Archives For Academics

learning-in-progressAs the year draws to a close, I find myself thinking about the past twelve months of blogging. I’m fortunate to have had many new interactions with some great thinkers, and some edge dwelling doers, in the active academic field of theology and ministry.

This year, however, I’ve also met with a different, darker side of that field.

I’ve studied theology and have a double degree to show for it. I’ve Read the books. Ticked all the boxes, met the requirements; even made some lecturers smile. Yet, the more I read and learn; the more I seek to participate in the world of academia, the more I see that I don’t fit easily into some of its neatly stacked bubbles.

For starters, my current occupation involves me being a homeschool teacher to my five kids. I don’t say all the “right things” or do what others do to get noticed. I don’t pad agreement on top of agreement. I haven’t written a book yet, and I don’t write blog posts that give an overly appreciative applause to something I’ve read or someone I know.

I write to benefit the reader; share a discovery and hope to learn something in the process. I don’t write for the approval of any who might read my post. I don’t write for others to see how brilliant my academic ability is, and as a result offer me a position on their team. Neither do I seek to invite insult, just to paint myself as a victim.

My focus is on how the theology I read and study, critiques what we are being sold in by society through the media, Hollywood, the Universities and in politics.

I’m interested in working out how that theology translates into ministry; how the Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to the world today in its obsession with escalating the hostility between Left and Right.

How that theology brings a critique against the conclusions of academics who, all too often, appear ready to shoot down conservatives, or those on the right with tired rhetoric, slogans and labels.

For sure, some of that criticism in the past has been justified, but when does that criticism, itself become a whip or chain used to oppress new victims?

For instance, I’ve come to learn that any post that seeks to draw theologians like Barth or Bonhoeffer ‘’outside of the box’’ won’t be met with encouragement, let alone a smile. I don’t read the works of Karl Barth or Dietrich Bonhoeffer through the agreed upon traditional political filters; speak about them through a modern liberal theological lens.

For that I’ve been drawn into some heavy discussions with overly picky critics. I’ve even had someone go out of their way to politely warn me that if I want to move forward in my academic studies, I shouldn’t upset those in power on the Left, by rocking their boat [i].

But I’m not the kind of person who goes around stroking egos, my own or those of the people around me. I aim to proclaim the truth and do that in a loving way. Will it be a flawed communication sometimes? Yes. Do I do my best to take into consideration the blind sides and their inevitable limitations? Absolutely. With every fiber of my ability to do so.

The more I venture into this post-grad world, the more I see; the more I begin to understand that if you’re not politically aligned with what is considered to be the collectives authorised narrative, you’re more likely to just end up speaking to yourself.

The warning signs are clear, if you’re not ‘’on board enough,’’ you won’t succeed beyond what you may have already accomplished. For some, it doesn’t matter how well you write, draw, paint, sing, create or communicate. If you say something different that opposes the consensus of those in box, you’re viewed as a threat to the thrones of those in power within the box.

Even though I’ve worked hard all my life, am a certified four year college graduate; parchment-on-the-wall qualified theologian. The past twelve months have shown me that in the field of theology, I’m an insider forced to live on the outside.

And that’s okay. Here I stand. Introspectively speaking, I’m freed from having to perform to the same oppressive modern liberal tune I suspect many others feel they have to dance to.

I have questions about the appearances, sums and conclusions, so widely assumed watertight, honest and reliable. I’m not looking to rise to the top of the echo chamber. Not looking to outdo, or compete for a position in it. I’m seeking to make an honest contribution. Share what I’ve found and work on refining that as God’s Grace allows.

The past twelve months have opened my eyes to the fact that if I’m relegated to the sidelines because of this, than perhaps the problem has less to do with me, and more to do with those who pushing me, and others like me, there.


Notes:

[i] Yes this did happen. No I’m not prepared to reveal who.

Reading Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet’ has jolted to my understanding of what it means to be introverted and/or extroverted.Quiet_Susan Cane

I’m not all the way through it yet, but I have a real sense that her project on personality, which is written like an academic text, has deep value for ministry and pastoral theology in general.

A particular area of  interest for me was that in at least one University in America, based on her observation and research, if you failed to create a significant social network, the assumption was that you had by default, also failed your degree[i]. That is even if you had met the required mark for successful completion of that degree.

I wondered at the implications for students who spend a considerable amount of their learning via the internet, because the infrastructure is geared towards the individual achievement, not so much on how much that community likes you; or worse is pleased with you.

One of the most pressing questions this raised for me was: Does the lack of “physical-networking” factor into to the overall reality of success and holistic achievement?

Cain infers that there are forces at work within society who seek to turn introverts into extroverts. For instance: A higher value is placed on charisma, smile, popularity and the ability to sell-beyond all borders anything, anywhere at any time, whilst still maintaining healthy energy levels and close, well-founded, mutually beneficial relationships.

This uncovers somewhat of a contradiction between what some in academia promise and what reality actually delivers. The former promotes education as the means to opportunity, barely acknowledging the fact that money and status are really the things which feed opportunity. The reality is that when it comes to opportunity, what you might know is superseded by where you stand financially and who you know (or, rather who knows and likes you) socially.

If what Cain has identified is accurately represented across the board, the truth is that money and status are what bring opportunity, education is only a framework for gaining social advantage.

This opens a can of worms for the variables in social networking. Some of which can be very fickle. Cain’s research essentially implies that if a person is not well liked then they will not be well connected or be well supplied with the same equal opportunities as, say someone (the probability is that this person will be an extrovert) who has won over hearts with charm and a loud personality. Although, on balance, Cain does point out that smoke and mirrors can only last so long before the truth wins out.

Therefore the implications for introverts are not all negative. For instance, Cain asserts:

‘while introverts have trouble projecting artificial enthusiasm…it is not a bad thing because this inflexibility can motivate an introvert to speak from their convictions’[ii]

Cain then moves on to make some heavy assertions in order to reinforce her point, stating that enough evidence exists to suggest that if the introverts in well supply on Wall Street at the time before the Global Financial Crisis had been listened to, the G.F.C may have been avoided[iii].

There are numerous amounts of key phrases, examples of studies and key words that make this reading a high calibre resource.

Things like “reward sensitivity”, “high reactivity”, “high sensitivity”, “the extrovert ideal”, “over stimulation”, “under stimulation” and the value, for introverts, in finding a “sweet spot” i.e.: finding balance  between energy drain and energy gain; knowing when to put the book down and head out to a cafe with a friend, and then when to exit gracefully. Recharged and ready.

For now it’s raising a lot of questions about how the church can improve the care of Pastors and that of the community.

Considering all the micro and macro concerns about how various parts of the church have failed (some catastrophically) in its duty of care, Cain is one researcher the church community should be listening to within reason. Granted there has been a lot of reading where I have had to push through, such as her use of Al Gore and his “Global Warming/Climate change” evangelism (“campaign”) [iv], and the findings of evolutionary biologists. Nothing against either of these groups, it’s just that both are scientific areas where I consider myself an agnostic, primarily due to the variables in their conclusions and the militant, political-ideological threads associated with both.

I’ll put together some more thoughts on this once I complete it.


[i] Cain, S 2012 Quiet: The Power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking Penguin Group, p.47
[ii] ibid, p.129
[iii] Ibid, p.155 (Chapter Seven covers this at length providing a very interesting hypothesis on the reasons for the event)
[iv] ibid, p.149

Readinglist_Revisited

Summer is in full swing.

Right now it’s 5.29am, dark and the temperature gauge is reading 20 degrees. These past few days in particular have hit us with a ‘scorching band of intense heat’ (heat wave).  Unless we get some rain, a southern wind and some decent cloud coverage, the gauge is bound to climb.

The more relaxed pace this all brings has prompted me to renew my ongoing, and ever-expanding list of books to read. It seems only right to revisit established lists and reform them – not simply because this seems to be a trendy thing for bloggers to post about, but, because January is traditionally Australia’s Holiday month. Thirdly, reform is good practice for Christians, and finally, I couldn’t shake the idea after reading this post[i] on Sis’ blog DelightfulOak a few days back.

Reading list revisited:

Achieved:

Public man Private Woman, Jean Bethke Elshtain 1981

Democracy on Trial, Jean Bethke Elshtain 1995

The Lord of the ring: Uncovering (Count Zinzendorf),  Phil Anderson 2007

Church Dogmatics (Vol.4:4 & Vol 1:1), Karl Barth

Creation, Power and Truth Tom Wright, 2013

A Confession, Leo Tolstoy

Current List:

1. Preaching to a post-everything world, Zack Eswine 2008
2. Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking Susan Cain, 2012
3. Subversive Obedience Truth-telling and the Art of Preaching, Walter Brueggemann, 2011
4. Karl Barth: Theologian of Witness, Jospeh L. Mangina
5. Between past and present, Hannah Arendt 1954
6. Augustine and the Limits of Politics, Jean Bethke Elshtain
7. The kindergarden of Eden, Evan Sayet 2012
8. The Children of Men, P.D. James 1992
9.  Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1948
10. Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1955
11. Church Dogmatics, Karl Barth (all of em)
12. Legalizing Misandry, Paul Nathanson & Katherine Young 2006
13. Lord of the Flies, William Goldman 1954
14. Galatians For You: Commentary, Timothy Keller
15. Moravian Texts for 2014
16. Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture, Johnson & Larsen 2013
17. Neo-orthodoxy, Swayer 2012
18. Simone Weil and Theology, Stone & Stone[ii]
19. Million Little Ways, Uncover the Art you were made to live, Emily Freeman
20. Beyond Charity, John Perkins
21. Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout, Patrick Moore


[i] ‘First Things First’, Sis @DelightfulOak
[ii] Thanks to Kevin Davis for recently pointing this one out on his blog After Existentialism, Light