Friday, 3 June 2011

Interreligious Uncertainty

Wow, so it has been a while indeed...

So I mentioned last time that I was off to Istanbul on my course. It was a really intense experience. Not only time-wise - contrary to the cheap holiday I had hoped I'd signed up for - it was an exhausting 9am-6pm fortnight of lectures. The conference was on interreligious dialogue in South East Europe and we covered issues surrounding Muslim-Christian relations. Some lectures I wasn't expert enough in the field to follow and others aren't adequately described by the term 'thought provoking'. The whole experience really got me itching. Not only the academic programme, but socialising with the other participants from diverse cultural-religious backgrounds became somewhat of a personal epidemic, demanding my attention: my [per]spect[ive]acles were after-all of the western, baptist-come-charismatic christian variety. But over the course of my time there, I began to realise that not only are there Muslims with as equal a strength of convictions as mine, but there are Christians from other parts of the world and other traditions, whose faith manifests itself in a manner completely alien to me. This realisation, that I am not the measure of all things, proved a bit tumultuous at first, but clearly in need of this sobering I have been mulling things over since and hope as a result that I am now less dogmatic. After all, the world will keep spinning on its axis irregardless of my lack of answers. What's more, things might shake up the nitty gritty of my theology, but nothing can take my experience of God away from me.

Anyway for fear of boring you, I shall put down my semi-philosophical meanderings, in favour of some more practical narrative. Since getting back from Istanbul, the reality of impending deadlines have been hovering over me like clouds and I have been seeking to shoot them down like Beijing before the 2008 Olympics. I have also had to say goodbye to two great friends who were studying at Leiden on Erasmus and having finished their programmes have returned to the UK (Johnny and Sophie I will miss you!). A rather strange phenomenon in two respects: 1. I still have a 20,000 word thesis to achieve and will not myself finish until the beginning of August; 2. Even then, I will not be following them back to the UK, having decided to stay put for at least another year.

For a while I felt like I was in exile here, being prevented from returning to my motherland and her benefits, but in a rather unspectacular way, God has whispered peace to me about remaining here. I had been umming and arring like ayo-yo for weeks as to whether to stay or go and just felt the need for decision rising up in me. So that's what I did. I don't exactly know what the following year will hold, but what I do know is that God will provide for me as He did before and always has done. I will have to seek some form of employment to pay my way, but have been offered a place to stay with my favourite Dutch couple (a wonderful pair from my church). Thus, I will imminently be turfed out of my sublet residence in Leiden and hit the Hague's suburbia. Whether I try my hand at bar-tending once more or take on a humble occupation as a cleaner, (or perhaps something more glam will pop up) I will again determine to simply put my efforts into seeking first God's kingdom. A tried and tested cliche, I need some serious shuffling of perspective to make this possible. Besides earning some dollar and serving the King, I will make a proper effort to learn Dutch. My pathetic 'beetje' of Dutch so far is part and parcel of a distraction in MA-form, but I hope that once my study becomes another shiny piece of paper, I will have the mental space to seriously tackle the acquisition of another language.

I know you'll be wondering, what's a little further down the line? Well, at present (and I stress at present) the longer term goal is to train to be a secondary RE and Philosophy teacher. I have realised that I have a knack for explanation and what's more find myself really drawn towards teenagers. On top of that, the Istanbul experience did really stimulate me to think about promoting interreligious dialogue and open-mindedness. I wasn't really sure, who outside the walls of our conference would be affected by our abstract musings, but nevertheless thought we were getting at something. If our aloof considerations and inconclusive conclusions could be translated so that they become accessible to the many (rather than the academic few) and at a much earlier stage in education, then they could help to shape the thinking of influenceable young people, before their open minds become closed, and beyond that promote peace and understanding. I wonder if this could be my role as teacher? Sometimes we can snuff at this profession.

That being said, whilst I will apply for some teacher training programmes in the UK for 2012, I'm not 100% convinced that this will all come to pass. God has a habit of surprising me and my plans will thus reflect this in their pliability and openness to amendment. After all, life with God is an adventure and too much planning takes away the fun. I guess this blog is in essence an elongated and rather poetic way of saying, I really don't know what's around the corner.

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