Smörgåsbord

I had to write a reflection recently on a “critical incident” at Easter School. Easter school is my annual week at college, which tops up the weekends away. We were told to select an incident, which was significant, and to look closely at one particular point in the week when we had encountered a genuinely new perspective. Any way, after uploading it I thought it may be a useful insight to my first year at STETS for my friends. So you will find it repeated below, enjoy ;-).

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Critical moment, I’m not sure I want a critical moment was my thinking as we entered Easter school. Here I was going away for a week to a place I didn’t particularly want to go to. Away from my family, at a time when they were in need of me, away from a complex new project the week after I started it. Critical moment, I was pretty sure Easter school itself was a critical moment, let alone trying to identify some teaching, or moment within the week that had impacted me. Never the less I was told this this learning was part of my formation, that would help me be a leader within the Church I felt God was calling me to lead within. So I reflected.

It was the word formation that had already been at the heart of some of my frustration leading up to Easter school. STETS is a loving, encouraging environment and one that is built for those who are seeking to grow. However in my paranoid self-doubt, I had grown to feel that my views were accepted in the way one might accept a young child’s view of God, sweet but a little literalistic and naive. I am sure that many if not all theology students, feel similar concerns whatever college they attend, but the truth was, I had been struggling. Perhaps not unusually for an “early years” theology student I had quite an interest in theology before I started STETS. This mainly manifested itself around those typically from the evangelical charismatic viewpoint, often from an apologetics stance. The reality was that I had been studying largely under those who reinforced my already formed viewpoint. Which is a little ironic, because for most of the first year at STETS I had been struggling with what I perceived was a one sided version of the theology being presented in the formation of the students. Perhaps it was the swing from one viewpoint to the other that disturbed me. Perhaps it was my view of gaps I perceived in the study guides. Whatever it was and whether true or not, it was obvious to me and a little more obvious to my tutor group that the frustration had been building over the year. I found myself reading books and articles form theologians that’s had blatantly be put into the reading to challenge our viewpoints. Crying out “but what about this whole other viewpoint over here that you have completely left out.” Why did it matter so much to me? It matted because of that ridiculous word formation. STETS was here to help me become the leader I so desperately want to be, and if they did a one sided job of that, would I become a poor leader of Christ’s people? The week moved on and the frustrations subsided a little, and then Friday came and the silence began.

We sat in a school hall and before us stood a man who was going to lead us in a silent retreat, oh joy. His name was Brother Patrick Moore, and he was a soft-spoken gentle man. But this was not the gentleness of weakness that the world perceives; it was a gentleness that radiated self-assurance. It was a gentleness that said, I know my God and my God knows me. I was transfixed with the assurance in his sessions. So much so that I am not sure I actually heard much of his teaching, but he said one thing that will stick with me. Brother Patrick mentioned the rhetorical smörgåsbord that I have heard so often when referring to teaching. Brother Patrick didn’t use the word smörgåsbord, but he did say something about dropping by the wayside things we had picked up that week that we didn’t need, and keeping the things that were meant for us. Then he sent of us of in silence for some time on our own. Not one who enjoys being static in silence, I decided to walk to the top of a near by hill. With a strange mix of dissatisfaction and peace from Brother Patrick flowing around my head, I climbed the hill. The word formation came and went in my mind. Taking and leaving from the smörgåsbord came and went. Then the words “your formation is in Christ” came and stayed. Call it what you will, I would call it Gods Holy Spirit, but there was a sudden realisation that STETS was my smörgåsbord and not my formation. My formation as a leader for Christ’s Church was in Christ, and I would take from STETS all that was appropriate to take, and leave what was not for me to take.

There is much I can learn from this encounter and I would love to say my frustration has stayed away from me since my “Critical” revelation, but in truth as with most things in my life I often need reminding that my formation is in Christ. STETS is still a great environment to explore my vocation whatever Church tradition I come from and exploring my tradition and more importantly my faith within such a welcoming and encouraging environment has more positives then negatives. In my future ministry there will be many people who I disagree with, and who will lead a Christian life to the best of their ability with their understanding of what the scriptures teach. To think some how that they or I have it all sewn up, is a ridiculous idea. The key is perhaps to unite in our similarities, debate humbly our differences and only ever divide as a last resort over the fundamentals. I really am happy that I did not seek to complete my training in an environment that would simply enforce my own preconceived ideas. My formation in Christ via STETS often means that I have my views challenged. I circle away from my beliefs to then return to them with renewed vigour and reason. Other times I return to my views with a slightly different more informed spin on them, but always returning to them knowing I am being formed by Christ and no one else.

Writers Block

I am suffering writers block at the moment. Well to call it writers block is stretching the truth a little, it”s more writers avoidance. I have read my books, emailed my tutor of my intention to write something, tidied my pencils, made notes, organized my files, cleaned my desk and now finally even posted a journal entry. All for what? Well probably all to avoid actually writing something, that some person who I do not know from Adam will read, and in my mind tear apart. Anyone would think I haven”t done this for twenty years. The reality is that I should have sent it by now, and so in my desperation, I figured making a semi public statement would force me into doing some work. So It”s Friday night, I have a clear day tomorrow, the family are all out saving the world one child a time with puppets and so I have no more excuses.

Lack Of Knowledge Is Equal To Wisdom

I’m a little brain dead after a day of discovering that I don’t know very much. I’m probably mangling a famous quote but I believe someone once said that wisdom was moving from ‘believing you know all you could know about a subject to understanding how little you really know about a subject.’ Well if that’s the case I became a very wise man today as I discovered all I really don’t know about theology. But it excites me that there is so much to learn about our God. Is that a little sad? It’s scares me intensely as well. I’m not talking about having to somehow find fifteen hours a week to complete this course within the two years I have set. More about the impact it will have on my relationship with my Father God. I expect to be challenged and I expect my assumptions to be questioned, but what I don’t want to do is to lose my relationship with our mighty creator God. I don’t want to boil down the traditions of ‘church’ and mull over the situations of the New and Old Testament writers, to discover I have some how boxed our Lord into a neat little package. I want to continue to be awed by Him and surprised by Him. Is it possible to seek to know our God in a deeply intellectual way whilst maintaining a relationship with Him? I guess if we are not willing to explore that concept then what is our faith based upon? Of course many have gone before me and come out the other side on fire for their Father. But then many have lost their way on the same journey. So it is with great excitement and a little trepidation that I take another step on the journey.

Food, Chat And Worship

So now it really has begun, I felt I should at least briefly reflect on my first night. The first night of Theological training that is, well in truth the first night of hi and welcome. Tomorrow promises to be hard work but for now it was food, chat and worship in that order. Much like the rest of my life really, and it drew me to compare it to our model of sharing about Jesus. If you look at the way Jesus went about telling people of the Kingdom of Heaven, He seemed to follow that mode as well, food, chat and then worship. After all, he was forever getting into trouble for eating with the ‘wrong’ people. Sometimes we forget how Jesus did it and turn the whole thing around. It goes something like this. If you come to our Church and worship, then I might chat to you after a couple of weeks, and may even invite you back to my place sometime over the next decade, for food. Seems to me that already St Js has taught me, or at least reminded me about the way we really should share the love of Jesus. I am sure over the next couple of years there will be ups and downs as we explore what Gods plan is, but I have to say tonight was a good way to start.

In Previous Episodes

Where to start? I guess I won’t go into my background too much as you probably know me, and if not perhaps that will come out as we progress on the journey. We are here because over ten years ago when we became Christians Suzy and I felt very clearly that God was prompting us to prepare ourselves for the second phase of our lives. The exact words I wrote in my Bible at the time were “Prepare yourselves for the work I have for you.” About eighteen months ago we experienced a number of things that lead us to conclude that perhaps we had been treading water for a while. The outcome of this was that after much prayer and soul searching we felt that it was time to move forward.

So what did moving forward look like? Well the truth is we are still on that journey of discovery, but we have concluded it looks like some form of leadership within Gods plan. To that end over the last year I applied and was accepted for the distance learning CertHE in Theology and Vocation at St Johns in Nottingham, UK. This wasn”t a simple step because amongst other things it meant stepping down from leading my beloved 11s-14s at COGS our Church in Portsmouth. This course which starts this September 2009, is a two year course that may or may not lead onto completing further training to become a full theology degree. In parallel we are exploring the possibly of ordination with the Church of England, something which still blows my mind. It’s very early stages and neither Suzy or I are sure it is the ultimate destination, but that said we are a whole lot more open to the concept then we were a couple of years ago.

What ever the route is or where ever we end up there are some big hurdles in the way, which we will not get over without Gods intervention. Perhaps this is why we were treading water, but now I am comforted if we end up in some form of leadership it will be because God wants us there, because without Him it will not be possible.