July 9th-Monday

After a weekend of independent activities, spanning visiting Paris to participating in London Pride day to shopping in Oxford to working on class (the last was me), we all came back to class this morning.  Well, two of the students got stuck in Paris.  Poor them, right?

Holy Trinity Church-Headington Quarry

Our chapter theme was C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein and the quadrant of the city was just east of us up St. Clemens Road to Headington.  C. S. Lewis is buried in Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry and I had visited the site early last week on my own.  It is a quiet place and quite moving. 





photo of shark in roof This chapter told the story of the Headington Shark, a full size model of a shark which sticks out of a house in Headington.  When first “installed” there was a huge uproar but over time the ruckus died down and now there is a movement to save the shark.  The fascinating question that did capture the students attention was whether this was art and if yes, did that give it a sacred status of some sort?  That is, versus an eyesore that we would argue should be pulled down for the good of the community and property values.  From there our conversations ranged afield:



  • What is the difference between art and propaganda?
  • Can anything be art?
  • How do we judge the quality of historical accounts, past and present?
  • How have corporations taken over so many aspects of our culture in places and activities that eveything has a logo promoting that company?
  • What is the difference between overbearing corporate sponsorship and philanthropy?
  • What do we need to be able to make clear judgements as to the quality of the information given us by the media, scholars, anyone?
art from RA Summer Exhibit

art from RA Summer Exhibit

I may have been alone in advocating for some notion of truth or standard for truth claims–and claims about art and beauty.  Somebody has to be the rationalist in the group. Despite the delightfully lively discussion, I fear we may not have made any progress.  I think that may be a theme for tomorrow:  when has a discussion brought about more clarify, changed minds, or simply seemed productive in the end?  How can we construct those?  Clearly this issue is not one simply for our SJC class but is sorely needed at every level of community and organization.

Visiting Stonehenge: July 5-6

On Thursday we all trooped off to the train station and took three different trains to get to Salisbury.  Salisbury is a quaint little city south west of Oxford.  We checked into our quirky hotel and then walked over to visit Salisbury Cathedral and see the Magna Carta on display.  The students really were impressed by the 13th century cathedral and the Magna Carta.

Salisbury Cathedral

At 7:30 taxis arrived to take us out to the Salisbury Plain and Stonehenge.  We had a private visit where we were allowed to walk amidst the stones.  Our guide, Romy, told the story of the site and the students truly enjoyed the entire experience, especially trying her dousing rods to measure the energy veins through the main portal.  We witnessed a lovely sunset and arrived back at the hotel around 10:30 pm.







The next day we visited the Museum to see the archeological finds around Stonehenge and some other delightful exhibits.  Back to Oxford via our three trains!

This weekend a group of them went into London for the Pride Parade and other places.  We re-convene as a group on Monday as we head into our final week.

Certainly Stonehenge offers many opportunities to reflect on the nature of place.  Its very mystery and status as pre-historic offer us slices of time where it meant this or that.  Or can we ever grasp what the 3rd millennial BCE humans saw as the world around them?  I was struck by how many of the students face-timed their families back home while we were on the site.  21st century channels the sacred silence of the stones.  But I also expect that London with its parade in support of Gay Rights will also offer rich food for reflecting on how we shape our rituals and honor one another.

If you would prefer a slightly more reflective take on our visit, see my post in Medium.

Wednesday-July 4th

Buckland: dead panther, anyone?

July fourth is just another day in England.  So we had our class and learned a bit about King Charles I, the Civil War, Puritans and Quakers, what meats one would eat, and Christ Church. William Buckland caught our attention and his goal was to eat every animal on the planet–not all of them but simply to try all of them. The anecdotes in our text were particularly attention getting:  jackals under the table munching on guinea pigs.  We did ponder if we really could draw a line between eating one kind of animal (chickens, say) and others that seem quite upsetting to us (dead panthers.)  Other points of discussion:

  • the fall of the great and mighty (King Charles I and Cardinal Wolsey)
  • the wives of Henry VIII and his error in blaming them for a lack of a son
  • William Penn, the Quakers, and Quaker Oats.  Turns out that Quakers had nothing to do with Quaker Oats…

But perhaps the most riveting activity was we decided to hold our very own All Souls’ entrance exam essay on one word.  Our word was… pots.  This choice was inspiring by an impassioned outcry of injustice and rebellion against the apparent theft of the kitchen pots and utensils, thereby depriving our group from their ability to cook their own dinners. The resulting array of essays were All Souls’ worthy: spanning meditations on Native Americans, poetry rhymed in couplets, one’s family cooking traditions, idea of a pot as the key to civilization, and many more.  We hope to publish the full array in the near future.

Tolkien posterThis afternoon we visited the delightful exhibit at the new Bodleian on J.R.R. Tolkien and his magical kingdom.  What struck me quite powerfully is the geography and the language that he created so meticulously and thoroughly.  The allusions to the Norse myths were
very strong if not seemingly acknowledged by the exhibit itself.