Since leaving Uni I’ve found it really difficult – despite all of my best intentions – to keep learning as an adult.
Uni helped me 1. learn new things, 2. learn how to learn new things and 3. unlearn stupid things. This is much harder to do without accountably and structure.
Seven years later however, and I’m going through something of a personal learning renaissance! This has been like wearing tumble dried socks after walking in sandals through the rain: Heaven.
Here are three really simple things that I’ve been doing that have been helping me to learn new things, exercise how to think and learn how to break bad thinking habits. Maybe you could try them too?
1. Watch TED constantly.
TED brings the best communicators and thinkers from around the world and gives them a very short amount of time to blow away their audiences. The talks have to be properly researched, thoroughly thought-through and creatively presented. Easy, digestible and discussable mental stimulation.
2. Learn to speed read …. properly.
I had to speed read a lot in Uni because our reading lists were simply terrifying! This was usually skimming through for key words and quotes while quickly digesting conclusions. However, by utilising peripheral vision theory of word groups and following lines properly I’ve sped up my reading time about 40% – reading EVERY word! This means I can read more intently, widely and quickly.
3. Write as a job.
I’m now a part-time freelance writer for startups and charities. I have to research an incredible breadth of topics so that I can write in the required voices and sound like an authority in any given topic. I have to sound like the client who obviously does know their trade and market. Just this past month I’ve written for a world class robotics firm, a martial arts academy, a private tuition agency and a start up exterior plastering trade. Writing with the pressure of a client means you have to research, think and communicate on several different levels.
The smartest people that I’ve ever met are incredibly convicted but not at all black-or-white. I think the more of complexity you understand the more scope you will give to variables. Thinking is a gift; one that I take very seriously…. some of the time. It’s well worth getting gritty with our brains and learning how to think critically, communicate clearly and understand compassionately. These three C’s will eventually save civilisation. I hope.
At some point during the 18th century we decided that mentally ill people were ‘mad.’ And by mad we meant a danger to themselves and a danger to others. So we humanised and sanitised their living arrangements. Thus began the stories of Bedlam, institutions, electroshock therapy, padded walls and strappy jackets.
This was the humane way in which we treated the mentally ill that demonstrated the ‘progressive’ nature of modern medicine.
However earlier than this and specifically during the Renaissance, the mentally ill were seen as simply different or irregular. Allowed to live freely in society and possessing qualities and wisdoms that helped to keep our perception of the world accountable.
Michel Foucault was particularly interested in this and what he saw as the degrading of humanity through modern medicine. Foucault pointed out just how much more tolerant we were as a society before we started sectioning people.
I don’t believe in many black and whites, and of course our understanding of biology and medicine has come a long way in potentially helping those with mental health difficulties. However, the pitiful and disgraceful amount of money in the NHS budget allocated to treat mentally ill patients tells us that we simply cannot employ this philosophy any longer.
We have to take a step forward – as has been said many times publicly this last year – in treating mental illness properly, but in doing so we cannot take two steps back by further dehumanising and segregating mentally ill people.
Our philosophy should always start with people as people. Incorporation, tolerance, understanding and integration. Surely in the majority of cases, the best treatment grows from a holistic view of society, recognising that a properly functioning group begins with the sum of all its peoples.
We can all do with some perception challenging in this area, because in the spectrum of mental-health maybe were all a little nuts.
One of the hot n’ tasty – albeit pseudo-informed – statements of this year is, ‘if you didn’t vote then you have no right to complain.’
It is getting increasingly difficult and increasingly stupid to make this argument with any real sense of conviction.
This year the voters were juggling less discernible differences between to the two major parties, dwindling credibility of the Liberal Democrats and swelling inflammation of the UK Independence Party. This year the media giants were out for blood with an unmatched and intense bias. This year pitted the candidates against each other in an awkwardly broadened yet puddle-deep televised debate. And this year saw Russell Brand throwing his hat into the ring!
Turnout at the 2015 General Election was the highest in nearly two decades with 66.1% of eligible people voting. This means that more people voted with less credible information than perhaps ever before.
The First Past The Post system gave the Conservatives 330 seats – a parliamentary majority – with only 37% of the vote, and only 24% of the eligible vote.
It’s easy to see why people don’t consider voting as an effective option.
It’s even easier to demonise non-voters as something less than British, or something less than human.
I’m not being melodramatic. When we deny people the right to be disillusioned, confused, appalled and upset – or when we deny them the right to complain about the decisions being made over and without them, we deny them the basic human rights of free expression and free speech.
We also fracture the foundation stones of democracy.
Part of living in a Democracy is the protection and representation of even those who disrespect the system. The beautiful downside to any Democracy is the freedom it provides to even those who would seek to undermine it.
At it’s extreme, a true Democracy goes out of its way to protect even those citizens who actively seek to destroy it. This is the wake of a Democracy, the price we pay for representation and the only real way to ensure the freedom of its people.
It’s not enough just to say, ‘you didn’t vote so all your rights, privileges and complaints are immediately invalid.’ Using that logic Children have no right to complain either, nor does my wife who is a tax paying, settled foreign national.
First Past The Post may have worked when we we’re a two party country, however the nightmare of this system now is the feeling of powerlessness it leaves for many who have a genuine reason to believe that their vote simply wouldn’t count.
Those of us who did vote, however have a nasty – and dare I say ‘slightly’ fascist – idea that because other people didn’t vote, their privileges and even their human rights to free speech and free expression are somehow to be regarded as less than ours.
This country is not split into voters and non-voters.
We the people are not ‘we who turned up’ and the future of our prosperity, health services and education is not reserved for only those special few who share our ideology about voting or our ability to vote.
In a Democracy we believe in the vocalisation of minority opinions. We believe that all sides should have a right to be heard. We believe that everybody has a right to their opinion – right? But somehow there is one glaring exception: everyone has a right to their opinion only as long as they actually vote. They have no right to any different opinion on voting – and all their opinions are devalued if they don’t.
There is a silent argument about those who won’t/can’t vote still being part of the country, protected by it’s laws with a right to be discontent. ‘You didn’t vote so you can shut the hell up and lump it for the next five years’ is simply a dramatic misunderstanding the system we live in – and the one that we vote in.
We need to get our game faces on and encourage voting – but this will not happen by degrading, devaluing and further disillusioning those who didn’t. The country is not split into voters and non-voters. We should move past these lazy, elitist arguments and start coming together to raise the bar, give hope for the future and actually fix the problem!
Our modern. 21st-century view of dating can be summed up in five words: “snag the best you can.”
This clearly has more to do with you than the one you want to go out with. You, sir or madam, are a certain build, a certain character, a certain group of personalities, a certain hairline, a certain waistline and a certain punchline. Put all those characteristics into the magical food processor of life and out pops a concoction with a very specific formula that only certain suitors will drink.
Effectively, this ranks potential partners into a devastating hierarchical pyramid. The PHD supermodel at the top, and the receding, skinny ginger (myself) at the bottom buried under a foot of peat. You learn very quickly how high on that pyramid to aim – and then you stick there. Anyone above your level is ‘out of your league’ therefore ‘out of bounds’ and ‘not worth the effort.’
This is the exact opposite of the eminent, classical philosopher Plato. One of Plato’s key theories was that you should always allow your lover to change you.
The way this works out in practice is that rather than looking for someone just like you or at your level or in your league, you instead look for someone who possesses characteristics that you want but do not have. You aim for the stars!
Your lover should be more than you. By virtue of being with you, they will help you develop those characteristics that you want. They should simply help you become more than you already are; a better person. You should always reach beyond your ‘league.’
I met my wife at Uni. She was four years older than me, a poet, and an incredibly smart philosophy student with some history in modelling. She was totally beyond my reach. Yet by the grace of God we ended up together, despite my best efforts to trash it.
After we’d known each other for a month she asked me directly, ‘Are you interested in me?’ And I – subscribing of course to the ‘not in my league’ formula – lied through my buckteeth. ‘No, no, no! Of course not. We’re just friends!’ Little did I know how much that was to break her heart, and how close we came to utter disaster. Salvaged only by her tenacity and my ineptitude. Eight years later, I still wake up dumbfounded.
So aim above, don’t aim below. Don’t settle for ‘the trick is to go for the 2nd prettiest.’ Don’t believe all the nonsense that the media feeds you about what you deserve and what makes people compatible. Reach for the stars and do not settle.
This will take more time and more self-improvement and more confidence on your part. This will take more waiting and more self-control and self-restraint. Yet this is the only way to a happy partnership that really grows you as a couple and develops you as an individual.
Thank you Plato, you dog.
The supermarket chain Lidl, announced a new policy yesterday saying that their staff would only speak English to customers irrespective of their native language.
A spokesperson for the chain said “this is for the benefit of all our customers as well as our staff to ensure a comfortable environment where all feel included.”
This is causing something of a stir, especially here in Wales where the native language is considered to be both a birth right a national treasure. Jamie Bevan, chairman of Cymdeithas yr Laith (The Welsh Language Society) responded to the announcement by saying “since the Welsh language bill was passed four years ago, it is illegal to stop staff from speaking to customers in Welsh”.
Legality aside, Lidl’s assertion that ironing out the language differences to create value and inclusion is desperately misguided and it will tragically backfire.
This is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the word ‘tolerance’ that’s regularly used in public media in the UK masked under the newer catch-phrase ‘inclusion.’
Tolerance by definition implies differences, intolerance seeks to abdicate differences and iron us all out to generic mediocrity.
Webster’s ‘WordNet’ Dictionary defines tolerance as the “willingness to recognise and respect the beliefs and practices of others,” and intolerance as the “unwillingness to recognise and respect differences in opinions or beliefs.” Which does Lidl’s new policy sound like?
Tolerance by definition implies differences, intolerance seeks to abdicate differences and iron us all out to generic mediocrity. The way the UK media and lawmakers speak about tolerance since 9-11 has been soaked in intolerance. We are now simply too afraid of different opinions, different cultures, different languages and especially different religious practises and beliefs to be tolerant.
Fear is naturally intolerant and seeks to remove others that don’t live within constantly narrowing perimeters.
Fear is a great leveller. In this case it levels people in the public sphere to act and think alike, and to not express difference. Fear is naturally intolerant and seeks to remove others that don’t live within constantly narrowing perimeters. The massive online surge of support for Britain First is a great example of this.
I, like most people in the UK am afraid of terrorism. I, like most people in the UK also want to stick it to terrorists. The very best way to live from the former is to hide all differences. The very best way to do the latter is to magnify and celebrate them.
It’s our tolerance that terrorists hate so much. It’s our diversity and unity that they fear so greatly. We accept more than one view. That is the freedom we have.
Dear Lidl. Don’t value people by devaluing their natural and native differences. Celebrate and expound those differences.
Dear UK. Be tolerant! Accept and delight in diversity and difference. Don’t iron people out. Don’t give into fear.
Dear Terrorist. Stop killing others, then yourselves, in the wrong order.
There are lots of well known and accepted reasons to be in School, not least of which is you can kiss your youth ministry goodbye in a few years if you’re not. Here’s a few though that came to mind that are maybe sometimes overlooked:
To challenge stereotypes
Young people are several generations removed from the world of habitual church attendance and Sunday school. This leaves their systems wide open to lots of misinformation and tabloid-infused stereotypes of who Christians are and what Church looks like.
“By being present in school you can continually challenge the stereotype of what Christ-followers look like.”
Last week I asked 140 year 9 students in groups of 5 to give me a freeze frame for the word ‘church.’ The vast majority had people kneeling on the floor bowing to a vicar figure who was stood up on a chair looking posh and disinterested. A few did funerals, and one did an image of ‘togetherness.’ One in nearly 30 groups caught at least something of the heart of church.
By being present in school you can continually challenge the stereotype of what church and Christ-followers look like. Yes we look normal, we dress normal, we don’t have secret handshakes, we like good music (most of us) and some of us even have tattoos! Weird eh?
To create dynamic, tolerant conversation
Christians – being in a spiritually aware world inhabited by theologians and philosophers with a rich history – are expected to provide stimulating thoughts, deep questions and engaged conversation.
“Teaching young people how to think and how to talk cultivates the ground needed to hear the Gospel.”
Rather than coming with ‘look, here’s what I think!’ all the time, use your unique space and persona in school to develop activities and spaces that grow conversation techniques, tolerance, listening skills and opinion articulation. Teaching young people how to think and how to talk cultivates the ground needed to hear the Gospel.
We do this in North Wales by through running RE conferences that massively rely on small, dynamic conversation groups. The result is lots of young people who feel genuinely listened to, accepted and yet challenged. This means they have a memory of being respected and heard, and that memory is attached to Christian adults! Well worth it.
To constantly show that faith is not a bankrupt option
The world isn’t split into smart people and Christians. Using helpful and memorable illustrations you can allow young people the space to open their minds to possibilities beyond the mundane and quite easily back this up using classical philosophy and modern science.
You need to keep saying and demonstrating that faith is not intellectual suicide. You can do this in science classes with science teachers if you approach it properly. Develop a language in school through your involvement that allows young people – Dr. Who style – to consider more than what is simply in front of their noses.
Young people are incredibly spiritually aware so you have an opportunity to dovetail supernatural alertness into academic rigor.
The journalistic world is separated by a holy line of demarcation. On one side there are poignant, colourful, linguistic soaring talents of naturally superior writers. What they produce raises your heart rate and draws you into their point of view. On the other side there is a catch-phrase frenzy of the over reaching, underwhelming and the oftentimes barely legible dribble which requires semantic gymnastics and the suspension of punctuation to simply get through it.
This line separates writers from hacks. The former can craft subtly and understatement to bear enormous power, the latter need to rely on propaganda and soundbites to keep people scrolling. This line runs right through my house.
My wife is a writer, I am a hack. Katie can cause words to soar, she is articulate, bright, highly informed and a master of metaphor. Writing is her first call and main vocation. I however, am a youth worker and a speaker. Writing calls for so much more effort and leaves me feeling dry and sapped of all my juices. If you’ve seen the film, ‘The Mummy’ when the evil zombie mummy sucks all the blood and organs from his victims leaving a dry husk – that’s roughly how I feel after half an hour at a keyboard.
However I believe I’m called to teach, to train, to theorise and to have conversation online – thus I must write. Which brings us to writer’s block.
Writer’s block usually applies to the first group of people, when they struggle to draw inspiration and craft that through their art. However, for hacks like myself the lack of inspiration isn’t the problem, I always have something to say. Writer’s block for hacks is the lack of writing savvy. The temptation for a hack is to fall back upon propaganda, shock tactics, cheep tabloid sound bites and over assertiveness. We start with assumption, jump up and down on it as if it were a trampoline hoping that it might bounce us high enough to be seen.
So, as a journalistic hack with a deep desire to become a better writer and trust in truth and conversation rather than shock and awe I’ve thought of these following suggestions to chip away at hack-writers-block:
1. Write more. Same for anyone I guess, but the simple truth is the more I write the more I learn to wield the tool.
2. Read more. Reading inspires and informs. Read quality writers often. Reach for something to read by writers, not by fellow hacks.
3. Write slowly. Take time over the lines and ideas that are forming. Don’t allow ten minutes to ‘knock something together’ – if it’s not a natural gift, don’t take the space it needs to breathe and grow for granted.
4. Use tools. I rely on dictionaries, thesauruses and an editing tool called ‘paper rater’ which is free online. Review grammar, adapt sentence structure and ponder how to escalate the transitional and readable aspects of the piece.
5. Edit, edit, edit. I read and edit paragraph by paragraph, I read and edit as a whole, I edit using paper rater and I edit using my wife to proofread for me.
6. Learn your writing voice as if learning a new language. The temptation is to write how you speak, but without tone, inflection and eye-contact this simply is not going to work. Craft personally how that translates to the page.
7. Write publicly, or for other people. The more you write for others – be it in their church newsletters, blogs or magazines – the more pressure there is to achieve. When borrowing someone else’s voice, space and podium it’s only polite to put the extra effort in!
I have been three horrible things… 1. A first year theology student, 2. A theology school graduate and 3. A ‘I’ve got a Bible college degree’ Christian.
I have committed – and often still commit – all of the the sins below (and rather a few more). Each of them have hurt others, stumped my growth and made more of me than God many times over. Rarely was I aware of what I was doing.
Now, being back at my Bible College for a week – considering how much I’ve grown and changed in the 7 years since I was here – they all come back to me like a bitter pill.
I list them as a guilty confession and apology and I list them as a warning: If you want to be a thinking, developing, growing Christian in the academic-pastoral hybrid world consider these sins. Further listen twice, ask questions, make no assumptions, lead with Grace, drink Bible, think of yourself more likely to err than anyone and seek Jesus in all you do… you’ll need Him!
“If you stay there you won’t be able to grow your knowledge without constantly having to dismantle and rebuild it.”
I’m conscious that there could be a four or five people reading this that I’ve talked with on these very issues this year taking it as personally aimed at them. It’s not! It’s aimed at me and it’s aimed at everyone in the same boat. There is no specific person(s) in my mind but countless faceless people who have or will struggle with the unique burdens and temptations of being an academic-driven Christ-follower.
The 7 Deadly Sins of a Thinking Christian:
1. Smart people I like say it, therefore it’s true.
There are smart people and good arguments on many sides of many a fence… just because your brand of smart people says something does not mean other smart people have nothing smart or important to add.
2. Smart people I’ve read know it, therefore I know it.
There’s a huge difference between regurgitation and research. Under-grad tends to focus on the former and post-grad on the latter. Do you know what in the Bible, in research, in context and content something is – or do you just trust the guy that told you? Hold opinions lightly if you haven’t done the work yourself.
3. My bias-filters hear trigger words, not valid information.
I used to hear the word ‘choice’ and, as a 5-point (and ignorant) Calvinist I heard ‘stupid, ill-informed, soft-on-Gospel, doesn’t-trust-God, people-focused idolater’ – thus I wrote off some brilliant, God-fearing, Bible-loving opinions and people. Are valid points able to make it through your bias-filters?
4. It could lead to a bad place, therefore it’s bad, bad, bad!
This is the funny idea that if you ask questions, hold things in tension, are working on issues or are reading more widely than whatever ‘narrow way’ you have decided on – then you are compromising truth which leads to heresy. It’s the classic and largely fictitious ‘if you smile at her you’ll end up sleeping with her’ mentality.
5. If you don’t chew this raw meat then you’ll die a horrible heretics death!
Coming back from my first year at Bible college to my old youth Bible study I tried to throw a spanner in the works on predestination because ‘they should be teaching it, darn it!’ As a result a girl told me in front of everyone that I had severely knocked her faith and she couldn’t trust me anymore. #awks.We disciple people from where they are at, not what our text books told us that particular week. Screwing truth in with a hammer doesn’t work and doesn’t help.
6. All truth is my truth.
Our minds are pretty finite, but when we start studying theology a whole world of research opens up to us. We then start to walk around like we have been let in on some mysterious secret. Problem is (other than pride!) that for every fact or argument we’ve learned so far there are dozens more we’ve not have heard of. If you don’t know it/ don’t recognize it/ not heard it before then suspend judgment, ask questions, think, pray and consider. We are all learners and all dunces in context with God’s truth.
7. Crush, Kill and Destroy!
This is the idea that when you know something you have to mould it into a bat-shaped debatable point. You have to prove, site, convince, debate and take down! You can’t discuss, converse or learn with active give and take – you can only wield and swing. This looks fine when spending time with a few mates who have never done any study (you’ll feel mega smart anyway, and they’ll eventually like you less). However, to people who can hit above your academic weight, or to people who have matured enough to know the countless benefits of conversational study you will simply look petty and idiotic. Further, if you stay there you won’t be able to grow your knowledge without constantly having to dismantle and rebuild it.
“It seems that Jesus is popular by reason of being anchored in history, rather than floating in metaphysics.”
Such is the drive behind ‘The Trinity, the historical Jesus and youth ministry’ by Angus McLeay in ‘Towards a Theology of Youth Ministry‘ from The Ridley College Youth Conference Papers, 1998.
The Trinity by its very nature is taught as metaphysical and abstract with little or no tangible relationship to our experiences in reality. Trying to teach the Trinity as a knowable and relevant entity within youth groups is therefore incredibly difficult!
The Trinity on one hand is often communicated with metaphor, image, object lessons and concepts, and on the other hand with mystery and difficulty. This paradox is at best confusing. The analogies themselves (water, ice, steam; plant, root, flower… etc.) are always found wanting in its wake.
Rather than using the Trinity as a conceptual idea of God, McLeay says that ‘The Trinity is a statement about the relations that form the essence of God’s being.’ The Trinity is a statement of relations and relationship. This makes the doctrine far more teachable and applicable to young people.
The key to teaching the Trinity therefore is relationship. God is a relationship God – absolutely, necessarily, essentially and in eternally. He is many and one in community. We must teach Trinity by teaching the relationships between the members, and specifically how they play out in the Kingdom of God.
McLeay points out several of these Trinity-Kingdom relationship dynamics that are worth unpacking in a youth ministry setting (which I have fleshed out somewhat). These are all tangible and applicable and as such make the Trinity much more teachable rather than abstract:
Kingdom – God’s rule through Jesus over us His people and the world. Jesus has God the Father’s own authority for us to know Him through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We work with Jesus, through the conviction and strength of the Spirit to be a steward of the world the Father created. The Father gave this Kingdom to His Son, Jesus – secured through the raising of Him to life by the Spirit.
Allegiance – Jesus calls us to know the Father though Him – to commit to Him through the power of the Spirit and live with ‘radical, personal allegiance’ to God.
Father/Son – The relationship spelled out in the Old Testament as the King and Son of the King – the God and Son of the God (Psalm 2:2-9). Jesus’ identity is caught up in the identity of the Father. His confidence is in the surety of the loving, protective bond between them and His activities are the fulfillment (through the Spirit’s power) of the Father’s wishes.
Crucifixion & Resurrection – The Kingdom of God is secured through the powerful act of substitution on the cross. Jesus the Son, absorbing the wrath of God the Father in eternity though the eternal nature of their relationships, then brought back to life by the creational breath of God through the Holy Spirit. The resurrection also secures the Kingdom rule of the Son, as death itself (the biggest enemy) is placed beneath his feet.
McLeay ends with a whole bunch of practical steps to teach the Trinity which I’ll simplify here:
– Start with a Gospel story that picks up on Kingdom-Trinity relationships (something that shows how Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate).
– Refer to the oneness of these three beings in the course of other Bible Studies constantly asking the question, ‘what does this tell us about God?’
– Link any relational teaching and concepts back to the Trinity, and particularly examples in the Gospels.
– Look for Trinity links when teaching Kingdom concepts like identity, authority, independence, identity, individuality and outreach.
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