Archives for posts with tag: Eagle & Child

Tuesday: Returning to Oxford

My flight touched down in London at half past 11 on Tuesday morning. A little over nine hours after taking off from San Francisco on Monday afternoon, and nearly a day after leaving Seattle and saying “goodbye” to Jen. She had decided to stick around home for Khloe’s birthday (our first, and only, niece). Her first birthday. I would’ve loved to have been there, but school called.

I slept very little on the flight that passed northeast over the Atlantic, but I didn’t seem too tired as I made the long walk from our recently arrived airplane to customs. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Heathrow seems to be made out of unnecessarily long hallways. If you were to ask someone from England why it is that Heathrow has such long hallways leading from the planes to customs, they’d probably tell you it’s always been that way. And now it’s tradition. Like everything else here. And you can’t argue with that.

15 minutes after getting off my plane, I made it to customs. A long line had formed by the time I arrived, as several planes must’ve all arrived at the same time. I took my place in line and waited, with lots of other people who all looked like they had just been woken up from a nice nap. Hair standing on end from the back of their head. My cell phone began vibrating in my pocket moments later, and I read the words “The Kilns” as I glanced at the screen before answering.

“Hi, this is Ryan,” I said.

“Hi Ryan!” Debbie’s voice cried over the other end, in great excitement. “Welcome back!”

Debbie is the Director at the Kilns. She’s a professor from back in the States, who’s currently on sabbatical to look over things at the Kilns for a time. She told me her and Jonathan (another scholar-in-residence, like me, who also lives at the Kilns) had been eagerly waiting for my return, and that they were happy to have me back. As tough as it was to say goodbye to our friends and family back home–and it was very tough–it was great to return to this kind of a welcome.

Debbie continued on, talking as I slowly creeped my way through the Customs line. Trying not to talk too loudly and disturb the half-asleep travelers around me. Debbie told me her and Jonathan had planned a dinner in my honor for that evening. I was totally taken aback by the gesture. I told her I was really looking forward to gathering my bags and returning to the Kilns as quickly as I could get there.

After an hour-long bus ride on the M40 out of London, Jonathan met me at the bus stop (just a short, 5-minute drive from the Kilns). He pulled up in a tiny car, in a parking lot full of tiny cars, and I thought to myself, “It’s official, I’m back in England.”

Jonathan pulled up beside the curb where I was standing, stepped around the car and welcomed me with a wide grin, a “Happy New Year,” and a hug. Truth be told, I probably welcomed him with a hug. We Americans are big on our hugs.

It was great to see Jonathan again. He wore his trademark, red-tinged 5 o’clock shadow. And we caught up on our Christmas and New Year holidays as he navigated the narrow back roads leading from the park and ride to the Kilns. We pulled up in front of the familiar old brick home a few minutes later, with its blue plaque that hangs on the side of the house, just to the side of the room where C.S. Lewis used to sleep, and suddenly I was very happy to be back.

Jonathan helped me carry my luggage inside, and Debbie greeted us as we entered, “Ryan, hello!” she said warmly, in a loud voice. “Welcome back!” she said in a loud voice as she wrapped me up in a hug. Debbie’s an American. She’s big on hugs.

There were jams and clotted cream sitting out on the counter, and Debbie let me know she was just preparing some scones and tea for me, in case I was hungry.

“Feel free to put your bags down and come have some.”

The sky outside was blue and the sun was pouring in through the kitchen window and spilling over the stone-tiled floor as she talked.

I smiled, thanked Debbie for the very kind welcome, and then made my way down the hallway leading to Warnie’s old rooms (our current rooms), with my luggage in tow.

I stepped into the familiar room, with photos of Jen and I, and another one of Khloe sitting just where we left them on our desk. They were sharing the space with a handwritten “Welcome Home” sign, complete with an American flag and British flag, which I thought was rather patriotic. I smiled as I saw it. “What an incredible welcome,” I thought to myself.

I returned to the kitchen, where Jonathan and Debbie were talking, and Debbie invited me to sit down and help myself to some tea and scones, which she had prepared for my return. I felt so blessed to return to such a warm welcome.

It really is amazing to have two such incredible places, so far apart, that feel like home, I thought to myself while taking a seat and digging into the afternoon tea in the old familiar, stone-floored Kilns kitchen. A friend of Debbie’s arrived a few minutes later, as she was joining Debbie for tea. Debbie introduced Jonathan and I as the scholars in residence, and poured her a cup of tea.

After a couple scones and my tea, I excused myself and returned to my room. My bags were waiting to be unpacked, but the bed looked awfully inviting. Having not slept more than a couple hours during my travels, I laid down and closed my eyes. And all of a sudden, I was so very comfortable in our old, familiar room.

Wednesday: First day back at College

I woke up early Wednesday morning, after collapsing in bed shortly after our house dinner (a very tasty meal Jonathan prepared for us). I usually have a tough time waking up in a foreign bed for the first time, but that wasn’t the case Wednesday morning. Somehow it didn’t feel so foreign.

After a quick shave and a shower, I was on my bike and heading toward the Oxford city center, to get a day’s worth of studies in at Harris Manchester College.

The air was cold as I glided down Headington Hill on my bike, passing all of the old familiar sights. Restaurants. Markets. Schools and neighborhoods, just as I remembered them. I passed through a small roundabout before coming up over Magdalene Bridge and seeing Magdalene Tower rising high into the sky, touching the blue and white brushstroked scene overhead. It was an incredible view, staring at this 500-year old stone-built college, and I caught myself thinking, “I really am back in Oxford…. This is so incredible.”

As I rode past the stone walls towering into the sky on both sides of High Street, I felt totally in awe of it all all over again.

Before Jen and I left Oxford to return home for the holidays, I met a friend from Texas at Eagle and Child. His name is Steve, and he teaches Communications at a large university there. I met Steve on a tour I led for a group at the Kilns last winter. Steve has been to Oxford “more times than I can count,” he told me from our seat in the Rabbit Room of the Eagle and Child that day. He loves it for all of the same reasons I do. For the history and the architecture. For the academic tradition and the fingerprints of C.S. Lewis that still remain to this day.

It was over lunch that day that I told Steve it always feels a bit like I’ve returned to an old dream when I’ve been away from Oxford for a time and come back. I told him it feels a bit like having an incredible dream, not being sure if you’ll ever have it again, and then falling asleep one night and being filled with great joy when you’re suddenly back in the middle of it.

He smiled as I shared this with him that afternoon in early December.

“For me, it’s a bit like returning to Narnia,” he confessed while leaning just slightly over the wooden table, with a smile that acknowledged how silly such a statement might sound. But I quickly wiped away any reason for embarrassment by admitting I knew exactly what he meant.

It was great to see several people I hadn’t seen for over a month as I made my way through Harris Manchester before finding my old familiar spot in the library, upstairs, in the northeast corner beside the window. My desk was still waiting for me, vacant, and I greeted it like an old familiar friend, with a smile, as I took my seat and poured over my notes for the next 10 hours or so.

The Artist

I made it back to the Kilns just after 7:00 Wednesday night, after a long day of studies. I wolfed down a quick dinner before grabbing my jacket and heading back out of the house with Jonathan and Holly (a short-term scholar who’s currently visiting Oxford from California). The house had made plans to go see the movie “The Artist” that night, and I was looking forward to joining them. We picked up Dr Michael Ward on the way, Chaplain of St Peter’s College and Lewis-expert, and we made our way to a theatre outside of the city center, called Vue, which I had never been to.

The theatre was large, with a bowling alley attached, and it had a massive parking lot. There were neon signs on the exterior of the building. When we walked into the theatre, I noticed a sign for an Italian restaurant that was attached to the building, again in neon lights, that read, “American-New York Italian Food,” which I thought was funny. It felt a bit like someone took a shopping center from the States and plopped it down in the middle of England, and then put up a bunch of neon signs to remind people that it really was American.

The movie was great, though. Feel free to skip ahead if you’d rather I don’t spoil it for you, but it ended up putting me in tears. Whether it was intentional or not (I doubt it was), it painted the most incredible picture of salvation and grace I’ve seen in a very, very long time.

The movie starts out in the year 1921, at the height of the silent film era in Hollywood. And we are introduced to George Valentine, the leading man in Hollywood at the time. Everyone worships George, including himself. He has huge portraits of himself that hang in his home, and everyone swoons when they meet him.

But then, things begin to change rapidly with the introduction of “Talkies,” movies with actual audible dialogue. Soon, George Valentine is a washed-up actor who used to be somebody, but who now struggles to make ends-meat by selling off his vast collection of expensive clothes and artwork, including the large portrait of himself that used to hang in his home.

Fast forward to the final, climactic scene, where George escapes from the gigantic palace of a good friend’s home, a friend who had only the day before rescued George from the fire he set inside his own home. And, after escaping the palace she had set him up in, so that he could rest and recover from the fire, George returns to his house.

The interior is ghastly, with remnants of the fire strewn about in a mess. He returns to his burnt up living room, in pride. He simply cannot accept the grace this friend had shown him because, in his pride, he interpreted her help as charity. And he was too proud for charity.

The movie builds to a great crescendo where we see George pull out a small box, and, from that small box, he pulls out a blunt-nosed revolver. Sitting in his burnt up living room, a charcoal-lined mess of a scene, George places the end of the revolver in his mouth and bites down hard as the tears roll down his face. This man who literally had the epicenter of the entertainment world at his fingertips is now but a simple tug of his index finger away from ending his own life. And just then, moments before he pulls the trigger, the friend who had rescued him and placed him in her palace runs into the scene, bringing a sense of urgent light into the darkness. And, suddenly, everything changes.

He removes the gun from his mouth, he stands up, and he embraces her in a hug. And as he does, she begins to cry. After several seconds, she holds him at arm’s length and says to him, “I’m so sorry, George. I only wanted to help you.”

And as she said that, I couldn’t help but cry myself. A few slow tears. It was, for me, an incredible reflection of the way I have chosen evil in my own life. Knowingly.

It was a picture of how I choose ugliness over the beautiful palace He wants to offer me. And how He rushes in to save me from myself. In the middle of the mess I’ve created. And, when He finds me, He does not verbally abuse or accuse me. Instead, He weeps at the mess I’ve made, and He pointedly reminds me that all He ever wanted was to help me.

That, for me, was the picture of grace and salvation I needed. And I was so thankful for it.

Thursday: A Flat Tire and Carb Baskets

After another full day of studying from the library on Thursday, I hopped on my bike around 6:45 that night, and I made my way across the city center in the dark, frigid night air. I was grabbing dinner with two English friends of mine who are currently studying Theology at Wycliffe Hall. Not only do they share a common British nationality, they also share first names. John. I felt outnumbered from the get-go.

I was coasting quite speedily down the hill in front of Christ Church that night, on my way to John (Ash’s) house, when suddenly my back bike tire started to shake. Something didn’t feel right. But I tried to ignore it.

By the time I made it to the bottom of the hill, it had gotten quite a bit worse. It was now bumping up and down. And so I decided to get off and have a look at it. Sure enough, I had a flat. My tire had gone so flat that there was now hardly anything left in it.

“Perfect,” I thought to myself as I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket to give John a ring and explain my situation. I had planned on meeting up with him at his house and then we were going to drive together to John (Adams’) place.

After I explained what had happened, he told me not to worry about it, and that he’d come meet me where I was at. By the time I had pulled my hefty bike to the nearest bike rack to lock it up, John was waiting for me with a look of sympathy.

“So sorry about the bike,” he said with a smile as I opened the passenger door, “But it’s great to see you again.”

We made the 10 minute drive to John Adams’ place while catching up on our holidays, and it wasn’t long before we were pulling into the boarding school where Adams lives with his wife and baby daughter. He’s a chaplain at the school, and so they have a flat right there on the grounds.

We passed a group of boys walking in striped ties and black gowns, looking very Oxford.

“It’s a rather posh school,” John explained to me as we pulled the car into a parking spot just outside of Adams’ flat.

Apparently we had arrived a bit early, as John Adams wasn’t answering when we tried him at his door. Then, after 10 minutes or so of waiting in the near-freezing darkness, John’s cell phone began buzzing. It was John Adams, and he was making his way across the school grounds. We could hear his booming voice as he came, in the open air, so we knew he wasn’t far off.

“Gentleman,” he said welcoming us, “Hello.”

I hadn’t seen John since the spring, so it was really good to see him again.

He had only just finished his chapel service for the evening, and so he was dressed in a tie and black gown himself.

“How do you like my gown?” John asked me as he unlocked the door and led us inside.

“It’s really nice, yeah,” I replied. “I nearly wore mine.”

Both Johns’ wives were currently out of town, one in London and the other in Cambridge, so it was the three of us bachelors getting together for dinner that night.

We caught up on life while our three, individual frozen pizzas baked in the oven. John Ash cut up some vegetables while we talked, before boiling them on the stovetop.

John Adams commented on the new kettle he had just received from his mother-in-law, pointing out how incredibly well it poured.

“Look, no spillage at all,” he said, demonstrating it for us.

I laughed, and told them this was a very English conversation. I told them this is one conversation you’d never hear back home, is guys bragging about the “pourability” of their kettle.

They both looked at me puzzled.

I explained you hardly find kettles back in the States, and certainly not the electric kettles that come standard in every English home. Still they look puzzled.

“You don’t use kettles?” John asked.

“Well, it’s not that we don’t, it’s just not nearly as common,” I explained. “You’ll see more coffee makers, for example, because we tend to drink more coffee, but if you do see a kettle, it’s a stovetop kettle.”

Still they look puzzled, so I quickly tried to move the conversation on, as John checked on our pizzas.

“That black enough, you think?” he asked, staring into stove.

He pulled the pizza out, one by one, and John Ash asked if we minded if we just had the steamed vegetables straight on the pizza, as it covered the entire plate.

None of us minded, so he proceeded.

We set our plates down on the table and John Ash snapped a picture of the scene: pizza completely covering the plate, with thick cut steamed vegetables on top of the pizza.

“It’s not a bad set up, actually,” he commented while snapping a picture with his iPhone. “Carb basket.”

The night was filled with a lot of laughter as we talked and ate. John Ash explained how the remote-control helicopter he received as a Christmas gift had taken quite the beating, and how it now looked a bit like a smashed fly trying to take flight.

We talked about studies and ministry. John Adams told us about the school’s chaplain, “a great guy, really, who preaches the Gospel,” and how he was being removed from the school because apparently a few parents on the Board thought he was a bit too conservative and challenging in his teaching.

We talked about suffering, and how this Chaplain was basically suffering because of his “cross-shaped life.” John Adams kept using that term, cross-shaped life, as he talked about this Chaplain. And as he talked about the lives we are called to live, as followers of Christ.

And I loved it. I loved it in a way I didn’t like. I didn’t like it because I knew I often flee from suffering, and yet that’s the very mark of our faith.

Around 10:00, I explained that I should probably get back home, as I still had a bit of studying to do before my test the next day (“collections”), and so we said our goodbyes and made the short drive back to the city center, John Ash and I. He apologized about my flat as he dropped me off right where I left it, and I hauled it off to College in the cold night air, where I could lock it up safely before catching a bus back to the Kilns.

It was after 11:00 by the time I made it home that night, and I ended up studying until after 1:00 the next morning.

Friday: Collections and Unconventional Fingerprints

After several hours of studying that morning, I made my way to the Exam Schools that afternoon, dressed in my black gown, for collections. At Oxford, rather than taking a test at the end of the term, to see how you know the material, you take a vacation in-between terms and then come back and take a test (“collections”) before starting your next term. Yep, brutal, I know.

I sat in room full of 100 or so other students at 2:00 that afternoon, all of us dressed in our black gowns, and I scribbled away on my essays on John Calvin for the next three hours. By hand. By 5:00, when I finally put my pen down, I could hardly feel my thumb and my index finger. A numbness had set in that would linger for the next several days.

But I was done. All of the studying that I had put in after arriving in Oxford was now put to paper, and I could now wash my hands of it and get ready for the next term. It’s always a relief, that feeling.

I walked back to college in the dark, that evening, before climbing back into my old familiar desk and trudging through all of the e-mails that had piled up during the past few days I had spent studying. Once I had fended off enough e-mail for the day, I got started on my application for school next year. I’m applying to do one more year here in Oxford. For a nine-month MSt in Christian Doctrine.

Jen caught me on Skype after 9:00 that Friday night. I’m sure she assumed I’d be back home at this point. I wasn’t.

“So, where’d you go for dinner,” her words asked in my earphones, likely knowing what my response would be.

“Uhhh, the library?” I typed out, as I was in the library and I couldn’t talk.

“Ryannnn!” she said firmly. “Do I need to sick Debbie on you?”

“No, no you don’t need to sick Debbie on me,” I typed. “But can you guess where I had lunch?”

“Uh, the library,” Jen said in a mocking voice.

“Ding, ding, ding,” I typed. “But don’t get Debbie. I’ll go home soon.”

Jen and I talked for a bit, and it was great to see her again. It really made my day. We laughed together as we talked, separated by a giant ocean and 6,000 miles.

It was after 10:00 by the time I finally shut down my computer and made my way down the stone staircase leading out of the library that night. My phone buzzed in my pocket as I hit the bottom step. It was Debbie, calling to check up on me from the Kilns.

“Are you alive?” she asked with a laugh. “We thought you’d be home by now.”

I took my turn laughing. If only she knew the conversation Jen and I had just had.

“Yep, I’m still alive. But just barely. I’m making my way home now.”

“Okay, good,” she replied, with a bit of relief. “Well we’re looking forward to celebrating the end of your tests. We’ll be waiting for you when you get here.”

I thanked Debbie. Her thoughtfulness put a smile on my face. And it brought some life to my wearied mind.

I made my way out of the college into the cold night air. It had been a cloudless day, and the naked sky provided little cover for the cold. I zipped my jacket up to my neck as I walked, tucked my chin in close, and put my earphones in before turning on some music for my walk to the bus stop.

Unconventional Fingerprints

I was listening to the band Sigur Ros as I strode the stone sidewalks and back alleys that led to the bus stop on High Street that night. If you haven’t heard of Sigur Ros, I couldn’t recommend them more. I’ve only recently stumbled upon their music, which makes me feel bad. I like to think I know a thing or two about good music, about what the kids are listening to these days, but somehow this Icelandic band slipped out of my radar all these years.

The falsetto voice of their front man Jonsi (pronounced “yon-see”) rang in my ears, in dramatic, haunting, lingering tones as I crossed through the shadows of the Oxford alleys, with my hands in my coat pocket. I hugged closely to the stone walls as my feet beat the pavement. The colleges that sat just beyond the high stone walls bordering the alley I walked rose high into the dark sky like castles, and the gaslit lamps stood on each bend of the alley. The whole scene looked almost as though it could be taken straight out of a movie set in the middle ages, and I love it. It may sound funny, since I’ve been here a year and a half now, but all of this still seems so unreal to me at most times.

I laughed to myself as I walked in the late, cold night air, while my shadow chased a few feet behind me. And after several days of sleep-deprived studies, I found myself thinking, “I can’t believe I’m actually here right now… I can’t believe I’m actually studying at the University of Oxford.”

Sigur Ros’s ethereal sound continued to play in my earphones as I walked, and the music seemed to set the mood for the scene. It was perfect, really.

The lead singer of this band Sigur Ros, Jonsi, is something else. He’s blind in one eye. Which really doesn’t matter all that much, actually, because he sings with his eyes closed. He strikes his guitar with a bow and sings not in Icelandic, not even in English, but in something of a gibberish-like concoction of his native tongue. Wherever the melody leads him. He dresses up in rather funky, homemade outfits, too. Complete with feathers. And glitter around his eyes. But his voice… His voice is what strikes you. It’s nothing short of beautiful.

And I found myself thinking about his unconventional approach to music as I hopped on the bus, made my way across town, and then got off the bus a short 10-minute walk away from the Kilns, while Jonsi’s voice continued to play in my ears.

The air was cold as I made my way up the slight incline of Kilns Lane that night. Oxford was tucked in for a night’s sleep as I walked, drumming along with the music on my legs. Houses and cars were covered in a blanket of frost, which made everything glimmer. It was a beautiful scene, and the combination of music and glimmering frost over everything made me want to dance in the cold, open night air. That or a lack of sleep and utter exhaustion. Or both.

But I began to think about the fact that this guy, Jonsi, is doing something completely ridiculous and unconventional to most people. It’s the kind of thing that, when you look at it on paper, most people would say, “Yeah, that sounds like a bad idea…” Dressing up in a head dress and singing in gibberish.

But then you hear it for yourself, and you’re breathless.

And I couldn’t help but think, “I’m so glad Jonsi had the courage to share this gift he’s been blessed with with all of us.” I couldn’t help but think, “We’re blessed by it.”

I got thinking about the fact that we’re all given roughly 80 or so years on this planet. If we’re lucky. And that’s all for our time here. It’s not the end of our story, of course, but it is all we have for this (brief) chapter of history. I got thinking about the fact that we all leave something here. Even if it’s not good, we all leave some sort of fingerprint.

And I got thinking, this world, and those who had the fortune of hearing the musical talents Jonsi has been blessed with, will be better for it. The mark he will have left, just by sharing the gift he’s been given, will matter. And it wouldn’t be the same if he was trying to do what someone else wanted or expected from him. In fact, it would probably be very unlike what he’s doing now. It probably wouldn’t include a feather head dress. Or a mish-mash of gibberish. Instead, it’d be more like what this agent told him to do if he wants to get a record deal. Or what that producer told him they’re looking for. But it’s not. Instead, it’s this unique, unconventional reflection of who He is. And I thought that was beautiful.

I continued to beat my legs with my hands to the sound of the music in my ears as I walked in the cool night air, under the sparkling stars and alongside the glistening cars. And I found myself thinking, “I want to do that.”

I want to leave my fingerprints on this world in a way that no one else can. Because it’s a reflection of the unique gifts God has given me.

I’m sure it sounds funny, but, for some reason I felt like listening to Jonsi pour out his soul in his gibberish, Icelandic falsetto gave me permission to do that. And I hoped, when it was all said and done, that at the end of my time here, the words from my life would matter. That they would find their way to someone and that person would say, “I now see God more clearly because this guy cared enough to share his soul with us.”

That, to me, would be a life worth living.

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.

We said ‘goodbye’ to Steve yesterday morning. He returned home after spending a week with us here in Oxford, and it didn’t feel nearly long enough. He’s an incredible friend. It was so nice having him here with us for that time. Lots of great memories.

We miss you, man.

The unfortunate part of his visit is that it just so happened to coincide with my busiest time so far here. I had a load of deadlines. Reading. Papers. Exams. But we had a great time, nonetheless.

Thursday – Clarity in what I’d like to do

I had Greek the morning after Steve arrived. We ended up meeting in Christ Church, because of some scheduling changes. Our professor lives there. Her husband’s the Dean. I honestly can’t imagine stepping out my front door and having this for a view.

Our class gathered outside the Deanery door. First just a couple of us. Then more. When most of us were gathered there, we knocked on the tall wooden door. Rhona opened it and met us with a smile.

“Helloooo,” she said in that warm, rich English accent. “Come in, come in.”

Her home was amazing. And it still feels weird to call it her home. It’s just an incredible place. Apparently King Charles I lived there at one point. So it has that going for it.

We made our way into the front room, with vaulted ceilings and a spiral staircase that seemed to climb up and up and up. Even the students in my class who are from Britain found their jaws on the floor.

Our class met in their formal dining room. A large room with tall glass windows that lined one wall. A long, oblong-shaped table sat in the center of the room, and a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth hung from one of the walls. Rhona told us how they had cleared out this room and used it for a dance after their daughter’s wedding. And how the Queen looked on with a look of distaste.

Shortly after our exam, the housekeeper (at least I’m assuming that’s who it was) brought in a couple trays for our class. A tray of tea and coffee and a tray of treats. Flapjacks. I had never had flapjacks before, but I had seen them at the Alternative Tuck Shop while waiting on my chicken panini. They were amazing. Like a homemade granola bar. A perfect accompaniment to our tea. I told Rhona it was the best I had ever had.

After class, Rhona let me know she had heard Walter Hooper would be joining us for our Tea at the Kilns on Monday. I hadn’t heard that, but I was so excited he was. This guy was Lewis’ secretary the summer before Lewis passed away, and he lived at the Kilns for a while, so I knew he’d have some amazing stories to share with us.

Another student was standing nearby as we spoke. Likely waiting to ask Rhona a Greek related question. Likely completely uninterested in our conversation. But she put on a good act anyway.

Rhona asked her if she had read Lewis at all. If she found Mere Christianity to be dated. She had. “Surprisingly so,” she said.

“Well then, you’ll just have to write the modern day Mere Christianity, won’t you?” she asked this girl with a large smile.

And it made me smile. Remembering the conversation I had with Steve the night before. On our way to pick up pizzas in Summertown.

I told Steve that, for some reason, being here had made me even more convicted about wanting to write. And how I felt like it was more clear than ever what that was supposed to look like.

“I feel like Lewis did a great job of talking about the Christian faith for the non-academic types. For the laymen. But I feel like there’s an opportunity to do that in a way that’s even more approachable. Using a tone that invites people in. Something like Don Miller’s writing. Something that anyone would want to pick up and read. I feel like if you were able to combine those two, it’d be incredibly effective. That’s what I want to do,” I told him as we walked.

Fast forward to Christ Church. Rhona has just told this girl perhaps she’d write the modern day Mere Christianity. And I felt like the kid in class who got a puppy over the weekend and the teacher asks if anyone has something to share. Hand shooting into the air. Squirming in his seat. But I didn’t say a word. I just smiled.

I met up with Steve after class. He had been working from the Grand Cafe. England’s oldest coffeehouse. We were making our way out of town. To meet up with Jen. Taking in the sights as we walked.

Steve likes sweets. And he had plenty to like in Oxford.

Feeling so inconsequential

We walked past a plaque I had just noticed for the first time the week before. It was on a building where Hooke & Boyle first discovered the living cell. Right here in Oxford. I pointed it out to Steve. I told him it was things like that that made me feel so out of place here.

“This place really has had some amazing minds come through over the years,” I said as we crossed the street. Minding the buses as they passed on the cobblestone road underfoot.

“Minds who have had incredible contributions in their field. Makes me feel so inconsequential.”

“Or, it could motivate you, wanting you to do something big as well,” Steve said, without missing a beat.

“That’s true, yeah. That’s a good way to look at it.” I love having this guy around. He’s the kind of guy who believes in your dreams even when you don’t believe in them yourself.

Andi’s Dream

Steve didn’t sleep the night before he left to come here. He had been helping a friend of his from back home setup her bakery. Andi. She was scheduled to open the next day, and he had been working non-stop to help her wrap everything up. For quite a while leading up to the opening. From baking cakes to design. It was quite the project, from the sounds of it.

Several years earlier, when Andi was living about an hour and a half south of where she now lives with her husband, she had gotten a hold of Steve. To tell him about her dream of one day opening up her own bakery.

“She was working as a real estate agent at the time,” he told me. “I think. Something like that. But her dream was to open a bakery.”

He ended up sending a bunch of business her way after she moved to town. So she could bake cakes and make desserts for weddings. Until she was finally able to open her bakery.

Her dream became a reality last week, when she opened up Pure Bliss Desserts in downtown Bellingham. In large part because of Steve. That’s just the kind of guy he is. And I’m honored to call him my best friend.

We met up with Jen back at the house. And the three of us walked together to The Alternative Tuck shop for lunch. To introduce Steve and Jen to the beauty that is the chicken pesto panini.

I’ve realized lately I no longer get hungry. I just find myself wanting a chicken pesto panini. That’s when I know I’m hungry.

I squeezed into the shop and made my way through the line. Jen & Steve waited outside. To avoid the sardine can space.

I made my way out of the shop, hot off the grill paninis in hand, and handed Jen and Steve theirs. I was happy they enjoyed them just as much as I do.

“That’s great, man,” Steve said after a big bite of his sandwich.

I showed Jen and Steve around Harris Manchester College. The library. The grounds. And they loved it. All of it. It was so great to finally share all of this with them. After living in it on my own for several weeks.

I pointed out a couple places I thought they’d like to visit while I wrapped up some studies, and then I made my way to the Radcliffe Camera.

Dinner at the Eagle & Child

After several hours of reading, it was great to wander outside into the cool night air and find them waiting for me. It was a gorgeous night in Oxford. And I was so happy to share it with them.

We decided on Eagle & Child for dinner. Steve’s first pub experience. The first time at Eagle & Child for either of them.

And we had a great time. Laughing. Enjoying some amazing food. After clearing our plates, we reached for the dessert menu and decided to stretch out the evening a bit more.

“We do have leftover birthday cake at home,” I mentioned, looking over the menu.

“Sounds like a good midnight snack,” Steve said.

“I like the way you think.”

Walking home, it felt so nice to enjoy all of this. To share all of this with them. And it made me smile.

Friday: Sue the impostor and Jen’s as tough as nails

I had my first cornish pasty for lunch last Friday. Finally. And I have to say, I was a little disappointed. Maybe I’ll give it another try. But I can’t help but feel like it’d be a missed opportunity when I know of a perfectly good place to get a chicken pesto panini…

I worked from the library most of the day on Friday. And I ran into Sue on my way back into the library at one point, hot cup of tea in-hand. She greeted me by name. With a smile. And she asked me how I was settling in.

She told me how when she first arrived here at Oxford. To take up her job. How overwhelmed this all seemed.

“I didn’t believe it,” she told me. “I kept feeling like at some point, someone was going to tell me they had made a terrible mistake, and that I was going to have to leave.”

Funny. I guess even the librarians feel like impostors. I’m in good company. Sue’s an angel.

Sue told me that’s why everyone here. All the faculty. That that’s why they go out of their way to do everything they can to make sure the students have a welcoming experience. That they know they’re cared for. And that if they ever need anything, that they only have to ask.

I told her that, as overwhelming as this all has been, that the people truly have been the bright spot.

She told me that after a while, you realize everyone here are just normal people. Normal people who are incredibly passionate about what they want to do. And that that is a real pleasure to be around. I still feel like everyone’s a couple hundred IQ points higher than I am. But it really is an amazing place to be. And I’m still in awe of it all.

I met up with Jen & Steve after a full day of reading. We grabbed pizza at a really cool woodfire place. Their menu was amazing. Split into different regions of the world. Asia. America. Europe. Africa. Each region featuring pizza toppings from their culture. It was great. And the environment was amazing. Lots of open-air space. Hanging lights. Large windows. Concrete floors and columns. Very modern feel in a very old city.

A woman and her son sat beside us. She was very English. Very proper. And the boy was, well, he was a boy. Messing around all night. Having a good time. She was trying to keep him under her thumb, so as not to make a scene. He was cracking us up all night.

At one point in the evening, he let out a loud burp. And he immediately erupted into laughter. You could see the blood drain from the boy’s mother as he did.

“Oh, I am so embarrassed,” she said, looking at us before hanging her face in her hands. “This truly isn’t representative.”

We all laughed. Along with the boy. I felt like she was apologizing for her entire country. Maybe she was. Either way, it was hilarious.

We caught a movie after dinner. RED. The new action movie with Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman and some others. It was great. Lots of brainless action. A much-needed reprieve from all the studies.

Jen loves Bruce Willis movies. And I love that Jen loves Bruce Willis movies. Ever since we watched the latest Die Hard on our anniversary on Whidbey Island several summers ago, she’s been hooked.

I think it’s because they share a common respect for each other. Jen and Bruce. I think it’s because he’s the only one in the world tough enough for her to respect like that. I always tell Jen if she had a motto it’d be, “Jennifer Pemberton…Tough as nails.” I keep telling her I’m going to make her a t-shirt. I need to get on that.

Walking home under the light posts leaving town that night, I couldn’t help but think how perfect this all seemed. Now. Having them here. Even better than before.

Leaves piled up, crunching underfoot. Steve kicking them as we walked. Golden yellow and burnt orange shuffling as we walked. Talking. Sharing memories. Those are the times we’ll miss Steve most.

Saturday: Like Mallards & The Bagelry

We grabbed dessert at a place in Oxford city center Saturday night. The best ice cream in town, we were told.

It feels very much like a Mallards back home. Lots of crazy flavors. Stout. Bacon & Brie.

I placed my order and told Steve I felt like I was back in Bellingham. That if felt like Mallards.

“And the Bagelry, combined,” Steve added.

He was right. They served bagels, too.

I went to hand them my credit card to pay for the ice cream, and they told me they only took cash.

“Yep, just like Mallard’s and the Bagelry,” I said, turning to Steve and Jen with a smile.


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

Inaugural Trip to the Eagle & Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My eyes immediately grew big.

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

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

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

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

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

Free Meal and Free Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I grabbed a couple others and made my way out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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