The Diary: On Flights, Music and The Muddled Lives Of Heroes

Between work and visits to family, I travel quite a fair bit by air each year. Already though, 2017 is on course to be my most airborne yet – love-hate relationship with flying notwithstanding.  The thing with S has been a big part of that, more so over the last few weeks, five of the last six of which have been spent down south. In times like this, even I have to admit- however grudgingly – the usefulness of being able to just fly. I shudder to think of how many hours I would have spent on trains or coaches over the last few days if flying was not an option.

Coming up to Aberdeen on this last but one flight of the lot, the relatively seamless BA experience I have enjoyed over the last few months falls apart, my 9.00pm flight ending up being delayed by an hour. That turns out to be the least of my worries as upon arriving at Aberdeen we have to wait to disembark, and then spend over an hour at the taxi rank for a taxi home. The official reason for the delay with de-planing is that the hold is full and we have to stay on until it is emptied to prevent the plane from tipping over.  Ironic cheers greet the announcement, not helped I suspect by the tone with which the pilot relays the reason. By his own admission, it is the first time he has heard that used as a reason. All told, by the time I get home at 12.45am I am barely lucid. How I manage to make it into bed remains a mystery but somehow I do.

My trusty headphones – and music – have been indispensable companions on these jaunts. Most recently I have had Lecrae and Tori Kelly crooning into my ear, the song being the catchy I’ll find you tune. It is a song I stumble on on Spotify on one of those days on which I am mindlessly letting it decide what music I hear. My interest is piqued enough to put the song on repeat whilst I hunt down information on the song, from which I find out the video is in support of a children’s research hospital and comes from a place of pain for folk they know who were battling cancer at the time. Its themes – fighting through a difficult season but knowing there’s someone who’ll make the effort to support one are ones that are uplifting and comforting in their own way.

With the benefit of a clear head a few days later, the question of how much of a distinction there can be between spiritually uplifting stuff (read music, sermons etc) and the messengers who bring them to us comes to mind. A few years ago, the Hillsong song Healer was a firm favourite of mine, made all the more interesting by the back story – the writer of the song was apparently dying of cancer. That was later shown to be false which prompted a huge backlash and calls for the proceeds from the song to be returned and a number of the organisations which had provided him a platform moving to distance themselves from him. Lecrae himself has stirred controversy with comments he has made about not being a Christian rapper and his outspoken support of Black Lives Matter.  Eugene Peterson, creator of The Message paraphrase, also drew some flak for apparently shifting towards endorsing same-sex marriage, a position he had to clarify very quickly.

All told, there does seem to be a tendency with Christendom to throw the baby out with the bath water and immediately distance itself from folk who seemingly stray from the weathered centre ground of orthodoxy. Two views I have found helpful on this subject of what to do with the ‘muddled’ lives of highly visible messengers come from John Piper and Russell More in the aftermath of the Peterson shift that was not. Truth remains truth, human vessels are inherently flawed and their output should be read through the lens of the bible itself.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Windows

39.Windows

Somewhat fortuitously – long story for another day –  I have somehow found myself working bang in the city centre for most of the last six years, the chief joys of which include being able to stroll leisurely into work in twenty minutes tops, and this – views of the harbour through the window of the canteen on the third floor.

Between the middle ship and the green ship, if you look hard enough you’ll see the remains of seagull poop. For now at least, these two are constants, ships and seagulls.


For the prompt, Windows.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Layered

One Friday this summer, S and I decided dolphin watching would be a good thing to do, which was how we hopped into the car, drove to the Aberdeen harbour and paid for a harbour cruise. The dolphins had other plans – 92% chance or not – and we ended up not seeing any. We did get the joy of about an hour of cruising round the harbour along with other equally disappointed would be dolphin watchers. Good bonding though, I guess?


For the prompt, Layered.

The Diary: Notes From The Northern Isles

 

37.Shetlands

What could have been. Image Source

It is in the middle of shovelling rice and chicken down my throat that just how similar to prison these cubby holes I pop into from time to time are. For one, there are a number of hoops to jump through to get here – in my case a 5.30am check-in followed by a fixed wing flight up to Scatsta in the Shetlands and then a further helicopter flight out to the platform – and the overwhelmingly maleness of everything, tattoos and all. There are also the shared rooms, the strict meal times and the restricted choices there tends to be for meals. The one statistic which goes against the prison narrative is perhaps the proportion of ethnic minorities in prison vis-a-vis the general population, but that is neither here nor there. And of course, we’re all out here by choice, getting paid a premium of sorts for the joy of being out here.

On this occasion I am on one of the bigger cubby holes – floated out in the late 70’s – with the claim to fame of being the world’s largest movable man-made object at the time. These days the Polarcus Armani  and Shell’s Floating LNG Plant the Prelude have stronger claims to that crown, a symbol perhaps of the changed fortunes of the UK sector of the North Sea vis-a-vis the rest of the world. To get here, this behemoth of the Northern North sea, we had to brave inclement weather at Scatsta, the clouds so thick and winds so strong that the pilots decided against going through with two landing attempts thirty minutes apart. In the end, we had to wing it to the southern end of the island to Sumburgh for a landing and then a bus back up to our original destination. The glimpses of the road that were visible through the windows in the pouring rain suggested that there would be some mileage in coming back here for leisure, but on this occasion the rough, rugged terrain – roads that wrapped themselves around hills and valleys and small streams fuelled by the torrential rains leaving their marks on the hills that lined our route – seemed more a trigger for memories of the past than anything else; St John’s, Newfoundland which I visited two years ago and the distant corner of Edo State to which I trace my heritage being the two main ones. One wonders where all that time went, not least the years since I last went home. My plan is to spend a total of three days out here – not since in my early years in February of 2014 have I had to spend more than a week at a time offshore – but for the regulars, a three week stint looms, which is why perhaps they seem less perturbed by the detour we have had to take.

The last few years have seen free wi-fi access hit these haunts, one more positive to everything. Back in the day, staying in touch with folk back home depended on finding access to a desk phone with the ability to dial out; access is a lot better out here than I recall from my offshore Nigeria days. Once offshore, I settle into the room I have been assigned, before heading out to the offices, to get stuck into the reasons why I am out here. A detailed chat with the platform manager to set the scene for why I’m out is followed by the first of what will be several meetings with the folk who I work with directly on a daily basis, and then a walk in the plant to eye-ball a number of areas which have piqued my interest.

With time I have come to realise that the routine is what keeps me sane – regular / restricted meal times, periodic review meetings, and the late night trip to the bund to stock up on sweets and bottled water have become things I look forward to on these trips, symbols of the passage of time, and with meetings, things checked off the to-do list.

There is joy and salvation in the mundane and routine after all, that much is not in doubt.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Waiting

36.Waiting

The downside – or some might say it is an upside – of having family on three continents is I spend quite a bit of time in airports waiting; to board, for baggage, to be picked up or sometimes to catch my breath after what can sometimes be a battle to get through immigration and customs, no thanks to the power of my passport.

The interplay between costs, stopover lengths and distance sometimes mean that only the very earliest of flights are workable for me, which is how I ended up at the airport at about 6.00am on this day. All in a day’s worth of waiting, I guess.


For the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge, Waiting.

Windows to The Sea

Although I am only three runs into my ParkRun ‘career’, the three blocks of granite on the grassy edge of the Beach Esplanade just before it turns West towards Kings Street have become a beacon of sorts. Situated around the 4.5k mark of the total 5k route they have very quickly come to represent the prospect of rest, relief and completion.

They also mark the halfway point of my morning runs, which again speaks to turning points and the call of home. Finding out they were donated to the city by a company I once worked for added a sense of serendipity to all of that.

Two for the price of one then for this week’s challenge, a grainy low light version from this morning’s run and a clearer one from the archives.

#Corner.

For the WordPress weekly photo challenge, Corner.

Being Prodigal — An Origin Story of Sorts

Image: Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son (Source)

I trace the beginnings of my faith journey to Easter of 1992, the enduring image of the day being standing alongside forty or so other people at the front of the bare, minimally decorated assembly hall of the College of Education Ekiadolor. I was there because I had been dragged there by my family; there being an Easter conference put on by the student Christian movement my parents spent a lot of their spare time supporting. Besides my irritation at being taken along — and thus losing the few days of freedom free from parental supervision — responding to the altar call along with the others whilst sobbing profusely is the only thing I remember from the events of the weekend. That would not be the last time I would respond to an altar call — or pray a similar prayer for that matter — but the sense of relief, joy and confidence about the future which followed that day is why I come back to that place as the definitive start of my spiritual journey, never mind the fact that it lasted for all of three weeks before the reality of life brought me down to earth. That personal connection was the final piece of the jigsaw that created a church bubble for me.

Growing up, church life was pervasive, bleeding into every other space I did life in. For all the distinctiveness of the other spaces — home and school — the burden of my recognisable surname meant that in the small town where I lived, certain assumptions were made about my character and behaviour. Life in the bubble had its own versions of things outside the bubble — its own popular music, TV shows, super star speakers and youth group events. Then there was the sense of certainty about what was right or wrong and what the expectations of behaviour were. That pervasiveness only increased after my father took the plunge and plopped for his collar. The ordination in 1993 strengthened the sense of insulation, focusing the involvement in a number of para church organisations into a single one, a properly pentecostal church. Where prior to that church was the University Chapel, stylistically aligned with the Anglican Communion complete with the use of the book of common prayer, church was now loud hand clapping, dancing, speaking in tongues, laying on of hands and all the other trappings of Pentecostalism.


In my experience, self reinforcing certitude is a notoriously difficult thing to preserve, especially once the barriers that protect it from outside scrutiny are removed. Going away to University did that for me, being the first time I would leave the cover of home for distant lands 80 miles away. Of the various things which chipped away at this bubble, the freedom of distance from home made the most difference, allowing me re-invent my associations with connections outside the bubble. That coupled with the multiplied numbers of people that I met on a daily basis created an overload of influences, ones which were decidedly more worldly wise and cosmopolitan than I had been exposed to previously. Wider questions about biblical hermeneutics — particularly Genesis in the light of the geological record — soon piled on the misery, blowing wide the door to drift and doubt. The only exposure to a non young-earth based theology I had up till then was in the margin notes of my father’s Dake Bible, notes which considered an alternative interpretation of the ‘days’ of Genesis as epochs or ages and hence less discordant with archaeology. Elsewhere a young earth, a historical Adam and Eve and the Fall were put forward as essential building blocks of the worldview I espoused. The seemingly significant disconnect between that and scientific reality left me questioning everything, further loosening what inhibitions remained. Since then five years in the South East of Nigeria — working in a town where a combination of oil money, single men, expats and a pool of attractive, educated single men fuelled a libertarian culture — and nine years in my corner of Scotland, as far removed from my bubble days as could be have done little to ease the sense of drift that I now carry. All of this notwithstanding, I have never fully managed to become untethered, church and faith somehow managing to remain embedded in my routines.


Most days I feel a deep kinship with the younger son in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, his hightailing it to a far country somewhat akin to how my faith journey evolved in the University years, once I was out of my church bubble. Whilst the emotional response that followed Easter of 1992 suggests a real change happened, my continuing struggle with the simple stuff — a regular practice of prayer and bible study, engaging a discipline of fasting and evangelism amongst others — often leaves me in a state of cognitive dissonance. Smarter theologians such as John Piper make a distinction between justification and sanctification; justification being a more or less instantaneous accounting of righteousness with sanctification being a more gradual growth. Implicit in that — in my layman’s view — is that a propensity for cognitive dissonance exists in all faith journeys, driven by the distance between what one knows to be right and what one does, between being justified and growing into a ‘sufficient’ degree of righteousness, as Paul’s example in Romans 7:13–24 suggests. The consensus, as I understand it, is that a measure of discipline, work and effort are required to bridge this gap, God both working in one and through one. That I largely accept, what is less certain is how much of the push to grow and improve is due to a real change as opposed to the remnants of the church bubble I grew up in, much in the same way a Muslim or Jew, by dint of culture abstains from non-Halal or non-kosher meat.

That to me is the fundamental question.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Bridge

A reminder of transitioning from full time study to full time employment at the back end of 2009, the Forth Road Bridge a symbol of hope of sorts on the journey from Newcastle in the North East of England to Aberdeen in the North East of Scotland for interviews.

In the end there would be a fair few trips but in the end with December came the set of interviews that led to a permanent move up North. The rest as they say is history.


The Forth Road Bridge, for the prompt Bridge.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delta

In the plains around Dunnotar Castle, lies an irony of sorts. The weathered rocks, worn by time’s incessant nibbling into cliffs which fall precipitously to the sea, are the very reason why the ruins of the castle we have come to see remain; a symbol of stubborn, dogged near permanence against the odds. But in the receding tide, and the quickly darkening skies, there is transience.

Ying & Yang. Life. Balance.


For the photo challenge, Delta.