Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Same old same old

I can't tell you how glad I was to be able to start preaching again after so long a drought. I may not be licensed. I may not even regard myself as within the jurisdiction of the Church of England, but I am still a Reader. This is my first since leaving the C of E, directed, as usual, to the students.

Homily preached at Eltham College on 9th and 10th May 2011, based on Ecclesiastes i.1-11

Are you looking forward
to a nice new school day?

Are you ready and energised
for a fun seven or eight hours of learning?

Are you all excited
at the prospect of double maths
and all those exercises and problems
you’re going to be set?

Are you looking forward
to learning all the tenses,
moods and participles
of the word agere in Latin?

What about all that homework tonight?

Looking forward to it?

Why not?

Perhaps there’s something better for you
to be doing with your time?

Let’s think...

A World of Warcraft tournament,
perhaps, for the whole school?

That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

Watching your history master
and your geography master
battling Deathwing the Destroyer
in an instance on Mount Hyjal,
before crushing them
both yourself with a horde of Night-Elves.

We could start immediately after chapel
and go through til midnight?


That would be fun!

And you wouldn’t get bored with that, now,
would you?

That might be fun for today,
but what about tomorrow?

A whole school Talent Contest, like the X-factor?

Not the fiddly little one
we had a while ago,
which was obviously rigged
when the head boy won,
This time, everyone takes part.

Just think how brilliant it would be
with the Deputy Head
doing Tiny Tempur’s Pass Out
and the English masters
wailing their ways through
the collected works of Lady Gaga,
dressed appropriately with a wardrobe
provided by Ginsters.

Yes, all 800 or so of us
would have to take part
and it would take about 2 days
to get through them all without a break,
but it would be fun.

It wouldn’t get boring, would it?

And instead of the usual meals in the Refectory,
we could have pizza every day
for all the years that you’re here.

Cola on tap, et c. That wouldn’t get boring would it?


You’re obviously very aware
how easily the novelty wears off.

When you started at here,
you were no doubt excited
and a little bit frightened as
to what would happen next.

All these new sensations,
all these new sights, sounds and,
if you’re walking through the Chemistry department,
smells were part
of this new wonderful school.

But how do you feel about it now?

Do you find it boring?


The feeling of boredom
is quite unmistakable,
and you probably have
your own experiences to describe it.

It’s that sensation of really not wanting
to be where you are now,
wanting to do anything else
other than be forced to sit there
in some task which you perceive
as being quite meaningless
or difficult or annoying.

You feel trapped and restless
and your attention hurtles about
like a Justin Bieber fan after 10 cups of coffee,
searching desperately
for something better to latch onto.

Finally, your eyes settle onto the clock:

10:09 and 30 seconds,
10:09 and 31 seconds… 32,…. 33…
32… 31… 30…
31,... 32… 35… 36… 37…
24… 23…

Curse you, Second Hand!

Ah! Zeno has got nothing
on a bored schoolboy waiting for Break.

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself
why you get bored in the first place?


Surprisingly, that’s not an easy question to answer.

You really have to think hard
about why you’re finding something
boring in the first place.

Let’s say you find maths boring.

Patently ridiculous, but let’s pretend.

Why might this be?

The most common reason
is that you are stuck
and don’t know what to do now.

Your boredom is then a symptom of frustration.

The second most common reason
is that you’ve managed
to understand what to do
quickly and easily after the first 3 questions,
your boredom then is a result of an intelligent mind
seeking some stimulation.

The first point is easy to deal with,
with a raising of the hand
and a polite request to your teacher.

The second is much more subtle.


Without exception,
you are all intelligent beings,
and intelligence requires something to nourish it
– sights, sounds, ideas, challenges,
arguments and mysteries
– for it to thrive.

Just like our bodies,
our minds require a balanced diet
in order to function properly.

If we fill our minds with junk,
then junk is all they’ll crave
and junk is all that’ll come out of them.

A daily diet of four hours
of World of Warcraft
is equivalent to a daily intake
of Big Macs, Hot Wings, and Stuffed Crusts
all washed down with a gallon of Galaxy Crushem.

If the desire for entertainment
is causing us to question the benefits
of interacting in a classroom,
absorbing information
and practising our intellectual skills,
then it is clear that our minds are not
as healthy as they could be.


Boredom is a part of everybody’s life.

It’s even mentioned in the Bible,
especially in the book of Ecclesiastes.

For the Christian,
boredom is a sign to reflect on who we are
and to contrast that with God who,
while never-changing can always present Himself
in ever new ways through
the same prayers,
the same readings
and the same silences.

Whether Christian or not,
to face up to boredom is to face up to
the possibility of the transformation of our lives,
to become someone even better.

Indeed, boredom can teach us
a great deal about ourselves,
about who we are
and contrast that with the people
that we are meant to be.

Facing up to tedious chores
can make us better people
if we learn to control our desire to give up
and find something more interesting.


Just look at the day ahead of you.

What do you think is going to be boring?

How is that going to change your life for the better?

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