July 31
July 31 E-mail

The two plenary speakers today were challenging in different ways.  Richard Swinburne is a professor of the Philosophy of Christian Religion at Oxford.  His talk was titled "Humans Consist of Two Parts, Body and Soul" and was quite dense.  He spent most of the time carefully laying a foundation and then spent the last five minutes on his conclusion.  It was like a geometry proof, only with words.  I think he was saying that there is a non-physical component of the self.  One illustration stood out: if X's brain is cut in half and the left part is transplanted into Y and the right part into Z.  Which one is X?  They can't both be X.  What part must survive for me to still be me?  The survival of a non-physical part is necessary. 

I did not understand most of what he said, but I was glad to be exposed to the discipline of philosophy.  During the Q&A time, young men rushed to the microphone.  Philosophy majors no doubt.  Two comments came out during Q&A: (1) Swinburne thinks non-reductive physicalism is a false theory [interesting because one of the upcoming Cambridge speakers is a proponent of it]; and (2) Swinburne wants to keep the incarnation out of the argument.  I'm not sure if that's a prudent way to avoid mixing apples and oranges, or if it is a convenient dodge of tougher questions.  Oh well, I don't know what I am, but I can still rest in whose I am.

The second speaker, Laurie Beth Jones, was a concern in a different way.  She was invited to represent the business and management discipline.  She was lively and told lots of stories; however, I was troubled by her worldview.  It sounded more New Age than Christian to me.  Nevertheless, I was able to glean some useful thoughts.  She quoted Carl Jung as saying that nothing affects the life of a child as the unlived life of the parent.  As support, she cited a survey reporting that 25% of medical students don't want to be there. 

The speaker also said that visionaries view things in completion without taking into account the intervening steps.  This tidbit will be quite useful in the office, as I work alongside quite a few visionaries who see the final product, but don't have a grasp of the detailed steps to get there. 

I was scheduled for a tour of the Kilns, C. S. Lewis's home, and boarded the van at 12:45.  We ate bag lunches en route.  I chose the van with the British driver, Barry, on the assumption that he knew the roads better than the American and therefore would be less likely to get lost.  As it turned out, the drivers kept in constant contact via walkie-talkies.  They were hilarious with their banter back and forth.  Although there was one serious moment with Barry as we were riding through a housing development.  He said that the presence of wealthy foreigners in Britain has driven up the cost of housing and now the average, working-class Brit has no chance of ever owning a home. 


The Kilns in bloom

After an introductory lecture in the garden, we were split into three groups.  My group went to the pond first.  Since my last visit, the Foundation had uncovered a stone bench where Lewis and Tolkien used to chat while looking out over the pond.  

stone bench

Stone bench overlooking the pond where Lewis and Tolkien chatted

They've also uncovered a bomb shelter that Paxford built ... just in case.  (It was never used.)  I photographed it because I am Paxford/Puddleglum at heart: a cheerful pessimist who is perpetually planning for the worst.  (We won't discuss my Y2K preparations.)

paxford bomb shelter

Paxford's bomb shelter (graffiti added later)

Because of time constraints, I saw only the common room (our living room) of the house.  But that's OK; I've been through it before.  I was thrilled to have my picture taken while sitting in Lewis's living room.

aw at kilns

Resting for a moment in Lewis's "common room"

I was glad to get back to Oxford in time for the final session of Diana Glyer's workshop.  She went over categories of small groups, leaving plenty of time for questions and problem-solving.  I asked how to juggle novice CSL readers and advanced readers within the context of a book club.  The group gave me some good suggestions both in the workshop and in conversation throughout the week.  I continue to be struck by Prof. Glyer.  She emphasizes prayer.  It is more than a liturgical discipline to her; it is essential to life.  Her dependence on God is patent.  Of course, she is learned and gifted, but her acknowledgement of God as the source and her moment-by-moment dependence on him adds power to her words.  I also appreciate the non-threatening environment she creates in her class.  She does this by being open and vulnerable herself. 

At dinner, I sat between an under-graduate student named Micah and an art therapist.  Dr. James Taylor, moderator of the philosophy symposium, sat across.  Swinburne's lecture and evolution were the topics of lively conversation.  It's a wonder Dr. Taylor got a bite in his mouth; clearly the conversation was more nourishing to him than the food!  Micah had trouble reconciling evolution with his understanding of scripture.  The academics at the table echoed Francis Collins' concern when Christian young people are taught young-earth creationism exclusively.  Their faith is challenged at college when they learn for the first time how strong the evidence for evolution is.

Another evening concert of piano (Paul Barnes), poetry  (Dana Gioia), and song (Kate Butler) at St. Mary's church.  The medieval church is a beautiful setting for concerts, as though the architecture is a frame for the music.  I am also struck by how much more alive poetry becomes when read by the poet.