Wednesday, 28 April 2010

CURE, loony monsters, and beans... will they get your vote?

Love, love, loving the peripheral nutty madness of the various 'silly protest' parties in the UK election campaign. 
One party, in particular, has caught my eye: the CURE party [Citizens for Undead Rights and Equality].  Diggin' that groovin' bass-tastic homage to the Beasty Boyz seen in one campaign slogan:
"Zombies, like students, are people too. Let's fight for their rights to politically party."
Some of their policies include:
* To give the undead equal rights to the living
* To make cemeteries more comfortable for its inhabitants
* To implement a robust social integreation programme for the undead, curing society of its prejudices
* To increase the minimum statutory retirement age to beyond death
* To permit the marriage of living and the undead

Yup, works for me.... long live the undead... but how does this work with regard to them paying taxes?  Hmmm.  

On other political party fronts the much adored - by me - Monster Raving Loony Party is campaigning for socks to be sold in packs of three - utterly Trinitarian of them - for those times when you lose a sock.  Other plans include banning superheroes from using their powers for evil. 
Am quietly passionate about the campaign for dedicated pogo-stick lanes on roads used by commuters.  Surely a little pogo-ing to work would help with some quality blue-sky tihnking?
And the plan to introduce 99p coins to save on change is pure genius. 
Bizarrely, I think the MRLP, is failing in its mission this time around the election block: they are making slightly too much sense.

Then there's Captain Beany who's standing for election representing the New Millennium Bean Party - their campaign slogan being: "Out with Brown, in with Orange". 
It really ain't gonna take off in N. Ireland, I'm thinking....

Monday, 26 April 2010

ripples of justice

Each time human beings stand up for an ideal, 
or act to improve the lot of others, 
or strike out against injustice, 
they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, 
and crossing each other 
from a million different centers of energy and daring, 
those ripples build a current that can sweep down 
the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.  
Robert F. Kennedy

Recently I had a conversation with someone from my Iona family Group.  He and I had been doing our annual 'accounting' - how we'd used our time and resources over the year, and of our commitment to peace and justice.  
We talked of the folk who, in their commitment to peace, go to Faslane to protest against nuclear submarines.  
We thought of folk who went to the Holy Land under the Ecumenical Accompaniers scheme to walk alongside those living in vulnerable communities and who reported human rights abuses.  
And we talked of folk who do so much in their everyday communities, and who do not see that they are doing anything particularly 'special'... like the housewife we both know who, through belief in fair prices for farmers in developing countries [and stubborn persistence!], eventually saw her village achieve fair-trade status.
And of the many folk who do 'little things' - turn the heating down a notch and put on an extra sweater; decide to put 'green' lightbulbs in their homes; remember to recycle as part of the daily routine; or opt to only buy locally produced items to encourage small local businesses and cut back carbon footprints through not getting lamb flown in from New Zealand - even though that is financially costly.
Sometimes we think that the business of pursuing peace and justice involves grand gestures -
and sometimes that is absolutely the right thing to do; 
and sometimes we become overwhelmed by hopelessness
because we know that there's so much need in the world;
and sometimes we hear that to pursue peace and justice is something
that mistaken 'trendy lefties' do...  and to avoid these folks [and their churches] at all costs.

I'm often reminded of the comment another friend of mine once made a loooong time ago:
'be faithful in the small things and the big things tend to look after themselves',
and I wonder about the impact of a life lived in integrity and in that process of integrity,
perhaps watching small ripples appear that move out into the world and quietly begin a process of transformation.       
Because the business of peace and justice, and transformation, is just that: a process.  
Sometimes slow.
And always costly.
But not as costly as doing nothing.
I think we fool ourselves if we look the other way and pretend not to see and fail to act.
I wonder if the cost of conforming is not only to watch the destruction of the planet, of others, but also to destroy ourselves?  
Or maybe I'm an idealist.
Actually, I know I'm an idealist! 
But a passion for peace and justice is no mere 'woolly leftie' agenda: 
to pursue peace and justice,
to do what is good and right and equitable,
is to follow what is an inherently biblical agenda.

God is on the side of those destroyed by the cost of conforming.
Time and time again God's agenda for transformation rings like a bell throughout the bible -
loud and strong and clear.  
Perhaps the failing of folk who don't adhere to Glenn Beck's philosophy of 'non-peace and justice'
is that we forget to demonstrate just how much there is in the bible concerning matters of peace and justice?
Perhaps we need to be better about showing that what we do comes about
because of our passionate belief in the God of justice,
a belief which is rooted in scripture
not in some fluffy bubble of 'niceness'.  
And that transformation, in the little things and in the big things,
in our lives and in the life of the world is possible.
So, note to self: time to stand up for an ideal or two, or three...
and speak up for some folks I know who can't.

Friday, 23 April 2010

'he's just a rich boy from a rich family': Cameroonian politics

Truly, I would rather rip my right arm off, cook it on an open fire, sprinkle the charred remains with salt and pepper and eat it... than vote for this man's party.  But the real point is: I celebrate those pioneer women who have gone on before me and fought so that I can vote.  In honour of them, I will exercise that privilege on May 6th... if for no other reason than to continue to justify my right to whinge at whichever lot get into power!!! 

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

'so, did the earth move for you?'

Well, now, here's a thing!  Seems for years women have been underestimating their power.  Recent earthquakes in Iran are being blamed on women... and promiscuous ones at that.  It really does give that old, tired question 'did the earth move for you?' a whole new perspective.   Or in the case of the Bam earthquake: 'wham, bam, thank you ma'am'??!!
I do hope folks indulging in doing what comes naturally make sure they've got their crash helmets on. 
You can read about it here on the BBC news site.

Friday, 16 April 2010

follow me...

A draft sermon for Sunday...
John 21: 1-19 and Rev. 5: 11-14

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?*

It was the adventure of a lifetime –
A bunch of folk,
A band of brothers and sisters
All disciples;
All following a most extraordinary man.
They wandered the countryside
Wondered at miracles
and pondered the wise words of the Rabbi:
their teacher,
their friend.
They’d invested their time,
They’d given up their jobs,
They’d built up their hopes…
But all too soon
the exhilarating adventure had come to a horrifying end.
Fearlessness turned to fearfulness;
Hope turned to despair;
Joy turned to unutterable sorrow…
as they watched the one they had followed die.

It was the adventure of a lifetime,
but it had cost Jesus his life
and it had broken their hearts as well as their spirit.
It was not long after the Rabbi’s death when strange things began to happen:
the women reported an empty grave;
And then, inexplicably, unexpectedly,
he had appeared amongst them –
passing into their midst in a house whose doors had been locked. 
He uttered words of peace and blessing. 
He talked of the Holy Spirit. 
He showed them the marks on his hands and his side.
A week later, in the same house, with the same locked doors, he appeared again –
more words of peace, and a conversation with Thomas.
…  …
Were they just imagining things in the midst of their grief?
Was it possible that the adventure of a lifetime,
which seemed at an end, still had some life left in it?
Perhaps they didn’t know what to think
Or what to believe…
Which is entirely reasonable given something impossible
Something unthinkable
might actually…
be …
and might actually
have happened.  

It was the adventure of a lifetime –
they had followed their friend, the rabbi
and they had been left reeling
in the wake of what had happened.
And so,
confused and numb,
emotionally and psychologically shattered,
they found comfort in the old, familiar patterns…
they did what they knew how to do…
they went fishing,
but, they found no fish.
And then, in the purple-pink of an early morning sky,
he appeared on the shore,
it was the third time he’d appeared since his death.
He told them where to find fish…
and in the finding of the fish,
they found him,
they found themselves,
they found again the call to follow -
to follow the rabbi who had overcome death
and who stood amongst them cooking fish –
because even the boldest adventurers need to be fed and nourished for the journey.
He said ‘follow me’…
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
He said ‘follow me’
And for the rest of their lives… they did.

But the adventure continues:
We follow in the footsteps of all those followers
who followed the resurrected Lord of life
down through the centuries.
All of us the imperfect saints of God –
who sometimes get it hideously wrong,
but who also, sometimes,
in those shining moments of Spirit-filled insight,
get it gloriously right as well.
We follow the one who,
as the writer of the book of Revelation states,
is more awesome,
than we can ever begin to fully comprehend
and who is worthy to receive power, honour, riches, wisdom, might...
the one who is so amazing
and so utterly wonderful that the only response that the multitudes in heaven can make
is to fall down and worship,
and rejoice,
and sing songs of praise.
We follow the one who is clothed in majesty,
Who is seated on the throne of heaven…
And who,
In love for us,
left all of that
and became one of us.
Who, through his earthly life demonstrated love and compassion.
Who championed the oppressed and the marginalised,
the widow and the orphan
and cried out against injustice…
who called us to follow him
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

The adventure of a lifetime,
the adventure of our lifetime as followers of Jesus
involves great moments of joy
but also great moments of sorrow…
There’s a bit of a bizarre myth that sometimes accompanies being a Christian –
It goes like this:
‘Give your life to Jesus and you’ll have no more worries, no more problems’ 
It’s a bit of a ‘happy ever after’ fairytale version of what living the Christian life is all about –
And it’s just that: a fairy-tale… the great ‘Christian myth’,
because more often than not
following Jesus makes life a little more difficult:
following Jesus makes us rethink the way we live our lives as we negotiate the various ethical twists and turns that crop up.
That’s the bad news, in one sense…
But the good news is:
When the difficult times come,
and they have,
and they will;
when we cry out in anguish
or scream in rage at what might be happening in our lives,
or in the lives of those we love,
or in the life of the world…
The one who lived among us…
as one of us…
still hears us. 
We are not alone.
And we are loved utterly.
We are given the tools and the strength to keep going on this,
our adventure of a lifetime -
to keep following the one who asks:
Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

The adventure of a lifetime continues, 
and we are called to follow the one who reshapes us…
and who asks us to ‘reshape the world around’.
He has given us the model, the way to follow:
As he cried out against injustice
we are to raise our voices whenever and wherever we see injustice. 
We are to be a voice for those made voiceless
by bullying systems of power that crush the vulnerable underfoot;
We are to stand with those who have been pushed to the side.
The work of following, the work of proclaiming the gospel,
Is to feed those who hunger in body and in spirit;
Is to clothe the naked;
Is to visit the prisoner –
those behind bars of a correctional institution…
And those who are behind the locked doors of nursing homes imprisoned by failing memory.
It is to weep with those who weep
and rejoice with those who are joyful.
The call to follow is relational –
it is about compassion and caring and community.
It is a call of liberation –
A call to divest ourselves and our world of all that dehumanises and degrades…
And to rehumanise and reshape the bent and bruised and broken ones
in the power of the Spirit,
in the power of resurrected love…
because we follow the one who was fully human,
fully alive
and who has shown us new life,
new ways of being,
and who fills us with new hope:
the hope of resurrection here and now – every morning when we wake up…
And for all eternity.
As Jesus stood by the shore
cooking fish
and calling the disciples to follow him…
He calls us to follow him
and as we respond,
as we follow
like the disciples,
we will discover that we are on the greatest adventure of all.

Let us pray:
 Lord your summons echoes true when you but call our name.
Let us turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company we'll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus we'll move and live and grow in you and you in us.

*The hymn woven through the sermon is called 'The Summons', from CH4

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Foxy Knoxy's word to the wise #3: on the subject of predestination

To be sung to the tune of "Jesus Loves Me"
(Revised Church Hymnary, 1927, Hymn no. 660)

"I'm predestined! This I know:
Church of Scotland tells me so.
Hell is with poor sinners crammed -
I am saved, but they are damned.
Yes! I'm predestined!
Yes! I'm predestined!
Yes! I'm predestined!
The Kirk it tells me so!"

                                  *with thanks to the lovely RA for this one!*

Predestination defined -
predestination: alighting from the train one stop too soon
double predestination: doing the same thing the next day.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

the power to forgive or retain sins?

Judgement, forgiveness and grace.
Something I've been pondering on a little from last Sunday's gospel text:

John 20: 23 - When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

The setting for this verse: 
It is evening, on the first day of the week.  
A house with locked doors.  
Inside, hiding, for fear of enemies, huddle a bunch of grown men.  
Bewildered by recent events.
Puzzled by strange stories told by hysterical women.
In the midst of the sorrow and strangeness
he comes
bringing words of peace.
Breathing the Spirit of Peace upon them.
Telling them of forgiveness and unforgiveness
and their power to choose.

There are several ways in which to read this particular verse, but I wonder...

given the choice to forgive sins
or the choice not to forgive...
Why would you not forgive?
What are the things that stop us forgiving?

I've often thought - and said - that I'm rather glad that when it all comes down to it, no matter how much we all bang on about life, death, the universe, and our place within the grand scheme of things... that it is God who is judge, not us.  I have a sneaking suspicion we are less forgiving than God is.  And an even stronger suspicion that, given our human propensity for judging ourselves and others, that if it were left to us nobody would make the grade; that nobody would able to embrace life in its fullness, nor be allowed to enter the kindom of heaven.  

For the entire existence of the Church, there has always been a tension between judgement and forgiveness.  Over the centuries the Church has emphasised one and then swung back to the other and a fascinating dance to watch it is, for a dull old historian-type like me.  At the moment, we appear to be doing a 'military two-step' towards a more hard-line approach to the faith, perhaps born out of fear of change, in what appears to be a very changing and challenging society.  It's a dance that's been gaining momentum, and it saddens me as it seems a rather graceless one.
But that in itself is judging of me :)
So back to forgiveness....

Forgiveness is one of the great misunderstood qualities within the Christian faith.
Folk look at forgiveness as the equivalent to being a doormat and sneer at it.
The 'easy' option.
Something that only 'weaklings' do.
The way to wriggle out of getting one's 'just desserts'...
My sense, and my own personal experience, of forgiveness is that it is one of the hardest things you can do.
It takes courage.
It takes strength.
It takes a massive dose of God-given grace to be able to do it at times.
But do it we must.
It is not about being a passive doormat
It is about being grace in action.
And it is about embracing life
and accepting the values of God's kindom present here on earth,
as it is in heaven.
I'm reminded of the title of Desmond Tutu's book No Future Without Forgiveness.  
If we don't forgive we are trapped in the past - we cannot move beyond it.
We are trapped clinging on to our unforgiveness with our cold, dead hands.

"if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
And if we don't forgive, not only do we trap ourselves, we trap others.  
All stuck, unable to move.  
So why would I condemn myself,
why would I condemn someone else, to unforgiveness...?  
It is not the way of life.
It is a dry, withered wasteland.
A bitter place.
Choose the better place.
A living grace, 
where small green shoots of healing, encouraged, thrive and grow.

Forgiveness is an action that has eschatological implications: 
to forgive is to demonstrate what my friend John might call 'inaugurated' eschatology.
The kindom of heaven is not just about 'pie in the sky when you die': it is also here, now, and present...

Monday, 12 April 2010

one year on...

As of yesterday, I've been blogging for a year.  My very first blog entry was on ministry training conference at Gartmore.  And the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.  I got back from conference on Friday afternoon.
And, echoing some of the thoughts from last time around, conference was good.
Only one less-than-good session involving what was perhaps not the most helpful presentation on a model for ministry.
Again, a good mix of space, sessions and silliness.

Quotes from this conference include:

On ministry with children:
'Jesus didn't usually talk rubbish'
'You can't offer boys "Jesus in your underwear" type songs' - reflecting on the use of 'action' songs, as opposed to 'fluffy girly songs'

On the Guild:
'Anyone who underestimates the Guild does so at their peril' 
'Don't mess with the Guild'
At a session on Social Responsibility:
'I'm right all the time' '
People you don't know will think you're weird and people you do know, know you're weird'
'Relational is transformational'
'glocal' - apparently an amalgam of global and local

Chaplain, prefacing a reflection during worship:
'I'd like to read a quote from Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics I found in this very handy book - Church Dogmatics for Dummies - which I would highly recommend.  Anyway, back to Karly baby...'

Conversations - tea breaks and meals:
'So... [long thoughtful pause] ...121 owns our bodies'  - ministry candidate getting to grips with the realities of training
'That's twice you've made somebody cry this week'
'For camels they use bricks, but in Siberia they use their teeth' - I am still not entirely sure how we managed to get into such a detailed discussion on castration over dinner...

At this point, also last year, according to that first blog entry, I was pondering what my Masters dissertation might end up like and thinking it might be a busy time ahead.  And... it was indeed.  With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps that last gasp two month's prior to deadline was not the best time to have done locum.  But all in the end was done and here I am, still at New College, now doing the PhD.
And so the cycle continues... and it's all good, all very good.

Sunday, 4 April 2010


                                                                                                                       From the amazing artist Dr. He Qi

He is not here, he is risen.

Happy Easter!!

Saturday, 3 April 2010


It is Holy Saturday... 
the in-between time,
the waiting time,
the time
when in the darkness
of a garden tomb,
a tiny seed of hope
quietly takes root
amidst the fear and despair of death:
the rooting seed 
holding the deepest yearnings of our hearts.
It is Holy Saturday...
and so we wait.
We wait for resurrection hope 
to burst forth from the tomb
and blossom 
and bloom
into the Tree of Life
under which we shelter
and where we are renewed.
It is Holy Saturday...
and we wait.
                                                      [Nikki Macdonald, April 2010]

John 19:38-42
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

God, Creator of heaven and earth:
Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb
and rested on this holy Sabbath,
so may we await with him the coming of the third day,
and rise with him to newness of life;
who now lives and reigns 
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
                                                                                                  [Book of Common Prayer]

Friday, 2 April 2010

Communion as a contact sport?

I could write about the deeply dangerous aspects of worship a la Annie Dillard.

I could make reference to the relationship with God and the act of communion being part of a process which could utterly and profoundly transform a person.

Instead, I could just do a sort of mathematical equation - with the caveat 'don't try this at home, kidz':
highly polished chairs in the sanctuary space +
shiny black academic gown +
Maundy Thursday solemnity +
the quietness as elements are being distributed to the congregation by the elders +
me reaching down by my chair to get my notes =

new liturgical dance manoeuvre:
'falling from grace do-wop'.
This of course, is best accompanied by the colour red adorning one's face... so much so, the heat from it could cook toast.
Oddly, I don't see it catching on.
I then did have to get up and do intercessions... I survived, the congregation survived, the supervisor was gracious. 

Having slid indecorously - and so quickly too! - from chair to floor, I er, landed on my thumb, which I've actually managed to sprain in the process!!!! 
Ah yes, communion as a contact sport... discuss!
On the other hand, if this is the worst thing that is going to happen to me on placement, it's all fine by me!!  :)

And this crumb of comfort from Nelson Mandela: 
The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Dear Santa, I'd like an Episcopal priest Barbie

Santa, I promise to be a very, very good, ministry candidate, and oh, please, pleeeease, may I have Barbie for Christmas?

Episcopal priest Barbie

Find her on facebook - she is marvellous.
My life is happier just knowing she exists.
Some great thurible and biretta action going on in some of those pic's.
Stunningly crafted by the Rev. Julie Blake Fisher, a Pisky priest of the USA'an variety.
Recently featured on Peacebang's Beauty Tips for Ministers blog.
If you haven't come across PB, really do yourself a favour and scoot across there, as she is simply fabuloso