Sunday, 14 December 2008

Pitching it right

It is getting on for twenty years ago that I found myself taking an Infant School assembly one morning and taking a Theological College seminar that afternoon, with an inspector sitting at the back of both. I thought then, and have kept repeating since, that there are few jobs where one can be scrutinized ‘teaching’ appropriately at both Key Stage 1 and University Diploma levels in the same day. When I put it like that, the expectation that I’ll manage to pitch it right every time seems a little far fetched.

So this week I’ve walked innocently into a Sixth Form Study Day at a Lincolnshire Grammar School without having any recent teaching at that level to help me calibrate the scale. And the modest task was to provide an hour of Christian reflection for each of four groups in turn tackling ‘the problem of suffering’ after they had watched the recent BBC drama about a group of Jews in a concentration camp putting God on trial.

I took the obvious tools I have to hand (including Elie Wiesel’s Night and Andre Rublev’s icon The Hospitality of Abraham) and made the best fist I could. I tried to get them to think whether a creation free of decay and pain was actually possible. I ventured that God got involved in the world in Jesus because he couldn’t see any other way out of this problem either. Asking pairs to discuss and report back I think I was able to detect those who’d understood what I thought I was getting at (which I’m thankful was a lot of them), those who didn’t really (which I confess was quite a number), and those who didn’t even want to try (which I’m relieved was the smallest group, unlike my other Secondary School encounter this year at a Grimsby Comprehensive).

Of course, it also works the other way around. One of the others speaking at the Study Day had been at the lecture by Gillian Merron MP about which I posted on 29th November. Where I had perceived ‘the commonplaces of world development discussion’, he had been struck by innovative thoughts, particularly by the discovery that we help train customs officers in Mozambique because the development of efficient trade and revenue collection may make as big an impact on poverty reduction there as emergency aid.

Meanwhile, the picture comes from the top of St Michael’s tower during the week, looking across the Freshney river and the edge of the Willows estate to the industry along the south bank of the Humber, including the distinctive Tioxide tower.

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