Thursday, 30 April 2009

the squeaky wheel gets the most oil?

I've been thinking again of something my step-dad once said a long time ago - it's a phrase/ question that haunts and informs the way I go about thinking when it comes to being Christian and reflecting on ministry:
'Why do I need to go to church to be told how crap I am?'

Now, some folks will be so busy gasping at the word 'crap' that they won't necessarily get to thinking about the actual question and its implications when it comes to general non-church perceptions of Christians/ Christianity/ the church.

Bob's [step-dad] question is again at the forefront of my mind with regard to the upcoming General Assembly and the galvanising of particular groups [on either side of the debate] within the kirk over the 'issue' of homosexuality. But the difficulty here is the 'issue' has moved from object to person in the shape of Scott Rennie. He has had the courage to openly state not only his orientation, but also his relationship status. I hope that not only is he strong enough to withstand the inevitable Christian hate-mail and general vitriol that will come his way, but that there will be glimmers of grace and love and care in the mail - and in person - for him. I also hope he has a very good support group so the experience doesn't utterly crush him - and that in the midst of all the craziness that he remembers that he is utterly loved by God... who witholds love from no-one.

The press are already circling like vultures, waiting for the church to rip itself apart. The media rarely portray those in the church who are moderate -
it doesn't sell papers, doesn't make for a handy sound-bite.
And many folks outwith the church think that Fred Phelps and his followers speak for all Christians.
It's depressing.
Really depressing.
'God hates fags'
'Fags die, God laughs'
It's the 'squeaky wheel' principle in action.

And yet... in a way, Phelps and his group demonstrate vividly what the taking of a certain biblical line to its logical [albeit extreme] conclusion looks like.
Judgement without grace....
And if I bang on about grace, then, in grace, and through sometimes very gritted teeth, I know I have to pray for these folks - and for all folks who limit God's love to some and not all.

I yearn for a time when the church that I love will be a place of welcome for all people;
a safe space;
a warm place;
a place where love conquers fear and hatred and where amazing grace abounds...
a little piece of heaven on earth...
and where wheels don't need oiled.

Friday, 24 April 2009

22 impossible things before breakfast

Luke 24: 36ff While thery were talking about this,
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them,
" Peace be with you."

Jesus came speaking words of peace.
He ate fish.
He reminded the disciples of the words he'd said to them
prior to his death.
He opened the Scriptures
and opened their minds
to accept the
possibility of the impossible:
to take a leap beyond their wildest imaginings.
And then...
encouraged them to push open the locked doors
and emerge from the ghetto of their fears.
Encouraged them to emerge
back into life
and move beyond their self-imposed,
half-life limbo
of doubt and despair.
Encouraged them to share a most remarkable story
of life
and death
and resurrection.
Encouraged them to proclaim:
repentance met with love
and the liberating gift of forgiveness.
Encouraged them,
by his own action,
to be proclaimers
of peace
and passion
and possibilty.
And in so doing, to become
passionately peaceful, possibility-filled people.

It's time to emerge.
Time to fling open locked church doors:
to speak words of peace
in doubt-filled,
Time to share that story of liberating love
and freedom
and forgiveness.
And definitely time to re-grasp
the possibility of impossibility.

...although believing 22 impossible things before breakfast
is not always necessary!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

At-one-ment / at-wonder-ment

Over at John's blog, there's a discussion happening on various atonment theories.

Do we opt for Christus Victim?

Perhaps we might go for
Christus Victor?

Was Jesus a good moral exemplar for humanity?

So many theories, so little time :) ....

But I wonder: while I'm in no way discounting the work of doing theology, nor of ignoring what happened on the Cross, my sense is that sometimes we as church have been so caught up in the death of Jesus, that we've sometimes stayed with the Crucifixion and forgotten the Resurrection... and also of the impact of the whole of the life of Jesus. We've limited Jesus to 3 hours one Friday - there's so much more.

What is it to be in full communion with God?
What does it mean to live... to live truly, to live fully, a life that is abundant - and way beyond the shallow prosperity notions of abundance as merely material blessing? The life of Jesus points the way, not just his death.

And thinking about my previous post: how do the various theories of atonement impact on the way we structure our liturgy? I'm minded of my step-dad's words many, many years ago, reflecting on his early experiences of church: "Why do I need to go to church to be told how crap I am?" He never went back. I don't blame him one little bit. He's not alone in his thinking.

We need to hold, in our worship and in our lives, that balance of immanence and transcendence.... Of not just damning judgment all the damned time but of grace as well. And an understanding that all our words and all our theories are limited, imperfect fumblings in the half-light of dawn. I think we would be better off viewing atonement theories as all pieces that are part and parcel of a larger mosaic: shimmering glimpses into the heart of God and of God's love for humanity.

Henry Francis Lyte opted for a 'let's go for the whole lot' in his fabulous hymn -

Praise, my soul, the King of heaven;
to his feet thy tribute bring;
ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
evermore his praises sing:
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King.

Have we become so fixated on 'at-one-ment' that we've forgotten 'at-wonder-ment'?

Monday, 20 April 2009

crash helmets, life preservers and signal flares

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”
[Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk]

I love Annie Dillard.
I love this observation of hers especially.
What exactly is it that we think we do when we worship?
Who are we invoking?
Who are we praising?
Why do we continually talk at God and have the strong desire to fill every waking, worshipping moment with words...
which becomes so much 'white noise' that silence is safely eradicated?

Deep, deep down, is there some long-buried echo of memory which taps at our psyche reminding us that it is indeed a dangerous thing to be still, be silent...
to open ourselves to the possibility of being swept away by the watery torrents of our dynamic, living God?
Is there some primal alarm button which emits frenzied flashes of warning,
shrilly yelling at us that if we stop, be still, be silent,
we may be in serious danger of being utterly moved by God?

Shouting to us that we may be catapulted beyond everything we thought we knew...
flung into the heights, the depths,
the breadth of God's unfathomable love,
and in that act of being flung,
knowing our lives may be irrevocably changed forever?

Yet, in the dizzying, terrifying, holy awesomeness of it all... at the centre...
the One whose grace carries us along in the swirling eddies,
holding us tightly and ensuring we're strapped in for the ride of our lives.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking worship is 'lively' when there's lots of noise and praise bands.
Perhaps we need to turn this on its head.
To allow for spaces of silence in our worship...
To get past the 'white noise' of chattering through the offering and truly make of our lives an offering....

To enable the possibility that our unbelief might be turned into the stunned belief of Thomas....

To open ourselves to the potential of being shockingly, utterly transformed
by the boundless, amazing, wonderful, known-yet-unknown God,
who is closer to us than our breathing.
And when that happens, I want to be handing out crash helmets to everyone and strapping on a life-vest. :)

Sunday, 19 April 2009

the porpoise driven life...

'the porpoise driven life'

buy it now, while stocks last...

Saturday, 18 April 2009

long, lingering glimpses

Luke 2:34-35
Then Simeon
blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

One last, lingering glimpse back at Holy Week before I embrace 'resurrection'...
The above bible text and book by Joyce Rupp [totally recommend immersing yourself in it during a Holy Week, profoundly moving stuff] featured in a conversation after conducting Friday noon prayers. It was the week before Holy Week.

A woman stopped me to chat and had said that she'd been 'thinking of this text but couldn't quite remember it', but she knew it was deep and moving and sad and beautiful. I managed to find a bible and we stood at the east end of the Cathedral reading the words together....
Before we knew it we were immersed in an unexpectedly deep moment of serendipitous conversation which stripped away those outer layers in which we all tend to wrap ourselves... and together, we became human, vulnerable and real. It was a conversation which was brief, and yet touched us both, as we contemplated Mary and that fore-telling of piercing pain she would endure...
which Jesus endured...
and of those times [unnamed] in our own lives when it felt as if a sword not only pierced our souls but our hearts as well.

It was not in any way a depressing or even sad conversation.
It was not in any way a mutual counselling session.
Rather, it was the matter of fact recognition that pain and sorrow and joy, restoration and delight all co-exist together, intertwine.
Truly, we only fool ourselves if we think that these aspects which comprise part of what it is to be human, can be in any way compartmentalised.

Today, I awoke... into resurrection, quietly celebrating.

The Heart of Compassion
Compassionate God,
your generous presence
is always attuned to hurting ones.
Your listening ear is bent
toward the cries of the wounded
Your heart of love
fills with tears for the suffering.
Turn my inward eye to see
that I am not alone.
I am a part of all of life.
Each one's joy and sorrow
is my joy and sorrow,
and mine is theirs.
May I draw strength
from this inner communion.
May it daily recommit me
to be a compassionate presence
for all who struggle with life's pain.
Joyce Rupp
Copyright 1999 by Joyce Rupp All rights reserved

Thursday, 16 April 2009

dislocation, art, and the beauty of God

I know it's not Good Friday.
I know Easter Sunday resurrection's happened.
But I feel a little dislocated.
The timing of the candidates conference in Holy Week seems to have thrown my liturgical year clock out the window. While worship on Sunday was lovely... I felt disconnected, distracted - as if I was at the party, but hadn't had all the lovely anticipation of waiting and looking forward and preparing for it.
Timing matters.
And so, I'm trying to make up for it.
I've jumped in the liturgical tardis.
I am going back to Holy Week, not passing 'go', not collecting £200.
Part of the reconnection, the relocation, involves almost drowning my senses in the searing beauty of Allegri's Miserere.
I'm not quite ready for the resurrection party yet. I will be in a couple of days. And all shall indeed be well. And I shall be content.

a small nail in the coffin of mocking cynicism...

Susan Boyle... legend.

Warning: I may about to be in danger of being a wee bit 'schmaltzy'.

What a stunning story.
What a glorious tale of the unexpected.
What a reminder not to scoff and mock and judge too readily.
Marshmallow that I am, I confess I just burst into tears after she'd sung the first three notes - this after I'd put my eyes back into my head after they'd popped out in surprise.

Proof, if ever, that there is no such thing as an 'ordinary' human being: we are all marvellously, wondrously extraordinary.

Perhaps an odd, lateral tangent, but I'm reminded of Iraneus of Lyons... 'the glory of God is a human fully alive, and the life of that human is the image of God'. When we take risks and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be open to ridicule, to be human ... little glimpses of God shine through and can take our breath away. And also put a small nail in the coffin of mocking cynicism which shackles and holds us back from being everything God meant for us to be.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

the end is nigh... well, for the moment anyway.

Done.                                                                       [cartoon by Dave Walker]
Not yet delivered... [to 'the kremlin', but at least now in the hands of my esteemed supervisor.]

Ah, yes, the 'forms' of doom and desolation. Why is it that when it comes to filling these wretched things out, I feel all 'blonde and fluffy'? And that I'm writing the s
ame thing several times over?
But, for the moment, it's over. I'm looking forward to the time I get to write my report on 'not doing a placement' - reflecting on how it feels to do ... nothing.
Comedy set of questions in current set of forms:

Q/ were you given adequate study and preparation time for allotted tasks? [or sommat like that] A/ yes.
Q/ how did you use this time? A/ erm, I studied and prepared?

While the forms containing my existential angst have gone, research is in a bit of a limbo space. Suddenly I have to find something useful to write on, but not too useful as it can't be used for the thesis. Wondering about excommunication in 16th c. Scotland... but 25 000 words on it? Hmmm. Thoughts on a postcard - or if handy, submit on a bill of excommunication, please....

Monday, 13 April 2009

What happens when you don't fill out forms for the Church of Scotland....

Sunday, 12 April 2009

'little boxes, little boxes and they're all made of...?'

I have to fill in forms. Unutterable joy fills my soul.
No, really.
Okay... no, not at all.
These forms have nothing to do with Plato, alas, but are rather clear, concise articulations aimed at demonstrating my skills as a reflective practitioner [see comment about disco mirror ball in previous post!].
The 'format' via which I am reflecting is comprised of lots of boxes, little boxes. Little boxes, little boxes, and they're all made of
little disco balls... oh, no, wait. [no, not ticky-tacky, but I'm delighted you know this old folky song - oh, some of you don't? Check out Pete Seeger and the marvellous sheep he is wearing]

I have to fill in forms.
I am procrastinating beautifully.
I am procrastinating wilfully.
Basically, I'm procrastinating.

I have had a most amazing time in my placement. It's taken me out of my comfort zone. I knew it would: that's why I chose to go there. But I am still processing and yet, I must fill in these little boxes all made of reflections, neatly compartmentalising the whole experience. I'm not ready to put my experience in a neatly packaged box/ or set of boxes just yet. However, some of my thoughts so far:

I never thought I'd utter the words "hmmm, a cassock is a useful piece of kit".
I never thought I'd get past a learnt dislike of all things liturgically formal - or indeed the Bible in the Authorised Version. I have come around enough to realise there is a peculiar, mysterious beauty to both and that there is a place for it and that some people even quite like this stuff :)
I wonder if there is a sort of liturgical fascism that is so desparate to be relevant [see 'hip, trendy' 'with it'] that it loses all sense of the importance of mystery? And that just because a format is encased in a traditional style, that it is automatically irrelevant and to be dismissed? Hmmm. I've done that. It doesn't mean I have to adopt the style of worship, but it does mean I have to be open to the fact that there is a value in it. I have had the eye-opening experience of realising that while I'm open to new things, those things tended on the more modern. A bit galling for an historian...!!!

Cogitations go on a-pace on the issue of 'civic religion'/ the C of S as 'national church'. I've boiled it down to... at the end of the day, when some awful situation arises of national import [thanks to John Smith for allowing me the OED option on this word!] who ya gonna call... ghostbusters? Just because our society's a secular society does not mean that people have no spirituality. The need for ritual is still strong, you only have to look at the aftermath of Diana's death: little pictures of her with lit candles scattered amongst the flowers - latter-day icon. At this point in time, who else is able to offer meaningful, and dare I say it, professional ritual. I may be howled down for this comment. But be gentle, I'm still teasing this one out. Perhaps an answer tomorrow....

In the meantime, little boxes... to contain a myriad of experiences involving conversations, cups of tea and cassocks.
And today... I was told I looked 'like a minister' - I'm faintly disturbed by this and wonder if I should have that tattoo on my forehead removed ;)
All together now, let's sing:
"there's a blue one, and a green one and they're all made of..."

Saturday, 11 April 2009

"Come with me, for the conference is long"

... except that it wasn't, it was rather good actually - surprisingly good. After the nightmare that was the first candidates conference at St Andrews I had been gearing myself up for a long, dark teatime of the soul comprised of relentless, frenzied activity; little or no space at all; reflecting so much that I'd turned into a disco mirror ball.
But, not so. Gartmore, whilst busy, was fun and instructive and silly and serious. So, the week [and perhaps what I may have learned] in quotes:

  • I am an ooooold lady
  • Dog collars strangle you if you tell lies [Marjorie M, during worship]
  • Deeep, deeeeeep down, all men are shallow [Jane, after several glasses of wine]
  • ...developing a smelly hermeneutic [me, re. anointing of Jesus]
  • Institutionalism is a 'binding spirit' [Peter Neilsen]
  • All are created equal: in America this means all are special. In Scotland this means nobody's special. [Peter Neilsen]
  • kill me noooooooooooooow [as part of a flurry of note-passing during the only really dull session]
  • My, he's a big one. [Howard, kilted, stepping into a pulpit and singeing his hair on the light]
All of this to reflect on [possibly not too much on the notion of Howard preaching in a kilt!], in the midst of thinking through the implications of adding another year to my studies and getting my head around writing 25 000 words, on a topic yet to be decided, for mid-August. Hmmm, busy, busy yet all good - and underpinning the lot, as ever, God's goodness. So... yay, really.