Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A request as you prepare for Thanksgiving

My sister is going in for surgery tomorrow, hopefully to solve a lot of long-standing medical issues. If you could take some time to pray for a successful and clean operation, I would be very grateful. Her surgery is at 8 am Wednesday morning, I think.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Success...of a sort

Well, this week saw me completeing the eighth of sixteen papers for this semester; in other words, I'm halfway done with the homework at long last. Just to help my ulcer along, I shall now reflect on the fact that I have the same number of papers to complete in 4 fewer weeks in my remaining time here in Oxford. *moment of reflection and terror* In other news, I apologize to all of my readers who might have expected a bit more posting of my adventures here in England. However, with all the writing and note-taking I have to do, the last thing I feel like doing with my free time is composing accounts of field trips taken in happier pre-paper madness days. So, my various notes and recollections about field trips and tours sit in my computer in various stages of completion. Maybe, one day, I'll actually find the time to share them all with you.

Beyond the crushing amount of work, the term here has been very good. I am certainly learning a lot, and the subject material is fascinating. My primary tutorial in the Crusades has been very good; the story of the crusading movement is complex and almost more epic than can be believed. My secondary tutorial has actually been following some of the stuff about British constitutionalism and politics that Wilson has been posting periodically on his blog; again, fascinating stuff and far more complex than the stereotypical picture of the time period. On the whole, though, I'm glad to be coming home in five more weeks; America is just a good place to live, despite whatever flaws we have (not that there aren't a lot of things I like about British culture...see the post below for an example). Anyway, that is about all I have to say for now, so I should get back to work...

P.S. Randy and Wheeler, I don't think you guys would survive over here; it's almost impossible to find Dr Pepper. Friday marked the first time I've found/had it in my time over here. It was a nice taste of home.

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I feel like a real Brit now...

Tonight, I participated in the burning of Guy Fawkes in effigy, thereby saving England and the free world from an evil Catholic plot.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Report on Field Trips

It seems that I have fallen behind on my accounts of my adventures here in jolly old England. Thus, in this post, you, my dear reader, will have the opportunity to hear my stories of my first forays into the great, wide world of Britannia. It is my hope that you will enjoy them and leave comments to communicate with the author, who is feeling disconnected from that world in America which he has left behind.

Field Trip 1 - Verulanium/St. Albans: On Thursday, September 7, I set out upon the first of my field trips to a small town in the British countryside north of London now called St. Albans. This city was established before the coming of the Romans and was the principal stronghold of the chief Celtic tribe in the area. When the Romans arrived in the 1st Century, the Celts in this area decided to cooperate with them, and the city became a seat of Rome’s power in the area and was called Verulanium. The native people prospered through their relationship to Rome, which might be why the city was a target of Boudicca’s rebellion in AD 62; Boudicca burned the city to the ground before marching to her eventual defeat at the hands of the Legions. Verulanium was rebuilt and remained an important city, though its importance waned as the importance of London in the south grew. However, in c. AD 250-300, Alban, a Briton in the city, chose to give shelter to a Christian missionary, Amphibalus, which was illegal at this time in history. The Christian converted Alban, and when Alban was caught, he refused to give up the missionary or recant; thus, he became the first British martyr. On the supposed site of his execution, there has been a great cathedral erected to house his shrine, which has the longest nave in all of England and one of the longest in Europe. The rest of the modern city is built around the cathedral, across the river from the site of the ancient Celtic and Roman city. The present cathedral was built by the Normans in the 1100s, and it displays their typical Romanesque architecture. However, the building is testament to the tides of time, for on top of its grand Norman foundations, many additions and repairs have been made over the years, and these additions followed the architectural desires and fancies of their times. Thus, half of the Cathedral is a Gothic structure, after it was rebuilt in the late 1300s when the south part of the nave collapsed. Much of the sculpture and decoration, as well as the great western façade, dates to the 19th Century, when it was “repaired” in a neo-Gothic fashion. Also, the Cathedral is unique in that its shrine is still there today. When Henry VIII ordered the destruction of all shrines as a part of the English Reformation, St. Alban’s shrine was destroyed with the rest. However, the Cathedral survived because the town managed to buy it and use it as a parish church. A wall was built to seal away the remains of the shrine, which were discovered and pieced back together in the renovations of the 19th Century. This is the brief history of St. Albans and its Cathedral (and believe me, I left out a lot).
St. Albans was a great trip. The Cathedral is amazing, well worth driving out to see. The conflicting architectural styles add, rather than subtract, to its sense of grandeur and history. Another highlight of the trip was a trip to see the remains of the Roman theatre on the outskirts of the modern town. Because our leader is a great person, he managed to get us inside the actual ruins (which are normally closed to visitors). We also visited a museum that contains many of the artifacts of the old Roman town, which was fascinating. However, the most lasting impression I have of the trip was made on the walk from the Roman ruins up to the Cathedral and town proper. A great park has been maintained along this walk with a great many soccer fields, and in between two of these fields, the remains of the old Roman walls jutted up suddenly in the otherwise pristine green fields. I am not sure if I can communicate just how oddly this struck me; all I can say is what I said then: “Soccer fields and Roman ruins.”

Field Trip 2 - London: On Saturday, September 9, I went to London for a day of seeing the sites of that great city. Our first stop on the morning walk, after our ride on the Tube, was the American embassy, where we saw some very nice monuments to heroes from World War II, including Ike and FDR. After passing through a maze of side streets, we arrived at the huge Green Park and passed through this into the plaza in front of Buckingham Palace. That was an amazing site, and I was overwhelmed to think that, less than a hundred years ago, half of the world had been ruled from the house in front of me. Unfortunately, the Queen was not at home to invite her American guests in for tea and crumpets, so we journeyed on through St. James’s Park, which is a gorgeous walk full of pelicans. From there, we proceeded to the Parliament buildings at Westminster; standing there, hearing Big Ben toll the hour, I was amazed at the amount of history that had passed in that building, some represented by the imposing statues of Boudicca and Oliver Cromwell standing guard outside the building. From Westminster, we strolled down Whitehall, passing by the Horse Guards (where we saw a changing of the guard), the great banqueting hall where Charles I was executed, the Cabinet War Rooms (where Churchill led Britain during World War II), and Downing Street (where we glimpsed the home of soon-to-be-replaced Tony Blair). At the end of this fine street, we reached Trafalgar Square, where I photographed the monument of one of my heroes, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson. After this, we had a brief break for lunch and just enough time to enter the National Gallery (which is so worth at least two days on its own) before heading out to see the Fire of London Memorial. Here, I paid my two pounds for twenty minutes of terror; that was the price to climb the 311 steps to the top of the Memorial for some great views of London in a very small, very crowded observatory porch. I just about had a panic attack due to the heights, the enclosed space, and the multitude of people. The people running the Memorial were kind enough to give me a certificate proving I made the climb, and the view from the top were nice. After my knees stopped shaking, I followed the group to the Tower of London, which we did not have time to go in (so sad). However, we did get to see Tower Square, where many famous people have received very short haircuts, courtesy of the British monarchy. The last “tourist” stop of the day was St. Paul’s Cathedral for the evensong service. While the Cathedral was amazing, everything just seems less impressive after St. Peter’s in Rome. However, the service was so amazing, a boys choir providing the beautiful music of the liturgy. I also enjoyed seeing the tomb of the Duke of Wellington, another of my all-time heroes. I was amused that I was enough of a nerd to recognize the stream of names around the base of the memorial as the many battles he had won over his career, centered by the battle of which he was the most proud: Assaye in India. To wrap the day up, we had dinner at a very nice Chinese restaurant, then rode the bus back to Oxford thoroughly exhausted.

Well, now that you, my reader, now have an accounting of my first two field trips, I feel obliged to inform you that on this Friday, September 22, I will be returning to London to go inside Buckingham Palace on the last day it is open this year. After this grand adventure, I will be seeing the Comedy of Errors in the famous Globe Theatre. Oh, yes, it will be grand.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

An Average Day in Oxford

Well, I have been here in Oxford for a full week now; seems like a time both shorter and longer than that. Anyway, I think I have a fair idea now of what exactly an average day here will look like. My house here is called the Vines; it doesn’t have an address, it’s just the Vines on Pullens Lane. It’s a pretty nice house that was built more than a hundred years ago; however, it has the misfortune of being a very long way from the center of Oxford. To get to my classes, I have a 30-minute walk through some small residential streets and, of all things, an open pasture with a small herd of cows that wander about. First impressions of Oxford homes: they’re small. I guess it makes sense in a fairly densely-populated island, but I definitely feel very large walking past these very small houses. Despite this, though, England has many very large and very nice parks. On my way to class, I pass through two parks, one belonging to the University and one belonging to the city of Oxford. It makes for a very pleasant walk, except for the length of it. Due to the walk, however, I have mastered the art of crossing the street in England. It is a simple exercise in looking everywhere at once before you cross (including up - you can’t be too careful with these Brits) and continue to look every which way at once as you cross.

After the walk, I arrive at Wycliffe Hall, where I hold the status of a Visiting Student. Wycliffe Hall is one of the younger private halls and colleges that makes up the University of Oxford - after all, it’s only about 270 years old; practically brand new - and it was originally founded by the Anglican Church to train up promising new ministers of all denominational backgrounds. Since its founding, it has branched out into more areas of study until, in 1996 (I think), the Hall gained its current status as a permanent private hall. The University of Oxford is made up of many of these halls and colleges; it provides library resources and lecturers available to all the individual institutions, which they use in addition to their own dons and resources. This rather confusing system allows people like me to come over as part of a private hall also always me to be a Visiting Student of Oxford with all the rights that go along with that title.

Right now, the University has not actually began its Michalmas (fall) term, so I actually have not begun to take my tutorials or lectures at the University. Instead, my fellow students and I are taking a course titled: “Christianity and Cultures: the Shaping of the British Landscape.” As a part of this course, we are watching Simon Schama’s excellent A History of Britain, a fifteen part documentary produced by the BBC. It is well-made, entertaining, and very good with its facts. This movie provides the framework that is supplemented by lectures from various members of our staff and field trips to important places in British history. As a part of this course, I have to write three 6-8 page paper focused on particular areas in British culture and history. After this course ends in late September, we have a short break and then the real work of the semester begins. During the eight weeks of term, I must turn in 12 papers, as well as preparing sources for two other papers due in the final week of the program. In short, 14 papers in 9 weeks, otherwise known as “I’m going to be living at the Bodleian Library.” I think it is going to be an intense and very rewarding semester, if I survive it.

Well, this post was supposed to contain a link to a bunch of pictures of downtown Oxford, but unfortunately, my internet refuses to post them. I will attempt to find a faster connection elsewhere and post the 127 pictures I have take so far. Until then, you’ll have to use your imagination.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

The Oxford Experience Begins...

Well, I know that I have already been over here for a weekend, but today marked the first official day of more than "get to know you and get over jet lag" time (althogh yesterday I did attend of CoE communion; it was a lot like St. Mike's in its mixture of contemporary music with liturgy). Today, we learned more about the University of Oxford and our part in it this semester. I am officially a student of Wycliffe Hall, one of the 35+ private halls and colleges that come under the canopy of the University. Altogether, it makes for a massively confusing system, especially for its library set-up. The city of Oxford has 119 libraries asscociated with the University, and these libraries contain more than 10 MILLION works, all loosely controlled through a central system. It is truely mind-boggling, the sheer amount of information gathered throughout centuries, now available at my beck and call. *Gloats* Now, on a more mature note, this semester is definitely going to push me harder than anything has before. Frankly, I am very intimidated by the amount of work and how challenging the system over here is. But, I know that I am going to learn a lot (whether or not I die in this process is yet to be determined). SCIO (Scholarship and Christianity in Oxford) prides itself on its rigorous academic program that is tougher than many graduate schools.

So, after spending most of the day hearing about emergency numbers, what to do if situation A arises, and how challenging this semester is going to be, we actually kicked things off by watching the first part of a fifteen-part documentary on the hisory of England. I will get the official title and post it here at a later date because I was very impressed with the quality of the work. This documentary will provide the general information that my first class, Christianity and Cultures: the Shaping of the British Landscape, will build upon with field trips and more specific lectures. This first installment was impressive, and I have high hopes for this class in general, even though it has already assigned two papers due in two weeks.

After orientation and this first class began, several of my colleagues and I walked down and purchased some basic foodstuffs from the grocery store. Among my purchases were Coke, fruit juice, and frozen pizza. There has been way too much tea already; I just had to remind myself where I came from (especially since I don't care for tea; the Brits probably already think "uncivilised Yank"). Well, that about wraps up my trip to this point. I will try to get some pictures posted soon; Oxford really has some amazing scenery, and I begin my field trips this week, as well. So, until next time...

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Safe in England

Well, I arrived safely in England on Friday at about 7 a.m. local time. It had been a rather long and annoying flight. The row behind me contained six children, all under the age of 5 and all quite determined to scream their little heads off. At least I had some decent company and a few movies to distract me. The girl I sat next to was also bound for England for a study abroad, but in Sussex. Really amusing fact: we return to the U.S.A. on the same flight. Coming off the plane, it turned out that Katy's flight had landed just a few gates down from ours only minutes before, and we managed to meet in the customs line. For further proof that this is a small world, Katy met her roommate for this semester in the check-in line in DFW; God was good to both of us. Anyway, we landed in Gatwick and proceeded without mishap through customs, the baggage claim, and a coach station. Two hours after getting on the bus, we were in Oxford. My dorm is pretty nice, with wireless access anywhere in the building. There are 67 students in the program and 44 live in "the Vines." Friday was pretty slow; I took a three-hour nap and still managed to sleep almost eleven hours that night. So, I feel that I have begun to shake the jetlag. Today was pretty good. I travelled into the heart of Oxford twice, about a 30 minute walk from my dorm. Unfortunately, I managed to forget my camera both times; bad me. But I figure I will definitely be there again before I leave. So far, the weather has been beautiful. Today, it misted on and off, but the breeze has been constant, with a gorgeous temp of about 60 throughout most of the day. I am so pleased, especially after a rather warm summer in Texas. Tomorrow also is going to be pretty slow; our junior deans (RDs) have already told us this will be our only weekend without homework. This and the descriptions in the catalog have clued me in to how difficult this semester is going to be. Anyway, this is the first installment of many to come. This coming week, I have orientation and field trips to St. Albans and London. Should be a good week. That is all for now.

P.S. No, Randy, I didn't let the terrorists get me. It was touch and go, though.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Culture Wars

Over dinner a few weeks ago, some friends and I were discussing our culture and society today. Specifically, one person noted that the religious right was always proclaiming that our values and institutions were under attack, despite the fact that the religious right is the most powerful force in our society today; he wanted to know who was attacking us so viciously as the common portrayal found in conservative circles. His comments and the conversation that followed made me begin to think about this issue and others related to it. In the end, I decided that I both agree and disagree with my friend. I believe that we, as Christians, should be under attack; if we are not, then we are not doing our job right. Paul told us that we are in a spiritual war and that we would need protection from "the fiery darts of the evil one" (Eph. 6). Thus, in my opinion, if we do not find ourselves being pressured or attacked, we are not living our lives as God would have us to live.

However, I also believe that the religious right has developed a martyr complex; we tend to see anything that happens as a direct, malicious blow to our collective well-being. To disagree with a commonly-held opinion is to seek to destroy it. We see that the world does not agree with our stances on issues, and instead of saying "well, duh, they're not Christians" and seeking to change lives for Christ, we vilify them and see them as enemies to defeat. This, I believe, is our greatest problem: we have lost sight of the fact that our war is against spirits, not flesh and blood. We have lost sight of the fact that we are to love, without stint or question. We have lost sight of the fact that we are to change people, not some vague concept like "society." I firmly believe that the Church, by trying to wage the "culture war" on a political and sociological basis, has already lost.

This question and debate was brought back to mind two days ago, when Dr. C. had me make a copy of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Jesus is not a Republican." The author, who published the article under a pseudonym, was lamenting the fact that the Church in America has, on the whole, completely married the Republican Party. He begins by showing many areas where this alliance has caused the Church to compromise on issues that should not have been compromised, and then, after showing why he is a Democrat, the author moves into a more general discussion of why the Church getting involved in politics is a bad idea. Historically, when the Church holds sway over secular power, it tends to be corrupted by the use and abuse of power. The Church of Rome in the Middle Ages and Renaissance comes to mind as an example of this, as do the Puritans and their failures in government on our continent. The separation of Church and State not only protects both from the other; it protects the Church from itself.

I believe that now, today, we are seeing yet again why it is not a good idea for the Church to tie itself too closely to any political movement. Politics is the art of compromise, and on many issues, the Church cannot compromise. We need to love, yes, and we need to be positive forces in society, too, but we cannot compromise on the issues essential to our faith. Further, by tying ourselves too closely to a political movement, we begin to see political issues as religious issues. People, the Bible is not a political document, and it does not say that the Republicans or the Democrats are going to hell in a hand basket. However, as the author of the piece in the Chronicle noted, to voice a "liberal" political opinion is to risk censure, ridicule, and hostility. The separation of Church and State does not just protect each from the other; it protects the Church from itself.

In the end, I conclude that we are not perfect people; go figure. I hope that we will be able to recover from the damage we are doing to ourselves and our Church. I pray that we will become what God meant us to be: His warriors in a spiritual battle.

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