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