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.

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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.

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.

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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 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!