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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Update from Me and LJW

Wow…My first term in England is almost over, Thanksgiving has gone, Christmas is just around the corner, and as I knew would happen, it has been a long time since there has been a post on here. There have been lots of posts in my head, but none have been finished. I blame the quick succession of papers, presentations, and long conversations in the common room over cups and cups of tea. So, what I thought I would do is to give an overview of the past few weeks through a massive Little John Wesley update. LJW is a very helpful companion, because if I don’t do fun things every now and then, he gets rather cross with me. I know what you are thinking: How can his stitched smile look scary? Trust me. It does. So, here it is

LJW and a Monk

LJW and a Monk

Right after All Saints Day, The Methodist students all took a retreat to the monastery at Ampleforth Abby. It was a great time together. We focused on the “I AM…” sayings in the Gospel of John with brief devotions throughout the day followed by longer periods of personal reflection and rest. After a busy few weeks, it was a very welcome break! It was also very nice to be at an Abby and participate with the monastic order of prayer. Monastic worship has been meaningful to me for a long time and sitting in the choir with the monks was beautiful as their chants and prayers washed over us. After five long weeks of getting used to England, classes, and each other, to be able to get away from college, and gel as a community was more welcome than many of us realized. The one downside was that our Anglican friends were not there. They had a retreat for themselves, but sharing stories when we returned helped to bridge the gap.

LJW visits Whitby

LJW visits Whitby

The week after Reading Week was my birthday! Birthdays are one of those times of the year when you can throw a party and invite your closest friends and family and have a good time. This year was the big quarter century mark, which makes me feel rather old. As I thought about how to celebrate my birthday, I decided that I wanted a distinctly English experience. Which means that it needed to include Fish and Chips. This was also significant because my birthday was also my two month anniversary in England, so a Chip shop needed to happen. After much research I discovered that the town of Whitby has one of the best Fish and Chips in the country (as well as the best Mushy peas! Don’t curl your nose up. They are my favorite English side dish after the Yorkshire pudding). We woke up kinda early,went to McDonalds for Breakfast (“American” Style), and then off to the beach. It was VERY cold and very cool. Whitby is where Dracula was set, as well as beautiful lighthouses, and a ruined monastery. Kayla, who is my fellow Americah came along for the fun as well as two of our friends who are Anglican ordinands. Road Trips are always exciting, so it was good to have fun people to spend the day with.

LJW enjoys a Thanksgiving Meal

LJW enjoys a Thanksgiving Meal

The next exciting holiday was Thanksgiving! If you ever want to feel out of place,try explaining Thanksgiving to someone in England. I was surprised how many people had very little idea of what the holiday was all about, so it was fun sharing the story of pilgrims, Indians, massive feasts and subsequent oppression and unrest. To celebrate Kayla and I taught some of our fellow students how to draw hand turkeys. For me one of the highlights were all of our British friends wishing us a Happy Thanksgiving. It represented the hospitality which I have received time and time again since I have been in this country. Here was a very American holiday which could have been entirely depressing and a stark reminder of how far away from home I was. However, with each cheery greeting I was reminded that the heart of the holiday is the love of family and friends. Therefore, as much as I missed home, at the end of the day, I was thankful for the new friends that I have made and the community we have created. This was brought to the foreground even more over the weekend when Kayla and I forgot about our pending papers and spend 15 hours in the kitchen of some friends’ house cooking up a “proper” Thanksgiving meal. It included all the fixin’s from both of our families. There is nothing like a post-Turkey coma to remind you of home :).

So, there it is. Next week is our last normal week of classes. Following that is a week-long intensive class followed by a four week break. There is more to come, but I hope that this will appease those of you who have been checking and not seeing any changes. Here is a gallery of more pictures from the past month. Click through and enjoy!


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Sorted

Sort•ed: (past participle) To have everything in their proper place, to have something figured out or under control.

Of all the British words I have learned in my two weeks in this country, this is the one has been almost a theme for me. I really don’t like to move. There is something disconcerting about taking all of your possessions and moving them to another place, unpacking it all, getting settled only to do it all again in a few months. I know that this is an unfortunate feeling for a future United Methodist minister committed to itinerancy, but I think that living in five different places in the past five months has been about four too many. I like having roots. There is a deep sense of comfort to having a home, a community, friends and family nearby and meaningful work to do. That is one of the main reasons it has been so strange to pack up one suitcase full of clothes, books, and some other essential items; board a plane; and arrive in another country with an ocean separating you from all of those roots you love.

When I stepped off the airplane at Heathrow all I had with me was my luggage, camera, and $100 (which quickly turned into £51.29). What I also had was a promise that at 9:00 a young man bearing a sign with my name on it would pick me up from the airport and take me to his house to stay for a week. It was this promise which would be the beginning to what was a fantastic week.

How I met the Logans is a long story, but they were such a means of grace for me in my first week in Great Britain. They welcomed me into their family helped me get oriented  to not just the city of London, but also British Methodism and British culture. Because of them I had a fantastic week in London and Cambridge. There are so many stories from this week that I cannot fit them all into one post, however, I do hope to post some of them in the future. Suffice it to say when I boarded the train for Durham I took with me not only my luggage, but an English phone, a large stack of pamphlets from all over London, 1,000 pictures, and the beginnings of a new community in this country.

When I left the safe comforts of London and the Logans and entered Durham I once again became uprooted. Now I had to navigate a University bureaucracy in which I as an exchange student operating outside the conventional structures for international students was was utterly clueless. Again though I boarded the train with the promise that at the station, Debs, one of the British students who had studied at Duke last year, would meet me at the station. With her help and that of the persistant and patient administration I managed to get my room, my ID card, my finalized schedule, and a vague understanding of how this year was going to work.

Do I have everything figured out? No. Are there still many things which are up in the air? Of course. However, as we begin our induction week (orientation), and I meet my fellow students who will be on this journey with me over the next year I can’t help but come back to my (already messy) room and, for the first time in a long while begin to feel sorted.

P.S If you would like to see some of my best pictures from London check out my Flickr photo stream here.


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My American Lives

I know that two posts in a row about death, is a bit morbid, but this is my blog, my life, and my grief, so deal with it.

Having lost two grandparents and my last great-grandparent this year, I have been doing a lot of thinking about death and grief. One of the surprising things I have discovered is that in grief there are certainly tears, but there are also a lot of laughs. Usually these come with remembering a funny story, or a particular quirk. The tears and the laughs so intermingled that they could be the same thing.

Today I saw a post by This American Life which featured a series of obituaries which only they could do. They focused on one story in the person’s life told either themselves, or by someone who was close to them. As with TAL, it is a celebration of the everyday person and the beauty we often overlook in our own lives. (My favorites are this, this, and this. Oh and for the math nerds, this.)

As I read each story, my mind went to the stories of my grandparents, and so I thought I would memorialize them here in a similar fashion. Having already told my favorite stories about Granny, I want to highlight the other two here.

Luella (Lala) Killinger (Aug 31, 1912-May 4, 2011) was born in the farmlands of Iowa and moved to Gainesville with my grandfather. She worked at the Police station as the Chief’s secretary for many years, where according to one of  the officers “she ran the office.” She was an avid fan or bridge, BINGO, and of course the Gators.

Stewart (Stute) Munson (July 26, 1929-July 9, 2011) was raised in Titusville, and worked for IBM fixing typriters. He and my grandmother got married (both for the second time) at parents’ house, catching them both completely by surprise! He enjoyed playing around in the kitchen, sometimes with success.

The Story

When I was in Middle School, my family was trying to decide where to take Stute for his birthday. After a few boring suggestions, we decided on every man, and Middle Schooler’s dream location–Hooters. We decided to keep it a surprise (a risky idea for a man who had already had one heart attack). We get him into the car and drive up to the restaurant, and the minute he sees where we are his eyes got as big as…saucers…and his face turns bright red. As much as he protested we draged him through the doors and over to our table. The entire night he was the center of attention. Young attractive servers sat on his lap to take his order, sang happy birthday, and tried to get him to dance on the table. Through the whole ordeal, his face remained the same color and he hardly said a word. It was hilarious.  However, the funnier person was Lala. Having told her in advance where we were going she spent the whole week telling everyone  at her independent living facility who would listen where we are going. To say that she was excited would be an understatement. As we were picking her up, she walked down the halls wearing it as a badge of honor, stopping to remind her friends where we were going. Sitting in the restaurant opposite Stute’s frowns, she was all smiles, looking around, taking it all in, and ready to report her adventure to her dinner buddies the next day. I think they both had a night which will soon be relatively famous.