Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Getting Close to Home

Today is the last official day of the program. Tomorrow I go to Wales. It's kind of weird that this is the end. I've been with this same group of people since the beginning of June and it will be strange not to see them. I'm kind of ready for the end though. It's nice that there's no more school work, but kind of weird at the same time, because it's like, well, what are we doing here? I'm not used to sitting around.

I've done everything I wanted to do while we were in London. I got the last few gift items I wanted to buy, and I went to the science museum with a few people earlier today. I love the "Who am I?" exhibit. I remembered it from a few years ago and really wanted to go back, so that was nice. I also found a cool part of the museum with the history of diving. The one thing I would like to do is to have one last cream tea, but they probably have them in Wales. We're going to a play this evening. "The Pinter Play" everyone calls it. I think it's called A Slight Ache, actually. A play is a good way to end the program.

I'm thinking a lot about what I'm going to do when I get home, in the three weeks or so before school starts. There's a lot I want to do. Six more days. Wales will be a nice transition. I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ode to a Motorway Rest Stop

Dr. Ryken asked someone to write this poem to read at our closing ceremonies tonight. I thought it would be a fun undertaking. Here is my attmept for you to enjoy- it's a glimpse of life on our road trips.

Ode to a Motorway Rest Stop

Dr. Ryken crackles through the speaker,
“Be back at the coach at 1:30.”
We disembark like the Peabody ducks,
down the red carpet to the fountain
crowned with so many flowers—
the motorway rest stop, temporary oasis
from the freezing coach with sometimes
whistling window and sudden stop.
Some wander from the coach
bleary eyed, stretching their arms and yawning.
Others stride with Ryken-like purpose;
the last motivational song from their iPod
pulsing through their heads
leads them on the quest for food.

First, though, the toilets, rows and rows,
more around a corner, a field of toilets,
a pleasant reminder of American efficiency,
like O’Hare or Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Airport.
A digital countdown reads “40 minutes till next cleaning”
and informs us of the sex of the attendant.

We trickle out into the food court,
moving among the different sections like locusts
or birds of prey, hunting the cheapest, fastest,
and best tasting. WH Smith, £3.99 for a sandwich,
eight American dollars for a prawn sandwich
that slides down the throat like a raw egg.
We circle Wimpy, Burger King, KFC, Road Chef,
Eat In, Costa Coffee and land at various small,
wooden tables displaying our purchases,
sandwiches, bags of sweets, cokes,
coffee, prepackaged cold pasta dishes,
some with only cheese. This is the beauty
of the motorway rest stop: its ability to morph
time so that no matter how long we have circled,
it feels like no time at all, and no matter how long
we have sat talking, we would like to sit more
among the Hawiian printed lawn chairs and
unnecessary waterproof rain cloaks.
We have entered the world of rest stop.

We drag our feet on the way to the coach,
look back, wondering if we should have bought
the coke in spite of its price, feel sorry for the stragglers
who do not get to participate in the count off,
or perhaps forget the departure time altogether
and become a straggler to be escorted away by Dr. Ryken.
Sometimes we cannot help being late because
we cannot find the trashcan. Has anyone seen a trashcan?
Is there a trashcan? No. There is no trashcan.

Oh, rest from the road, from the whistling,
from the freezing a/c or glaring sun,
and the late program silence in the coach.
You force us together in our search
for cheap sweets and meal time conversation.
We leave you refreshed and ready for the next
leg of journey. We board the coach, leftover
conquests in hand, offering purple gummy
worms all around, seven pounds lighter.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Lake Windermere

We just got back from the Lake District. We stayed at the YHA in Ambleside, on Lake Windermere, literally, the hostel was right on the lake. We spent the nights playing cards at the picnic tables on the lawn.

The first day some of us went exploring around the area, we saw some ruins of a Roman fort and walked through a meadow of tall grass and wildflowers by a river feeding into the lake. It was beautiful.

The second day we went to Grasmere to see some Wordsworth sites. First, Dove Cottage, where he lived for about eight years writing his best stuff. It was small and dark and contrasted very much with the second house of his that we saw, Rydal Mount. He moved here because his family was getting bigger and people came to stay with them a lot, and also, he could afford it. This house was huge in comparison to the other. There were four acres of gardens, I think. I got to sit in the "summer house" where he would overlook the valley and the lake and write. It was cool, just a little wooden shed like thing at the top of a hill. This was our last day of sites, and what a great way to end it, the houses of Wordsworth, father of Romanticism. I'm not decided on how much I personally love WW, but it was an English major's dream day. We walked back to look at more of the mountains. We also did some shopping in Grasmere that included the sampling of Sara Nelson's famous gingerbread- different from anything I've ever tasted. I finally bought a teacup. It was a very hot day and when we got back to the hostel, I borrowed my friend Julie's swimsuit and jumped in the lake with Becca. The lake was not hot. It was freezing, but we had a great time. The trip would not have been complete without jumping in the lake. We had dinner, and after that Julie needed to go to an ATM so we could carry out our plans for the following day. So we walked to an ATM and went to see Wall-e. It was a treat. On the way back we passed a field with 11 bunnies in it.

The last day was free. Julie and I had made big plans. We rented a wooden row boat for two hours and went out on the lake. It was a little bit windy, but the weather otherwise was perfect. We went across the lake and down one side. We started to go up the river, but decided it was too shallow. After that we rested for an hour and then packed our stuff to hike one of the fells overlooking the lake. We picked up sandwiches and other food in town for lunch and snacks on top of the fell and ate while we walked to the site. We had to be back by 4 for the river cruise and we didn't know how long it would take. We started the climb and were surprised at how steep it was. It was a paved road, but after two minutes we were both out of breath. I made a comment that if it countiued to be this steep, we would be up it in twenty minutes. And we were. I had forgotten that hiking was so much work. We stopped halfway up for a view, and again when we got to a valley near the top. We stood triumphiantly at the top and traced the route of our boat earlier that morning. A couple of planes zoomed past just over us-- they had been having some kind of an exhibition the past two days. When we came down, a sheep bleated at Julie and she answered it and it answered her back. It followed us for a while. Julie has an excellent sheep call. lol We climbed down, around twenty minutes again, but this time trying to go slowly so we didn't fall or our knees didn't bother us from the steep grade. We got popsicles at Spar. The lake cruise was alright. We played cards later and I went to bed at 9:15- a record.

Almost everyone is ready to be home at this point of the trip. It's weird to be here with nothing to do- no classes. We're headed back to London on Monday after some concluding ceremonies here and most of the group returns the 30th. I am in the fourth that's staying. Off to Wales!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

At the Kilns

As a child, my father read me The Chronicles of Narnia. I watched the movies with my younger siblings and even read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for school one year. I am rereading the entire series, and today I had the great privilege of visiting C.S. Lewis’s house and walking the wilderness path around the lake where he used to swim and punt. In the woods, I felt that if I reached the top of the hill, I would look down the other side and see Archenland. This is what he saw when he wrote about Shasta wandering on his horse into Narnia. I could see him dismount and wander around, and see the animals and gathered Narnian troops go to aid the king of Archenland against the invading Calormens. It was the same wood Caspian fled through from his Uncle Miraz, and the wood that awoke from winter and saw Edmund bound to a tree by the White Witch. This was the forest the Pevensie children did not recognize through their different travels; with so much variety, it could not look the same after they had been in Narnia, the trees would have grown wild around the lamppost for sure. So removed was it from the streets of Oxford, but so near to the garden of the Kilns. Here was the marriage of the worlds, out the front door and into Narnia. He could see it from his bedroom.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

For Jessica

You're right, it's been a while.
The time has flown while we've been at Oxford. Our last day of class was on Friday and this weekend was full of paper writing. I finished two, and I have two more that are due tomorrow and a final that will test my knowledge of the depths of Romanticism. I will be so glad to have it all done! We're going to the Lake District on Wednesday and this is our last thing before wrapping up the trip and heading back to London.

The highlights of the past two weeks were:

1) punting. We went on the Isis river, I believe. Punting is like, well, hmmm. There's a boat, with four seats and a person with a long metal pole and another person at the front with an oar (I liked this job) and the person with the pole pushes off the bottom of the river and then uses the pole as a rudder as it's floating back up to the top of the water. Very tricky business.

2) We went to Warwick Castle. This was the most touristy castle we've been to yet. They had a trebuchet launch that we got to see (I videotaped it, so you can watch later), we saw the dungeons, which Dr. Ryken told us would be horribly scary and we shouldn't go, but it was only one room. and not very scary. The state rooms were cool- these were the best state rooms by far and just the right amount of stuff. We saw armor, swords, helmets, and a cool horn that reminded me of Queen Susan's horn in Narnia (I'm reading through those right now). I took lots of pictures while we were there. It was a fun trip. In the afternoon we went to Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare, but by the time we got there, we were so tired that we didn't really care about it, lol, and none of us really know which room he was born in. That day we also went to Anne Hathaway's family's house, his wife, and the house that is now on the plot of land where he lived after he came back to Stratford.

3) We had our Gothic Drama Presentations for Romanticism. And I had a beard. We had to act out a scene and write a thesis and explain how Joanna Baillie used the Gothic in the play. Our play was about a girl who loved ghost stories and got a secret pleasure from fear, so we acted out the scene where the person coming to rescue her startles her so much (because she thinks it's a ghost, and a lot of other circumstances) that she faints and then goes crazy. I was the bad guy- for this outfit, I borrowed a dagger from my friend (lol, she bought it somewhere for her b/f. and it worked out perfectly that she had it. it made the outfit) and had a hitler stache. Then, when I was an outlaw at the end helping to rescue her, i had a different beard. These were hilarious and it was great to see everyone dressed up.

4) We went to a performance of As You Like It at Trinity College. It was set in the 60s and the music was hilarious.

5) The past two weeks I've been going to this amazing church called St. Aldates. It's a charismatic Anglican church and it's kind of set up like my church at home, contemporary worship and charismatic elements, but they do confession and other interactive Anglican elements. The kids are really involved and come on stage to sing and they're very mission focused as well. It feels like what church should feel like in my mind. The leaders are responsible and know what's going on and it's shared between several different people. I wish you could go to it.

That's it for now, back to the papers, I hope you enjoyed vacation and hanging out with the fam. I miss talking, and can't wait to show you all the pictures ; )
Love you,

Monday, July 7, 2008

thoughts about the church

Yesterday some of the group attended the sung eucharist at a church in Oxford that will remain unnamed. The singing was beautiful, as it was at St. Paul's two weeks before, but the sermon was as bad as the singing was good. It was nearly heretical, in fact.

Afterwards, as we were discussing the sermon, I learned from some of the Anglicans in our group that the more orthadox group within the denomination had split off from the rest, claiming to be the real Anglican communion. One of the girl's brothers was actually able to attend GAFCOM in Jerusalem. The conference of the more liberal Anglicans is going to be held this week or next here in Oxford. Here's a link for an article for those interested:

In light of our discussion, the sermon made much more sense. Clearly, it was directed towards the Anglican separatists. I don't think he realized that he had a large group of them in the congregation that day- our group. Some of them did not say "hear our prayer" at times. They were excited about this- the potential purification of the Anglican church and movement back towards what is biblically sound under new leadership.

Before we left for England, Dr. Ryken talked to us about the decline of the church in Europe, the old churches falling into disrepair or turned into museums, with falling numbers of parishioners. My experience in church attendance here has been more encouraging. I loved St. Paul's, but how could anyone not love it? It's saturated with tradition, the inside is beautifully adorned-- the walls sparkle with gold and silver, deep blues and reds. The raw light coming in from the dome creates pockets of heat and light while other places stay cool- this natural lighting increases the old feeling of the church. You feel totally transported and want to cry as the voices of the choir echo against the marble walls. Here was a beautiful tradidtion and a sound sermon.

Last week also in London, we attended All Souls Church. I have never seen a more multicultural congregation. After one visit, this was the dominant impression I got from this church. The sermon was about 1 Cor. 9 and being multicultural. I enjoyed the music and the sermon and thought their message was right also.

In church yesterday, I was struck that this is a critical time for the church. There has to be more than Sunday morning. Maybe Sunday morning alone was enough once, but it's not now. To impact the world, there needs to be movement beyond Sunday. Sunday morning is for meeting together and worshipping in community and learning from scripture. But that is not all that needs to happen in the Christian life.

The sung eucharist we attended yesterday was sharply contrasted to a small meeting we had last night. We used the Book of Common Prayer, we read the Collect, the passages of scripture for evening prayer, sung the doxology at the end. There was no choir, but there was prayer. And I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit more than in church. Praying together does something in a community- it creates unity and love and recoginition of a shared purpose- the thing that is most important to all of us is the same, and even if we sometimes debate about poetry or semantics or learning or comedic conventions, this we all share.

Mega churches claim this setting in their small groups as the vindication of their large production Sunday services. And there is real value in it. The small group setting most closely mirrors Jesus' interaction with the disciples, and the closeness that would have been present in the early church. Now I feel like things are so spread out. In the early church- the body was their primary community. Acts says that they lived together, sharing everything they had.

How can it be alright to have reduced our conception of church to a Sunday morning experience? There needs to be more, especially if the church will impact the world. I'm not arguing that churches stop meeting together by any means, quite the opposite, they need to meet together more. The church needs to take action- to live service in the local community, to go out like George Herbert and help the man whose wagon had overturned. I guess I would like a refreshing in the church- for all the members to know the power of the Holy Spirit and rediscover that gospel means "good news" that changes people's lives, that the body would have this joy in their lives and it would be evident to the world through action- service, outreach, having an others-centered view of life. There cannot only be maintenance on Sunday, struggling to hang on Christianity. There must be lifeChristianity, action, reality. There is struggle present here as well, but the church needs to try. It cannot sit in the pew any longer.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Southern Excursion & Arrival at Oxford

We made it to Oxford! I already love it here.
Let me recap the last few days for you:

Monday- Everywhere.
We embarked on the Southern Excursion Monday and went to several places-- Jane Austen's house in Chawton (sp?), Stonehenge (just a bunch of rocks hehe), George Herbet's church at Bemerton, and Salisbury. It was such a full day. After dinner we went for a walk to the water meadows, one of the most beautiful places we've seen on the trip. It's difficult to describe, and if I say we followed a small river through a park and as it went beside fields of tall grass, walking South as the sun set, you still cannot imagine the beauty. Contrast this with the busy scene in London, the city grit turning the inside of your nose black, the noise coming into your hotel room at night from the street and the quiet streets and walk beside a field was perfect and just exactly what we all needed. After the walk (I should mention the animals we saw on the walk, first, a white llama, apparently to keep the foxes away, a few sheep, and a water vole. Look it up) we went to Salisbury Cathedral. It was closed, but we walked around it a little and sat on the grass, which is much softer than any grass I've ever sat on before, and thought for a while.

Hostel Life
A little about the hostels we stayed in over the course of the excursion-- The hostel at Salisbury was huge, multi story. I was surprised by all the hostels and how much I liked them. I had a preconceived notion that they were going to be dark and dirty and unsafe. I pictured a big empty room with a bunch of cots on the ground and everyone's bags lying under their cots completely vulnerable to anyone who shouls pass by. My RA, who went on Wheaton in England last summer, told me that we would have rooms with people in our program when we stayed at the hostels, but I never thought it would be as nice as it was. Arriving at Oxford today, our dorm is pretty similar to the hostel living situation, so it was nice training. For those who, like me, have never been to a hostel, the rooms were 10, 6, or 4 person, depending on the size of the hostel. At Tintagel, the girls took up the entire hostel. You have your shared room, sometimes it has a bathroom attached to it, sometimes the bathrooms are in the hallway, like closets, a room the size of a pantry in the kitchen with a toilet and sink, or with a shower-- the shower rooms usually had some kind of a partition so your clothes didn't get wet, there were hooks to hang them. We slept on bunks. And the food was amazing. The first night at Salisbury, the huge hostel, we had chicken and potatoes and soup and bread and cake and salad. It was so wonderful to get a real, cooked meal instead of going to a grocery store. They also had cafes, so after we arrived the first day, my friend Dayna and I sat on the front porch and she had a mocha and I had tea. And the drinks here were the second cheapest of any caffeinated beverages that I've seen anywhere. They use fair trade products too, including tea-direct, the tea that I thought was my favorite kind before I came back, but I think that will probably change in the course of my trip. I'm going to talk about that in one of my travel essays due later in the month. So, that's a little introduction about hostel life, more about them throughout probably.

The next day, Tuesday, we went to Tintagel. I had been there once before with my mom, sister, brother, and friend of our family a few years ago, so I was really looking forward to seeing it again. It's almost more fun to revisit places you've already been to because you have an advantage over the other people, you know where you want to go and don't have to waste any time. I hoped that we would have good weather, but we didn't at first. It started to rain about halfway through our time at the castle, although before it started, the clouds made it feel very sublime, as the Romantics would say. The wind was blowing so hard and the sea was beautiful. We hiked back up the hill in the rain. I had forgotten about the hills both ways to actually get to the castle. We were given money for dinner and breakfast as the hostel didn't provide it that night, so after some shopping a few of us went to a pub for some hot tea to warm our wet selves. After tea, the girls had to hike about a mile to the hostel carrying all their stuff for the night-- in the rain. This will be something I remember forever. First, when we left London, I was like, "Why did I bring so much stuff for the excursion??" A lot of girls were thinking the same thing. So we already had too much stuff. Add the rain and wind to that, hiking up a hill and across the open countryside-- granted, it was beautiful countryside and the whole thing would have been really enjoyable if we weren't carrying our stuff. Oh, also, we didn't know where we were going. Dr. Ryken and Dr. Colon were leading us, but we saw a sign with YHA and an arrow pointing the way we did not turn. We were headed straight towards the cliffs with houses in the other direction and nothing in sight. It was very dramatic and we were trying to make the best of it. We went down a hill and then the hostel appeared, right on the edge of the cliffs. We scurried in like wet rats and dispersed to our rooms-- this was the hostel that we took up entirely, 20 girls. Afterwards we ate dinner, played cards, watched Yee Sum's picture slideshow of the trip so far-- all this happened in the kitchen which was perfect for our group. It was cozy with four small tables and a couch. Then I went for a walk on the cliffs. The weather had cleared up and the sun came out. I went a little ways around in a few directions and found some empty snail shells and quartz around the path and then went back to get Jana. The woman running the hostel told us about a path where we could go see the castle, so we went that way. Liz came too, and we found Stephanie at the old church on the way, where they were having bell ringing practice for saturdays and sundays. We walked in because we were curious (and hoping that they would let us ring them-- we didn't know it was practice at that point) and saw six older men all pulling a rope. It looked like a lot of fun. I wish we could have done it. I'll add it to my list of future occupations-- bell ringer in old church in England. The walk was great, but I don't have any pictures from that. I didn't fee like taking it with me, just wanted to enjoy it. The night ended talking with my roommates.

Wednesday morning we set off on the mile hike back to the coach park, and this time we made it abour half way before it started to rain. We went to Bath, and this was probably my least favorite day. Everyone was tired from the day before and no one really felt like touring. We saw the Roman baths, went to the assembly rooms, but they were closed. We did get to go to the fashion museum which was a treat and the girls got to try on corsets and the skirt big things that I forgot the name of. It was so fun to see all the dresses women wore, the patterns, and the intricacy in design and how they changed over time. We stayed in another nice hostel that night, in Bath, and it was such a relief to get there and stop going, knowing that we were coming to Oxford the next day. Dinner was so good, penne and meatballs with fruit and real English apple crumble. I played euchre afterwards with Joe, Suzy, and Val, had some great talks with roommates and others and went to bed.

Thursday-Tintern Abbey & Oxford
Breakfast this morning was great. I love eating real meals. We packed up and drove to Tintern Abbey. Welcome to Wales! We drove past the abbey, and I thought, "This is it?" But, when we got inside, it was beautiful and much more complex in layout and design than I thought at first. Also, it's ruins. So instead of stained glass you had trees and green hills through the windows, pink flowers growing out of the walls, cows in a pasture visible from inside. The whole time we were there the sky was changing. It would go from dark and cold and rain threatening to hot and sunny in a few seconds. I was glad we got to see it. Afterwards we went on the traditional WIE walk and had "Tintern Abbey" read to us by Dr. Colon, in a place that was not a few miles above, but it had almost the same effect. We weren't going to have dampened attitudes at this point. I'm glad I get to go back to Wales at the end.
They told us it would take 2-3 hours to get to Oxford, but it only took 1.7, lol. I've been so looking forward to being here, and so far I love it. While we were standing on the street corner, Johnny and I made plans to investigate the candy shop across the street, so I unpack until 4 and then we set off. The candy shop was disappointing, because it wasn't really a candy shop, but we then proceeded to explore Oxford for about two hours. I felt like my dad. We saw the Eagle and Child, and tons of other places. We looked at restaurants, shops, bookstores, cafes, everything. Got back in time to change for dinner, and oh man, dinner was good. They bring it to you in courses. First, fresh fruit with ginger so it has a little bit of a kick, bread, chicken with orange gravy, green beans (it was so good to have vegetables b/c we haven't in so long), potatoes, salad, and for dessert, cream puffs with chocolate drizzled over them, and the best coffee I've had in this country and better than at least 3/4 of what I've had in the US, served in tiny cups with green patterned rim and matching saucers. It's a lot of detail about the food, but it was so good, and so welcome after sandwiches and chips.
We have our own rooms here too, and it's great to have a home base and not have to live out of a suitcase and have lots of space and no one bother you. sidenote.
Later tonight, Dr. Ryken led us on a tour of Oxford, so I saw the half that Johnny and I did not see. I have so many places I want to go and things I want to do, bookshops, parks, seeing people, taking pictures of certain monuments-- did you know, Latimer and Ridley were martyred here in Oxford? I did not until tonight when we saw the very spot and the plaques. Pretty intense.
It's only the first day, well, half day, but I like it so much here. I could see myself living here, and this is the first place that I've really felt that about so far, that we've visited.
Tomorrow we have class and the work begins again. We get Sunday off, so I think I'll do some fun things around here. I've got to go write a reading journal for class. I think I've said everything. If not, it's already too long.