Nov 282010
 

Friday was graduation day as I received my MTh at the ceremony in the McEwan Hall. Strange to think that it marks the end of 5 years of formal study. Part of me would like to do something else academically, but the realistic part of me says that there will be more than enough to do when parish ministry hits for real. Nevertheless it still feels as though there is a ‘gap’ at the moment. Who knows, maybe some other little project will come along in due course.

Anyway, here’s a photo of me in my finery. I’ve ordered a hood but it hasn’t arrived yet, so I’ll have to wait to get fully togged up one Sunday.

DSC01948.JPG

Aug 202010
 

Five years of university approach their end today as I head to New College to hand in my Masters dissertation. Odd to think that five years of education might be condensed into 44 pages of text. Of course, that’s just a very small part of it, but I guess every word is influenced in some way by that learning process.

Not through any sense of vanity or high regard for my work, but simply because some gracious people have expressed an interest, I’ve uploaded my masters research work. There are three research essays and the small dissertation. All-in-all around 26000 words of my ramblings as I tried to get my head around Emerging Church and how the Church of Scotland was and is interacting with it.

I was commenting to a friend that the days of struggling to find 1500 words for an essay in first year seem a very long way removed from churning out 15000 words for a dissertation, but the time has disappeared in a flash and I’m sure it will not be slowing down any as I head into probation in just over a week’s time.

Maybe I should have entitled the post, “And so it continues.”

ps – my thanks to Alan, Fiona, Lindsay and Maggie for being kind enough to proof my dissertation. I can only apologise for putting you through that.

Jul 192010
 

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.

Jun 172010
 

IMG_4031.JPGFrom the 10th to the 14th of June, I had the pleasure of spending time in Geneva with other candidates and some staff from New College. The trip was part of a rolling series of visits which include Rome and Jerusalem. I skipped the Rome trip last year as I was in Brussels. The trips are intended to be educational as well as fun and help set both the academic work and general Christian understanding in a broader world context.

Geneva, of course, was one of the wellsprings of the Protestant Reformation, famous largely, but not exclusively, as the place where Calvin taught and preached. But Geneva is also home to major world organisations: the UN, World Health Organisation, the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNHCR and many others. The group had the pleasure of visiting the World Council of Churches to get a flavour of the work they do and their vision for world Christianity.

We also took the chance to visit the cathedral, including the Sunday morning service, and we were able to worship with the Church of Scotland congregation in the Auditoire de Calvin which sits just to one side of the square occupied by the cathedral. Nikki and I also had the privilege of leading our evening devotions in the Auditoire on Friday evening. She’s written about it here and I still can’t quite get over how some silly ideas came together in the way they did. I’m still not convinced that Calvin would have entirely approved, but it was so very appropriate for the occasion.

Add to that some sight-seeing time, an excellent art gallery and some great company and it was an excellent long weekend. I’ll post some more reflections on specific parts of the trip in due course. My photo album from the trip can be found here.

Mar 012010
 

I had a very useful discussion last week with my academic supervisor. Very shortly I will have two research essays due and a presentation to do for what my dissertation will be about. All well and good if I knew where I was going, which is where the discussion ended up being very useful.

Continue reading »

Jan 202010
 

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.

Jan 122010
 

I’ve been working through some reading for my first research essay and it’s starting to take shape in my head. Just need it to start taking shape on paper now. Anyway, it’s part of my overall investigations into the theology of emerging church (my research direction wandered off at a tangent and is now heading in a somewhat different direction from its original intent). This initial research subject is about ‘unity’. Its direction is somewhat set by having to consider the topic with more than a passing nod to Barth (as I opted to do the Barth course for credit rather than audit it). But that’s not a problem. Barth has more than enough to say on the subject of church unity.

Continue reading »

Nov 252009
 

The last ‘proper’ Barth class was today and, whilst the readings have often been heavy going, their challenge to faith and theology is very clear. There have been many quotable parts, but my particular favourite came with the readings for today. From Church Dogmatics IV/3, the context is Barth challenging how the church (or more accurately, the faith community) sees itself in the world. He has already challenged the notion that the faith community must hold itself apart from the world. Rather is must be utterly ‘for’ the world whilst holding on to its distinctiveness (holiness). Anyway, on the back of that comes an enormously challenging section on what being ‘for’ the world, and having solidarity with the world, means. He says:

Solidarity with the world means that those who are genuinely pious approach the children of the world as such, that those who are genuinely righteous are not ashamed to sit down with the unrighteous as friends, that those who are genuinely wise do not hesitate to seem to be fools among fools, and that those who are genuinely holy are not too good or irreproachable to go down “into hell” in a very secular fashion.

Barth CD IV/3, p774

Nov 122009
 

Not Simpson (Though him as well), but Karl Barth. I’m even beginning to regret avoiding his theology for my four years as an undergrad (although the truth is that at New College, it’s impossible to avoid Barth if you do any systematics courses). Why do I like him? Because when he writes, you get the impression he’s still working stuff out and it’s the act of getting it on paper that helps it coalesce.

Today’s class was a starter on Barth’s ecclesiology and it focused on the creedal statement, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” That was interesting enough and, in fact, inspired my likely essay for the course. But what was fascinating was a section on who was a ‘true’ Christian. There was the very thorough consideration of all the possible ‘marks’ of a true Christian and ultimately Barth’s deliberations seemed to come down to – “we don’t know”. And his advice? Get on with being a ‘true’ Christian yourself and just assume everyone else you’re concerned about is as well.

He had pretty much the same to say about church disunity. Having utterly savaged the ‘scandal’ of church division he concludes, pretty much, the same sort of thing. As a community of believers, get on with being just that and worry more about your witness to non-believers than trying to get other churches ‘back on track’.

Barth obviously used considerably more words to say that than I have, but it was his way of covering all the possible ‘get-out’ clauses and excuses. It’s fascinating to read a theologian who almost seems happy to stop at the ‘I don’t know’ place and to practically hear his thoughts as he struggles with the implications of where his ideas are going.

Oct 212009
 

I had a very fruitful meeting with my academic supervisor today. It wasn’t intended as anything other than a bit of a catch up, but it turned out to be a most useful boost. I know that I’m only 5 weeks into the Masters course, but I was already feeling that I was lacking focus and direction. I knew where one 5k-word essay was coming from but the others were still somewhat vague (nebulous even and at risk of ending up in a quagmire). I’m not saying that the revised track is better focused, but it does seem to fit well and is a bit more interesting than what I had planned originally. Continue reading »