Tuesday, 20 October 2009

'Passing' thoughts

It's funny, when I really boil it all down, how much the context of identity comes into play in my research.  How a group or a society perceives itself is often found in the laws/ codes of conduct it creates and the church is no exception.  Who is out?  Who is in?  Who makes the rules determining who is in and who is out? Who can be a citizen or who can't - whether in the community of the kindom of heaven on earth or, in the more prosaic sense, in the community found through national identity?

Although having grown up on that big island, Australia, smaller islands also play their part in my genetic makeup...Lewis to the west, and Eday to the north....  I have lived here in Scotland nearly 18 years and have strongly identified with the notion of 'home' as being here.  I remember the first time I crossed the border from England: sitting on a train bound for Edinburgh and crossing the imaginary line dividing up geography and culture and outlook. I had an overwhelming feeling of finally being 'home'.  I had not, at that point, physically ever set foot in the place and yet somewhere deep within - maybe the land, maybe my ancestral DNA - called out with a wild, fierce joy: identity and belonging are powerful things.

And so today I sat, and passed, a small test as part of the journey to make official what is already a matter of the heart.  It doesn't deny the Australian side of me: I rejoice in that too... but perhaps moving towards UK citizenship is about rejoicing in that other part of me as well.  This way, perhaps, both halves are acknowledged, combined and comprise an integrated whole?  But whatever this is all about, I'm glad I'm doing it.  It puts an identifier marker in the sand perhaps.

And the tie in with my research?  It's loose, but... my Masters thesis has been dealt with: I not only pass, but meet the criteria to continue onwards and do the Doctorate [which I've sort of been doing anyway] - research which continues to have at its heart issues of identity.
All is well and all is busy and all is very good indeed.

Monday, 19 October 2009

'L' is for ...

'Life in the UK test' not sure if it's a quite a 'gratitude' thing yet... but I'll be taking this test Tues 10.30am.
Perhaps the point of thanksgiving here is in the fact that, suddenly, I have found it useful to be an early modern historian: the online practice tests keep coming up with huguenots as an answer to a migration question.  Nothing like a bit of random knowledge to throw at folks.  Bet most Brits don't know which group of immigrants arrived in the UK in the 17th c. due to religious persecution....!!!  Why does one need to know this, I ask myself?!
Watch this space for pass or fail result.... I swear the percentage questions regarding what percentage of Brits are N. Irish/ or Scottish/ or Welsh/ or English will come up, as will the how many constituencies are there in the UK... and how many MSP's are there / where would one find an MSP?  [127, and they're all at the pub, presumably?] 

Thursday, 15 October 2009

'K' is for...

Kermit the frog and the Muppets in general... and for providing lots of childhood grins and giggles 

Knox - as in foxy Knoxy - my 16th c. homie and part of the Scottish reformation landscape, resulting in the

Kirk...in which I'm training to be a minister - once Mr Knox has released me from the doctorate :)

Kookaburras, kangaroos and koalas - why is it that 'k' animals are from Oz??

Kindness - the joy of knowing there are some in the world inclined to, and inspired to, practise random acts of kindness 

Kissing - possibly an obvious one!!! 

Krauss... as in Alison Krauss and Union Station - gorgeouso music

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Musings on Mark 10:35-45, Muhammed Ali, and the things we hold to ransom

This Sunday's gospel passage is from Mark 10:35-45... 

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

For no apparent reason, as I've been reading this passage, at the back of my head I can hear the echoes of Muhammed Ali's boxing war-cry 'I am the greatest!'

And both the text and Muhammed Ali make me want to ask:
What is greatness?  What is power?  How do we use our greatness and our power?

I'm particularly fascinated by Jim and John Zebedee's request: 'we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.'  There's an underlying sub-text here of a sense of entitlement, perhaps, in the statement they make.  And more 'echoes' in my head - this time not so much Muhammed Ali - but the voices who want power or privilege or some kind of entitlement in the wider community, and in the church community.  In a small, dark corner of my mind I hear the words:
'so minister, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.'  This may be found in situations of proposed change... or even proposed non-change... in the form of 'if you change the way we have communion, if you don't let the choir sing an anthem, if you have all-age services, if you don't have all-age services, if you get rid of the pews, if you keep the pews... we will stop being an elder/ leave the church/ withhold our offering/ hold the church community to ransom so that we do get our way.'  And effectively continuing to hold the One who gave his life as a ransom for many ... still to ransom.

Wherever groups of people are, there will be jockeying for position and a bit of an attempt at empire building: it's what we do as humans.  Created in the image of God, maybe we sometimes set ourselves up as gods because deep down we feel small and powerless and it frightens us?  Conversely, maybe we are fearful of just how powerful a thing it is to be made in the image of God - what are the implications of that, we wonder? 

So, perhaps it's a little precious to be looking askance and James and John and their attempt to do what most humans do - manouevring for position.  Were James and John really interested in the broader, communal picture, or was this an exercise in self-interest?  No.  Yes.  'What will we get out of this?  How can we get more?  How can we manipulate the situation to our further advantage?' Perhaps we beat them up a tad too much... and maybe we even beat ourselves up too much because we forget our humanness, forget that we are not God?

If we think of the power context my sense is that consumerism, with its cult of the individual, and the sense of 'get more toys', if I want it I should have it' - irrespective of the cost to self and others, has insidiously crept into the church.  The notion of body, of community, gets chipped away under the church-hopping about from one place to another - leaving a church because, 'after all I went there, but I got nothing out of it.'  Everytime I hear that phrase, I'm so tempted to say: 'okay, but what did you put into it?'  I suspect if I did say it, I'd be looked at as if I came from Mars... but that's another story for another time.

If I step away from a small soapbox at this point and think on the text a little more, perhaps the concluding thoughts run a little like this:
we all have some kind of power - some more than others.
How do we use it?
Where or on whom do we focus it - God, others, ourself?
What is, and what  does, power look like in the kindom of God within the godly community?
Real power is understanding that you can let it go...
when you don't need it...
when you know it is not your master but is rather a tool.
Real power is found in the context of kenosis - a self-giving - a giving away... demonstrated in the all-powerful God becoming all-vulnerable: human as we are human.
Are we ready to drink the cup of our humanity... and conversely are we ready to drink the cup of real greatness?  Less the 'X-Factor', more the fear factor in doing so I suspect.

And other echo... Marianne Williamson on power: 
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles", Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3]) 

Friday, 9 October 2009

'J' is for...

Jelly babies and the particular, peculiar sense of satisfaction by biting their heads off first...!!

Jeans and Jumpers for snuggling into as the days grow shorter and more chilly

Jokes in the form of long, involved stories told around a campfire/ barbie with friends and the long, slow reeling in followed by groans and grins.

Jumping beans for the endless fascination they provided at various points in my childhood

Jasmine and warm summer nights and the sweet scent of it hanging in the air

Jubilee and justice:  those times of liberation and celebration and fresh beginnings
Journeys of many kinds, inner and outer, and for growing and learning and times of just standing still in awe and wonder on the road

Joy which bubbles up unaccountably at times, reminding me that God is good

Jesus for truly saving my life in the midst of the madness!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

'I' is for...

Iona - a rare and special place.  A place of pilgrims, priests, poets and prophets...

Island at Twilight, Iona
Soft and gentle 
twilight falls
and moments, 
small eternities,
drift by.
the seagull's cry
the Sound
breathes waves
along the shore.
Sea pinks, 
on jagged rocks,
stand calm and
wait for stars
that paint
hushed wishes
in the sky    
                       c. Nikki Macdonald

Friday, 2 October 2009

wisdom at the edge of the beginning

Standing on the edge looking across to the other side, looking down at the bottom of the canyon, looking up to the blue sky of heaven, looking back to where I've journeyed up until now... 
Am at the edge of the beginning of my next placement, taking a deep breath before jumping on in.  New people to meet and new stories to hear, new ways of doing things, new ways of being, of doing and seeing.  I'm looking forward to a new challenge.  Looking forward to re-learning how much more there is to learn, and that learning is the journey of a life-time.  Looking forward...
Looking back, as well, to the time spent as locum over summer in leafy parish in the 'burgh.  Rich lessons there; stories and songs shared; and grace-filled generosity. 
Looking over the edge and peering down... wondering what those things will be that I wrestle with and am challenged by.
Looking up: to God who holds me by the hand and leads me through it all.  
Looking for the wisdom to be able to be authentic and to listen whole-heartedly: to be truly me and to be open to enough to accept the possibility that my way is not the only way to do things!!  As I start this new placement, I'm conscious of having had an incredible freedom over summer with locum and not really supervised: just trusted to get on with the job.  It's an odd thing, in a sense, to go back to a supervised placement, but it's a good antidote to any potential for arrogance on my part.  :) 
And so, onwards, to the next part of this training and discerning and reflecting - with the ever-present 'mantra' in mind: first, do no harm!

'Friday Five' - touching holiness

In today's 'friday five' at revgals, Sally is pondering holiness and God's peace and presence.  I joined in with this lot:

1. A place that holds a special memory?  I love the Isle of Iona, in the Inner Hebrides.  A place where I once lived and worked.  Walking off the ferry there's very much the sense of encounter with God: a place where the gap between heaven and earth is tissue-thin....

2. A song that seems to usher you into the Holy of Holies? 
Without a doubt, it has to be 'Let all mortal flesh keep silence' when it comes to older style hymns... and modern stuff - 'Indescribable' by Chris Tomlin.  Both manage in different ways to capture the awesomeness of the holy God we worship.

3.A book/ poem/ prayer that says what you cannot? 
Mother Julian's prayer 'all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.'  In the hard places, and the fearful places, it's this that comforts.

4. How do you remind yourself of these things at times when God seems far away?  I'm a visual thinker... there's a great painting by a retired German priest called Sieger Koder [at left] which was immensely helpful when I was going and growing through the process of bereavement

5.Post a picture/ poem or song that speaks of where you are right now in your relationship with God...     
In a place where I feel held and cherished and loved by God...      [at right]