Oxford Alarm

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I felt honored to be invited recently to give a lecture at Wycliffe Hall, one of Oxford University’s historic colleges. It was a rare opportunity to impart to future leaders the best nuggets of my 35 years of experience in faith-based community development. I was billed as a veteran urban visionary who had courageously left the comforts of suburbia to live in a high-risk inner-city environment. The centuries old buildings of England’s Oxford campus were a mixture of hewn stone and brick, gray slate roofs, and cast iron drain pipes affixed to the exterior that boasted of indoor plumbing. My accommodation was a sleeping room in a meandering three story dormitory with squeaky wooden floors and a bath down the hall. My bed was quite comfortable, though I was awake well before dawn the day of my lecture, my mind a-spin with stories to inspire young hearts and minds. I decided to get my shower before the morning rush, so with soap and towel in hand I eased out of my door and crept quietly along a hall of closed doors to the bathroom. The hall light partially illuminated the dark bathroom, enough for me to see a cord hanging from the ceiling which I assumed to be the light switch. I gave it a firm yank. But instead of a light coming on, a shrill scream pierced my ears - an emergency alarm in the handicapped-equipped facility. I gave another quick pull but the horn continued its deafening squeal. Sheer panic gripped me. Instinct took over. I whirled around, beat a hasty retreat to my room, turned off the light and jumped into bed, pulling the duvet over me so that I would appear to be asleep.

In a few moments I heard footsteps and voices in the hall. Finally the screeching stopped. I lay motionless, scarcely breathing, hoping no one had seen me, hoping no ambulances and paramedics were on their way, hoping there would not be a door-to-door search for the perpetrator of this false alarm. Quiet eventually returned to the building. Slowly my respiration calmed to normal. But I did not go back to sleep. Nor did I return to the bathroom for a shower. The sink in my room would suffice. My mind, now fully alert, revisited the theme of my lecture. It would be better, I reasoned, to change it from “The Courage to Follow One’s Convictions” to something more suited to the academic environment, like “Strategies for Mixed-income Development.”

Still painfully aware, even at age 61, of my bent toward childish deceitfulness and my constant need for grace.

Bob Lupton

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