From A Resident Alien [letter 12]

Letter 12 – The one in which Maria & David prepare to leave Charleston

The Englishman-in-America undergoes a daily dose of being asked where he is from.  At present, I spend about thirty hours a week waiting tables in a restaurant, serving in the region of 200 people; about 20% of them ask me where I'm from.

"Where's home?" they ask.

Answering is tricky.  What is 'home' anyway?

Home sweet home
Optional answers:

i. Wherever I lay my hat, that's my home
But I've had about sixteen homes in the last twelve years, in four countries, and I wouldn't regard any of these houses as 'home'.

ii. Home is where the heart is
Sadly, it isn't feasible to set up perpetual camp on Stanage Edge outside Sheffield, nor in the blackberry-strewn sunken lanes of east Devon in early September.  Alas.

iii. Home is where you're from
I was born in Yorkshire and raised in Hertfordshire, to parents from the Westcountry whose antecedents include Cornish, Norman, German, Irish, Welsh, and Saxon people.  And my wife is Lebanese-German-English-American.

iv. Home is where you're going
Which means that if I've been adopted into the family of God, I will always ache to be 'somewhere else', and if I haven't, then home is an idealised construct that will never exist outside my imagination.  Checkmate.

Stanage Edge
In the context of the restaurant, it's not really important to have an answer – most people are only asking so that they have an excuse to tell me about their friend who once went to London, or to ask me what I think of William and Kate – but it's worth thinking about at the moment, since Maria and I are preparing to move (again) in our neverending quest for life in all its fullness.

We have been invited by Joce and Josiah Lockhart (friends from our time in Edinburgh) to partner with them on establishing the Lockhart Family Farm,* and will be moving up to Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the next few months to commence our new life there.

The Farm is a social enterprise aiming to address social and environmental issues through permaculture farming, education programmes for adults and children, consumer buy-in schemes, and a bunch more interesting stuff which we will be part of creating.

In addition to farm-related work, we will be looking to continue pursuing our vocations in the spheres of church [me], and of health, fitness, and nutrition [Maria].  And hopefully we will find home along the way.


Confessions du Jour

In the name of honesty, and a completely un-called-for level of transparency, here are some of the things that few people know I enjoy:

Sleeping with my head under the pillow.
Weighing myself before and after using the toilet.
Writing with propellor-pencils.
Commentating aloud, whenever watching sport alone.
Wearing two pairs of socks at once.

Cleaning my ears, even though they're already clean.
Re-reading books multiple times, rather than wasting time starting new ones.

Working out the publishing date of maps by what countries were in existence.
Preaching to myself when alone.
Cleaning under my nails with the page-edge of whatever I'm reading.

Hope you found that enlightening 🙂

Before and After

Today, February 1, is the first anniversary of 'Our Paleo Month', wherein Maria and I had a go at eating a paleolithic (ie. hunter-gatherer style) diet.  After the month was finished, we continued in that vein – not strictly (at all), but nevertheless, it was quite a big change.

These photos are of me on Feb 1 last year and this year.

Before 1  
After 1

I was 12st 10 (178lbs) then, and am 10st 13 (153lbs) now.

Before 2   After 2

The important thing to point out is that I wasn't doing this in order to lose weight, but to be healthy.  The fact that I have lost over 10% of my weight (without being even vaguely strict or doing any extra exercise) shows me that I wasn't really putting the right things into myself before.

If you want to know how my diet has changed, here are the main points:

– next to no bread, pasta, or wheat-based stuff (beer doesn't count)
– lots of eggs, meat, and other proteins
– lots of fruit and veg (seasonal wherever possible)
– animal fats, not vegetable fats (except olive oil and coconut oil)
– no desserts during the week

And that's about it really.  Any questions?

Giving thanks for Andrew Strauss

We often talk about the need for professional sportsmen to be role-models – to be brilliantly skilful, yes, to be successful, naturally, but also to be the sort of person a parent would want their ten year old to look up to, admire, and emulate.

And behold: Andrew Strauss.

 Andrew Strauss Urn
A man without ego-trips or smugness, without a penchant for the limelight or the tabloids, without scandal, without vice, without enemies.  A good dad, a good player, a good person.

And he captained England to successive Ashes wins for the first time in my life.

God bless the man.  Here is a video of one of the great days he gave us:


Nb. If Nasser Hussain hadn't run him out for 88, Strauss would have been the only Englishman in history to score two centuries on debut, and would also have held the England record for hundreds (alongside Boycott, Cowdrey, and Hammond).

From A Resident Alien [Letter 9]

Wet lettersLetter 9

One of the best things about living in coastal South Carolina is the epic summer storms.  Pretty much every day is the same at the moment: 85-90°F, 80% humidity or more, very hard to be outside after 9am or before 6pm for heat reasons, and hard to be outside the rest of the time because of the mosquitoes.

7Day_ForecastBut in the afternoons, we often get magnificent lightning storms, which are not only brilliantly entertaining, but are also very welcome because the rain will knock fifteen degrees off the thermometer.

It reminds me of my lovely friend Christina from Egypt.  When I first met her (in 2001), it was an English summer, and whenever it rained, which of course it did, she would go outside and dance in the rain.

I didn't understand: I'd never lived in a country where rain comes as blessed relief.  Now I do, so when it rains, I go outside 🙂


So, dear reader, did you spot The Metaphor?

Generally, life for me here has been sunny and hot: ideal for a short holiday, but after a while, you start to feel parched, like farmland in drought.  There's a prevailing dryness which, unchecked, would wither me.

But there have been moments – quite a few moments, actually – where the sky-of-my-life has lit up with majestic electric energy, the rain has fallen, and the oppressive temperature has dropped.

The moments themselves have tended not to last too long – they are the exception, not the rule – so the challenge is to milk them for all they're worth: to go out and dance in the rain while it's falling, to get wrapped up in the deliciousness of the moment, and then afterwards to keep dwelling on it and be thankful.

These girls are one such summer shower from this week.  See here.


From A Resident Alien [Letter 8]

Clean pageLetter 8

Just a minor epistle this week.  Possibly.

Rather than commenting on general subjects like 'America' or 'Life In The States' or 'Lebanese people who marry their cousins', I thought that today I would make it a bit more personal-focused.  Apologies if you were hoping for cutting insight/vitriol/cynicism, but this one's just about our life at present.

Let's start with a picture of me, posing with my morning sacrament – a cup of tea.

Every day I wake up, make a cup of tea, and take it for a walk outside to say my morning prayers (Psalms 51, 1, 8, & 67, plus preamble – hat-tip to the Coptic Orthodox Church).  The view, across a tidal marsh, is lovely, and the mosquitoes usually ignore me (because I take a garlic tablet each day).

If I don't start things off with some measure of reconnecting with God and nature, it's going to be a bad day.

Maria and I are still lodging with her parents, and I'm still job-searching (I work 5 hours per week for a church, which will probably increase come January, but probably not before), so life often has quite a weird vibe: being a married couple simply doesn't work without a home to build.

But what this spare time has done is given me space to work through what I think I'm called to – ie. why, from God's perspective, I'm in Charleston.  For example, I just met up with a guy here who works for the Anglican Mission.  When I first emailed him to say hi, this is what I wrote: 

So briefly: I'm David, English, 31, newly-arrived in the States. I'm feeling the tug towards planting contemporary monastic communities and equipping the saints for ministry, leading to context-specific mission and worship, reconciliation between races and denominations, and a general life-as-sacrament approach to church and the Kingdom.
And I'd be very happy to attempt to explain what I mean by all that, if you'd like to meet up sometime!

You'll have to forgive my addiction to multi-syllabic words.  Other projects (starting a cricket club, using yoga liturgically, urban farming) will hopefully follow.  But now, on to my beautiful wife Maria.  

Maria is brilliant at pretty much everything she does, but tends not to realise it. And she looks Elven.

Maria works as a personal trainer, doing all sorts of stuff to help people's bodies work well.  Mine included.  Her clients love her, her boss loves her, and I love her.  Whether this is her long-term vocation or not is unsure (her boss is keen to open another location in a couple of years and sees Maria potentially in charge), but she's doing really well as a newcomer to it.

To an even greater extent than me, Maria rarely finds God in church.  On the waves, kite-boarding: yes.  In the gym, exercising: sure.  At the dinner table, being Lebanese: but of course.  God is present.  But in Christian services, no, not really.

As the wife of someone who believes he is 'called to the Church' (and in a location where the Church's main focus is to get people to come to meetings), that is both a difficult and a brilliant position to be in.  In years to come, we may get plenty of funny looks from people who don't get it, but the Church will be the better for her honesty and ability to see through the crap.

So that's us.  We'd appreciate your prayers and your company (electronic or otherwise).

M&D Maria & David

From A Resident Alien [letter 6]

Old letter

Letter 6 – aka 'The Inevitable Olympic Post'

Being away from home at this particular moment in history is unlucky.  When the Olympics was last held in Britain, my Dad was 3. It's entirely possible that I will not live to see another one. I'm missing out, and it's given me some thoughts which I'm now going to impose on you.

Firstly, I'll point out that I never really had any affection for my country until I moved away from it; I had to live in NZ to be glad to be British, & I had to live in Scotland to be at peace about being English. But now that I'm quite fond of it, I'm not there.

My thoughts stem from the Opening Ceremony. Danny Boyle told the story of modern Britain (albeit with a strong London slant) in a revolutionary new way: with honesty. The ceremony was messy, because we are quite messy; self-deprecating, because we are self-deprecating; and good, because actually, underneath it all, we're alright. It didn't pretend or make grand claims, it didn't lie or present a photoshopped image, and (most interestingly) it did it all from the perspective of regular people, such as those who live in East London.

Forging the olympic ring
But I was watching from afar. I think its fair to say that if America was to tell its story, the instinct would probably be to hop from one war to the next, by way of the Constitution, the Emancipation Declaration, and maybe the Moon landings.

But who America (or any country) really is can't feasibly be expressed from the perspective of politicians and institutions. It's the narrative of normal life – families, friends, jobs, pastimes, religions, social movements – that brings us closer to where identity lies.

So when Danny Boyle showed the rustic idyll industrialized, with large-scale destruction of traditional community and culture through urbanization, it made me think about the Native Americans and the emigration of the nations to the New World. When he showed Pankhurst and the suffragettes, I thought of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.

I started to see social history parallels everywhere:

– the Children's Literature section = Disney & Hollywood
– the Youth Culture bit = rock & roll to hip-hop; Chuck Berry to Chuck D
– the 7/7 memorial section = 9/11 etc.

We share a lot of parallel social flux, highs and lows.  Just as watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony hopefully helped Americans see that Britain is not just Big Ben, Stonehenge, and Royal Weddings, it helped me to think in more human-sized terms about this big ole lump called America.

It also made me a bit sad, because when most people in the world (including Americans) think of the States, they tend to focus on BIG things like politics, corporations, and conflicts; while forgetting native culture, nervous emigrants, toiling farmers, creative artists, fishermen, truck-drivers, house-wives, and kids playing in the street.

But as in Danny Boyle's Britain, the real story is often elsewhere.


From A Resident Alien [letter 5]

WorthybooksLetter 5

I often dream that, one day, people will want to quote me.  But to provide a break from (and, possibly, a contrast with) my own opinions, this communiqué will consist of the words of others.

So sit back and wallow through these quotations.  Some I agree with, some I don't; some funny, some 'worthy'; all hopefully expressive of the funny little country in which I now live.  Next week we shall return to my own cutting insights.

America, thou half-brother of the world; with something good and bad of every land.

In America the President reigns for four years, and Journalism governs forever and ever.

Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves
not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price,
safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.

America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen
but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success…
Yes, America is gigantic, but a gigantic mistake.

Food, one assumes, provides nourishment,
but Americans eat fully aware that small amounts of poison have been added
to improve its appearance and delay its putrefaction.

It's the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented.
They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it,
and how to look how you feel about it.

Old Hollywood Vanity - Annex - Harlow, Jean (Dinner at Eight)_03

In America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world.

Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that,
despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years,
many foreign people still speak in foreign languages.

The chief business of the American people is business.


Too many of us look upon Americans as dollar chasers.
This is a cruel libel, even if it is reiterated thoughtlessly by the Americans themselves.

Lisa, if you don't like your job you don't strike.
You just go in every day, and do it really half-assed. That's the American way.

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they've tried everything else.

America is a large, friendly dog in a very small room.
Every time it wags its tail, it knocks over a chair.

An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before.
An American is a person who does things because they haven't been done before.

I've come to think of Europe as a hardcover book, America as the paperback version.

Americans have a taste for…rocking-chairs.
A flippant critic might suggest that they select rocking-chairs so that,
even when they are sitting down,
they need not be sitting still.


From A Resident Alien [letter 4]

LetterwritingLetter 4

It's always the best of times and the worst of times.  Always.

Even when we are at our lowest, the poetics of melancholy are with us and the seeds of future joy are being sown; and when we are on top of the world, the world is seeking and discovering new ways to be on top of us.  Sun is the bringer of death and drought, as well as fruitfulness and fun.  Etc.etc.

A little story:

When I was little – four or five – I had a jumper that I loved.  I wanted to wear it every day, and got upset when it needed washing.  It was the best thing ever.

Then, one day, I found that it had a hole in it.  I was mortified, horrified.  But my wonderful Mum stepped up to the sewing plate to mend the rend, and hugged me in the meantime.  So I had my jumper back, and all was well.

And then another hole, then another.  The truth: my jumper was getting too small for me.  I couldn't wear it anymore.

But I kept it.  I couldn't just throw it away, could I?  So I held on to it.

Why I'm telling you this:

The process of getting orientated to a new place (new friends, new currency, new culture, new priorities, new vocabulary, new paper-size, new climatic conditions, new systems, new radio stations, new wildlife, new food, new political climate, new geography) is uncomfortable.  It's a new piece of clothing, replacing something closer to my taste, style, preference.

The tempting thing is to cling on to what I've left behind.

I did this when I left Hertfordshire, where I grew up.  I remember sitting in the middle of the Bush in Zimbabwe, with only antelope and savannah for company, LONGING to be back in a commuter town in England in midwinter.  I also did it when I left Sheffield after Uni, when I left New Zealand in 2006, and when we left Edinburgh in 2009, as well as on every occasion when I have been torn apart from my friends of The Factory.

And now I'm doing it after leaving my beloved homeland.

So while, in many ways, these are the best of times – really good things happening with great new people, and foundations possibly being laid for the next decades of life – they are also the worst of times.

Like a new pair of shoes that are giving me blisters.


[To read previous letters, go here, here, and here.]