So, four years of reflections on my time studying theology at undergraduate level are now complete. I thought I would conclude the Vorsprung durch Theologie project with a few brief reflections on various aspects of the last four (or more) years, beginning with my move from Wales to the Outer Hebrides.
I have been privileged, whilst studying for my degree, to live in an extremely beautiful and remote part of Scotland. The island of South Uist is unique: blessed with wild, treeless landscapes – expansive white sands backed by dramatic mountains, and studded with a multitude of lochs and lochans. Its remote location on the edge of the North Atlantic gives it the qualities of wilderness. Here, the rare fauna and flora of the mainland become commonplace: otters, red deer, seals, hen harriers, golden and white-tailed eagles, curlews, orchids... This backdrop to my studies has, I’m sure, had an impact on my theology. The importance of creation theology has been one of the key emphases arising from my time at HTC. The relationship of man to the planet and the cosmos is inseparably forged by the interlinked relationships between God and the cosmos, and between God and humanity, created as stewards of the planet.
Apart from the constant presence of the natural world – in both beautiful and challenging ways - my removal from the hustle and bustle of life working in Cardiff, surrounded by relentless advertising and retail opportunities, has given opportunity to reflect upon what is probably the fairly homogenous experience of a professional in cities or in the suburbs throughout Britain. Whilst our family income has reduced significantly, so have our outgoings. At the same time, whilst life is still busy, it is easier to find time for family and for reflection. The Western Isles are also one of the most Christian parts of Britain. Here in South Uist, a majority Roman Catholic island, Christian morality still undergirds so much of society. So, my life here could be thought of as having assumed some monastic qualities! I do think there is a place for a kind of monasticism in the Christian life – but not for all, and not for all of the time.
However, any monastic facets have been cut alongside a greater awareness of the lost and the desperate. Although these islands still have a strong Christian heritage, the last twenty years has seen, by all accounts, a significant decline in regular church attendance, across all denominations. Faith is under fire. And, even in Christianised communities, people are still people, and the dark side of human experience is never far away. Some folk come here and see an idyll. But living here, working in addiction support and being involved in ministry has made me more aware than ever of this dark side. Wherever human beings are, be it a shanty town or an exclusive resort, an urban estate or a remote island, they are still human beings. And outside of Christ they are still dead in their sins, lost and bowed down under their burden; they are rebels and victims, perpetuating and being destroyed by, the kingdom of This World.