Lest we forget,
we will speak their names and hold them in our hearts.
Lest we forget,
we will pray with those who remember.
Lest we forget,
we will seek peace and bring hope.
I hadn’t realised how long ago I’d last blogged anything. It’s not that I’ve been overwhelmed with work and it’s not that nothing interesting has been happening. But nevertheless, I haven’t felt terribly inspired to blog about anything. Somehow writing about the ‘normality’ of life seems to be contrary to what blogging is about.
When I started probation, I was asked what I hoped to get out of it. My stated aim (and it hasn’t really changed) was to get into the rhythm of ministry; to experience a ‘normal’ week (or several) so that I got a sense of what needed juggling, what needed prioritising and where, if anywhere, there was ‘slack’ time. I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced the true reality of that yet and yet there have been pressure points and slack times that, only with hindsight, could be seen for what they were.
Over the last fortnight we’ve been moving the contents of the loft around. Initially the loft was to be cleared for fitting new insulation. So the contents (and there were a lot) were moved to the garage. Then the garage had to be cleared to accommodate a birthday party. All-in-all about 5 days of moving and re-arranging stuff and, all the while, keeping up with worship prep, meetings and visits. So, a bit of juggling experience that more or less worked.
What didn’t work so well though was dealing with a distraction during that. I was preaching a week past Sunday and was fairly sure in my head what the topic was going to be. And then the Chilean miners’ rescue hit the headlines and I felt pressure to respond and include that in some way. Ultimately it skewed the sermon topic and I ended up approaching things very differently to accommodate it, even though it was only a passing reference in the end. But I was unsettled before the service and this was noted by my supervisor. In the end the sermon worked well enough and seemed to be well received, but I wasn’t happy about it. In hindsight the distractions of the loft move combined with a perceived pressure to be totally topical left me feeling that I had not ‘juggled’ well at all.
However, it will be interesting to see how that all pans out in the next 7 weeks or so. In that time I will be preaching 4 times, including taking a full service once and doing just over two weeks of pastoral cover. Add to the mix the usual round of meetings, visits and other stuff and perhaps that will be much more indicative of ‘normal service’.
It will also take me hurtling towards the end of my fourth month in probation. I’ve already mentioned that the time seems to be vanishing rather too quickly and there is already a sense of staring into a growing chasm of inexperience. The natural reaction is to say, “But I haven’t done anything like that! I need more experience!”
But I guess the real benefit of probation is not experiencing the extra-ordinary, but rather getting to grips with the ordinary so that, in many respects, the routine becomes just that – routine. When juggling the everyday tasks becomes second nature then one has lees to worry about when the extra-ordinary hits the desk or the inbox.
When viewed from that perspective, that chasm of inexperience is somewhat less daunting. There are bridges across is that are the routine, the mundane and the do-able. It doesn’t mean, of course, that the extra-ordinary is not challenging and it doesn’t mean that some juggling balls or spinning plates won’t be dropped from time to time. It does mean that normal service will resume with much less of a hiccup than it might.
As someone whose job is ‘words’ it should mean that I am more careful than many about how they are used and, indeed, which ones I use. I can get very picky about words – especially theological ones. I dislike ‘sloppy’ words which get one into a fankle when speaking of God. I dislike inaccurate words which are used incorrectly. Unfortunately, I am not immune from falling into the same pitfalls.
I recently wrote about the BBC programme, ‘A Church in Crisis?’. In that article I picked up on the issue of secularism, even suggesting that a fellow blogger had mistakenly promulgated a misconception. Peter very kindly replied to my article but his comment was caught by an over-zealous spam filter and didn’t appear until he questioned me about it. He questioned my interpretation of secularism and suggested that in its promotion of egalitarianism it serves a very useful function; undermining power structures (especially religious ones) and promoting individual control.
Peter’s usage is, I would suggest, more true to the root understanding of secularism – the separation of church and state. This is a part of the definition of secularism found on the Secular Society‘s website:
Secularism supports the individual against the pressure of the group and the individual conscience against the dogma of the group.
I can’t help but think that these are words which the church could easily get behind and endorse. And yet, here is the problem with words. They accumulate baggage that ends up creating division which isn’t present in the core definition. Or perhaps, one might say that words are twisted to mean whatever we need them to mean in our own context.
Secularism is one such. From a Christian perspective, it is often used almost pejoratively – the implicit threat it contains to the religious establishment turns it into something tainted. Yet, one cannot deny that it is a word which has been seized by many as a banner or slogan around which to rally in opposition to religion.
What’s the answer then? At worst, one falls into the post-modern malaise of having define one’s terms every time. It is, undoubtedly, necessary to separate the ‘word’ from the inherited baggage at times. Yet it is often the ‘baggage’ which gives a word its richness of meaning. The problem with words is that they’re all we have to explain things by. Yet, on the other hand, they’re not all we have to show Christianity by. We may be followers of the Word, but we are known as such by our actions.
I’m using bits of Harry Reid’s book, Outside Verdict, for some of the introductory background for my dissertation. I came across this piece in which he quotes Telegraph journalist Michael Henderson (Monday commentary: 19th August 2001) commenting on a typical Friday night in Leeds. It’s a pretty biting piece and I wonder if things have improved any in many parts of the country.
Leeds, on Friday night, offered a microcosm of a society that has lost its soul. When you had picked your way past the drunks in the streets near the ground you could visit one of several dozen bars in the middle of the city, all amplified noise and tat, each with its own heavily-muscled “doormen”.
Awash with money, and yet ugly beyond belief, our towns represent the landscape of modern England, and things are getting worse. How can any person who truly cares about this land not be disturbed by the vulgarity and unthinking hedonism of our young people, who are, without argument, the most feckless, the most aggressive, the most stupid in Europe? What’s more, they wear their ignorance as a badge of honour…
Everything is trivial, and disposable, and available for “the people”, with their diminished expectations. Those people have money, pots and pots of it, but there is no spiritual dimension to their lives. They have been neutered by junk television, junk newspapers, junk food, junk beer, junk pop music, junk advertising, junk films. A kind of affluent poverty exists, in which nobody feels anything except a permanent boredom.
It’s been almost a month since I last blogged anything (and then, only briefly). I’m not on placement at the moment, so there are fewer things to reflect on in that regard; I took a break from the academic work to catch up on some house maintenance that has been sadly neglected over the last few years; I’ve been on holiday with the family (photos can be found here); I’ve even found the time to read some non-theological books.
I suppose I could have blogged on some of these things, but then I didn’t really feel any great urge to do so – a bit of a break from blogging as well, I guess. Stewart has been covering the issue of resting and priorities with recent posts on ‘always available‘ and ‘busyness‘ – a useful reminder that we need, and benefit from, taking time out from our routine and the demands that are placed upon us. It’s also not been an issue of having nothing to have a rant about (OK, I admit it, I love a good rant) – there have been numerous things which have got me grumping (mostly associated with misrepresenting the Church of Scotland, misunderstanding the Reformation(s), and generally being utterly contradictory (that’ll be church services then). But again, I haven’t felt the need to rush off and blog about it (well, I was tempted, but really couldn’t pluck up the enthusiasm).
But perhaps the main purpose and benefit from this blogging/academic/placement interlude has been to clear the decks somewhat in anticipation of a panicked and pressured dissertation-writing drive. I’ve put off the writing for as long as could get away with as ideas and thoughts and readings all bubbled around in my head. But now it’s time to get that lot down on paper and see where it all ends up. So, chances are, this is not really an end to the blogging interlude, but it’s certainly an end to the timeout from academic obligations.
If you haven’t happened upon it yet, let me recommend at eighty one. Avril writes very movingly and powerfully about her journey alongside her elderly father as he (as they both) come to terms with his vascular dementia.
At yesterday’s candidates’ training session (MTN) we were discussing the difficulties faced when visiting elderly people in care homes. It can be easy to forget that the disconnected faces and the disruptive outbursts are only a snapshot of the person here and now. It’s easy to forget that they have a history, a family, a life. We may never get to hear their stories and so may be utterly unaware of their past. And yet that is what we need to hold in mind during a visit.
This is where Avril’s writing is both profound and necessary. We become privileged sharers in the story and through that sharing come to see others as having a story which, though we may not share it, we acknowledge it before God by valuing our time spent with them and in our prayers for them.
Last week I was in 121 at a seminar/conference thing organised by the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council. The topic was “Moral Maze on Virtualisation and Society” and was, ostensibly, a initial discussion into the morals and ethics of such phenomena as social networking and online role-play/immersion activities. The discussion topics were billed as follows:
- How has virtualisation impacted on notions of identity?
- How has virtualisation impacted on our values as human beings?
- How has increased connectivity impacted on the nature of our organisations?
- How has increased connectivity and virtualisation impacted on our ability to develop meaningful communities?
- Is a regulatory framework desirable?
What are the theological implications of the changes being brought to individuals, to society and to organisations by increased connectivity and virtualisation?
This is all good stuff and very relevant in our technology-oriented world.
I’ve been struggling with an essay for the last couple of weeks or so. Not that I don’t know what to write or that I’m not interested in the subject, but simply that I am struggling to motivate myself to get on with it. Part of the problem is a busy time on placement. I don’t mean that I’m being over-loaded, it’s just that the placement work has been far more interesting and not merely as a ‘work-avoidance’ scheme, but genuinely interesting and challenging. And so I have probably agreed to do more than I ought and have probably spent more time on placement work than is required.
Ultimately, of course, this is all to my benefit. It’s the ‘real’ part of of ministry preparation. But I still have the academic stuff to do, although, technically speaking, I am as qualified as I need to be. Once again it’s not a lack of interest in the academic that’s a problem. I love studying theology. For me it’s the underpinning of who I am as a ‘minister’. It goes hand-in-hand with Biblical interpretation and it’s the dialogue between the two that defines my faith and its outworkings. For me, pastoral/practical theology is a result of these two things rather than being a more intimate part of the loop. Of course the pastoral and practical have to inform, or at least question, the Bible/theology ‘loop’, but it it those two which define whether our works are specifically Christian or simply philanthropic (although it’s an interesting argument over the distinction, especially if one is a Christian).
Anyway, this placement has, as placements do, brought the pastoral/practical to the fore and I’ve been busier with these than in any of my previous placements. And the encouraging thing is that as I engage more and more in these, I become more and more interested and excited and committed to them. I suppose that if you take a step back and have a more objective view, you could say that the third placement is the time of moving away from the academic and is the preparation for moving into probation and, ultimately, full-time ministry. So I guess it’s no surprise that this should be happening.
In a sense this gives the lie to the blog post title. Progress is being made in a particularly crucial aspect of my preparation for ministry. It’s just not happening in the area that I am obliged to do as well. Maybe in that there is a greater metaphor for ministry. There will be aspects of it that will excite and enthuse and these are the areas we will naturally wish to focus our energy and attention on. However, there will be areas of ‘obligation’, and they may even be areas we are interested in, but that simply don’t hold our attention as they should. Finding the motivation to do them is important to stop them piling up – they will need done sometime.
If anyone has found the answer to this, I (and the rest of the world, I suspect) would love to hear it.
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Sometimes I wonder if this whole process of training and placements and calling is worth it. Don’t get me wrong. I am in no doubt about my call, or my faith, but sometimes it seems that life would be so much simpler (and just as interesting, before anyone suggests otherwise) if you could just get on with life, working, having an income, a social life or even just a more ‘settled’ home life.
And “worth it” implies some kind of future reward, or better times. I’m not so naive to think that life will suddenly become wonderful when I end up in my own parish. That, judging from what I hear, is just the beginning of a whole new set of ‘challenges’.
I guess what I’m saying is that in the intensity of it all (and it is intense), it’s easy to overlook other things, other people. Little things cause a lot of friction, because they get into the apparently smooth-running machine which is the routine of study and preparation. And yet, it should, in a sense, be the other way round. ‘Life’ was there before studies and so study is the intruder, the grit in the life machine.
Sometimes it’s necessary to stop for a bit of maintenance and to gain some perspective. It’s a shame that it’s the ‘grit’ that forces a halt. Much better to have planned maintenance.
Sometimes I do wonder if it’s ‘worth it’. I need to recognise that that is not the advance warning signal, but the emergency stop on the machine.
Time for a maintenance schedule to be put in place.