Tag Archives: london

read. my tale of two boxes.

I had the privilege of writing a lesson to be taught to students at my church this Christmas. I share a portion of it with you.

At this time of year, mystery seems to be all around. Wrapped packages hold secrets, tantalizing us with the mystery of what is inside. Many mysteries more just more readily accepted. How does Santa manage to do his job so well? Who was the anonymous donor? Who is your “Secret Santa”? Secrets, surprises, and mysteries just seem to be a part of the spirit of Christmas. In fact, Mystery is reason for the season.

I have always been drawn to mystery. My first favorite book was a mystery. Many of my favorite television shows and movies involve mystery.  The idea that something is beyond my understanding is somehow a comfort to me. But at the same time, that mystery actually compels me to try to understand. Mystery motivates me to know the unknowable.  J.J. Abrams, the creator of several of these mystery-themed shows I enjoy, gave a TED talk several years ago, and in it expressed many of these same ideas. He shares with the audience a mystery box he purchased in his childhood yet remains unopened. In asking himself why he has kept but never opened this box he answers, “… it represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential.” He also says, “mystery is the catalyst for imagination.”

So when Paul writes in Colossians 2:2-3 that he wants the believers there “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” he is telling them and us that the unknown is knowable. He is inviting humanity not just to imagine but also to explore the mystery, which is Christ. The invitation was not a new one even to the church at Colossus. It was the invitation, the plan, God had from the beginning. He wanted his creation to know its Creator. And Jesus was the mystery wrapped in flesh.

That is the miracle we celebrate at Christmas and hopefully every day – that a mystery opened its own ethereal box and dressed in something familiar so we could understand as much as possible.

Now, I’d like to tell you about another box, one that taught me something special about Jesus.

Three years after spending a semester in London, I returned on a short visit and followed my feet to a few of my favorite spots. While wandering, I stumbled on to a beautiful thing. There, just outside St. Martin-in-the-Fields, was a large cube. I had no memory of it being there before. Of course, I was intrigued. From a few yards away, all I saw was this perfectly smooth box. I took a few more steps and realized that carved on the side, wrapping regally around in block letters were familiar words. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I took a few more steps. I stopped. I was close enough now to see the roughly textured top of the otherwise perfectly smooth shape. At eye level, in the center of the rough terrain was a breathtakingly realistic carving of a baby boy. It was as if the top of this box had been broken off and at the center of the mystery was a newborn child who lay partially within the stone, the umbilical cord running in to the stone itself.  This sculpture taught me more in a momentary glance than reading or study ever had.

I later discovered the sculpture was commissioned for the millennium and put in place only days or weeks after I departed in 1999. The piece is by sculptor Mike Chapman who said,  “It seemed to me that a tiny life-size baby carved from stone in such an enormous environment would be the best way to remind us all of just whose birthday we were celebrating.” To me, it was more than a reminder of “the rock from which you were hewn.” (Isaiah 51:1) You can see a photo of a portion of the sculpture here or below, but I fear it will not do the experience justice. Because I experienced this on a level deeper than words, I cannot really convey the lesson to you with them.

photo credit: Brett Jordan

The words of John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in the prologue of the Gospel cannot be bested. They convey, as best words can, the self-existence of God, the holy trinity, the nature of humanity, and the plan for the redemption of man.  They tell us about a mystery that loves us. They tell us about Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

(John 1:1-18 ESV)

If you want to know more about this story, about Jesus, click here.


watch. abide with me.

I need a forum to express something. Since I don’t have a soapbox to stand on in Speaker’s Corner, I am turning to this blog of mine that has been on accidental hiatus. At the moment, it comes in handy.

If you are just joining me here, please note that I have loved the Olympics for as long as I can remember the Olympics. This basically means that since the moment Mary Lou Retton vaulted a perfect 10, I’ve been hooked.  Or perhaps, it was even before that, when my family stood on a sidewalk in Birmingham, AL to cheer on the passing torch relay runner. And every 2 years (yes, I love the Winter and Summer events) I give 2 weeks or more to Team USA.

As with most events, sport or performing art or concert, my favorite moments are the first moments. Everyone is full of hope and expectation. I know. It’s entirely too diplomatic of me when the point of a competition is to discover the fastest, strongest, best. But as a spectator, I cannot help but sense the excitement of every competitor. I hope for them all. The Olympic Opening Ceremonies is the ultimate and literal parade of that anticipation.

I love the Opening Ceremony for more than its display of expectation. The host of the Games opens my eyes to a culture – familiar or foreign – and I learn something. Admittedly, the Ceremony can get long. To those who make this argument, feel free to get a snack or work on a project. This only happens once every couple of years; let us enjoy it.

On Friday, I signed off social media early in the afternoon to avoid spoilers. I turned down invitations to viewing parties, in part, to ensure I would hear the back-story of each flag-bearer from Bob Costas. And I watched the cast of volunteers display some of the contributions Great Britain has made to the world.  Giant Casper-like baby and my unrealized dream of an ensemble performance by Adele, Leona Lewis, Emeli Sandé, and more aside, I believe the show to have been a good one. It is the broadcast that bothered me and continues to with each passing day.

I am not so naïve to think that we could air this ceremony uninterrupted. In fact, I’m incredibly appreciative this week of the fact that sponsors have made it possible not only for the team to get to London but for me to watch the events practically around the clock. This is not my complaint.

I do not expect commentary to be perfect. I expect it to be informative most of the time and entertaining some of the time, yes. But not perfect. This is not my complaint.

I even extend grace to the producers who continually chose the tight shots of choreographed “Brunels” in top hats (see link to ceremony guide) over other pieces of the action, mid-range, or wide-angle shots of the show. Perhaps there were technical difficulties.

My disappointment is over what could be called a simple edit – a 6-minute piece following the message typed by Tim Berners-Lee, “This is for everyone” omitted from the NBC broadcast. “Abide With Me,” a hymn linked in history to the sinking Titanic and royal weddings and to sport in the UK, was beautifully sung a cappella by Emeli Sandé while dancers with choreographer Akram Khan performed a work depicting a struggle with mortality. The heartfelt lyrics, written in 1847 by Henry Lyte at the end of his life, ring so relevant.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;

shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.

Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;

in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Ironically, NBC decided this portion was not for everyone. In fact, it seems their only response to inquiries for a reason has been that it was tailored for and American audience. I beg, wholeheartedly, to differ.

Regardless of the direct, indirect, or accidental tribute this paid to the victims of the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London, this piece could have played an important part in the grieving process for the American audience that empathetically reacted to those attacks and most recently suffered great and inexplicable loss in Aurora, CO.  I learned long ago that mourning turns to dancing. “Abide With Me” was yet another example of how we grieve and celebrate, a reminder of how those who have gone before make us who we are now.

In my opinion, isolated and different though it may be, this was not a simple edit, but the denial of a gift for the American audience. I will not quit watching the games. I will still cry and cheer and laugh and cringe with Team USA and with NBC. I would just like to know the real answer to the question, “why?”

I’d like to thank BBC One and Deadspin.com for sharing this skipped segment of the show. Cheers!

Watch it HERE.

By the way, if you were completely baffled by elements of the Opening Ceremony, here is the official Opening Ceremony Guide, which explains in detail the significance of seemingly disparate ideas.

If you have read this far, thank you for tolerating me. Now you can continue your Olympic viewing schedule.

watch. the players say goodbye.

You’ll have to bear with me while I join in the Pottermania this week. To start, I’ll just share what those who created and helped take us to this magical place had to say at the London premiere of the 8th and final movie. If you are a fan and you don’t shed a tear, you may want to check for kitten plates on your wall.

Take this with you: “The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwart’s will always be there to welcome you home.”

listen. the pierces are back.

…with long-awaited and beautifully evolved new music. Since I last mentioned them, a great deal has changed. Currently, they are spending a lot of time in the UK (said with just a hint of jealousy in my voice). I can’t wait for the release on the home side of the pond. In the meantime, revisit their website and follow them on twitter for the latest. 

watch. for beauty in the mess.

In the midst of tragedy we look for beauty. Beauty echoes wholeness and hope. So, while I mourned the great losses, these moments of beauty offered measures of relief.

The final blooms from the tulip poplar that fell found their way indoors to be enjoyed.

My mother, my friends, and I joined with millions to watch a young woman named Kate marry a young man named William.  We wore our “fascinators”, ate McVitie’s biscuits, and sipped Twinings tea from Whittard mugs. To me, the most beautiful part of the ceremony was the message of truth spoken by the Right Reverend Richard Chartres.

The transporting sounds of the Avett Brothers carried me away.  Not only are these musicians talented and intelligent, but they were incredibly gracious on and off stage.

There is something so comforting to me about the unison movement of a ballet class – made only more beautiful by the spirits and hearts of the dancers I am privileged to know.

In what have you found relief from the mess around us?

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