Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Reformation Cambridge 1) History frisson

I had little idea how much background in Christian history these students had.  And how much/little interest would there be?  In my introduction I mentioned how amazingly God joined up the dots for the English Reformation in Cambridge with a good edition and translation of the New Testament (1516) , successful smuggling of Luther's books down the river (1521),  gifted reformers meeting in secret (1523) and then the very first Reformation sermon (1525).  Later the boy king Edward VI (1547-1553) provided a brief window of opportunity for the Reformers before crushing persecution and the burning of 300 martyrs under Mary 1.

That 1516 edition of the Greek New Testament with a brilliant Latin translation was the work of Erasmus, who was brought to Queens' College Cambridge to fulfill this work.  Two of the students caught me afterwards.  'Erasmus of Rotterdam', they exclaimed. 'What was he doing in Cambridge?  We have been studying him and he seems to have been a very big influence on the Continent helping to prepare for the Reformation'. You can imagine my delight.  Genuine interest! And when we reached Erasmus' Tower at Queens' College and looked up at his study window I could sense some frisson for these two.  Really? Up there!

There is real irony too.  John Fisher, the President of Queens', brought Erasmus to his college but as a Roman Catholic detested the Reformers and Luther's interpretation of Scripture.  Indeed, he ordered the burning of Luther's books in the Market Square.  Erasmus,  also Roman Catholic had no intention of breaking away from Rome though his personality and brilliance emphasized that religion should be about who we are and not what we do in a faith that is deep and reasonable.  As one historian put it: 'He did most to make educated Europe think that things must change because they could not be borne any longer.'

Friday, July 26, 2019

Hot, hot Cambridge

Yesterday, Cambridge registered the highest temperature in the whole UK at 38.7 C (just over 101 F).  I was due to play host to a small group of students from Anderson University, South Carolina, who were on a course while visiting England.  Their two accompanying professors are well-known to me and I was looking forward to spending the day with them all  My task was to give a talk/lecture on evangelicals in post-Christianity and then to lead them on a Christian heritage tour particularly marking the birth of the English Reformation (which occurred in Cambridge).

Two days beforehand we were warned that Thursday July 25th would be among the hottest days ever recorded.  Little did we know just what it would mean for those travelling by rail and going on walkabout on a city tour!  Their scheduled train from London was cancelled and their eventual train limped along on rails twisted in the heat.  The Cambridge Uber taxi driver didn't know where the St. Andrew's Street. Baptist Church was and took the students in the opposite direction to St. Alban's before being corrected by a frantic professor by phone.  I was due to speak first in the church - I assumed for at least an hour before lunch. But all that planning went south.  True, I gave an introduction to the walking tour but the lecture/talk was jettisoned.

After lunch at Nando's (iced drinks) the walk itself was amended on the hoof.  Of course, I had determined to cut it short but as we dragged along in the intense heat, with one student in a wheel-chair, I kept reducing it.   Yet, we hit the main spots and, sometimes wide-eyed with wonder, the group stayed with it.

As air-conditioned youth I guess they will always remember it as an adventure in the heat. 'What happened when you visited England?  Well, it was one of the hottest days ever recorded and there wasn't a single moment of air-con in Cambridge!   But, as I shall mention in my next post, I found it a refreshing learning experience,,,,and I love the heat!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Surprising connections

Our church house group only has ten members. At our Sunday church picnic I sat next to one in a beautiful garden. Sharing an enjoyable bring and share lunch we relaxed.  And, as you do, conversation meandered widely. I mentioned the fingerposts that my friend had repainted and how excited he was.  With a jolt he sat up: 'Why, that's exactly what I have done in the Cambridge area.  All kinds of different metal posts, sometimes at ground lever and often in a bad way.  It's hard work I can tell you. Yeh, that's what I have done.'  Fancy that, another enthusiastic for repainting metal sign posts.

And yesterday at our small group BBQ (in this extraordinary heat-spell) I sat next to another man.  In conversation I touched on the task I have tomorrow of taking a group of US students on a Christian heritage tour in Cambridge.  I mentioned Erasmus of Rotterdam and how we will walk past Queens' College where he came to translate the New Testament.  My friend smiled broadly.  'I worked at Queens' for many years.  Erasmus worked up the tower (now named after him) and I painted his study room as part of my job there.  Oh, yes, its quite a place - you can see the Erasmus Tower from the street.'  He went on to advise me who to talk to in order to gain proper access and to other important artifacts.

Alas, on our tour I won't have time to take the group but I was struck by how these two casual conversations within three days of each other touched on stuff I was just thinking about.  It just shows the importance of conversation - talking and listening to others.

In my preparation for the US visit tomorrow I have learned much...I shall share a couple of posts shortly.

Monday, July 22, 2019

West Country break

Last week we were away visiting friends in W Somerset ( That's why even fewer posts than usual). Stuart is an artist (with his own shop in Porlock) and Christine is a County Councillor.  Both are Christians - that's how we met them.  Every time we catch up with them they take us into very different worlds.  On arrival they gave us a roast meal welcome and he presented me with a book :A field guide to Exmoor's traditional roadside fingerposts (2019).  You see what I mean by different worlds!

On page 15 Stuart is pictured up a ladder repainting one of these posts.  A campaign was launched in 2017 to repair these cast iron signposts many dating from the beginning of the twentieth century.  They looked to retired volunteers to take on the task. The book gives exhaustive details about their designs and the process of cleaning and rubbing down with a wire brush, treating bare metal with a primer and undercoat, applying top coat and then the black lettering.  Several signposts are featured because of special historical features and oddities.  Only one is painted red at Luccombe. Stuart told us that we would pass this red post when we drove to our lodgings.  He also mentioned the only post with one moveable finger on our route.  It says: Porlock 3 miles but because it is on the corner of a narrow lane it has to move to allow larger vehicles pass.

Never having given much thought to these fingerposts I now noticed them every time we drove around. The moveable finger to Porlock was often pointing in a completely opposite direction (apparently the wind will move it as well as mischievous passers-by).  The red post gleamed!

Reflecting on this holiday experience I thought how marvellous to keep so interested and involved - two folk in their 70's so zestful for life.  I preached in their local church and there was Stuart playing the flute and Christine greeting everybody.  A great example of ageing!  Yeah!

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Cambridge day 2) That detour

Just to add...I mentioned that my grandson and I dashed into the church restaurant for a quick bite. Extraordinarily, we found Carol sitting there.  She had planned to eat elsewhere but had finished up there. Greeting her, breathlessly highlighting key points of our day so far, I tore off my jacket and hung it on the chair-back, as we placed our orders.  Alas, time ran out on actually eating the snacks because we had to rush to a lecture which introduced potential students to studying Geography in Cambridge.  It proved very profitable.  Afterwards, reaching into my jacket pocket for my car key I realized I had left my jacket with key on that restaurant chair.  I hoped that Carol had seen it before she left...but no.

It was someone else in the restaurant who put two and two together.  Realizing that Carol would likely be waiting for a bus home, he dashed round to find Carol still waiting at the bus stop.  I don't know how many other bus stops he tried but it was a minor miracle he found the right one.

Carol, no doubt muttering about her absent minded husband folded the jacket but felt something heavy in its pocket.  My car key but no car park ticket.  With the ticket she would have been able to take both jacket and key home.  Instead she would have to find me somehow. Puffing her way to the Geography Dept. which she had never visited before, an academic saw her worried state, heard the story, texted me and promised to keep the key safe in her room.  Missing the text, I 'phoned home, to hear this saga and then set about finding my key. Unfortunately, by this time, the academic had left....but eventually a staff member opened the right door.

I would have seen this as an irritating experience that dampened the day. However, as we  searched for the room containing my key, the professor who had earlier spoken at the lecture met us in the corridor and engaged my grandson in a conversation which turned out to be key.  He could ask one-to-one questions.  What a bonus.

Reflecting on the whole day my grandson said "I don't think it could have gone any better!'   How about that!  That's enough about that day......but, as you can tell, I enjoyed most of it.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

A Cambridge day (1) A grandson's dream

This week my seventeen-year old grandson called me and asked if I was free the next day.  Cautiously, I admitted I was. 'Well, it's the Cambridge University Open Day and I wondered if you would go round with me.  I only have a 'partial ticket' which allows me a little access but one person can go with me." 'What are you hoping to study?' said I.  Past conversations with him have ranged over a wide number of options!  'Geography', he replied.  'Really, that's exactly what I studied' I told him, though I think he already knew that.

Arriving by train we raced down to the Geography Department building.  Holding his partial ticket expecting some rebuffs, instead we were able to plunge into full engagement with tutors, students, lectures.  Told to visit some of the colleges where geographers cluster we visited St. Catherine's, Emmanuel, and Downing before dashing into our former church's restaurant for a 15 minute snack.

This led to an unexpected detour which I shall mention next.  But staying with geography for a minute I found myself wallowing in memories of 1964-67 when I read geography in the same place, same lecture theatre (exactly the same!), same library etc.  We went up to the library where the librarian greeted us warmly.  Hearing that I was an old boy he found the volume containing the final examination papers for 1967.  'This is what you took', he said. My final year was devoted to geomorphology.  As I looked at these papers, the font, the questions, the smell (it seemed!) I just escaped falling into a trance!  It was surreal. This was my life!  And here, standing beside me, was my grandson possibly coming to the same place.

Doesn't life have surprises for us?  This was a good one!  I hope you don't mind me sharing it with you?

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Smoke alarm

Last Saturday at 10:00 pm the smoke alarm directly above our heads in the sitting room suddenly shrieked with a piercing squeal. The battery needed replacing.  Just as our energies were sleepily decelerating I had to fetch the step ladder from the garage and find the right screwdriver to reach into the alarm's aperture which supposedly simply releases it from the ceiling.  To my exasperation, no matter how hard I tried with different approaches the alarm refused to budge. The shrieking continued to gain in pace. It echoed through our house and we were sure would penetrate our neighbour's sonic range too.

After more failed attempts I decided to knock on my neighbour's door and ask for help. I know it was late. I apologized!  His wife, seeing my face assumed that at the least Carol had fallen down the stairs.  It was obviously an anticlimax to hear that it was only a smoke alarm problem.  Apparently, his alarms look very different.  As a practical man he mounted the ladder and applied pressure in several attempts.  Failure again. (I confess a little relief that it was not simply resolved).  'I may have to break it, ' he said. 'Go for it' urged Carol as the noise continued.   Exerting a mighty thrust the alarm came away...broken. It was still shrieking in his hand until a new battery was fixed/ 'I think it might have been broken before' our neighbour said.   Well, maybe.

Fitted back loosely the last three days have been mercifully quiet.  But on Sunday some visitors for an evening meal were sitting underneath and to our horror it started again.   'Oh, no' we chorused, as we retold the story.  Our friend smiled broadly. 'It's not that' he said.  And then he scraped his rubber sole on the wood floor to make an identical shriek again.

I can't think of learning many lessons from this experience though we note how good neighbours are a blessing and some friends are mischievous.