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Paul at Castlerigg stone circle

Hiyah everybody.  It has been a while.

Life here in England has been busy but good since I last wrote in the dreary days of February.  We’ve played host and tour guide to much of our family–Diane’s parents in May, Mom and John in June, and Dad in July–and are getting set for our holiday in Cornwall at the little seaside village of Boscastle, just a few miles walk along the cliffs from Tintagel, the legendary birthplace of King Arthur.

I can’t make any promises about the blog (though, I promised my mother I’d try to post to it at least occasionally) as life will get very busy soon.

First, a short update on what has happened since I last posted.

1.  Both of the conferences I attended went very well.  My paper on liturgical consumerism was well-received and again I found people drawn to my thoughts about the failure of the church (or anyone else for that matter) to confront the dehumanizing affects of consumerism.  My Anselm paper was also well-received.  That paper will definitely be published as a chapter in a book on the legacy of Anselm.  I had immense fun at that conference and had the opportunity to meet however briefly the much beleaguered Archbishop of Canterbury.

2.  The dissertation goes very well.  I am now nearly a 100 pages into writing the first, and every rough draft.  I hope to have another twenty or so completed by the early September.  This puts me well ahead in the game (though I’m behind in my languages), which I where I wanted to be by this time.

3.  Paul finished his first year in an English school with glowing reports in all subjects.  He’s grown both physically and emotionally a great deal in the past year.  The last few months has also reminded us how blessed he is in his relationships with his grandparents.  He is a much loved child.  Diane has been promoted at work and, as my father remarked, continues to bloom in England.

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Diane, Dad, Paul, and I with Bishop Tom Wright

4.  Finally, last week I was finally received into the Church of England.  It has been a long process to get here, but once we got through the log-jam of Lambeth, everything has proceeded quickly.  The services occurred in the Bishop’s private chapel in Auckland Castle and in St Peter’s Chapel at Auckland Castle (pictured here) on two consecutive days.  After a year, it felt rather strange to be in robes again!  The service was lovely and it was kind of the Bishop to make sure it all happened before my father returned to the States.  Now that I’m a Church of England vicar I can give license to all my eccentricities!

What now…

First, our holiday and 10 days of relaxing with my wife and son.  When I return, I’ll hit the ground running, as they say.  I’ll meet with a local vicar about becoming his assisting, ‘house for duty’ priest.  The poor man has been looking after four churches by himself.  The diocese will provide us with a home in exchange for my assisting on Sundays and doing two days of parish work.  I’m looking forward to being in the saddle again, as I’ve missed both the altar and the pulpit (I know, my former parishioners, I never used a pulpit at All Saints, but allow me a little poetic license!) and have felt the absence of both in my theological studies.  It’ll be good for me to be grounded by the residence of former mining communities.

IMG_1993Besides assisting in the parish, I’ll also teach Anglicanism to undergraduates at Cranmer Hall theological college at Durham.  This was an unexpected development, but one that excites me greatly.  The course only last through the autumn, but meets once a week for two hours.  On top of that, I’ll lead one or two seminars in medieval history in the history department and a third seminar in medieval and reformation Church history in the theology department.

Of course, I’ll still need to work hard on my PhD dissertation, attend conferences, and work my Anselm paper up for publication.

So, there it is.   We are just 10 days short of our first anniversary in England.  I think it’s safe to say that our life here is beginning to take shape.  Hopefully, in the midst of everything, I can find the time to keep you better updated and provide you with more pictures from our travels.

Until next time, cheers!

Apologies

Just a quick note to let you all know that I’ve not forgotten you!

I’ve been incredibly busy since our return from Paul’s half-term.  On top of my usual work, I will be delivering a paper at the end of this month at the Michael Vasey Conference and another one at the end of April at the 2009 Legacy of Anselm Conference in Canterbury.  In between the two, Paul has his two-week long Easter holiday, and so I am frantically trying to get most of my work done so I can spend more time with him.  But…

I hope to post about our day trip to the Lake District and again about a wonderful postgraduate evening at Durham Cathedral when we were given access to parts of the Cathedral normally not open to the public and were allowed to take photos indoors.  So stay tuned…

Holiday – Cauldron Snout

Cow Green reservoir above Cauldron Snout

Cow Green reservoir above Cauldron Snout

This shot was taken near the end of our adventurous hike last Tuesday.  I’ve started off with it because I love how it makes us look like we’re trekking across the Arctic.  The two small figures in the background are Paul and his friend Dylan.  Despite the impression given by the photo, we were not in Arctic conditions.  In fact, it was nearly 50F!  But what views!

Towards Whinney Fell

Towards Widdybank Fell

The hike began in upper Teesdale a few miles from Middleton-on-Tees and not far from High Force, the falls we visited a few weeks ago.   We parked by the side of the lane near a farm, crossed the stile, and headed off into a breath-taking countryside.  The panorama was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  We were surrounded by the gentle snow-streaked slopes of the Pennines.  To the east, the wide valley of Teesdale itself sloped away towards the lowlands and to the south the snow covered slopes of the higher mountains occasionally peeped from behind the thick cloud cover.  Widdybank Fell(on the left side of this photo), bearded with large expanses of broken rock, loomed ahead of us.

Our adventurous companions!

Our adventurous companions!

We kept good pace since we knew that the walk was going to be a long one for the boys.  Still, they fell behind us quickly as they couldn’t resist jumping into the patches of snow that we periodically encountered.  Diane and I said little: we were too captivated by the countryside.  Personally, I was keeping a wary eye out for Vikings, as well!  Eventually we reached the Tees and started to skirt along its bank.

Diane had just finished saying how much she appreciated the gravel trail we were following when it turned into the sort of waterlogged grassy trail with which we are more familiar.  Our progress slowed somewhat as we figured out the best way to walk around patches of deep mud or ford small streams.  Paul and Dylan were wearing their new wellies and so they just marched happily through it all.

Yipes!

Yipes!

Then even this path gave way to a very narrow trail that hugged the bank of the Tees.  We continued single file until we came upon the first of two major rock fields.  It was time for some mountaineering!  This field of scree stretch right up to the top of the mountain and continued for about a thousand feet or so.  Most of the rocks were also wet and slippery which made the crossing a little treacherous.  Paul and Dylan, of course, thought they were in heaven and darted across the field happily.

Fortunately, the valley again widened enough for us to move a little away from the river and make better time towards the falls.  Unfortunately, the land was much marshier and Diane soon found herself with waterlogged shoes.  You know how women just love things like that!

Any signs of orcs?

Any signs of orcs?

The views remained as remarkable as they had done, but now we were well into the nature reserve.  By English standards, the countryside felt wild–like a scene from The Lord of the Rings or Narnia before the snow had completely melted–and there was not even any sign of the ubiquitous English sheep.

It was now well past lunchtime, but we decided to press on until we reached Cauldron Snout.  There, we’d enjoy lunch, Diane could dry out her socks and change into dry shoes, and we have a small rest.  To our horror, though, this required another rock crossing that, though narrower than the last, in some ways was harder to cross.  Again, the boys loved it.  In fact, Paul for the first time in his life would later tell me that he really enjoyed the walk!  There is hope for the lad!

Cauldron Snout

Cauldron Snout

The rocks were the last hurdle to cross and shortly thereafter we reached our object, the very impressive Cauldron Snout.  The pedantic point out that its not really a falls but a cateract.  Whatever you want to call it, the Snout is impressive, in some ways more so than the more famous High Force, and sadly none of my pictures do it justice.

As planned, we sat down toi enjoy a much earned lunch.  Even though my pork pies had been cruelly flattened during the walk and were pretty poorly made, they had that thrilling flavor that only comes after a lot of hard work and in such surroundings.  The only thing missing was a cup of tea.  I must see about getting a decent thermos.

By now it was getting on, so we didn’t sit for lunch too long.  The next leg of the walk was not for those suffering from vertigo: a narrow, rocky trail along the side of the steep hill by Cauldron Snout.  I took the lead and Diane the rear and we started to pick our way carefully up towards the top of the hill.  Really, it was safe enough, but walking on a narrow trail with roaring water below you on one side and with children to watch behind you wakes you up a bit.

Cow Green reservoir

Cow Green reservoir

Once we reached the top we were in for a very strange view: an enormous concrete dam.  I felt like I had walked from Tolkien into some depressing furturistic world.  The dam was massive and in the middle of nowhere.  The path took us towards this, eventually ending at a narrow, paved road that would take us back to the car.  Behind the dam lies Cow Green reservoir which in the mist and the snow looked for all the world like a coastline in Canada or Greenland.  Just beyond the dam I stopped to take the picture that heads this post.

The remaining two and half miles was uneventful, though beautiful.  We were in slightly more civilized territory now and we encountered people on their bikes or walking the short and easy way to the Snout.  We eventually arrived at the car, muddy, warn out, and ready for something hot.  But I was exceptionally happy.  I’d finally done the sort of walk I’ve been waiting to do since we came to England.

Next, the Lake District…

Holiday – the Cottage

East Briscoe Cottage

East Briscoe Cottage

We’ve returned from an absolutely wonderful holiday in Teesdale and I’ve lots of photos to share (actually far too many to post).  This will be the first of several posts about our five days in Teesdale, so make sure you check back over the coming days to read about our adventures.

The photo to the right is of the East Briscoe Cottages just outside of Cotherstone near Barnard Castle.  We stayed in the ‘Farm Cottage’, two down from the very end of the pictured building.  It was comfortable place to relax and we’ll definitely return.

The boys and Barnard Castle

The boys and Barnard Castle

We left bright and early Monday morning with a car loaded down with luggage and food.  Paul had invited his friend Dylan to join us and the two of them were so excited about the trib that by lunch time Diane and I were ready to ring both their necks!  Fortunately, they settled down.  We drove down to Barnard Castle (about 25 miles away) and spent the morning exploring the castle and the old market town.  It’s a wonderful castle that Eric and Ethan Byrd, Paul, and I visited on our way to Hardrian’s Wall in 2006.  The town itself is a delight, and it has so many butchers, bakeries, and green grocers that I would go quickly broke if I lived there.

The living room at our cottage

The living room at our cottage

After we’d spent a couple of hours in town, we crossed the Tees (without dotting any ‘i’s!) and drove up to the cottage.  While Diane and I were thrilled with the cottages’ setting, the boys were even more so when they caught sight of the trampoline.  Off they dashed, scattering chickens and scaring cats in their mad scramble.  Diane and I unloaded the car, had a cup of tea (set out by the cottage owners) and enjoyed a time of quiet.

Shot from our front door

Shot from our front door

After we’d all eaten lunch, we went for a short walk to explore the land around the cottages.   The countryside there was beautiful with the ubiquitous sheep grazing in green fields and the hillsides dotted with old, stone farmhouses.  We went for only a short walk through a couple of small fields and down into a ravine where there are two small rivers and a small waterfall.  The ground was soggy, muddy, and in places slippery, all of which delighted Paul and Dylan.  The ravine was forested, and except for the copious thick moss, it reminded me very much of Pisgah Forest.  Oh, and stone walls aren’t something you normally see in North Carolina, either!  Hares scurried from under brush and into their homes as we walked along the steep slope.  It was a lovely start to our holiday.

Another shot near our cottage

Another shot near our cottage

We returned to the cottage to plan out the next day and to let the boys jump on the trampoline.  We purchased enough eggs from the owners to go with our English bacon in the morning.  I introduced myself to Figaro, the very friendly local cat, and taught Dylan how to play American football.  We then enjoyed our dinner in the warmth of the living room before tucking ourselves into bed.  We needed a good night sleep because we were planning an ambitious walk the next day.  A 7 miles loop through the Pennines that would take us to the irresistably named Cauldron Snout.  That walk, one of the best I’ve ever done, will be the subject of the next post.

More Snow & Half Term

Shot from our bedroom

Shot from our bedroom

We had another bought  of winter weather Thursday.  This time I was too busy with my studies to go out into it much, but Paul did have a fun evening of sledging with the Steels, though his feet were close to frost-bitten by the end!  Most of the snow is now gone, leaving the muddy sludge that is the normal state of things in wintry England.

But we’ve reached half-term.  Paul has a whole week off school, Diane has managed to get next week off work, and so Monday we head off for five days at a cottage in Teesdale.  With a bit of luck with the weather, we hope to do a lot of walking in the Pennines and to spend a day in the Lake District.  So, I should have plenty of wonderful pictures to show when we get back!

This will be a welcome break for us all.  March is going to be very busy.  Not only do I have my first dissertation deadline in March but I’m also slated to deliver a paper at the 2009 Michael Vasey Conference on Scripture and Liturgy.  My paper will be on the affect liturgical consumerism has on spirituality.  Excited?  In preparation, I’ve been reading lots of sociological books on consumerism.  My goodness is it depressing!  It makes you realize what a greedy bunch we’ve all become!  I’ve also a major paper (for me) to deliver in April at the Legacy of Anselm Conference in Canterbury.  There will be some academic heavy-hitters there, so I’ll need to make sure my facts are straight and my argument particularly convincing.

But all that is later.  For now, I plan to think of nothing but pleasant strolls in the hills, good English country cooking, and pints at the village pub.

Snow in Durham

The Cathedral

The Cathedral

Yesterday, the entire UK was blanketed in snow.  I’ve always known that there was some undefinable connection between Southerners and Brits, but until yesterday I didn’t know that this encompassed a shared panic at the sight of snow.  London may have taken the blitz in stride, but send them a few inches of snow and the whole capital shuts down.  This morning, the BBC was whingeing about how much the snow was going to cost the economy, as though snow were a unexpected occurrance in the winter!   Here in Durham, life continued as normal for us.  Paul did have school though many of the others were cancelled.  Poor Diane had a much longer commute to work thanks to all the panicking commuters, but made it there and back safely.

The view from Prebends Bridge

The view from Prebends Bridge

I spent most of the day in my cave–the downstairs home office–plugging away at my working paper on the theory of participation in Augustine: up to 40 pages!  I did get out, however, just before lunch to get some good snaps of Durham in the snow.  It was a lovely walk through intervals of snow and sunshine (and one fairly vigorous hail storm).  The children and college students were out sledging and a there was a veritable procession of people with their camera-enabled mobiles taking pictures.

Prebends Bridge

Prebends Bridge

As you can see from the pics, I walked down to the River Wear to see the Cathedral and river in the snow.  I’d say that it was a picture postcard moment, but that we be cheesey, so I shan’t!  It did leave me with one of those momentary feelings I get these days of wanting to pinch myself.  It’s still hard for me to believe that this is where I live now.  Notice that in my last posting I didn’t mention missing modern American urban planning! I’ll take this over strip malls, hastily constructed fast food restaurants, and miles and miles of parking lots any day.

The Wear & Prebends Bridge

The Wear & Prebends Bridge

The walk home was a bit of a challenge.  I wanted to return via Observatory Hill to take in the view of the city from up there.  You know, it’s not much fun trudging up a steep bank in the snow, particularly when the snow hides all the partially thawed pits of mud!  Still, the vantage was well worth the walk.  All in all, it put me in a good mood to return to my cave to work on my paper.

A small cottage above the bridge

A small cottage above the bridge

After school, Paul and I had a great snowball fight, though he has a lot of improvement to make before he’ll ever come out the better in such a melee.  So, all in all, a wonderful day.  Sadly, by the evening all the snow was beginning to turn to sludge (which made my walk to and from St Chad’s that evening not much fun) and this morning very little white is left.  They are calling for more snow Thursday, but if you read my last post you’ll know how much stock I put in that.

Durham from Observatory Hill

Durham from Observatory Hill

I suppose, though, what strikes me most about this snow is that here we are at the same latitude as Labrador and a few inches of snow is such an event.  What fell yesterday is no more than what normally happens once or twice a winter back in Asheville.  It really puts the blessing of the Gulf Stream into perspective.  It’s doubly amazing when you all think about all the precipitation that does fall in the winter.  If it weren’t for the warm waters of the Caribbean, the UK would have been buried under a hundred feet of snow long ago!

Ah, Augustine calls.  With the benevolence of the muses and no interruption, I might just get the paper finished today.  But first, some coffee….

England: A Reflection (2)

Souter Lighthouse

Souter Lighthouse with Paul in the middle

Although the pictures have nothing to do with the text, I did want to show you some of the views we had this past Saturday as we walked through the blowing wind along the cliffs above Sunderland.  This is along the North Sea, about a half hour’s drive from our house.

I mentioned at the end of my last reflections that I would balance my effusions by posting about what in England I don’t like.  I’ve decided, though, to dwell more on what I miss about America than on what I actively dislike about England.  The reason for this is that there really isn’t much I dislike about life here.  I could mention the weather, but like most Brits deep down I appreciate it for providing us all with something to talk about to strangers.  If England were to develop a pleasant climate, conversation would all but cease here.  What’s a Brit to discuss if he or she can’t whinge about the weather!?  Having said that, I do miss marginally accurate weather forecasts!  I’m convinced the BBC does it’s forecast by throwing darts at a dartboard marked with different weather patterns.  If this is not, in fact, what they do, then they should start as I think it would actually improve their accuracy!

The champ!

The champ!

There is at least one thing I detest about Britain: the rubbish.  I’ve never been anywhere outside of, say, New York where rubbish is strewn just anywhere.  So often an otherwise lovely bank along a river, or track through the hills, or a historic site is marred by plastic containers or bags, beer cans, Styrofoam, and similar trash.  In some places, the amounts are unbelievable.  In typical British fashion, some group wants to go after the companies that produce the packaging material (Burger King, McDonald’s, and Subway are among the worst culprits) instead of the people actually littering.  I say take a page from America: put up signs that inform people that they’ll be fined heavily for dropping trash and then enforce it.  Oh, and a rubbish bin every now and again would help, too!

So what do I miss?  Of things generically American, not much.  Yeah, part of me misses the convenience of American life.  On rainy or blustery cold days, I’ll often think how nice it would be to be able to hop in a car and drive almost to the doorstep of wherever I need to go.  The again, I’m enough of a tree-hugger to believe that really such isn’t the best way for people to live.  I’ve also come to realize that I really don’t need to have a choice between twenty brands of peanut butter to live a full life!  On the other hand, I do miss groceries stores that don’t have narrow aisle and veritable traffic jams of carts.

The North Sea

The North Sea

There is a great deal that I miss about my old life.  Hardly a night has gone by in the past five months in which I haven’t appeared in my dreams as a parish priest.  I suppose that I ought to tell me something.  Part of me just misses the priestly identity–though I’m slowly beginning to enjoy that again in my new context–but more of me misses ministering to my people in preaching, celebrating, and caring.  I also, of course, miss all the good folk at my former parish, All Saints, and think of them often.

There are also days when I almost ache for a long walk in Pisgah Forest and to breath in the damp, evocative smells of those forests.  There are times too when I miss the routine Paul and I enjoyed there: popping over to the YMCA twice a week and each Friday sharing a cappuccino smoothy at Perks, camping out by ourselves up in the mountains, or watching him play a recreational sport.  We haven’t come up with an equivalent here yet…though I do intend this week finally to get a snap of him in his fencing outfit!

Shot of the cliffs

Shot of the cliffs

There are also household features I miss (Diane wanted to make sure I mention these).  Closets are lovely American inventions.  Here, wardrobes remain all the rage.  We couldn’t afford anything but a press board wardrobe–and I refuse to buy press board ever again–so I just screwed hanging racks to the wall.  Our clothes all just hang there in the open.  Americans also do appliances well.  The worst feature about our home here is that we only have what is supposed to be a combined washer/dryer.  It washes well.  If you want it actually to dry your clothes, then you have to run it for about two hours and then you end up with a large wad of dry clothes that reminds me of the inside of a golf ball.  Needless to say, Diane and I have improved our ironing skills.  Actually, most of our clothes dry, as in most English households, in front of the radiators.

There are also American culinary delights I miss.  Top of the list here for me are barbeque potato chips!  I can get some here that aren’t bad, but there not the real thing.  The selection of steaks here is also not up to American standards, which doesn’t matter as I don’t have (and really miss) an outdoor grill.  Paul was disappointed not to find, in his view, any tasty macaroni and cheese.  Fortunately, Diane’s folks have kindly sent over boxes of Kraft mac & cheese from time to time, which has pleased him immensely.

Down by the beach

Down by the beach

At a deeper level, I’ve come to appreciate more America’s free society.  I don’t mean so much individual freedoms–as I’ve got all those here–as I do the freedom from bureaucracy one enjoys in America.  I think England suffers from a prolonged and unsuccessful flirtation with socialism.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m far from being an American Republican on this issue.  If it were left up to me, all sorts of industries would be heavily regulated, starting with marketing and advertising.  But it never ceases to amaze me how many layers of bureaucracy one has to deal with here and how inefficient this makes much of British life, not least the Church of England.  Jobs that would take all of fifteen minutes in America take about four months here!  And because there are so many bureaucrats in so many offices involved in so many divisions of so many ministries, corporations, industries, and the like, no one actually knows what’s going on.  It amazes me how often I’ve encountered a fairly mundane task treated like it has never been done before.  Thus, the Church, the government, and businesses all feel much more cumbersome than they do in America.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the British reputation for moderation has nothing to do with their temperament (witness football fans here!); it’s that the suffocating bureaucracy doesn’t permit crises ever to happen.

That about sums it up.  Read this with my first reflections and you’ll have a pretty good feel for how I’ve responded to our life here.  The benefits far outway the drawbacks and I think and hope that when my status with the Church of England is finally resolved life will become even better.  I should add that one fairly constant reminder of what I miss about America ended for a season last night: the NFL.  So, my American friends, enjoy your barbecue potato chips, your large dryers, and remind your closets how much you appreciate them.  Oh, and do give my greetings to the sun.  He doesn’t make it over here very often…