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Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Weather

Mark 15:33, NIV “At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.”

Luke 22:53 “Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns."

My Easter began at 4:30 AM, when I woke up to attend an Easter sunrise service on top of the tower at St. Michael’s. When I woke up, it was still dark, and very cold, but already the birds were beginning to sign as I made my way down the bike path into City Centre.

On top of the tower, with no protection from the wind, it was even colder. About 20 people, including Amy and Samantha, had braved the earlier hour and cold air to come. As we stood on top of the tower, singing and praying, the sky slowly grew lighter, but the sun never became visible. The whole sky was covered by a light gray cloud, like a fog that hadn’t settled down yet, and there were none of the oranges and yellows that usually accompany a sunrise.

Still cold, we made our way back into the church for a light breakfast and tea.

Matthew 28:2-3 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.

“Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
-Robert Lowry

We had been inside for about half an hour when someone got up to leave. They immdiatly came back and announced that it was snowing outside. I jumped out of my chair and ran to the window to see, leaving Sam and Amy to explain to the others that I was from Florida and hadn’t seen snow very much. Sure enough, it was snowing.

As I walked home, the snow flurries fell heavier and heavier, and I watched in awe as the gathered on the ground, slowly covering more and more area. Before long, there were large patches of earth that were entirely white.

The snow kept up for about an hour, and then began to melt. It never fully blanketed everything, but it was enough that one could easily imagine how the world would have looked if it had.

Isaiah 9:2
“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”

John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

John 12:46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

The gray cloud dissipated, leaving giant white clouds in its wake. The clouds were so perfectly formed that they looked more real than the houses behind them. And there, slashing through the clouds to the ground, was the sun.

Charlie Hall
Marvelous Light

I once was fatherless,a stranger with no hope;
Your kindness wakened me,
Awakened me, from my sleep

Your love it beckons deeply, a call to come and die.
By grace now I will come
And take this life, take your life.

Sin has lost it's power,death has lost it's sting.
From the grave you've risen
VICTORIOUSLY!

Into marvelous light I'm running,
Out of darkness, out of shame.
By the cross you are the truth,
You are the life, you are the way

My dead heart now is beating,
My deepest stains now clean.
Your breath fills up my lungs.
Now I'm free. now I'm free!

Lift my hands and spin around,
See the light that i have found.
Oh the marvelous light
Marvelous light

Saturday, March 22, 2008

SNOW!!!!!

'nuff said.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Prisoner

Inspired by a Sunday School lesson at Ingleside Baptist Church


The prisoner lay on his back, a thin pallet of straw the only thing separating him from the cold stone floor of his cell. The first rays of sunlight were filtering in through the tiny barred window near the ceiling, and as he watched, the rays began to travel across the small room. Determinedly, he shut his eyes, trying to fall back asleep. It had been a restless night. Instead of quiet, the night had been filled with the shouts and the comings and goings of travelers. Had he wanted to, he could have dragged the bed to one of the dark corners the sun didn’t reach, but already the sounds of people beginning the day’s work interrupted the sleepy stillness of the morning.

Resigning to the fact that his sleep was indeed over, the prisoner opened his eyes, revealing the ceiling, who’s every inch had been under his scrutiny the past few days. When first arrested, he had spent his days walking the perimeter of his cell, but that had only served to remind him how small it really was. Soon the prisoner had discovered that by lying still on his mat he could allow his mind to wander outside the constraints of the cell and join the hustle and bustle of the city outside. Today though, the sounds were different. There was a concentration of sound just a little ways away from the prison, and he could hear the sound growing. People were gathering for something.

Allowing his mind to wander, he began to imagine what could be going on outside. Was it some Roman spectacle? Acrobats perhaps? Gladiators? While he pictured the carnival-like scene, the sounds grew louder, then suddenly stopped. Straining his ears, the prisoner could just make out a low mumbling of voices, which the whole crowd seemed to be listening to. Was this a play then? But what an odd place for one, next to the jail. The voices stopped and once again the people in the crowd began talk amongst themselves. Despite his best efforts, the prisoner was unable to make out the topic of all the excitement.

Once again, the dull roar of the crowd stopped and the two voices resumed. This happened several more times. And as the prisoner listened, the crowd grew more and more agitated. Finally, the crowd became quiet once again and he could just barely make out a single voice talking. Then, a roaring wave of sound built up, startling the prisoner into a sitting position. They were shouting his name. His name. What on earth had happened that this giant crowd was talking about him? What could this possibly mean? It had been weeks since his trial, and since then the only people who ever thought of him were the guards who brought his food.

The prisoner stiffened as the crowd once again fell silent. What were they talking about? The bright carnival images were far from his mind now that he had discovered that he was the topic of all this discussion. He strained his ears, desperate to learn what was happening. Once again he could hear the lone voice speaking, followed by the shouting of the crowd. It started as a jumble of voices, but quickly formed itself into a chant which froze the prisoner’s blood. Crucify him. They shouted. Crucify him.

Overwhelmed by the sound, he curled into a ball, pressing his hands against his ears. The chanting subsided, but the shouts didn’t. People continued running back and forth and strange sounds echoed off the walls of the cell. The prisoner was ignorant of it all, caught up as he was in thoughts of his fate. He just couldn’t understand it. Of course, he had known what his punishment was to be. Even before the verdict had been given he had known. A man was only brought before the Roman court for one reason. He had no confusion about that. No. What he couldn’t understand was the anger. Where had the crowd been during his trail? There had been no shouting or chanting. The only one who had felt any real feelings about the trial had been the prisoner himself. So where had this crowd come from? Why did everyone suddenly want to see him dead?

His thoughts were abruptly driven from his mind at the sound of keys in the lock. His muscles grew rigid as he curled up even smaller. Death, he thought, he might be ready for. But not this. The angry chant of the crowd had seared itself to his brain. He knew he couldn’t face the mob that was waiting for him. He resisted the tug of the soldier trying to pull him up and found himself begging. “Please. Please. No.” The soldier jerked him impatiently.

“Aren’t you listening? You’re free!” The prisoner stared at the soldier in disbelief, and then looked at the open door of the cell. He made a split second decision and sprinted out of the prison and into the street.

He didn’t get very far. As soon as he got onto the streets, the prisoner was swept up by the pressing crowd. At first, he was terrified. What would the crowd do to him? But to his surprise, they ignored him. Not wanting to press his luck, he followed along, trying to blend into the parade of people making their way towards Golgatha. As he joined the crowd, he wondered if he was really doing the smartest thing. After all, he was walking directly towards the place the angry mob had wanted to drag him just a few hours ago. Even as he thought of changing his mind, it was too late. The press of the crowd had dragged him forward and there was no fighting against it.

As they reached the hill, the prisoner froze, causing the people behind him to stumble into each other to avoid knocking him and one another down. Still the prisoner did not move, transfixed by the sight before him. A man was being crucified. As he watched the man’s hands being nailed to the cross, he could feel the pain in his own hands. The cross was raised and he watched as people threw themselves forward, crying and clutching at their clothes. Sinking to his knees, the prisoner joined them, his fists crushed so tight that blood oozed out from between his fingers. He didn’t understand what was going on, who this man was or how he had ended up on the cross. But there was one thing he did know. That man on the cross was the wrong one. The cross on the hill had been built for him. Someone had made a mistake and crucified the wrong man. Tears filled the eyes of the prisoner, and he wept for the man who was being punished in his stead.

Late that night, even after the man was taken down from the cross, the prisoner was still kneeling in the field. There had been a sign above the man, one the prisoner couldn’t understand. It had read King of the Jews. What sort of king was this? The Jewish people were under the rule of the Roman Empire. Who was this man who had been punished so severely? Was he truly a king? And from what kingdom? As the first rays of light filled the morning sky, the prisoner arose from the ground, stretching muscles sore from kneeling so long. As he walked down the hill, the prisoner made up his mind. Somehow, he would find the family of this man and explain to them what had happened. About the mistake that had been made. And he would ask them for forgiveness.
Matthew 37:20-23 NRSV, emphasis added

20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21The governor again said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release for you?’ And they said, ‘Barabbas.’ 22Pilate said to them, ‘Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’* All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified!’ 23Then he asked, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Super, Duper, Really Long Post About Greece

In Which Samantha, Amy and I have All Sorts of Adventures, See Lots of Ruins, and Get Lost Several Times

Wednesday:

Our plane was scheduled to leave at 6:50 AM from London City Airport. We were fine with getting up early, but quickly realized a problem: There was no way via public transportation to get to the airport that early. Which left only one solution. We would have to get there the night before and spend the night in the airport.

By 9:30 PM Wednesday, we were all packed and heading out the door (no checked baggage—we decided to backpack). We took a train to Paddington station, the Tube to Baker St. and then transferred to the DLR which took us right to the airport. All this went by without a hitch, and it wasn’t until we arrived at the airport that we discovered our major hitch. It was closed for the night. We walked around hoping to find another entrance, but didn’t see one. Not sure what else to do, we walked back to the front entrance, where we met a friendly milkman who told us to knock on the office window. We did so, and a very nice lady came out, and after checking our passports and flight itineraries, commented “You’re here early, aren’t you?”, and let us come inside to wait ‘till morning. Unfortunately, there was construction going on inside, so we weren’t really able to sleep much.
Sam and Amy at the airport
Thursday:

Most of Thursday was spent flying, and around 4:00 PM we arrived in Athens. The metro was on strike, so we had to take the Proastiakos (Suburban Train) into town. The directions to our hotel said to get off at Larissa station, and after riding the train all the way to the end of line and still not seeing a stop for Larissa, we finally learned that Larissa station was the same as Athens station. So we took the train back to there and got off. We were slightly disoriented at this point, and set off in the wrong direction to our hotel, but a man working at a gas station set us back on course and we eventually made it to our hotel two hours later than intended. We checked in, admired the room, then took turns napping and showering. It was 7:00PM by the time we arrived, and we were too tired to do much of anything.
Around 7:30, we were getting hungry, so Sam and I went down to a small café on the corner and got chicken gyros. If you’ve never had a gyro, then there’s an important rule to eating them: don’t think about it. They look really gross, but taste amazing, and are definitely one of the things I’d miss about Greece. You can get them in the states, but they don’t taste the same. Probably because of our health regulations.

Friday:

After having had almost no sleep Wednesday and Thursday, we decided to take Friday easy. Our first stop was the National Archaeology Museum. Our hotel was only about a 5 minute walk from the Museum, which was great. And since all three of us and student ID’s from the EU, we didn’t have to pay for entrance. The museum was wonderful, and I had to restrain myself from taking too many pictures, especially since I’d already taken a lot during my first trip to Greece. It was cool to get to see the museum for a second time, because it gave me a chance to go back and really look at some of the things I liked best. We stayed for about 2 hours, which was enough time to see almost everything in the museum.

After the Museum, we set out for Monastiraki square, and I was surprised at how much I remembered. There was some construction work going on, which made the few operating sidewalks very crowded. We walked through Monastiraki and looked at some the ruins around there, including Hadrian’s Library, and the Painted Stoa, from which Stoicism gets it name. After a light lunch, we decided to visit the National Gardens, which I hadn’t seen on my last visit.

The Gardens were huge! There was lots of cool stuff, like this tree:

But the best part was the small zoo inside. It had ducks, peacocks, goats, rabbits, chickens, and a donkey. After wandering around the gardens for a while, I thought I remembered how to get to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, so we went to go look at it.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus is the largest temple in Greece, but should not be confused with the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, which housed a statue of Zeus that was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

On the way to the temple, we walked past some ruins. As we got close to them, I said they looked Roman. When we were a little closer, I said I thought it looked like a Roman bath. Then we saw sign saying it was in fact a Roman bath. Guess I did learning something during my last trip to Greece.

The sun was setting by the time we reached the temple, so after walking around and taking pictures of it, we headed back to out hotel, picking up some bread, cheese and fruit for dinner.

Saturday:

On Saturday we visited my favourite ruins in Athens, the Ancient Agora. I made a pathetic attempt at playing tour guide, but there were enough signs that we could figure out what most things were. It’s always really cool to be walking somewhere and then suddenly think about everything that happened there. This was the Agora where Socrates use to go around questioning his fellow Athenians. There’s the remains of the building where he was tried, and the prison where he was forced to drink hemlock poison. To be standing on top of such history is absolutely incredible.

One of the best things about the Agora, besides there not being too many people, is that almost all the building foundations are visible. I love being able to step back and rebuild the ruins in my mind, trying to picture the shining marble and vibrant colours, to imagine what it would have looked like, how it would have been to walk among the ancient streets. There is something magical about these skeletons, these bones belonging to another time.

After spending the whole morning (and part of the afternoon) in the Agora, we went shopping for a bit and had lunch. Then, for some strange reason, we decided to climb Lykavittos Hill.
We nearly got lost trying to find it (you’d think it be hard to lose a small mountain) because none of our maps actually showed the whole of Athens, just the main centres. We eventually reached it, and were planning to take the funicular up to the top, which our guide book suggested. We never found the funicular, however, and ended up climbing to the top. But the view was definitely worth it. We could see the Parthenon, the Olympic stadium, and lots more. By the time we had climbed back down, it was getting dark, so we headed home for the night.

Sunday:

Sunday started with a rather strange adventure: An ATM machine ate Amy’s debit card. It turned out she had typed in the wrong pin number, so the machine “retained her card for security purposes”. I didn’t know ATM’s could do that. Amy called her parents and bank, but since it was Sunday, there wasn’t really anything to be done. Since Sam and I both had enough money to help Amy out until she got her card back, and since her card really couldn’t be in a safer place, we went to the Acropolis.

When we got to the entrance gate, there was a sign announcing that the workers were on strike until 12:30 PM, and that “they were sorry for any inconvenience”. So we decided to climb Areophagus Hill. This is thought by some to be Mars Hill, where Paul gave his sermon of the unknown god. We stayed up there for until 12:30 and then went to the Acropolis, which looked exactly the same as did last summer, but was still cool.

The day was warm enough to have worn t-shirt, and all three of us, like good British tourists, got sun-burned before lunch.

We decided to go all out for lunch, and ate until we were stuffed at Plato’s Taverna (yes, it was my idea to eat there—why do you ask?). After lunch, we did some more shopping until we were tired and ready to go to bed.

Monday:

On Monday, we took the bus out to Delphi—NOT! We began the day with all intentions of going to Delphi, but in actually ended up taking a bus tour around Athens and ending up back at out hotel. Which was kind of fun in its own way. After a brief siesta, we decided to have a picnic lunch in the National Gardens, so we did. We also brought our left over bread from dinner on Friday to feed to the animals at the zoo, which was fun. After that, we went to the world’s coolest playground and, since there wasn’t anyone there, had fun playing on the swings and such. On the way to the playground, we saw a Greek guard in traditional dress, which includes shoes with pom-poms on them.
After that, we did some more shopping and turned in early, since we had to fly out the next day (we had gyros again for dinner).

Tuesday:

Tuesday was pretty much un-eventful, as it was just spent travelling, but we did have a small adventure in getting to the airport.

After finding our way to the train station without getting lost, we were feeling very proud of ourselves when we found out that all public transportation was on strike—trains, buses, and the metro. So we had to take a taxi to the airport. During the ride, Samantha and Amy got introduced to driving in Greece, which has one rule: the bigger vehicle always wins. Other than that, anything goes.

We got back to Oxford late so I stayed the night at Sam and Amy’s house.

Reflections (briefly):

This trip marked two firsts for me. For one, it was the first time I’ve ever returned to a country I’ve visited before, which was really cool. I have no plans for this to be my last trip to Greece, though. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I’m afraid I’ve been thoroughly Hellenized, and can’t wait to go back again (like, say, the summer after my senior year, mom and dad?).

This was also the first time I’ve spent a substantial amount of time away from Oxford in the three months I’ve been here, and I’ve realized that it’s really become a kind of third home to me (the first two being Orlando and Mercer). I actually missed it a bit and was glad to return “home”. I was even willing to forgive it for being cold and rainy…until I discovered the bike path had flooded again, and I had to wade through it without my wellies.

Check out Amy's blog for more of our adventures
For those of you wondering what was up with the strikes, click here.
Looks like we left at the right time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Strange Things I Do

1. Go running when its 3˚C and raining.

2. Walk all the way out to Abingdon Rd. because I’m too cheap to take a bus.

3. Go running through calve-deep freezing cold water.

4. Have a bike, but almost never use it, because I’m still scared by the cars on the “wrong” side of the road.

5. Go running when its 3˚C and raining.

6. Mention to my tutor that I would really like to have explored a topic further…and consequently get assigned another essay (I made this mistake twice)

7. Decide I want to go to Greece and get tickets for a plane that leaves three days after I made the decision (which means I’m heading to off to Greece tomorrow)

8. Go running when its 3˚C and raining.

9. Discuss the differences between English-English and American-English.

10. Eat a lot of bananas, even though I don’t particularly like them.

11. Try to figure out new ways to cook sweet potatoes.

12. Talk to the birds on the bike path into City Centre.

13. Go running when its 3˚C and raining.

14. Smile at strangers, and watch them try to figure out if they know me from somewhere.

15. Punctuate my thoughts with Shakespeare, Plato, or Homer quotations.

16. Take pictures of things with the sock I’m knitting (I need to do this more, actually).

17. Sleep in really, really late, by accident because the sun didn’t come up.

18. Ask my friends to bring over popped bags of microwave popcorn when the visit.

19. Eat peanut-butter and nutella sandwiches.

20. And did I mention: Go running when its 3˚C and raining.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Volunteering!

This Saturday, I had the opportunity to volunteer with a program called K.E.E.N. Its run through Oxford and Brookes Universities, and is for kids and young adults with disabilities.

Saturday was a sports day. The participants in the program are called athletes and the volunteers are coaches. There was one coach for each athlete, and three rotating groups. The first activity I did with my athlete was playing basketball. The one-on-one system was really good, because it allowed each athlete to be able to participate to the degree he was comfortable with.

The next activity was a bouncy castle (after some English v. American English conversations, I was able to confirm that a bouncy castle was in fact a moonwalk). This was probably the favourite activity with all the athletes.

The last activity was Circuits, where the coaches and their athletes went around to different stations that all had different exercises, like jumping-jacks, or bean-bag races.

It was a lot of hard work, but I had a really good time and felt like I was really doing something useful with my time.

Friday, March 7, 2008

London, Part Two

In Which I Make a Political Statement

Sunday:

The first stop on Sunday was the British Museum. I don’t think Betsy will ever take a linguist and a classicist to a museum again, but somehow she managed to drag us out of there…eventually. I won’t bore you with all the pictures I took (there was a brilliant Greek and Roman wing), but I must show you one:


See those relief sculptures on the wall behind me? They were once on the Parthenon in Athens. They were removed by Thomas Bruce the 7th Earl of Elgin (hence they are called the Elgin Marbles), which probably saved them from being destroyed. However, I believe (and here’s my political statement) it is time for them to go back to Athens. If you want to know more, here’s a Wiki article about them, and a web-site that offers links to arguments for and against their return (the site is very biased, and if you know of a better one, please post it in the comments section). If you want to know more about my personal position, just ask. I’d be happy to tell you, as Amy and Betsy can vouch. I'd also like to hear other people's views. If you'd like to share, add a comment.

Okay then…moving on….

Our next stop was Buckingham Palace. The flag on top means the Queen is in residence.

Then we went to Westminster Abbey, where I was thoroughly confused by the use of gargoyles (I just don’t understand why they are used to decorate churches).

Then, after paying our respects to Big Ben,
we headed back home.

P.S. I am working on making an online photo album so you can see the pictures I don’t post here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

London, Part One

In Which I Survive

After nearly two months of living in England, I was starting to wonder if I’d ever make it to London. So when Amy invited me to go with her and stay with her friend Betsy in Woking (just outside of London) for the weekend, I jumped at the chance.

Friday:
We took a train to Woking, and in anticipation of the hour long journey, I took along the sock I’d been knitting and Plato’s Laws (my “fun” reading at the moment). Unfortunately, all my planning was in vain because the train was packed. Not only couldn’t Amy and I find a seat, we couldn’t even find a wall to lean against, or a pole to hang onto. So we spent the entire trip standing, swaying back and forth, and trying not to fall on the toddler sitting on the floor near us. But we survived, arrived in Woking, met up with Betsy, and planned out what we wanted to do the next day.

Saturday:
The first thing we saw in London was the London Eye. After taking lots of pictures…



…we went on to our first stop of the day. St. Paul’s.


Last night we had decided that we would try to climb all 530 steps to the top. Since there’s three levels, we figured we could stop at each one, rest if we needed to, then continue the climb. The first level was inside, so no pics. The second one was outside and the view was amazing:

We then went onto the third level. We were just a flight away from the top when we heard “beep beep beep” over the intercom. One of the security guards told us it was the fire alarm, and we’d have to evacuate. She opened the emergency fire exit door (you know you’ve always wanted to go out the emergency exit…) and down we went. And down, and down, and down. Over 500 stairs in one fell swoop, all the time listening to the intercom going “Beep beep beep. A fire has been reported in the building. Please exit immdiatly. Beep beep beep”.

We never did find out what had happened, but by the time we had made it to the bottom, they were already letting people back into the building. So it couldn’t have been too serious. We were disappointed that we hadn’t made it to the top, but didn’t think we could handle the climb twice in one day. So we went on to our next stop…the Tower of London.

We took a guided tour with a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater), who was an excellent tour guide.


At the beginning of the tour he asked how many Americans were in the audience, then told us “if you’d only paid your taxes, all this history could have been yours”. The tour was brilliant, and I got a lot more out of the visit than I would have on my own. After the tour we looked at the Crown Jewels, and then visited the armoury.

By that time it was getting late, so we headed back to Betsy’s house to plan out what we wanted to do Sunday….

To be continued….