Oxford is beautiful in the fall. Not that I have a whole lot of other seasons to compare it to, but it’s beautiful.

Particularly the neighborhood I am in on Northwood Road. It’s very green. Lots of leaves on the ground. Children in their private school attire. Little girls in skirts and sweater vests running and laughing. Boys in suits getting out of class. Parents in BMWs, Volvos and Mercedes waiting to pick up their kids after school. It’s all so picturesque.

The 2%

About 99% of the time I’m here I’m incredibly anxious. Uncomfortably so. I find myself thinking, “Everyone else is supposed to be here; I am not.”

You wouldn’t think so, but everything is new and foreign, and out of my comfort zone. Most of my time is spent wishing there was more time and wondering how in the world I’m going to possibly do this. How this is going to work out. How I’m going to learn everything, be everywhere and hand everything in. Worrying how bad its going to hurt when I fall completely on my face.

One of the Tutors gave a talk this morning. Or yesterday morning, perhaps. One of the two. My days are all blending together at this point. And she mentioned that 98% of all mature students (over the age of 21) who attend Oxford complete their degree. I wondered if I’d be in the minority.

If this was just about adding some letters behind my name, or putting a piece of paper on my wall, I wouldn’t be here right now. I would’ve given up long ago. This is simply the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. No, if it weren’t for truly believing God was going to use this experience to work in other people’s lives. In other people’s hearts. For His glory. So that they might see Him more clearly, I simply wouldn’t be here.

Thank God for close friends who encourage me. Who spur me on. Thank you more than you know.

3 out of 104 libraries

I walk a lot. Every day. I’ve been averaging about two hours per day. But today was three hours of walking (three roundtrips to and from school).

I was at school most of the day. For meetings. To be shown around the libraries (I was introduced to three of the 104). One of which was the Bodleian Library. Its an incredibly old Library, and it houses everything thats ever been published in Great Britain. More than nine million books.

Apparently it’s a very difficult place to get into. Oxford University students show their card to get in. The public cannot. I take that back. They can see a bit of it, but not all. The inner courtyard is crowded with tourists. Again, I still feel like one, most times.

Even professors who aren’t a part of the university who want to come to access a book (you cannot check out books from the Bodleian) have to write a letter stating their interest to do so. They’re also required to include a bunch of background information and go through an application process. It is a breathtaking place, though. Lots of stone. Walls. Ceilings. Lots of incredibly intricate carvings. Of saints. And words.

Back to Harris Manchester

I didn’t think about it in the morning, but I needed my suit and gown for our first formal dinner this evening. I should’ve brought it when I went to Harris Manchester in the morning. I didn’t. Which meant an extra trip in the evening. An extra trip I really didn’t have time for.

I arrived back at the house only to realize I had forgotten the slip of paper with the door code in my jacket back at school. I didn’t think anyone was home, but fortunately Beng (the housekeeper) was in. “Forget  the code?” She said with a smile when she opened the door for me.

I decided to try and take a shortcut back to the school. To save myself some time. It ended up taking me twice as long.

I arrived back at Harris Manchester just in time for tea with our Theology tutors. Completely drenched in sweat. A perfect way to meet them for the first time.

More and more, Harris Manchester seems like the perfect college. Not too large. Beautiful. Incredibly friendly people.

I met another student in the Theology program during the tea meet and greet. Cole. He’s an American, from Houston, and he’s a very big C.S. Lewis fan. He’s actually head of the C.S. Lewis Society and he’s living in Lewis’ old home. He told me that the society’s Christmas party this year will be held at the Kilns (the name of Lewis’ old home). I’ll definitely be talking more with this guy.

First Formal Dinner

After tea, I squeezed in a bit of studying in the College Library (Tate Library). I forgot to mention this yesterday, but the Library includes stacks of soft, fuzzy blankets on several of the tables around the room. It’s amazing. Jen would love that about it.

After about an hour of Greek, I made my way downstairs to change into my suit and gown and I crossed the college grounds to Arlosh Hall for our first formal dinner. It was an amazing sight. Very Harry Potter esque. The room was dimly lit, and everyone was dressed in their finest. Suits and ties. Dresses. And black gowns. Tables, long tables, with candlelight and plates and glasses and cutlery. High, arching ceiling. Huge portraits hanging from the stone walls. It was beautiful. I felt honored to be standing at the table.

Everyone stood until the table was filled. At that point, Steven (the chef, “Caterer”) would rap something on the door then everyone would sit. Once everyone was seated and the main doors were closed, there came another rap on the door. At that point, the main doors were opened and the faculty, led by our principal, entered the room and made their way to the head table. All dressed in gowns. Another rap, then everyone sat.

The dinner was amazing. Three courses. A salad, of sorts. Tuna served over green beans with tomatoes and hard boiled eggs on the side. It was very good. That was followed by the main course of mashed potatoes and pork steak, with vegetables. Lastly, there was some sort of warm, gooey chocolate cake with a custard sauce. It was amazing.

Dr. Ralph Waller, Principal at Harris Manchester College, gave a speech following the main course and before the dessert was served. He talked about the incredible honor it was to be a part of this community. Both the college and the university. That it would take a lot of hard work, but that we should not lose sight of where we were. He talked about how the university had denied 20,000 applications this year, and how hundreds of thousands of others around the world who didn’t apply would love to be in our shoes. He talked about the great men and women who had attended both the college and the university before us, and their contributions to society. He talked about the amazing things we can find at Oxford, including the blackboard from when Einstein visited for a lecture years ago and wrote the equation to solve the size of the universe. His handwritten equation is still on the blackboard, which was cut out and placed in one of the many museums here.

It all left me feeling very humbled. Like I was in the wrong place.

A conversation with Tim

I sat next to Tim. A student from Singapore I mentioned before. Really nice guy. He’s studying PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics). We talked about church for a while. If I went to church back home. If I had looked into any churches here. He told me about a small group he attended earlier in the week he really liked.

“This all feels very much like Harry Potter,” Tim said over dinner. I laughed. I told him I couldn’t stop thinking that.

Another guy by the name of Tarik sat with us. Tarik was practicing medicine before coming to Oxford to study Philosophy. Very bright, but also incredibly down to earth.

Of all the challenges Oxford throws at students, its people really are the redeeming factor. Both students and faculty. Everyone is so friendly, and so willing to help in any way they can.

Steven (the head chef and caterer) comes by during the meal, places his hand softly on (nearly) everyone’s shoulder, smiles and asks if everything’s okay. This room has nearly two hundred people in it.

I asked Tim if he thought anyone ever told Steven no.

Tim arrived at the school a few days before me. He told me there were a bunch of bright spotlights shining on Christ Church when he arrived, and that there were  a large number of catering vans parked around it. He asked someone what was going on and they told him X-Men 4 was being filmed there.

“Of course it was,” I said aloud.

He asked me a bit more about my Theology interests. What I wanted to do with my degree. I told him I really appreciated Lewis’ writing, and the ways in which he used analogies and logic to help people (non-academics) understand the things of the faith. Tim nodded. “We don’t have anyone who does that these days. Some say Tim Keller will be the next Lewis, but I don’t know.”

I asked Tim if he had read any of Donald Miller’s writing. Blue Like Jazz, or anything else. He hadn’t. Never heard of him. I explained that Donald Miller wrote about everyday experiences and stories and he also introduced his faith and how he approached it in these experiences. I told Tim I would love to combine the two approaches. Lewis’ use of analogies and logic applied to the faith, with Miller’s approachable, everyday situation writing style. I told him I thought that’d be an effective way to talk with people and to teach the hard things of our faith. For the guy on the street. Not the academic type. And that that’s what I wanted to use this for.

In a way, that’s very much what I hoped to achieve with hands&feet.

Tim listened to me rant before nodding his head in agreement and saying, “Theology isn’t an end in itself, but it’s a means to an end.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Advertisements