Aretha, Anastasia and Amazing Grace – Letter from Australia 5
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
They say that you ought to live as to be missed when you are gone. I don’t know if I have done that but I do know that I have been blessed to have lived in places and amongst people who I miss. I loved growing up on the Tarbat peninsula in Easter Ross – it still feels like home when I return there – although I left 40 years ago! Edinburgh was a fine city to study in – and Livingston a great place to learn how to do ministry. My first charge Brora is still in my heart – I still think of the people and what the Lord did there. And Dundee…how can you be a minister for 27 years and not feel the pain of separation? Today for some reason I find myself thinking about my study in 14 Shamrock St, getting up early in the morning and reading in the garden, cycling through the Ferry or Balgay park to St Peter’s – and my office and church building there. I was truly blessed and I miss it. This is not a bad longing to have. It is not something that comes from dissatisfaction, but rather something that comes from blessing. How blessed to have lived in such a way that you miss every place you have lived in and every people you have lived and served amongst! I hope and pray the same will be true of Sydney.
This week we have had great blessing – almost a week of Scottish rain – the kind of dreich, grey, soaking rain that most days in Scotland would depress me, but here has brought joy. That’s because the land was in desperate need of rain – ‘as thirsty ground requires with rain refreshed to me” is the line that springs to mind from the old psalm. Nonetheless, it will be good to return to the sunshine today – rain and cold in Sydney feels far more cold than rain and cold in Scotland.
I also discovered something I don’t like about Australia – the giant indoor shopping malls. They are depressing and oppressive cathedrals of Mammon – a dreadful and hopeless religion! Although we did discover this somewhat bizarre offer in a Vietnamese restaurant…
This week I also ‘met’ two extraordinary women. One was Anastasia Lin – a Chinese model and actress who was speaking in Sydney and had some fascinating insights. I will post a fuller report on her tomorrow. The other was Aretha Franklin. I ‘met’ her through a film of her performance in Los Angeles that was recorded for her best selling album – Amazing Grace. It is an astonishing film that I would urge you to see if you get the chance. It has only come to light just now because of technical difficulties and because in her latter years Aretha did not give permission for it to be released.
I found the whole thing deeply moving – especially the recording of the first night – where the congregation and choir get really involved. There is a real sense of joy and pain – and of people, including Aretha, who know that their only hope is in Jesus. The second half was a bit disappointing – a youthful-looking Mike Jagger is seen in the congregation – and Aretha’s father CJ Franklin is also there. I felt there was a sadness and tension in the room. Aretha had a very troubled childhood – her father (despite being a minister) was a noted adulterer and her parents separated when she was a child. She had a child when she was 12 and throughout her life her relationships were troubled and abusive. I have little doubt that her faith was real – and was needed in the midst of such pain. Her rendition of Amazing Grace is so heartfelt.
This morning I had the privilege of preaching about that Amazing Grace in St Thomas’s – at both the 8am and the 10am. The 8am was the first time I have preached at a traditional Anglican service – I was not sure what to expect, but I loved it. It was good to have communion with a proper cup and I loved the kneeling. Although I miss home – it is good to have a spiritual home – both are a foretaste of heaven.
Whenever I preach here I like to wear my cufflinks that St Peters gave to me – one is a map of Portmahomack, the other of Dundee. I wear them, not as good luck charms, but as tokens of God’s amazing grace to me in my life so far – a grace that is certain to continue to eternity,
Have a great Lord’s Day
See you next week.
Yours in Christ
PS. I would value prayer this week as we head home to Scotland for a few days. I will be speaking at the Shetland bible conference and Annabel will be able to visit family and friends. To be honest I am not looking forward to it – I don’t mean the conference or the visits! – but rather the travel. I hate flying and 24 hours spent on a plane is something I do not anticipate with joy – especially economy class. A couple of years ago we had a taste of business class (largely because of a British Airways mix and then my health – going business class certainly helps with the legs! and it spoilt us. It is of course unaffordable for us. I dream of an upgrade!
But meanwhile please pray for what we used to call ‘travelling mercies’….