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!”