Archives for posts with tag: Dr Kennedy

Friday: Playing catch up

I had a European Reformation test to make up during Friday of third week. I was supposed to take the test before the term began with everyone else, but since I was still back in the States, I was allowed to make it up on my own.

“I ought to go this route every time,” I thought to myself as I made my way to Harris Manchester and my spot in the library where I’d be taking my exam. It’s much less stressful taking an exam on your own than it is in a room full of other test-takers with someone seated at the front of the room.

I passed by Katrina, the librarian, at the printer as I made my way through one pair of double doors, and before passing through the next set.

“Good morning, Ryan,” she said with a smile, turning to face me as I entered the library. “You have a collection today, don’t you?”

“I do, yes,” I said, taking another step toward the library’s second set of double doors, before pausing and turning back toward Katrina. “How do you feel about the European Reformation, by the way?”

“Oh, well, I have too much to say about it, probably,” was her response.

“Perfect. Are you free at 2:00 for a collection, then?”

“Well…”, Katrina said with a pause, and a bit of a smile. “You’d probably better do it, you’d do a better job, she said, nodding her head.”

“Okay, okay…” I said heavily, turning and making my way toward my seat upstairs in the library. I had a few hours to study before my exam that afternoon, so I got to work, going through my old notes.

That is until 11:00 rolled around and all I could think about was getting my hands on a cup of tea… It’s funny how quickly that happens to me here. I hardly drink tea back in the States. But here, I typically drink several cups a day. With milk and sugar. I think my body knows when I’m in England and demands it. My stomach would likely revolt if I tried to go without it.

At 1:00, I made a break for the dining hall to grab a quick bite for lunch. I was in and out in 10 minutes, the first one.  “Thanks!” I called out to the head server as I skipped down the stairs from the dining hall, across the college grounds, and back up to the library with an apple in hand.

I began my exam at 2:00 and three hours later, with numb fingers from holding my pencil so hard, I placed my exam papers back into the folder they came to me in and stowed them in my advisor’s pigeon hole in the mail room. It was a good feeling to have that test wrapped up and no longer hanging over my head. Now I could focus on my weekly essays without worrying about studying material I had taken last spring. And, best of all, I was fairly confident I passed.

Saturday: The first enchiladas in CS Lewis’s dining room

We decided to have a house dinner Saturday night at the Kilns. Jonathan and Debbie and Jen and I, as well as our short-term scholar, David. The philosophy professor from Texas. Jen and I were in town for the day, and so we offered to pick up something to make. Earlier in the day, I suggested Mexican food. Jonathan seemed to like the idea, so Mexican food it was.

I laughed to myself as we found our seats around the dining room table that evening, thinking it was probably the first time enchiladas had ever been enjoyed from C.S. Lewis’s old dining room… The warm cheese and salsa lathered tortillas, stuffed full with chicken, went down easily, along with the conversation. We laughed over stories, and, at some point, Ray Stevens came up in conversation. Debbie and David and I (and I only because of my Grandfather) were the only ones who knew who Ray Stevens was, so we decided to pull up some of his songs on Youtube and we watched them from the dining room. Laughing, somewhat embarrassingly, at his ridiculous humor. If it was not, in fact, the first time enchiladas had been enjoyed from C.S. Lewis’s old dining room, Ray Stevens, I was sure, had to be a first.

Sunday: A Stadium of Saints and Tea with Walter

We woke up Sunday morning and made our way by foot to Holy Trinity Church, the local Anglican church where C.S. Lewis used to attend. Jen and I had never been before, as it was quite a ways away for us when we were living in north Oxford last year, but now it was only a 10-minute walk. And so that’s where we went on this particular Sunday morning.

We came up to the small village church, surrounded by an old graveyard (as they all are) just as the church bells began to ring. We walked a little fast and pressed through the large, wooden arched door before finding our seats toward the front of the congregation.

The small church was filled with people. Locals. Families and older couples. A few young couples. The room was interspersed with high-rising stone columns. And the ceiling came to an arched point. All the pews were faced toward a large, stained glass scene in the front of the church, where a choir had gathered. And the service began nearly as quickly as we took our seats. We sang. Hymns, of course. And then a brief message from a man in his late 40’s who wore his long, blonde hair in a ponytail against his white Anglican robe.

He began his message by telling a story about a young boy who was excited about his first trip to a live football (soccer) match, and the overwhelming feeling of being seated in the packed stadium as the football players took to the field, with the air blazing full of the sound of cheers. And, almost immediately, I found myself slightly disappointed. I’m not usually one to criticize a sports metaphor in sermons, as trite as they may be for most, but a sports metaphor for a sport I don’t actually play, that’s a bit more difficult for me. But I continued to listen in, of course, intently, trusting that this pony-tailed man would actually have something of importance to pull from the story.

He talked about how this young boy was struck by this image of the stadium full of people cheering for the athletes, and how he knew, at that moment that he wanted to become a professional football player himself one day. After carrying on this story for a while, the vicar changed the picture just slightly. Instead of football fans, he asked us to picture a stadium full of saints. The men and women who had come before us in the service of the Lord. Who had pressed on toward the goal laid before them with unswerving affection for their Lord. And he asked us to picture not professional football players on the field, but ourselves. Stepping out onto the freshly cut grass, surrounded by thousands and thousands of cheering saints. Cheering us on. Encouraging us to fight the good fight of life, for His glory. Just as they themselves had centuries before us. Cheering each of us on.

And I found myself enraptured by this picture. I found myself so encouraged. It’s easy, in the day to day busyness of life, to think that it doesn’t matter, in the grand scheme of things. That I simply have to meet this deadline, or do that, or pick up this. And you go to bed at night. And you wake up the next day only to do it again. And you feel as though none of it, in the long run, really matters all that much.

But this scene reminded me that it does. All of it. Each day. Each moment, is an opportunity to point our lives toward Him, and in doing so, to point others toward Him. And, in so doing, to point others toward a life that, really, truly does matter. And will matter for all of eternity.

It was a reminder I needed on this particular morning. And as the pony-tailed vicar concluded his message, he looked at us all with a warm, subtle smile, and eyes of understanding, and he left us with these words: “Keep the faith.”

Theology Through Art

After the church service, we wandered down a narrow footpath to a small community center where the congregation was gathering for coffee and fellowship. Jen and I each grabbed a coffee and cookie and found Jonathan, who was talking with a friend. He introduced us to her. “Nancy” was her name. And we asked how they knew each other.

“Swing dancing,” Jonathan told us, in his full-bodied, rich English accent.

My eyebrows went up.

“Oh wow,” I said. “I didn’t take you to be a swing dancer.”

“Well I wasn’t, until Nancy introduced me to it,” he told us.

“You guys ought to come out one night,” Nancy said, looking toward Jen and I, in her American accent.

“Oh, well… I’m not a very good dancer,” I admitted. “The only time we’ve ever taken dance lessons I nearly turned Jen’s toes black and blue.”

They laughed. But Jen nodded with a smile, as if to tell them it wasn’t a joke.

I asked Nancy what she was doing in Oxford and she told us she was studying. Art history.

“But I’m interested in theology,” she told us, as if to clarify.

She told us she wanted to communicate theology, but not through theology. Through her appreciation of art history.

I was clearly excited when I heard this, and the wide grin on my face surely gave it away. I thought what she said was beautiful. I think that’s what we all ought to aim for. Communicating His important truths in all that we do. In our own areas of expertise. In our everyday. All of it aimed at helping others see Him more clearly.

My mind began to run away as we stood there, listening to Nancy describe her passion for theology and art. I found myself thinking how theology ought not be something we’re scared of. Or reluctant to approach. It should be something that’s so ingrained in us that we cannot help but allow it to pour out of us, in whatever it is we’re doing.

And I stood there, smiling widely as the four of us talked over coffee and cookies.

Tea with Walter

That evening, I hopped on a bus and headed to North Oxford. To Walter’s home. He had invited me over after I sent him an e-mail Tuesday night. Sharing with him how I felt during the Lewis Society’s Annual General Meeting. How I was certain that, even if everyone in the room decided I was completely incompetent and unsuitable for my role as Society President, that he would stick up from me and stop them from throwing me out the window.

And so I made my way to his home this Sunday evening. To talk about the Society. And to catch up. I hadn’t been to his home since we had returned to Oxford, and I was excited to see him again.

Jen had decided to stay home, as the talk was likely to be more Society-business oriented than pure socializing. Next time we met, she would have to come, we both decided.

I got off the bus at the entrance to Woodstock Close, the lane that leads to Walter’s home, and made my way to his front door. I rang the doorbell and a few moments later I was greeted by his old familiar voice, “Well helloooo,” he said with his warm smile, which matched the warm air spilling out from his home into the cool hallway where I stood.

He took my coat and led me into the living room, where everything stood just as I remembered it. The tall greek statue in the corner of the room. Lewis’s bronze  head. The ivory-colored busts beside the fireplace. And Blessed Lucy of Narnia, Walter’s cat, asleep on the corner of the back of his couch. It was all perfect. And it was all just as I remembered.

Walter petted Lucy, making known my presence (“You see, Uncle Ryan has returned!”), and invited me to take a seat in the high, wing-backed chair where I always sit, as he sat opposite me on the couch.

“I must tell you,” Walter began as we took our seats, “when I read your e-mail the other day, I thought to myself, ‘Was he even there?'”

Walter when on to tell me that he thought I had done a wonderful job at the Society meeting this past week, and in overseeing the Annual General Meeting, particularly as I had never even attended an AGM, let alone lead one.

“You mustn’t be so hard on yourself,” Walter assured me in his kind, sympathetic voice. “You really do make a wonderful President.”

We went on to talk about many other things over tea and cookies, as Blessed Lucy of Narnia slept away in the warm living room. We talked about the history of the Society, we talked about books, and we talked, of course, about Lewis.

“What was it like being around Lewis?” I later asked Walter before taking a sip of hot tea. “I mean, there are many brilliant people here in Oxford, and it’s often very intimidating. Was it like that with Lewis?”

Walter’s eyebrows crunched together, nearly meeting in the center of his forehead, before he began to answer my question. I could tell he was thinking about my question.

“You know, he really was so kind,” Walter began. “When we would be in conversation with some of his friends, I would sometimes make a point, and then he would pick it up and run with it. And then, afterward, he would come back to me, as though I had said something quite brilliant, when clearly it was he who was the brilliant one.”

Walter paused, as if to travel back in time to the scene he was telling me about. The room fell quiet for a moment as he took in this memory. And then his eyes returned to me.

“Lewis once told me,” Walter continued, picking up the conversation, “The wisest among us are gentlest to the raw.”

I sat back in my chair with a smile. I loved that. There are enough brilliant people here in Oxford who know they’re brilliant, and who want to make sure you know it. And that can be a bit intimidating. And I loved to hear that Lewis wasn’t like that.

I loved to hear that, even though his brilliance could be as fierce as a lion, he did not allow it to be that way when it was inappropriate. Instead, he tamed it, so that what those of us less brilliant than himself experienced in being around him, including Walter, was not the razor sharp edge and brunt force of his brilliance in violent attack, but a gentleness that understood the difference, and was keen to not make others feel humiliated by it.

We talked for a bit longer. And we looked over some of the books from Walter’s library, including some copies of Kipling’s works. Some of the books had previously been a part of Albert Lewis’s personal library (Lewis’s father), before they became the possession of Lewis and his brother Warnie.

“Amazing,” I said aloud, as I flipped gently through the heavy pages of the old books.

I thanked Walter for his time and company as I took up my coat. I thanked him for encouraging me in my role as President. And I thanked him for an incredible afternoon.

And as I made my way across town back to the Kilns, and back to Jen, I was warmed, even in the cold night air, by this man’s friendship.

Fourth Week

Monday: Our Culturally Relevant Library

I made my way to the Harris Manchester library on Monday. On Halloween. I nearly forgot it was Halloween, that is until I entered the library and found the library skeleton waiting at the door to greet me.

I found Katrina, the librarian, sitting behind her computer. I pointed out the skeleton at the door with a laugh as I passed by her. She smiled. And laughed, quietly.

“Well it’s not me who does that, you know?” Katrina said in a voice just above a whisper. “It’s like that when I arrive in the morning, so it’s done after I leave. I do think it’s a good spot for it, though. It provides a nice welcome.”

“Yes, a skeleton… A very warm welcome!” I said with a laugh. Katrina laughed, too. “Well, I suppose it is Halloween, isn’t it?” I said.

Katrina looked off for a moment, to think, “I suppose it is, isn’t it? Well yes, we like to think we’re relevant to culture.”

I laughed.

“It was done subconsciously, you know,” she said with a smile as I waved goodbye and made my way upstairs to spend the day reading.

Halloween from the Kilns

I returned to the Kilns that night. Jen and I enjoyed dinner from the kitchen, just the two of us. And then Debbie joined us, talking as we finished our dinner. We nodding our heads as we chewed. And then the conversation moved to the common room, and soon Jonathan and David joined us.

And so there we sat, until nearly midnight. All of us gathered around in the common room. It was a wonderful, family-like atmosphere. It hardly felt like Halloween, though, for we didn’t receive a single trick-or-treater.

“If I were a kid in this neighborhood,” I said, “I would make sure to trick-or-treat at C.S. Lewis’s home.”

Heads nodded, and the conversation continued. Until, finally, one by one, we retreated to our bedrooms to turn in for the night.

Tuesday: Realizing I stole Alister McGrath’s seat

I returned to Harris Manchester on Tuesday, to get a bit of reading done before making my way to my Calvin tutorial. And I ran into Sue, the librarian, before hitting the wide, stone staircase that leads into the library.

I had attended a lecture in college the night before, before returning home. And Sue had been seating behind me. She made a comment as I sat down that I had stolen Alister McGrath‘s seat, which I shook off with a laugh, thinking she was just joking. (If you haven’t heard of Alister McGrath, he took a First in Chemistry here at Oxford in the 70’s, as an atheist, was converted to Christianity and then decided he wanted to study Theology, after a respectable career in the Sciences. He went on to take a First in Theology and now teaches around the world on Theology, and he writes more books than I am confident is physically possible for any one man). As it turns out, Sue wasn’t joking. I had, in fact, stolen Alister McGrath’s seat in the previous night’s lecture…

“Well thanks for pointing that out,” I told her, sarcastically. “I feel pretty good about myself now!”

“Oh, yes, you’re welcome,” she said in her warm British accent, with her squinty-eyed smile. Sue went on to tell me about a conversation she once had with Professor McGrath.

“I asked him once if he realized that wherever he goes people whisper, ‘There goes Alister McGrath…’ And he got all red in the cheeks and said, “Maybe… Yes.” He’s a very shy, very humble man, you know.”

“Better that way than the other, though, isn’t it?” I told her.

“Yes, he’s not interested in that, you know? Not at all. Unlike some.”

“Yes, I think that’s refreshing,” I told Sue. “A good reminder for us all, I think.”

“Indeed,” Sue said, before I told her ‘goodbye’ and made my way up to the library for another day’s worth of reading.

Wednesday: Talking with Dr Kennedy about Jesus

I presented my paper on Jesus’ identity to Dr Kennedy on Wednesday for my modern theology course. I had hurried to make it to his office on-time, cycling across Oxford’s city center from Harris Manchester as quickly as possible, and then hurrying up the narrow staircase to his room. From his third-story office, lined with book shelves filled to the brim with theology texts, I read my paper aloud. I was short of breath, from the ride, and so I struggled through the first bit, before finally catching my breath around 2,000 words into my essay, and then finishing up the second half of it at a much more comfortable pace.

We talked about how Jesus is said to be both “fully God, and fully man,” and whether or not this actually made any sense. Some theologians say it doesn’t, even though this is a long-held creed of the Christian faith. Others say it does. Still others say, whether it makes sense conceptually or not to us, that it remains true, even as it remains beyond our comprehension.

Dr Kennedy–or Philip, as he encourages me to call him–asked if I thought Jesus would agree with the many doctrines about Him that had been put to paper in the first several centuries following his death. If Jesus would agree with the way the Church has decided to talk about him.

I said “yes,” I did, only to be met with Philip’s eyes rising with a look of surprise behind his glasses. He told me he found it quite difficult to imagine.

“In principle,” I clarified. “Yes I do.”

He went on to talk about how many scholars propose the only way to know anything about Jesus is to observe his actions. Dr Kennedy told me this was the theory he followed most closely to.

“I remember growing up and being told you need to go to a good school, you need to work really hard and then you need to earn a great income,” Philip told me, with a voice that seemed to mock those who had told him this as a young boy. “And I remember thinking, ‘I don’t find this anywhere in the Gospels!'”

And it was on this point that I found myself agreeing with Philip. Wholeheartedly. And then, before I knew it, our hour together was up. It had completely flown by.

“It goes quickly,” Dr Kennedy said, acknowledging the time.

“Yes, especially when I’m reading a 4,000-word essay!” I said.

Dr Kennedy encouraged me not to tell others about my mean tutor who makes me read my 4,000-word essay aloud. I told him I took the blame for the long essay, as we made our way downstairs. He grabbed some notes from the printer and handed them to me, with some additional references to look at for our conversation, and for my preparations for final exams.

“Keep up the great work, Ryan,” Dr Kennedy told me with a warm smile from behind his glasses. “You’re doing very well.”

And I found myself frozen in that moment, as I stood there in the hallway of the Theology Faculty Department. Taken aback by the realization that, even as we agreed to disagree on this particular essay, my work was being praised by one of Oxford’s rather high-chaired theologians. And I was in awe.

“Thank you,” I told him in response, wearing what I’m sure was an ear-to-ear grin. “I’ll see you in two weeks’ time.”

“See you in two weeks’ time,” he replied. “If not sooner.”

Leaving the Theology Faculty Center on broad street, I hopped on my bike and ran a few errands around town. The sky was thick with cloud cover. Like a giant cotton ball duvet, laid over the entire skyline. Impenetrable, it seemed. The cool air was ruffled only by a slight wind, which echoed with a hollow sound in my ear as I rode. Like a seashell held to a child’s ear.

After my errands, I grabbed a sandwich from the Alternative Tuck Shop and sat down on one of the overstuffed, dark brown leather chairs in the JCR back at Harris Manchester to eat my lunch. It was 4:30, by this point, and it felt so good to stop long enough to catch my breath. And to grab a quick bite. But that feeling did not last long, as I quickly remembered I had agreed to read Scripture at Chapel that evening. The service began in an hour, which left me with just enough time to enjoy a cup of tea and respond to some e-mails. Back to the library I went, with a cup of tea in-hand…

Thursday: FBI security in the Bodleian Library

I needed to find a book in the Bodleian Library on Thursday. For one of my essays. I couldn’t find it anywhere else, and so I made my way to the Radcliffe Camera, one of my favorite buildings in Oxford.

The Bodleian Library is a very high-security place in Oxford. While visitors can see most of the colleges around Oxford during special “visiting hours,” the Bodleian is generally off-limits. As you make your way through the gate and across the footpath that leads between two sections of green lawn in front of the Radcliffe Camera, you’re greeted by little signs along the way, prohibiting certain activities. This sign reads, “No photos.” That sign reads, “No visitors.” And then, as you pass through the front door, you’re greeted by more signs. “No smoking” on this one. “No food” on that one.  “No making forts in the middle of the library with books and staging attacks on other book-forts…” Okay, I made that last one up, but all the rest of the signs can be found in bold letters.

It was the first time I had been in the Rad Cam since returning, and I was surprised by the new security system that was in place. After being cleared by the gentleman behind the front desk, who checked my student ID and my bag, I was surprised to find an electronic gate that had been installed. I tried to pass through it, only to be met by a blaring alarm that erupted in the otherwise silent library. I had not seen the electronic security access signs that told me to swipe my card, and, once again, I had made a fool of myself in the library.

I swiped my card and quickly passed through the space, doing my best to not be noticed as the guy who set off the alarm, and I made my way down the stairs that led into the library’s newest space: The Gladstone Link. It’s an underground space that was recently opened to allow for even more books to be viewed. I followed the staircase downstairs. The stairs and walls were built out of a light-colored stone, and I felt like I was walking into a museum exhibit. The stairs were lit from blue lights hidden under the handrail, which created a rather ominous setting. It was quiet, and I passed through several glass doors. As I continued down several flights of stairs, passing further and further underground, I felt like I was entering some sort of top-secret, underground FBI archives. Finally, I entered into a large, cavernous room, a basement of the basement, where my book was waiting for me, along with an afternoon of reading.

Friday: How a Good God Can Allow Bad Things To Happen

I spent most of Friday back in the Radcliffe Camera, plowing through several books and my essay on John Calvin, which was due that afternoon. I took a break at 1:00 to head to the Mitre Pub for a quick bite and a lecture that my friend Tom Price from RZIM was giving. It was on the topic of “How a good God can allow bad things to happen,” and I was looking forward to hearing how he addressed what I believe to be the most difficult question facing Christianity.

I ran into Tim from Harris Manchester at the talk, in the food line, as we filled up our plates before the talk. He told me he was heading north to Manchester for the weekend. For the Manchester United match. I thought that sounded pretty exciting, as Manchester United is one of the most famous sports teams in the world. I nearly told him I was going to celebrate the weekend by watching a giant, wooden effigy of a man burn in the park, but I didn’t. (Stay tuned for that story, by the way…)

Tom began his talk shortly after we took our seats. As we bit into our sandwiches, Tom reminded us that a man by the name of C.S. Lewis once frequented this room, “Where he used to eat his Sunday lunches,” Tom told us. My eyes got big as I chewed my sandwich.

Tom approached his talk with grace and sensitivity, which I appreciated. It’s a topic one can approach only with their intellect, and risk seeming cold and uncaring, particularly for those who’ve experienced deep amounts of pain and wonder how in the world a good God could allow such incredibly evil things to happen.

He began with a quote from Lewis, and the reason why Lewis believed this particular argument was one that prevented him and others from coming to God for so long:

If God were good, He would make His creatures perfectly happy, and if He were almighty He would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”

He went on to talk about Steve Jobs, and how this very same argument turned Jobs away from God at a very young age. Tom went on to argue that, in a world where true beauty and true love exists, so too much choice (for, as he and others have argued, true love cannot exist without choice). He went on to point out how the Christian faith explains all of the badness we now experience as the cumulative result of our choice gone terribly wrong, generation after generation after generation.

Tom made several other points in his talk. And he went to say that, for many of us, it is only in our experiences of pain and suffering that we realize our need for God.

“Take that away,” he explained, “And most of us will go on thinking we can make our way through life without any need for Him.”

And I thought that point was interesting. It was one I had heard before, but for some reason, hearing it made on this particular occasion caused me stop and think, even as Tom continued his talk.

I found myself remembering an article I once read about a very rare disorder in which some people are born without the ability to feel pain. The article told about those with this disorder who would put their hand on a hot burner without realizing it was actually on, only to be alerted to the fact of their injury by the smell of their burning flesh. It told of others who had broken a bone in their leg, without realizing it, only to go on walking as if everything was normal, all the while their injury was getting worse and worse and worse, putting the individual at great danger.

The article explained that, while the idea of living life without pain may sound like a great blessing, at first, it actually comes at a great price for those who experience this incredibly rare disorder. Many who have it experience worse injuries than they would otherwise, because the sting of pain that most of us feel–pain which is there to warn us of even greater injury–passes them by, and they go on hurting themselves even more than they normally would, often times without even realizing it.

And I thought this was applicable to the point Tom was now making, as he talked about how often times it’s only the pain and suffering we experience in this world that leads us to God. Were we not to experience the painful consequences of our life choices, we would likely continue down the same painful road, completely unaware of just how bad things were getting. We would continue to journey further and further away from Him, further into greater and greater darkness, without realizing it.

But, thankfully, we do feel pain. We do feel the brunt force of suffering. In fact, we all have this shared sense that things simply aren’t how they are supposed to be. That things have gone painfully wrong. And that we need something to make it right. That we need something to make us right.

I was chewing on this thought when I was rushed back to the conversation at hand in the upstairs room at the Mitre Pub at the mention of C.S. Lewis’s name, who was once again being quoted by Tom. It was a quote I was fondly familiar with. A quote from the book Mere Christianity. The very same book that had caused me to look into Theology and Oxford in the first place.

‘If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong?’ For many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question…My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such a violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish could not feel wet.”

That was the thought I found myself chewing on even as I left Tom’s talk that afternoon. That this very awareness of pain and suffering in the world–the feeling I hate so much, the overwhelming feeling that brings tears to my eyes and stops me dead in my tracks with not a moment’s notice–it all points me to Him. This sense of right and wrong and justice must come from outside of this world, for this world, as long as we have known it, has always been broken.

A broken down world cannot recognize its own brokenness, not if that’s what it has always known. No, it takes something that is not broken, something that remains outside of this brokenness, to properly recognize the current state of affairs as broken. This point causes us to look outside our world, beyond our world, to a God who is, Himself, the opposite of this brokenness. Who is, indeed, just and good, where here we seem to experience only the opposite. Indeed, it appears, our innate sense that things simply are not as they ought to be and frustration at this truth, far from causing us to turn our backs on God, causes us to turn toward Him, knowing that if it weren’t for Him and for His goodness, we wouldn’t feel this way in the first place.

I made my way back to the Radcliffe Camera and back to my essay, even as I continued to think about this. I climbed up the spiral, stone staircase leading into the upstairs half of the Rad Cam as my mind continued to walk through Tom’s talk, and it came to land on another quote made in this afternoon’s talk. It was a quote from an American Philosopher by the name of Alvin Plantinga. A highly respected academic who teaches at The University of Notre Dame. It was Plantinga who once said, in consideration of this question of suffering and pain and evil, and how it all works in light of the good, loving, powerful God of Christianity, “The chief difference between Christianity and other theistic religions, lies just here: according to the Christian gospel, God is willing to enter into the sufferings of his creatures, in order to redeem them and his world.”

And I thought that was beautiful. Not because it answered all my questions, but because it reminded me of the God we worship. Even in light of such insurmountable pain and suffering. Even amidst the kind of grief and sorrow that seems to steal all one’s joy, we worship a God who not only has a plan to overcome the darkness, but who has already enacted that plan, and who is redeeming our broken story from the inside out, through Himself. Through His Son. And through the greatest sacrifice the world has ever known.

Back to the Rad Cam

I continued to think about this as I passed through the second story doorway of the Radcliffe Camera, and I gazed upward at the giant dome-ceiling, which rises more than 100-feet in the air as I made my way into the library.

The upstairs of the Rad Cam is home to thousands and thousands of the Bodleian’s history books. It has two stories, with an open-air second floor. It’s unbelievable, really, that it’s a library. It’s beautiful enough to be the kind of chapel you’d find in Rome. The ceiling is incredibly ornate, and it reminded me of many of the structures we saw on our trip to Italy and France last spring.

But instead of prayer and hymns, the room is home to books and students and desks. I took my seat at an old wooden desk toward the back of the library and continued plugging away on my essay. I hit “Submit” on my laptop at 5:01, and I fired off a few e-mails before leaving the Rad Cam and making my way down the lane to a nearby restaurant for my date night with Jen.

Greeted by that smile that first captured my heart more than 10 years ago, I was thankful to have my work done for the week, and to be able to enjoy this time together. Alone to our thoughts. Alone to our conversation. It was, as it always is, the highlight of my week, even in such an incredible place as this.

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Wednesday: My second day back in Oxford

I woke up Wednesday morning, my second day back in Oxford, and I made my way down the lane toward the bus stop on a cool, crisp autumn morning. The sky overhead was blue, polka-doted with puffs of white clouds drifting along the blue current, interspersed with brush strokes of white streaks from airplane flight paths. It was the kind of fall day I love. Where you’re happy to put on an extra layer, a sweater to stay warm, as a way to barter with the weather for staying dry.

I missed the first bus I was hoping to catch, so I decided to stop into the small corner market that’s just down the lane from the Kilns, to see about finding something to eat. In a hurry, I hadn’t stopped to grab breakfast before leaving the house. I entered the small market, greeted an older woman behind the front counter, and I spotted a cooler in the back that I hoped was hiding some orange juice. The store is called “Ghandi’s” (which Debbie thought was a bit racist, when she heard that’s what people referred to it as, until she realized that’s actually its name), and its cramped shelves are stocked to the point of overflow. I grabbed an orange juice and looked, unsuccessfully, for a granola bar to fight off my morning hunger.

Taking my orange juice to the cash register, the woman behind the counter excused herself just as I arrived to answer the phone, greeting the person on the other end in a warm British accent. It was someone she knew, from the sounds of things. I could hear the British accent on the other end, without being able to fully make out the words. Something about not being able to make it into work on time, and running late, because she had to drop off her daughter at school.

“Don’t worry, Danny,” the woman said into the phone, with her back turned slightly away from me. “I’ll sort it out. Just don’t leave her!” She talked insistently, in tone, but she emphasized each point with her hand. Waving it as if to make her point.

“It’s okay, Danny,” she kept saying. “I’ll sort it. Don’t worry, Danny. Just don’t leave her there alone!”

For some reason the candid conversation nearly made me laugh out loud. I’m not quite sure why. If it was the heavy British accent from this older woman waving her hands behind the cash register. Or if it was just a general lack of sleep, fatigue and remnants of my jet lag. But the repeated, “I’ll sort it, Danny!” comments struck a cord with me, and I left the market a few minutes later wanting to repeat her words in my best attempts at a British accent. “I’ll sort it, Danny!”

The bus dropped me off on High Street once I reached Oxford’s city center, and I cut through a shortcut, down the same meandering lane that leads me past New College, along the cobblestone foot paths, with tall college walls on either side of the narrow street. And Oxford spires peaking up over the walls, standing at attention, as if to threaten the stretching blue skies overhead with their joust-like towers.

I passed through Harris Manchester’s high-arching doors and headed toward the library, to punch out my essay, which was due that afternoon. Returning to Oxford during second week, I’ve really had to hit the ground running.

But before I made it to the library’s wide, stone staircase, I ran into Lucy, who works in the library.

“Oh hi Ryan,” she said, with a look of surprise. “I didn’t think you were returning!”

I explained that I had been in the States an extra week or so, for a wedding, and that I was now playing catch up.

“Oh good. It’s nice to know you’re back,” she said. “I just remember seeing all these new people and thinking, ‘That’s where Ryan sat!”

I laughed. I was glad to hear I wasn’t the only one to notice that.

She told me she had just returned from holiday herself, “Where you’re from. Well, not really where you’re from… San Francisco.”

“Oh yeah? Well, that’s close. West coast, at least.”

I smiled. Told Lucy it was good to see her again, and then excused myself to the library so I could get to work on my essay.

Taking my seat across from the desk where I normally sit, still unmanned, still holding several seemingly unused books, I told myself I’d give them another day or so before I moved in, if I hadn’t seen anyone there by then.

My first God, Christ and Salvation Tutorial

Five hours of working through my notes and I had a 3,000-word essay cranked out on the topic of Revelation. Essays printed and in-hand, I hurried across Oxford, still on foot, only to find myself caught in the rain.

By the time I had made it to the Oxford Theology Faculty building, where my tutorial meets, I looked as though I had run through a sprinkler. I passed through the front door and up several flights of a winding, narrow wooden staircase. All the way up to the top, before knocking on a closed door with the name “Philip Kenndy” in small letters on a bronze plaque.

“Come in,” the voice from inside called.

Entering, I found a man in his mid-50s seated behind a desk, peering over his glasses, and turning from his computer to face me.

“Well hello. You must be Ryan,” he said, in as inviting of a British accent as I had heard.

I apologized for being a few minutes late, and he quickly brushed it off.

“Not at all, you’re quite timely.”

He told me he was just finishing a report, “for another degree I don’t want to do but I was told to,” as he turned again to his computer and closed down the document he had been working on.

Dr Kennedy wore a gentle smile, which, when combined with the warm, inviting British accent, immediately put me at ease. Even in my anxiety at crossing the city center in the rain and not being late to my first tutorial.

The room’s window was open slightly, and it looked out on the city center. The high office providing a sweeping view. It was a great office, and he noted how quiet it was, “Even on a busy road like St Giles,” he said. “Being on this side, away from the street, makes it quite serene.”

And it was. His office wasn’t large, but it was roomy enough for the both of us, plenty of books stacked on a bookcase that stretched from floor to ceiling against one wall, his desk, and two chairs. It was full, without being cramped. A rarity in Oxford, it seems.

He asked me a bit about myself. Why I was at Oxford. What my particular interests were. And then we dove right into my essay, he asking me to read it aloud, “So I can hear you present your argument.” And so I began.

After I had read my paper aloud, he walked me through several points he had noted as I read, and then we talked about several particularly noteworthy scholars and their contributions to different theories of God’s revelation. The class is a modern theology course, and so it provides a look at some fairly non-traditional views on God, Christ and Salvation. But the way in which it was discussed was wonderful. “Here’s what Dr so and so proposes; what do you think about that? Here’s what this other Dr so and so suggests; what are your thoughts on that?”

And soon, our hour together was up, he was giving me notes on my next essay, and then he was walking me back down the staircase and to the front door.

“Thanks so much for the tutorial, Dr Kennedy,” I said, turning to say goodbye as I reached the door.

“You’re very welcome, Ryan,” he replied. “But you can call me Philip, if you like.”

“Oh, right. Thank you. Another difference between the American and UK education systems.”

He smiled. “See you in two weeks.”

“Thanks, Philip.”

I returned to Harris Manchester College, back across town, and slumped down in my desk to get a bit of reading done for my last essay of the week before meeting up with Jen and Rob & Vanessa that evening for dinner. We hadn’t seen them since returning, and they’d be taking off before the end of the week, so we were looking forward to the time together.

Pizza with the Gareys

I met Jen in town that evening, after she got off her bus, and we walked together to Rob and Vanessa’s old place. They were giving us their bikes, as the bikes had been given to them when they arrived by some friends who were leaving Oxford at the time, and they wanted to return the favor. Even after we insisted that we’d like to give them something for them, they refused. It was incredibly generous of them, and we were excited to have bikes again.

Walking up to their apartment building, we spotted Rob pulling the bikes out of the bike garage and setting them up.

“Hey!” he called out, as we made our way up the lane.

“Hey, good to see you again, bud!” I replied as we approached.

We exchanged hugs and Rob told us Vanessa was finishing up some work. A test. For her nursing program. And so she’d meet up with us, likely at the restaurant.

We talked for a bit, about what they both had been up to since we left, before hopping on our bikes and making our way north. Rob heard from Vanessa on the way, and we decided to pull into the office where she works (around the corner from where we used to live, on Banbury Road) to meet up with her. Turning off the busy Banbury Road, which runs north, leaving the Oxford city center, and heads toward Summertown, our bikes made crunching sounds as we entered the gravel driveway in front of Vanessa’s office.

She was coming out with an older co-worker of hers as we pulled up, and she began to laugh.

“Well hi,” she said with a laugh. “You guys look like a bike gang.”

We all laughed.

“Yeah, I guess we kind of do, don’t we?” Rob said.

“Can you come out and play?” I asked in reply.

Vanessa caught a ride with her co-worker while Jen, Rob and I rode our bikes the rest of the five-minute journey to Summertown. We pulled our bikes up in front of a small Italian restaurant and locked them up before entering into the warm space that smelled of dough and garlic. The room was nearly full, and the waitress asked if we had reservations (we didn’t), before ushering us to a small table just outside of the kitchen, with a small window looking into the work underway on several pizzas.

It was so good to see Rob and Vanessa again. Our time with them is always filled with lots of laughter, and this night was no different.

They had found out they were pregnant while we were home over the summer, so it was fun to hear more about how that’s going.

“Yep, I had my ultrasound today to find out what we’re having!” Vanessa said, grinning at us from across the table while holding her belly with two hands and giving it a jiggle.

I laughed out loud.

She shared the experience with us, of going to the hospital for her appointment and being told she didn’t actually have an appointment. About how she wasn’t leaving without her ultrasound, and how she managed to find someone who she had previously talked with to get her in.

She shared the news with us, about what they were having, and we cheered.

“Hey! That’s great news, guys!” I said. “Congratulations!” I told Rob with a handshake.

We ordered our pizzas, Rob and I ordering two supremes that included everything, even an egg, and we continued the conversation. Watching the chef in the kitchen just to my right as we spoke, I saw him take an egg, crack it over my pizza, allowing its yolk to spill over the pizza toppings and crust below, and then doing the same for Rob.

“Yeeeeaaah…” Rob said, looking over his shoulder at the operation.

The women didn’t seem to think it looked so good, but we disagreed.

We talked with Rob and Vanessa about returning home, to Seattle, after their time in Oxford. They had arrived just before us, and so they had now been here for 14 months or so.

It sounded like Vanessa was excited to get back home, to the familiar, as much as she loved Oxford. Rob, on the other hand, seemed a bit less enthused.

“Yeah, it just seems a bit anticlimactic, I guess.”

“Hmmm… Yeah,” I replied with a nod.

Our pizzas arrived at our table, thin crusted, without being cut, and so, after a blessing from Rob, we all began cutting up our pizzas.

After cleaning up our egg supreme pizzas (myself and Rob, which were delicious), we left the warm restaurant, and went back out into the cool night air.

Saying “goodbye” to Rob and Vanessa, two of the first friends we had made after arriving in Oxford, it was weird to think they were now leaving. For good (apart from a short trip back Rob would be making in November). We promised each other we’d have to get together when we were all back in the Northwest over Christmas.

“That’ll just be weird,” I told them as we said goodbye. “Like two worlds colliding.”

Unpacking at the Kilns

Jen and I got back on our bikes and made our way to the city center, through town, and then out toward Headington and the Kilns. About a five-mile bike ride.

Returning to the Kilns that evening, to our room, where Lewis’s brother Warnie used to live, we began to unpack our things…

It’s a wonderful room, we’ve found. It has a large desk that sits in one corner of the room, looking out the window. On the opposite side of the room, it has a fireplace, with several photos hanging over the mantle. Two of Warnie, Lewis’s brother (on the left and right), and then one of the two Lewis brothers together (C.S. Lewis on the left, and Warnie on the right, smoking his pipe).

One thing, in particular, I really like about the room is the wardrobe. I’ve never had a wardrobe before. It’s not the original, that one is in the Wade Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, but it is pretty great.

It’s tall, and wooden, and terribly old-fashioned. Inside, it has all of its drawers and shelves labeled, so you know where to put your things, such as your handkerchiefs, your hats, your pajamas and so on.

I find I don’t have nearly enough handkerchiefs to necessitate an entire drawer, but I have made due…

In addition to this room, we also have a room next door. The first room was Warnie’s study, while this second room is where he slept.

We’re considering moving a larger bed into Warnie’s bedroom, which is smaller, but quaint, with another wardrobe and a small fireplace, and then we’d use the study as a proper study. But we’ve yet to get around to doing that.

And so we began unpacking our things Wednesday night, after dinner, which we hadn’t had time yet to do. And it was a strange feeling, unpacking our clothes.

Filling the wardrobe and dresser with our shirts and socks and trousers (pants). And I found myself thinking, “I’m unpacking my things in Lewis’s old home… To live… This is crazy.”

Jonathan, our other housemate, arrived late Wednesday night. From a trip to the States for a wedding in California. Knocking on our door first, before saying “Hello?” in his wonderful, sophisticated English accent.

“Hi, Jonathan! How are you?” I asked as he entered.

“Good, thanks. Yes, very well,” he said, wearing a wide grin and an In-And-Out t-shirt, which I thought was hilarious. He’s very proper, Jonathan, and I’ve only ever seen him wear a button up shirt and sportcoat. This was much more casual than I was used to seeing him.

“I like your shirt,” I said, motioning to the logo on the heart of his shirt.

“Oh… yes! It was quite good!”

It was good to see Jonathan again. He’s a great guy. Very nice. And very bright. He just finished his PhD here in Oxford recently. In Classics. And now he’s sticking around for a bit to teach. It would be good to see more of him this year. I always enjoy our conversation, and our shared interest in Lewis.

Thursday: Eagle & Child with Jen, and Tea & Cookies at the Kilns

Thursday was my first day of being back in Oxford and not having something due. It was a great feeling, knowing I could retreat to the library for the day and not have to deliver anything. Not that day, at least. My next essay was due Friday afternoon.

Having a bit more time, I managed to grab breakfast that morning before leaving the Kilns. As busy as I had been, I realized that was the first day I had eaten anything before 5:30 at night. And it felt good.

I spent the day in the library at Harris Manchester, before meeting Jen at the Eagle & Child that night. We had been excited to make it back to the pub when we arrived, and it was a great feeling to be able to sneak away from everything and have that time together with Jen.

We found a table in the back of the pub and I placed our order at the bar, our usual (Jen had the glazed chicken and I had the bangers and mash). I love the pubs here in Oxford, with the low ceilings and large, old wooden beams. With wood everywhere, underfoot, on the walls, making up the bar. And the smell of years’ worth of pints and laughter among friends. It was so nice to be back at the Eagle & Child, and it was great to catch up with Jen. I felt like I had been running a mile a minute to catch up on things since we returned. It was like a breath of fresh air to stop for a bit.

We finished up our food at Eagle & Child, hopped on our bikes, and made our way back to the Kilns in the night, passing cars parked along the cars, people walking along the cobblestone sidewalks and glowing street lamps.

Four miles later, we were warming up the kettle for tea and taking our seats in the common room to enjoy some cookies and a warm drink. It was the perfect end to an evening together. And I still found myself in awe. Sitting here, in the same room where Lewis would’ve entertained his guests (including Tolkien and many others). And here we sat, in this home, where we’ll be living for the next year.

I took a bite of my cookie, a sip of my hot tea and thought to myself, “This really is unreal,” as my eyes passed from the bookshelf to the fireplace and fell to rest on the photos of Lewis hanging from the room’s walls. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever think this would happen to us when we set out for Oxford. And yet, here we are. Completely unreal.

Thanks for reading.

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