Visiting Professor Lewis: A Day in Oxford

I came across an old article about C.S. Lewis in the New Yorker today entitled, “Prisoner of Narnia,” by Adam Gopnik. As one might expect, Gopnik spends most of his time laughing off Lewis’ Christian beliefs. However, near the beginning he puts into writing something I had always heard rumors of, but had never had quite confirmed: that Lewis is held in higher esteem in America than he is in England,

“In America, Lewis is…a saint revered…In England, he is commonly regarded as a slightly embarrassing polemicist, who made joke-vicar broadcasts on the BBC, but who also happened to write a few very good books about late-medieval poetry and inspire several good students….The British, of course, are capable of being embarrassed by anybody, and that they are embarrassed by Lewis does not prove that he is embarrassing.”

I’ve discovered the American side of this reality in myself. It was not until I had entered seminary that I realized my excessive dependence on and admiration of C.S. Lewis. And I had to ask my Lord’s forgiveness, for I had made a sort of idol of the man. And, as with the mother of our Lord, I doubt very highly that Lewis would welcome the attention. Instead, he is like John the Baptist in the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald:

Isenheim Altarpiece

One day, John’s disciples found that the masses were flocking to Jesus for baptism. They came to John, all flustered no doubt, informing him of his Cousin’s recent success. But John responded, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven…He must increase, but I must decrease.” May we all respond this way. Reject that snake in your garden; don’t try to be a god. Love God.

And so I had to remember that Lewis is a fellow servant; a brother, not a master. And rather than this causing Lewis to be lowered in my eyes, it set him aright. To follow the Master is to be put in right relationship with His disciples.

And, finding myself in Oxford, I decided to visit my brother’s old stomping grounds. This began on the Sunday John and Meg drove us up to Oxford. After stopping to ask for directions, we drove up Lewis Close, eyes wide open for the iconic house.

Lewis Close

We drove to the end of the road without spotting it, when Laura shouted, “There! The Kilns!”

The Kilns

From the pictures I’d seen in biographies, I’d expected the Kilns to be on a plot of land in a wooded area. I remember reading stories about Lewis and his brother spending weekends doing landscape work on the natural wildness around their home. But here was the Kilns in the midst of suburbia. The land had been sold. There only remained an island of Lewis’ original home.

But so it goes. You go back to your hometown after 20 years and find your high school leveled, your childhood home altered beyond recognition, your old church turned into a Pizza Hut. The sacred is intact, however, and it will be restored to our eyes. Resurrection.

John and Meg then took us to our lodging for the night: Magdalen College of Oxford University.

Magdalen

We stayed in the college's dorms; they let them out during the summer. The room was actually very nice.

We stayed in the college’s dorms; they let them out during the summer. The room was actually very nice.

After spending two weeks in London, I was not too keen on living in England. But Oxford is heaven.

John, Meg, Laura, and I casually strolled through the medieval streets. There comes a point where the antiquity of things overwhelms the mind. I simply could not comprehend the history around me, in the same way that I do not understand how my body works. We are engulfed in grace, submerged in a majesty that we do not understand.

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim…And one called to another and said:

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!'”

(Isaiah 6:1-3)

We may not see the glory, but the earth is full of it. The veil was a bit thinner as we walked through Oxford.

Walking

Punting; not as in the football, but as in floating down the River Cherwell

Punting; not as in the football, but as in floating down the River Cherwell

The Bodleian Library

The Bodleian Library

After an evensong service in Christ Church Cathedral, John drove us over to St. Giles’ road, where we would have dinner at a local pub:

The Eagle and Child

The Eagle and Child was the meeting place of the Inklings, the literary group composed of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams, among others. The pub was crowded, and the food was great (I had the traditional “bangers and mash”).

The Eagle and Child

Rules of the Inn

Eagle and Child

Eagle and Child

The next morning, I was up at 6:00 AM (we only had one more day in Oxford, so the time had to be well-spent) to visit Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry, one of the places of worship Lewis began to regularly attend soon after his conversion and where he was buried after his death in November 1963.

The sign

The sign marking the quaint path leading up to the church.

The sign marking the quaint path leading up to the church.

The church

The church

As I approached the graves, I found only one small indication of where Lewis is buried.

The marker

A humble marker for a humble grave…

There seemed to be no right way to approach the grave. But I approached.

The grave

Directly in front of the grave was a bare patch of dirt, where so many Lewis pilgrims had stood before the burial place. I had jogged three miles to the church, since we didn’t have any transportation, and sank to the ground exhausted. I had no idea what I should do, so I prayed. I thanked God for Lewis. “Men must endure their going hence,” is engraved into the gravestone. I grieved that this man had gone hence, and we had never met. We will one day.

After jogging back to Oxford, I participated in Morning Prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral. Compared with St. Paul’s Cathedral, this was an immensely better experience. The congregation sit facing each other in the nave.

Christ Church Cathedral

Upon entering, I was quietly ushered to a seat, where it nearly seemed that everyone had been waiting on me (I was a few minutes late). After being seated, I hurriedly opened the order of service to the reading. Lewis referred to corporate worship in the Anglican church as a dance, and I soon found the rhythm here. The two sides were reading the Psalm responsively to one another and each side allowed a slight pause between the two lines of a stanza. I found this made the reading more contemplative. It was like a verbal bow, a nod of the head, an acknowledgment of holiness.

Holy Communion soon followed. The reverence was palpable. Nigel Biggar celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and Graham Ward sat behind me in the nave and shook my hand warmly during the Passing of the Peace. I soon became grateful for Dr. Ward’s familiarity with the service. He spoke confidently what I could only speak weakly. Approaching the Lord’s table in this cathedral was surreal, dream-like, nearly celestial. Once again I found that I was receiving what I did not deserve.

I returned to Magdalen College after the service, hoping to make Morning Prayer at the chapel. It turned out that no services are held during the summer, but the porter allowed me to enter anyway. I found that I enjoyed the quiet and solitude. I prayed at a kneeler outside the doors of the sanctuary:

Magdalen College Chapel

Outside the chapel; seemed irreverent to take a picture inside.

Outside the chapel; seemed irreverent to take a picture inside.

I would finally like to mention Addison’s Walk, an important site for the many conversations between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, one of which – about “metaphor and myth” – led to Lewis’ conversion to Theism. There are rare times in my life, where I feel that my soul is allowed to rise up for air from the suffocating depths of this world, to smell the air of another country. Taking this walk with my wife was one such instance.

Addison's Walk

The path circles around a breathtaking deer park, which we found teeming with life.

Deer Park

Upon rounding one bend, we found a plaque bearing a poem by C.S. Lewis, “What the Bird Said Early in the Year.”

What the Bird Said Early in the Year

No amount of description can convey to you what this walk meant to me. I highly recommend it.

Our day continued with a lovely park picnic with even lovelier friends: Jonny and Mandy Vaughan…

I would like to give credit to Jonny for this photo. He was the only member of our group with arms long enough to make the shot!

I would like to give credit to Jonny for this photo. He was the only member of our group with arms long enough to make the shot!

…and eventually ended at a local pub with a lot of character – the Turf Tavern:

Turf Tavern

Turf Tavern

100

101

I’ve heard some say that Oxford is God’s city. I’m inclined to agree with them.

The peace of our Lord,

Daniel

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Leaving London to Find England

There’s nothing quite so uniquely distressing as racing to find London’s Victoria Coach Station on a Friday evening whilst lugging 2 and a half week’s worth of clothes for two people behind you. The experience can only be compared to certain stress dreams, like finding yourself back in high school being called on to give a presentation you haven’t prepared for whilst, inexplicably, in your boxers.

But God is good, and we soon found ourselves on the bus to Bristol, where we were met by two of the kindest and saintliest children of God on this green earth, John and Meg Moseley.

John and Meg

It soon became clear to me why John and Meg’s friendship with my wife’s family has lasted for the span of a decade and a half. I felt that I required a Mosaic veil to hide the glow of my countenance after spending a couple days in the presence of such godly care and hospitality. There are people in this world who are meant to confirm our hope in the Father’s coming kingdom. Such are the Moseleys.

Laura and I completely forgot about hunger throughout the following Saturday; we weren’t given a chance. Meg woke us with a full English breakfast, which this Alabama boy would have classified as a serious dinner.

After touring Laura’s hometown of Alveston, we joined three of her childhood friends for an afternoon in Bristol. We could hardly believe the welcome that awaited us.

The girls

Lunch

We were told on our first day in London that, in terms of relationships, Americans are peaches and the English are coconuts. If you manage to breach the hard exterior, most Brits prove warm friends for life (I’ll allow you to work out the metaphor for the Americans). We were quickly finding this illustration to be apt. Laura hadn’t seen her old friends since she was 11, but they acted as if they were greeting a long-lost sister.

We proceeded to take a casual stroll through downtown Bristol, a welcomed reprieve from the tense, feverish pace of London.

Bristol

The girls in Bristol

We also found that the creator of Wallace and Gromit, Nick Park, is a Bristolian, and Bristol has lately been decorated with a series of variously themed Gromit statues (as a charity venture – the statues will later be auctioned off). We were able to spot 6 (of the 80!) as we made our way.

NewFoundLand (#44) by One Red Shoe

“NewFoundLand” (#44) by One Red Shoe

"Hero" (#15) by Tom Deams

“Hero” (#15) by Tom Deams

"Salty Sea Dog" (#14) by Peter Lord CBE

“Salty Sea Dog” (#14) by Peter Lord CBE

"Fiesta" (#54) by Lindsay McBirnie

“Fiesta” (#54) by Lindsay McBirnie

"Sugar Plum" (#50) by Celia Birtwell

“Sugar Plum” (#50) by Celia Birtwell

"Five a Day Dog" (#68) by Laura Cramer

“Five a Day Dog” (#68) by Laura Cramer

After saying goodbye to Laura’s precious friends, we met John and Meg at the Clifton Observatory, which is on a hill overlooking the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This spot was chosen for the view it provides of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, an annual parade of hot air balloons. Our hosts met us with a full picnic. I kind of thought I was in The Sound of Music.

A magical picnic

Bristol Balloon Fiesta

After two weeks of feeling dislocated in a global city, a relaxed picnic on a hilltop in the English countryside before a hot air balloon display was like a kind of sabbath.

Clifton Down (the Clifton Suspension Bridge is visible in the background)

Clifton Down (the Clifton Suspension Bridge is visible in the background)

A little taste of la revolución parked at Clifton Down

A little taste of la revolución parked at Clifton Down

The following morning, the tireless Mr. Moseley graciously gave us a tour of Thornbury Castle before we went to church, which required a bit of coaxing with the front desk staff (a task that would have probably been a bit more difficult if the party consisted only of two green Americans). How incredible that even in a more rural town like Thornbury you can turn a corner and find a bit of the Middle Ages.

St. Mary the Virgin Parish Church of Thornbury (adjacent to Thornbury Castle); the first recorded mention of the church is in 1106 AD.

St. Mary the Virgin Parish Church of Thornbury (adjacent to Thornbury Castle); the first recorded mention of the church is in 1106 AD.

Thornbury Castle

Thornbury Castle

Ivy on the walls

After church, the Moseleys offered to drive us to our next destination, Oxford. John chose a route that gave us several idyllic views of English countryside. At the location pictured below, I told Laura, “I could just lay down and die.”

Heaven

Though it's near-impossible to make out in this picture, the Tyndale Monument in North Nibley is in the background.

Though it’s near-impossible to make out in this picture, the Tyndale Monument in North Nibley is in the background.

Maranatha, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.

Daniel

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Life in the City: “Love is the unfamiliar Name” – Eliot

I am one of the suburbanites of history, poised on the edge of the city that is Humanity.

I am one of those who wade out into the world as much as is necessary to get what is desired. A paycheck. A taste of culture. The thrill of adventure. A gorged appetite. An eased conscience.

We do this because we are afraid and, even more disturbing, we are indifferent.

But it is difficult to suppress that burning love of the Lion of Judah for the injured and ill when they lie before you, suffocating beneath sin, the world, and the devil, and the gasps are audible.

We had one such encounter today.

Through placements with the London City Mission, Laura and I were selected to serve at West Kilburn Baptist.

West Kilburn Baptist Church

We helped with a session of their “Kid’s Club” (what is called Vacation Bible School in the States) and had the privilege of spending time with their on-staff evangelist (that’s right, someone the church pays to focus on the work of evangelism – novel thought), Andrew Gordon. Andrew’s sense of humor and deep passion for our Lord immediately won us over. It was clear we were members of the same family.

WKB Club

Laura chatting with Jen as she prepares to lead the children in verse memorization.

Preparing some music for the kiddos.

Preparing some music for the kiddos.

Playing with the adorable children (the girl pictured is Natalie) of West Kilburn

Playing with the adorable children (the girl pictured is Natalie) of West Kilburn

Before Kid’s Club started, we made what we thought would be a brief outing to pick up some supplies for one of our presentations. As we neared the entrance, we noticed two or three people standing around a woman in her mid-twenties who was sitting on the curb. She was wearing jeans and a tank top, and her dreadlocks reached down to the small of her back. And her face was bleeding.

The sight of the encounter (courtesy of Google Maps)

The sight of the encounter (courtesy of Google Maps)

Unsure of what was going on, we purchased our supplies and returned to the scene to find a man frantically calling for an ambulance while simultaneously urging the young woman to remain seated, as she was bent double, straining to bring herself to a standing position. Incoherent and mumbling in whispers about needing to get home, it was clear she was almost completely oblivious to her surroundings.

Laura and I drew near to the girl, gently asking her to have a seat. I kept my arms raised around her for fear that she would fall. The man making the call (whom we later learned to be an off-duty firefighter) informed us that she had just face-planted into the asphalt a few minutes before, and he worried that she may have sustained a concussion. A glance at the girl’s face showed that the fall had not been slight. Her face was bleeding in several places, and the remains of a cracked tooth could be seen on a split in her lip.

We found the grocery bag she had dropped. It contained a full bottle of water, an empty bottle of vodka, and a few pence. She did not appear to have anything else with her, even ID. These could have very well been her only possessions.

In an attempt to calm her as she continued to feverishly request to be taken home, I offered her the nearby bottle of water. In a daze, she brought the bottle to her bloodied lips. She did not even notice the several strands of her dreadlocks that blocked her mouth, which I attempted to move aside.

The firefighter, a passing bus driver, and I were eventually able to bring her to a seated position. She could not sustain this posture for long, however, and soon slumped to the ground. The firefighter, with one ear still to his phone, insisted that she lie on her side and fought to keep her in some semblance of consciousness, persistently calling to her and gently slapping her cheek.

By this time, a small crowd surrounded us, pointing and gossiping and laughing, as this image-bearer of God neared death.

Bruises covered her arms, implying the sites of self-administered injections. This girl had done everything possible to hollow herself out, but, in an attempt to escape the storm, she had smashed herself against the rocks.

Eventually, a fire engine arrived with medical equipment, at which point my lioness of a wife ordered the gawking crowd to make way.

We left them behind at this point, returning to West Kilburn Baptist in a mild state of shock.

I am reminded of what John the Baptist’s pop, Zechariah, said,

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.

(Luke 1:76-79)

Tender mercy is what I felt, involuntarily, for that desperate soul. It was so intense, so alien, I knew that it had not originated with me. The indwelling Spirit rose up. Asking the Father for mercy became incredibly natural, like breathing. And He gave it.

What this woman was so obviously, most people on this planet are internally. There is one that would see them destroyed. There is Another who brings overwhelming, unstoppable life.

Practice resurrection,

Daniel

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Days 8 and 9: Religion in the City

So we headed back to Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey

We paid the stomach-wrenching admission and toured the inside. Not to be a downer, but this is the passage that came to mind.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matt. 23:27)

Westminster Abbey is literally overflowing with dead men’s bones. Granted, the bones used to belong to some notable folk – St. Edward the Confessor, Charles Darwin, David Livingstone, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Henry James, Charles Dickens, and others – but they are still bones, void of life.

As a Christian who finds the sacraments to be an opportunity for deep, meaningful worship of my God and Father, I was deeply disturbed by the state of the Abbey’s interior. It is absolutely packed with tourists, streaming around the Lord’s table like it’s another dead relic. I also am a sinner, but I was distressed by the insensitivity of those strolling through this holy space.

It was an allegory for Christianity in the West. We have all these monuments to a former devotion, but they’re nothing to us now. Just another curious relic.

In addition, the floor of the Abbey is composed of graves and memorials. I was always taught to avoid walking on someone’s grave out of respect. I asked an attendant if the tombs we were all walking across were actually full of people. His answer was the equivalent of shrugging his shoulders and saying, “I dunno. Probably.”

Feeling thoroughly fleeced, we rested from the pandemonium outside of the main sanctuary.

Westminster Abbey

I even look distressed…

The two shops adjacent to the sanctuary didn’t help my impression. Isn’t there some passage about Jesus driving money-changers out of a sacred space…?

That was yesterday. Today, Tuesday, we visited some other striking places of worship in Southall, a western district of London. Our professor advised us that we would feel like we were in India when we hopped of our train. I was not disappointed.

Southall

David Watson, who works with St. John’s, a Church of England in Southall, acted as our guide. Our first visit was to a Hindu temple, Shree Ram Mandir (“shree” is a title of respect, it could mean “holy”; Ram is the Hindu creator god; Mandir is simply a name for a Hindu temple).

Shree Ram Mandir

The gravestones to the left are in the front yard of the original St. John’s church, originally constructed in the mid-19th century.

In a debriefing later, several of us admitted to feeling a heaviness or a weight, as if the air were heavy, while sitting barefoot, cross-legged on the floor in the temple, surrounded by statues of the various Hindu gods. Devotees were making their way around the exterior of the room, where the statues were located, laying various fruit, flowers, and even money at the feet of these marble idols. I noticed some worshipers would bow before the statues, placing their head on the ground before them, while others would bend down and touch the feet of the statue and stand in silent prayer. We did not feel this same heaviness in the two other places of worship we visited, a mosque and a Sikh gurdwara. I observed that Hinduism is the oldest out of the three religions. It would seem that ancient spiritual forces were very much at work in the temple.

The elderly “priest”placidly smiled at us as he extolled the virtues of Hinduism and its various gods. He assured us that our Christianity was fine with them, as they make no distinction between religions: all lead us to the same place. His theology was vague at best. I don’t think even he knew what he believed. He was born into this dark faith, like an infant born blind. As with us all.

Our next visit was to Central Jamia Masjid Mosque (“masjid” is Arabic for mosque).

masjid

 

The imam had only just recently been released from the hospital after suffering from a heart attack. Regardless, he was still happy to give a tour of his facilities to a group of Christian Americans. He gladly accepted the women of our group into the mosque, though they did not exactly meet the dress code requirements. He was kind to us, and we appreciated his kindness.

We were soon seated before him cross-legged on the carpet (which had been designed to point towards Saudi Arabia) of the main worship space, a posture which was common to all three places of worship (along with taking off our shoes and washing our hands). He calmly went over a summary of Islam with us and welcomed questions. Only a few worshipers were seated throughout the room, probably because most of the Muslims in the area were still observing the fast of Ramadan.

Finally, and most extravagantly, we visited Gurudwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, a Sikh temple.

Gurdwara

 

Beforehand, we all admitted to each other that we next to nothing about Sikhism. We were not sure what to expect, which may have been the best way to approach the experience.

Upon entering, we participated in the familiar preliminaries of washing our hands and removing our shoes, but we were introduced to a third, new formality: wearing an orange bandanna on our heads (the girls wore a scarf). It soon became apparent that Sikhism was a reform movement in Hinduism, abolishing the caste system and instituting egalitarianism. The vast sanctuary space was void of any idols or images; there was only a single altar at the front where devotees would bow and make their oblations, while women nearby constantly chanted the scriptures in a sing-song melody. We then went to another room, where our guide, in a full turban (and a full beard!) went over the basics of Sikhism. Before leaving, we were given a free meal, a mode of hospitality offered not only to us, but available seven days a week to the community.

With all these religions, we noticed a common theme: the devotee does what is necessary to get something from God (the Hindu priest said, “health, wealth, and happiness” about 10 times, referring to it as something to be sought from the various gods). The Hindus give offerings, the Muslims follow the Five Pillars, the Sikhs follow the sage advice of their gurus.

But God wants more than this. He wants a relationship with the people, only made possible through Jesus Christ.

Meeting together afterwards, we passionately prayed for the salvation of God for these people, the spread of the gospel. Truly an amazing day.

God’s peace to you all,

Daniel

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Days 7 and 8: Worship

London is dead asleep at 7:00 AM on a Saturday morning. I know because that was when I left our lodging in order to make the 8:00 AM celebration of the Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral yesterday.

St. Paul's Cathedral

It is a strange thing to find yourself walking up to the imposing cathedral dome completely alone. The experience baffles the brain, and it tries to rationalize by telling you that it is a dream. Visionary would be an appropriate word. The surreal has a way of becoming real, however, and I proceeded to search for a way into the building. This task consumed close to 20 minutes of my time. Someone mentioned to me once that the towering churches constructed during the Middle Ages were meant to resemble castles, since they were strongholds of the faith, defending against its enemies. Perhaps one of the downsides of a fortress, however, is that it can be so successfully impenetrable that not even the children of God can breach the walls.

I circled the church once and began to wonder if I would have to repeat the trek six more times in order to bring the Jericho-like walls of the garrison down. Halfway through the second walk, I spotted a tiny opening on the right of the eastern face of the building. I slowly entered, hushed and nervous, certain I was trespassing. A kind security guard pointed me to where the Eucharist would be celebrated. Upon seating myself, an unsmiling priest silently handed me an order of service and glided away.

The gravity of the place was suffocating. But where two or three are gathered…

An Englishman in a full suit with a hat, cane and bushy beard politely walked past me and sat down nearby. Glancing at him, I became convinced that it seemed I would be worshiping with George MacDonald.

George MacDonald

When passing the peace, this gentleman gave me a hearty handshake, covering my hand with his other hand in a loving way. He then left his seat to pass the peace to other people. During the celebration of the Eucharist, he responded with heart and raised his hands. He allowed me to go before him when receiving the sacrament. He sighed gravely when the bread was broken, as if he was standing before the actual crucifixion. I was reminded of a verse:

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

David told God he would build Him a house. You can almost hear God laugh, “Would you build me a house to dwell in?” (2 Samuel 7:5). David offered to build God a house, but God designed the quantum mechanics that govern the atoms which compose all houses. God needed David to build him a house like a father needs the imaginary tea his 5 year-old daughter pours into plastic teacups for her dolls. And so it is with St. Paul’s. God didn’t choose a cathedral to dwell in. He chose humans, like you and me. Like the George MacDonald lookalike who truly worshiped Saturday morning.

This morning we worshiped in King’s Cross Baptist, a church just north of central London and located near the railway station that shares its name.

King's Cross Baptist

King's Cross Baptist

The neighborhood around the church looks tired, as does the church building itself. Inside, the paint is peeling, and water damage is visible across the ceiling. The only “decoration” consisted of a sole, austere, wooden cross at the back of the chancel. Laura and I both agreed later that the immediate appearance of the church building had unconsciously shaped our assumptions about what the congregation would be like. The walls were in disrepair; we assumed the souls inside would be also. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

The congregation was 80% African, and the pastor was white. The deacons were composed of both races. The English pastor seemed completely at home with the call-and-response nature of the congregation’s worship. In a distinct English accent, he admonished the church to continue to pray for Zimbabwe and Zambia, along with other countries of Africa represented by the members present. He passionately preached a biblical, Christ-centered sermon. The worship was free and natural. As the music died down, two members (one after the other, an orderliness Paul would have appreciated – 1 Cor. 14:40) broke out into spontaneous praise, letting what was in their hearts flow from their mouths (Luke 6:45). The first member voiced praised with a strong Irish brogue; the second man with an African accent. I was deeply blessed.

We shared in the Lord’s Supper, which consisted of bits of a bread loaf you might buy from a grocery store and small cups of sparkling grape juice. The body and blood of our Lord.

The walls were old, but God doesn’t ask for walls. He asks for you, for me.

Backtracking a bit, on Saturday we visited the Tower of London.

My gorgeous wife standing in front of the White Tower, the original tower (constructed in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, first of the Norman kings), now housed within the larger campus that was constructed later.

My gorgeous wife standing in front of the White Tower, the original tower (constructed in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, first of the Norman kings), now housed within the larger campus that was constructed later.

One of the strangest of London’s historical landmarks, the Tower is basically a large monument to the royal history of torture, imprisonment, and execution (the gift shop was stocked by, among other things, paper toys for children depicting some unlucky soul on the rack and another of someone being beheaded). I imagine the US giving similar tours of Guantanamo Bay in a thousand years.

Of course, we saw…

The Crown Jewels

No photos were allowed, but I can assure you the sight was easily worth the queue/line and the price of the tickets. Wherever you are on the socioeconomic ladder, diamonds are still beautiful things. Especially when they’re the size of a baseball and framed in gold. I was relieved that Laura left her engagement ring home for safe keeping because royalty has some serious bling.

Crown Jewels

We were able to visit the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula (Latin for “in chains”), where some of the most infamous have been buried, including Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More (whose story is dramatized in A Man for All Seasons). As we toured these and other sites in the Tower, it became more and more apparent that Henry VIII was a bit trigger-happy with the old axe and chopping block (the execution of Lady Jane Grey was especially tragic; it is recounted here and artistically interpreted by Paul Delaroche in this painting – which I saw at the National Gallery! But I digress…).

During the tour of the chapel, our guide, a Yeoman Warder (or “Beefeater” – so nicknamed because apparently they used to be paid with the king’s beef), explained to us that individuals are only eligible to take on the occupation he holds after 22 years of military service (our guide had served in the Royal Marines for 4 decades), for they are, officially, the Queen’s personal bodyguards (basically the monarchy’s version of the Swiss Guards). If they are taken on, they are provided with a residence within the Tower’s premises. Here’s Laura with one of the yeomen:

Laura and a Yeoman Warder

We were also told that the “E II R” on the yeoman’s uniform stands for “Elizabeth Regina II,” Latin for Queen Elizabeth II.

We also wandered into the White Tower and its extensive armor exhibit.

Armor!

Sir Daniel

This is my medieval warfare face.

Some really interesting stuff here. I found that monarchs throughout the ages were really keening on installing guns in traditional weapons, like a mace, shield, or an axe…

Axe Gun

In case the blow from the axe doesn’t dispatch your opponent, a metal slug will seal the deal.

They also had a dragon constructed from ancient weaponry.

I'm still processing this piece...

I’m still processing this piece…

Saturday ended with a gorgeous, unforgettable bike ride through Hyde Park.

Hyde Park

Bike ride

On Sunday, I stopped by Trafalgar Square on my way to the National Gallery…

Trafalgar Square

…where I encountered some interesting folk…

I still have no idea what this guy was up to...

I still have no idea what this guy was up to…

Levitating Statue Man

For the incredulous, check out how the trick works here.

The old Houdini crowd-pleaser...

The old Houdini crowd-pleaser…

Not the best shot, but this guy was standing completely still with his hair and outfit altered to create the illusion that he was standing in a strong wind.

Not the best shot, but this guy was standing completely still with his hair and outfit altered to create the illusion that he was standing in a strong wind.

As you might expect, I wasn’t allowed to snap photos of priceless masterpieces in the National Gallery, but I will mention one painting in particular that struck me as I raced back and forth to look at the works of Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh before closing time. It was Christ Blessing the Children by Nicolaes Maes.

Nicolaes Maes, Christ Blessing the Children

Maes studied in Rembrant’s studio, and that influence is apparent in this work. What really drew me in, however, had nothing to do with Maes himself. It had to do with the truth revealed through the work. In the painting, the child Christ is blessing looks away, distracted and uninterested, sucking on her finger. An infant in the background drools, while another child is clearly resisting his parent as he is being offered up to Christ. A man looks on eagerly from behind, reminding me of Christ’s address in John 6:

” Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.'”

The men look opportunistic, the women seem exhausted, and the children are restless and fidgety. But the look on Christ’s face is the purest concern, absolute compassion; a holy concentration on the child He is blessing. Clothed in red, we think of the sacrifice that will come later, the sacrifice Christ was already aware of. But here He sits, blessing the children, ignorant and undeserving as they are.

We are these children. Missing so much, making such slow progress, forgetting what is most important, straining towards what will not last. But Christ remains, His pierced hand on our feverish brow, praying a blessing.

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

The peace of our Lord,

Daniel

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Day 6: Define Palace

Two days ago, we visited Spurgeon’s College, a Baptist seminary in South London originally founded by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Steve Latham, a kind, patient minister of the Word and member of the college faculty, was giving us a tour of the facilities when he mentioned that he’d like to show us the “Spurgeon Heritage Room,” but he’d have to get the key first.

You see, it was locked, as you might lock your attic.

Before making our way up the stairs to the small, dusty room filled with original Spurgeon memorabilia (as in handwritten letters and personal Bibles), we passed by a pulpit. Steve mentioned in passing that it was the preaching from this pulpit that had converted Spurgeon. I touched it in disbelief.

There were no lines, no ticket for admission, no overpriced guidebooks or gift shops. Just the lonely echoes of a life given in service to Christ.

I discovered a similar situation when Laura and I visited Wesley’s Chapel in Central London today. Upon excitedly entering the cast iron gates of the courtyard in front of the chapel, I became immediately aware that this space held little more significance for the locals than as a quiet place where busy Londoners could have a peaceful lunch on one of the benches. This is not an indictment, only an observation. I know that I do this as well, on a deeper, more dangerous level (avoiding the sacred space of time alone with the Father, but acting as if time spent making money is so important). But, oh, what a joy to be at my elder brother’s old chapel.

Wesley's Chapel

Perhaps it is a reaction against the rise of megachurches in the States, but I have a special place in my heart for smaller spaces of worship. It could also be my growing awareness over the last few days that the English are content with a smaller scale by which to measure things, especially when compared to the American obsession with size (for instance, there are only six-packs of soda – or fizzy juice – in the grocery stores here, whereas Walmarts back home have one size: 24-packs). Maybe this is due to some subconscious impact made on our psyches by the difference in the land masses we inhabit (although we’ve both had a thing for expanding our respective empires). Regardless, Wesley’s Chapel stole my heart.

Wesley's Chapel

A closer look before the Lord's table...

A closer look before the Lord’s table…

These two stained glass windows greeted us in the foyer – absolutely stunning.

Stained Glass

The writing on the glass reads: “Let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel. The God that answers by fire, let him be God” (1 Kings 18:24, 36); “To the glory of God and in memory of the Rev. George H. McNeal”

Stained Glass

The banner above the soldier reads, “His strength is as the strength of ten because his heart is true.” The lions underneath surround a chalice labeled, “Holy Grail.” The soldier stands on top of his enemies who are identified as “Envy, Jealousy, Greed, Falsehood, and Malice.”

A poem underneath reads:

“Bring me my bow of burning cold
Bring me my arrows of desire
Bring me my spear of clouds unfold
Bring me my chariot of fire

I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land”

The dedication underneath reads, “To the glory of God and in loving memory of William Blackburn Fitzgerald. This window is dedicated by his guild comrades, June 22nd 1932. Founder of the Wesley Guild and its first secretary.”

How strange and marvelous and slightly sad to then visit Rev. Wesley’s grave.

Wesley's Grave

A humble grave for a humble man; he was not one for needless flamboyance. A member of the Methodism Museum’s staff informed us that Wesley abstained from drinking tea because he felt it was a stimulant and a waste of money. He gave his life to the service of God; in death, he could not be parted far from the chapel where he served.

Wesley's Grave

Among other things, this eulogy proclaims,

“After having languished a few Days, He at length finished his course and his life together, gloriously triumphing over death March 2nd An. Dom. 1791 in the Eighty-eighth Year of his Age.”

“The best of all,” Wesley reportedly stated before triumphing over death, “is God is with us.” The nearby museum possessed evidence of a near-fanatical devotion for Wesley among his followers after his death (numerous locks of Wesley’s hair were found preserved in various forms), but the man himself understood that the greatest gift is Immanuel, “God with us.” Laura and I stood in the prayer closet that Wesley would visit at 4:00 AM every morning before gathering all the members of his household for morning prayer at the chapel at 5:00 AM.

Earlier I mentioned the pulpit marking the occasion of Spurgeon’s conversion. I also came upon another significant pulpit: the one Wesley preached from.

Wesley's Pulpit

Laura suggested I stand in the pulpit for the picture, which I refused, feeling it would be both sacrilegious and destructive to the structural integrity of the 300 year-old relic.

We were also given the incredible privilege of touring Wesley’s final home, directly adjacent to the chapel. A kind, older English woman gave us a surprisingly informative and in-depth tour of the place. Although most of the exhibits could not be photographed for fear that the flash would damage the fabric, paintings, etc., we were able to see Wesley’s old preaching gown, hat, shoes, and cane (the saint did not wear one of the wigs customary for his era, feeling that it also was a waste of money that could be given to the poor). We also saw this magnificent, familiar portrait:

John Wesley

It should be mentioned that this is not believed to be as close an actual likeness to Wesley as is captured by other paintings, such as the following, which Wesley approved of personally (and we were also able to behold – it was on loan from the National Portrait Gallery):

John Wesley

This portrait can be seen in the next photograph, as well as Wesley’s personal study chair, where – as the guide explained to us – he could sit in the conventional fashion or sit backwards, facing the desk on the back (I think someone should contact Ikea with the details).

Wesley's Study

Also visible in this picture is Samuel Wesley’s (John’s father) French grandfather clock, dating from the 17th century and still ticking.

The guide also informed us that Wesley, while traveling on his preaching circuit by horseback, would not only often read on his travels, but even do some writing. We saw the writing desk he used for this purpose. Apparently he would ride the horse backwards, placing the desk on the horse’s rump. Incredible.

Laura and I sat in one of the chapel’s pews (nearly as old as our homeland – the chapel was established in 1779), and thanked God for his servant, John Wesley, and the kingdom work accomplished through him.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

We left this holy place to visit an earthly palace, enshrining a different throne, one belonging to Queen Elizabeth II.

Buckingham Palace

The view of the back of the palace after finishing the tour.

The Palace Gardens; also, Laura informs me, the sight of the reception for the wedding of Prince William and his bride, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.

The Palace Gardens; also, Laura informs me, the sight of the reception for the wedding of Prince William and his bride, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.

We were allowed absolutely no photographs inside (and we were politely informed by signage, more than once, that our movements were being surveilled), but I can tell you that it was quite breathtaking to behold George IV’s art collection, where I saw one of the original self-portraits of Rembrandt van Rijn.

Rembrandt van Rijn Self-Portrait

We ended the evening with some excellent (though overpriced; I’m beginning to see a pattern in London) lamb curry and rice at a local Indian restaurant, Delhi Brasserie. Tomorrow, Lord willing, will bring the Tower of London and a celebration of the Eucharist at St. Paul’s, among other things. I will end with a prayer by John Wesley, handed out to us by our tour guide as we stood in Wesley’s old prayer closet. May it also be mine and yours.

The Covenant

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine.

So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

What do we have if we don’t have Him?

The peace of our Lord,

Daniel

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Day 5: The Steeple

It was a bit surreal to be jogging in London with my iPod set to The Beatles. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” became my soundtrack as I ran past the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park; appropriate, given the love that led Victoria to cast her husband’s image in gold. The theme continued as I made my way to the Italian Gardens, the site having been constructed by Albert’s order as a gift for Victoria. Vs and As decorated the architecture (for Victoria and Albert).

Italian Fountains

I jogged back past the thousands of parkgoers, making my way to Kensington. It’s still a little strange to hear all the various languages that can be heard in London (one Turkish teenager thanked me for taking his picture with “danke schön”; apparently I can pass for a German if I ever find myself in Turkey).

It was as “Yellow Submarine” began to fade away that I realized my surroundings were unfamiliar. I soon discovered that I had overshot my turn by a solid half-mile. After a few more wrong turns, I successfully lost my bearings. It was not until I looked up and saw a steeple that I began to take courage; it helped me find my direction.

We are lost until the signposts point us home. So it is with Christ.

While visiting Westbourne Park Baptist Church I realized this fellowship of believers was another faithful signpost for so many. Strategically (and accidentally – the church was established in the 19th century) placed exactly between the “council estates” (what the US calls “government projects” ) and the homes of the affluent, it is a witness for so many that are near desperation. A multicultural church, it welcomes all.

In the same way, the Agape Arabic Christian Centre, the only bookstore like its kind in the whole of Europe, is aimed at the Muslim population in London.

Agape Arabic Christian Centre

Its manager explained to us how some Muslims that entered their doors would not come to Christ until after years and years of conversation and dialogue. But this ministry is leading people out of the darkness. In a place like London, sometimes that is the most we can hope for.

So my wife made a solo excursion today while we were visiting these various ministries to an upscale department store called Harrods. Founded in 1824, Londoners have been dumping their money on this store’s products for decades.

Harrods

£350 strollers. Because, you know, your baby will care.

£350 strollers. Because, you know, your baby will care.

We went ahead and did the fish and chips thing. When in Rome, er, London…

Fish and Chips

Severely overpriced, but it was good to get the ropes of a London restaurant.

We then went on two “nerd-out” runs. The first was a quick stop at Hogwarts:

Platform 9.75

Good to see that she’s a Gryffindor.

And then to make a royal pilgrimage.

Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Hospital

What an undeserved blessing, to be in London with this perfect woman.

God’s peace,

Daniel

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