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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mini Sermon: Part 1 of 3

Why Being a Christian is like Being a Study Abroad Student

“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul”. 1 Peter 2:11

The word “alien”, meaning foreigner, appears in one form or another 96 times in the Old Testament (according to, mostly in reference to the people of Israel, who were “aliens” in the land they lived in. It occurs six times in the New Testament, usually in terms of Christians being aliens in the world. It seems God has a thing for aliens.

This past six months, I experienced life as an alien in another country. When looking back on my experience, three things really struck me as being parallels for the Christian life.

1. Not Belonging
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” John 15:18-19

When I met someone in England, the conversation often went like this.

“Hi, I’m Emma. Nice to meet you.”
“Hi Emma. I’m _____. Where in the States are you from?”

I never really thought that I had an accent until I went to England, where I discovered that there, the English don’t have accents, but the Americans do. I couldn’t open my mouth without immediately marking myself as a foreigner. I could dress the right way, ride my bike on the left side of street, and drink tea. But as soon as someone talked to me, they knew where I was from. To be honest, there were times when I got sick of it. Times when I just wanted to be Emma-the-human-being, not Emma-the-American. But the simple fact of the matter is that I am an American, and no matter how much I adapted to the English culture, I couldn’t hide the fact.

In the same way, Christians are not citizens of the world, but of the body of Christ. And so here, where we are foreigners, we ought to have accents. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words”. Our lives should be our gospels. We shouldn’t have to talk to be marked as Christians, but should live in such away that we are noticeably different.

This doesn’t mean we should go around walking barefoot, or not bathing. Our goal isn’t to make ourselves unappealing to the world. But we don’t just answer to ourselves, to our bosses, to our fellow human beings. We also answer to God, and it is by His standard that we are called to live. And when we are living by His standard, and not our own, we will stand out. It won’t always be easy, and there will be times when we fail. Going against the stream is always harder than going with it. No one wants to be the odd one who doesn’t fit in. But there it is. We are strangers in a strange land, aliens in the earth, and we are called to live as such.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

So, About my Major…

Most of the people who tolerate my company for extended periods of time (i.e. my friends), or who have ever been stuck having a conversation with me, have heard this rant in some form or another. And since I’ve not had any adventures recently, and it’s too hot to make one up (93F, Heat Index of 98=34/37C), you, my semi-captive audience, now get to hear it.

I used to be a Latin major, which I hated to tell people. Because always, always they would ask “What are you going to do with that?”. Or they would laugh, as if they were saying something clever and say “I though that was dead language!” (Latin is not a dead language, or a petrified one, but that’s another rant for another day). I had thought changing my major would put in end to that, but surprisingly many people find philosophy a more useless pursuit than a “dead” language.

The other day I went to Barnes and Nobel looking for a copy of Plato’s Laws. I’m a pretty regular buyer of books and consequently know my local bookstores pretty well, so I usually just find what I’m looking for on my own. In Barnes and Nobel, non-fiction books are upstairs, and divided into two halves. On the left is what I call “academic” books: History, biology, politics, psychology, computer programming, etc. On the right are craft books and the religion section. The Laws is a philosophy book, so I went upstairs and scanned the sections. No philosophy. So I walked down the rows on the left side, without any luck. I glanced down the ‘Religion’ section, but still didn’t see what I was looking for.

Finally, after wandering around downstairs just in case, I had an employee look the book up in the computer. “Oh,” he said helpfully, “It’s in the philosophy section.” “Where’s that?” I asked. “I’ll show you”. I followed him back upstairs, to the right, through ‘Religion’, and there it was. Philosophy. Sandwiched between ‘Religion’ and ‘Astrology’, right across from ‘New Age’. What’s the point of this story? It seems to me that the location of the philosophy section in Barnes and Nobel fairly accurately represents most people’s view of the discipline. Philosophy, many seem to think, exists in a realm somewhere between religion and pseudo-science. It’s a wishy-washy major, for people who just want to go around asking questions with no answers and avoid doing any real work. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Philosophers were the original physicists, botanists, psychologists, and political analysts. In around 310 BC, Epicurus, a philosopher and founder of what would be called the Epicurean school, proposed that everything on earth – solids, liquids, and gasses – were made up of tiny, vibrating particles which he called atoms. A little later, a philosopher called Aristotle (heard of him?) proposed that things tended to move towards the earth. And much, much later, Newton would consider himself a natural philosopher, occasionally foraying into the realm of metaphysics. The fact is, almost all of the areas that people study today where once branches of philosophy. After all, philosophy literally means a love of wisdom, and all of Academia is (or should be) concerned with wisdom and knowledge (incidentally, our word “academic” is from the name of Plato’s school, The Academy). Far from being the dotty scholars they’re seen as today, philosophers were once the scientists of their time, and the founders of modern science.

Well, that was then. What about now? Science is no longer a branch of philosophy, but a discipline in its own right, with its own branches. What role can philosophy play in the modern world? The answer is that philosophy plays the same role today that it always has. Even though the different disciplines have become more specialized, and the scope of philosophy has shrunk, its still there, lurking behind even the most advanced scientific discoveries. Richard Dawkins even ventures into the philosophical sphere when interpreting the results of experiments. Science has a limit to what it can explain, and where it stops, philosophy picks up.

I’ve focused predominately on the relationship between philosophy and science in this post, but there are many other areas that fall into the sphere of philosophy, such as ethics and politics. I could take make this a more in depth argument, but as this is merely a blog post, I’ll spare you the reading (and me the writing) of it. I know not everyone will accept my arguments here, but I do hope that maybe next time you ask what my major is, you won’t laugh at my answer. Not to worry though. To that ever popular second question, “Do you have a back-up”, I can reassuringly answer yes. I’ve kept Latin as my minor.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

There and Back Again

Hello! Sorry this post is so late in coming. I’ve been really busy packing, cleaning house, traveling, unpacking, etc. First of all, thank you to everyone who responded to my last post, and thank you even more for taking the time to read my blog. Next, a quick update on what I’ve been doing.

1. Saying goodbye. I’ve spent time in other countries before, but this was the first time I really got to know people there. I am going to miss the other students in my program, but they’re all American, and odds are we’ll be getting together again at some point. But for the first time ever, I’ve left people behind that I will miss and that will miss me (I think). And that was very hard.

2. Packing. Otherwise known as fitting 6 months of my life into two suitcases.

3. Cleaning the house. Dane was first to leave, and wiped down the bathroom before he left. Will did almost everything else which was wonderful, because I had a tutorial on Saturday. I cleaned the kitchen, and we shall not talk about what was found in there.

4. Playing Frisbee at 5:30 AM. But I’ll deny it if any of the neighbors complain.

5. Walking to the bus stop with all my bags. Which would have been awful, except out of nowhere, my neighbor Subiksha rode up on her bike to help me. At 6:20 AM. Which really drove home the fact that I would be leaving friends behind in England.

6. Airplane. Food was good, and I sat next to a nice lady. Otherwise, just as awful as always.

7. Met up with my parents. “I haven’t seen you guys in one week!!!”

8. Observed how BIG American cars are.

9. Ate Mexican food :)

10. Ate Chick-fil-a :) :) (Chargrilled chicken wrap with rasberry vinergarette dressing, small waffle fries-not chips!-and root beer)

11. Noticed how BIG American refrigerators are.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Blog is a funny word – especially after a night at the pub (kidding!). Anyways, I’ve had several people ask me if I’ll be continuing to blog after leaving England and the answer is (long pause for dramatic effect…………………………………………


I can’t promise that I’ll be having so many adventures, but if things get boring, I’ll just make some up. So, if you enjoy hearing about my life, and my thoughts on said life, feel free to stick around! If you don’t like to read about my life, then what are you doing here?

That being said, thank you to everyone who has joined me in my travels these six months. It’s been fun knowing that I’ve been able to share my adventures, at least vicariously, with all of you across the Pond. For those of you who live in Oxford: It’s been wonderful getting to spend time with you, and I wish I could have gotten to know all of you better (at least most of you ;)). And for all you Americans, I guess I’ll be seeing you soon!

P.S. My “leave a comment” requests usually don’t work, but I would really like to know who all my travelling companions have been. So, if you read this post, would you please give a quick “hello” in the comments, or send me an e-mail so I know? Thanks!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Photographs and Memories

…All that I Have are These (Jim Croce)

click click Digital cameras can, of course, take pictures silently click click But there’s something reassuring about the sound click click It lets you know you took a picture.

click click And today I have my camera with me click click And am walking through town looking like a bloody tourist click click Because somehow, click click I got this crazy idea in my head click click that if I can take a picture of everything click click that will be enough.

click click As if a piece of paper with ink on it click click—not that its even that substantial click click—just a memory card storing some pixels click click will some how contain all of my time here.

click click As if pictures could be enough click click As if words could be enough click click I can capture images click click I can capture events click click I can even capture feelings click click But I can’t capture the experience.

click click The experience is past click click Gone click click Never to be captured click click only in the present.

click click
But here I am, click click not experiencing, click click just trying to capture click click I’m walking down Broad Street, click click taking pictures like a bloody tourist click click And trying to stave off the inevitable.

Friday, June 6, 2008


To the list "Why I Couldn't Write my Paper"

6. I couldn’t will myself to choose to write my paper (Schopenhauer)

They Came from Outer Space!

Or Orlando, FL. I can’t always tell.

A picture story

My family came to visit!

We had a picnic in Christ Church Meadows.

We looked at shoes.

We went punting.

We went to the Globe Theatre to see King Lear.

We looked at shoes.

We visited the important sites.

We had dinner at famous pubs.
We looked at shoes.

We went to the museum…Oh no! The T-Rex is eating Chris!

Dad looked at the rocks.

We found a dinosaur that was Mom’s size.

I’m so glad my family came to visit!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On Leaving Oxford

In which I subject my readers to yet more bad poetry

On Leaving Oxford

The stark reality begins to dawn
That soon, all too soon, we will all be gone.
I don’t mean our short time upon the earth –
That brief hiatus between death and birth –
Such is the stuff of a loftier poem;
I mean the time left before going home
I thought that six months would take long to pass,
But days are short when you want them to last.
It seemed I had forever to explore—
Forever isn’t so long anymore.
How can I choose one home o’er another?
Forsake one friend for the other?
I cannot leave and not leave myself behind:
Two Oceans own my heart, my soul, my mind.
If I could, I’d stand straddling the Sea,
Yet I fear the distance’s too great for me.
And so I lie, arms spread out, stretched too thin,
As if I could hold the whole world within.
Then, impatient, my heart begins to pull—
Must I live in two halves and never be whole?
Oh why is my heart so easily cleaved?
Why can it not so easily take leave?
Why must I go when I wish I could stay?
Why did I come to go back the same way?
Yet knowing not what the future may bring,
Still I know that I’ll not regret a thing.
When my time here has been all but forgot,
I’ll still have the mem’ries that Time has wrought.
Though I may never belong to one Place,
Though I can’t hold two Worlds in one embrace,
I know in my heart two Places can meet –
And in that Meeting, I am whole and complete.

N.B. I leave on June 15th