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A while back I accepted the idea that my thesis would never be published.  Some of the material is quite problematic and others I had already happily presented at conferences.

I had an unusual email in that I was asked if I would like to have the thesis available via a print on demand service.  In the end I decided to go ahead.  I am still not sure if this was the best idea but it does mean people may purchase the thesis if they want to rather than me telling them it is not available.

The ISBN is 978-3-8433-5663-3

There is an early link on one website:

https://www.morebooks.de/store/gb/book/priesthood,-prophethood-and-spirit-led-community/isbn/978-3-8433-5663-3

Check it out if you want more information.

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Last weekend I read Frederick Buechner’s Yellow Leaves.  Now I decided I would write about Buechner this week before I saw Simon Holt’s article.

I was introduced to the writings of Frederick Buechner while I was living in the US.  I was particularly challenged by the idea of a Presbyterian minister who almost won the Pulitzer prize.  Yellow Leaves fills in some holes I did not know about Buechner – especially as I have read little of his autobiographical works.  I am not sure if it was a professor at Fuller Seminary or a class mate or a book I was reading that mentioned him.  I eventually read his dictionaries which are delightful collections of vignettes and ideas on biblical characters.  I read some of his sermons, gave his book on Jacob to a friend and collected more of his works.  I even introduced one brother-in-law to him.

Yellow Leaves is Buechner’s latest and quite possibly last book.  The introduction starts as:

I can still write sentences and paragraphs, but for some five or six years now I haven’t been able to write books.  Maybe after more than thirty of them the well has at last run dry.   Maybe age eighty, I no longer have the right kind of energy.  Maybe the time has simply come to stop.

This is not an affected kind of writing but much the style of this book and others.  Buechner is fully aware of his limitations and yet uses language delightfully.

My favourite dictionary entry in Peculiar Treasures has to do with Joseph as Buechner raises the issue of what is a greater accomplishment for God rescuing Israel or making Joseph a real human being?  And the delight of seeing the gospel as a fairy tale is not as bad as it sounds when you read it in Buechner’s Telling the Truth, which is why it took me such a long time to read the book.

So you can see how much I like Buechner.  But as Buechner says, for today,  “Maybe the time has simply come to stop”.

It seems appropriate at the beginning of a new year to reflect on books that have impacted me in what I do as much as in what I think.  The work of Lesslie Newbigin I read as a young Christian.  When I was working on my doctorate I re-read some of his material and remember saying to my supervisor, who had known Lesslie when he was alive, “I had not realised how much impact he had on my own thinking.”

Newbigin himself would argue he took some of his ideas from Michael Polanyi but his seminal idea is that the West is not a missionary sending field anymore but one needing the gospel again.  For many people this comes and remains as a shock.  It has been implemented more widely though as the missional movement – making sure churches see themselves as following Jesus into the world as David Dunbar discusses the idea here.

Newbigin’s impact though is how do we conceive church?  Do we see it as an oasis in the dessert a place to relax and turn it into a resort?  Or do we see it as a place to be empowered to soldier on reaching the world for Christ?  One place we want to stay in forever due to fallen human nature, the other we feel uncomfortable about, but then when was the point of the gospel to make us comfortable?

Newbigin’s work has never made me comfortbale and continues to challenge me on what to do day to day for church and in teaching about church.

According to Wikipedia the Childe Cycle by Dickson was unfinished at his death and left in it an unresolved conflict.  It has been a long time since I read the last two novels The Final Encyclopedia and The Chantry Guild but I want today to speak about the series and especially the last two books.

The series ultimately is a science fiction, future look at the world.  Yet Wikipedia tells me it is also an allegory between Courage, Faith and Philosophy.  I read the early books on when I was at high school or university.  I read the last two while I was in New York City.  The last two have had such an impact on me that they have remained on my bookcase to this day.

The basic take away for me was what difference could one person make?  Wikipedia makes  it clear that the issue is what difference can one integrated person, a person who has faith, courage and philopsophy, make?

Dickson’s story shows that one person can make the difference to the whole universe.  They may be the person who stands against another individual who is evil or preserves that which needs to be preserved.

In the end the book reminded me at a time when I felt alone that one person can make a difference.

As I look down the barrel of 2009 I hope and pray that I and you dear readers may also be an individual who make a difference in the new year.

Today is Christmas Eve and in that light I thought I’d reflect on one of those books that has impacted me for Christmas.  The book is Barbara Robinson’s the Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a classic piece of American child’s fiction that raises the question what if the worst children “in the entire world” came to church one time when the Christmas pageant was being organised and end up taking it over?

This innocent child’s book raises the issues of where the boundaries of church and world collide, who do we want to have in church and in a Christmas pageant and who would Jesus love?  The Horrible Herdmans are not the safe people we want in church but those who truly need to know the gospel but do not have the gloss on their lives of being brought up in a Christian home.

There are many books that raise the issue of attracting people to church, of spiritual formation of children and doing what Jesus would have us do.  This book, possibly inadvertently, does all this in a simple and wonderful way.  Each Christmas I see it around home and try and have a read of it – it has had that much impact.

It appears that many of us have been busy and stopped blogging.

I am pleased to see that Simon Holt is still alive and blogging though other blogs I read or looked at recently seem to have gone the way of the dodo.

I am intending over the next few weeks while I am on holidays to write on the books that have impacted me.

The reason for this is my annual two books of improvement.  This is where I read a book to help me improve in my personal and professional life.  For the professional side I have read on on presentations, Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points.  For the private life though it will spill into the professional life, David Allen’s Getting Things Done.  While it is too early to give reviews of these both they will be blogged about next year.  Instead now I will start to reflect on other books that have impacted my life from such classics as the CSIRO Diet Book 2 and some science-fiction of Gordon Dickson to more serious books like the Bible and works of Lesslie Newbigin.

I think it was a post on Scott McKnight’s blog that alerted me to the novel Gilead by Marilynn Robinson.  On the spur of the moment I check if my library had it and a few days later I was able to read it.

This is a surprising novel.  It is the reflections of a 76 year old minister John Ames, who is both the son and grandson of a minister.  It is a reflection of his life to his young son and reflection of what is going on around him as he writes the memoir.

I had to say the novel was a slow meander but wonderfully written so that it was enjoyable and not feeling like it was dragging.  Early on I expected a scandal to make the tension in the novel and it eventually appeared.

It is the writing however that makes this a fascinating novel for me.  While there are great reflections on family, ministry and reconciliation it is the small bits that make this a delight.  For example when John Ames is describing how he met his second wife and their burgeoning relationship he says:

It seemed inevitable to me that she would never come back again [to his church].  So I spent a dreadful week resigning myself to the smallness of my life, the drabness of it, and thanking the Lord that I had never made a complete fool of myself, had never held her by the hand at the door and attempted conversation, though I had rehearsed in my mind what I might say to her and had even written it out. (p205-206)

The good news is she does come backand the relationship continues.  Yet unlike many young people John Ames had not made a complete fool of himself.

There is something sparse or reserved about the writing that makes this novel come alive.  The tension to do with John Ames namesake, John Ames Broughton the son of John Ames best friend, helps move the story but also reflects again how people are people no matter what.

In the end the reflection on life, and life before God, is wonderful.  I must say that there is a balm in Gilead.

I admit this is overdue but it is the last discussion of Bain’s book, What the Best College Teachers Do.

In chapter 7 Bain discusses how do the best college teachers evaluate their students?  In re-reading this chapter I have been provoked in a number of ways.  To summarise the chapter though Bain recognises two approaches to evaluation “performance-based” and “learning based”.  From this flows the idea of teacher evaluations and how these should be conducted and what should be asked.

Performance-based evaluation is the idea that the points matter.  It is more important that you get something in on time and get the most points.  Learning-based evaluation is demonstrating that you have learned something, particularly what is expected.

I can think of some of my first year classes in my undergraduate degree and remember how we had multiple choice answers and had a right answer and we got the points.  A test scheduled for 3 hours took most of us around 50 minutes to answer in total.  And we were not allowed to leave the room for the first hour.

Then I think about the comments on one of my Master’s papers that I came across last night.  “In the end I think you have got it”.  It reflects that the lecturer thinks I understand the material.  I still battle with some of the material.

I know I need to be more creative about learning-based evaluation of my students and this chapter gives some basic ideas.  I need to think of some debates I know about assessment but also about increasing complexity.

Bain concludes the book by stating that people in the academic teaching world really do care about teaching.  We just need to keep getting better at it.  This to me seems a great place to stop as well.

It took me a long time to finally be able to read Piers Anthony’s Air Apparent.  So long in fact that the next volume of the Xanth series is out in the US.  Why the libraries both in Brisbane and in Melbourne have had troubles getting the book I am not sure.

Writing about this book which is 31st in the series made me remember my childhood, when I read one of the first in the trilogy of Xanth books having purchased it from a no longer existing bookshop in Manly near Sydney, NSW.  It may have been so long ago that I even had my Dad with me as I was not considered old enough to travel by myself.

The Xanth novels are somewhat formulaic, there is a problem to be fixed, a journey to be undertaken, some trials to overcome and a conclusion.  This one does not depart from that general formula.  The novels are full of puns and humor, a little romance and are good fun over all.  This one does not disappoint in any measure.

For those who know the series this book will be enjoyed.  For those who want to start at the beginning there is a lot to catch up with but after a few novels you can sort of skip some and get to the end if you want to.

And who is the air apparent … the heir apparent … I can’t tell you that would spoil some of the novel.

This week we look again at What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain.  The nature of the material this week seem poignant to me as it brings back some of my best memories and ideas of days gone by.  First to the review.

In this chapter Bain raises the idea that the best, and he  really means best in this chapter, college teachers treat their students differently.  Through stories, first and other hand, he compares those who are good to those who are best by showing how they treat their students makes a difference.  This treatment is small things to make sure that people do not feel like the teacher is arrogant or everything is about their power.

I can think of two different lecturers/tutors I know who if I remember right basically had the same office a few years apart.  One of them hated students and I always thought his opinion was that teaching would be better without students.  The other one I am starting to think of differently.  He was a little difficult to get to and hard to have a chat to but he did share his power in class.  One day I can remember him bringing in a bottle of Liquid Lamington (see here for a brief mention of this 1980s pink alcoholic drink) and some small cups to share around.  Nowadays we would have OH&S concerns.  Other times I remember him giving up his blackboard so we could show the answers to something.  He truly behaved as if his students mattered.  Years later I had him for a series of lectures when he had gone to Oxford and I was working at where he had taught.  He still called me by last name and I still called him Dr Sanders, we were both ribbing each other but it reminds me that as Bain says it is not about dress or manner but how the lecturer treats the students.

For this week I will leave you with a quote in the middle of the chapter (p145).

Instead they tried to take their students seriously as human beings and treated them the way they might treat any colleague, with fairness, compassion and concern.