From the Rev: An American in Scotland

American in ScotlandTake a good look – it’s unlikely that you will ever see a photo like this again. Yes, that’s me (on the right) in a kilt. Or, as my daughters like to say, “Daddy’s in a dress.” My wife, Adriana, and I recently had the privilege to attend a Scottish wedding. Gerrard Street Baptist in Aberdeen, Scotland was where my best friend from seminary had been married 25 years earlier and a week ago was where his daughter was married, as well.

Now I have been to the United Kingdom several times in the years since my friend left the U.S. to return home. England, Wales, Ireland have all been a destination where our friendship and my work as a football (soccer) chaplain have often merged. This was my first time in Scotland and it is a part of my families heritage and history. All of this couple with the fact that many of you know me – I am an old soul. I like old things; ancient things. I visit graveyards. I feel at home in old cathedrals and ancient castles. I like to walk on old grounds.

I’ve not written a From the Rev in a while – some of it the busyness of the season of chaplaincy and the state of CrossTraining as an organization, but I thought I would take a moment to share a few reflections from my trip that relate into ministry and life. I’ve entitled this blog An American in Scotland for as much as I would love to claim my Scot-Irish heritage I believe that I will only ever be an occasional visitor.

An American in Scotland: Not the Only

Well, it would be a mistake to imagine myself as the first or the only American in Scotland. Perhaps amongst my immediate family. Certainly, my wife Adriana (God bless her) and myself were the only Americans at the wedding. And I would in no way imagine that I were pioneering anything. In fact, for much of our time in Scotland we were often loaded with several questions about another American in particular. It’s an American who happens to own a golf course or two in Scotland – one of which we drove past several times just outside of Aberdeen for wedding preparations. Of course, the American is Donald Trump. If there is something that people in the UK seem to be fascinated or intrigued with (to put it kindly) it is the presidential race that is shaping up. To be honest, most of the people I met didn’t like Trump — I asked them not to judge us! But truth be told, in the eyes of many Europeans, Americans have a bit of bum rap.

An American in Scotland: Places of Old Faith

St Columba's Window Edinburgh Castle Chapel

St. Columba’s window in St. Margaret’s Chapel, Edinburgh Castle

Because I live in the West (Colorado) we have a relatively young history. Of course, the history is much more ancient when you consider the American Indians that once lived and worked the land, but in terms of Anglo people our history here is relatively short in comparison. Much of my fascination was held by the ancient places of faith that we visited – whether the chapel in Edinburgh Castle or the house of John Knox down what’s known as the Royal Mile, or the place in St. Andrews where the first Scottish martyr (Patrick Hamilton) was killed, here were places where Christians of old exercised their faith, kept the faith, fought over their faith. Perhaps saddest to me was the amount of death and war that came from the religious quarters. Of course, if we consider that much of the bloodshed was over corruptions of religion, we may not be so quick to point the finger merely to religion. Many times the political and idealogical agendas and motivations behind a person’s religion were perhaps more to blame than the religious fervor that was exuded. But here were places where humanity attempted to understand and hear from God. It was inspiring, nonetheless.

An American in Scotland: Places of Old Family

I mentioned that my heritage traces back to Scotland. Specifically, my family traces back to the Douglas Clan. I stood on a riser in the hall of David’s Tower in Edinburgh Castle where King James the II trapped, accused of treason, tried, and beheaded the Black Douglases – treachery was the story of old. While I have long celebrated and respected the family clan motto jamais arriere (never behind), it was sobering to stand in ancient stone hall where my kinsman were betrayed.  But even what might be to some ancient history – there is still betrayal and hurt in our families today. Some things don’t change, even after hundreds and thousands of years.

An American in Scotland: Places of Old Football

celtic-parkOur time in Scotland was during the summer break that football has but during the midst of the UEFA European Championship. We did stop quickly by Celtic Park for a photograph and also drove by the Aberdeen ground, Pittodrie Stadium, as well. Scotland is passionate about its football (soccer) and whilst not a contender in the 2016 Euros, this small country has produced many footballers over the years. I have had the privilege of working with and serving a number of Scottish football players. Most notably John Spencer and Jamie Smith both of whom excelled in their times with the Colorado Rapids and were key players for the team during their years. But the Scottish football clubs of Celtic and Rangers is a rivalry that goes back many years and also has been a rivalry of faith, as well.

An American in Scotland: Some Final Thoughts

Perhaps what occurred to me again and again as I explored just a small portion of Scotland was the legacy of violence that we have as human beings. Of course, this was re-emphaized as news of the mass murders in Orlando came to us across the pond. Many of those we met and knew we were Americans, asked, “Why is America so fascinated with guns?” But the truth is that we have been killing each other since Cain murdered Able in the beginning. Cain’s jealousy over Able’s “better sacrifice” was a temptation too strong to bear – even in spite of God’s warning. And whether we read the history books or visit the castle prisons or watch the images over the evening news, we are still killing one another. It is a result of our depravity, a result of our sin.

In the church we pray, Come quickly, Lord Jesus and with the constant state of affairs in this world (whether mass shootings or presidential candidates) we might pray Come more quickly, Lord Jesus.

When I started to write, I didn’t expect to land here. Don’t get me wrong – we had a fabulous trip and I wasn’t so melancholy and reflective on these kinds of issues. But looking back we must look forward. When you are a foreigner in a different country, your eyes tend to be opened to what you hope for, what changes you long for, what country you feel that you were made for. And while I might feel a bit of heart connection to Scotland, the truth is that I have been made for a different country, a heavenly one. And I look forward to being not an occasional visitor but permanent citizen and resident there some day.


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Rev. Brad Kenney

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