Friday, November 12, 2010

From Oxford

From Oxford

My life these past few years has been divided into two realms, not as distinct as Augustine's City of Man and City of God, but sometimes it does seem odd that they're on the same planet. In Fall City, I write, do research, hike, garden, and relax with family, and unless I'm speaking or teaching, lead a fairly cloistered existence.

Oxford is quite different. I can't walk across the Cornmarket street, or jog around Christ Church meadow (scenes from which above center, and to left, my jogging path around it.) -- both within a minute of my front door -- without hearing a babble of tongues. (Above right is Broad Street in the morning fog, with Balliol College -- where John Wycliffe was master, before he translated the Bible.)
Last night at a church fellowship across the alley, the tall French girl sitting on one side of me was a biologist studying the three-dimensional shape of proteins, the Koreans to the right were studying English. Over breakfast, a slim Chinese lawyer in glasses told me about her research on the legality of Christian NGOs like the Salvation Army bringing drug addicts in the Southwest to faith. (I know the place -- the Dehong region of Yunnan, where minorities like the Jingpo suffer a high incidence of AIDS.) The day before, I found myself praying with a man who helped write the new Constitution of Zambia. Monday I spent an hour with Alan Chapman, the historian of science who plans to write a chapter for my coming book. The guy I eat popcorn with in the evenings does international finance every morning in China, India, and Brazil. I stop to talk with a guy who helps run the place -- a former imam and present lawyer from Uganda, who became a Christian when God spoke verbally to him in the mosque.

And so it goes.

Fascinating as it is, one can get networking-overload. (Which is why it is nice to relax with a few old-time friends who provide some continuity to these trips, also the popcorn.) But the conversation with the Zambian was particularly interesting, and I thought I'd share a little of what he said.

Zambia is an overwhelmingly ¨Christian¨ country of about 13 million. It has managed to avoid the tribal warfare that has engulfed its neighbors -- Angola, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique.

The new Constitution acknowledges that ¨Zambia is a Christian country,¨ but also makes it clear that non-Christians have freedom. My colleague told me there are few Muslims in Zambia (Wikipedia says 5%), but even the Muslim in the committee he headed agreed that Zambia is a Christian country. ¨We want to show Muslim countries that we can be Christian, and also tolerant,¨ he told me. (Not an exact quote.)

The method by which Zambia is putting its constitution together also interested me: three stages: (1) Consulting the people in general on goals; (2) Leaders drawn from different areas of life then discuss philosophy of government (this is where he played a role) and then (3) The resulting materials go to Parliament to edit and mold into a formal document.

When I need a break from the books (one common thread between my two worlds) I also go for long walks through Port Meadow (right -->), where animals have grazed for thousands of years. (On the other side of the meadow are ruins of a nunnery, near which the Royalists and the Roundheads fought part of the Battle of Oxford.)
(<- Here is St. Aldates -- I live in the apartment to the left; we often hear people practicing music. It's a charismatic Anglican congregation, the largest in Oxford.)

Oxford can, no doubt, be a great place to study. For me, though, as much as I have enjoyed my annual visits to the UK, and hope to keep in touch with friends there, home is where most of the work has to get done.