I dunno, in the last two weeks I've had to replace my radio alarm clock (estimated at 30 years old, I've had it 26 years having swapped my trannie for it (with my Dad) when I went to university in 1981; I think my Mum still has the trannie somewhere...) and my kettle (19.5 years old). They just don't make stuff to last anymore! How can high street spending be down when I have bought not one but two consumer items in under a month?!
As Others See Us
I have a couple of Google alerts (and a couple of Zetoc ones which are undoutbedly more scholarly) set up to let me know when things appear that ostensibly might just relate to my research work.
Today one popped up that says this....
"Every evil that Spurgeon saw came to pass. Toleration of error eventually put error in control. Today the British Baptist Union has virtually no positive spiritual impact."
The Baptist Story David Potter, PhD, online
Setting aside that the writer clearly doesn't even know the correct title of our august body, let alone that Connexion is spelled with an 'x' in relation to the New Connexion, it is a pretty swingeing indictment of a fairly large tranche of 21st century British Christianity. It would seem that our lack of fundamentalism is what makes us so mad, bad and dangerous to know. At least now I know we're all heretics, I feel so much happier.
I'm sure Dr Potter is a very nice man, sincere and devout, and his opinions of us are, of course, for him to form, but "virtually no positive spiritual input"? I don't think so.
The Last Day of the Year
Another year over already. How scary. How inevitable. How relevant? What stands out? What is best forgotten? (And how many times will I rewrite this post before publishing it?!)
I think it's safe to say that I end the year feeling a lot more positive than I have done during it. I know that at times I've been very grumpy and aggressive and that the wrong people have borne the brunt of that. They know who they are, and whilst I thank you for being good friends, I'm sorry.
The talks with D+1 and the mashinations of the local council's planning department absorbed a lot of time and energy with little or nothing to show for it. As I type, I have the latest set of architects drawings on my desk and we hope for another submission in January/Febrary 2008... Whilst we continue to have a closer friendship with D+1, it is already clear that the joint services are becoming less well attended than they were during the 'courtship' phase. For church folk all this has proved quite demoralising and frustrating, and it is continually clear that many of them just do not 'get' the financial side of any of this.
More positively - much more positively - our outreach activities have continued to grow and flourish. My rough estimate is that during 2007 we have had contact with at least 500 people through different endeavours. It has been hard work pushing things along, and at times has felt that it would be so much easier just to do everything myself, but I think that almost everyone in our church has been involved in at least one outreach event as a 'helper.' No one now thinks it odd to do 'church' in school, pub or public park. Result!
Pastorally it has been the usual mix, though this year quite a few 'massive' things to deal with - the sort that cannot be shared and a few that have to go with me to my grave. Folk have been good at accepting that I can't tell them things, but if only they'd tell each other they would be surprised at how much common ground they'd find. On the 'up side' were the two weddings, an older couple in January and a young cross-cultural couple in August. Each of these was a wonderful occasion.
Some of my non-minister friends think I do nothing but church - and reading this back I undertsand why! Life beyond church is, hmm, theology! Well, part time doctoral work anyway. To be honest this hasn't had the time it deserves, and I am suitably pleased just to have 'passed' the first year. I think I've probably learned a lot about how not to approach this kind of work, and am grateful to all those who have kept me sane and roughly on track. Technically half way through year two - oh dear, still not working enough, but at least I've blocked two four hour slots a week in my diary until Easter - we'll see if it happens!!
And beyond theology is.... GB?! It has been a good year really, watching the girls grow in confidence, helping them learn some country dances, thinking about wildlife conservation, producing a nativity show... We began the year with about a dozen girls and end with over 30 on the books (though if half attend we're doing well). It has been fun - now I have to sort some games for next week's party!
So, do I have a life? Yes! I enjoyed walking Hadrian's Wall, I have had some good times with friends in Warrington/Manchester/Derbyshire and even found half an hour last week to play the piano (boy, I'm rusty!).
I am looking forward to 2008 and the challenges it will bring - already I am looking forward to another long distance footpath (probably Offas Dyke) and a couple of theology conferences in Prague and Manchester (is that sublime and ridiculous enough?!)
Over the last week things have been said to me that show me that the last year (or the last four maybe) has been worthwhile...
- one of the Methodists collared me after the joint morning service on 23rd. He said, 'you always send us encouraging thank you emails after the events, but we never thank you. We need someone to rattle our cages, and you do that. Thank you.'
- one of my folk, after the Christmas Eve communion said, 'thank you for making this Christmas so special'
- another of my folk, as I dropped them off after an event on Boxing Day, knowing I was off to see family the next day said 'make sure you come back'
- an email from one of my folk regarding someone who has been taken into hospital this week advising me of visiting times and saying 'but don't disrupt your holiday to visit.'
To my loyal friends and readers, thank you for being yourselves, for your patience, gentleness, grace and encouragement. Wherever you are, whoever you are, whether I know you in life or not, as you approach 2008 may I wish you God's peace in your hearts and homes?
The Theological Historian?
The theological historian will have at his or her disposal, for instance, the category of sinfulness. Such a category might well have far greater explanatory power in accounting for a particular stretch of human history than anything available to the secular historian. Or she might use the category of divine grace in accounting for extra-ordinary acts of forgiveness and reconciliation that may be evident in human affairs. That such categories don't permit empirical verfication in the same way others might doesn't settle the matter of whether or not they are valid categories to use. It just means that their utilization is a very skilled affair that draws upon uncommon resources of wisdom and insight. Again, the test of their valdiity will be the explanatory power afforded by their use.
Murray A Rae, History and Herneneutics, London, T&T Clark, 2005, page 154
At one level, I find this very appealing - one of the questions that rolls around my mind as I read church history is the lack of any mention of God as an 'actor' in the story. To all intents and purposes, I could be reading the history of Nether Wallop. And yet, how does one write God into the story in a way that is credible, sensible (i.e. can be understood) and authentic? Do categories such as 'grace' or 'sin' offer a middle course?
But who decides what is 'sinfulness' or 'grace'? Reading Baptist history I find more about 'heresy' and 'orthodoxy' which are largely about dogma. In other words, it isn't just about finidng theological categories to employ, it's also about deciding which ones to employ. 'Sinfulness' and 'grace' sound great but who decides they are the ones to use? Are we clear on the distinction between 'sinfulness' and 'sin'? Do we write off as 'sinful' that with which we disagree?
I am fairly certain Murray Rae is clear about the distinction of 'sin' and 'sinfulness' and would offer us ways of endeavouring to discern, communally, in the light of the greater story of God's covenant with humanity, how toi nterpret events with these categories. But, since I have yet to see much evidence of his suggestions that the Bible is read in this way, I don't hold out much hope for reading/writing history.
All is surely not lost. Could we attempt to read the stuff we already have through a consciosuly theological 'lens' - could we try to find evidence of 'grace' or 'sinfulness' - or some other distinctly theolgocial category - in what we read? Is this, in fact what people like Steven Pattison (I think) try to get us to do as we seek out 'resurrection' or 'redemption' in reflecting on events?
I am still a bit apprehensive about trying to write God back into the story, though intuitively, I feel we ought to try. Perhaps, though, having a more self aware set of categories in mind in telling it, we end up with a story that is more explicitly theological and less a boring account of theological triumphs and disasters!
Any thoughts, anyone?
On human limitation
Have been a good girl today - done lots of reading and note taking. Not quite sure how to weave it into my essay but never mind, it's all grist to the mill in the end.
Murray A Rae, History and Hermeneutics, London, T&T Clark, 2005 is a nice read, the sort I like - in normal English (well most of the time) and basically talks common sense. Whilst it is really about Bibilcal hermeneutics (~interpretation) and has to keep coming down to a faith position that God speaks somehow through scripture, it is of some use as I try to get my head around the kind of history writing that might be more helpful for theological reflection, and how concepts of tradition and testimony might (or might not) be useful.
In a chapter on testimony and its relationship to knowledge is this lovely citation from Karl Popper which is the best kind of common sense you can get in regard to reserach or knowledge...
It is a very simple and a decisive point, but nevertheless one that is often not sufficiently realized by rationalists - that we cannot start afresh; that we must make use of what people before us have done in science. If we start afresh, then, when we die, we shall be about as far as Adam and Eve were when they died (or, if you prefer, as far as Neanderthal man). In science we want to make progress, and this means that we must stand on the shoulders of our predecessors. We must carry on a certain tradition.
Karl Popper 'Towards a Rational Theory of Tradition' in Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowledge, London, Routledge and Keagan Paul, 1963, 129 (cited in Rae, above, p 124)
What Rae is addressing is the claim of some that you can only know what you have experienced, and therefore that people who read the Bible cannot know about Jesus' life. Whilst what we know is mediated through testimony, something Rae equates to what happens in law courts, it is still knowledge.
What struck me most was the simple reality of human limitation - it is only by accepting testimony, albeit with appropriate testing, that we are able to discover new knowledge and extend the 'frontiers' of what is known and understood. As I said at the start, not actually what I'm studying, but somehow reassuring!