Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…


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On Wearing Sandals in the Winter

A few weeks ago, I was working on a paper late in the library and so I went to my room to get into some more comfortable clothes. It was a bitter cold night with snow on the ground, but the library (as always) is practically a sauna. So, I put on my Duke sweatpants, hoodie, and sandals and headed downstairs. As I walked by the snow I thought to myself: “This is me.” It was a strange thought, but also a realization. For most of my time thus far, my sandals had been merely a novelty item I brought with me as a joke when I was packing. “When am I ever going to use these!” I said as I tossed them in my suitcase. However, that night, wearing the essential Florida footwear, there was a connection to a part of me which somewhere had become “de-colonized” (I just made that word up. It needs to be a thing!).

Over the past few months I have noticed several shifts and movements in who I am. When I first got here I was so fascinated with British culture. How they ate, how they spoke, the clothes they wore. Everything about them was endlessly fascinating. In the name of cultural investigation I started using my fork tines down and using the British “pile method” where you stab a piece of meat or potato and then pile everything else up the fork: peas, carrots, gravy, etc. It is quite fun and also really efficient. As I chanted the psalms and prayers I began to subconsciously do so with a slight English accent. This one amused the other American who is with me as well as many of my English friends.

Then in January, Jessica came to visit and these slight changes became all the more apparent. It was a little surprising when I realized that what had begun as a curiosity quickly had become a habit. For the next few months I responded to this by consciously reasserting my “American-ness” I returned to eating with the American “scoop” method and made sure to use the word “ya’ll” as much as possible. There was something desperate in my attempt to retain my cultural and national identity.

Eventually, however, this proved to be a lot of work and also began to seem affected. My experience thus far has changed me in more significant ways than I have even begun to understand. Having experienced British culture, as I mentioned in a previous post, I have already developed a more global perspective, however, I have also become more “American.” I do not mean that I am going to buy some patriotic clothes and walk around singing “My Country Tis of Thee,” but I am also not ashamed of where I come from. The USA is not a perfect country, and I don’t believe that it is the best one in the world, but it has helped to make me who I am and it is my “home.”

So, for now, I am just enjoying the tension. Now I use my fork in whichever way seems most appropriate for the meal and still slip into accented liturgy, but my sandals are out and ready for action! That is once the snow stops falling…

Durham Cathedral in the snow.

Durham Cathedral in the snow.

Snow from Feb 23. Not exactly sandal weather...

Snow from Feb 23. Not exactly sandal weather…

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Duke Article

One of the things that I have tried to do while being here is to remain connected to Duke and the community I built there. For my first post of reflection, I wanted to share with you an article I co-wrote with the other American student who is here with me Kayla for the Divinity School’s student newsletter. A version of it is due to be published in a few weeks by the WSC in their newsletter as well. I have made a few edits to it for the sake of clarity and because I can and also added links to explain some of the terms.

Greetings from England!

In case you have been wondering where we have been, or who we are, some background is probably helpful. In September we began a one year exchange program with the Wesley Study Centre (WSC) in St. John’s College at Durham University in England. As we begin our new term, we wanted to let our Duke community know how things were going. Having been here for several months, things that initially seemed strange have become normal. Durham Cathedral (a place of prayer for over 1,000 years!) that towers over our college no longer gets called the “chapel,” having tea (with a bit of milk) has become a mainstay of any social interaction, and the words, “circuit,” “mission” and “”The Doctor” have become part of the normal vocabulary.

While these may seem like incidental changes, taken together they hint at a much more foundational change in who we are as students, ministers, and Christians. One of the most significant changes has been that by studying and worshipping with the British Methodist Church and the Church of England, we have begun to see ourselves as part of Christ’s world-wide Church. We are studying with students from South Africa, Germany, China, and Brazil, however, the whole ethos of this place seems to look outward. The two central concepts which shape the majority of conversations in the classroom and common room are mission and practical theology. How does the Church discern and participate in what God is doing in the world? How is what we are learning going to shape how we do ministry in our churches parishes?

While neither of these are new questions to us coming from Duke, the ways in which they are asked and the answers they are giving have a unique and powerful particularity. As part of our studies we have both been given the chance to be placed in a Methodist Church (similar to a Field Ed) where we are able to put some of these questions and answers to the test. After adjusting to British worship styles and hymnody, we have found that there is a great freedom in ordering the worship service. Many services are done in “café style” or are particularly shaped by the needs of children (called “Messy Church”). There was a service over the summer at a Christian conference which was called a “Goth Eucharist.” Such creativity and intentionality is a lot of fun and has given both of us permission to be creative as well. Last term, for example, we both led the daily morning prayer according to the United Methodist Book of Worship.  While some people said it “felt like a holiday,” for us it felt like a little bit of home.

It is certainly difficult in a lot of ways to be away from you all. There is no place like Goodson Chapel, of W0016, however, as you begin this semester know that as we gather to pray in a small chapel in Durham, England that you are in our hearts and prayers. We look forward to sharing many more stories and experiences next year when we return!

Kayla, LJW, and I in front of Duke Chapel.

Kayla, LJW, and I in front of Duke Chapel.

[Note: Kayla has also been blogging her trip and often includes video blogs. Some of which I feature in. If you are interested check it out: http://kbharward.wordpress.com/]


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End of Term Reflections

I have this countdown clock on my computer which I used before I left to count down the hours until when I left. When I got here I didn’t turn it off, so instead of counting down it reminds me of how long I have been here. 5 months and 24 days. A large part of me cannot imagine that it has been this long!

This week is the last week of the Epiphany term in college which gives us some much needed rest as well as some time to work on essays and do some short term placements in churches. It has been a really busy end of term. Not so much because of the work, but because I have had a lot of people who have used me as an excuse to come to England come to see me.

It is a strange thing to have American friends come over and experience my life in this place. Over these past months England has become a sort of surreal normal. I have developed routines and habits and a part of the community in really beautiful ways. So, when people come over who have known me from my “normal” life, it is a strange clash as I realize just how special this time is. Whereas I now rush through the Cathedral to get to class, its vaulted ceilings and powerful columns stop them in their tracks as it did me so many months ago. They have been reminding me that this place and time is a unique and beautiful experience; a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Whereas so much of my life thus far has been dominated by lectures and essays, having visitors over has given me (and Little John Wesley) the excuse I needed to go out and see other parts of the country. Over the next few weeks I will be posting some reflections on my past few months. Some of them are more recent while others are posts that I wrote early on in my time here and have been revising as I learned more. These next few weeks are going to be packed with more visitors and more essays (including some for my Commissioning!), but I am hoping that using some of the posts I have already written it will allow me to update with some more regularity.

Train at York station.

Train at York station.

Durham Cathedral and Castle at Night

Durham Cathedral and Castle at Night