One autumn Sunday in 1983, a Chinese student turned up at my home church in London. He’d come over from Hong Kong to study civil engineering at a nearby institution. Rather than go to the Chinese Church in London, he chose to find a local group of native Christians with whom to worship for the three years of his studies here.
That was how we met William. Or ‘Uncle William’, as he became known to us.
He got that name on one of the many days he came back to our parents’ house for Sunday lunch. My sister and I told him how when we were children, we addressed our parents’ friends as ‘Uncle’ or ‘Auntie’. “Well,” said William, “I am your parents’ friend, too. You should call me Uncle William.” So we did, even though he was younger than me.
Over those three years we had great fun. We tried to convince him of the existence of the Wombles, an endangered species on Wimbledon Common, but he didn’t fall for it. When he travelled with us to attend Spring Harvest in Prestatyn, we told him he would need his passport for the Welsh border. It didn’t work.
But when we told him about the male and female haggis animals on the Scottish mountains, we got away with it. We span the old yarn that the males have shorter legs on one side of their bodies and the females have shorter legs on the other side. Thus they have to go opposite ways around the mountains in order to meet and mate. If they go past each other, it means another circuit.
William thought this was nonsense, and announced that he was going to visit a relative of ours who would confirm his suspicions. The moment he went out of the door, we rang her, knowing she had the gift of the straight face …
I have only seen William once since those days. It was ten years ago, when he paid a visit to London with his bride, Vicky. My sister hasn’t seen him at all since 1986, I think.
Today, we saw him again. He was in London for a short break and came down to see us. He hasn’t changed. He looks just as young, he still has the humour and it truly was one of those occasions where it felt like we were picking up only from last week, not years ago.
It struck me tonight that William’s example of worshipping with the locals rather than simply with his own fellow ex-pats was a model for all who seek to share in the mission of God. Get involved in the local culture. Don’t stay in the compound. Don’t huddle in the comfort zone. William didn’t.
William, the title of this piece of music is for you today:
A little sideline I have is to write a few music reviews for the Cross Rhythms website. I have just written reviews on another four, and thought I would take a moment to highlight two of them. Christian music gets slated in some circles for being inferior to the mainstream, and there is some justification for this criticism. Art gets reduced to propaganda, and an ‘it will do’ attitude sometimes has to prevail for budgetary reasons. However, the two releases I am about to mention stand worthy comparison with anything I have heard anywhere in the last year. No bones about it.
The Redemption Center‘s album Land Of Plenty is top-class Americana. It has joy and melancholy, personal devotion and social concern. If you like the Jayhawks, Steve Earle, the Vigilantes of Love or Lost Dogs, this is for you. Go to their listening room to hear the album.
The other album is vastly different – from The Redemption Center, from anything else I’ve ever heard. Jason Carter is a virtuoso guitarist, particularly known for playing a baroque instrument, the harp guitar. Along with his twin neck acoustic classical guitar, he adds looping and sampling from around the world. So his CD Falling has influences from Germany, Finland (professional female funeral singers), Afghanistan and the North Korean Military Orchestra and Choir. Yes, really. The more western stuff can sound a little like Phil Keaggy‘s instrumental albums, but it’s largely quite demanding stuff to listen to – I think one track had fourteen beats to the bar, for example. So it is very surprising when he ends with a reading of Abide With Me!
Here is the relatively conventional You Shine
and here is the more demanding Pühajärve