Monday, 30 November 2009

Santa, Baby...?

Christmas time is here, by golly,
Disapproval would be folly,
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the cup and don't say "when."
Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens,
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens,
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brother, here we go again.

No, no, no, no, no! 
It is not Christmas time yet!
It's the first week of Advent - a season often trampled to death in the rush to the shops, and lost amongst the sparkle of lights and decorations for Christmas.   
[Think the earliest Christmas tree sighting for me was at the beginning of September in the local pub!] 
In the midst of a growing frenzy of activity and of the ever-increasing demands of 'consumer-god', who is never satisfied, the noise of jingles - tills and carols - blocks our ears.
But if we stop and listen... perhaps we might just hear a miracle: the tiny heartbeat of the One who became one with us and for us.... 
and prepare to be amazed.

Friday, 27 November 2009

It's bin a busy week... :)

Monday making sure all papers present and correct...for

Tuesday morning: appointment concerning citizenship application - an early morning drive to Carluke - South Lanarkshire Council being the only local authority in Scotland to have opted into the UK government's Nationality Checking Service [meaning you don't have to send valuable documents away like passports and such like to the Home Office... who are currently taking about 6 months to process citizenship applications].  Really super interview - the person on duty was incredibly helpful, and exceptionally nice... more than just a  civil servant - a lovely one.  So, within the next six months, all paperwork now done and submitted, I shall hopefully be a UK citizen... after having finally gotten around to it after 18 years of living here!
Tuesday evening: dinner party chez moi... learnt a lot about spiritualism from a New College PG friend who happens to be a medium.  He's lovely and was very generous with regards to letting me ask lots of gormless questions.  What I found fascinating was the way we used language: there were words that were the same and yet meant quite different things....  Still unpacking - it's quite an unknown area for me and a very different world view.

Wednesday: church supervision - Advent / Christmas / Epiphany discussions.

Thursday: graduation day - I am now BD [hons], MTh by Research...  was a lovely but surreal day.  The uber boss of the university, Timothy O'Shea talked of us being released from the slavery of our studies... I think I muttered under my breath, 'well some of you have been!'  It is an odd thing to be graduating and yet doing the doctoral research at the same time!!! 

And today... after the graduation of yesterday, am now back in the office, about to wrestle with Mr Knox once more.

Life is slightly crazy, but I suspect I wouldn't have it any other way... :)

Monday, 23 November 2009

a simple act of mindfulness...

Wantonly stole this idea from Danny's blog! Who borrowed it from someone else, who borrowed it from 'the simple woman's daybook' blog. It's a nice idea... so thought I'd play along and practice 'mindfulness'...

FOR TODAY... Monday 23rd Nov, 2009:
Outside my window... is, as ever, the vaguely uninspiring mini carpark which takes you out to the Royal Mile, where I can see tourists walking by - all wrapped up in winter woollies and waterproofs.  

I am thinking... that I'd really better do some serious John Knox wrestling for the thesis.

I am thankful for... a warm, quiet room, the occasional passing grins of my colleagues and that I actually do get to spend time wrestling with John Knox on a daily basis and that I'm paid to do so!

I am usual student uniform of jeans and black polo-neck jumper and my natty and very comfy new shoes which don't let the rain in - yay!

I am creating... a thesis of wonder and delight?!

I am going... down to the Rainy Hall - which looks a little like Hogwart's - for my lunch in a very short while.  Alternatively, I am going quietly insane, but this has been a lifelong journey, so it's all good, really.

I am reading... John Knox's 'Order of the General Fast, 1565'

I am hoping... to stop reading the above at some point this week and have it all analysed and written up into a beautiful and potentially uniquely wonderful conference paper.... But at this point, just finishing the thing would be good too.

I am hearing... the gentle clatter clatter of folks writing on keyboards.

Around the house... is a fireplace that needs to be cleared from the debris from last night's gorgeously lovely and cheering fire; several large dust-motes which have been around so long that they now have names; swathes of notes and books on my kitchen table for both thesis and worship preparation; washing on the line that really should come in today and dry via the central heating.

One of my favorite things... drinking coffee with friends - which I will be doing this afternoon - result!

A few plans for the rest of the week... continue the citizenship process by visiting the lovely toon of Carluke on Tues, to meet with the Nationality Checking Service peeps; Wed. meeting with church placement supervisor and planning and prepping for Advent/ Christmas services and activities; Thurs. is the little matter of my Masters graduation, followed by a nice lunch with pals; and Sat. is a wee jaunt to North Berwick to see a friend's new house and to have lunch together.  Nice week!!

Here is picture for thought I am sharing... the preferred way of doing the Doctoral thesis!!!!!

Friday, 20 November 2009

'M' is for...

...time to think thoughts of thanksgiving once more [not as in the holiday of that name - tho' we are apparently close to the date!] and today's letter is the letter 'M', which is for:

Morning and movement: this morning's walk from Iona Abbey in the darkness before dawn to the Jetty...
seeing and hearing the waves of a very full tide crashing on the jetty, smelling the salt, watching the stars...
waiting and watching the twinkle of tiny ferry lights slowly approaching from Mull to come and collect an odd assortment of folk...
morning light breaking over Mull as the bus travelled from ferry to next ferry... morning munchies on the MV Isle of Mull - sausage and egg roll with steaming hot chocolate.  Excellent and wonderful and exhausting and exhilarating all in one.

MTh - and having survived it - and for Masters graduation on the 26th Nov. even while now guddled in the midst of the Doctorate... and so it goes on!!  :)

Music.... and ... Mendelssohn given the Iona/ Hebridean morning... and for the very evocative Fingal's Cave:

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

be back soon...

On Iona...
normal service will recommence shortly...

If you're going to have to be in a lot of committee meetings, at least it's a nice place to endure them :)

carved hands, Iona Abbey cloisters...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ordinary 33, Yr B 'it's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine'

Some thoughts for this coming Sunday....
Psalm 16 
Mark 13: 1-8
Hebrews 10: 19-25 

Was involved in a 'flurry of emails' style discussion the other day with a friend and noted the apocalyptic delights awaiting those of us who tend to follow the lectionary cycle for preaching.  I remember saying 'well, you've got to love the apocalyptic readings... no, really, you do... nobody else does.'  

Readings this Sunday include Mark 13: 1-8, in which Jesus predicts such cheerful matters as the destruction of the temple, wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines and alien invas... um, maybe not the aliens bit.  But certainly the pre-cursor signs signifying the end of the world as we know it.  

So what are we to make of all of this stuff?  My sense is, that when it comes to such readings, folks like La Haye and Jenkins with their whole money-spinning 'Left Behind' business have a lot to answer for. But they are not the first ones to jump on the doom and gloom bandwagon - they follow a looong historical path.  Johnny Knox made fine use of judgement and apocalypse [having moved on from Order of Excommunicaiton, I'm now working on his Order of the General Fast - oh happy day] and so it goes right back to the early church.   What I've always wondered is why this particular path continues to be walked down... but then, not only is fear good for business, it's a useful form of social control.  What conveniently seems to be forgotten is hope.  

So even in the midst of terrible things, as I read the passage from Mark, what strikes me is not fear, but hope.... Jesus says 'do not be alarmed'... it's sort of the textual equivalent of carrying a towel with the words 'don't panic' printed on it [not being one to resist a good Hitchhikers Guide reference wherever possible!].  Teamed up with the latter half of the Hebrews text, [Hebrews 10: 19-25] the reason not to panic can be seen.... 
Although things can appear to be awful - things collapsing, wars, violence - 
we have confidence to approach God, and we also have hope, because He who has promised is faithful.
While a normal reaction on reading apocalyptic literature might be one of fear, the actual purpose is often the opposite: it's to instil hope.
It's to remind us that God's in charge.
The Mark passage talks of 'birthpangs' - it's not the end... it's a new beginning.  
And the writer to the Hebrews talks of 'a new and living way.  

These passages are hope-filled passages, not fear-filled passages... 
They're about: 
transformation and restoration,
and also reconciliation...
the healing of old hurts. 

Teamed up with the psalm for the day, Psalm 16, we get a picture of who we have faith in... believing in God who:
we cry for protection and God is our refuge;
we seek wisdom and God gives good counsel/ instructs us; 
we feel abandoned or afraid and we are reminded that God is constantly at our side and never lets us go;
we despair and God teaches us to rejoice and makes our hearts glad [and not in a Pollyanna kind of way];
we are lost, or not quite sure of the way, and God shows us the path of life.

Change will come - and that can make us a little fearful.
Change will come - that's always been a given in a finite universe.
But that change is in the hands of the One who holds all things and who is faithful, and who loves us.
That change will be a radical transformation of all we've ever known. 
To steal a line from Star Trek: 'it looks like life, Jim, but not as we know it....'  

The end is just the beginning, and that beginning is greater than our wildest imaginings.  
The 'Day' is approaching.
The 'end' is nigh.
'It's the end of the world as we know it... and I feel fine'

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

the wheels of uni. admin go 'round and 'round...

Oh. good. grief. 

I have spent the last couple of days wrangling with various admin. departments at university trying to get permission to graduate.  
MTh had been submitted at the end of August.  Moving into the doctoral programme, I wasn't able to officially matriculate until the College that the School is a part of had sent word to Registry.  
Several weeks later, my identity as 'student without status' came to an end and I was allowed to matriculate as all my results had been received by the College.  
thinking life was hunky dory and graduation was in sight for the end of November, I continued getting to grips with the thesis, waiting for the College to send out notification of the award... 
which I would then send to Registry to enable me to graduate....            

and waited...                                         

and waited...
and the deadline loomed... 
there's a 3 week cut-off point, after which you can't graduate and have to wait for the next lot of graduations [winter and summer].
Waiting stopped.
Pro-active initiative [induced by slight alarm] seized the day.

I began to chase it up last week as time was rushing past.
I talked to Registry...
they confirmed I could not register until I had been given my award...
I talked to the College of Humanities...
They told me to register for graduation.
I went back to Registry...
Then back to the College, asking why, given that they had all my records and had allowed me to actually matriculate... why couldn't I graduate please?

I began to get dizzy...
verrrrry dizzy.
Circular discussions have a way of doing that to a person.
After several hours yesterday and today chasing all of this at last:

Letter of award sent to me via email from College whilst simultaneously on the phone to Registry guy who was telling me the deadline had just passed but we could do this... but we needed confirmation from College committee who were meeting on the 16th to discuss the MTh Research major dissertation folks... oh, but this was waaaaaay too late to graduate... oh, wait a minute... ahhh, we have an email... you'll be okay.

Still with me?  
after all this running around, to-ing and fro-ing... 
Cinderella does get to go to the graduation after all.  
Not so sure about a mate of mine, who is still in the dark about whether he has passed or not.

Sing with me...
The wheels of uni. admin go 'round and 'round
'round and 'round
'round and 'round
The wheels of uni. admin go 'round and 'round
all day long... 

Still, the admin. labyrinth of academia is good training for the church, I suspect!
[cartoon from Dave Walker]

Sunday, 8 November 2009

...and now for something completely different: the ukelele

carrying on the theme of 'tainted'... the Re-entrants and their magical ukeleles: hit it boys

Saturday, 7 November 2009

there's nothing that is not tainted, and nothing which can't be redeemed

Okay, I'm struggling a little with something....

It is good to have good intentions
[although the road to Hell is apparently also paved with them].
It is good to act on those good intentions.
It is even better when good intentions are acted upon in as ethical a manner as possible.
So far... so 'good', but what happens in a world which is full of contradictions and multiple shades of greys and underneath so many good acts there is the possibility for sub-texts and agendas to lurk?
There is nothing that is not tainted....

Why am I rambling on about intentions - the good, the bad or the just downright ugly?  I need to try and tease something out in my head to which there are no 'right' answers... and the wisdom of friends is welcomed here.  Although I suspect this post won't really make much sense at all...!

I won't go into what prompted this line of thinking - suffice to say it involved good intentions and some comments about the unethical practices of a particular organisation [which was not the organisation that was actually being used, but of course it's always useful to be as fully informed as possible].  This recent situation is not isolated, but similar scenarios have occured from time to time...
trying to wade through the mire in the hope of doing something good,
searching for what is hoped to be the best / most ethical way of doing something...
acting upon it while knowing that no matter how ethical or good an organisation is, that there will be flaws, that there will be folks who are somehow offended by the manner in which that group do something. 
And I've often wondered what one does?
I'm one of life's cheerful optimists, but even I begin to feel paralysed by it all. 
It is a quandary.
If I choose to point fingers at any organisation which might in some way be 'tainted' and refuse to work in some way with them what is the possible outcome?
Do I congratulate myself on the strength of my ideals?
Do the service users/ those who benefit lose out on the support, but warm themselves with the knowledge that at least they won't be helped by an organisation that some see as 'tainted'?

There is nothing that is not tainted...
but do I do nothing?

And then I begin to think that somehow, there is also a subversiveness about the fact that even in the process of using tainted structures for good... they can somehow be redeemed.  And in the very act of employing the structure for good, you have more of a way in to be able to voice concerns and try to effect change from within.
And in the process... people can still be helped.
All things can be used for ill.
But all things can also be used for good.

There is nothing that is not tainted, and nothing which cannot be redeemed.
Hmmm, I am quite Augustinian at times!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

surveys and questions and stuff like that...

Over at RevGals it is 'meet and greet day' and I'd forgotten about the interview questions they ask... had a look and decided I'd have a crack at them...

1. Where do you blog?
Over at
The Church of Scotland are asking wannabe ministers to keep a journal to encourage us to engage with and in reflective practice... and I thought blogging might comprise a part, but not all, of this. 

2. What are your favourite non-revgal blog pal blogs?
I love, love, love
Peacebang is awesome and hilarious and wonderful. 
I also like Roddy's blog at
He's a liturgical creative genius and all-round good guy.

3. What gives you joy?
Jesus pretty much floats my boat... as does ginger beer, kite-flying on the beach in the sunshine, conversations filled with laughter and love, and the banner pic is the beach at the end of my street - I am blessed indeed to sit on it, listen to the waves, watch wonderful sunsets, be blown along it in the wintry gales, watch the lights twinkling on the other side!

4. What is your favorite sound?
Sitting on the beach at twilight, hearing birdsong and waves.

5. What do you hope to hear once you enter the pearly gates?
'Welcome home!'

6. You have up to 15 words, what would you put on your tombstone?
'And now for the next great adventure...'

7. What color do you prefer your pen?
I presume this is ink, not casing???  If ink - and if a proper fountain pen as opposed to a throw-away cheapie, I love brown ink.

8. What is something you want to achieve in this decade?
Over the next 4.5 years to have done my PhD, finished training for ministry, and found a church to be called to and to be ordained there.  Oh, and to have kept my sanity and sense of humour vaguely intact. 

9. Why are you cool?
I live in Scotland, the frozen wastes of the North, in the UK... I am generally always cool and sometimes very cool... brrrr.

10. What is one of your favorite memories?
A glorious mid-summer in the Orkneys: was a most amazing sunset, casting the most incredible and beautiful light all about the place.  Was sitting in St Magnus Cathedral listening to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing 'Fantasia' on a theme from Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughn Williams... and the light was drenching the old, old stone a wonderful orange-pink.  I floated out of the concert feeling caught up in a waking dream and then drove with friends to the cliffs looking out to sea, gasping at the loveliness and wonder of it all.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

'rabbits', relaxation, and reflections...

It has been crazy busy over the last wee while.  So busy that I realised I'd fallen into the not taking time off trap - bad Nik.  The susequent knock-on effect of all of that has been utter tiredness and the sense of feeling overwhelmed, not too mention rabbit-in-the-spotlights inability to actually accomplish much at all.
I finally took myself in hand the other day, said cross words to myself, and decided to rationalise some things... and so I've been cutting away some of the mental undergrowth and clutter... as well as divesting myself of a couple of responsibilities.
Much better.  Good plan.
And time off was had Thurs and Fri nights going out with friends and getting my perspective back at last.  Was great doing something other than PhD work or church work: good to feel like I was doing something vaguely normal again.
Within several days I'm surprised by the change and how much more relaxed and focused I finally am.
Hurrah.  I wonder why I always have to re-learn this one?

'Parish by the Forth' placement has been poddling on for nearly a month now and am getting to know new folks and new ways of doing things.
Enjoying it.  Good bunch of people.
So utterly different from previous 'big Kirk in the toon' placement [which was great, but very, very different indeed!].  And of course, different from having been doing locum in 'leafy parish in the burgh' over summer - where I was just left to get on with stuff.

Am pondering the noticeable difference between degrees of responsibility: between being a placement student with minister;
and locum with more responsibility without minister - but if it goes horribly wrong still not as responsible as minister would be;
and also thinking back to times when I've 'parachuted in' to do the occasional pulpit supply.

There's a sense of slight surrealism being back in supervised placement after the freedom of the summer locum - it's fine, I'm not chafing under the bit... it just feels slightly odd, lol!!!

Am also teasing out difference between gathered church and local community church dynamics and particularly what it is like to be living in the parish in which I'm also working - I wanted to try to get an understanding of what the 'goldfish bowl' felt like and it certainly is providing food for reflective thought - will blog on that at a later point.  The immediate effect is that I find myself walking down the street and smiling at anybody who walks by for fear of being told I've totally ignored someone.  Sigh!!  I'm sure this will settle itself down, but it's definitely an odd feeling.

I am very much enjoying the fact that there are kids around - even if that does mean having to occasionally do all-age addresses - like this morning.  Which was a hoot and very interactive and seemed to go well.  I have a group of small people who seem to have now befriended me, which is lovely.

I'm also getting to grips with the 'everyday stuff of life' such as visiting folks....  At some point I really want to take a bit of time to sift through my thoughts but this is being blogged almost as a 'note to self' for later.

I'm currently working my way quietly through a list given to me by my church supervisor.
There is a vast world of difference on several levels when it comes to visiting because of a need: baptism/ wedding/ funeral/ home communion, and the 'just popping in to say hello' visit.  I find the former much easier - guess I'm just more used to that sort of visiting - than the latter.  Might be a good exercise to sit down and ask 'why' the 'popping in' visit feels a little more tricky.  And yet this afternoon's visit was very good, and out of it stuff arose that was immensely satisfying.  As opposed to visit on Tues where I felt it hard, hard, hard to get any conversation and yet I knew it had been appreciated.  Ah well.

This week is prep. for Remembrance service on Sunday, more visiting, Guild on Wednesday.  At some point, my thesis may even get a wee look in.  But I am pleased to be feeling more in step with everything.