I’ve been thinking a good deal lately about the places I’ve lived and the worlds I’ve inhabited. What do I mean by “worlds”? Well, I can only say that I have this deep and abiding sense that the places I’ve lived have been more than just neutral geographical locations on a map, but rather unique and transformative collections of people, aesthetics, interweaving narratives, and seasons of life that have etched themselves into my Being and have changed me.
Here in Phoenix, at this very early stage, the elements of the brilliance of this place are only beginning to surface. Palm trees, a grid-like easily navigated system of streets and avenues, the almost ceaseless sun, what people mean by “it’s a dry heat,” dreaming about a really exciting new season of life for my young family, imagining my little son Liam running through the yard and wondering what he’ll think of the new place, looking forward to exploring the state with Tara and Liam, and entering new seasons of teaching, songwriting, and ministry.
And, its not just that Phoenix is an attractive place to live. It is, but that’s not why I call it brilliant. I sense a sort of indigenous brilliance to each place we have lived in the past 10 years. I remember arriving in St. Andrews, Scotland in September 2010 completely feeling like we were in a place unlike anything we had ever seen or experienced. Even the currency was different. The entire culture was unique, and had to be learned. I remember feeling like St. Andrews would always feel foreign and never feel like home. In fact, for nearly half of the first year, I was honestly awash in it all. I felt quite alone and solitary in academia. During the second and third year, however, St. Andrews became home and though it was not perfect, the contours and elements of life in the UK became a part of who we were as people. Strangely, the music that I wrote during that time instantly evokes the feeling of ‘being there’ the minute I strike the chords even today, here in America. It is as if my soul is transported existentially and emotionally back to the place that the song came into being. I enter again, repeatedly, as often as I play any of my tunes written in Scotland, into that mode of existence precisely as it was at that time as if nothing changed. It is world-creating, and world-expressing. The world I inhabited then is unique from the world I inhabit now. But, the world I inhabited then is necessarily a part of the world I inhabit now, fusing itself to the present and creating something new. I can’t quite explain it except to say that there is something that happens when one enters into a place and allows themselves to feel, internalize, soak in, the particular ethos and aesthetic of a place, that almost transcends explanation. I find that becoming intentionally sensitive to the seemingly mundane features of life helps to reveal that they are actually profound, and they begin to seem, not like incidental and unimportant elements, but rather, like art.
This past year in Boston, in between St. Andrews and (now) Phoenix, was a time of frenetic energy. I was pastoring a Church for the first time, and rediscovering my love for music and the musical worship of God, teaching as an adjunct professor at Gordon Conwell, editing books, learning to be a Dad. There are about 20 different ‘roles’ contributing to the question — Who am I? In all of the frenetic energy there was the sense that the splintering out of my passions and time would eventually spill in one direction. I keenly remember coming out of Park Street Church, feeling really vocationally fulfilled one evening. It was warmer than usual, and I noticed people ice skating in Boston Common. There were about 100 people on the Frog Pond which had been frozen over for public skating. I saw a Dad with his two little girls going about .2 miles per hour, one little girl slips, but she is holding her Father’s arm and so does not fall completely. I felt overcome by the power of the thought that in that skating rink are 100 people, with 100 different views of the world, sharing some common elements, but interpreted through the uniqueness of their own experience, emotions, and perspective.
I used to be mostly interested in my own ‘world’, my own way of seeing things, and found comfort in the fact that what mattered most to me were my own preferences and story. The longer I am on this journey of faith, however, the more I sense and am convicted, convinced and compelled by the idea that because human beings are made in the image of God, and made for eternity and abundant life, each one of those stories matter. Each one of those ‘worlds’ is complex and heart-breaking and wonderful and captivating. Each one participating in brokenness and occasional isolation from the other, but each one, in Christ, is meant for redemption and communion and completeness.
Since leaving Edinburgh on May 22nd 2013 I have kept a £5 note in my wallet and since coming here to Phoenix (admittedly, since they don’t have Yuengling here), I have been nostalgically purchasing Sam Adam’s Boston Lager. The places I’ve been have changed me, and have shaped me and the way I experience the world. The Boston Lager and the £5 note are like sacraments, outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace, experience, and reality, evoking an entire set of complex emotions and experiences just by their mere presence.
The ‘world’ I inhabit, experience, and create here in Phoenix will inevitably bear the mark of the places I’ve been, the people I care about, and the sounds and songs in which I encode these things, too precious to leave behind, and too complex to describe, can only be heard, felt, and pondered.