in Christian history we latched on to one idea of the nature of God and neglected the other. Were we right to do so? How different would our faith story look if the prodigal son had returned home to his mother? Is it possible to hold the images in tension? 

24-7 Prayer (2012)

This past week we had another time of 24-7 prayer at church.

24 hours a day for a week there was someone in our prayer room, keeping watch like the watchmen of Jerusalem, worshiping and interceding without ceasing. (Well, almost. I think we lost a few hours on Tuesday afternoon, but, you know, near enough).

The week arrived at the perfect time for me. There’s been all sorts going on in my head and my heart in the past month but it’s been one of those situations where it just seems to big to actually pray about, when you don’t know where to start. So to have a week where I was “forced” to come before God with it all was amazing.

Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.
(Exodus 33:11 ESV)

The week was like a crazy journey for me. Every time I went in to the room it felt like God was showing me the next step along the way.

It started with just seeking Him, asking that He would meet us all like He met Moses. Then I spent a couple of hours reading through Song of Songs and just catching something of God’s love for the church and for me individually.

You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
(Song of Solomon 4:9-10 ESV)

Then I was drawn to consider the person of Jesus and his work on the cross. I’ve been struggling with this for some time, wrestling with what precisely took place there, what it achieved and how. I looked particularly at the sacrificial practices of the Old Testament and the language used around Christ in the book of Hebrews, then to the more well known passages in Paul’s writings. It was good just to sit with these things for a while, to let the scripture settle in my head and grasp something of it all just a little more firmly.

My next slot focused more on how I see myself, how God sees me and the discrepancy between the two. But then on Thursday, I realised how much my prayers and my whole God focus had been about me in the past few months. Even when I had been trying to focus on God it had been for my satisfaction, understanding and fulfillment. It was time to return to intercession, to standing in the gap, to praying on behalf of others, because in that place we gain a unique understanding of who God is.

If we fully comprehend who God is, intercession and asking Him for things will be our natural response. When we realise that His character is not a static one, that He is more than power and glory, that He is also love and justice, that He is active, we should no longer only want to praise His divine attributes but should also feel compelled to ask Him for change and transformation. As we do so, because intercession is not one way but changes us too, we understand more of who God is and praise Him all the more for it!

To finish our week we went up to the Crags (the cliffs that over look the city) and prayed for it all. I wondered as we walked up there how many others had gone before us. How many thousands of people, in hundreds of years, have climbed that hill and prayed over our city? What a mighty cloud of witnesses! And we continue to build on their work, in prayer and action.

I’m sad that the week is over, but excited to see where the fruits of it lead us as a church in the coming months. God is on the move.

End of a Streetwork Era

Since the middle of my first year at university I’ve been involved in a ministry of the campus Christian Union called Streetwork (not to be confused with a charity in the city that goes by the same name). Almost every Friday night a team of students would go out with hot chocolate and biscuits to meet with those begging on the streets and show them the love of God through a simple conversation and listening ear.

It’s been a pretty major part of my life ever since and for the past two years I’ve been one of those responsible for its week to week running. However, after some careful consideration, the decision was made a couple of weeks ago that we would not continue with Streetwork in the new academic year and last night we ventured out one last time.

It’s been an odd ministry to run. It doesn’t really fit with the CU’s vision or come under their remit so we’ve pretty much had free reign at their expense. While this does have some advantages it means that there’s little driving force behind the whole thing. We’ve been fortunate to have a small group of very committed volunteers but outwith that small circle there’s been little vocal enthusiasm. Also, it has been difficult at times to discern our purpose or motivation. Our hope is to share something of God with those in need by meeting a relational and spiritual need often not met in soup kitchens or food lines but it sometimes feels that we as volunteers may be getting more from it that those we are supposed to be serving. Maybe that’s okay? Maybe it’s not? There is also little to no way to build on what we do: we can’t plug them in to other more practical programs and there’s only so much of a relationship you can build on a chance meeting every couple of weeks.

A friend once told me that if you’re going to finish something, you’ve got to finish it well. So, rather than just let streetwork peter out as the semester came to an end as we tried to scrape by, we gathered as much of the team as possible last night and went out in style. It was surreal but wonderful to gather for orientation, to go out together, to debrief and pray together one last time. There is pain in it but also joy because God has been so faithful throughout it all and done such work in and through us all.

There are so many nights I won’t forget quickly. Like meeting L, she was thin and pale, couldn’t have been more than 21. She was very quiet and conversation wasn’t easy but someone else on my team ended up doing press-ups on the pavement beside her and when we joked with her her smile could have lit up any room. Or one night when we were on North Bridge speaking to G and his huge boxer dog. All was peaceful and we were having great chat when next thing we know we’re surrounded by about six guys, all looking for hot chocolate and some attention. Some people were praying, some were talking, all in this big guddle on one of Edinburgh’s busiest roads. Or J, sat outside a store one night, so high and out of it, telling us his plans to move to Barbados. I saw him a few months later, selling the Big Issue and getting his life sorted. Only last semester I was able to get to know T over a few months and the last night I saw him, the day before his court date, we discussed issues of God and faith and he shared his real name with us. Or my friends S and S who’s attitude towards us has transformed completely in 6 months so that now we can sit with them for thirty minutes each while they pour out their hearts.

We have been in positions of incredible privilege these past few years. I know that our hearts have been transformed, that God has not once let us go home unchallenged or without revealing more of Himself to us. And, as I look to careers in housing and homelessness, my life has been irrevocably changed by all of it.

Praise be to God!


So maybe you thought I was done with California and San Francisco. 

You know, it’s been seven months, I should be over it by now.

Well, I’m not I’m afraid.

Hence: California2012.

That’s right people, not just a city this time but a state (or a good part of it at least).


The first two weeks it’ll just be me visiting friends, riding the greyhound and loving life:

San Francisco – 6 nights
Santa Clara – 2 nights
Springville – 2 nights
Santa Barbara – 6 nights

Then the family are flying out and it’s two weeks of road trip excellence:

Los Angeles – 3 nights
Cambria – 1 night
Monterey – 2 nights
Yosemite – 3 nights
San Francisco – 5 nights 

There are not words for my excitement.