Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Monday, August 27, 2012

In Memorium: Neil Armstrong

America lost one of her legends yesterday.  Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, died at the age of 82.  Armstrong landed on the moon on July 21, 1969 and cemented his place in the history books. 

For the first time a human from Earth stepped on another celestial body.

A lot has been made over the last 48 hours about Armstrong; his accomplishments, his humility, his general good nature.  Seems like everyone thought he was genuine "salt of the earth".  After his history making adventure he chose not to cash in on celebrity, or even leverage his status for political purposes.  (Although the offers were many)  Instead he retreated to his home state of Ohio and taught at a local university.  He rarely gave interviews and chose to stay out of the limelight.

That is until President Obama decided to cut the future Constellation Moon Landing program and development of the Ares launch vehicle.  That was enough to call the legendary space pioneer out of retirement.  In an open letter to the President he said that Obama's cutting of the program was "devastating" and that,

"For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature..."

and 
"Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity.  America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space."
America used to be a leader in "reaching for the stars."  My hope is that the renewed focus on Armstrong with his passing will allow Americans to remember when we dared to reach into the void and "make one small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My review of Rob Bell's "Love Wins"

I realize I'm a little late to the party on this one.  Rob Bell's book, Love Wins has been out for more than a year now and the controversy surrounding it has moved on to other targets....but I've been on a book roll lately and this one was one I was meaning to get to.

Most of the controversy centers on Bell's flirting with universalism, which for those of you with a real job means that everyone will eventually be reconciled to God and no one is going to be left in hell to burn for all eternity.  What I always find interesting in any debate, and this one particular, is the attitude of peoples hearts when discussing it.  Seeing some Christian's reaction you'd almost believe they would be furious if many people were not thrown into the flames for all eternity.  Like a celestial crowd in a gladiatorial arena they  gleefully give a thumbs down to Caesar as he seeks their decision on whether a victim who has fought in the games should live or die.

Fortunately Bell brings a bigger and more loving interpretation to the debate.  Someone asked me after I finished the book what I thought.  I said I agreed with a large part of it.  Some of it was a bit of a creative stretch at times (Bell is an intelligent and creative guy).  For example his interpretation of the story of Lazarus and the rich ruler after death had me scratching my head a little but ALOT of what he brings to the table are questions that need to be asked and most church streams and denominations won't touch them with a ten foot pole.

And why?

Because if they do Pandora's Box would be opened and the whole thing could collapse. (which could lead to dancing :)

But didn't Jesus do that very thing?

Didn't he travel around asking questions that made the religious establishment very uncomfortable.  He'd say the Kingdom of God was like "this" or the Kingdom was like "that" in a way that made the priests and pastors of the day crazy with jealousy and anger.  Didn't Jesus then start saying that certain people were "in" when the religious leaders and holy men had declared them to be "out"?

(Believe me, humans are far more enthusiastic about throwing people into hell than God... could that affect our theology at all?)

For example when God says he desires all men to be saved, that every knee will bow and confess Christ to the glory of God the Father, that all creation will be reconciled in Christ... Does God get what he wants? Does the Creator and Author of Life get what he declares he wants to see happen?

Or does the Alpha and the Omega, The Beginning and the End, Does "I AM" give up at a certain point and admit, "I did what I could but that's about the best I'm going to get." 

Mmmmm,

Much of the book though deals with heaven and getting away from a Christianity that seeks primarily to get people a ticket to paradise rather than participating in Christ's plan of bringing reconciliation and "heaven" to earth now.  That we would be active participants in fulfilling Jesus' prayer that His will be done on earth as in heaven.

Bell says right now the earth is filled with a lot of different "wills" and Christianity should be bigger in scope than has often been the case.

I actually have a good friend who I have known closely since high school.  At one time he was a strong Christian believer but after some years left the faith.  He told me not long ago that he believed in God again but one of the reasons he didn't consider himself a Christian anymore was that Christians made God far to small.

And you know, I agree with him.  We have made God to small. Bell's book seeks to get our view of God back to the standing and scope it should be at.

Do I agree with every aspect of what Bell suggests in "Love Wins".  Probably not...but it is an important contribution in making Christianity the Body of Christ that will bring Life to those in our world that are desperately looking for it.

In the end though I agree with Bell that "Love Wins."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Coast to Coast: Day 15 & Epilogue

Bags packed at "The Villa"
Back to London

Woke up the next Friday morning and Gabriel and I almost didn't know what to do with ourselves.  It was the first day in 2 weeks where we didn't have to get up, eat, gather our gear together, and start walking.  Instead we enjoyed a final evening in a Victorian Bed & Breakfast, a final full English breakfast, and a final goodbye to "the trail".

The British Museum
Breakfast conversation was unusually good this last morning as well.  There were about 6 others at the table who asked us a number of questions concerning our hike and what we experienced.  I must say I was often asked by the British folk both at this breakfast as well as for the last two weeks some form of the following question, "So, how has Hong Kong changed since the handover?"  My answer would elaborate on areas where Hong Kong hasn't changed at all as well as areas I feel have changed a fair bit.  Oh, how I do love International discussions...

"Jersey Boys" in the West End
London Olympics 2012!
After breakfast we packed our gear up, ran into Robin Hood's Bay to get Gabriel a souvenir Coast to Coast T-Shirt, and then caught the bus to Scarborough where we would transfer to a train that would take us on a 3 hour trip back down to London.  We checked into a Travel Lodge hotel in Covent Garden which, I must say, lacked the style and atmosphere of the bed & Breakfasts I had grown accustomed. :)  We had enough time to get showered and changed for our big celebration though.  Two months earlier I had asked Gabriel what West End show he would like to see to celebrate the end of our big adventure.  He responded, "Jersey Boys!".  So I managed to get two tickets...second row! 

What an amazing show.  A perfect and joyful end to what was darn near close to the perfect trip a father son can have.  The next day we toured the British Museum for about 3 hours before we headed out to Heathrow for our flight back to Hong Kong!

Final Thoughts

If you are thinking of tackling the Coast to Coast, here are some things to consider:

* Packhorse was a helpful and reliable company for organizing everything for us.  Find them here: http://www.c2cpackhorse.co.uk/index.htm

* A rest day!  Not really needed for a 14 day trip but Gabriel and I said one day where we didn't have to rush out the door in the morning and could pause to enjoy our surroundings would have been helpful.  Rest day suggestions: Grasmere, Patterdale, Kirkby Stephen, and Richmond

* People for months asked me what training I was doing for the hike. The answer??   I didn't do any beyond the occasional workouts and runs I do anyhow.  It can be tough in sections for sure but if you are moderately fit and set in your heart you will finish it...you will finish it. 

* Having said that make sure you do everything to protect your feet.  Gabriel and I wore liner socks with a good hiking socks over them.  Plus some form of blister relief bandages and creams.  I went blister free for 200 miles by taking care and Gabriel was mostly blister free.

* Enjoy other people!  Probably the most fun he had was the interaction we had with each other and all the wonderful people we met.  Be proactive...introduce yourself and enjoy a laugh, a meal, and some ale with a new friend.

* Navigation:  We chose NOT to use GPS as we wanted this to be an adventure and risk getting lost at times.  If you go sans GPS don't think you you won't need a compass...you will! For all intents and purposes we did the whole walk with the Trailblazer "Stedman" guide which has about 100 hand drawn maps...and a compass.

* Talk to God:  Let's face it, there are ALOT of hours to fill and people are not always around.  God is...and there is perhaps no more beautiful place to chat with Him than in His creation...and if you listen carefully, He tends to speak back :)

* Enjoy!  And if these posts have helped you in any way, leave a comment and let us know!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Day 14: Grosmont to Robin Hood's Bay

Day 14: Grosmont to Robin Hood's Bay
Starting Time: 9:20 AM
Finish Time: 5:10 PM
Total Mileage: 15.5 miles
Bed & Breakfast: Lisvane

Last Day!  After two weeks on the road the excitement has really started to build that the end of our journey is nearly complete.  There is something very different in a hike that takes multiple days and weeks rather than an afternoon.  A feeling of victory, accomplishment, overcoming...etc.  But wait, I am getting ahead of myself...as they say, "we ain't done yet!"

Little Beck Woods
Woke up in Lisvane bed and breakfast which was another gorgeous home.  I must admit the owner at first did not win me over.  Not that she was rude mind you, just matter of fact in a way that made us feel a little unwelcome when we arrived.  Then I found out that I had to pay 2 pounds for the wi-fi password which made me slightly annoyed as we hadn't had to pay at any other place the last two weeks.

We found Shelob's Lair...Run!
As with many situations in life though, there is always another side to the story.

In the morning at breakfast our landlady's demeanor had changed and she was very gracious and talkative (maybe something else on her mind last night?).  She explained that she charges for the wi-fi (without my inquiring why) as a donation to the volunteer mountain rescue teams that help stranded hikers.  (Any irritation I had with paying 2 pounds instantly disappeared).  She mentioned that since the BBC documentary on the Coast to Coast with Julia Bradbury had come out in 2009 there had been a spike in the number of hikers needing the services of rescue teams as people watching Julia jogging along the trail were under the impression it was easy...and its NOT!  (Rumor has it that Julia didn't even do the walk).

The Hermitage
Anyhow we bid farewell but I do have to mention that you know you are in a small town when the barmaid who brought our dinner to us in the pub the night before is the same girl who came in the morning to deliver Gabriel and I our full English breakfast. 

Last lunch before finishing
The hike out of Grosmont is a somewhat steep climb and Gabriel's blister was bothering him so we moved slowly.  We had now become accustomed to his foot needing a while to work itself in.  As luck would have it though we took the wrong road out of the town (looked pretty confusing on the map I must say).  Realizing we were heading in the wrong direction and yet trying to avoid backtracking down to the starting point again I looked around for a local I could ask directions from.
Finally...a sign!

I don't think I have mentioned how much I have enjoyed doing this walk in an English speaking country.  The ability to ask a local person directions without crude attempts at a foreign language, speaking in baby talk English, or resorting to charades and hand signals was a welcome advantage.  Finally an older man tending his garden saw me with my map in my hand and said, "you look like a lost Coast to Coaster".  He went on to tell me that the intersection near us would put us back on track with minimum backtracking...a welcome relief.

We left Grosmont behind us and entered Little Beck wood which allowed for about an hour's walk through possibly the nicest, and most enchanting, woods on the route.  It really felt "Middle-Earthy" and we enjoyed the time there save the mud in areas.  At Falling Floss Falls there was a nice little cafe near the waterfall where Gabriel and I had a quick sit down lunch so as not to "rush through" our last day.  We bought some preserves to take home to Tammy and shared a big slice of carrot cake together...when I say share I mean about 3/4 for me and 1/4 for Gabriel :)

Afterwards we hiked off into the woods and ended up on the wrong side of the river.  Gabriel did and "Indiana Jones" by climbing across on a fallen tree while I continued down another 1/8 of a mile until I found a number of rocks that would allow me to get over.  (Only got one boot wet).

Along the coast!
We emerged from the woods for one last march across the moors (I really thought we were done).  Anybody who thinks this last day is just and easy end to the C2C has another thought coming.  The moor areas were darn near close to swamp and as we got closer to the sea in the distance the ability to stay dry became impossible.  We finally gave up and for about 2 miles we alternated between dry grass trail and being up to our calve in water.  Oh, well!

At one point we missed a marker in the midst of a marshy area and we even knew we could get lost as the map said, "Careful, its easy to get lost in here".  There have been a number of times where a compass came in handy on this trip to get our bearings...and this was one of them.  We managed to get on some kind of path but realized it was heading us the wrong way again.  I didn't even need a compass here as I could see the North Sea and knew we were heading towards Whitby and away from Robin Hood's Bay.

Robin Hood's Bay
I started getting really frustrated but it was Gabriel who kept the peace wanting to know why I was getting so mad when we should just enjoy the situation.  I told him I didn't mind getting wet and muddy walking in the right direction...but in the wrong direction?  Fortunately, as what often happened when we got lost...it wasn't as bad as we first thought (a good life lesson here).  The negligible path we were on finally merged with a cement path that had a Robin Hood's Bay directional sign on it.  About 10 minutes later we were back where we were supposed to be and FINALLY reaching the sea!

Old Wainwright though, he doesn't let you finish here, oh no!  Like the beginning along the Irish Sea 2 weeks and 200 miles back, he wants you to see the coast for a while before dipping your boot into the water for a finish.  And the wait  is well worth it.  Beautiful cliffs, ocean breezes, and gawking seagulls are part of your last hour or so on the Coast to Coast. Our necks kept straining around every bend to see if we could finally see Robin Hood's Bay...until around one particular bend...there it was.  Just a quaint little fishing village...but it was our destination.

Finishing with new friends!
We entered into the top of the town and walked past our bed & breakfast for the night.  We decided to pop in and let our host know we had arrived before heading down to the bay for our ceremonial finish.  Jane, the owner of The Villa, kindly offered to walk down with us to film the big moment.

Celebrating
Like many others before us, we were getting ready to end our big adventure.  As you walk past tourists and locals alike you want to almost scream out, "You know what we've done?  We've just walked 2 weeks and across a country to be here today!!"  Gabriel and I reached the water whose tide, which unlike St. Bees 2 weeks earlier, was in.  We we let the water wash up on our boots, Gabriel threw his rock (I kept mine and turns out he had 2 and kept one as well) and we hugged.

Mission accomplished!  A dream 16 years in the making was realized.

The boys enjoying the finish!
Our fellow walkers from Germany were also on hand having finished about 30 minutes before us.  We agreed to meet back at Wainwrights bar for a celebration dinner and a toast to having accomplished the Coast to Coast walk!
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