Friday, 28 August 2009

An alphabet of gratitude: 'A' is for...

Time to begin to blog an 'alphabet of gratitude'.Shamelessly filching an idea from some of the revgals - particularly from Altar Ego over at Reverent Irreverence. Altar Ego's plan was to do this every day until she reached 'Z'.

I think I'm aiming to maybe do this once or twice a week, as a way in which I might build this into an ongoing attitude of gratitude: too often, I just blithely nod at God and go 'yeah, thanks' and race off to do something else. I think I want to be more intentional in my thanksgiving and gratitide and have a little less bratitude! We'll see.
In the midst of all the recent busy space of dissertation and locuming, I've been hugely aware of God's good grace, super friends, and lots of other good and fruitful gifts.

So let's start at the very beginning: 'A' is for...

Alphabet - 26 letters, which form words and phrases and sentences and spell
the stories of our lives. To hear and share each other's stories is an amazing and beautiful gift: as we tell our stories with each other, we connect and become 'real' and build relationships of love and trust and integrity... of support, of healing of care... of laughter and joy.
Augustine - who sometimes gets a bad press, but who I have come to love deeply. A flawed, fallible, wise and pastoral, immensely intelligent human being who wrote lines that make me smile, such as:
'give me chastity, but not yet'

and lines that make me understand this odd journey of faith a little more, and that peculiar yearning after God:
'you have made us for yourself and our restless hearts are restless until they find their rest in you'

and a response to God's faithfulness and utter beauty:

'late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

[Confessions 10. 27]

Academia -
for the sheer joy of discovery and wonder and excitement. For the world unfolding on old, yellowing manuscripts and the profound and the mundane written in the spidery, difficult-to-read handwriting of those who have gone before us - of their fears, their joys, their sorrows... of their stories unfolding.

Aardvarks - who may have slipped Adam a swift 'tenner' in order to be the very first animal on the alphabetical lists... For games involving the word 'aardvark' and good friends and silly conversations.

Amazing God - who has brought all things into being. Whose love is beyond our wildest imagining, whose faithfulness goes beyond the heavens, who holds us and never lets us go.

and with that... off for a few days to 'minister-school' in St Andrews, and oddly, I'm looking forward to it!! :)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

virtual bear reportage: jounalism's finest moment

'this is probably what the bear looked like - except real' Best news report ever! Hilarious! :)

Monday, 24 August 2009

rest awhile...

A brief time of rest,
walking on the beach,
seeing friends, and catching up with sleep.

It is an odd feeling: both Masters diss and locum have come to an end within 2 days of each other -
from all to nothing very abruptly.

No Knox, and no sermons to write.
But it's fine.
I am content just being for a little bit.
Will do some reflecting on locuming at 'leafy parish in the burgh' at some point - but for now it's novel reading time. Although processing out of worship to 'Waltzing Matilda' was amusing and disconcerting!!! I will miss those folks very much: they are an inspiration and a lesson in grace.

This evening has been truly lovely and I took the camera down to the beach at the end of the street... the sound of waves gently rolling onto damp sand, bird cry, people walking and chatting in the still-warm evening sun.
It is good.
All of this is good and reflects the goodness of the One who spoke it into being.
At the moment, I'm in a mood of peaceful, quiet gratitude for all of God's good gifts.
Amazing love.
Amazing grace.
Amazing God.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

What a cow... and other silliness

Minister of 'leafy parish in the burgh' sent the following funny to lighten the day... I think it pretty much manages to offend most everyone on the planet quite well. Interestingly... no Canadians, once again proving everyone loves Canadians :)
My Presbyterian addition at the end.


You have 2 cows.
You give one to your neighbour.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and gives you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and shoots you.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away.

You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income.

You have two giraffes.
The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

You have two cows.
You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.

You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your
brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer
so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island
Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows
back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.
You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States ,
leaving you with nine cows.
No balance sheet provided with the release.
The public then buys your bull.

You have two cows.
You go on strike, organize a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.

You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times
the milk.
You then create a clever cow cartoon image called 'Cowkimon' and market it worldwide.

You have two cows.
You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

You have two cows, but you don't know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.

You have two cows.
You count them and learn you have five cows.
You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn you have 2
You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.

You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.

You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.
You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

You have two cows.
You worship them.

You have two cows.
One is mad and the other has had to be put in storage because of the health and safety risks of
milking it.

Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
Nobody believes you, so they bomb the crap out of you and invade your country.
You still have no cows, but at least you are now a Democracy.

You have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

You have two cows.
The one on the left looks very attractive.

You have no cows.
You have excommunicated them.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Ordinary 20 Yr B: 'Life is like a box of chocolates' - sermon for 16th August

'Life is like a box of chocolates' - sermon for 16th August

Readings: 1 Kings 2: 10-12; 3: 3-14; Proverbs 9: 1-6; Ephesians 5: 15-20.

If God said to you: 'what shall I give you?’
If you could ask for anything – absolutely anything -
What would you ask for?
It’s a tantalising question, isn’t it?Being very predictable: I’d be fighting the incredibly strong urge to ask God to install a lake of chocolate in the backyard.But in the book of Kings, God does ask someone the question.
Solomon is praying – interestingly, not at Jerusalem where the Ark of the Covenant is – but up in the heights at an altar.

And in a dream God comes to him and asks that ever-so-tantalising question:
'what shall I give you?'
And Solomon, after thinking it through asks for wisdom. And God is pleased with the request – so pleased in fact, that fame and wealth and the potential for a long life are all thrown in as well.
But what
is wisdom?

I’ve been thinking about wisdom this week – mostly, wishing I actually had it. A couple of days ago I was digging around my bookshelves and came across a small book quietly gathering dust, which seemed somehow oddly appropriate when thinking about wisdom:
it’s called ‘The Wee Book of Calvin’, and it’s filled with lots of different Calvinist-inspired home-spun wisdom – the sorts of things grannies or great aunties would be likely to come out with when the occasion merited - or perhaps that’s just my gran and great aunty!
The book has sayings such as:
Self pity never boiled a haddock.
Let the laddie play with the knife. He’ll learn.

And the cheering thought: For every summer morning, a winter night to come

And my own two personal favourites:
No whip cuts so deep as the lash of guilt
Swim in sin and drown in sorrow

Not particularly ‘sunshiny, put a smile on your face’ stuff… which is possibly the point, because underneath all of these different bits of home-spun wisdom there’s a deep sense of foreboding:
the understanding that,if you’re enjoying yourself, you’ll pay for it at some point.

We laugh at it a little ruefully, recognising that it’s something that’s pretty engrained into the Scottish psyche. It’s the sense that life is a serious business, not to be frittered away by being frivolous. One must be circumspect and live wisely. Living decently… and in good order - very Presbyterian!

And, as you’ll have no doubt noticed, our bible readings this week all seem focus on wisdom. We’ve mentioned Solomon already, who prays for wisdom at the beginning of his reign.
In the book of Proverbs, wisdom is portrayed as a hostess, who has prepared a banquet of good food and wine – and invites everyone to the party.
And in the letter to the Ephesians, there are two contrasts: foolish behaviour and wise behaviour, and between being filled with wine or filled with the Holy Spirit.
All of this again begs the question:
what exactly is ‘wisdom’?

While ‘self-pity may never have boiled a haddock’, can wisdom be boiled down to a bunch of pithy [or even ‘fishy’] sayings, or is there more to wisdom than this?
What is wisdom and how do we get it?

If we were to read on, in the book of Proverbs, we’d learn that ‘the first step to wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and knowledge of the Most Holy One is understanding’
Or to parphrase a little simplistically: If God is the source of all wisdom, perhaps it’s a good plan to get to know God – and in effect, to tap into the source.
As Paul says to the Ephesians: Let the Holy Spirit fill you…

Last week, we thought about what it was to be imitators of God. We talked about individual and group acts of kindness – being kind or loving to ourselves, our families, our neighbours… which reflected God’s love, spilling out into the world. And Paul continues that theme of what it is to be Christians in God’s community of love.
Being filled with the Spirit,
being filled with God’s love,
being wise in the way we live our lives as we acknowledge God’s love in our lives,
would result in behaviour which is shown in the way we speak:
to one another in psalms, hymns and songs, making music from our heart to God, and giving thanks every day for every thing: this, in Paul’s view is the wise way of living.

But there’s more:
If we wander back to Solomon’s request, we find out about the impact of wisdom: Solomon’s understanding about wisdom is centred around being a just ruler – to be able to discern good from evil.

If one can’t do that, Solomon says, one can’t rule properly.
Wisdom here, is about justice, about ‘just’ living not merely just living!

And, there’s more:
Back to Proverbs: Wisdom is portrayed as hospitable –

setting out a banquet and asking even the foolish – especially the foolish to come:
to eat,
to drink from the table of wisdom
and to live fully.
It’s a party for everyone:
Wisdom is inclusive and welcoming, not exclusive and unwelcoming.
And contrary to the notion that we shouldn’t be enjoying ourselves, or else we’ll pay for it, following the path of wisdom leads to good, filling, tasty food for both body and soul –
a theme we’ve also been following these last couple of weeks in the ‘I am the bread of life’ sayings of Jesus.

If we were to read on further in Proverbs, we’d see that Lady Wisdom is contrasted with Lady Stupididity:
this lady offers refreshment too, but unlike the rich banquet on offer at Wisdom’s house, here the offer is stolen water and bread eaten secretively. If you go into Lady Stupidity’s house, you are ultimately unfilled – unfulfilled - and going there leads to death.
Pretty grim stuff.

Wisdom and stupidity are woven together throughout the bible, and often in the context of contrasting worldly wisdom against spiritual wisdom.
To those wise in the world, the choices that people of faith make,
the way we live, appears foolish.

The wisdom of the world is the wisdom of now.
It’s the wisdom of choosing a sound-byte over a long-term solution to a difficult problem.
It’s the wisdom of get all you can,
while you can,
whichever way you can.

It’s the instant, knee-jerk reaction to yet another home-spun saying: this from the movie Forrest Gump:
‘life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get’.
In the face of this ‘life is random’ attitude, the wisdom of the world says ‘grab what you can, now!’
The focus becomes self-centred, self-absorbed.

We know that in some places of the world, that this sense of randomness echoed in Forrest Gump’s saying is shown quite dramatically:
in random acts of violence brought about by war –
being in the wrong place at the wrong time;

in seemingly random acts of government –
I’m thinking here of the situation in Burma/ Myanmar and what’s been happening these last few weeks with the case of Aung Sun Suu Kyi.
In our own lives, life can seem like that box of random chocolates:
the suddenness of the credit crunch and subsequent job losses,
in businesses closing;
someone unexpectedly moving away, getting ill, or dying …
And yet, in the midst of the seemingly random world we live in, as God’s people, we can plug into a deeper wisdom –
God’s wisdom –
which teaches us that life is not random, but in God’s hands…
and so wisdom is a source of comfort and strength.
But also, as God’s people in the world, called to be imitators of him-
called to be wise-
we follow the path of God’s wisdom, the path that Jesus walked before us.

That path takes us to where we bind the wounds of the broken-hearted –
the one’s suffering the affects of those who’ve trampled heedlessly down the path of foolishness grabbing all they can;

It results in us crying out against injustice;
It is the path of peace in the midst of conflict;
It is the way of restoration and sharing, as we feed those left starving from Lady Stupidity’s banquet with the bread of life that always fills.

Wisdom is not necessarily about being someone with a giant brain or having a massive IQ, nor does it necessarily have anything to do with being older.
I remember a gazillion years ago when I was a teenager –
I was 15 and doing that thing you do of looking ahead to the future.
I mentally doubled my age – wondering where and what I’d be doing at 30.
30! I actually remember being very impressed with how old that sounded.
But I was looking forward to reaching it, because I knew in my teenage heart of hearts that while life didn’t make a lot of sense in the present, when I got to the age of 30, I’d be incredibly grown-up and wise.
I’m well past 30 and am still waiting to be both grown-up and wise!
But my sense of wisdom as I pick through the readings on offer today, is more that wisdom is tied in with understanding what really matters in life;
it’s working out how to live fully.
It’s understanding that being connected to God is important and not only that,
it’s working at staying connected to God through life.

Thinking back to the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest, we’re told, has an exceptionally low IQ, and yet, paradoxically, his seeming simplicity is used as a foil to demonstrate that while those around him may be smarter in the IQ department, Forrest is the one who has wisdom:
he is the one who understands at a profound level what truly matters in life:
love – of God, of others.

But what still niggles is that home-spun wisdom saying:
That ‘life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.’
I have to confess that the saying breaks down a little bit for me, because I’m one of those dull people who opens the box and looks for the wee flavour chart that’s inside…
Nevertheless, the saying is an acknowledgement that none of us really know the future and that life can take random twists and turns…

Again...what is wisdom?
Where do we find it?
Perhaps wisdom is found as we look to God –
through understanding and trusting that although we may not know the future, we’re on a journey with the One who is the Fount of all Wisdom,
the One who holds our future in his hands.
It’s knowing that in God, there is indeed a future –
as well as a present –
which is abundant and life-giving,
and that we are called to share God’s abundance,
God’s fullness of life, with others.

A disciple once asked his spiritual director a question:
‘Holy One, what is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?’
The holy one answered
‘When you have knowledge, you use a torch to show the way.
When you are wise, you become the torch.’

Let us go into God’s good world as torches, shining – and sharing –
God’s abundance,
God’s justice,
and God’s profound wisdom in the world.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

'The Haddock and the Lash of Guilt': lectionary leanings for Sunday

No. more. bread. Will be forgetting John entirely this week and concentrating on Solomon, Proverbs and Ephesians...
Am going to go down the wisdom trail - I just need to find it first!!
But I've a great book called 'The Wee Book of Calvin' with various marvellously couthy Scottish proverbs, which I'm thinking of starting the sermon with... such as:

Self pity never boiled a haddock.

Or, a little more darkly:
Let the laddie play with the knife. He’ll learn;

Hang a thief when he’s young and he’ll not steal when he’s old;

The devil finds work for idle hands…;

You’re fair away wi yerself the noo, but believe me, ye’ll pay for it;

What’s for you won’t go past you;

Or some wisdom sayings from nature:
No rainbow without rain;

The bonniest flower oft wilts the quickest;

Fair hair may hide dark roots;

For every summer morning, a winter night to come;

And the cheering thoughts that:
Two can keep a secret if one of them’s deid;

Life’s a sair fecht;

Black. White. No need for anythng in between;

No whip cuts so deep as the lash of guilt;

Swim in sin and drown in sorrow;

Just a gleam, a flicker, the tick of a clock. Then darkness.

Think my favourite is currently tied between the haddock and the lash of guilt... oooh...actually, wot a great name for a novel!!

cross-posted to revgals

Monday, 10 August 2009

The Pillars of the Earth

My friend Han, who is also in the throes of dissertation despair, reminded me earlier about this wonderful, fabulous, simply brilliant book.
Have you sussed that I think it's a good 'un?

I've decided that after the diss. is done [please God, please let it be done!] I'm going to go back to revisit this book and then follow it up with 'World Without End'... sitting on the beach, drinking ginger beer, sampling a small smackerel of chocolate and not being anywhere near university for a week!

Sounds like a plan.
Happy now!!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

procrastination nation...

Procrastination is evil, insidious, and a waste of limited available days in which to achieve marvellous and important things.

Delightful diversions, however, don't count as procrastination: they are informative and educational.

Yup, they are.

Aren't they? :(

Monday, 3 August 2009

Calvin cookies anyone?

Cookies you're predestined to eat?
Certainly makes John C so much more palatable....
Wish I could just bake the Master's diss!!

The marvellous Theo baked these for the Calvin reading group earlier in the year. Mahvellous!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Ordinary 18 Yr B: 'It's raining bread'

SERMON 02/08/09: ‘It’s raining bread’ 
 Ex. 16: 1-15; John 6: 24-35

‘If only we had died at the Lord’s hand in Egypt…’

Mutterings, murmurings…
In the early morning, the mutterings and murmurings are loudest. 
The complaints can be heard clearly, voices raised angrily… 
 words thrown upwards to an empty blue sky that sits detached 
from all our pain and fear and tiredness.
The mutterings and murmurs continue as we break camp and begin our wanderings once more in this harsh, hard, heartless wilderness.

‘If only we had stayed in Egypt…’
As the heat of the sun begins to bite into our very being, 
the mutters and murmurs are subdued… withering away in the blazing heat 
that burns and bakes and blisters our hopes… and sears our souls.
The heat beats us into a silent, angry submission and we walk… 
 we keep walking, in this wilderness where only rock and stone 
and dirt survive and thrive in abundance.
All of this is a barren, empty wasteland. 
 It is a merciless, oppressive place: hideous and horrible… 
a blasted landscape where hopes and dreams crumble into despair and nothingness. 
A habitation of horror.

‘If only we had stayed in Egypt…’
As evening approaches, and we set up camp again, 
the mutters and murmurs rise once more as the temperature 
begins to fall and the sun dances away, laughing at us - 
leaving us to the tender mercies of the night. But in the darkness, 
there is little comfort on the bed of rocky ground… sleep is hard - literally. 
As the murmurs fade into the shadows of the night, other sounds are heard: 
the weary crying of an elderly man… 
the sound of empty bellies growling… 
the soft pad of wild animals, prowling, and howling – 
it’s not just our bellies that are empty. 
In the distance, the frightened wails of a small child and a mother’s tired 
‘hush’, ‘hush’ of comfort.

‘If only we had died at the Lord’s hand in Egypt - 
if only we had stayed there and not listened to this 
strange, stammering man and his brother -
If only we had stayed in Egypt, by the banks of the cool, refreshing Nile…’
We had bread there… food aplenty. 
No hunger or worry of hunger. 
We knew there would be food on the table when we 
came home from our labours.
Our homes… our homes… 
now left behind… the softness of our beds gone… 
all of our life… gone, gone… 
all gone away.
Replaced with this walk into the void, this nothingness, this wilderness. 
The hard, empty, terrifying place which is … our freedom? 
Or our death?
And so we murmur – we mutter and we murmur. 
I don’t think we mean to complain… but… we do – 
our murmurs are borne from our fear: 
did we leave Egypt to die here in this forsaken place?
Forsaken… and yet… not forsaken either. 
Here in the wilderness, strange things happen – 
mysterious and unexplained, 
and, in the midst of crying out our complaints to God… 
odd miracles – life-giving miracles. 
When we thirst – water. 
And when we hunger… bread – a strange bread we call ‘what is it?’ – manna…. And meat – quails – hundreds of quails descend… migrating somewhere 
and stopping here in the desert… and not going to their final destination, 
but ending their journey in our bellies.
And when we feel forsaken…? 
The strange, looming cloud… it’s always there… 
reminding us that God is with us on this journey… 
The God who has called us out of Egypt, from all we’ve known, 
who asks us to trust, and who guides us – to somewhere we don’t know 
The God who rains bread down upon us to sustain us on the way. 
And… perhaps, it’s enough…

The wilderness is a terrifying place: 
the Israelites knew that from first-hand experience; 
having escaped from the hardships of slavery in Egypt, 
they found themselves longing to return to what they knew. 
They were on a journey into the unknown – 
a journey beyond the margins of their maps – 
which took them beyond everything they’d ever known or imagined… 
dependant upon the mercy of a mysterious God, who journeyed with them.
Jesus, too, knew the wilderness: 
he spent 40 days and nights there wrestling temptation… 
the temptation for power – absolute power, which, as we all know, corrupts absolutely; 
the temptation to go against God’s natural order of things… 
testing gravity by jumping from great heights; 
the temptation to turn the very wilderness stones into bread: 
bread that satisfies the belly, but not the soul…

Our gospel reading picks up the aftermath of Jesus’s feeding of the 5 000 
and then that strange, inexplicable story of the walking on the water – 
 which we heard about from Jim last week. 
The crowds have once again found Jesus, clamouring for bread, 
clamouring for miracles: their
wandering in search of Jesus echoing the wanderings of the Israelites 
in the wilderness so many generations earlier. 
Both groups, in a sense, lost souls wandering in the wilderness.
And Jesus looks at the crowd, crying out for bread… 
and talks of bread of another kind: 
bread that won’t perish – that won’t go mouldy and maggoty like the manna –
bread that lasts forever. 
He tells them to seek this bread, the bread of heaven that truly sustains.
Bread and wilderness. 
What are we to make of these readings? 
We, too, can experience the wilderness: 
it might not be as obvious as actually being in a scorching, stony desert… 
There are times when we, too, can know the terror and temptation 
of the wilderness – 
our interior deserts of pain, of loss, of sadness, of anxiety… 
that empty place which can magnify our doubts and fears 
a hundred, thousand times…
The wilderness is that place – are those times - 
when we thirst and hunger … and can feel so forsaken. 
It can be a dry, desolate place where our thoughts, our words, 
our cries echo around the empty, stony canyons of our souls. 
The place where we are stretched beyond our comfort zone 
and challenged by our inner temptations to cling to the past… 
to hold onto past regrets, to anger, to despair… 
to re-imagine past hurts into something resembling the rosy-hued view 
of the Israelites in the wilderness when thinking of Egypt… 
in this instance, denial is truly a river in Egypt!
But the good news is… 
in the midst of the wilderness of our fears, our regrets, our sadness… 
we are not forsaken… we are not alone… 
the ever-faithful God journeys with us in both our joyful places 
and in our dark places; 
God hears our cries – even before we’ve uttered them;
In the wilderness, Moses states of the manna: 
‘this is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.’
In Capernaum, Jesus states: I am the bread of life. 
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, 
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’
We are journeying with the God who called the Israelites out of Egypt, 
and we journey with Jesus who asks us to follow him…
The journeying God journeys with us, as we travel from all we’ve known, 
and move beyond the limits of the maps we’ve clung onto for so long… 
We journey with the ever-faithful God who asks us to trust, 
and who guides us - to somewhere we don't know; 
we journey with the God who rains down bread upon us, 
to sustain us on the way.
And perhaps it's enough,
You know, it's more than enough:
it's the Bread of Heaven. Amen.