Wednesday, 12 June 2013


The After Shot ... how long can I keep it this tidy?

Since finishing the Foundation Course with St. John's, I have been enjoying some more mindless tasks.  Sarah is enjoying having a husband who isn't too zonked reading theological tomes to wipe kitchen surfaces.

One domestic chore has stood out for me, though: coming up to two years in my current abode, I am sorting the study!

It's been a dumping ground for anything written or printed on paper that we don't immediately know what to do with.  As a consequence, I never studied in my study.

Over the years, I have acquired hundreds of books.  When we eventually move, I dread to think how we will take them all with us.  They take up more space than we really have available.

And as with any major household chore, the best start is to make a coffee, and sit down with a pen and paper.  The result: The Mac Bruithin Theological Library categorization system!

Obviously, there are more books in some categories and others are almost mono-tome, but I'm very pleased at how over the years all those books have formed a good overview of theology.  Now I just have to read them!  (And lend them - seeing all my lovely books made me feel very blessed and in need of sharing the wealth.)

I am considering going completely OCD and buying colour coded stickers for the spines. 

Interestingly (to me), it wasn't as easy as I expected to designate books 'theological' or 'not'.  Many are straight forward enough: 'The Atonement Debate'?  Theology.  'Essential Norn Irish'?  Not. 

Some are less straight forward.  'A Dollar a Day'?  'Making Poverty History'?  'Living in an Age of Absurdity'?  Anything by Michael Moore?

I suppose in real life, things aren't so easily labelled 'sacred' or 'secular'.  And when we try to divide the two, that's when the trouble starts.

When education, politics, economics, psychology, are considered 'secular' and beyond the remit of theological significance.

Actually, the Bible has a lot, an awful lot, to say about how our human life is to be celebrated and ordered, about poverty, philosophy, economics, leadership ... and not just cult and spirituality.

And if I only read theology and am ignorant about wider society and the realities we experience every day, how people are affected by globalization, by cuts to education and neo-liberal market policy, and the history of our country ... well, the theology might come across as a bit irrelevant.

So, I decided in my categorization system to be generous and open-minded in deciding what goes under 'theology'.  As an ordinand and hopefully one day as a priest, I hope to be the same in my approach to life in general!


1.1            Bible Overview & Reference
1.2            Exegesis
1.3            Hermeneutics
1.4            Biblical Languages
1.4.1                Hebrew
1.4.2                Greek
1.5            Bible Translations (English, Other Languages)
1.6            Old Testament
1.7            Intertestamental Studies & Second Temple Judaism
1.8            New Testament


2.1            Overview, Reference & Foundations
2.2            Groups, Denominations & Ideologies
2.3            Individuals
2.4            Periods of History
2.5            Theological Topics
2.5.1                Thinking about God
2.5.2                Christology
2.5.3                Pneumatology
2.5.4                The Trinity
2.5.5                Christian Cosmology and Anthropology
2.5.6                Providence & The Kingdom of God
2.5.7                Soteriology
2.5.8                Ecclesiology
2.5.9                The Last Things
2.6            Apologetics & World Faiths
2.7            Ethics
2.8            Philosophy of Religion
2.9            Other Philosophy


3.1          Practical Theology
3.2          Church
3.3          Ministry: Ordained, Leadership, Team
3.4          Preaching
3.5          Pastoral
3.6          Mission
3.7          Evangelism and Discipleship
3.8          Christian Living
3.9          Family
3.10             Christian Counselling
3.11             Social Justice
3.12             Faith & Politics


4.1            Prayer
4.2            Church Year
4.3            Liturgy
4.4            Music
4.5            Mysticism and Monasticism
4.6            Other


5.1            Dictionaries, Thesauri, etc
5.2            Writing
5.3            Research
5.4            Languages
5.5            Arts & Culture
5.6            Geography & Travel
5.7            History & Biography
5.8            Humour
5.9            Natural Science
5.10          Social Science
5.10.1             Psychology
5.10.2             Education
5.11             Management
5.12             Self-Care & Management

Strange, new places

So, I've got my student number and am officially set to start the MTh course in September.  As well as being an ordinand at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, I'll be a post-graduate student at Trinity College Dublin.  I can experience Freshers' Week all over again!  Although, unfortunately,  lectures start earlier than I recollect from my hazy arts student days in Edinburgh.

Overall, I'm super-excited.  It's no secret that I love learning new things.  It was no great drudgery for me to do the Foundation Course that has become a pre-requisite for anyone training in the Church of Ireland for ordained ministry; I loved it.  My main frustration was that paid employment got in the way - part-time study is hard!

Still, as I start reading material in preparation for September (yes, I know only the saddest of geeks on the course actually do the pre-reading!), it does make me think about where I'm headed.  The thing about learning is that it changes you.

Over the past number of years, I've changed my mind in some quite fundamental ways on a lot of what the Bible says, perhaps especially in Genesis which has come to be one of my favourite books.  I feel like I know more useful theology, that I understand more of who God is and who we humans are, and what we're for and where we're going.  Some of the BIG questions in life.  But I also realize I'll never read the Bible in the same way again.

I decided for a while that I'm not an evangelical any more, and then I realized I can't just undo all the experiences that shaped me earlier on, so maybe I am an evangelical after all.  Who decides what an evangelical believes anyway?

I'm in a very different theological place compared to where I stood at the start of my theological studies.  All well and good and hallelujah.

The problem is, I like it here.  I really like it here.  And I know that, come September, I'll be challenged to move on.

Abraham was called to journey out, without knowing where exactly he was headed.  It's a good metaphor for learning, I think.  As an ordinand, I feel called to something, and that includes training and study, but I don't know where I'll end up.  Not geographically, and not in other terms either.

In particular, I think about post-modernism and historicity, relativism of truth.  I'm a bit nervous about asking those big questions (especially applied to the New Testament) because I don't know what answers I'll get, or what conclusions I'll arrive at.

So is it better not to ask those questions in the first place?  [I just typed 'maybe' and then I deleted it, because it sounded like the obvious next word in the sentence, but I don't believe it myself.  So, no.  No, it isn't better.  Easier, but not better.]

'Not in Kansas, Toto' kind of sums up how I feel about my faith, having been called to study, to move, to be challenged to face up to hard questions about the Bible.  Easy answers have been decimated.  Trite, pious sticking plasters have been ripped off with varying degrees of pain. 

It's a strange, new, post-evangelical world.  We're not in Kansas, Toto.