It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Hello from Michigan!  Classes are finished for the 1st term, and I am fortunate enough to spend the next few weeks with family and friends in the Midwest.  As you may have noticed with the post dates, I’m a bit behind on writing… Alas, there are only 24 hours in a day, but as I have been often reminded: write now, cherish the gift of memories forever.

Since we are less than 1 week away from Christmas (!) I’ve bumped this post a bit higher on my priority list. Over the last few weeks (or really months, since Londoners don’t have Thanksgiving to delay the anticipation for Christmas) I’ve been soaking up the spirit that warms a cold chapel during a candlelit Advent caroling service… that shimmers in lights adorning Christmas trees in city squares… that radiates from a mug of mulled wine or tin of minced pie.

Advent Scenes

(10:30) Covent Garden, (12:00) Banner advertising candelit advent carol service at Guy’s Campus with mince pies afterward!, (1:30) Admiring the ceiling of Westminster Abbey before the carol service began. This is the one photo I managed to snap before my neighbor was chastised for doing the very same thing. Oops. :/ (3:00) Outdoor 30′ tree in Covent Garden, (4:30) Near Hyde Park, (7:30) Proper Coffee! Served at the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, (9:00) ~30′ paper Christmas tree near the Southbank Center, (Center) Nativity at KCL Guy’s Chapel

 

 

It is truly something to behold, and while I think I’ve done a good job of participating in and appreciating the Wonder, I guess it blends into the scenery after a while?  Driving away from O’Hare with “Season Greetings” written in lights on the Blue Line train traveling next to us, traveling into a (comparatively) unlit city center was a bit… odd.

I’m not saying London is some holy land– it works the commercial end of the holiday season just as much, if not more than the average American city– but this Advent season makes it quite clear that the UK countries are officially Christian (England = Anglican) while the US does not have a state religion.  Interested in whether or not this was representative of the citizens in those countries, I did a quick census consult. Fun fact:  59% of UK citizens and 76% of Americans self-identify with a Christian religion.  Hmm.

Oxford Street Christmas Retail

 

Monty the Penguin

This incongruity doesn’t just have an effect on December festivities, though. It also shows up in the bioethics classroom.  Take for instance organ donation, a topic I considered for one of my papers this month.  Views on organ donation vary quite a bit between different religious (or ethnic) groups ranging from a “commanded obligation” to donate to (essentially) an obligation not to donate. (See UNOS Theological Perspectives for more info.)  Should these religious views be taken into consideration in determining bioethical practices?  This is up for hot debate among bioethicists and my interest in the intersection of philosophy, theology, and healthcare has placed me smack in the middle of this debate.  Though I think I’ve derailed the post enough, this topic will certainly be returning in future months. 🙂

Until then, Merry Christmas & to be continued…

(Featured Image: One of many Christmas trees & ice skating rinks in London– this one happens to be right next to my KCL Strand campus!)

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It’s always darkest before the dawn

Although TimeAndDate.com has been reporting 4 something sunsets, London’s cloud coverage writes it’s own rules.  I thought Michigan had trained me well for dark winters, but it’s a bit unsettling when daytime and lunchtime are almost synonymous… in November.  As much as I find myself wishing for more sunlight, the darkness has created a most adequate backdrop for the festivities that have been taking place over the last two weeks.  Since these Oct-Nov festivities are quite different here than they are in the States, I thought I’d share some brief perspectives:

 

31 October – Halloween

  • Not as big of a celebration over here. Very optional participation.
  • Costumes = frightening & gory.  Lots of face paint: white faces with dark, sunken-in eyes and blood-red accents.
  • I celebrated Halloween at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Fire Festival.  Turns out this is not really a Halloween celebration at all– more like a pre-game for Guy Fawkes and Armistice Day.  No Monster Mash or Thriller, but a nice jazz rendition of Katy Perry’s Firework seemed oddly fitting.
  • Perhaps this is an effect of large cities and smaller personal bubbles, but the fireworks were shot off much closer to the crowd than would happen at a public event back home.  I’d bet that the people up front had to comb a good bit of debris out of their hair.

1 November – All Saint’s Day

  • Typically a holy day of obligation within the Catholic Church, since Nov 1 fell on a Saturday festivities were lumped in with the Sunday mass on Nov 2.

2 November – All Soul’s Day

  • …and since All Saint’s Day was pushed back, so was All Soul’s Day.
  • From KCL’s Chaplaincy: “On Monday 3 November at 18.15 we will be having a Requiem in a Time of Remembrance. This will be a choral (Anglican) Eucharist at which the choir will be singing a Mass setting by Victoria. It is an opportunity to remember friends and family who have died and we will be reading their names out during the service. If you would like someone’s name to be read out there will be lists in the Chapel for you to write names on.”
  • This service was of special significance because of the sudden loss of a KCL’s renowned choir director, David Trendell, the week before.  Choir alum joined the regular choir doubling its normal membership for that evening.  A truly remarkable service.

5 November – Guy Fawkes’ Night

  • Remember, remember the 5th of November…
  • It’s kind of crazy walking past main landmarks in V for Vendetta.
  • aka: “Bonfire night” — I didn’t go to any bonfires, but there were lots of firework shows throughout the city on the 5th, 6th, 7th…

11 November – Armistice Day

  • Between the poppy display at the Tower of London and the Poppy Appeal that has been going strong for the last few weeks, this feels more like a season than a 24 hour holiday.
  • The Sunday closest to November 11 (this year– Sunday, November 9) is called Remembrance Sunday.  I was out of London for this weekend, but I was told that there are some very proper services.  At the church service I was attending in Cornwall, there was a moment of silence at 11am followed by special prayers for veterans.

Many thanks to all veterans (with a special shout out to my dad!)  for the sacrifices you have made in serving our country.

God save… me? (Sung to the tune of America)

This weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a retreat organized by the KCL Chaplaincy team.  The retreat was just a short train ride from Central London at Cumberland Lodge.  (Click here to read more about the Lodge and it’s educational mission.) The beautiful royal grounds (and surrounding Windsor Park) presented an unique backdrop for the retreat’s theme: “Awareness: Meeting God in the Everyday”.  Fun fact: it also served as a nice backdrop for the King’s Speech. The captions in the following pictures tell a bit more of the story.

Click to enlarge and view the full caption.

On the continued topic of interfaith dialogue, I’ll note that KCL is affiliated with the Church of England, and thus members of the Chaplaincy team are Anglican.  As far as I know, Christianity was a common language for all the participants, but the participants’ specific faith traditions varied (many Anglicans, a few Catholics, and at least one Baptist.)  So often we focus on our differences OR overcompensate and create a homogeneous bunch devoid of the flavor by which we are defined.  This weekend seemed to defy that status quo, which is quite in line with the mission of Cumberland Lodge’s mission.

A good example of this was receiving an invitation to attend Sunday morning (Anglican) church service at the Royal Chapel. The invitation to join worship was not contingent on you being Anglican or even Christian* for that matter. The only rules / requirements were:

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Why these rules? For one thing, this establishes a certain request for respect.  When encountering a faith, culture, or even just idea that is different from what you are used to, it is worth refreshing all participants on Michigan’s catch-phrase: “Expect Respect. Give it, get it.”  Furthermore, since the Queen was at Windsor Castle that weekend, there was a good chance that she would be at the church service on Sunday morning. Thus, when we received our clearance pass, we also were given a basic tutorial in the proper interactions with the Royal Family (curtsy, bow, Your Majesty, Duch, Duchess… )

Since the Lodge staff misspelled Berkemeier, (surprisingly not an issue with the 4 E’s this time, but rather with the I) I had to request a 2nd chapel pass since part of the Security check involvedverifying that you had an ID… which matched your pass… which matched the name on the list of attendees provided to Security by the Lodge.  It wasn’t until I was a few yards away from the gate that I realized my second pass also had a misspelling, this time with my first name:

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Too late to do anything about it now!

Andrea: Good morning! (Enthusiasm trying to mask the slight fear of being turned away because of clerical errors…)

Security Guard: (Steps back a bit) Goodness, you sure are chipper this morning!  What are you, American?

Sheesh, just when you think you have stopped sticking out as a foreigner…  Well, if enthusiasm and happiness are the new stereotypes for Americans, I suppose I’m ok with that.

If he noticed the misspelling, he didn’t lead on, and I was soon on the Royal side of the gate.  Another ~1/3 mile walk later, I was at the Chapel.  Upon entrance, I was given 2 worship aids: 1 for the general words used, and 1 with the specific readings of the day.  Although the chapel was rather small, every seat was filled.  I was in the 3rd row on the right side with pillars to my left and a draped area in front: in the theatre, they might consider this restricted viewing.

In “good student mode” I previewed the worship aids and quickly noticed a few things:

  • There were three options for each segment: (1) very formal speech with ~2 paragraphs of thee-s, thou-s, brethren-s, and beseech-ing for each passage, (2) still formal, but less flourishing speech lasting only 1 paragraph for each passage, and (3) direct 21st C language, only 1-2 lines long for each response.
  • There were cues for singing different passages… but no music was given.
  • The service opened up with their national anthem: God Save the Queen.

Since I didn’t know the words or the tune of their national anthem, I was a bit sad that the words were not provided in either worship aid.  Leaning over to a fellow retreatant next to me, I whispered:

Andrea: I’m going to be following your lead on this God Saving the Queen opener… I don’t actually know the words.

J: Ohhhh… that might not be a good idea. I’m not really confident in them either!

“But you’re British?!” almost slipped from my lips, but having just been singled out for being a stereotypical American, I thought it would be rather uncharitable** of me to direct nationality-assumptions on J. Within a few minutes, I had found the words in the Book of Common Prayer located in our pew.  As the congregation stood to sing, I was quite relieve to find that I did in fact know the tune: America, or My Country ‘Tis of Thee!

God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen
God save the Queen
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen

The whole idea of a monarchy is so foreign to me, so in some ways, I found these lyrics to be quite jarring.  If the Queen is present, would she sing: “God sa-a-ave me-e-e, Long li-i-ive me-e-e” ??? Since the Queen was no where in sight, I can’t confirm the answer based on lip-reading, though I’ve been told she just refrains from singing altogether.

Even though the language was rather archaic English (minister elected for the 1st version of the service–full of thees and thous) I found the experience to be simultaneously comfortable (the Gospel passage was the same as it was for Catholic mass that week) and novel (there was no 2nd reading, almost everything was sung but no music was provided) which created a unique worship environment.  Contemplating all these thoughts as I left the chapel after service, I almost missed the fact that Her Majesty was walking in front of me!

:O    <– what I would have looked like if my insides were speaking

Her physical attributes are just as they appear on television complete with matching coat and hat. But if I were to describe her aura, I suppose I would liken her to Mary Sue: she displays a warm smile and manages to make deliberate individualized eye contact.  Gives a certain understanding to “the Monarch of the People”. I managed a polite head nod and kept walk so as not to create a traffic jam in front of the chapel.

So… I suppose I can add that to my two truths (and a lie): I’ve been to church with the Queen of England.  😉

* The perceptive reader might challenge that claim by referencing back to my “Christianity was a common language”.  True, but the invitation was given not only to members of our faith based retreat, but also to the University College London students who were at the Lodge for a Physics / Astronomy Society retreat of some sort.

**I’m currently reading CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity and realized this probably scored me some points among my Anglican friends. 🙂  All jokes aside, it is a great read and particularly interesting when considering the content within its historical context: a collection of radio talks given by a non-theologian, during WWII.  Unless you are Joan Campau (one of my close, very eloquent friends), “uncharitable” is probably neither heard nor employed in your day to day life.  CS Lewis gives a thought-provoking explanation in this segment regarding the difference between the virtues of chastity (absolutely, objectively defined) and propriety (defined in relation to era and place): “When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity.  But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners.  When, as often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable.”

*** Correct you are– this doesn’t lead back to *** within the text! I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. 🙂 Remember the draped section in front of the pews on the right hand side that I mentioned? That’s where the Queen sits during service.  She also has a separate side door for entering and exiting the chapel, hence the reason why I didn’t see her until the end.

Featured Image: One of my favorite of the many pieces of art that were hung throughout the Lodge. (#76, I’m not sure who the artist was.)