Andrew certainly thinks it is. But, whether he’s right or wrong, it looks like there’s a pretty good chance that it’s our immediate future!
We’re still waiting to hear the final word on Natalie’s scholarship application to study in the UK. But she has secured a place to start a PhD at the University of Melbourne next year (in the school of Philosophy, Anthropology and Social Inquiry). And I’m currently investigating some possibilities to get stuck into pastoral work.
We’re very thankful to God for all the choices he provided us with in the last couple of weeks — please join us in thanking him for answering many of our prayers in providing a secure place for Natalie next year.
And we’re launching a mailing list for those who’d like to pray with and for us, and keep up to date with our personal news. We’d love to keep in touch with you no matter what the future brings.
The jacarandas are in full flower, which means that exams are upon us — and for me that means the end of College (God-willing)! So, like a good procrastinator, I’m on the look out for distractions. And the pièce de résistance of distractions is to question the whole process. Which I’m about to do.
When I ask What am I studying for? I’m not taking aim at the validity of exams. Rather, I’m asking about the process of studying for ‘the ministry’ — which includes, but is obviously bigger than, what goes on at College.
Now I’ve some sense of what I’m not studying for:
I don’t think I’m studying specifically for full-time ministry. As I read it, Jesus’ call to discipleship — ‘Take up your cross and follow me’ — simply is a call to full time ministry (ie. service).
Nor am I studying to be ordained for ministry in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. Not just because I’m not an ordination candidate. But because (I take it) we don’t think that’s the be all and end all of full time paid Christian ministry.
But beyond this I find I lack a clear, positive picture of what I am studying for. Precisely what will I be qualified to be in a few short weeks?
Or, to come at it from another angle, I’m just not sure I can decisively say what would disqualify me from attaining the goal of all my studying and preparation? Actually, I do have some idea of this — if the moral and faith requirements for elders outlined in the Pastoral Epistles are anything to go by. But is what I’m studying for an Every Christian Really Should thing? Or is it only suitable for particular kinds of people? (And, if so, what kinds of people?)
I suppose I should have figured this one all out already. (Perhaps it was one of those depths plumbed at Anglican Candidates Conference). But maybe you can help me. What am I studying for?
There are points where my experience overlaps with his. But over the last six or seven years life has felt more or less like an extended pounding with a meat mallet. Here are five things that have helped soften me up:
Moving out of home for the first time. My first flatmate and I were very different people with divergent habits — and levels of mess-tolerance. But we had some great times. And I had to tackle some of the selfishness and the fixed ideas I’d managed to develope about truly irrelevant things.
Marriage (and the dating process). What … you mean it’s not all about me and I have to work hard at listening!?
Starting a new Beach Mission. I quickly learnt that the whole ‘planting’ thing sounds great but involves a whole lot of hard work and heart ache in practice. Especially when you realise that having recruited and dragged people along on your crazy, ill-conceived experiment, your biggest — and most demanding — responsibility is not preparing or planning programmes but frantically fighting impending relational breakdown on more fronts than you thought possible.
Researching ‘hell’ for a doctrine essay. Spending a solid amount of time trying to understand people I didn’t agree with taught me to be at least sympathetic to the often quite visceral concerns that motivate them (not to mention the occasional legitimate critique of some traditional and popular ways of talking about hell).
Being a Christian. It’s often hurt, but learning to live as a child of the Father — who trusts in Jesus and in whom the Spirit of God is at work — I think (I hope!) has genuinely made me a softer, gentler person. For one thing, I’ve become less afraid of exposing my vulnerabilities (after all, the fact that we’re not self-sufficient is one of the key things we confess about ourselves as Christians, right?).
When we need a warm, cosy, comforting night out in Newtown we just don’t think we can go past Wedgetail.
This place oozes Newtown. It’s a pizza restaurant — but more hippie than Italian. Still, the pizzas are lovely light Napolitan-style woodfired numbers and we always leave room for dessert. The staff are helpful, but not overbearing, and we always feel like we have permission to linger.
Mmmmm... haloumi salad
But it’s the ambience that really keeps us coming back — arty, industrial-ish, lots of timber. It’s definitely one of the things we’ll miss most when we leave the Inner West.
August has been a huge month! I’ve been away from Royal North Shore Hospital doing a stint at Cumberland (mental health) over at Westmead, which has been humbling and fantastically stimulating. I hope to share some of my reflections soon, but I’m still processing a lot of it.
Cumberland Hospital, poised over the Parramatta River
An added bonus of travelling out to Westmead twice a week has been what Natalie calls the ‘guilt free reading time’ of the train journey — I’ve knocked over Dave Eggers’s moving new book Zeitoun, puzzled my way through Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘story suite’ Nocturnes, and finally finished Difficult Conversations.
Natalie’s had her head down completing her first scholarship application for next year. And even though our next step probably still won’t be obvious for a while yet, it’s great to have cleared this hurdle.
Elsewhere, we’ve been following some interesting stuff:
Dan offers a typically deep meditation — in twoparts — in response to Peter Adam’s challenge to European-Australians to repent and make restitution for our treatment of Australia’s indigenous inhabitants.
At a significant moment in Paradise Lost (actually … I struggle to think of any moments in that poem that aren’t significant), John Milton calls upon his ‘Muse’, Urania — code for the Holy Spirit — and expresses his hopes about the hearing his epic poem will receive (Book VII.30-31):
Still govern thou my song
Urania! and fit audience find, though few.
'Jacob's Ladder' by William Blake
Clearly, Milton’s not all that optimistic about the number of people who will qualify as an audience ‘fit’ to hear — and respond rightly to — the story he’s telling.
Which brings me to you, Gentle Readers. I recently asked you to give me some feedback about what direction you’d like us to head off in. And the votes are in. With a landslide 50% of the vote — out of a grand total of 14 voters (count ’em!) — you, my own ‘fit audience’ of Conversation Partners, have decided upon the trajectory of the conversation over the next little while.
You’ve decided that we’re going to wrestle together with the issue of what shape pastoral care will have if it’s to be distinctively Christian.
So, strap yourselves in. Switch on your heads and hearts. And warm up your hands so you don’t get RSI typing your responses. Tomorrow we begin!
As a result, and in a desperate bid to win back some hits from Natalie — who has written the top three most viewed posts in the last month — I want to ask you where you’d like to see things go next. To that end, I’ve set up a poll with some of the themes and trajectories I’ve been thinking might be worth following:
‘To the ends of the earth’ — on trying to re-imagine theology as a specifically missionary activity
‘Like a mother tenderly caring for her children’ — what shape should pastoral care have if it’s to be distinctively Christian?
‘A suit of clothes designed to fit God Himself’ — Israel’s theology of kingship in its Ancient Near Eastern context
Which conversation would you like to participate in?
Exercise your democratic rights and tell me! Voting will close at the end of the week. After that we can launch in the direction you choose.