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  • Thinking on (Virtual) Paper

    I have always tended to my 'active thinking' by writing - when I had a 'real' job my files were always among the fattest in the office because I wrote reams and reams of stuff, including daft messages to myself.  This had the advantage that tracing back through development of work was easy but does mean that somewhere recorded for posterity are some of my more inane comments.  I also do a lot of 'passive thinking' where I go off and do something else leaving my subconscious to mull over things, which is fine except when it wakes me up in the wee small hours to tell me the answer- which I then have to remember until such time as I can write it down (I am too lazy to switch on lights and scribble at 3 a.m.!).

    This is an example of the former and constitutes today's study hour.  I'm not sure it exactly relates to what I'm meant to be thinking about, but it comes out of my reading and I wanted to explore/record it before I forget it again.

    Appleby et al in Telling the Truth About History speak of a 'melting pot' revisionist approach to rewriting American history and note that an alternative would be a 'colourful patchwork quilt.'  I wonder if there are other possiblilities? Either a woven fabric or a child's kaleidoscope?

    The melting pot (which inevtiably sends a certain 1960's (?) song through my brain) basically seems to suggest that if you take all the various perspectives - white/black, rich/poor, male/female etc. and melt them all down you emerge with a kind of homogeneous history.  This assumes that there is 'one overall history' - a western, post-Enlightenment view of time and a broad sense that 'later is better' (i.e. the idea that progress is always forward in time).  It is an attractive idea but one that is easy to critique - it assumes that the various constituents can all be melted and that they will form at worst an amalgum and preferrably an alloy (I always knew my scientific background was essential!) with, presumably, minimal dross or that it can readily be burned/skimmed off.  It also seems to assume that there is one single mould into which the resultant melt is poured and allowed to harden.  Of course, the advantage of this model is that if you decide the mould you have chosen is 'wrong' you can melt it all down again and pour it into a new mould - changing a castle into a rabbit or some such!  And presumably as more raw material comes along (new events, ideas etc) the whole thing needs periodic remelting and moulding (in a 'bigger' mould?) and each process will lose a small amount of what has gone before.  Whilst I have some sympathy with this image - and a sense that at some level there is an overarching and growing 'commodity' of 'history' I am not sure that trying to consolidate it into one neat block is necessarily helpful, if indeed possible.

    The patchwork quilt is a very American image, and probably a feminine one at that.  What it is basically saying is that if you piece all the bits together as they stand, you emerge with something that is colourful and has a surprising beauty.  The individual colours and patterns are still discernible within the whole.  It is again an image that is appealing but limited.  My own experience of patchworking was of carefully selecting colours that would 'go' reasonably well together and then cutting prices to some pre-determined shape - hexagons or 'log cabin' rectangles being those I recall.  Eventually the quilt (or other item) reaches the size you desire and you add a border to contain the whole.  Piecing together histories isn't that neat - the colours/designs may not 'go', the pieces vary in shape and size, and the edges are far from tidy.  A 'good' patchwork needs to be created with some sense of structure/order - how are the pieces of history arranged in the patchwork to form a coherent and meaningful result?  Who decides what goes where and how it is trimmed to fit?  What are the boundaries.  In extremis, such a view could be taken to a level of total individualism where each person's history is distinct and simply laid alongside those of others - the sense of 'interconnectedness' is lost, with ideas/experiences simply set alongside each other.  In common with the melting pot there is a sense of a finite (if growing) body of history, the difference is that there is no attempt to synthesise a single view, other than the view that says it's a patchwork.

    So is there an alternative?  I'm sure there are many, but the two that came to mind immediately were of a woven fabric and of a child's kaleidoscope.  Neither is perfect but each offers some thoughts on how to approach the polyvocality of history in a way that acknowledges boundaries and finitude without becoming either the single monochrome steel or jelly of the melting pot or the potentially individualistic patchwork.

    The woven fabric (not the 'tapestry' of a 1970's (?) song) is a well established image and one which can be readily critiqued - what is chosen as the weft and warp, who decides etc. - but which seems to me to combine some of the better attributes of both the melting pot and patchwork quilt ideas.  Like the melting pot, it endeavours to take all the bits and combine them into one new thing.  As the strands are woven together the resulting fabric has texture and colour, some sort of design influenced by the weaver (think of checks, plaids, houndstooth etc) but the individual colours and strands can still be distinquished and, if desired, removed.  I like the old Islamic story of the Persian carpet-maker who makes a design and then makes a deliberate error because only Allah can create perfection; the craftsperson then labours to work the error into the whole so that only an expert can detect it ever existed.  Creating a historical fabric includes deliberate errors, concealed by powerful or influential writers, but that doesn't stop the overall exercise being worthwhile and helpful.  More likely is accidental errors or omissions that need to be repaired if the fabric is to be as good as possible.  Images of Asian carpet makers who only see the back of the carpet are now familiar; English weavers sat at the foot of a giagantic loom and could only see a small protion of what they were creating: both images remind me that the writer of history cannot see the whole 'big picture' but works on the part they can see to the best of their ability.

    The kaliedoscope is an image/metphor I first encountered in looking at models/images of church (Kinnear?)  This way of looking at history is more like the patchwork model but does not need to be quite so tidy.  Although there are clear boundaries within which the chips of coloured glass may be rearranged, there are no rules on how they are arranged.  Further the chips are not just diffent colours but different sizes and shapes; as the child (or adult!) twists and turns the toy, the chips move to form different patterns.  This is a very postmodern image!  In extremis, of course, it means that any way of mixing and matching history is valid, and that may well not be true, since there are n! ways of combining n 'ideas', discounting orientation and other factors (just showing off a bit of maths there!).

    What all of the images/models do is try to find a way of accommodating all (? some) different 'histories' within a framework that might be conceivable or workable.  Each has some strengths and weaknesses and I'm not sure that any is necessarily superior or inferior.  The 'melting pot' assumes that some homogeneous world history is possible, and instinctively at some 'high' or 'overall' level I feel this is valid.  The patchwork quilt reminds us that the homogenisation process loses the sharp relief and keen insights that are found by retaining cultrual, racial, gendered etc, distinctives but runs the risk of promoting a very individualised approach.  The woven fabric seems to combine the strengths of each of these - albeit with its own weaknesses - affirming the place of particular distinctives within an overall whole.  The kaliedesope shows how a less rigid 'shape' approach can be helpful but also adds a note of caution about simply combining things indifferent ways - they may be beautiful or attractive, but are they helpful?

    Not sure this advances the understanding of anything, but has taken an hour to type and helps me to think a bit more about what I've been reading.

  • Any (Helpful) Christian Perspectives on Hynotherapy?

    This blogging as seeking input!

    I have recently been asked about Christian perspectives on hypnotherapy by someone who has looked on the web and is confused.  Having just done so, I guess I'd say 'me three' (too).  There is some whacky stuff, some that seems fairly sane, some pro, some anti...  So, does anyone who reads this drivel have any sensible suggestions?  Please don't tell me either that its demonic or that it doesn't need any thinking about, since neither will wash.  Not that my mind is closed or I'm blinkered or anything!  Just trying to find a balanced viewpoint in the murky middle ground I inhabit!

  • Reasonably Enthusiastic?

    Wesley has been dubbed a 'reasonable enthusiast.'  You have to know what 'reasonable' and 'enthusiast' are meant to mean in that context to know what is intended, unless of course you are so thoroughly postmodern that any plausible reading is fine since we cannot possibly know the original intention.  In good Ronnie Corbett tradition, I digress.

    I am now working my way through my little heap of books on historical method/historiography and beginning to see the vaguest glimmer of how I can work within practical theology under the suggested banner of 'congregational studies' when my focus is, intuitively, more aligned towards 'church history.'  Actually, it is somewhere vaguely where (wait for it) ecclesiology, congregational studies, church history, historiography and hermeneutics (plus undoubtedly a but of doctrine and pastoral theology, if I could only work out what!) meet/overlap/collide.  This all sounds rather vague and woolly (pace, Sean) but it is progress, honestly!

    Anyway, Georg Iggers in his snappily titled book Historiography in the Twentieth Century offers the following observation (page 16)


    The postmodern critique of tradtional science and traditional historiography has offered important correctives to historical thought and practice.  It has not destroyed the historian's commitment to recapturing reality or his or her belief in a logic of enquiry, but it has demonstrated the complexity of both.  Perhaps we can see in the history of historiography an ongoing dialogue that, while it never reaches finality, contributes to the broadening of perspective.


    I'd say that, in their generally understood meanings, Iggers is reasonably enthusiastic about the benefits of postmodern thinking, but not blindly committed to them.

    One of the interesting things he observes right from the outset is the importance of the academic community in all of this: modernists and postmodernists live and work within a community which has some shared values, aims and aspirations.  The 'scientific' method of traceability, repeatability and referencing is essential whichever of these perpsectives one claims to aspire to - how else can the position adopted be defended?  Unlike the more cynical, sceptical, scholars, Iggers (and others) hold fast to many 'traditional' values in the doing of history.  They are keen to work within their discipline refining and reflecting on their methods and presuppositions as they go along.

    To be a reasonable (one who uses reason) enthusiast (one who is given special, spiritual, insights) is a bold claim.  To be modestly encouraged, a more contemporary interpretation of the same words, by something feels more appropriate for 21st century students.  Intuitively, I feel Igger's comments could be readily transferred to thinking about theology (or maybe other fields of enquiry) recognising that it, too, is only ever partial and provisional.

  • SWOT as worship?

    First 'normal' Sunday of the year, and I decided to have a looking back/looking forward kind of theme using the beginning of Mark's gospel (Baptism to call of first disciples) and Luke's 'Nazareth Manifesto' example of Jesus' early preaching.  It was a pretty interactive service, ended up quite long (1.5 hours, no communion) and I got picked upon my decision not to include a song with what I felt unhelpful military/war/triumphalist imagery from which I quoted a line or two that were helpful.  Even so, it was, I think, a good service.  Part of it was to get the congregation to do a quick SWOT analysis (which I explained, it was new for some) as we begin the next stage of our 'adventure with God.'

    Overall I was proud of them, and impressed with what they came up with (though I'd love to unpack some of the words and discuss the intent of those who said a few of the things)

    Our Strengths...

    • Togetherness
    • Work with older people
    • Three Bible study groups
    • Catering skills
    • Varied gifts and talents
    • Organisation
    • Risk-taking

    Our Weaknesses...

    • Hesitancy
    • Doubts
    • Age

    Our Opportunities

    • Witness
    • Worship in the school
    • Games evening [a children's club we run]
    • Ecumenical meetings
    • Ministering to each other
    • Discussions with D+1
    • Reaching out into the community

    Our Threats

    • Finances (lack of)
    • Faith (lack of)
    • Time (lack of) /Busyness
    • Lack of purpose
    • Too much diversity

    God turns our Weaknesses into Opportunities

    So that the glory goes to God

    Next week is a united service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and then our Covenant Service when we will commit to 'walk together with God and with one another in ways known and to be made known.'  After that it is Five Core Values 2007 style.  Somehow I need to keep in my mind the things we charted - and offered to God - and the various intiatives we have planned as I reflect afresh on being a 21st century Gospel People.

  • Keane to Understand

    It's a lousy pun, and most of the lyrics of the song by Keane don't really relate, but the title "Everbody's Changing" and a few of the sentiments I perceive it to contain maybe do.

    I am wanting to research how Baptists approached change in the past to inform my/our present and affect/infleunce our future.


    History is particular, in just about every conceivable meaning of the word, and its methods and aims have changed over time


    Theology is likewise particular and contingent (at least I think that's the word)

    And the purpose of this research according to an email from my professor is one

    "where new academic knowledge is generated in order to effect change, in terms of perosnal develpment or understanding best practice etc.'


    I am a student of change (I am studying it) I am a subject of change (I get changed in the process of doing the study) and I am an agent of change (I seek to effect change by what I do)

    This makes any pretence of objectivity nonsensical since it is impossible to define an absolute starting point within myself


    I can find discrete historical case studies where traces of the past may be discernible and it is feasible to say 'practice was X and is now Y' even if interpretation of the 'how' is largely conjecture.


    As of this moment, I am quite enjoying understanding the confusion, but as the song says...

    So little time
    Try to understand that I'm
    Trying to make a move just to stay in the game
    I try to stay awake and remember my name
    But everybody's changing
    And I don't feel the same


    The quest for truth is everlasting, and when I think too hard it is easy to end up feeling like it is all shifting stand.  I haven't a clue as yet how I reconcile the complexity of these changes upon changes, but maybe it'll be fun trying?

    (Oh, and by the way, my name is Catriona, I can remember that much!)