Of Preachers, Poets & Performance, with some inspiration from Sarah Kay

I was blown away by this utterly captivating performance by Sarah Kay telling of things that matter and drawing people into her enterprise. Poetry lifted from the page takes on an entirely different dimension.

Peter Stevenson reminds us that preacher and poet are both performance arts and reminds us of David Schlafer’s encouragement to preachers that they find their own preaching voice as Poet, Storyteller or Essayist.

Now so much performance art is available on the likes of Youtube, more preachers will find their poetic voice. Irish poet Michael O’Siadhail points out that the Irish word for poet, ‘files’, translates as seer.

The prophetic voice is the poetic voice, ordinarily spoken and performed. It’s a tradition that is as old as God’s people as poets have spoken from the heart and to the heart, from the heart of God to the heart of people, from the heart of the people to the heart of God.

Teaching and hospitality – pause for thought from Henri Nouwen

“When we look at teaching in terms of hospitality, we can say that the teacher is called upon to create for students a free and fearless space where mental and emotional development can take place…. The hospitable teacher has to reveal to the students that they have something to offer. Many students have been for so many years on the receiving side and have become so deeply impregnated with the idea that there is still a lot more to learn, that they have lost confidence in themselves and can hardly imagine that they themselves have something to give, not only to the ones who are less educated but to their fellow students and teachers as well…..”

Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out

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

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)

Educating Essex

Entrance to Gyms
Passmores School, Harlow – the scene for Educating Essex.
This photo from vincentballard

Well done Channel 4 for the Educating Essex series. (Though the Daily Wail has a rather different take on it).We have enjoyed seeing a vibrant learning community built round dedicated professional teachers: Mr Goddard as Head (he has blogged), Mr Drew as Deputy and Miss Conway as Head of Year 11 who seem dedicated to responding to the emotional needs of this group of adolescent teenagers. It was good to hear Mr Drew telling his Year 11 students “You have no idea how much I like teaching you, you have no idea.” Passmores School, near Harlow, is an “outstanding school” according to Ofsted which has more than met its target of students’ GCSE achievements.

Ryan, with Aspergers, is beautiful, and moved us (as well as his fellow students and headteacher) to tears with his impromptu speech on leaving day when he declared the two years spent in school as the happiest of his life, with the school becoming his family. Here the argument about whether Asperger’s is “disease” or “syndrome” is settled in favour of syndrome – a difference rather than a disability to be cured. 


Vinni’s story is told with great senstivity. He is in care twenty miles from school, family and friends. He loses his bet that he will be at the end of year prom by failing to attend school for the last term and so forfeits his right to the prom ticket. He does turn up to see what he is missing. I guess a lot of people would have said “What are you doing here?” Not so Mr Goddard. He greets Vinni with “Great to see you. Sorry you’re not here properly.” Mr Goddard comments that Vinni is only a child – one let down by so many people – including himself.


On a day when  the media had been discussing the depressing findings of ICM research published by Barnardo’s, it was good to see youngsters managing to live and work in a community, and to see dedicated professional teachers flexible enough to work close to the emotional and educational needs of the students. That survey suggests that 44% adults agree that British children are becoming “feral”, and that 47% say that the trouble with young people is that they are “angry, violent and abusive”. Oh, the power of the Daily Wail/Fail as the hidden persuader of our perceptions.


I have often noticed the phrase that dates when there were better times. It is “thirty years ago”, and 30 years ago has always been better than today. 30 years could be the measure of a generation, and a way of expressing our fear of the next generation and how they are going to be as members of “our” society. Steven Pinker observes that one of the effects of ageing is to be negatively judgemental about the next generation, and to be inclined to believe that the past (which is our generation) is always better than the present. In his book, The Better Angels of Nature he demonstrates that the (further) past was a far nastier place than we might have imagined and that the present is far nicer than we might have noticed.

Asperger’s Syndrome Foundation

Integrity and teaching

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organic growth
“A complex web of connections”
Organic Growth from the Internet Mapping Project
posted by jurveston
These lines from May Sarton indicate something of the integrity of the “good” minister, teacher or human being:
Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
worn other people’s faces … (the rest of the poem is here)
I have worn other people’s faces because it’s safe to be in the crowd. I have worn other people’s faces but they have never fit. I have tried to be clever. I have tried to be funny. I have even tried to be effective. But these faces never fit. We live in a world where standards are imposed and where we are trained from the outside in to conform to certain standards. When Jesus breathed new life into his disciples (John 20:19-23) he seemed to be giving them a very different inside-out spiritual direction for their lives. Parker Palmer, who quotes the above lines from May Sarton, talks about the divided self and the undivided self. A self divided is a self dis-membered and lacking integrity. For Palmer “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” They “join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.”
Palmer goes on to say that good teachers are “able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves. … The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts – meaning heart in its ancient sense, as the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self.”
When I reflect on the good teachers I have had I find that they are people who refused “other people’s faces”, who committed time to me and gave me their undivided attention. I also reflect that they have been a rather rare breed, but then I may not have been the right student to help great teaching happen with all the others I have known. The good teachers, though. have been more than enough – thank God.