Archives For Scotland

Today, September 18th is one of the most important days in Scottish history.

The people will have a chance to decide whether or not they want to continue being part of the United KIngdom, run from London, or completely separate as sovereign nation. Most Americans think that Scotland achieved its independence in 1996 due to Mel Gibson’s revisionist history epic known as Braveheart (Hey, I love it!). Scotland originally won their independence in 1314 after winning the battle of Bannockburn. Then came Mary Queen of Scots and it got very confusing for 150 years until Scotland and England rejoined in 1707 to form what now know today as the United Kingdom. There are some fascinating books on Scottish history that can explain more and I encourage you to dig deeper.

To most around the world, the Scottish vote will not mean much except to economists and a few people who appreciate Scotland for what it represents. As an American, I have always had a fascination with Scotland and its deep, majestic history.

I visited and lived in Scotland three separate times. I first visited in 1999 as a college student studying in the UK.

In 1999 at the borderlands of Scotland and England, my first visit there.

In 1999 at the borderlands of Scotland and England, my first visit there.

I fell in love with Scotland so much that I found a way to graduate early from college to then move there to live for my last semester in 2001. I ventured to Scotland without a job but with the hope to immerse myself in the culture enjoy the journey.

What I found this time in Scotland was something I did not expect.

I figured I would live in Edinburgh, which is the quintessential, picturesque medieval city. Who does not fall in love with the Romantic and more well-known Edinburgh? I did like many others but I realized that I needed to get out of the comfort zone of the tourist city and venture to Glasgow, which had far fewer Americans and I’d be forced to engage with the culture. It was an adventure after all. Mark Twain wrote,

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I worked two jobs in Glasgow; Glasgow University and a coffee shop in the evenings. I met friends from around the world, traveled to the Highlands, toured the cities of Stirling and St. Andrews, joined a church, ventured frequently with a hiking group, and mostly listened to the people and their mesmerizing accents. It was pure majesty and I made it my home away from home.

I even revisited in 2003 with some great friends from college, Adam Zuber and Steve Griffin, as well as a friend from Germany (Tobi Schneider), whom I met in Scotland when I lived there. It has been eleven years since I last visited and I miss like it is home.

I love Scotland for many reasons and here are a few pieces of my journey to share that I hope you will enjoy. It is a beautiful country and no matter what happens with the people’s decision to be a part of the UK or not, it will always be my home across the pond.

Here are a few pictures from my Scottish journey.

My parents visited me when I lived there in 2011 and we took a trip to St. Andrews. Here we are on top of the historic Swilcan bridge.

My parents visited me when I lived there in 2011 and we took a trip to St. Andrews. I even got to play The Old Course in 1999.  Here we are on top of the historic Swilcan bridge.

View from Portree on the Isle of Skye. The perfect day in Scotland.

View from Portree on the Isle of Skye. The perfect day in Scotlan

The ubiquitous hairy coos

The ubiquitous hairy coos

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Tobi, Adam, Steve, and I at Edinburgh Castle in 2003 revisiting Scotland

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Our 2003 team eating haggis in the highlands. Mike Myers once said, “My theory is that all of Scottish cuisine is based on a dare.” Well, it’s probably true.

The Scots love their football. I adopted Glasgow's Rangers. Simply the Best.

The Scots love their football. I adopted Glasgow’s Rangers. Simply the Best

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I was blessed to work at Glasgow University. This was my walk to work.

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On the Isle of Skye, this was a glimpse of heaven. See for yourself.

If you want to get a taste for Scotland, I recommend the following:

READ

WATCH

VISIT

Well, that is a completely new post but no matter what happens, go support Scotland and explore the beautiful country. Just go.

 

The scene was this. I took a morning bus ride from Edinburgh to Glasgow. I was to either stay in the confines of beautiful Edinburgh, complete with medieval history and beautiful scenery, or I could make my way to Glasgow, a city full of the unknown. Glasgow was a city that most tourist maps encouraged you to skip or simply wrote that it was a scene of a 50 people being trampled in a football (soccer) match or was a place you had to go through to make it to the west highlands. That was exactly why I needed to be there. Edinburgh was safe. Glasgow was wild.  Besides, I had already been to Edinburgh many times and it was time to move forward. It was time to go away. Away from my fellow Americans. Away from the Away from the expected.

Once I arrived in Glasgow after a short bus trip, I had picked out a hostel to stay in that night and got in a taxi to take me a couple of miles to a beautiful Victorian area overlooking Kelvingrove Park called Park Terrace. Within a minute, I learned that the hostel was full. Glasgow the type of city that only had a one or two hostels because it didn’t attract many cheap post-college students like me. Those who bypassed Glasgow were in essence smarter than me. I was disappointed that the only hostel I knew in town was full but when I stepped outside, the taxi had left and I was left with all my bags on my shoulders to look over the misty and shadowy Kelvingrove Park and see gothic-looking Glasgow University on the other side. Glasgow University is a place that only Tim Burton or J K Rowling could have dreamed of. I looked into the depths of the park and fear crept up on me.

So I began walking through the park, through the valley, over the Kelvin river, and up the next hill to meet the university steps. I quickly found another taxi that helped me find another hostel next to campus and that became my home for the next couple months.

Within a week I got a job at a coffee shop and took up a research position at Glasgow University. God had provided. My journey in Glasgow left me inspired and each time I feel afraid to take a step, I think back to the prayer I said to God at the site overlooking Kelvingrove Park. Take a look above. It is mysterious and daunting but there is something in it that says “go there” and see.

Much like how C.S. Lewis was portrayed in the play and movie Shadowlands (1993), I felt like I was recovering from years of safety and comfort and doing what was expected of me.

Considering the extreme challenges I know so many friends of mine have suffered, it would be insensitive of me to make you think it was a grand sacrifice of mine to go to Glasgow. In fact, I knew that even something happened, I could simply get on a plane and go home. No one told me but something about what happened in Glasgow is that it was necessary to experience discomfort and in some instances, suffer. The same goes for love and any other adventure in life as C.S. Lewis experienced. In the movie, Jack (Lewis) shares,

Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.

Pain is part of life. I can’t explain it completely except that it seems natural and necessary in our development as people. After all, Christ suffered for us so who are we to think that we shouldn’t suffer even a fraction of what he experience? Years before the loss of his wife, Lewis described in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe that we must move our way through the dark wardrobe to enter the land of adventure, Narnia. It requires opening the dark door and forcing ourselves through until we see the light.

Tell me about an experience you had when you felt you truly stepped into the unknown. Was there fear, pain, victory, etc.? 

What did God teach you through that experience?

In one of my favorite movies, City Slickers (1991), a question is asked amongst friends who were on a modern-day western cattle drive adventure,

What was your best day?  

This is a great question to ask at different points in your life to get a pulse on where your heart is. I have a firm belief that in order to discover your heart that God gave you, it is essential to look back at the moments, in this case a day, to understand what stirs you.

For me, I remember driving through the Scottish Highlands with my good friend Steve Griffin and another South African friend. It was recommended that we go to the Isle of Skye in the west highlands. We weaved through long windy roads traversing historic and beautiful areas like breathtaking Glencoe, The Rob Roy Monument, and even the enchanting Eilean Donan castle. The day started by waking up in beautiful Portree, a small fishing village only to witness small boats heading out to sea with the sun rising above them. After a hearty Scottish breakfast of tea, eggs, and sausage, we drove and walked around the island. We drank water from the streams, walked along the coast, took pictures of the mountains, breathed in the beautiful air. Believe it or not, the Scottish Tourism Board isn’t paying me to write this as my sentiment is genuine.

After we left the island and drove north, we all were in awe and marveled at what we just witnessed.

I said to my friends,

“You know what would make this the most complete and best day ever?  “What if an RAF Tornado fighter jet buzzed through this beautiful valley?”

I had heard about military jets buzzing some of these valleys and since I’ve always been a fan of British and American airpower, this would complete it. Our South African thought we were delirious Americans who only cared about weapons. We laughed of course and didn’t think anything of it because of the unlikelihood.

Not five minutes later we heard a roar of a plane approaching us. I was in the passenger seat and could see it approaching us from behind us.  With half of our bodies out the window, Steve and I went crazy screaming and cheering as a Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado buzzed our car at almost supersonic speed.

After the plane roared on by, Steve said it best,

That’s the sound of freedom, baby.

I’ll never forget that day.

Our reaction to the RAF Tornado made me think of the awe and amazement of Christian Bale’s character, Jim, in the beautiful and tragic Steven Spielberg film, Empire of the Sun (1987) when he sees the P-51 Mustang buzz his concentration camp. Jim saw his “Cadillac of the Sky” as a sign that freedom is coming. I can imagine that it was Jim’s best day at that point in life, despite how hard things were.

Why does a best day ever even matter?

Since that day in Scotland, I’ve had several “best days” that have topped that one. I’ve been to the World Cup in Germany and seen amazing sights. I’ve also traveled around the Mediterranean to see Greek islands like Santorini. I think mostly about Brooke and I getting married and how beautiful she looked walking toward me at All Saints Chapel in Sewanee. I remember her smile, her grace, and beautiful blonde hair gracing her long flowing white dress all while walking along flowers. God was present that day, May 28, 2005, I know it. It was a “best day” indeed.

These “best days” matter because they give us a glimpse of heaven. It is a swagger in the golf swing, a tip of the hat, a wink of the eye. It is God showing us the way things are supposed to be and what we also have to look forward to for eternity in Heaven if we put our trust in Christ.

What about you?

What is your best day? 

In an Australian accent, those were the words said to me across a table at a coffee shop where I lived in Glasgow, Scotland.  It was 2001 and I had been living there surrounded by a culture of those who didn’t know Christ.

What?!?

What did I do to make this guy hate me?  I was casual friends with this person and had no serious interaction with him previous to this. But there was something I apparently did wrong.

Or did I do something right?

I tend to avoid conflict and be a harmonizer whenever possible.  So when I heard the words “hate” and “you” in the same sentence directed at me, it definitely hurt.  I am led to believe a lie that just because I have gotten on my knees to accept Christ, things will be easier.  Life has only gotten harder but my faith and peace in Christ has grown stronger.

I was reminded this morning when reading Jesus’ words in John 15: 20 “….If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” Persecution should be expected.  After all, the early church was hated by the world because they didn’t understand the truth.  Most of this hate surrounded by the fear of the unknown.  It was good, though.

Most of the conflict I encounter today is with other Christians.  The themes around that conflict is usually about pride.  I bet if someone who doesn’t know Christ would observe the way we act, he or she would have every right to say “I hate you.”  But you know what? That person is probably not caring because we as Christians become irrelevant when we fight amongst ourselves.

There are so many people fighting for their faith in this world.  They are  being persecuted.  They risk their life just to have the chance to read the Bible. We as followers of Christ should be causing the right kind of stir that causes people to stand up and say, “I want that.”

The goal isn’t to go out and try to get people hating you. It is about being bold in your faith fearlessly sharing the Gospel.  This happens by earning the right to be heard and letting the truth speak.

Being hated by this guy woke me up.   It reminded me that if I’m not causing a stir then I’m not quite living out the true Gospel.

May you cause a stir with me.

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Updated from December 28, 2011

For years this moment kind of haunted me, mainly because I didn’t understand it completely. Today, God reminded me of why we as Christians are here.

John 15:18-19

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

Preceding these verses is this line from Christ himself in John 15:17,

This is my command: Love each other.

What encouragement!

Sometimes in life we are blessed to witness greatness.  I remember 10 years ago this month I had the privilege
of being part of a feat that few have accomplished.

Have you ever met someone who ran a marathon a day for 2 months straight?

Well I did.

They all ask, “Why would someone in their right mind do that?”

Well I shall tell you about the great Neil Garrod.

First, a short history lesson.

In 1451, King James II of Scotland persuaded Pope Nicholas V to grant a bull authorizing Bishop Turnbull of Glasgow to start a university.  That act initiated what became Glasgow University.  Flash forward 550 years to 2001.  It was a goal of mine to graduate early from college so I could live and work abroad.  Scotland was a love of mine since visiting a few years earlier and I began preparing for what I could do there.  The possibilities were endless.  I secured a 6 month work visa, packed my bags and moved to Scotland on New Years Day.  I found a job doing finance research for Professor Neil Garrod who was dean of Glasgow’s faculty of law and financial studies.  Soon after working for him he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The conversation went something like this:

Dave: “You want me to do what with you?”

Neil: “Right, drive a camper van with me through Europe for a few months. I’m going to run from Rome to Glasgow.”

Dave: “What?  Wait…Why?!?”

Neil: “Because this is life. Let’s go.”

Dave: “Okay, why not?”

Neil was a serious marathon runner and wanted to find a unique way to celebrate the 550th Anniversary of the university.  He would run the possible path of  where the bull would travel from Rome to Glasgow.
It sounded exciting to me so I embarked on this journey with the British version of Forrest Gump.  I was in charge of driving the camper van so I flew to Belgium to pick it up.  It would take three days to drive down to Rome where the race began at St. Peter’s Square.  I drove through Belgium and made a quick stop to visit Bastogne.  Next, I drove to Dijon, France and then another leg across the Alps passing Mont Blanc and to Genoa, Italy, which rests on the Mediterranean Sea.  It got interesting when the camper van was broken into while I was away eating dinner.  My passport and a credit card were stolen but thank God they didn’t take my Credence tapes (Big Lebowski fans out there?).  I had to quickly repair the driver’s side window with plexiglass and limped my way down to Sienna where I would meet up with Neil Garrod and his family. I was exhausted from that experience so it felt like the ultimate retreat in Sienna.  There we would eat amazing Italian food, drink the best wine and enjoy conversation with people from all around the world.  I think Neil thought I handled the whole robbery situation with calm but the truth is I was freaking out in my head the entire drive from Genoa to Sienna.

On the day the run began in Rome I was able to receive a new passport from the American Embassy and was on my way.  The first few days were spent trying to escape the population centers and get to open road.  The most memorable days were running through Florence/Firenze and then through wine country (Chianti) when Neil ran about 50 km (over 30 miles) in one day.  We went through amazing towns like Sienna, Castellina in Chianti, Donato, Bologna, Firenze, and Aosta.  Somewhere along these roads I cracked the van’s rear bumper and broke yet another window running into the side of an extended gas station roof.  It’s amazing I still am given insurance to this day.

The daily routine would be to wake up at 6am, eat a big breakfast and Neil would run 5-7 miles.  We would stop, eat, and I would ice Neil’s knees.  Following that, Neil would do a couple of afternoon runs.  Every night we would finish it off with a bottle of wine and eat some of the most tasty pasta one would ever dream of.  The routine was difficult but incredibly rewarding.  Observing Neil and his discipline for running only motivated me to run with him. So I joined him most days and built up stamina to go 5-6 miles.  When we reached Aosta near the French border, I left the team and went back to America for my friend Heath’s wedding.  I handed off the baton to another young student who helped Neil finish the race to Glasgow.  It was sad to leave but Neil always made me feel part of the team.  I heard later that the day after Neil finished the 1500 mile run, he flew down to South Africa and ran a 100 mile, 2 days race.  To this day I’m convinced that he is not human.

I could write for days about the experience.  Neil kept an extensive diary during this trip and you can read it all here.

During the Mega-run I grew up a bit.  I made the effort to embrace adventure, took some risks, and understood how to lean on God when I was lost.  What changed me most of all was learning to embrace “spontaneous experiences” that God puts in front of me.  I had the choice to stay in Scotland but the Mega-run was definitely one of those experiences to seize.  Before moving to Scotland I wrote my bucket list and running a marathon was a priority item to attain.

The year after the run,  thanks to the inspiration of Neil Garrod, I finished my first marathon in Chicago.

Thanks Neil.

Be spontaneous my friends.  Chose your own adventure.  Ultimately it is God’s adventure in you.  

Not long ago I attended a conference in Washington, D.C.  I love that city.  It is easy to be cynical about D.C. and see it as a town only full of politicians with lobbyist leeches there to influence them.  I admit that I have been one of the cynics in the past.  I want to change and here is why.  What I like about DC is the same reason I enjoy parts of Nashville, New York, or Los Angeles.  You will undoubtedly meet someone from another part of the world.  Often I am called a pied piper so whenever I encounter someone from another culture, I am drawn to them to learn about their story.

I don’t recall who said these poignant lines but it goes like this:

Americans love to spend time and energy trying to understand who they are.  They unfortunately spend so little time trying to understand who the world is.

My understanding became much clearer after I visited Washington DC and experienced the following:

Experience #1: At the conference, the thousands who attended share a similar political ideology.  One thing that was evident was their passion for the “idea of America” and it surpassed a specific political ideology.  Anyone with an open mind can respect that.  I am a moderate conservative but their zeal resonated with me.  My hope is that when the world looks at America, they see freedom as I witnessed at the conference.

Experience #2: I met a Scottish girl named Shona who is married to an American friend of mine, Nathan and has lived in the United States for the past couple years.  I had lived and worked in Scotland in 2001 so we had plenty to discuss including politics, British and American culture, music, food, etc.  I asked her what the current pulse of the British people was about America. She seemed to agree that it was very much like the quote above.  I have been reading Tony Blair’s A Journey which provides an insightful political perspective on Anglo-American relations the past couple decades. Shona, Nathan, and I discussed in detail how we need to be more alert than ever before about protecting freedom.  As Brits and Americans, it is a special responsibiltiy we bear.  While we have not mastered it, we need to be a beacon of freedom and lead.

Experience #3: I met Sam Solomon from Ethiopia.  Sam is a cab driver whom we spent an intriguing 45 minute ride from central Washington DC all the way to Dulles International Airport.  He lives here legally, is married, and has four children.  Sam wouldn’t stop smiling when talking about America. Sam said he still has family in Ethiopia but doesn’t see a reason to go back unless it is more free and things change. We discussed that not far from Ethiopia an uprising is happening in the Middle East driven primarily by citizens wanting a democratic process.  America has given Sam the opportunity to start a business, raise a family safely, and live free.  We all need to listen to the Sam Solomons living in America.

My lessons from these experiences:

Freedom and the democratic process is unmatched.

We should never stop seeking freedom or if necessary, fight for it.