Sunday, January 27, 2013

I Did Sign Up for This, I Suppose

Exams are an industry in Kenya.  The Kenyan education system is exam-centered, exam-focused, exam-driven, exam-intoxicated.  Evidently it's a British thing, a way of educating British children more than half a century ago that got transplanted to their East African colonies.  Not long afterwards, the British decided there might be more effective ways to educate their children.  Word never reached here, evidently.

All educational advancement is based on what one scores on a set of cumulative exams.  Those who score in the top percentages have the doors opened to the best universities in the country.  Those who score slightly lower can still get into one of the growing number of newer, resource-challenged colleges and universities.  The vast majority of Kenyan high school students will advance only to the streets, to a trade maybe, to a job as a laborer or domestic worker.  Occasionally an alternate route to gain a 'diploma' may be found with the hope that then one can proceed on to become an undergraduate.  But all of this takes money, and not very many people have enough of it to make this sort of option a reality.

And once one achieves the glorious status of becoming a university student, the process of education by exam if anything merely accelerates.  For most undergraduate courses, final grades for the course are calculated on the basis of work done during the course and the final examination.  At St. Paul's University where I teach, I am mandated by the Kenyan Commission for Higher Education (CHE) to count my undergraduate students' course work as 30% of their final grade and count their final exam as 70% of their final grade.  My graduate students grade ratios are slightly moderated - 40% of the final grade for course work, and 60% of the final grade for the final exam.

I have concerns about this system.  I have taken my concerns to the appropriate people above me, and they listen as if they have heard these sorts of expatriate complaints before.  In other words, there isn't anything anyone can do.

My chief issue has to do with what this system does to pedagogy - to how I teach and how my students learn.  Education in this part of the world has long been associated with what I call information transfer.  In other words, learning means mastering information and then demonstrating that you know it by spitting it back on an exam.  I can see how this might work for certain subjects in mathematics or the sciences where there is a necessity for building on skills and previous knowledge in order to advance in the field.  There is certainly a fundamental level of mastery required for all academic disciplines.  This I am not contesting.  What I am contesting is whether that method of education is the only or most appropriate way for learning at higher levels, when mastery must also coincide with wisdom and capacity for thinking critically.  Critical thinking is not highly valued in the wider culture, nor is it even in higher education where the university lecturer tends to be viewed as God on Mount Sinai delivering the sacred words of the covenant to Moses.  At lower levels of the education system here, and even in some higher levels, questioning a lecturer/teacher/professor is very bad form.  A student's job is to learn, not ask questions.  So we transfer information to our students, but we don't teach them how to think.

I teach courses in History and Theology.  There is information necessary to transfer in these fields if students are to learn their way around a particular subject area without getting lost.  However, just as if not more important is that my students learn how to reflect on what they are learning, how to evaluate sources, how to critique ideas, how to understand why other people do what they do and think what they think.  This is not something that is easily done in the way we are mandated to measure student accomplishment.  I would much rather assign a major research paper in lieu of a final exam so that the student can choose something that she/he is actually interested in or even passionate about and go deeper into it, learning research skills, rhetorical skills, writing skills, and presentation skills in the process.  But I am not allowed to do this.  If I do assign a paper, then it must be on a much reduced scale commensurate with the 20% or so of the final grade that I can a assign it.

Having the grading weighted in this way does not necessarily condemn a teacher to present the information and then give an exam that extracts it back from the students and then call that learning.  But it does make it very challenging to construct a class in such a way that students learn something about thinking as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the various positions on eschatology, for example.  Most of my students aren't even aware that there is an issue here.  They want the 'whats?' and are not that much interested in the 'whys?', these being mostly assumed.  They are children of the system and they want the information so that they can master it so that then they can go on to the next courses and master them so that then they can graduate and go on from there to the good life.  They are constantly asking for my lecture notes and are appalled when sometimes, for a three hour class, my lecture notes consist of one sentence.  They want to master information.  I want to challenge, even transform them by creating a learning experience.  Or to put it differently.  They are concerned about the hardware, I am concerned about the software.

So I am sitting in my office this past Friday at the end of a busy day spent most revising an article for publication, when Lois, a former student of mine who now works in our Diploma Schools' office, comes and says that because my history-teaching colleague is on a leave of absence, all of the diploma-level history exams for all of St. Paul's subsidiary diploma programs (there seem to be six or more of them scattered across the country) need to be graded, like now.  And that I'm the only one on the whole campus that's in a position to do so.  And so would I please be willing to mark them?  Fortunately, they had already been marked.  My job is to serve as the 'External Moderator', which means I have to check what the original marker ('Internal Moderator') has done and make sure it is fair and appropriate.  Then, after keying in our work in the new Registrar's computer system, our grading work is passed on to the faculty committee who then check and make sure what both the Internal and External Moderators have done is ok.  And then it is passed on to the University Senate for final approval before the exam and course marks are finally published.  All exams at our university are handled this way.  Did I mention that exams in Kenya are an industry?

So Lois happily (happy because she has managed to offload a significant problem) drives a front end loader-full of last term's history exams for me to 'moderate'.  It turns out the stack is only a foot high, only.  She tried to make me feel better by saying other subjects had a lot more.  Thanks, Lois :-) .

It's the revenge of the system, I suppose.  Conflicted as I am about these exams and what they are doing to education here, I now find myself not only having to formulate and give them for my own classes, but now I'm grading everybody else's, at least at the diploma level.  If it gets out that I do this sort of thing, the grading may never cease...  I did sign up for this, I suppose.

Any thoughts on exams and learning?

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Difference Hope Makes

A sermon preached this past Sunday 
at Sts. Cosmas and Damian Orthodox Cathedral, Nairobi, Kenya

2 Corinthians 4:6-15
6For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
            7We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.  This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
8We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.  We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  9We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God.  We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  10Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
            11Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.  12So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.
            13But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, ‘I believed in God, so I spoke.’  14We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you.  15All of this is for your benefit.  And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

Think with me a few minutes about hope.

Prof. Beneshevich
Vladimir Nicolayevich Beneshevich (1874-1938) was an Orthodox Christian, a scholar of Church history, and a teacher at several Russian universities during the tumultuous times after the Bolsheviks took over Russia.  The authorities considered him a threat, and he was arrested in 1922 and again in 1924, though he was released each time.  In 1928 he was arrested and charged with spying for the Vatican, for Germany and Poland and sent to a prison camp.  Two years later he was charged with sedition, and sent to another prison camp for 5 years.  The authorities totally destroyed his manuscript collection and his life’s work.  He was released, but when his scholarly book on one of the church fathers was published in Germany, he was arrested again, charged with spying for Nazi Germany and convicted.  He was taken out and shot along with his twin sons and his brother.  How does one carry on in the face of such hardship, such trials, such suffering?  When you have lost everything and are about to suffer the loss of your life, how does being a Christian make any difference? Does it make any sense?

St. Philotei and Slaves

Philothei was born in 1522 into one of the leading families of Athens.  When she was of age she was forced against her will to marry.  When her husband died a few years later, she gave away all of her worldly possessions, became a nun and started a convent that became a refuge for women who had been enslaved by Turks and abused in harems.  By 1589, her work with these poor women had come to the attention of the Turkish authorities.  They became so enraged that they dragged her out of church and beat her so severely that she died a few days later.

Sts. Cosmas and Damian

Cosmas and Damian were brothers, twins, from Cilicia in Turkey, who both decided to practice medicine together.  As Christians, they chose not to accept payment for their services.  As a result, many people were drawn to Christ because of their example.  In 287 AD, during the time of Diocletian, the brothers came to the attention of the local governor who ordered them to be arrested and then tortured until they denied their faith in Christ.  According to tradition, they held on to Christ even though they were first crucified, then stoned and shot by arrows and finally beheaded.

But these aren’t just stories of long ago times.   The same things are happening today.  Today, we are living in a time where Christianity has become the most persecuted religion across the globe.  You and I have chosen to become Christians, to become followers of Jesus, at a time when to do so may be very costly.  And many people are choosing to be faithful to Jesus than to deny their faith under pressure and persecution.  Today, right now, Christians are being persecuted in Saudi Arabia, in Turkey, in Israel and Palestine, in Iraq and Egypt, in Iran and Malaysia, in Pakistan and Sudan, Libya and Algeria, in Nigeria and parts of Ethiopia and India and China.  Christians are being denied jobs, forced to flee from their homes, subjected to threats, to beatings, to being blown up, to being shot.

But if are a real Christian today, you will know that pressure is not new.  We are constantly under pressure to conform to the ways and values of all the people around us.  To give a bribe here, to deny justice there.  To turn the other way when wrong is being done, to keep quiet when to tell the truth would be too costly.  All of us face choices every day.  We can choose to love, we can choose not to love.  We can choose to speak against corruption and injustice, we can choose not to speak.  We can choose to give to people around us in need, we can choose not to give.  We can choose to conform to the ways of the world, we can choose not to conform.  And the choices we make reveal who it is we are really following, who it is we are really serving, who it is we are really loving.  Is it Jesus? Or is it our own interests?  Our own needs?  Our own desires?  Our own reputations?

But the question that comes to my mind is why would anybody want to give up living for themselves here and now? Or satisfying themselves here and now?  Why be a follower of Jesus when it is so costly to do so?  When it might mean losing your job because being a follower of Jesus means you choose integrity over corruption.  When it might mean losing friends because being a follower of Jesus means you won’t join in with their destructive behaviors.  When it might put your property, even your life in danger because you will not go along with the community around you when they want to chase out people of the wrong ethnic group and you choose instead to protect them.  When you could save your life, why lose it?

The Apostle Paul understood all of this.  He says in 2 Corinthians:

8We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.  We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  9We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God.  We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  10Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus’.

But then he says something unexpected, something that most Christians today have never really grasped.  Paul tells us why it’s worth it.  He says:

13But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, ‘I believed in God, so I spoke.’  14We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 

Paul can face the present because he is certain about the future.  Paul can endure suffering and loss and hardship – Paul can be a follower of Jesus because he knows what God is up to; he knows how it ends.  The people of this world live as though a bumper sticker I saw back in the US is true – ‘The one who dies with the most toys wins.’  That’s why just about everybody all around us is scrambling around trying to get as much stuff and money and good times and pleasure as they can stuff into their lives, because they think that that’s what this life is about.  Even people claiming to be Christians are falling for this lie.  I just read about the leaders of some Pentecostal churches in Nigeria who are boasting, not about how many cars they have, or houses, but how many private jets they own.  When asked to justify how a Christian minister could spend $10s of millions of dollars on a private jet, he said, ‘Well, I’m an important person and have lots of meetings to go to.’

‘But what good will it be,’ says Jesus, ‘for a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?’ (Matthew 16:16-26) Jesus rather pointedly says that our lives are to be based on other priorities.  Love God, love your neighbor, forgive as you have been forgiven, do unto them as you want them to do unto you, care for the needy, don’t be anxious about food and drink and clothes, but make God’s priorities first in your life and relationships, and the rest will take care of itself.

But how can we live the life that Jesus is calling us to live? How can we be strong in the face of pressure to conform to the ways of the world?  How can we stand when we are ridiculed, wronged, or persecuted?  How can we endure suffering and even death at the hands of those who hate us?  For Paul, understanding what our hope is as Christians is what transforms our lives and makes all the difference.  The world around us has nothing to say in the face of death.  But we do.  Jesus died on the cross; but after three days, he broke the power of death and rose again from the dead, the first fruits of God’s new transformed humanity.  And the good news is that God will raise us just like he raised Jesus, with a new body and a new life, and we will live forever with him in the new heaven and the new earth, where there will be no more pain and hurt and injustice, where every tear will be dried and where there will be no more dying.

The worst anyone can do to you or me is to kill us and our loved ones.  But Jesus has overcome death and everyone who trusts in Jesus will rise with Jesus and be blessed with a new body and a new life.  We’ve been set free from our slavery to sin and fear and death.  But even more than that, through Jesus, God is rescuing and redeeming and saving and recreating the entire world, and he is inviting us to be a part of that rescue mission right now.  God has called you and brought you here for a purpose, not so that you can just sit here and be blessed, but that you can right now be God’s blessing in the lives of the people around you.  God is calling you, and all of us as his church, to be his partner in saving the people around us and in saving his creation.  That’s what God is doing.  And when you get a glimpse of what God is up to, and that he is calling you in Christ to be a part of his mission, to be his missionary right here and right now, that’s when the kingdom of God begins to break through.  Never mind that you and I are earthen vessels, what matters is what’s inside you.  God is right now, if you have eyes to see, making his light shine in your heart, in my heart, giving us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of the Lord Jesus – the risen Lord Jesus! 

Knowing your hope changes everything.  Having Jesus changes everything.  Hearing the call of God changes everything.  At the end of 1 Corinthians 15, which is the longest sustained reflection on the resurrection and what it means for you and me in the New Testament, Paul’s conclusion doesn’t end on some irrelevant cloud of pie in the sky bye and bye, but brings it back to you and me what you and I are doing right now today: ‘Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.’ (1 Corinthians 15:58)  This was the secret that sustained Prof. Beneshevich, that motivated Philotei to give her life for abused women, that enabled Cosmas and Damian to stand when their world crashed down around them.  What about you?  Do you see what they saw? Do you understand what they understood?  Are you responding like they responded?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Some Thoughts on Orthodox Preaching

It's Saturday afternoon, and I'm sitting in a posh Karen coffee shop overlooking a busy road and fields and forest beyond, and I'm thinking about preaching.  Orthodox preaching.

St. Paul and St. Barnabas preaching in Crete

I've been asked to preach this Sunday (tomorrow).  This will be my fifth time to preach as an Orthodox Christian.  In our services we have, as part of the Liturgy, a reading from the Epistles and a reading from the Gospels.  The sermon is usually taken from the Gospel reading (at least in my brief experience here).  However this week I feel led to focus on the meat of what St. Paul is saying in his 2nd letter to the Christians in Corinth, 4:6-15.  I plan on talking about hope, and how a rightly understood Christian understanding of the resurrection transforms the way we live.  I've got my manuscript open in another window.  It desperately needs to lose several hundred words.  But my mind is chewing on the broader question of preaching.

Sts. Anagyroi (Sts. Cosmas and Damian) Cathedral in Nairobi

Almost all preaching in many of the churches around here (and they are mostly some version of Protestant or Pentecostal) is evangelistic in nature, replete with a long, some might say manipulative, and did I say long (?) so-called 'altar call' at the end.  In fact, in many Pentecostal churches the whole purpose of preaching is to promote and facilitate an 'experience' of the 'Spirit', which, in the services I have attended, the preachers manage to attain this goal on a regular basis.

But in the Orthodox Churches I am aware of, 'evangelism' is not something anybody does on Sunday mornings.  The purpose of gathering is to worship, and we worship liturgically.  Moreover, I don't recall anyone ever accusing the Orthodox of trying to facilitate some kind of spiritual experience when they gather for worship.  Worship and the Liturgy are not about me or us, they are instead all about God the Holy Trinity.  The Liturgy is our 'work' or 'service' for the Lord, and we don't engage in worship because of what we will get out of it.

So if Orthodox preaching is not for evangelism, and if it is not to make everybody feel good or to wind our people up into some sort of pliable ecstasy, then what role does it play?

Fr. Maximus Urbanowicz preaching to an African congregation

Preaching in Orthodox Churches is first of all part of the Liturgy, which means preaching is a liturgical act.  Historically, preaching occurs just after the reading of the Gospel passage.  It marks the climax of the first half of the Liturgy, where we remember that God the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Immediately after the sermon, the Liturgy takes us through the measured preparation to receive the Lord as His body broken and blood shed for us in the Lord's Supper.  (Sometimes the sermon is preached at the point in the Liturgy after the consecration when the body and blood are being prepared for the people.  Sometimes the sermon is preached after the Liturgy is finished.  Sometimes there is no sermon at all.  But the normative way historically seems to be midway through the Liturgy after the readings.)

St. John Chrysostom, one of Orthodoxy's Great Preachers

As preachers, we, like the Apostle Peter, stand between Christ and His people.  Jesus' words to Peter could be spoken to us as well - 'Do you love me?  Feed my lambs!'  We are indeed about to be fed in a tangible way in the mystery of the Eucharist.  But preaching has the potential at least to be more direct, more compelling, more personal - God using the written Word and His very human preacher to apply the Scriptures to our situation and need.  Long years of my own preaching experience in Protestant contexts have reinforced what many of us suspected in spite of our homiletics classes and how-to books written by 'successful' preachers, that there is no formula for 'success'.  In fact my own experiences and my observations of others questions the whole notion of what 'success' might be for a preacher.  I've got notebooks full of more than 450 sermons, many of which are well prepared and which were well-received by congregations of serious Christians.  Does that make me 'successful'?  Never mind the fact that, modern recording technology to the contrary, once a word is spoken, it's gone.  It was prepared for particular intersections between Bible and the lives of particular individuals at a particular place and a particular time.  There is an opportunity for hearing, and then an opportunity for responding.  And then that's it.  Life moves on.  And like a display case of old sea shells outlining the lives they once contained, my notebooks of old sermons only hint at what divine work might have actually been going on in the moment they were preached.

The sermon is the first moment in our service where the conversation of the Liturgy shifts.  No longer are we addressing the Trinity, along with all the saints and angels.  But now the Trinity makes use of the weakness, the folly of preaching to address each one of us.  So we are fed by a deeper understanding of the Holy Trinity and what the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are up to in our world and our lives.  And we are engaged in conversation, in relationship by the Living Lord himself as He speaks through the human words of Scripture and preacher.

In my earlier life as a Presbyterian preacher, I had plenty of time to 'help' God speak by making sure I had a clever introduction, then carefully explaining the meaning of the Scriptures whilst maintaining the flagging attention of my hearers with wan attempts at humor, and then coming to the application part where I would strive to make all the spiritual assertions practical by bringing home what the passage was about for us here and now.  All of this would take about 30-40 minutes.  I got to be pretty good at it.

However, now I've been told I have 10 minutes to make my case/deliver my message/preach my sermon. The shock to my Presbyterian system has been considerable.  But it has reminded me that preaching is not about showing off what I know, or how verbally clever I am.  It's not about putting my knowledge of the Scriptures on display for everyone to admire, or maintaining my reputation for being a keen expositor of Scriptures.  These people need to be fed and they need feeding now, and fast.  Moreover, and more humbling, I become increasingly aware that God is not dependent upon me and my experience and expertise to get his Word across.

The young Charles Spurgeon
I remember the story of how as a 15 year old teenager Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) was caught in a January snowstorm on his way to a different church.  When he could go no further, he ducked into a Primitive Methodist chapel.  Spurgeon says, 'In that chapel there might be a dozen or fifteen people.  The minister did not come that morning, snowed up, I suppose.  A poor man, a shoemaker, a tailor, or something of that sort, went up in the pulpit to preach.  He was obliged to stick with the text, for the simple reason he had nothing else to say.  The text was, 'Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." He dod not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter.'  Spurgeon goes on to relate that as the poor preacher stumbled along, it became abundantly clear that God was addressing him.  And when the laypreacher ended his message, Spurgeon relates that 'he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist can, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ."  There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that moment and sung with the most enthusiastic of them of the Precious Blood of Christ."'

And it was this event that Spurgeon would always look back upon as his conversion.  God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick, and chooses to do so on a regular basis.

Each person who will come to the cathedral tomorrow is a unique person, part of a unique tangle of relationships, coming out of complex and mind-boggling circumstances, each with his or her own joys and pain, each with his or her own issues and needs.  And I, the preacher, come similarly complicated, similarly burdened, similarly wounded.  Making the bread and wine into the body and blood of our Lord is wonder enough, but that God can speak his word from one such as I to some such as them is an astonishing miracle.  And though God has put 'hope' on my heart (and I in turn have put 'hope' in my manuscript), it would be just like God for someone to hear 'grace for you' or 'love for you' or 'provision for you' from the Lord instead.  I suppose the Lord retains the right to be sovereign, despite our best intentions.

When I finish tomorrow, rather than it be the end of the service the way it was in my earlier churches, we will go straight into the 'Cherubic Hymn' during which the priest and altar boys will process throughout the Church carrying the bread and the wine, echoing Jesus' own journey to Jerusalem where he offered himself on the cross for our salvation.  That bread and wine will be consecrated and, in the Lord's hands, become something else, become Himself for us.  I suppose that this is what this preacher, at least, can hope, that he might take the common bread and wine of my mean efforts, my poor words, and by the power of His Spirit make them something that will actually feed his people with His Word, with Himself.  Because if I have learned anything at all these past few years, we don't need more bread and wine.  We need Jesus.

Christ of Sinai

Monday, January 14, 2013

There and Back Again, or What I Did (and ate) Over Christmas Break

I apologize for being absent.  Since last I was cognizant (sometime before Christmas), I have visited with family in Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina, eaten waaayyy too much holiday food (want another cookie?  Sure!  Want some more egg nog?  Oh, why not!  Another piece of Cousin Amy Lou's Chocolate Pie?  Yes please!  etc., etc.).

An unexpected highlight was to visit the small but happy, friendly and active Orthodox community in Bluffton, SC.  It turned out to be a family affair when my daughter decided she wanted to come, thereby motivating her husband to come, too, neither of whom had been to an Orthodox Church before.  My wife, who ordinarily is Presbyterian, saw an opportunity for family time and decided to come along as well.  So the four of us traipsed into uncharted territory and found the little church meeting in a Roman Catholic chapel.  Usually, the priest in charge makes a several hour drive from Columbia, the state capitol.  But for some reason on this morning, he overslept, meaning the local parish leaders were setting up to have a much-briefer-than-the-usual-Divine-Liturgy 'Reader Service'.  This turned out to be perfect for my family, as it was a gentle introduction to a way of worship that can be disorienting for those outside the tradition.  When the leader found out that I was a reader at my church in Kenya, he asked if I might chant the epistle.  So I did my best, falling into the 'free-style' chanting that happens when I'm not quite sure what I am doing.  Nobody snickered, so I guess it went ok.  Most gratifying was the fact that my son-in-law, a life-long Southern Baptist, was so taken with chanting at church that he spent the rest of the day putting conversation to music.  Sort of like Les Miz in the Low Country.  In fact I think he's still singing away back at home in northern Virginia, though I think he 'tones' it down a bit when he's at work.  The short Reader Service was good.  But the most impressive introduction to Orthodoxy for my family was the coffee hour and the accompanying spread.  Since we Orthodox fast prior to taking communion, we get rather hungry.  And someone at this little church had gotten the marvelous idea that hunger should be met with good food.  And it was really wonderful to meet Orthodox Christians in South Carolina of all places.  Anyway, I ate way too much, which seems to be the theme of my brief American travels and of this post.

We did make it back to Kenya, where I have been busy teaching an intensive Masters-level history course on the history of monasticism.  I am also developing a course on Research Methodology for new masters students.  And I am teaching Systematic Theology III (the Holy Spirit, the church, and the end times) and Church History from the Reformation till the present (which as you can tell is a course developed by Protestants for Protestants as if the history of the Western Church is the history of the Church...), both for unsuspecting undergraduates.  And finally, I've been helping a North American student complete his requirements by teaching him his last course which happens to be the History of the Eastern Church.  I was going to say, 'And they pay me to do this!' but actually they don't...  We spent an hour today talking about the first four ecumenical councils (can you name them?  Can you name all seven? Can you tell why they were called?).  In my spare time I've been working on developing PhD programs in Church History and Systematic Theology for the university.  Unfortunately, whilst busy at work I've also managed to discover that one of the tiny little shops across the road from our campus in the  semi-slum of Kabuku sells Cadbury chocolate bars.  This is most unfortunate, as I need hardly any prompting to get up from my chair, walk across campus, out the gate, down the road and into said shop, procure above mentioned chocolate, and then eat it as soon as I get back to my office.  It isn't Cousin Amy Lou's Chocolate Pie, but it will do in a pinch.

So there we are, or rather, here I am, experiencing the immense privilege of doing what I love to do with people I love and respect and enjoy in a place that is endlessly fascinating complete with circumstances that try me to my very core daily.  I'll work on being more faithful in recording my thoughts and observations.  It's not that there's not enough to write about.