In-built learning dynamic of church – or not

This quote from Roger Walton about Christian education landed on my desk today. I thought it was worth sharing because it says well that the organisation, system and church of which we are members is already a learning and teaching organisation before any training courses are ever thought of. We are learning all the time. We flourish and engage if the organisation is working well, but we shy away or shrink in an organisation that is not working well at a relational level. Some estimates suggest that as much as 80% happens informally, and that only 20% occurs through formal training. Canadian researcher Allen Tough uses the idea of the iceberg as a metaphor about learning. The bit above the surface is the formal training situation in which some learning happens, but the rest is under the surface. “You just don’t see it. You could forget it’s there unless you keep reminding yourself that it’s there.”

“Stanley Hauerwas once wrote: ‘The church does not “do” religious education…..The church is a form of education.’  Because it is a group of people in relationship with God through Christ, because it tells a story about how the world is, based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, because it is engaged in living together as a radical new and alternative community, it has a built-in pedagogical dynamic…….
This is not an excuse for not planning or running programmes or courses…..It is important, however, to make this broader claim about Christian education before turning to specific suggestions and ideas or we may miss the most critical aspect of Christian education.  Before any Alpha course is put on, small group is formed, or Lent programme devised, Christian education is operating in a church, either attracting, forming and transforming people or leaving them untouched, unengaged or even driven away…
In its practice of gathering together for worship and ordering its life, in its people and their relationships with each other, in its simple routines for sharing bread and wine, welcoming newcomers or using its financial resources, in the quality of spirituality and its expressions of compassion, forgiveness and delight, it offers a potent learning environment.”
Roger Walton, The Reflective Disciple (2009, Epworth) pp158 – 9

More results

Continuing the theme of results, relegation and relationships  this quote was offered on a plate this afternoon:

“Target setting on its own is not enough.  Targets do little to enable progress; they merely signal the desire for it.  Unless you know how to improve they are impotent devices.  Concentrating on the process is where the real action is.  Thus putting energy into the ‘how’ is key.  Results will follow inexorably from this.  They do not lead or by themselves operate as some kind of backwards causation.”

Adrian Brown in Reassessing the Culture of Assessment (Grove Booklet)

Rachael Elizabeth’s poem on measurements is worth reading.

Results, relegation and relationships

The football season is virtually over, relegation issues are settled and just a few teams have any further stake in the rest of the season as they fight for promotion through the play-offs. This wool gathering of a northern dean has some useful insights into the mind of the footballing world, particularly exploring the feelings of players who have failed to perform to expectation and feel the responsibility for relegation.

At the same time, our Year 6 children are sitting their tests and are expected to produce the results that, as they say, won’t let themselves down , their parents down, their teachers down, their schools down and everything else down. Are “results” an  obsession of our age? Is the fascination for measurement and standardisation something that has grown through the industrial revolution and our increasing capacity for measurement?

Results measure success and failure. Kenny Dalglish has discovered that not getting enough of them (wins) while managing Liverpool FC is fatal. Results are the stuff of competition, with the result that they set team against team and performer against performer. In battle there is only one winner and many losers, and, therefore, it is best to avoid that result by finding peace. Some are driven by results, but most of us, most of the time work without seeing results for our effort. How do we keep going?

Thanks to Meg Wheatley (Finding our Way: leadership for an Uncertain Time) I have these thoughts to challenge our results culture: the first is from Vaclav Havel, and the other is from a letter written by Thomas Merton to peace activist Jim Forest.

Hope is a dimension of the soul … an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons … It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.

Do not depend on the hope of results … You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness,the truth of the work itself … You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people … In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.

Wheatley’s own comment is that hope and fear are inescapable partners. “Any time we hope for a certain outcome, and work hard to make it happen, then we also introduce fear – fear of failing, fear of loss.” She says that we can live beyond hope and fear, and that all we need is each other.

I couldn’t resist including the photo I found here. I have asked for permission to use it.

Overcommitment

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralises his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

Thomas Merton in Confessions of a Guilty Bystander

Faith is unpredictable

Faith cannot be taught by any method of instruction; we can only teach religion.  We can know about religion, but we can only expand in faith, act in faith , live in faith.  Faith can be inspired within a community of faith, but it cannot be given to one person by another.  Faith is expressed, transformed, and made meaningful by persons sharing their faith in an historical, tradition-bearing community of faith……the schooling-instruction paradigm works against our necessary primary concern for the faith of persons.  It encourages us to teach about Christian religion by turning our attention to Christianity as expressed in documents, doctrines, history and moral codes”
John Westerhoff ‘Will our children have faith?’ (p 35)

Jamie’s Great Britain

from Paddy’s Marten Inn, Leicester

I was intrigued by ideas of hospitality and celebration whilst watching Jamie Oliver on Channel 4 last night. I was wearing my metaphorical priest’s hat. Jamie gets everywhere on TV. The British public loves him for his energy and commitment. Last night’s programme focused on my home city, Leicester. Jamie’s comments began by highlighting the prospect of Leicester becoming the first UK city where the majority of the population is non-white. Jamie’s glass is definitely half-full and last night’s programme saw him at the asian veg stall on Leicester market and in the kitchen of Amita Mashru’s Gujerati restaurant eager to celebrate what immigrant communities have brought to us and our cooking and to celebrate the British achievement of entertaining different food cultures, and the spices of our foods picked up from different corners of the world.

Hospitality and celebration are central functions of ministry and defines the people of God, including Jews, Muslims and Christians, and other faith communities. Trace Hathorn reminds us that hospitality defines the people of God. He writes: 

The call to welcome the stranger is anchored in the Torah and was a part of themeasure of the Hebrew community’s faithfulness to God. When a traveler came totown, they waited by the well, and it was incumbent upon the townspeople tohouse and feed the visitor for the night.Of course, these travelers were rarelyfamily. … They were aliens, often foreigners, people who had different foods,different clothes, different languages, different gods. Opening one’s home wasrisky. Today we’d describe such a thing as out and out foolish. … Suchhospitality was central to the Hebrew identity. The risk did not define thepeople; their hospitality did, for they knew such hospitality was central tothe character of their God. The same was true in the early Christiancommunities. Paul reminded the Romans to offer hospitality to the alien, and inthe Letter to the Hebrews the people were reminded to show hospitality to allfor in so doing some entertained angels unaware. In Acts, the early deaconspracticed hospitality throughout the community, bringing welcome to those inneed. And in Matthew’s community, hospitality still measured the faithfulnessof the people. Welcoming prophets, righteous ones and disciples (those whomMatthew called “little ones”) was a disciplined practice of the young churches.

What seems to make Jamie such a good host and celebrant is his joie de vivre, the love of his subjects and his love of what people bring to the table. He seems convivial and congenial. Life tastes both bitter and sweet to Jamie’s palate, but his joy in that concoction is infectious. Being entertained and fed by Jamie is intriguing and is challenging my own hospitality and how I play the role of host.

Lines of Thought

Circular Tire Tracks on Highway 9

“I really don’t see the point of reading in straight lines. We don’t think like that and we don’t live like that. Our mental processes are closer to a maze than a motorway, every turning yields another turning, not symmetrical, not obvious. Not chaos either.”

Jeanette Winterton, 2001, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Vintage – quote picked up from Friday Mailing

Man of conversation

Jesus always has time for conversation. He has animated conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the man born blind, anyone he meets. He will eat, drink and pass time with everyone: prostitutes, the hated tax collectors, religious leaders, lepers. God’s word became flesh – not, initially, in sermons proclaimed from pulpits, in learned books of theology, but in human conversation.
Timothy Radcliffe: Why go to Church? (p53)

Aha moments

From Friday Mailing:

From Ed Sanders (Richard Cooke says these are ‘ reflections on his practice as a university teacher. As well as being an outstanding NT scholar himself, Sanders has also produced a rich crop of graduate students – the quote below may show why!’)

“I think that the greatest moment in a teacher’s life is seeing a student have an “ah ha” moment by his or her own endeavor. The instructor’s clever or even memorable phrasing is worth much less. I began my career by overestimating students: I did not realize how much they needed repetition and the practice of describing texts and ideas in their own words. The more patient I was, and the harder I worked at getting them to see things for themselves—rather than offering my own glib solutions of difficulties—the better I was at teaching and the more rewarding I found the activity. The hardest thing to do—at which I often failed in my early years—is to find the students’ own level.”

The whole thing is at http://www.duke.edu/web/gradreligion/documents/GPRnewsfall2008.pdf.