I slept in yesterday again. By accident. It was the second time since I’ve arrived. The volume was turned all the way down on my iPod (i.e. my alarm clock), and so I slept through my skype call with Jen. Not only was I two hours behind on all that I had to get done for the day, I missed seeing my wife’s face: the highlight of my day.

Inaugural Trip to the Eagle & Child

Things did look up after a bit, though. The day soon got better, as yesterday was the day I visited Eagle & Child for the first time. For those who don’t know, Eagle & Child is the pub where C.S. Lewis, Tolkein and others met for a pint, a pipe and to chat about what they were working on. The great Narnia and Lord of the Rings series were discussed here over laughter and criticism many decades ago, as well as other works. And it was an incredible feeling to visit the pub. For lunch. Unreal.

I met up with Cole there. The American who is also attending Harris Manchester and studying Theology. He’s a year ahead of me in the program, and so he has a bit more experience with all things Oxford. He is also a big fan of all things Lewis and Tolkein. He’s Vice-President of the Oxford CS Lewis Society, and he actually lived at The Kilns last year (the home where CS Lewis used to live). It’s called the Kilns because there is still a large kiln in the backyard.

Cole had already found a table when I arrived. Not in the Rabbit Room (where the Inklings used to sit (the Inklings is the name the CS Lewis & Co group used to go by), but it was a small room tucked off the central hallway with two small table and benches for seats. The pub was full of these little rooms before opening up for the bar, where guests would place their order. Cole handed me a menu and I asked him what his favorites were.

“Rump steak,” he said with a smile and nearly a pause. “And chips.”

“I’ve really been in the mood for a meat pie,” I confessed.

“The meat pies here aren’t my favorite, but I also have friends who love them here, so you might.”

“Meat pie it is,” I said aloud with a nod. We were in line for the bar, to place our orders. It was surprisingly busy, for being 2:00 in the afternoon. We had hoped it would be a little less busy, so that we could find a spot in the Rabbit Room. I was just happy to be there.

I took it all in as we waited. Photos of Lewis adorned the walls. The Inklings on their famous “walks.” I wanted to take photos of everything, but I did my best to resist. I’m trying really hard not to be “that guy.”

“So we’re on for tea at the Kilns,”  Cole said with a look of accomplishment. “You’ll be joining myself, the Dean of Christ Church and his wife.” (His wife is my Greek tutor, and she was Cole’s Greek tutor last year). “It’ll be great.”

I couldn’t believe it. I felt so…undeserving to be among such a group. Two weeks ago I was still working in Bellingham. Next month I’m having tea at CS Lewis old home. With the Dean of Christ Church. It’s wild, really.

“Thank you so much for setting that up,” I said, confessing my feelings of inadequacy among the guests. “I’ll be the guy in the corner with a smile on his face, just happy to be there.”

We placed our orders at the bar and made our way back to the table. We had a great talk about coming to Oxford as a student from the US, about the many Lewis things and places to see, and he encouraged me to apply to live at the Kilns, if for some reason we needed to find another place to live at some point. Apparently it’s a pretty straightforward application process. Oxford students can apply, writing an essay on why they’d like to live there, and submit several professional and pastoral references.

“I’ll put in a good word for you,” he said with a smile.

Our meal was brought to the table and greeted our conversation. My meat pie was not quite what I expected, but still rather good. It was a flaky, puffy crust, rather than a normal pie crust. The meat was hidden in a gravy below the pillow of puffy dough. I finished it easily enough, and finished off the mashed potatoes and veggies that adorned my plate.

“So I take it you’re a fan,” Cole said.

We wandered back to the Rabbit Room, so I could take a look around. And Cole told me about how when they changed out the original Eagle & Child sign for the new one a few years back, they left the old sign on the sidewalk, just lying there. A man by the name of Hooper (who is a Lewis Historian and lives just outside of Oxford) was walking by at the time and picked it up. He later donated the sign to the Lewis foundation, Cole explained to me.

“I’d love to have that sign,” the bartender spoke up.

“Well you’ll have to steal it from the foundation,” Cole retorted.

The bartender was cleaning a glass at the time with a white rag. Very bartender-ish of him. He finished cleaning it, held it at arm’s length eyeing it for a moment, and then handed it to Cole.

“Hey, thanks! Now you have a pint glass from Eagle & Child,” he said as he handed it to me.

My eyes immediately grew big.

“What? Really? I can have it? Oh man, thank you!” I said. The smile now consuming my face. I felt like a little kid in a candy shop who was just given a hundred dollar bill and told to have at it. It is easily the most exciting thing I’ve received since arriving. I might not use any other glass for the next nine months.

I considered titling this post, “I went to the Eagle & Child and all I got was this glass,” but I decided against it.

We left the pub and Cole showed me a few other interesting spots on the way back to Harris Manchester. He showed me where Tolkein used to go to church, and where it’s said he got the idea for the orcs of The Lord of The Rings (the inscribed pictures of Pilate and the Roman soldiers during Christ’s crucifixion are replaced by images of orcs). He introduced me to a used bookstore where they have all of Tolkeins books on display in the window, too.

He was ecstatic about it, as any Tolkein fan would be. Were it Lewis’ books, I probably would’ve been more interested myself. I’m pretty dry when it comes to reading. I’m not a big fan of fantasy. I like my books like I like my meals. I’m more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I’ll go back for a second plate of dinner and end up passing on dessert; you can keep the sweets.

I found a couple early editions of Lewis’ books I picked up. Screwtape proposes a Toast and Miracles. I was pretty happy with the find, and I’m looking forward to adding them to my collection.

Free Meal and Free Books

I returned to the Harris Manchester library for some studying. About four hours worth. It was my first time studying upstairs, in the second floor of the Library. I really liked it. You’re not surrounded by books, like you are on the first floor, but it’s really light and airy.

After several hours’ worth of Greek, I met up with Tim for a dinner being put on by the University Christian Organization. Free dinner and a chance to meet some fellow Christians. I was sold.

The church it was held at was amazing. St. Aldate’s. Old, old church, with lots of stone pillars and vaulted ceilings, but it had been renovated to include glass doorways and flatscreen monitors. It was an interesting blend.

The room was filled with 18 and 19 year olds. As it should’ve been. It was for freshers, after all. The two of us just happened to be older freshers.

Tim and I discussed a few of our favorite theologians while we waited for dinner. He told me he would be afraid to study theology, in a way. That it’d be difficult to be faced with scholars who challenge the beliefs you hold so dear.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I said. “But that’s also kind of why I’m here. Were I just to go to a seminary to learn theology, I feel like people would question my background, my education. I feel like they’d know exactly what I was going to say before I said it.”

I told him I wanted to study this and walk through it so that I could help others. Particularly those who felt like they couldn’t believe this stuff and still respect their intellect.

He told me he admired the fact that I was doing it.

“We need people doing that,” he told me.

“So what do you want to do after all of these studies?” Tim asked me.

“Well, I’ve found I really enjoy writing. I’d love to write in a way that helps others with all of this. Theology and faith and everyday life.”

“Where’ve you done your writing? Like, on a blog?”

“Actually, right here,” I said as I reached into my computer bag and grabbed a copy of hands&feet I still had on me. It seemed a little cheesy, like I was just waiting to show it off, but it was a copy I was supposed to give it to a friend back home before leaving.

“My best friend took what had been my blog and put it together into a book for my birthday a couple years back,” I told him as I handed it over.

His eyes got big as he looked down at the cover. “You wrote this?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’s just self published, but it’s been fun to share it with people,” I said as he flipped through the pages.

The meal was very good. Spanish chicken and rice. I asked Tim how the change was going for him, coming from Singapore.

He said it was a pretty significant change, but he liked it. He said he’d probably missing food from home in a month or so, when he’s eaten about as much sausages and mashed potatoes as he could.

I mentioned that the stereotype back home is that British food is really bland, but that I had enjoyed everything I’d eaten so far. This must’ve gotten the attention of another guy at the table, because he instantly asked about the differences between the two.

“What would be a definitive American meal?” he asked. “How would it be different?”

“Well…,” I began. I often freeze up at the easiest questions. This really should not have been a tough one, but it was. I could probably say someone doesn’t look like my mom and, if asked how, I’d have trouble describing what my mom looks like.

“I mean, it’s a bit of a melting pot, in a lot of ways. So we have all kinds of food. But where I’m from, we have a lot of fish and beef. So, a classic Northwest meal might be salmon and rice and asparagus, or steak and mashed potatoes. Something like that.”

He nodded his head with a half-smile. I think he was less than impressed with my American meal.

Dinner was followed by a speaker. He only talked for about 15 mins or so, and I left shortly after that. Without waiting around for dessert. I had missed my morning skype with Jen, and I certainly wasn’t going to miss my evening skype with her.

On the way out, there were several tables covered in books. Brand new books. I recognized several. Including Strobel’s Case for Christ. I had lent out my copy a while back and I had been meaning to pick up another. I was excited to find it.

I grabbed a couple others and made my way out.

“How much are these?” I asked the greeter by the door.

“Free. They’re all free,” she said with a smile.

“Wow!..Thank you.” I said. Free meal and free books. I felt like I had just robbed a bank.

I’ve been told a couple of times since arriving that England, as a whole, has become much more secularized in recent years. Beginning in the 20th century. It seems like there’s a lot of complacency surrounding the faith here. People just don’t take it very seriously, for the most part. Rather like home, in a lot of ways, I suppose. But without a lot of the big names of the faith in the States who have fairly large followings.

Particularly at a place like Oxford, where belief systems are challenged, the Church in England (not the Church of England, but the Church in England) is wanting to equip its members. Encouraging believers to fight the good fight. To not believe that you can’t be both intelligent and a believer.

I opened the book and began to read on my way back to Northmoor Road as the words played hide-and-go-seek with the shadows. I was happy for the weaponry.

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