A degree in uselessness?

Oct 6th, 2006 | By | Category: Ministry

What’s training for ordination for? I wonder sometimes.

My first economics lecturer used to say that there was hardly a decision made in the world that wasn’t to do with economics. I remember working through Nineteenth and Twentieth Century political history and being thankful to him for the understanding of the underlying realities he had given us. The industrialisation of Britain, the pressures towards imperial expansion; the weakness the country between the wars; the eclipse of Britain as a world power after World War II; these things made sense because I understood the principles of what was taking place; principles that I found so fascinating as to ask my wife for a biography of John Maynard Keynes for Christmas one year.

Ordination training seems to lack those underlying rules by which to judge everything else. The training in the finer points of Biblical interpretation, patristic studies and ecclesiastical history are grand, but what are they for? Does being a person for Jesus demand knowing dates of the revision of the Creeds? Does this engage with his world?

If I can read politics and history through the prism of economics, what prism is there for reading the diversity of subjects that are now thrown at clergy? What big picture is there into which all the other pieces will fit?

Everything seems to be ad hoc, a series of unconnected activities. Because we lack something to hold it all together, we all go off and do the things that we find comfortable. Of course, we claim that we would be doing it in the name of Jesus, but how concerned is Jesus with the finer details of the Prayer Book or the more obscure points of church doctrine? Wouldn’t Jesus be more concerned with the big and important issues?

Doing one of the things that I find comfortable, I am interviewing someone for a radio piece next week – on suicide. Unlike the economist, I have no reference points, no structure of thought to draw upon, just a raw reality and an incomprehensible pain.

Perhaps our training should be less about the past and more about the present, less about words and more about feeling, less about doctrines of the Incarnation and more about making Jesus incarnate to the people whom we meet. Because if Jesus is not in what we do, then it’s all pointless anyway.

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