Archives for posts with tag: church

After spending most of the day at Blenheim Palace last Saturday, I had to crank down on some homework. I spent most of Sunday punching out an essay that was due the next week. Got about halfway through before turning in for the night. Felt pretty good going into a new week ahead of the game after having a great trip to Blenheim Palace. Which made Monday morning even worse.

Monday: Bad news…

I woke up Monday morning and flipped open my Macbook before studying a bit of Greek and heading off to class. I was a little curious when my screen didn’t flicker on, but stayed black instead. Tried a couple different things. Checked the power cord. Tried to restart. No dice. My computer was dead. Not a good way to start the week.

I visited the Oxford University Computer Services offices after Greek. Hoping they’d have some good news for me. They did. And they didn’t. They told me that this was probably a known issue. Failure of the graphics board (of course). Which should be covered by Apple’s warranty. That was the good news.

The bad news was that they wouldn’t be able to get to this for about a week. Best case scenario. Which meant the the work for the essay I had managed to get about halfway through, the one that was due that afternoon, would be worthless to me. That and my five-days worth of reading notes that were saved on my computer. Perfect.

I spent the next seven hours seated at a computer in the library trying to piece together my essay from memory. Which would probably work better for someone with a memory. I managed to put something together and send it off just before my deadline, though. Part of me felt like maybe I could do this more often and save myself five days’ worth of reading. But I figured that’d probably not be such a great idea.

Thursday: My experience with Computer Services and An American explaining Thanksgiving

I was happy to get an e-mail Thursday morning, telling me I could bring my laptop in to get checked out. They don’t let you just drop it off when things go down. “We’d have computers piled up everywhere,” I was told.

I dropped it off Thursday afternoon. After my lecture that morning. I figured I’d just go in, drop it off and I’d be out of there. But that wasn’t the case. I told the lady at the front desk I had received an e-mail from Darren and I was here to drop my computer off with him. She looked at me suspiciously, like I was trying to pull one over on her. They must get a lot of people wanting to pile up broken computers around Darren. And she was having none of it.

She asked me if I had filled out the paperwork and paid my £30 deposit for repairs. I hadn’t done either. “Well come over here and you can fill that out,” she said, directing to me to a table on the opposite side of the room.

“Perfect,” I thought to myself. After 15 minutes of navigating their online payment system, tracking down my computer’s serial number and filling out the paperwork, I made my way back to this sweetheart of a lady’s desk to hand off my computer to Darren. If she’d let me.

“Oh, it looks like he’s gone to lunch now,” she said with a look of feigned disappointment. “If you’d like to come back in a half our or so, he should be back then.”

I didn’t want to go anywhere. All I wanted to do was leave my computer. 30 minutes, I figured I could get some studying done here just as well as the library.

“I’ll just have a seat over here and study some Greek, if that’s okay?”

“Yes, of course,” she said with a smile. “He should be back around 1:00.”

An hour later, Darren made his way out of the back room and asked if he could help me. I was pretty glad to see him. I was beginning to develop a twitch at this point.

I brought my computer to him as he looked at my paperwork. He asked if I had paid the £30. I told him I had. He told me it didn’t look like I needed to, that it was covered under warranty.

“Awesome,” I said.

“Well we’ll check it out and get you a refund if that’s the case.”

Darren was a nice guy. I could see why more people would want to take the time to stop in and pile up their laptops around here.

An American Explaining Thanksgiving

We went to small group at Church Thursday night. We’ve really enjoyed getting to know the folks there.

They have dinner beforehand, and we usually end up sitting by people we don’t know. So we get to meet new people that way.

We found a seat by Martin this week (Martin’s from Scotland). And an American girl. From DC. She’s studying here for a term. A guy from South Africa sat down at our table shortly after us. He looked like Dirk Nowitzki‘s doppleganger. Although about a foot shorter. It was quite the international bunch.

The American girl asked us if we had any plans for Thanksgiving. We didn’t, we told her. She lives with 40 other Americans, so it sounds like they’re bringing Thanksgiving to England in full force. She was pretty excited.

Martin asked what was so great about Thanksgiving.

“Everything,” she said, with big eyes and a smile, looking to us for support.

“Yeah, I mean, if you like food, family and football. American football. It’s a pretty great day,” I said.

“What exactly is Thanksgiving all about, again?” Martin asked the girl beside us.

“It’s about celebrating the fact that we won!” she said loudly.

“Oh my,” I thought to myself. “This isn’t going to be good.”

The guy from South Africa seated across from us didn’t seem too impressed. Turns out he wasn’t.

“That surprises me,” he spoke up. “In South Africa, I don’t think we’d joke about something from our history like that.” He wasn’t smiling in the least.

The blood drained from this girl’s face. It was obvious what she had meant to communicate and what had come out were two totally different things.

“I’m sorry. I was just joking. I’m really sorry if I offended you,” she said to this guy from South Africa with a look of sincerity.

“Oh, no, you didn’t,” he said with a look of half-sincerity. “Well, maybe a little.”

He cleaned his plate and made his way back to the kitchen for some second helpings.

The girl looked over to us with a look of horror. Martin smiled.

“Who exactly did you beat, by the way? The Indians?…”

“That’s totally not what I meant…” she confessed. “I’m totally fulfilling the stereotype.”

I told the girl I was going to pick up a “God Bless America” t-shirt the next time I was home. And wear it around Oxford. To compete with her impression of Americans in England. She laughed. Jen shook her head.

Friday: Ruining God’s plan and a pink laptop in the library

Lyndon told me after Greek Friday morning that he was going to be preaching at his old church in London in a couple weeks. And that he was going to have to get started on that over the weekend.

I asked him what he was speaking on.

“Deuteronomy 22,” he said. “The scene where Abraham pretends Sarah’s his sister, and not his wife. So the King wouldn’t kill him and take her for himself. To protect himself.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked, with a scrunched brow. “So what’s the application?”

“The application is great,” he explained to me. “First, it reminds us that no one’s perfect. Abraham is seen as this great figure, and here he is doing something completely foolish.”

I nodded. Seemed like a good reminder.

“But also, it reminds us that no matter how bad we mess up, God is in control,” he continued. “Jesus was to be a descendant from Sarah, in order to fulfill his role as the Messiah, and Abraham’s foolishness threatened that. He very well could’ve messed it all up, but God carried out His plan. And He still does so, in spite of our shortcomings.”

It was a good reminder, to be sure. Particularly for someone like me who constantly worries I’m going to fall flat on my face and ruin all of this. That I’m totally going to spoil God’s plans for my life. For our life. By some huge failure on my part. Or lack of faith.

It’s good to be reminded that God is bigger than my failures.

A pink laptop in the library

I spent most of the day Friday in the library. My laptop wasn’t back from the shop, and I had to take down some notes from the books I’d be reading, so I resorted to borrowing Jen’s laptop for the day. Her pink laptop. I may be colorblind, but this was still a tad outside of my comfort zone. Unfortunately, I had no choice. Pink laptop it was.

I managed to get through most of the afternoon without thinking too much about it. Plugging away on my reading and jotting down some notes. I was feeling pretty good about myself, and shrugging off the few glances I got from time to time. Though I was pretty happy to be wearing a wedding ring at this point, just to avoid any confusion. I thought about putting up a sign over the desk I was working from that read, “It’s my wife’s…”, but I decided against it.

I always listen to music while I’m studying. Even when I’m reading. It helps me focus and zone out any other noise. Weird, I know. But it works for me.

At one point while I was reading, I realized a Taylor Swift song had come up on my playlist. “What in the world,” I thought to myself, quickly switching to the next song.

“That’s just what I need,” thinking to myself, “for my music to somehow switch from my earphones to my external speakers and start blaring Taylor Swift from my pink laptop in the middle of the library…”

It was about halfway through the afternoon when I noticed a woman in her 40’s working across from me. With the same pink laptop. She was looking over at the computer I was working from.

“Perfect…” I thought silently.

I received an e-mail from the Computer Services just a few minutes after that awkwardness. Telling me my computer was fixed (under warranty, no less). I didn’t waste anytime photocopying the rest of the reading I had to do and getting out of there.

I arrived at home earlier than Jen had been expecting me.

“You’re home early,” she said with a look of surprise on her face.

“Yeah, well, I was a little uncomfortable working on a pink computer in the library. But sitting across from a woman with the same pink computer was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.”

She rocked back her head and let out a loud laugh.

Saturday: Pembertons take a Trip to Bath

Vanessa got a hold of Jen earlier in the week. To let her know she was going to Bath with some friends and their spouses this weekend. And that they’d love to have us join them, if we wanted. Jen had a look at some photos of Bath online and she was sold.

Rob and Vanessa are the couple from Seattle who had us over for dinner a couple weeks back. Rob’s doing his MBA here at Oxford. Vanessa was a nurse at Children’s hospital before coming over. They’re a lot of fun, and we were excited to take this trip with them. And excited to see Bath.

We woke up early Saturday morning, booked a couple bus passes and we were on our way. Vanessa scooted onto the full bus with a couple girlfriends shortly after we had boarded and found some seats several rows ahead of us. Rob had a rowing race that day, so he would not be joining us. I was one of two “spouses” on the trip, but it was a blast anyway. I was very happy to go and see the city. It was much better than the library.

Bath is a great city. It’s about a two-hour’s drive west of Oxford. Southwest, I believe. And it’s built in a valley, which means it has beautiful, 360-degree views of hills. And there’s a river that runs right through town. It’s pretty picturesque.

The City is quite old. The Romans were stationed here at one point in their conquest. And they ended up building these incredible Bathhouses up around the natural hotsprings that are found here in Bath. Thus the name.

We got off the bus and found our way around town, armed with several iPhones. There were nine of us. None of us had been to Bath before.

Jen noticed this storefront sign and made me stop so she could snap this photo, in light of my pink laptop experience.

I was less than happy about it.

One of the first places we stopped at was Bath Abbey. A very old church built in the city center. Near the Roman bathhouse. It was an incredible church. With a huge wall devoted almost solely to stained glass windows.

We were handed an information pamphlet as we entered the church. We didn’t know anything about it, but apparently it’s a pretty popular tourist spot.

I couldn’t believe how high the ceilings climbed when we walked in. I quickly found my jaw dragging on the ground behind us.

The information packet pointed out different points of interest in the church. And it spoke a lot about Jesus. It put a smile on my face.

I found myself walking through this incredible building, built more than 500 years ago, with my nose in this information pamphlet. Reading about Jesus. I had to pull myself away from the yellow, photo-copied tri-fold to take it all in.

The stained glass windows on the far side of the church portray something like 70 different scenes of Jesus’ life. It was terribly impressive.

Jen snapped this photo in a mirror in the middle of the church to show the ornate ceiling architecture.

I found myself wondering what it’d be like to worship here week in and week out. And how long it’d take to get so used to it that you didn’t even think twice about what an incredible building it was.

Our next stop was the heart of the city. The Roman Baths.

The entrance to the Bath houses was very modern. The decor was pretty impressive, with lots of white, ornate crown moulding and dangling chandeliers.

We paid our admission fees (of course), and began our tour. We were handed small radios we were to hang around our necks. The digital display would be used to punch in numbers according to each location along our tour, which would correspond with the appropriate informative tour guide segment. British accent and all.

The Baths were great. It felt like we were traveling back in time.

You enter the bathing area and quickly feel the warm air wafting off the hot springs, contrasting with the cool outside air. I can only imagine how great a place this would have been in its time. Crowded with people fighting to get a good spot.

The Romans built this bathhouse around 70 AD, the audio tour guide told us. Around the same time Luke penned his Gospel account. Crazy.

I thought about the history of the bathhouse as we walked along the stones lining the pool. About the fact that the Romans had enjoyed lounging in this place around 2000 years ago, and now we were here. It was pretty wild.

I asked one of the staff members who was standing nearby how many people they had to pull out of the pool on a given month.

“More than you’d think,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s mostly on accident. People taking a photo and stepping backward into the waters. And kids getting too close mostly.”

I had to fight back a serious urge to cannonball into the pool most of the time we were there, which subsided after hearing about the tests they had to run on anyone who went into the waters. To make sure they didn’t pick up any bacterial infection.

Vanessa was kind enough to snap photos of Jen and I throughout the day. So we didn’t have to bug other people. It was a nice change of pace.

We snapped this photo of Vanessa (on the left) and her friend Camille from back home.

They loved the Baths, as well. Camille said she just wanted to sit by the waters for a while.

It really was great. The Romans had it figured out.

We found these bathing instructions posted on the way out. Even though we couldn’t actually use the baths. Seemed a bit like false advertising to me.

It was after 2:00 by the time we finished touring the Baths houses. We were all pretty hungry. We looked for a place to eat for some time before settling on an Indian place.

“You guys like Indian food?” they asked us, making sure we were okay with the choice before going in.

“Never had it,” Jen replied.

“You really are from Bellingham,” Camille laughed.

It was the first time Jen and I had Indian food together. (I had had it once before and wasn’t a fan). But the food was great. So many flavors… And colors.

Somehow we got on the topic of cheese during the meal. One of the gals was talking about how much she loved it.

“Except for Goat Cheese,” she said. “I can’t do it.”

“Me neither,” I said. “The smell does me in every time, and the taste isn’t any better.”

“Not me,” Vanessa chimed in. “I love Goat’s Cheese. I could make out with it.”

Everyone laughed. We were the only ones in the Indian Place. It was huge, too, which made it seem even emptier than it was. It had large, vaulted ceilings, and large windows that overlooked the alleys below.

Indian music played over speakers hidden somewhere in the restaurant. Music that seemed to put me in a trance. I felt like I was in a dream state. It made the great food sit even better than it would’ve otherwise, I thought to myself. Rocking me like a lullaby.

Bath was strung up with lights in preparation for Christmas. It was beautiful.

Vanessa snagged Jen’s camera as we walked through the city center streets. Doing her best paparazzi impression. Peeking out from behind street vendor displays to steal photos of Jen and I.

I’m not sure who’s idea this one was…

We walked around the city center for a couple hours before making our way to the bus station to board. Bath is a beautiful city, to be sure, and we’d love to go back.

We were more than satisfied with our Saturday as we took our seats aboard the warm bus. The lights inside the bus dimmed as we pulled away from the city center. Careening through the country roads, we quickly found ourselves slipping away into a comforting, late afternoon nap. The high-back bus seats holding us in a hug, the roads rocking us slowly to sleep.

Monday: Smiling in the rain and an informal date night

I rode my bike to class Monday morning. For Greek. In the rain. It was coming down pretty good. And I was soaked by about halfway to class.

Normally I would be terribly frustrated by this. I am not a fan of being in sopping wet clothes. Like many, I suppose.

But it didn’t take long for me to remind myself that I was going to class. That I’m studying Theology. At Oxford. That I’m doing something I thought only a year ago I’d never actually get to do. And yet, here I am. Wet or not. I’m living out my dream.

Tacos and cards

We decided to stay in Monday night. Rather than go to dinner at college. To have dinner at home. Just the two us. And to play cards. We made tacos. More mexican food. And they were great.

It was a bit of an informal date night. And I loved it. It felt like we were back at home. Minus the fact that we were always so busy running back and forth at home, from here to there, that we never actually stopped to do something like this. Just the two of us. And I’m so thankful for that time together.

Tuesday: Dinner with Lewis’ godson

I had a load of work to get done early on this week. An essay to read for and write. And a fairly large Greek exam to study for. And some Greek translation. Not much free time whatsoever, but we had been invited to join a small group of people for dinner on Tuesday night. At a French restaurant here in Oxford. Pierre Victoire. On a little, brick road called Clarendon Street, with stringed lights criss-crossing overhead.

CS Lewis’ godson, Laurence Harwood, was going to be speaking at the Oxford CS Lewis Society’s lecture on Tuesday night. Sharing memories from his childhood of growing up around Lewis. And he was going out to dinner with a small group of people beforehand.

As there would be only a handful of people at dinner, it’d be pretty tough to pass this up. With as much work as I had to get done, I’m normally one to say, “I’d love to go, but…”. Fortunately Jen told me I needed to go. She was right. As she almost always is. She decided to come with, too. And I’m so glad she did.

It was so neat to hear stories from this man about Lewis. About the Lewis others never get the opportunity to hear.

“I feel like the movie Shadowlands paints this picture of Lewis that just isn’t accurate,” someone spoke up during dinner. Speaking to Laurence. I can’t now remember who. “That of a standoffish scholar. One who doesn’t allow anyone to get close to him. And one who particularly wouldn’t want to be around children. How does that compare with how you remember him?”

“Quite right. It’s awful. I always loved it when Jack came around,” Laurence told us. (Lewis went by “Jack” with all of his close friends, by the way).

“As children, we’d be playing games when he’d come over, and he’d get right down there with us. On the floor. At our level. He was genuinely interested in what we were playing, and he’d play with us. Not in a condescending way. He’d always beat us, of course, but we really enjoyed him.”

Laurence told us about how you could feel it when Lewis entered the room. Or Jack. That he was just one of those people with a powerful presence. But not in a bad, or scary way. That, even as a child, Laurence thoroughly enjoyed Lewis.

He told us how his father (a close friend of Lewis’) would always mentally prepare before Lewis arrived, knowing the mental battles that would ensue. And he told us how, even as a child, he’d love to listen in to the conversations. Not because he followed a word of it, but because of the sheer passion that would pour out from it. And how he loved being around the energy.

Laurence told us how Lewis never pushed his faith on him. That, even as a child, Lewis never bought him a book, subtly implying what he should believe. “Even though that was his role, as my godfather.”

And he told us about the letters Lewis would write. That he must’ve written more than 200,000 during his lifetime. How he’d spend a couple hours every day. Responding to those who wrote him. And how, as a child, Lewis would often include illustrations in his letters. To make a point. If, for example, Lewis wrote about a book he was writing that had a bear in it, he’d draw a picture of a bear. Not in the margin, but right there in the middle of the paragraph. Laurence told us how he’d always look forward to receiving these letters.

It reminded me of my grandpa. It seemed like something he’d do. Or used to do. For me. As a child.

Laurence shared a slideshow with us during his lecture. Old photos of Lewis. And he could tell a story for each. One of the photos was of Lewis sitting on a hill with his good friend Owen Barfield and Laurence’s parents. The photo is still hanging on the walls of Eagle & Child.

Laurence has a book out. I didn’t manage to get a copy. I wouldn’t have mind having one. Signed. But they were gone by the time I managed to make it to the front of the room after his talk.

We made it home around 10 that night. After dinner. And the talk. Me walking my bike. Jen walking beside me.

Jen skyped with her family. I made my way upstairs to study. I had a Greek exam the next morning. 10:00 quickly turned into 1:30. After feeling I had crammed enough, I made my way downstairs. To make my second dinner. Leftover tacos.

Turning in at 2:00. It’s becoming a terrible habit.

Thursday: small group

We made it to small group Thursday night. At St. Andrew’s Church. Just down the street from us.

It was the second time we went there. The two of us.

We talked with a girl over dinner who moved here several years ago. She told us this was the first church she visited after arriving. And how she hasn’t been anywhere since. She told us she wasn’t a fan of the whole church shopping business. I nodded my head, telling her I could respect that.

We’ve been to one other church since arriving. We went to a small community church with Lyndon and Mim last weekend. Before joining them for lunch at their home afterward. We had a great time. The food is always so good. And those two are just amazing people to be around. It was Jen’s first time meeting Mim, and the kids. She loved them.

But I really haven’t felt like visiting many other churches. There’s one Rob and Vanessa go to I wouldn’t mind checking out. But, I guess I feel like, church is about more than just the message, you know? I feel like I’m realizing it’s really what you make of it, if that makes sense. I’m realizing it’s probably more about finding a community and being a part of it than what you get out of it. Than about how it tastes.

This church is made up of a group of people. Broken people. Not perfect. That church is the same way. Maybe a little better looking people. Maybe a bit more well off. But still broken. This church may have a decent speaker. That one might be a bit better. But I feel like, maybe that’s not the point. I don’t know. Sorry if I’m taking a bit of a tangent here. I guess it’s just, we walked out of church that night, and I couldn’t help but think how grateful I was for the community we had found.

Two girls had prayed for Jennifer that night. Separately. Not because they had to. But because they wanted to. They prayed that this transition would go smoothly for her. That she would be comforted. That she would know what it is she’s supposed to be doing. That she would build friendships here in Oxford. And, afterward, one of the girls gave her a hug. Eleanor. The one from Ireland. The one that got me with the Sleepless in Seattle joke.

And, I don’t know. I guess that just took me back a bit. That we could come all this way. So far from home. And find people who want to care for us. Who genuinely want to help and love us. And I don’t know. I guess that’s the beauty of the Church, in a way. That we can have a family so far from home. No matter where we are, that we can find someone who has received from Him the same love that has been poured out onto us, and who want to share that love with us. It’s nice to be recipients of that kind of love.

Walking home, I told Jen how thankful I was for that. She agreed.

Friday: A story in Greek, drinking from a fire hydrant and a date night with Jen

I’m about ready to break up with my bike lock, I’m afraid. Or Justin’s bike lock, for his bike, I should say. It’s been neglected for quite some time. It’s beginning to rust a bit inside, I believe. But it’s terribly frustrating. I find myself spending more time trying to lock it or unlock it than I actually do trying to get somewhere. It took me five minutes to ride a mile and a half to class this morning. It took me eight minutes to unlock my bike lock.

I arrived in front of the exam schools for Greek right on time this morning. Then I literally watched Rhona arrive several minutes later. And Lyndon several minutes after that. All the while I struggled to get my bike lock to release so I could lock it up and go to class.

It was dreadful. The sweat was beading up on my forehead and dripping off by the time I was through. I wasn’t sweating when I arrived.

But then I get out of class and it works great. The first time. It’s like that terrible girlfriend. The one who treats you horribly 99% of the time, but then that one day, she smiles at you. Or says something nice. And you think to yourself, “Okay, I’ll give her one more shot.”

It’s funny, because at home, I wouldn’t think twice about buying a new bike lock. But here, the idea of spending £25 on a new bike lock. Well, that’s groceries. Ridiculous. This girlfriend may be around for awhile.

At the end of this life

Rhona was telling a story when I arrived in class. I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is the majority of our time in Greek. Anecdotal stories. But I liked this one.

She was talking about a man who had served in the first World War. About how he had literally come from nothing. And how he had worked hard, making a name for himself after the war. As a businessman. And how he managed to do quite well for himself. And how he was able to take care of his family.

Rhona told us about how, when he had grown old, he began to lose much of his memory. And his general awareness began to fade away. So that his family had trouble talking with him as they once did. But the one way his family was still able to connect with him was by reminding him of this fact. How he had taken care of them.

She told us how his daughter would visit him. How she’d bring him a cup of tea and say, “I am so thankful for all you’ve done for our family. You really have provided so much for us.” And he’d smile. He’d remember. And they’d connect over that thought.

Rhona finished the story, pushed her index finger down into the Greek textbook she had been holding open in her left hand and said, “Right…” as she seems to do when she transitions from her stories back to Greek.

I still have no idea what the context was for this story. Probably a Greek vocab word of some sort. But I liked it. I think that’s what we all want in a way, isn’t it? To be able to look back at the end of this road and know that we made a difference. To know that, somewhere along the line, our life had an impact on another life. Or lives. And to smile at the thought of it. I know that’s what I want.

Drinking from a fire hydrant

It’s the end of week five of classes here. Crazy to think. It’s gone by so quickly. Four more weeks and this term will be done. And we’ll be getting ready for Christmas. Hard to believe.

School is a frantic pace here. Unsurprisingly, I suppose. But you can see it on people’s faces. Tired. Lots of yawns in class. Baggy eyes. People don’t want to respond to questions like they did before.

But, oddly, I’ve found myself feeling better about things. I’ve felt like I’m beginning to adjust to the pace. You arrive here and quickly find yourself stunned by the pace. Wondering how you’ll ever keep up the sprint, when it seems like you’re running a marathon. You find yourself certain you’re never going to be able to do it. That you’re going to fail. It feels so overwhelming. But then you just do it. You realize you have a pile of work to get done, and not much time to get it done in, but you do.

And I think it’s probably that way with most things in life. We all have things that seem impossible. Or overwhelming. We find ourselves wondering how in the world it’s all going to work out. But then you just go after it. You get your hands dirty. And it works out. But if we never get our hands dirty, then our fears are right. It will be impossible.

It’s a bit like drinking out of a fire hydrant, being here. The workload. You can feel bad. And get frustrated. Over how difficult it is. Because it is. And it seems unreasonable that someone doesn’t turn it down just a bit. Or you can realize everyone’s drinking out of the same fire hydrant. And it’s not going to slow down when it comes to your turn. You simply do as much as you can and find contentment in that. That’s how I’ve managed to keep my sanity in it all, at least.

I received my first perfect exam in Greek this morning. From the exam I took Wednesday morning. After staying up until 2. Sorry if it sounds as though I’m bragging, it’s just, when I arrived, I was getting only a handful of questions right. Literally. Four or five out of 25. It’s nice to feel like you’re able to get a decent drink from the hydrant every now and then. I’m sure I’ll be drowning again in only a few days.

Dinner from a truck and Romeo & Juliet

We had a date night in Oxford tonight. Jen and I. Jen noticed the other day that Romeo & Juliet was playing at the Oxford Playhouse. And I had been wanting to eat out of a food truck parked in the city center. So we put the two together and we had ourselves a date night.

I hadn’t realized it before, but the name of this particular food truck was Husein’s. Can’t say it didn’t give me a bit of pause. But I was still excited. Jen has always refused to eat from the taco trucks back home, even though I love them. So this was a treat.

A woman was waiting for her food when we arrived, so we had some time to look over the menu.

And it’s a good thing. The menu was all over the map. They had everything. Pizza. Kebabs. Burgers. And egg burgers. I’m still not quite sure what an egg burger is.

Jen went with the burger and chips. I decided to try the Kebab. Which isn’t what we’d think of by a kebab back home. No meat on a stick here. Which I was disappointed to find out.

Hot chunks of chicken and lamb were served on a warmed piece of naan bread. Then they piled on mixed lettuce and cabbage and onions. A couple tomatoes and pieces of cucumber. And then a good dose of tzatziki sauce to top it all off.

We found a seat beside a large statue in the middle of the city center. On the stairs. Cars passing by on either side. Under the dark night sky, lit up by the shops that lined the road.

I had no idea how I was going to eat my pile o’ kebab. But I did. It was messy. Not quite as messy as a birth, mind you, but pretty messy. Sorry, I couldn’t help it.

I told Jen it was pretty good, but the Alternative Tuck was still the best deal in town. She agreed. I told her I got thinking about it this week, and I realized I can’t remember the last time I ate something other than paninis from the Alternative Tuck for lunch.

She nodded.

“It’s the highlight of my day,” she said. “It gets me into town.”

I’m not alone.

We wrapped up our food and made our way down the street to the Oxford Playhouse. Just a few minutes before it was scheduled to begin.

I figure if you’re going to take in a Shakespeare performance, England’s not a bad place to do so. The accents made it seem, well, like it was supposed to be performed, I guess.

It made me remember when Jen and I visited England last summer. And when we toured London. We got to see a small church hidden down a terribly tight lane. It was the location where Shakespeare’s work was first performed. For the Queen. With Shakespeare himself playing the lead role. It was pretty unbelievable.

Tonight’s performance was a pretty modern take on the story. The dialogue was the same, but the characters looked like they were straight out of London. Mercutio wore Chuck Taylor’s. Romeo wore his jeans tucked into high tops. Juliet wore a flannel button up shirt over a pink dress, over black tights, with high, dark-colored lace up boots.

But the performance was actually quite good. Apart from Juliet. I told Jen she reminded me of Kristen Stewart. She agreed.

“I didn’t like her,” she said. “She wasn’t how I pictured Juliet.”

“Too flighty,” I suggested.

But it made me realize how brilliant Shakespeare was. And why his works still draw crowds. He really was amazing with words. I enjoyed that part of it, for sure. Listening to him paint a picture of the dawning sun. Or describe the pain of losing someone you love.

And his works are so unlike modern works. Leaving you hanging. Feeling so unresolved. Not neat and tidy in the least bit. A bit like life, I suppose.

We decided to wrap up the night with a stop into G&D’s for ice cream. Not a bad way to wrap up a great date night.

Things are changing

I love our walks home. Jen and I together. Not driving. But walking. Sharing the cool night together. Feeling the pavement underfoot as we catch up on life. And all that’s been happening.

Things are changing quickly here. The leaves are falling from the trees. The same richly colored leaves that provided cover for a streetlamp only a couple weeks before…

…have now fallen to the ground. Leaving the skeletal tree limbs to stretch out into the night sky. And the streetlamp naked to those passing by.

Things are changing so quickly, it seems.

The Dream Giver

Steve told me the other night he’s reading a book he gave me two Christmases ago. The Dream Giver. He’s re-reading it. With Jamie.

It’s a great read, if you haven’t already. Not the kind of book I’d normally pick up for myself, but I read it because I trusted Steve’s thoughts on it. The first part of the book is a story. About someone who decides to follow their dreams. A “Nobody” from “Nowhere.” That’s the main character. And the story is about all of the obstacles he faces as he steps out in pursuit of his dream.

I remember reading this book and thinking how it was a great story, but that it must’ve been written for someone else. I simply wasn’t the type of person to have dreams. And I certainly wasn’t the type of person to go after my dreams. And yet, here we are. In Oxford. In pursuit of a dream. It’s still so hard to believe.

Thanks for daring me to dream big, Steve.

It’s 11:39 at night here, and I’m excited because I just wrapped up all the work I set for myself to get done today. Which means the rest of the evening is me time. Which means I’m writing, as you can see.

The last few days have been pretty crazy here. I’ve pretty much been either studying Greek or working on essays since Saturday evening. Feels good to come up for air. But that’s just the way it is here. That’s the way people are here. I haven’t found a whole lot of slackers since arriving. But I knew coming into it there wouldn’t be a whole lot of people who weren’t here to get down to business. Especially at Harris manchester, where everyone’s coming back for another degree.

I remember looking at the clock at 7:42 last night and thinking there were still plenty of people in the library. Many of the same people who were there at 2 in the afternoon. That’s just the way it is here.

Church on Sunday

I did make it to church on Sunday morning, though. Before spending the rest of the day in Greek. And I’m glad I did. It put a smile on my face, just being there.

It’s kind of funny, even when so much seems foreign over here, church still feels like church. I mean, really, everything is different here. Even the outlets, for Pete’s sake.

But I remember sitting in church Sunday morning thinking, “these guys sing songs about Jesus, too.” And it made me smile.

They still have their share of cheesy church songs here, too. But they’re still about Jesus. I think they might actually have even more cheesy songs, but it could just be the church, too. It is a family service I’ve been going to, which could explain all the hand gestures. I’m not a fan of hand gestures. It just feels funny. Unnatural, maybe? I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a good reason for them (like humility, perhaps), but I’m not a huge fan.

Nor am I a big fan of making up words for church songs. You know what I mean? I’ve noticed that a few times here. But, I guess they could be real words. I don’t know what half of the words they use here mean anyway. And when I think I do, I’m usually wrong.

One of the songs we sang on Sunday morning was about not being ashamed of Jesus. That even when the world thinks we’re crazy. Or ridiculous. That we should find joy in living a life for Him. Maybe they have something with those hand gestures…

Finding a hatchet in the woods

I caught up with Ken and Lynne after the service. The hand surgeon from Oregon who is now studying Theology here at Oxford. It was good to see them again. They’re both great.

I had told Ken that Justin and Jane, well, Jane really, had offered Justin’s bike to me to get around town. I told Ken I had tried to pump up the tires but that I was unable to get it to work properly. Again, everything’s different here. He told me I likely had the wrong kind of pump, but that he might be able to help. He had a pump in his car. One that he could plug in and let the pump do the work.

“If it’s just a case of flat tires, I should be able to help you,” he told me.

Sure enough, that was it. After a few minutes, I had myself a bike with two full tires. I was so excited. I felt like the 16-year old kid being handed the keys for the first time and drooling over their newfound freedom. Or the kid who’s lost in the woods and comes across a hatchet. So many possibilities now. I’m moving up in the world, my friends.

Summertown

I knew I had a lot of Greek to get done before the start of the new week, and I really didn’t feel like sitting at home and studying, so I decided to venture out to Summertown for a bit of studying.

Summertown is probably less than a mile from here. North. The opposite direction of the Oxford city center. It’s a nice, small, more modern little neighborhood. With a couple markets.

A handful of restaurants. And a few shops.

It has a very different feel than the Oxford city center, but I like Summertown a lot. It almost feels a bit like Queen Anne in Seattle.

I hadn’t grabbed lunch at home after church because, well, there wasn’t much I could make with ketchup and cereal. And that’s about all I had in my kitchen. I planned to swing into the market after studying for a bit, so I found a place in Summertown for lunch. Brunch.

At a place called Joe’s. And it was great.

It actually felt like a place I might find back home. With the addition of the British accents. There were a lot of families when I went. And couples meeting for breakfast. I snagged a seat in the front of the restaurant. A window seat. And it was a beautiful, sunny day. So the light spilled in from the street. Tough to beat brunch on a sunny Sunday morning.

Looking over the menu, everything sounded good. French toast. Omelets. I settled on the ham and eggs, without the “chips.”

“Can I get your ham and eggs and chips, with toast in place of the chips?” I asked the waiter.

He gave me a look like I had surprised him with a calculus problem. He was completely baffled. And in turn, so was I.

“Well, we can do eggs and toast, with a side of ham?” was his reply.

“Uhh, yeah, that’s what I’d like. Let’s do that.”

“So, eggs and toast, with a side of ham?” he asked again. Just to make sure he had it right, I guess.

“Yes. Eggs, toast and ham. That sounds great.”

I was glad he was able to straighten out my confusing order. But then he brought my plate a bit later and I realized what the issue may have been. I’m not sure if I’m the only one who has ever ordered eggs and toast with a side of ham, or if it was a cruel joke played on the American, but I really did get eggs and toast with a side of ham. A side of ham cold cuts. Emphasis on the cold. I didn’t mind, though. I was starving. And it was good.

From there, I made my way to the Starbucks just across the street. To get some studying done.

It’s a great Starbucks, too. Feels a lot like home. And I know that sounds funny, but I’ve been to another Starbucks here that did not feel like home. It felt like Starbucks squeezed into a closet. Very English. But I guess it’s nice to have both.

I wasn’t quite full from my eggs and cold cuts, so I ordered some oatmeal to accompany my Greek studies. Or porridge, as it’s called here. It came plain, with a side of dried fruit. And so I had to add plenty of brown sugar and cinnamon and vanilla to make it worth eating.

And it reminded me of my sister. It reminded me of how I used to make her oatmeal, growing up. I’d throw everything in there. Cinnamon. Syrup. Vanilla. Brown sugar. Raisins. Everything. I think I may have even put nuts in there sometimes. And she’d love it. I remember her requesting it from time to time, when I was still in high school. It’s been a while since I’ve made my sister oatmeal, but that’s what I was thinking about this afternoon in the Summertown Starbucks. Made the porridge taste even better.

It’s funny how these memories spring up from the littlest things. And how they remind you of home. Even when you’re so far from it.

Monday

Monday was my first day using my newfound freedom to get to school. The bike. I ended up getting to class about 20 minutes early. I sometimes feel guilty for not walking anymore, but it’s incredible the time I save now!

And I’m certainly not alone. Everyone bikes in Oxford.

It’s actually helping me get the traffic down, too. Biking, that is. It’s helping me realize which side traffic flows.

Walking, I often catch myself having to remember which side of the sidewalk to walk on, when other people are approaching. Just as traffic is different, so too is foot traffic.

After leaving class Monday morning, I noticed another line of film crew trucks outside the Bodleian. And another X-Men 4 sign on the back of one of them. “Still shooting,” I thought to myself after riding off. It didn’t look like they were setting up, so I figured they were probably doing a shoot later.

I turned a corner and noticed people on both sides of the street. Stopped. Staring. People don’t stop in Oxford. Everyone has somewhere to be. I stopped, too. And looked back. I following everyone’s eyes to what must’ve been the director. Setting up the shoot. Talking with his hands. Gesturing. Explaining what they were going for to someone else.

“Crazy,” I thought to myself as I rode away. I had a date with the library, or else I would’ve waited around.

Dinner with Felix & Jurassic Park

I spent the most of the day Monday in the library. Not terribly exciting, I know, but like I said, I had loads to get done.

I tried a new panini shop for lunch. The Alternative Turk was packed and I was tight on time. I was disappointed; it just wasn’t the same. Plus, the Alternative Turk is five pence cheaper.

The Alternative Turk takes all my money. But I’m glad to give it away in exchange for their pesto chicken paninis. It’s like the guy who’s robbing you while smiling. How can you be mad?

Jane sent me an e-mail sometime that afternoon. While I was working from the library at Harris Manchester. Telling me her and Justin would be in London for the evening, and that I was welcome to stop in and say “Hi” to Felix while they were out. But only if I wanted to.

“Of course. I’d love to,” was my response.

“Great! Beng will have some food waiting for you, if you’re hungry.”

Being here, on my own, it’s so nice to have someone invite me for dinner. I don’t know what it is, but that’s been one of the most comforting things.

I didn’t get in until almost 9 that night. I dropped my things off at the door to my place and let myself in to see Felix. I was so excited for the break from studies. For a warm meal. And to catch up with Felix. He’s a great kid.

“Felix? Hello? It’s Ryan.” I said, making myself known.

“Hi Ryan. I believe Beng has some food for you. Do you, Beng?” he asked. Straight away, he wanted to make sure I got my food.

Beng welcomed me with a smile. “Hi Ryan.” And she made her way to the kitchen to warm up my dinner. Felix and I followed.

“There’s really nothing on, so I was just watching Jurassic Park,” he told me. I wasn’t surprised. I knew he liked animals.

“Yeah? I haven’t watched that movie in years.”

“Well, maybe you can have your dinner in the living room with me and watch it for a bit with me before I have to go to bed.”

“That’d be great,” I said with a smile.

“Beng, Ryan will take his dinner in the living room.”

I found myself sitting on the couch, enjoying my pork chop and laughing with Felix at the movie.

“This really is great,” I thought to myself.

Tuesday

John and I grab lunch on Tuesdays. At Wycliffe Hall. The guy from my Greek class. The only guy in England with a hawaiian shirt.

He’s a great guy, and I’ve really enjoyed our conversations. This day we found ourselves talking about Driscoll. I forget how he came up. But John and another guy we were eating lunch with, Sam, were curious about his ministry.

The guys were totally blown away by the ministry that’s been accomplished through Driscoll’s work at Mars Hill in Seattle. They said he’d probably face a mob right if he tried his preaching style here in England. I told them he’s not free from the mobs in Seattle. But that God has done some pretty amazing things through his ministry.

John brought up something he had heard Driscoll say at one point. How he is intentional about using the name, “Jesus” when he’s talking. For interviews. From the pulpit. Apparently he said he feels like there’s something that makes us not want to use that name. We’ll say “God” or “Christ,” but often times there’s something funny about using the name of Jesus. So he makes a point of it. Driscoll, that is.

John said he could see that. That there’s something there. He thought maybe it was the Enemy not wanting us to use that name. “If I were Satan, that’s one battle I’d be involved in. Making sure people weren’t using that name.”

By his name will they be saved,” Sam spoke up. John nodded. I like these guys.

Surprised by rain

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the weather here. Which is funny. You know you’re from the Northwest when you’re happy with the lack of rain in England.

But our sunny streak was broken Tuesday afternoon. I was in my Gospels & Jesus tutorial when it started. Sarah, my classmate, was in another amazing outfit. Complete with red leggings that matched her hair.

But I love it. The crazy outfits. If you’ve ever been somewhere where everyone dressed alike, you’ve realized how much you appreciate people not dressing exactly like you. It’s good. It’s healthy. I don’t like constantly being around people who’re just like me. Who think like me. Who dress like me. Not all the time, at least. It’s constricting. It dulls my senses. You may disagree with me, but being around people who are unlike me is refreshing.

I think that’s one of the main reasons I enjoyed volunteering at the food bank back home. People came there from all sorts of backgrounds. Lots of variety. Lots of people very unlike me. It was refreshing. Like seasoning for a bland meal.

Sarah swore as she left the protection of our castle-like college. Darting across the college grounds in the rain. I think she liked the rain even less than I did.

“My brakes don’t work in the rain, so I end up trying not to run into things” she told me as we were leaving.

She passed me as I made my way back to Harris Manchester that night. On her bike. I laughed as I watched her stop at the intersection. In the rain. Shoes sliding across the wet pavement, acting as brakes.

Lewis Society

After a couple hours of working on an essay for my God & Israel in the Old Testament class that was due the next day, I made my way from the Harris Manchester Library to the Oxford CS Lewis Society’s lecture. Weaving in and out of traffic on the cobblestone roads, lit up by street lamps. The light reflecting off the puddles that line the streets in the night. The cool night air provided a refreshing break from being indoors so many days straight. Studying. The Lewis lecture would be a reward to myself for several days’ worth of non-stop studies.

I pulled up to the Pusey House where the lectures are held, just a few doors down from the Eagle & Child pub where Lewis used to meet with the Inklings. And I was greeted by the porter (the night watchmen, basically) as I did. He had broad shoulders that nearly filled the doorway.

“Hi there,” I said, stepping off my bike onto the sidewalk.

“Here for Lewis?” he asked in a heavy British accent.

It still surprises me. That people know I’m a student here. At Oxford. And I am, I guess. But just two weeks ago I wasn’t. Not at all. I was a business guy. Doing business things. Very much unlike the lifestyle I have here. As a student. It’s all so different. It’s such an incredible adjustment, and it happened so quickly. I think it’s going to take me a while to fully come to terms with it.

Locking up my bike under the night sky before going in for the Lewis lecture, I had another “Oh yeah…” moment. And I had to remind myself, “you are a student here, now. This really is your life.”

Greater appreciation for Lewis

Being here at Oxford has given me a greater appreciation for CS Lewis. Feels funny to say that, but it really has. To be around professors here. Even those in the Theology department, you don’t see a whole lot of them coming right out and saying, “This is what I believe.” Even less, you don’t see them writing to help the layperson with their faith. With their walk. You don’t see many here writing to help the layperson know and understand God more clearly. At least I haven’t come across that yet. The closest you’d come nowadays would probably be John Lennox. A brilliant Professor of Mathematics here at Oxford who often debates on the topic of God’s existence.

It’s little wonder why so many professors of Lewis’ day weren’t big fans of him. Professors don’t wear their faith on their sleeve like he did. That’s just the scholarly environment here. Which makes me appreciate him even more. He really stuck his neck out to do what he did, in the position he held here. But he did so because he believed in this stuff. With all he had. And because he believed it was his responsibility to use what he had to help others in their walk.

That’s a lesson for all of us, I think. We may not all be Lewises, but I don’t think God expects us to be. I think he just expects us to use what He’s given us. And I think we’ll be surprised to see what happens when we do. He can do pretty amazing things with even a small amount of faith. With even a small amount of willingness and desire to follow after Him.

You’ve got mail

I returned home late Tuesday night from a long day of studies, and from the Oxford CS Lewis Society lecture, to find two letters waiting for me. My first mail since arriving! I was so excited. Smiling like a kid on Christmas morning.

The first letter was from my Aunt Laurie and my Uncle Albert. It was a very nice, handmade card. Telling me how proud they were for the road I was on. It was so nice to hear from them.

I saved the next letter for last. The letter from Jen. I was so happy to hear from her.

I opened it with a smile on my face, and instantly the smell of Jen’s perfume came wafting out. And the smell, oh the smell! It was amazing…I cannot explain how comforting it was. Surrounding me, as if she were here, wrapping me up in a warm hug. It really was almost as if she were right here with me.

When you’re a guy living on your own, surrounded by your guy smells, the best smell in the world is the scent of a woman. Except perhaps for the smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. They’re neck and neck, probably. But when you’re a married guy who is living on your own, away from your wife, the best smell in the world is the scent of your wife. Its better than cookies.

I closed my eyes and I just held the letter to my face. For quite a while. And then I remembered it was a letter. And that Jen had actually written me something, to read, and that she had not just sent me a perfume scented envelope.

We talk every day. Twice most days. And so I wasn’t expecting a letter from her. But I can’t tell you what a welcome surprise it was. I unfolded the letter and I began reading her words. And instantly I could hear her voice. It made me smile. And cry. And smile some more. It was the best thing that’s happened to me since arriving.

Jackpot

Today was another studies-filled day.

I did get a chance to finally make it to Blackwell’s, though. To pick up a book for today’s class.

Blackwell’s is an incredible book store here in Oxford. Something like five stories of books. The basement opens up into an enormous, cavern-like room filled with books. Everywhere you can see. You really could spend hours there. I’m not sure I’d ever have the time, but you could. If you wanted. I’m looking forward to going back when I have more time.

They have a really cool cafe on the second floor. Very Oxford. I think I might try it out for studies at some point. That’s how I think now, “this place would make a nice place to study…”

I returned home tonight to find more mail. A letter from Jen’s Grandma Anne (she promised to write me once a week). And a package waiting from my grandpa.

“You’ve got a beeg box here,” Beng said as I came through the front door, in her Philipino accent.

I opened the letter from Jen’s Grandma first. It was a great letter. She’s a great writer. Filling me in on what’s going on back home. How everyone’s doing. I loved all the details. It made me feel not so far away.

She told me they were proud of me. She told me she knew Hayley would be, too. That she loved me very much. And I had to stop reading at that point. For a few seconds. To catch my breath. To let the tears fall. It still hurts. Those wounds, it seems, are still so fresh. But I did appreciate it. Her words.

My Grandpa’s box was next. He had been asking what I needed since shortly after I arrived, so I knew something would be coming at some point. But, boy, I can’t tell you how happy I was to see it.

And to open it. I felt like I had won the jackpot!

This package was amazing. I was stunned with all the food from back home.

Life cereal (my favorite, which you can’t find in England). Some protein bars to snack on during the day (so the Alternative Turk doesn’t steal all my money…I can’t prove it, but I’m 95 percent sure they’re putting nicotine in those sandwiches. I find myself wanting another chicken pesto panini two seconds after I finish one), enough crystal light for me to make juice for the entire city of Oxford, Quaker maple & brown sugar oatmeal (again, my favorite), Cheez-Its, newspapers (so I’m up to speed on what’s going on in Bellingham), a first-aid kit, vitamins (“I take a vitamin c every night before I go to bed, and I never get sick,” he always tells me), a resistance band to get some exercise in along with my studies, and, the cous de gras, Kirkland brand trail mix. Oh man… I was so excited.

He also sent me a dry erase board, which I thought was a great idea. Will be nice to have, for sure.

I put on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and began stocking my shelves. Taking a handful of trail mix, crackers, etc as I did. I really have an incredible family.

Thank you.

It was a beautiful day here yesterday morning. Blue skies that reminded me of home. Funny that a blue sky in England makes me miss home, when home is Washington State.

I made it to church for the first time yesterday. I’ve now been here for a week, and this was the first Sunday I wasn’t sleeping in.

Figuring out what to wear was a bit of a challenge. Not only had I not been to church here before, but everyone tends to dress-up in England. Full suits are not out of the ordinary. Not at all. If it’s not that, then it’s very American Apparel or Urban Outfitters. Lots of skinny jeans. Lots of mini skirts and tights. Very trendy. Shorts and a t-shirt would stick out like a sore thumb here.

My sister asked if I’d include more photos of myself here. I told her I’m trying not to appear as a tourist and be laughed at. So here’s a photo of me in my living room just before church.

Sorry for the boring background, but I hope that’s okay for now, Goose. I’ll see if I can do better tomorrow.

Church at St. Andrew’s

I went to St. Andrew’s for church this morning. It’s only a block away from where I’m living, and it had been recommended to me several times since arriving. The service was pretty similar to what we have back home. Except they speak British, of course. A little more dry, perhaps. A little less charismatic, but that’s probably to be expected.

The pastor spoke about some of the things Jesus calls us to. Fighting for the Gospel (I don’t think he mean literally, but more fighting against complacency). Depending on the Spirit. Praying at all times (which was a good reminder to me in light of an overwhelming schedule and hoping I’ll have time to sleep. And, lastly, not staying in comfortable spots or familiar surroundings, but to go. I started looking around at that point to see if someone was spying on me and knew I was going to be there that morning.

I sat next to a girl by the name of Avanda. She’s from Stratford Upon Avon (“Shakespear’s hometown,” she told me), and she’s also just starting her studies at Oxford. In English.

By the way, if ever you’re meeting a girl for the first time and your wife is nowhere close, it’s always a good idea to make it clear you’re married in the first or second sentence.

For example, “Hi, my name is Ryan. This is my first time here, and I’m happily married to the love of my life.” Or something similarly subtle. This will save you a lot of trouble.

Avana told me about a small group that meets on Thursday nights at the church. It’s made up of 20 and 30-year olds, and she said she had really enjoyed it the week before.

“I want to learn more about Jesus,” she told me. “I’ve been a Christian since I was 10, but I feel like there’s a lot I don’t know. So a good sermon and a place where I can go and learn in a small group is important to me.”

I’m thinking about making a t-shirt that says, “I want to learn more about Jesus.” Hearing that put a smile on my face.

I ran into several people I recognized from school after the service. One was a tutor I have for a class on Jesus and The Gospels. I was pretty encouraged by that. Especially since a guy at school a couple days before had told me not to be surprised if none of my Theology professors are believers.

This particular tutor is from the States, as well. His name is Dave. He grabbed my arm as I was on my way out of church and introduced me to his wife, Julia, and his new baby girl, Naomi. She was just three months old and she had a cute, flowery  headband on. Like a little sign that read, “I’m a girl.”

Dave and Julia seem great. Very chill. Very nice. They asked all about where I was living, how the transition was going for me, when my wife was going to be joining me… They said they’ll have to have us over after Jen has arrived and settled in. I left feeling like someone had wrapped me in a big, fuzzy blanket fresh out of the dryer. It was so nice.

Lunch with the family

Jane was just getting ready to head out for a run when I got in after church. I told her I had attended St. Andrew’s that morning and I had really enjoyed it. She had recommended it to me before, telling me some previous students who had lived with them had become really involved there. So I think she liked hearing that I had gone.

“Would you like to join us for lunch today?” she asked. “My parents would be over, and it’d be nice for you to meet them.”

“Yeah, that’d be great!” I said.

“Okay. Wonderful. We’ll see you at 12:30 or 12:45, then,” she said with a smile. She has a wonderful smile. I think she gave it to Felix. He has the same one.

I made a quick trip to the market in between church and lunch. To pick up a few things. I changed out of my church clothes when I returned and I made my way over to the house. Just through the hall and doorway, really.

I was greeted by an older man in a blue shirt and grey sweater. His white hair made his blue eyes stand out behind his glasses.

“You must be Ryan,” he said as I made my way in.

“Yes, yes I am.” I said. “And you must be Jane’s father?” I asked.

“Yes, Scotty. Or grampa. Whichever you like,” he said with a smile.

We talked a bit by the door before making our way into the kitchen and joining the rest of the family. It smelled wonderful. Like they had been baking breads all morning.

Margaret, Scotty’s wife introduced herself with a smile. Again, Margaret or “Grandma.”

I took a seat at the table with Scotty. Jane and Justin were working on something in the kitchen. Whatever it was smelled amazing. Felix was putting on his soccer socks with a girl who looked to be a couple years older than him. His cousin, as it turned out. Elisa.

Another woman entered the room and introduced herself as Maria. Jane’s sister. And Elisa’s mom. She was super nice. Dark hair that dropped to her shoulders. She reminded me of people from back home. Very laid back.

Scotty asked me about my studies. What I had been doing before coming over.

I told him how this was a total life change for me. And I was still adjusting to it. I told him I went from always being on my cell phone to not owning one. How I went from driving from home to work to meetings, to not owning a vehicle. Not even owning a bike. And how, in a way, it was kind of nice. The simplified life. How it was a bit of an escape, and how it helped me realize I could get on without those things just fine.

He raised his eyebrows as if he were surprised. As if to say, “Wow. I don’t know how you do it!” Which is kind of funny, because he’s 81.

Margaret finished washing some berries she was preparing for a dessert and joined us at the table.

They told me about a family member of theirs who had made the switch from teaching to the ministry. They told me about one of their kids and his wife who had triplets their first go around.

“Oh wow,” I said. “That’s quite the way to start off. So, did they call that good?”

“Oh no,” Margaret spoke up. “They had a couple more after that.”

Felix had been in and out of the room. Getting his soccer gear on. Or football gear.

“You ready to go out back and kick the ball around?” Scotty asked from the table.

Elisa joined the two of them out back. It put a smile on my face. To see Scotty take his grandkids out to kick the soccer ball around like that. I felt blessed to be welcomed into their home and experience all of this.

“Felix has two goalies to get by,” I said with a laugh, looking over my shoulder at the game of football being arranged in the backyard. I laughed as Felix kicked a goal on his grandfather and Elisa. “Goooooal.” I said with a smile.

Maria laughed. “Yeah, but the thing is, neither one of them are very good! Not as good as Felix.”

Jane filled our plates with a flat bread and sundried tomato dish and brought them to the table. It was amazing. Like pizza for grownups.

“This is really, really good.” I told Jane as she joined us.

“Oh, this is Justin’s work.” She said, sitting down.

The goal must’ve been for the win, because the three football players made their way back to the kitchen afterward. Felix wore a smile as he bounced the ball on the grass. Probably still proud of the goal. I would’ve been. It was a good shot.

Hard night

I had a lot of Greek catch up on, which equated to saying goodbye after an amazing lunch (and dessert) rather abruptly, and spending the next eight hours or so studying Greek. Not how I like to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon, but that’s how it goes here.

It ended up being a hard night, too. After studying all day. My homesickness really caught up with me, and all I could think about was how much I missed Jen and wanted her with me. Or to be with her. Either way, at that point.

Jen was supposed to be skyping in with me after they got out of church. Her younger cousins were supposed to be joining her. Brenan and Evan. Two boys I really enjoy, but didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to.

I was watching the clock closely, trying to gauge when they’d call. It wasn’t making for an efficient Greek study, but it was all I could think about.

I was so happy to hear from Jen by the time she finally skyped me. It was just her.

“Shannon (Jen’s aunt) and the boys should be here anytime, but I thought I’d say ‘hi’ quickly first.”

I was just so happy to see her, I didn’t care if she brought the whole church with her. There’s nothing better than seeing Jen’s face after a long day here.

A few minutes into our conversation, Jen’s family came wandering upstairs to say hello. It was great to see them, too. Brenan was only a year old or so when Jen and I first started dating, so I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember a time before he and I were good buds. Even though he’s now, what, 11? He still comes and finds my lap at birthday parties. Oh, man, I miss that little guy!

Evan, his older brother (second oldest of three) likes animals. A lot. If you ever get the chance to meet him, ask him if he’s caught any frogs lately. Or snakes. You’ll immediately have something to talk about.

We wrapped up our skype and I returned to my Greek, knowing I had a lot to get done.

And it was a rough night. I was still missing family, and I was having a tough time on my Greek. Midnight came and passed and I was feeling horrible. Like crying, actually. “What in the world am I doing here?” I thought to myself. My wife is there. My entire family is there. Greek is here…

I checked to see if Jen was still on skype. She was. I called her up to chat. To tell her how I was feeling.

“Hey, sorry to bug you again, hun. I’m just really having a tough time here. I still have a bunch of work left on my Greek assignment, and it’s already 12:30 here. I have an essay due tomorrow for my Gospels & Jesus class. I’m not getting this Greek. I’m just not getting it. And I need sleep. I know I do.”

If I had ever felt like a man before, I didn’t after that.

“Ryan, it’s only been a week,” were her words. I recently told my best friend Steve one of the things I value most about Jen is that she’s a straight-shooter. She never tells me what I want to hear just because she thinks it’s what I want to hear. This was a perfect case in point.

“You knew this was going to be tough, but it’ll get easier. I’m not surprised the Greek is still difficult at this point, but it will get easier. You just have to keep working at it. You should get some rest, get up in the morning and get a little bit done before class.”

She was right. I knew I needed sleep. I just hated leaving things unfinished.

I closed up my Greek textbook and made my way upstairs. I was so happy to crawl into bed. It was nearly 1:00. 7:00 was going to come early.

Good morning

I made my way to Greek straight away. Studying flash cards while I walked. I had a 30-minute walk, so a good amount of time to get some studying done on my way.

I passed a group of catering vans and lighting equipment on my way past the Bodleian Library. “Another film set?” I thought to myself. Turns out it was. But not X-Men 4 this time. Nor was it Harry Potter. But a BBC show called Inspector Lewis. It’s weird to have your school be the set of so many different movies and tv shows.

The Oxford student paper had a photo of X-Men 4 being filmed on campus the other day on its cover. James Macavoy is playing the role of Professor Xavier as a young student at Oxford, in the movie, apparently. He studied Theology and Philosophy. I had literally just snapped a photo of the spot they were shooting the day before. A popular spot with an arched stone bridge that connects two buildings.

I made it to class about 10 minutes early, expecting to be the only one there. I was not. My professor was seated at a table helping another student. Neither one of them looked up, so I found my seat and went through some more flash cards.

A few minutes later, Rhona (my professor’s first name. She lets us call her by it) got up from the desk and made her way to the front of the room, smiling at me as she went.

“Good morning, Ryan. How are you?”

“Eh, I’m doing okay. I worked really hard on my Greek this weekend, and I managed to get caught up, but I still have some work to do. I didn’t completely finish today’s assignment. I ended up calling it quits around 12:30.”

“Good. As you should.” She said. “You need your rest. We’ll have a test on vocabulary today, but you just keep at it.”

She cared more about my well-being than finishing her assignment. I was so relieved.

A second year student came up to the front of the room before class began. I had recognized him from a university meeting we both sat in a week before, but this was the first time I had seen him in class.

Apparently he didn’t realize he needed to be in class last week, but he was hoping to still get into the class. Rhona’s eyebrows raised halfway up her forehead when she heard this.

“What’s your familiarity with Greek?” She asked him.

“Uh, what do you mean?” he asked

“Have you taken Greek before?”

“No.”

“Do you know the Greek script?”

“No. No, I don’t.”

“Well, you’re welcome to join us, but you’ll have a lot of catching up to do,” she told him, offering her textbook for him to borrow for the day.

“You’ll need to pick up your own copy at Blackwell’s straight away after class.”

I know I shouldn’t have, but this actually made me feel kind of good. Like maybe I wouldn’t be the worst Greek Student in class. I know, I know. That’s not right of me…

I sat next to a couple guys from Wycliffe Hall this morning. Wycliffe as a college is known for preparing people in Theology for the ministry. For ordinancy, as they call it. I got talking to a couple of them after class. Really cool guys. Both maybe a few years older than me. Both married. We had a lot in common, it seemed.

John had been a secondary school teacher before making this change. I have no understanding of the British educational system whatsoever. But whenever anyone talks about this or that year of school, about “A-Levels” or the like, I just nod my head like I know what they’re talking about. Of course I know all about the British school system…

Lynde, the other guy, is from New Zealand. He was a stock trader in London before deciding to go back to school to study Theology.

“So your wife is not getting here until the end of the month?” Lynde asked after class.

“Yeah. Not until the 28th.” A look of pain spread across both of their faces.

“Oh man, I am sorry. That sucks.” Lynde replied, both with his face and with his words.

“Well look, how would you like to have lunch at Wycliffe Hall?” John asked me.

“Yeah, that’d be great!” I said.

“I’d like to chat with you some more, too,” Lynde said. “How about coming over to our house for dinner with my family?”

I left class feeling so encouraged, again. Such amazing people here. I’m sure they can sense my sinking feeling, and the fact that they are willing to go out of their way like that…it means so much.

My First Essay

I spent the rest of the day in the library. Working on my essay. My first. I was to answer the question, “Historically speaking, why was Jesus crucified?”

This was my kind of assignment. To read. To write. To talk about it (that part comes tomorrow, in class). This I can do.

I arrived in the library at about 10: 30 or so. I left at 6:30, after e-mailing my professor (Dave, from church) my essay. Feeling completely relieved, I promised myself a run after I got home. It would be my first since arriving. It was a treat, for sure.

Death Cab for Cutie, Snow Patrol, Angels & Airwaves and Sleigh Bells played the soundtrack for my run in the cool evening air. It was dark, at 7:30, but there were a bunch of joggers out. I was certainly not alone. It felt great.

I decided to go north, instead of heading back into the Oxford center. To the neighborhood of Summertown. It was really nice, actually. They even had a Starbucks on a corner with big windows looking out over the street. It reminded me of the Bakerview location back home. I’m looking forward to spending some time there with Jen, when she arrives.

Jogging home, I passed a house with an incredible smell pouring out into the streets. It reminded me of the biscuits my grandfather used to make for me growing up. Just Bisquick and water. They looked like the ugliest biscuits you’ve ever seen. Really spiky. Not rounded in the least bit. Drop biscuits. But they were amazing. With scrambled eggs. And Jimmy Dean sausage (“He doesn’t keep a penny of the proceeds he makes off of these, you know that, Ryan?” he’d ask me).

When I get home, I’m going to go to my Grandpa’s house for breakfast and make some biscuits. You’re welcome to join me if you like. Grandpa loves cooking for crowds.

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.

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.

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