Archives for posts with tag: Wycliffe Hall

Saturday: London the day after the Royal Wedding

This was Steve’s third time visiting us in England since we moved over. Steve had never been to London before, and we hadn’t made a trip there on either of his two previous trips. His fiance, Jamie, is an avid traveler, and, having been to London, she insisted that he needed to go.

I was sure Jamie would strangle him if I sent Steve back without a trip to London yet again. I didn’t want my best friend to be strangled, so I decided we’d better make it happen. (I’m just kidding, by the way. Jamie’s great. And I don’t think she actually strangles people.)

So Saturday morning Steve and I hopped on a bus and headed to the city. As we pulled out of the bus station, the driver came on the intercom and welcomed us. He told us about how long it’d take to get to London, and after a few minutes of chatter, he told us to make sure our seatbelts were on. I thought this was funny, because the seat in front of me was taller than I was, which I figured would make sure I wasn’t going anywhere in the event of an emergency stop. Steve obediently put his on, while I looked out the window at the countryside passing by on this sunny morning.

“Do I need to go tell the bus driver the guy next to me isn’t wearing his seat belt?” Steve joked, turning toward me. I laughed. “Yeah, actually,” I replied. “I’d love to see how that goes for you.”

I asked him what, in particular, he was hoping to take in while we were there. He told me he wasn’t a big sight-seeing guy, and so a lot of the typical sights he could probably do without. He said he would be interested in seeing Westminster Abbey, though, as it was the day after the Royal Wedding and all. I told him I’d take him to Harrod’s, too, as I figured he’d like to see that.

My eyes grew heavy as we talked and soon I found myself drifting into a bit of a nap while the bus scooted smoothly along the freeway, leading us through the countryside and toward London.

We picked up a map shortly after arriving in London. I found Harrod’s on the map and soon we were off in that direction. Walking past Hyde Park. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the park was interspersed with people enjoying being outside on this particularly nice afternoon. Some with their dogs. Some with their kids. A handful of couples.

We passed a small men’s clothing store along the way. With a window full of ties on display. Steve wanted to step inside to see if anything stood out to him for his wedding, so we did. There was a long table in the middle of the store overflowing with ties in neat rows, organized by color. Steve picked through them while I made my way around the store, glancing at ties and suit jackets.

The owner of the store came up from a staircase that led downstairs and asked us if we needed any help. Steve told him we were looking for some ties for his wedding, and so they talked for a bit. He ended up finding a tie he liked. For himself. So he picked it up for his wedding.

As we were checking out, I asked the shop owner what the previous day had been like for him. The day of the Royal Wedding.

“Slow,” he said. He told us this side of town, even though it wasn’t far from Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace, was just empty. That it was a bit of a ghost town. Because people were either at one of those two locations for the big day, or watching it on TV.

We thanked him for the tie and continued to make our way to Harrods. When we finally arrived a couple miles later, we took in the store’s window displays, filled with different designs of Royal Wedding cakes. Some were big and extravagant, others were more modern and simple. Some were covered in great displays of the Union Jack, others were a bit more subtle. After taking in more than 30 Royal Wedding cake designs, we walked through the large double doors and found our way around Harrods.

We passed through the watch selection in the jewelry department, with glass cases filled with rows of watches that cost as much as a small home, before entering the market and restaurants section of Harrod’s first floor. Steve found Laduree, a small, french bakery known for its macaroons, and bought a small box filled with a variety of flavors. He shared with me that Laduree was the creator of the French macaroon. He was happy.

We continued upstairs, passing through the men’s department, filled with suits and ties, and we noticed the opera music playing over the speaker system. Or, at least, that’s what we assumed we were hearing. We rounded a corner only to find a woman in a gown with a white shawl over her shoulders standing on a balcony and singing. “Much more impressive than a speaker system,” I thought to myself.

After we had enough of Harrod’s, we made our way across West London and found our way to Westminster Abbey, the site of the Royal Wedding the day before. I had been to Westminster Abbey several times, but I had never seen it so busy. There were people lined up around the entire block, waiting to get inside for a tour. The lawn in front of the large church was filled with people as well. We snapped a couple quick pictures and then escaped from what felt like a mob scene.

Across the street from Westminster Abbey is Parliament and Big Ben. Since Steve hadn’t been before, we made the short walk around Parliament’s expansive building and halfway across the large bridge that crosses the River Thames so we could take in the view. The view from Westminster Bridge, with Parliament and Big Ben on one side, and the London Eye on the other, is my favorite view in all of London. It’s really quite something.

From there, we made our way back across town and walked around Buckingham Palace, which wasn’t nearly as busy as Westminster Abbey, but it was still full of its fair share of tourists snapping photos. City workers were still working on tearing down large platforms and scaffolding, which we assumed were used to house the media from all around the world on the big day. Most of the chairs had been removed, it looked like, but a few stragglers gave a hint as to just how big this event had been.

When we had snapped some photos in front of Buckingham Palace, we walked along St. James Park and made our way back toward Marble Arch, where we had been dropped off by our bus earlier that day. Neither one of us had eaten since that morning, and it was now nearly 5:00. We found a pub along the way, thanks to a young British guy in a top-hat and tuxedo standing in front of a hotel, and we both ordered large burgers at the bar when we arrived. It was a nice end to Steve’s first time in London, sitting there in the wood-covered pub, with something like five different TVs all playing video and running commentary of the previous day’s wedding events. We clinked our water glasses together and dug into our burgers when they arrived, wasting little time in our hunger.

The Marble Arch bus stop was only a short walk from the pub and we were soon speeding northwest on the M40, the large bus scooting along smoothly in the evening air.

Sunday: 1 Year Later & Roses on the River

Sunday was a tough day. We knew it would be. May 1 was the one-year anniversary of saying goodbye to our sister, Hayley. We knew it’d be made extra difficult being away from our family. Being so far from home. Neither one of us were looking forward to this day. But we wanted to use it to remember Hayley. In a special way. I had picked up a bunch of roses. Pink. Hayley’s favorite color. Two days earlier. And I had a plan on how we could use them to make sure Hayley was honored, even from here in Oxford.

Steve was gone when we woke up that morning. He left for the city center, wanting to give us space. It wasn’t expected, or even suggested, but he’s thoughtful that way.

We slept in a bit and, when we both were up, I made us breakfast. We took our time that morning. And when we were finally ready, we left the house and made our way toward the river. To the Cherwell River Boathouse. I carried Hayley’s pink roses in my hand. And Jen’s hand in my other.

Walking down a gravel lane about a half-mile from our home, the small pebbles crunching beneath our feet, we came up to the boathouse. A long, wooden building with a low roof that sloped toward the river. Several tables were spread out on one side of the building. And there was an open door halfway down the front of the building, facing the river, where you could rent boats. I handed the man behind the desk my debit card, a guy around my age, with tattoos on his arm and large, circular earrings. He asked how long we wanted it for, and I told him an hour would do. He pointed us toward the next room over. A large, open garage. And told us to grab our punting pole, seat cushions, and a paddle and then head to our boat. Anyone we wanted. So we did.

Jen got in first. I handed her the pole and the cushions and the paddle. I untied the rope that fastened the punt to the dock and then hurried to enter the boat before it gently scooted away, out into the smooth-surfaced river.

“You want me to go first, to get us out of here?” Jen asked me, standing at the rear of the boat with the long pole in her hand. “That way you can see how to do it and then take it from there?”

“Sure. Yeah, that sounds good,” I said, taking a seat in the center of the boat as we glided softly into the middle of the river. Jen used the long pole to straighten us out and then, just like that, we were moving north along the river. Floating as the boat rocked ever so gently from side to side.

“You really know what you’re doing,” I told Jen, from my seat in the boat, she standing several feet behind me. “I could get used to this.”

There were a handful of other boats on the water that day, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly busy. It still felt a bit like an escape. It was still relaxing.

“Okay, are you ready to take it from here?” Jen asked me, after we had made it a ways from the dock. And the other boats.

“Yeah, yeah I can do that, I guess,” I said, somewhat hesitantly. I was enjoying my seat. And the ride. But I also definitely wanted to give punting a shot.

Jen and I traded spots, her now sitting in the middle of the boat, and me now standing at the rear. I used the pole to push off the bottom of the river, and quickly noticed it wasn’t nearly as easy as Jen made it look. The bottom of the river was quite muddy, which meant the pole would stick with each shove. It took some getting used to, but soon we were moving again.

“Use your pole to steer us,” Jen told me. “Like a rudder. Let it float and gently move it from side to side.”

When we had made it a ways further, and when there were no longer any boats around, Jen opened the bouquet of roses. And handed me one. I let the pole rest gently in one hand, and took the rose in the other. I shared a memory of Hayley. Jen smiled. Then I laid the rose softly on the surface of the river. And watched it float along the side of the boat, with tears in my eyes, before trailing behind us.

When it was a ways off, I returned to punting, taking the pole in my hand and pushing off the bottom of the river. We moved along a bit further and then Jen took a rose for herself. She held it in one hand, turning it over and over while sharing a memory of Hayley. One that meant a lot to her. Before reaching her arm over the side of the boat and placing the pink rose on the river. Then, slowly, it was floating along behind us.

We continued along the river. Sharing memories. And dropping roses. Until all that was left was a string of roses. And a string of our memories. Of Hayley. Of our sister. Who left us long before we thought she should.

When all our roses were gone, I said a short prayer. Thanking God for the gift of memories. And for the gift of the time we had with Hayley. Time we wouldn’t trade for anything. For, even though this pain seemed so deep that afternoon while floating along the river, the joy of those memories was deeper. And even though we floated along with tears in our eyes, we also floated along with joy in our hearts. From each memory. And from the knowledge that, where her pain once resided, now there was only Light and Joy and Peace.

I was thankful for that time with my wife. We had not been looking forward to this day. But it turned out much better than either one of us imagined. We ended it with a night of worship at St. Aldate’s, dinner at Tom’s Thai pub, and ice cream at G&D’s. And laughter. Around a table full of friends.

I’m learning that’s how it seems to go. Life. We fear so much. And then, time and time again, He shows up. Bringing with Him light for the darkness we so fear.

That’s how May 1 was for us. Where we thought we’d find only pain and hurt and darkness, there was joy and laughter, even amongst the tears. He is good. Even in the valleys, He is good.

Tuesday: Saying ‘Goodbye’ to Steve, Saying ‘Hello’ to Greek

Tuesday was the day we said ‘goodbye’ to Steve and I said ‘hello’ to my first official day of Trinity Term, my last term of my first year at Oxford.

We called a cab for Steve and I rode with him back to Gloucester Green, along the same route we had walked so many times before. Back and forth between the city center and our home on Northmoor Road. We had had another great time with Steve here in Oxford, and I told him how much we appreciated him taking the time to come visit us.

The cab driver let us out at Gloucester Green, in a circle of large buses coming and going. I said ‘goodbye’ to Steve before he boarded one of the large buses himself and made his way back to London. Back to the airport. And back to the States.

It’s rare to have a friend who’s willing to travel so far to visit, I thought to myself as I made my way across the city center. To cross the Atlantic several times, as Steve has for us. What an incredible gift, I thought to myself. But soon, those warm thoughts were lost in a feeling of being completely overwhelmed by my return to Greek.

I wouldn’t be taking Greek this term as I had the two terms before. Not three times a week, with regular quizzes and translations to submit. Instead, I’d merely be sitting in on a translation class, where we’d walk through the text together and take turns reading and translating the text verse by verse. Much better than the nightmare I woke up to three times a week the previous terms, I figured.

Rhona had sent out an e-mail telling us about the different reading classes available to us this term. One by her, and another by another tutor, Nick King at Campion Hall. I had met Nick before. He’s a very nice, older British man. With a head of silver grey hair, neatly kept, and a sharp witted sense of humor. I chose Nick’s class for the term, not merely for his humor, or for a change, so much as because he would be covering the text I would be tested on as part of my final exams the following spring. That seemed to be the most obvious choice for me.

In her e-mail, Rhona said there’d be no need to prepare for our first day. So I didn’t. Entering Campion Hall, I made my way into a large room with a group huddled in a circle around a group of tables that had been squeezed together to form a large rectangle. Books were piled up in the middle of the table, and the group had just begun reading a passage from Matthew. In Greek. I took a seat on the right side of the circle and quickly noticed two good friends from Rhona’s class: Emily, on one side of the circle, and Lyndon on the other. Lyndon gave me a smile and a gentle wave.

Quickly, I realized everyone in the room was quite proficient in their Greek reading and translation, moving through the text at a dizzying pace. The reading didn’t scare me, but it was the translation that made me rather nervous. Soon, it was my turn. I read aloud my verse and then gave my best at translating, stumbling through a series of unfamiliar Greek words. The fact that I had hardly looked at my Greek over the two-month long vacation certainly didn’t help.

I soon found myself stuck on a word I was completely stumped on. I shook my head and confessed to Nick, who was seated across the large circle from me, that I had no idea what the translation was. The circle of students around the table were quiet, eyes on Nick and myself. He told me it was very similar to the Latin word of the same meaning, thinking surely that would be of help. It wasn’t. It was, instead, merely a reminder of another word I don’t know, and a bit like pouring salt in an open wound.

“Sorry,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. “I don’t know Latin.” Someone else piped in with the answer and soon we were moving quickly back around the circle.

I felt horrible. Ashamed at how atrocious my Greek was, particularly in a group of students who were so proficient. I was quickly reminded Oxford attracts some sizable brains.

Before packing up and leaving for the afternoon, I noticed the students to my left and my right had notes on the text. From the looks of it, they had walked through the Greek and written out their translation in English.

“Well that would’ve saved me some embarrassment,” I thought to myself as I packed up my things. I caught up with Emily and Lyndon outside of Campion Hall afterwards. First Emily, then Lyndon. Emily seemed to share my sense of being completely overwhelmed with the return to Greek, which I appreciated, as I iced my wounds from the embarrassing scene. Lyndon fared better than us both, but he, too, shared in our sentiments when he caught up with us. Particularly with Nick’s attempt to use Latin to spur on my Greek.

“Don’t you love that?” Lyndon said with a smile and a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

It was an embarrassing first showing, to be sure, but it helped to know that, at least some of the others, had prepared in advance. I’d make sure I did the same come next week.

Wednesday: Open Forum & Atheism

I spent most of Wednesday working on my essay for the week, which was due Thursday evening. It was on the European Reformation. A topic I’m not well-versed in, which meant I needed to sink extra time into my reading just to get up to speed on the topic.

Wednesday night provided a break from the essay work, though, as it was our first Open Forum evening of the new term. We decided to change things up a bit with the Open Forum this term, choosing to have one worldview represented each week. We’d invite someone from a particular background, be it Atheism, Buddhism, Catholicism, etc., and give them 10-15 minutes to talk about their beliefs. After that, we’d spend the rest of the time in Q&A.

For our first night, we invited Alex to talk about Atheism. Alex is the president of the Oxford Atheist Society, so he was a perfect choice for the evening. And he did a great job.

Alex shared with us why he thought “Atheist” is a fair title, even though many in his camp tend to take issue with it. He explained their point, that we don’t have to carry a title because we don’t believe in fairies, yet we do when we don’t believe in God. He explained that many Atheists take it for granted that anyone would believe in God, but Alex said this is the case anytime you aren’t in the majority. And Theists have always been in the majority. Alex is a smart guy. He’s young, still in his early 20’s, and I appreciate his reasoning.

He talked a bit more about his own personal beliefs before we opened things up for questions. Jen was joining us this evening, along with her friend and co-worker Melissa from the Kilns. Jen asked Alex about the path that had brought him from Catholicism to Atheism. He had shared this story with us on a previous occasion, but Jen hadn’t been there. He gave us the condensed version, and then fielded some more questions.

I asked Alex something that had been on my mind, while listening to him talk. I asked him how his beliefs impact his life or the lives around him on a daily basis. In a practical way.

He looked almost confused by the question. Scrunching his eyebrows behind his glasses as he thought about the question for a few seconds before answering.

“It doesn’t,” he said, looking toward me. “But I don’t think we should look to such beliefs to do that.”

We wrapped up the night on that note, and I found myself chewing on his comment as we left the meeting. I agreed, we certainly shouldn’t “choose” our religion based on what it does for us. Or others. We should believe something because it’s true, and not for what it does for us. Which is why I believe the Christian account.

But Christianity does more than that. More than merely accounting for creation and our role in it, this faith reminds me I’m not the center of the universe, a reminder I often need. Christianity calls me to die to myself, to serve others and to love God with all I have. Christianity warns me against spending my short time on this earth worshipping myself or created things, which comes so easily to us. And I think that makes a difference, both in my life and in the lives of those around me.

I compared this with Alex’s response to my question: “How does your faith impact your life and the lives of those around you?” . . . “It doesn’t.”

How sad, I thought to myself, as we made our walk back north to Northmoor Road. And, as we made our way back home, I was wondering if Alex was thinking the same thing about his beliefs.

Thursday: Senior Tutor Mtg

Thursday morning I was scheduled to sit down with the Senior Tutor and Principal at College. To review my academic progress, and make sure everything was going okay. Everyone at Harris Manchester has this meeting at the start of the term, which means these meetings are super short. Only five minutes or so.

I made my way out of the library Thursday morning and up the wooden staircase leading to the Principal’s office for my meeting. Principal Waller met me at the door with a big, beaming smile and a warm, British, “Hello.”

He asked me if I wanted a cup of tea, and I thanked him but said, “No thank you.”

Lesley, the Senior Tutor, was seated at a desk near the window with some papers in her hand. My tutors’ reports, I assumed. She looked up from them as I entered and welcomed me.

Lesley is pretty straightforward, which I appreciate, so there was little small-talk. I had plenty of work to get back to in submitting my first week’s essay, and I’m sure the fact that they had plenty of other students to see helped, too.

“Well, we’re very happy with your work,” Lesley said, looking from her papers to me with a warm smile. Principal Waller looked at me and smiled as well. I thanked them, and I told them I was very happy to hear that. And then I let their words set in while they continued to talk.

It’s just that, it’s still a little unreal for me to hear that. That Oxford is happy with my work . . . Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d hear that.

After several minutes, I made my way back down the stairs leading to Principal Waller’s office, down the hallway and up the stairs leading to the Harris Manchester library. To wrap up my essay, which would take up the rest of my day.

Friday: My first European Reformation Tutorial

I made my way to Wycliffe Hall Friday morning for my first tutorial of the term. Wycliffe Hall is one of the few evangelical schools at Oxford. It’s where Lyndon is a member. My tutor for this paper teaches for Wycliffe, which is why my tutorial was there, in his office.

Walking up to Wycliffe, I met my classmate for the term. John Ash. I had met John during my first term at Oxford. When I had come to Wycliffe for lunch with another John I knew. From Greek class. John’s a tall guy. Maybe 6’2″. With dark brown hair and an athletic frame. I found out later he’s a rower.

“Ryan, good to see you again,” he said, greeting me with a smile. “I thought I recognized your name,” he commented, referring to the e-mail our tutor Andrew had sent out to us both before the start of the term.

We entered through a tall door and climbed a wooden, spiral staircase. We found Andrew’s door at the top of the stairs and, knocking, heard him answer from within.

“Hello,” he answered, in his low, British accent. “Come in.”

We did. Andrew stood up from his seat in the middle of the cramped office space. Cramped because it was not only small, but because it was filled to the brim with books and boxes. Bookshelves lined the walls of his triangle-shaped office, climbing high up into the ceiling. And boxes sat around the office’s floor, stacked on one another, leaving just enough room for three chairs.

Andrew is a younger guy, with close-shaven hair that’s nearly as long as the scruffy beard on his face. He has big, attentive eyes, and he welcomed us as we entered the room.

“Hello,” he said, greeting us. “Squeeze in and find a chair.”

I turned my shoulders and did my best to squeeze around him and into the chair on the opposite side of the small room. Taking my seat, Andrew and John did the same before he welcomed us.

We talked briefly about what brought us here to Oxford, and what we’ve been working on up to this point. Andrew then opened with a short prayer, which I’ve never had in a tutorial before, and I thought was great. A moment later we were launching headfirst into the paper we had submitted the night before, in response to the question, “Why did the Western Church prove to be so vulnerable to the critique of Reformers from the second decade of the sixteenth century?”

As I said, the European Reformation is a topic I’m almost completely unfamiliar with, and, even after my week’s reading, it showed. John took the lead on most of the questions, and I filled in the gaps where I could. It was the first time I had been outnumbered in my tutorial: both Andrew and Jonathan being British. Andrew works at a nearby church, when he’s not teaching, and John’s Dad is apparently a well-known Christian writer in England, on top of working in churches around the country. They have a lot in common, and very quickly I felt I was playing the role of outsider. I wondered, to myself, if they noticed.

Soon, our hour was up, Andrew was wishing us a good week, and John and I were making our way back downstairs and out into the open air courtyard behind Wycliffe Hall. It was a sunny day, and I was now officially done with my first week of the term. John and I chatted for a bit from outside Andrew’s office. He told me he and his wife were in the process of buying a home, and so he had his hands full of that when he wasn’t working on this paper.

“I’ve recently inherited a chunk of money, and so we found a very small home nearby,” he explained to me. “It’s going to take a lot of work, but we’re excited.” Listening to John talk about his home remodel project, I realized I had absolutely no excuse not to find time for my paper in comparison.

I told John it was great to see him again, and that I looked forward to our conversation the following week before saying “goodbye.” Hopping on my bike and leaving Wycliffe Hall, I shook my head at the thought that I only had seven weeks left before the end of my first year at Oxford.

“Nearly there,” I thought to myself as I rode toward the library to find my books for the following week’s essay.

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Before leaving for class this morning, I stopped in to say “bye” to Jane. They’re leaving for Rome tomorrow morning, and I didn’t know if I’d see them before they left.

Beng greeted me at the door. She was doing some cleaning.

“You have another beeg box by the door,” she told me as I came in.

“What? Really?…” I asked, completely surprised. Funny, I had received mail the previous two days, and I woke up this morning realizing it’d probably be a while before I get more. I was kind of bummed, but this was good news.

Beng led me to the dront door and, sure enough, there was another one. A 30 pounder this time. From grandpa, again. That guy…

I was in a hurry, so I wasn’t able to open it before leaving for class. It did give me something to look forward to that evening, though.

An Oxford kind of lecture

I just have one lecture to attend on Thursdays. The rest of this day is spent studying, reading and working on essays. And taking in views like this on my way to class.

My lecture this morning was on Pre-Nicaea Christian Doctrine. Basically, what the early Christian church believed. I can hear a few of you yawning, but I really enjoy this stuff. Early church heretical views and the like. Very interesting.

And our professor is great for this lecture, too. Dr. Mark Edwards. The guy’s brilliant, no doubt. He enters in his very Oxford attire: button-up dress shirt, tie, sweater (stained), scarf, tweed jacket, black academic gown, glasses. Messy hair. Scruffy face.

He enters the classroom, gown flowing behind him, pours himself a glass of water (which he holds for the entirety of class), and then he immediately begins. A two-sentence recap of the week before and then it’s on to the new material. Non-stop for an hour. No pauses. Straight through. Spitting out names and dates with ease. Smooth transitions. This guy knows his stuff front and back.

And then, at the top of the hour, “Next week I shall talk about the gnostics.” He drinks the glass of water he’s been holding for the past hour in one long swallow and then he’s out the door. First one out of the room. This guy is something else. It’s comical, really.

Studying at Blackwell’s

I spent most of this afternoon at Blackwell’s. The book shop I first visited yesterday. I had a bunch of Greek to get through, and I thought I’d try it out.

I really liked it, too. Very busy. Students. Professors. Others. Not a quiet place, by any means, but I liked that. It let me say my Greek aloud to myself without interrupting anyone.

I can’t really practice my Greek aloud at the Harris Manchester Library or the Bodleian. You feel bad walking too loudly in those places. I could probably yell my Greek here and people wouldn’t notice. Perfect.

It was about lunch time when I arrived, so I decided to snag a bite while I was there. They were advertising their paninis on the way in, so I thought I’d see how they compared to the Alternative Turk.

I was not impressed. For starters, you pick them up out of a cooler. Pre-packaged. And then they grill them for you when you pay. They also cost more than the Alternative Turk. And they’re not nearly as big or as tasty. Looks like the Alternative Turk is going to be taking my money for some time to come…

It was busy there. People were circling tables shortly after I arrived. Looking for a place to sit.

I noticed one guy, probably in his early 50’s, trying to get a table. Another guy was getting up to leave so he waited. Then another, younger girl walked up and set her things down at the table. I was just waiting for the first guy to get upset. He didn’t.

“They must be together,” I thought to myself. “Professor meeting with a student, perhaps?”

I’m not one to listen to other people’s conversations, but I struggled not to in this case. For starters, his American accent caught my ear. And he spoke loudly, so that I couldn’t not hear what he was saying. And I noticed he was talking a lot about God. And prayer. And how God wants to hear from us. It sounded like this girl was having a tough time, and he was encouraging her to seek Him. Because that’s what God wants us to do, he told her.

“He knows our desires,” he told this girl, “but he still wants to hear from us. We don’t have to fully understand it, we just have to do it.”

He was being pretty firm with her. Not in a bad way. Just like he knew what she needed to hear. And it surprised me. All the God talk. Especially in a public space like this coffee shop. I heard Wycliffe Hall mentioned. “Maybe he’s a professor there,” I thought to myself.

Toward the end of their conversation, he handed a camera to the table next to them and asked if they’d take a picture.

“Okay, now that’s just weird,” I thought to myself.

They both got up, he was leaving, apparently, and I realized this man was this girl’s father. He was saying goodbye.

I spent a couple hours more in my Greek after this scene ended. After wrapping up my assignment, I packed up my things and made my way out of Blackwell’s. But all of a sudden I felt the urge to go to talk to this girl. Even though I didn’t want to .

“I don’t want to come across as some creeper,” I told myself, pushing aside the internal prodding to introduce myself. “That’d just be weird”

I began to take the stairs out and ended up stopping before getting all the way down. It felt like someone had reached out a hand and pushed it into my gut, blocking my way out.

“All right. Okay. I’ll go,” I said to myself. Still not wanting to. Still feeling weird about the whole thing.

I made my way back up the stairs and shuffled through the tables to this girl. She was reading a book. And she looked up at me with this look like, “Yes? Can I help you?” as I did.

I told her I knew this sounded weird, but I overheard her conversation, and I felt the urge to come introduce myself. I was just waiting for her to tell me to go away. She didn’t.

I told her I noticed her American accent, and the other guy’s with her.

“Oh, yeah, that was my Dad,” she told me.

She introduced herself. “Karis. It’s Greek for Grace.”

I told her I was studying Greek, but I was horrible at it.

She told me she’s going to Wheaton. And that she’s studying abroad for a term. She told me she just got done saying goodbye to her Dad. I told her I would be a complete mess if that were me. She asked if I were close with my family, and I told her I was. Very much so.

“Me too,” she said.

She’s interested in apologetics. And she’s studying at Wycliffe Hall.

I told her I’ve met a number of guys from there, and that they’ve all been super nice.

“They’ve been great to me. Even inviting me over for dinner and lunch,” I told her. “Yeah, I’ve really had a great experience with Wycliffe.”

“Ah, you must be a Christian, then?” she asked.

She said when she tells people she’s going to Wycliffe, she gets some different responses.

“People think it’s cultish, or something, since it’s a Christian college,” she told me.

She asked where I went. I told her Harris Manchester. Not sure if that meant anything to her or not. Not sure what kind of connotations that name carries. Apart from the fact that we’re all old.

I told her I had just arrived a couple weeks earlier, and that my wife would be here at the end of the month. I told her that would make this feel much more like home.

“Not sure if that made a difference or not,” I thought to myself as I made my way out of Blackwell’s. But maybe it did. I don’t know. I’d be a mess if I were her. At least now I didn’t feel like someone was blocking me from going down the stairs when I left.

Living out my dream

I talk with my best friend Steve every day. By e-mail, usually. And he does a great job of telling me how proud he is of me. For following my dreams. And for living them out. He reminds me that I truly am living my dream right now. And I need that reminder, because it doesn’t usually feel that way. Instead, I usually just feel stressed. About all I have to get done. Mostly about Greek.

Three days out of the week I’m waking up to Greek class. First thing in the morning. Exam every class. First thing. It’s kind of like waking up to someone sitting beside your bed just waiting for you to open your eyes so they can punch you in the face.

But every once in a while I catch myself thinking, “this really is amazing. I am actually here, in Oxford. I am actually doing this.” I found myself thinking that as I left the Radcliffe Camera at the Bodleian this afternoon. Walking up those ancient stone steps. Reaching daylight and being surrounded by these incredible, old, and enormous buildings.

But then, after a few seconds, I don’t believe it anymore. It’s just too unreal.

Discuss

I went to Discuss for the first time tonight. It’s a small group that meets at St. Andrews. The Church just down the street from here, where I’ve gone on Sunday mornings a couple times.

It was nice. Good group of 20- and 30-somethings showed up. Dinner beforehand. Chicken curry and rice, which was really good.

I sat by a guy by the name of Martin. I think he’s 120% Irish. Give or take. A head of floppy, bright red hair. Thick as mud Irish accent. Really funny guy, too.

He asked where I was from. I told him Seattle.

“Ah… Grey’s Anatomy and Frasier!” he said with a smile.

“Yep, that pretty much sums up everything you’d need to know about me,” I said with a laugh.

He asked what brought me here. I told him about the change I had made from working at a marketing firm back home to studying Theology here at Oxford. I asked what he did.

“IT stuff,” he told me. “You know, the internet. Have you heard of it?” he asked, sarcastically.

“Oh, you mean the Google tubes? Yeah, are people still using that?” I asked him. He laughed.

After dinner, we broke up into small groups of about 10 or so people and had a short Bible study.

It was nice to be in the Word with some other folks. Walking through it and discussing our thoughts. And I found myself thinking about halfway through, “I can’t remember the last time I was sitting in a small group I wasn’t leading, in some form or another.” It was a good feeling.

Martin’s wife was also in our group. She’s also from Ireland, but her accent isn’t nearly as thick.

When she heard where I was from, she asked if I was getting any sleep.

“Yeah, actually, the first week was quite hard, but now I’m settling in all right…” but my words were cut off with laughter. Apparently her joke had gone right over my head.

Seattle. Sleepless In Seattle. You know.

I told her that’s actually the only movie anyone watches back home, so it’s weird I didn’t pick up on the joke. More laughter.

I’m pretty sure that won’t be the last time I’ll go. I knew I wanted to find some Christian community when I came here. Seems like it’s lining up pretty great so far.

One girl who was in our small group had spent some time in Vancouver. She was from England, but her parents had moved to Vancouver. She spent a couple years there. I told her that wasn’t far from where I was from. Maybe an hour.

“Bellingham,” I told her.

“I was going to ask if it was Bellingham,” she said. “We’d always go to the Macy’s there.”

“Yeah? You and the rest of Canada, I’m pretty sure.”

(Another) Jackpot

I was excited to return home and find the package from my grandpa waiting for me. Not having a memory has its benefits, sometimes. Like being surprised by things you already know.

I really wasn’t expecting another package from my Grandpa. The first box was pretty comprehensive. Or so I thought…

But he thought otherwise. More cereal. More oatmeal. More trail mix. More protein bars. I’m not sure I could eat all this if I didn’t eat anything other than cereal, oatmeal, protein bars and trail mix for the next two years.

I could hear my Grandpa’s voice, from all those mornings he’d make us breakfast. Huge breakfasts. With more food than we could ever possibly eat. “I’d rather make too much than not enough,” he’d say.

Thank you, Grandpa. This really is incredibly generous of you.

Missing Hayley

I had a bit of studying to do before turning in tonight. Greek. For my exam in the morning. A good hour or two’s worth, probably.

And I’m not sure why, but I found myself missing Hayley tonight. More so than usual. Really badly. I ended up going back and re-reading some of the words I had written following her passing. And I lost it. In a way I haven’t in a long time.

I had to just sit there for a while and let it out. Completely useless. For anything. Studying was hopeless at this point. I just hoped Jane didn’t hear me next door and wonder what was going on. It was that bad.

But then I got thinking, and I remembered what she had said. Shortly before we were forced to say goodbye. And I remembered how it seemed like she knew I was supposed to be here. She believed there was a reason for all of this. She believed something special was going to come from all of it.

I didn’t feel like studying after that. When I had stopped sobbing. I felt exhausted. I felt like I had nothing left in me. I just felt like crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head.

Even though all of this seemed so pointless in the midst of feeling so overwhelmed with loss, remembering that she believed in this, that kept me going.

I picked up my pencil and started working on my Greek.

I want to honor Hayley in this. In all of this.

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.

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

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

Lunch at Wycliffe Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like what?” he asked.

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

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

“Ahhh, yes. That one.” John said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My First Tutorial – I go to class in a castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Alternative Turk

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

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

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

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

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

As did this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oxford CS Lewis Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I smiled a lot tonight.

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

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

And he really is.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’d like that a lot,” I said.

An e-mail from my Dad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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