Sacred: A Reflection

On our recent Juniors Abroad trips one our primary focal points was centered on “experiencing the sacred.” I have to admit, I have specific images, patterns and even forms in mind when I think of the “sacred.” For me, sacred space and objects were designed to enhance one’s experience with God – to take one closer to what C. S. Lewis called, “Joy.” In the secular materialistic age we find ourselves in there is little room for reflection, pondering, wandering or considering something beyond the physical and material experience we have every day. We fill our days with work, visits to the internet, television, music, malls and other things. In one sense, our lives are full and primarily focused on what we perceive to be our own needs and desires. For much of the human past, the “sacred” called a person outside themselves to consider greater purpose and meaning.
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Cricket and Our Last Day in England

I am sitting at a cricket match writing this piece while on Juniors Abroad. My daughter and I went on a tour of the Lord’s Cricket Ground earlier in the week and found it interesting. I thought I would apply my “new” learning to watching an actual match. Middlesex was playing Sussex in a county championship at Lord’s. I arrived just after noon for the third day of a four-day test match (don’t ask me what a “test match” is – I do not know).
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A Day with Harry Potter

On our first morning in London, we had prepared a visit for 12 of our students who wanted to go to Warner Brothers’ studio where the Harry Potter books were made into movies. This was one of those optional trips that students could choose but had to pay extra for. I went to London early on Thursday to confirm travel plans for the visit since we had to leave early the next morning in order to make our appointed 9:30 a.m. time.
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Lewis and Tolkien’s Oxford

One of the highlights of any trip I’m a part of is a visit to Oxford. I was introduced to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as a graduate student (by fellow students), and both have served to inspire me over time. Lewis and Tolkien were great storytellers who created worlds that capture readers’ imaginations. The characters and stories are memorable. For me, these writers gave me hope that one could be a committed Christian and be a person who pursued the life of the mind. Lewis and Tolkien carried “weight” in their academic disciplines, and they also translated their Christian commitments into stories that were understandable by the general reader. (There have been many others to be sure, including Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams and Flannery O’Connor, to name but a few.) Thus, visiting Oxford is a pilgrimage for me, and I think the students could appreciate that.
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Experiencing Evensong

I grew up in what many Anglicans and Catholics might call a “low church” tradition. From the minute I can remember going to a church as a child, our family was always part of a Baptist church (Southern). When you are part of a single Christian tradition for most of your life you don’t realize the varieties of religious expression that are part of the Christian community. While we are all certainly part of the universal Christian church, the practices and traditions are deeply rooted in different forms of community.
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Imagine

My son Jacob always enjoyed John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” The melody line is catchy, and the lyrics call one to imagine a world without nations, religions, no heaven and no hell – a vision of peace and community representing Lennon’s world view and one consistently promoted by modern Progressives. “The world’s problems would be solved if society could eliminate the primitive organizations that have divided humanity.” This “vision” seems to draw many supporters in our current postmodern culture even in light of what one observes historically. (The great secular states of the 19th and 20th centuries have miserable records on human rights and the destruction of life through war, for example.) Humans are deeply flawed and seek something beyond themselves to achieve greater wholeness.
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Visiting the HMS Victory

We left Ireland and moved to the English coast south of London – Southampton. Our first visit as a group was to Portsmouth to see the HMS Victory and the memorials to its vice admiral, Lord Nelson. Portsmouth is an old port city with a rich Royal Navy history, and its dockyards are now home to a number of different military displays, including an unusual World War II vintage diesel submarine. Obviously, as one local English person noted, the visit to the Portsmouth dockyards did not exactly fit in with our theme of C.S. Lewis and Celtic Christianity! On another level, it fit perfectly because it gave us a different sense, in contrast to Ireland, of how a nation tells its “story” to itself and others.
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Celtic Christianity

Ireland is a beautiful country – green, lush, rolling hills and beautiful farms aplenty. One of our primary purposes in coming to Ireland and England was to get a sense of the nature of the Christian church in the region for the past 1,500 years. That took us into the countryside to experience, through archaeological sites, the commitment of Christian monks more than a thousand years ago.
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Juniors Abroad: Ireland

On Saturday, April 30, we graduated our 124th class of undergraduate students. It was one of the best days of the year, with sunshine and moderate temperatures. Becky Ankeny, superintendent of the Northwest Yearly Meeting, inaugurated the beginning of our 125th anniversary with a graduation message centered on our founding and vision. It was a great day – and week, when you include the commencement events of our graduate students – of celebration. For me, it is one of the more exhausting times of the year, with constant events for more than a week! Usually I spend Saturday afternoon and evening recovering from the week. This year was unique: I have the opportunity to participate in one of our most important programs – Juniors Abroad – so Saturday was a day of preparation.
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Exemplifying ‘Be Known’

This past week I was visiting with a good friend of mine whose wife has a serious form of cancer. If you have cancer, all forms are serious and this one appears to be particularly virulent. In our conversation together he made a comment that, in a very real sense, forced me to stop all my thought processes and focus on the moment.

“This week, when I was sitting and talking with my wife, I thought the beautiful person I am talking with may not be here with me next year at this time,” he said. “I thought to myself, in what ways should my conversation be different because I recognize this as a reality?”

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