ministry formation week 3

Sure, there was some interesting content in the biblical theology section of the class: the history of the way that people have understood the bible, and the way it fits together, make for some interesting reading. Having a better understanding of how far we take the postmodern idea of the way that a reader is affected by a text was also worthwhile, but the main thing for me today was the discussion around the book The Contemplative Pastor.

Essentially, there are two main reasons for busy-ness: vanity and laziness. The former is the desire to be seen to be busy: a way of measuring your worth is how many things you’re involved in. The latter refers to the laziness of not setting your own goals, and deciding what is important, and instead allowing others to set these goals for you.


It would seem that I suffer from both of these maladies in varying proportion.

More telling of the deeply pervasive need to be busy was the in-class exercise that followed. We were asked to list 2 or 3 things that we would do if we were setting our own goals, without worrying about what others thought. This was fine, but as the discussion progressed, we ended up with a list of around 10 different things: even as we seek not to be busy, it would appear that our habit is to make ourselves more and more busy, but with “more worthwhile” things.

The biggest challenge facing college students (we mused on the idea of the unbusy student for a while, but it seems something of an impossibility) is to maintain their habit of regular bible reading and prayer. I have to say that I’m struggling to add in an extra hour per day of greek, and the more personal spiritual disciplines are falling by the wayside as a result. My plan to fix this? Go back to the Psalms. I’m going to make my side goal of writing out the Psalms by hand a higher priority, and spend some time praying through each Psalm as I write it out. More on this later (if anyone is curious).

For now, goodnight: I’m working on another lacking trait in the life of the theological student (and pastor) – sleep.

Greek chapter 5

Adjectives: so easy it’s barely worth teaching, according to the lecturer. Doesn’t quite match up with my experience, but at least some of the word endings must be starting to stick. It seems I’ll have to spend some more time each day revising.

Indeed, later in the lecture, it’s suggested that spending two hours a day on greek would be a good idea, instead of the one that we’re currently to be spending. The amount of work I’ve been trying to do in other areas hasn’t yet yielded to that much greek, but I’m aiming to increase the time spent on learning vocabulary.


It seems that there are two aspects of Greek: the memory work of learning the vocabulary (another 18 adjectives, and a handful of other words for this week), and the mental effort of learning the various rules. When I’m driving by myself, I listen to the audio CD of the vocab, but I need to spend some more quality time with pads of paper learning the declensions and word endings.

Café Zink, Cronulla

Grinders (giancarlo) coffee. Opposite rydges, closer to the beach.lots of natural light, tiles floor, casual furniture with blue and white the dominant colours, with a broad mix of ages from 5-50. Licenced: not sure what the mood would be here at night, but in the morning, there’s some triple-j music playing just loud enough to blur the conversation at other tables. If you time your arrival right, you would have a reasonable view of the ocean from your table.

Coffee seems a little slow: though there are four staff, the one stationed permanently on the coffee machine seems to move a little slowly filling the orders. On the plus side, I can hear the grinder working for each shot.

Coffee is hot (but not too hot):and thick: well foamed. Better than I was bracing myself for. At first taste, there’s some bitterness, but the aftertaste is good.

Our MKC 2007 house

Not as close to the convention site as we would have liked, but a good spot to stay. After a quick game of khet, I reverted to practicing writing out greek while others continued to play settlers of catan. Retired to bed at a not-quite-crazy 1:40am – more sociable than last year, but still enough time to have five hours’ sleep before having the second shower in the house the next morning.

We may not be close to the convention site, but on the plus side, we’re a paltry 10 minutes walk from katoomba street, allowing me to find out which cafes are serving coffee this early. The results are a little disappointing: a couple of bakeries, and the elephant bean café are flying the flag as it were, but at first glance, the coffee box is still closed.

Last night’s talk was by (south african bishop) frank retief. He gave the traditional explanation-of-the-christian-message talk that always occurs at mkc, but it was a good talk. I even managed, in spite of myself, to listen to the talk, and not critique it – most of the time.

It’s a sad fact of the kind of easy access I have to good bible teaching (tough to define concisely, but let’s say it’s that where the piece of the bible being explained is taken in context of the whole book, where it’s made clear that being ok with God comes through Jesus’ death and resurrection, not by earning God’s favour by being nice, for instance ) leads me to critically evaluate talks rather than listen to them with a view to changing my life.

In this particular talk, I was encouraged by the reminder that Jesus was a historical figure, his death (and resurrection) an historical event. As much as I hesitate to write it here, for fear of alienating my non-Christian readers, the spiritual things that Christianity speaks of are just as real as the historical events that underly it. If there’s no heaven, then the Christian life is much worse than a “nice way to live”, it’s a terrible lie. The reminder that it’s all true was a timely, and a comfortable one.

Book: Creative Ministry

Book: Creative Ministry

Another week, another Henri Nouwen book. This one is less personal, but still has the mark of a learned author trying to challenge the way that ministry is put into practice. Nouwen contrasts the current way of ministering – being a professional in the way that you blend psychology with management skills, teaching and prayer – with a method that involves more personal vulnerability.

I’ve tried to put this into practice so far: I read a quote from the book about the notion of celebrating as part of being in church. The book talks about a church leader being a man of prayer, and I pointed out the discrepancy between that description, and where I see myself at the moment (a long way short of that).

For reference: the chapters are: Teaching – beyond the transference of knowledge, Preaching – beyond the retelling of the story, Individual Pastoral Care – beyond the skillful response, Organizing – beyond the manipulation of structures, Celebrating – beyond the protective ritual,
Conclusion / Epilogue.

the dangers of habit-breaking

One of the habits I have with movie watching is to check my phone as soon as the movie is over. This is the kind of habit that has been – in the past – ridiculed by stand-up comedians: the thought that it’s fairly self-important to think that during the past two hours, something so critical has arisen that it needs your immediate attention.

Perhaps I was swept up in the film, or enjoying a brief post-movie conversation with a friend, but this time, I failed to follow through with this habit. Instead, I jumped straight on a train – aiming to head directly home and see kel.

It wasn’t until after the last train station where returning to the city was an option that I checked my phone. Imagine my surprise to see two messages from kel saying – you guessed it – that she was still in the city, having dinner with friends, and did we want to catch the train home together?

So my heading home to get an early night became a heading home to get the car, and – despite her protests that it was unnecessary – driving into the city to pick her up.

The moral: don’t spontaneously change your habits unless you check first.

Movie: Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction

Easily the biggest surprise of the film is that Will Ferrell can actually act. This film won’t be to everyone’s tastes; if you enjoyed I Heart Huckabees, then you’ll like it. Emma Thompson and Maggie Gyllenhaal are both excellent, and well cast, and Dustin Hoffman was probably my favourite character in the film. Great performances, a story that holds the viewer’s interest, and the ending was quite good, though it could have ended in another way that would, perhaps, have been better.

ministry formations – week two

The other subject we had this week was ministry formations. There are two parts to it: one on biblical theology – this week, we looked at the history of biblical theology. The second half is more about the individual student; its framing idea is what you do flows out of who you are. This will be a unique subject, I suspect: it’s the one that had a couple of henri nouwen books as its texts.

This subject brings me a combination of eager anticipation and dread (I know, an unusual combination). I’m looking forward to learning more about the mystical / spiritual side of evangelical Christianity (more prayer, less book-learning), but it’s the putting it into practice that makes me anxious. I like the book-learning side of things.

There’s also the matter of keeping a journal: there’s not much introspection in my life at the moment, and I don’t remember complaining about that to anyone. Still, I’ve signed up for the subject now, so there’s no point in arguing about it!