Monday, 31 May 2010

the love Shack, baby?

It's the book some people love to love. 
It's also the book quite a few folk I know love to hate.
It's a Christian literary phenomenon!
It's a pile of ...?
Some not-very-deep musings on... The Shack

To be fair, The Shack was always going to have a hard time getting through the cynicism engendered by the over-hype.
I am an awkward customer when it comes to claims that 'this product changed my life' - crumbs, my becoming a Christian was tough enough, let alone being won over to The Shack.
I bought the book, but was I going to 'buy' the accompanying hype?
Did The Shack change my life?
No. It just irritated me.

The writing - oh, very, dear. So pedestrian in its pace that I visibly aged as I turned each page. It laboured some points so hard that I was left bludgeoned into a state of apathy. Did I care about the characters in the story-line? Not really. Did I find myself frequently humming the mantra 'oh, just get on with it, already'? Check. 

And yet, even thought most of the pores of my very being screamed at me to stop reading, I did keep reading. Even in the midst of the most profound irritation at poor grammar and schmaltzy story, I found myself stumbling across wee gems. I smiled at the description of walking on water. I occasionally grinned at the depiction of the Trinity - God the parent as a big Mama, cooking and nurturing and just generally looking out for everyone was, dare I use the 'c' word... kind of cute.

The Trinity... hmmm, I am left with some theological niggles- is The Shack in danger of a form of Modalism? 

Occasional sentences, in amidst some of the most abysmal writing I have had the displeasure to read, popped out at me with the profundity of a killer knock-out punch: surprising when it happens, but it does happen.

My sense of The Shack is that it's a bit curate's egg - good in parts. I also wonder if there's a cultural context that this Scottish-Aussie doesn't quite get? Maybe if you're from Northern America, the book just works better?  

So... someone who loved it: convince me I'm wrong. Tell me why this is the 'awesome, life-changing' book so many people claim it to be :)

Sunday, 30 May 2010

'carry on reforming'

Gosh, a long time between blogs, but life has been stupidly busy with a project my academic supervisor and I had been working on.  Spent the last week at the General Assembly and am still processing: but here are some thoughts on this Trinity Sunday...

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about unity.
A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting to folks at the local sheltered housing complex before communion - 
observing that unity was something more than merely uniformity.
I remember saying that unity didn't mean that we had to be the same,
or think the same,
or eat, or drink, or wear the same things:
that we’re not created to be clones
but that we're called to be the people
God has created us to be - 
in all our wonderfully different and diverse ways…
And that the way that we express our unity is found in who we follow and in whose image we are created:
the God who is one, and yet, who is three.

As part of my placement duties,
I spent the last week wandering about the General Assembly:
sitting in on debates - nice work if you can get it!! - and it was certainly packed with some very different and diverse people.
I spent the time eating and chatting with commissioners;
enjoying cups of tea and good blethers in the New College garden with old undergrad friends –excited to be attending as commissioners for the first time;
And also watching someone I know and respect being thanked and farewelled for her work on behalf of the General Assembly to take up duties in a very different direction.

Watching – I did a lot of that: watching and listening:
watching some of the high ceremonial – 
trumpeters, and folk in costumes from the Lord Lyon's office, or in judges wigs, perhaps symbolising the relationship between church and state;
watching the vast mass of commissioners interact with each other –
whether in debate, or over meals –
in a mostly friendly manner …
symbolising perhaps, the communitarian nature of the church…
but mixed in with that,
watching some folk jealously guarding their small empires:
from small clusters of men in dark suits having ‘quiet chats’ in corridors,
to a rather fierce, though kindly, voluntary door steward.
And we celebrated the 450th year of protestant reformation in Scotland – with a special service on Sunday – and with a display which ran all through the week in the foyer of New College.  Perhaps this symbolised the continuity and change of the church down through history. 
There were also some rather astonishing fashion sights to behold:
the one which particularly stuck, being the minister who got up to speak to the Assembly wearing a large woolly jumper complete with huge burning bush logo – it was certainly eye-popping!  Um, perhaps symbolising dodgy taste in fashion?  :)

It’s been a fascinating and diverse week, as the body of Christ, represented in the form of those gathered at the General Assembly, did it’s business.
The church coming together once again to assess and discuss its mission, its message, and the mechanics involved with that.

As I watched the debates, I learnt how not to make a point:
in a long discussion concerning ministry the mood of the GA was made known very vocally –
a commissioner who had already spoken at length several times rose from his seat once more, and asked the Assembly if he could just make a response to someone’s point:
a spontaneous and universal cry of ‘no’ rumbled and echoed through the Assembly Hall, which I confess made me giggle.  
The man, quite wisely, sat back down.

In the debate centring around the report from Minstries Council, Assembly decided that unrestricted calls for ministers were a luxury that we as a church could no longer afford, and began the process of exploring how reviewable tenure might become the norm.
In another debate Assembly also had some fairly strong opinions concerning the banking system and bonus culture in the face of the growing divide between the richest and poorest in society.

Overall, my sense, as I spent time at the General Assembly was that, as a church, our future must not be about creating little empires,
or doing our thing in our small corner –
we work best as church when we work together:
in self-giving relationship based on
mutuality, trust, respect and love…
Which has at its heart an understanding that all of us are made in the image of love –
in the image of God…
God who is one, yet three…
in perfect community...
in unity and diversity.
It's an ongoing challenge, but it is after all, the spirit of reform - 
the church is always reforming, semper Reformanda and all that... 
or, as Prof. Dawson paraphrased, when addressing and encouraging the folk gathered for the Sunday evening special service, 'carry on reforming!'

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

It'S HELL in the Niger Delta

Today was Shell's AGM.  Amnesty International have been targeting the company on its appalling environmental record in the Niger Delta.
For the folk who live there everything tastes like oil. The air hangs heavy with the smell of it.
In the life-sustaining act of breathing, lungs are filled with it. 
Creation and creature being twisted and destroyed in a dance of death-for-profit.
 Fire and flame...

Amnesty International target Shell quite specifically for the illegal practice of gas flaring.
In the cycle of the church year, we are moving towards Pentecost, the feast that celebrates the birth of the Church and the gift of the Holy Spirit, seen as tongues of fire.  An interesting juxtaposition: death-giving fire and life-giving flame.  And so, a prayer for creation at Pentecost: 

God of creation, the earth is yours
with all its beauty and goodness,
its rich and overflowing provision.

But we have claimed it for our own,
plundered its beauty for profit,
grabbed its resources for ourselves.

God of creation, forgive us.
May we no longer abuse your trust,
but care gently and with justice for your earth.
                                                    Jan Berry, in Bread of Tomorrow

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

divided by a common language...

Met with a lovely and wonderful friend the other day, who had come along to the citizenship ceremony earlier in the year.  Photos were produced, one of which has me staring into space and looking bewildered - ah, I'm nothing if not consistent on that score!

Had a subsequent conversation with a USA'un PG pal on the interesting scenarios you can find yourself in when you speak English, but not like the folks who speak English in the country you happen to be inhabiting.  Like USA'uns and Canadians, when I say 'pants' I am talking about trousers... but say the word to a Brit and a smirk and a raised eyebrow is often the response....
As an Aussie, when I say 'thong' I am thinking of footwear, but again, the word elicits a smirk followed by a snigger if said to a Brit, as they are thinking of quite skimpy underwear.
If Lord Vader moved to the UK, his gravitas and ability to generate fear would soon melt away amidst a sea of sniggers.  The Force may be strong in this one, but not strong enough to break the divide that separates users of a common language....

Given the current state of play with UK politics, Cameron and Clegg seem to have been talking enough language in common to allow a coalition government to form.
Interesting times.
Wonder how soon we'll be back at the polling stations?
It is an odd state of affairs tho' which sees Scotland with only one Conservative MP being governed overall by a ConDem Westminster alliance.
I suspect Alex Salmond is quietly smiling as he tucks into his pie and pint: very curious to see if this will build up a desire and a push for independence.
Ah well, to paraphrase Mel Gibson's account of Wallace: they may take away our freedom, but they'll never take away our Tunnock's.

Let's watch and see...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

hung out to dry...

Yesterday ceremonies were held to commemorate VE Day.  In London, at the Cenotaph, GB, DC and NC walked together towards it and placed wreaths.
As I watched I wondered if, at some point in the near future, they might symbolically place wreaths in some dusty corridor of Westminster, as an acknowledgement that the old polling system had played its part in the nation's history. 
An acknowledgement that it had served its time, but had finally been replaced by a better, fairer, more representative system of voting.
As a way of avoiding the head/ heart dilemma of the current practice faced by those who vote.

Thursday was polling day.
I duly wandered off to the church hall - which had been transformed into a voting shop - received my ballot paper and walked across to the booth to make my x in a box.  Problem was, there with pencil poised in hand, staring at the wretched piece of paper, I was still undecided.
It's a tricky old thing.
I'm a person inclined to vote:

1/ women fought for that right, and in recognition of that alone, I vote

2/ plus, if I vote, I can then justifiably exercise my democratic right to whine, whinge, lambast and occasionally make disgruntled noises at those in positions of political power

But there I was, faced with making a decision regarding who I deemed worthy of being given that x in the box, feeling rather gloomy about the options. 
Would I vote with my heart? 
Would I vote tactically?
I opted, reluctantly, for the latter.

The current system is not working.  Voting when you have to make the heart/ head decision... voting for the person you don't most prefer, because they at least might stop someone else you'd really rather not come into power... is not the most positive way of approaching the matter. 
We need reform.

Seems a few folk in polling booths were faced with that same dilemma, as evidenced by the fact that we still don't have a government.  GB is still sitting in Downing St while Cameron's lot have not got a majority and Cleggy is suddenly in the position of being really rather interesting to both Labour and Conservatives. 
Hung parliament.
And the speculation rages:
Will Clegg make a deal, and if so, who with... and at what cost to the soul of the LibDems?
Will we all be back at the polling booths in the not too distant future trying to make our marks make some kind of mark on the political and national life? 
Does any of it make one jot of difference?
Just how much non-story political news can be created by the 24/7 broadcasting media?
On this latter I suspect to hear a piece at some point on the style of tie knotting as indicative of each leader's psychological state of mind - they've pretty much done everything else.

We are poised on the brink of a golden opportunity that could effect electoral change  -
to see political history made,
and to witness a system that is not truly representative of those marks made on ballot papers all over the lands of the UK consigned to history.
Will it happen?
Hung parliament: hung in suspense.
Will the system end up being hung, drawn and quartered and a new way found?
Will we all just be hung out to dry yet again?

Interesting times.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

a penny drops...

detail from a Gradual, c. 1500 of an Easter Mass setting... note the sleeping guards!! 

A mid-week evening in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The post-service ritual of cuppa and chat before we all headed to our homes.
One of the ministers in the parish grouping led me across the room to meet a member of her congregation.
A question was asked.
I pondered, a little uncertainly.
And then said 'yes'.

The 'yes' came to fruition last night in the shape of delivering a mini-lecture on the beginnings of Protestant Reformation in Scotland and the place of John Knox in the midst of all of that.
And as I shared the stories of 450 years ago I thought again of the real flesh and blood people just getting on with the business of living their lives: all so very human.
I love the story of Knox, holed up with other Protestants in St Andrews castle, during the siege:
of Knox being so reluctant to accept his calling to preach the Protestant cause.
Of being asked and categorically stating that God was definitely NOT calling him to be a preacher.
Of being publicly challenged, whereupon he promptly burst into tears and ran to his room.
And of wrestling miserably for several days until reluctantly agreeing.
Human... and humans... all getting on and in the process becoming part of the patchwork of human history - some recorded, some not, but all connected and woven together into an amazing rag-bag tapestry.
There are dark and torn and scratchy bits: the bits that make you despair and cry at the horror that we, as humans, can create around us.
There are places sewn in gold thread: golden, shining moments that make you stop in awe and wonder when we, as humans, somehow move beyond our fears and reach out and risk practising planned and random acts of generosity... and in doing so, make the world and life that much more beautiful.
And amidst the darkness and the shimmering gold threads - the good, the bad and they ugly! - there are all the colours in between... making up the whole.
The 'life's rich tapestry' metaphor is an over-used metaphor, I know.
And yet somehow, last night, in a small room talking about human beings doing very human things
I realised again why I do love what to some is 'dry, dusty and dull history':
I love it because I see that although times and circumstances and mind-sets may change,
perhaps the human heart does not.

I read letters, and records of meetings, and side comments in margins of psalters of long ago
and see a tiny part of somebody's life.
Tiny snippets and snapshots of story which show hope, and joy and sadness.
Of human lives motivated by fear and love.
And am convinced of the truth in the old saying: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Human beings are history - past, present and future - and what a marvellous thing:
I have the joy and the pleasure,
in the midst of sometimes hard slog,
of spending this part of my life doing what I do -
looking at the stories of people.
How can that NOT be amazing and interesting?
I guess, last night, I realised just how much I love this part of my particular story.