Great theologians of the past, present and future

This past weekend saw the last Vicar Weekend of the academic year and with it, a day of assessed presentations on great theologians for the first years. It was somewhat stressful – how do you condense a mighty mind’s work into a 30 minute presentation and 15 minute discussion? And, more importantly, how do you make it interesting?

Some groups tried food – the Kierkegaard crew brought in Danish pastries, but sadly we weren’t presenting in the same room as them. However, I think our room was even more creative. The day began with ‘Teresa of Avila, This is Your Life…’, complete with nuns, monks and excellent acting and ended with a John Wesley themed Songs of Praise, involving compulsory hymn singing.

But the highlight – without a doubt – was the group presenting Martin Luther. For a start, there was an abundance of monk outfits; then there was a particularly gross Horrible Histories video clip of Luther’s toilet habits [his fascination with poo was news to me, so I definitely learnt something]; an enthusiastic baptism of a doll; a Luther inspired rap video; a spurious rap reference that only two of us appreciated (“I’ve got 95 theses but the pope ain’t one…”); and finally, and most gloriously, a live performance of the Reformation Polka. Obviously, I had to film it:

That guy with the guitar can be seen leading worship at Soul Survivor this summer. 
I can’t guarantee he’ll perform this number though.

And what of our performance? Well, we’d been allocated Barth, possibly the trickiest of all theologians to present in half an hour – and with the college’s Barth specialist marking us. Even my father, a Barth aficionado, says that reading his work is like walking through the forests of the Bavarian mountains – every so often you find a clearing and a beautiful view, but soon afterwards you’re lost in the forest again. We went with a court room setting and put Barth on the witness stand – I’m eternally grateful that my group consisted of me and two enthusiastic, competent actors. I’m also grateful that my Dad went to a Barth symposium with the excitement of a teenage boy at a rock concert and returned home with a Barth t-shirt (and a poster for his study) meaning that I had an excellent costume for my role as ‘super-geek Barth fan’. I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to dress up in a dress though…

That’s Teresa of Avila and Alex the judge watching Alex as Karl Barth…

I could also include our video interview with Karl Barth, but it’s not very exciting (apart from a brilliant papal infallibility joke), so instead I’ll close this post in the same way we closed our presentation:

Barth may have a reputation for being complicated and difficult to understand, but when stripped down to a basic ethos for doing theology, it is as simple as his summary of Church Dogmatics when visiting Princeton in 1962:  “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

And here is Barth’s Sunday School memory combined with another great 20th Century theologian, Whitney Houston… 

What’s in a name?

Something short and sweet (and previously featured) for today…

You may be aware that Starbucks recently introduced the concept of writing their customers names on their beverages to the UK (despite them doing it long ago in the US). In typical British style, we have been amused, bemused and cynical. People have created coffee pseudonyms; they’ve been encouraged by Radio 4 comedians to use ridiculous names; and generally, we’ve been confused as to why they should need our names in the first place. Sometimes it can be down right hilarious – have you heard the one about the guy who said his name was Voldemort and received a cup labelled ‘He who shall not be named’? Sometimes, it’s downright awkward – my friend Stew’s coffee arrived bearing the moniker ‘Jew’. Hmmm.

Cathryn has decided to give up & become ‘Kate’ at Starbucks.

Today, my Norwegian flatmate Øystein [major achievement in September: learning the Mac shortcut for that interesting little figure] ordered a coffee, gave his name, and discovered he was in fact a genius:

And you’ll notice that that’s not even how you spell Einstein… 

Fabulously, as he left the shop the barista shouted after him “see you Albert!”. Give credit to those comic Starbucks workers… 

It reminded me of a Friday Fun item from last year, which presumably has had a spike in submissions from Britain in recent months – Starbucks Spelling is a Tumblr of images customers have taken of spelling/listening/interpreting fails. Brilliant. Some are plain ridiculous, how can Tommy become ‘Duck’? Others simply illustrate the honesty of a barista who asked the customers name and promptly forgot it (which, quite frankly, is something I’d do in their position).

(It was Claire.) 

Just in case Starbucks feel I’m doing them a disservice, here’s a friendly public service reminder that they’re currently offering half-price Frappuccinos between 3 and 5pm until the 5th June. Make mine a Strawberries & Cream, thanks…

How to be a woman

You may remember that in the autumn I went on a bit of a feminist rant. Having never used the label, my new life as an ordinand in a church which is still divided over women in leadership, it’s now a word and state of mind I have to inhabit. [That post has also become a major issue of contention between a male friend and I – in fact, we had an argument about it while in Paris. I will take this opportunity to apologise for unintentionally labelling him a misogynist. He is not. He’s just a bit of a patronising git sometimes…]

Prior to returning to the French building site, I’d had a bit of a chat with a friend from last year’s trip who had shared some of my ill-feeling about such behaviour. [At this point I feel I’m having a can open – worms everywhere moment with that aforementioned male friend… Ooops.] We got onto the subject of girl power and feminism, which ended with her own mantra for life as a woman:
“Live and let live and don’t get breast implants”
The conversation also included an enthusiastic recommendation of a book that had been languishing on my wishlist for quite some time – Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman.

Serendipitously, it was on offer at WH Smith the following morning, so I snapped it up as ideal holiday reading. It was begun with glee on the Eurostar to Paris and was immediately engrossing. As described on its back cover, it’s part memoir, part rant and that’s a combination which was always going to go down well with me. In the back of the car en route to the Limousin, it amused me so much that passages had to be read aloud to the female friend I was sharing the back seat with – but in hushed tones, not wanting the men in the front to hear. After all, how would they respond to this explanation of how to work out if you’re a feminist:
“Put your hand in your pants.

(a) Do you have a vagina and
(b) Do you want to be in charge of it?
If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist!”

Holiday perfection, right there.

The following day, another friend arrived bearing a copy and we rejoiced at how much we were learning and how ridiculous parts of it were. I was able to question whether she had been shocked/mystified by some of Moran’s revelations – was I the only woman not to have named parts of her anatomy? [No.] Did she agree with the plentiful use of the C word? [No. And I have written about my views on the subject here.] Had she ever gone commando? [No.] The women gathered and discussed feminism in serious and non-serious measures. A Texan builder picked up a copy, read a chapter, and had his eyes opened considerably.

Most amusingly of all, the book helped me overcome some of my more prudish tendencies. As I mentioned when extolling the virtues of Ackroyd’s London Under, we spent an evening alternating between it and Moran’s book – the latter providing some light relief from deaths via cess pits. I read aloud most of a chapter relating to underwear – which culminated in an excellent passage about the trials and tribulations of bra wearing (a subject that’s very close to my heart…). Moran has a manifesto against society’s passion for tiny pants which includes the following hilarious anecdote, which couldn’t really be left out:
“I was on a crowded tube with a friend of mine, who gradually grew paler and quieter until she finally leaned forward, and admitted that her knickers were so skimpy, her front bottom had eaten them entirely. ‘I’m currently wearing them on my clit – like a little hat,’ she said.”

I wasn’t sure I could read it out loud. I’m a trainee vicar. There were near-strangers in the room. Heck, there was a man in the room! But I took a deep breath and read on as if I said such things on a daily basis. [Interestingly, when any of us happened to get to the other C word, we always referred to it as ‘the C word’. Our sensibilities were not to be undone to that extent.]

I don’t agree with everything Moran writes, but it is written in such a way that you understand why she’s done, said and thought what she has. The chapter on her abortion was painful reading – but it is an admirable thing to have written about it in the first place. It isn’t a feminist manifesto in The Female Enuch sense, but it is a logical, coherent (and hilarious) text that illustrates just how ridiculous society’s attitude towards women – and women’s attitude to themselves – can be.

Top quality Friday Fun

This week, I feel my fun offering is of slightly higher quality than it sometimes is. Regardless of quality, there is definitely quantity – so if you’re sat at your desk desperately urging the clock to move faster towards 5pm, there should be something here to amuse you for quite a while.

Firstly, a piece of fun that I can’t actually vouch for entirely. On Monday, the Guardian published a list of the ten funniest Tumblrs. Such is my pace of life that I’ve not had chance to explore them properly (despite the tab having been open for four days), but one has jumped out at me.  Notes to my Future Husband is simply genius (and occasionally a little crass in language, but we’re ok with that, aren’t we?). My entire blog is essentially a manual for my future husband, but this Tumblr is a little more pithy. Here are some gems that amused me:

That latter one is a bit of a running in-joke – but I wholeheartedly agree with it.

Of the others, People Who is definitely worth a look (you’ll be nodding earnestly within seconds); I Love Charts has to be a good ‘un – after all, do we not all love charts? Oh, and there’s an obligatory animal one – Animals Doing People Things. Ok, all of them are probably good – that’ll be why the Guardian chose them! 
Continuing the ’10 things’ theme, here’s something a little more niche. I don’t know about you, but I love ice skating (watching, not doing it) and therefore a Hairpin article entitled ‘The 10 Greatest Figure Skaters Who Never Won an Olympic Medal’, delighted me. Not only is the article full of fascinating ice skating facts, but it’s accompanied by YouTube footage of routines, which basically means that there’s over an hour of skating to be watched. Isn’t that simply blissful? I love those dedicated Hairpinners! 
Finally, a discovery I made last night courtesy of a friend on Facebook whose daughter occasionally features in it – Miriam’s Daily Adventures, a webcomic by Miriam Kendrick. I love a good webcomic/cartoon [see xkcd and Cartoon Church for starters] and I really like people who view the world in a similar way to me. Sometimes xkcd’s geeky science stuff goes way over my head – which is not an issue with Miriam’s work. I give you a recent series on Nutella as an example: 

I suspect you may now be cursing me for triggering a Nutella craving that will last the rest of the day. I am not apologetic for this. *Cackles evilly.*

Actually, that’s not the end. If you’re feeling really unmotivated at this point of the week, let this small American child give you a pep talk:

Who said ordinands were meant to be responsible?

I was under the impression that only mature, responsible individuals entered the priesthood (yes, I realise that I am not necessarily in that category – but perhaps I’m the exception to the rule). However, after a week in France with 100 other vicars-to-be, I have discovered that this is definitely not the case. It seems that in fact, many of the students find it all to easy to connect with their teenage selves…

One can understand how childish games might become fun in a foreign monastery with free-flowing red wine. Boo Yeah! was a discovery on our first residential and it’s on its way to becoming a firm favourite. [It’s like Hot/Cold, but with yells, screams and humiliating actions.] Then there’s Guess the Kitchen Implement? – never has an extractor fan been so hilarious. How would you mime such an object? [That game is immensely simple – you mime the action of a kitchen implement. I suggest beginning with a corkscrew and getting progressively more complicated.] My personal favourite was miming one of those egg timers that changes colour in the water.

Anyone ever played spoons? It’s a classic youth group game – enough spoons for all but one of the group; a pack of cards; when the first person gets a set of cards, they reach for a spoon and everyone follows; person left spoonless is out. Sounds fairly tame, but it’s vicious. It’s not often that I participate in games that involve pre-match rules on which areas of the body to avoid (we specified faces and specifically those wearing glasses). Despite this, the end of the first round saw me prostrate on a table, devoid of glasses and with an elbow in my cheek. Actual blood was shed before I went spoonless (nails dug into fingers) and one player damaged their nose. Ah, the hilarity! It didn’t end there – how else should such competitions be settled than by a Chariots of Fire style quad race (at 11pm)? A race in the dark, round slippery floored cloisters, clad only in socks. It’s a miracle no bones were broken. (An alternative version involving blankets and towing girls was proposed the following evening but never took place.) Oh, and it couldn’t be left with one race – there was another, this time a 4 person relay version. Men…

Poor quality due to darkness and speed, but you get the idea – this was during the relay.

It was the childish pranks that were more surprising. People who follow a certain worship leader on Twitter, may have noticed a reference to a discovering a frog in their bedroom. It turned out this wasn’t a natural phenomenon, but a plant by an intrepid ordinand. Retribution was to follow, in this form:

That is no ascetic monastic bedroom, that is a bedroom devoid of all possessions and beds. Genius. No idea how long it took or how many people were involved, but I am impressed. [Note to self: be careful who you play tricks on in future…] 
Just in case you think it was only the ‘young & trendy’ students who were getting up to high jinks, two of my favourite quotes came from students of more advanced years. One opened an act of worship [a boat/ocean themed agape meal] with the sentence “In the words of the Village People…” and proceeded to quote In the Navy. Another, in response to a request that we shout out words of praise and thanksgiving, kicked off the shouting with “Rum punch!” – something that we should always be praising God and thanking Him for. [It was the cocktail deemed most appropriate for a boat based activity…] 
[An aside: the ‘young & trendy’ reference was actually a high point of my week. On the first morning a lecturer came over to the table I and my fellow younger students were sat eating breakfast and said “Spot the young & trendy table” to which one of the group replied “Wow. We’ve made it.” – perhaps we had, but I had to observe the reality: “It’s sad that we had to come to theological college for that to happen.”. Still, I’ll take that – I finally have an area of my life in which I’m cool, that’s enough for me.] 

Perhaps it’s three years at theological college that turn irresponsible wannabe teenagers into mature priests? Evidence from our staff would suggest otherwise. Who got over excited during the bonus University Challenge staff round in the pub quiz? The Assistant Dean and Principal. Who demanded more wine when their answer was considered wrong? A leading, respected theologian who may or may not be married to an Archbishop. It seems there is little hope for the Church of England…