After various airline delays in Geneva, I finally got to Heathrow mid-afternoon Monday. British Airways uses Heathrow Terminal 5, the new and enormous facility added (with some controversy) in the Spring of 2008. As daunting as the airport is, for the first time in several weeks I did not feel at such a disadvantage as everything is posted [first] in English.
Both the Swiss and English TSA-type agents were none-too-happy about the fact that my passport did not get stamped upon arrival in Rome on July 1. After I talked for a while (okay, quite awhile) doing my best to explain what happened, the Swiss agent shrugged his shoulders, threw his hands up and told me to go to my gate. I could hear him sigh and say something in French that included the word “Americans.”
In the UK, the 30-something year old female agent offered a few words of condemnation about Italian efficiency, or lack thereof, and then spent several minutes grilling me about the purpose of my visit to the UK. As I recall, the conversation went something like this:
“So you are a clergyman?” She said this as she looked over my little blue and white entry card.
“Yes, I’m here on holiday,” I said.
“So, you are not here to preach or prosyletize?”
“No, I am here to refresh and renew; I’m laying off preaching for awhile.”
“So then, you will not preach, teach, or perform clergy services of any kind while you are in the UK?”
“No, I am on sabbatical, I’m out of the game for the summer. Of course I plan to attend church, but as an observer not a leader.”
“So you say. But we have had many others like you tell us the same sort of thing and then go on perform religious services anyway.”
To this I said, “I am sorry about that, but I assure you I have no plans to do that while I’m here, that is unless you want me to pray for all those preachers you have met who reneged on their promises. Better yet, I can ask the good Lord to give you patience for dealing with all of us preachers, we can be a difficult lot.”
Finally the tiniest fissure of a smiled cracked on her face. She half-heartedly stamped something(s) three times, looked up and past me toward the next person, and flicked her finger to wave me through.
I must admit, I was sweating it there for awhile as I imagined the the jabbing I would get back at home if I failed to make it through the gauntlet:
“So, they wouldn’t let you in to England. What did you do? You know England is one of the few countries that seem to like us, or at least they used to before you got there.” I could hear one of you say.
“Well, I’m not exactly sure what happened. I just admitted to the immigration agent that I am a laid off preacher.”
“Sure,” one of you says, in my imagined scenario, “and you probably made a wise-crack of some sort, didn’t you? Be honest.”
“Well, yes, but you know me, I can hardly help it. Stuff just bursts forth before I can stop myself.”
Thankfully, they let me in, I’m not sure I could have taken all the ribbing.
Speaking of sweating, it is a bit cooler here in London, though it’s fairly warm by their standards (mid 80’s). Last night I had a COLD Guiness at Northfields, a local waterin hole. As I sat at the bar by myself, nursing a COLD (praise the Lord!) Guinness and feeling a bit lonely, I was reminded that the only thing better than a cold beer on a warm day is a cold beer, on a warm day, served by a talkative and entertaining Irish Bar Keep. It didn’t make me miss family and friends any less, but it was a marvelous distraction while enjoying a nice COLD pint.
I have finished reading “The Stories we Live By by Dan McAdams. McAdams, a research psychologist, has spent his career looking at individual narrative and the shaping of personal myth as a way of interpreting, and integrating, life experience. I am moving on to another book entitled, “This Odd and Wondrous Calling” by UCC colleagues Lilian Daniel and Martin Copenhaven on the call to, and experience of, ordained ministry. It should be, I think, a bit lighter reading.
I am staying in a flat in Ealing, a West London neighborhood 7-8 miles from central London. It is an easy train ride with one transfer to get into the thick of things in the city, so it’s a great location. I figure to cool my heals the rest of the day today and then venture out tomorrow mid-morning to central London. I’ll stop by Holy Trinity, Brompton, to get the lay of the land and see what things I can join in. Then I’ll play it by ear. My little fantasy world has me hanging around and going to evening services somewhere downtown. We shall see if that works out.
I decided this afternoon that I could no longer wait to get a haircut and finally scoped out a place at the local mall. How could I pass up “Mr. Sam Barber shop?” A young Lebanese immigrant named Hussain cut my hair. When he found out I live in Chicago, he had a million questions on virtually every topic, not the least of them organized crime, and whether I had ever seen anyone in a pinstriped suit carrying a machine gun. It was a one hour hair cut. Fortunately, I had a lot of hair to cut!
I had a delightful time meeting Mr. Sam the owner, also from Lebanon. After a very thorough and enthusiastic wacking by Hussain, Mr. Sam walked me next door and gave me a cup of Cappuccino. We had a great conversation about life, the universe and everything. Upon parting he told me that, since I am here by myself, if I need any help getting around or run into difficulty, I should be sure to stop by or call. I thought this a remarkable demonstration of hospitality and kindess.
So, that’s my blog for today; nothing nearly as exotic or picturesque as a great cathedral or ancient Roman ruin, but rather the more mundane, and-yet-rich, revelations of hospitality and kindness in ways and places one may not expect. I think it could be that the local barber shop, like the local church, has a similar personality and quality wherever you find it.