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).
In one context, cricket is like baseball. It has a rhythm to it that is rather slow, and it appears you have to understand the core strategy to truly understand what is going on. In that context, the calming nature of the event makes it a perfect place to write. It started out as a pleasant day – in the 60s with broken clouds. The pitch was bright green and had been cared for perfectly. I only saw one team bat and three batsmen make outs. One man scored 109 runs and his team had amassed 320 runs with five out. They had 28 overs left (whatever those are), and they took a break at 10 past 4 to take tea. Now any sport that stops to take tea deserves one’s attention! I left at that point having written several pieces and also a number of postcards.
In the new digital age both cricket and baseball face challenges. Our attention spans are short and quickly flow to other things. Our phones are omnipresent and take us to different places quickly. If the thing (or person) in front of you starts to engage you, it is quite easy to turn to your phone and the Internet for your engagement. It has only been a short time that people have been able to always be “on,” which has its benefits but also its downsides. On the trip it was good that the students could always reach me, and it added a sense of safety that we had not had in the past. On the other hand, constantly having someone reach for his or her phone to check a text or email disrupts the sense of being in the moment. As a people we are truly less “present” to each other than at any time in human history. Any game that makes you slow down, understand the rules, and watch for four days in my book is probably worth getting to know.
Students Emily, Lauren, Tara, Libby, Whitney, Nataly, Hadley, Tessa, Mary, Alexis, Joel, Brian, Matthew, Chase, Lynn, Taylor, Austin, Jenna and Melanie joined us on this trip. Each one is a member of the digital age, all having grown up with mobile phones and the Internet. They became more fully known to Mark and me on our trip. Each one has a unique and valuable story, and they were exceptional company. They followed the rules of safety, were attentive and cared for each other. It was one of the best groups I have worked with and reminded me of what I love about George Fox – the people, and in particular, the students.
Our trip really emphasized examining aspects of culture – particularly Western Christian culture expressed in Ireland and England – that have stood the test of time. We visited the historic Celtic sites in Ireland and stood where Christian saints worked thousands of years ago. We examined old books and libraries that exhibited texts like the Book of Kells that were careful works of art done by monks hundreds of years ago. We stood in the place of Admiral Nelson as he defeated the combined fleets of Spain and France during the Napoleonic era, calling his men to high standards of duty and honor. We visited the sacred site of Stonehenge and spent four days in one of the world’s great places of learning – Oxford. Throughout the trip we experienced liturgical worship and connected with centuries-old Christian practices and creeds. In London, of course, we visited some of the greatest museums in the world, all conveying a sense of the past through things (material culture) that matter (even the world of Harry Potter gives homage to the past).
So we came to the end of a wonderful experience. In many ways, I believe Juniors Abroad is one of the best ways we make our “Be Known” promise real to those we serve. For three weeks in May after your junior year, you get to spend three intense weeks with two professors (or the president) and experience a culture and each other. On this trip we stepped out of our own time and reflected and identified with the past, but in a way that made it meaningful for the present. We were not simply looking at “dead” books and things but at objects that were designed by people primarily for the worship of God. As we looked and experienced we were drawn into their experience, and it enhanced our own. One prime example: Several members of our group consistently went to the parks in each city and looked for different types of birds. They immersed themselves in the natural environment to experience God’s creative order.
As our trip came to a close, I asked several students what they did that evening. One group noted that they had just taken a long walk through Hyde Park as the sun went down. I immediately thought, “What a thoughtful use of time for these digital natives!” I was constantly encouraged on this trip by the kind of students we have at George Fox and the privilege it is to serve them. When the students departed on the bus and headed for Heathrow Airport, I hated to see them go. In a sense they had become like family, and we had walked together through time in ways that were meaningful. It is an experience I will always remember.