Monday, November 30, 2009

God's variety show

One of the great joys of life is the variety God has created. At my sis-in-law's funeral last weekend, her Kenyan family mingled with our German tribe. Miriam was a mix of cultures: born a Kenyan, she had a Western sense of time and logic. She was interested in everyone. She moved to London to study law, caring deeply for the poor and carrying their worries with her. She prayed a lot, and knew the scriptures.

Over the weekend, many people talked about her influence on their lives. She was an inspiration from her sickbed for the past 3 years: skin cancer ate away her mobility and finally took her life. People who knew her in childhood, before cancer, had a completely different view from recent friends who were her caregivers. She built a bridge across cultures, acting as a strong liaison between our families.

We celebrated Miriam's wit, her lust for learning, and her love for God and people. Her family and friends arrived from Kenya, USA, and London. We came from Canada, the USA, and Switzerland. Many of us were jet-lagged, which made us vulnerable and open to each other.

We found out that it's no use trying to teach stiff Germans to loosen up with Swahili songs and African dances. Africans are fabulous cooks and you can't suppress the cleaning and organizational instincts of Germans. We ate cold cuts with bread buns and spicy pilau rice with curry beef. We slept in shifts.

The kids related differently to each family, which was interesting to watch. The aunts and uncles talked about raising children with dual heritages. We want them to develop whole and healthy personalities, feet planted in both cultures.

The hardest moment for me was following the coffin from the church to the hearse: she was cremated and laid to rest the next day. The women made a second trip to the graveside to lay flowers above her ashes. Our photos show the tears and laughter, the tributes and the celebrations.

God is good. He took her to himself when the pain was too much to bear. We miss her, and look forward to seeing her again.

Monday, November 23, 2009

UK11: Endings

We’re ready for the Panther Taxi at 7am. On the way to the Cambridge coach station, the driver says it would have been the same cost to go directly to Heathrow (L90) as to take the roundabout way through the coach station. Now he tells us! Actually, thanks to W’s sleuthing, our return coach ticket is the price of a one-way taxi ride.

The brickwork and thatched roofs of Cambridge slip by as we drive through town. I’m leaving behind many memories. And Cambridge holds one new memory that will stay with me forever. The final email before packing away my computer is a note from my husband: the dear sister-in-law we prayed for all these years has gone Home. Her suffering and pain is ended, though her family’s loss has just begun. Many thanks to those of you who prayed for Miriam with our family over the years. Though we cannot begin to understand God’s ways, we trust that he will comfort and care for my brother Will and his children, Lem (14) and Adelina (5). We will be making travel arrangements of a different sort when we arrive in Seattle.

The debate team has done well at Cambridge. In five rounds, they placed second three times, third once, and fourth (last) only once. They learned so much from the first tournament: it is worthwhile to have two weeks back-to-back at this level. The last trip I hosted realized the same effect – difficulty in Oxford, followed by a steep learning curve and a rally at Cambridge. The guys are pleased! Tom conks out as soon as the National Express coach leaves the curb and sleeps all the way to Victoria Station. Ned, who skipped the social after the finals, enjoys the countryside and small towns along the way before succumbing to a nap.

We make an uneventful transition from the Victoria Arrivals Hall to the Departures Hall (separate buildings) and are soon on our way to Heathrow. The driver informs passengers that he will be stepping out for a ¾ hour mandated break an hour north of Heathrow: several drivers have recently left the company and there is no relief drivers. So the passengers will have to sit in the coach and wait. Instead of 3.5 hours to Bristol, it will take 4.15. Passengers groan and appeal, so he calls to the main office if he can take 15 minutes at one stop and a half hour at another. It won’t work, says the boss. The petrol stations have no spaces for the big busses (coaches) beyond the stop at ….X. We’re glad we’re getting off before that rest break.

In fact, we make the airport in good time, luggage intact, and take the moving walkways to hasten our journey between the coach station and Heathrow’s Terminal 3.

The flight to Chicago is uneventful but the US customs officer is a grouch. He flags my resident alien card because it has a slightly detached corner. We have permanent Green Cards that don’t have to be renewed, so we have hung onto them. Current cards must be renewed every ten years.

“I am warning you. I have keyed this into our system, so the next time you leave the country, you will have trouble reentering unless your citizenship or renewal is in process.” Stinker. Oops, Stickler.

We’ve left becoming Americans until absolutely necessary, unwilling at various points to renounce our Canadian citizenship and get involved in the messy political process. Apparently dual citizenship is now possible, and the Chicago agent may have given me a final kick in the shins. Just what I need: another test to study for, and significant expense. I tuck the old card back into its protective envelope with a sigh. I dread the responsibility of voting with all the research and paperwork of election cluttering the fall schedule. Participating in the prolonged, expensive, and complex process is a citizen’s responsibility. We have happily avoided political arguments with friends for many years, pleading alien residency. The Canadian system with mere weeks of campaigning, limited expenditures, and a more direct process of choosing a government makes so much more sense to us than this leviathan that strangles government resources and snarls its people in debates and endless wrangling each year.

The wait in Chicago is long (3.5 hours). We call friends and family, back in the country with cellphone service again. We are happy to be on the last flight. The guys sleep, I read and write during a bumpy flight – it is nice to touch down and collect our luggage. Ned’s fiancé takes us back to the university around midnight. I get my SUV keys from the office, unlock the van, and they help me load luggage.

How pleasant to drive into our driveway, unpack, and start laundry before a hot shower to wash away stale airplane air and 26 hours of travel. There's nothing like "Home Sweet Home."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

UK10: Saturday already

It’s 8pm Saturday and I’m packing up. The taxi is ordered for the morning. I walked the route we’d take to the bus, and at a good clip, it has taken me three quarters of an hour. That would be silly in the dark, with all the possibilities of getting lost. I don’t think the guys will mind either. They’ve been troopers about walking around here.

We started into town after a quick breakfast this morning. The fellows walked a predictable route: I tried an unknown cross-street on my bike and ended up a long way away. One thing I love about cycling is that it usually doesn’t take much time to get places. However, by the time I found my way through morning rush hour to the Union, the guys are already there: I’ve been cycling steadily for 25 minutes and probably went four or five miles.

I don’t know why I am so directionally challenged in Cambridge (just like when we lived here). Nothing is on a north-south orientation, so one minute you are going in one direction, and the next you have taken a slight turn and wandered off to somewhere completely different. I know a few main roads as landmarks, and can find my way with those. Often I feel like I'm lost, very strange for a person who normally has a map and compass in her head. It’s not worrying at all – just odd.

“It seems like Oxford has more money,” Ned observes as we sit and wait for the morning’s announcements. At Oxford, a few alcohol companies bought drinks and Price-Waterhouse sponsored the event. Cambridge is quieter, classier, more sure of itself. And better organized! People adjust to Cambridge. People flow in and around the institutions here. Though there are three million visitors each year, it doesn’t feel like the tourist hive of Oxford.

The music is cranked up in the Union Chamber as the rounds are announced via PPT. One of the conveners is an Asian male whose head is shaved except for a 2” Mohawk. I thought that went “out” years ago, but at least he’s easy to spot.

Typically, teams and rooms are assigned first. Then the motion (the statement under debate) is given, with 15 minutes of preparation before the round begins. Each speaker has 7 minutes to speak. Then the judges send debaters out of the room and deliberate to assign ranking of team and grade each speaker.

Two rounds today were confusing to evaluate: sometimes the teams chased rabbit trails and made convoluted arguments unrelated to the motion. The chair judges marked all speaker scores low. “Half of them have to be below average after all, don’t they now?” (think a lilting Irish accent for that comment.) The chairs judges are excellent, experienced, and know exactly what they’re listening for. They grade according to whether the debate satisfies World Debate criteria.

My first group meets in the Kennedy Room. We have a bird’s eye view of the courtyard below with its paved walkways weaving through spaces between old brick and stone buildings. Small clumps of debaters prep their arguments below, talking passionately to prepare their case. Some stroll off to room assignments in other buildings. Some punctuate their points with finger jabs. A few must have headaches from last night’s drinking party, looking at their careful posture.

The Union building is tucked behind the oldest Christian worship place in Cambridge, the Round Church, one of only four round medieval churches in England. The small sign to one side of the church that points to the Union is easy to miss. Typically, one important building is hidden from the street by another historical landmark. I lock my cycle to the iron railing along the walkway each time I arrive.

The first debate considers the value of instant replays on international sports. This week the Irish were put out of the running for the World Cup by a Frenchman whose hand touched the winning ball as it went into the goal: the Irish are outraged. Without an instant replay, the ruling stood. France advances. Ireland stays home. Debaters either laugh or groan when the topic is announced. A young woman asks the air, “and this is worth debating?” I tell Ned why the topic came up so he and Tom are prepared for the discussion. (I keep up with the BBC news.)

The second debate is if the USA should pay war repatriations to Vietnam. No one argues with the South African who states that the USA acts only in its own interests in foreign policy and chooses whom to help, based on its own gain and political advantage. I shake my head at students’ simplistic and naive views and anti-Americanism, even among American debaters.

One gal goes into every empty room to turn off lights, explaining, "I'm so anxious about global warming. 90% of scientists agree that there may be 6o of temperature increase in the next years." I mention that the last article I read on climate was in a British science column. Scientists say if solar flares continue to decrease, we may be entering a mini-ice-age. Does that concern her? She goes blank and defaults to how no one is willing to sacrifice materialism for a good cause. Ok.

Sprinkled throughout the past two weekends of debates, various speakers have lauded Obama for beginning to undo "all the failed policies of Bush." Everyone nods in agreement. "Finally, an American president cares about the world beyond his country.” As I scribble notes to keep track of the points being made, I wonder if most adults would develop nervous twitches when listening to the wisdom of youth day in and day out.

We’re late getting out of the judging session so the NU team as gone off to lunch with money left over from yesterday. I buy myself an all-right Indian curry for lunch nearby. L8 sounds doable. The portion is small, and a lunch-sized plate of rice is an additional L2.50. By the time the waiter tacks on a service charge and I pay up, there’s no way I’m spending more money on food today! (One pound buys between $1.67 and $1.87US, depending where we buy pounds.)

I am tracking down B. Bittermints (candy) for Waldemar. After looking in shops all week, I finally find the last two packages at Tesco in the far east side of town. As I hop back on the bike, wind gusts lift my hair. Then I notice my hat is missing. After retracing the roads back to the restaurant, the waiter finds it had fallen out of my bag and is lying beside the table. Then it’s back up to the north-east corner of town to settle accounts at the guest house.

Shortly after, I’m out the door again. I am trying to find a shortcut to walk to the coach tomorrow morning. It will be dark. And the park trails go here and there without clear signposts: “city center” and “railway station” indicate general directions, not streets. On the bike, backtracking is efficient. I have to watch for cars in the roundabouts, but they are looking for bicycles, too. It is such a relief not to wear a helmet. There is nothing in my way as I look over my shoulder, no distracting cord binding my neck. I remember hating to wear helmets when we moved back to the States, but I’d forgotten why until this lovely week without one. I reacquaint myself with little neighborhoods and narrow lanes, but don't find a good route.

At 4.30pm, it's getting dark as I lock the bike to the bike rails at Tyndale and toss the key through the mailbox – someone will return it to the cycle shop on Monday.

On the way back to town, I go through Newnham College with its wonderful gardens. I slip through the back gates near Tyndale to stroll through the acres of courtyard, out past the porter’s fantastic entry, down a little lane, across the street to duck behind a hotel… and here is the path to town through the fens (grassy swampland). The sidewalks around the bus stops are plugged with people, who cheer loudly when a late bus arrives. It takes me 1.15 to walk from Tyndale to the Lantern House. I already miss my bike, wobbly handlebars, sturdy mountain bike frame, ringy bell, and all. And the most direct walk from coach stop to guest house takes 45 minutes. Too long.

The landlady is back with a new engagement ring on her finger. Her partner has proposed, and I’m the first person she’s told, besides her daughters. “Now that I’ve told one, I can tell everyone,” she beams. We’ll miss the celebration at breakfast tomorrow!

I eat leftovers in my room and organize for travels tomorrow. I slip a note under the door for the guys, telling them when the taxi will take us to the coach stop. Hopefully Tom can whittle the size of his cargo bag down to checked luggage, or we’ll be standing at the baggage claim after we arrive in Seattle.

I can’t wait to hear how the final debates went… there’s no way I can get to them and wake on time tomorrow. As it is, it may be 10pm when I crawl under the covers.

And two pairs of trousers and a top are missing. I probably left them in the room across the hall when they moved me yesterday. Hopefully those will turn up before I leave tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

UK9: Let the competitions begin

Over breakfast, Tom tells that he saw the Queen yesterday and got some photos of her riding by with Prince Philip. He was in the right place at the right time.

Tom’s faculty mentor is Ron Herms, whose father pastored our family in Winnipeg. (Ron was a little kid among many, so I don’t remember him specifically.) Waldemar’s great-uncle pioneered the church Herms pastored, so our connections are web-like and multi-stranded. Another faculty member with a shared history is Bob Stallman. He and I attended college together. This morning I FB our choir director, Sylvia. ( Bob and I were on two choir tours together.) It was a pleasant surprise to see Bob and Ron’s names when they were considered for NU faculty.

The landlady comes by the breakfast table and asks if I mind moving across the hall to a single room. I was just thinking how nice to was not to be under the stairs, but that’s where I’ll be tonight. Her question is rhetorical: she has hired out the double bedroom I've been in to a couple. I ask her to clean the new room soon, so I can move and head to town.

Ned and Tom are prepping most of the day for debates that start in the early evening. I have to swing by the Union’s registration table about 3pm to find out if I am judging or not. I would love to hear our men debate, but judging schedules ensure that we are never in the same room.

When I go online to rethink the layout of Cambridge on a map, I browse the Kettle Yard site. What a thrill to see that the free lunch concert series Sumathi, Janet, others and I enjoyed is on TODAY! I’ll be there.

But before I arrive for the concert, I have zipped around town with the bike. It’s great to have the flexibility of going through town in many directions without taking much time. A wrong turn takes a minute to correct. It isn’t long before the paving starts to make an impression on my sitting bones. Sometimes there will be 4 kinds of stone from one side of a narrow lane to the other – large flat stone pavers, brick, cobblestones, and river rock can span a 10-12’ width. Pedestrians have right of way on a few stretches of street, so cyclists either maneuver around them or walk their bikes. Otherwise, it’s a mad grab for the front spot by cyclists: Cambridge has red bike-only strips painted in front of the stop line for cars at traffic lights. Cyclists thread their way to the front of the traffic line and head off first when the light turns yellow then green. We pedal to the side of the street as the cars whiz by. And people do drive quickly.

The concert: Shiry Rashkovsky, the viola player, has won many prizes, been concertmaster for the Cambridge University Symphony, and is on full scholarship at St. Catherine’s, where she studies Politics. Luis Pares, the Venezualan/Italian pianist, is an acclaimed soloist and accompanist who has performed all over the world. He’s also won international prizes, plays with Venezuelan symphony orchestras, and was a Junior Fellow at the Royal College of Music. Needless to say, the duo is fabulous: they've chosen to perform a Bach Viola de Gamba Sonata (#2, Dmaj BWV 1028) and a Brahms Sonata for Piano and Calarint (Op.120 #1, Fmaj).

For the first time, according to the lady sitting next to me, several people with disabilities have been brought to a concert at Kettle’s Yard. Unfortunately, two of them have Tourette Syndrome, so they are shouting, singing, moaning, and making clicking sounds the entire time. It is completely distracting during the quiet moments of the Bach. The lady says, “Now, one would have to think whether in a hall like this (where every breath echoes off the stone walls) would be the venue to bring a group like this. It is rather putting out a hundred people for a few, isn’t it?”

Fortunately the musicians are focused. I’m not sure how much the listeners actually heard of the concert: I was sitting in the front row where I could see the pianist’s hands, 4’ from the viola… and I had trouble focusing between the hum and rise and fall of voices and noises. Sometimes I could not hear the music at all.

“It puts one in an awkward position, doesn’t it?” says the lady, leaning over at the end of the concert. “On the one hand one is quite willing to think everyone should be able to attend. On the other, when the point is to hear the music, it might not be the best place for such an outing. How would one complain or talk this over without being viewed as discriminatory?” Ah the British have a way with words.

It’s out to Ridley Hall (a theology school) to pick up the Lenten devotional booklet from last year so we can read it together at Lent 2010. I stop by the Union to register as a judge, saying that I want to begin tomorrow morning. (It's high timte to hear our team.) I also stop by Lakeland, a household gadget store, to pick up typically British blackbird pie flutes for my daughters-in-law. (Remember the nursery rhyme?) I sketch my favorite new ideas from Lakeland before queuing at a street vendor’s for a vegan hummus wrap, a late lunch at 4pm.

Then I have to make a quick trip to the west side of town where the cycle shop is. The manager refuses to let me tie up the bike outside on the weekend: they are closed, so I have to get the bike to them today before 5.30. He wonders if I know anyone who would return it for me Monday. It’s a short ride over to Tyndale House, where the receptionist Enid agrees to have someone return the bike Monday. I'll lock it up there, and walk back to the hotel tomorrow evening. Tyndale can keep the deposit as a donation to the House.

By 5 I’m in line at the Chapel at King's College, whose foundation stone was laid in 1446. It took a hundred years to finish, and it is staggering to see. Best of all, the acoustics are perfect for the choir concerts. “It has the largest fan vault ceiling in the world and some of the finest medieval stained glass,” according to the college website.

By the time the doors swing open at 5.15pm, a few hundred people are waiting to get into Evensong. A woman from Duke U in North Carolina asks if it’s worth the wait. “Do you think they’d mind if I leave halfway through? I should meet my sister and don’t want to be late.”

What? I assure her the experience will be a worthwhile event, but she'd be considered extremely rude to leave. One group marches to the front of the chapel while we, “Are you common public then? No reservations?” (-Master) sit on the closer side. The choir sings facing each other from each side of the chapel, standing and kneeling between the two groups of listeners. Another hundred or so people sit in the overflow area outside the main chapel. The huge carved wood gate is between us, but the music fall from the gap at the roof onto them. The organ is strangely silent – the organist is not present for the entry nor the exit of the choir and Masters.

A new version of the Magnificat with a pedal tone of tenors rings out under a soaring melody. 16 choirboys and 16 male students swell the worship of Evensong. The youngsters reach effortlessly for high As and Bs while the basses plant a steady footing for the counterpoint harmonies above. This Evensong reaches a level above what we heard in Oxford. The gold medal Cambridge team has stepped up after Oxford’s silver. It’s all Olympic quality, but there is a clear distinction in quality.

The choirmaster at Kings is older, perhaps more experienced. Two tenors conduct the psalms: while one conducts from his position near the end of the second choir row, and the group facing him sings. The sides alternate verses. The directing is unobtrusive, great practice for the singing conductors, and the choir stays together. The endings ring up and echo into the 50’ vaults above our heads.

I sit beside Marina from Italy, whose son has just come up to study Mathematics. We walk out to the town square together – she is taking her son for dinner. I am heading to the Union, the oldest existing debate society in the world.

“Older than Oxford? Really?” asks Tom.

Really. I just miss the notice of where the teams are debating their first round. Though I walk through the entire Union, I can’t find NU. (Later I find out they were at a college down the road.) I sit in to listen to another group.

After supper, I run into Tom and Ned, who are pleased with second place in Round 1. We sit together for team assignments, write down their room, and… “What!” My name comes up as judge, in spite of signing off today.

Off I go to work with a judge from Calgary and another from Cambridge. They are young – 20s, and really know what they’re doing. I hate being asked first what I think of the debaters since I’m always the least experienced. This time, there is initial disagreement among us judges, but we come to a happy consensus in rating the teams and speakers.

I unlock my bike from the black metal railing on the walkway into the Union. The lights still don't work, in spite of the cycle shop’s instructions because the tire and light connection don’t meet to make the necessary friction.

I'm home by 11.05pm. I write until 1am, and am ready for a sound sleep in my narrow, white-duvet-covered bed. The hotel is still noisy – some guests are in the main area laughing and chatting. Time for earplugs, please.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

UK8: Cambridge feels like home

The English breakfast reduces to scrambled eggs, toast, and mushrooms. I skip the sausages and bacon. Ned’s already in the dining room: “This bacon isn’t like ours at home! It’s more like…” ham. Thinly sliced ham. I write, catch up on emails (finally got the password), and settle into my room. The B&B is clean and friendly, but like most English homes with near neighbors, constantly full of sounds. I slept well with earplugs, though. I edit a paper for Ned, and head out the door just before noon.

It is bliss to have a cycle again – instead of spending on a bus pass, I walk a few miles across town to hire a cycle for a few days. The lights don’t work (I can’t adjust the magneto on the back tire so have to go back tomorrow), and it’s got wobbly steering. But they pop a basket on the front handlebars for computer and shopping, and adjust the seat up a few times so my knees can straighten more than resembling a crooked elbow.

The weather in parts of north Britain is rainy, villages are flooded, and 10 cm of water are predicted tonight in Cambria. There, Mountain Rescue crews are out in force. In contrast, it’s sunny and blustery, warm and lovely for Cambridge in fall. The wind blows me sideways on the bike a few times, but I’ve tied the computer bag to the basket. Mothers pull the plastic covers over the prams to protect their toddlers. Most people put their heads down against the wind and walk on.

Tyndale House is one of three top theological libraries in the world. (Jerusalem and the Vatican are the other two). It’s a few minutes away from the bike shop. We lived here 6 months in 2004. (Can it be almost 6 years ago?!) I run into James, back from Chile and get an online password from David Instone-Brewer (who wrote the definitive biblical book on divorce and remarriage), but miss Fiona (admin) and Elizabeth (beloved librarian, recovering from a hip replacement). I’ve just missed morning tea, but the gong rings after 4pm for a civilized afternoon break. The young Americans keep at their desks, but the Europeans and Asians pause in the tea room for a cup. The carpet replacement has brightened the dingy space with neutral swirls of cream and beige, a great improvement. My desk #54 is in the hex addition. I’m booked in for two days, but in one I have seen what I need on the theology of missions. I hand over the fee and a bit extra, my swipe key, and a note to those I’ve missed, and cycle off in the dark.

I skipped lunch, but am hopeful that Tatties (potatoes) across from the colleges will have a decent veg meal. I lock the rental bike to a post. Inside the restaurant, I consume most of the veg lasagna and mixed salad with Salad Cream. Vegetarian. Definitely not vegan.

The Queen was in town. I watched the barriers go up but forgot to ask the policemen when she was doing her walkabout. Elizabeth II came to Cambridge with Prince Phillip, Chancellor of Cambridge University, to celebrate 800 years of Kings College. Charles was here as a student.

Of course, the administration is actually run by a woman, the Vice-Chancellor. The Queen may overnight at the V-C’s home. I attended a reception there while we lived in Cambridge, arranged by the Visiting Scholar group. I still regret that W didn’t come with me. I remember that the original modern art paintings and sculptures throughout the home were screwed into the walls and locked down. The art was chosen by the V-C from Cambridge’s museum, which was undergoing renovations at the time.

As I cycle back to our Lantern House guest quarters, I can hardly believe how much living was packed into our stay while W was working on his PhD, living at Tyndale with Jonathan and me. So many memories crowd me in the shadows of the colleges. I had a half-year of instructive play: courses in drawing and writing, art and journalism, painting and willow-work, rounded out with visiting and city tours, friendships and a rest from a lifetime of teaching music and home-schooling children. How I appreciated God’s pause at that point of weariness. I may need another Sabbath rest like that when my studies are done.

As I cycle home, I’m hoping to be in by 7pm. But I get lost in the dark with unmarked round-and-round roads. Someone points me in the wrong direction. Another man shows me the right direction – I’m actually close to the B&B, having turned myself around to face home after all. I’m happy to lock up my bike in the side yard – I’ve been riding in the dark (dangerous, but in the company of many other cyclists).

Tom went to the international debate preparation, likely a repeat of Oxford’s highlighting of international inter-varsity rules. Ned is almost ready to leave the B&B for the first time today when I get back at 7.30. Hopefully they are well-prepared to debate tomorrow – it should be an exciting tournament. I will find out if I am judging or get to cheer them on when we register.

UK7: Cambridge via London

We wake up, eat breakfast, drop off keys and pick up the receipt from the landlady, and check for coach tickets. I poke my head in the door one last time at 9.25: “Guys, this is it. We have to leave,” and head down the sidewalk, dragging my luggage. Tom and Ned run after me on the street to catch up. We swing through the roundabout to St. Clemins Road. The stop is a block further than I remember, but we have time. It’s a minute or so before the coach is to leave town, 10 minutes away.

Except, there it comes toward our bus stop. We were within a minute of missing our ride. I breathe a prayer of thanks to God. And feel my body relax as we travel toward London. By the time we get to the last Oxford stop, every seat is filled and people are being turned away to wait for the next bus. A magpie flits into the hedge by the road, its white wing patches flashing, long black tail steering.

A young man at National Express helps me order three L5 Fun Fair tickets for Heathrow and a super-saver return fare for Cambridge on his counter computer. When all is done, he prints out our info. We have saved over $100, thanks to the helpful clerk and Waldemar, who found the special internet fare yesterday.

We check our carry-on bags, gulp a sandwich and steak pies in the coach station, and head outdoors to find a meeting place for supper. Then Tom hoists his backpack, goes to see Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, sit in the House of Lords, and take in the sights. Ned straps his heavy laptop over his shoulders and rides the Tube (underground train) to a magical ride on the London Eye, see the Palace, walk through Westminster Abbey… and they arrive within minutes to eat supper together. It’s fish and chips for two of us, and ribs “I’m dying for meat!” for Tom.

Meanwhile, I’ve walked down the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace, where the flag is flying to show Her Majesty in residence. In the morning, she delivered the Queen's Speech to begin the final session of Parliament before the British elections in six months.

The ING, a modern art gallery on one end of the Mall, is showing some artists whose names I know. I spend a half hour grazing through the offerings. In a side room, I almost laugh aloud. One sculptor has a few funny 4”-6” pieces: a Fimo clay man holding a tiny baby, both sitting in a little black pram. A “survival kit” consisting of a box painted in army olive green… in which lies a baby’s soother painted in matching camouflage.

Not much further, through a few lanes and across busy roads, lies Trafalgar Square, currently filled with huge tree roots, 10’ and more high and long. The display aims to highlight the effects of climate change in tropical forests. A woman has had helpers chainsaw down enormous trees and shipped them from the horn of Africa. They lie on their sides on white wooden boxes, labeled by species. I wonder how chopping down the trees and paying to ship them (not to mention the carbon emissions from moving the enormous cargo), makes environmental sense. But people are stroking the trees, talking to them, nodding knowingly. They will move to the Copenhagan Climate Change summit in a few months. I’ve just read headlines in the British press that as solar flares subside, there is a chance for the return of a partial ice age. A world gone mad.

On the other side of the Square is the National Gallery. Admission is free, but I drop in L2, a small token of my appreciation as I stroll through rooms filled with art from 1500s to present in the Sainsbury wing. Art students hunch over pads of paper and sketch the paintings.

There is just enough time to run into a church called St. Martin in the Fields on the edge of the Square. A few trips ago, my youngest brother took me to a Mozart chamber orchestra concert at St. Martins. Fabulous music, ambiance of chandeliers turned down low, the whisper of pages turning and artists working together… that was a special night. Many chamber music recordings are made at St. Martins because the acoustics and equipment are just right.

I was ten pounds lighter after six months at Cambridge, and now I remember why. As I walk a few miles back to the Coach Station, my aching calves and thighs remind me that we don’t move much in Seattle. W and I walked 10-40 miles a week in Cambridge, and cycled for hours. I feel stiff as we get up from dinner to go back to the bus station. Ned’s shoulders are sore from carrying his laptop all afternoon.

The bus driver is an amusing chap. He flirts with the women and waits 20 minutes at an unscheduled bus stop for an African students who wants to go to Cambridge. (On his mobile: ‘Love, where are you? I can’t wait all night. I’m on the opposite side of the road from the Shakespeare pub where we had those drinks. Yeah, let me know where you are, so I can help you get here. We’re waiting. No, I don’t have 2 minutes, hurry up love…” finally she comes running up the sidewalk, envelops him in a big hug, and climbs aboard. “I’ll make it up to all you,” promises the driver). As he shoots his bus through traffic, he shouts at cyclists, pedestrians, and other drivers while pointing out landmarks and history – I’m sitting in the front seat across from him. “About a thousand years ago, Queen Mildred I think it was, crossed the river around Bow. She fell off her horse or somehow slipped while walking across the river. She ordered the men to build a bridge, which they shaped like a bow with the curve at the top. At least that’s the story.”

He tells the story of a gypsy shepherd boy from the 1600s who hanged himself because he thought the sheep had run away while he slept. “The grave is still tended. In the 1800s, someone put a proper grave marker, and recently people have been taking good care of it. There are fresh flowers every week.” He Googles anything he wonders about and passes on the stories. “I don’t know if they’re true, but they are interes--. Hey, you run in front of my bus like that and you’ll be in hospital!” he shouts mid-sentence.

We get to the Cambrige coach stop at Parkside after two and a half hours. Night has fallen. It is 9pm. We are exhausted and unsure if we can walk another mile or two across a park and through the dark streets, looking for out B&B with luggage in tow. A taxi takes us to Lantern House, where a warm welcome, clean white bedding, and a BATH in my room welcome us.

The guys are sharing a twin room upstairs with an ensuite bath. My bathroom is a tiny elbow cut into the corner of my small room. To use the toilet, (as it’s called here,) I have the choice of sitting sideways or leaving the door open. There’s a bathtub but no shower. At Oxford, every time the toilet was flushed, it groaned loudly for five minutes. The tiny quirks of plumbing and room layout remind us that we are in a different country.

I pour a few kettles of boiling water around the tub to make sure it’s clean. Then I pour myself a cup of peppermint tea. When I pull my socks off to get ready for bed, one of my toes is bloody. Huh, didn’t even feel that!

I don't have the password for the internet here. I’ll have to post this in the morning. Breakfast is between 7.20 and 9am, says the manager. The wind howls between the fence and the window as I turn out the light after 11pm.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

UK6: Morning, noon, and night

The door slams a few times in our flat. One of the guys is jet-lagged, up playing computer games. I come wide awake but it’s only 4am. Time passes with emails, taking care of work responses, and looking up schedules and fares for our trip to Cambridge from London tomorrow.

I'm overtired and my mind is muddled. Then a verse from a friend and former NU employee, Tillie Porter, crosses my mailbox: For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. 2 Chronicles 16:9a NIV

Waldemar sends links and prices to trains and busses, which sorts out all the options for tomorrow from London to Cambridge. My narrow bed (half a double, at 27” wide) produces a cautious rest: to roll over you have to make sure you’re in the middle of the bed, or the springs flip you off the side. I get a new hot water bottle, and fall back asleep at 6.50.

I wake at 10. By the time breakfast is tidied up, it’s noon and I’m walking to town. I decide to walk the whole way, and it takes me 1½ hours between fast walking and meandering to get to the OCMS library.

The fascinating thing about this city is how much of it is hidden from view. Courtyards and buildings lurk behind high stone walls. I go into St Michaels and pause to reflect in the apse (aisles forming the cross, this is top of the cross, furthest from the door). St Michael’s is perhaps Oxford’s oldest existing church. I stroke the wood of the raised pulpit where John Wesley preached his first sermon here as a Fellow in 1726.

The side chapels have significant altars and relics, memorials from the 1500s onwards. It’s a bit surreal to think of all the people who walk through the centuries on these same stones. Back onto the street, I poke my head inside the gate at St. John’s College. It would be great to stop on my way back for evening prayers at 5.

Instead, I get swept up in books and a conversation with Dr. Wonsuk Ma, head of OCMS. He has just come back from a trip to the USA, but he gives me a precious hour of his afternoon, along with two new books to take back for universities in Seattle. Does he have suggestions for how undergraduate education can better prepare students for ministry across culture (in whatever vocation or work)?

“The problem is when Americans think their Western theology and understanding of God needs to be transplanted elsewhere. If you send students trained in American institutions across culture, they will bring Western ideas and learning with them. We need local theology as well.”

From my studies: an important facet of broadening our Western view of God would include hosting Majority World faculty or swapping our faculty with professors from MW colleges for a term or a year. Knowing God beyond our Western worldview might be possible through MW faculty who cultivate friendships, eat with and live among students, and teach upper class theology seminars. As they lay their lives and stories on our lives and stories, a fresh view of God with and among us might emerge.

Best of all, such faculty might inspire students to engage Christ’s interactions in the larger world with an open mind. “Students need to understand that when we exit our church doors, we are already across culture; we don’t have to go to another country to share the gospel! We are on God's mission at home. Each profession (business, ministry, medicine, etc.) is a gift within the mission of God,” says Ma.

I meet his wife Julie Ma in the kitchen as I eat a 4 o’clock lunch. She talks about the importance of oral / narrative theology from the Majority World to compliment the theoretical, written theology of the West.

Interpreting the scribbles in the evening, I thank God for the gift of scholarship and for those who write. The Mas’ book comes out next year, but they are prolific writers of articles for mission anthologies, as well as missions and theology journals. They have influenced many by writing from an Asian point of view.

Tom has been to the Ashmolean Museum, newly opened. He shows up for Christ Church Evensong at 6:05pm. Oxford is “off” the Greenwich mean by five minutes: some of the older schools begin five minutes after the hour, bells chiming “old time” for classes and services. “The smallest cathedral with the biggest constituency,” is how the Chapel bills itself.

The organ plays a modern prelude, but the Anglican Evensong is from 1662. The candles flicker over three young choirboys standing off to the side in navy school blazers rather than robes. They are in training, but are still too short to read the music on the stands. As the prayer is sung, the choir kneels. Some of the younger boys can barely peek over the edge of their music stands.

There must be some new voices: entries and endings of the chants are slightly ragged. Two of the student tenors have sublime voices that are not yet submitted to the whole choir. But as the sound lifts into the 96 carved crosses in each of four sections above our heads, I close my eyes and let my ears absorb the old worship service. The priest reads Old and New Testament selections between prayers and music. Wonderful. Wonderful. Ned misses it all: he has stayed in the house another day.

Tom and I catch a bus home. I eat supper – the guys are on a weird “eat whenever I’m hungry” schedule, and they toss in a load of laundry. The washing machine also dries the clothes. Washing machines are usually tucked under kitchen counters but dishwashers are still a luxury. Tom zips over to the landlady to pick up the receipt for the money I paid her this morning. She doesn't answer, even at 9.45. The microwave beeps for the guys’ food as I pack, write, trying to get ready for bed by 10.

We’re on our last morning, noon, and night in Oxford. My alarm is set for morning and I’ve told the guys we have to be out the door by 9.15am. “No showers at 9am, or you are on your own. We’re leaving on the ticket we paid for and you’ll have to purchase your own ticket to Cambridge if you’re late!”

Monday, November 16, 2009

UK5: Books and walks

In the morning, Ned is studying between bouts of playing computer games. He got up today in the early hours, just after Tom and I went to sleep. He’s staying off his feet so he can walk around London and Cambridge in the coming week.

Tom appears at 11, about an hour after I do. The night's rest has done us good. I throw in a load of laundry and do a food inventory. Tom and I are taking a bus into town to head for Wycliffe (Tom) and OCMS (me). First I stop by Heather House, where my good electrical adapter disappeared Sunday during the move. I may have dropped it on the street lugging “stuff” to the new location, but it has not been found. The landlady loans me one, but it is not small or elegant, nor does it fit the other adapters in the set. Vivian has a lot of excellent ideas about how we could best get to London to stow our gear Wednesday …and when I can pull myself away, I watch the bus driving away from the bus stop. I think Tom is on it: I was going to meet him at the stop. Gooodbyyyyyee to that.

After getting off at Cornmarket Street, I take a turn where the first bus driver says I’m supposed to catch a bus. Except that when I decide to walk instead, the added detour adds about a half mile to my walk. Finally back on St Giles (Cornmarket with a new name), I take the left fork to Woodstock Road. This place is so interesting and historic that a single house, parked in Canada or the USA, would bring us to a standstill. Here, every lovely home is one among many. After a while, the beauty is mind numbing. I keep reminding myself to breathe deeply, to look closely, and to pause to admire. If I can fill my heart with this, I will have the best travel souvenirs ever.

It’s a brisk 15 minute walk to the beautiful church that houses the Oxford Center for Missions Studies (OCMS). The stained glass windows, Scripture calligraphies on the walls verses, and a high vaulted roof braced with steel beams, remind us that the library was once the original chapel. On three sides of the center where tables await students, study carrels and shelves of books tuck under the side arches. At the front, a bank of desktop computers sit in the nave under fabulous stained glass windows and a triptych altar piece illustrating the entombing of Christ after his crucifixion. It’s a bizarre and wonderful interaction between history and current scholarship.

Initially, like with any first exploration, nothing makes sense and there are too few and too many books and topics. Gradually things sort themselves into categories and sections. By 4pm my head is full and my eyes are blurring. I put my stack of books under a “please do not disturb” note, say goodbye to the librarian, and head home.

I take a new route, through a park, over a river to a dam, backtrack a quarter mile when the path turns sharply away from town, take a winding ring road back to a main street, and turn right as planned with a map. Except I recognize my bus stop, going in the opposite direction. I stop – I’ve been walking 50 minutes – and hop the bus home.

What will we eat for supper? Tasty AND affordable means another walk to Tesco, but this time I don’t take side roads. It’s a half hour there and back – but the return journey feels longer with four grocery bags full. Two hot, cooked chickens, breakfast sausages, Quorn (veg sausage), a litre each of milk, juice, and sparkling water, 2 packages of crumpets, a bag of apples, a jar of strawberry jam, salad, brownies, and scones. I am tired, but all our meals are covered until we leave Oxford, are covered @ L20 (about $38. That’s the price of a cheap supper out for us three.)

Ned slouches on the sofa, feet up, playing computer games. He’s stayed in to relax and work on papers. Tom is still in town, “probably lost,” Ned assures me. He gets up without explanation in the middle of the meal to chat with his girlfriend via Skype. The abrupt departure while our plates are full makes the word “barbarian” pop into my mind. I can’t imagine leaving the table to talk on the computer in the same room, disrupting his meal and mine. (But his actions remind me that most of us at home--including me--answer our cell phones at meals. We are both innocently and instinctively rude, lacking good manners and culture.)

I am loading the dishwasher with my dishes when Ned returns to the table. I ask him to put the dishwasher on after he loads his own dishes from lunch and dinner. Tom’s dirty dishes from last night are beside the stove. I’m not in much of a mood to play kitchen mother.

Tom comes in at 7, having eaten in town, visited banks to see if he can open an account for his January stay, and taken a tour of the Bodleian Library. He's content. He didn't make it to Wycliffe College. His hopes of a quick overnight trip to Paris or seeing Edinburgh (6 hours north) are over for now.

My head is full of arrangements for our trip to London Wednesday, missions books, and planning for Cambridge at weeks end. If possible, I’d like to go to start the day at a 7.30 Quaker meeting tomorrow (breakfast following), and be at OCMS when they open at 9am. We’ll see if my body cooperates with good intentions.

What a satisfying day, with rest and books, walks and scenery. Acceptable food, a weary body, and a warm bed. Doesn't get better than this. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

UK4: Sunday palace

At 6.50am, my alarm chimes me awake. Based on past performance, the guys will need a wake-up call to be ready for church. I hasten into my clothes, grab my suitcase, and walk over to the house. The note in the hall reads approximately, “Rosemarie, we’re tired and decided to sleep in and not go out this morning. Trust us, we’ll be up in time.”

Ok, they don’t use those words, but I’m disappointed they aren’t going to take in a high church service in England. And I am up an hour early. I start cooking bacon under the oven grill and soak day-old bread for French toast. Then I walk to Tesco about a mile away: we are out of milk and juice. Tesco is closed and no hours are posted, so I pop into a nearby corner shop and add bread to the list. The clerk wants $1 to use my VISA card, so I pay cash. Balancing a bag with few litres of mango juice in one hand and another bag of bread and milk in the other, I start for home. Somewhere I turn too soon and end up a half-mile south of our flat. Quirky streets! Thinking about the bacon simmering on low and the finicky fire alarm in the kitchen speeds me along.

No response as I unlock the flat. The men are dead to this world. I leave a note that the French toast is stowed in the fridge and I’m going to 9am church.

On the end of the block is Greyfriars Franciscan friary with its chapel, St Edmund and St Frideswide. It’s old: the order started in 1230. The congregation is about the same size as where we attend at home – 50-60 people. The age spread is wider here, ranging from babies to the elderly. Two friars in brown robes with white rope belts sit across the aisle. They look like they might be in their late 20s or early 30s. Just before service starts, an old man with asthma or emphysema wheezes his way into his bench. Every breath sounds labored and pain-filled.

As we sing a hymn to a tune I know, a small procession of men and one woman in white and grass-green robes marches up the center and climbs four marble stairs to take their places on the altar. The subject in the readings and the homily is Christ's return and the end of the world, “appropriate as we finish the religious calendar year next week” (-the vicar). “When Christ returns, God will care about only one thing--if we have been merciful to others, cared for the poor, and in this way have done his work.”

Ok, he loses me right there. If God considered my entire lifetime of good works (not that I’ve actually spent my life so well or so deliberately), I still wouldn’t be good enough to satisfy his righteousness. He would have to overlook every sin, which would make him an unjust God. Instead, scriptures say he paid for my sins and then forgave me the debt he had purchased. Any good works I do can merely reflect my gratitude and submission to him. That's not the story I'm hearing here.

I’ve been at enough services to know to curtsey to the cross before I enter my row, and I don’t mind signing the Holy Trinity with a cross either. But this service feels exclusively Roman Catholic and I would feel dishonest if I participated in the Eucharist. I abstain. When we are done and file out, the vicar shakes my hand and one person gives me a quick smile. The others clump in groups to chat with friends as I slip out the door.

I move the rest of my luggage into the house, tucking it behind the lounge door until the cleaning crew comes through later in the morning. At 11am, Tom decides to take a shower after sitting on the sofa for a half hour. His stomach is upset so he can’t eat. The others consume their French toast, bacon, and mango juice. I cover Tom's portion and put it in the fridge.

Meantime both fellows on Team B get ready to take the coach back to London Heathrow. They have written a nice thank you note to the landlady. I explain the written instructions I left for where / when to catch the bus and why they should leave with time to spare rather than catching the last possible bus from Oxford to Heathrow. I show Cal the bus ticket lying on the table beside the instructions, and encourage him not to stop to buy presents for family on his way to the bus. “No time. Better to be at the airport with time to spare than purchasing a new flight. Buy your gifts at Heathrow.”

Before we go our separate ways, Cal leads the group in prayer for travelers and explorers alike. I don’t hear back from them today. Hopefully they made it back to Seattle safely.

Instead of 10.30am, we leave Oxford at noon. Ned’s feet are too sore to walk to bus station on the north side of town. He remarks, “I wish we had known the bus routes so we could have taken the bus into the city instead of taxis. It would have been more cost-efficient!” (So they did take taxis rather than walking. Sigh.) The fellows completely zoned out the landlady’s sign on the middle of the lounge coffee table, with phone numbers and bus routes.

I am determined that the students not only see the colleges but also take in some of the culture to enrich their worldview. They will have a fabulous memory, even if this excursion doesn’t seem fun at the time of persuasion. We'll allow one splurge on this trip since they have been careful to eat at home mornings and watched their expenses when eating out.

We catch the #3 bus to the Gloucester Green station and hop the #S3 to Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, a mere eight miles from Oxford. The Palace became a World Heritage site in 1987 because of its 2100 beautifully landscaped acres and stunning building. The current occupant, the 11th Duke of Marlborough, advertises his ancestral family home (completed in 1620) as “the most beautiful palace in Britain.” It runs in spectacular competition with Queen Elizabeth II’s Buckingham Palace in London.

The palace entry arches are at least a quarter mile walk from the entry gates. We queue with cars for tickets at the ticket booth plopped between lanes midway up the drive. The porters let us in at student rates, accepting my alumni giveaway as proof of student relations (a credit-card sized magnifier). Then we stand in line again to upgrade to a free annual pass, an official card with photo ID and a year of enjoyment ahead. Tom is thinking of studying at Oxford in spring, so I thought of him when I read the offer. The card makes a good souvenir whether or not we get back to Blenheim within the year. The staff upgrade us from “student” to “adult” on the pass.

We begin by confirming reservations (high tea at 3.30pm) in the India Room. The palace has been decorated for Christmas, but we are too late for the chef's  Christmas pudding cooking demonstration. We only have time to walk through the buildings and some of the gardens.

“If I had known it was a World Heritage site, I would have wanted to go sooner,” Tom says. Yes, me too!

Ned states on the way into the palace that he doesn’t like tours, museums, or buildings and doesn’t care about things in them. “Seen one castle, you’ve seen them all. I've seen one before.” He just wants cultural information as background for a book he is writing. I gently point out that culture might be reflected in buildings.

The guys rush ahead on our walk-through of the State Rooms (public areas), and I don’t find them again until teatime. Ned takes an audio-visual tour through the family wing (Blenheim Palace, the untold story) and walks to one of the gardens. His poor feet are killing him. He has only one pair of dress shoes along.

Tom, though initially overawed by the grandeur, finds peace and relaxation in the palace’s stunning setting. I wander through two tours and several gardens before arriving at the India Room for tea. We face a window view of marquee tents, sitting surrounded by Zuber panoramic wallpaper on the interior walls and arched ceiling. Some Zuber paper costs $200/running foot, so I can’t imagine what the room cost. Some unkind soul has punched through and torn the paper in several places, so a protective plastic shield lines the wall, covering the paper at table level.

The India Room serves Twining tea…bags. “We’re working on offering tea leaves,” says our server. That's right, I remember that remark from our visit three years ago. The men choose White Tea (steep 2 minutes, light and subtle) while I have Earl Grey tea (steep 4 minutes).

The silver tray holds three tiers of tasty treats. We begin with scones, clotted cream, and strawberry preserves. Next, we nibble four kinds of finger-sized sandwiches – watercress and cream cheese, thinly sliced ham, cucumber slices, and smoked salmon. Ned gags on the unaccustomed soft texture of the salmon on whole wheat bread. Minor snafu - the rest is delicious.

Upon arrival, Tom wolfed down a sandwich from the cafe, so he’s not very hungry. We do our best to finish by sampling five kinds of cakes and a fruitcake specialty made in the palace. Yum. We have goodies left over.

“I’ll probably eat them at 1am tonight,” says Tom, carrying the takeaway boxes for us.

Both of the guys are taken with the tea. “Where can we find this in Seattle?” they ask. One reflects, “Tea like this would make a great date.” As hoped, they enjoyed and responded to the air of refinement and celebration in the Churchill High Tea.

Twilight glistens off the man-made lake as we walk the quarter-mile to the gates. The iron bars are locked so we turn back up the driveway to find another route of escape.

Tom warns other pedestrians headed the same way, “If you’re planning to go out this way, the gates are locked!” Before long we have a flock of tourists in our wake, hapless like ourselves. When we spot a man with a dog headed down a path, we follow him through the deepening dusk into the village of Woodstock. (One of my favorite memories of the last trip was getting lost on the palace grounds in the dark on our "shortcut" to town. I remember smiling with delight into the inky night, listening to the students shouting and laughing as we stumbled our way along a mile or more of uneven paving winding through the black forest, until we reached Woodstock.)

We stand at the bus stop in the quaint town for almost a half hour, waiting for the S3 double-decker back to the bus terminal in Oxford. Alexa from Mexico chats with us at the stop: she's studying English in preparation for a career in engineering back home. Ned falls fast asleep on the ride, while Tom peers out the window for a glimpse of the college he hopes to attend.

After alighting in Oxford, we muddle our way to a traffic island in the main street and wait another 20 minutes to catch the bus home. The “correct” bus stops at the bus stop. The driver opens the door to say he isn’t going our way and there will be another bus along in 10 minutes. A nun in full hood and black wimple exclaims, "Oh, that's my bus!" but the driver ignores Tom's knocks on the door to catch his attention.

“Do they get to customize their routes?” Tom asks as the bus speeds off. Maybe so!

When the next bus comes, we droop into the seats. An old lady with a cane imperiously demands that Ned vacate, "a priority seat, please!" The driver drops us almost across the street from our door. It feels like midnight, but is only 8pm when we reach our door.

The fellows head straight to their room. I unpack, make peppermint tea, and claim a bathroom, though the guys express surprise that I don’t want to share in the same “whatever is open” system they used so far. Ha, not likely! I was thoroughly inoculated against that particular selfless sharing by my three brothers and three sons.

Though the teams did poorly in the final rounds of Oxford, one of the debate alumni writes a FB encouragement to say if the last trip’s pattern holds true, the team may do very well in Cambridge. Listening to their dissection of this week’s tournament is interesting: they make good observations and are ready to step up the next round in Cambridge. I’ll be there to cheer them on next weekend, regardless.

Tom's working online when I make a last trip out of my room at 11pm. I wonder if he'll be tired in the morning.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

UK3: Beauty all around

The alarm goes off but I drift off for another 15 minutes. By the time I pull on clothes and draw on my eyebrows, it’s 7.30. I dash over to the house to give the students a final push out the door. That's what I think, anyhow.

All is quiet. The guys are still in bed, so they will miss the debate breakfast at the Union. Apparently they slept through the only alarm they set. I knock on their doors, “Up and at ‘em.’ Sorry! You have 15 minutes to dress and get out the door.”

I toss toast into the toaster, press it down for two cycles (“otherwise it will burn now, won’t it, and that will set off the fire alarm” –landlady, first day), “butter and jam” it, and they grab the food as they head out the door. They have several different timetables in their heads, one from an email sent by Oxford last week – and none from the printed schedule. I have the print-out, which shows: 8.40 Team registration; 8.50 Round Four.

Between brushing their teeth, running from bedroom to bathroom (“No, you can't shower this morning, guys! No time!”), brushing their hair into submission, they're tossing on dress trousers and suit jackets. They tell me there’s no rhyme or reason in the judging, from their point of view. “The Limerick team was clearly the best in our round, and they got fourth place. It was a shock. And makes no sense to us.”

I explain that judges are looking for style, structure, and substance (content).

“Well, you don’t understand. They didn’t seem to be looking for that in our sessions.”

Ok, whatever. Push Push Push – out they go. Inside, I’m smiling at how well they can fly when they have to. I’m proud of them as they hit the sidewalk at 8.15. “Go for it! Do your best.”

“Can we take a taxi?” they ask as they start to walk, file boxes and knapsacks in hand.

“Nope. If you walk quickly or run (as they did the first day, lagging behind schedule), you can easily make it.” They can take a taxi on their dime. It costs L3.50 each ($6). My gut says they hail a taxi the moment they are out of sight, but they badly need the walk to freshen up and wake for their initial rounds.

I clear away dishes, tidy the kitchen, and take a few minutes to catch up with work emails before heading for town to take them lunch money and cheer them on. I signed out yesterday and haven’t signed up to judge at 8.50 in case they needed hands-on care this morning. Whew. I take a walk through a new neighborhood. The old stones, the painted houses, and the cobbled streets fill my vision.

When I find them in the Chambers at the end of the round, our debaters are a bit discouraged and confused by the judging. They have not done well in the early round and can’t figure out what the judges are looking for. “Style, structure, and substance.” But they don’t know what that means, even when I give them examples. So I pat them on the shoulder, tell them to do their best, and wish them well. I plan to go to see them, but

Just for fun, I go to the judges’ pre-session and… there’s my name on a round! I am teamed with only two others, so apparently the organizers didn’t log me out yesterday. The motion is something like, “The house would like to remove the system of patents for inventions and replace patents with government incentives.” The first debate team (government) decides the setting will be in the USA, but a few of the speakers know almost nothing about the USA interactions of government and people. They assume the American government exists to take care of social services like their own more socialistic European models. What I know about the world and politics comes from reading news online a few times a day: BBC, Australian Guardian, Singapore news, CNN, and the Canadian version of Yahoo news. (Except for CNN, I’m getting USA news second hand.) Even I am not impressed with some of the arguments. After the debaters leave, the judges discuss team rankings and come to a consensus on speaker points. And I sign out again.

It's 2pm, time for lunch. Our students have headed off earlier with the other students, so I walk to the Covered Market a few blocks away, a daily indoor farmer’s market. Hogs heads and feathered pheasants hang at the butcher's. A stunning variety of fish are arranged fresh each day. Vegetable specialists, bakers, tea and coffee merchants, a milliner (hatmaker), a cobbler, a metalworker, and accessory and clothing shops are a few of the shops trading inside the big hall. The market’s Piemaker is famous, so I head in for mash (potatoes) and gravy placed under a venison, quail, and pheasant pie. And I order a vegan wildshroom and asparagus pie to go, for supper. The crust is heavy and solid, the filling hearty and tasty.

A family sits down beside me. Dad, Mom, and sis have come to visit a young man at the university. Mom encourages him to iron his clothes so he doesn’t look so rumpled. They ask if I have kids that age when I can’t hide my grin. I ask if he’s the first uni student in the family. Yes. (Ah, I remember encouraging the first one to do the things I used to do for him… with just as little success.) I promise the mother that the other children will not need as much coaxing--she won't care or notice as much as with the first child.

The students are wrapped up with the semi-finals and finals all evening. Magdalene (pronounced ‘maudlin’) College Chapel (built 1474-80) is hosting a Saturday concert at 5.30pm that sounds interesting. Phantasm is a group of 4 viols good enough to rate a Wikipedia entry. It's their first time playing at Magdalene. Their instruments look approximately like two violins, a ‘baby’ cello and a bass (regular size) cello. All are held between the knees. The bow is gripped from underneath, 6-8” from the frog, hand palm up. The group has won multiple awards and is renowned.

I decide to go, and get there just after 5pm. Soon the Brits have queued behind me in the drafty passageway outside the chapel, waiting for the choir rehearsal to end. We are seated in the first row of hard wood benches behind carved wooden grillwork, with candles lighting our faces. First in, I am beside the music group, which settles near the altar and begins to play.

Perfect music drifts up into the six stone ceiling vaults. One vault is over the foyer, where an overflow crowd enjoys the concert. We’re sitting in four rows facing the center from both sides of the chapel. Two golden candlesticks about 27” high with 8” beeswax candles flicker in front of the altar painting of Christ Carrying the Cross by the 17th-century Spanish artist Valdes Leal. The picture is surrounded with stonework, topped with 21 statues of saints, and finished off towards the eaves with more statues standing above intricate carvings of angels holding college shields. Stone grillwork arches trace around the wood doors, which have similar carvings. The green and grey stone floors, squares offset in diamond checkerboards, are worn from centuries of feet. A woven carpet runs the center of the hall. Spectacular colored glass windows contrast with sepia-toned windows of the foyer.

Oh, the music is exquisite! Slight bow pressure, small adjustments… a composer’s dream of unity and attention. When their 25 minute concert is done, they move from the altar to the middle of the chapel for 6pm Evensong. A college student robed in choir black removes their chairs and stands from the altar as they tune up again.

The organ loft faces the altar from the back. As bells toll 6pm, the organist begins to play and the choir files in. There are twelve boys and twelve adult male singers, half on each side, first facing the altar when they enter, then turning to the center. The priest stands on the altar side, the choir conductor on the foyer side in the middle of the chapel.

When the chimes stop, we stand. The organ and quartet accompany the choir. Chants and the Lord’s Prayer are sung on “B”, a peaceful pitch held steady. We tilt forward to slip onto red padded kneeling boxes during prayers, elbows in the reading rail in front of us.

Before the final anthem, the quartet retunes. The organ, the quartet, a trio of singers, and the choir perform Henry Purcell’s Rejoice in the Lord Always. (It's a celebration of Purcell today.) The purity of clean voices, the hum of the viols, and undergirding organ... talented and trained perfectionists exploring the music together. The choir swells in with the responses to the trio, exacting volume and breath control and perfect pitch shapes entries and ends of phrases. Oh my! I’m converted to chapel music, if not to the Anglo Catholic faith! Young choristers in training stand mute among their older peers through the most complicated parts of the service.

The congregation sings a hymn together that was written in the eighth century. The priest bows to the altar, the quartet begins a Purcell postlude, and the priest turns to walk out, followed by the choir. We stand until they are gone, then sit until the music dies away and silence rolls down over the echoes from the roof to envelop us.

I walk all the way home to prepare the schedules for tomorrow: the guys are getting in very late, but need to know what to expect in the morning. I set out the bus tickets and a reminder to pack bus tickets, passports, and their flight e-tickets. Just in case, I give them an extra copy of the flight plans.

We'll start with breakfast at 8am. Plans are to attend a nearby service at 9am. Two fellows head home via Heathrow at noon. The other two will tour Blenheim Palace (birthplace of Winston Churchill) in the afternoon, where I have booked tea in the India Room. So far the students have seen the insides of the colleges where they have debated, the famous dining hall at Christchurch College, and walked to and from the hotel through town. The two students will see some of the glory of England tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I have to pack up my own suitcase and shower. I'll be moving into the empty room in the house after the first set of students leaves, but have to vacate my current room before I cook breakfast. It's 1am before I turn out the lights.

Friday, November 13, 2009

UK2: Debating at Oxford

Add “debate judge at Oxford” to my resume. What a day.

I wake to the sound of commuter cars whizzing by on rain-soaked roads. There’s a little window cut into the roof that slopes above my bed. It’s cozy being tucked under the eaves, like snugging down in a tiny attic hideaway. The bed is 30” wide, with a desk about the same width, and a 2” bookshelf beside an 18” closet. There’s a little shelf for a tea kettle by the miniscule sink. The whole room might be 8’X8’. Just perfect! I actually have two baths: one with sink and toilet is down the hall. The other with a bathtub / shower and sink is at the foot of the stairs near the door.

About 8am, I walk outside and a few doors down. First I tidy the kitchen so I can begin cooking the breakfast given us by Vivian, the B&B lady: bacon, eggs, toast, beans, tomatoes. One of the men has dropped his wet towel on the lounge carpet, so I loop it over a doorknob in the hall: that’s his towel for the week. (Surprise!) I lay out the toiletries scattered around the lounge on a windowsill, so when the students emerge and start looking for toothpaste and deodorant it’s easily found.

I wake the guys at 8.30. Ned has purchased crumpets, and he pops some in the toaster. The guys are tired, but recognize their advantage over peers who were binge-drinking last night. “For them, it’s a lose-lose situation. You can’t remember what happened, you have a horrible headache, and you spent $50 for nothing. Our heads are clear, and we didn’t spend a cent.” (Zeb) They used their drink tickets to buy pop. The big winners are pub owners and alcohol companies, who do a roaring business – many students don’t consider they’ve had a night out until they have had 3-4 pints of beer, according to Vivian. And the town kids hang out and drink in their own pubs, creating a cultural headache for all. There’s more to life, and these kids know it. The alcohol temporarily soothes the meaninglessness of today's secular and subjective values.

The students take a long time to get ready. As they push away from the table, the first one leaves his dishes for me to clear so I call him back with a friendly, “Don’t forget to put your dishes in the dishwasher!” and he sets the tone for the others. They shower, iron their shirts, and put lunches in their backpacks.

We get out the door a half hour behind schedule to start walking to the Union. It’s a good half-hour hike, and my legs are feeling the five-plus miles we walked yesterday. It feels good to stretch them out though. What a contrast to the sedentary and car culture we live in back home. I’ve walked further in two days than in the last two months in Seattle.

Once we’ve confirmed our teams’ attendance, I get money from the cash machine to pay for a second team – our two students have been permitted to compete as a second team. Oxford specifies that a school with two teams needs to provide a judge as well. That's how I get the opportunity to judge debate at Oxford!

On my way back from the bank, I take the long way around, admiring the stone spires and the shops tucked into C15-C19 buildings. The city council has wisely preserved much of the old buildings over the years. I’m reading “Oxford” by David Horan as an accompaniment to travel here, and he notes that a college building was torn down to widen the road… in 1779. I love the cobblestones on which busses, cars, cycles, and pedestrians squeeze through the streets. Blue name plates highlight historic events. For instance, we pass the field every day where Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute barrier for running the mile. I remember the story from a book I read when I was 12 years old, and it gives me a thrill to cheer him on when I pass the track 50 years later.

Back to the Union, I register at the judging table on the second floor and participate in two rounds. Both of my debates have excellent judging chairs: the first is an experienced Oxford debater and the second is a woman from Berlin with a mind like a sponge and a tongue like a velvet saber. She offers the students clear suggestions for improvement, based on the judges’ discussions after the round finishes.

The debate style is international Intervarsity Parliamentary Debate. Four teams of two people each compete in a round The first and third teams will debate for the motion (idea of the debate). The second and fourth will debate against it. The speakers alternate: one member of a team argues for, the first member of Team Two argues against, Team 1 (person 2) argues for, etc. The fourth and final team sums up the arguments against. It takes a long time for eight people to speak back and forth. The motions in Rounds One and Two were: “The House is in favor of deaf couples using medical technology to ensure their child is born deaf;” and “The House is in favor of Europe becoming one super-nation.”

Students have fifteen minutes to prepare a defense with their teammate. In these first rounds, the students have only five minutes to present their case. Usually, it’s easy to judge the top and bottom teams. The middle two teams are more problematic to differentiate if they are close in style or presentation. Sometimes it comes down to the whim or preference of the judges.

Northwest’s Team One scores second in the first round, but vacates their own room before we finish judging Round Two. Team Two scores third twice. By the time the second round is over, it’s 8.30, time for a late dinner. I see Team Two in The Mission, a little Mexican restaurant close to the Union, and they are tired and a bit disappointed. Jetlag hit in the late afternoon. They promise to do their best in the next series of debates tomorrow, regardless. They’re learning so much about the process and judges' expections. This will enlarge their view of debate forever.

As I listen, Northwest's excellence in academics, spiritual formation, and care for its students shines out. Though our worldview is not global like the Europeans and Asians, there's an awareness of God at work everywhere that is absent in the secular universities. I'm proud to be part of Northwest U - even at Oxford!

I head home before the final round, which won’t be over until 10.30 or 11pm. We're on our way early for an 8am debate breakfast in the morning. The guys decide to skip the round of parties tonight and head home to sleep.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

UK1: Touchdown

Five of us are on our way to England for two weekends of international debate tournaments. The first stop will be Oxford, and the second Cambridge.

The students, their coach and professor, and I have agreed to meet at 6am to leave for the airport. Tom, one of the students, is 25 minutes late and nowhere in sight. At 6.25, we take the shuttle van up to his apartment. He is just emerging onto the sidewalk as we drive up. He jogs back down to the meeting place where he has parked his car and loaded his suitcase. There is no explanation for lateness, and I am immediately on guard. We have both tight and flexible schedules on this trip. “You’ll have to watch him continually,” says Zeb, who is also on the trip. “He’s not that aware of things sometimes.”

We stand in the long security lines at Seattle airport. After we’re through, a few students grab a bite of breakfast. Our four-hour flight to Chicago will have drinks but no food. People balance coffee cups and breakfasts on their carry-ons as we board. Our latecomer also presents us with another snag. The zipper breaks on Tom’s backpack on the way in, so he rushes off to buy another one in the airport. He schleps along another supposed carry-on so big that the flight attendants must send it through as regular luggage.

Three of us sit in one exit row: the other two are behind us in another exit row. “Yes,” we say we are all willing and able to help passengers out the emergency exit should that be required. The flight is uneventful, the “Chicago-style” pizza the men order at O’Hare Airport is unmemorable (as are my wok-ed veges), and there are no hitches in getting to London. Some of us snooze, one sleeps deeply – sadly not me, in spite of an “8 hour sleep” pill. Two people share five center seats across the aisle, but they sit upright all the way to London, armrests down. I envy their potential space, but not their lack of travel-savvy.

Fortunately Tom’s bag arrives safely. We are so far behind the queue that nearly everyone has gone through—there is hardly a line. Immigration and customs let us into England without a fuss, so we head for the bus station. We catch the direct Oxford bus, which tours through drizzly hills and foggy vales before dropping us about a mile from the hotel. “Roundabout, second left, lovely, should have no troubles finding it,” and the bus driver leaves us and our luggage on the curb.

The men are not used to physical exercise, and walking is an effort for them. They sigh and mutter tiredly as we pull the suitcases past Magdalene Church (pronounced Mod-a-lynn) and the Oxford Rugby grounds. A sign announces the start of rugby classes for gifted youngsters, aged 8-14. What a prestigious club that would be!

It’s about 10.30am when Heather House comes into view. The landlady is chatty and takes us next door to the men’s flat. It is a tidy, unremarkable-looking house, with a beer bottle lying beside recycling bins off the sidewalk. “Won’t be any of that with our students,” we assure her. Insdie is a lounge and full kitchen with dishwasher and laundry washer/dryer, 2 bedrooms, and 2 baths. The fellow who takes the most effort in his appearance snags the bedroom with a blow-dryer in the drawer.

The initial plan is to shower, rest, have lunch, do some shopping, and register for debates, coming home for a nap if needed before the evening events. Despite a big lunch in Chicago and two meals on the airplane, the guys are too hungry to wait. Zeb has an organizing nature and asks if we can eat, then come back to shower. “It would work better if we didn’t walk to town and back to the hotel. We’d have to walk in later anyway, which takes a half hour.”

I don’t care much about what we do when. The goal is to get them food, shelter, on time to their assigned task – debate – with minimal stress. We walk a half-mile to shop at Tesco for basic food and shampoo (oh, the drama over choosing an acceptable hair gel). They are sleepy and lethargic and they’re not eager to carry the purchases. I probably would have heard no objection if I had carried them all myself, but it’s their food and toiletries, so I leave it in the buggy for them.

We pop up the street for donars (a Middle-East dish of lamb sliced into thin strips and laid into homemade naan bread), fish and chips (“It isn’t England without fish and chips!”- Ben), and my vegetarian kabab (deep-fried veges in the homemade bread). After the meal is cooked, the chef calls us to the cases at the front of the store, customizing our choices with sauces and sliced salads and vegetables. Absolutely delicious. I eat half mine and bring it home. The guys polish off their food. We pop into Boots drugstore – yay a hot water bottle for me, a few more beauty aids for the guys. They are reluctant to walk back to the hotel. Their feet hurt. I have to wait a few minutes on the corner for them to catch up. They want to clean up and rest before heading for town. To give them time to explore a bit on their own, we agree to meet at the Oxford Union at 4.30 to register before the 5pm deadline.

After a sound nap, I walk into town. It takes a half hour at a good clip – but the students are nowhere in sight. I wait a half hour at the Union before heading into the rain and wind to stand on a corner for another half hour. I’m hoping they’re not lost. The students have my phone and were going to top up my SIM card, but they haven’t been in the Virgin Mobile shop on the nearest corner. The staff is efficient, helpful, and friendly. They even call the hotel. Yes, the guys have called to see if I was there. No, the landlady didn’t think to ask for their number.

I stand in the cold, watching the people stream by at the end of a school and work day. Laughter, friends, young families, busy professors. When I am sure I won’t miss them because they aren’t coming, I head back to the Union, hoping they have arrived.

And they have, by a different way, minutes after I left. They haven’t topped up the phone, so I ask them to please stay in the Union while I do it. (Why were they late? They got distracted comparing prices for umbrellas.) The Virgin Mobile employees make short work of connecting me. The fellows’ feet are sore: two sit in the library, two relax in the entry. And I go to a nearby bookstore to browse the incredible selections and withdraw money to pay for dinner.

We have a 6.30 appointment in the Union to head out for dinner in the “Harry Potter” hall at Christ Church. Except that there is a change of plan and we will eat in their regular dining hall with students instead. In typical British fashion, the group is actually ready to head out the door by 7.15, following two students through Cornmarket Road’s pedestrian mall to Christ Church like a herd of cats on a long string. The porter stops us at the gate to call the dining hall, then waves us into the large courtyard. The profiles of the walls with student rooms above, classrooms below, are etched in stone shadows against the sky.

The dining hall matron was expecting twelve, not thirty-five people. “We booked thirty-five last week, in plenty of time,” the young debate student says politely. When someone asks what is going on, she turns to them with a smile and replies diplomatically, “They said we shall be in shortly. Not to worry.” A mere 20 minutes later we are seated in a fabulous space. One of the students can hardly eat: he is so overwhelmed by the grandeur of the life-size portraits on the walls, the dark wood beams that tower 40 feet above young people dressed in suits and formal wear, their faces glowing in light from the brass lamps on the thick oak plank tables.

The meal is a tortellini appetizer followed by salmon, tiny roasted potatoes, root vegetables in sauce, and a wonderful chocolate dessert. I eat mostly vegan – a zippy cold vinegar potato salad to start, roasted pepper with some mushrooms and eggplant as the entrée, and then I cheat with the best chocolate mousse I can remember. (By dessert, I’m tired of reminding the servers to bring a vegan option.)

The Union hosts a debate every Thursday. Today the topic is “The house says Britain should return to Christian values.” The Christians - a bishop, a member of parliament, a journalist, and an award-winning Oxford debate student, are polite and don’t push very hard. The opposition, well-known atheists and humanists, stereotype Christians as bigots who hate homosexuals, are war-mongers, and out of touch with the freedoms of real life. They shrug aside the House’s comments that the very freedoms we enjoy this night – including the privilege of debating – are possible because of Christianity’s value of every person. The Christians point out there is no freedom in atheistic states like Stalinist Russia, North Korea, or Cuba. The opposition waves it off to slam them with the ills of abortion (women will get slaughtered if we return to narrow-minded Christian values, they say). It is an eye-opening look at the closed thinking produced by rewriting history with a secular worldview. We are done by 11pm, but the students still want to go to the international debater’s reception and aftermath.

I drift through crowds of young people on the sidewalks. Many are dressed in pyjama style costumes, some skipping along in pink and leopard print tights – only undergraduates can think they are cool by looking this strange. I catch the bus home – it could be dangerous to be out in this neighborhood alone late at night, said the landlady earlier. “Oxford has changed, and for the worse,” confirming the arguments made by the House during the debate. The bus stops across the street from the hotel, and I am ready to hop in the shower by 11.30, bed by 12, writing until 1.30. I catch up on work until 2.15. My alarm is set for 8am.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

3 Books to read in a rocking chair

Ok, it's time to pass along some book reviews (books provided by the publisher). If you need some light reading and good stories, I'd recommend the following:

I enjoyed "Leaving Carolina". Time for some romance and schmaltz once in a while.
"Limelight" holds out hope that even when we're old and crusty, God can change things around and give us new perspective.

Book: Leaving Carolina
Author: Tamara Leigh
Piper Wick left her hometown of Pickwick, North Carolina, twelve years ago, shook the dust off her feet, ditched her drawl and her family name, and made a new life for herself as a high-powered public relations consultant in LA. She’s even “engaged to be engaged” to the picture-perfect U.S. Congressman Grant Spangler.

Now all of Piper’s hard-won happiness is threatened by a reclusive uncle’s bout of conscience. In the wake of a health scare, Uncle Obadiah Pickwick has decided to change his will, leaving money to make amends for four generations’ worth of family misdeeds. But that will reveal all the Pickwicks’ secrets, including Piper’s.

Though Piper arrives in Pickwick primed for battle, she is unprepared for Uncle Obe’s rugged, blue-eyed gardener. So just who is Axel Smith? Why does he think making amends is more than just making restitution? And why, oh why, can’t she stay on task? With the Lord’s help, Piper is about to discover that although good PR might smooth things over, only the truth will set her free.

Book: What Matters Most
Author: Melody Carlson
Sixteen-year-old Maya Stark has a lot to sort through. She could graduate from high school early if she wants to. She’s considering it, especially when popular cheerleader Vanessa Hartman decides to make her life miserable–and Maya’s ex-boyfriend Dominic gets the wrong idea about everything.

To complicate matters even more, Maya’s mother will be released from prison soon, and she’ll want Maya to live with her again. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. And when Maya plays her dad’s old acoustic guitar in front of an audience, she discovers talents and opportunities she never expected. Faced with new options, Maya must choose between a “normal” life and a glamorous one. Ultimately, she has to figure out what matters most.

Book: Limelight
Author: Melody Carlson
Claudette Fioré used to turn heads and break hearts. She relished the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle because she had what it takes: money, youth, fame, and above all, beauty. But age has withered that beauty, and a crooked accountant has taken her wealth, leaving the proud widow penniless and alone.

Armed with stubbornness and sarcasm, Claudette returns to her shabby little hometown and her estranged sister. Slowly, she makes friends. She begins to see her old life in a new light. For the first time, Claudette Fioré questions her own values and finds herself wondering if it’s too late to change.

Grab a copy, curl up with a warm blanket, and enjoy! RK

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sitting on abundance

Our house is in a bit of upheaval over the past few months. Okay, actually... it is undergoing a complete transformation from traditional European-style decor to classic modern design.

One transformation in process is the family eating area. I started looking for new furnishings before we gave the kids our Queen Anne table and chairs. Someone sold us a heavy glass table with two glass V-shaped pedestals for $75 (the base retails for $500). The table sits on the like-new 10'X12' Crate and Barrel rug (a freecycle item we'd picked up last spring). We placed the 2 clear Ghost chairs used for extra seating in the DR at the table ends. I picked up four red molded stacking chairs. Funky, loved it, could have lived with it, but I kept browsing.

Spotting an ad for 6 wood stacking chairs, I called up the seller. He said they were in great condition, comfy, and $50 cash for all would be fine. We picked them up, with manufacturer's labels intact. My instinct was true: each chair sells for about $300 on the Design Within Reach website. We're sitting on God's abundance at each meal.

"Feast your eyes on the best design, the highest quality," my mentor said. "Then you will easily distinguish between what is merely good and what is truly wonderful." Developing an eye for quality doesn't come from looking at Woman's Day or Family Circle magazines. And we won't recognize good design if we surround ourselves with junk.

Our spiritual life is similar. It matters whether we read deeply in scripture or fill up with hyped sermons-on-tape and "lite worship." The depth of our character will reflect whether we wrestle with authors who plunge deeply into the life of faith or seek out pop gospel that slides off without challenging our worldview.

God is good. He is patient. And he lets us choose how we will develop our spiritual eyes and ears. Let's go for gourmet rather than fast-food and develop an informed palate that recognizes quality from mediocrity.

Read more:
*And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Job 1:21 NEV

*Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory? The LORD Almightyhe is the King of glory. Psalm 24:7-10 NIV

* For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the the thoughts and intents of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we areyet was without sin.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:12-16 NIV