Thursday, 9 April 2009

spring harvest (3)

Final day of Spring Harvest and a chance to reflect on how things have gone this year. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post the Bible Reading each morning has had a different feel to past years. There is a focus on general themes arising from the passages rather than a close reading, verse by verse, exposition. The passages this year have been taken from Acts covering Pentecost (Acts 2), the fall out from the encounter between Peter and Cornelius (Acts 11), the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) and Paul in Athens (Acts 17). The overall theme has been the Holy Spirit leading the church to push boundaries, creating discomfort and leading to growth. The speaker, Dave Steell, has been very engaging with plenty of insight and challenge, though the stories and illustrations have tended to overshadow the expository content. I do wonder whether the readings have shifted too far away from exposition to the point that they aren’t actually Bible readings and more like the evening Big Top talks or lengthy sermons. This is a shame as there is room for both and some of the Bible readings in the past have been excellent expositions while leaving space and time for application and reflection. I still remember, for example, Jeff Lucas on Jonah from several years ago.

The most memorable and challenging moment in the Bible readings was an audio visual presentation; a series of slides featuring a diverse group of people to the soundtrack of Paul Field’s God of the Moon and Stars. The pictures included young neo Nazis, prostitutes, drug addicts, gay couples, aids sufferers, lepers and others and we were invited to consider who we empathised with and who we felt evoked our prejudices. The speaker recounted an encounter with a woman who lived next to his church. When he asked why she didn’t come along to the church she replied ‘You hate people like me’. The woman was living with another woman and her perception of the church was of a community that hated her and people like her. He concluded his point by commenting that when he faced God it was unlikely God would say to him ‘Dave, you just weren’t judgemental enough’.

The other sessions I’ve been attending have been in the Theorist Learning Zone led by +Nick Baines and Viv Thomas. For me this is where the real meat of the teaching on the week has been found and this year has been some of the best I have experienced on Spring Harvest; in depth Biblical and theological examination of the theme of the day, drawing on a wide range of theologians with acute and at times acerbic personal observations and reflections (the two speakers came from Liverpool so Scouse humour was very much in evidence). On day 3 for example, which looked at the messiness of the spiritual life, the material covered Plato, Augustine, Luther, Pannenberg, Moltmann, Buber, Niemoller, Bonhoeffer amongst others. There have been plenty of memorable points to reflect upon. I tend to jot down striking phrases and comments to take away and mull over and these included:

  • God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope. Moltmann.
  • We are called to a confident humility.
  • Instant gratification has affected our view of spirituality – we have forgotten to learn how to wait. We want strawberries all year round rather than in the right season.
  • We need to cultivate a Water Buffalo theology – drawn from Kosuke Koyama’s Three Mile an Hour God.
  • The Spirit often leads us into dry places to grow. In the desert we have to slow down.
  • There is a difference between whining and lament.
  • We are made to oscillate between solitude and community.
  • We are called to create space in which people can find that they have been found by God.

If I have a criticism of these sessions it is this. The session on day 4 finished with listening to the words of Bruce Cockburn’s Lord of the Starfields. It might have been better to listen to the song perhaps with some appropriate visuals rather than have the words read out but I guess that isn’t very theorist. The problem with the theorist sessions was there was a huge amount of great input crammed in with little space to reflect and tease out the significance and implications, for example, there was hardly any time for questions and I think this was a mistake. Any learning event needs to incorporate a variety of learning styles even if one is the preferred style. I wonder whether this reflects a more general misunderstanding of the principles behind Honey and Mumford’s learning styles approach and it will be interesting to see how Spring Harvest develops this in future. But this is a minor quibble.

So that’s some initial reflections on Spring Harvest 2009. Overall an enjoyable five days with family and friends; plenty of space and time to relax over meals and a glass or three of wine. Lots to be challenged by, think about, pray over and follow up with further reading and study.

Quote of the week: The glory of God is a human being fully alive. Irenaeus.


Nick Baines said...

Phil, good digest and interesting critique of format. The problem is not to do with the 'learning style' assumptions, but that many people asked for more input and less time for questions - which they can ask any time. I fear this is one we can never get right for everybody. But I take your point.

Philip Ritchie said...

+Nick, many thanks for your comment in the midst of a very busy time. First of all let me say that both Kate, my wife, and I really appreciated the theorist sessions led by Viv Thomas and yourself. As I said in the post this was some of the best teaching we have engaged with on Spring Harvest and we really appreciated the depth and breadth of the sessions.

Re questions: I appreciate the difficult task in finding the right balance given the tight time scale of the sessions and to be honest the comment was partly addressed to reflection on my own practice!

I do think there is a wider issue about how far the underlying principles behind the learning styles approach will be followed through at Spring Harvest but it is an approach I welcome and I wait to see how things play out next year.

Anyway, thanks again and I hope you have a joyous Easter despite Liverpool's result v Chelski.