Gerry Hughes on encouraging the critical element

Completely Blank Signpost
Gerard Hughes SJ died last month – an obituary is here. He had much to say about Christian formation, including this from a chapter called “clearing the approaches” in God of Surprises.

The Church must encourage the critical element in its members. 

If it fails to do so, then the individual will not be able to integrate religious belief with everyday experience or, put in other words, God will be excluded from most of the individual’s life until religion comes to be considered a private but harmless eccentricity of a minority.

If the Church does encourage the critical element, then it must expect to be questioned and challenged by its members and it must be prepared to change its own ways on thinking and acting, submitting itself to the light of truth.  Such an attitude is only possible in a Church which has a strong faith in God’s presence in all things………….

Her teachings will never be delivered as the last word on any subject, but rather as signposts, encouraging her members to explore the route further for themselves.”

Gerard Hughes, God of Surprises, DLT 1985, p. 21

Thanks to Friday Mailing for bringing this to our attention. The “complete blank signpost” is a photo by Andrew Bowdon.

Risking self in learning

“Learning is not a process from which the learner can stand aloof, remaining fundamentally unchanged, as the possessor of her knowledge.  Rather, learning – if it is true learning – is a process in which the learner’s present understanding, her present configuration of desire, her present way of being in the world, are at stake. It is a process in which the learner’s relation to the object of her knowledge, and so everything that she has invested in the present form of the relationship, are placed at risk.  Yet the Gospel proclaims both that the learner must take such a risk with herself, and also that she is safe enough to take it.  Held by God’s lavish mercy, the learner is freed to take the risk of an ongoing kenosis that is the form of her journey deeper into God’s own knowledge, and the proper form of learning.”
This is the quote which comes as the PS in Friday Mailing. Friday Mailing is a useful compilation of resources for adult education produced by Joanna Cox and Tim Ling at the Education Division of the Church of England. (Contact Joanna Cox if you want to subscribe). This quote is from Mike Higton’s A Theology of Higher Education,  (OUP 2012), p 158. It applies to all disciples. (The book may be out of reach cost-wise. £71 at Amazon. OUCH).


Joanna Cox does a great job for us in our Adult Education Friday Mailing. She always concludes with something quotable – this week it is Jenny Rogers on Adult Learning:

Many discussions in adult, further, or higher education and training are far from being as free or equal as they need to be because tutors, often unconsciously, guide, manipulate and dominate proceedings. …….It is hard discipline as a tutor to keep you mouth shut, to listen, and to show signs of listening instead of talking. Most of us are good at talking and especially enjoy talking about our subjects. Not talking can be exquisite agony, as any experienced tutor will know.

We don’t think much about lsitening. In our churches skills are developed using mouths rather than ears. We talk about “good preaching”, “good singing”, “leading prayers” and “reading well”. We don’t talk about “listening” and we don’t bother thinking that much about how we can improve our listening (turning up the volume and installing a loop is about hearing, not listening). What can be really annoying is listening to a preacher who doesn’t listen – to God or his brothers and sisters. It seems only fair to me that if a preacher is inviting us to listen to him/her, s/he should return the favour.
I came across “Nonviolent Communication” aka “Compassionate Communication Skills” the other day. Marshall Rosenberg created Nonviolent Communication and is Founder and Director of Educational Services for the Center for Nonviolent Communication. Here is a clip on nonviolent communication.

>Taking learning to task

Jane Vella very helpfully takes “Learning to Task” distiinguishing between “teaching tasks” and “learning tasks”. She points out what most of us already know. That is, active learning is the most effective and active learning is done through “tasks”. Confession time now. I confess all the hours I have put in to the teaching task and how little I have put into developing learning tasks. I have worried about what I have to present – is it clever enough, is it full enough, is it understandable? What I should have been worrying about is developing the opportunities for active learning.

She writes:

Socrates knew it. Jesus knew it. The Buddha knew it. Every open question asked as the peripatetic crowd in white togas strolled around Athens, every parable put to the crowds at the lakeside, every subtle image set for unravelling in the heat of India was a learning task….
African youth in their cohort, facing a challenging route to manhood, are given a set of learning tasks. Astronauts who are facing an inviting universe move through a gruelling set of learning tasks. A new mother, apprehensive and humble with her infant in her arms, faces a daunting daily set of learning tasks.

Jane Vella suggests four types of learning task.

Induction tasks – they are tasks to connect us with what we already know and with our unique context.
Input tasks – they are tasks inviting us to examine new input – concepts, skills and attitudes.
Implementation tasks – they are tasks that get us to do something directly with that new context – implementing it.
Integration tasks – these tasks integrate this new learning into our lives, applying what we have learned to our life and work.

In the back of my mind I have a model framework for our liturgy – it’s sadly a bit like a song I can’t get out of my mind. The overall framework is “hospitable” – with four sections. First, there is what is called “the gathering”, then there is the “Liturgy of the Word” (here’s the teaching), then there is the “Liturgy of the Sacrament” and finally that little bit at the end called “Dismissal”. Without too much force I find this mirrors thr four types of task.

Induction tasks – “Gathering”
Input tasks – “Liturgy of the Word”
Implementation tasks – sharing the Peace, gathering round the table, sharing the one cup
Integration tasks – going in peace to love and serve the Lord and live the Gospel.

There’s a challenge here. And the challenge is how to switch from “teaching tasks” to ” learning tasks”. If Jane Vella (with Knowles, Freire et al) is right, effective discipling depends on that switch.

>Folly and Wealth

Jim Janknegt‘s picture of the Rich Fool describes two economies. The economy of the rich fool shows the grim reality of the rich fool who decided to build bigger barns and to take life easier. He is on his own, surrounded by “stuff” with the lights turned down – presumably saving money. Neighbours live in a smaller house. They are bathed in light as they gather round the table enjoying company of each other. Jesus’s parable, Jim’s picture, and the credit crunch underline the folly of materialistic capitalism. We’ve been led to believe that we should follow the lead of those with style – celebrity lifestyle – with the likes of HEAT magazine. From this picture we seem to have a lot to learn from those who haven’t succeeded in the worldly economic sense – those who value people more than things – those who look out for others instead of just looking out for themselves.
Rev Tim Hastie Smith, speaking at the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference referred to the “prophetic duty” of schools to challenge lives “dedicated to the acquisition of more things”. He said the next generation will learn to make do with less only if it is introduced to a different sort of wealth.

Room at the Inn


An interesting day yesterday at our local George and Dragon (linked as a thank you for their hospitality and for the benefit of those reading this blog in New Zealand who might want somewhere to stay in tarvin!). We’ve tried various things this Lent – one of which is a group meeting in the pub. Thanks to friend Hazel’s suggestion we’ve called it Room at the Inn and that’s caught people’s imagination. We gather every Tuesday morning at 9.30, each week starting with one of the four great questions of human being;

Who am I?
Where do I come from?
Where do I belong?
Where am I going?
Group members go where they like with the questions – but we’ve been returning to Psalm 139 at the end. It’s a great time and what we have shared has been really valuable. Friend Jinty came up with a really thought provoking quote from Penelope Lively:

We are all conditioned in a sense by those to whom we are bound; my real-life husband affected the person that I have become. Without him, with someone else, who knows what twists of personality might not have come about. I am a rather pragmatic and organized person. I was about to write “naturally pragmatic and organized” – but is that the case? Are such tendencies innate, or honed by circumstance?

Other people referred to the likes of Nelson Mandela and Terry Waite raising the question of why we react as we do, and what makes some reactions exemplary?
Note to me: see what happens when you only say the first words and then let people get on with it!