Lemuel (1)

I was five when I first went to school. In those days, there was no kindergarten or prep, or anything like that. One simply went from full-time at home, to full-time at school. And to be honest, that first day, I didn’t know whether I wanted to go or not.

Now I don’t have many memories of Primary School. Indeed, the first years are mainly a blank. But what I do have is mainly negative. Because even in the early days, I remember being bored. And one day, I obviously misbehaved, as I remember spending much of the day outside the headmaster’s office in punishment for something I had done.

Now whilst the early years of Primary School are mainly a blank, perhaps the latter years reflect something of my schooling.

For example, I remember having swimming lessons at a nearby pool. Indeed, for a while the whole class would board a bus to go to the nearest school swimming pool for lessons. Unfortunately, the system was, that as soon as you could swim a width, the lesson was deemed to be learnt. After that you stayed back at school, filling in time, whilst the rest of the class went off for their lesson. And for me, that seemed very short sighted—after all, the pool wasn’t even a standard size width—and very unfair.

I remember making a model of Stephenson’s Rocket. Because I managed to dig the blade of a sharp knife into my hand. As a consequence, I spent the afternoon in a room near the head master’s office, waiting for the end of school, so that he could then take me to hospital to get some stitches (and pick up my mother on the way).

I also remember making some shields with plaster of Paris. Indeed, on one occasion, I was not only given a mould which a teacher had designed, but when the plaster was set I was given the shield which the teacher had by then painted. Now I don’t know why I was picked out for being given such an honour, but it was not my work. Consequently, I was very disappointed, and I was left totally unimpressed.

Other memories of Primary School, are but mere fragments.

I remember taking my turn being milk monitor. Because in those days every child was given a small bottle of milk at the mid-morning break. I remember being introduced to the coloured different sized blocks—Cuisenaire rods—as an aide to mathematics. Which at the time I thought was all too elementary. And I remember having French lessons in grade six, which we were told was in preparation for High School. But it left me wondering why they had left teaching a foreign language so late.

Now to me, Primary School was a place I went to, simply because I was told I had to go. It didn’t stretch me academically at all. However, I do have one fond memory. And that was being chosen for the lead role in a school musical. Now I have no idea why I was chosen. It’s not as if we had ever been given drama lessons or singing lessons. But, for some reason, I was chosen. And without having any real recall of the detail of the musical, I do remember that I had to play a mad professor who had built a rocket, and was planning to fly it to the moon.

Now this was still several years before the first moon landing. However, the whole concept of travelling to the moon appealed to my imagination. So, I took on the role with gusto. I don’t know if I was any good. But on reflection, it does seem to be one thing about Primary School that engaged my imagination. Nevertheless, time was ticking on, and High School was beckoning.

Now in my day, one went from Primary School, to either a Secondary Modern, a Technical school or a Grammar school, depending upon your ability. And it all hinged on the results of a test—the eleven-plus. Now considering that Primary School had failed to engage me, I hoped to at least progress to a Technical School—a school that might engage my imagination. Unfortunately, I failed the test, and so my lot was cast for Secondary Modern.

To be continued …

Posted: 4th June 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis

Lemuel (2)

If I had hoped that High School would be better, then those hopes were very quickly dashed. Yes, I could wear long trousers for the first time, but beyond that the next six years were a great disappointment.

The first obvious change was that this was a boys’ school—the girls’ school being next door, across the playing field. So, it was very different to the mixed primary school I had previously attended. Yes, we had a form teacher, as before. But instead of having that one teacher who taught us everything, we now had to travel, as a class, around the school, from lesson to lesson.

My first form teacher was a clergyman, and I found him a very strange person indeed. He had a fiery temper, and seemed to take delight in boasting of raping his wife. Now I’m sure that he really meant that—he was just trying to be one of the boys. But it didn’t put the Christian faith in a very good light at all.

Regarding the subjects … Well, there was the usual Maths, English, Geography, Physics, French, Art, Religious Education (two years) Music (two years), and Technical Drawing (three years). But almost a total absence of History. Indeed, in my first year the school got through three or four History teachers in the first two terms, after which teaching history was abandoned by the school.

My best subject was Maths, and I always came first in the class (and second in English). But for some perverse logic, I was never awarded the prize for coming first in Maths; I only ever got a prize for coming second in English. Much to my disappointment.

I loved Maths, or should I say I loved what I could see what Maths could do. But the teaching of Maths had much to be desired. For me what was taught was far too simple. Indeed, on the day that the Maths teacher drew a Venn diagram on the board, I was able to explain how it worked, even though I had never seen one before. Unfortunately, the Maths teacher was not happy that I could explain it. So, he over-reacted, got very angry and, despite my denials, concluded I had obviously been taught Venn diagrams before.

Now if the normal lessons didn’t inspire me, then P.E. (Physical Education) and Games left me for dead. I was not at all interested in climbing ropes, jumping over vaulting horses, doing forward rolls, or playing any kind of sport. And having a teacher who preferred to stay in his comfortable office, while he sent us out on a cross-country run, did not encourage me to change my mind. (But, it did invoke a mass protest one sport’s day, when a whole class manipulated the run so that they all finished together.)

Now if school terms were a disaster, then the summer holidays were very different. And they were different because we had a very enterprising Art teacher, who was keen to open the eyes of his students to other peoples, cultures and places. So, on three occasions, during the summer holidays, I spent ten days immersed in different cultures and very different scenery.

At the end of my fourth year, a big decision needed to be made. I had reached the minimum leaving age. So, should I leave school, or should I continue for another year or even two? Now school was still boring, it didn’t appeal to me at all, and it certainly didn’t stretch my imagination. Furthermore, I was very aware of the limited range of subjects that this particular Secondary School offered. Indeed, there would be no choice; I would have to do the set subjects. Yet, despite the inadequacies of the school, I realised that there was more at stake than just reacting to a poor education system. So, I continued for another two years.

I pursued some CSE’s (Certificate of Secondary Education) in my fifth year, and some GCE’s (General Certificate of Education) in my fifth and sixth years. However, my heart really wasn’t in it, and in the end my results reflected the school’s inability to engage me in any meaningful way. But with the end of High School looming, it was time to think more seriously of the future.

In the back of my mind, I had hoped to go on to a college. But I had no idea where I would go or what I wanted to do. I also considered that it wasn’t an option anyway. After all, my family were not flush with funds, and neither of my sisters had gone down that track. What-is-more, I felt my father would be totally unapproachable on the subject. So instead, I did what I thought was expected of me—I pursued work in the clerical field. I applied for jobs with banks, building societies and insurance companies. And in very little time I got a job with an insurance company—a job I got, not because they’d advertised any position, but simply because I had the cheek to ask.

To be continued …

Posted: 11th June 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis

Lemuel (3)

Work was quite different from school. But I expected that. What I didn’t expect was to be back at school so quickly after leaving it.

I was very aware of the deficiencies of my High School education. I was also aware of the lack of opportunities that the Secondary Modern system had provided me. So, working or not, it wasn’t long before I enrolled myself for another two GCE’s, but this time “A” levels, not “O” levels.

Now to start with, things went fine. But somehow adjusting to working fulltime and pursuing a better education, didn’t seem to quite work. I was trying to do too many things at once. So, sadly, I had to give the “A” levels away.

However, not long after that, another opportunity arose. The company that I was working for wanted me to pursue a course in business studies. They were even willing to gave me time off for lectures etc. So that’s what I did. And it worked well. That is, until I changed jobs.

I then moved overseas, and the company for whom I then worked, encouraged me to complete a certificate in insurance studies. There were no lectures, just books to be studied and exams taken. It was a two-part course, with six units in each part. And that worked well too. I even managed to complete the first part of the course.

Then the company had a change of focus. Indeed, instead of pursuing the insurance line, they wanted me to pursue a more business orientated course. Now that meant another change. Unfortunately, the course was not as business orientated as it was supposed to be. So, the company lost interest in the course, and what-is-more showed no interest in me returning to more insurance-focused studies.

In the few years after leaving school, then, I tried quite a few things to improve my education. It’s just nothing really worked. My post-school education experience did not get off to a promising start. However, I had proved that I could study at my own pace, without lectures. And that was something that was going to help me enormously in the future.

To be continued …

Posted: 29th July 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis

Lemuel (4)

After a few years break, it was time to immerse myself again in further education. Having become a Christian, and feeling led by God to the ordained ministry, it was time to enrol at a college for some sort of theological degree.

To start with, it involved moving home to a different state. Then, once moved, I enrolled in part-time studies—working full time during the day, and testing my calling—and my ability to learn—at night.

Now bearing in mind my lack of history at High School, and the difficulties I had faced with other attempts at learning, even I was surprised how easily I embraced my theological studies. But I was no longer fresh out of school; I was a mature student. I also had a good grasp of the job that I was doing. So, I was able to concentrate on my studies—two nights a week, with a lot of reading in-between.

Of course, looking back, it is ironic that the subject that I completed that year, was Old Testament 1—General on Tuesday nights, and Set Book (1 & 2 Samuel) on Thursday nights. Nevertheless, that year perhaps signalled the start of my ongoing love for the Old Testament.

To say that that year was a bit of a roller-coaster ride, would be a great understatement. The year dragged as far as work was concerned. But it went speeding past in terms of my theological studies. As a consequence, even before the end of the year had come, there was no doubt in my mind where I wanted to be—in full time theological study. Indeed, in one way I didn’t care if I was accepted as an ordination candidate or not. What I wanted to do, was to focus on learning about God and the Bible.

Furthermore, it was at this point, that I finally found true purpose in life. Because, not only was the study stretching me, in ways that no other school or course had done before. But, with God as the focus, it was actually expanding my horizons.

So, when the end of the year came, and I had successfully made my way through the exams, I knew that here was the opportunity I had been waiting for. And, from an educational point of view, I was able to at last put all my past disappointments behind me.

Posted: 19th August 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis

Lemuel (5)

The new year began with a bang. It had hardly started, when I resigned from my job, and moved in to college. In many ways, it was like starting life all over again. There was a freedom, a fresh start, even an excitement about what I was doing. Indeed, I’d never experienced anything like it before, and I have never experienced anything like it again.

To start with, I had to immerse myself in Preliminary Greek. That meant I was required to begin four weeks earlier than most other students. It also meant that I was one of only a few students living in college for those four weeks. As a consequence, I was asked to help keep the college secure at night.

The problem was that the married-quarters of the college were undergoing renovations, and they had suffered from vandalism at night. And my name was added to the list of volunteers, to patrol the works at night. Unfortunately for me, my last patrol was the night before the official start of term. And it was only through the constant nudging of a fellow student that I was able to stay awake during the opening chapel service.

When the term began, I immersed myself in study. In my first year full-time I engaged in most of the part two’s—Old Testament II, New Testament II, and Church History II. I also took on the more practical subject—Communication—as well as continuing with Preliminary Greek. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that the lectures took up only twelve hours per week. So, this left plenty of time to read up on the various topics concerned.

And that was probably just as well. Because the lecturer in Church History II, was a great admirer of Martin Luther. And, indeed, we spent two-thirds of the year studying Martin Luther alone. And yet, despite that, we all knew that we were going to be examined on, was the whole period from the Reformation to the current day.

Now, of course, full-time study wasn’t the only change in my life. The theological college I was attending was also a university residential college. So, I may have been a mature-age student, but I also needed to interact with the other students, most of whom had come straight from school.

In addition to that, I also began helping in the college bookshop, for about four hours each week. This was of great benefit to me. After all, it gave me a good chance to see what books were available, and the kind of books that would be useful to me. And when students came in from other theological colleges with their book lists, I was able to see what kind of books they were recommending to their students too.

That first year full-time went very quickly, and in what seemed like no time, the exams were upon us, and the college was packed-up for the year. Then the nervous wait for the results began.

Now I thought I’d done well; I was confident of getting good results. Which I did, except for in one subject—New Testament II. But, as was revealed later, it wasn’t that I had done badly, it’s just the examiner had marked all the papers too harshly. However, instead of remarking the papers, which would have been fairer, by far the majority of those who had set it, were required to re-sit the exam. And having an extra exam (with all the extra swatting-up that was required) wasn’t what I had in mind, for my summer break.

To be continued …

Posted: 14th September 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis

Lemuel (6)

My second year full-time started well. I passed the supplementary exam with flying colours. Yes, there was a problem with the examining body wanting to only credit a pass mark. But the reason the exam had to be sat again was pointed out to them, I was credited with the mark I had actually achieved; a mark which spurred me on to do so much better. Up to that point I had been happy to simply get a pass mark for the whole course. But, now … Well, I set my sights that much higher.

Now the second year began with the focus not on the academic, but on the practical. This was the year of the one’s—New Testament I, Theology I, Church History I, and Greek New Testament I. But it was also the year of Preaching, and Parish and Pastoral Care. And I would be assessed on those two subjects based on some practical work.

Of course, that meant being attached to a local parish, in which I could receive some hands-on experience. But unfortunately for me, this didn’t really work out. Indeed, I was only asked to do one of the four sermons I was supposed to deliver in the parish. And it very quickly became obvious that the parish and pastoral work I was supposed to do, was a non-event.

This was a parish in trouble; it was pulling itself apart—principally over the Vicar’s wife teaching Yoga in the Vicarage. So, despite whatever indications and promises were given to me at the start, it became obvious that I was an unwelcome distraction.

The parish did, however, need a helper for a non-existent youth programme. So, when the programme finally got off the ground, I was allowed to help. But only as an extra body, whilst the curate took total control of the running of the programme.

Despite this, however, academically I was again engaged—even buoyed from my previous years’ experience. And again, it wasn’t long before the year was up, and it was time to do those exams.

But what about the assessment for Preaching, and Parish and Pastoral Work? Well, fortunately for me the college were able to offer a solution. Earlier in the year, it had been quite obvious that there would be a problem. Indeed, I would not be able to fulfil the minimum requirements of either subject working in that parish. But I had notified the college of the situation. As a consequence, with the college’s help, I was able to finish my second year, not only by passing all the academic exams, but by meeting all the minimum standards required for the practical subjects as well.

To be continued …

Posted: 22nd September 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis

Lemuel (7)

The third and final year at college was very different. I was not attached to any particular church, and it was a matter of whatever subjects I had left to do. And that included Theology II, Greek New Testament II, Prayer Book and Ethics. Furthermore, the college began experimenting with a system of internal assessment, but without dispensing with the external exams. As a consequence, the year involved much more work in terms of essays, whilst still having all the exams which had to passed in the normal way.

An added complication, was that the Theology lecturer was far more interested in getting us to think in terms of theology, than sticking with the syllabus by which we would be examined. Indeed, at the beginning of each lecture he would write a topic on the board (e.g. ‘Will we continue to sin in heaven?’), and then for the whole lecture he would facilitate a debate on the issue. It was a very good approach in terms of getting us thinking, but it wasn’t much help in regard to passing the final (external) exam.

Now not being placed in any particular church, meant that I was free to wander. And knowing that this was my final year, and at the end I would be ordained, I was very conscious of the need to experience the ways that different churches operated. So, I “visited” many different churches to see how they functioned. Furthermore, I was also conscious that at the end of my training I would, most likely, be spending a lot of time ministering to young people. As a consequence, I attached myself to a youth group in a church where I was able to take an active part.

However, like the first two years, the year quickly came to an end and exam time loomed. It also came time to switch thinking from study to ordination. And this was helped by a phone call advising me of my posting. But it was not from the bishop (who was supposed to ring first). Rather it was from the minister under whom I would be working—and various arrangements were discussed. This then left me to complete my exams, and move (once again). But this time to the church in which I would be working.

In a sense, it was an exciting time; the future was going to be very different from the past. Nevertheless, it was with great sadness that my college days had come to an end. Because I enjoyed study so much, that I would have been quite happy to stay on, and continue to study forever.

To be continued …

Posted: 11th November 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis

Lemuel (8)

In contrast to college, one of the many complications of the ordained ministry was finding time to study. Yes, there was an expectation that I would teach (and, therefore, some continuing study was necessary), but there was also an expectation that I would do a variety of other things as well—some of which I wondered if they had anything to do with the Christian church at all. As a consequence, being ordained was as much a curse as it was a blessing.

Nevertheless, I took my preaching and teaching very seriously, and I spent much time in preparation for those tasks. And for the first couple of years, that is probably as far as it went. However, with a change of parish, I received an offer to be tutored in Biblical Hebrew. And it was an offer that received the full support of the Rector under whom I was working.

Now I had already learnt Koine Greek at college, and that had given me a good grounding in the English language (which had been sadly lacking from my High School education). So embarking in Hebrew was far easier that it had been with Greek. I was also delighted to find that I would be required to translate both the books of Ruth and Jonah.

So, in my second curacy, I began to add another string to my theological bow. Furthermore, I was so taken up with what I was learning that when I moved to my first parish as Priest-in-Charge, despite the change in dynamics, I continued my studies in Hebrew.

Unfortunately, after a year or so, the pressures of parish life became too great, and I had to forgo the one-on-one training. After that, it was going to be sometime before I got back to my continuing education—theological or otherwise.

To be continued …

Posted: 16th December 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis

Lemuel (9)

Life changes, and a couple of years later it was time to have some time-out from parish ministry. After a short break, I returned to work in the secular market. But it didn’t last. Unemployment loomed, and it didn’t take long to discover that it might be some time before I found full-time employment.

But I needed to do something to keep myself sane. And as I was good at learning—it stretched my mind—I enrolled myself in a Bachelor of Arts with the local University.

Now this was never an option in my younger days. But now, as a mature age student, the opportunity was freely available. So I grasped the opportunity with both hands. I also chose to do it by correspondence, to increase the variety of subjects available. It would also make sure that if I did find a job, I would be able to complete the course.

The course itself entailed completing four subjects in the first year, three in the second, and two in the last. And each subject was divided into two units. Of course, as a part-time student I was able to spread the course over a lot longer period. However, I was keen not to spread it out too much, as I was determined to complete the course.

As Geography was one of my favourite subjects at school, that was one of the topics I chose in which to major. But I also chose History, as I had learnt through my biblical studies how interesting history could be. Then, as the university offered no credits for my prior theological education, I chose Sociology and Psychology to fill in the gaps.

Less than twelve months later, I had finished my first year, and shortly after that, I was back at work. But far from finding study, whilst working full-time, demanding, I discovered I needed that extra stimulus I wasn’t getting at work. So, I stuck with it. And, fortunately, my employer allowed me time out to sit the exams.

Now the topics that I particularly enjoyed were all second and third year units, and they included Climate and Economic Geography, and African (Kenya and South Africa) and American History. I particularly enjoyed the history units as the lecturers clearly favoured an emphasis on everyday living conditions to regurgitating significant events.

Worked dragged, but the time studying seemed to fly very quickly. So it wasn’t long before I had completed the course. Mission accomplished. But then it was time for a break. However, it was only a few years later that my life was to change, yet again, and it I would take me on a very different education adventure indeed.

To be continued …

Posted: 28th December 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis

Lemuel (10)

What happened next was that I returned to full-time ministry. Not all at once but gradually. It began, whilst I was still working, by starting to help on Sundays in various churches. But it quickly became apparent that there was a greater need for my help. So, I gave up my “day job” in order to accept the various requests for help. It was then that I heard other appeals for help.

Through my preaching I had engaged people. As a consequence, they either returned to reading the Bible, or began to read it for the first time. Many started with Genesis, intending to work their way through to Revelation. But a significant number got themselves stuck part-way through the Book of Exodus. God’s laws simply didn’t make sense in their twenty-first century world.

Now I could understand their predicament. And, as I moved from one place to another, one locum after another, the calls for help seemed to get louder and louder. It was also like God was saying, “There’s a problem here. Someone needs to do something about it.” But I didn’t think it was me.

Well, not at first anyway. However, a couple of years later, I finally accepted that maybe he did have me in mind.

By that stage I had recognised the need for a Bible where the narrative could be read independently from all the various genealogies, lists and laws, that are the stumbling blocks for so many modern readers. I also recognised that those genealogies, lists and laws were still needed to be part of that Bible. Indeed, I would need to maintain the complete text and integrity of all the material, and include various annotations to make the text more meaningful to the Twenty-First Century reader. And so I began the Twenty-First Century Bible project.

But to complete the task, I knew that I would need to cease full-time work. So, I retired from full-time work to start the project. Then, a couple of years later, I retired from part-time work so that I could complete it.

Having done so, it’s like being back at theological college all over again. For, as I delve into translating the Bible, and as I pour through the various commentaries on the text, it’s like God has returned me to the part of my education that I loved so much. Not only that, but I can finally see all the different aspects of my education coming into good use. Not least of which was the theological training (with the amount of self-help required), the Biblical Hebrew lessons, and the discipline of completing a Bachelor of Arts by correspondence.

Posted: 28th December 2017
© 2017, Brian A Curtis