Archive for June, 2013

Contest – Clue # 5

Here’s our next clue in our big, give-a-way contest. We have had one correct answer!!  (Congratulations Heather.)

This may be our last clue, because this is my last week in Oxford.  I will be studying “The Work and Legacy of C.S. Lewis.” 

It’s not too late to win.  Here is our puzzle again:

 Who can use clues from reading this blog to fill in the following, four-word sentence:

What    __  (2 letters)  ________    __________ ?

Here is another clue:

“I believe Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

And a special clue for my LeClairRyan friends:

This summer, Gary LeClair plans to revisit this.

Send your suggested answer to this contest to

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“I Must Not Do Nothing”

[This post goes back to my Road Trip to London weekend.] 

Next stop – the Halls of Parliament.  [Considering the thousands of years of conflict between France and England, I’ve always found it humorous that the British would name its most magnificent government building based upon a French word – essentially, parliament means a place to talk (parlez-vous anglais?)] Our group had a meeting scheduled in the House of Lords with Baroness Caroline Cox to explore how Christians, even (or especially) when in unique political or governmental positions, can put heir faith into action.

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Over thirty years ago, the Baroness started Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (“HART”), which has focused on providing aid to those areas where the large, international relief agencies won’t go where there are questions of national sovereignty.  HART works with communities in active conflict zones (as in Burma and Sudan); post-conflict areas still devastated by war (such as Nagorno-Karabakh, South Sudan, northern Uganda and Timor Leste); or areas where people are marginalised, oppressed and exploited for cultural, political and economic reasons (such as the Dalits and Temple Prostitutes in India).  We had an hour-long presentation of their projects, and although it was obvious that Baroness Cox and the HART organization was going where it was too dangerous or controversial for others.  Their focus is on combining advocacy with aid and being a “voice for the voiceless.”

“HART is not just ‘another aid organisation’. We are distinctive in that we combine aid with advocacy, working for peoples suffering from oppression, exploitation and persecution who are generally not served by major aid organisations and are off the radar screen of international media”

Caroline (Baroness) Cox

 HART logo

Looking at the work of Baroness Cox can only leave one in amazement. It also nags at most of us as we ask not whether would we do the same, but are doing enough now. Can we do more?  Should we do more?  What does our heart or our faith tell us the answer is to these questions.  I, for one, am convicted – guilty!  I am not doing all I can.  Baroness Cox lives by a motto she shared with us: “I can’t do everything, but I must not do nothing”? This recalls the tough questions about “Wealth Ethics” with which I ended the post “Just for Carl – 2.0”.

I struggled with this issue in my journey – in chapter 8 of The Race Before Us I write about the desperate circumstances faced by many rural Guatemalans we served on a mission trip and how that experience impacted me – causing me to wonder “why I had been so fortunate to be born in the United States”?

While the Oxford community may be among the elite of the elite intellectually, the community is highly blessed financially as well (only London has higher real estate prices), I am exposed daily to a broad community that is from or travels regularly throughout the world.  In any ultimate sense I am reminded that we are all enormously wealthy.  Living in the U.S. gives us a false view of so much of the world. Anyone within the “middle class” in America has riches beyond belief when we understand how desperate every day life is for billions of people every day.  Realizing this, one must wonder – as we explored intensely in “Wealth Ethics” – what obligation do we have to these “voiceless” people.

 In his gospel, Matthew writes about this issue in reporting about Jesus speaking to his disciples about judgment day.  Regardless of where you might be on your own journey of faith, don’t we all have a longing to see that justice prevails ultimately in life?  And doesn’t this leave us with a nagging question that I too may be judged some day?  What Jesus says about this also gives a glimpse (one we may not really want to confront) about this issues of “wealth ethics”.  Here is what he says to those he has determined are righteous:

 ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

It would be hard to say Baroness Cox has not taken this mandate to heart.  The problems throughout the world often seem completely overwhelming, but as she says, “I cannot do everything, but I must not do nothing.”  No one can say that Baroness Cox is doing nothing.

You can learn more about and/or support HART at

You can read more about Baroness Cox and her work in “Baroness Cox:  Eyewitness to a Broken World”

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Road Trip – Part 1

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What return-to-college experience would be complete without a good road trip?

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Last weekend we headed to London.  Catching the 9:00 a.m. train to Paddington Station and then the Underground to Westminster, we started our Friday with a visit to CARE to observe how faith might be played out in the political and/or legislative process.  The Christian Action Research and Education is a non-profit that seeks to bring a Christian perspective to public policy.  Our next stop was at the Halls of Parliament – first, the most expensive office building, at least at the time, in London for a meeting with Christian in Parliament – an “All Party Parliamentary Group”.  Then we were escorted into the Parliament building that houses the House of Lords and House of Commons for a meeting with Baroness Cox — more on that in the next post (POST – “I Can’t Do Nothing”).

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After a busy, but beautiful day in the Westminster area of London, I found my way to a basic Hilton hotel for the night.  The following morning I was greeted by still magnificent weather, so I headed out for an early morning run around the town, followed by a long walk exploring other parts.  I ran by Covenant Garden and Leicester Square and then headed over to see the Churchill War Rooms, from where the Prime Minister conducted much of WWII.  On my way I started to see a lot of people out and an especially large contingent of bobbies.  Barricades lined The Mall (a broad street connecting Quarters for the Honor Guards to Buckingham Palace.  Curious, I finally asked one of the constables, who very politely explained that it was the Queen’s birthday and that there would be a procession with the Queen later that morning.  Really!  Matson luck again.  Me and the Queen, and tens of thousands of her loyal subjects.  Then I learned that she would probably not be coming by for another two hours.  Now I’m not particularly known as the most patient guy, despite some marked improvement over the last two years, but standing there for two hours just to catch a glimpse – I wasn’t sure.  So I kept heading for the Churchill War Rooms, figuring that I could come out at the last minute and still see the Queen – I figured it wasn’t worth a two-hour wait to be in the second row as opposed to the sixth row.  I’m tall enough, I thought I would be able to see enough.  So, here’s some views of what is formally called The Trooping of the Colours.

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After my short visit with the Queen (there was quite a ticketed event where the privileged families – dressed to kill – watched synchronized matching, horse and carriages, a 41-gun salute, and other choreographed activities of the Honor Guards).  For some reason, my ticket never showed up.

After the Trooping I headed past St James Palace, through Piccadilly Circus, and up to Hyde Park.  Another lunch of fish & chips and I was off to the British Musuem to catch-up with some of my classmates.  It rained while we were in the museum, but the clouds were clearing as we exited and we headed to dinner for some (cooked) Japanese food.  We completed the evening by seeing A Chorus Line in the West End (the Broadway of London).  Whew!


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Contest – Clue # 4

Its Friday already.  I’m working on a couple of substantive posts, including Just for Carl – 3.0 where I summarize Week 3 (even though Week 4 is almost over).  Here’s our next clue in our big, give-a-way contest.

Here it is again:

Who can use clues from reading this blog to fill in the following, four-word sentence:

_________(4 letters)  ________    ________    __________ ?

I have not received many guesses, so here is a bonus clue:

Francis Collins, Charles Colson, and thousands of others were beneficiaries.

Send your suggested answer to this contest to


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“British Cuisine”

Many of my golfing friends are familiar with a story (often retold and always embellished) from our trip to Scotland last year when we stopped at a convenience store to grab a quick lunch between rounds. Partly due to the limited selections and partly in an irrational impulse to do the things of Rome (“when in Rome”), a couple of us settled on a “meat pie” for our sustenance – think of a McDonald’s apple pie where the filling has been replaced by something consisting of ground and seasoned pork or beef or both (and probably fine pieces of various organ meats). 

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Like Haggis,*  meat pies are one of those things (like a root canal without Novocaine) [Did you know that Novocaine is a proper noun?], that you probably want to do only once. (To be fair to my friends in Oxford (and others in England), Haggis is more properly a dish from Scotland, eaten particularly on the poet Robert Burns birthday each year.  And don’t let anyone in Scotland catch you saying – “English – Scottish; Scottish – English, what’s the difference?)

This story came back to me yesterday when I wandered around North Oxford looking for a Post Office. (In England, a Post Office is a place to purchase stamps, mail letters and packages, and wait in queues to do any of the foregoing).  After looking up and down a street that indicated there was a post office somewhere nearby, I asked a passerby, who pointed me to a building, but upon arrival I found that the post office had been closed five years earlier and there were a line of eight or nine people waiting to purchase what appeared to be some of Oxford’s finest meat pies on display in this converted pattiserie.

As somewhat of an expert on meat pies after my encounter last year, I need to disclose that some of the more revered pies of this genre of fine food are “Cornish Pasties” – that’s “pasties,” not pastries.   If you ask our British friends about these extraordinary culinary specimens they will explain to you how the pasties developed to feed the Cornwell and Welsh tin miners (and how Cornish Pasties are to be “shaped like a “D” and crimped on the side, not on the top” – very important), but not why one should eat them.  I have the utmost respect for anyone who works that hard under those circumstances, but does that mean we have to eat them now?

So I headed down to City Centre to find the main Post Office it should have been no surprise that I passed the West Cornwell Pasty Co. shop on Cornmarket.  Although it was lunch time, I was not tempted to stop by for a Cornish Pasty or other meat pie.

Cornish PastyCornwall Pasty Co.

I took care of my errand and then looked for a place for lunch.  Burger King,. McDonalds, and KFC are also present on the popular pedestrian Cornmarket Street.  When in doubt, I know I can always have “Fish & Chips” at almost any pub.  Not the most healthy, but I do like it and it’s always fun to try a different English ale. Fish & Chips is one of the most iconic of the British pub meals, but if you’re unfamiliar, its battered and deep-fried haddock or cod, served with fries and green peas.  (If you’re lucky they will add some mint and mash the peas before serving them.) In the U.K., of course, “chips” are what Americans know as fries or French fries.  So “chips” are actually fries – and if you want what Americans think of as “chips’ you need to order “crisps”  — it all reminds me of a Steve Martin movie where he exclaims “Those French have a different word for everything”!  I visited The Bear Inn – the oldest pub in Oxford dating to 1242 (older than any of the Oxford colleges) – and enjoyed my fish & chips in their outdoor garden on what was another glorious day.  The weather has been so good, the Brits think the cicadas may make their first ever appearance in the U.K.

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I headed back to my dorm and stopped by my room before heading off to class on world religion and globalization.  As I glanced out my window down on the yard in the back, I was reminded that the British seem to have a different word for a lot of things as well – hence, my initial surprise, when the burser promised me a room on the second floor with a garden view – that what I got:  a room overlooking the yard (“garden”) on the third floor (in the U.K. the first or ground floor is “Floor Zero”).


*According to Wikipedia:

Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours.  (Even Wikipedia felt a need to spare us the fact that when it “simmers” for three hours it is done so in goat’s milk.)


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The Oxford Colleges

OxfordCrestOld Oxford Gowns


During “Another Morning Run” post, I tried to reveal that the various colleges are both near one another as well as spread throughout the town.  No matter which direction you might head (or run), you will come across a number of the 38 different colleges and 6 permanent, private halls (which retain that make up the University of Oxford).

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The college system at Oxford is fairly unique, if not a bit confusing.  (Its biggest competitor, Cambridge University, has a similar system.)  Although I suspect that many of its alumni would roll over in their graves at the suggestion, a good way – at least as a starting point – to conceptualize the Oxford college system is to think of each college as an American college sorority or fraternity (or as a federal system not unlike how the U.S. and 50 independent states come together as a nation).  Everyone goes to the university, but some people are members of Sigma Chi or Alpha Chi Omega, etc.  Oxford students are admitted to the University, but they also are admitted to a specific college, receive tutorial assistance, and typically live in dormitories (and take their meals) at their college.  The students will also typically compete in intramural sports and other contests by their respective colleges – hence another similarity to the fraternity/sorority comparison.  Unlike fraternities the students have their tutors through the college and likely receive some of their class work at and through their college, yet, the University offers most of the lectures and substantive instruction.  And, ultimately, what ties everyone together is the examinations taken by the students – they are University exams, not college exams.  If you are taking a history final it does not matter whether you are at Keble, or Merton, or Queens – you all take the same university exam in history.

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The system developed primarily as a reaction to disputes between the “town and gown.” The most notorious of the clashes between the townsfolk and the students occurred in 1355 when a full-blown riot broke out, which lasted 4 days with 63 students losing their lives in the violence. In response, the colleges began to build residence halls to house (and protect) the students – thus, the creation of limited-access, fortress like buildings where much of the living space consists of courtyard green spaces surrounded (“protected by”) four walls.  In addition to residence halls, dining rooms, and classroom space, every college would construct a chapel.  I don’t think anyone would suggest the relationship between town and gown today is so combative (in fact, the word is that the University now runs the town), but the walls remain.

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Like many things when we try to date the “oldest” of anything, some debates arise.  (For instance, some people still argue that Harvard is older than the College of William & Mary.)  The oldest colleges at Oxford do date from the mid-13th century and the general consensus seems to be that the oldest are Balliol College (whose graduates include Graham Greene and Aldous Huxley), University College, and Merton College. Most would admit that Christ Church College is the most magnificent in terms of the size of its campus and the majesty of its buildings, which include a cathedral in addition to a magnificent chapel (as well as the dining hall that served as the model for the dining hall in the Harry Potter movies).  The same majority would also probably conclude that Wycliffe Hall is the most – what’s the antonym for majestic? – modest of the colleges.  Thus, rather than having a “proper” English dinner each evening at Christ Church, I fend for myself around Wycliffe Hall.

ExeterCollegeChapel OxfordExeter College Chapel, Oxford 1977 by John Piper 1903-1992

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Just for Carl – 2.0

You may have read elsewhere on this blog (post:  “Just for Carl – 1.0”) that my good friend Carl asked that I report daily on my studies here in Oxford and provide some comment as to how I found the different sessions.  Obviously, I have failed miserably to do that.  I’m almost through my third week. So, to try to catch-up, I have listed below most of week 2’s topics.
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Week 2
1. What Keeps People from Exploring Questions of Faith?
2  Introduction to Apologetics 
3. Ethics of Wealth 
4. Where was the Church during the Civil Rights Movement? 
5. Logic and Logical Fallacies 
6. Can you trust the Bible? 
7. Globalization as a Challenge to Religion
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It is unfortunate that I cannot provide more substance on each of these matters.   A quick snapshot of one of these topics (“Wealth Ethics”) is below.  I will select one or more in the future and feature as a separate post(s), but the material is just too weighty – at least for me – to provide any reasonable summary in a short amount of time.  I have started to understand existentially the comment about trying to take a drink from a fire horse.  Truthfully, though, the quality of our lecturers and the opportunity to learn about and to discuss these topics in a very intimate group is extraordinary.
Wealth Ethics
What responsibilities to we have to our fellow-man, to each other, when it comes to sharing our wealth?  Legally, probably none outside of a taxation system that redistributes wealth.  But is there a duty rooted for in a moral duty?  When those of us in the United States we focus on this question for any length of time do we recognize the extraordinary imbalance when we see the deprivation in many areas of the world?  This is was brought home to be in a meaningful way when I began to participate in mission trips to the marginalized and extremely poor in rural Guatemala, which I discuss in one of the early chapters of my book.  Part of what we did in Oxford was to see if the Bible offered any guidance?
Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City) has said that the only person that encounters Jesus and leaves “sad” is the rich young ruler:  “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then, come, follow me.”  When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.  (Matthew 19:21-22).  Does the Bible establish a ridiculous standard that none of us can ever meet, or is there something more nuanced or profound here, or would we rather skip over these passages quickly?  As much as I have used this approach far too often in the past, I’ve learned (after many years) that even if I ignore difficult questions or problems – they still don’t go away.

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