Archive for July, 2013
My family has a name for itself. We’re not the “adventurous” family or the “intellectual” family (although on any given day we might seek adventure or think about important ideas). Rather, when we had two in high school – classes, sports, piano & violin lessons, dance & other extracurricular activities, and homework filled every waking moment (literally) – leaving barely enough time, and too often not enough time, for the much needed and desired sleep. Cheryl and I did our share of burning the candle at both ends and one day, one of us (and I cannot recall who) named us the “exhausted” family. We always seemed to need more rest than we were getting.
For me personally, thirty years of practicing law, writing golf books and articles, teaching Sunday School, coaching sports, etc., put me in a place where some extended rest was most welcome. (And, as set out in my book – The Race Before Us – I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. I had good reason to be exhausted.) My “Six Weeks in Oxford” was essentially a “sabbatical”, so I thought it would be useful to try to trace the origin and meaning of a sabbatical. Not to mention that a related issue (and hence the idea for this post) arose in a discussion with Professor John Lennox about what the Bible tells us about work and the workplace (and rest from work). As I come to end of my sabbatical, it also seems appropriate to make some closing observations.
As almost anyone with modest powers of observation could detect, sabbatical is derived from “sabbath” or “the sabbath”. The first mention of the “sabbath” is in the Old Testament when Moses said to the Jewish people, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; . . . “. (Exodus 16:23) (Let’s keep in mind what God said – “a day of solemn rest”.) While the precise word might not have been used, certainly the concept of a day of solemn or holy rest was introduced immediately after God finished his work of creation: “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation”. (It is worthy to note how often this simple verse mentions both “work” and “rest”.)
In this post, though, I will limit my observations to the idea of a sabbatical (and not the bigger and broader questions I approached during my six weeks). The easiest observation to make, and the one that cannot be overemphasized, is that finding time for a solemn rest should be a priority in everyone’s life. Without sincere effort, it will not be easy to find the time. In fact, most will find only a catalog of reasons why they cannot do it even though they’d “really like to”.
I’m convinced that we all do what we want to do. You have to want to take a sabbatical and then you have to work to find the time and opportunity. One thing you learn in Europe is that we Americans do not rest or “holiday” well. We do not give ourselves generous allotments of time for vacation and we rarely rest when we on holiday. How often it is said that we need a vacation to recover from the one from which we just returned? Just as sometimes there’s little better for a young child than his or her nap, we all need a holy rest from time to time. In an effort to convince you of that and to even encourage you to visit this “city of dreaming spires”, all of the photographs in this post come from a single college (Magdelan College) at Oxford University (which hopefully now, we all know, was where C.S. Lewis taught in Oxford).
Perhaps the best known reference to the “Sabbath” is in the Ten Commandments where it is written that the sabbath is to be remembered and kept sacred: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11). In addition, the idea of a “sabbatical year” appears in the Old Testament where the Jewish people were to rest from agricultural labor for a year (every seventh year), which included allowing the land to rest. Also, creditors were to release debtors from all debts each sabbatical year. (Deut. 15:1-11).
So what might this mean for us today. The notion of a sabbatical developed initially for academia, in part to give professors a time away from teaching to devote to research and writing. Harvard appears to have led the way with a formal policy in 1880. Generally, a sabbatical appears to have had three elements: purpose, compensation, and tenure. Meaning you earn the right to a sabbatical by a certain number of years of service, you take time for a specified reason or objective, and you are to be compensated despite being away from regular, full-time work. The concept of a sabbatical has taken on increased importance on the business world. Companies like Goldman Sachs, McDonald’s, and Nike offer some form of sabbatical. Employees return refreshed, re-energized, and often retooled to contribute back more than might have been lost by the absence, what – in perspective – is really not a long period of time. Job satisfaction (and employer satisfaction) and therefore, theoretically, retention increases with productivity.
A “sabbatical” can be used for anything, but should be used to refresh and restore. This could be to learn a new language, walk the Camino de Santiago, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, or any one of an endless list as long as it provides rest – a solemn rest, which can be thought of as a rest that recognizes that we are stewards of our own well-being and in that vein helps us to restore and reenergize. Thus, sabbatical can be a time to consider life’s big questions – where did we come from? why are we here? where are we going? what purpose is there to life? how do we know right from wrong and how do we live the “good” life? Better yet is realizing that there are actually answers to these questions.
And sabbatical is also a time to recognize that it’s really not about us, that despite how much effort we apply, much of what “we” accomplish is as much the result of circumstances we do not control, of opportunities we have been given (and could never have created). Paraphrasing the last line of the “Acknowledgements” in my book, an extraordinary life is possible where one is blessed with an extraordinary wife, terrific children, wonderful parents, and good friends. Sabbatical is a time to recognize this truth, but those that see it sooner are even more blessed.
I will consider it great gain personally, if just one person reading this blog starts thinking about and planning for their own six weeks.
My last run in Oxford took me into the center of town, straight through Cornmarket, down St. Aldates passing the massive Christ Church buildings and expansive meadow on my right until I reached the River Thames. It was here during my first weekend in Oxford I sat next to the Thames at the Head of the River pub reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. (The “Head of the River” comes from the title given to the winning crew team when the university has its summer intramurals, which take place at this portion of the river.) Rather than stop by the pub, my run took me across the “Folly” bridge (which tradition suggests is the original oxen crossing, which gives Oxford its name) and a quick left brought me to the west side of the Thames, south of the bridge. Descending stairs, on my left I passed quickly the Salter Brothers Boatyard – a 180-year-old business that constructed barges and crew boats for the colleges as well as landing craft for D-Day.
I settled into a very flat tow path that sits hard against the edge of the river. Within a couple of minutes the boathouses of the college crew team appear across the river on the other bank and the modest River Cherwell can be seen as it empties into and merges with the Thames. Traditionalists, especially those at the University, like to refer to the river here as the Isis or the River Isis, which recalls an earlier name (“Thames-isis”) given by some cartographers to the river above Dorchester. (And a student magazine is called The Isis.) If you are punting of the Isis, you are poling a shallow boat on the Thames.
I am now running along the portion of the river used in May each year for the hotly contested intramurals of Eights as well as the death matches against Cambridge. Continuing on – river to my left and Queens College recreation and cricket fields to my right – I pass the “finish stone” for the races and then the 1786 boundary pillar marking the end of the “liberties of [the town of] Oxford.”
The foot path continues south towards London. I come to the Isis Boathouse and the Isis Farmhouse Pub. Continuing on I reach the Iffley Lock. Like the Oney Lock near the train station and the Godstaw Lock up in Port Meadow (see A Morning Run post), the lock provides a safe mechanism to travel to lower stretches of the river without facing falls or turbulent water. At the Iffley Lock (like the Godstaw Lock) there is a handsome house for the lock ranger. Here I cross over the river and head into the small village of Iffley. On my left is the Gist Cottage that displays two millstones from the mill that sat on that site as early as the 11th century and was owned by Lincoln College for many of those years. It burned down in 1908.
A quick detour right and then left brings me to a Norman Church built in 1170. In case you glossed over it (or assumed it was a typo) – built in 1170. Apparently it is considered one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture anywhere in England. Leaving the church I view centurys-old cottages and a school that dates to 1805 and head back towards Oxford, now heading north, generally paralleling the river but also moving somewhat east away from the River Thames (or Isis).
The Iffley Road is a much busier road with vehicular traffic, but the sidewalks are generous. There is one more “site” to see. As I get close to the River Cherwell and the Magdelan Bridge, I first come by a modest sports complex consisting of a track, some grass tennis courts, a cricket field and a field house with weight and exercise rooms and a pool. This is the facility for faculty and students to get in their workouts, etc.
There is a sign on the Iffley Road that tells you a little more about these otherwise unimpressive facilities.
Excited by a visit to this historic site, the run up to the Magdelan Bridge, west on High Street, and up Longwall Road to South Parks and back to Wycliffe Hall was relatively easy.
Quick contest: what famous runner converted to Catholicism and was an official timer for Roget Bannister’s historic run?
As you have already seen, briefly, I love to comment on the food in the U.K. Every time I think I’m being too harsh I see or experience something that sends me back to that first helping of Haggis. Like lunch yesterday – Kippers (cold, smoked herring – something like a giant sardine), cold cooked salmon and cold whitebait. Yes, whitebait. My fishing friends tell me not to eat anything we consider bait. There was “salad” to go with this lovely platter of cold fish, but – of course – in England you eat lettuce, tomatoes and radishes plain, nothing to dress the salad.
Nonetheless, there are many things to admire about the Brits. Most anyone who has visited the island remarks how patience the English are waiting in lines or, of course, queues. In fact, at times you think queuing up is actually an outdoor sport in the U.K. – and it might as well be one because you move much more rapidly than the players in your average game of cricket.
And, lets face it, the Brits are so darn polite. Recently one of my classmates recounted a brief story about a trip to London, providing her opinion about the merits of the train as opposed to the bus she took. Wishing she had taken to the train, she explained and I tried to imagine the scene: a ridiculously obese woman sat next to her – taking up half of my friend’s seat – and processed to unwrap an egg salad sandwich spilling part of the contents my classmate. While the egg debris was of little mention to my friend , she did say the aroma throughout the bus was changed as they seemed to pause at every possible, local stop. Mentioning that she was glad when they finally reached her stop, she said she planned to take the train the next time because this had not been a pleasant trip; and, for her, to put an exclamation point on the story she finally said, “and, you know, the woman next to be was quite large.”
Speaking of patient. One of the first things i did was head to City Centre after moving into my dorm. The first time i had to cross the road i reached a cross walk. Three people were waiting to cross, but there was not a car in sight. It was only a two-lane road and I could have crossed it twice without incident in the time it took me to try to figure out what they were waiting for. Finally, an alert sounded and a green shaped person lite up on the cross walk sign – we had been cleared to walk. No wonder they think Americans are so aggressive and impatient (two of my middle names). A few minutes later, I was walking around to get my bearings and I noticed a policemen on a bicycle near me wearing a fluorescent yellow vest. I wondered if i had just avoided a jaywalking ticket for being too confused (as opposed to too patient) to walk before i saw the little green man. Then, a few moments later, I saw another one; and then another. I wondered what was going on around me. Then I saw one of those yellow vests on someone who pretty clearly wasn’t law enforcement. Then it dawned on me, most of these bicyclists (not everyone, so it must not be a statue) were wearing vests – very safe; very proper; very polite.
There is one hazard for Americans dealing with this British politeness. They really do not like confrontation, so when you ask a question they don’t want to answer or ask for them to do something they don’t want to do — they will never telling you. They will leave you in blissful ignorance while all the time knowing that they have no intention of saying or doing, but you will never know. My advice – don’t ask more than once. You got your answer, you just didn’t know it.
The answer to the contest puzzle is:
What is Mere Christianity?
We only had one winner – congratulations again Heather.
Mere Christianity is a book written by C.S. Lewis.
Here’s a review of the posts and the clues:
1. Author’s Clearing House – You Too Can Win!
Here the clue was Magdelan College – where C.S. Lewis was a professor and where he converted from atheism to Christianity. Magdelan College includes Addison’s Walk.
2. Contest Clue – # 2
Here there were a few clues. First, you were given that the first word was four letters. Then you were given two photographs of the Eagle & Child pub, where C.S. Lewis meet with JRR Tolkein and others to discuss their writing and other important matters.
3. Contest Clue – # 3
Here the poem about Oxford was written by – C.S. Lewis.
4. Contest Clue – # 4
Here it is confirmed by the addition of the question mark and the Jeopardy photo that the answer is a four-word question. There was a bonus clue this week: Francis Collins, Charles Colson and thousands of people have said that reading Mere Christianity played a significant role in coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
5. Contest Clue – # 5
This clue was packed with clues, First I mentioned that I would be studying the works and life of C.S. Lewis. Then you learn that the first word of the answer is “What” and that the second word is two letters. If you had Googled the quotation you would have learned it was from C.S. Lewis. (Mere Christianity is the most popular of all of his writings.) The bonus clue for LeClairRyan readers was that just before I left for Oxford I met with Gary, who offered that he planned to reread Mere Christianity this summer.
Making blog posts have proved to be more difficult than anticipated – meaning they take up much more time than originally expected. Not surprisingly, it is easier (less timely) to do a post that is a travelogue or that is humorous (or at least one that I think is funny). But, as enjoyable as this break is, I am studying some sophisticated topics and exploring some profound questions. I would like more of my posts to delve into some of those issues, but they do require a greater commitment of time. While I don’t want anyone to think I’ve been locked in an ivory tower (and this city has a large number of such structures), I do want to reveal some of the depth of my study and, at the same time – perhaps, allow you to be challenged by some of the big questions of life and faith.
This post will be one of those efforts. Forgive me if it’s a bit sobering. My aim may be to provoke, but only a consideration of the issues presented. (Recalling Socrates – “The unexamined life is not worth living”.)
The following story came back to me during my “Road Trip” to London as a read an article in The Spectator – a British magazine of politics and culture. It seems that a many years ago, Billy Graham was visiting with the German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer. In the middle of their conversation, Adenauer paused, changed the subject somewhat abruptly, and asked this question: “Mr.Graham, do you really believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead?” Apparently, somewhat taken aback by the question, Billy Graham responded, “Sir, if I did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I would have no gospel left to preach.” Graham then reported that Adenauer walked over to the end of the room, looked out of the window at the post-war ruins, and said, “Mr. Graham, outside of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I know of no other hope for mankind.”
What did Adenauer mean by that? Having witnessed the destruction and horror of World War II and having experienced human nature at its worst, including the holocaust, Adenauer knew that if we relied on the “wisdom” or the “goodness” of man, there really was no hope for humanity. I couldn’t help but recall that story when we were looking at questions of good and evil and attempts by advocates of different worldviews to explain what we see in man and his behavior.
Without putting it in philosophical terms, Adenauer was saying that “humanism” as a worldview would never overcome the self-centeredness at the core of human nature. He was, of course, correct. We did not learn from World War I. Matters got worse, not better in a post-WWII with an official rejection of God. Atheist regimes like China under Mao Zedong, the Soviet Union under Stalin and Cambodia under Pol Pot (and others) murdered tens if not hundreds of millions in the 20th century.
In The Spectator article, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth Jonathan Sacks suggests in his subtitle: The West is suffering for its loss of faith. Unless we rediscover religion, our civilisation (not a misspelling in the UK) is in peril.” Os Guinness showed us how our fundamental freedoms may be at risk when we discussed his book A Free People’s Suicide, which addresses whether freedom can last forever, the role that faith played in establishing freedom and the role faith needs to play in preserving freedom.
After suffering through the horrors of the 20th century, Sacks observes that “we have turned to more pacific forms of idolatry, among them the market, the liberal democratic state, and the consumer society, all of which are ways of saying that there is no morality beyond personal choice so long as you do no harm to others”. About the younger generation, he notes that the average 18-to-35 year-old has 237 Facebook friends, but when asked how many they could rely upon in a crisis, the average said two, a quarter said one, and an eighth said none.
Sacks acknowledges that people can be moral without being religious, but (adopting the words of the historian Will Durant) “There is no significant example of in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.” Sacks concludes his article by saying “I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other. A century after a civilisation loses its soul it loses its freedom also. That should concern all of us, believers and non-believers alike.”
In a nutshell, the question is whether man is capable of devising a moral code by which society could live peaceably and flourish? Conversely, using the title from a book by Ravi Zacharias, the question could be phrased: Can man live without God?
While it is difficult, if not dangerous, to try to generalize (particularly in a blog) the secular humanist believes in the goodness and capacity of the human being to bring about, through reason and experience, a better society. In essence, the secular humanist is saying, “We (man) can do it. We can figure it all out ourselves”. C.S. Lewis states the same choices this way: “There are only two types of people. Those that say to God – “thy will be done” and those to whom God says – “your will be done.”
I like to think I’m a student of history. It’s what I studied in college and its remained a passion of mine. I think the old, tired quip about those refusing to learn from history are doomed to repeat it is – actually, quite true. My observation is that man (human nature) has not changed in the approximately 4000 years of recorded history. When I look back into history I conclude that man cannot do it. And the reason man is incapable was captured by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn when he wrote:
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.”
This then brings us back to Konrad Adenauer’s comment about the hope for mankind. Adenauer had not read Solzhenitsyn, but he had reached the same conclusion after observing mankind for most of his life.
We are going to get caught up here.
Here is what we studied in Week 4:
The overarching theme or topic for the week was “Ethics in the Workplace”.
The specific topics were:
1. Why Work? What the Bible tells us about work.
2. Business Ethics and Authentic Leadership
3. Holy Trinity Brompton and the ALPHA Program
4. Divorced from Reality – The Credit Crisis and the Crisis of Trust
5. Biblical Principles in Action at a Manufacturing Company
Michael Ramsden, European Director of RZIM, played a particularly central role in Week 4. An example of his speaking is below.
http://www.rzim.eu/uncertain-times-certain-hope – go to Session 3
Here is what we studied in Week 5:
The overarching theme or topic for the week was “Engaging in Today’s World”
The specific topics were:
1. Science and Religion
2. Book Discussion: C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain
3. Leadership Principles in the Parables
4. Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?
5. The New Atheism
Professor John Lennox played a big role in week 5. It is a particular treat to learn from him. I truly remarkable man. I’d encourage you to listen to his presentation last week at the Hall of Parliament for the National Prayer Breakfast. The topic and contents is very similar to matters we covered with him.
Carl, I am sorry I am so far behind. Here’s Week 3. I’ll post Week 4 tomorrow and catch-up before I depart.
Week 3 at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics was an intense week. It concluded with the “Road Trip” to London. A few sites I did not include in the other posts related to the London trip are displayed here.
Substantively, it was “Competing Worldviews” week. So what does that really mean? In fact, what is a “worldview”? This too was something I confronted in the journey recounted in The Race Before Us. Briefly, however, a “worldview” is a comprehensive way to look at, examine, and understand the world. Everyone has one. It may not be consciously selected, but everyday we process experiences and make decisions based upon a set of assumptions. (Here is one definition of “worldview” – 1. The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world. 2. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.)
Ravi Zacharias (for whom “RZIM” is named – recall that RZIM founded and essentially operates the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics) has often said that every worldview needs to answer the four most basic questions of humanity: Where did we come from? (questions of origin); What is the purpose of life? (questions of meaning); What is right and wrong? (questions of morality); and Where are we going? (questions of destiny). (Ravi Zacharias, along with Frank Shorter, also offered the Foreword for my book.) With that background, here are the topics we explored during Competing Worldviews week:
- Introduction to Islam
- Introduction to Hinduism
- The Qur’an and the Bible
- Reliability of the Holy Books
- The Parable of the Running Father
- Was Jesus “inclusive”?
Some of these topics had numerous sessions. It was a particularly exhilarating, if also exhausting, week both because I had so little background or knowledge of Islam, Hinduism, and the Qur’an, and because our speakers were uniformly excellent. And, recall, at the end of a four-day week, we had our road trip to (and weekend in) London.
“Worldview: “A comprehensive world view (or worldview) is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society’s knowledge and point-of-view, including natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.”
What is your worldview?