The City of Dreaming Spires: The Azusa Oxford Semester

by James L. Hedges, Ph.D., and David L. Weeks, Ph.D.

Pilgrimage and Light: The Azusa Oxford Semester

by James L. Hedges, Ph.D.

A side chapel at Keble College in Oxford, founded to honor one of the Oxford Reformers, displays Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World.” A later copy by Hunt may be seen in the North transept at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Widely recognized, the painting shows Christ in a radiant glow, knocking at a door with no latch, reflecting the image from Revelation where Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” It is meant to be inspiring, and it is.

Hunt’s famous painting reminds me of another image of light, this one the oldest motto of Oxford University and its many colleges. Dominus Illuminatio Mea, inscribed on an image of an open book with three crowns also on an heraldic shield, may be seen everywhere in Oxford, over doorways of medieval buildings, on crests, seals, official clothing, and of course, on all manner of souvenirs. It is in fact the opening clause in Latin of Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light,” an enduring reminder of Oxford’s Christian foundation on the study of God’s Word.

I am inspired by a third light image in Oxford – the Martyrs’ Memorial in the center of Magdalen Street, just around the corner from the spot where Bishops Latimer and Ridley, and later Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, were burned at the stake in 1555-56, for refusing to recant during Queen Mary’s persecution of Protestants during her brief reign. Latimer’s exhortation to Ridley as the flames consumed them became a prophecy: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.” Their memorial contains a life-size icon of each of the three martyrs in niches high above the street, a reminder of their steadfast faith. Below them, the steps surrounding the memorial provide a convenient place for tourists to begin their walk through the medieval city.

As resident director of the Azusa Oxford Semester this year, I reflect on these three reminders of Oxford’s historic importance as a center of Christian faith and of learning in relation to its competing status as a “Heritage City” and major tourist destination. Part of my challenge as director includes separating the tourist appeal from the more fundamental importance of Oxford as a place of higher learning for students participating in APU’s study-abroad term.

In response to the tourism appeal, I chose John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress as a discussion text for the Faith-Integration Symposium each week. Ironically, Bunyan’s dissenting ministry, only an hour away in Bedfordshire, was not in conformity with Oxford’s orthodoxy during the years he wrote his allegory, and his limited education would not earn respect among the Oxford learned. But Bunyan’s imaginative description of life as pilgrimage provides an important challenge for students – to avoid being merely “tourists” – and to become pilgrims, seeking a deeper spiritual meaning to their experiences here by availing themselves of the endless resources the university and city provide, and by consciously becoming part of the long tradition of believers and learners who have also passed this way. Some of this can happen in their tutorials with Oxford dons, or in their seminars on church history, C. S. Lewis or Shakespeare, or another subject. It can happen in our British Culture, History, and Society course with its 35 expert lecturers and field trips to such historic sites such as Westminster Abbey, Warwick Castle, Stonehenge, Bath, Winchester, and Portsmouth, virtually pilgrimage destinations in their own right. It can also happen when they utilize the rich resources of the Bodleian Library or one of the other hundred libraries in Oxford. It can happen as they experience Oxford the city, where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien met with the other Inklings weekly to discuss their writing, or where Tolkien persuaded Lewis to embrace Christianity as they paced Addison’s Walk in Magdalen College. It can even happen when they cram into our flat to eat and share, or when the female students come for tea and conversation with my wife, Gwen. And it can still happen as we meet for our final symposium in the Old Library of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, where John Wesley first proclaimed his “heart strangely warmed,” where John Henry Newman inspired crowds to return to the central beliefs of Christianity, where the Christian charity Oxfam was founded during World War II. Oxford is full of inspiring reminders of Christian witness – able to challenge students as it does me. We can each become a pilgrim in the same way Christiana and her companions were inspired to follow the example of Christ through part two of Pilgrim’s Progress. As associate members of Trinity or New College, our students are also encouraged to eat in the hall with other students, to attend Evensong in their college, and engage in other Christian service and worship at one of the many Oxford churches. One of these is Christ Church Cathedral, where a memorial marker in the floor just at the entrance to the nave commemorates John Locke (1632-1709). His inscription reads: “I know there is truth opposite to falsehood, that it may be found if people will, and is worth the seeking.” Locke’s rock-solid conviction would remind student pilgrims studying and living in Oxford to resolutely seek truth, to recognize and resist falsehood even here where Christianity has been challenged most recently by the local best-selling author Richard Dawkins, scientist and fellow of New College, with his polemic The God Delusion, ably answered by Oxford professor Alister McGrath’s brief treatise The Dawkins Delusion. Where better than in this historic place can our students entertain Christ, “The Light of the World,” who seeks fellowship with them? Where better can they answer Bishop Latimer’s call to light the way for others, to find their “niche” – God’s place of service for them – not seeking martyrdom, but neither content to be tourists oblivious to the fidelity represented by the bishops carved in stone elevated above them on the imposing monument? Where better, finally, can the motto Dominus Illuminatio Mea, “The Lord Is My Light,” become a life verse, in Oxford and beyond? Such is my hope for the student participants in the Azusa Oxford Semester. James Hedges, Ph.D., served in several capacities during his 33 years at APU, including professor and chair of the Department of English. His most recent post as resident director of the Azusa Oxford Semester found him living alongside his students, teaching a Shakespeare seminar, leading a weekly Faith-Integration Symposium, and assisting the administrators of the Oxford Study Abroad Programme in planning and carrying out the academic calendar, with its tutorials, lectures, and field trips. He and his wife, Gwen, also welcome students to their flat for food and conversation. All totaled, he has more than 45 years’ experience in higher education. jhedges@apu.edu Oxford: First & Last Impressions by David L. Weeks, Ph.D. The hustle and bustle of Oxford is the first thing you notice. City centre is inundated with tourists and students, clogging Oxford’s narrow medieval streets. Despite the maddening crowd, this magical city dazzles and inspires with its architectural grandeur, brilliant flowerbeds, dreaming spires, and stately lawns. Hidden treasures are everywhere, behind imposing doorways, along charming alleyways, and in tranquil cloisters; places you only discover when you live and study there.

Visiting students soon learn they tread on historic ground. From the spot where Bloody Mary burned three bishops at the stake to the track where Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile to the church where John Wesley launched the Methodist movement to the pub where Bill Clinton famously did not inhale. When strolling down High Street, picnicking in University Parks, or punting on the River Cherwell, students follow in the footsteps of prime ministers, scientists, and poets.

Initially, day-to-day living in Oxford has many surprises for students. For instance, there is the language. It is rightly said that England and America are two countries divided by a common language. Americans expect to hear about the loo, the lift, and the lorry, but are surprised to hear everyday usage of posh, cheeky, rubbish, dodgy, and straightaway. The British say gobsmack instead of amazed, redundant instead of laid-off. They go to a surgery when sick and get prescriptions from a chemist. Their cars have boots and bonnets. In a culture that prizes understatement and irony, “not bad” means good and “quite good” means bad. Mastering the accents and the vocabulary is a first impression not soon forgotten. With those first impressions forever etched in their memory, students also leave Oxford imprinted in other ways. Most notably, they depart with confidence and perspective – confidence that comes from succeeding in the world’s most demanding academic environment and perspective that comes from having seen the world through the eyes of others.

Confidence is boosted when students encounter world-renowned scholars, flourish in Oxford’s trademark tutorials, and master the complexities of the world-famous Bodleian Research Library. Such experiences at the world’s oldest English-speaking university inevitably bolster self-confidence and make an indelible imprint on students. It is also eye-opening to discover the English perspective on the world. The United Kingdom is a nation obsessed with history; they understand and prize their past in a way that we often do not. They study and protect their past, always thinking about how it shapes the present. Having scrutinized the rise and fall of their own empire, their reflection on that experience informs their perspective on the United States today. The United States, today’s sole super power, preoccupies the British psyche. They talk incessantly about the United States, which, from the English perspective, is much like an adolescent: rambunctious, headstrong, and immature. They harbor a particular dislike for American politics and politicians, but they also think our values are skewed and our culture impoverished. Their largely unflattering anti-Americanism, however, is tinged with admiration. They wish that we would be like them and that they could be like us. Their dislike of America is only exceeded by their fascination with it. For visiting students, this critical perspective makes a lasting impression. Having encountered the uniqueness of Oxford, students also bring home lasting impressions of America. Patriotism and plenitude, as well as religious vibrancy, are things we take for granted, but they are not found in modern Oxford – a reminder that the United States is blessed in many ways. David L. Weeks, Ph.D., is dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He and his wife, Debbie, along with their children, Christopher and Mitchell, lived in Oxford for two years, directing the Azusa Oxford Semester from 2004-06. Oxford: Testimonials This has been one of the most amazing semesters that I have had in college because it has allowed me to experience things that I would never be able to learn at home. Most significantly, I think it is important to realize that this experience will impact you and allow you to grow not only intellectually, but also emotionally and culturally. Though England speaks the same language, there are still many differences which you experience and overcome, and I know that I have grown tremendously, not only through my studies, but also through my everyday interactions with tutors, students, people in the grocery store, at church, even with the homeless man that I walked past on the street. I have learned to be more open with people, and have grown in my understanding of myself and of others, through experiencing different cultures and mindsets in those around me. I am much more flexible, and much more open to exploring new ideas, which I am sure will help me in the future, in whatever career I choose to pursue, but initially in graduate school, because I have learned to be a more effective reader, writer, and learner, and have sharpened my critical-thinking skills through my tutorials.

Katie Schroeder ’07, History and English

In a sense you really have to stand on your own here, because even if your friends are with you and struggling through it as well, it is an intensely individual struggle to complete your own work and succeed. You can’t fall back on anyone else. They can be there to help you and support you, but in the end it is you and your prayers and patience that get you through.

Being on your own in another country, even a relatively similar one such as England, really forces you to be self-reliant and independent in a lot of ways. Other study abroad experiences have helped foster independence, but Oxford in particular – the way it is set up – really forces you to take control of everything, from getting to the library to buying your groceries to cooking your own food. I have liked the freedom that it allows. Having tested yourself against Oxford tutors and felt that you have succeeded is a very empowering feeling. I feel good, much more confident about pursuing higher degrees. I’m ready to keep learning for the rest of my life, whether it is part of my job or not. Amy Van Gundy ’07, English

Oxford: First & Last Impressions

by David L. Weeks, Ph.D.

The hustle and bustle of Oxford is the first thing you notice. City centre is inundated with tourists and students, clogging Oxford’s narrow medieval streets. Despite the maddening crowd, this magical city dazzles and inspires with its architectural grandeur, brilliant flowerbeds, dreaming spires, and stately lawns. Hidden treasures are everywhere, behind imposing doorways, along charming alleyways, and in tranquil cloisters; places you only discover when you live and study there.

Visiting students soon learn they tread on historic ground. From the spot where Bloody Mary burned three bishops at the stake to the track where Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile to the church where John Wesley launched the Methodist movement to the pub where Bill Clinton famously did not inhale. When strolling down High Street, picnicking in University Parks, or punting on the River Cherwell, students follow in the footsteps of prime ministers, scientists, and poets.

Initially, day-to-day living in Oxford has many surprises for students. For instance, there is the language. It is rightly said that England and America are two countries divided by a common language. Americans expect to hear about the loo, the lift, and the lorry, but are surprised to hear everyday usage of posh, cheeky, rubbish, dodgy, and straightaway. The British say gobsmack instead of amazed, redundant instead of laid-off. They go to a surgery when sick and get prescriptions from a chemist. Their cars have boots and bonnets. In a culture that prizes understatement and irony, “not bad” means good and “quite good” means bad. Mastering the accents and the vocabulary is a first impression not soon forgotten. With those first impressions forever etched in their memory, students also leave Oxford imprinted in other ways. Most notably, they depart with confidence and perspective – confidence that comes from succeeding in the world’s most demanding academic environment and perspective that comes from having seen the world through the eyes of others. Confidence is boosted when students encounter world-renowned scholars, flourish in Oxford’s trademark tutorials, and master the complexities of the world-famous Bodleian Research Library. Such experiences at the world’s oldest English-speaking university inevitably bolster self-confidence and make an indelible imprint on students. It is also eye-opening to discover the English perspective on the world. The United Kingdom is a nation obsessed with history; they understand and prize their past in a way that we often do not. They study and protect their past, always thinking about how it shapes the present. Having scrutinized the rise and fall of their own empire, their reflection on that experience informs their perspective on the United States today. The United States, today’s sole super power, preoccupies the British psyche. They talk incessantly about the United States, which, from the English perspective, is much like an adolescent: rambunctious, headstrong, and immature. They harbor a particular dislike for American politics and politicians, but they also think our values are skewed and our culture impoverished. Their largely unflattering anti-Americanism, however, is tinged with admiration. They wish that we would be like them and that they could be like us. Their dislike of America is only exceeded by their fascination with it. For visiting students, this critical perspective makes a lasting impression. \Having encountered the uniqueness of Oxford, students also bring home lasting impressions of America. Patriotism and plenitude, as well as religious vibrancy, are things we take for granted, but they are not found in modern Oxford – a reminder that the United States is blessed in many ways. David L. Weeks, Ph.D., is dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He and his wife, Debbie, along with their children, Christopher and Mitchell, lived in Oxford for two years, directing the Azusa Oxford Semester from 2004-06. Oxford: Testimonials This has been one of the most amazing semesters that I have had in college because it has allowed me to experience things that I would never be able to learn at home. Most significantly, I think it is important to realize that this experience will impact you and allow you to grow not only intellectually, but also emotionally and culturally. Though England speaks the same language, there are still many differences which you experience and overcome, and I know that I have grown tremendously, not only through my studies, but also through my everyday interactions with tutors, students, people in the grocery store, at church, even with the homeless man that I walked past on the street. I have learned to be more open with people, and have grown in my understanding of myself and of others, through experiencing different cultures and mindsets in those around me. I am much more flexible, and much more open to exploring new ideas, which I am sure will help me in the future, in whatever career I choose to pursue, but initially in graduate school, because I have learned to be a more effective reader, writer, and learner, and have sharpened my critical-thinking skills through my tutorials.

Katie Schroeder ’07,
History and English In a sense you really have to stand on your own here, because even if your friends are with you and struggling through it as well, it is an intensely individual struggle to complete your own work and succeed. You can’t fall back on anyone else. They can be there to help you and support you, but in the end it is you and your prayers and patience that get you through.

Being on your own in another country, even a relatively similar one such as England, really forces you to be self-reliant and independent in a lot of ways. Other study abroad experiences have helped foster independence, but Oxford in particular – the way it is set up – really forces you to take control of everything, from getting to the library to buying your groceries to cooking your own food. I have liked the freedom that it allows. Having tested yourself against Oxford tutors and felt that you have succeeded is a very empowering feeling. I feel good, much more confident about pursuing higher degrees. I’m ready to keep learning for the rest of my life, whether it is part of my job or not. Amy Van Gundy ’07, English