Thursday, 17 August 2017

Comma Butterflies, and other grammatical beasts

Messing about with a wee writing game, which was to take a news headline
and run with it in some form or other.
So, a little silliness after a long blog silence...*
Couldn't resist the following headline on the BBC news website as I began to think of twitchy friends and grammar obsessions:

‘Extraordinary Comma Butterfly Colonises Scotland’ [web BBC headline 31 July, 2017]

It started with the apostrophes. In some places, they gathered like the plague; shop signage seemed a particular favourite for this intrusive wee beastie.  The humble tomato, when in company, soon found itself attacked and submissively turned into ‘tomatoe’s’ in greengrocer displays the length and breadth of the land. ‘Courgette’s’ soon followed, and later, the unmitigated horror that was ‘banana’s’. The apostrophe mite spread, moving out from the serried racks of assorted fruit and veg and into charity shops along the High Street: ‘book’s – 5 for a £1’ declared an Oxfam store, arrogantly.

As the egregious profusion of apostrophes began to dominate, a challenger came forth. Commas came and went; flying in when unwanted, and skulkily flitting even though needed. On signage, in a flurry of academic papers, in tabloid and broadsheet alike, the Comma Butterflies bred and flourished and settled, determined to dominate Scotland. The blighters were here to stay. Apostrophes were alarmed and the semi-colon no longer existed, wiped off the grammatical landscape. The profusion of loose-use commas saw sentences lengthen at an horrific rate. The lack of clarity was disturbing. Reaching beyond Scotland’s shores, the Comma Butterflies sought nothing less than world domination, infecting news reports. Shorter, punchier headlines began to create confusion as to character, or number. Was:
‘Trump, a Nazi and a fascist’ or, were there several people in the statement: ‘Trump, a Nazi, and a fascist’? Meanwhile, in a quiet, dusty, neglected section of the grammar garden, adverbs wept at the thought of their own futility, made powerless by their sheer invisibility.

In these dark times, however, one small group made a stand: quietly, passive-aggressive resistance created chinks of light in the bleakness. Grammar guerrillas armed with Sharpies, Tip-ex, and other correctional materials, began to fight back. ‘Tomatoe’s’ changed, overnight to ‘Tomatoes’. Adverbs were inserted into advertising billboards: the car promising ‘a real smooth ride’ now ‘really’ meant it. Daringly correct insertions of the Oxford comma brought clarity, relief, and stability to sentences. The Comma Butterflies cowered and twitched, sensing rebellion.

With each corrected sign, pedants took heart. It would be a long and vicious struggle, but with Sharpies at the ready, victory would come; Comma Butterflies would eventually take flight and flee, their over-wheening ambitions crushed. Sensing utter defeat, the profusion of unholy and unnecessary apostrophes would follow, heads hung low. The adverbs dared to raise their heads and look to a time when they would be welcome; long-lost friends come home. All would be well, and all restored to order.

*I suspect that I don't want to know how much grammar I've broken in the writing of this practice piece.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

New-born: lambs, Julian, and Ps 23

A pair of wee blackie lambs basking in the
Iona sunshine last week,
possibly plotting world domination...
We are coming to the end of lambing time in hill and valley parish. Possibly my most favourite season of the farming year - although I have the luxury of enjoying watching the lambs bouncing and playing without actually doing any of the work. I continue to admire and respect the farmers around the area: while working in beautiful countryside, yet, it's still hard graft.
A nice touch of continuity was had, however, last week when on Iona with a group of RevGals - lots of cute blackie lambs about the place, playing chase before bedtime just as they do down here.
Anyway, have been thinking about lambs...

NEW-BORN/
Musing on lambs, Mother Julian, and Ps 23:

Smell
of hay and sheep
fills barn;
shepherd watches,
waits.
Low ‘baah’ meets
shrill bleat.
New-born,
surprised and stunned
sits still,
unsure.
Exhausted
mother licks him clean,
hears his tiny quick-beat heart.
Then, movement;
shaky.
Fragile limbs
testing,
stretching,
feeling.
Shuggling,
struggling, wriggling;
knees push
white, wiry matchsticks.
Unsteady,
body rising
as hoof finds floor.
Wobble-walking,
muscles memorise movement.
Cautious, curious;
confidence builds
then colllapses
in small, splayed heap.
Wee bleat,
then hay shuffles
as rickety legs rise.
Shepherd nods
a brief smile,
then moves on,
another yow
to tend.
All is well,
all is well.
And all
shall be well.
              c.Nik Macdonald

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Gone fishin', and other thoughts


Currently procrastin...er, pondering and reflecting upon the sermon for tomorrow.
*ahem*
It's been a different space, over the year since the end of August 2016, as I've moved from making use of the Revised Common Lectionary, to working through Brian McClaren's book 'We Make the Road by Walking' with the congregation. It's been fun encountering texts I've not necessarily preached on before, as well as finding other texts in quite different places in the church liturgical calendar than I've been used to.
Enjoyable.
Challenging.
Refreshing.
Engaging with story/stories.
Making me think in a slightly different way.
All good stuff.
Hopefully, the folk who've bought the book and aimed to follow along as they could, have also found it a helpful approach.
Currently wondering where we might go from 'Making the Road'...
Always the big question, really:
how to help folk engage with God a little more - new ways, and old ways, creative ways and more structured ways, in the mystery and the everyday.
And, following on, through that engagement, how to work out that engagement
in a context wider than just a 'me and my God' way.
I'm still passionate on the 'called to be in community' thing - a challenge in a world where
we seem to champion the individual over all, forgetting that none of us ever gets 'there'
completely by our own efforts.
Anti-Hayek bias coming to the fore: there is such a thing as society...darn it.

In the meanwhile, I've recently come across Steve Garnaas-Holmes' site Unfolding Light.
Some really lovely reflections in there, and I'm looking forward to gently working my way through some of his posts while I'm on a wee break.
Given that I'm off-lectionary at the moment, and meeting fish, rather than walking along the road to Emmaus, I'll be borrowing the following during worship tomorrow, for a short reflection:


Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach;
                  but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
         Jesus said to them, “Dear children, you have no fish, have you?”
                  They answered him, “No.”
         He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat,
                  and you will find some.”
                           —John 21.4-5

The surface is always blank.
The real, submerged.

Look down into that sky,
where beneath a vague cloud flashes,

—is it above or below?—
created, given, waiting.

There is another way,
another side of your little boat.

Beneath your dreary, fruitless nights
something graced awaits,

abundance exceeding your capacity, blessing
at which you laugh in wonder and fright,

a gift that bears you to the breaking point,
a net swelled with light and glory,

and not by luck, but given in love: a presence,
a companionship you hadn't recognized.

Heaven is offered, hearts are restored
in something as simple as a broiled fish, shared.

But first you learn a new way,
another side, the unrecognized friend.

And then, after the gift, the revelation,
you learn a new way, another side.

The Mystery doesn't leave you.
It leads.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Maundy Thursday reflections...

Some reflections for Maundy Thursday, written for a project that I'm involved with...


‘Radical’
It is a week that begins so well.
The crowds roar their delight as he rides into town:
Word is on the street.
He is teaching, healing,
and the crowds surround him.
Mid-week, the mood turns
along with the tables in the Temple.
Not good for business,
all this chasing folk from stalls,
making whips from cords,
berating them for just earning a living,
running about as if he owned the place.
These country folk don’t understand
the art of tact and diplomacy.
Hackles on backs are raised
while there are still some who seek a miracle.
His friends are getting twitchy watching
as he dances dangerously on the edge.
Wary, they walk the city
trying to keep a low profile,
keeping their heads down
and wishing that he would do the same.
He doesn’t play the game:
speaks out against the powers that be
for not caring for the least,
for loving privilege more than these.
On Thursday, his friends are fractious,
cracking under stress.
He bids a couple to go prepare a meal.
Over bread and wine and blessing,
he talks of his body breaking and bleeding,
wants them to eat the bread
and drink from his cup of suffering.
It’s all too much,
and they lash out at one another:
fingers point and accusations fly.
They fight for top position
on what is feeling like a sinking ship.
His words, though quiet,
cut through the conversation:
overturn their notions.
He tells them of God’s kin-dom,
built on loving service:
seeing, hearing, those ignored
and those unheard,
and making space at the table
for all.
Radical.
That kind of talk will get him killed....

'A time, and a place'
'The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death,  
for they were afraid of the people.' 
In the city, in the halls of religious power, there is fear.  
The unruly rabbi has been causing trouble.
Proclaimed by palm-waving crowds,
popularity has gone to his head.
His habit of spending time with outcasts is offensive;
his unholy act of anger in the Temple is verging on the seditious.
They must put him in his place, contain him.

So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying,   
'Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.'
In an upper room, the table is made ready for the feast.
He is eager, they are puzzled;
wine is poured and bread is blessed.
The One who is the Word speaks into startled silence:
breaks bread, and says it’s his body, broken;
pours wine, talks of the shedding of his blood.
This, a meal, not soon forgotten.

'I am among you as one who serves.'
At the table, tempers fray:
ambition unmasked, they fight for power.
The beloved teacher watches as they squabble.
Three years and yet they’ve missed his point entirely.
Quietly, he pours water into basin,
takes the towel,
and kneels before them:
gives them the place of honour with a servant’s heart.
There is still a little time to learn...

'A growing darkness'
Symbolic actions could be incorporated into this reflection, 
either by the person reading, or done by another while this is being read.
This could be used just prior to Communion.  
Begin with lights dimmed, if possible....

Act I: The Plot 
(coins are placed on table at one side)
Shadows creep and darkness deepens,  
fear hangs heavy in the air.
Terms agreed - a secret meeting;  
betrayal, sanctified by prayer.

Act II: The Meal
(table is ‘dressed’ with a candle, at each end and lit; bread and wine is placed centrally on the table)
Friends now gather, drawn together,
Jesus calls them to the feast.
Blessing bread and wine, he bids them:
‘Do this to remember me.’

Act III: The Fight
(symbols of power - e.g. hammer, crown, or badge of office - are placed next to the coins)
As they eat, the talk grows heated;
bitterly, they fight for power.
Oil lamps flicker, shadows lengthen,
time circles closer to his hour.

Act IV: The Servant
(a towel and basin of water is added to the table opposite side of coins/ power symbols) 
Lamplight dims—their eyes upon him
as he speaks of sacrifice,
and of the power of humble service.
Judas walks out into night...

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Ash Wednesday: Dust

'Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.'

It is a day of turning.
No.
It is a day of returning;
changing direction,
and purposefully,
step by step,
walking toward, not from, God.
This is a day of new beginnings,
putting down a marker
where we start afresh,
where we wander into wilderness
following footsteps that have walked this way before -
travelling with the great crowd of saints
following the way of Jesus.

It is a day of dust,
of ashes,
of remembering our mortality;
of remembering who we are
and whose we are.
Today reminds us that we are not gods,
but we are God's:
beloved.
The sign of mortality and love and belonging
smeared in ash upon us.

It is a symbol.
Yes.
It is also a promise;
of cleansing,
of mercy,
of showing to the world that this
is not all there is
and that death does not have the final say.
In the mark of ashes
the power of resurrection
waits to be rebirthed.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Are you the one? Reflection on Luke 7:18-35

‘Prepare!’
‘Make way!’
‘All will see God’s salvation!’
The crowds gather,
hear the call to repent,
are baptised
by the camel-haired prophet.
Is he the One
they’ve all been waiting for?
But he points, instead, to another.
Later,
when uncomfortable arrows of truth
find their mark,
the twitching Tetrarch
tries to tame
the wild man of God.
Starry vastness of open sky,
replaced by stone-walled cell.
No wandering wilderness here,
but rather wondering:
thinking of that other.
Are you the One
bringing winnowing fork and fire?
Or is it another?
Disciples dispatched,
come back,
with stories of signs
and words of encouragement.
‘Are you the One?’
is answered
by God’s kingdom breaking in,
predicted, expected,
yet strangely disconcerting.

c Nik

Monday, 30 January 2017

Centurion and Widow: a reflection on Luke 7:1-17

Centurion and widow
Had he always wanted to be a soldier?
To travel the world, fight for Rome,
and gather up honour and glory?
Had she always wanted to be a wife, a mother?
To settle down, make a home,
and calm her son with bedtime stories?

Had he ever imagined a land like this:
strange ways, strange words, strange God,
and he, with power, privilege, and prospering?
Had she ever imagined a lot like this:
hard times, hard hearts, hard loss,
her future like a vine uprooted, withering?

Different lives
and different journeys,
but both, outsiders in their time of grief.
Had they ever imagined a God
who loved both powerful and powerless,
who cared for foreigner and widow?
Conceived of a God
as patron of lost causes?
Dared to believe in a God
who’d draw the circle wider,
extend the love and blessing;
break down the boundaries
and welcome all?

c.Nik

Friday, 11 November 2016

Poems of the heart: Love's a wizard

Because when the world feels like it's going up in flames,
coping mechanisms kick in, such as rustling up doggerel...
I feel the need for a little nonsense pause,
before heading once more to the breach, my friends.

Love's a wizard

He flourished flowers on demand,
a winning start for any man
and with some charm and with that smile,
well, I was instantly beguiled.
From up his sleeve – or so it seemed –
the rainbow-serpent scarves, in streams
would fight with rabbits,
vie with doves,
all symbols of my wizards love.

My love changed ceiling into sky
and every night, wild geese flew by
and with a wink and wave of wand,
my bathroom turned into a pond.
He conjured goldfish-flowing taps,
and lizards – former shower-caps –
sang songs of life
of love, of art,
reflections from my wizard’s heart.

Though his spells were entertaining,
I soon felt my enchantment waning,
even when, with eerie mutters
dust transformed to diamond clusters;
but diamond pythons aren’t the thing
to give girls as engagement rings
and snakes worn
as accessories
are seen these days as ‘un-PC’.

Plagued by this mesmerising pest,
and with the neighbours so distressed
I wondered how to break his spell –
would my magician take it well?
While black sheep in the lounge-room grazed
and lizards by the pond just lazed,
I ran some gold fish
in the bath
and psyched up for the aftermath

I broke it gently, like one should,
and then I asked him if he could
remove the rabbits, doves, and flowers,
shut my ceiling from the showers.
I kept a scarf for mem’ries sake,
but gave him back the diamond snake.
It’s really not
an easy thing
to date someone in conjuring.
                                                             c. Nik

Friday, 4 November 2016

Book Review: CEB Women's Bible

CEB Women's Bible; Abington Press link

Back in the days when I managed a Christian bookstore, I dreaded the thought of going through certain publisher's catalogues and finding book titles prefaced with 'Women's'.
Invariably, the jackets would be soft pastel pink or bedecked with flowers while, inside, the content felt somehow slightly patronising - as if the intended readers were not particularly bright.  Mostly, the books with 'Women's...' would be cheerfully, relentlessly complementarian in approach, with the aim of squeezing women - in all their wonderful diversity - into a very narrowly proscribed role. As the bookshop I ran was determinedly much broader, these kinds of books were bypassed rather swiftly.
Given that background, I confess I did twitch once or twice when I initially heard about the CEB Women's Bible; I needn't have twitched.

The jacket is mercifully flower-free and is a solid, reliable rust-brown, conveying the impression that this is no light and fluffy number but is meant to be taken seriously. Inside, it doesn't disappoint. This work makes women visible. The editorial team, and all of the contributors, are a diverse group of women; a good mix of serious scholars, pastors, a variety of community practitioners, writers, and speakers. It is very refreshing, and encouraging, to see such a collaborative project, and the all-woman list does much to dispel the feeling that there are no women 'out there' in the fields of biblical studies and theology especially - I say this as someone who, when undertaking my PhD, was the only female candidate in my year group. Perhaps the only quibble I might have, would be the actual translation itself - although maybe I'm too wedded to the way the NRSV reads. Personal taste: your mileage may vary...

The visibility of women continues throughout the CEB Women's Bible. Every reference in the text to a woman, named or unnamed is carefully indexed in the appendices at the back of this edition. An entry in bold font indicates that the person concerned has had a brief portrait written about her, and a page number is also, helpfully, included. These portraits include not only the more well-known women, but shine a light on the overlooked such as those known only as 'greeters at the Meeting Tent' [Exod. 38:8]. The preface to the CEB Women's Bible observes: 'when you open a Bible, you see that a variety of voices have always been part of God's good creation.' The joy of this edition of the Bible is that a variety of women have been given their place, their voice.

There is a strong emphasis upon encouraging a lively engagement with scripture. This can be seen within some of the other features that the CEB Women's Bible has on offer. Introductions to each book of the Bible are provided, giving background context and themes. At the beginning of each chapter a very brief one or two sentence summary is also given. There are reflections scattered throughout which invite the reader to engage more deeply with the text, and are a helpful tool for personal study. To further encourage study and reflection, over 200 sidebar articles ranging from social issues, to theology, through to personal relationships [e.g. adolescence, body image, creation, divorce, grief, immigrants, women/gender and violence] have been written and placed alongside the biblical texts.

Appendices at the back include:
  • an index of all sidebar articles, listed alphabetically, giving the themes;
  • discussion and reflection questions based around the Revised Common Lectionary. These could easily be used as a 'take away' to put on pew sheets to encourage further reflection
    at home during the week, or as material for a weekly study group. For ongoing discipling, and as a Christian ed. resource, this is a great wee feature;
  • several Bible reading plans: a one month plan, the New Testament in 90 days, the Bible in a year;
  • and, for this unashamed map geek, there are glorious full-colour maps at the back which are preceded by a map index - happy day!
The layout, overall is well arranged, and easy to navigate. While I like the idea of the portraits of women being placed close to the appropriate biblical text, occasionally it got in the way of reading the text itself. On the other hand, the sidebars were clearly defined, on a different coloured background, which made it easier to distinguish between article and actual biblical text. As to the fonts: the main headers were nicely informal brush-stroke in style, and elsewhere the text was easy to read. A personal taste thing, really, but I prefer the less formal, not too fussy, approach.

Back in the day when I managed my wee bookstore, this particular book with the word 'Women's'
would not have been bypassed; it would have found a very welcome home among the shelves of
my biblical studies/ bibles section. I'm pleased that a copy is now on my desk, and suspect it won't often be left sitting in my bookcase. It's a great resource, doing a very necessary task: making those who were invisible, visible. 

*Just to note: this Bible was sent to me free, for an honest review. While I've tried to be critical, 
it's mere quibbles here and there. I'm thoroughly enjoying exploring this edition of the Bible, and 
already think the variety of features helps to make it an exceptionally useful tool on multiple levels.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Dancing John


Dancing John*

John Major sways from side to side, dancing and jiggling inelegantly through sweaty revellers. Occasionally he spins around, grey, serious face contrasting with his hip and groovy moves. He’s a dancer, but an earnest one. Drum-beats, hypnotic, pulse through the orange-yellow torch lit air and urge the people forward. Calls of ‘Penny for the Guy!’ and choruses of ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November,’ along with whoops and hollers accompany the drums.

An odd crowd, this: ghosties and ghouls, witches and werewolves, vikings and devils, Morris-men and monks, a scattering of tiny, glitter-clad Disney princesses. Dancing John leads them on, on to the town square and blazing fire. Flames lick discarded wooden crates and pallets, devour a tuneless piano whole, smoke a brown and orange 70’s carpet to finish. The crowd sway in time with John, writhing and wriggling, cheering and jeering as the beat quickens. The devils, red and rambunctious dance ‘round the fire waving plastic pitchforks – buy one, get one free, from Tesco. Drums and chants reach a crescendo and stop, stilling time. It is the witching hour. The hush is broken: ‘penny’ and ‘remember’ now replaced by ‘burn him, burn him, burn him.’ 

John watches over the crowd, expressionless.  Poker-faced and silent, a gentle shiver moves through his body. ‘Burn him, burn him, burn him.’ Dancing John squares his shoulders, bounces up and down, limbering up for his final act, then leaps, to the deranged ‘hurrahhhhhs!’ of the crowd. The giant, papier-mache effigy catches fire quickly, ‘whooshing’ as it does. In the background, a fiddle, drum, and squeezebox strike up a merry tune. Disney princesses dance with devils, a werewolf necks a pint, while a tiny ghost cheerfully polishes off a burger. The annual cathartic scapegoating has gone off smoothly and trouble-free. Police look on, watching the smouldering remains of dancing John’s frame moving slowly in the fire.

*If this were a completely accurate account, I'd have added the dinosaur that 'dancing' John rode on in the Lewes Bonfire Night of '94... perhaps that can wait for another day! Maggie Thatcher, Michael Howard, and Guy Fawkes also showed up. A cracking evening, though, and quite an eye-opening 'cultural' experience for a relative newbie to the UK!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

I am a pheasant plucker: a day [or 3] in the life of a rural minister

Along the lines of 'things they don't teach you in seminary...'
#169 Herding cows...
and
#170 How to 'dress' a pheasant...and a goose.

Conversations in cafes can be a dangerous thing.
I'd headed out of the parish and up to the local country town - pop. c. 2 000.
Happily meeting up with one of my elders for coffee, we were subsequently joined by one of her pals. Said elder and I had been having a blether about how fabby Harvest service had been, and the logistics of herding the 'cattle' created by the children of our five small primary schools from
schools to kirk, and back again
[they were awesome - way to go wee rural kiddies!].
Most of the cattle-wrangling was beautifully dealt with by my elder's hubby and a rather large pick up truck...
Meanwhile, Gertie the Highland cow, constructed by our school in the hills, was driven
down and then back up the hill by creative parent who had helped small people put her together.
All of this had been great fun, with a good buzz in both schools and the church, and with
the work of Send a Cow brilliantly flagged up and cheerfully supported.

Back in the cafe, having discussed the coos, the subject somehow changed to pheasants.
Friend of elder noted her husband was currently busy, as the season was on and he was out shooting.
I observed that I'd never actually eaten pheasant, wondered about 'shot' and
breaking of teeth [not much of a problem, apparently], and we chatted on about other matters.
Cue Saturday.
A text arrived:
'S wants to know if you would like a pheasant and a goose?'
Cue raised eyebrow, thoughtful look, grin, and text response:
'Okay. Cool. Thanks!'

Arriving home late Sunday afternoon,
I found an enormous goose and a plump pheasant hanging in a bag on my back door.
Bringing the bag in, I opened it and looked at the birds.
They met my gaze with dead-eyed stares.
The heads, wings, feathers, and legs, began to take on the feel of old still-life paintings
I'd seen in the National Gallery.
Thoughts then turned to the recent interview with Ministries Council concerning areas that might have been usefully covered when training; I refrained from responding 'a short course in the gentle art of butchering.'
Shaking myself out of my musing, I began to ponder practicalities.
Phred the pheasant should be manageable.
However, Gil, the goose, is big.
Surprisingly big.
Well, I like a challenge.

Psychological sleeves have been rolled up:
I am mentally preparing for the preparing of the birds;
I have been watching 'how to dress a pheasant/ goose' type videos on youtube;
I have gone to the iron-mongers and purchased a mean-looking cleaver and
a wickedly sharp small knife [interesting walking up the High Street with said implements!];
I am glad I'm not squeamish;
I am thankful for generous gifts that will be put into the freezer once dealt with,
and which will then come into their own at Christmas.
I am a rural minister...we're a resilient and resourceful lot.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Homily for a hedgehog: a day in the life of a rural minister

Things they don't teach you in seminary #168...
pastoral care of hedgehogs.

Unusually, for this particular Scottish summer, I awoke to a blue-filled sky. A day working up in the hills in this remote rural charge awaited. By the time I hopped into the minister mobile, the blue had been replaced by deeper shades of grey once more, but all was well - I had slung my summer jumper into the car, alongside the guitar, music book, and diary. Sister Maria would be proud: a little later, the hills would indeed be filled with the sound of music, but before that particular music rehearsal for Taize worship, I had a pastoral matter to attend to...

Quickly nipping into my own local village coffee morning to wave at folk and grab the briefest of natters, I then headed up the back road to the hills. As usual, passing beyond the second cattle grid, mobile signal cut out and I was cut off from contact with the wider world. 'Virtual' existence would only be restored once I came back past the same cattle grid on the way down. Along I sped, up the winding road, past loitering sheep on heather-filled hills, and the occasional prospector panning for gold in the shallow, swift-running burn. After cattle grid number four, as the road turned again, I kept a beady eye out for the local red kite. No sign. It obviously knew the heavens were about to...open.

Minister mobile turned into the village, through the deluge, and crept up the main street, edging me closer to the important pastoral visit. The car glided up the long, red chucky-stone drive to the centuries-old house. Crunching along the stones to the doorway, I could already hear the fluffy, four-pawed inhabitant of the house barking a greeting. Door opened, flash of waggy brown and white tail... Smiles with the two-legged inhabitants, who ushered me into the small room to meet 'Blossom'...or possibly 'Clyde'. It must be tricky to be a hedgehog with an identity crisis. Trickier still, I suspect, if you're a wee orphaned baby hedgehog with a gammy back leg.

Gently - and gingerly - I held the small hog in the palm of my hand. We took it outside, to a special enclosure, with 'assault course', along with some chopped up chicken and strawberries. The fluffy pal who'd greeted me earlier watched over proceedings carefully. My task was to hide said bits of food for our wee hog to hunt down - part of its life-skills building. Wee hog was then released into the pen, snuffling and sniffling, and having a wander. It is quite a magical thing to see a wee beastie working out how to make its way in the world. After twenty minutes of hog-training, the small and unutterably cute soul was back in the palm of my hand, being walked back to the big house. I'm sure we bonded and made some kind of pastoral connection. At any rate, I was reminded briefly of St Francis, and his kindness to animals...he preached to the birds; I pastored to a hedgehog.
Have I ever said how much I love the randomness of rural ministry?!

Saturday, 6 August 2016

making roads, old and new

At the end of the month, my congregation and I will be embarking on a year of spiritual formation and reorientation. Using the framework of
Bryan McLaren's book
'We make the road by walking', we'll be following
a semi-chronological biblical path, learning [or re-learning] the stories of our faith tradition and, along the way, acquainting ourselves with faithful followers of Old and New Testament times.
We'll be thinking, as we start each quarter, of beginnings:
*the beginning of all things, and the beginning of God's relationship with people...and our relationship to God;
*the beginnings of whisperings of God doing a new thing - and the promise of a longed-for Messiah;
*the beginnings of Jesus' public ministry through to his resurrection and ascension - new life for all;
*and, the beginnings of the church.

We'll be using - for the most part - McLaren's suggested
1 year lectionary. This will inform our worship, and hopefully fellowship and Christian Ed. opportunities with all-ages. Taking the plunge to go down a quarterly potluck lunch at the manse route, and hopefully see what the mood is for monthly study group engagement in some form or other.... There'll also be a weekly 'take-away' on the back of the service sheet, for folk to use [or not] for ongoing bite-sized spiritual reflection over the course of the week.
So, the more folk engage, the more, I hope, they'll grow in faith.

I've been involved with some RevGal friends in an ongoing discussion on a variety of approaches for using McLaren's structure. As such, I've created a page on this blog where, from time to time, I might make some practical comments/ provide some feedback on using this beyond small group or bible study approaches.
Interesting times. To follow that conversation, look along the tabs, and click on:
a year with 'We make the road'  [or visit the link here]
Curious to see what this very intentional year will bring.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sermon 26 June, Wk 4 Galatians series 'Fruit'

In the shadow of Thursday's EU referendum...

READINGS:
Psalm 16;   Galatians 5:1, 13-25

A million years ago, when I was an older teenager –  yes, it really was a long time ago –
I had a habit of cutting out and collecting
wise sayings with a twist, bad puns,
and deeply philosophical questions and statements, such as:
‘Do red corpuscles live in vein?’
[I never said they were good!]
or
‘Be odd, for God.’
At one point, in youth group, we were exploring the very same passage from Galatians that was read earlier, and thinking about the fruit of the Spirit. I remember our Youth Pastor looking at us all at one point, and observing:
‘God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts’
A saying that I immediately took note of and added to my collection .
The expression made such an impact upon my younger self,
that thereafter, every time I walked past a block of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut chocolate in a shop, Galatians 5:22 and 23 would pop immediately into my head.
I’ll be curious to see if that now happens to you...

Having begun Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we’ve covered
a wee bit of ground now – and we’re beginning to move into the home straight.
We’ve been thinking of themes around
change and transformation;
of unity and diversity;
of being clothed in Christ.
We’ve thought about grace,
and we’ve thought about religious codes – or laws.
Paul talks a lot about law, and especially within this letter to the young churches
in Galatia, who have been beset by those who would impose old religious laws upon them.
Paul has been urging them to break free of these shackles
that they’ve bound themselves in and, in our text this morning,
Paul brings home the message of living in the freedom of Christ:
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. 
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’
He then talks of what it is to be called into this freedom:
and it’s not a freedom from all responsibility ...
rather, this freedom is found within the context of community,
of relationship...
a freedom that has love at the centre,
a freedom that shows the fruit of that love in service to one another;
a freedom that can see the old law boiled down to this:
to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.
To love and serve your neighbour is part of a communal, mutual giving:
building one another up,
growing, blossoming, flourishing together.

Paul is particularly keen to emphasise this context of mutual love and service,
this context of ‘commonweal’ –  a guid Scots word...
He’s keen, because he’s addressing a community
that has been seriously at odds with one another:
split and riven by divisions about what it is to be a ‘true’ follower of Christ.
And the arguments that they’ve been having have been harsh and bitter and destructive.
Paul is alarmed by what’s been happening to these young faith communities,
communities that he’d shared the gospel with;
communities that had grown in faith, and strength and love;
communities that were learning the way of peace by following the Prince of peace;
communities... who were now so at odds with one another that they are seen to be
‘biting and devouring one another’,
and if they continued down this path they would destroy each other.
To stem the flow of violence and self-destruction of these faith communities,
Paul reminds them to ‘live by the Spirit’,
to be ‘led by the Spirit’ rather than living under the law.
He reminds them of the fruit of the Spirit:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
But note what begins the list: love.
Love is the starting point – where God is, there is love.
Love is the root which enables the fruit to flourish.
And Paul is not saying don’t disagree with one another,
remember he recognises diversity within the unity...
Rather, Paul would seem to imply that by seeking to live in, and be led by the Spirit –
even amidst differences of opinion –
the community will work together to find a way
to accommodate one another so that all may flourish:
they may occasionally disagree, but through the Spirit they can
find a way in which to do so healthily,
to do so in a loving manner.

While it seems a life-time ago, it was only 21 months back,
that I stood here in front of you all, conducting worship –
but worship done whilst preaching as sole-nominee to hopefully become minister of the parish.
Then, as now, it was a couple of days after a referendum.
Then, as now, there were campaigns run,
from both sides of the debate, that were less than savoury:
name-calling, taunts, sometimes sheer bullying,
tactics aimed to instil fear,
tactics used to cover up lack of any concrete policies...
Then as now, communities began to divide down opposing lines,
then as now, families found themselves on different sides of the fence,
...then as now, in the aftermath,
there are those who rejoice at the result,
and those who are dismayed.
And then, as now...
we, as the community of love -
each one of us having voted in different ways for what we believed was genuinely
the best way forward for Scotland, or the UK -
then as now, we must model love.
We must love one another – no biting or devouring one another...
we must love our neighbour – the neighbour we know who may
have voted quite differently from us;
we must model love, and show the fruit of the Spirit
in our conversations,
in our communities:
love...joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,’
let us live in that freedom so that we work towards
reconciliation,
restoring harmony,
rebuilding fractured communities...
let us live in that freedom by serving one another in love –
showing to our friends,
our neighbours,
a positive way forward as we, as a nation, walk through a new way of being in the world.
Whichever way we voted on Thursday, we still have to live with one another:
how can we find ways to practice the fruit of the Spirit
as we get on with the business of living?
Where might we demonstrate kindness, patience, gentleness, self-control...?
How might we find ways of living joyfully, and at peace, with one another?
As we live into the freedom we’ve been given,
remember to listen to the voice of the Spirit,
guiding our steps,
urging us onward in the way of love...

As I was pondering what to say today, I remembered an old story –
and, I don’t think I’ve shared it with you, but if I have, bear with me!
It’s a story about a community of monks...
The community had once been a thriving order, but over the years had fallen on hard times.
Only 10 monks and their Abbot remained, and most of them were quite elderly.
They were also dispirited, and sometimes crotchety,
and occasionally would fall out with one another;
...the joy seemed to have gone out of the place.
The Abbot decided one day to go walking in the woods that surrounded the monastery,
pondering how he could reconcile his brothers to live in peace.
In the deepest part of the forest lived a hermit and the Abbot found himself
drawn to seek the hermit out and ask for his advice.  

The hermit welcomed this brother in God, listened in silence to the Abbot’s story
of bickering monks and then commiserated with him.
The Abbot asked the hermit what to do.  
But the hermit shook his head,
‘it is a difficult situation, brother, I am not sure what to advise you...
but what I do know is that Jesus is among you.’
They embraced, and the Abbot headed back to the monastery.

Upon returning, he called the brothers all together and told them of his meeting with the hermit.  Trying to recall the conversation, the Abbot, a little muddled, told them
‘the hermit said that Jesus is one of us. I’m not sure what he meant.’
They sat silently for a while, prayed together and went off about their duties.
But as they went about their work, each one began to wonder
about the hermits words...and if it was true:
was Jesus one of them... and if so, who?
Could it be the Abbot?
Or Brother Philip, or perhaps Brother Benedict or...
For days, each of the monks puzzled over which one in their midst might be Jesus...
And as the days turned into weeks,
and the weeks turned into months,
still the mystery held their attention:
‘which of my brothers is Jesus?’
And as they pondered, a strange thing happened:
they began to treat each other with more and more respect,
on the off-chance that one was indeed Jesus.

By the end of the year, the community had become a place in
which each member held extraordinary respect and love for the other –
indeed, love and joy seemed to radiate from them.
What had been a place of brotherly bickering
had become a place of healing and reconciliation as each served the other...
For as each served the other, there indeed was Jesus.

People passing by the monastery would often linger,
as they found themselves strangely compelled by the place.
Occasionally, they would meet one of the monks working in the gardens
or walking in the woods,
and in conversation would discover that Jesus was in their midst.
Folk found themselves drawn to come and spend time there,
to play, and to pray, and to bring their friends with them...
knowing that they would find welcome
and perhaps, even Jesus, at this place...
a place in which joy had returned
and a growth in numbers,
all seeking to find Jesus in the midst of them.   ...  ...

As I stand here, looking at all of you,
I echo the words of the hermit:
‘Jesus    is among us.’ ...

And so, as we look at one another here this morning,
let us see Jesus in the face of each other...
And as we go back into our homes,
 to our places of work,
or places of play and rest,
or as we walk along the street...
let us see Jesus
in the faces of the ones we encounter.
And as we do so,
may the fruit of the Spirit blossom in abundance...
and may we build, in our small way,
communities of love - this day, and always,
based on the great love of God,
revealed in the Son...
and, in so doing, bring in God’s kindom.
 Let’s pray:
Christ, our brother
Help us love one other
As you have loved us.
Help us live in, and be led by your Spirit,
bearing fruit that brings blessing upon us,
our families,
our communities,
as we seek to walk in your way of peace.
We ask, in your name,
Amen.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Sermon, 19 June, Galatians series wk 3: 'Make the world more beautiful'

Not at all where I'd originally intended upon going with the Galatians reading...
but in the light of this last week's events...sometimes original intentions need changed.

1st READING: Psalm 22:19-28
2nd READING: Galatians 3:1-5, 23-29  

SERMON
Let’s pray:  May the words of my mouth
and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable
in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

There’s a lovely children’s book called ‘Miss Rumphius.’
The story is told by wee Alice, and it’s about the great-aunt
who she’s been named after.
Sometimes great aunt Alice is also known as ‘the lupine lady’,
or called by her formal name: Miss Rumphius.
When great-aunt Alice was the same age as wee Alice,
she’d visit her grandfather who was an artist and who also lived by the sea.
Sometimes he’d let his little grand-daughter help him when he was working.
At other times, she’d sit on his knee, and he’d tell her
stories of all the adventures he’d had travelling around
the great, wide world to faraway places.
She vowed that she, too, would live by the sea,
and that, like her grandfather, would travel to faraway places.
"That is all very well, little Alice, "said her grandfather, 
"but there is a third thing you must do. 
You must do something to make the world more beautiful." 
And so, little Alice grows up, and indeed, travels far and wide,
just as her grandfather had done.
And having come to the end of her travels, she settles down by the sea.
But she always remembers her grandfather’s words about making the world more beautiful.

It’s when she falls ill, and is laid up in bed, that she looks out of her window
and spies the lupines she’d planted the year before, swaying in her garden –
blue and purple and rose... beautiful.
And thinks again of her grandfather.
And so, Alice – Miss Rumphius – makes it her mission to plant lupines:
around her house,
around her village,
all along the highways and byways, and beyond.
As time passes and seasons change the lupines blossom into loveliness –
giving cheer to all those who see them.
Giving hope to all those who feel hopeless.
Spreading beauty just as her grandfather had asked.
The story ends with great-aunt Alice handing on the baton to her wee great niece.
"When I grow up," wee Alice tells her, "I too will go to faraway places and 
come home to live by the sea." 
"That is all very well, little Alice," says her aunt, 
"but there is a third thing you must do. 
You must do something to make the world more beautiful." 

‘Make the world more beautiful’
It’s a fine sentiment, in a world that currently feels
jangly, disjointed,
harsh, and ugly.
We see the headlines shouting at us from the newspapers,
or blaring from the screen;
hear rhetoric and hate-speech,
watch as the world seems to be careening dangerously towards
the edge of a waterfall where it may well land on jagged, pointy rocks
at the bottom and be splintered into thousands of shards.

I can’t even begin to make sense of the targeted hate-crime
against LGBT folk last weekend,
nor the horrific murder of MP Jo Cox,
nor of football hooliganism,
or the ongoing war in Syria,
and the millions of displaced, dispossessed people
struggling to escape death because of that war.
Then there’s Vladimir Putin and his dangerous posturing,
all the uncertainties around the upcoming American election,
not to mention our own referendum next week
and the vitriol and negativity and fear-mongering
coming from both sides of that particular debate.
‘Make the world more beautiful.’
It’s a fine sentiment...
but how can we when the world feels so dark and full of fear:
fear that breeds intolerance, hatred, violence;
fear that freezes the very blood in our veins;
fear that saps us of our energy and robs us our joy?
It feels so hard to fight against the fear.

And then, we read the words of Paul,
to the young faith communities of Galatia;
words written to correct some issues that had gotten a
tad out of hand, yet nevertheless, words that spoke to a climate of fear:
fear of deviating from religious rules.
Words written in a time of Roman rule:
where there was a well-ingrained fear of deviating from secular rules.
These were words written to people subjected to a mighty, conquering oppressor;
words written in a time where the distinctions of
race, culture, status, gender, and faith mattered in society –
and where Paul states that they no longer do.
It’s a time where to question the authority of Rome was to risk your life –
where you hoped you’d be okay if you just kept your head down and got on with it;
a time where emperors were supposed to be worshipped as gods
and, where to be a follower of Jesus would put you outside the
bounds of Roman Law.
A time, where, like now, it was easy to cover yourself in the clothes of fear,
even with the strange stability that Roman occupation brought.

And so Paul writes:
‘You are all sons (and daughters) of God, 
through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you 
who were baptised into Christ have been clothed with Christ’
In this climate of fear,
he reminds them of their baptism:
of whose they are;
of the faith they professed when they were baptised;
of the faith that broke the chains of legalism and set them free;
of the faith, and of the act, that washed the old away,
that chased the darkness out;
of the faith that stripped away the ragged clothes
of fear, of suspicion, of division
and which clothed them in Christ:
the light-bringer,
the life-giver,
the love-bearer,
the liberator.

Paul’s words remind us,
that in our baptism, we belong to Christ, just as the Galatian Christians did.
We belong to the One who lived his life
so freely,
and so fully,
that those who preferred darkness and diminishing others were driven to kill him.
I’m minded of the words of the philosopher, Albert Camus, who said:
‘the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become 
so absolutely free, that your very existence is an act of rebellion.’

Jesus’ life, was an act of rebellion.
To live freely and fully, as Christ did, and to rebel against the chains of fear,
makes this world a more beautiful place:
for it denies the power of fear its opportunity to choke the life of the world
completely into dull, deathly submission.

To live freely, to live into our baptism, and to be clothed in Christ,
is to see life differently:
to live in faith, not fear –
hope, not hate...
It is to seek the freedom of others...
to see the face of Christ in others regardless of the self-made distinctions
that society, and fear, try to create.
And to behold the face of Christ is a beautiful thing.

In the service of welcome, which greets guests at the beginning
of each week on the island, the Iona Community talks of
‘seeing Christ in the stranger’s guise’.
In our baptism, clothed in Christ, we are called to see others
as if they, too, are clothed in Christ.
In doing so, we go against a prevailing culture that seeks to put up walls,
or to name those we don’t know as
‘terrorists’ or ‘economic migrants’
or a thousand other labels...
To be clothed in Christ is to stand against the fear and hate and darkness
that wants to divide and conquer and destroy.
As a community of faith, we stand together, as brothers and sisters in Christ,
pointing to him,
pointing to freedom and light –
and that his light is never overcome...
And, clothed in Christ, as we point to him,
we show the world a different way of seeing
and of being:
we point to a different ending to the story,
as we focus on God’s love and goodness,
and, as we, through our baptism, wear that love and goodness –
share that love and goodness,
it's like the scattering of lupines...
blue and purple and rose,
bringing beauty into a world struggling so hard to find it.

Clothed in Christ, we are heirs to the promise that God made to Abraham:
we share in his blessing and as we do,
so we share the blessing as we love God and love others –
as we turn our own focus from fear to God,
whose perfect love casts out all fear.

Earlier this week, poet Maggi Smith –
no, not Dame Maggi –
published a poem online, which has subsequently gone ‘viral’ –
meaning, it’s turning up everywhere on social media.
It speaks to the complexity of the time in which we live,
and it speaks of beauty.
I’ve substituted a word, out of good manners,
but otherwise, this is what she wrote:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real [s**thole] dump, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right?
You could make this place beautiful.
                                                               Maggi Smith

Earlier in the service, water was poured into our baptismal font,
and after the service ends, I invite you to come and dip your hand -
or your fingers into the water - to remember that you have been
clothed in Christ and need not fear.
Remember: it is for freedom that we have been set free in Christ:
set free, and called to bring in the kin-dom of heaven on earth:
to make this place –
this planet, this country, this parish,
one another...beautiful.   Amen.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Sermon, Sun 12 June, Yr C: 'The shock in Antioch' - from Galatians 2:11-21

1st READING: Psalm 5:1-8
2nd READING: Galatians 2: 9-21

SERMON
Let’s pray: May the words of my mouth
and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable
in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

The ‘rumble in the jungle’...
the ‘thrilla in Manilla’...
Foreman, Frasier, and Ali –
perhaps the greatest boxers of all time,
and whose rivalry, skill, and power
awed, stunned, and entertained millions back in the day.
Ali, who was buried on Friday
in Louisville, Kentucky,
was more than ‘just a boxer’, however.
Since his death, the airwaves and the internet
have been filled with retrospectives, and clips.
Many of them naturally focusing upon his prowess in the ring,
but more than a few noting that this physically powerful man
was also funny, articulate,
and used the power of his fame
 – or notoriety –
as a vehicle for social change.

An Olympic gold medal winner in 1960,
the story, told by Ali,
is that he came home from Rome,
went into a restaurant,
and was refused service because of the colour of his skin.
Marching out of the place, he headed for the Ohio river,
took off his gold medal,
and threw it into the swirling waters in disgust.
Throughout the rest of his life,
Ali championed civil rights,
believing and fighting for a society
that would include and embrace all.
And because of his belief in a free and fair society,
he was no stranger to controversy –
from the ‘Establishment’, of course,
but occasionally, from those who were also
championing civil rights –
who felt he should follow their way of doing things.
He was a powerful and passionate man
– a great humanitarian -
and I think the world is a little less sparkly with his passing.

This morning, in our passage from Galatians,
we meet two heavyweights of the faith,
who, according to our text,
lock horns over ways of doing things –
of living out the Christian life:
we come across a face-off between Peter – the ‘Rock’ –
and Paul – ‘the persecuter'.
And in a nod to Ali and co., let’s call this meeting
the ‘shock in Antioch’.

Last week, we talked about the gospel and of transformation and change;
this, in light of Paul’s anger at what had transpired
since he’d last spent time with the faith communities in Galatia.
A quick re-cap:
a group had come along, after Paul had moved on
to preach the gospel to others.
This group had basically told the new believers
that they had to meet certain conditions in order to be ‘of the true faith’;
these conditions being an acceptance of Jewish rites – circumcision –
and of following the law laid down in the Torah.
It was ‘Jesus plus the law equals proper belief.’
And the young in the faith,
wanting to follow Jesus,
had bought the ‘Jesus plus’ formula that this
group had brought among them.
Paul was horrified:
he is quick to rebut the erroneous teaching.
He reminds the Galatians that the gospel is ‘good news’:
is Jesus, and...
only Jesus -
not ‘Jesus and something else’.
No works,
no law,
just pure, and utter grace from God:
the freedom of forgiveness,
the freedom of new life –
life in Christ.
The old had gone,
the new had come.
And, telling the Galatians his story,
his ‘road to Damascus’ experience,
he reminds them that,
the power of God’s love in Christ alone
was what had transformed him from persecutor to preacher.

The gospel, as we heard last week,
is about change and transformation.
And there’s more:
it’s about welcoming all,
building bridges, not walls.
As Paul continues in his letter,
he tells the Galatians of meeting with Peter –
first, in Jerusalem, and later, in Antioch.
Things initially seemed to be going well in Antioch.
Peter was meeting with the new believers,
in fact, Peter was eating with the new believers...
Peter, who before his encounter with Jesus
would never have ritually defiled himself by eating with non-Jews.
For Peter, there has been a change:
Jesus has broken down the barriers between Jew and Gentile,
uniting them in himself.

Peter had previously had a vision of ‘clean and unclean’ foods,
had seen God clearly blessing non-Jewish followers of Jesus,
such as the centurion Cornelius.
Peter had discovered the inclusive love of God for all,
not just the chosen few.
But there, in Antioch, he has a wobble:
a group sent by the disciple James, comes from Jerusalem to visit.
Peter is suddenly conspicuous by his absence
amongst the Gentile converts,
afraid to be rebuked by this group from Jerusalem.
And his actions cause others around him to wobble –
those disciples who had a Jewish background
also withdrew themselves from their fellow believers in Christ,
with Paul almost spitting out in disgust:
and ‘even Barnabas was led astray.’
Good, solid, faithful companion that he was,
when someone like Peter –
someone who had spent years in the company of Jesus –
comes to town and acts in a certain way,
then, out of respect for his authority and experience,
you’re not likely to stand up and go:
‘um, Peter, I’m not sure this is such a great idea.’
You’re not likely to...
unless you’re Paul, that is.

Paul’s not afraid of making a stand,
not afraid of rocking the boat.
As he, himself writes to the Galatians:
‘When I saw that they were not acting in line 
with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all...’
and then he goes on to show how he publicly called out Peter.
Paul does seem to have a bit of a habit of getting folk
to pin back their ears and listen to him.
But, in this particular matter, Paul is right
and Peter’s done a ‘Peter’ and messed up.
Paul’s one tough cookie –
he’s determined to demonstrate
the all-encompassing wideness of the gospel:
that God’s love is for everyone.
To remind even Peter, that great pillar of the faith,
that in Jesus, all barriers are broken down –
although different, yet all are one in Him:
Paul says:
‘I have been crucified with Christ 
and I no longer live, 
but Christ lives in me.

Transformation and change, yes,
along with unity in diversity.
Here Paul is showing
to Peter and his companions from Jerusalem...
to the Galatians...
to us,
that faith is about expanding the way we think,
is about refocusing the way we think;
it reorients the heart and soul and spirit.
Within the all-embracing love of God,
in faith, having been loved by God,
we love God in return –
and, in faith, extend that love to all humanity.
‘Through death and resurrection, Christ comes 
to dwell in the human heart and to produce a community 
based not on social distinctions but on love.’ [Wendy Farley, FOTW, 136]

Another nod to Muhammad Ali:
Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky.
Interesting things seem to happen in that city.
The great 20th century spiritual writer, Thomas Merton, was a monk.
He had spent his life rejecting the world,
encircling himself in silence, and prayer, and meditation.
One day, away from the monastery, and wandering the streets of Louisville,
Merton had an epiphany, a lightbulb moment, if you like.
In his book, ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,’ he writes:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, 
in the center of the shopping district, 
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization 
that I loved all these people, 
that they were mine and I theirs, 
that we could not be alien to one another 
even though we were total strangers...’
Merton goes on:
There is no way of telling people that 
they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, 
the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire 
nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, 
the person that each one is in God’s eyes. 
If only they could all see themselves 
as they really are. 
If only we could see each other 
that way all the time. 
There would be no more war, no more hatred, 
no more cruelty, no more greed...’

A gospel of transformation and change.
A gospel of welcome: of unity and diversity.
A gospel of love.
Love is not always easy.
And there are times when loving some folk
is particularly challenging.
Perhaps a way of walking in love
is trying to imagine how God sees them;
and trying to walk in someone else’s shoes –
to try and imaginatively enter into that person’s life;
to wonder, and to ask what their story might be
before we make a quick judgement.
Loving people when they do things differently
to the way we might prefer is also challenging...
but in love, first ask just ‘why’ they may be doing things that way.
And then, there are those we may see in the media –
people in positions of power who have misused that power in shocking ways –
whether ruling their land with an iron fist of fear...
or ruling the roost at home and making everyone walk on eggshells.
How do we find a way to acknowledge that even those we see as unlovely
are nevertheless, beloved of God -
even though God may weep at the choices they make?
How do we love certain others, when they don’t love in return?
How do we love those who have caused us deep, deep hurt?
So often, it feels easier to harden our hearts;
to become judge and jury;
to choose the way of violence, of vengeance...
or, depending on our situation, of using passive-aggression.
So often, the way of love is held up as weak, as ‘wishy-washy’.
Choosing to love is the hardest thing that we can humanly do.
Choosing to love
is costly.
Choosing to love
is choosing to follow
in the footsteps of the One
who knew what it was to love fully –
even unto death...
Choosing love is an act of faith
and an expression of hope:
a hope that reaches beyond death and sees new life –
resurrection and reconciliation.
Paul was using fighting words when he challenged Peter.
In a similar way to Muhammed Ali,
this powerful, passionate, and articulate man,
used the power of his fame
– well, his notoriety –
as a vehicle for social change:
However, as he continued defending the good news of the gospel –
Paul was also using his power to effect spiritual change,
by showing the gospel of life-giving grace for all.

For Paul, the gospel – the news of God’s love in Jesus -
spoke of a love wider, bigger, than we can ever fully understand.
A love that, every day, has a new beginning
as we die to self and allow Christ to live in us.

Let us, as Christ’s community,
choose to walk in love now, and every day:
learning to find the beauty and wonder in God,
and in one another,
and let love be our prayer in action.  Amen.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Picture prayers: On St Columba's Day

'St Columba on his farm in Scotland' - Anthea Craigmyle
I love this painting by Anthea Craigmyle of St Columba: a homely, earthy depiction, which also picks up that sense of cheerfulness much attributed to him [although I do feel a sense of the Pythonesque - hard to resist humming: 'Always look on the bright side of life].


O God, who gave to your servant Columba
the gifts of courage, faith and cheerfulness,
and sent people forth from Iona
to carry the word of your gospel to every creature:
grant, we pray, a like spirit to your church,
even at this present time…
[prayer from the Iona Community]

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Poems of the heart: On visiting Auschwitz, 24 May 2016


image c. Nik M
Blue sky, 
buttercups,
bird song.
Barbed wire,
watchtowers,
whispering.
Hush.
Hush.
The spent,
in ashes,
sleep.
Stories lost,
stories found,
stories told,
profound
remembering
in sighs
and convulsed sobbing.
Undying stones
bear witness,
pray kaddish
for the dead.
                                           c.Nik M

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Sheep tails: baaad to the bone


'Ewe lookin' at me? Well are ya?
So, lemme 'splain politely to you how dis is gonna go down:
Tchu don' wanna be stayin 'roun here, unnerstan'? It could be detrimental-like, to your ongoing health, see?  If I were you, I'd be walkin' on by, minding my own business, okay, my friend?  Nuttin' to see here, right? And should you happen to meet the cops on yer way, tchu got nuttin' to say, unless you are wantin' to make friends wit da fishes, capice?'

They used to hang about and play in junior school, now they hang around the neighbourhood looking, quite frankly, menacing. What began as fooling about in the playground has grown into running a numbers racket amongst the local dairy herds and flocks. Occasionally they hold a Vegas Night, and the 'house' always wins - well, there was that one time...but the winner mysteriously disappeared.
They may look sweetness and light, but make one mistake, and these girls will make sure you live to regret it - and when I say 'live', that's not necessarily the only option.
#baaadtothebone

Monday, 22 February 2016

Cloud of witnesses: Sophie Scholl

The blade is sharp, but her courage is sharper still.
Along with her brother and small cohort of friends,
she has looked the regime squarely in the eye and called it out for what it is:
brutal, dehumanising, death-giving.

Motivated by her faith, and horror of the accounts of atrocities in the East shared by 
the boyfriend who is a serving officer, she, with her friends, begins to leave leaflets 
around the city in the summer of 1942. They urge fellow citizens to passively resist 
the killing machine that has replaced good government. 
The machine is nothing, if not efficient: a climate of fear turns citizen against citizen. 
Sophie, brother Hans, and friend Christoph are caught in the February of '43, 
informed on by a university janitor who has seen them drop what is the sixth, and final,
leaflet. A trial quickly follows and the death sentence is passed four days later.
They are to be beheaded by guillotine within hours.
Before she dies, she talks to a cell-mate and states:
'How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to

give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have
to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened
and stirred to action?'
The blade is sharp, but her courage, sharper still.

I've been recently thinking around the idea of 'wild church'.
I've also been thinking of power and courage - due in part to
wrestling with various lectionary texts, and also, due to the ongoing season of Lent.
Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem.
The powers that be - religious and political - have been challenged.
To hear words such as 'the last shall be first, and the first, last',
is a prime motivator to nip such notions in the bud:
the 1% in any given era will always be determined to remain at the top,
and to keep the 99% firmly at the bottom.
Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem, the place where prophets go to die.
He not only walks on the margins with the least,
he walks on the wild side of non-conformity with systemic structures of power
and shows that real power is life-giving:
the giving of life, for the living of life in a more real and abundant manner.
The wild side of the kindom of God throws down a challenge.
It's about waving, or shining a torch, calling out:
'there's so much more than this: look! Come and see! Come. Live.'
It's the very thing that institutions and regimes fear,
for it casts a light on their own desperate clawing for power at any cost.
The Cross is looms large, but his courage, larger still.

Sophie's faith feels like a 'wild' kind of faith - the faith that dares to move from a
place of quiet comfort. A faith that turns its face towards a variation of Jerusalem,
and witnesses to that very different understanding of power:
which refuses to buy into the notion that force and bullying,
fear and manipulation, are just the way of things,
and that conformity is always the best course.
That the strongest, or the loudest, wins.
It may seem that way, but there's so much more than this: look! Come and see!
Come.
Live.

Sophie Scholl, 9 May 1921 – 22 February 1943, member of the White Rose resistance group