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  • Mud and Stars: Porridge and Sunsets in Ward 17

    One of my mother's oft quoted sayings is this:


    Two men looked out from prison bars

    One saw mud, the other saw stars


    It is quite probably a misquote, though you can find this exact form in Google, so who knows the true origin?

    I was reminded of the saying last night when I went to visit Florrie (not her real name) in hospital, where she is waiting for her broken hip to be pinned after a fall at home on Saturday.  Florrie is fiercely independent (even by my standards) and often says very little.  In recent months she has begun to come out of her shell a little and has revealed a mischievous side which is a delight to behold.  At the time of the visit, she was in a side room (the only available bed) on the fifth floor (6th if you're American) of the city centre hospital.  She told me about the porridge she'd had for breakfast - suitable it seems for hanging wallpaper - and the noise of the overnight deliveries when lorries parked and disgorged their contents immediately below her window.  Suddenly she paused, and said 'look at that sky.'  I turned and looked out of the window, past the concrete chimney to the streaks of gold piercing the clouds of the dusky sky, and beyond to the streetlight jewelled cityscape spreading out befor eus.  Somewhere in all of this was the balance missed in the extremes of the saying, mud and stars are equally part of our experience and whilst extremes of repsonse can be valid, more typically it is a mix of the two.  No-one at church would see Florrie as a deeply holy person, she has steadfastly spent a lifetime refusing baptism and church membership, yet in this moment between porridge and sunset was something sacred, a glimpse of glory from ward 17 on the fifth floor.

  • Warming Congregations?

    baptist heater.jpg On the left is the sign that was attached to the baptist heater (sic) that I've just collected from a church in Nottingham which warns you of the dangers of leaping into the baptistery whilst it is still electrically live - sadly my understanding is that this does sometimes happen with tragic consequences.

    Anyway, it made me smile to think that there really was a device designed precisely to warm up congregations - presumably to make them more receptive to the sermon?!

  • It all depends what you you mean by...

    Sometimes people can be annoying.  You ask a simple question and get a convoluted answer.

    Sometimes people can be so concerned to protect their credentials or to avoid being caught out that they do much the same thing.

    "it all depends what you mean by...."

    Theologians are particularly good/bad at this...

    It all depends what you mean by...

    • vicarious
    • sacrament
    • punishment
    • god/God
    • sin
    • evangelical
    • liberal
    • charismatic
    • eternal
    • penal
    • substitution
    • ordinance
    • grace - or means thereof
    • theology
    • infallible/fallible
    • hermeneutic
    • interpretation
    • mission
    • Christian
    • Baptist

    To name but a few that I've heard recently.

    I seem to remember a time when words were less slippery, when objectivity was permitted and I knew what I meant... but of course it all depends what I mean/meant by 'objecitivity' 'permitted' 'knew' and 'meant'.

    And all this prompted by reading a couple of pages of an introduction to philosophical hermeneutics which talks about the interpretation of the word interpretation in different contexts and a different times... Aaaaargh!

  • Mancunian Triduum

    So, three days in Manchester when I was already tired and not exactly feeling as if my grey matter was awake.  Probably not the best recipe for learning new stuff or meeting new people.

    So, let's start with the mildly amusing aspects of the whole event.  The staff had decided it would be good if we all made an A4 poster introducing ourselves and our research interests so that we could see who we all were.  This was then to form the basis of a 'fun poster quiz' on the first evening.  I think it was a good idea, but I'm not at all convinced it was successful.  Someone arrived with an A0 professionally produced poster, some people had A2 or A3 with minute type, some people opted out.  Just as significantly, there wasn't any time to look at the posters before the quiz time, so unless you knew someone or happened to have a question about yourself, the odds of getting any answers right were very slim.  Guess work became the order of the day and one group decided that I had a photo of myself on a jet-ski on my poster and that I compared myself to a character in a Joanna Trollope novel.  This is all pretty funny (if blatantly untrue) but should I ever happen to find myself sat on a jet-ski I will make sure I have an appropriate novel to hand (The only thing I have never read anything by said author is "The Rectors' Wife" which I clearly am not, so comparisons are tricky!)

    The whole thing has grown enormously in the three years it's been running.  At one level this is wonderful, at another it is worrying.  It is great that so many people want to engage with theology - but scary that 50% of them have never done any theology and seem to think that the course should equip them with the basics.  It is great to have people who are ministers and chaplains alongside people who are not professional Christians but it is scary trying to hold together the various needs and interests.  The impact of having so many people on the dynamics of the events cannot be underestimated - it was impossible to speak to everyone in my own peer group, never mind those beyond it; the relative 'safety' of the dozen starters has long gone in a conference of around 50 and I don't envy the staff who have to think carefully how to shape future events to meet such diverse needs.

    From my perspective, there was probably only one really valuable session, which was when the Year 3 cohort were asked to write in no more than 50 words what they thought their research question was.  That I could have a stab at this was a definite plus, and little subtleties in wording could be teased out a little.  The reality is that majority of sessions have to be geared to the majority of delegates, and since most people are doing pastoral rather than practical theology, centred on qualitative research with interviews, focus groups etc, I found it hard to stay interested when my own work is more theoretical - bridging the gap (or trying to!) between the academy and the congregation with some methodological work to support practical ends.  Bunking off one session - because there were four options all of which I'd already done as compulsory sessions at past residentials - and working with some Baptist history writing at Association level was far more productive.

    As far as the guest lecture was concerned there seem to be a number of options as to how I respond to it...

    • It was interesting and intriguing, but not practical theology in any shape or form
    • It was interesting and intriguing, but ultimately, 'so what?'
    • It was an academic having fun playing with ideas without ever properly grounding them (a few interesting, practical questions were raised but never explored)
    • It was odd
    • I didn't get it
    • It was a source of much amusement and bemusement among most students, though a few loved it

    It was good to see my soon-to-escape-to-the-antipodes supervisor (I got the book for £1 by the way - thanks for the tip) and good to stay with some friends near Urmston.  It was not so great to trip over another student's carelessly placed brief-case and re-sprain my not-yet-fully-recovered-from-last-time ankle and get a bruise worthy of Angela in the process.  It was good to be back in the Manchester and with glorious autumn sunshine to boot.  It was not so great to come away questioning how productive the event had been for me.  It is good to have the opportunity and privilege to study theology, good to be free to grumble about it and I hope that despite the grumbles, mumbles and gripes, I am still managing to gain from the experience what there is to be gained, and growing as a person, a theologian and a disciple along the way.

    Now I feel about fit to crash out in front of some dire TV rather than start reading all the lovely books I have brought down the motorway...

  • Away "Up North"

    People in the London think the Midlands is north.  People in the Midlands think Manchester is north (and at least it is in North West England).  My mother regularly reminds me that anything south of Glasgow is south.  But whatever it is or is not, I am off to Manchester for three days for a DPT residential.  If DPT sounds to you like something to kill ants, well, hmm, there you go.  I am looking forward to catching up with other researchers in my peer group but not so sure about being part of a group of over 50 from three different academic centres.  I am looking forward to some time spent with Mancunian (by birth or by choice) friends and hoping that this years task will be a little clearer than soggy earth by the time I leave.