This morning my final year Isaiah class went on an outing to a local coffee shop. I wanted to see if meeting in that kind of environment helps or hinders learning and discussion. We were due to cover material on chs. 36-39 as well as talk about spirituality in Isaiah, using a chapter from Eugene Peterson’s book, The Jesus Way (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2007, ch.6 ‘Isaiah of Jerusalem: “The Holy”‘). The way the course works is that students come prepared to discuss a passage by reading John Goldingay’s NIBC commentary plus one other (Motyer, Brueggemann, Childs, Oswalt, Watts, etc.).

We managed to get a table all together (there were about a dozen of us) and started discussing some of the historical and literary issues surrounding the Hezekiah narratives. We also talked about the characterisation of Hezekiah and the rather ambiguous way the section finishes.

About half way through we had a break and discussed how we would live our lives if we were told we only had 15 years left to live.

Then we moved on to Peterson’s stuff on spirituality. Here are some quotes we found useful:

“Holy” is the best word we have for the all-encompassing, all-embracing life of God that transforms us into a uniquely formed and set-apart people. Holy is never pious abstraction. It is never a quality that can be understood apart from the bodies that we inhabit or the neighborhoods in which we live or apart from the God who made, saves, and blesses us. It is something lived. It is the life of God breathed into and invigorating our lives. (p.127)

the living God, is what we men and women hunger and thirst for most deeply, and The Holy, seeping (bursting!) through the containers in which we habitually confine and then label life, whets our appetite. (p.138)

Isaiah is the greatest preacher to be represented in our Scriptures. He is also our most conspicuous failure. For forty years he preached powerful, eloquent, bold sermons. Nobody listened. He preached repentance and the salvation of Jerusalem and Judah. The people did not repent and were taken into exile. (p.140)

We are after something – more life than we can get simply by eating three meals a day, getting a little exercise, and having a decent job. We’re after the God-originated and God-shaped life: a holy life. (p.147)

I’m glad we decided to go to the coffee shop the week we discussed spirituality and holiness; the more we talked, the more appropriate it seemed. I had envisaged us having a quiet, ‘civilised’ discussion, but instead the coffee machine was whirring and gurgling, other customers were coming and going, and a child behind me fell out of their chair – they were fine but very upset. So the session was messy and distracting. Sometimes it was difficult to hear each other. We were not in our tidy, quiet classroom; we were in the midst of the mess and noise of real life. What a perfect environment in which to discuss holiness, which is something we are called to live out amidst the chaos and mess of life.

So I wouldn’t hold my lectures in a coffee shop every week, but for this particular session, it was the messy ideal!

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