Performing the faith

I took a big break from theology following the masters. Now it’s lovely to come back to it as a ‘non-productivity’ based activity.

From performing the faith by Hauerwas

what it means to be ethically well formed is having one’a imagination trained to regard the world not as a given but as truly a gift from God. A better way to describe Christian ethics then is not as a choosing or deciding what is the right thing to do but being educated in the art of rightly accepting gifts.


Matthew 20:1-16

I recently had the opportunity to preach on Matthew 20:1-16. I’ve never preached before, though I have given plenty of “talks”.  We are doing a series on parables and I was allowed to choose whichever one I wanted. I’ve also felt a little pissed off by this parable so this was a good opportunity to explore that.

The audio of the sermon was recorded on my phone and it’s not of the best quality but here it is anyhow.

I had written a little parallel to the parable based in an Emergency Department waiting room as it seemed fitting. I didn’t use it in the sermon but here it is below.

A doctor went out into the A&E waiting room early in the night shift to speak to the patients who’d just arrived with their sprained ankles and sore throats. He explained the waiting times, the fact that there were no beds, the fact that there wasn’t enough staff. He then apologised and promised that he would get to everyone by morning. The early-comers thanked him for their explanation and waited patiently.


A few hours later he came out again and explained again to the new arrivals with sore ears and back pain that it was a very busy night and that everyone was waiting a long time. The newcomers took their places amongst those waiting and settled down for the long wait. As the sun began to rise on the waiting room, a couple of smelly, dishevelled, patients arrived by ambulance, clearly intoxicated to various degrees. The doctor went to them almost as soon as they arrived and these patients were brought into the main department.


As the sun rose and the morning staff arrived the rest of the patients were all seen and treated before the end of the shift as promised. Yet those who had waited from the beginning of the night grumbled and complained that they waited in the cold and the dark and smell of the waiting room whereas those junkies and riff raff went straight to the front of the queue.

The doctor replied, “friends, i told you that you all would be seen and you all agreed to wait. Am I not allowed to decide who gets seen first? Or are you envious because I treated those patients first?”

The book I found the most helpful was Craig Blomberg’s Interpreting the Parables. 

The Shed

One of the joys of working part time is that you have time to do stuff other people don’t. You don’t have the money to do much with that time so you end up building things instead of buying them.

I spent the past month building a shed. The one that came with the house was the usual crappy, bought off the shelf, wooden number that had a hole in the roof and most of the timbers were rotting.

With the advice of our friendly tall Scotsman I figured I could have a go at something a bit better.

First off the original shed needed dismantled


Lorraine enjoyed this bit as you can tell. This was how we spend our wedding anniversary. A family that dismantles sheds together stays together.


We were left with this base that I dragged across the garden and converted into a temporary “tee pee” to hold all the stuff till the new shed was built.


Next step was clearing the ground so I could put down hardcore and a concrete base. This was probably the hardest bit of the job but very much worth it.


Jurgen lent me his “mattock” from his gardening days and that made the job a million times easier. There were blisters as you can imagine. There was also some help from the other 2



Next came the hardcore, nearly 3 tonnes had to be wheelbarrowed from front of the house to the back and then spread out evenly under Martha’s expert supervision


Speaking of Martha, most of the timbers used in building the shed were pulled out of the walls of her house when she was getting it refurbished. Waste not want not, though I did have to spend an awful lot of time with a crow bar and angle grinder removing all the old nails.



I had watched a lot of youtube series on making sheds by this point so i felt fairly confident. Though there a lot of plans drawn and re drawn and even resorted to having to  look up terms such as hypotenuse in order to work out all the angles involved


Me and Jurg hired a plate compacted and a cement mixer and in went the base


This dried fairly nicely and smoothly and then it was time to start building the different frames that would be bolted to the concrete to form the walls of the shed.





It took ages getting the ground prepared and doing the concrete. Putting the frames together and connecting them took about 2 hrs in the end.

Next came the roof sections. These were kind of tricky and it took a few goes to get the angles quite right as I didn’t really have anything to measure them by. Not ideal I know but it worked out pretty well in the end



These were then fairly easily lifted onto the walls of the shed and secured



There had been some initial debate as to whether to put a felt roof on or a steel one. The steel one was undoubtedly the better job and bizzarely actually worked out cheaper than the felt one. I confess I hadn’t much of a clue what I was doing with the steel and it took me a while to figure out the best way to connect all the different sections. There was also the breathable membrane that needed fitted before the steel too.




There’s a little bit of silicone between each piece to try and make it a bit more water tight


The final bit i needed for the roof was a custom made ridge piece that went on top.



The walls came unpainted from a saw mill down the road. Once these were painted they were easily fitted to the frame.




I had to leave space for windows and in the photo below you can hopefully see the little frame I made to hold the glass (preserved from the original shed)



This is the (pretty much) finished product. There’s just a little bit of touching up to be done to the paint. Ultimately I’m going to put a walk in lean to on the right hand side of the shed for the bikes to be kept under as it’s a pain the bum taking them in and out of the shed all the time.


As liz says a few hanging baskets on the side should finish it a treat. incidentally the door of the shed is actually the front door off the house as we replaced it. I went through nice new circular saw blade trying to cut out the frame too…

At the minute I’m starting to organise the contents and fit some work benches (which are left over from the original kitchen of the house).


All in all a fun job for a 16 by 8 ft shed that’s probably better put together than the extension that came with the house…


  • Steel roof €160
  • Shiplaps for walls €390
  • Timber €80
  • Screws €40
  • Concrete floor €200
  • Paint €40

Dissertation complete!

For those with an active RSS feed to this blog, hello and glad you’re still there. The dissertation is done and posted so I figured I may as well share it here too. Feel free to read, download and comment below.

As always with these types of things, now that I’ve written the damn thing, I’m probably in a much better position to go back and write the whole thing all over again and make it 10 times better but alas I have neither the time nor the energy for it. Thanks to all who participated in the emails, pub conversations and rants about this.


Dissertation Final

005 ‘dying well’ versus ‘the good death’

I’ve just started my M.Litt dissertation.  My supervisor suggested the practice of writing something every day, something akin to a journal entry rather than a formal academic piece.

I have neither the time nor energy to write every day, but I will when I get the chance and I suppose why not put it out here for the 7 people who read this to see it, critique and hopefully give me some feedback to make it better. 

The basic idea for the thesis goes something like this:

How does modern medicine’s domination of how we die form problems for the Christian tradition of Ars Moriendi

Here’s what I wrote today:


While on the surface it’s perhaps difficult to see the difference between the two terms

  • Dying well

  • The good death

Yet, if I’m correct (and it’s yet to be seen) then there’s an important difference to be drawn out.

Like most phrases like this, it all depends by what you mean by them. Both are so short as to carry very little specific meaning. There is some specific content to them but it’s also how, and by whom the two phrases are used that helps to bring out the differences.

Dying well has its origins in the Christian ars moriendi literature already discussed. The ars moriendi means the “art of dying well”. It was a specific body of Christian literature, coming in the time following the great schism and the black death. It was popular literature for those unfortunately accustomed to wide spread, horrific death.

Christians can die well, so the ars moriendi go. There may be temptations to avoid, and virtues to pursue but we can at least die well. There are many modern day Christians and non-Christians who continue to use the phrase ‘dying well’ as a goal for those confronted with their own mortality. Given the rampant medicalisation of our deaths, the contemporary idea of dying well has been a welcome asset. Palliative care is perhaps the best example that the medical field has put forward, with a focus on symptom control and dying at home. [Not that palliative care is without its problems as I’ve previously mentioned.]

The good death is (i hope to argue) a somewhat different term. Sitting on my shelf is a book of the same name, subtitled ‘the new american search to reshape the end of life’. The subtitle tells a tale in itself. When I talk about the good death, I’m taking about the modern notion that the good death is the death that is freely chosen. The modern emphasis on the self and on autonomy is the key here. What people often fear most in the contemporary world is the loss of choice, autonomy and independence that ill health brings. The only way that such a situation might end well is in the death freely chosen.

It is no coincidence that the language of the good death is perhaps most prevalent in those talking about ‘assisting dying’. One of the ways to make it slightly more palatable is to rephrase what we think about death. If death is ‘natural’ (hard to argue against) and so is childbirth then surely death is just one part of the journey. Indeed, death is the most natural thing in the world. We can avoid the nastiness surrounding our death by taking back ownership of it.

At present I have no real idea if that’s really what the new good death literature actually says. I may be painting a horrible caricature of it. But what I’m going to attempt to say is that as Christians, we can die well, we have all kinds of spiritual and moral resources available to us that perhaps not everyone does. However, I don’t think we can sign up to a good death. There was never anything good about death and yer man Thomas was onto something when he asked us to ‘rage against the dying of the light.’ Paul was onto something similar when he said his bit.

004 On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

I’ve just started my M.Litt dissertation.  My supervisor suggested the practice of writing something every day, something akin to a journal entry rather than a formal academic piece.

I have neither the time nor energy to write every day, but I will when I get the chance and I suppose why not put it out here for the 7 people who read this to see it, critique and hopefully give me some feedback to make it better. 

The basic idea for the thesis goes something like this:

How does modern medicine’s domination of how we die form problems for the Christian tradition of Ars Moriendi

Here’s what I wrote today:

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross [via the Simpsons]

On Death and Dying is so famous that even the Simpsons have covered it. This book, written in the hay days of medical advances of the the late 60s and early 70s, tells of insights gained by talking with the dying.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a psychiatrist who set up a seminar (prompted by several theology students with an interest in the topic) in the university to be attended by students and staff from multiple disciplines. The idea was to get insight into how to talk to those who were terminally ill. Typically this took the form of a recorded interview between Kubler-Ross, the patient and often a chaplain. This was usually viewed by a group of students through a one way glass to make the patient feel slightly less intimidated.

The book works its way through the chapters outlining what Kubler-Ross saw as the stages a patient went through when faced with their own death. Most stages are presented in the form of the transcribed interview and from this some conclusions are drawn about how we react towards death. It is summarized in the (slightly dodgy) graphic below.

The book is remarkable as one of the first major contributions to understanding of how we die in the modern age. As already discussed, modern medicine has radically changed how we die. We die later in life, and in many ways we only allow ourselves to die when modern medicine says it is OK to do so.

Death is frequently a medicalised event that takes place not in the home but in the hospital. There are always opportunities for family to visit but this is usually strictly controlled by the hospital until the point is reached that the doctor decides that there is a change from curative to palliative care.

This is the medical context of death but this is surrounded by a much greater, and more pervasive cultural change to how we understand our lives, ourselves and our purpose.

On Death and Dying is effectively a qualitative, observational study. From an empiricists point of view, this type of study is not designed to describe causality, it merely describes people’s reactions to dying, not why they are reacting in such a way.

One of the underlying and unspoken assumptions in the book (and underlying the project of modernity) is that the story of your life is whatever you make it to be. You, as the autonomous self, the agent, are the free and unencumbered individual. This agent can be abstracted from the cultural and contextual ‘you’ in greater society. As Hauerwas puts it, “the project of modernity was to produce people who believe they should have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

It appears (though I cannot find it clearly stated as a purpose in the book) that the ‘steps’ or ‘stages’ of dying have guilt-free acceptance as their end point or telos. For example, “if we tolerate their anger, whether it is directed at us, at the deceased, or at God, we are helping them take a great step towards acceptance without guilt .” [Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying, Routledge, 1973, p159.] As stated above, this book is a qualitative observational study yet the conclusions drawn, at least implicitly, are that these stages should be normative for modern man. This is the telos of our death – a guilt free acceptance.

A guilt free acceptance of the end of our lives is no bad thing, yet, for the Christian, it is not the whole story, and indeed it deals insufficiently with what has gone before. If the telos in On Death and Dying is only directed at the death then it is insufficiently telological to provide to help us become people able to die well.  Modern death narratives, even at their very best as exemplified here, fail us by not paying sufficient attention to the life that comes prior. A guilt-free acceptance of death is no doubt a grand thing, but dying well may be much more than this.

Grapes of Wrath Quote

Just as the family have sold up everything and ready to hit the road for California.

“How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?”

Grapes of wrath p88


April 2020