Oct 012009
 

It occurred to me that I hadn’t blogged for a while and indeed the last one was over a week ago. But that last blog post contains the root of the lack of blogging – the usual step change in activity when a new semester starts.

I’m also conscious that, in previous years, my semester-time blogging is often dominated by whatever theologian is occupying my thoughts at the time. Usually this is simply a way of getting their ideas straight in my own head – the by-product being that I inflict my ramblings on the wider world (well, those who choose to read them anyway). So, in keeping with tradition, it looks like it’ll be Barth this semseter. And that’s where the catch-up comes in. We had approximately 40 pages ‘left over’ from last week’s class. That meant that we had 110 pages to do for this week. Amazingly I got through it (more or less – to within a few pages anyway) and feel as though I have actually ‘caught up’. The slightly bizarre aspect to this week’s reading though was the language. I could actually hear it being spoken! You can’t spend four years studying Divinity at New College and not be exposed to Barth and so as I read I could hear echoes of the words Barth uses from past lectures (and all delivered in an Irish accent).

The side-effect of having churned through so much reading is that I feel my brain is back in gear again (to a degree) and so future reading assignments don’t feel just so daunting. It’s also helped by starting to get the measure of the ‘Death’ course and realising that it’s not going to be onerous.

There has been catch-up in another sense as well. At the beginning of the week I got an email from Andrew, my supervisor in Brussels. He was popping over for a training course and we managed to get together for an hour or so as he passed through Edinburgh. As is often the case we ended speaking about people and realised that the old adage that “it’s a small world” is so very true. It also made me realise (upon reflection) that the links we make at university, on placement and just generally through the church, will stay with us and that that ‘small world’ can often be our source of support and encouragement. It provides the breadth of experience that we can bounce ideas off; it is a source of ‘corrective’ voices when we get too carried away with our own ideas and lose sight of the bigger picture; it is the community that provides the sense of being part of a bigger plan, a bigger ‘work’.

So, duty done – blogging caught up with – but, as always, in the ‘duties’, the opportunity to keep reflecting.

Sep 222009
 

I was in uni for the first of my classes today. It’s one I’m auditing and it was just the introductory class so nothing too strenuous. However, mild panic has set in already. I bumped into a fellow postgrad who mentioned that there is an initial reading to do for the Barth Church Dogmatics course which starts tomorrow. I haven’t been signed up to courses yet – a problem with changing my allocated supervisor – so I was unaware of this. I guess I should have realised and contacted the lecturer, but I didn’t. Anyway, I now have 80 pages of Barth’s Church Dogmatics to read for 11 o’clock tomorrow morning.

One moment of levity – for anyone who remembers Christian Theology 1 lectures – it took all of 15 minutes this morning before phenomenology and cherry trees were mentioned. Couldn’t help but smile.

Sep 152009
 

I’m now officially a postgrad – and I only had to queue for about an hour into the bargain. I thought I was being smart too. I decided to go in for registration opening at 9.15 this morning. After all, what right-minded student is up at that time during freshers’ week? Oh how wrong I was! Massive queues first thing so headed to New College for a coffee after being advised to come back maybe at 3pm when it might be quieter. Couldn’t really hang around until then so headed back to Adam House just before 11am, queued, paid my fees, got a new card, verified attendance and was back in Rainy Hall at New College just after noon for lunch. I’ve even got my card validated for 24hr entry to the postgrad study area – like I’ll be using that (well, maybe I might as deadlines loom).

Sep 092009
 

I had a meeting with my academic supervisor today and most helpful it was too. We chatted through various possible approaches to my research project and in the general mish-mash of thoughts and conversation a few ideas began to crystallise.

First up is the idea of language or how we express ideas. This is in relation to heaven and hell. We either get too bogged down in the images of angel, harps and clouds set against demons, pointy tails and lakes of sulphur or it becomes entirely too nebulous and becomes this world a gazillion times better (or worse). But, more particularly, how do we use language that retains the ‘solidity’ of the Christian theological tradition but allows interaction and engagement with the existentialist musings of postmodernism?

Associated with this is the language of death – again tied up with existentialism and issues of ontology. It’ll probably draw from the ‘Death: Perspectives on Thanatology and Eschatology’ course, but may well follow a more independent direction. This is still a woolly one that I haven’t quite decided about yet.

These two make up two thirds of the small (3-4000 words) supervised research essays. The third one will, in all likelihood, draw from the Barth course I intend doing. In all probability I will focus on ‘judgement’ for this one. It’s the final piece of my eschatological jigsaw and Barth is as good a theologian as any to engage with on the subject.

The big problem was always the main dissertation. Not that I couldn’t find something to write about, but rather focussing on a particular area. There’s much that could be addressed when you come form a revised eschatological perspective. I could talk about the language of prayer; or hymnody; or mission and evangelism; of social justice and causes; or any number of areas affecting how we ‘do’ church. But one idea that floated out of the discussions was again the interaction with postmodernism and, in particular, engaging with the Emerging Church movement. I’ve had a bit of a go in the past at EC, suggesting that, rather than confront postmodernism, it colludes with it. I think that inaugurated eschatology and all the associated ‘revisions’ of how we speak of heaven, hell, judgement, resurrection and just generally ‘being’ and ‘doing’ church can speak into this area in a very fruitful and meaningful way. I believe it gives us a vocabulary that steps out of ‘tradition’ and addresses many of the concerns surrounding ethics and morality in the ‘now’ but also retaining the ‘hope’ inherent in a future-looking eschatology. Still a bit woolly, but heading in the right direction.

So, nothing too heavy in that lot then 😉 And when I’ve solved all of the church’s theological language problems I’ll maybe have a cup of tea.

Sep 072009
 

I’m coming to the conclusion that, when it comes to academic study, I’m a bit weird. I have a meeting with my academic supervisor on Wednesday and I thought I’d have a look through the course lists to see what I might want to do or audit.

It had previously been suggested that I take one taught course and use the essay from it as one of my research essays. So, the most likely candidate for this is the ‘Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics’ course. Strangely, despite my theological affinity with Barth (according to a questionnaire on Facebook – so it must be right) I’ve never studied him in any depth. What I have studied though I have quite liked.

So, anyway, that’s not so weird I guess. But then I had a look through some of the undergraduate courses (how elitist – I’m a postgrad) to see what might be worth auditing. Well, given the basis of my research, how could I possibly ignore a course called ‘Death: Perspectives on Thanatology and Eschatology’? I recall seeing it when I was in third year but it didn’t fit well with my timetable. So now’s my chance to do it. The lecturer is a Roman Catholic priest whose parish is in Falkirk (ish). I had him as a lecturer in first year. He’s good, when you can figure out what he’s on about – he’s a philosopher. Lot’s of talk of cherry trees, dogs and true love over the frozen peas in Tesco. Don’t worry if that’s left you confused – it’s the same reaction the class had at the time. – but it’s obviously stuck in the memory.

Anyway, Barth and Death, the perfect combination. If I sound thoroughly depressed over the next wee while, you’ll know why.

Aug 142009
 

During the second semester of 4th year at New College, a promo video was being made. The final result can be viewed on YouTube. I can be caught briefly during the graduation ‘do’ – back row, extreme left. But my Dad actually features more than I do. Same event, at 9:07 – he’s the silver-haired guy on the left scowling at the digital camera he’s holding.

Apart from the obvious “stars”, sneaky peeks of Baz (2:25), Iona (2:25), David (7:43), Gillian, (7:46) and Will (7:55 – proof that he attended at least one lecture).

Oh, and don’t let let Larry (dramatic pause) Hurtado’s nice guy image fool you. He’s harsh! I only got a C for his Biblical Interpretation class and it still hurts!

Jul 052009
 

Graduation day started off lovely and dry and turned into a major washout when the rain came tipping down in time for the end of the ceremony. But apart from that, I am now John Orr BD (Hons). All the photos I have have family in them so I don’t want to post them here, but, most fortuitously, Stewart spotted me and kindly sent the photo he’d snapped. So here I am, kilted, gowned, hooded (and at this time, still dry). Click the image for a bigger version (if you can stand it).

DSCF1959-JohnOrr

Jul 022009
 

I’m back home for a couple of days. I graduate tomorrow (Friday) and I’m not looking forward to being kilted and gowned if the weather is as hot and humid as it is today. I still hold to the vain hope that despite all the ‘hospitality’ in Brussels I can still get my kilt on without ‘sooking in’ too much. If you read reports in the Scottish news of someone being clobbered by a flying belt buckle, that’ll have been my fault.

It’s also great to see the family again – Skype just isn’t quite the same. Plus, the girls have even offered to make the dinner tonight. Result!

Jun 182009
 

Is what I’ll be doing after the summer.

The arrival of a new member of staff at New College means that there will now be someone available to supervise my Masters research project… and more to the point, they have agreed to do just that.

So, a Masters by Reasearch will be happening. I still have a lot of detail to sort out but at least I have a willing supervisor and the broad outline of a research project.