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Why bother? 7 March 2017

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Lent, Life.
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I promised you, dear reader, a daily blog post through Lent. I have to admit that at the moment I’m questioning the wisdom of that promise. Would anybody notice if I failed to post something? Does anybody actually read this? What purpose does it serve? None of these questions arise from a position of despair, I should add. They arise out of a degree of tiredness, well, tiredness and self-doubt to be more precise. It’s not as if I don’t have the time. Tuesday is a long day, so far well-punctuated by walks around the university campus to appreciate the beautiful weather and the rich selection of students studying and staff working here. Indeed one of the joys of ministry is being able to engage with people and their questions, and the role and place of the question was a key element of the discernment process towards ordained ministry – the fact that as I studied for my PhD, over twenty years ago now (where have the years gone?) more people came to visit my little office for pastoral advice, support and answers to questions that ever came from the students in my tutorial groups. In my experience, in so many places people are unwilling to ask questions. It was the apparent lack of enquiry shown among congregations that pushed me in the direction of Chaplaincy (and it disturbs me sometimes how few questions the student body in general seem willing to express sometimes).

question-markWhy should it be so? Why should we be unwilling, to be so coy, about asking questions, even in situations where it is actively encouraged?

Is it because we’re afraid to admit that we don’t know? I sometimes feel that’s the case in the church: that feeling that we should know the answers by now and must have been told them but don’t want to reveal our ignorance in case we’re made to look stupid.

Is it because it would wound our pride to admit our lack of knowledge? I know it took me ages when I was doing my PhD to ask how to use the Internet (this was 1993!). Ridiculous, I know, but I was hung up with the feeling that I should know, and was too proud to ask.

Is it because we are cautious about questioning authority? After all there’s a school of thought that looks for the first occurrence of words or principles in scripture and when it comes to asking questions it’s a rather salutary mention. The first question comes from the mouth of the serpent, the one ‘more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Questions can sow doubt.

Is it because questions can be diagnostic, and unwelcome? Once again in Genesis God asks Cain why he was angry, and anger that manifested in the killing of his brother – and establishes jealousy as the root cause of the first murder. Them again Abraham interceded on the behalf of the city of Sodom, which became a byword for depravity, in the form of a sequence of questions.

Questions. They are fundamental to learning and growth. They are a key to gaining knowledge, and exposing falsehood. You might have gathered by now that questions is the word for the day, too.

What are we afraid of asking? Why are we afraid of asking those questions? Lent is meant to be a season of self-examination and enquiry. If we can’t ask questions of ourselves, or of our faith now, when else can we?

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Comments»

1. Jane Williams - 7 March 2017

I’m a little puzzled by the whole concept here. Who do you expect to be asking you questions? What sort of questions would they be?

Dr Moose - 8 March 2017

I suppose the starting point for this period of blogging in general was one of hoping my questions, aimed primarily at myself, would allow my hypothetical readers to engage somewhat with the spirit and intent of Lent. However, the questions I expected (or expect) to be addressed to me have been those to which faith might perhaps to be able to go some way to answering. So, a rhetorical exercise, at least for starters, although Chris has given me some good real questions with which to engage (and perhaps which I hope might be somewhere in the minds of the students and staff that I meet on campus).

2. Chris Gidlow - 8 March 2017

OK, do you approve of Gay Marriage in the Church of England?
Do you think the Archbishop of Canterbury is right that we should unite behind the will of the people and support Brexit?
Would it have been more useful if he had contributed to the debate before the vote?
Christians seem to be suffering for their faith at the hands of ISIS. Should the west intervene militarily to help them? If no, should we stop whinging about what Putin and Assad are doing to stop them?
Is there a Christian position on abortion?
Are we the lone creatures with souls in the universe? If we find intelligent life on nearby planets, should we be evangelising them or what?

Dr Moose - 8 March 2017

Thanks Chris! Just a little light thinking for me there! I’ll get back to you – seriously.

3. Chris Gidlow - 8 March 2017

Behold my tech problems accessing your blog from the phone!

4. Chris Gidlow - 8 March 2017

My ideal would be a high church service with familiar liturgy (and no hand shaking), followed by a chance to discuss issues that arose from the readings and the sermon. I’d like to sit in a comfortable chair drinking a nice coffee, like a cappuccino, not something made by an old lady who doesn’t drink coffee herself made from one spoon of Tesco’s Value Instant Coffee from a catering oil-drum sized canister. With no idle chit-chat about ‘how’s the family?’ or ‘do you want to buy a raffle ticket?’
The last time I was inspired to take the vicar up on a point raised in the sermon, it did not go down at all well, with the priest making some feeble excuse and going off to more social chitchat with old folk. The reading and the sermon that followed had been on the Miraculous Draught of Fishes. In the sermon this was treated as something which had really happened, exactly as reported by John, and some waffly Anglican lesson like ‘God provides’ or ‘God knows better than us’ applied to it. I asked if Father Luke thought this had really happened, in the sense that if you had been wandering along the shore of the Sea of Galilee in April 33AD you would really have been able to watch some men dragging a bulging net ashore and be able to count out the 153 fish in it. I had some points to make one way or the other but it was a genuine, non confrontational question. And it was pretty obvious that even though the answer could have been a straight yes, a straight no or a straight maybe, it wasn’t an answer the priest wanted to give. Even though he had taken up 20 minutes of my time going on about it already. And I bet because, as a trained theological student, he was pretty sure it wasn’t.

Dr Moose - 8 March 2017

I can understand the frustration at the non-engagement to a straight and well-intentioned question, & the observation on coffee! (I’m more Low Church myself). I know from experience that I can struggle with converting an interesting passage from a matter of theological/intellectual engagement (even if only as simple as ‘Is it true? Can it be trusted? Does it matter either way?) into a memorable take-away/conclusion. I can see that I should be doing more thinking and blogging – if only because instant answer facebookland is a poor medium for engagement.


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