A former British Prime Minister once observed that a week is a long time in politics … well, this week feels like it’s been longer than we might have hoped, which is why this blog has been silent for a whole seven days. We always knew it was going to be busy: Olive teaching in Durham, and then John teaching in London as well as keeping an eye on his online course, which has people from all parts of the US and even one person from the south of England.
There have been good things about it. The Fuller online course has just taken off like nothing we’ve seen before in that environment, with all the students engaging with real energy and a lot of mutual challenge going on about culture and theology. Which is really encouraging, though the downside is that the more they write the more there is to keep track of! And with 25 of them that’s a lot of words. Our other two teaching assignments have also been encouraging. But the trains ……….. you don’t want to know about any of that. It all seems so simple in advance: it’s less damaging to the environment, as well as being theoretically less stressful and tiring, to travel by train. Except, that is, when it’s not. Olive’s train to Durham got stuck and she was late in arriving (another train had allegedly broken down – which, you might have thought, has happened since the invention of railways, so somebody might just have worked out a way to deal with it: they’ve had almost a century to think about it). Then John got stuck in London unable to catch a suburban train when the power supply was turned off because somebody had walked onto the line and killed himself. More understandable, you might think, till Olive recalled an identical episode when she was in a London train a couple of years ago. It’s one thing to do nothing about trains breaking down and blocking the lines, but wouldn’t you think somebody would be doing something a bit more proactive to save people from themselves by making it really hard to (as in this case) just walk off the end of a station platform and onto the electrified track.
Meanwhile, we both encountered a couple of old faith arguments: in Olive’s case, whether a story can be meaningful if it is not ‘really’ true, and in John’s case a discussion about whether Jesus really should be the lens through which we read the Bible, or whether Paul (or some other) is a better guide to belief. The two are connected, of course, because Jesus spent much of his time telling fictional stories. But at least our respective conversations were about the Bible. John’s title for his seminar (with DMin students) was ‘The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Practical Theology’, which when he agreed to do it seemed like a simple task. Until he started digging into it, and the question soon came to be ‘Use of the Bible in PT? Who are you kidding?’ The word doesn’t even feature in the indexes of most ‘practical theology’ books, and it is never used in any significant fashion. Still, if you don’t use it, at least you can’t abuse it. Or can you?