I had lunch with John today. He caught up with me after Greek class yesterday and suggested we grab lunch. He’s doing the same thing I am. Theology BA in two years. He’s married. Both returning to school. So we have a lot in common, there.

He’s a couple years older than I am, I think, and a really nice guy. He taught school before. High school. And I think he did some IT as well. The Theology studies are his foot into the ministry.

Lunch at Wycliffe Hall

John is a member of Wycliffe Hall. Different college than me, but it’s actually closer to where I live.

Wycliffe focuses solely on Theology, and it’s generally for folks preparing for the ministry. They have a lot of great speakers who visit. I’m looking forward to hearing a few.

John met me at the front door when I arrived. He’s a tall guy. Taller than me. Probably 6’4″ or so. With floppy brown hair and a big grin. He was wearing a hawaiian shirt when he greeted me. No one wears hawaiian shirts in England. But John does.

We made our way to the dining hall and he asked how my studies were going. I told him I just submitted my Gospels & Jesus paper the day before. I told him it’s going to be interesting. And that the reading is definitely going to challenge my faith.

“Oh yeah?” he asked. Seeming somewhat surprised.

“Yeah, I mean, there’s definitely some things that fly in the face of what I believe.”

“Like what?” he asked.

I told him about one of the books I read. The Messianic Secret. The book was published by a German guy (Wrede) in the early 1900’s. From what I’m told, he was one of the first to come out and say, “Yeah, we’re probably not going to be able to trust this stuff, guys.” Biblical Criticism is what it’s called, I believe.

I told John how he basically posed that Jesus didn’t actually suggest he was the messiah, and that this all came up after the fact. That it was written in, so to speak.

“Ahhh, yes. That one.” John said.

We came to the food line and conversation quickly changed subject. Today’s lunch was a meat pie, with a side of vegetables. It was all right, but it’s not quite Harris Manchester.

John introduced me to some of the other guys at the table. They asked about my transition to England. About when my wife was going to arrive. About Harris Manchester. About whether I’ve been to any churches since arriving.

Apparently St. Andrew’s (where I attended this past Sunday) is John’s home church.

“For the past six years,” he told me. “But of course I wasn’t there Sunday,” he said with a smile.

Before wrapping up with lunch, John made sure I paid a trip to the yogurt bar. He said I’d be missing out if I didn’t. Yogurt is served at room temperature here in England, by the way. Just a heads-up.

He spoke like a car salesman, showing me all the options.

“First you have your fruit sauce,” he said, pointing at the bowls of various colors. Green. Red. And Orange. (He had to help me out with this one, as I’m colorblind).

“Much like a stop light,” he said after describing the different sauces.

“But that’s not all. You also have an assortment of slightly crunchy, meusli-like toppings to choose from,” he said with a smile. You could tell he was pretty proud of this treat. That or he was playing it up. He might’ve been playing it up.

“After 14 days straight, it becomes quite cathartic,” he explained.

“Ah… Well, I wouldn’t want you to get the shakes,” I said.

We sat back down at the table and he helped me with the layout of town. Explaining where he lived. Where some of the other roads led. He’s actually from just south of Oxford, so he and his wife didn’t have to move when he returned to school. He was pretty happy about that.

His wife is a teacher as well. They’re both teachers. He said he might be able to help find Jen something when she arrived. Or at least point us in the right direction.

Pushing his empty yogurt bowl aside, he then changed the topic rather quickly.

“Well, I think we’re going to have quite the challenge ahead of us with this BA, Ryan.” he said. His voice was more serious now.

“But there’s no reason if we’re praying for each other, and if we’re talking through what we’re learning, that we can’t come out of this with our faith even more stronger than it was. And not so that we can puff out our chests and all, but so that we can glorify God.”

I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear those words. That’s what I was hoping for all along. Before arriving here. But then you start getting scholars throwing stuff at you in your reading (as I knew they would), and I knew how important prayer and Biblical community would be.

John asked if he could pray for me. I told him I’d like that very much.

“Why don’t we make this a regular thing, what do you say?” he asked after wrapping up his prayer. We’re going to meet every Tuesday for lunch. And I am so glad.

My First Tutorial – I go to class in a castle

I stopped into a place called Orange after leaving Wycliffe. They sell cell phones and sim cards. A friend from back home, Katie VanKooten, had given me a cell phone she previously used here in England, and I thought I’d buy a pay-as-you-go sim card in case Jane or anyone else needed to be in contact with me. I really don’t plan to use it all that much.

I had my first tutorial today. Tutorials are basically what Oxford calls your standard classes. They’re very small, discussion-based format. As in two people in a class. Me and one other person. They’re what Oxford is famous for offering.

Today’s tutorial was for my Gospels & Jesus course, and it was at Mansfield College. Another beautiful, castle-like building.

Our tutorial was in Dave Lincicum’s office. He’s the guy I ran into at church on Sunday, and he’s filling in for another professor who is currently on Sabbatical. It was an amazing office, too. Book shelves from floor to ceiling on every wall. Only to be interrupted by an old, antique desk. It used to be the desk of some famous New Testament scholar, but I couldn’t tell you his name. It was pretty ornate, though, and it had the carvings of various saints all over it. They were kind of creepy, actually, but the desk itself was pretty impressive.

The room was quite large, compared to what I’ve seen so far. Room enough for two, actually three full couches. The stone walls had windows that looked out over the courtyard, and we could actually hear a student singing Kelly Clarkson as we wrapped up class. I laughed out loud.

The class itself was great, though. We each were asked to go over our essay (main points) and then he’d ask us several questions about the texts we were posed with as well as our essays. I ate it up. I was so engaged and interested I actually found myself having to hold back so I didn’t consume the conversation.

Dave would ask a question in a very calm, almost warm voice, and then leave us to respond. He’d get talking about a certain point and then have to stop himself and apologize for lecturing. We didn’t mind, of course. We wanted to hear what he had to say, but apparently the point of the tutorial is for us to discuss.

I hadn’t met the other student in my class before today. She’s a member of a different college. Sarah. She’s from the southern tip of England. And I don’t mean any disrespect by this, but she kind of looks like she walked into a thrift store and blindly picked out her outfit. I know, I know, it sounds horrible, but I thought it was rad. An old red sweater, a blue and white pinstriped blouse and black tights with boots. She probably thought I looked boring. And American. Which I did, next to her. Like a vanilla ice cream cone next to a banana split. With sprinkles.

The tutorial was only an hour long, and it flew by. Before I knew it, we were talking about our reading for next week and were being ushered out the door with a smile.

Walking over the pebbled footpath leading from Mansfield College, I looked back over my shoulder to take it all in.

The massive, centuries-old stone building. The intricate carvings. The green lawn. And I thought to myself, “how cool is it that I actually get to go to class here? I go to class in a castle.”

The Alternative Turk

It was only 5:00 when I left class, but I was hungry. I knew I needed to get some studying done, so I thought I’d get something to go. I decided to stop into a little corner cafe that had been recommended to me. Just down the street from Harris Manchester.

I thought it was called the Little Tux. Apparently I was wrong.

I had seen several people walking around campus with these amazing looking paninis, and I was happy to realize this is the place to get them. For only£2.95, too (you say that “two pound 95,” by the way). I was pretty excited. The shop was very small. And crowded, which I figured was a good sign.

There was a sign hanging on the wall for a Halloween haunted castle tour here in Oxford. I thought it’d be fun to take Jen to that when she arrives.

The shop had an amazing display of treats. Muffins. Cupcakes. Baklava. I plan to go back for the maple pecan pie. It looked incredible.

As did this.

I went with the chicken pesto panini. The bread was fresh-out-of-the-oven hot and crispy, and the mozzarella mixed in perfectly with the chunks of chicken and smeared pesto. I’m definitely going to become a regular of the Turk Shop. In fact, I could go for another chicken pesto panini right about now…

I made my way to the Bodleian to get a bit of studying in before the CS Lewis Society’s talk that would be later tonight. I found another line of film trucks parked outside the Bodleian today.

I’m not sure what they were filming, but I would assume they were wrapping up the Inspector Lewis shoot that was going on yesterday. When I passed by.

I was finishing up my sandwich and walking to the Radcliffe Camera (the Theology section of the Bodleian) when I saw this view and thought, “man, this place really is amazing.” I had to snap a picture so you could see.

A guy was walking by as I did carrying a camera. I figured he probably wouldn’t mind if I asked him to snap a photo of me (since my sister had been asking for more photos of me).

I realized right away my eyes were probably closed, but I wasn’t about to ask for another one.

The Oxford CS Lewis Society

After a couple hours of studying I made my way out of the Radcliffe Camera and headed toward St. Aldate’s Street for the Oxford CS Lewis Society’s talk.

The film crew had apparently been hard at work while I was studying, as they were all setup and shooting by the time I walked by.

The Lewis Society’s talks are held at a place just two doors down from the Eagle & Child. By no coincidence, I am sure. It was in a smallish room on the second floor. One long dining room table sat beside the windows on one side, which cleared up the rest of the space for chairs. There was a piano in the front of the room, which made me think religious services of some sort might be held here.

Tonight’s speaker was a guy from Wheaton College in Illinois. Chris Mitchell. Apparently he oversees the largest collection of Lewis literature in the world, which is housed at the college. So he knows his stuff, when it comes to Lewis.

He spoke on the topic of Lewis and his impact on historical evangelism. He talked about how Lewis’ influence has touched the lives of people from many different denominations and backgrounds. And how many of his fans would often get squeamish at his personal life, as it didn’t line up with their own beliefs. (He smoked, drank and carried on).

Chris talked about how Lewis’ real focus was on mere christianity. On faith for the public, not for the academic. And how, because of that, he was able to reach a very large audience.

“Lewis was a real lover of souls,” Chris said. I liked that.

He talked about how, on top of his academic responsibilities, Lewis traveled and spoke. How he spoke at groups that met at Oxford on a weekly basis, including The Socratic Club. And how he would respond to letters from thousands of people who wrote him with questions about their faith. This was not a guy who took lightly his call to use what he had to help others with their faith.

After Chris had finished his talk, one of the people in the room asked about Lewis’ thoughts on Reformed Theology versus Evangelism. And this is when another man spoke up. A man by the name of Walter Hooper. A man who knew Lewis personally.

He is an older man. He wore a tweed jacket with a v-neck sweater that disclosed a dress shirt and tie underneath. Apparently Hooper was Lewis’ personal secretary while he was in declining health. He is now an advisor of Lewis’ literary estate.

“I remember standing just down the street from here, on Cornmarket Street,” Hooper spoke up, in his soft voice. Cornmarket is a street I walk to get to class.

“And I remember Lewis saying, ‘Imagine a space ship landing right here before us and a group of Martians walking out and greeting us. Imagine they say to us, we only have a few minutes before we have to return to Mars, so please don’t mind our frightful appearance. We hear you have some Good News. We would very much like to hear this before returning home. Can you tell us about it?’ “And you know what would happen, don’t you? Surely someone would speak up and say, ‘Well yes, this church over here, they have liturgy, but the other church in town does not. And that church over there, they have candles, but the first church I told you about, they do not…’ And what would happen? Well the Martians would return home having not heard the Good News.”

The point of all this, Hooper explained, is that Lewis believed we are for more concerned with church format or demoninational differences than we should be. Than we are about the real matter before us. That of sharing the beauty of the Good News with others.

I smiled a lot tonight.

I caught up with Cole afterward. He’s the Vice President of the group. I told him it was amazing. I told him I’d love to meet Mr. Hooper at some point. So he introduced me.

“He’s such a nice guy,” he assured me.

And he really is.

I explained to Mr. Hooper how I had only just arrived a week ago, and that Lewis is the reason I am here.

“How wonderful,” he said with that soft-spoken voice and smile.

Cole mentioned a class of his in which the professor asked if he enjoyed Lewis’ works. Naturally, they had a lot to talk about after that. But then he mentioned that there are plenty of Theology professors here who actually hate Lewis. Likely for wearing his faith on his sleeve as he did, and not keeping it separate from his academics.

“That’s terrible,” Hooper said with a look of disgust. “If you ever find yourself in that position, just walk out. You’ll still have me.” I liked this guy.

We talked a bit more, and he took out a small notebook from his jacket pocket as we did. He wrote my name on a page and slid it back into his coat pocket. Hooper asked me where I was living. I told him. He told me he lives not far from there, and that I’d have to come over for tea.

“I’d like that a lot,” I said.

An e-mail from my Dad

I got an e-mail from my Dad today. He reminded me that I am living out my dream. Right now. By going to Oxford. To study Theology. He reminded me this is something not many people can say of themselves.

I never thought it’d actually happen, but here I am. It was a good reminder for me.

I’ve said it at hands&feet previously, but this has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Leaving a great job. A job I enjoyed, and one that provided very well for us. I am now unemployed for the first time since, well, since high school. And I have no idea what my next job will be.

Packing up and saying goodbye to some of the most amazing friends and family anyone could ask for. . .and then having to adjust to life abroad without my wife at my side.

I’d have a hard time putting into words how difficult this has been, actually. Constantly questioning myself. And what I was doing here.

I’m not here because I thought this was the most sensical step to take at this point in our lives. But I took this step because I believed my life would be put to better use, in the long-run, having had made this change. That this experience would allow me to step out in ways I would not have been able to before, to help others see and experience and know and believe and trust in the Good News. That I might have the opportunity to experience the blessing of changed lives first-hand. For, the real beauty of the Good News, the real beauty of the Gospel, is its power to change lives.

The point of all of this is that I might use the gifts God has given me to help with that purpose.

I’m looking forward to being able to look back on this road and say, “see there. See what God was doing at that point? And there, too, at that point. Even when I had no idea, he was doing something incredible.”

It’s difficult now, because we can’t always see the road before us. But we go forward knowing He is good and that He is, daily, directing our paths.

I’m just happy to be along for the ride.

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