Archives for posts with tag: John Lennox

3rd week of Trinity Term

I had a tour at the Kilns to lead on Tuesday of the third week of the term. I tend to give tours most Saturdays, but I also give tours during the week from time to time as well, when they come up. And when I can slip away to the Kilns for long enough.

This tour was scheduled for the afternoon, so I was able to make it to my Greek reading class before taking the 20-minute bus ride to Headington and the Kilns.

I found a seat next to Lyndon in Campion Hall a few minutes before our reading class began and I told him I was heading out to the Kilns after we finished for a tour.

“Is that right?” he asked, rhetorically. “I wonder if it’s with the group of Americans I met over lunch at Wycliffe Hall just now.”

“Oh, yeah, I don’t know,” I told him. “I’m not sure who the tour is with, but it could be.”

“Apparently one of the older gentleman who visited is a rather big deal, from Florida, I believe, but I didn’t recognize his name,” he continued. “I sat next to him at lunch, so we talked a bit. When he told me his name, he seemed to act as though I knew who he was, but I didn’t!”

“That’s always a bit awkward,” I said. “Well, I’ll let you know if I happen to give a tour to an older American guy I should recognize but don’t.”

Lyndon laughed, and soon we were off to the races with our Greek reading for the week.

Police and Americans at the Kilns

When I arrived at the Kilns later that afternoon, I was surprised to find two police officers at the back door. The Kilns is set up in a bit of a funny way. The first door you come to as you walk up to the house isn’t actually the front door, but the back. Or, more specifically, it’s referred to as the “servicemen’s entrance.” Confusing, I know. Either way, it’s not the door guests typically use, but it’s the door these two officers were standing at when I made my way through the front gate and walked up the trail leading to the house.

“Do you live here?” one of them asked me as I approached.

“No, I don’t live here, but I am giving a tour here in a few minutes,” I told them.

They explained to me that someone in the neighborhood had reported a small fire  on the trail that leads up to the pond behind the Kilns, and they were wondering if anyone who lived here had any information about it. I told them I didn’t, but that I could leave a message with those who do live at the Kilns and they could call if anyone knew anything. They thanked me, and one of them left me with a piece of paper and their phone number.

“Say,” one of them asked me with a puzzled look before leaving, pointing toward the blue plaque on the side of the house with Lewis’s name on it. “C. S. Lewis . . . I should know who he is . . . tell me one of his works?”

“Uh, sure. He wrote The Chronicles of Narnia,” I told him, hinting at Lewis’s identity.

“Ah, yes, of course!” he said with a look of “aha!”.

“Don’t say you were thinking Lewis Carroll, don’t say you were thinking Lewis Carroll…” I thought to myself.

“That’s right,” the police officer said. “I was thinking Lewis Carroll!”

I smiled. And laughed inside. It’s so funny to me that a police officer who patrols the neighborhood where C. S. Lewis used to live confuses him with the man who wrote Alice in Wonderland. I shook my head as I made my way around to the front of the house and began making preparations for the tour that would be arriving any moment.

About 15 minutes later, I was meeting a group of well-dressed men and a single woman at the front door and welcoming them in for their tour. The lone British man at the tour introduced himself. He had a lean face with thick, dark glasses, and a nearly bald head. While it was just he and I in the houses entryway, he shared with me that he was leading a group of Americans on a tour around Oxford during their visit, and he told me he was from Wycliffe Hall.

“Bingo,” I thought to myself as I shook his hand, before showing the group into the common room at the front of the house. “This must be the group Lyndon was referring to.”

I followed behind them and took my seat on a bench beside the door, so as to face everyone. Along with the gentleman from Wycliffe, there was a couple from America, fairly casually dressed, an older, grey-haired, heavy set gentleman in a suit, and another well-dressed man with glasses, this one younger than the other suited-man.

After asking where everyone was from, I introduced myself to the group, and then I began telling them about what Lyndon had told me only an hour or so earlier that afternoon, about running into the same group at Wycliffe Hall.

“So I’ll have to let my friend know he was right,” I shared to the group with a smile, as they sat around the small room on the old, rugged furniture. “I’ll have to tell him I did, in fact, see the old man from Florida who he had spoken with at lunch.”

The air quickly went out of the room as I finished my sentence, and I didn’t realize why at first. I replayed my words in my mind only to realize what I had said, and to realize that my attempt to break the ice had failed completely.

I tried to back-pedal, as quickly as possible, but it didn’t seem to help. Awkward glances went around the room. Looks to the “older man from Florida” who I probably should have recognized, but didn’t. Everyone seemed very serious, but he, alone, was smiling, and looking straight at me, as if to welcome the start of the tour. So that’s exactly what I did, pretending as though everything was completely normal and nothing at all had happened.

I made my way around the house, telling funny stories of Lewis mixed in with stories of his time at the home and his life in Oxford. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, and all my jokes were met with laughter.

By the end of the tour I was shaking hands and being told what a wonderful job I had done. Everyone seemed to really have enjoyed themselves, and so I decided against mentioning any sort of apology for what had been a horrible choice of words on my part to start the tour.

“Best not to wake a sleeping dog,” I thought to myself as I waved goodbye to the group with a smile from the front door.

I tidied up the Kilns from the tour, after everyone had left, and I made my way to the bus stop and back toward town to get some studying done from the Harris Manchester Library before meeting up with the Oxford University Lewis Society for dinner.

Lewis Society & Dinner with Aidan Mackey

This week’s speaker at the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society wasn’t actually speaking on C. S. Lewis, but, rather, G. K. Chesterton. That may sound strange to some, but Chesterton was a writer who was rather influential in Lewis’s life and writing, and so he’s a welcome topic for the Society.

Prior to the Society meeting, a small group of us met at Pierre Victoire, a small french restaurant where we often meet, which is only a short walk north of the Society’s lecture room. I had never met Aidan Mackey, our speaker for the evening, before meeting him at the restaurant that night, but I was so happy to. Jen had met him before, once when she was working at the Kilns and when he was visiting. She had really enjoyed meeting him, and I was excited to.

Aidan is an older man, he must be approaching 90 if he is not already there, and sharp as can be. He has a head of white-as-snow hair that stands up tall on his narrow frame. And, while he looks rather frail, his conversation tells you his mind is anything but. He’s a brilliant guy, incredibly humble, and funny, too. He’s the kind of sharp-witted man I can only hope to still be when I am his age.

Aidan is a life-long admirer of Chesterton, and very likely one of the world’s foremost experts on the scholar. This evening would be his final public address on Chesterton, he told us.

“I just don’t want to be the older man who is the last person to realize he is long past his expiration date,” he explained to us with great humility.

“Oh no, no, no,” Walter (Hooper) said with a look of astonishment, seated just to Aidan’s right. “You’ve got a long way to go yet!”

Aidan has been reading Chesterton since he was 14, when he fell in love with his books after his brother lent him one. Over dinner that evening, Aidan told us about falling in love with Chesterton’s writing, of falling in love with his wife (who still says the only reason he married her is because she had an early edition of Chesterton’s writing he was wanting for his personal library), and about how his daughter held a written correspondence with Lewis.

“It’s embarrassing that my greatest claim to fame is being related to my daughter,” he said to those around the second-floor table that evening, receiving a round of laughter.

Walter cited the volume of letters in which Lewis replied to Aidan’s daughter’s letter. Lewis had recently written The Chronicles of Narnia when this young girl had written him. Walter explained that Lewis was at the height of his career at this point, how he had all these demands on his time and a long list of pressing requirements, and yet, how he took the time to write a careful letter in reply.

“There was not a hint of condescension in responding to her question,” Aidan shared with us, as if recalling reading the letter for the first time, with a hint of admiration in his voice.

Wednesday: Caught in the rain & Alone in a library full of people and champagne

I spent Wednesday studying in the library. I had an essay due the next day, and  lot of reading to catch up before I could begin writing. So I read, and read some more, eating my lunch at my desk from my favorite spot on the second floor.

By the time 4:00 rolled around, I realized I still needed to drop off a post card at the post office before it closed for the day. So I pulled it out of my bag and made my way out of the library and onto my bike. I had not been outside all day, but the library windows told me it was still nice out, so I didn’t bother with a jacket. This was a mistake.

By the time I rounded the corner onto Broad Street, a short ride from Harris Manchester, I was completely soaked. Not just my trousers, this time, but everything. My hair, my shirt, I was completely drenched. And then, almost miraculously, when I had made it to the Post Office, only a short, five-minute bike ride away, it was as if the skies peeled back the previously present cloud cover to let the blue, sunny skies shine through. It was bizarre, and I was left to wander into the post office soaking wet.

By 8:00 that night, I was back in the Harris Manchester library, plowing through my reading, and nearly dry. My hair was standing every which way on my head as it reached upward to dry.

Earlier in the day I had received an e-mail I had paid little attention to, something about a wine party that would be held in the library that evening. I should’ve paid more attention, as it would have likely given me more heads-up to the older men and women who were filing into the library out of nowhere, dressed in suits and dresses. But I didn’t, and suddenly the library was buzzing, filled with suits and champagne and old men. Apparently all of the other students at college had taken the time to read the e-mail, as I looked around to find I was the only one left. And all of a sudden, I was alone, lost in a sea of older men and women and enough small talk to make my ears ring.

I scooped up my books and bag and did my best to make my way down the metal spiral staircase and out the library’s double doors without disturbing anyone. “This bit of reading will be finished at home,” I told myself as I continued my way out of the library, down the stone stair steps, and outside into the cool, dark night air.

Friday: We are the message

After my tutorial on Friday morning, I got a bit of reading done before catching up with Tihi at Kellogg College on Banbury Road, in north Oxford, for lunch. Tihi and I had been playing tag, exchanging e-mails trying to find a time that worked to do lunch for some time. Finally we had found a date and time that worked, and I was glad. He has an incredible story.

I pulled off the busy Banbury Road traffic to the crunching sound of gravel under my bike tire just in time to see Tihi standing at the front of the College. He had been waiting for me, and he welcomed me with a smile. He’s tall, always taller than I remember, and he wears a broad smile. His eastern European accent is heavy, but its softened by his intent look of earnest care and compassion and interest, a look he seems to wear a lot. He’s one of those guys who always seems happy about life. The kind of guy I like being around.

I had never been to Kellogg College before, but it took me off guard. It was far more modern than 90% of the rest of the buildings I had stepped foot in here in Oxford. It was simple in design, and it was filled with lots of natural lighting, soft tones and smooth hard wood floors.

Tihi and I grabbed a plate and he led me to the lunch line. Kellogg College is like Wycliffe Hall in that you make your way through a food line where you’re served. However, it’s very unlike Wycliffe Hall in that the food looks like what you’d find in an up-scale restaurant in the city, with smaller servings that have been neatly arranged for the sake of presentation.

Tihi commented on the fact that the food is very good at Kellogg College, but that it’s always served in such small servings. I told him I thought it looked great. And, after we bowed our heads and said a short prayer, I found out it tasted great, too.

If you haven’t already, you should take the time to read Tihi’s story. It’s unreal, and unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Tihi, short for Tihomir, is from Serbia. And he’s working on his Dphil here at Oxford. Clearly, he’s a bright guy, but he doesn’t come across as condescending in the least. He’s incredibly personable, like he’s still in awe of the fact that he’s actually here, working on his studies. I think I find that comforting, and something I can relate to.

Tihi shared a bit more of his story as we talked over lunch. About how he showed up to Oxford with only $50 in his pocket, and about all the pressure he felt from those back home who knew where he had come from, and what he was now doing.

“I felt like everyone in Serbia was just waiting to see me fail,” he told me with a look of candid sincerity. “I didn’t know how this was going to work out, or what I was going to do, but I knew I was supposed to be here.”

Today, in addition to his studies, Tihi travels all around the world, to share the Gospel, and to tell others about the incredible ways in which things have unfolded so that he can be here now studying.

We talked about redemption, and Tihi shared with me how he believes God intentionally uses people who we wouldn’t normally expect, to tell others about His goodness and His love. So that they can see His mission is one of redemption.

After exchanging our thoughts on the point, and after we had both finished a forkful of food, Tihi looked across the table at me and said, “Since coming here, and since all of this has happened, I’ve realized that, in a way, we are the message.”

I nodded in my head in agreement, and I allowed his words to linger in the air so that I could let myself feel the full weight of his point.

Saturday: A rare Brit at the Kilns & A message in the park

I woke up Saturday morning and made my way to the Kilns, a five-mile bike ride from where we live in north Oxford, for my lone tour of the day. Fortunately, it was a sunny morning, and it made for a nice way to start the day.

Arriving to the Kilns on a sunny morning, and walking along the gravel pathway that leads to the front door to the crunching sound underfoot and looking into the kitchen to be greeted by a warm smile and “hello!” from one of the Kilns residents, is quite possibly one of my favorite things in Oxford. So much so that it is rather difficult to put into words.

My tour for the day went really well, and I managed to get all the way through it without getting my foot caught in my mouth this time around, which was good.

On my tours, I always make a point to point out the wardrobe that sits at the foot of the stairs, as, while its not the home’s original wardrobe, it is where the wardrobe that Lewis’s grandfather carved by hand stood when Lewis lived at the Kilns. This is significant because it’s the wardrobe Lewis would’ve had in his childhood home in Belfast, and it was later moved to the Kilns, which meant Lewis would have had it with him for nearly all of his life. Because of this, it’s not a stretch to imagine this is the wardrobe he would have likely had in mind when he was writing The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

A photo of the original wardrobe hangs on the hallway wall, as the original wardrobe is now housed at Wheaton College in Illinois. I usually point out to the group that the home would’ve had several wardrobes at the time Lewis lived here, as the English tend to have wardrobes where most American homes have closets or dressers, but that this particular wardrobe is significant for the reason I told them before.

Later on, while we were in Lewis’s bedroom, the lone British woman on our tour (it’s not often we get English residents on our tours at the Kilns, at least I don’t) asked about a small doorway on the wall beside Lewis’s bed.

“What’s this?” she asked, turning toward me, and pointing at the small doorway.

“Oh, that’s a door that leads to the attic space,” I explained. “But now it’s really just used as a closet.”

She smiled and nodded contently, and I recalled the statement I had made earlier about English homes tending to have wardrobes, whereas American homes typically have closets or dressers.

“I just thought it was funny that you said the English are too poor to have closets,” she said, almost in passing.

I’m sure the look on my face showed how puzzled I was.

“I didn’t mean to say the English are too poor to have closets,” I tried to clarify. “I was just trying to explain a distinction between the two cultures, that we don’t tend to see wardrobes in America. If I get anything wrong about the English culture, please do correct me,” I told her.

She nodded her head, again with a bit of a smirk. It was a bit awkward, I thought. I had had other Brits on my tour before, and none of them had ever given me any reason to think my comment about English homes having wardrobes was offensive.

Once downstairs, I showed the group to Lewis’s brother Warnie’s room. I pointed out several things in the room. Photos of Lewis and his brother, and where their desks would’ve sat.

I also pointed out where Warnie would’ve had a small buddha statue, on the fireplace mantle. I told the group this may seem odd, as Warnie was a Christian, but he actually had it there because it reminded him of his conversion experience, which took place in Japan, in front of a very large buddha statue.

15 minutes later I was wrapping up my tour, shaking hands and thanking people for coming. There were a lot of smiles, and lots of “thank you’s” from those on my tour. The English woman who pointed out the door to the attic room in Lewis’s bedroom made a point to find me, and I could tell there was something she wanted to tell me from the look on her face.

“Hi,” she said, greeting me. “You mentioned that you thought it odd that Warnie came back to Christianity in front of a buddha statue, but I wanted to tell you I didn’t think that was weird.”

She explained to me how she thought all religions were ultimately trying to achieve the same thing, and so it shouldn’t be odd that one religious figure leads us to another religion, since they’re all leading to the same point. As best as I could, I tried to tell her why I disagreed.

Standing in the front hallway of the Kilns, as those from our tour shuffled from the front dining room where they were signing the guest book to the front door, I told her about the group I had started with several friends here in Oxford, the Oxford Open Forum, and how, after listening to people from so many different religions, it was clear to me that all religions really aren’t the same. I told her it was only after hearing, first-hand, just what each of the world’s major religions believe, that I came to realize just how different they truly are.

She nodded her head politely, and I was less than convinced she was persuaded by my comments. Then, for a reason I am still unclear on, she began to tell me about her frustrations with Christianity.

“Christianity just seems so concerned with rules and with laws,” she said to me, wearing a look of frustration.

This was not a conversation I was expecting to have when I arrived at the Kilns that morning, but, again, as politely as possible, I tried to explain why I disagreed.

“It’s kind of funny to hear you say that,” I said to her, “because that’s not what I think of at all when I think of Christianity.”

I went on to explain to her why I thought otherwise.

“To me, that seems like a very rigid, law-based religion, and that’s not Christianity at all.”

“There are plenty of religions that say you must do X, Y and Z in order to get A, B and C,” I continued, “but that’s not what I find in Christianity. The reason Christianity is so different from so many other religions is because, in Christianity, we find God coming as Jesus Christ and saying, ‘You cannot earn this, but I will do this on your behalf.'”

I went on to tell this woman that not only did I think this was an incredible distinguishing mark of Christianity, I also thought it was beautiful.

Again, she nodded her head, politely, and, again, I was less than convinced I had persuaded her to think differently. But I hoped I had at least given her something to consider. Shaking her hand and thanking her, again, for coming, I hoped, secretly, that she might have a second look at Christianity and realize it’s a bit more radical, and far more beautiful, than she had previously believed.

Music to my ears in the park

I returned home that afternoon to find Jen in bed. She hadn’t been feeling well, and she was doing her best to sleep it off.

I shared with her about my experience at the Kilns, and about the conversation with the English woman who joined us, before making my way downstairs to work on some reading. It was a sunny day, and the light from the spring afternoon shone through the front windows as I worked away.

I had planned on attending an open-air lecture that evening at a nearby park. South Park. The lecture was to be given by an Oxford Professor of Mathematics by the name of John Lennox.

I didn’t know who John Lennox was when I arrived in Oxford, but I had heard of him shortly after I arrived and I was blown away by some of his past talks, which I listened to online. Not only is Professor Lennox a brilliant mathematician, with an incredible body of work in his field, compiled during his time at both Cambridge and Oxford, he also regularly lectures on the topic of Faith and Science. One of his passions, it seems, is to show others that the two are not mutually exclusive, and that you do not have to throw out your faith simply because you consider yourself an intellectual.

It was a message I was drawn to from the start, and his speaking ability was as engaging as I have found. When I heard he would be giving this lecture at a nearby park, on a sunny spring evening, I knew I was in.

Jen had been planning on going with me, but, as she had not been feeling well, she decided to sit this one out. I told her I’d be happy to stay home and continue to work on my studies, just in case there was anything she needed me to do for her, but she insisted I go. I made sure this wasn’t one of those offers husbands are supposed to turn down, and hear about how they failed later if they don’t, but she didn’t budge. So I went.

South Park is in the direction of the Kilns. On the other side of Oxford. So I made my way across town on my bike once again, and 20 minutes later I was locking it up on the outside gate of the large park with its stretching green lawns. There were several tents set up as I made my way across the park, and people were beginning to gather beneath the high canopies as I arrived about 10 minutes early.

I recognized a few people there, but I found a seat about 20 feet back from center stage and took a seat in the lawn. Resting on my elbows, with my feet stretched out in front of me, I couldn’t help but think it was a perfect afternoon to be outside.

The evening’s lecture began with a bit of singing, as it was being hosted by several local churches, and it had a candidly evangelical bent. Many of those in the crowd raised their hands in the air as they sang, with eyes closed, even as they looked upward. The sound of voices singing praises hung in the air and drifted from the speakers on the stage, making their way to the surrounding neighborhoods. I found myself looking at those walking by, on the sidewalks that lined the park, and wondering to myself what they thought of all of this.

After several songs, an introduction was made by a local vicar (pastor) and John Lennox took the stage to a roar of clapping from the crowd.

Lennox is a large man, in his 50’s, with a head of white hair that has receded from the top of his head and settled around his ears and the base of the back of his head. He is from Ireland, and his voice rings beautifully with his rich Irish accent. He rolls each “r” sound, as if to emphasize its presence in each word, and I love it.

He spoke a lot about science, as one who is well established in the field of mathematics, and how those in the New Atheism camp like to argue that science has basically killed any reason to believe in God. His main point seemed to be to show that this is a farce, and that science was never intended to deal with spiritual matters. He began by explaining that, like anything, science has limits, and that spiritual matters is one of them.

He used an analogy I thought was beautiful to explain his point.

He told us a story about his Aunt Matilda who, he informed us, loved to bake cakes. He went on to explain that one could approach Matilda with every form of scientific testing available, but that it would ultimately prove unable to show why she baked cakes. He explained that science can’t tell us why she baked a cake because it’s beyond science’s reach. That’s not to say science cannot tell you many other things about Aunt Matilda and her cake, but not the reasoning behind Matilda’s baking. In the same way, he went on to explain, science can tell us many things about the world around us, and even about the humans that inhabit it, but there are many questions about the world and about us that it simply cannot answer for us, because it was never intended to. Many such questions fall under the label of “spiritual.”

Professor Lennox went on to tell us about a talk he once gave at a physicist convention and how, after his talk, one of the physicists approached him and asked him some fairly pointed questions about his faith. Apparently one of those questions was how he, as a mathematician, could hold onto his beliefs about God, knowing what he knows about science.

He told us how he agreed to respond to this man’s question, but how, before doing so, he asked the man a question in response. He told us how he asked this physicist to explain to him what consciousness is. The physicist was puzzled, he told us, both by his seemingly unrelated question, and as to how he might answer. And so, Lennox explained to us, he asked the physicist an easier question. Something more related to his field.

“What is energy?”

Lennox shared with the crowd how the physicist made some remarks about what energy does, but how, when Lennox continued to press him to describe not what energy does but what it is, he was unable.

“And so you see,” he shared with the crowd in his rich Irish accent, “Science does not have all the answers.”

He went on to explain that there are many questions science cannot answer, particularly those of a spiritual nature. How there are those who will try to tell you that science has disproved any reason for belief in God, but that is simply false. And how, ultimately, science was never intended to answer such questions.

And as I sat there in this crowd that had gathered at South Park in Oxford on a warm spring evening, a smile stretched across my face. I was filled with a great joy at this man’s ability to clear away the fog with his sharp thinking and illustrative analogies.

Listening to Lennox speak reminded me, quite strongly, of my first experience with C. S. Lewis’s writing. Another brilliant man from North Ireland, and a man who often passed by this very same park on his long walks between Magdelene College and his home at the Kilns. A man who a young John Lennox had heard lecture during his studies at Cambridge University. And, as Professor Lennox continued to speak on the topic of Science, Theology and New Atheism, his words rang with clarity, logic and truth of the kind I have rarely found, filling the park with beautiful music to my ears.

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

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

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

Church on Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding a hatchet in the woods

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

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

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

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

Summertown

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

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

A handful of restaurants. And a few shops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner with Felix & Jurassic Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprised by rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lewis Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greater appreciation for Lewis

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

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

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

You’ve got mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackpot

Today was another studies-filled day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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